SNEAK PREVIEWS, Hollywood gossip and even Harry Knowles' Dr. Mabuse-like network of spies will only tell you so much. We've done our best to handicap the high tide of summer movies surging our way (see key below), but sometimes the Magic Eight Ball is the only oracle worth relying on when handicapping summer movies. Unfortunately, even this common toy can't guarantee the opening dates on the films below, which are subject to distributors throwing nine-sided dice to determine release schedules.
A complete wipeout. Regroup and try again.
Just treading water until something better comes along.
Sturdy footing, the wind in your face--worth paddling in place for.
The perfect wave sweeps viewers to a peak experience.
Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner (July 3)
It's in Inuit, it's set in Greenland and it's three hours long. Maybe I'm ethnocentric, but Atanarjuat sounds ethnographic. However, this festival hit has its partisans. So did Himalaya.
QUESTION: Magic Eight Ball, is "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" by Frank Zappa included on the Songs Inspired by Atanarjuat CD?
MAGIC EIGHT BALL: You May Rely On It
Bartleby (June 7)
The patron saint of temp-workers returns. Crispin Glover plays Herman Melville's alienated hero who would rather stay at his empty desk than be fired. Directed by Northern California native Jonathan Parker, who should be attuned to the Silicon Valley analogy.
The Believer (June 14)
Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish kid who turns into a raving anti-Semite. The film is based on a true story--and is, supposedly, far better than its queasy description. Certainly, Gosling (Murder by Numbers) is one of the best up-and-comers among young actors.
Blood Work (Aug. 9)
Cop Clint Eastwood tracks a serial killer; the twist is that he's still recovering from a heart transplant--which makes for love interest by his cardiologist (Anjelica Huston).
QUESTION: Will Blood Work top John Q for gross heart-transplant scenes?
MAGIC EIGHT BALL: Don't Count On It
Blue Crush (July 12)
North Shore, Oahu: Several highly competitive surfers contend for the big ones at Broken Neck Beach. John Stockwell (director of the promising but flawed crazy/beautiful) returns, but he doesn't have Kirsten Dunst this time. The cast features Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez and many very large waves.
QUESTION: Magic Eight Ball, has Michelle Rodriguez learned other facial expressions beside "The Sulk"?
MAGIC EIGHT BALL: My Reply Is No
Cherish (June 7)
The return of Finn Taylor, the ex-Berkeley director who did the light yet sweet Dream With the Fishes, still the best movie ever made on the San Mateo coast. Taylor leads a cast that includes Tim Blake Nelson (the nice guy who was thought to be a toad in O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Robin Tunney and Jason Priestly. Tunney plays a shut-in under house arrest; Nelson is her parole officer. Look closely, and you'll see Liz Phair, Lindsay Crouse and Nora Dunn.
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (July 12) See review.
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (June 21)
Chris Furhman's novel about a Catholic boyhood somewhere in the kudzu belt is the work of an author who, like the late lamented John Kennedy O'Toole before him, published, then perished. Anyhow: Jodie Foster plays a one-legged nun; Vincent D'Onofrio is a whiskey priest. The animation sequences are by cartoon-world Goliath Todd MacFarland. The title guarantees attention, even if for all the wrong reasons.
Das Experiment (Aug. 30 or late summer)
The fictional film version of the sociology study that has become an urban legend: in which ordinary students suddenly grow a fascist streak when playing "guards" in a prison simulation.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood(June 7) See review.
Eight Legged Freaks (July 19)
David Arquette, "the hobgoblin of little movies," represents humanity's last line of defense against an invasion of mutant spiders. Seems like your basic ozoner (drive-in) fare, but, alas, so did Arachnophobia. Scarlett Johansson of Ghost World co-stars. (Copyeditor's Lament: What happened to that hyphen?)
QUESTION: Magic Eight Ball, if a pack of mutant spiders is chasing you, should you hide in the basement? I really need to know, quick.
MAGIC EIGHT BALL: Better Not Tell You Now
The Emperor's New Clothes (June 28 in San Jose)
Ian Holm plays Napoleon and his double. In this tale of the diminutive despot's second last stand, the emperor returns to Paris in the 1820s and starts scheming for a comeback. Iben Hjejle (John Cusack's live-in/live-out girlfriend in High Fidelity) co-stars as his new flame.
