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Think Different

The return of Jim Carrey, blaming it all on God, er, Morgan Freeman

It's usually right about this time of year that film critics begin to feel a slow chill of dread creep up their spines. Suppressing that urge, they generally find it quickly replaced by a sudden rush of sneering condescension and smug mock-martyrdom. "Oh no!" they cry. "This is summer, the season of dumb!" Meanwhile the movies themselves break all records, and if they don't do so legitimately, then a watermark is invented, i.e.: "This movie had the fourth largest opening of any movie to ever come out on the third Tuesday in August."

But the "dumb" blockbuster might just be passé this year. Arguably the biggest film of the summer will be The Matrix Reloaded, and the few negative reviews that have surfaced so far tend to complain that the plot is too complicated. The comic-book adaptation Hulk would seem on the surface to be dumb -- a big green guy who smashes stuff -- yet it's being directed by Ang Lee, who claims to be making a tragic film in the Hamlet mold (given his track record, that may not be an idle boast). The summer's other high-profile, big-budget comic-book movie, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, boasts characters from classic literature, among them Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, The Invisible Man, and Dr. Jekyll.

Not that stupidity is entirely absent -- one could go broke overestimating the public's intelligence. Still we should make a distinction between big, glorious, goofy dumb (Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Bad Boys II) and abrasively awful dumb (Pokémon Heroes, Jeepers Creepers 2).

The time-honored summer counterprogramming tradition is to offer romantic comedies, and despite a copious lack of both Julia Roberts and Freddie Prinze, Jr. this year, 2003 doesn't disappoint.

As always, though, there are a significant number of entries that defy categorization. We've got the Maori movie Whale Rider, the experimental art piece Cremaster 3 (which is actually part 5 in a series), a nonreality spinoff of a reality show (From Justin to Kelly), a John Sayles movie (Casa de los Babys), the return of the 3-D movie (Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over), and a comic-book adaptation that's part documentary (American Splendor).

Then there are some interesting mini-trends. Thai cinema may prove to be the next big thing, if the horror flick The Eye (soon to be remade on these shores) and the historical epic The Legend of Suriyothai catch on. And juvenile delinquency seems to be enjoying an art-house resurgence (Ken Park, Thirteen, Sweet Sixteen).

Finally, two items that warm this critic's heart. Scott Hamilton Kennedy's excellent documentary OT: Our Town, about an inner-city school putting on a play, has at last received distribution and might just hit cinemas near you this season. And MGM is re-releasing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on the big screen, where it belongs -- it may not be the best date movie, but males across America who have not yet experienced the glorious union of Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone, and Ennio Morricone owe it to themselves to go, possibly more than once.


Summer Preview

By Luke Y. Thompson and Gregory Weinkauf

MAY

Cremaster 3 The fifth and final installment in avant-garde artist Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle will also play across the nation alongside the previous four, hitherto shown only in one or two markets. A short synopsis of this film simply isn't possible; suffice it to say that if you aren't already tripping when you enter the theater, you may feel like you are by the time you leave.

Down With Love In what will likely be either a massive counterprogramming hit or a total flop, the director of Bring It On and the forthcoming Fantastic Four brings us Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger in a pastel-colored period homage to Sixties romantic comedies. We're supposed to recall Rock Hudson and Doris Day, but will contemporary audiences have memories that go that far back?

L'Auberge Espagnole Loosely defined as "Euro pudding," and indeed some comparisons to American Pie leap to mind as a young dork (Romain Duris) explores his sexual impulses amid a wild crowd. Set mostly in Barcelona, this boy-abroad movie garnered six Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscar. If that means to you that a movie is good, perhaps you'll dig it. With Amélie's marketable Audrey Tautou in one of her four new features this year.

Spellbound Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman have absolutely nothing to do with this feisty documentary about the American National Spelling Bee. Dewy director Jeff Blitz gets to the heart of childhood's most vital quest as eight youngsters and their hopeful parents and teachers seek The One who can save humanity from bad spelling.

The Trip Peter Fonda and Susan Strasberg have absolutely nothing to do with this story about being gay in the Seventies. Dewy director Miles Swain gets to the heart of the American gay experience as a politically disharmonious gay couple and their friends seek the meaning of life by driving around and talking about being gay.

