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Think Different 

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

Wednesday, May 28 2003
It's usually right about this time of year that film critics, especially those of advancing years, begin to feel a slow chill of dread creep up their spines. Suppressing that urge, they 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! How can I possibly suffer so ignominious a fate as to be forced to watch big-budget movies aimed at those less intelligent than myself?" Meanwhile, the movies themselves break all records, and if they don't do so legitimately, then a new benchmark is invented, i.e., "This movie had the fourth largest opening of any movie to come out on the third Tuesday in August, starring Dustin Hoffman, and containing the syllable "ish' in the title!"

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 The Hulk would seem on the surface to be dumb -- a big green guy who smashes stuff isn't exactly the picture of subtlety -- yet it's 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, features characters from classic literature, among them Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, the Invisible Man, and Dr. Jekyll. And Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines may not have James Cameron on board anymore, but substitute director Jonathan Mostow is known for thrillers of above-average intelligence like Breakdown and U-571.

Further taxing the minds of the dumb is a series of unnecessarily wordy movie titles, most with colons in the middle. In addition to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (cleverly shortened to LXG by the marketing department), there's Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary, And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, the unwieldy Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, and the grand champion of them all, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. To quote Butt-head, "If I wanted to read, I'd go to school."

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 (Jeepers Creepers II).

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. We've got fanciful love (Alex and Emma), French love (Jet Lag, The Housekeeper), parental love (Freaky Friday), surrogate sibling love (Uptown Girls), and, of course, the unnatural love of baked goods and wind instruments (American Wedding).

As always, though, there are a significant number of entries that defy categorization. We've got the Maori movie Whale Rider, a nonreality spinoff of a reality show (From Justin to Kelly), 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 minitrends. 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. Juvenile delinquency seems to be enjoying an art-house resurgence (Thirteen, Sweet Sixteen). And superstar crossovers look to rake in the dough: Nightmare on Elm Street bogyman Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) finally takes on Friday the 13th killer Jason Voorhees (some new guy in place of Kane Hodder, who previously owned the role) in Freddy vs. Jason, while two sets of deformed-looking cartoon children get together in Nickelodeon's Rugrats Go Wild. If Hollywood's listening, I'd like to see a Mandy Moore vs. Britney Spears flick next, but it had better be R-rated and feature mud pits.

Finally, one item that warms 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 will hit a cinema near you (the Castro, to be exact) this season.

What follows is a comprehensive listing of every film that we know of scheduled to open during the summer months. Right when we finished the list, at least one movie probably shifted its release date. By the time you're done reading, more will have done so. Some will be postponed to another season, while others may never open at all, but if you love cinema, we know you won't care. Memorize all the synopses anyway, and you can pretend to be knowledgeable about every picture of the season, and many beyond. If nothing else, you'll be well armed for your next game of charades.

May 30

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 '70s. The Production Code had just ended, and the corporate blockbuster mentality had not yet begun, so a bunch of wild and crazy auteurs essentially 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. (IFC)

Finding Nemo Pixar's latest computer-animated opus goes underwater in this tale of a young clown fish 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. (Disney)

The Italian Job He tried stepping into Cary Grant's shoes in The Truth About Charlie; now Mark Wahlberg tries on Michael Caine's footwear for size. Wahlberg's not a bad actor, but he doesn't help himself by forcing comparisons to the greats like this. Italy, meanwhile, barely registers any screen time in this heist remake directed by F. Gary Gray (A Man Apart), and Edward Norton only appears as the villain because he was contractually forced to do so by Paramount. Mos Def, Seth Green, Charlize Theron, and Donald Sutherland also appear in what looks to be at least a strong ensemble. (Paramount)

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 this film (originally titled 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. (Palm)

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. (United Artists)

Wisegirls Mira Sorvino, Mariah Carey, and Melora Walters (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) are waitresses at a Mafia-owned restaurant in New York City. It sounds like a comedy, but it's really a nightmare: Sorvino witnesses a mob hit, then gets paid off to keep her mouth shut -- and, well, you can guess the rest. (Lions Gate)

