Hey everybody! It's safe to come out now--crappy summer movies Van Helsing and New York Minute have already been released and, after a brief period of unsanitary festering, will soon be flushed out of theaters. Which reminds me of a joke:
Q: What's the difference between Hugh Jackman and the Olsen twins?
A: One stars in that scary movie featuring blood-sucking female vampires and stilted laboratory creations; the other stars in Van Helsing.
My apologies to fans of Mary-Kate and Ashley. I can't help it: I keep having this nightmare where I'm riding my Big Wheel around the halls of a huge, empty hotel, and when I round a corner, the Olsen twins are standing there, saying, "Come play with us, Zakky--forever, and ever and ever ..."
Speaking of recurring nightmares, each year the Tucson Weekly asks me to write their summer-movie roundup. The idea is to provide the ultimate guide to the season's cinematic entertainment, running the gamut from predictions about Spider-Man's sticky love life to etymological dissections of the word "Syufy." So, here goes ...
WEATHER BUFFOONSThere's been a bit of controversy (read: free publicity) surrounding The Day After Tomorrow, a global-warming disaster movie. Al Gore wants you to see it. NASA wants you to disregard it. George Bush wants you to misregard it. Environmental scientists want you to take the story with a trillion grains of salt.
The Day After Tomorrow's plot goes something like this: An increase in green-house gases makes the polar ice caps melt, resulting in a lower salt content in the oceans, bringing the Gulf Stream's northbound warm water to a halt, making the Atlantic Ocean freeze, causing New York and Los Angeles to blow up, compelling Jake Gyllenhaal and Sela Ward to re-evaluate their feelings about Jesus and kittens. Like I said, the science is a little murky.
Don't expect Around the World in 80 Days--whose characters are also at the mercy of weather--to contain any less hot gas, but at least with Waterboy director Frank Coraci at the helm, some of the comedy will be intentional. Buddy-magnet Jackie Chan is now buddied with British actor Steve Coogan, the young Eric Idle-type fresh off of 24 Hour Party People. Between Chan's leaps, Coogan's cool cred and Jules Verne's story, Around the World has potential--plus, it's your last chance to see Arnold Schwarzenegger in non-inflated political form.
YO, ROBOTWith Arnie out of the picture, other robot actors are getting all sorts of work--hundreds of them, if I, Robot is any indication. Call it Bad Boys 3: Bad Bots. Will Smith plays a wisecracking detective investigating a murder by what appears to be a walking, talking iMac. Director Alex Proyas displayed some sci-fi style in Dark City and The Crow, but I'm a bit wary of I, Robot's plastic-looking CGI effects, which make the robots seem like angry Tupperware.
Tupperware could very well play a role in The Stepford Wives, a funny-fied remake of the 1975 chiller in which husbands exchange their nascently feminist housewives for subservient replicas. The android women never get headaches, and they moan phrases like "Oh Frank, you're the master!" A-listers Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick star, and screenwriter Paul Rudnick's modern update is certainly welcome in an age when lonely men forge relationships with RealDolls. But I think director Frank Oz, the voice of Miss Piggy, is missing an opportunity here: Why not make The Stepford Muppets? ("Oh Kermie, you're the master!")
Robot Stories, an independent film by Greg Pak, uses four robot stories--including one about a couple who carries around a Furby-esque robot baby--to explore what it means to be human.
POOPERHEROESThanks to such leo-'tarded losers as Daredevil, we've been granted a temporary reprieve from Hollywood's superhero fetish. This summer only features two such films--and one of them might actually be good.
In the same way Superman 2 was better than the original, Spider-Man 2 could be among those rare sequels that build upon the first film's story rather than rehashing it. Accomplished actor Alfred Molina plays the new villain, Doctor Octopus, a man so evil he has eight tentacles growing out of his butt. Sam Raimi, the genius behind Evil Dead II, again directs.
After the first Spider-Man, people were asking: Did Tobey Maguire damage something while bouncing on Seabiscuit? Why didn't he jump at the chance to splay Kirsten Dunst in his web like Frodo Baggins in Return of the King? Spider-Man 2's romantic sub-plot will address these questions.
Then there's Catwoman, aka Puss in Go-Go Boots. We already know it's bad luck if Halle Berry crosses your path while driving, so she's sure to be dangerous holding a whip and wearing stiletto heels. Audiences will get to watch Berry knead and march her front paws during petting, and see her do that weird "elevator butt" thing cats do while having their lower backs rubbed. Actually, the film appears to be a series of cat-fights with Sharon Stone, a prospect nearly as exciting.
