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THE JULY MOVIE PREVIEW

With no less than four movies bumped to this month from previous months, this may look like a bit of a clips show, but I promise there's over 90% new material here. And by "new" I mean remakes, sequels and (sort of ) adaptations.

7/2

BEFORE SUNSET

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Same as "Before Sunrise" except it's nine years later and the deadline is twelve hours earlier.

WILL IT SUCK?
No. Rarely do I give that much of a guarantee, but even disregarding the near-unanimous critical praise and positive advance audience and festival buzz, I know that Richard Linklater is one of those writer/directors ("Newton Boys" aside) who simply refuses to suck. Here he's reteamed with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and his co-writer for "Before Sunrise," Kim Krizan, whom you may remember from such films as "Dazed and Confused" (she's the teacher Don hits on at the beginning).

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Ballsy move opening, even in limited release, against "Spider-Man 2" (June 30th), but a neat display of counter-programming nonetheless. Unfortunately, romantic fare exists the week before in the form of "The Notebook" and this week in the form of "De-Lovely," which has been moved from last week. Really the only sure-fire draw for this is fans of the original, not a negligible contingent. $4mil.


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DE-LOVELY
(moved from June)

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
A musical look back at the life and times of composer Cole Porter (Kevin Kline)

WILL IT SUCK?
Cole Porter is, without a doubt, one of the best songwriters of all time. For me, from that style, it's Gershwin and Porter before anyone else. That doesn't however ensure a good movie. It doesn't hurt to have Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Alanis Morissette (!) and others singing his tunes in numbers throughout the film, even if it does make it feel like A Very Special Episode of "American Dreams." It also doesn't hurt that this'll be the first bio-pic that doesn't shy away from his homosexuality. And strange as it may sound, it's nice to see Ashley Judd not kicking someone's ass. And Kevin Kline can carry a movie like no one's business.

On the other hand, director Irwin Winkler did subject us to "The Net" and "At First Sight," but his last collaboration with Kline was the acclaimed "Life as a House," so all is not lost. Screenwriter Jay Cocks is among the four-hundred-eighty-six credited authors of "Gangs of New York," but there are worse things to have on your resumé.

Early buzz is mixed, though mostly positive.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This has the edge of Kline/Porter over "Before Sunset." I'd like to see a coup where Linklater trumps this one, but it's unlikely. And MGM/UA aren't bad people to have in your corner when your film is only an indie. They'll have more advertising muscle than most of the competition. $10mil.


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THE CLEARING
(moved from May)

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
From the "abduction as therapy" school of narrative ("The Ref," "Ransom," "Ruthless People") comes this tale of Robert Redford being kidnapped by employee Willem Dafoe cos' his film didn't make it into Sundance. Okay, that's probably not the reason but I'm telling you a "Swimming with Sharks" style premise like that is bound to get made sooner or later.

In this movie, however, Redford bargains for his life while wife Helen Mirren deals with police scrutiny at home.

WILL IT SUCK?
The most interesting thing about this movie is that it's a limited release from a major studio. Is Fox trying to draw the indie crowd by doing a platform style assault? Or do they think that will generate better buzz than a wide release? Or do they simply not want to take "Spider-Man 2" head on? Whatever the reason, dressing it up like an indie won't make it one.

That's not to say all indies rock and all major studio films suck, but there are averages to consider. In any case, nothing, from the newcomer director and writer to the leads (for my money the last great Redford flick was "Sneakers"), inspires me with confidence.

Early buzz is mixed with the notable dissent of The Helen Mirren Appreciation Society. I'm not kidding.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Whether they want it to look like an indie or not, they'll be able to capitalize on the leads' indie cred as they move into their first weekend. Nothing else in limited release really has this kind of star power (or, likely, advertising budget). $32mil.


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AMERICA'S HEART AND SOUL

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
America, wow!

WILL IT SUCK?
Hard to say. The crowning irony here is that this is a Disney production, the company that said it didn't want to release "Farenheit 9/11" because it didn't want to get entangled in a political film in an election year. If this isn't a political film, I don't know what is. But that shouldn't necessarily be held against it. The premise, life-and-country-affirming stories of unique individuals, is rich fodder for documentaries and could make for an engaging 84 minutes.

