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Summer Movie Preview
by J. Robert Parks

I was moaning to my friend Garth last week about the film critic's lot--complaining about the plethora of sequels and outrageously bad movies that await me this summer. I know, I know. You're weeping for me. When my editor asked me to write up a summer movie preview, however, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Sure, there's a lot of crap coming out, but you can avoid all that. On the plus side, there are at least a dozen movies that have the potential to be good and maybe even great.

The first possibility is the Nicole Kidman vehicle, Moulin Rouge (June 1). Directed by Baz Luhrmann (best known for the postmodern Romeo+Juliet), this musical set in Paris in 1899 features loads of dancing, outrageous sets and costumes, and a "throw it all to the wind" attitude. While critics weren't exactly enthusiastic about it at Cannes, they all agreed the film had a lot of pizzazz.

The following week brings Ivan Reitman's (Ghostbusters) latest film, Evolution (June 8). Starring David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, and Orlando Jones, the preview makes it seem like a clever spoof of Men in Black. Admittedly, comedy is a hit-or-miss quality, and Reitman has had his share of misses (Six Days/Seven Nights and Father's Day); but Evolution looks smart and promising.

Two weeks later, The Fast and the Furious (June 22) races into theaters. A Romeo-and-Juliet-influenced tale about street youth gangs in L.A. and the souped-up cars they drive, this one could succeed on style alone. The car races look impressive, and the urban narrative is a nice alternative to the usual summer teen fare.

One of the biggest weekends of the year will be June 29 when Steven Spielberg's A.I. premieres. Adapted from a Stanley Kubrick story and starring Haley Joel Osment (the kid from The Sixth Sense), this is one of
the most anticipated movies of the year. It will be interesting to see how much Kubrick survives and how Spielberg's own much more humanist vision comes across.

A.I. isn't the only important movie opening that weekend, however. John Singleton returns to South Central L.A. with Baby Boy, reportedly a "follow-up" to his breakthrough film Boyz N the Hood. While the connection between this and his 1991 debut isn't clear yet, it's encouraging to see Singleton going back to the area he knows best.

July has three intriguing movie possibilities. The Score (July 13), a crime comedy starring Edward Norton, Robert De Niro, Angela Bassett, and Marlon Brando, also has the distinction of being directed by Frank Oz (What About Bob?). That the great Gary Farmer has a small role only adds to the excitement over what is a fantastic cast. Another comedy of note is America's Sweethearts (July 20), starring John Cusack, Julia Roberts, and Billy Crystal (who also co-wrote the script). Set on a movie press junket, the film promises lots of inside jokes for movie buffs and a healthy dose of romance for the couples among us. Finally, it's rare for a historical drama to be released in the middle of the summer, but Affair of the Necklace opens on July 27. Starring Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry), it's set around the time of the French Revolution as Swank's character searches for her royal heritage.

August is usually the time of year when studios dump movies even they think are awful, but there are a number of strong offerings scheduled for this year's "dog days." August 3 brings a new romantic comedy from Garry Marshall (Runaway Bride). Entitled The Princess Diaries, it's about a teenage girl who suddenly finds out that she's a princess. Hijinx ensue. Also that weekend is Rat Race, apparently an update of the classic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Woody Allen returns to the director's chair with another farce: Curse of the Jade Scorpion (Aug. 10). Then two of my favorite actors, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, team up in the romantic comedy Serendipity (Aug. 17). The following Friday is Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the latest Kevin Smith (Dogma) film, one that stars almost everyone who's been in any of his earlier films. And finally, David Mamet gives us another clever crime pic. This one's called Heist (Aug. 31), and it stars Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito. Admittedly, any of these movies could turn out to be dogs, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Speaking of dogs, one of the more appealing movies this summer might be the kids film Cats and Dogs (July 6). A combination of live action and animatronic animation, it has the intriguing premise of a war between the felines and canines fought right under our noses. I saw the preview a few weeks ago, and the buzz in the theater afterwards was palpable. Strangely, there are only two other big children's movies scheduled for this summer. Disney releases its latest animated spectacular, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, on June 15. Then, on Aug. 10, Osmosis Jones hits the theaters. It's about a "white blood cell cop who has to team up with a rookie cold tablet to fight off evil viruses in Bill Murray's body." If nothing else, it gets points for being original.