Wrong Turn Director Rob Schmidt of the iffy, pretentious Crime and Punishment in Suburbia has somehow managed to keep working. His latest concerns teens chased through the mountains of Virginia by -- what else? -- hideously deformed, inbred, cannibalistic mutants. In case you don't get enough of this in real life, you may consider joining Eliza Dushku and Jeremy Sisto for their little adventure. Or you may not. With effects by Stan Winston. (Fox)

June 6

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 people like, though, and there are plenty -- as long as they crash into stuff, it's all good. (Universal)

Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary In the beginning, there was Bram Stoker's vampire novel. Then the Royal Winnipeg Ballet turned it into a dance, scored with selections by Gustav Mahler. Canadian public television filmed this, and now it's coming to big screens here in the United States. Mostly black-and-white and entirely dialogue-free, this ain't your father's Dracula -- it's more like your great-grandfather's Dracula. After Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000, though, anything's an improvement. (Zeitgeist)

Marooned in Iraq Nope, it's not about your enlisted cousin -- well, probably not. Celebrated Persian director Bhaman 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. (Wellspring Media)

Respiro Those who found themselves briefly envying Dustin Hoffman when Valeria Golina 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. (Sony Pictures Classics)

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 home for his mother, who's newly sprung from prison. Naturally, more hard knocks await. (Lions Gate)

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 19th-century China. (Destination Films)

June 13

Capturing the Friedmans This documentary follows the dissolution of a seemingly typical family, after 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. (Magnolia)

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd It's possibly the worst prequel idea since The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas: a Dumb and Dumber movie without Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, or the Farrelly brothers (or even Trey Parker and Matt Stone, long ago attached). Nonetheless, based on the trailer, Eric Christian Olsen's Jim Carrey impersonation looks impressively dead-on. Maybe there's hope. (New Line)

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. (Palm)

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 co-write the amusing Spice World. (Fox)

Hollywood Homicide Ron Shelton follows his serious cop movie (Dark Blue) with a not-so-serious one that teams up yesterday's heartthrob Harrison Ford with current "It" boy Josh Hartnett. Ford, of course, is the hard-bitten veteran cop saddled with rookie partner Hartnett, who has a thing for yoga and New Agey beliefs. Presumably, they learn something from one another while attempting to solve a case, the nature and location of which are described in the film's cleverly alliterative title. (Sony)

Jet Lag A romantic comedy set in Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, this film brings together French heavyweights Juliette Binoche, Jean Reno, and Sergi Lopez. And separates them. And brings them together again. They just keep running into one another! Lopez is better looking than Reno, so he probably gets the girl ... then again, French directors do love to offer unexpected twists. (Miramax)

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 who looks like a mosquito, and helmed by German director Peter Sehr. (Daybreak Pictures)

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. (Smashing Entertainment/7th Floor)

Rugrats Go Wild Those really grotesque-looking kids meet up with the globe-trotting Thornberrys in what promises to be an exotic adventure. Where else -- apart from maybe Spago -- are you going to get Tim Curry and LL Cool J at the same place? With music by Devo's zany frontman, Mark Mothersbaugh. (Paramount)

June 20

Alex and Emma A Rob Reiner romantic comedy allegedly based on the Dostoevski 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 to her mom. (Warner Bros.)

The Hulk Hey, brother! What'cha gonna do when the largest arms in the world run wild on you? Wait, wrong Hulk. No middle-aged wrestler's biceps can measure up to those of the 15-foot CGI creation who runs roughshod over San Francisco in this comic-book adaptation. Audiences will be lured in by lovely Jennifer Connelly and the promise of "Hulk smash!" but director Ang Lee hopes they'll stay for a story line he likens more to classic tragedy. Wait'll you see the mutated "Hulk dogs." Eric Bana, who did mood swings to perfection in Chopper, stars as alter ego Bruce Banner. (Universal)

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. (Newmarket Films)

June 27

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. (Fox Searchlight)