All that's left is to look at the documentarian, fx specialist Louis Schwartzberg, and wonder whether or not he can catch the human aspect as well as the visual. He was a cinematographer on "Koyaanisqatsi," so he's probably got the visual part down.

Early buzz, what little of it there is, is good.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The limited release crowd will be more likely to catch the second weekend of "Farenheit 9/11" than this. And the following week they'll go see "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster." Basically, a feel-good doc about America will be a hard sell to a crowd as typically left-leaning as the indie set. Especially from Disney. It's not that this crowd isn't patriotic, it's just that the trappings of a film like this are suspicious in an unusually contentious election year, and could turn some of them away. And in limited release, it'll be harder to hit the typical Disney demographic. They're best bet is a "Passion"-style word-of-mouth campaign, which isn't their forte. Smart to release it on the July 4th weekend, though. $2mil.


7/9

KING ARTHUR

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
"Camelot" without the singing or 60's hair.

WILL IT SUCK?
I actually have pretty high hopes for this one. Director Antoine Fuqua is only really good when paired with good writing (like David Ayer in "Training Day,") and here he's paired with "Gladiator" and "Amistad" scribe David Franzoni, no stranger to the historical epic. I also like that they've gone relatively low key with the casting, with Keira Knightly being arguably the biggest name here as Guinevere. This means they can't rely on a Brad Pitt or an Orlando Bloom to make up for crappy execution a la "Troy." Finally, there's the lead. Clive Owen is, for all intents and purposes, The Man. It's too bad he won't be the next Bond, but this will have to do.

And, yes, it's a Bruckheimer film, but the sun shines on a dog's ass some days (see "Caribbean, Pirates of the").

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It is in a tight spot. In between "Spider-Man 2" and "I, Robot," it'll have to garner some kick-ass word of mouth to maintain an audience. It might even lose its opening weekend to "Anchorman" (or "Spider-Man 2's" second frame). The rating will be key. In the end, it'll probably move well, but not nearly as well as it would in a less crowded field. Good thing they're opening this on a Wednesday (7/7). $127mil.


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ANCHORMAN

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
In the days when sexism ran rampant throughout the news industry - okay, in the days when it wasn't looked down upon - Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) was among the sexist-ist. But he has to change his tune when a new female co-anchor (Christina Applegate) comes to town.

WILL IT SUCK?
Shit, if he can make "Elf" work… This probably won't suck. It's got some serious talent in front of the camera. Ferrell's joined by the likes of Paul Rudd, Fred Willard and the inimitable Steve Carrell, who seems to be making a career out of playing journalists (last summer he was Jim Carrey's foil in "Bruce Almighty"). You even have Vince Vaughan playing a character called Wes Mantooth. You can't beat that.

Anyway, the X-factor here is behind the camera. Director Adam McKay has done a lot of writing for SNL and co-wrote the script with Ferrell, who knows from funny. If their teamwork does well here, look for it again in "Bewitched" next year.

Incidentally, expect to see a LOT of Will Ferrell in the next couple years. He'll be The Man in the Yellow Suit in "Curious George," Franz Liebkind in "The Producers," and…wait for it…Ignatius J. Reilly in David Gordon Green's adaptation of "A Confederacy of Dunces."

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
If "King Arthur" gets an R, expect this to come out ahead of it at number two when it opens. I don't think it will beat "Spider-Man 2's" second frame, but it will beat a 17-and-up "King Arthur." This was re-edited to a PG-13 for just such an occasion. I'm not expecting stellar word-of-mouth for "I, Robot," so expect this to stick around for a while. Between this and "Spider-Man 2," no one else will really have much of a chance (with one possible exception) until the end of the month. $184mil.


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SLEEPOVER

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
It's "Scavenger Hunt"! With chicks!

