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Summer Dozen

[whitespace] Austin Powers What a Shag: Austin Powers (Michael Myers) and Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) attempt to dominate the dance floor in 'The Spy Who Shagged Me.'

A look at the hot season's 12 best bets

By Richard von Busack

AS ROBERT LOUIS Stevenson put it: to travel hopefully is better than to arrive. The promise of an upcoming movie is often more fun than the movie itself (see: The Phantom Menace ). With that warning in mind, here's a preview of the summer's dozen most promising movies:

1 Stop Making Sense (1984) The most thrilling rock concert movie ever made is getting a limited reissue run in a new print with remastered sound. The 1984 concert by the band Talking Heads took place during the peak of the Reagan years, and the music confronts--obliquely, forcefully--the repression and greed of the time. Director Jonathan Demme obviously loves the band's music, but it's never a foolish love. Throughout, there's a sense of the intelligence of a great director shaping the experience of a rock concert. (May 28)

2 Limbo The new John Sayles movie stars David Strathairn as a traumatized fisherman in the Aleutian Islands who starts a romance with nightclub singer Donna de Angelo (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Haskell Wexler photographed. (June 4)

3 Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me Speaking of unmanned heroes--England's suavest and hairiest secret agent, Austin Powers, returns in The Spy Who Shagged Me. Powers (Michael Myers) has his libido stolen by Dr. Evil (also Myers). Powers prepares for a rematch with his scarred nemesis with the help of big-eyed agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather "Rollergirl" Graham) and the gadget-loaded Car of Tomorrow, the Shaguar. (June 11)

4 Xiu Xiu, the Sent Down Girl Joan Chen (Twin Peaks) makes her debut as a director. Xiu Xiu ( pronounced "Shoe-Shoe") is a somewhat spoiled girl who volunteers for one of Chairman Mao's more unlucky schemes, the "Educated Youth" plan, which sent city boys and girls to the remote parts of China as volunteer workers in the countryside. Though it comes from China, this is one of the best Westerns in years. Xiu Xiu demonstrates the old rule that there's nothing depressing about pure tragedy. (June 11)

South Park
Colorado Cut-Outs: TV's 'South Park' goes widescreen this summer.

5 South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut In this opus, Cartman and company fight their parents in a war against censorship. Kenny doesn't survive, once again. (Pundit alert! The real-life Denver neighborhood of South Park isn't far from Columbine High School; could it be that this scatological, nihilist, sacrilegious TV show lowered the moral values of our youth enough to make what was previously inconceivable, uh, conceivable? Please write your representative for answers; they have plenty of spare time and enjoy rhetorical questions of this sort.) (June 30)

6 Wild Wild West Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh take a break from Shakespeare; Robert Zemeckis (Men in Black) directs. Kline and Will Smith play Artemis Gordon and Jim West, a pair of U.S. Secret Agents of the post-Civil War years on the trail of Dr. Loveless (Branagh), who gads around in a steam-powered wheelchair, terrorizing the frontier with a giant mechanical spider. Many deprived children have never seen the original TV show, which was scary and played with wonderful soberness. Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn), the growth-impaired criminal mastermind in the original show, was clearly the hero, surrounded as he was by loyal assistants, a faithful wife and all the trappings of culture. No doubt Dr. Loveless eventually outlived his tormentor West and committed one final criminal enormity--the founding of Los Angeles, perhaps. (July 2)

7 The Blair Witch Project This independent mockumentary commemorates the dead--three students who went missing while making a documentary about rumors of witch activity in rural Maryland. The film was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, which, frankly, doesn't mean anything. Yet the previews are hair-raising: A mother is being interviewed by one of the students about the local witch legends. Her baby, resting in her arms, tries to silence his mother by pushing its tiny fist against her lips. At first it's cute. But then the baby does it again and again, firmly and purposefully. (July 16)

8 Eyes Wide Shut The last film from Stanley Kubrick, based on a novel by the turn-of-the-last-century Viennese playwright Schnitzler. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play psychiatrists who explore the sexual underground. (July 16)

9 The Haunting All sane things dream. Hill House, not sane, is the exception, wrote novelist Shirley Jackson. The vacant, nightmare-ridden mansion waits, ready to show a team of parapsychologists a memorable time. Jan De Bont (of Twister) directs; Liam Neeson co-stars with Lili Taylor (who has the Julie Harris part from the 1961 original.) (July 23)

10 Muppets From Space Gonzo discovers his alien family tree; goes on Miss Piggy's TV show UFOMania to tell a startled world. It's on my list because there has never been a bad Muppets movie. (July 30)

11 Summer of Sam Berkowitz goes berserkowitz in Spike Lee's ambitious film about the summer New York was terrorized by the so-called .44 killer. He was actually David Berkowitz, a deranged postal worker from Yonkers, who believed that he was taking orders from the barking dog of his neighbor Sam. Promising previews--but this movie has more stuff in it than a Christmas goose, since Lee is including some other momentous issues of the time (Reggie Jackson, the sex club Plato's Retreat, punk rock) in the blend. (July 30)

12 The Iron Giant An animated feature by Brad Bird, a collaborator with Tim Burton and Matt Groening. In a small Maine coastal town, a fatherless boy (voiced by Eli Marienthal) befriends a 50-foot-tall robot from space. Soon, the gentle giant becomes the quarry in a hunt by the authorities. The previews show splendid old-fashioned animation, and characterizations that look more like Winsor (Little Nemo) McKay than anime. The film is based on the novel by the late Ted Hughes. (Aug. 6)

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From the May 20-26, 1999 issue of Metro.

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