Can't-miss films

May 05, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

"Remakes" and "sequels" may be the key words for summer movies, but "acting" may be the season's redemption.

America's performing pool is still so deep that veterans and fledglings alike may wring personal victories out of retreads like Poseidon. This Titanic-esque take on the 1972 disaster film smash The Poseidon Adventure opens next week with a cast that includes stalwart, perpetually underrated Kurt Russell and statuesque, gifted Jacinda Barrett.

Producers have wisely continued to sprinkle new personalities into tried-and-true hit franchises: X-Men: The Last Stand, for example, will introduce Ben Foster, who got his big-screen break in Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights, as the white-winged Angel.

A number of our best actors will display new facets of their talents. The always-surprising Edward Norton comes our way as both a California cowboy in Down in the Valley and a magician wowing fin de siecle Vienna in The Illusionist. And doubtless Robert Altman will capture never-before-seen nuances from the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Meryl Streep in A Prairie Home Companion.

From Uma Thurman as a jilted superheroine to Ryan Gosling as a teacher with a crack habit, what follows are some forthcoming releases that aim to keep comedy and drama clicking on a human scale during what's sure to be a long, hot, and often bombastic summer.

Half Nelson

Ryan Gosling has proven he can excel when playing everything from a Jewish neo-Nazi (in 2002's The Believer) and a teenage thrill-killer (Murder by Numbers, also 2002) to a working-class romantic hero (in 2004's The Notebook). In Half Nelson (Aug. 11), he plays a junior high school teacher in an African-American neighborhood who bonds with one of his students (Shareeka Epps) after she discovers that he's a crack addict. A first feature from director Ryan Fleck and his co-writer, Anna Boden, this may be one of those Sundance hits that resonates well beyond Park City.

A Scanner Darkly

Could there be a riskier or more talented ensemble than Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and the straight man among action heroes, Keanu Reeves? They head the cast of the brilliant Richard Linklater's latest offbeat epic, A Scanner Darkly (July 7), from a Philip K. Dick novel about a personality-splitting drug called Substance D, and we'll definitely see all of them as we've never seen them before. Of course, they've all been lively and animated - even, at times, Keanu - but this time they're really animated, thanks to a process called rotoscoping that turns live action into cartoons.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend

Just at the point when you tell yourself you never want to see another super-creature in capes, leotards, tight leather costumes or body paint ever, ever again - even one played by Halle Berry or Rebecca Romijn - along comes the intriguing high-concept comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend (July 21), from the ever-unpredictable Ivan Reitman (Stripes was great, Legal Eagles terrible). It stars the drawling charmer Luke Wilson as an architect who calls things off with his girlfriend - the statuesque yet feisty Uma Thurman - only to discover that she's a superheroine with an appetite for vengeance. Rainn Wilson, the loathsome toady from NBC's The Office, plays Wilson's best friend.

I Could Never Be Your Woman

The greatest actress of the 1980s and 1990s was also the most hypnotically beautiful: That's why she never got the deep-dish acclaim that she deserved. Four years after her searing, typically undervalued turn as a toxic mom in White Oleander, Michelle Pfeiffer finally comes back with I Could Never Be Your Woman (July 28), playing a single mother and TV producer who falls for an actor (Paul Rudd) young enough to read for a part in her high school sitcom. The writer-director is Amy Heckerling (Clueless), whose ideas sometimes outstrip her execution. But Pfeiffer is equally deft at comedy and romance, and Rudd is on a roll after offering inspired support to Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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