By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
By our count, only a few sequels are waiting to have oil rubbed on their backs this summer -- one featuring an evil lord named Vader, another featuring an evil lord named Schneider -- so the season has that going for it, which is nice.
But in lieu of sequels come comic-book superheroes (Batman, the Fantastic Four) and small-screen retreads (Bewitched, cursed with the worst trailer ever, and The Dukes of Hazzard, which not even General Lee has been waiting for) and big-screen redos (The Pink Panther, The Bad News Bears, The Longest Yard, The Honeymooners, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and War of the Worlds), which doesn't even take into account Jiminy Glick in Lalawood, which is barely a movie anyway.
Of the 130-something movies scheduled to play this summer, few will warm the hearts of the most air-conditioned critic. Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, with Bill Murray, Jessica Lange, and Sharon Stone; Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe as boxer Jim Braddock and Paul Giamatti as his trainer; and Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, arrive without action figures and Happy Meals -- and bless their sunburned souls for trying to make art during a season of commerce. Perhaps it won't be such a long, hot summer after all. -- Robert Wilonsky
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: Lucas, though word is that Tom Stoppard did some ghostwriting
What it's about: Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) finally turns into Darth Vader and kills a lot of people. Chewbacca shows up. Yoda fights a lightsaber duel with the Emperor (who's also known as Darth Sidious, just for confusion's sake). New baddie General Grievous fights with four lightsabers at once, thereby owning Darth Maul's dead, cut-in-half ass.
Why it's fabulous: Darth Vader and Chewbacca, people! Plus Jar Jar apparently shows up only in the background and doesn't speak.
Why it's dreadful: Jar Jar doesn't die.
Mad Hot Ballroom Directed by: Marilyn Agrelo
What it's about: In this documentary, New York City public school students compete to be the best ballroom dancers. Since mad hot is contemporary parlance, and the ballroom somewhat retro, we can probably expect some amusing scenes in which the teens deride these dances as old-fashioned, only to realize one can still be cool and like square stuff too.
Why it'll be fabulous: It's Spellbound but with ballroom dancing!
Why it'll be dreadful: Who cares about ballroom dancing?
Written and directed by:Sebastian Cordero (Rodents)
What it's about:An ambitious TV reporter from Miami sets out for Ecuador in search of a serial killer known as the "Monster of Babahoyo."
Why it'll be fabulous:Cordero has an obvious taste for the macabre, and this suspense thriller appears to indulge it again. The violence is said to be both extreme and inventive, and the tension high.
Why it'll be dreadful:If the gore overwhelms, audiences may not stomach this visceral exercise.
What it's about: A curious zebra (Rock) escapes from the zoo with a lion (Stiller), hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and giraffe (Schwimmer). They're caught and shipped off to the wilds of Madagascar. Having been bred in captivity, these animals are out of their league in a natural habitat. Hilarity ensues.
Why it'll be fabulous:The computer-animation style, which looks like weird origami, gives the trailer a unique look.
Why it'll be dreadful:Every single member of the voice cast tends to be an over-the-top scene-stealer, which could get mighty tiresome.
Directed by:Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen)
Written by:Stacy Peralta
What it's about:Another of Peralta's cinematic valentines (this one lightly fictionalized) to the Seventies beach-fun culture in Venice, California.
Why it'll be fabulous:If you didn't get your sun-kissed fill from her Dogtown and Z-Boys and Riding Giants, this may be the summer movie for you.
Why it'll be dreadful:You've more than likely had your fill of her surf-and-skate cheerleader act.
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (Dunston Checks In)
What it's about: Based on a popular novel by Ann Brashares, this teen-girl flick is the story of four friends whose lives go in separate directions. To keep in touch, they pass around a pair of pants that happens to be a perfect fit for all of them.
Why it'll be fabulous: It has the coolest title of the year by far.
Why it'll be dreadful: One pair of pants that fits four different adolescent girls equally well?
Directed by:John Schultz (Like Mike)
Why it'll be fabulous:Cedric's ability to play blue-collar could send this one to the moon.
