Suburban Philadelphia, the sweltering summer of 1985. My sister and I ride our bikes to see Back to the Future at the Baderwood Theater and spend the next two hours in air-conditioned bliss: the plot is great, the special effects are amazing, Christopher Lloyd's a hoot and, once again, executive producer Steven Spielberg's blockbuster formula works like a pixie stick full of angel dust on movie-loving kiddies. Those were the days, my friend, and we thought they'd never end.
But end they did. Today those Boys of Summer, Lucas and Spielberg, are still good for an occasional Cineplex packer, but the old magic is long gone and the staleness of sequelitis, topped by the numbing sameness of the computer-generated imagery that defines special effects today, has old faithfuls like yours truly more often dreading the June-to-August crop like a plague of CGI locusts. With the first shoes of the summer having already dropped in the form of the awful Van Helsing and the critically reviled The Day After Tomorrow, the sense of impending boredom is afoot. Still, true movie fans are dreamers at heart, and our faith in the promise of gold amongst the summer dross remains devout. Here are some of the expected highs and lows of the summer of 2004:
Can't Wait Spider-Man 2. It's criminal that John Malkovich wasn't tapped to don the tentacles of Doc Ock, the role he was born to play (honors went to Alfred Molina), but the first installment was pretty terrific, and with director Sam Raimi back at the helm and a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, this one shouldn't disappoint. (Opens June 30)
A Dirty Shame. We all love John Waters, even when he lets us down (Cecil B. DeMented, anybody?) So it's cause for celebration that the world's filthiest director is back after four years of MIA status with a comedy about Baltimore sex addicts. Waters mainstay Mink Stole alone guarantees yucks. (July date TBA)
Open Water. There hasn't been a good shark-attack movie since, of course, Jaws, but here's one in which the blood (if you believe the publicity) is actually real. “Sundance Favorite” and “shot on video” are generally euphemisms for “beware,” but what's summer without carnivorous aquatic beasts? (Opens Aug. 6)
Hero. The word on the street is that Zhang Yimou's martial-arts epic with Jet Li blows away Crouching Tiger, which is reason enough to start salivating. Still, why did Miramax shelve this for two years? We'll all find out on Aug. 20.
Looks Promising Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I'll admit to having seen none of the other films in this series, but it just seems cool that Mexican new-wave hotshot director Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mamá También) is taking over the reins of this celluloid money factory. (Now playing)
The Stepford Wives. The advance buzz on this remake of the 1970s original (concerning comely android housewives) is poison. Still, writer Paul Rudnick is always good for camp diversion, and Bette Midler looks like a scream in the ads, so I'm game. (Opens June 11)
I, Robot. The words “Will” and “Smith” generally evoke terror when used in succession, but Isaac Asimov's novel about felonious robots gone amuck is a fave amongst comic-store denizens, and even the former Fresh Prince's very tiresome mugging shouldn't overshadow the sterling source material. (Opens June 25)
King Arthur. John Boorman's 1981 fine Excalibur already did Artie and his Knights of the Round Table a solid. Young director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), however, has done some interesting work, so hopefully he will offer more than just fake British actors and matte paintings. (Opens July 7)
The Story of the Weeping Camel. Been dying to see a documentary about nomadic shepherds in the Gobi Desert caring for an orphaned camel? Me too. (Opens July 9)
Stander. Despite the inglorious flame-out of his last flick, The Punisher, Thomas Jane has more presence and smarts than most action stars of today. This biopic about the infamous South African police captain turned criminal looks interesting on paper, and may be the vehicle Jane deserves. (July date TBA)
De-Lovely. The surprise success of Moulin Rouge has happily made the movie musical feasible again, and the good news is that this biopic about Cole Porter is presented as a musical stage show, with the generally splendid Kevin Kline as Porter. The bad news is that Robbie Williams and Alanis Morissette sing in it. (Opens July 16)
The Bourne Supremacy. The Bourne Identity was one of the leaner and smarter thrillers in recent memory, thanks to Doug Liman's direction and Matt Damon's performance. Liman didn't return for the sequel, but his replacement, Paul Greengrass, will hopefully apply the same blunt brutality and quick pacing that made his Bloody Sunday so memorable. (Opens July 23)
She Hate Me. Spike Lee is nothing if not hit (Do the Right Thing) or miss (Girl 6), so we can only shudder to learn that his latest concerns an unemployed man (Anthony Mackie) who gets rich impregnating lesbians. What, shouldn't this be a John Waters' storyline? John Turturro is in it, of course. (Opens July 30)
Collateral. Tom Cruise as an evil, silver-haired assassin? Uh-oh. That's frightening enough, as is the involvement of Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith and style-before-substance director Michael Mann, but the talented Javier Bardem and Mark Ruffalo are in it as well, so you never know. (Opens Aug. 6)
Vanity Fair. Director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) has a real flair for chick-flicks that even guys can stomach, so this adaptation of the novel none of us read in high school should generate Oscar talk for all involved. (August date TBA)
Did This Really Have to Be Made?
