The Weekly's Annual Summer Movie Preview 

Zachary Woodruff gives his two cents on the season's cinematic offerings. Don't ask for a refund.

According to this summer's movies, we--as a culture--feel more powerless than ever. What else explains the presence of so many God-like characters? The X-People rule everything from the elements to bad dye jobs. T3's Terminatrix can change from Norwegian supermodel to smart bomb(shell) at the blink of a glowing red eye. Keanu Reeves has learned to fly without narcotics. Jim Carrey's girlfriend has Chia breasts.

It used to be that sunglasses and swagger were all we asked of heroes. Now they've got to pair UV protection with power over reality.

Still, there are rules. We require that no powerful characters want their power. Demi-Gods must be underdogs--it's a god-dog thing. Case in point: When X-Men 2's Wolverine discovers his brain can absorb bullets and spit them out like watermelon seeds, he doesn't say, "Thanks, radioactive mutation/evil government conspiracy." He acts like it's a curse.

The good cannot revel in their power, because with power comes great responsibility, and no self-respecting escapist wants to identify with that.

But First... Local Power

BEFORE ROUNDING UP THE summer's fantasies of omnipotence, a few words about Tucson's alternatives are in order.

Why try to pronounce "Syufy" when "The Loft" is so much easier? Which is it now: The Newly New Old New Loft or Ye Olde Tyme Newfangl'd Lofte? I can't remember.

But the place, recently refurbished, will thrive this summer with two special programs. One, titled Cinematheque, will show "the greatest art films of all time," says executive director Peggy Johnson--everything from The Bicycle Thief to Breathless. The other, for kids, features such classics as E.T. and The Princess Bride for the ganga price of a buck.

As Johnson puts it, "We want to be programming not for profit, but for the integrity of the product." For more info, call 795-7777.

The Loft's ongoing fare will also include new releases Raising Victor Vargas and The Man Without a Past, plus midnight movies and Rocky Horror shows. Midnight movies will also continue at Loews Cineplex Catalina and the UA's Gallagher Theater.

Who knew so many Tucsonans were up after 10 p.m.?

Among other notable local-venue action is La Placita Cinema's outdoor movie series. Find out whether Young Frankenstein is funnier by moonlight by calling 326-5282.

For more conceptual visual stimulation, check out the Museum of Contemporary Art's "Lights, Camera, Action" video installations beginning June 7.

It's Raining Supermen

SO WHAT'S WITH ALL THE superheroes? When did our collective unconscious go into a fetal position?

X-Men 2 almost made me consider maturity. Anti-mutant bigotry? Who cares? It's like Star Trek for psychics. Patrick Stewart has a holo-dome; there's a soapy love triangle, and somebody's wearing uni-shades. The over-long, tragic ending will no doubt lead to X-Men 3: The Search for Famke.

Can I suggest a new mutant? Script Tightener.

The Matrix Refinanced --now there's a movie. The dreadlocked albino twins recall both the girls in The Shining and the assassin in Foul Play. The "bullet time" effects have been replaced with the much faster "U.S. budget surplus-depletion time" effects. And there are only six months to wait until The Matrix Regurgitations!

My only fear is that the matrix will turn out to be a matrix inside a matrix. Man, that would piss me off.

Speaking of scary twins, the Olsens make their big-movie debut in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Couple that with the return of master thespian Demi Moore, and we've got fear.

On the other hand, it's hard to hate any movie in which Cameron Diaz dances around in her underwear. This time, it's a thong. Ooooh.

It's a banner year for women who kick butt. Leading the pack (ahead of Matrix, Charlie's Angels, Lara Croft and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill) is Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The nubile Kristanna Loken stars as the motherboard of all femme fatales. With director Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown, U-571) filling James Cameron's titanic shoes, this will be no Robocop 3.

Bonus points if Arnie says "azz whore" again.

The Hulk sports its own muscle power and even has a cameo for Arnie's former bodybuilding nemesis, Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk on TV. In this Hulk, however, the Not-So-Jolly Green Giant was 100 percent computer-generated after casting calls for "actor with tree-trunk-sized neck" didn't pan out.

Prefer poofy shirts to purple pants? Try The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or LXG for the lazy. The comic-book premise teams 19th-century literary icons Dorian Gray, the Invisible Man and Tom Sawyer--but not, I repeat, not Tiny Tim--for a Cliffs Notes: The Action Movie-type outing. Sean Connery, who signed on after turning down starring roles in The Matrix and Lord of the Rings, has fingers crossed that this won't Zardoz.

Jackie Chan's The Medallion continues the demi-God trend. Chan's character transforms into an immortal warrior who performs crazy stunts alongside Claire Forlani. I had a dream like that once.

