A selective preview compiled and written by David Blaylock, Akiva Gottlieb, Ben Kenigsberg, Joshua Land, and Peter L’Official
Penélope Cruz returns to her European roots playing the Pretty Woman to Sergio Castellitto’s silver spoon Don Juan. Since she hasn’t made a decent film since she left Spain, this Mediterranean homecoming could be promising.
In My Country
Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche star in a romance set against the backdrop of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. Hmm . . . allegory, anyone? Director John Boorman’s latest was originally called Country of My Skull; although if the film’s mixed reception on the festival circuit is any indication, the title wasn’t the only thing that needed to change.
Danny Boyle teams up with Michael Winterbottom regular Frank Cottrell Boyce for a drama about kids with a mere two weeks to unload discovered loot. Set during the inevitable move from the pound to the euro, the film tries to make amends for the failed promise of The Beach, Boyle’s previous statement on greed, philanthropy, and pan-Europeanism.
Off the Map
Adapted from the play by Joan Ackermann, Campbell Scott directs this actor’s feast for Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, and Steppenwolf vet Jim True-Frost. Set against the vast expanse of the New Mexico desert, young Valentina de Angelis debuts as Allen and Elliott’s daughter during one troubled summer.
Pixar doesn’t have a monopoly on cutesy CGI cartoons, but it has cornered the market for imaginative ones. Case in point, this Fox offering from the makers of Ice Age, which constructs a universe straight out of Futurama and a story poached from The Brave Little Toaster.
The Upside of Anger
Long overdue for a career rejuvenation, Kevin Costner reverts to his favorite role—the aging baseball star—in this dysfunctional family drama. Joan Allen won acclaim at Sundance for her turn as an abandoned wife and mother.
The Venetian Dilemma
New Yorkers Carole and Richard Rifkind, who divide their time between the U.S. and Venice, explore their adoptive city from a local’s point of view, showing the impact of tourism on Venetian life.
Struggling to finance his film, a tent-dwelling Hollywood producer (played by writer-director Philippe Caland, of Boxing Helena non-fame) embarks on a Roseanne-esque spiritual quest in order to change his luck.
Kung Fu Hustle
Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer) pays and plays homage to the kung fu genre flick with this satiric tale of a 1940s Shanghai wanksta who aspires to join a notorious gang through attempted intimidation of the residents of an apartment complex, with the requisite comically disastrous results.
Melinda and Melinda
Ripping off a Woody Allen rip-off (Sliding Doors), Woody Allen attempts a conceptual prank, telling two divergent stories—one comic, one tragic—involving the same character. Radha Mitchell plays the constant; the rest of the cast includes Chloë Sevigny and a most welcome Will Ferrell.
The Ring Two
The scariest thing about this sequel is that Naomi Watts, fresh off of I * Huckabees and We Don’t Live Here Anymore, was willing to return. Bigger terror on the horizon: There’s a Japanese prequel yet to be remade.
A Kazakhstani coming-of-age story that sounds quite a bit like La Promesse: After an acquaintance is killed in an illegal boxing match, an adolescent (nicknamed “Schizo”) winds up becoming an integral part of the dead man’s family.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s first feature-length anime since 1988’s genre apotheosis Akira follows an inventor prodigy who uses a mysterious metal ball to ward off evil in Victorian London.
Traveling to France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and the Napa Valley, Jonathan Nossiter investigates the gradual globalization of one of the most refined, ostensibly individuated industries in the world: wines. Highly regarded, Nossiter’s epic-length doc should prove a headier vineyard ode than Sideways.
The Ballad of Jack and Rose
Daniel Day-Lewis takes a break from the cobbler’s life to act in his wife’s—writer and directorRebecca Miller (Personal Velocity)—promising father-daughter drama. Day-Lewis must contend with the familial unrest created by inviting girlfriend Catherine Keener and her sons to live at their island commune.
Guess who takes over Sidney Poitier’s role in this comedic race reversal remake of 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Ashton Kutcher, natch. Luckily Bernie Mac plays protesting pop and administers a much needed punking to the That ’70s Show star.
Lipstick & Dynamite
Before Chyna, there was the Fabulous Moolah and Gladys “Killem” Gillem, pioneers of women’s wrestling. Ruth Leitman’s documentary combines archival footage from the 1950s with recent interviews.
Accepting the (second-place) Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, Park Chan-wook thanked the octopuses who were killed in the making of this violent revenge thriller—which gives some inkling of why Cannes jury president Quentin Tarantino is rumored to have preferred it to the fest’s big winner, Fahrenheit 9/11.
The latest, hopefully greatest retread of The Mighty Ducks, this comedy plants a misbehaving Martin Lawrence in the role of kiddie hoops coach. They’ll make it to the championship, methinks, but not without a raucous barrage of “mild language and thematic elements.”
