Persistent Visions

This season's cinema demands attention

May 16

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones The producer of Howard the Duck returns to direct one of his space adventures. Seems pretty nifty. (Fox)

May 17

About a Boy Wry English author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) seems like an odd fit with American Pie co-creators Chris and Paul Weitz, but Universal's positioning this in head-to-head competition with Star Wars, so something about the project must have inspired confidence. Hugh Grant stars as a serial womanizer whose routine of dating and leaving single mothers gets disrupted when he befriends a 12-year-old boy, played by newcomer Nicholas Hoult. (Universal)

American Chai A comedy-drama about a thoroughly assimilated Indian-American college student at loggerheads with his tradition-minded father. Written and directed by Anurag Mehta, and starring his brother Aalok, American Chai doesn't have anything especially new to say about parent-child conflicts, but the film is full of fresh and unexpected observations about the cross-culturally complex lives of second-generation Indians living in the U.S. (Magic Lamp)

In July (Im Juli) A German romantic comedy about a young man who travels from Hamburg to Istanbul in search of love. (Films Philos)

May 24

Enigma There's more than a little of A Beautiful Mind's John Nash in Tom Jericho, the hero of British director Michael Apted's World War II-era romantic thriller. Both men are brilliant mathematicians, breaking military codes for the government while hovering on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Nash, of course, is a real person, while Jericho is a fictional character set against the very real story of British cryptographers struggling against enormous odds to break the Nazis' infamous Enigma code. (Miramax)

Enough Also opening this weekend is Michael Apted's entirely different revenge flick, this one starring Jennifer Lopez. Essentially an update of Sleeping With the Enemy with more ass-kicking, it sees Lopez as a wife on the run from a tyrannical husband. When she finally decides she's sick of running, it's time to get fighting lessons. The film's preview also promises a new hit single off Lopez's album J to Tha L-O. (Sony)

The Importance of Being Earnest Alas, this isn't the long-awaited final Jim Varney film directed by Billy Bob Thornton, but rather a Harvey Weinstein-style, all-star update of Oscar Wilde's most popular play. Judi Dench appears perfectly cast as the bombastic Lady Bracknell, with Colin Firth and Rupert Everett as the bachelors unfortunate enough to lack sufficiently serious monikers. Frances O'Connor and Reese Witherspoon play their romantic pursuits, with Tom Wilkinson as the local reverend. (Miramax)

Insomnia Memento's Christopher Nolan directs this remake of a 1997 Norwegian thriller, in which a sleep-challenged detective gets blackmailed by a vicious killer. Al Pacino seems a natural fit as a worn-out cop, but Robin Williams is an unconventional choice to play the killer. Perhaps he's finally realized that too many sappy roles have turned some of the public against him. Along with his creepy photo store clerk in One Hour Photo (see Aug. 21), look for this role to rehabilitate Williams' image as an actor who's far more than just Patch Adams. (Warner Bros.)

The Lady and the Duke This latest film from 82-year-old French New Wave stalwart Eric Rohmer is enough of a departure that it may either confound or irritate his usual fans. Unlike his typical stylistically restrained explorations of morals and manners (My Night at Maud's, Claire's Knee), The Lady and the Duke, based on the journal of real-life Scottish expat Grace Elliott, is set among the aristocracy during the French Revolution. (Sony Classics)

Mystic Masseur Apparently this film includes a scene of a man attempting sexual congress with a bicycle, so perhaps Merchant-Ivory productions are expanding their demographic. Ismail Merchant directs this adaptation of V.S. Naipaul's novel, wherein an aspiring writer gets by with a little help from his friends. Stars Om Puri, James Fox, and Aasif Mandvi. (ThinkFilm)

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Under the auspices of co-directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook, the Wild West and classic Disney-esque animation collide, with Fievel nowhere in sight. Instead we have Matt Damon narrating the patriotic feelings of the main mustang -- these animals don't talk -- with lots of gorgeous CG scenery billowing out behind the wild creature as he fights to stay wild. The music's an adventurous mix of Hans Zimmer's orchestral swells and rock songs by Canuck Bryan Adams -- the latter being an ideal choice, since he's also a little hoarse. (DreamWorks)

May 31

CQ Yet another cinematic Coppola (Francis' son Roman) enters the directing field with this satirical look at the making of a Barbarella-like sci-fi movie in 1960s Paris. Coppola cousin Jason Schwartzman is among the cast, which also includes Jeremy Davies, Gérard Depardieu, Giancarlo Giannini, and Élodie Bouchez. (MGM/UA)

Gangster No. 1 Roight! Scottish director Paul McGuigan (of the brutal Irvine Welsh adaptation The Acid House) pits British tough guys Malcolm McDowell and David Thewlis against one another in a '60s London setting. Also starring John Nash's imaginary friend Paul Bettany and Mike Figgis' main squeeze Saffron Burrows. (IFC)

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India In its robust three hours and 45 minutes, Lagaan spins its simple underdog theme into fairly engrossing cloth. Our story centers around a hero named Bhuvan (Indian superstar Aamir Khan), who annoys Capt. Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne) in his central Indian village in 1893, ultimately leading his town in a cricket match against the Brits that will either free them of extortionate taxes or break them. (Sony Classics)

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