Bruce Almighty bypasses the whole project-your-ineffectual-self-onto-a-superhero deal and just makes its protagonist God. Morgan Freeman, whom some suspect really is God, stars as The Creator, who makes Jim Carrey omnipotent for a day.

Soon, Jennifer Aniston's breasts grow. I'm in hysterics.

Other Action, Adventure and Augmentation

SPEAKING OF TWEAKED BOSOMS, Angelina Jolie is back in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. This time, the enhanced videogame adventurer is seeking Pandora's Box (snicker). Director Jan De Bont has rappelled from the career high of Speed to the low of The Haunting--and now to this. While I don't exactly smell a comeback, I do smell something else.

One, two, swashbuckle your shoe. For Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Johnny Depp gnaws on scenery and wears even more makeup than he did in Ed Wood. It looks like somebody got the bright idea to make a movie based on Disney's most beloved ride instead of its least, as in last year's nightmare-generating Country Bears. The Lord of the Rings' Orlando Bloom plays swashbuttoner to Depp's swashbuckler.

My female friends lament the fact that Bloom isn't nearly as cute when he's not an elf.

S.W.A.T. stars Colin Farrell and Michelle Rodriguez, but seems destined for a review of "S.U.C.K." Meanwhile, 2 Fast 2 Furious lacks the first film's selling point--Vin Diesel--because his $20 million price tag was 2 Much 2 Ask.

I'm avoiding these in favor of The Legend of Suriyothai, a Thai historical epic about a 16th-century queen and "bare-breasted Amazon fighters with spears." Lara Croft, take note.

Highwaymen, starring James Caviezel , is the dark horse/black sheep/brownish llama of the bunch. Directed by the man who helmed The Hitcher and with a story to match, this tale of vehicular vengeance could be the gritty antidote to the coy quips and plastic FX of the summer's other action pics.

Let's Get Criminal

THANKS TO THE SELF-CONGRATULATORY Confidence and last year's hacky Heist, movies about double-crossing criminals have lost their charm. The noirish Dirty Pretty Things, which starts when Audrey Tautou (from Amelie) discovers a human heart in a toilet, won't rate high on the charm-o-meter, either, but I'll take Tautou's pout over Ed Burns' posturing any time.

Matchstick Men, a lighthearted swindle story starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Ridley Scott, might help as long as Cage doesn't steal any more orchids. The Hard Word, which pairs grifters Guy Pearce and the excellent Rachel Griffiths (rent Me, Myself & I to see her work wonders with a dippy story), also has promise.

Leave it to Hollywood to remake a movie titled The Italian Job--and move the big set-piece from Italy to Los Angeles. As with last year's The Bourne Identity, Mini Coopers form the basis for a prolonged chase sequence. Nice job, BMW marketing department.

For a more athletic heist, catch Catch That Kid. Teenager Kristen Stewart (the diabetic in Panic Room) uses mountain-climbing techniques to rob a bank so she can pay her dad's medical bills. How sweet.

My prediction for Gigli, a double-crossing scam thing with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez? Move over, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger's The Getaway.

Note: Gigli is pronounced "jeally." Really.

Scare Your Pants Off

TEENS WHO NEED AN EXCUSE to grab each other in the dark have plenty to work with here. Wrong Turn is a sort of Blair Witch Chainsaw Massacre in which West Virginia inbreds play cat-and-varmint with a group of adolescent campers. Or you can call it Pizza Deliverance.

In 28 Days Later, Trainspotting director Danny Boyle--who lost credibility after The Beach made audiences feel like they had sand in their cracks--gets his groove back via virus-spreading zombies.

28 Days Later is not a sequel to 28 Days, though Sandra Bullock would make a delightfully perky flesh-eater.

Scary sequels include Exorcist: The Beginning, from writer-director Paul Schrader--of Taxi Driver, Affliction and Auto Focus fame. Expect a scene of Damien growling, "You talkin' to me? I'm the Beast. You talkin' to me?"

The long-awaited Freddy vs. Jason pits Elm Street's Sharpy against Crystal Lake's Stalky for double your pleasure. I know what you're thinking: "But will they have chemistry? Will a rapport be established?"

Jeepers Creepers gave a brutal answer to the question, "Where'd you get those peepers?" Keep your eyes on the sequel, Jeepers Creepers II.

Epidemic Sequelitis

BAD BOYS 2 SEEMS TO BE director Michael Bay's retreat to safer waters after Pearl Harbor made audiences long for isolationism. If it's like the first, expect Will Smith and Martin Lawrence to pepper every other line with a verb pertaining to coitus.

Unfortunately Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde does not contain a scene in which a judge uses Reese Witherspoon's enormous door-knocker chin as a gavel. This time, she plays an airheaded animal rights activist. Um, hasn't PETA already cornered that market? Their campaign to change Hamburg, Germany's name to "Veggieburg" is a veritable laugh riot.