One Missed Call
Another sardonic horror flick from Takashi Miike; you’re forgiven for not keeping track. This one’s been touted as Ringu with cell phones instead of a videotape.
This Barbershop spin-off finds Queen Latifah in a posh Southern salon, where a tussle with boss Kevin Bacon leads her to open the eponymous service center.
Set entirely in the dark underworld of the Budapest subway, this dark comedy develops an entire society moving between trains, from the serial killer pushing people onto the tracks to the transit employees deriding the customers, not to mention the innocent Hungarians caught in between.
Look at Me
Some have compared Agnès Jaoui’s second feature favorably with Woody Allen’s work, but at least the Woodman would have found some humor in this tired story of self-absorbed Parisian artists, which takes far too long to say much too little. Some must disagree—the film won an award for its screenplay at last year’s Cannes festival.
In the flesh: Jessica Alba in Sin City
photo: Rico Torres/Dimension Films
Frank Miller’s gothic graphic novel gets the Hollywood treatment in the hands of Robert Rodriguez. Shot and edited to recreate the source’s juxtaposition of color and duotone, the big-budget experiment sounds great on paper. Of course, the same could be said about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
David Hockney: The Colors of Music
Shot mostly between 1991 and 1993, this documentary chronicles a period in the work of the famous British artist who also designed stage sets and costumes for operas—unfortunately, though ironically—while he was losing his hearing. Di- rected by Maryte Kavaliauskas and Seth Schneidman.
Morris Chestnut leads a rescue team into a large underwater cave in search of spelunkers. Instead, they find monsters and ghouls. The film is rated PG-13, so audiences are spared even the pleasure of gross-out horror.
Wong Kar-wai, Steven Soderbergh, and 92-year-old Michelangelo Antonioni each contribute segments to this anthology film.
Anthony LaPaglia stars as a widower with two teenage sons in writer-director Josh Sternfeld’s quietly restrained suburban Jersey drama. Allison Janney (The West Wing) lends her talents as a garrulous neighbor eager to draw out LaPaglia’s guarded dad.
Year of the Yao
The screen hasn’t always been kind to NBA players—for every He Got Game, there’s inevitably a Kazaam—so fortunately the People’s Republic’s best-known export decided to stick with the standard sports doc. The movie follows Yao’s rookie season in the NBA.
Todd Solondz serves up another absentminded, misanthropic doodle, following the travels of Aviva, a 13-year-old girl who desires nothing more than to get pregnant—which means it’s open season for horny teens, pedophiles, and evangelicals. Extending his misogyny to women of all ages and races, Solondz has Aviva played by a different, often wildly incongruous actress(including Jennifer Jason Leigh) in each sequence.
The Amityville Horror
Yet another remake of a well-known ’70s horror movie—in this case one that wasn’t very good to begin with. Why?
The endless adaptability of Nick Hornby’s work has passed the point of absurdity. The Farrelly brothers trot out Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore in a remake of the British adaptation of the North Londoner’s lovingly pained paean to a life spent supporting the Arsenal Football Club, replacing Hornby’s devotion to the Gunners with Red Sox fever.
House of D
Alliteration abounds in David Duchovny’s directorial debut, whose titular D stands for detention —as in the Women’s House of . . . that stood on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village until the early 1970s, when and where this remembrance of youth past takes place. The ethereal Erykah Badu plays an inmate.
Oi! Anovva’ Brit gangster flick to stuff down your gob, this one directed by Lock, Stock and Snatch producer Matthew Vaughn. He’s cut from the same upper-crust cloth as Guy Ritchie, so expect more East End-envy, sex, drugs, and money in the inevitable “one last score” mold.
A Spanish companion piece to Inside Deep Throat, Pablo Berger’s comedy tells the story of two destitute lovers thinking their relationship (and their income) could get a boost from homemade porn.
Save the Green Planet
Claiming the world is on the verge of an alien invasion, a disgruntled ex-factory worker takes a prominent businessman hostage in this stylish Korean horror-comedy, the first film from director Jeong Jun-hwan. Graphic torture and class war subtext abound.
Dial N for Nicole: Kidman in The Interpreter
photo: Phil Bray
Nicole Kidman stars as a U.N. interpreter who gets wind of an assassination plan. The plot is vintage ’70s paranoia—The Conversation on an international scale—but the trailer suggests ’60s Audrey Hepburn (e.g., Charade, Wait Until Dark).
A pompous millionaire hires out his own kidnapping to find out who’s after his money. One cannot help but wish that the eternally unfunny Anthony Anderson had relieved our misery by taking the Bulworth route and hiring a hit man instead.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jack Black’s 2003 comedy here, as you were no doubt already thinking about it. This documentary captures life at the real-life, Philly-based Paul Green School of Rock Music and focuses on Green, a Zappa-obsessed teacher of quirky young rock prodigies.
