I'VE HEARD A theory that the Egyptian pyramids were not just funerary edifices for superstitious pharaohs, but in fact elaborate forms of social control. By keeping thousands of people fixated on these enormously visual feats, Egyptian leaders effectively kept unrest and ennui at a minimum.
I have a similar theory: that today's instruments of mass social control are summer movies. That's why I've purchased a patented Pyramid Predict-o-Hat to help me avoid all but the best summer-movie distractions. These premonitions can help you, too--read the following Summer Movie Predictions and be the master of your frivolity.
THE LOCAL VIEW
ALL RIGHT, I'M looking into the future, but at the moment all I'm seeing is local cinematic entertainment.
Specifically, I see Vikki Dempsey's reliable summer video series, Alternate Routes. Curated by University of Arizona College of Fine Arts faculty, this series of six shows could be just the cultural antidote you need after being assaulted by the latest big-budget senses-shatterer.
Expect a selection of low-budget, short-format films and videos, guest speakers, and even accompanying performance art. The series kicks off on Thursday, June 15, with "It's About the Love," videos focusing on overcoming societal apathy. It continues every other Thursday with programs about community and political concerns. The final show, "The Simply Southwest Showcase," is your chance to see recent works from aspiring locals.
Alternate Routes screens in the Aerospace Mechanical Engineering Auditorium (on the northeast corner of Speedway Boulevard and Mountain Avenue). Admission is free. For more information, call 621-7352 or keep watching this space.
Tucson's other home-grown mainstay is The Screening Room. When I called Giulio Scalinger, the man behind the curtain, he said cryptically, "I'm thinking about puppets." Turns out he's planning to team up with the nearby Tucson Puppet Works to put on a summer series that combines puppet-based movies with local puppeteering. For an extra fee you can enter Scalinger's mind for 15 minutes and get spat out onto Speedway Boulevard.
The Screening Room might also present retrospectives of Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski or Francois Truffaut films. Its summer schedule will start during the second weekend in June at 127 E. Congress St. For more information, call 622-2262.
The future of the Loft Cinema, which is awaiting a new owner, remains uncertain. This might be a good time to catch a flick at Tucson's most notable non-multiplex.
SPEAKING OF MULTIPLEXES...
THE PYRAMID HAT tells me that they'll soon be filled with swarthy masses subjected to gales of air conditioning and blasts of THX sound sending them into a dreamlike state of total escapism from mundane reality. So as long as you're going to be spaced out, check out these--
SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES will be raining down like big honkin' meteors. The biggest and honkin'-est is Battlefield Earth, based on a 1,200-page L. Ron Hubbard novel. It's the year 3000 and a bunch of biker-lookin' aliens (headed by a gratuitously cackling John Travolta) beam down and kick homo sapien butt. Can humans, with their inferior technology and hair, overcome? One thing for sure: anything penned by the creator of Scientology, a religion so kooky and secretive it makes Mormons look like Buddhists, is probably good for a laugh (or gratuitous cackle). Careful that you aren't indoctrinated: the movie's villainous "Psychlos" are clearly a reference to psychologists and psychiatrists, whom Scientologists hate.
Will anyone be laughing when Clint Eastwood creaks onto the screen for Space Cowboys, a.k.a. Geriatrics in Zero Gravity? Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, James Garner and Tommy Lee Jones play retired astronauts who, not unlike John Glenn, are enlisted for one final mission. Laughs ensue when Eastwood reaches to open a pod bay door and ends up shouting, "Oh! My back!" OK, I'm lying. The movie appears to be standard Eastwood fare--a combination of action and ponderous manliness. In space.
Imposter follows in the echoey footsteps of Blade Runner and adapts a Philip K. Dick story about a detective (Vincent D'Onofrio) on the trail of an alien spy (Gary Sinise). It's set in 2075, has lots of chase scenes, and if it's anything like Blade Runner has a villain who says cute phrases like, "Wake up. Time to die."
The final spaced-out entry is Titan A.E., an animated movie about (deja vu!) aliens taking over the planet. The few surviving earthlings (voiced by Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore) try to escape via some sort of Biosphere II-like spaceship. Chances are it's more entertaining than going to Biosphere II, but not as entertaining as going to Biosphere II naked.
NOTICE SOMETHING MISSING from the aforementioned films? None boasts a strong hero. Not so with Ridley Scott's Gladiator, which unless you've been living in the basement of the Alamo for the last three weeks, you've already seen or read about or played the videogame (one must exist).
The intense but charisma-challenged Russell Crowe stars as a former Roman general who enters an arena and beats the everlovin' tar out of cigarette manufacturers until somebody interviews him on 60 Sundials. Or something. Here's my capsule review: bloated, badly paced storytelling. Overrated movie.