With American Wedding (aka American Pie 3), I think it's officially time to shut the pie hole.

Cleverly Cast Comedies

CONFESSION TIME: I LOVED Dumb and Dumber. Granted, the film is so lowbrow that the brow doubles as toe hair. But I laughed.

Look for me in line at the sequel, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. A double take was required to make sure its young actors weren't Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in makeup.

Dilemma: Given the choice between Charlie's Angel Cameron Diaz in a butt-thong or Albert Brooks in a butt-thong, where to invest one's movie dollar? The scales are delicately balanced here. A gentle breeze could tip them either way. OK, OK, so Albert Brooks is the clear winner. Check out his hot-tub scene in The

In-Laws--Andrew Bergman's comedy remake about mismatched father-in-laws-to-be Brooks (as a podiatrist) and Michael Douglas (as a CIA agent).

The comedy Hollywood Homicide pairs Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett as moonlighting cops investigating a rap star's murder. Though Ford's comedic timing is about as reliable as the Millennium Falcon, perhaps Lena Olin, the sexiest over-40 actress in the galaxy, will mitigate.

Brittany Murphy (the bobble-headed actress who chirped, "I'll never telllll" in Don't Say a Word) and Heathler Locklear make their own play for comedy as spoiled Manhattanites in Uptown Girls.

Johnny English stars Rowan "Mr. Bean" Atkinson as yet another James Bond-spoofing goober. But Atkinson is no dummy: He stars opposite John Malkovich, an actor nearly as weird looking as he is.

Marci X stars Lisa Kudrow in the J.A.P.-who-raps comedy. Considering Kudrow's talent for silly songs on Friends, this should easily surpass Jamie Kennedy's ill-advised Malibu's Most Wanted. (His TV show is hilarious, though.)

My Boss's Daughter teams Ashton Kutcher and Tara Reid at a party out of control. Not counting Fabio's cameo in Dude, Where's My Car?, Kutcher's only funny performance was the interview when he outed the Bush daughters for smoking pot at his house.

Here's an idea--comedies made by real comedians. You'll find them in Broken Lizard's Club Dread (from the Super Troopers troupe), Melvin Goes to Dinner (from the cast of Mr. Show) or La La Wood (Martin Short's "Jiminy Glick" movie co-starring Jan Hooks).

Whether they'll turn up in theaters is another story.

Romancing the Scone

DIRECTOR ROB REINER (When Harry Met Sally), who disappeared to take Sally Struthers classes or something after Mr. North flopped, is back with Alex and Emma. Loosely based on Dostoyevsky's love for his stenographer, the story-within-a-story premise looks charming. The syllabically matched Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson must have had Reiner shouting, "Lights! Action! Cuteness!"

Like Far From Heaven's homage to "weepies," Down With Love tries to channel such 1960s romantic comedies as Pillow Talk. Ewan McGregor plays Rock Hudson to Renée Zellweger's Doris Day, while Tony Randall (who was in the original films) helps reprise the movies' swishy subtext.

The wild card among summer's romances is Bollywood/Hollywood, which wears its crossover ambitions on its bangle-covered sleeve. If you're unfamiliar with the wonderfully bizarre, spastically colorful world of Indian musicals, do yourself a favor and see this--or go to Casa Video and rent some of the Bollywood films reviewed on the Web site Planet Bollybob (findable via a quick Yahoo! search).

Other romances of love-note: Le Divorce (a James Ivory production armed with the blonde trifecta of Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts and Glenn Close); Love the Hard Way (in which the Halle-attacking Adrien Brody plays a con man whose collegiate girlfriend attempts to redeem); and Jet Lag (in which the sleepy-eyed Jean Reno bumps into the bedroom-eyed Juliette Binoche at an international airport).

Too much romantic sugar? See Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things for a bitter, cruel aftertaste.

Dramatic License: Revoked

BLUE CAR STARS THE TEENAGED Agnes Brucker as an aspiring poet who needs a surrogate father. David Strathairn plays the English teacher who starts resembling the old man in that book by Nabokov.

The Magdalene Sisters is a true story about Irish Catholic women sent to convent for "sins of the flesh." As anyone who's seen Black Narcissus knows, the dark side of nuns is nothing to "Hail Mary" at.

Owning Mahowny stars the brilliant but overexposed Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a gambling addict. Hold out to see him play Ignatius Reilly in the upcoming Confederacy of Dunces.

First-rate actress Hope Davis (rent The Daytrippers for proof), last seen as the daughter in About Schmidt, has two entries this summer. In American Splendor, she stars opposite Paul Giamatti in a tale about file clerk and deeply personal comic-book writer Harvey Pekar. In director Alan Rudolph's The Secret Lives of Dentists, she and Campbell Scott root out their fantasy lives.