WILL IT SUCK?
THIS is the first feature from the guy who did "George Lucas in Love"?!? This!?! I'm not saying it's gonna suck (I'm saying there's a very, very good chance), but, dude? Whassupwitdat? Anyway, the director's good but the writer did "Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of 'Three's Company'". Actually that could be a good thing. At least they bothered to get a woman to write for four pre-teen girls. I'm not saying guys can't write women characters, but a lot of the time when they do, it shows. In any case, the trailer looks cheesy as hell (not "New York Minute" cheesy, but nothing can hit those low notes) and even Steve Carrell's presence (man, he is everywhere) isn't enough to get me interested.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Bet you never thought you'd hear the phrase "Alexa Vega vehicle," but that's exactly what this is. Unfortunately, this won't prove that she can open a film. Think of this more as a team-building year, er, movie. This exists so that in her next film they can say "Alexa Vega, of 'Sleepover' fame," instead of just "Spy Kids," in which she's not the biggest star. At this point, though, plenty of teenage girls will still want to see "Spider-Man 2's" second frame and the following week Hillary Duff will tell them "A Cinderella Story," so there won't be much room for this. Expect this gets some decent DVD activity later on. $14mil.


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RIDING GIANTS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Oh, man. So many things I could say here. I'll restrain myself. This is a documentary along the lines of "Dogtown and Z-Boys" (same creators, actually) but about surfing instead of skateboarding.

WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is generally positive. Not surprising considering director Stacy Peralta's first feature doc ("Dogtown and Z-Boys") also got raves.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Surfing docs tend to do pretty well, which is one of the reasons they keep making them ("Endless Summer I and II," "Step into Liquid"). However, the doc spotlight this week will be on Metallica. And the indie spotlight next week will be on "Maria Full of Grace," so this has an uphill battle. $3mil.

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METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
"This is Spinal Tap" But for real. Metallica goes into therapy.

WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is strong, with critics actually taking more of a liking to it than audiences. For my money, though, this looks to be compelling stuff. How often do you get to see a rock band in therapy? (Honestly, most of the ones I've been in could use it). Add to that the fact that the directors (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky) are known for hard-hitting docs like "Brother's Keeper" and TV's "Paradise Lost." (And Joe directed "Blair Witch 2" which was, in my honest opinion, underrated. There. I said it.)

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Well, besides the obvious Metallica fan base, you've got rave reviews drawing in the curious but uninitiated. This'll be the biggest game in indiewood after "Fahrenheit 9/11" (which will be in it's third frame) and should even give "Maria Full of Grace" a little grief the following week (though slightly different crowd for that one). On the other hand, music docs are notorious box office losers. Even classics like "Stop Making Sense" and "The Last Waltz" couldn't break half a mil. On yet another hand, this is still one of the biggest bands in the world, and if U2 can nab $8mil for "Rattle and Hum" in wide release, these guys should be good for at least half that in limited. $5mil.




7/16

I, ROBOT

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Take the basic premise of Asimov's classic - that there are 3 robot laws, at least one of which has been broken when a robot is accused of murder - and throw in a bunch of action scenes and Will Smith.

WILL IT SUCK?
It'll be hard for it not to. It's got the curse of abandoning its source material. Basically they took a Jeff Vintar screenplay called "Hardwired" and slapped on the name of an Isaac Asimov anthology. The presence of scribe Akiva Goldsman might bring hope if it weren't for the fact that adaptation ("A Beautiful Mind") is more his bag and this is clearly not an adaptation. When you remember that he also scripted "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin," it becomes clearer which of his oeuvre this will more likely resemble.

Alex Proyas is kind of a coup. His style (he directed "The Crow") will give this some punch. That's about it though. It makes for a nice trailer (which already feels like it gives away too much) but I don't think it'll make for much more.

Will Smith actioners are very hit or miss, no matter how good he is at what he does. Look out in the cast, though, for character actor fave Chi McBride playing his twentieth police chief and that kid from "Holes" as, um, some kid. Or maybe a robot. Or maybe a robot kid in a hole.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This can't get the action niche with "King Arthur" opening the week before and "Bourne Supremacy" the following week so all it's got is sci-fi. The problem with that is they haven't done themselves any favors by calling this "I, Robot". They would've been better off just releasing it under the title of the original screenplay. With this many changes, they don't grab Asimov fans so much as they piss them off. Still, it's a big-budget action film with Will Smith drawing kids who could care fuck-all about Asimov, so…$126mil.



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A CINDERELLA STORY

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Cinderella updated to a modern high school with Disney expatriate Hilary Duff in the lead. Will still bear more resemblance to the source material than "I, Robot."