Elling (June 21)
Norway's entry in the race for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar chronicles a pair of mentally challenged rejects. The semisane are a traditional subject of avant-garde Scandinavian cinema, especially since the Dogme movement began (is there a secret clause in the Dogme Charter?).
Enigma (May 24)
Overworked and nerve-wracked British mathematicians at Station X, Bletchley Park, England, break the Nazi's most tantalizing code. Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows co-star. Produced by Mick Jagger and directed by Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough).
Enough (May 24)
Jennifer Lopez stars as a wife battered by her husband (Billy Campbell), who heeds no restraining order. Incidentally, I heard this morning that Radio Shack will take your old, discarded cellular phones and give them to the police, who will pass them on to battered wives who might need them to dial 911 fast. Instead of just plugging a movie that sounds very much like Sleeping With the Enemy, I've actually done my do-gooder project for the day.
Full Frontal (Aug. 2)
Blair Underwood, Julia Roberts, David Duchovny and Catherine Keener star in a shot-on-digital impromptu movie. It's Steven Soderbergh's endeavor to recreate the freshness of 1960s films about films.
QUESTION: Will there be people who go see Julia Roberts in Full Frontal expecting Julia Roberts to do full frontal?
MAGIC EIGHT BALL: My Answer Is Yes.
A Guy Thing (Aug. 23)
The night after a wild bachelor party, the groom-to-be (Jason Lee) wakes up with a strange girl (Julie Stiles). Meanwhile, the mean bride (Selma Blair) seeks revenge.
Halloween: Resurrection (July 19)
It's Halloween 8, under another name. This time, Michael Myers attacks via live webcast, while PalmPilot-equipped viewers watch and warn. Busta Rhymes, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sean Patrick "Doogie Hauser" Thomas co-stars.
Hey Arnold! The Movie (June 28)
Animated fun based on the Nickelodeon cartoon series; voices by Christopher Lloyd and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The Importance of Being Earnest (May 31)
The epigram-match of all time, as directed by Oliver Parker (who did the somewhat stifling version of An Ideal Husband). Here we get Rupert Everett as Algernon, Reese Witherspoon as Cecily, Colin Firth as Jack, Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell, Tom Wilkinson as Rev. Dr. Canon Chausuble and Anna Massey as Miss Prism, the forgetful nursemaid (which would have seemed the natural part for Dench). "The good end happily, the bad end unhappily. That is what fiction means."--Oscar Wilde
Insomnia (May 24)
Sleepless in Alaska. An LAPD detective (Al Pacino) with a bad conscience tracks down a chatty murderer (Robin Williams) who taunts his hunter even as the midnight sun keeps the lawman from slumber. Christopher Nolan (Memento) directs, and Pacino, for a change, acts awake, but the extended, operatic style wears down the tension, and Hilary Swank offers no rescue as a starry-eyed cop who, at long, long last, realizes that Pacino's detective has a corrupt streak.
Juwanna Mann (June 21)
Kicked out of the NBA, a hotshot player (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.) dress in girls' togs and joins the WNBA. Vivica A. Fox co-stars.
QUESTION: Magic Eight Ball, will the TV commercial for Juwanna Mann feature that "rippppp" record-scratch sound effect the first time we see Nunez dressed in girl's clothes?
MAGIC EIGHT BALL: Try Again Later
K-19: The Widowmaker (July 19) Das Russian Boot: Harrison Ford plays the skipper of a doomed prototype submarine of the USSR; based on a true story by the erratic but talented director Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Point Break).
The Lady and the Duke (May 24)
Eric Rohmer's newest was shot on digital film with stage backdrops. It's been described as "an oil painting come to life," which, considering Gene Hackman's famous line about Rohmer in Night Moves--"It's like watching paint dry"--is unfortunate. On the eve of the French Revolution, we meet an English noblewoman (Lucy Russell) and Jean-Claude Dreyfus' Duc Phillipe d'Orleans. Yes, history lovers, not the regent-duke of Orleans who was featured in Que la Fete Commence but the one nicknamed "l'Egalite," the father of King Louis-Phillipe, Honore Daumier's frequent target. You know, that Duke of Orleans.
The Last Kiss (Aug. 2)
A bridegroom (Bacio Stefano Accorsi) searches for a final prenuptial tryst. Gabriele Macinos directed this Sundance hit.