 

Tycoon Also known as Oligarkh, this 2002 release from Russia hits our shores with a unique perspective on capitalism infiltrating a Communist nation. Director Pavel Lungin adapts Yuli Dubov's novel Bolshaya Paika (The Big Slice) about a man who made the most of Russian free trade. Global economists may enjoy this as a double feature with the terrific Chinese comedy Big Shot's Funeral.

Bruce Almighty Bruce (Jim Carrey) has a decent apartment, a job in TV news, and a girlfriend who looks like Jennifer Aniston. By movie standards, this means he's suffering, and when he blames God for it, the Supreme Being (Morgan Freeman, born to play God) gives Bruce the reins of power so he can see that it ain't easy being Lord. Carrey's Ace Ventura pal Tom Shadyac directs, so here's hoping the rubber man's back in form.

Marooned in Iraq Nope, it's not about your enlisted cousin -- well, probably. Celebrated Persian director Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses) returns with Gomgashtei dar Aragh, this tale of Kurd musicians from Iran who cross into Iraq to save one of their own from oppression.

Respiro Those who found themselves briefly envying Dustin Hoffman when Valeria Golino kissed him in Rain Man may take heart as the saucy Italian cuts loose here. She plays a young mother of three on a tiny fishing island whose antics lead local villagers to think her insane. Well, duh -- she's an actress.

The Sea Another one of those humanistic Icelandic slices of life. No, really. Young director Baltasar Kormákur delivered the scintillating navel-gazing of 101 Reykjavik, and with Hafio he returns with a sort of homecoming, focusing on a father calling together his brood to assemble his life story. If you're into Icelandic imports, Björk is also touring this year. You have choices.

Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters A potential martial arts-horror classic from the director of Time and Tide. Possibly jealous that John Carpenter gets a vampire movie with his name in the title, Hark similarly delivers ... well ... hunters who hunt vampires. This time, however, we join four students with elemental superpowers in nineteenth-century China.

A Decade Under the Influence Ted Demme's last film, completed by Richard LaGravenese, is a documentary about most movie critics' favorite era of cinema, the Seventies. The Production Code had just ended, and the corporate blockbuster mentality had not yet begun, so a bunch of wild and crazy auteurs basically got to make whatever they wanted. Among the many interviewed are such obvious choices as Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, Milos Forman, Jon Voight, Sidney Pollack, and Martin Scorsese; we also get to hear from contemporary directors working in a similar mold, like Alexander Payne and Neil LaBute.

Finding Nemo Pixar's latest computer-animated opus goes underwater, in this tale of a young clownfish who gets kidnapped by a diver and winds up in a tank in a dentist's waiting room. Fortunately, the fish's dad (Albert Brooks) is on the case, with the help of a CIA father-in-law ... wait, wrong movie. The sidekick in this one is another fish, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. Advance word has it that the script isn't quite up to Pixar's usual high standards, but the deep-sea visuals look breathtaking.

Together Chinese auteur Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine, The Emperor and the Assassin) returns with He ni zai yi qi, this tale of a young, aspiring violinist who travels with his father to the bright lights of Beijing. Another "boy's journey" sort of movie, and an obvious bid by Kaige to bridge the gap between his Chinese roots and Hollywood paychecks, but indeed it looks -- and sounds -- charming.

JUNE

2 Fast 2 Furious Star Vin Diesel and director Rob Cohen may have bailed on this particular franchise, but Paul Walker's still around, now directed by John Singleton, and hanging with a new bald-headed ethnic sidekick in the form of Tyrese Gibson. Multiculturalism was cited as a major part of the last film's success, so the cast also includes Ludacris, Eva Mendes, Cole Hauser, and the simply monikered Jin. We figure it's the fast cars (in Miami) people like, though, and there are plenty -- as long as they crash into stuff, it's all good.

The Eye From Thai directors the Pang Brothers comes this tale of terror about a blind woman who receives an eye transplant, then starts seeing things the deceased donor saw, including ghosts, visions of gore, and a reflection in the mirror that is not her own. Tom Cruise owns the U.S. remake rights; see this one now so you can sneer at your friends later about how much better the original was.