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, you can take the girl out of Disney, but who made the best-known version of "Cinderella"? Nothing known about the writer. The director's the one thing Duff kept after leaving the Mouse House. He's done a bunch of "Lizzie McGuire's" and will helm another Hilary flick next. Jennifer Coolidge fans take note; she plays the evil stepsister. From the trailer, looks to be as generic as the title. Stay tuned for "A Rapunzel Tale" and "A Toy Story Rip-off."

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Hilary Duff is a bigger name than Alexa Vega plus this has Chad Michael Murray of "One Tree Hill" and "Freaky Friday" fame, so this should handle "Sleepover" easily. The rest of the month is giggly-teen-girl-free. $85mil.


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THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR
(moved from June)

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Still based on John Irving's "A Widow for One Year," children's storybook writer (Jeff Bridges) hires an assistant who doesn't help so much as he sleeps with Jeff's wife (Kim Basinger). Of course, Jeff's no prize, philanderer that he is. But you can't blame the couple. They just lost their sons, one of whom resembles this new guy, making his affair with Kim kind of…oh, John, you scamp!

WILL IT SUCK?
John Irving can make for good cinema ("The Cider House Rules") or not so much ("The Hotel New Hampshire") but there's no telling, really, where this is gonna go. The writer/director has one other film to his credit, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole," which remains without anything remotely resembling a critical consensus. Even the stars could go either way.

Early buzz, what little of it there is, is mixed.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Doesn't have much competition, genre-wise, and with its star-power may give "Maria Full of Grace" a run for its money. It helps that it no longer has to directly take on "De-Lovely." The move was probably a good idea. Again, they're doing the two-day head start thing (drops 7/14). $13mil.


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TOUCH OF PINK

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Alim, who imagines that he's accompanied by the spirit of Cary Grant (played by Kyle MacLachlan, of course) finds his world unraveling when his mother arrives to find him a nice Muslim girl to marry, unaware that he's gay.

WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is good. It'll certainly be interesting. It's not everyday you get a screwball gay Canadian Muslim comedy. It will be, though. This will be the next big subgenre. You just wait.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Too much competition. "Maria Full of Grace" and "Door in the Floor" will pretty much crush this, except in the gay and lesbian communities, where this should flourish. $500,000 mil.

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MARIA FULL OF GRACE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
How badly would you want to get into the US? Drug mule bad?

WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is good, with a curious lack of support from IMDB users. The real recommenders here are the numerous awards at Sundance and Berlin, especially for lead actress Catalina Sandino Moreno, who tied with Charlize for Best Actress at Berlin. This is probably going to be one of the critical darlings of the summer (along with "Fahrenheit 9/11").

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
If it can get past "Door in the Floor," it's home free. Without star-power, though, that's unlikely. $3mil.


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ZHOU YU'S TRAIN

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Chinese love triangle. Train rides ensue.

WILL IT SUCK?
Probably. Early buzz is not good. Gong Li is a superstar in China and so, apparently, is Tony Leung Ka Fai (whom I always confuse with Tony Leung Chiu Wai of "Hard Boiled" fame), but even their presence isn't enough to save this from director Zhou Sun's lethargic pace, which is being credited with bringing down this romance.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
With a well-known director, lots of action, relatively well-known leads (stateside), strong word-of-mouth, a winter release and Oscar buzz, a Chinese film ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") did well over here. This ain't got none o' that. $500,000.





7/23

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
US v. China as everyone's favorite memory-challenged assassin becomes the latest victim of identity theft.

WILL IT SUCK?
OK. First off, I've been bitching about them skipping ahead a book in the series. But it turns out that I'm an idiot and they're actually going in order. I guess the word "supremacy" threw me. I mean what could come after that? ("Ultimatum" as it turns out). And I'm actually pretty psyched for the third one since it apparently involves the Jackal. (Same Jackal as, y'know, "The Jackal"? I dunno. But Bruce Willis v. Matt Damon would be phat.)

Anyway, they've made some shrewd moves here. They've kept the original screenwriter who managed to create an intelligent, coherent thriller in the face of numerous on-set rewrites. They've brought on a director who's done some amazing work in a not-entirely-different genre. Paul Greengrass directed "Bloody Sunday," one of the most grueling I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-documentary films to date. Can he translate that gritty style to a slick thriller? I hope not. I hope he keeps it gritty. I think it would be more in line with the style of the original and maybe elevate it a little. (I didn't fall in love with "Bourne Identity" quite as much most critics. I had more of a "meh" reaction.)