Why it'll be dreadful:Nobody can channel the spirit of The Great One. Do you get the feeling you'll pine for the murky black-and-white images and canned laughs that once emanated from your old Philco?
Directed by:Doug Limon (The Bourne Identity)
Written by:Simon Kinberg
What it's about:An unhappy married couple who earn their paychecks as assassins learn they've been hired to kill each other.
Why it'll be fabulous:The Pitt-Jolie twosome should be fun to watch under Limon's fast-action framing.
Why it'll be dreadful:This promises to be a plot-heavy romp that could easily fire blanks.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: David Goyer (Blade)
What it's about: This relaunching of the moribund franchise tells how Bruce Wayne (Bale) became the Dark Knight after seeing his parents executed in a Gotham City alley. In this version Bruce heads to the Himalayas to train (with Neeson, shades of The Phantom Menace) and returns to Gotham to find a bad city run by a good cop, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and overrun with creepy villains, chief among them The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).
Why it'll be dreadful: Because origin stories are boring, and because the idea of sitting through one more Liam Neeson "training session" is about as appealing as sliding down the Batpole naked.
My Summer of Love
What it's about: A working-class Yorkshire girl (Press) befriends a rich girl (Blunt). Lesbian high jinks ensue. Considine is a born-again ex-con who comes between them.
Why it'll be fabulous:That one shot in the trailer of the two leads in wet underwear. Yeow!
Why it'll be dreadful: It's called My Summer of Love.
Written and directed by: George Romero
What it's about: The creator of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Deadfinally gets to make a new big-budget zombie movie, after the mediocre Dawnremake made a pretty penny. Continuing the Romero Dead saga, the film envisions a postapocalyptic world in which humans live in fortified cities while trying to ignore the fact that every place outside their walls is inhabited by flesh-hungry zombies.
Why it'll be fabulous: It's a sequel that's been requested for twenty years -- almost as long as Revenge of the Sith. And Romero is not the kind of director who will go soft.
Why it'll be dreadful: John Leguizamo? Why?
March of the Penguins Directed by: Luc Jacquet
Written by:Jacquet and Michel Fessler
What it's about: Documentary that follows a year in the life of a flock of emperor penguins at the North Pole.
Why it'll be fabulous: Penguins are well-liked birds, and some of the footage looks amazing.
Why it'll be dreadful: Giving them French voices sounds like a bad idea. Let's hope it's done sparingly and tastefully.
Starring:Tommy the Clown, Tight Eyez, Swoop, and Big X
Directed by: David LaChappelle
What it's about: Documentary about an up-and-coming style of street dancing called "krumping."
Why it'll be fabulous: Sooner or later, everyone's gonna be doing it, so you might as well get the skinny first.
Why it'll be dreadful: Just to be clear -- David LaChappelle is a fashion photographer, not the comedian who says, "I'm Rick James, bitch!"
Directed by:Steven Spielberg
What it's about:A family fights for survival amid an invasion of "alien tripod fighting machines."
Why it'll be fabulous:Expect lots of special-effects dazzle in the Close Encounters/Jurassic Park style and more of Spielberg's characteristic empathy for the little guy.
Why it'll be dreadful:Tom Cruise.
Directed by: Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care)
What it's about: A misbehaving college basketball coach (Lawrence) is fired and winds up having to coach a losing middle school team.
Why it'll be fabulous: It could do for Martin Lawrence what School of Rock did for Jack Black. That's clearly the intent anyway.
Why it'll be dreadful: Gee, um, Martin Lawrence?
Written and directed by:Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
What it's about: The small town of Berkeley, Australia, gets infected with Zombie Plague from Outer Space!
Why it'll be fabulous: The lead actor's name is Mungo, and he fights zombies.
Why it'll be dreadful: Conservatives may be disappointed that it isn't Berkeley, California, being destroyed.