 

Love the Hard Way Alas, not a gay sequel to the James Woods-Michael J. Fox cop buddy movie (for that groove, refer to John Hurt and Ryan O'Neal in Partners). Rather, this is one of those movies about a thief who gets involved with a woman who teaches him about life while he steals stuff. Features that uppity guy from The Pianist, and helmed by German director Peter Sehr.

Prozac Nation Better bring a feather duster to clear off this 2001 shelf-warmer so you can actually see it. In the Nineties it was hip to be depressed, which gave rise to Elizabeth Wurtzel's self-obsessed novel. Christina Ricci stars as Wurtzel, having a rotten time in her first year at Harvard because Anne Heche and Jason Biggs are there. Boo hoo! Erik Skjoldbjaerg (the original Insomnia) directs.

Sweet Sixteen English workingman's filmmaker Ken Loach (Poor Cow, Bread and Roses) delivers the story of a Scottish lad (Martin Compston) struggling to make a new home for his mother, who's newly sprung from prison. Naturally, more hard knocks await.

Wattstax: Special Edition From the director of Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory -- no kidding -- comes this documentary of "the black Woodstock," the August 1972 R&B concert held at the L.A. Coliseum. Featuring a diverse roster ranging from Pops Staples to Rufus Thomas, the show also boasts Richard Pryor in his prime. Most notably, Isaac Hayes's performances of "The Theme from Shaft" and "Soulsville" -- cut from the original release due to record company high jinks -- are back in the mix.

Whale Rider Not actually a documentary about Lara Flynn Boyle visiting her boyfriend Jack Nicholson. Rather, based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera about a young Maori girl of the Whangara tribe who must struggle against both her beloved grandfather and a millennium of patriarchal rule to prove herself as a leader. The beach-dwelling tribe learns much from the girl when she demonstrates her spiritual connection to whales.

Camera Obscura It's been on the shelf for two years, but this drama from first-time director Hamlet Sarkissian could be very intriguing if pulled off correctly. It's the story of a crime scene photographer for the LAPD (Adam Trese) who begins losing his mind, starts manipulating the photos, and eventually becomes convinced that his camera can bring the dead back to life.

Capturing the Friedmans This documentary follows the dissolution of a seemingly typical family, following the arrest of father and son, and subsequent ostracism of the clan by the local community. But all was not as it seemed, and as the filmmakers took a closer look, disturbing questions were raised.

From Justin to Kelly Correct us if we're wrong here, but wasn't American Idol a test of singing ability? When did the judges stop to analyze the acting talent of the contestants? Regardless, we'll all be able to judge for ourselves as winner Kelly Clarkson and finalist Justin Guarini star in this fiction film that reportedly involves a beach party. This might just put Mariah Carey's Glitter to shame -- not that it needed the help. On the other hand, screenwriter Kim Fuller did cowrite the amusing Spice World.

The Heart of Me Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams star in this 1930s-era British romance, based on the 1953 Rosamond Lehmann novel The Echoing Grove. Russell Crowe's imaginary friend Paul Bettany is the unfortunate fellow forced to choose between the lovely ladies.

Manito This gritty DV project showcases New York's Puerto Rican community through the prism of two brothers (Franky G. and Leo Minaya) at odds with each other and the world around them.

No Turning Back Possibly this year's El Norte. Sharing writing and directing duties with Julia Montejo, Jesus Nebot stars as a widowed Honduran man who overcomes tremendous odds to start a new life with his young son in Southern California. Very low-budget and apparently gripping.

Alex & Emma A Rob Reiner romantic comedy allegedly based on the Dostoyevsky short story "The Gambler" (more seriously adapted with Michael Gambon a few years back). Luke Wilson plays a novelist on deadline, while Kate Hudson is the stenographer who inspires him. As Wilson enacts scenes from the book in his head, Hudson morphs into multiple characters, thereby allowing the actress to try several different hairstyles and accents on for size. If she pulls it off, people may stop comparing Hudson with her mom.

Bollywood/Hollywood Director Deepa Mehta is best known for her hard-hitting social commentary in films like Fire and Earth, but here she tries her hand at a more traditional Indian genre -- musical comedy. Earlier this year, The Guru failed to fully integrate the Bollywood style with Western sensibilities, but if anyone can do it, Mehta can.

