STARRING: Mario Van Peebles, Nia Long, David Alan Grier, Ossie Davis
DIRECTOR: Mario Van Peebles
WRITERS: Mario Van Peebles, Dennis Haggerty
PREMISE: Playing his daddy Melvin, Mario dramatizes the trials and tribulations surrounding the production of the 1971 hit Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.
OUTLOOK: Why the five S's? Because the Motion Picture Association of America won't allow the word ass in a title. Wouldn't be a bad idea to release Papa Van Peebles' original movie on deluxe DVD to get the word out. If Mario can sell it to the black youth audience, he'll have a hit.
Coffee and Cigarettes
STARRING: Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Cate Blanchett, Roberto Benigni, the White Stripes
WRITER-DIRECTOR: Jim Jarmusch
PREMISE: A compilation of black-and-white short films made by Jarmusch over the years, all of which involve comic conversations over, yep, the titular caffeine- and nicotine-delivery devices.
OUTLOOK: Is there anyone out there who doesn't want to see Bill Murray play a scene opposite the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and GZA? Or Steve Buscemi mediating between Cinque and Joie Lee? Iggy Pop and Tom Waits discussing, well, anything? This stuff is cool, people!
STARRING: A guy in a monster suit, some Japanese people
DIRECTOR: Ishiro Honda
WRITERS: Ishiro Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata
PREMISE: Formerly trimmed, dubbed and Raymond Burr-ed as Godzilla on these shores, the original Japanese big-critter-stomping-on-Tokyo flick finally hits U.S. theaters uncut and in Japanese, with 40 minutes of footage previously unseen stateside.
OUTLOOK: To quote Harry Knowles: MAN IN SUIT! MAN IN SUIT! MAN IN SUIT! A geekstravaganza.
Time of the Wolf
STARRING: Isabelle Huppert, Beatrice Dalle, Maurice Benichou, Patrice Chereau
WRITER-DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke
PREMISE: A French family finds its country vacation home occupied by strangers with guns. But that ain't the worst of it -- it slowly becomes clear that some unknown cataclysm is gradually causing the End of the World as We Know It.
OUTLOOK: Basically, it's like Signs without the aliens. Could be the first French film parents can take their teenage boys to.
Around the World
in 80 Days
STARRING: Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile de France, Jim Broadbent
DIRECTOR: Frank Coraci
WRITERS: David Goldstein, David Benullo, Michael Weiss and Jules Verne
PREMISE: Chan and Coogan take to the skies in the umpteenth remake of this classic novel.
OUTLOOK: Looks like good, old-fashioned fun -- if any market for such a risk still exists. Coogan (star of British TV hit I'm Alan Partridge) and Chan are both geniuses of their craft, and the stunt casting -- including the Gropenator as a polygamist -- seems amusing.
The Chronicles of Riddick
STARRING: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Alexa Davelos, Judi Dench
WRITER-DIRECTOR: David Twohy
PREMISE: That bald brute from the supercool Pitch Black returns to save the universe.
OUTLOOK: Looks like a very heavy-handed allegory for the European Crusades. Dench may be seeing Alec Guinness potential as the mystical guide of the nice-guy Elementals, whom Richard "Dick" B. Riddick (Diesel) assists in battling the probably-not-nice Necromongers, led by Feore. Pitch Black was an Alien knockoff done right, but this may be the beginning of an action trilogy done silly.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
STARRING: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber (the short film-commercial "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker")
PREMISE: Another month, another Stiller-in-a-wig movie.
OUTLOOK: Didn't that one episode of South Park already exhaust every possible gag to be wrung from the notion of a dodgeball world championship? Here's a bold prediction: There'll be more than one scene of a man getting hit in the crotch.
STARRING: Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Steven Tobolowsky, the voice of Bill Murray
DIRECTOR: Peter Hewitt
WRITERS: Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow (the Cheaper by the Dozen remake)
PREMISE: The fat cat popularized in the '80s finally hits the CG big time.
OUTLOOK: Really, think about it: fat, obnoxious comic-strip creature eats and complains constantly, annoys bachelor and dog. This could just as well be the Cathy movie. Director Hewitt previously helmed the heartwarming British comedy Thunderpants, about a kid who farts a lot, which remains mysteriously unreleased on our prim shores.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón
WRITER: Steven Kloves, based on the J.K. Rowling book
PREMISE: Boy wizard and friends must confront a scary spellcaster.