Fantasy life forms the basis for The Battle of Shaker Heights, about high-school World War II re-enactors who take things too far; and Ken Park, the latest Larry Clark/Harmony Korine (Kids) treatise on skater teens who use sex as an escape. Pair the latter with Manic, which centers on a young man's violent mental illness, and Thirteen, in which Holly Hunter must cope with her drug-addled daughter, for a troubled-teen triple-feature.

Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel's mood-swing thing starring Christina Ricci, was in this space last year, and it was shelved till now. Bad sign. For a story about an unstable writer, see Shattered Glass (about the New Republic scribe who made up most of his articles) instead.

Also held back was Buffalo Soldiers, because its corrupt, drug-dealing soldier (Joaquin Phoenix) was deemed too unpatriotic. Crazy Americans.

Designated Kids Zone

KIDS, PLEASE DON'T TALK during the big comic-book movies. We adult children are trying to concentrate on our escapist fantasies of power. You are allowed, however, to talk during Daddy Day Care, the Eddie Murphy comedy with the appeal of a soiled diaper.

You can also talk during such animated fare as Finding Nemo, a fishy comedy-adventure voiced by of Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres. I always knew fish were neurotic. You can see it in their eyes.

For sexier vocal talent, go with Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, voiced by Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer. The story is based on Arabian Nights, not Sinbad, but the title was chosen for political reasons. Crazy Americans.

Go multisensory! Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and the animated Rugrats Go Wild! offer, respectively, enhancements for the eyes (3-D glasses) and nose (an "Odorama" scratch-and-sniff card, ala John Waters' Polyester). I'll hold my nose until September, when Rodriguez releases Once Upon a Time in Mexico, his Desperado sequel.

Somewhat older kids might enjoy How to Deal, starring the freshly scrubbed cheeks of MTV's Mandy Moore; a safer bet is the remake of Freaky Friday, which pairs Jamie Lee Curtis with the acne-free complexion of Lindsay Lohan. I count the first Freaky Friday's police car slicing scene among my fondest early movie memories--right up there with the flying Winnebago in Escape From Witch Mountain (due to be remade soon, too).

Tap Your Toes on Sticky Floors

GARAGE DAYS appears to be the standout in this category. When the director of The Crow and Dark City (Alex Proyas) makes a film charting the rise of a fictitious Australian garage band, you know not to expect That Thing You Do!

Fans of Isaac Hayes could see the documentary Only the Strong Survive, but poor reviews suggest the gospel-choir comedy The Fighting Temptations (with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles) might be a better choice. Know what I mean?

Camp takes place at a summer retreat for aspiring Broadway-singing-dancing teenagers, some of whom are heterosexual. I'm not sure how much can be said about From Justin to Kelly, which seems to have broken a record for fastest TV-to-movie exploitation scheme.(They churned it out in just three months.)

The documentary Gigantic : A Tale of Two Johns details the eccentric antics of the novelty-pop band They Might Be Giants. If you can endure 90 minutes of nasally songs about birdhouses and Constantinople, more power to you. But at least they hit their notes, which is more than you can say of Bob Dylan, whose Masked and Anonymous (with John Goodman and Jessica Lange) is rumored to make even his 1987 film Hearts of Fire seem watchable.

Sports and All

WITH A NAME LIKE SEABISCUIT, you know it's good. At least, that was the case for the stocky, bow-legged horse who led a poor, one- eyed jockey to hemmoroids and glory in the 1920s. Seabiscuit gives Tobey "Spider-Man" Maguire the chance to prove himself when not wearing tights and sexually frustrating Kirsten Dunst. The Lord of the Rings' Viggo Mortensen gets a similar opportunity in Hidalgo, wherein he plays a long-distance horse Strider ... er, rider.

Choices abound for skateboard fans. Grind, starring Adam Brody and Joey Kern, squeezes laughs and gasps out of the stunts and pratfalls of a group of skateboarders. Or hold out for next year's Lords of Dogtown, the David Fincher (Fight Club) skateboard movie guaranteed to pack a punch.

Better Yet...

NOT INTERESTED IN ANY OF the above? No problem. Skip the cineplex for the summer. Clean out your desk drawer. Do some sit-ups. Rent Punch-Drunk Love or Das Experiment (my favorites of 2002). Save your money, because the Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty, Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain, Barry Levinson's Envy, Joel Schumacher's On the Road, John Boorman's Country of My Skull, and Lars von Trier's Dogville are just around the corner.

More by Zachary Woodruff

  • The Definitive Summer Movie Preview

    Spider-Man's just the beginning; get ready for Dane Cook, surfing penguins and even Andy Griffith!
    • May 3, 2007
  • Other Upcoming Movies

    Keep your eye on IMDb for the release dates of these important films
    • May 3, 2007
  • A Movie Home Companion

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


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