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Hollywood Confidential 

Here come the summer movies! Run for your cineplex!

Well, I've already seen The Mummy Returns, and after watching Imhotep lose again, I'm not sure I want to sit through any more summer movies. At least Imhotep, like a bald Egyptian Fabio, is motivated by love. The sequel strains to give "heroes" Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz any motivation at all.

Depressing! Next up we get to watch our grandparents get creamed in Pearl Harbor. Then Haley Joel Osment gets rejected by humanity in A.I. Then all of humanity is oppressed in Planet of the Apes. Then in all likelihood the cats (which are vastly superior and never the subject of lawsuits) lose to dogs in Cats & Dogs.

Well, forget it. Before writing another word about these loser Hollywood flicks, I'm calling for localization.


Local Alternatives

WHY GIVE YOUR MONEY to multiplexes who charge $349.95 for stale popcorn when you could be giving it to impoverished Tucsonans who care about quality movies?

Among the most unusual is the Alternate Routes (formerly titled VideoTENSIONS) show, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. This free June 24 presentation includes works by legendary avant-garde film and video artist George Kuchar, who influenced John Waters and others, and will be in attendance for Q&A. For more information call 621-7352.

Kuchar has been making films since the '60s and has plenty to show. So he'll also be featured during the three-day Bisbee Film Festival, now in its third year. The films are projected outdoors and also include Night of the Hunter, an old documentary about the Mission San Xavier del Bac and more. The festival runs June 29 through July 1 and makes a solid excuse to spend a weekend in Bisbee. For more information call 520-432-7433.

Prefer classic fare? At 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, the La Placita Film Series shows such films as The Manchurian Candidate and Touch of Evil in the downtown retail center's outdoor plaza. Donations go to help restore the old Fox Theater. For more information call 292-5173.

There's also the "Genres of Hollywood" Summer Cinema Series put on by the University of Arizona's media arts department. These 3 p.m. Sunday shows run through June and combine established classics with little-seen short films (for example, the June 3 show features the 1931 Frankenstein preceded by the short film Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and the Mighty Mouse film Frankenstein's Cat). Admission is a whopping $1 to $3. For more information call 626-2847.

It looks like the Screening Room is taking the summer off, but The Loft isn't--in spite of the ominous "for sale" sign out front. Support what could be the last stand of Tucson's coolest movie theater by taking in one of its indie or foreign offerings. This summer's films include the new "dogme" film The King Is Alive (with Jennifer Jason Leigh), Himalaya, The Road Home (with Crouching Tiger's flying sword-stealer, Ziya Zhang), Simon Magus and others. For more information call 795-7777.

Now, on to the mega-multi-cineplex movies ...


Action Junk

WHEN I SEE THE PREVIEWS for Pearl Harbor, the word that comes to mind is "sensitive." Its director, Michael Bay, is the man who showed us what love meant when Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler spoke of this fine planet in the asteroid movie Armageddon. In Pearl Harbor, Bay touchingly and relevantly makes a love triangle the focal point of World War II's day of infamy. Brimming with compassion, he lets us see the bombs' point of view. No doubt Bay's film ends by touching on the injustice of our Japanese internment camps, judiciously avoiding any "rah rah, go U.S.A." grandstanding. In a nutshell, Pearl Harbor is surely the ideal film to carry us into our 21st-century relationships with the emerging Asian superpowers.

Don't believe me? Fine. Go watch a '70s action-movie remake--errr ... revisitation (that's what they're calling them nowadays). Your choices include Rollerball and Planet of the Apes. I'm voting for Rollerball because it's directed by Die Hard's John McTiernan and has the message "big-money sports are evil." But the trendy choice is Planet of the Apes, since it's directed by Tim Burton and features the absurd spectacle of Mark Wahlberg reinterpreting Charlton Heston. One point in its favor--it's sure to give nightmares to anti-Darwin freaks.

Tomb Raider breeds a different type of dream altogether, at least among video-game nerds. The irredeemably sexual Angelina Jolie plays Lara Croft, the first video-game character to show signs of having breast implants. Geeks are already lobbying for the DVD version to feature the infamous "nude patch," in which Lara Croft fights, climbs and jumps naked. Anyway, Tomb Raider might be an OK movie if its makers respected the fact that the video game has no dialogue. But they probably didn't.

Other big action movies include The Fast and Furious (starring the groovy Vin Diesel), which looks like a cross between The Road Warrior and one of those teen drag-race B-movies. It's full of '70s muscle cars, but why not be contemporary and smash up some SUVs? They missed an opportunity there.

In Kiss of the Dragon, it's Hong Kong meets Hitchcock as Jet Li stars in an innocent-man-wrongly-accused story. Bridget "elven waif" Fonda is his action co-star. Repeat: Bridget Fonda.

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars features Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge. This is the third Mars movie in about a year. The other two were terrible. But, you know, they probably got it right this time.

