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[whitespace] 'Evolution'
Attack of the Blockbusters: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Seann William Scott and Orlando Jones of 'Evolution' stare in amazement at the flaming turkeys threatening Earth this summer.

I Ching, Ka Ching

Can an ancient oracular text predict the hits and misses of the summer-movie season? Flip the coins and see

By Richard von Busack

IN THE END, all summer movie trailers are cut the same way: a necklace of explosions, a flash of images, Dan Aykroyd, a snatch of Motown, a gross gag, a falsely delayed ending, the "Wait for it!" ... and then the biggest explosions at the very end.

Even having seen the trailer, how can you tell if the movie will be worth the ticket? Simple: use the 2,000-year-old oracular cheat-sheet known as The Book of Changes, a.k.a. The I Ching. The book enjoyed its Western heyday when hippies used to throw it ("Out the window," suggested the Firesign Theater) to discover the hexagrams that would determine the flow of their day. Certainly the I Ching is due for a comeback.

The divination is more scientifically accurate than flipping a coin, because you're flipping three coins. (Another method is to toss yarrow-stalks to check the odd-even patterns that make up the hexagrams. But the earwigs got my yarrow this year. I know, everyone says that. "The earwigs got my yarrow, the earwigs got my yarrow, alas, lamentations." The people cry for relief at the top of their lungs, and the president does nothing.)

Is it sacrilege to use this ancient Taoist text to consider the outcome of frivolous summer entertainment? Can a Westerner--especially this particular Westerner, whose slouch can only be compared to the permanent landward tilt of a Monterey cypress--truly understand this ancient text?

One must reply sagely: the I Ching discusses matters of fortune. Money talks, and these coming big-screen opuses all cost enough to make an ancient Chinese emperor sit up and take notice.

In alphabetical order, with useful advice from the Richard Wilhelm translation, they are:

A.I. (June) The trailers float in with such chiffony softness, whiteness and vagueness as to rival old-time TV ads for feminine hygiene products. Trembling New Age tones vibrate in the background (the Dalai Lama playing water glasses at a talent show). Steven Spielberg's newest--the title is short for "Artificial Intelligence"--mugs Pinocchio just as Hook eviscerated Peter Pan. Spooky Haley Joel Osment, eyes augmented to an eerie sapphire blue, stars as a cyborg boy who pleads, "I want to be real."

Jude Law, of already superhuman prettiness, co-stars as a grownup artificial kid who helps our hero. Made up as a living toy, Law has pink blush on his cheeks and a hairdo like the Bob's Big Boy hamburger mascot--always a razor-thin line between the cute and the uncanny.

The Forecast: #15 "Modesty"
"When the sun is at its zenith, it must, according to the law of heaven, turn toward its setting."

The Interpretation: Empire of the Setting Sun = Spielberg? Will this be another case of Spielberg borne ceaselessly back into the days of the kiddie matinees of his youth?

Angel Eyes (May 18) Jennifer Lopez, selfishly hiding her chassis under a bulletproof vest, plays a Chicago cop haunted by a mysterious figure named Catch (James Caviezel).

"Who are you? Who are you," Lopez repeats, until one wants to shout, "Oh, for God's sake, he's unshaven, he's pale and he's wearing a trench coat. Didn't you see Wings of Desire? He's a damn angel, isn't he?" Thanks to Wim Wenders, we imagine angels as depressed-looking scruffs. With all of those raincoats, mufflers and stubble, Heaven must look like the balcony at an old-time 42nd Street grind house.

The Forecast: #36 "Darkening of the Light"

The Interpretation: In reference to a movie, this forecast needs no interpretation.

Evolution (June 8) Hostile aliens pelt earth with DNA-laden meteors that change into critters that evolve real fast--going through all the stages of life on earth within a few days. (David Duchovny, in his usual Eeyore-like Mulderan torpor: "It's too amazing to even contemplate it. It's like they're evolving.") Orlando Jones gets an alien bug up his ass that the doctors propose to extract without lubrication, leading to much girlish shrieking by Jones. "Play that Funky Music, White Boy" on the soundtrack. Pterodactyl attacks shopping mall.

The Forecast: #25 "Innocence/The Unexpected"
"He who departs from innocence, what does he come to? Heaven's will and blessing do not go with his deeds."

The Interpretation: Considering the coming attraction's easily sourced mix of highly profitable films--especially Men in Black and director Ivan Reitman's own Ghostbusters--we can presume it wasn't an innocent love of storytelling that drew the director here.