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle The genius of director McG's first Charlie's Angels was that it had something for almost everyone: girls kicking ass for the ladies, fetishistic costume changes for the guys, self-satire for the hip ironists, Tom Green for those who prefer less subtle humor, Crispin Glover for the weirdos, etc. It was a movie that made no apologies for its junk food consistency, and neither does the new one, by the looks of things. Green and Bill Murray are gone, but instead we get Bernie Mac and, uh, Demi Moore. (Sony)

The Hard Word Australian crossover stars Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths star in this heist movie from down under, which looks not unlike something Guy Ritchie might make (and remember, prior to Swept Away, that wasn't perceived as such a bad thing). There's a plan, a gang is assembled, and something goes wrong -- but the cast members have funny accents, which makes it different. So funny, in fact, that the movie's trailer actually spells out key lines of dialogue on screen. (Lions Gate)

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 (a better title, all things considered). Russell Crowe's imaginary friend Paul Bettany is the unfortunate fellow forced to choose between the lovely ladies. (ThinkFilm)

Japon The feature debut of director Carlos Reygadas (and winner of several film festival awards from around the world), this drama tells the story of a suicidal painter (Alejandro Ferretis) befriended by an old woman (Magdalena Flores). The Chicago Tribune calls it "imaginative, dazzling." (Vitagraph Films)

The Legend of Suriyothai Historical epic about Queen Suriyothai of Thailand, who died defending King Mahachakrapat. Lavish production, set in the 16th century, edited in part by Francis Ford Coppola, who loves his pad thai. (Sony Pictures Classics)

On-Line This jury prize winner from the Cinequest film festival concerns a sad sack (Josh Hamilton) who starts an adult Internet site with his roommate. (Lightning Entertainment)

July 2

Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde Everybody's ... um ... favorite frilly Harvard Law School grad is back. Reese Witherspoon dons the pink and heads to Washington to fight for animal rights. Obviously, she begins by removing all animal products from the craft service tables and catering trucks and serving her Chihuahua vegan dog food. (MGM)

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' only contribution to the summer screen. (DreamWorks)

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. (Focus Features)

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 18-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. (Warner Bros.)

July 9

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. (Disney)

July 11

Cet Amour-là Based on the true story of the love affair between sixtysomething alcoholic French novelist Marguerite Duras (Jeanne Moreau) and twentysomething personal secretary Yann Andrea (Aymeric Demarigny) over the last 16 years of her life -- as revealed in Andrea's tell-all book. (New Yorker)

I Capture the Castle Based on the debut novel by One Hundred and One Dalmatians author Dodie Smith, this romantic comedy sticks a couple of wealthy Americans alongside an eccentric English family living in a crumbling castle, sits back, and lets humorous situations ensue. (Samuel Goldwyn)

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 -- like Fox's other Moore adaptation, From Hell -- shot in Prague. (Fox)

Madame Sata In case you were looking for a movie about Joao Francisco dos Santos, the transvestite chef who caroused through Rio in the '30s, well, here's one. Lazaro Ramos plays the titular "Madame" while Karim Ainouz writes and directs. (Dominant 7)

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. (Miramax)

July 18

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 it -- 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. (Sony)

Exorcist: The Beginning In what may just be the casting coup of the year, Stellan Skarsgård 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. (Warner Bros.)

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' native Sydney, the film apparently does retain at least some of the director's trademark visual strangeness; a drug sequence or two allows for some fun with CG effects. (Fox Searchlight)

How to Deal Based on two young adult novels by Sarah Dessen, Mandy Moore's second feature starring role sees her cast as a cynical teen who has determined that true love doesn't exist. Care to take bets on whether she'll be proven wrong? The title's annoying and the poster banal, but Moore proved to be a surprisingly effective screen presence in the admittedly thin A Walk to Remember, so this could be the start of something big. (New Line)

Johnny English Mr. Bean seems 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. (Universal)

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. (Paramount Classics)

July 23

Mission Without Permission Last year, director Bart Freundlich got Julianne Moore's best performance out of her in the otherwise spotty World Traveler. This year he enlists Panic Room's Kristen Stewart to play a young girl concocting a heist to afford her father a costly operation. Probably, like, fun and meaningful. (Fox)