 

Friday Night Relax, it's not another tedious Ice Cube sequel, but rather the latest film from Claire Denis (whose last one, Trouble Every Day, was woefully overlooked). Based on a French novel by Emmanuelle Bernheim, who adapted it for the screen herself, it's about a night of traffic jams, carpooling, and of course a mysterious erotic encounter.

Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns You probably saw that title and thought, "Hookers!" but the Johns in question are Flansburgh and Linnell, better known to the music world as They Might Be Giants. Enjoy live performances, videos, band history, and testimonials from famous fans in this documentary; that is, if you enjoy this sort of thing.

Langrishe Go Down This 1978 British telefilm is seeing theatrical release for some reason -- perhaps because it's engrossing. Youngish Jeremy Irons plays a German philosophy student who mixes it up with fallen Irish aristocracy. Harold Pinter adapted the novel by Aidan Higgins, with David Hugh Jones directing. With Judi Dench.

The Legend of Suriyothai Historical epic about Queen Suriyothai of Thailand, who died defending King Mahachakrapat. Lavish production, set in the Sixteenth Century, edited in part by Francis Ford Coppola, who loves his Pad Thai.

The Cuckoo A sweeping historical romance set in the Russian tundras, all about one bird and his unrequited love for Cocoa Puffs. Just kidding about that last part. It's a film set during 1944 against the backdrop of Finland's opportunistic war against Russia, waged to regain lost territory while the world at large was distracted by Nazis. Here, two soldiers from opposing sides become embroiled in a love triangle with a Lapp woman.

Gasoline An Italian lesbian thriller about two young lady lovers on the run with a dead body in the trunk of their car and some nasty characters on their tail. You don't see that sort of thing every day.

JULY

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas Everybody's favorite public-domain Iraqi hero returns as a two-dimensional caricature voiced, natch, by Brad Pitt. Catherine Zeta-Jones voices the feisty sidekick chick and Michelle Pfeiffer the incongruous Greek goddess Eris. This is DreamWorks's only contribution to the summer screen.

Swimming Pool François Ozon follows up his delightfully weird musical 8 Women with this seemingly less delightful drama. British mystery writer Charlotte Rampling visits publisher Charles Dance's cozy abode in the south of France, but gets involved in intrigue with his daughter, Ludivine Sagnier. Looks moody, and iffy.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Arnie's back, or something like that. Probably doesn't do the "nude Terminator" thing anymore though. Anyway, as the T-850 Terminator, he once again helps save humankind from those awful machines taking over the planet. Begging help are eighteen-year-old John Connor (Nick Stahl) and his girlfriend Claire Danes, who are being hunted by femme fatale "Terminatrix" Kristanna Loken. Franchise creator James Cameron didn't need the money, so Jonathan Mostow (U-571) directs. One question: Why don't the humans send back Robert Patrick to save everyone this time? Just curious.

Valentin Autobiographical story about the coming of age of an Argentine boy, whimsical and light, filled with hope, dripping with loveliness, oozing that certain je ne sais quoi that refreshes one's life and very soul. Supposedly, anyway. Written and directed by Alejandro Agresti.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Sometimes a sure thing at the box office isn't necessarily nauseatingly trite. This romp from director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) looks adventurous, atmospheric, and -- Geoffrey Rush excluded -- generally sex-ay. For sale is one Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings) as a lad who must team up with thickly eyelinered pirate Johnny Depp to save Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham) from bad pirate Rush. Based on the Disney ride, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and certain to earn a doubloon or two.

Madame Satã In case you were looking for a movie about Joao Francisco dos Santos, the transvestite chef who caroused through Rio in the Thirties, well, here's one. Lazaro Ramos plays the titular "Madame" while Karim Ainouz writes and directs.

A Housekeeper Jean de Florette director Claude Berri wrote and directed this romantic comedy about a man (Jean-Pierre Bacri) whose wife has left him, so he hires a housekeeper (Emilie Dequenne). Thing is, she's never actually done any housework in her life. It's based on a novel by Christian Oster.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Apparently Sean Connery plays fictional adventurer Allan Quatermain here, and apparently he absolutely hated working with director Steven Norrington (Blade). Nonetheless the movie got made, based on Alan Moore's zesty graphic novel, based in turn on classic characters such as Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), and Dracula's Mina Harker (Peta Wilson). Takes place in Victorian England, thus shot in Prague.