As always, Brian Cox will be fun to watch and Joan Allen makes pretty much anything better. I'm betting this will be as good as the original, but not much better.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It won't be able to do much against the one-two punch of "The Village" and "The Manchurian Candidate" the following week, but this week it should easily handle "Catwoman" and the second frame of "I, Robot" by (a) having a following from the first film and (b) not sucking nearly as much as "I, Robot" or "Catwoman." $124mil.


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CATWOMAN

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
"Batman Returns" without Batman, The Penguin, or Christopher Walken. Or Gotham. Or the name Selina Kyle. Patience Philips? What the fuck is that?

WILL IT SUCK?
And how. They've got writers here from "The Core" and "The Net" so this will be "The Suck." They've got Pitof, who hasn't yet earned a one-name moniker, directing. And then you have all the unnecessary backstory changes. If Gotham is supposed to be New York, then I suppose "Lake City" is supposed to be Chicago, but why bother moving it? Halle Berry may be the best thing this movie has going for it, but in that silly costume it'll take a bullwhip to take her seriously. Nope. That won't do it, either. It's kind of an inspired move to make the villain (a predictably wiggy Sharon Stone) the head of a cosmetics company, but that's about it. Honestly, we could be looking at this year's "Gigli."

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Halle Berry could open "Gothika," but that was in the fall. Here "Catwoman" faces "The Bourne Supremacy" and the second frame of "I, Robot." It'll get creamed. There'll be the initial rush of fanboys who want to see just how badly it will suck, but that won't give the film legs. $64mil.


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THE GRUDGE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Tale of a revenge spirit unwittingly unleashed (who ever "wittingly" unleashes one of these?) by a nurse. Japanese horror ensues. American horror ensues in the remake this fall.

WILL IT SUCK?
Early reviews are mixed. The film is very Japanese (read: doesn't necessarily make any sense). Apparently American audiences are pickier about things like plot. But if you want creepy atmosphere, hellzapoppin'! They've tapped the director of this flick, actually the third in a series of Japanese horror films about vengeful ghosts, to direct the American version which will come out in October with Sarah Michelle Gellar. If you want to catch the artsier, probably scarier version, check this out. If you want to catch the more coherent, but not necessarily spine-tingling version, wait a few months.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
People interested in horror will probably wait a week and watch "The Village." People interested in Asian cinema will probably go see "Zatoichi," which has been delayed to this week. People interested in the premise will wait until October to see it with Sarah. $600,000.


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THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI
(moved from June)

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Beat Takeshi puts the beatdown on some corrupt motherfuckers as the titular (and legendary) blind swordsman. Serious ass-kicking ensues, and since you just got beat by a blind guy, how bad do you feel?

WILL IT SUCK?
Beat Takeshi is, by all accounts, da bomb. I've only seen one of his movies (it was either "Fireworks" or "Sonatine," I can't remember which, and that's probably not a good sign) but his rep precedes him. Here, as is often the case, he writes, acts, directs and edits. And this is supposed to be his best work yet. It's already won a crapload of Japanese Oscars and numerous international fest plaudits including audience/people's choice awards at Venice and Toronto. Critical response is extremely positive so far. So, no, it probably won't suck.

And there's a musical number or two, apparently.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Why they changed the name to add "The Blind Swordsman" in front, I get. Why they moved it to a much more crowded slot with more big-budget action competition, I don't. It was gonna be hard enough as it was. $750,000.


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A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Epic love triangle between Colin Farrell (straight), Dallas Roberts (gay), and Robin Wright Penn (straight, but married to Dallas and wants a baby with him so complications ensue).

WILL IT SUCK?
Indie Colin Farrell ("Intermission," "Tigerland") is usually a good thing. This is also coming from strong source material: Michael "The Hours" Cunningham's adaptation of his first novel. The director's done some broadway and should be good with actors. None of this, however, has helped the advance buzz, which is underwhelming.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Indie Colin Farrell may be nice critically, but not financially. None of his work outside Hollywood has grossed more than a mil. This should own its weekend, indie-wise, but the following week "She Hate Me" will take it out to lunch. $900,000.