Directed by: Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries)
Written by: Rafael Yglesias (From Hell)
What it's about: American remake of Ringu director Hideo Nakata's other movie about a malevolent drowned girl-ghost with hair in her face and the power to manipulate water.
Why it'll be fabulous: The original is one of the scariest movies ever, and Salles is no slouch.
Why it'll be dreadful: Nakata's film came out three years ago, and since then, audiences may have overdosed on that whole long-black-hair-covering-the-face bit. Also both of the Hollywood Ring movies and The Eye cribbed liberally from the original already.
Directed by: Tim Story
What it's about: Four astronauts -- Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and sister Sue (Alba), Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), and Ben Grimm (Chiklis) -- are bathed in gamma rays during an outer-space trip and are transformed, respectively, into the Human Torch, the Invisible Woman, the stretchy Mr. Fantastic, and the hideous Thing. The superhero team, a 44-year-old Marvel Comics institution, battles its armor-clad nemesis Doctor Doom (McMahon). Chaos ensues -- duh.
Why it'll be fabulous: Because Marvel has managed to do the superhero movie thing right with the Spider-Manand X-Menfranchises.
Why it'll be dreadful: Then again, The Punisher, Daredevil, Elektra, and Hulk were superawful, and the trailer looks fantastically horrid.
What it's about: This documentary about quadriplegic rugby players, who manhandle and mangle their opponents from souped-up wheelchairs that look like they were salvaged from a futuristic garbage dump, tells of Team U.S.A.'s struggle to capture the title at the 2004 Olympics.
Why it'll be fabulous: It isfabulous, so much so that when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the members of Team U.S.A. were treated like movie-star royalty at every party they attended. And they attended a lotof them. (These guys love to party.)
Why it'll be dreadful: It won't be. Seriously. Don't worry.
Written and directed by:Ingmar Bergman
What it's about: A sequel to Bergman's 1973 drama Scene from a Marriage, 30 years on, in which Marianna (Ullmann) and Johan (Josephson) meet again, having had no contact since then.
Why it'll be fabulous: Apparently this guy Bergman has quite the reputation in cinematic circles.
Why it'll be dreadful: Bergman's description of the film is this: "The drama consists of ten dialogues that follow a particular pattern, and it's an attempt at analysis of a difficult situation." Yikes.
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August
What it's about: Charlie Bucket (Highmore, Depp's Finding Neverlandcostar) finds one of the golden tickets that allows him to tour the candy factory of demented sweets-maker Willy Wonka (Depp). Also on the treacherous tour are the usual suspects, including Charlie's Grandpa Joe, Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, and the Oompa-Loompas.
Why it'll be fabulous: There's no music this time, and Burton promises to go deeper and darker than Mel Stuart did in his 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Why it'll be dreadful: Because as much as we all love Johnny Depp, he ain't no Gene Wilder. And because, alas, "Pure Imagination" is a swell song that will be missed.
Written and directed by: Craig Brewer
What it's about: In the sweaty climes of Memphis, a pimp named Djay (Howard) aspires to hip-hop stardom like his idol Skinny Black (Ludacris). He enlists a scrawny white kid (Qualls) and a heavy-set pal from way back (Anthony Anderson) to record his autobiographical rhymes; meanwhile Djay has to deal with the three prostitutes living with him -- one he kicks out, one he uses to get the equipment he needs, and one he falls in love with. Hope turns to tragedy turns to triumph in the most overwrought, hackneyed hit to come out of Sundance this year.
Why it'll be fabulous: Terrence Howard, also starring in the ensemble drama Crash, is stunning -- worth the price of admission, especially if you can get the early-bird discount.
Why it'll be dreadful: Sold for $9.5 million at Sundance this year -- money that went to its producer, John Singleton, not its writer-director. And because it isdreadful, in a seriously-that-can't-be-happening kind of way.
What it's about: Two wild and crazy guys keep crashing wedding receptions in order to score with chicks, but when they hit up the wedding of a presidential candidate's daughter, one falls in love while the other meets a psycho, obsessive girl.
