Air conditioning and big stars make movie theaters the place to be this summer.
Most of us grew up with summer vacations. Though few of us retain these lengthy interludes as we grow older, the season continues to evoke an association with escapism. This does not go unnoticed by the movie industry, which, it turns out, not only plays on perversions, vices and fears, but also on the gentler aspects of its audiences' psychology. And so we get the blockbuster: massively marketed, CG vehicles of escape. The studios try to premiere films on separate weekends, spreading out the huge releases so each studio gets its fair share of the millions. The smaller films that dare to rear their heads into the warm summer light are crushed like ants. We line up at the doors of the dream factory and say with our pocket books, "Take us away, take us away." This guide will help you through the process.
Summer blockbusters excel at nostalgia and escapism and this summer offers a preponderance of comic book-based fantasies jumping, swinging and gliding from page to screen. Spring got a head start with the mega-franchise Spider-Man 3, which netted beaucoup bucks.
But summer starts off with a dud sequel, The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Everyone deserves a second chance, but the first Fantastic Four cried wolf: Its title may have contained the word fantastic, but it wasn't fantastic, good or even alright. It sucked. The effects were lame, the action was snore-inducing and the acting was as bad as it comes. And yet, incomprehensibly, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic (or Mr. Arrogant as he is referred to behind his back) and The Thing are back. This time, they face the entirely computer-generated Silver Surfer, who, though he possesses the seemingly undefeatable ability to transform matter at will, still lacks fantastic-ness. And so, just like this movie in our collective memory, he shall be certainly be made quick work of.
Just as there exists a remarkable, possibly moronic, loyalty to a sports brand over time, despite a complete change of players, coaches, owners and even cities, so too are movies increasingly subject to illogical brand loyalty. Evan Almighty retains, from its sort-of predecessor, Bruce Almighty, the word "almighty." That's about it. Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston were traded for Steve Carell and a stable full of wildlife, and the script was borrowed from a 3-year-old shelf-dweller, Passion of the Arc, about a modern man summoned to build an arc in preparation for another Biblical flood. Ahhh…the almighty power of the brand.
With Sicko, Michael Moore sticks it to the Man again. This time, in his signature baseball cap and beard, he bum-rushes members of the health care industry, and, between bites of a double cheeseburger, lays responsibility for our nation's f-ed up fitness on its shoulders. Already having made two of the most successful, powerful and important documentaries of all times, we can only expect great things. Sicko is already stirring up controversy and a possible jail sentence for Moore, as he escorted a group of Iraq war vets to Cuba, where they received free, supposedly superior, medical treatment from the nation's socialized health care system.
Dude, I hope the third Die Hard installment, Live Free or Die Hard, doesn't suck. The original is still the quintessential action flick, and it would be a shame to see the sequel free fall like a terrorist recently machine-gunned down an elevator shaft. Reminiscent of the recent cyber war that Estonia accused Russia of launching against its Internet infrastructure, this newest Die Hard features Bruce teaming up with Justin Long (the hip guy from the Mac ads) to battle a cyber terrorist bent on taking down the United States. McClane takes care of the ass-kicking and tough guy lines, and the representative of our pansy generation deals with the computers and bringing McClane coffee and stuff.
The majority of my Transformers anticipation has to do with the nether regions of these protean, mechanical monstrosities. That is, how are they going to deal with all those naked robots…you know…down there? They don't exactly need reproductive organs, but without them can they really be heroes? Having seen a photo of Optimus Prime, I can report that his metallic package is substantial though understated, looking much like a large grenade-though one with a mysterious slot. That begs the question: How will this film come out? One thing's for sure, it's going to look great since the sets were made by a crew of local scenic artists.
What's the point of having magical powers if it won't get you any action? After four very chaste films, Harry finally gets a little smoochy-smoochy from Cho Chang in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. David Yates, a longtime British TV man with no Hollywood history, is set to take the helm for a spell.
