Hollywood's Blockbuster Line-Up Is Sure To Leave You Reelin'
By Zachary Woodruff
IS IT JUST me, or are the studios releasing more summer movies than ever before? I know life in Hollywood is fast-paced, but could you guys slow down a little? To earn our ticket money, we Tucsonans often have to spend more time working than it takes to watch the damned picture. And God forbid we should like a flick enough to see again. Seven more bucks--ouch. Then there's popcorn and drinks. We're talking a whole day's wages here. What are they trying to do, bankrupt us?
Call me cheap, but I don't want to waste any more money than I have to, and I don't think you should either. That's why the Tucson Weekly has prudently allowed me to create this guide to the summer's movies. Get out your pilfered napkins and Bic pens and take note.
LET'S GET THIS out of the way: If you only have seven dollars left to your name and you want a sure thing, find yourself in The Lost World. With the removal of the simpering Sam Neill and Laura Dern, and the addition of dozens of evil corporate henchmen and two more Tyrannosauri, this Jurassic Park follow-up is rumored to be "darker," grittier and possibly even cooler than its predecessor. Okay, I know what you're thinking: "Last time Spielberg made a 'darker' sequel he tortured us with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!" Yes, but did Temple have a stegosaurus? Or Julianne Moore (from Safe)? Or Vince Vaughn (from Swingers)? Did it? Okay then.
Suppose you want something darker still. Guillermo del Toro, who previously directed a creepy-crawly little movie called Cronos, can accomodate you with Mimic. Mira Sorvino stars as an entomologist who discovers a mutated race of insects who have learned to live among, and prey on, humans. With a script by famed indy directors John Sayles and Steven Soderbergh, this now-you-see-them-now-you-don't horror thriller looks to be a cross between They Live, Them!, and Kafka's story The Metamorphosis. You might say the movie has good buzz.
WHAT WITH Hale-Bopp, Independence Day, and our culture's growing boredom with life on earth, the market for out-of-this-world narratives has risen significantly. And don't let The Fifth Element fool you: Some of this summer's sci-fi pictures might actually be coherent. My pick for the most rewarding entry is Contact, based on the late, great Carl Sagan's best-seller. Directed by Robert "Forrest Gump" Zemeckis, the film stars Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughy as people who believe they are receiving transmissions from intelligent life out there. Might this be a Close Encounters for the '90s? "Billions and billions" of test audiences can't be wrong.
Speaking of test audiences, the surest thing in sci-fi is Men in Black, a comedy starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. A cross between The X-Files and Ghostbusters, the film is set to conquer the Fourth of July weekend, and its producers are already preparing a sequel. The previews look fun, with lots of oddly cute aliens and a wise-cracking Linda Fiorentino--or is it an oddly cute Fiorentino and wise-cracking aliens? I can't remember.
Other entries in this category include Event Horizon, a quieter, more visuals-driven spectacle starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill and Kathleen Quinlan as a crew sent to explore a mysterious spaceship near Venus. The movie appears to be an updated haunted-house tale, more psychological than action-based. If that sounds too cerebral, wait around till fall for Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, an intergalactic violence-fest from the creator of Showgirls. One hopes the aliens aren't forced to put ice on their nipples.
VEHICULAR ACTION VEHICLES
THANKS TO SPEED, everybody's racing to pack as many cars, trains, planes, boats and whatever else into their action flicks. Producers have learned to pitch ideas for this stuff in shorthand, saying things like, "Think Die Hard on a schooner," or "Let's do Das Boot in a Winnebago." So far, the process has resulted in so-so movies like Under Siege, Passenger 57 and Executive Decision, but this summer the ante has been upped.
First there's Speed 2: Cruise Control, which takes place on an out-of-control boat. Frankly, I don't get it: An out-of-control boat is supposed to be scary? Couldn't you just steer towards the open sea, or jump out in a lifeboat? Perhaps Keanu Reeves had the same questions, because he declined to reprise his role. Jason Patric, looking for a career boost, rushed to sign on in his place, alongside Sandra Bullock and grinning villain Willem Dafoe. Speed 2 looks good enough, but I'm sincerely going to miss Keanu's campy, boy-scout-style acting.
But who's complaining? With two--count 'em, two--Nicolas Cage action flicks around the bend, there ought to be enough campy acting for everyone. First, Cage has a Face/Off with John Travolta in a John Woo-directed actioner that, if the preview is any indication, should be stunningly violent. Woo's last film, Broken Arrow, turned helicopter destruction into an art form, but here he's back in familiar homoerotic territory with a tale of a good guy and bad guy who switch faces and run around pointing phallic symbols (i.e., guns) at each other. If you're cagey about this Cage film, there's also Con Air, another "Die Hard on a plane" story in which our hero tries to subvert a hijacking by his fellow maximum-security convicts.