Heading up the age ladder slightly, three movies based on comic books and/or video games hit the big screen this season. The biggest of the bunch is Tomb Raider (June 15), with Angelina Jolie playing the buxom Lara Croft. Expect the theater to be packed with drooling 13-year-olds of all ages. And if Lara isn't the world's most perfect woman, you won't have to wait long for Final Fantasy (July 13), which, according to the film's press material, promises the epitome of the female gender. Fantasy, indeed. The third, and hopefully the best, of the trio is Ghost World, starring Thora Birch (American Beauty) and directed by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb).

Of course, it wouldn't be summer without sequels. How about: Dr. Doolittle 2 (June 22), Scary Movie 2 (July 6), Jurassic Park 3 (July 20), Planet of the Apes (July 27), Rush Hour 2 (Aug. 3), and American Pie 2 (Aug. 10). I'll admit I'm not looking forward to any of these, with the possible exception of Planet of the Apes (only because it's Tim Burton directing). As always, though, your mileage may vary.

Other movies that someone, if not yours truly, is looking forward to include the stupid comedies: What's the Worst That Could Happen? (June 1), starring Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito; The Animal (June 1), starring Rob Schneider and that adorable woman from the first Survivor; Pootie Tang (June 29), based on a Chris Rock character; and Legally Blonde (July 13), starring Reese Witherspoon as a dim-witted law student. The stupid teen movies: Crazy/Beautiful (June 29), starring the teen "It" girl of the moment Kirsten Dunst; and Summer Catch (Aug. 24). Stupid action movies: Swordfish (June 8), with John Travolta; Kiss of the Dragon (July 6), starring Jet Li; Rollerball (Aug. 3); and Ghosts of Mars (Aug. 24), starring Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge. Finally, stupid romances: Original Sin (Aug. 3), with Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas; and Captain Corelli's Mandolin (Aug. 17), with Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz.

Summer's also a time for the occasional re-release. This summer two old faves get dusted off for a trip to the cineplex. Get ready to be annoyed by all the fanboys quoting the jokes when Monty Python and the Holy Grail comes to town on June 15. Then, on Aug. 24, Francis Ford Coppola's great Apocalypse Now is released in a restored print and with 53 minutes of never-before-seen footage.

In the midst of all the hype and explosions, there are a few small movies that you'll want to keep an eye out for. This Friday Bread and Roses, Ken Loach's solid film about the unionization drive among L.A. custodians, opens. The Anniversary Party, a movie shot on digital video with an all-star indie cast, premieres June 22. Tom Twyker, the director of Run Lola Run, returns with his latest film, The Princess and the Warrior, on July 6. And the oft-delayed O, a contemporary take on Othello, finally sees the light of day on Aug. 24.

Of course, the real gems of Chicago's movie theaters are its art houses. This summer, the Music Box features the new film from the great Chinese director Zhang Yimou. Entitled The Road Home and winner of the Grand Prix at the Berlin Film Festival, it's about an old woman recalling how she met her now-deceased husband. Also on the list is Under the Sand, the new film from French director Francois Ozon. A re-release of Fellini's 1965 Juliet of the Spirits is also in the offering.

One of the most exciting developments in Chicago this season is the opening of the new Gene Siskel Film Center on the corner of Randolph and State. For those who've suffered on the old Film Center's seats, the thought of plush upholstery and state-of-the-art projection and sound is one to savor. The Film Center is also promising an expanded lineup. June shows off with a look at movies set in Chicago, including Call Northside 777, Medium Cool, Eight Men Out, and, of course, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In July, the Rohmer retrospective continues, including a week-long run of My Night at Maud's.

We wouldn't want to forget Facets and, in particular, their full-scale retrospective of the Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer (June 8-14). Well-known for his use of puppets and other objects, Svankmajer is one of the most original filmmakers working anywhere today. This retrospective features his four long films, including the brand-new Little Otik, and two programs of his mind-blowing shorts. I highly recommend them.

And, finally, there's Hyde Park's own Doc Films, which has a cracker-jack lineup set for the summer. But you'll have to wait a few weeks for that review. There's lots of potential at the movies this season and, if nothing else, there's always the air conditioning.
 

 
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