Blockbuster Season

Finding movie gold amid Hollywood's upcoming summer of coal

The summer movie season officially launched three weeks ago. The unfortunate among us have already been to dreary Transylvania and a godless Troy, while the fortunate ventured last weekend (en record-breaking masse) to a magical place known as Far Far Away, where a big green ogre met his new bride’s parents and befriended an magnificently funny swashbuckling cat.

So, what’s left? Plenty. And while some of it appears promising, the jury’s still out on most of this summer’s fodder — particularly The Stepford Wives and Catwoman, both of which look awful if we’re to take any clue from the previews. The surefires? Harry Potter and Spiderman 2. Both look like the kind of movies we can’t wait to be entertained by. Here are some highlights:

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW — Tornadoes ravage the West Coast, a tsunami envelopes the East, and the Midwest falls prey to killer tractors. And then everything freezes. All because nobody — nobody, not even the President — listened to the warnings about global warming. Oh, Kyoto Treaty, wherefore art thou? While global warming is certainly a topic of vital importance, let’s be frank here: is a movie from the creators of Independence Day, Godzilla (the remake) and Stargate really where you want to get your fodder for debate? (May 28)

RAISING HELEN — It’s a Garry Marshall film, Lord Emperor of the Saccharine Chick Flick, the man who brought us Beaches, The Princess Diaries, and that shameless heart-tugger The Other Sister, in which two mentally handicapped adults defied their protective parents and asserted their love for one another. If Marshall has his usual way, Helen will feature a formulaic blend of blandly comic hijinks and sudden tearduct stimulators. Kate Hudson stars as Helen, a self-centered free-spirit who becomes the unwitting guardian of her late sister’s three children. Weep, laugh, become diabetic, you’re sure to do it all in this movie. (Rumor has it doctors will be standing by to help with assisted suicides.) Also starring John Corbett, John Cusack, Helen Mirren and Spencer Breslin. (May 28)

HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN — It’s the only film opening on June’s first weekend, so you know all the other studios are terrified of getting in its way. The third installment in the popular series is apparently darker and dramatically richer than its predecessors — the influence of incoming director Alfonso Cuaron, whose Y Tu Mama Tambien was a steamy, virtually pornographic sexfest in which two horomonally-overcharged Spanish youths found love — lots of love — with a slightly older woman. Back to Harry. Much of the original cast returns, with Gary Oldman taking the role of escaped serial-killer Sirius Black and Michael Gambon replacing the late Richard Harris as Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore. Perhaps most impressive is how fast they’re cranking out these Potter films — before stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint hit the big puberty trail and decide to star in an Y Tu Mama Tambien of their own. (June 4)

THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK — This semi-sequel is set five years after the events in Pitch Black. What’s that? You didn’t see Pitch Black? Lucky you! The ex-con yet heroic Riddick (Vin Diesel, a lump of flesh that thinks it’s an actor) finds himself in the midst of a galactic war in which the balance of all life hangs. Can he save the universe? Well, can he? Co-starring Judi Dench, the poor dear. (June 11)



Stepford’s Kidman and Midler

THE STEPFORD WIVES — Rumor has it this production was troubled throughout. Not only did several stars drop out, but those who remained found themselves confronted with Diva-fueled feuding between Glenn Close and Bette Midler. On the plus side: It’s directed by Frank “Miss Piggy” Oz, who can be quite a good director (Little Shop of Horrors) and written by Paul Rudnick, who can be quite a funny writer (Addams Family Values, Jeffrey). On the down side: We all know what happens to Nicole Kidman’s character. Unless they’ve changed the ending. And where’s the nasty, misogynistic fun in that? (June 11)

DODGEBALL — A group of misfits, led by Vince Vaughn, enter a Las Vegas Dodgeball championship hoping to win a mound of cash and save their local gym. With Ben Stiller as a supremely vain Dodgeball champ, Christina “Mrs. Ben Stiller” Taylor (who can’t seem to get cast in anything other than her husband’s movies), Jason Bateman, Gary Cole and Justin Long, who has all the time in the world now that NBC has finally put Ed out of its misery. (June 18)

DE-LOVELY — Kevin Kline stars as gay composer Cole Porter in this sure-to-be elegant and classy look at the life of the legendary composer. The gimmick is that Porter looks back on his life as though it were a musical production. Directed by Irwin Winkler and featuring Ashley Judd (as Mrs. Porter), Jonathan Pryce, Natalie Cole, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette and Robbie Williams. Sounds de-lightful. (June 25)

TWO BROTHERS — Two tigers, taken into captivity and separated as cubs, are reunited years later and forced to fight one another. Before you go running in the other direction, consider this: It’s directed by the brilliant visualist Jean-Jacques Annaud, who has had amazing success with animal adventure stories (The Bear). Starring Guy Pearce in one of the non-growling roles. (June 25)

SPIDERMAN 2 — The summer blockbuster to beat. Sam Raimi returns as director, Tobey Maguire dons the Spidey suit, and this time there’s a worthy villain — not someone who buzzes around on an airborne surfboard and has maniacal conversations with his mask. This time, it’s Dr. Octopus — played with what looks like relish, mustard, ketchup and all the menacing works by Alfred Molina. Tell us you’re not looking forward to it — we won’t believe you for a web-swinging second. Our Spidey senses are already tingling in anticipation. (June 30)

BEFORE SUNSET — If you had to pick a Richard Linklater film from which to craft a sequel, would you pick the lethargic, talky, self-important Before Sunrise? (Hey, Dickie, how about a School of Rock 2 — you could call it Summer School of Pop.) Anyway, here it is, the sequel that takes place nine years after Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy had that one extremely long-winded romantic nighttime fling in Paris. They meet again. And the long-windedness resumes. (July 2)

I, ROBOT — How do you take a classic Isaac Asimov fable and turn it into something needlessly overblown? You hire Will Smith to star. Asimov’s short story involved a robot accused of murder, something robots are not programmed to do. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman has upped the ante with a conspiracy brewing amongst all robots to destroy all humans. It’s up to Smith to stop them, hurrah, hurrah! Call it The Terminator meets Men in Black meets Independence Day meets Bicentennial Man. (July 16)

CATWOMAN — From the previews alone, this Halle Berry vanity vehicle looks like it’s ready-made for the litter box. (July 23)

THE VILLAGE — Reportedly, the ending to M. Night Shyalaman’s latest thriller played so badly to test audiences that just a few weeks ago the entire cast was reconvened for a major reshoot. Not a good sign. And we have a sixth sense about theses things. (July 30)

THUNDERBIRDS — The puppets lose their strings and become real boys in Jonathan Frakes’s live rendering of the ’60s Saturday morning marionette adventure. Bill Paxton, Anthony Edwards and Ben Kingsley star. Let’s hope that acting’s not too wooden. (July 30)

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR — It’s set on Earth in the Antarctic, where Predators apparently breed Aliens so that their young males can engage in a coming-of-age fighting ceremony (clearly the species hasn’t yet discovered that even more barbaric tradition known as The Bar Mitzvah). So Aliens were here on earth all along! Boy, Ripley must be pissed. (August 13)

THE PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT — We began the summer with a Garry Marshall film, so why not conclude with one? In this episode, newly forged Princes Mia (Anne Hathaway) finds she’s being primed for an arranged marriage to an English suitor. Somebody shoot us. (August 13)

EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING — As if it ever ended. (August 20)

ANACODNDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID — No rare flowers for these Amazon-drifting scientists in search of a plant that extends life. Instead they find a family of very big, very hungry snakes. With a cast you’ve never heard of, and probably never want to hear from again. (August 27)

Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.

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