7/30

THE VILLAGE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
In 19th Century Covington, which (since this is an M. Night film) is in Pennsylvania, a group of townspeople live surrounded by a race of creatures with whom they've brokered an uneasy truce, which (since this is an M. Night film) doesn't last the movie.

WILL IT SUCK?
Unlikely, but in the interests of full disclosure, M. Night's my boy. I loved "Unbreakable," if that gives you any clue. That having been said, you've gotta admit he's got a stellar cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt (doing penance for "Lost in Space"), Adrien Brody, and character actor fave Brendan Gleeson. The premise is promising and, for my money, M. Night always delivers.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It will own the end of July (and a good bit of August). Even in the midst of numerous opponents, it will outdraw and outlast. People seem to forget that M. Night somehow makes horror films that draw on a demo ten times as large as the typical horror demo. (The same way Spielberg used to draw sci-fi fans on a ten times scale). It happened with "Signs" and it's going to happen with this, too. $238mil.


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THUNDERBIRDS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Remember that TV show "Thunderbirds" or the movie "Thunderbirds Are Go" with all those marionettes? I think I see two of you. In the back. Anyway, same deal without the marionettes (insert wooden acting joke here).

For those of you who weren't quite as geeky as I growing up, "Thunderbirds" was an adventure series about a family who goes around saving the world using a fleet of kick-ass vehicles which were later commissioned to make up the left calf of Voltron. Sorry, once I start geeking out, I really can't stop.

WILL IT SUCK?
It looks like they're going for parody here, what with a screenwriter from "Undercover Brother" and a couple of "Austin Powers" films on board. Unfortunately, he's teamed with the guy who wrote "Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot," so expect Grand Suckage. In any case, the trailer's as awful as director Jonathan Frake's non-Star Trek track record.

Though I'm sure Ben Kingsley will ham it up nicely as the villain, no amount of scenery chewing will be worth sitting through the cheese inherent in taking an adventure series who's only novelty was the fact that it was puppet-driven entertainment and removing the puppets. Imagine doing the same thing with "The Muppet Show" and you'll see what I mean.

Early reviews are mixed.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
People took their kids to go see "Signs" and they'll do the same for "The Village" putting this into a little bit of a tight spot. Things will open up in August as very few family films pepper the horizon. Still, it will be hard going for this without positive word of mouth. We all know what happened to the kid-friendly "Around the World and Off the Screens in Less Than 80 Days." $31mil.


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HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Read the title.

WILL IT SUCK?
I don't think so. Imagine if "Dude, Where's My Car?" had good character actors in the leads instead of Ashton and Sean. And a better script. Same director, though. And given his work on "The Tick" and "Action," I know what he can do with good material. Only question is, is this good material? Hard to say since the screenwriters are newcomers. But the trailer's hilarious and the early reviews from such heavy hitters as Variety and Hollywood Reporter are very positive.

It's also nice to see anyone from "Better Luck Tomorrow" getting more work (John Cho plays Harold). The supporting slew of cameos features Anthony Anderson, Ethan Embry, Luis Guzman, Fred Willard, and the comic genius of Neil Patrick Harris (go see "Undercover Brother" again if you don't believe me). Basically, this is going to be what "Dude" should have been.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
No comedy to compete with plus good word of mouth means a top five opening for this lucky bastard. Add to that the fact that this is the sort of thing that could easily garner a cult following and you're talking about repeat business revenue. That, in the movie biz, equals cheddar. $53mil.


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THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Frankenheimer's fantastic cold war thriller updated by Jonathan Demme (no thriller slouch himself) to the Gulf War.

WILL IT SUCK?
Hard to say. The original material is so good, it's hard to believe that (a) there's any need to re-film it or (b) you could really fuck it up. Unfortunately, recent history (even Demme's own) shows that you can. His remake of the excellent caper "Charade" fell flat. Here, though, he's working with better source material and better actors. Denzel and Streep? Fugghetaboutit. But the real prize here is Liev Schreiber as the fucked-up soldier. He's an underrated actor and I'm hoping this gives him the acclaim he should've received for "RKO 281" (go rent it now). The list of cameos and supporting actors is even better here than for "Harold and Kumar": Ted Levine, Dean Stockwell, Miguel Ferrer, Zeljko Ivanek, Charles Napier, Al Franken, and Anna Deavere Smith, many of whom are Demme standbys.

