Summer Film Previews

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 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.

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 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 United States -- sounds kinda painful, as does Hanks' Boris Badenov voice.

White Chicks

STARRING: Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Brittany Daniel, James King

DIRECTOR: Keenen Ivory Wayans

WRITERS: Assorted Wayanses and friends

PREMISE: African-American FBI officers 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. Ha. Whatever. At least someone's finally making a joke out of that damned annoying Vanessa Carlton song.

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 romances starring Gena Rowlands.

OUTLOOK: Should attain a mixed demographic, as the film, much like Big Fish, depicts a relationship 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.

Two Brothers

STARRING: Guy Pearce and two tigers

DIRECTOR: Jean-Jacques Annaud

WRITERS: 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 with people anyway.

Spider-Man 2

STARRING: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco


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 on-screen sweetheart Maguire with the more intriguing Jake Gyllenhaal, as in real life. Molina takes over villain's duties as tentacle-thrashing Dr. 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.

Before Sunset

STARRING: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater

WRITERS: Linklater, Delpy, and 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 Clearing

STARRING: Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe

DIRECTOR: Pieter Jan Brugge (producer of Glory and The Insider)

WRITER: Justin Haythe

PREMISE: Redford gets kidnapped and held for ransom in the woods by Dafoe; Redford's wife Mirren tries to figure out how to save him.

OUTLOOK: Seems thoroughly unoriginal, save for the presence of Mirren, who doesn't generally do this type of thing. Maybe that means she was attracted by a particularly good script. Or perhaps she just had a mortgage to pay.

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