From Hell (Summer) Detective Johnny Depp vs. Jack the Ripper, based on the Eddie Campbell/Alan Moore graphic novel. Heather Graham co-stars as a Whitechapel pavement-princess, along with Ian Holm (our villain) and Robbie Coltrane, apparently as a Lestrade-like policeman.

The Forecast: #26 "The Taming Power of the Great"
"The superior man acquaints himself with many sayings of antiquity/and many deeds of the past in order to strengthen his character thereby."

The Interpretation: Since Moore is a devout Victorianist, From Hell promises an all too historically accurate look at the Ripper's rampage.

Ghost World (Aug. 3) Based on Dan Clowes' subtle, strange, sometimes wrenching graphic novel about the wedge between two odd-duck teenage female friends during the course of an alienating summer. Actor/knife-fighter Steve Buscemi and Thora Birch co-star; directed by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb).

The Forecast: #58, "The Joyous"

The Interpretation: Very favorable as these cryptic oracles go. "Success ... the superior man joins with his friends for discussion." Expect some mulling-over sessions in the parking lot afterward.

Moulin Rouge (May 18) From the extreme costumes and the artificial sets, it seems to be a Joel Schumacher Batman movie. Nicole Kidman (playing vintage '60s Batman villainette Marsha, Queen of Diamonds?) is powdered and rhinestoned to the max. She sings, nay, proclaims, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" with world-stopping Andrew Lloyd Webberian portency. The music segues into a croaked-from-the-grave version of the Police's "Roxanne" addressed to Kidman's Satine the Coquette, urging her, in the words of the immortal Sting, "not to sell her body to the night."

This minx of the 1800s is courted by the shy but poor poet Ewan McGregor, painted by Toulouse-Lautrec and rented by the rich. The legend of Paris' famous turn-of-the-century nightclub is Dagwood-sandwiched with modern music (by Pink, Beck and others), the Orpheus legend and the oft-told story of Camille.

The Forecast: #24: "Return" or "The Turning Point"
"The kings of antiquity closed the passes/at the time of solstice. Merchants and strangers did not go about/and the ruler/did not travel through the provinces."

The Interpretation: What the ...? Um, the solstice referred to in the above is winter, and last winter is when this film was originally slated to open. Buz Luhrmann's films since Strictly Ballroom haven't been for the sophisticated. The preview installs the special dread of being crushed under a load of sequins as if buried by a winter's avalanche.

Pearl Harbor (May 25) How do you make an upbeat movie about Pearl Harbor? Simple: revive the plot of 1929's Wings with the two daredevil pilots (Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett) and the nurse (Clara Bow in the original; Kate Beckinsale here). Co-stars Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight as FDR and Dan Aykroyd (presumably not playing Tojo). The ad: Remember, it was an end to our age of innocence, which means we weren't innocent in the Reagan era, Vietnam, the 1950s, etc. We were, apparently, innocent enough to be playing baseball at 6am on a Sunday morning when the planes arrived. "It's not over until the plucky little kid pumps his fist in the air and yells, "Yes!"--Matt Groening's law of Summer Movies. "Plucky Little Kid" played by Cuba Gooding Jr.

The Forecast: #10 "Treading" or "Conduct"
"The superior man discriminates between high and low, and thereby fortifies the thinking of the people."

The Interpretation: Experience with the cinema oeuvre of producer Jerry Bruckheimer--Top Gun, Coyote Ugly--gives the superior film viewer fairer warning than Hawaii got on Dec. 7.

Planet of the Apes (July 2) Mark Wahlberg represents the human race against a civilization of intelligent gorillas--particularly the humongous Michael Clark Duncan as a general. Helena Bonham-Carter co-stars as a comely, open-minded chimp; expect director Tim Burton is set to bring out the hitherto only closeted beastiality angle in this long-running series.

The Forecast: #41 "Decrease"
"Decrease combined with sincerity brings about supreme good fortune."

The Interpretation: On the one hand, the ape-saga's power has been decreased through sequel after sequel. On the other hand, director Burton is the kind of sincere fan serious enough to puzzle out the depths in the story. There is a law of cinema: whether the movie is Rules of the Game or Robot Monster, a guy in a gorilla suit always improves the story.

Dr. Doolittle 2 (June 22), Scary Movie 2 (July 4), Jurassic Park III (July 18), Rush Hour 2 (Aug. 3), American Pie 2 (Aug 10), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Clerks 5, in a manner of speaking; Aug. 10)

The Forecast: #21 "Biting Through"
"Unqualified harshness and excitement would be too violent in meting out punishment; unqualified clarity and gentleness would be too weak."

The Interpretation: Plainly advice to the mainstream critics who gave too easy a grade to these franchisees on their first outings, and have only themselves to blame for their return.

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From the May 17-23, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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