Unfortunately the writing leaves a lot to be desired. We're talking about one guy who did both "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (the only film in movie history grammatically requiring two colons) and "Paycheck." The other guy's best work is "The Sum of All Fears," which, while it didn't suck, shouldn't go down as your best work. How could Demme trust material this compelling to these two? How could he commission anyone less than "Silence of the Lambs" cohort Ted Tally? (I am, of course, assuming it was Demme's decision, which isn't necessarily the case. But why would anyone make that decision?)

So I'm left very nervous. As much as I want this to not suck, you'll probably be much better off renting the original.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Not as well as it would in late August or, better yet, the fall. But they didn't want this to be viewed as a political film in an election year (!?!?) so they're keeping it away from November. Too bad. "The Village" won't kick it's ass so much as cripple its attendance. "Collateral" will do the same the following week. Still, Denzel can open crap like "Man on Fire" at less than $25mil (as he has with all of his movies, btw) and keep it simmering until it reaches over $75mil. From this, expect no less than $82mil.


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SHE HATE ME

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
A recently ousted exec returns to the lifestyle to which he's accustomed by knocking up lesbians who want kids.

WILL IT SUCK?
So far, this film has my second favorite tag line of the year. "One Heterosexual Male. 18 Lesbians. His Fee $10,000…Each." I'll tell you my favorite one next month. Anyway, Spike Lee joints are invariably interesting. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes brilliant, but always worth checking out. This looks to be no different. He seems to be going after corporate America with this one as much as gender politics. And with work like "25th Hour" now ranked as his best yet (higher than "Do the Right Thing") on IMDB, he only seems to be getting better and better. (I actually think "Do the Right Thing" is still his best work, but "25th Hour" did have much game.) As usual, he's assembled an outstanding cast: Monica Belluci, Brian Dennehy, Woody Harrelson, Q-Tip, John Turturro, Ossie Davis, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. I can't wait for this to debut on "Spike TV."

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This is going to be the indie event of July, so he should be fine this weekend. The indie event of August (and arguably the summer, after "Fahrenheit 9/11") opens a week later, though, so this needs to make its money while it can. $3mil.


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GARDEN STATE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Zach "Scrubs" Braff writes, stars, and directs this flick about an actor's uncomfortable homecoming.

WILL IT SUCK?
Hard to say. Zach's acting and comedy chops are a no-brainer if you've seen twenty seconds of "Scrubs" (easily one of the best shows on TV). But can he write or direct? To ask the critics, it's a resounding yes. It's currently at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (but that's with only seven critics responding). To ask audiences, it's a more mixed bag. So this goes on the list of films I really want to like, but have to steel myself against for disappointment. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Adding to my hope is a great trailer and, again this week, a great cast that includes Ian Holm, Peter Saarsgard, and Method Man. Okay, I don't really know if Method Man can act since I can't bring myself to watch "How High" or "Method and Red," I just like the fact that he's in this.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
"She Hate Me" is a problem. And not for nothing, but so is "Harold and Kumar," which, while not an indie, is an indie-ish comedy and will draw a corresponding crowd. So you're looking at all this and then, boom, the following week "Open Water" (the indie event I hinted at before) sucks up whatever indie audience is left. This is going to have a fruitful life on DVD, but in theaters it'll get the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Doesn't hurt, though, that both Miramax and Fox Searchlight are promoting it. $1mil.


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INTIMATE STRANGERS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
A financial adviser inadvertently poses as a therapist when a woman mistakenly comes into his office and starts telling him her problems.

WILL IT SUCK?
Director Patrice Leconte's most recent work was the acclaimed "The Man on the Train," which was worth all the hype. This is getting slightly less unanimous plaudits, though it did nab a Golden Bear nod at Berlin.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Way too much competition this week and next for it to get its neck above water (I'm getting all of my water puns out of the way now so my "Open Water" commentary next month will consist of, um, dry wit. OK, I'll stop now.) $750,000.

Next month looks to be an unusually well-stocked August which will include the granddaddy of all delayed releases, Zhang Yimou's "Hero." (Which, now that I've said that, will probably get delayed

 



- Dave Thomas
http://travelindave.blogspot.com

 

 


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