Everything Cinematic Is Illuminated

A look askew at this summer's movie offerings

Every year around this time, there are three months of summer. This would not be in any way important if it weren't for the fact that summer is the time of year when summer movies are released.

To allow you to better prepare for this monumental eventuality, professional film writers James DiGiovanna and Zak Woodruff have provided this handy guide to the upcoming cinematic season, with Mr. DiGiovanna covering the all-important superhero, science-fiction, remake and dramatic categories, and Mr. Woodruff covering the no-less-important family, comedy, action and horror genres. Enjoy!


Summer usually sees very few dramatic films, which is odd, because these used to be the bread and butter of Hollywood. Then came the '80s, with their emphasis on "event movies" and "high concept," and next thing you know, no one's afraid of Virginia Woolf unless she's got razor-sharp spikes coming out of her deformed, mutant hands. Still, the Oscars have to go to somebody, so this summer, we'll be getting Cinderella Man, director Ron Howard's biopic about depression-era heavyweight champ Jim Braddock. Expect to have tears jerked out of your eyes with brutal and punishing force.

Although you may not have any tears left if you've already seen Dear Frankie, which is about a deaf boy whose single mum protects him from the fact that his dad has run away forever and blah-diddy-blah blah blah.

Masturbatory biographico-solipsistic writer Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated, on top of having the most pretentious title of any book ever, is also one of the fastest to make it from print to screen. It's directed by Liev Schreiber, who is, at least, a great actor.

In the movies-from-books category, there's also Oliver Twist, which has been made into a movie at least a dozen times before, but, until now, never by an Oscar-winning convicted rapist. Sure, Roman Polanski is a great director, but ...

Another great director, but one who never raped anybody, Ingmar Bergman, has came out of retirement to direct one last film, Saraband. Let's hope this isn't like George Lucas returning from the dead to make the Star Wars prequels.


Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo reunites Rob Schneider with his pimp and another batch of clients who have psychological disorders (like Tourette's syndrome, narcolepsy and the appreciation of Rob Schneider films). But this time, the clients are European, so it's politically correct to laugh at these people.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in case you didn't catch the subtlety, is about a man, let's say 40-ish, who has never engaged in sexual intercourse. Steve Carell (a favorite since The Dana Carvey Show, now seen in The Office) stars alongside the excellent Catherine Keener and Paul Rudd, so this might actually pop one's "laugh cherry."

Wedding Crashers has a charming premise: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are playboys who attend strangers' weddings to seduce the emotionally vulnerable bridesmaids. Will these ne'er-do-wells get their comeuppance? Does the new pope wear a funny new hat?

Happy Endings, from The Opposite of Sex director Don Roos, is about 10 people with messy lives. How messy? Well, Lisa Kudrow's character is an abortion counselor; her friend's a sperm donor, and the movie's title refers to an illegal massage-parlor practice. So ... messy. Perhaps even messy-funny. Laura Dern and Maggie Gyllenhaal also star.

In the romantic comedy section, we've got Must Love Dogs, in which Diane Lane and John Cusack make goo-goo eyes at each other; Rumor Has It, in which Jennifer Aniston is supposed to make goo-eyes at Mark Ruffalo, but finds her goo-goo eyes instead wandering to Kevin Costner; and Romance and Cigarettes in which Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini and Christopher Walken sing and dance while making goo-goo eyes at Susan Sarandon.

Two comedies sure to fail are Jiminy Glick in La La Wood and Monster in Law. Glick is an extension of Martin Short's oafish celebrity-interviewer shtick. Considering the two years the film has spent lurking on a shelf, this is probably no Citizen Glick. But even Short's failures tend to be hilarious; Clifford, for example, gets funnier the more you watch it. Monster-in-Law is Jane Fonda's re-entry into filmdom after her long hiatus living inside Ted Turner's ego. Sadly, it's also Jennifer Lopez's latest attempt to shake off her streak of embarrassing duds (Gigli, Enough, etc.).


God, I love superheroes. It must be my inner fascist, but the thought of an overwhelmingly powerful superman bringing vermin to swift and brutal justice just puts a snap in my trunks. There's no more fascist superhero than Batman, and that's why we love him so. Luckily, in Batman Begins, he's being directed by Christopher Nolan, who is at least a competent storyteller, so there's little chance it will bat-suck like the previous films. Plus, it stars Christian Bale, who (I have it on good authority) is actually Batman.