 

Lucia, Lucia A Mexican woman (Celia Roth) loses her husband and discovers her life needs a makeover. Based on the novel by Rosa Montero, written and directed by Antonio Serrano.

Northfork From Mark and Michael Polish (Twin Falls, Idaho, Jackpot) comes this odd yarn about Montana locals in 1955 who must relocate to make way for a new dam. What -- there wasn't a movie waiting to be made about oil refinery employees on their lunch hours? Stars James Woods, Nick Nolte, and Daryl Hannah.

Bad Boys II At long last, Michael Bay has come to his senses and quit with the Ben Affleck PG-13 crap. The original Bad Boys didn't get much love from critics, but it didn't need any -- this one doesn't look like it could use the help either. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are back as mismatched cops, with Gabrielle Union replacing Téa Leoni as the potential love interest (good call!), and a supporting cast that includes Joe Pantoliano, Henry Rollins, and Peter Stormare.

Exorcist: The Beginning In what may just be the casting coup of the year, Stellan Skarsgaard steps in as the younger version of Max von Sydow's Father Merrin, battling demons in deepest, darkest Africa. This would have been director John Frankenheimer's final film, but the old master bowed out due to ill health early in the process, to be replaced by Paul Schrader. Thankfully, actor Liam Neeson bowed out too; for all his strengths, he's no Swede.

Garage Days Goth fave Alex Proyas, director of The Crow and Dark City, takes a wildly different turn with this comedy about an up-and-coming rock band struggling to make it to the top. Set in Proyas's native Sydney, the film apparently does retain at least some of the director's trademark visual strangeness; a drug sequence or two allow for some fun with CG effects.

Johnny English Mr. Bean seems like an unlikely James Bond type; then again, so did Mike Myers at one time. This spy spoof starring Rowan Atkinson has already been a monster hit in England, but by the looks of things, that isn't because of any kind of sophistication on the movie's part. John Malkovich plays the villain, and heck, he'd be a worthy adversary for Bond. The film's writers are similarly worthy; they actually did write the last two Bond films.

The Magdalene Sisters You know those "fallen women" forced into servitude by the Irish Catholic Church in the 1960s? Here's a movie about them. Written and directed by Peter Mullan.

The Samsara Very few people go to Kmart to find spiritual enlightenment, but rather travel into the Himalayas, as is the case here. In Tibetan with lavish views and philosophical insights, the film is helmed by Indian director Nalin Pan.

Buffalo Soldiers Hmm, this seems a bit familiar -- didn't we write about this one in last year's summer preview? Poor Miramax just can't find a good date to release a movie that's less than flattering toward the U.S. military (though they did okay with The Quiet American). That the movie's set in 1989 seems to be of no consequence. Anyway, to recap: Soldiers (Joaquin Phoenix, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, and others) stationed in Berlin shortly before the fall of the wall get involved in some shady business involving drugs.

Camp A musical in the tradition of Fame (with which it shares composer Michael Gore), set at a summer camp for young actors, singers, and musicians. The story centers around a group of misfit kids who somehow have to manage to pull it all together for one big final production. Apparently someone involved heard that musicals are hot again.

Boys Life 4: Four Play The popular anthology series of gay short films returns once more with a selection of favorites picked up from such film festivals as West Hollywood's Outfest. Allegedly there's a pun somewhere in the title, but we just can't quite figure it out.

Masked and Anonymous Hands up, who hangs around the Santa Barbara country clubs? Bob Dylan headlines this weird movie about a bogus benefit concert, also starring Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, and John Goodman. Didn't anybody invite Bob Roberts?

Mondays in the Sun Spanish dockworkers get laid off and have a rotten time. Stars Javier Bardem of The Dancer Upstairs, directed by Fernando León de Aranoa.

Seabiscuit Tobey Maguire takes time out from slinging webs and wooing the daughter of a high-ranking Universal executive to pretend he's short enough to jockey a horse. Gary Ross (Pleasantville) takes on the novel by Laura Hillenbrand about the titular racehorse and the joy it brought to the country during the Great Depression.