Did someone say "hijack"? Because that's almost the same plot as Air Force One, except this time the hero is not a criminal but, um, the President of the United States. Only Harrison Ford and the actual director of Das Boot could pull off this mid-air suspenser. Personally, I'm tired of seeing Ford in political roles, and I'd just as soon watch Jackie Chan in Operation Condor than see Ford get cranky about freedom and justice. Sure, he's a more compelling actor, but can he twirl in mid-air?
By far the biggest vehicle-based movie this summer, with the biggest vehicle, is James Cameron's Titanic. It's not just an action movie, you know--it's also a romance. Oh joy. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett play two star-crossed lovers whose future looks bleak after they miss the chance to evacuate. Cameron was shrewd to focus on the fate of attractive lead characters, since we already know what happens to the ship, but I have my doubts about his ability to sustain a moving drama. Watch for the reviews: they'll either exclaim, "Good special effects are just the tip of the iceberg!" or crack, "Sinks faster than you can say 'The Abyss'!"
HO-HUM, another Batman movie. I'm glad they signed up George Clooney and Alicia "Bat Girl" Silverstone, but the villains, played by Arnold "Chill!" Schwarzenegger and Uma "I-can't-act" Thurman, look dumb as ever. Deep Freeze? Might as well stay home, rent The Year Without a Santa Claus, and watch the Snow Miser do his thing. At least he sings.
Then again, there's plenty of singing in Disney's Hercules, and I'm not looking forward to that either--not even with James Woods performing the voice of Hades. Whenever I think of Hercules, I think of that Saturday Night Live skit where Bill Murray plays the hero as a washed-up, pot-bellied slob who, when asked if he can pick up a boulder, points around him and says, "No, but I can pick up a smaller one." I'd like to keep this memory pure.
If you like comic books, video games or just big, dense men, there's also Steel, starring Shaquille O'Neal, Kull the Conqueror starring Kevin Sorbo (TV's Hercules), Spawn and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
IT MUST BE a sign of the times: Many of the summer's movies revolve around characters who are neurotic, obsessed or just plain loony. My Best Friend's Wedding stars Julia Roberts as a bundle of anxiety who tries to sabotage her friend Dermot Mulroney's wedding with cutie Cameron Diaz. Addicted to Love is worse: Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick are so jealous of their exes' new lovers that they stalk and peep at them with telescopes and cameras.
Think that's psycho? Look at Buddy, the true story of Gertrude Linz (Rene Russo), a wealthy eccentric who raised an 800-pound gorilla as her own child. Or try Nothing To Lose, a comedy about what happens when a carjacker (played by real-life nutcase Martin Lawrence) has the tables turned on him by a stressed-out advertising executive (Tim Robbins). Or how about Excess Baggage, starring Alicia Silverstone as a spoiled-rich teen queen who orchestrates her own kidnapping to get attention.
Still not convinced? Take a gander at Conspiracy Theory, starring Mel Gibson as a taxi driver whose far-fetched ideas about the government turn out to be true. The movie is directed by Richard Donner and also stars Julia Roberts and Patrick Stewart, a combination so crazy it just might work. If not, there's always Desperate Measures, about a cop (Andy Garcia) who makes the mistake of asking an off-kilter convict (Michael Keaton) to donate bone marrow to the cop's son. The killer escapes, and the results are, well, insane.
IF YOU'RE A fan of independent directors who endow their films with a unique stamp and vision, then there's a lot to look forward to this summer. Mike Leigh, who recently gained acclaim with Secrets & Lies, tries for comedy with Career Girls, about two 30-year-old, educated working women striving to overcome their cynicism. Peter Greenaway, meanwhile, displays more of his abusively avant-garde stylings with The Pillow Book, about a woman who likes to paint Japanese calligraphy on the nude bodies of such people as Trainspotting's Ewan MacGregor.
James Mangold, auspicious writer-director of the touching Heavy, aims for an indy-film breakthrough with CopLand, a small-town police tale with an incredible (if familiar) ensemble cast that includes Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Mike Rapaport and Anabella Sciorra. A fattened-up, humbled-by-action-movie-failure Sylvester Stallone stars. Also looking promisng in this category are She's De Lovely, a John Cassevetes story directed by his son Nick; and Ulee's Gold, a contemplative family drama from Victor Nunez (Ruby in Paradise).