There's no particular reason to think that Fantastic Four will be any good, as it has untried director Tim Story and wretched scribe Michael France (The Punisher, The Hulk) on board. Plus, it stars Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman, which is weird, because the whole point of putting Jessica Alba in a film is to look at her.

Which I assume is the idea behind casting Charlize Theron as Aeon Flux. I mean, she's not going to be wearing her Monster face in this one. Aeon is based on the short cartoon series of the same name, which was great, but might be hard to translate into live-action.

Robert Rodriguez, who with Sin City has shown that he's the only person who can really put a comic book on the big screen, will be taking things down two age levels and up one spatial dimension with The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D. The story is about a little boy and his imaginary superhero friends who come to life and accompany him on a series of adventures, and is based on George W. Bush's escapades with his "coalition of the willing."

Sky High is that age-old story about the boy who's the only one in his class without superpowers. It's a Disney production, starring Disney stalwart Kurt Russell as the superheroic dad, Kelly Preston as a superheroine mom and a bunch of unknowns as the superheroic adolescents who make life miserable for the unpowered teen.

While not exactly a superhero movie, MirrorMask is the work of comic-book writer Neil Gaiman and comic-book artist Dave McKean. Best known for his intriguing stories, inventive characters and dreadful prose, Gaiman here uses some classic fantasy tropes in this story about a young girl's quest to find the fabled MirrorMask in order to save the White Queen and return two kingdoms to peace.


A wise man once said that action movies are kind of like musicals, only instead of singing and dancing, characters try to harpoon each other to walls. Or jump school buses over chasms full of radioactive vampire kittens. Or lock missile-guidance systems on flying robots named Horace. Or whatever.

The film with the most potential kinetic energy seems to be Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a sort of True Lies Times Two in which both spouses are secretly spies at competing agencies. Whether this is a metaphor about the dialectical nature of marriage (a la Ingmar Bergman), or just an excuse to see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie do nasty things to each other (a la Spy vs. Spy), is up to the individual viewer. Either way, the prospects look positive, with shrewd director Doug Liman (of the wildly unpredictable Go and solid The Bourne Identity) at the helm.

Domino is based on the life of Domino Harvey, a model-turned-bounty hunter. The real Ms. Harvey has spoken out against this movie, because the producers have made the character based on her into a heterosexual, whereas Ms. Harvey is, in fact, a wearer of comfortable shoes. Wait--there's a movie starring Keira Knightley and Mena Suvari, and they removed the lesbianism from it? On the upside, Domino was written by Richard Kelly, the mind behind Donnie Darko.

Not much story detail was available for the martial arts films Zu Warriors or Unleashed, but they probably have something to do with people hitting each other. Actually, Unleashed sounds semi-original. Jet Li stars opposite Bob Hoskins and Morgan Freeman as a simple-minded slave who does for competitive butt-kicking what Forrest Gump did for spasmodic knee-brace running.

On the more dramatic end of the action spectrum, John Singleton's Four Brothers is about some grown-up Detroit foster brothers (including Andre 3000 and Mark Wahlberg) who honor their mother's memory by putting the hurt on her killer. And for a palpable sense of era and setting, Lords of Dogtown follows the concrete exploits of three skateboarders in Venice, Calif., during the Leif Garrett phase of the 1970s.

Science Fiction

This summer, as in most summers, there's a plethora of big-time sci-fi movies, including the long-dreaded Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith. Soi-disant cult director Kevin Smith is actually giving this one the thumbs-up, so who knows, maybe it isn't the cinematic equivalent of that thing you scraped off your dog's butt.

One I'm actually looking forward to is 3001, because it's directed by Mike Judge, the genius behind Office Space and King of the Hill. It stars Luke Wilson as a man who wakes up 1,000 years in the future to discover that the Kansas Board of Education has succeeded in its evil quest to turn the American populace into morons.

Speaking of dumb, there's War of the Worlds, in which Stephen Spielberg gets back to doing what he's good at: dopey, big-budget action that isn't trying to convince you to think about ethnicity. As an added bonus, Tom Cruise stars, and if there's one thing the whole Cruise/Kidman marriage has shown, it's that Tom is good at running away from scary, emotionless aliens.

