Summer Film Previews

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: After two pointless place-holder sequels, at least the Aliens finally get to do something on Earth. Their interactions with the Predator species are sure to fuel many a comic-geek debate, but whoever wins, the human actors are brave to participate. Note: Director Anderson did Resident Evil(and its star, Milla Jovovich) and is not "that Magnolia guy."

Tom Dowd and the Language of Music

STARRING: Tom Dowd, Ray Charles, Tito Puente, Aretha Franklin

DIRECTOR: Mark Moormann

PREMISE: Veteran recording engineer/ producer's diverse career is documented.

OUTLOOK: First-time director arrives without a pedigree, but Dowd's decades of pop life and work sound lively. Plus, how often do Coltrane fans and Skynyrd fans assemble in the same room?

Yu-Gi-Oh!

STARRING: The voices of Dan Green, Wayne Grayson, Amy Birnbaum

DIRECTOR: Ryôsuke Takahashi

WRITERS: Um ...

PREMISE: The spiky-haired anime guy from the popular cartoon series and card game battles ancient evil.

OUTLOOK: Children, gaming geeks, and quasi-Egyptologists rejoice. Even if you're not a fan, the title is fun to say in bed.

Danny Deckchair

STARRING: Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto, Justine Clarke, Andrew Crabbe

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Jeff Balsmeyer (veteran storyboard artist making feature debut)

PREMISE: Australian comedy about a guy who escapes his big-city blues by sailing away in a chair attached to helium balloons.

OUTLOOK: Anybody's guess, but thanks to the recent discovery of Australia, some novelty is possible. Also, lovely Miranda Otto as a blasted meter maid may represent the year's biggest emotional conflict of interests.

Exorcist: The Beginning

STARRING: Stellan Skarsgård, 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: Skarsgård 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 had started. Then Schrader directed the movie as a psychological thriller. Once the studio saw his cut, they decided they wanted more of a head-turning and green-puking kind of horror flick, so they recast most of the major roles and hired Harlin (Schrader's version will still apparently come out on DVD). This level of "creative differences" usually doesn't bode well for a film's quality, not to mention the fact that no Exorcist sequel to date has 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

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.

Benji Returns: Rags to Riches

STARRING: Titular canine, some guest stars from Everwood and Touched by an Angel

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Joe Camp (of course)

PREMISE: Benji goes vegan. Naw, just kidding. Benji springs into a new adventure involving diabolical dog breeders.

OUTLOOK: Record-breaking 30-year-old hound celebrates anniversary and demonstrates staying power to wannabes like Beethoven. Could say more, but why kick a dog?

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

STARRING: Clive Owen, John Rhys-Meyers, Charlotte Rampling, Malcolm McDowell

DIRECTOR: Mike Hodges

WRITER: Trevor Preston

PREMISE: A gangster tries to go bucolic while solving the murder of his brother.

OUTLOOK: At least the second film to be named after a mortality-themed Warren Zevon song (the other being Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead), this British gangster movie reteams Owen and Hodges (Croupier). It could satisfy some indiephiles not interested in watching Owen play a fancy-pants King Arthur, and Rampling's usually a treat. But Malcolm McDowell as yet another heavy? What, was Dennis Hopper busy?

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid

STARRING: Morris Chestnut, Nicholas Hope, and huge-ass snakes

DIRECTOR: Dwight H. Little (Free Willy 2)

WRITER: John Claflin (They Nest)

PREMISE: It's kinda-sorta a sequel to 1997's Anaconda, without any of the original cast and crew involved. Apparently the new film focuses on a quest for a rare flower in Borneo, where there are no anacondas in real life.

OUTLOOK: Aw hell, why get hung up on snake semantics? It's a movie about large legless reptiles eating people. It's a shame there's no grand ham like Jon Voight in the cast this time, but so long as there are serpents that kill, and do so often, potential for fun hijinks exists.

The Cookout

STARRING: Storm P., Eve, Queen Latifah, Danny Glover, Farrah Fawcett, Vincent Pastore

DIRECTOR: Lance Rivera

WRITERS: Latifah, Shakim Compere, Darryl French, Laurie B. Turner, and Ramsey Gbelawoe, first-timers all

PREMISE: A newly successful basketball player (Storm P.) throws an old-fashioned cookout for his longtime friends and family. But when his new hangers-on and corporate co-workers show up as well, humorous interactions ensue.

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