Like your heroes modern and in funny clothes? Check out X-Men, which, if it hadn't come out a year afterwards, would be the movie that last summer's Mystery Men was trying to parody. Not to be confused with The Fantastic Four, the X-Men are genetic mutants committed to using their special powers for truth, justice, and awesome sunglasses. Director Bryan Singer showed promise with The Usual Suspects, but he also tortured us with Apt Pupil. Either way, I'm thankful it isn't a new Batman film. Now if only they'll make Wonder Twins: Form of--a Movie!
The best bet? Definitely The Hollow Man, based on H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man. It stars Kevin "Every time I'm in a movie my game gets a little easier" Bacon, but the real draw is director Paul Verhoeven. He's the unpredictable, ultraviolent Dutchman behind Robocop, Showgirls and Starship Troopers, and his movies always have an I-can't-tell-whether-this-is-earnest-crap-or-a-sick-joke aura that makes them both painful and funny. As a bonus, the invisibility process shows every progressive layer of skin, flesh, guts and bone. Yummy.
MAN VERSUS NATURE
INTEREST NOT YET piqued? Try these man-versus-nature yarns. Such movies have the benefit of realism: their villain is morally intangible, there's no one to blame, no reassurance--just a mighty, random force that's truly "larger than life."
I know what you're thinking: "But what about Twister--it blew!" Well, at least The Perfect Storm doesn't gum up its gears with romance. Director Wolfgang Petersen concentrates on the No Name Storm, which was actually three storms that converged over the North Atlantic, sending fishing boats bobbin' like Bingo balls. It sounds like a perfect nightmare, and its cast includes George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, who "weathered" the Desert "Storm" movie Three Kings together. Oh yeah, it's got that huge, if-only-Godzilla-could-surf tidal wave.
Speaking of Godzilla, Toho studios in Japan recently released Godzilla 2000, just to show us how metaphoric monster movies about nuclear war are really done--with a man in a rubber suit, of course.
If you prefer mountains to tidal waves and large lizards, The Vertical Limit follows Chris O'Donnell (a.k.a. Robin in the last couple Batman flicks) as he leads a rescue expedition up K2 to save Robin Tunney. Climb, Robin, climb.
NOT-SO-PLAIN, NOT-SO-VANILLA ACTION MOVIES
THERE ARE VERY few sequels this summer, which is great because I really didn't want to see Baby Geniuses II: You're A Duty Head or The Other Other Sister or Krippendorf's Tribe Goes Kannibal!
However, it's nice to see a Mission Impossible 2, since the first one (directed by Brian DePalma) had a lot of wasted potential. This time the director is Hong Kong action spaz John Woo, Scientology freak Tom Cruise does a variety of slow-motion Matrix/Gap commercial-style stunts, and Anthony Hopkins shows up to chew scenery and make quips like, "This isn't Mission Difficult." The story has something to do with a super-flu virus and its serum, with everybody chasing everybody else all over the world in a wide variety of vehicles with a wide variety of explosions and effects. Leave your brain at home in a safe.
Then there's Jerry Bruckheimer's Gone in Sixty Seconds, which has already won the Most Obnoxiously Noisy Movie Trailer Ever award. Nicholas Cage and a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Angelina Jolie steal cars and have sex, making this about as far as you can get from Masterpiece Theatre without having a lobotomy. Producer Bruckheimer ditched director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Con Air) in favor of a newcomer, so maybe this one has some subtlety somewhere. Ha-ha.
Other actioners include Bait, starring Jamie Foxx and David Morse in a tale of a cop and ex-crook who are black and white and play cat and mouse with bad guys. Wow, who thought of that? Then there's Shaft, an update of the '70s blaxploitation classic featuring Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft) and Samuel L. Jackson (as Shaft's nephew). Isaac Hayes re-recorded his unforgettable theme song, which includes that ever-vexing Zen-Buddhist riddle: Who's the black private dick who's the sex machine with all the chicks?
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
THIS SUMMER'S CRIME movies revolve around elaborate schemes. Director Nora Ephron's Numbers follows John Travolta, Lisa Kudrow and Tim Roth's efforts to rig a lottery by putting a heavy coat of paint on the bouncy balls. In interviews Ephron suggests it's a small-town black comedy in the spirit of Fargo, but ever since she turned her last movie, You've Got Mail, into a gigantic America Online/Starbucks commercial, I'm a bit wary.
The scheme in Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks is this: he and wife Tracey Ullman buy a store next to a bank so they can dig a tunnel underneath and break into the vault. This return to Take the Money and Run territory is not so much about the crime as the characters, which are said to be based on Allen's love for the '50s TV show The Honeymooners. Remember: it's Woody's party and he can do whatever he wants.