ORANGE-CAT MANIABlack cats are sexy, but orange cats are bankable. Morris knew how to sell. So, too, did The Lion King, who now lives a life of luxury in Bel Air. Hence the three summer offerings featuring amber-hued furbags.
Two Brothers looks potentially purr-worthy. It's a live-action movie starring Guy Pearce and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, no stranger to animal tales after The Bear. The story involves two tiger cubs who are captured and separated, then possibly dyed white and reunited in Las Vegas.
Shrek 2, aka Kill Shrek Vol. 2, which is on pace to break box-office records, features Antonio Banderas as the voice of an orange assassin cat named Puss in Boots. Outside of the scenes involving the Gingerbread Man--who was sort of like an edible, computer-animated Mr. Bill--there's not much I liked about the first Shrek. But one can't deny the inspired casting of Larry King as "the ugly stepsister."
I'm already allergic to Garfield, though it does make me wonder: After a computer-animated kitty eats real-world lasagna, what exactly ends up in the litter box?
KIDS' BEST BETSOf all the hiring choices made in Hollywood recently, the strangest has to be the enlistment of Alfonso Cuarón--director of the erotic Y Tu Mamá También--for the third installment of the Harry Potter series. It's exactly the kind of sharp left turn that might get me into the theater, in spite of the fact that the second Harry Potter film put me to sleep. This Y Tu Magic Tambien will probably stick close to the look and feel of the earlier movies, but with a slight shift and maturity of tone. If not, well, I can always use another nap.
Thunderbirds has the advantage of being totally original, at least to the 99 percent of filmgoers who have never seen the bizarre, cult '60s TV show about puppets fighting crime in space. Bill Paxton and Ben Kingsley are among the stars who explore the stars in this adventure movie with a colorfully goofy Spy Kids feel.
SWORDS 'N' SKIRTSTroy, aka My Big Fat Trojan Wedding, aka Das Big Fleet of Boots, has demonstrated the tragedy that can result after Trojans and Spartans commingle. Loosely based on a few pages torn out of the Cliffs Notes to The Iliad, this epic war movie sports Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom and the solid action-directing skills of Wolfgang "Das Boot" Petersen. Too bad the screenwriters removed all the Greek gods from the story--I guess there's always Clash of the Titans.
King Arthur follows a similar, let's-get-realistic impulse: It tells its classic story--in this case, the Knights of the Round Table--while withholding its most fanciful elements, such as Merlin's magic. As long as Keira Knightley's fightin' Guinevere is around, who cares? The film also stars Clive Owen as Arthur and is directed by Antoine Fuqua, the force behind the sharp Training Day.
In Hero, Hong Kong director Zhang Yimou, creator of artful dramas such as Raise the Red Lantern, turns his attentions toward epic battles and Crouching Tiger-style swordfights. Hero looks spectacular, but Zatoichi--an unrelated film about a blind, 19th-century swordfighter--looks hilarious.
SECRET AGENTS, MANThe Bourne Supremacy, part of Hollywood's ongoing "let's find some work for Matt Damon" program, follows up where The Bourne Indentity left off. The first film was just enjoyable and skillfully made enough to recommend, and this one doesn't look horrible.
Of less generic interest is Jonathan Demme's remake of The Manchurian Candidate. The 1962 original features a commanding, charismatic performance by Frank Sinatra, but the film's gratuitous trippy gimmicks haven't aged well, so the update is welcome. Denzel Washington attempts to fill Sinatra's well-polished shoes this time, with Liev Schreiber as the brainwashed assassin and Meryl Streep as his controlling "Queen of Diamonds" mother.
MORE SEQUELSVin Diesel returns to the character that launched his action career in The Chronicles of Riddick, an ambitious if derivative-looking science fiction movie that also features the master thespian Judi Dench. Blade: Trinity reunites Wesley Snipes and Kris Kristofferson yet again in their ongoing quest to render all vampire movies redundant. (Late word is the opening on this one could be delayed until the winter.)
For more movie sequels, see the list that accompanies this article. Hollywood has been busy indeed.
KIDNAPPERSIt's either a coincidence or a conspiracy, but this summer's three kidnapping-based movies all start with the letter C.
In Collateral, from director Michael Mann, an assassin played by Tom Cruise kidnaps--or hijacks--taxi driver Jamie Foxx for an evening's contract-killing spree. In The Clearing, disgruntled employee Willem Dafoe kidnaps Robert Redford, leading to a series of negotiations with wife, Helen Mirren. In Cellular, a woman played by Kim Basinger is locked in the trunk of a car and must lead police to her captors before her cell phone's battery runs out.