1408 is a movie about a haunted hotel room that manifests its inhabitants' own personal nightmares. Starring John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson, the premise is just too ridiculous for words. Cusack (High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank, Better Off Dead) plays a man writing a book that aims to debunk claims of hauntedness. Cusack goes to New York to check into the supposedly haunted room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel, where Samuel L Jackson (Shaft, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard: With a Vengeance) plays the hotel manager who ominously warns him that no tenant has ever lasted more than an hour in room 1408. Come on! Samuel L Jackson as a terrified hotel manager? No way. To us, he'll always be the one with the wallet that says "Bad Mother Fucker" on it.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry stars Adam Sandler and Kevin James as Chuck and Larry, two Brooklyn firefighters who pretend to be domestic partners to receive benefits for Larry's kids. Oh man, this one is going to be so funny, cuz being gay is soooo gross, and could you imagine even pretending? I am trying my best to suspend disdain, momentarily at least, since this one was co-penned by Alexander Payne, who wrote two stellar flicks, Election and Sideways.
In Hairspray, John Travolta's first musical since 1978's Grease, the already chubby Scientologist dons a fat suit, cross dresses and sings his heart out as Edna-the character formerly played by the larger-than-life drag diva, Divine. Actually, this remake is based on the hit 2002 musical, not John Waters' amazing 1988 high camp film. But viewers are bound to compare this remake with Waters' film and not the Broadway version, and it's difficult to imagine it will stack up well-even if Xenu and his entire Galactic Confederacy (the aliens that brought us to earth 75 million years ago, according to Scientology) were to intervene on Travolta's behalf.
***image2***The Simpsons have been around for 18 years now and, finally legal, they decide to bare all on the big screen in The Simpsons Movie. Rumor has it that might happen in the literal sense: Yellow private parts. Plus, might a character we always thought was a man, in fact be a woman? The writers and producers are being extremely tight-lipped so we'll just have to wait and see.
Unfortunately, Paul Greengrass, the director of The Bourne Ultimatum did not opt to recreate Matt Damon in pure CG. It would have been awesome to marvel at how realistic he looked. Alas, we must settle for the flesh-and-blood actor as he portrays Jason Bourne, the amnesiac assassin trained by the CIA. Bourne searches for his identity while periodically discovering new talents for butt-kicking. The first two were good, but will the third be one to remember?
El Cantante marks J Lo's return to near-certain box office disasters that inevitably destroy her marriages. Yes, unsatisfied with the Bennifer era (Gigli, Jersey Girl), Lopez has recruited her Latin heartthrob beau, Marc Anthony, to portray Hector Lavoe, the self-destructive Latin pop star who died of AIDS in 1993. Will J Lo bore us to tears once again? Will Marc Anthony leave her for a newly-rehabbed Lindsay Lohan? Anything's possible!
Bratz is a show that, along with MTV's My Sweet Sixteen and Britney Spears, is involved in a conspiracy to brainwash little girls into becoming materialistic, narcissistic, skanky-dressing little monsters. It deserves to be turned into a ball of fire, not a movie. Alas, I don't rule the world; corporations with an interest in selling crap to kids do.
Shot all over New Mexico, Fanboys is about a dying nerd whose last request is to see Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom Menace. The problem is, it hasn't been released. So his nerdling friends stop playing Magic the Gathering long enough to take him on a road trip to George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch to try to get a preview screening.
As if the summer of sequels weren't already ridiculous enough, here comes one to top them all: Halloween, the ninth installment. Take that Harry Potter part five! This Halloween is written and directed by Rob Zombie, who transitioned from metal band White Zombie to making movies by directing House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects and, most recently, Wherewolf Women of the SS, a faux-traluer for Grindhouse. During 2006, he also hosted TCM Underground, the cable channel's late-night cult film showcase. With Halloween 9, Zombie takes us back to Michael Myers' formative years, between his first kill and bustin' out of the asylum. It's an "in-between-quel", if you will-and one of the few original ideas of the season.