OUTLOOK: Probably another strong installment in a high-quality series. Michael Gambon is a good choice to replace woefully departed Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Whether the charm of director Chris Columbus can be replaced by the rough edges of Cuarón (the teen-sex exposé Y tu Mamá También) remains to be seen, but the odds are now greater that Harry and Ron will masturbate together on diving boards at the Hogwarts pool.
Kaena: The Prophecy
STARRING: The voices of Kirsten Dunst, Anjelica Huston, and the late Richard Harris
DIRECTORS: Chris Delaporte, Pascal Pinon
WRITERS: Delaporte, Tarik Hamdine
PREMISE: Kaena (rhymes with hyena) is a teenage girl who lives in a floating forest above the clouds. Defying the elders of her village, she undertakes a perilous journey to discover why the forest is slowly dying.
OUTLOOK: Kaena began life as a video-game concept and evolved into the first fully CG-animated feature from France (dubbed by Hollywood stars on these shores). From a critical standpoint, any kind of animation that isn't Disneyfied, Pixared, or anime-based seems noteworthy. But American audiences tend to gravitate toward the familiar in their 'toons.
STARRING: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
WRITERS: Michael Chabon, several others
PREMISE: Sony spends and recoups another shitload of money.
OUTLOOK: Seems like a winner, reuniting the forces that capably succeeded the first time out. Molina takes over villain duties as tentacle-thrashing Doctor Octopus. More of the cheeseball humor of Raimi (the Evil Dead movies) would be welcome, but perhaps screenwriter Chabon (Pulitzer Prize-winner for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) will add some weird literary pedigree to this pricey pulp.
The Stepford Wives
STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken
DIRECTOR: Frank Oz
WRITERS: Paul Rudnick (In & Out), Ira Levin (original novel)
PREMISE: Dark, comedic remake of paranoid-sexist 1970s sci-fi movie about suburban horror and systematic wife replacement.
OUTLOOK: The producers pulled a bait-and-switch on Kidman, luring her with promises of fanciful costar John Cusack, then replacing him with middle-aged Ferris Bueller. Entire production sounds similarly confused, and after The Score, it's impossible to trust Oz in the director's chair. The theme is ridiculously threadbare, too: Ask your female boss to phone you from her Escalade to tell you how the movie's oppression relates to her.
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
WRITERS: Sacha Gervasi (The Big Tease), Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can)
PREMISE: Realizing that they don't yet have all the money in the world, Hanks and Spielberg decide to team up and make another movie together. Spielberg has an entire airport terminal built on a soundstage, and Hanks does a funny accent.
OUTLOOK: It's Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. What part of that don't you get? It's probably critic-proof, but the concept -- a guy living in an airport because he can't go back to his fictional foreign country or enter the U.S. -- sounds kinda painful, as does Hanks' Boris Badenov voice.
STARRING: Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Brittany Daniel, James King
DIRECTOR: Keenen Ivory Wayans
WRITERS: Assorted Wayanses and friends
PREMISE: African-American FBI agents go undercover as, essentially, the Hilton sisters.
OUTLOOK: Since blondes and black men absolutely never fraternize in American society, this movie should build the vital bridges of tolerance and understanding.
Anchorman: The Legend
of Ron Burgundy
STARRING: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd
DIRECTOR: Adam McKay
WRITERS: Ferrell, McKay
PREMISE: Will Ferrell mugs a lot as a sexist San Diego newscaster in 1973.
OUTLOOK: The trailer suggests easy summer retro laughs with no surprises.
STARRING: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater
WRITERS: Linklater, Delpy, Hawke
PREMISE: The romantic Yank and Frog from the 1995 film Before Sunrise reunite nine years later.
OUTLOOK: From Slacker to School of Rock, Linklater throws his heart into his work. This quickie sequel (shot in 15 days) may deliver the same offhand charm and believable characters as its predecessor. This time, Hawke pretends that he's an author -- an obvious case of art reflecting life.
The Bourne Supremacy
STARRING: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Joan Allen, Brian Cox
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
WRITERS: Tony Gilroy, Brian Helgeland, Robert Ludlum
PREMISE: This time, Jason Bourne must clear his name (whatever it is) following brutal assassinations.
OUTLOOK: The first one proved a pleasant surprise, and this sequel promises lots of dark intrigue all over Germany, Russia and India. In particular, the work of Greengrass holds appeal; his documentary-style Northern Ireland riot re-enactment Bloody Sunday was stunning. Production here was apparently rushed, but whatever its flaws, at least it don't feature no Affleck.