The Terminal. The good news is that the summer of 2004 will not be bereft of new Spielberg. The bad news is that his latest offering appears to find him in “adult” mode with the tale of a homeless illegal Eastern European immigrant (Tom Hanks) plausibly winning the heart of stewardess Catherine Zeta-Jones (Opens June 16).
Dodgeball. There was a time when Ben Stiller's name on the marquee meant quality, but he's been involved in way too many stinkers lately, usually in the company of a smugly ironic comedy posse that includes Vince Vaughn, who co-stars here. This one sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch stretched to 90 minutes. (Opens June 18)
Before Sunset. Here's a sequel to a 1995 movie that nobody saw about two attractive people who wouldn't shut up. Kudos to director Richard Linklater for his refusal to submit to commercial considerations, but the first one was a total snooze. (Opens July 2)
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. Sirs, I knew Cheech and Chong. And you, John Cho and Kal Penn, are no Cheech & Chong. (Opens July 30)
The Manchurian Candidate. Why does the once-great director Jonathan Demme continue to feel the need to remake great movies badly even after the debacle that was The Truth About Charlie? There's nothing dated about the 1962 Frank Sinatra classic, so it seems unlikely that the presence of Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep will cause anybody to forget the venerated original. (Opens July 30)
Alien vs. Predator. Enough said. Paul W. S. Anderson directs; Sigourney Weaver wisely stays the hell away. (Opens Aug. 16)
Please, Dear Lord, No Garfield the Movie. Wasn't the heard-but-not-seen Bill Murray supposed to be immune from corruption by cartoon-derived studio trash? Oh, right: Space Jam. (Opens June 11)
White Chicks. FBI agents Shawn and Marlon Wayans disguise themselves as young, female and white socialites to foil a felonious activity. It will most likely be atrocious, but I'll probably wind up watching it a few dozen times on HBO (opens June 23)
Catwoman. Sure, Halle Berry will look amazing in her feline-inspired leather leotard, but Sharon Stone co-stars, which almost ensures instant B-movie status. Expect lots of stale Matrix-styled fighting. (Opens July 23)
The Village. Despite all the unmerited Hitchcock comparisons, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan followed up The Sixth Sense with two smoke-and-mirror movies that were all premise and no payoff. The trailer to his latest, set in 1897 Pennsylvania, promises much spookiness, but the most disturbing thing seems to be the presence of a very bored William Hurt. (Opens July 30)
Around the World in 80 Days. Jackie Chan, Macy Gray, Rob Schneider, a Schwarzenegger cameo and many hot-air balloons. Just try to stay away from this one. (Opens June 16)
Shall We Dance. When Hollywood gets its hands on a foreign film to “Americanize,” the results are usually abysmal, which suggests that this “retelling” of the 1996 Japanese hit will sacrifice the original's melancholy elegance for climactic uplift. In case you have any doubts, Jennifer Lopez is on hand to guarantee a lethal sap quotient. (Opens Aug. 6)
Exorcist: The Beginning. When it was reported that Paul Schrader had signed up to direct this prequel to the 1973 classic, horror fans had to reason to expect an interesting grafting of Schrader's Calvinist obsessions to the William Peter Blatty franchise. But Warner Brothers apparently disliked Schrader's theological ruminations enough to dump him and bring in Renny Harlin, the auteur who brought us The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Caveat emptor, kiddies. (Opens Aug. 20) ©