July 25

Buffalo Soldiers 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 OK with The Quiet American). That the movie's set in 1989 seems to be of no consequence. 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. (Miramax)

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. (IFC)

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. (Sony Pictures Classics)

The 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 Duquenne). Thing is, she's never actually done any housework in her life. It's based on a novel by Christian Oster. (Palm)

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life Now that she's gotten over the loss of Daddy dearest, maybe Ms. Croft (Angelina Jolie) can get back to shooting stuff, jumping off things, and running afoul of armored primates made of stone. Jan DeBont takes over the directorial reins of this latest adventure, which sees Lara in Africa, looking for Pandora's Box (wait, wasn't Pandora Greek? Does it matter?). (Paramount)

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. (Fox Searchlight)

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 he brought to the country during the Great Depression. (Universal)

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over Robert Rodriguez returns to his beloved adventure franchise for the third time in as many years. Young spy Alexa Vega gets caught in a virtual-reality video game designed by the evil Sylvester Stallone and must be saved by her brother Daryl Sabara, and probably their parents Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino. With Salma Hayek and Ricardo Montalban, thank goodness. (Dimension)

The Weather Underground Everything ignites in local filmmaker Sam Green's riveting, revelatory portrait of uncivil disobedience. Three decades on, former members of the left-wing group -- which concluded that violence against the government was the only way to stop the Vietnam War -- talk candidly about those volatile days. At its core, The Weather Underground is a profound and profoundly relevant salute to idealism, its limits and its costs. (Shadow Distribution)

August 1

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. (Universal)

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Just in case you missed George Clooney's impressive directorial debut last December, Miramax is rereleasing it, thereby delaying the DVD even further. Sam Rockwell stars as Chuck Barris, the Gong Show host who later claimed to be a CIA assassin. Clooney has a way with the camera; he's evidently been taking lessons in directing from his pal Steven Soderbergh. (Miramax)

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 hit man assigned to kidnap a retarded kid (Justin Bartha) and hold him for ransom. "J. Lo" is the lesbian hit woman assigned to baby-sit 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? (Sony)

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. (Manhattan)

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. (New Yorker)

August 6

Freaky Friday Now in its umpteenth remake, the old "parent trades bodies with child" routine gets handed off to Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan (who also starred in the remake of The Parent Trap). Curiously, director Mark S. Waters made his debut with the perversely incestuous Parker Posey flick The House of Yes, so it'll be interesting to see if he can sneak any twisted subtext past the Disney folk. (Disney)

August 8

And Now Ladies and Gentlemen A jewel thief (Jeremy Irons) and a jazz singer (Patricia Kaas) encounter one another in Morocco as they both try to forget their pasts. Rumor had it earlier this year that Irons' wife was a little upset with all the steamy nudity that ensues, but that shouldn't affect your enjoyment one iota. (Paramount Classics)

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. (Cowboy)

Le Divorce Now that Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts are brand names, James Ivory carts them to Paris to play around at being young zany women having weird romantic issues. (Fox Searchlight)

Matchstick Men Not exactly known for his comedies, Ridley Scott dares to deliver Nicolas Cage as a con artist whose teenage daughter Alison Lohman shows up at the wrong time. Song by Status Quo (and/or Camper Van Beethoven) not confirmed at press time. (Warner Bros.)

The Princess Blade Donnie Yen (Iron Monkey, Blade II) choreographed the fight scenes in this adaptation of the Japanese comic book about samurai wars in the near future. A sequel's already in the works, so presumably international audiences have grooved to the ass-kicking. (ADV Films)

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. (Miramax)

S.W.A.T. Oh, come on already. Fine, here's another cinematic remake of an old TV show. The thing is -- from the story by George Huang (Swimming With Sharks) to an all-star cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, and LL Cool J -- it shows significant promise. Still, it begs the question: Will S.W.A.T. be fly? (Sony)