A Knight's Tale, already out, features men shoving long shafts at each other, while the recent Driven ends with men bonding as champagne bottles squirt in slow motion. These are macho times we live in.


Crime Movies

SPEAKING OF macho, this summer is curiously loaded with heists, mobsters and outlaws. Criminals seem to come in two varieties: moody and funny. If you like them moody, the best option is clearly The Score because it stars Ed Norton, Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando, who squint, look down at their feet and say things like, "I'm not gonna pull another heist, I'm through with that." Eventually they say, "Well, OK, one last heist, but no way am I going back to the joint." Norton, DeNiro and Brando are Pavarottis when it comes to lines like those.

Other moody crime dramas include Swordfish, a computer-heist action thing featuring both John "career in turmoil" Travolta and Hugh "career taking off" Jackman. Does the movie average out to mediocre?

Other moodfests include American Outlaws, in which Jesse James is reinterpreted as Robin Hood; Sexy Beast, featuring a very un-Ghandi-like Ben Kingsley; and The Princess and the Warrior, from the German folk whose Run, Lola, Run actually made audiences sweat.

On the funny side there's Made, the long-awaited reteaming of Swingers swingers Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn. This time they become "money" in a mob kinda way.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is another caper comedy from Woody Allen. He plays a corrupt insurance investigator whose schemes are undermined after "efficiency expert" Helen Hunt is hired.

What's the Worst That Could Happen? stars Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito as a gangster and a rich man who, in escalating War of the Roses fashion, take turns swiping things from each other.


Sequels

SEQUELS EXIST BECAUSE they can be counted on to bring in 60 percent of the original's gross. Rarely original in any way, sequels are more like software upgrades--The Mummy Returns Service Pack v 3.7. Like Microsoft, I think, Hollywood purposely releases flawed movies just so they can come back and gouge us with an upgrade.

This summer has tons of the little buggers, but it's amazing there aren't more. Sequels I'd love to see include Sling Blade Goes to Paris; Mighty Joe Young II: Less Young, Less Mighty, But Still Joe; Dungeons & Dragons II: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons; U-572; Memento II: Now Backwardser!; and The Wonder Boys: We're Going to Keep Rereleasing This Until We Make Our Money Back (not technically a sequel).

I'll have to wait. This summer's sequels are more predictable, including the aforementioned Mummy Returns--in which every five minutes Brendan Fraser turns to the camera, put his hands on his face and says, "Oh, no! Not again!"

There's also John Singleton's drama Baby Boy, which is really just Boyz N the Hood II: More Boyz, More Hoodz.

Monster-movie fans will flock to see the pterodactyls in Jurassic Park 3, which I prefer to think of as Jurassic Park 3: My Dinosaur's Breath Smells Like People.

Randy teens can take in a double feature of Scary Movie II (I hate to admit it, but I found the first one hilarious) and American Pie II, which takes place "one time, at band camp" and probably has a scene with a bundt cake or something.

If you like cute little animals, you have a choice between Dr. Doolittle II and the new Jackie Chan movie. Doolittle's story is kinda sweet--Eddie Murphy has to play cupid to mismatched bears so they'll repopulate an Oregon forest. As for the plot of Rush Hour II, it's probably just 90 minutes of Jackie Chan jumping around hurting his spine while Chris Tucker goes, "Waaaaa!"


Drama

BUT LET'S BE SERIOUS. This summer also brings us some fine, Oscar-contending dramas. Ha ha, just kidding.

Well, perhaps A.I. Artificial Intelligence qualifies. Stanley Kubrick had been mulling over this futuristic Pinocchio story since the early '70s. When Kubrick died two years ago, Steven Spielberg took over and wrote the script himself. Though Spielberg's approach is infinitely schmaltzier, it's said he tried to achieve a Kubrick visual style, which in this case is applied to scenes of New York half-submerged in water. A.I. also features the quivering lower lip of Haley Joel Osment, and Jude Law made up to look like a Kraftwerk album cover. All told, it sounds like something to see.

If the Kubrick/Spielberg combo doesn't satisfy your '70s auteur jones, there's also Francis Ford Coppola's recut Apocalypse Now, which features several additional scenes. I recommend going to Casa Video and picking up the making-of documentary, Hearts of Darkness, as a companion piece.


Romance

NEED TO FILL your love hump? The market-testers have been busy and there's something for everybody.

Are you a guy who only relates to John Cusack? Try America's Sweethearts, which pairs Cusack with both Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Go Johnny!) As a bonus, in Serendipity Cusack has an affair to remember with Kate Beckinsale (code name: the brunette Gwynneth Paltrow).

The marketing geniuses haven't missed a single market niche. For example, remember that time you observed Lent by taking an oath of celibacy? Boom--there's 40 Days and 40 Nights, in which Josh Hartnett tries to hold back his passion for Shannyn Sossamon, made just for you.