But if I had to choose just one film by an underrated auteur, it would be Box of Moonlight by Tom DeCillo. DeCillo's comedies Johnny Suede and Living in Oblivion were hilarious, and this one, starring John Turturro, seems likely to uphold the tradition.
THESE MOVIES COULD be sleeper hits, or they could suck--time will tell. The barely R-rated Bliss stars Sheryl "Laura Palmer" Lee and Craig Sheffer as a couple who decide their sex life needs a healthy dose of erotic therapy; while the epic-scale Boogie Nights features Mark Wahlberg, William H. Macy and (ack) Burt Reynolds as quirky participants in the '70s L.A. porno industry. Couldn't be any worse than Striptease, anyway.
Less sexual but still controversial, All Over Me is rumored to be a very touching story of teen angst about an alienated young woman who falls in love with her female best friend; Star Maps, which was a favorite of the Sundance Film Festival, tells the allegedly comedic story of a young man who uses a Beverly Hills star map business as a front for prostituting his son. And In the Company of Men tells the intriguingly cruel story of two businessmen competing to see who can seduce, bed and dump a hearing-impaired woman first.
I probably shouldn't bother to mention this, but I'm quite tempted to see Leave it to Beaver, which steals its premise from The Brady Bunch Movie by placing its characters--who include Norm Macdonald as Ward and Janine Turner as June--in the chaotic 1990s. As a kid it was my favorite show to eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to, and gee whiz, I can't wait to see how they handle Eddie Haskell.
AVOID THE following and thank me later: Good Burger, about dueling fast-food joints; Dead Man on Campus, which sounds like Weekend at Bernie's meets Dead Poet's Society; Air Bud, about a precocious doggy who learns to play basketball; and The Full Monty, about disgruntled British steel workers who become male strippers. Defintely, definitely avoid A Smile Like Yours, starring Greg Kinnear and Lauren Holly as a couple whose inability to have a child leads them to zany sperm-donation mixups at a posh fertility clinic. Didn't the wackjobs in Hollywood learn their lesson with Made in America 2?
All these studio movies can warp the brain. Thankfully, there's always an antidote at the Loft. Their summer offerings include Kevin's Spacey's Albino Alligator; an exploration of women's sexuality called Female Perversions; Prisoner of the Mountains; a filmed version of Wallace Shawn's play The Designated Mourner starring Mike Nichols and Miranda Richardson; Citizen Ruth, featuring Laura Dern as a pregnant woman who finds herself in the middle of a pro-choice vs. pro-life war; Hollow Reed: A Mongolian Tale; and When the Cat's Away, a romantic comedy "about a beautiful girl, her missing cat, and the ever-changing face of Paris." Meow.
The most promising Loft release looks to be Dream with the Fishes, starring David Arquette and Brad Hunt as a suicidal voyeur and a terminally ill druggie, respectively, who spend a wild day together doing whatever they feel like. Their activities include robbing a bank, dropping acid in public, stealing a car, and bowling nude with prostitutes. Writer-director Finn Taylor intends the movie both as a romp and a cogitation about life and death, a mix that works for me, anyway.
OTHER LOCAL VENUES
THE SCREENING ROOM will be offering its usual assortment of classic, fun and otherwise stimulating films. Though the schedule has not yet been determined, program director Giulio Scalinger hopes to pay homage to the late Krzysztof Kieslowski for the theater's Great Director Series, and wants to fill July's schedule with serial adventure films such as the original Batman & Robin. There will also be at least one 3-D movie as well as at least one William Castle flick, but don't expect The Tingler--in the '50s you could wire the seats with electro-shock devices and get away with it, but not today.
The powers-that-be at the university's Gallagher Theatre haven't yet determined their summer schedule, either, but you can count on an interesting combination of second-run movies, cult films, and classics. In the meantime, check out the Classic Film Festival (May 21 through May 26), which is occuring in conjunction with the Senior Olympics. For a pittance you can see such greats as Casablanca, Some Like it Hot, The Manchurian Candidate and Singin' in the Rain on a huge screen with an appreciative audience.
This summer movie guide would not be complete without a mention of the VideoTENSIONS series, which showcases some of the best new experimental videos and documentaries. Expand your mind at 7:30 p.m. every Thursday from June 5 to July 17 in the auditorium of the University of Arizona's new aerospace engineering building. June 5's guest curator/lecurer will be Kristen Lucas, whose live performance art involves a helmet-cam and a video screen. For more information call 621-7352.
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