Why it'll be fabulous: Any movie that casts Christopher Walken as a presidential candidate must ipso facto be fabulous.
Why it'll be dreadful: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson aren't the most picky actors in the world when it comes to scripts.
Directed by:Richard Linklater (Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused)
What it's about:A broken-down, beer-guzzling Little League Baseball coach (Thornton) takes on a diamondful of hopeless but feisty kids who start to win and, with that, renew the old man's spirit.
Why it'll be fabulous:Thornton has a way of giving an edge to icons. If he can make Santa hip, he can do the same for sandlot ball.
Why it'll be dreadful: It's awfully hard to top 1976's original Bearsas a baseball movie -- or as an endorsement of redemption. Sorry, unless the kids shoot steroids, this is bound to seem corny.
Directed by: Hans Weingartner
Written by: Weingartner and Katharina Held
What it's about: A trio of anti-capitalist revolutionaries likes to break into houses of rich people and "rearrange" things. When one break-in goes awry, they end up kidnapping the owner.
Why it'll be fabulous: You don't see anticapitalist movies that often nowadays.
Why it'll be dreadful: And the last great German film you saw was?
Directed by: Greg Harrison (Groove)
Written by: Benjamin Brand
What it's about: A photographer seems to be losing her mind as she repeatedly replays, in her mind, the events that led up to her boyfriend's shooting.
Why it'll be fabulous: It's about time Cox Arquette branched out.
Why it'll be dreadful: Is Cox Arquette capable of branching out?
The Aristocrats Directed by:Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette
What it's about:Ostensibly it's about 100 comedians (from Bob Saget to Robin Williams to Gilbert Gottfried to Phyllis Diller) telling the same infamous ribald joke about 100 different ways -- but it's much, much more. It's more like a comedy jam session, during which several generations of stand-ups reveal their technique and approach, using "The Aristocrats" (a joke about a family of would-be performers auditioning for an agent, more or less) as their springboard.
Why it'll be fabulous:Because Sarah Silverman's telling of the joke alone is worth the price of admission. And because you'll remember why you or anyone else thought Gottfried was funny in the first place. And because Saget has the foulest mouth this side of Ashley Olsen. And because the South Parkclip kills.
Why it'll be dreadful:It's about twenty minutes too long, but you'll have laughed yourself into a coma by the end, so you won't really mind or even notice.
The Brothers Grimm Starring: Matt Damon and Heath Ledger
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Ehren Kruger
What it's about:A fictionalized fantasy about the German fairy-tale authors, here portrayed as con men who lift fake curses, only to encounter a genuine form of black magic that forces them to deal with things about which they've only written.
Why it'll be fabulous: After Gilliam's aborted Don Quixote effort, The Brothers Grimmsees him back in fantasy mode, which is what he does best.
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Written by: Cohen and W. D. Richter (Big Trouble in Little China)
What it's about: After a superadvanced stealth fighter is struck by lightning, the onboard computer takes on a life of its own and decides to initiate the next world war.
Why it'll be fabulous: WarGames meets Short Circuit? How could it not be?
Why it'll be dreadful: Okay, yeah, it's made by the director of xXx and The Skulls, so it might be pretty bad.
Written and directed by:Jim Jarmusch
What it's about:Murray plays Don Johnston (heh), an aging, sweatsuit-sporting lothario who's dumped by his young girlfriend (Delpy) just as he receives news of a twenty-year-old son he never knew. (Shades of The Life Aquatic, but still ... ) Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat) is the pal who convinces Murray to take a trip down Amnesia Lane to see his old lovers, including Stone and Swinton and Lange and other all-stars, and find out if any of them might be the mother.
Why it'll be fabulous:Did you not just read the synopsis?
Directed by:Jay Chandrasekhar (Club Dread)
Why it'll be fabulous:Chandrasekhar reportedly keeps the proceedings as delightedly mindless as their boob-tube inspiration.
Why it'll be dreadful:Burt as the Duke boys' nemesis Boss Hogg could be the high point of this low-concept fare.