MONSTER REHASHThis summer's crop of monsters will give you a severe case of deja-boo. The critically panned Van Helsing, for example, teams up Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and the Werewolf in a concoction that would make the Three Stooges yawn.
In M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, the monsters--some sort of spirits who live in the woods--hate the color red. Like Signs, the movie appears to invest most of its energy in tense build-up, but Shyamalan does have a way with clever endings. I see red people.
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid returns to the fun world of the large, legless lizards we saw in 1997's Anaconda.
My pick? Alien Vs. Predator. If director Paul W.S. Anderson can make solid movies out of video games like Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat, he shouldn't have any trouble with this Bald Butt-Face Vs. Dreadlocked Butt-Face.
DRAMASLike Catch Me If You Can, Steven Spielberg's The Terminal gives the director a chance to try a lighter comedic touch while commenting on the frustrations immigrants face in a post-Sept. 11 America. If this isn't your idea of primo Spielberg, he'll be back to blockbuster form with next year's War of the Worlds.
Other dramatic films of interest include The Notebook, Garden State, A Home at the End of the World, The Door in the Floor and We Don't Live Here Anymore. The latter looks especially appealing, with its pairing of first-rate newcomers Mark Ruffalo and Naomi Watts.
Prefer the costume variety of drama? Try on Vanity Fair (starring Reese Witherspoon in an adaptation of the Thackeray novel) or De-Lovely (a Cole Porter biopic starring Kevin Kline) for size.
COMEDIESNone of this summer's comedies look like gut-busters, but a film called DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story has a certain ridiculous appeal. Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller and Brady Bunch Movie alums Christine Taylor and Gary Cole star.
Other comedies include Will Ferrell in the 1970s, TV-news satire Anchorman, Snoop Dogg in Soul Plane (an African-American-take on Airplane!), the terrible-looking White Chicks (black men, in white face, in drag) and the inexplicably plotted Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
DOCUMENTARIESAmong films highest on my "to see" list is Super Size Me, a witty first-person experiment in which director Morgan Spurlock eats nothing but McDonald's food for an entire month--opening in town this week! The result, predictably enough, is that his weight and cholesterol skyrocket. Less predictable has been McDonald's' response--they discontinued their Super Size menu one day before Super Size Me's national premiere.
Speaking of people who have been super-sized, Michael Moore's Cannes-winning Fahrenheit 911 may or may not be appearing in theaters this summer. The documentary explores behind-the-scenes links between George W. Bush and prominent Saudis. Because Disney wishes to maintain friendly relations with Jeb Bush's Florida and the Saudi businessmen who helped bail out EuroDisney, they've refused to distribute Moore's film. Negotiations are pending.
In the meantime, those looking for enlightening political fare can also turn to Bush's Brain, The Hunting of the President, or The Agronomist, Jonathan Demme's tribute to the life of Haitian freedom fighter and radio commentator Jean Leopold Dominique.
INDIE AUTEURSThis summer sees releases by two icons of the indie-film world, Jim Jarmusch (Coffee & Cigarettes) and Richard Linklater (Before Sunset). The latter looks especially fine, as it reunites characters Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy developed in the excellent romantic drama, Before Sunrise, nearly 10 years ago.
BETTER THAN WOMEN'S ROLLER DERBYMade you look. In truth, nothing is better than Tucson's new Women's Roller Derby league, or so says Reader's Oasis employee and fast-women expert Jeff Yanc. Still, you might need a break from the rollergirls in the Furious Truck Stop Waitresses and Iron Curtain teams, so skid to a pit stop over at the Loft Cinema.
The Loft's refreshing indie and foreign fare continues through the summer. So does their Cinematheque film series, classic Latin and Hispanic film series, midnight audience-participation Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hedwig & the Angry Inch shows, and filmmaker Q&A sessions such as director Michael Almereyda's June 16 presentation of This So-Called Disaster.
Among the standouts in the Loft's regular summer schedule is the fantastic Shaolin Soccer--the best film I've seen in 2004. This Hong Kong hybrid of kung fu and soccer delivers all the silly comedy, eye-popping stuntwork and exhilarating computer-enhanced action missing from recent Matrix and Jackie Chan movies. Shaolin Soccer even features a team full of butt-kicking bearded women--and where else can you see that outside of the Women's Roller Derby? Shaolin Soccer opens June 4, and if you don't love it, I guarantee that TW sports writer Tom Danehy will refund your money.