The criminal scheme in The Way of the Gun has Benicio del Toro and Ryan Phillippe kidnapping a pregnant Juliette Lewis and driving her to Mexico while her mob father sends hitmen after them. It's supposedly an homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. If they say so.
Then there's The Cell, in which neuroscientist Jennifer Lopez uses an experimental technique to get inside the mind of a comatose serial killer (Vincent D'Onofrio) so she can save his most recent victim (who's locked up in--here comes the title--a cell). The serial killer is especially fond of disemboweling his victims. Insert Puff Daddy joke here.
LET'S GET ALL-AMERICAN
JULY 4 MEANS we celebrate our capitalist society by going to the concession stand and buying lots of overpriced treats.
It also means seeing patriotic fare like The Patriot, which stars Australian Mel Gibson and is directed and produced by the German duo Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. They're the guys behind Independence Day and Godzilla--big, broad, goofy fare. ("Ve are just a couple ov knuckleheads!" I imagine them saying.) But The Patriot was penned by Saving Private Ryan's Robert Rodat, so maybe it has a better, fuller sense of drama and history than one would expect. In between action scenes, I mean.
Heading forward in American history, Texas Rangers revolves around a bunch of Lone Star horse-ridin' dudes (including Dylan McDermott and James Van Der Beek) who form a posse o' lawmen so's they can save damsels in distress like Rachel Leigh Cook. Shanghai Noon does the Old West in kinetic comedy style, teaming up martial modern artist Jackie Chan with good-natured babbler Owen Wilson. I caught a sneak of this one; it's sloppy but sweet.
Want to get really American? Then go see American Virgin, starring Mena Suvari (of American Pie and American Beauty fame--I sense a pattern) as a gal who tries to find love and copulation on the Internet. Then check out American Pimp, an upliftingly patriotic documentary about ho-daddies from the Hughes brothers (Menace II Society).
DON'T BE SO DRAMATIC
IF YOU'RE LOOKING for high-profile dramas, you'll have to wait. The biggest this summer is What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Contact). More of a suspense schlockfest, actually, it's based on a Spielberg idea in which Ford is haunted by the ghost of a woman with whom he had an affair. Then there's some sort of twist--she turns out to be the one-armed man or something.
Other dramas include Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, a set of interwoven vignettes about love and loss starring Glenn Close, Calista Flockhart, Holly Hunter, Cameron Diaz and others. Thing I can tell just by looking at the title: I'm not going.
Robert Redford's The Legend of Bagger Vance stars Matt Damon as a WWI hero who plays an exhibition round of golf and is treated to the down-home wisdom of caddy Will Smith. Then there's Jesus' Son, which has a main character named Fuck Head and is about a drifter seeking redemption in '70s Iowa. Whee.
WE'VE GOT TWO Shakespeare updates this summer. Kenneth Branagh's Love Labours Lost is said to be a miscalculated song-and-dance version of the Bard's most frivolous play, while the latest Hamlet is so modernized that its title character (played by Ethan Hawke) is a film student who performs his soliloquies while walking the aisles of a video store. I guess wandering a videostore is as good a way as any to illustrate contemporary indecision.
THE ANIMATION SITUATION
EVERY SUMMER BRINGS more animated features than the last. You know, for kids. But with a price tag of as much as $200 million (more than it cost to make Titanic!), Dinosaur better bring in a few adults or else Disney heads will roll. The visuals for this computer-animated prehistoric dino-tale look beautiful, but will the story be based on the dull, standard, Lion King coming-of-age formula? Probably.
I'd sooner see the Roger Rabbit-like Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, if only to watch Robert DeNiro flex his acting muscles against air. ("Hey, tennis ball focal point, you talkin' to me?")
The best bet for animated fare? Chicken Run, the first feature film from Wallace and Gromit animator Nick Park. If you're not familiar with his work, run out and rent the half-hour stop-motion animated Wallace and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers like your pants are on fire. (Park's next feature will be a W&G movie.)
As for Pokemon 2000: cha-ching.
MORE KID STUFF
DISNEY'S THE KID used to be called just The Kid until some marketing guru decided Disney should start "branding" their movies. Oh brother. It stars Bruce Willis as a middle-aged shmuck whose 8-year-old self magically appears and tells him what a loser he is. Meanwhile, Bruce's ex, Demi Moore, is appearing in Passion of Mind, about a woman whose identities change in her dreams. Coincidence?
A good family-movie bet: Running Free, a live-action movie completely told from the perspective of horses. (The main character is a stud, if you must know.)
By the way, does anybody know why The Flintsones sequel exists? If they're going to make movies of cartoons, how about a live-action Simpsons starring Bruce Willis as Homer? Just an idea.