Take My Eyes
The gender bias of tradition and the supposed sanctity of marriage are examined in co-writer-director Icíar Bollaín’s spousal-abuse drama. A winner of every major category in last year’s Goya Awards, the film promises to be more than the normal Lifetime fare.
Prolific director Kim Ki-duk’s latest involves a burglar who does little burgling; rather than take anything, he sneaks into homes and uses the absent owners’ things, leaving his own aura behind, a plot point vaguely reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express.
Another film called Crash from another Canadian filmmaker (Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis), this one is a multi-character ensemble piece set in the Los Angeles area that features Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, and Ludacris, among many others. Festival screenings have drawn comparisons to . . . you know this one . . . Magnolia!
It’s All Gone Pete Tong
A fake biopic about club DJ Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye), Michael Dowse’s film explores the ramifications of hearing loss on a man who lives for music. This coke-and-booze-soaked mock epic might be this year’s Spinal Tap.
XXX: State of the Union
An XXX sequel so DOA that Vin Diesel chose to do an update of Hulk Hogan’s Mr. Nanny in-stead, the saving grace is that it’s surely easier to stomach than that other State of the Union in early February.
Writer of O
Director Pola Rapaport interviews Dominique Aury—an unassuming 90-year-old Frenchwoman who in 1994 was unmasked as the author of seminal erotica The Story of O—amid dramatic re-enactments of scenes from the kinky grand-mère‘s novel.
Susanne Bier’s (Open Hearts) drama charts the rocky kinship between two brothers, one a military officer sent to Afghanistan, the other a drifter who discovers domestic pleasure with his sibling’s wife.
House of Wax
Nominally a remake of the 1953 Vincent Price chiller, this movie about a group of college students stranded in the middle of nowhere sounds more like ’70s-style horror in the vein of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Elisha Cuthbert, having apparently left her role as Jack Bauer’s flaky daughter on 24, stars, and Paris Hilton also appears.
The Kingdom of Heaven
Ridley Scott’s new ancient Jerusalem-set battle epic chronicles one man’s adventures in a decades-long war, including a presumably torrid tryst with an exotic queen. Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, and Jeremy Irons star.
Jane Fonda came out of retirement for this? Returning to the screen after a 15-year absence, Fonda plays sadistic mother-in-law to Jennifer Lopez, whom most of us could use a 15-year break from right about now.
Kings and Queen
Arnaud Desplechin’s tragicomic masterpiece about a woman’s constant self-sacrifice for the men in her life is anchored by the manic genius of co-star Mathieu Amalric and the director’s thoughtful contemplation of paternity as both a joy and a pain.
Isabelle Huppert goes sexin’—again—and decides to take her son (Louis Garrel) along for the deviant, eye-opening trip. Adapted from a novel-cum-memoir by Georges Bataille, the film promises definite skin, possible profundity.
Jet Li stars as a feral martial-arts expert trained and collared, quite literally, by Bob Hoskins at ultimate-fighting-style bouts. Once freed, Li does well to educate himself courtesy of Hollywood’s favorite black sage, Morgan Freeman.
Coming off the nuisance of his post-punk ’90s trilogy, Gregg Araki delivers a remarkably subtle character study of a teenage hustler (former Teen Beater Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the molestation that scarred him for life. It’s a thesis on the products of pederasty that makes the uneven melodramatics of The Woodsman look as cogent as a Jim Dobson sermon.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the what? Already esoteric on the basis of its title, George Lucas’s final Star Wars prequel threatens to be another fanboys-only enterprise, with the same all-digital-all-the-time backdrops that made Episode II look like the highest-tech movie of 1924. Maybe he’ll paint in a sex scene, at least.
In this Sundance acquisition, a Miami journalist (John Leguizamo) heads to Ecuador in search of a serial killer, and negotiates an ethically questionable arrangement in order to gain information.
The Longest Yard
The very idea of a remake was bad enough for many fans of the 1974 prison gridiron favorite, but the very idea of Adam Sandler in the Burt Reynolds role has prompted cries of sacrilege (although not from Reynolds himself, on hand in a supporting role). This is the first time SNL vets Sandler and Chris Rock have appeared together on the big screen.
Animated animals from the Central Park Zoo (including Chris Rock as a zebra and Ben Stiller as a lion) somehow manage to board a boat to the titular African island. If the movie includes a talking lemur, it’ll be worth sitting through.
Winner of the Camera d’Or at last year’s Cannes festival, Keren Yedaya’s debut feature is an effectively naturalistic portrait of a Tel Aviv prostitute and her teenage daughter. Composed in relentless long takes and unblinking fixed frames, the film lingers in the mind long after its bleak story has run its course.