Think Different

Could it be that this year's crop of summer movies actually requires a brain cell or two?

The Battle of Shaker Heights The second film to come out of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's HBO-funded Project Greenlight, this one features a pair of directors who have actually made a film before, and a screenplay that won a separate contest. The plot involves a teenager who's obsessed with World War II, to the point of re-creating some of its battles. Well, what teen isn't?

The Medallion Jackie Chan plays a Hong Kong detective with a medallion that gives him superpowers. Julian Sands plays a character called "Snakehead," so what more do you need to know?

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands Cinema critic Gregory Weinkauf's official favorite actress Shirley Henderson shows up to play a struggling mom living with Rhys Ifans (sounds like a disease documentary). When her old boyfriend Robert Carlyle shows up to play, things get pretty saucy!

OT: Our Town Scott Hamilton Kennedy's video documentary about inner-city high-schoolers putting on a play for the first time in 22 years isn't exactly objective, given that he cohabits with the gorgeous drama teacher at the movie's center. It's the kids' tale, though, and a triumphant one at that -- any pitch for the value of the arts in schools is a welcome one, especially when it's as eloquent as this.

Passionada When a Portuguese-American singer falls for the wrong man, things go haywire. Starring Sofia Milos and Jason Isaacs, directed by Dan Ireland (The Velocity of Gary, and co-founder of the Seattle International Film Festival).

Uptown Girls Brittany Murphy plays a New York socialite who becomes nanny to a little girl to impress her boyfriend. Originally called Molly Gunn, which could have led to a cool sequel called Molly Gunn 2: Gunn Control. There's still hope.

Thirteen Evan Rachel Wood stars in this shocking tale of juvenile delinquency in Los Angeles. Shocking, that is, if it never occurred to you that teenagers do drugs, have sex, and use profanity. Co-screenwriter Nikki Reed is only fourteen, which puts her mental age a good two years higher than that of the average studio scribe.

Civil Brand Perhaps, if we're lucky, this film could spark a revival of the "bimbos in cages" genre popularized by Jonathan Demme back when he worked for Roger Corman. It's set in a women's prison, where conditions are hard, the protagonist is unjustly accused, and so the inmates rise up. Mos Def plays a sympathetic law student.

Grind Skateboarding's the cool thing right now, so they say, and to cash in on this hot new trend, here comes a movie about it. Four young would-be Tony Hawks follow the summer tour of their favorite skateboard star, hoping to learn some new tricks and get noticed by the pros. The cast and crew are all pretty much unknown, so the skating action and cinematography had better be good.

Marci XLisa Kudrow's a white Jewish girl put in charge of her father's gangsta rap record label! Will hanging out with black people teach her how to loosen up? Our money's on "yes." Damon Wayans costars as rapper "Dr. Snatchcatcher," and Christine Baranski appears as the token evil Republican.

My Boss's Daughter You know you've been waiting for Ashton Kutcher and Tara Reid to finally do a movie together. She plays the daughter of his unpleasant boss; he winds up housesitting for said employer and uses the opportunity to hit on the young lady. Meanwhile, Andy Richter, Terence Stamp, Michael Madsen, and Carmen Electra show up. Points for creative ensemble casting, anyway.

To Be and To Have A French documentary that looks at the students in a one-room rural elementary school over the course of a year. Should make an interesting double feature with OT: Our Town.

Nola Young Songcatcher actress Emmy Rossum gets musical once again in this "urban fairy tale" about a Kansas girl who leaves home to pursue her dreams of becoming a musician in the big city. Miami's own Steven Bauer costars, just in case you've been wondering what ever happened to him.

DATE UNDETERMINED

Blossoms of Fire Documentary about the apparently matriarchal society of Juchitan in Oaxaca, Mexico. Homosexuals and transgenders are also treated as equals in this society, so does that mean it's the way to go? Might the world be better if women ran it? See the movie, and perhaps those answers will be revealed.

Cabin Fever Director Eli Roth's big-screen debut has a buzz surrounding it similar to that of Sam Raimi's original Evil Dead. The plot sounds similar, too, with a bunch of unsuspecting friends trapped in a cabin by a mysterious threat. The danger in this one, though, comes from a flesh-eating virus. As Joe Bob Briggs might say, "Anyone can die at any time."

Casa de los Babys Who cares what this one's about? Any movie with that title has to be worth a look. Okay, turns out it's directed by John Sayles, which makes it even more of a must-see. And check out the cast: Marcia Gay Harden, Lili Taylor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, and Rita Moreno. The story involves six women who go to South America to adopt babies, then find out that the law requires them to live there.

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