THE NUTTY PROFESSOR II: The Klumps (Eddie Murphy) and Big Momma's House (Martin Lawrence) ought to be good if your idea of comedy is watching thin actors pretend to be noisy fat women (no one can be blamed for wanting to see Murphy be funny again).
Screwed looks as funny as Norm MacDonald's last movie, which wasn't. Scary Movie, starring multiple Wayans, satirizes recent horror movies, many of which are already satires, so you may find yourself stuck in a feedback loop. I Was Made to Love Her is a take on Heaven Can Wait that just might work--especially since it stars Chris Rock as the identity-relocated main character.
The best comedy bet? Bedazzled, starring Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley. It's a remake of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook's 1967 Faustian flick about a man who gets seven wishes from the devil, all of them foiled by imprecise wording. Harold Ramis, the comedy mastermind behind Groundhog Day and Analyze This (not to mention the pyramid-hat idea stolen, er, borrowed for this article), directed. One burning question: Raquel Welch played Lust (as in The Seven Deadly Sins) in the original. Who plays Lust this time?
I'm not sure when Ben and Jerry Stiller's The Independent is coming out, but you've got to see its website: www.finemanfilms.com. Click on the Mortyplex Find-a-Film and choose "all movies" at the bottom for a hilarious list of made-up film titles. It's worth it.
THERE'S COMEDY, THEN there's raunchy comedy. There are gags, and then there are "gags." Expect jism jokes and worse from the following:
Me, Myself and Irene reteams the Farrelly Brothers (Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber) with Jim Carrey for a crrrrazy tale of multiple-personality disorder. Gags to gag for: Carrey's three jumbo-sized African-American sons, a chicken/bondage sex scene, and something nasty involving a gun and a hand.
Cecil B. Demented, the latest from John Waters, stars Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff and a cadre of Waters weirdos in a tale of Z-grade filmmakers who take an A-list star hostage and force her to do lewd acts for their new movie. Gag to gag for: something involving a naked woman and a gerbil. Hmm.
Road Trip is the feature film debut of Tom Green, the MTV raunchmeister who once presented his own turd to a live audience. It's about a guy who travels cross-country to intercept a videotape of his infidelity that's accidentally been mailed to his girlfriend. Gag to gag for: Tom allegedly eats (we're talking swallows) a live mouse.
Chuck and Buck stars the Weitz brothers (creators of American Pie) in a tale of a guy who stalks his old school chum. Gag to gag for: not sure, athough "funny stalker" antics are a start.
YOUNG PEOPLE IN LOVE
YOUTH MOVIES = big money. Because of this, some of them are actually good. Perhaps Loser, directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless), will be one of them. It stars Jason "pie humper" Biggs as the confidante of fellow college student Mena Suvari, who's having an affair with teacher Greg Kinnear. David Spade and Andy Dick have smarmy supporting roles.
The In Crowd, about a mean clique who turns on its newest member due to a romantic complication, could be a perceptive study of the microcosmic social caste system in high school. Or it could be trash.
Boys and Girls stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and Claire Forlani as best friends whose relationship gets problematic after they "do it." Heather Donahue makes her first post-Blair Witch appearance, one hopes with sedatives.
Whipped stars the newly hot Amanda Peet as the love object of three best friends--who each don't know that the other two are also in love with her! Omigod!
My vote goes to The Tao of Steve, about an overweight kindergarten teacher who's devised an elaborate system for seducing women. Filmfest audiences allegedly were seduced by the movie's wit.
YOUNG PEOPLE JUMPING AROUND
YOUTH MOVIES JUST seem incomplete if the youths aren't bouncin' around like Jiffy Pop. Thankfully, somebody invented Coyote Ugly, a Flashdance type of thing about NYC female bartenders who entertain customers by gyrating on the bar. Call the irony police: Coyote Ugly's cast are neither doglike nor ugly.
Other highly mo-bile young-people flicks include Girlfight (first rule of Girlfight: don't talk about Girlfight); Save the Last Dance (starring would-be teen-romance queen Julia Stiles as a ballet dancer who pirouettes while crying); Mad About the Mambo (about an uncoordinated soccer player who's assigned dance lessons from Felicity star Keri Russell); Human Traffic (about the Welsh club scene); and Groove (a coming-of-ager set at a San Francisco rave). My vote goes to the latter, which has garnered "rave" reviews for its intelligence and authenticity.
Or you could go for a sporty triple feature of The Replacements (Keanu Reeves as a football star); Bring It On! (Kirten Dunst as a pom-pom captain); and But I'm a Cheerleader (Natasha Lyonne as a vegan cheerleader whom everybody thinks is a lesbian). If you want.
Or you could dismiss all of the above and wait until this winter, when Lord of the Rings will be taking over multiplexes everywhere.
My pyramid hat says blow 'em all off and read a book.