 

AUGUST

28 Days Later A deadly biological agent breaks loose in the U.K.; in 28 days (the usual length of time for a mail-order package to arrive over there, sorta like "6-8 weeks" here) the entire nation has been quarantined, as the infected have become hideously unpleasant zombies who move in fast motion. Should mark something of a comeback for director Danny Boyle, who's floundered lately with the disappointing A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach.

American Wedding For all the so-called immorality that goes on in the American Pie movies, it now seems that in this third one, long-suffering protagonist Jim (Jason Biggs) will end up marrying the first and only girl he's ever had sex with (Alyson Hannigan). Cast members who've gotten progressively more expensive (Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Chris Klein, Shannon Elizabeth, Natasha Lyonne) have been jettisoned, but Fred Willard (yes!) joins the series as Hannigan's dad. Bob Dylan's less famous son Jesse (How High) directs.

Dirty Pretty Things Audrey Tautou (Amélie) makes her English-language debut in this crime thriller from stylish Brit director Stephen Frears. In it she teams up with an illegal Nigerian immigrant (Chiwetel Ejiofor; great name, now how the hell do you pronounce it?) to solve a mysterious murder in a fancy London hotel.

Gigli At last you get to see it, folks: the movie that brought Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez together. What's the plot? Glad you asked: "B. Af" is Gigli, a hitman assigned to kidnap a retarded kid (Justin Bartha) and hold him for ransom. "J. Lo" is the lesbian hitwoman assigned to babysit Gigli when it seems he won't be up to the job. Both become better (heterosexual) people thanks to the innocence and purity of their mentally challenged prisoner. Sounds like a blast, right?

The Fighting Temptations Call it "Sweet Homeboy Alabama." Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays a hip-hop producer who goes home to the South after his aunt dies, only to find that in order to receive his inheritance, he has to form a successful gospel choir. Irritating Next Friday costar Mike Epps plays Cuba's country cousin, but with Beyoncé Knowles and Faith Evans lending their pipes, the gospel numbers should at least sound good.

Shaolin Soccer If the Bears are bad news and the Ducks suck, perhaps there's an antidote in these wacky footballers from China. Their martial arts training allows them to do supernatural moves, but they face equally formidable opponents. Stephen Chow acts, writes, directs, and cashes the checks.

American Splendor The popular favorite at this year's Sundance Festival mixes drama and documentary in its look at the life of Harvey Pekar, who chronicles his own true-life story in a comic book, also called American Splendor. Pekar appears as himself in the real-life segments; Paul Giamatti plays him in the re-enactments. Sounds like a tricky balance to pull off, but all indications are that the husband-and-wife directing team of Shari Berman and Bob Pulcini have done so with aplomb.

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 X Lisa 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.

Ken Park Self-appointed chronicler of juvenile delinquency Larry Clark teams up once again with his Kids screenwriter Harmony Korine (himself a former juvenile delinquent, currently minus only the "juvenile" part except perhaps in sensibility). The story involves skaters, but this is no Grind -- expect Clark's usual heavy doses of underage sex, violence, and profanity designed to titilla ... er, shock you out of your suburban naiveté.

Ripley's Game Matt Damon, it seems, will grow up to be John Malkovich, in this adaptation of one of author Patricia Highsmith's sequels to The Talented Mr. Ripley. Tom Ripley's older, and married, but he's still a psychopath, and given that there were two subsequent Ripley books, he presumably still gets away with it.

The Secret Lives of Dentists Alan Rudolph's latest film centers on a married pair of dentists (Campbell Scott and Judy Davis), who may not quite be telling each other the whole truth. Denis Leary gets to play angry again in his own unique fashion, as a patient who lashes out at Scott in ways the rest of us terrified dental subjects can only fantasize about.

 

Sex is Comedy Of course it is. French director Catherine Breillat, who likes to shock and arouse audiences with sex and cruelty, delivers a self-reflexive parody of her own work in this film about a female director (Anne Parillaud) determined to get her lead actors to have real sex on camera.

The Three Marias So, these three girls named Maria walk into a bar ... Actually, it's no joke. In this Brazilian crime drama, the three Marias are sisters out to avenge the murder of their father and brothers at the hands of one of their mom's spurned ex-boyfriends. You'll feel better about your own family reunions afterward.


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