Think Different

Could it be that this year's crop of summer movies actually requires a brain cell or two?

Valentin Autobiographical story about the coming of age of an Argentine boy, whimsical and light, filled with hope, dripping with loveliness, oozing that certain je ne sais quoi that refreshes one's life and very soul. Supposedly, anyway. Written and directed by Alejandro Agresti. (Miramax)

July 18

Bad Boys II At long last, Michael Bay has come to his senses and quit with the Ben Affleck PG-13 crap. The original Bad Boys didn't get much love from critics, but it didn't need it -- this one doesn't look like it could use the help either. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are back as mismatched cops, with Gabrielle Union replacing Téa Leoni as the potential love interest (good call!), and a supporting cast that includes Joe Pantoliano, Henry Rollins, and Peter Stormare. (Sony)

Exorcist: The Beginning In what may just be the casting coup of the year, Stellan Skarsgård steps in as the younger version of Max von Sydow's Father Merrin, battling demons in deepest, darkest Africa. This would have been director John Frankenheimer's final film, but the old master bowed out due to ill health early in the process, to be replaced by Paul Schrader. Thankfully, actor Liam Neeson bowed out too; for all his strengths, he's no Swede. (Warner Bros.)

Garage Days Goth fave Alex Proyas, director of The Crow and Dark City, takes a wildly different turn with this comedy about an up-and-coming rock band struggling to make it to the top. Set in Proyas' native Sydney, the film apparently does retain at least some of the director's trademark visual strangeness; a drug sequence or two allows for some fun with CG effects. (Fox Searchlight)

How to Deal Based on two young adult novels by Sarah Dessen, Mandy Moore's second feature starring role sees her cast as a cynical teen who has determined that true love doesn't exist. Care to take bets on whether she'll be proven wrong? The title's annoying and the poster banal, but Moore proved to be a surprisingly effective screen presence in the admittedly thin A Walk to Remember, so this could be the start of something big. (New Line)

Johnny English Mr. Bean seems an unlikely James Bond type; then again, so did Mike Myers at one time. This spy spoof starring Rowan Atkinson has already been a monster hit in England, but by the looks of things, that isn't because of any kind of sophistication on the movie's part. John Malkovich plays the villain, and heck, he'd be a worthy adversary for Bond. The film's writers are similarly worthy; they actually did write the last two Bond films. (Universal)

Northfork From Mark and Michael Polish (Twin Falls, Idaho, Jackpot) comes this odd yarn about Montana locals in 1955 who must relocate to make way for a new dam. What -- there wasn't a movie waiting to be made about oil refinery employees on their lunch hours? Stars James Woods, Nick Nolte, and Daryl Hannah. (Paramount Classics)

July 23

Mission Without Permission Last year, director Bart Freundlich got Julianne Moore's best performance out of her in the otherwise spotty World Traveler. This year he enlists Panic Room's Kristen Stewart to play a young girl concocting a heist to afford her father a costly operation. Probably, like, fun and meaningful. (Fox)

July 25

Buffalo Soldiers Poor Miramax just can't find a good date to release a movie that's less than flattering toward the U.S. military (though they did OK with The Quiet American). That the movie's set in 1989 seems to be of no consequence. Soldiers (Joaquin Phoenix, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, and others) stationed in Berlin shortly before the fall of the wall get involved in some shady business involving drugs. (Miramax)

Camp A musical in the tradition of Fame (with which it shares composer Michael Gore), set at a summer camp for young actors, singers, and musicians. The story centers around a group of misfit kids who somehow have to manage to pull it all together for one big final production. Apparently someone involved heard that musicals are hot again. (IFC)

The Cuckoo A sweeping historical romance set in the Russian tundras, all about one bird and his unrequited love for Cocoa Puffs. Just kidding about that last part. It's a film set during 1944 against the backdrop of Finland's opportunistic war against Russia, waged to regain lost territory while the world at large was distracted by Nazis. Here, two soldiers from opposing sides become embroiled in a love triangle with a Lapp woman. (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Housekeeper Jean de Florette director Claude Berri wrote and directed this romantic comedy about a man (Jean-Pierre Bacri) whose wife has left him, so he hires a housekeeper (Emilie Duquenne). Thing is, she's never actually done any housework in her life. It's based on a novel by Christian Oster. (Palm)

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life Now that she's gotten over the loss of Daddy dearest, maybe Ms. Croft (Angelina Jolie) can get back to shooting stuff, jumping off things, and running afoul of armored primates made of stone. Jan DeBont takes over the directorial reins of this latest adventure, which sees Lara in Africa, looking for Pandora's Box (wait, wasn't Pandora Greek? Does it matter?). (Paramount)

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