Pinball moves into video games

Unexpectedly chosen to fulfill an ancient prophecy and train in the art of kung fu alongside the legendary Furious Five, giant panda Po (voiced by Jack Black) begins his study in DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda.” It opens June 27. Photo by (DREAMWORKS)

Winter was pretty much a washout, and spring at the movies? It sprang a leak. A lot of leaks.

Attendance has been down more than 6 percent, with some weekends seeing a 20 percent drop in the box office take, from last year. Not having a "300" or "Ghost Rider" on your movierelease calendar will do that to you.

But Hollywood is ever-optimistic. What did they title that "X-Files" sequel (July 25)?"I Want to Believe."

And so do we. If "Iron Man" is any indication, this could be a season to remember. If "Made of Honor" is any indication, it won't be remembered for romantic comedies.Of course, summer doesn't officially start until June 21, but the summer popcorn-crunching season is already appearing at local theaters.

Among the big-budget May highlights: "Speed Racer" (today) and "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (May 16).

June has Mike Myers' comeback, "The Love Guru," and Steve Carell's "Get Smart" (June 20). July features Will Smith's superhero down on his luck "Hancock" (July 2), "Hellboy 2" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D" (July 11), that "X-Files" sequel and Will Ferrell's latest, "Step Brothers" (July 25). And August features "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (Aug. 1) and another Judd Apatow-produced comedy, "Pineapple Express" (Aug. 8).But there are five benchmark weekends coming our way, dates with huge movies on them. Everything is riding on them. Will the films be good enough to get people away from their HDTVs?I want to believe.

May 22It's been 20 years since Indy picked up the whip. So the cracks about how old Harrison Ford is, how George Lucas isn't the popcornmaker he once was and how Steven Spielberg's out of practice at this sort of thing were to be expected.But "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" could be spectacular on a spectacular scale. The setting is the Cold War 1950s, the plot has to do with aliens and the Soviets, and the cast includes Ford, Shia LaBeouf and, as a Russkie, Oscar winner Cate Blanchett. Can Lucas, Spielberg and Indy still whip up a good yarn? Can Ford still deliver the popcorn? We really want to believe in this one.

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June 13Master of the spooky, M. Night Shyamalan tasted bitter comeuppance with his last film, "Lady in the Water." Bitter! BITTER! Make fun of movie critics in your movie, will ya? We'll show you! Is "The Happening," about an event that causes mass suicides, his comeback? Could be. Mark Wahlberg stars.That thriller will go head to head with the humongous head of "The Incredible Hulk." Edward Norton's tale of the big green monster seems like the old TV series, with mild-mannered Dr. Banner (Norton) traveling off the grid, trying to avoid losing his temper. There's bad buzz on this one, mainly because of a lame, digitally augmented trailer that gives away the big Hulk vs. Abomination (Tim Roth) throwdown.Prediction: One of these two movies will compete with one of two Brendan Fraser popcorn flicks ("Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "The Mummy") as the biggest bomb of the summer.

June 27

Pixar may still be earning great reviews for its animation, but its reputation for making kid-friendly movies that kids line up to see has taken a hit in recent years. Pixar has seen a steady erosion at the box office for "Cars" and last summer's "Ratatouille." Will "Wall-E" reverse that? Early indications are: quite likely. Previews make this tale of a lonely robot left behind to clean up the mess humans have made of Earth (they've abandoned it) seem nonverbal, smart, sweet and very funny. Fingers crossed!It'll be competing against Dreamworks' kung fu-critters comedy, "Kung Fu Panda" (June 6), which features an all-star voice cast including Jack Black, Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman. That will test the old animation rule - the bigger the names, the weaker the movie. So will "Fly Me to the Moon" (Aug. 8), an Apollo 11 tale about flies that tag along with Buzz Aldrin (a voice actor in the film) and Neil Armstrong to the lunar surface. "Space Chimps" (July 18), is about monkeys sent skyward, features voices including Patrick Warburton.

July 18"The Dark Knight" promises to be that much darker than previous Batman movies because of the death of the new Joker, Heath Ledger, in January. Christian Bale returns, and Aaron Eckhart is district attorney Harvey Dent (the future Two-Face).But "darker than dark" will have weekend competition from "Dancing Queen." "Mamma Mia!" based on the ABBA stage musical, is about a mom (Meryl Streep) who wants only to watch her daughter married off in a perfect setting, the Greek Isles. But the girl only wants to know who her real dad is. Might he be Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth or Stellan Skarsgard? It was the '80s, Mom "got around," listened to too much ABBA and, well, stuff happened.

Aug. 15Robert Downey Jr. will have almost forgotten his accolades from "Iron Man" when "Tropic Thunder" opens on this date. But this Ben Stiller-Jack Black-Steve Coogan-Downey comedy (Stiller directed) may bring it all back. The trailers to this farce about actors playing soldiers mixed up in a civil war are laughout-loud hilarious. Downey? He plays a method actor so deep into his craft that he dons blackface to play an African-American Army sergeant.If it's as funny as it is politically incorrect, this summer will leave us laughing so hard that we choke on our popcorn.



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