Summer Film Previews

Our critics enter the summer-movie fray

Kaena: The Prophecy
STARRING: The voices of Kirsten Dunst, Anjelica Huston and the late Richard Harris

DIRECTORS: Chris Delaporte, Pascal Pinon

WRITERS: Chris 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 will undertake 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 worthy of note; but from a commercial standpoint, American audiences tend to gravitate toward the familiar in their 'toons. The Mother
STARRING: Anne Reid, Peter Vaughn, Anna Wilson-Jones, Daniel Craig

DIRECTOR: Roger Michell (Notting Hill)

WRITER: Hanif Kureishi (Sammy and Rosie Get Laid)

PREMISE: Senior widow gets hots for her married daughter's booty servant, who complies.

OUTLOOK: Looks kinda like a smart blend of Saving Grace and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Mama's boys and AARP chicks may find it equally pleasurable.

Napoleon Dynamite
STARRING: Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Diedrich Bader, Haylie Duff

DIRECTOR: Jared Hess

WRITER: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess

PREMISE: Slacker loser in Idaho reveals cool streak.

OUTLOOK: Before Elvis Costello ferociously sucked up to Hollywood, he gave himself amusing pet names, such as the one snatched for this film's title. Looks like authentic indie comeuppance giggles aplenty. Seems all of a piece, since at the beginning of his career, Costello was dubbed by journalists "The Avenging Dork."

The Notebook
STARRING: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Gena Rowlands, James Garner

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Nick Cassavetes

PREMISE: Following an ill-fated move into mainstream Hollywood thriller with John Q., Nick Cassavetes returns to the stuff that he and his late father have always been good at: quirky, character-based romance starring Gena Rowlands.

OUTLOOK: Should attain a mixed demographic, as the film, much like Big Fish, depicts a romance in contemporary times with Garner and Rowlands, then in flashback with the hot young leads. Total chick flick, but Cassavetes can usually make things interesting.

Spider-Man 2
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 -- although it would have been cool if Dunst replaced onscreen sweetheart Maguire with the more intriguing Jake Gyllenhaal, as in real life. Molina takes over villain's 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 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 (Miss Piggy)

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 co-star John Cusack, then ironically replacing him with middle-aged Ferris Bueller. Entire production sounds similarly confused, and after The Score it's impossible to trust Yoda-Piggy in the director's chair anymore. 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.

The Terminal
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. Or something like that.

OUTLOOK: It's Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. What part of that don't you get? It's probably critic-proof, but frankly the concept -- of 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.

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: So basically it's like Signs, but without aliens, and probably a less happy ending? Could be the first French film parents can take their teenage boys to.

Two Brothers
STARRING: Guy Pearce and two tigers

DIRECTOR: Jean-Jacques Annaud

WRITERS: Jean-Jacques Annaud, Alain Godard

PREMISE: Two tigers are separated at birth -- one is sold to a circus and loses his spirit, while the other is raised as a fighter for sport. They meet again as adults, when they are forcibly pitted against each other.

OUTLOOK: Everybody loves tigers; just look at how many people have tattoos of them. Not everyone loves Guy Pearce, but probably enough to help the movie do OK. Annaud's always had more success with animals than people anyway.

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