And scary, emotionless alien Michael Bay has a new film this summer. The Island stars Ewan McGregor, who discovers that, like Tom Delay, he is only being kept alive so he can be harvested for spare parts.

Which is sort of what's happened to the classic Ray Bradbury tale A Sound of Thunder. It's been mined for its central conceit, a time-traveling big-game safari that causes the future to get all fascist, and expanded into an action-adventure film wherein a team of time-traveling warriors tries to set things right. This is kind of like taking Moby Dick and making it into a movie about superheroes going out to rescue the victims of a shipwreck.


Summer horror movies are usually on the level of Amityville Crapper, but sometimes, the genre is enlivened by real directing talent (as in The Ring, the first Jeepers Creepers and the delightfully clever--yes, I'm serious--Final Destination II).

Unfortunately, most horror films are unimaginative variations on a couple of themes:

The Cave: A group of spelunkers come across a labyrinth that leads to the gates of hell, or maybe just to Peppersauce Caves. They must escape before it's too late!

Undead: Meteorites carry an infection that causes the living dead to seek human flesh. A band of country-dwelling survivors must stop them before it's too late!

George Romero's Land of the Dead: An ever-growing army of undead walk the streets. A scrappy band of skyscraper-dwelling survivors must stop them before it's too late!

The Devil's Rejects: Rob Zombie makes a sequel to House of 1000 Corpses. The vast movie-going public must avoid viewing this sequel before it's too late!

Of course, the most unoriginal and basic horror premise can be reduced to "the woman in distress." Or rather, "the beautiful, skimpily clad woman in distress." In The Skeleton Key, that woman is hospice worker Kate Hudson. She takes care of a ghoulish-looking John Hurt while he lurks creepily in his bathtub like SpongeBob SquareDepends. Will Hudson learn the mansion's horrifying secret before it's too late!?

In Dark Water, Jennifer Connelly rents an apartment that tends to stream fluid like an oversized feng shui fountain cranked to the max by ghosts. On the plus side, Connelly's daughter can now wet the bed with impunity. On the minus side, ghosts. Will the mother-daughter duo get out before it's too late? Or will Jennifer Connelly just stand around confused in wet, clingy clothing?

Asylum stars Natasha Richardson as a woman who falls in love with a sculptor, but--much like a wacky episode of Sex in the City--he's also a murderous inmate at the asylum where her doctor husband works. Will love escape its straitjacket before it's too late!?

November features Courteney Cox as a woman whose boyfriend was murdered ... or was he?! Will she solve the riddle? Including the riddle of why this movie sat on a shelf for more than a year? And if not, will there ever be a Scream IV to keep Cox's career afloat?

And in Red-Eye, Wes Craven (Scream 1-3) stows horror in the overhead bin to direct this straight-ahead thriller about a woman (Rachel McAdams) kidnapped on a plane flight. Will Craven succeed? Or will he soon be calling Courteney Cox so he can beg her to appear in Scream IV?

Family Films

Am I allowed to hate modern animated films? They're so show-offy, with hyper-realistic tracking shots and rack-focus effects as if an actual camera is there inside the Land of Ink and Pixels. Then they ruin it by casting actors with voices so recognizable you can't separate the human association from the animal/superhero/robot/troll.

Case in point: Madagascar, starring the ubiquitous Ben Stiller as a lion who has to meet his fiancée's parents, including a shark played by Robert DeNiro. Whoops, OK, actually the lion teams up with a zebra (black/white jokes courtesy Chris Rock), a giraffe (sore-throat jokes courtesy David Schwimmer) and some other anthropomorphs to escape the stinky Central Park Zoo and travel to the titular African island. From that point on, it's all about the lemurs. Yes, lemurs finally get their CGI due. If only they'd animate manatees, all the animal fetishists could be happy.

Also in the animated lineup: Valiant, which is not about the dorky-haired prince but rather some sort of World War II bird squad that fights Nazi falcons. We have Mauschwitz ... er, Disney to thank for this.