August 15

Freddy vs. Jason The walking corpse of a drowned redneck with Down's syndrome heads to Elm Street to take on a Kentucky Fried child-murderer who only exists in dreams. Fans of '80s slashers have awaited this showdown for more than a decade; given that most of the Freddy movies are pretty good and the Jason ones shoddy, there's a 50-50 chance of suckitude, especially since the producers totally dissed Kane Hodder by recasting Jason (with another stunt guy, no less). However, Hong Kong director Ronny Yu does have a track record of stylishly resurrecting '80s horror icons -- Bride of Chucky rocked. (New Line)

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. (Miramax)

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? (Screen Gems)

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. (Film Movement)

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). (IDP/Samuel Goldwyn/Fireworks)

Step Into Liquid "The simple truth about surfing," according to the trailer -- with footage from Northern California's Maverick's, the Easter Islands, Ireland, and Cortez Banks (near San Diego), among other places -- directed by Dana Brown of Endless Summer 2. Includes a soundtrack of original music by Richard Gibbs of Oingo Boingo. (New Visual Entertainment)

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. (MGM)

August 20

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 14, which puts her mental age a good two years higher than that of the average studio scribe. (Fox Searchlight)

August 22

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, 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 husband-and-wife directing team Shari Berman and Bob Pulcini have done so with aplomb. (Fine Line)

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. (Magnolia)

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. (Lions Gate)

Don't Tempt Me An angel from heaven (Victoria Abril) and a demon from hell (Penélope Cruz) come to Earth to try to win over the soul of a boxer with a potentially fatal brain injury. Sounds totally insane, and an absolute must-see. (First Look)

Grind Skateboarding's the cool thing right now, so they say, and to cash in on this hot new trend that all the kids are into, 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. (Warner Bros.)

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 co-stars as rapper "Dr. Snatchcatcher," and Christine Baranski appears as the token evil Republican. (Paramount)

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. (Miramax)

August 27

Highwaymen Jim Caviezel and Rhona Mitra are pursued by a serial killer ... who likes to run people over with his car! Undoubtedly inspired by the sole occasion on which a studio executive had to drive himself on the L.A. freeways. (New Line)

August 29

Jeepers Creepers II Ya know, at least Roman Polanski doesn't make movies about raping little girls (not anymore, anyway). If writer/director Victor Salva really wanted to put his pedophiliac past behind him, he'd stop making films about a pants-sniffing ancient demon that pursues a high school boys basketball team. The creature's costume, incidentally, is the worst rubber suit to come along since Joel Schumacher said, "Batman's armor isn't gay enough." The concept and the goofy title may have suckered you into the first film, but there's no excuse this time. (MGM)

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. Steven Bauer co-stars, just in case you've been wondering what ever happened to him. (IDP)

Party Monster Macaulay Culkin stars in this true story of club promoter Michael Alig, who bragged on TV about killing his drug dealer and roommate -- and saw his glamorous life crumble as a result. Set amid the nightclub scene of '80s and '90s New York City; also with Seth Green. (Strand)

Date Undetermined

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? (Miramax)

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 (Chjwetel Ejiofor; great name, now how the hell do you pronounce it?) to solve a mysterious murder in a fancy London hotel. (Miramax)

Friends and Family It's The Birdcage meets Mickey Blue Eyes! A New York gay couple (Greg Laurin and Christopher Gartin) moonlight as mobsters, but their parents don't know, thinking the twosome runs a gay catering company. When the family shows up for a surprise visit, the charade is taken to extreme lengths, as the couple's mob buddies are coerced into pretending to be waiters and cooking up a dinner party. When rival gangs get involved, hilarity ensues. Advance word has it that this film may be the next My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but somehow the notion that Italians will embrace yet another Mafia comedy seems unlikely. (Regent)

Madison Not the sequel to Splash, alas, but it does involve water. Christ-to-be Jim (James?) Caviezel plays an Indiana air-conditioner repairman who pilots a boat in the 1971 APBA Gold Cup Championship race. Based on a true story. (Artisan)

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, Penélope Cruz, and John Goodman. Didn't anybody invite Bob Roberts? (Sony Pictures Classics)

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

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