STARRING: Halle Berry, Sharon Stone, Benjamin Bratt, that French dude from the Matrix sequels
DIRECTOR: Pitof (one word, like Madonna; he's a former effects guy for Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro)
WRITERS: John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3)
PREMISE: Jettisoning the Batman connection altogether, Halle Berry dons a Mouseketeer-meets-Matrix stripper outfit as Patience Philips, a graphic designer who gains catty superpowers.
OUTLOOK: Had this film come out in 1993, starred Michelle Pfeiffer and been directed by Tim Burton, we'd be talking megahit. But Halle's costume looks stupid (can't wait for the inevitable drag-queen version, though), the trailer is lame (she likes sushi) and Mattel recently canceled plans for a Barbie tie-in. Expect Gigli comparisons before the year is out as well as endless puns (Cat-astrophe). Sadly, this will probably cancel out any chance of the real Catwoman character appearing in the new Christian Bale Batman franchise.
STARRING: Will Smith and some robots
DIRECTOR: Alex Proyas
WRITERS: Jeff Vintar (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), Akiva Goldsman (Lost in Space)
PREMISE: Smith plays a detective investigating a crime that may be the first-ever murder of a human by a robot. Because, y'know, according to Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics, the metal guys aren't supposed to do that.
OUTLOOK: Apparently the screenplay bears very little resemblance to Asimov's book, and the teaser trailer has been laughed at by fanboy types online, mostly because the CG robots aren't very convincing. But there's hope. First of all, the CG is far from finished at this stage. And second, although not all of Proyas' films have been hits (Dark City and Garage Days failed to make Crow-level dough), they're always interesting to look at.
STARRING: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd, Stellan Skarsgard
DIRECTOR: Antoine Fuqua
WRITERS: David Franzoni (Gladiator), John Lee Hancock (The Alamo)
PREMISE: Supposedly a more historically accurate, fantasy-free look at the legendary king of England, though Keira Knightley's tribal-tattooed warrior Guinevere looks more like contemporary fantasy.
OUTLOOK: There's a basic rule for Jerry Bruckh-rated ones usually suck, but the R-rated ones smash stuff up real good. (King Arthur's rating is pending.) Pirates of the Caribbean was a major exception, though, and with Disney and Knightley back on board, this could duplicate last year's formula for success.
The Manchurian Candidate
STARRING: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme
WRITERS: Daniel Pyne (The Sum of All Fears), Dean Georgaris (Paycheck)
PREMISE: John Frankenheimer's Cold War suspense film gets an update, with Washington stepping in for Frank Sinatra and Streep for Angela Lansbury. The region of Asia referenced by the title is no longer part of the story; this time, it's a big company called the Manchurian Corporation that plans to install a puppet president mentally programmed to do its evil bidding.
OUTLOOK: A president who automatically does whatever a big corporation tells him to do? Isn't that a little far-fetched?
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
STARRING: James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett
DIRECTORS: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills)
PREMISE: Having established a prior relationship with Metallica -- which allowed its music to be used on film for the first time in Paradise Lost -- Berlinger and Sinofsky set out to chronicle the recording of the St. Anger album and very nearly captured the band's utter disintegration on camera.
OUTLOOK: Ticket sales to Metallica fans alone will more than make back the film's budget, but word from Sundance is that the drama surrounding the combustible band is compelling even to viewers with no mastery of puppets.
She Hate Me
STARRING: Anthony Mackie, Monica Bellucci, John Turturro, Chiwetel Ejiofor
WRITER-DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
PREMISE: A corporate whistleblower (8 Mile's Mackie) loses his job on Wall Street and winds up selling his sperm to rich, childless lesbians who pay big bucks to get impregnated the old-fashioned way. Yes, it's a comedy.
OUTLOOK: Lee is often on shaky ground when it comes to comedies.
STARRING: Ben Kingsley, Bill Paxton, Anthony Edwards, Sophia Myles
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Frakes
WRITERS : Peter Hewitt (Thunderpants), William Osbourne (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot), Michael McCullers (both Austin Powers sequels)
PREMISE: Live-action rendition of the 1960s U.K. "Supermarionation" sci-fi show in which wooden puppets saved the day from danger in big, colorful spaceships. It remains to be seen which is creepier -- a vintage marionette or Bill Paxton.
OUTLOOK: Frakes' track record is questionable: Other than Star Trek movies, the erstwhile Commander Riker is best known for directing the horrible kiddie sci-fi movie Clockstoppers.