Grizzly Man Directed by: Werner Herzog
What it's about: It's not another Dan Haggerty movie (whew!) but rather a documentary about animal activists who lived with grizzly bears for a time and felt like they were making a connection. Then they were mauled to death.
Why it'll be fabulous: Herzog is a mad genius.
Why it'll be dreadful: Unless you really despise animal activists, it sounds like one hell of a downer.
Directed by:Shawn Levy
What it's about:A new take on Peter Sellers's surpassingly incompetent French detective, in which Jacques Clouseau (Martin) tackles a case combining a murdered soccer coach, a priceless diamond, and the usual selection of beautiful women.
Why it'll be fabulous:It takes les grandes balles for Martin to assail the rich life and high art of Inspector Clouseau.
Why it'll be dreadful:Can The Jerk out-bumble Peter the Great? The smart money says non.
Directed by: Mike Bigelow (a newcomer hired for his surname perhaps)
What it's about: In this sequel to the comedy that introduced the term man-whore into the wider lexicon, Schneider's hapless Deuce is duped into prostituting himself in Amsterdam, where more-experienced hookers are being murdered.
Why it'll be fabulous:The first one was surprisingly amusing.
Why it'll be dreadful: Amusing films are a rarity in the Rob Schneider canon.
Written and directed by: Liev Schreiber
What it's about: In his directorial debut, Schreiber adapts Jonathan Safran Foer's successful novel. Apparently this flick is a comedic drama about a young Jewish American (Wood) in search of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The movie poster gives no indication of any of this; it shows Wood with a flower in his mouth and the tagline "Leave Normal Behind."
Why it'll be fabulous: Films in which Elijah Wood goes on a quest that leads him to a barren and hostile land tend to do rather well.
Why it'll be dreadful: Was there really a demand to see Liev Schreiber direct anything?
Directed by:David Mackenzie
Written by:Patrick Marber
What it's about:Stella Raphael (Richardson) is married to Max (Bonneville), a psychiatrist at an asylum for the criminally insane. She becomes infatuated with Edgar Stark (Csokas), a sculptor who mutilated and then murdered his wife -- so of course Stella and Edgar wind up having an affair after he starts working in the couple's asylum-grounds garden. Eventually Edgar escapes to London, Stella follows him, and the poor lad goes bonkers all over again.
Why it'll be fabulous: It's based on Patrick McGrath's best-selling novel, which is chilling, and was penned by Marber, whose Closerranks a close second when it comes to curdling the blood.
Why it'll be dreadful:Bet you twenty quid it's a bummer -- with an English accent to boot.
Written and directed by:John Turturro
What it's about: Believe it or not, it's a musical. A "savage" one. The plot involves Gandolfini's character, who goes by the name of Murder, having to choose between his wife (Sarandon) and his mistress (Winslet).
Why it'll be fabulous: It's just insane enough to work.
Why it'll be dreadful: Love those actors, but can they sing?
Written by:Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
What it's about:In truth, who knows? There's been little info provided on this sequel to the 2002 "hit." But let's offer a guess: Frank Martin (Statham) drives around in his sweet ride, picking up trouble wherever he goes. How's that. Oh, and this one is set in the United States. So, see, it's completely different from the original.
Why it'll be fabulous:Because we always loved those BMW "The Driver" minifilms upon which this burgeoning franchise was clearlybased.
Why it'll be dreadful:The first Transporterwas released direct to Betamax.
Directed by: Lucky McKee
Written by: David Ross
What it's about: A troubled girl (Bruckner) is sent to boarding school after pushing her parents too far. But the school, located deep in the middle of the woods of New England, is not what it appears to be, and there are dark forces at work with more than a passing interest in the newcomer. Or are they all in her head?
Why it'll be fabulous: McKee has already made one good movie about a troubled girl who hears voices (May). This one has a bigger budget plus Oscar-nominee Clarkson and fan-favorite Campbell.
Why it'll be dreadful: Will the male-skewed horror audience turn out for a movie with a mostly female cast and no nudity?