STARRING: Charles Bukowski, Bono, Sean Penn, Barbet Schroeder
DIRECTOR: John Dullaghan
PREMISE: From the official press release: "The name Bukowski is as synonymous with fighting and fucking as it is with poetry and prose ... John Dullaghan's documentary brilliantly manages to reveal the man behind the myth."
OUTLOOK: You'll probably be able to smell the liquor in the air at theaters playing this one.
STARRING: Mario Van Peebles, Nia Long, David Alan Grier, Ossie Davis
DIRECTOR: Van Peebles
WRITERS: Van Peebles, Dennis Haggerty
PREMISE: Playing his daddy Melvin, Mario dramatizes the trials and tribulations surrounding the making of the 1971 hit Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.
OUTLOOK: Why the five "s"'s in the title? Because the MPAA won't allow the word "ass" in a title. Wouldn't be a bad idea to release Papa Van Peebles' original movie in a new deluxe DVD format to help get the word out. If Mario can sell it to the black youth audience, he'll have a hit.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón
WRITER: Steven Kloves, based on the J.K. Rowling book
PREMISE: Boy wizard and friends must confront a scary spell-caster.
OUTLOOK: Probably another strong installment in a quality series. Michael Gambon's a good choice to replace woefully departed Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Whether the charm of director Chris Columbus can be replaced by the rough edges of Cuarón (the teen sex exposé Y Tu Mamá También) remains to be seen, but the odds are now greater that Harry and Ron will masturbate together on diving boards at the Hogwarts pool.
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.
The Chronicles of Riddick
STARRING: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Alexa Davelos, Judi Dench
WRITER/DIRECTOR: David Twohy
PREMISE: That bald brute from the super-cool Pitch Black returns, perchance to save the universe.
OUTLOOK: Looks like a very heavy-handed allegory for the European Crusades, writ science-fictiony in the 26th century. Dench may be seeing Alec Guinness potential as the mystical guide of the nice-guy Elementals, whom Richard "Dick" B. Riddick (Diesel) assists in battling the probably-not-nice Necromongers, led by Feore. Pitch Black was an Alien knockoff done right, but this may be the beginning of an action trilogy done silly.
STARRING: Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Steven Tobolowsky, the voice of Bill Murray
DIRECTOR: Peter Hewitt
WRITERS: Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow (the Cheaper by the Dozen remake)
PREMISE: The fat cat popularized in the '80s finally hits the CG big time.
OUTLOOK: Really, think about it: Fat obnoxious comic strip creature eats and complains constantly, annoys bachelor and dog. This could just as well be the Cathy movie. Director Hewitt previously helmed the heartwarming British comedy Thunderpants, about a kid who farts a lot, which mysteriously remains unreleased on our prim shores.
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 boss to phone you from her Escalade to tell you how the movie's oppression relates to her.
Around the World in 80 Days
STARRING: Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent
DIRECTOR: Frank Coraci
WRITERS: David Goldstein, David Benullo, Michael Weiss ... and Jules Verne
PREMISE: Chan and Coogan take to the skies in the umpteenth remake of this classic novel.
OUTLOOK: Looks like good old-fashioned fun -- if any market for such a risk still exists. Coogan (star of British TV hit I'm Alan Partridge) and Chan are both geniuses of their craft, and the stunt casting -- including the Gropenator as a polygamist in a fugged-up wig -- seems amusing. In the case of director Coraci (The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy), this appears to be evidence that if you survive Adam Sandler, you are allowed to make a cool movie.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
STARRING: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber (the short film/commercial Terry Tate, Office Linebacker)
PREMISE: Another month, another Stiller-in-a-wig movie. Does the man never sleep? Anyhow, the film's title says it all, except that the movie isn't really based on a true story.
OUTLOOK: Didn't that one episode of South Park already exhaust every possible gag to be wrung from the notion of a dodgeball world championship? Here's a bold prediction: Dollars to doughnuts there'll be more than one scene of a man getting hit in the crotch.
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.