STARRING: Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver
WRITER-DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
PREMISE: A remote 19th-century Pennsylvania village is disturbed by an outside menace.
OUTLOOK: Shyamalan's a ding-dong. The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable smartly mixed dank moodiness with semi-unpredictable "twist" endings, the flailing Signs dumbed things down into eye-rolling territory. This project appears to follow suit, with high production values and a good cast but a lame, sub-sub-Twilight Zone "twist" even webheads have long since sussed. If you can't figure it out from the red paint marks on the villagers' doors, you are exactly the designated audience for this movie. Catch it in an Amish town for extra fun.
Alien vs. Predator
STARRING: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova and some big, ugly meanies from outer space
DIRECTOR: Paul W.S. Anderson
WRITERS: Anderson, Shane Salerno, Peter Briggs
PREMISE: Titular franchise thingies battle each other in Antarctica while humans stupidly interfere.
OUTLOOK: The human actors are brave to participate. Director Anderson did Resident Evil (and its star, Milla Jovovich) and is not "that Magnolia guy."
STARRING: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton
DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, In This World)
WRITER: Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People)
PREMISE: A love story set in a near future in which travel is restricted to residents of cities who purchase special insurance. Outside the cities, the world has become a desert filled with shanty towns and illegal immigrants.
OUTLOOK: Combining cautionary global politics with character-based drama is a Winterbottom trademark, but the sci-fi hook may garner him a new audience. And if that's not enough, the film's R-rating descriptive also promises "brief graphic nudity."
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo
DIRECTOR: Michael Mann
WRITERS: Mann, Frank Darabont, Stuart Beattie (contributor to Pirates of the Caribbean)
PREMISE: Foxx plays an L.A. cabbie forced into service by killer Cruise.
OUTLOOK: Frankly, this sounds less like a movie than a template for a screenwriting workshop. Mann's affection for L.A.'s mean streets (Heat, TV's Robbery Homicide Division) may score him another hit, but -- baddie or otherwise -- isn't the entire world completely sick of Tom Cruise by now?
Exorcist: The Beginning
STARRING: Stellan Skarsgard, James D'Arcy, Isabella Scorupco
DIRECTOR: John Frankenheimer ... no, wait, Paul Schrader ... oops, make that Renny Harlin
WRITERS: William Wisher (The 13th Warrior), Caleb Carr (The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy), Alexi Hawley
PREMISE: Skarsgard plays the younger version of Max von Sydow's Father Merrin character, tangling with the devil in mid-20th-century Africa.
OUTLOOK: Frankenheimer died before filming started. Then Schrader directed the film as a psychological thriller. The studio saw his cut and wanted more of a head-turning-and-green-puking kind of horror flick, so it recast most of the major roles and hired Harlin. (Schrader's version will still apparently come out on DVD.) No Exorcist sequel to date has exactly been an aesthetic or commercial triumph.
Hero (Ying xiong)
STARRING: Jet Li, Daming Chen, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung
DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou (Shanghai Triad)
WRITERS: Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang
PREMISE: Prior to China's Imperial history, a brilliant warrior tells a threatened king of his prowess.
OUTLOOK: Its budget ($17 million) probably equals the catering costs on a Scooby-Doo movie, but this is China's most expensive film yet, and it was a big hit in its homeland. A flashback-heavy narrative should provoke intrigue while Jet Li's martial-arts gifts wow the action enthusiasts.
STARRING: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis
WRITER-DIRECTOR: Chris Kentis (1997's Grind, not to be confused with the recent skateboarding flick of the same name)
PREMISE: A vacationing couple goes on a scuba-diving trip and is accidentally left at sea, surrounded by sharks. Based on a true story.
OUTLOOK: The filmmakers used real sharks. Real. No one's gonna be bitching about how fake they look like they did with all the Jaws movies. Audiences jaded by megabudget, computer-generated stuff who want a good water-based scare are gonna eat it up like Jaws at a beach party.
STARRING: Alexa Vega, Mika Boorem, Kalli Flynn Childress
DIRECTOR: Joe Nussbaum
WRITER: Elisa Bell (Vegas Vacation)
PREMISE: Barely teens compete against popular high school girls in an all-night scavenger hunt.
OUTLOOK: The director of the silly George Lucas in Love wriggles his way into a feature-directing deal, proving that anything is possible in America. Smells like Lean Girls.