Personally, I'm skipping the above and waiting for the Wallace and Gromit movie, with a Tim Burton's Corpse Bride chaser, next fall. Stop-motion animation rules.

In the non-animated family department, we have a slew of girl-oriented films:

Ann Brashares' The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, not to be confused with David Letterman's The Brotherhood of Worldwide Pants, is about a pair of magical jeans that enhance the lives of various Teen Beat favorites and Gilmore Girls actresses. Let's see, teenage girls repeatedly donning and removing pants ... hello, teenage boys! You might want to check this out!

In The Perfect Man, Hilary Duff attempts to raise mom Heather Locklear's self-esteem by pretending to be a hot guy and flirting with her online. Wackiness ensues when Locklear unknowingly attempts to date her own daughter. Thus did this film earn a rating of "way hot" from the Sigmund Freud Society.

In Undiscovered, Ashlee "hoe-down" Simpson and friends travel to the big city of Los Angeles in hopes of becoming stars. Keep your eyes peeled for the sequel, Undiscovered II: Untalented.

There are some live-action family comedies, like Kicking and Screaming and Rebound. The former is a soccer version of The Bad News Bears starring Will Ferrell; the latter is a basketball version of The Bad News Bears starring Martin Lawrence. Coaching kid's sports = lots of yelling at kids = family fun!

My family-movie pick is The Brothers Grimm, the first film from Terry Gilliam in eons (Lost in La Mancha, the documentary about Gilliam's failed attempt to film Don Quixote, doesn't count). Matt Damon and Heath Ledger play con-artist knights who come across various Grimm's fairy tale characters (Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.), as well as enchantress Monica Belluci. Best case scenario: Gilliam captures the dark undertones of the classic stories while reclaiming the imaginative child's-fever-dream spirit he forged in Time Bandits. Worst-case scenario: The movie is just weird and obnoxious, which would be OK, too.


People frequently claim that there's a lack of imagination in Hollywood. Excuse me, if there was a lack of imagination, would anyone have imagined remaking films that have already been made?

This summer's slate of remakes includes three movies based on TV shows and six movies based on movies. Looking promising is Bewitched, which does a change-up on the usual remake mode by being a movie about making a remake of the classic Bewitched TV series. Will Ferrell plays fading star Jack Wyatt, who hopes to reinvigorate his career by taking the part of Darrin in a new Bewitched series. Of course, as everyone knows, it's hard to make a career as a Darrin, because Darrin's have been scientifically proven to be completely fungible. Thus, as they say, the "plot."

Also potentially decent is The Bad News Bears, in that it's being remade by Richard Linklater, who understands something about childhood anomie. Plus, Billy Bob Thornton plays the part that Walter Matthau played in the original, and he may be just the guy to capture the alcoholic degradation that made that part so touching and illegal. On the other hand, Philip Seymour Hoffman is not involved with this production, which is really a terrible crime, since he's the film's greatest champion.

Herbie: Fully Loaded is more an update than a remake, and it stars two of America's favorites: Lindsay Lohan. In the "WTF for?" category, there's Pink Panther, which was perfectly good in its original format and needs updating like the pope needs a condom.

I have mixed feelings about the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The original features one of the finest performances ever given by an actual space alien, that of Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka. It also had a particular kind of visual inventiveness that seems impossible in the age of CGI. But if anyone can match that inventiveness, it's Tim Burton, who's directing the new one. And if anyone can rival Gene Wilder for thespian weirdness, it's Johnny Depp, who takes on the role of the insane and perhaps homicidal chocolate factory owner. Fun for the whole family!

Then there's the terrifying spectacle of Hollywood trying to be trendy by doing a remake of a show that's become a hipster favorite for its cluelessness. So we've got The Dukes of Hazzard, about a car full of white supremacists and their efforts to undermine the proper and publicly vested authority of a local law-enforcement department.

Similarly, there's The Honeymooners, which is considered "classic TV," as though that weren't an oxymoron. In the remake, the zany twist is that the cast is black. What will they think of next?

One of my favorite categories of remakes is the remake that's just been remade; The Longest Yard, which was remade only four years ago as Mean Machine, is being remade yet again, in a hopefully stupider form, by director Peter Segal. Segal also directed Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, which is a sequel to a remake.

Get it? Me neither.

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