Wealthy sorority girl with low self-esteem? No problem. Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde should perk you up.

Did your teenage sexuality reach a fever pitch during a forbidden, inter-ethnic relationship? Try Crazy/Beautiful with Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez.

When you were a giddy teeny bopper, did you discover, surprise surprise, you were a princess? Try The Princess Diaries, with Julie Andrews.

Were you once sequestered in a plastic-bubble body suit, making a cross-country journey to pursue the girl of your dreams? (Weren't we all?) Try Bubble Boy.

Remember that time you bought that mail-order bride, fell in love, and then she left you and you stalked her? Original Sin, with Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie, will bring back memories.

Remember when you lived in New York and you kept swapping sexual partners with your pals in different boroughs? Ed Burns and Heather Graham in Sidewalks of New York sure do.

Then there's Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which ought to be a hoot for all of you mandolin-playing Italian soldiers who look like Nicholas Cage and fall for women of the Penelope Cruz variety. I think that just about covers all the important market niches.


Comedy

UNTIL THE MR. SHOW MOVIE Run, Ronnie, Run comes out, we'll have to settle for the following:

Rat Race, which appears to be an updated version of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, has a funny, diverse cast including Seth Green, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg and John Cleese. The director is Jerry Zucker, of Airplane! fame.

Speaking of veteran comedy directors, Ivan "Ghostbusters" Reitman is at the helm of Evolution, an FX-filled, invading-aliens laff fest (or so they claim). David Duchovny, realizing nobody wants to see him in anything that doesn't involve green goo, stars alongside Orlando Jones and Julianne Moore.

The Animal stars Rob Schneider, whose Deuce Bigalow proved that he prefers subtle, character-driven humor to the zany-concept, one-joke comedies Saturday Night Live alumni usually churn out. Centering on a guy who has animal-organ transplants and then acts like an animal, this cerebral cinema fare is sure to be littered with witty little frissons and, starring Survivor's Colleen Haskell, will undoubtedly steer clear of ostentatious casting choices. (One sincere plus--it does feature the great Cloris Leachman.)

As for Jay and Silent Bob, I think it's time one of Kevin Smith's friends took him aside and gently told him, "Kevin, you're not clever. Turn your baseball cap around. Give up."


Animation

A LOT OF recent animation is designed to look like it isn't animation, which kind of defeats the purpose.

Unless the purpose is to save money on actors. This is certainly the case with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which has the first-ever fake-real, real-fake, non-cast. They also presumably saved money on screenwriters; the line in the trailer, "The dream is always the same," is lifted from the Risky Business scene where Tom Cruise tries to take a shower with a naked woman and ends up late to his SATs. Still, Final Fantasy's animation looks slick and trippy, and should be enjoyable for anybody who has ever said "All your base are belong to us" out loud and found it funny.

Shrek, already out, teaches our children the following lesson: Even if you're a fat green guy who looks like a combination of Joe Piscopo and Charles Durning, you can still get the girl if you have a heart of gold. Nice way to set kids up for heartbreak. Especially fat green kids.

Cats & Dogs looks fun and, again, I'm rooting for the cats. Go, cats, go.

Osmosis Jones is a half-animated, half-live-action comedy starring Bill Murray and the voices of Chris Rock and Larry Fishburne. It's from the people who brought us Something about Mary, so if you see a zit, expect it to pop.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a traditional animated movie and features the voice of Michael J. Fox, who has never done us wrong in the known or the unknown world.


Musicals and Other Wild Cards

MOULIN Rouge is the art house movie that everybody's talking about, and though probably very cluttered and overly proud of its bravura (Baz Luhrmann, of MTV-style Romeo + Juliet fame, directed), it does look interesting. Set in 1900 Paris during one of history's more hedonistic cultural moments, the plot has Ewan MacGregor playing a protective Orpheus-type character to Nicole Kidman's luscious, self-destructive club vamp.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, based on an off-Broadway musical, is about a rock star who, due to a botched sex change, is neither male nor female. Hence the anger. The term "cult film" is floating around this one.

All That Glitters, with Mariah Carey, should appeal to fans of Mariah Carey, wherever they are.

Since it does not appear that Joel and Ethan Coen's The Man Who Wasn't There or David Lynch's Mulholland Drive will be released this summer, my wild-card movie vote goes to Ghost World. It's based on a story by Dan Clowes and directed by Crumb's Terry Zwigoff. Thora Birch, American Beauty's angry young woman and winner of the Christina Ricci Award for Being Busty, Moon-Faced and Goth Without Even Trying, leads this story about the sad void that follows high school.

Probably the best movies of the summer will come out of left field, so look hard and have fun finding them. Or better yet, make your own. In most cases, you can probably do better.

More by Zachary Woodruff

  • The Definitive Summer Movie Preview

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    • May 3, 2007
  • A Movie Home Companion

    Our annual look at the summer's cinematic offerings
    • May 4, 2006
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