Lagaan (May 31)
Occasionally given the alternate title Once Upon a Time in India. Aamir Khan stars as the Gene Kellyesque leader of a village who sportingly gambles triple-or-nothing that he can beat an English general at cricket. The most costly film in Indian history, this nearly four-hour epic was a semifinalist at the Oscars.
Les Destinées (June 14)
Olivier Assayas' epic, set in pre-World War I France, about a Protestant minister of a wealthy family who loses his wife (Isabelle Huppert) to suspected infidelity and falls in love with a far younger girl (Emmanuelle Béart).
Like Mike (July 3)
Li'l Bow Wow, Snoop's protégé, stars as an orphan who wants to play in the NBA--and then he finds a pair of magic gym shoes once worn by Michael Jordan. Now, wait a minute, Jordan wears a size 13, at least, and the 15-year-old Li'l Bow Wow looks like a size 8, maybe ...
Lilo & Stitch (June 21)
E.T. goes Hawaiian in the new Disney full-length cartoon about a bat-eared alien ending up as the guest in an island home. It is supposed to be slightly rowdier than usual. Disney would like a hit, since, according to Entertainment Weekly, its last cartoon, Atlantis, "only" made $84 million. (Aw, the pobrecitos.) Voices include Tia Carerre, Jason Scott Lee and--yeah!--David Ogden "Mr. Entertainment" Stiers!
Love and a Bullet (June 14)
Treach, of Naughty by Nature, is a hit man who is interfered with by love. The director is Ben Ramsey (The Big Hit, with Mark Wahlberg).
Lovely and Amazing (June 28 limited release) See review.
Mad Love (Sept. 6)
Unfortunately, this is not a new print of the Peter Lorre classic. It's the new title for Vincente Aranda's Juana La Loca, about Juana (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), the queen of Castille (1504-06). Married to an emperor and the mother of emperors, she still went mad for the love of her unfaithful husband. (That's the romantic Spanish version, anyway.)
Me Without You (July 21, limited)
An English answer to the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: two female friends (Michelle Williams and Anna Friels) weather three decades.
Men in Black II (July 3)
Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), who is working as a postman, is brought back to the job by his former partner, Agent Jay (Will Smith). Lara Flynn Boyle--who may well be too skinny to be human--plays the alien villainess.
Minority Report (June 21)
Dateline: The Future! Three shaven-headed waifs in a flotation tank predict the future--according to their flawless prognostications, civilians are arrested before they commit murders. One day, they predict that a member of the future-crimes police (Tom Cruise) is about to commit a murder, and he must go on the run. A film noir plot gussied up with drones and jet-packs and based on Philip K. Dick's short story. Steven Spielberg directs.
My Wife Is an Actress (July 19)
Yvan Attal, husband of Charlotte Gainsbourg, does a semifictional account of a director jealous of his actress-wife--and nervous about her love scenes with Terence Stamp.
The Mystic Masseur (May 24)
Merchant-Ivory's version of V.S. Naipul's novel about the progress of a Trinidad country boy from teacher to novelist to healer to member of Parliament. Aasif Mandui stars as the hero, Ganesh; the magisterial actor Om Pui plays his father-in-law.
One Hour Photo (Aug. 21) See review.
(Copyeditor's Lament, Part II: Where have all the hyphens gone, long time coming?)
Possession (Aug. 30)
Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart team up in Neil LaBute's version of A.S. Byatt's novel about lit scholars in love. This project has a troubled pedigree, mostly because of the trickiness of adapting a novel set partially in the past and partially in the present.
The Powerpuff Girls movie (July 3)
Huge-eyed flying moppets fight the bad turbaned chimp Mojo Jojo. Brought to the screen at a budget of more than $10,000!! This stuff's a little too cute for Ol' Richard, who watched enough of these limited-animation illustrated-radio Hanna-Barbarities back when he was a bored little kid.
Pumpkin (June 28)
Christina Ricci, dyed blonde for the nonce, plays Carolyn, a sorority sister of Alpha Omega Pi. She falls for a handicapped student named "Pumpkin" (Hank Harris). Francis Ford Coppola co-produced.
Rain (May 31)
Based on Kirsty Gunn's coming-of-age novel about a summer vacation in New Zealand and the fracturing of a family by infidelity. Christine Jeffs directs.
