Without a trace of embarrasment, the folks in charge at Cannes opened their festival on May 17 with “The Da Vinci Code.” It's an understatement to say that Ron Howard’s verbose thriller, shown out of competition, left viewers in a stupor. More enthusiasm will undoubtedly be on display during the screening of most of the entries described below. For complete details on all of the movies scheduled to unreel, click here and visit the festival’s official web site.


BABEL: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, Koji Yakusho, Fernandez Mattos Dulce, Lynsey Beauchamp, James Melody (Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; Written by Guillermo Arriaga; Paramount Classics) A variety of troubled people in several countries (including Morocco, Tunisia, Mexico and Japan) somehow manage to forge a connection. And you can count on the results being violent, bloody, mystifying and perhaps a tiny bit uplifting. Why is that? Because “Babel” is another collaboration between director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, the awesomely disturbing team responsible for the violent, bloody, mystifying and perhaps a tiny bit uplifting “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams.” That's Brad Pitt, above, letting it all flood out. Opens 10/6/06

FAST FOOD NATION: Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson, Patricia Arquette, Catalilna Sandino Moreno, Lou Taylor Pucci, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Dano, Ann Claudia Talancon, Luis Guzman, Ashley Johnson, Esai Morales, Wilmer Valderrama, Avril Lavigne (Directed by Richard Linklater; Written by Eric Schlosser and Richard Linklater; Fox Searchlight) Don’t stop off at the concession counter to buy a burger when this movie plays your local theater unless you’ve got a barf bag handy. This fictionalized, extremely graphic adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s best seller focuses in minute detail on just what goes into “The Big One,” the most popular item on the menu at Mickey’s junk-food emporium in Cody, Colorado. Greg Kinnear plays a hotshot marketer assigned to check out the rumor that manure is one of the giant burger’s ingredients, and what he discovers truly stinks. Luis Guzman and Catalina Sandino Moreno pop up as illegal immigrant laborers, Kris Kristofferson is a resourceful rancher, and Bruce Willis is a no-nonsense supplier who firmly believes “We all have to eat a little shit from time to time.” To read Diane Baroni’s 1998 interview with Kris Kristofferson, click here.

MARIE ANTOINETTE: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, Judy Davis, Danny Huston, Steve Coogan, Asia Argento, Marianne Faithfull, Aurore Clement, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, (Written and directed by Sofia Coppola; Columbia) Kirsten Dunst, who made director Sofia Coppola proud in “The Virgin Suicides,” will try to do the same thing in this fresh take on the royal who lost her head during the French Revolution. In a move that some might brand as nepotism, Coppola cast cousin Jason Schwartzman as King Louis XVI. Anyone who saw “Rushmore,” however, knows Schwartzman--nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, son of Talia Shire--is as talented as he is well-connected, so obviously the kid should have stayed in the picture. To read about many more new biopics, click here. Opens 10/13/06

VOLVER: Penelope Cruz, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Carmen Maura, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Leandro Rivera, Carmen Machi, Pilar Castro (Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar; Sony Picures Classics) As is frequently the case with the films of Spain’s most outrageously daring, funny, profound, trashy auteur, “Volver” will be mostly, if not all, about women. This time, Almodovar intimately explores the quirks of the female members of a far-from-mainstream family. In truth, their lives are pretty much a mess, which is why the vexed, volatile mom played by Carmen Maura feels compelled to get back down to earth shortly after her untimely death. She’s simply got to make things right for her daughters (Penelope Cruz and Lola Duenas) and her granddaughter (Yohana Cobo). Go, ghost, go! Before “Volver’s” U. S. premiere, Sony Pictures Classics will present a nation-wide Almodovar retrospective that will include "Law of Desire," "Matador," "Women on the Verge," "Flower of My Secret," "Live Flesh," "All About My Mother," "Talk to Her," and "Bad Education." If you know of a better show in town, please please leak me the secret right away. Opens 10/20/06



UNITED 93: (Written and directed by Paul Greengrass; Universal) Not all four of the planes hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001 arrived at their intended destinations. We are reminded of that fact in this docudrama by Paul Greengrass, British director of the Irish-troubles film, “Bloody Sunday.” Actually, more than five million viewers were already reminded in a recent A&E made-for-TV movie that the passengers aboard United Airlines 93, realizing what was about to happen, heroically thwarted their captors' plan and caused the plane to crash outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The Greengrass film, featuring a cast of mostly unfamiliar actors, opened the Tribeca Film Festival--close to where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood--on April 25 and is now playing in U. S. theaters. To read what Frank Rich, of the New York Times, and George Will, of The Washington Post, wrote about "United 93," click here. You won't believe they saw the same movie.

X-MEN: THE LAST STAND: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Vinnie Jones, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Famke Janssen, Alan Cumming, Kelsey Grammer, Daniel Cudmor, Shawn Ashmore, Maggie Grace (Directed by Brett Ratner; Written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn; Fox) Everyone's favorite Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and a horde of hyperactive mutants will once again frolic in this Marvel Comics-inspired fantasy. Lots of familiar faces will show up--plus Aussie jock Vinnie Jones is said to have a major role as the villainous Juggernaut. To read Diane Baroni's 2001 interview with Vinnie Jones, click here; for Guy Flatley's 1998 interview with Anna Paquin, click here. Opens 5/26/06



A SCANNER DARKLY: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, Heather Kafka, Dameon Clarke (Written and directed by Richard Linklater; Warner Independent Pictures) It’s not too far into the future, and just as so many of us predicted, America has lost its war on drugs, nowhere more appallingly than in Orange County, California. Sound familiar? Maybe that’s because you’ve read "A Scanner Darkly," the potent, scary 1977 story by the late Philip K. Dick, whose futuristic tales have been adapted to the screen on numerous occasions, most notably in "Blade Runner,""Total Recall" and "Minority Report." It should be noted that author Dick was tortured by his own drug demons, and it is also of interest that three of this film’s stars—Downey, Harrelson and Ryder—know firsthand what it’s like to be under the influence and in trouble with the law. For Reeves, the role of a schizo narc who falls prey to the very substance he’s supposed to be eradicating offers a chance to show he can snap out of that Matrix trance. At the very least, he'll have to show two emotions. Opens 7/7/06