Reign of Fire (July 12)
The cities of the future have been burnt to a crisp by fire-breathing dragons, and helicopter pilot Izabella Scorupco, fireman Christian Bale and touchy mercenary Matthew McConaughey join forces to put out a citywide dragon-net. Surprisingly, John Carpenter is not the director; actually it's Rob Bowman (The X-Files movie).
Road to Perdition (July 12)
Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is an Irish mob hitman during the Depression who loses most of his family. He goes hunting for vengeance, under the direction of Sam Mendes. Based on Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner's graphic novel.
Scooby-Doo (June 14)
Raja Gosnell, the auteur behind Big Momma's House, brings you a legend--a legend of a talking Great Dane with a speech impediment, a beatnik named Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), a skeptic named Fred (Freddie Prinz Jr.) and a glamour puss named Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Inside jokes about this cartoon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer seem to have made this film inevitable. The lesson? Be careful in what you joke about.
QUESTION: Magic Eight Ball, will there be lesbian jokes about the tomboy Velma, the plain girl aboard the Mystery Machine?
MAGIC EIGHT BALL: Most Likely
Secret Ballot (Aug. 16)
Deep in the Iranian hinterland, a soldier (Cyrus Abidi) is assigned to escort a female precinct worker (Nassim Abdi). Iranian cinema is always a good bet these days.
Secretary (Aug. 9)
Maggie Gyllenhall--the chipmunk-cheeked Satanist "Raven" in Cecil B. Demented, and brother to Jake--plays a troubled temp with a need to be spanked. James Spader is her boss, who finds himself lured into her troubling world.
Serving Sara (Aug. 16)
A nouveau screwball comedy about Matthew Perry as a process server who swoons for the woman he's tracked down to serve divorce papers (Elizabeth Hurley). Bruce Campbell and Cedric the Entertainer co-star.
Signs (Aug. 2)
M. Night Shyamalan (of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) tackles the fairly unsettling subject of ... crop circles; still, he does have a way with mood. Mel Gibson plays a minister who lost his faith and his wife and suddenly sees messages in the cornfields. Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator) co-stars.
Simone (Aug. 16)
A Galatea story from the director of Gattaca. Al Pacino stars as a computer-equipped Pygmalion who creates a synthetic actress whom he calls "Simone." She becomes a celebrity, but there's trouble from the media, the studio and Pacino's ex-wife (Catherine Keener).
Skins (Aug. 9)
Chris Eyres' follow-up to Smoke Signals; in which a Lakota Sioux police officer (Graham Greene) has to deal with the continued problem of his hard-drinking and unbalanced brother.
Slap Her, She's French(August 23) See review.
QUESTION: Magic Eight Ball, will Slap Her, She's French be this year's dumbest film title?
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (May 24)
In this animated Dreamworks feature, a free-spirited pony is caught by the U.S. Army but breaks free to roam again. Matt Damon does the voice-overs. As close to Mr. Ed-The Movie as we're likely to get.
QUESTION: Will Spirit the mustang's mom die like Bambi's mom did?
MAGIC EIGHT BALL: Without a Doubt
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (Aug. 7) See review.
Stuart Little 2 (July 19)
Overheard at the multiplex ticket window: "Oh, come on, Pam, Devon's old enough to watch Eight Legged Freaks. You don't want to watch the dumb mouse movie, Devon, do ya? Spiders, huh, Devon. Spiders! Ooh, scary spiders! What do you mean, 'I won't be the one who has to comfort him at 3am when he has nightmares?' Sigh. Three tickets for Stuart Little, please." Co-stars Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie, with Michael J. Fox doing the voice of the mouse.
The Sum of All Fears (May 31) See review.
QUESTION: Magic Eight Ball, could James Bond beat up Jack Ryan?
MAGIC EIGHT BALL: Most likely
13 Conversations About One Thing (May 31)
The latest version of the "dozen characters in search of a plot" film, a theme that's been worked a little exhaustively lately. Mostly, it's a study of how the American temperament ignores, to its peril, the otherwise worldwide belief in the evil eye. Big-shot lawyer Matthew McConaughey learns humility; optimist Clea DuVall learns pessimism; pessimist Alan Arkin learns that pessimism can be taken to excess.
Windtalkers (June 14)
Nicolas Cage stars in the much-postponed World War II drama set in the Pacific with a friendship growing between a Navajo (Adam Beach) and an American Marine (Cage). John Woo directs. The release is just in time for Flag Day.