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[whitespace] Chicken Run
Pair Shaped: Two pestered poultry stars make a break for it in 'Chicken Run.'

Two By Two

This year's summer movies come to screens joined at birth

By Richard von Busack

REMEMBER THAT SUMMER when two killer-comet movies vied for the same audience? That twinning effect returns with a vengeance this year. To start with, we have two movies about extraterrestrials hunting down the last tragic remnants of what once were the proud denizens of planet Earth. (A grim warning of snout apparel to come: John Travolta's alien visage is saddled with a nose leash.) Battlefield Earth (now playing) shares the same big-flick season with Titan A.E. (opens June 16), in which a different set of bad aliens evict us from Earth, and no, we don't get the cleaning deposit back.

There are two movies by elderly 1960s stars: Clint Eastwood's new directorial effort, Space Cowboys (Aug. 4), propelled by the John Glenn redux, concerns old-time astronauts going after a dangerous chunk of space rubbish (perhaps an old print of Pink Cadillac). Space Cowboys opens the same weekend as Robert Redford's metaphorical film about a champion golfer, The Legend of Bagger Vance (Aug. 4).

We'll get a double bill of Shakespeare--Hamlet (May 12) and Love's Labour's Lost (June 9)--and the new Coen Brothers film, Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou (late summer), will be supplemented by a rerelease of their cult hit Blood Simple (July 7).

Some of the more noteworthy two-fers follow:

Ethan Hawke and Julia Stiles give 'Hamlet' a modern look.

Hamlet (May 26 at the Camera Cinemas in San Jose) Michael Almereyda's skeletonized but consistently interesting midtown Manhattan version of the play stars Ethan Hawke. That it comes so quickly in the wake of Kenneth Branagh's version is an indecency equal to Gertrude's remarriage so soon after her husband's death. However, Almereyda's intelligent approach makes up for his hubris--I left the theater thinking that there ought to be a new film version of Hamlet every year. Bill Murray as Polonious is an inspired choice. Liev Schreiber, who did a much-praised Hamlet in New York, turns up as a square, slow Laertes--definitely Polonious' son. In a cameo is the terrific Steve Zahn (of Happy, Texas) as Rosencrantz, shouting out his conniving lies to Hamlet over the noise of a loud downtown bar.

Double feature it with:

Love's Labor's Lost (June 9) Branagh's film version of this comedy is the first ever American screen adaptation, unless you count the 1934 Three Stooges short "Women Haters," the trio's all-verse opus about a similar group of bachelors vowing never to be nose-leashed, I mean led by the nose, by the frauleins again. Branagh's version is set on the eve of World War II. He co-stars with Alicia Silverstone. Directors Stanley Donen and Martin Scorsese helped bring this film to term; Donen's aid might have been especially helpful since it's Branagh's first musical.

Jesus' Son (June 16) Billy Crudup keeps getting better. He's grown from the unobtrusive support he gave the larger-than-life Woody Harrelson in The Hi-Lo Country. He supplies the voice of the hero in the neglected animated film Princess Mononoke and recently showed up as the ghost-haunted congressman in the neglected Waking the Dead. Based on Denis Johnson's Raymond Carver-like stories, Jesus' Son stars Crudup in a hideo-comic vein as a drugged-out Midwesterner of the 1970s. It's the best movie about the crashed-up life since Drugstore Cowboy.

Double feature it with:

Loser (July 21) stars Jason Biggs of American Pie (embodying the good values summed up in Beck's famous song) as a socially retarded NYU student.

Loser Jason Biggs and Dora Diamond hope to avoid the label 'Loser.'

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Release date not set). A new print of Luis Buñuel's masterful 1972 comedy of Tantalus-style discomfort. The action consists of nothing more than a series of busted dinner parties that a group of privileged French diners keep attending, even without any real hope of actually eating. The antihero is that affable, well-mannered dog Don Raphael (Fernando Rey), Parisian ambassador from the highly unfortunate banana republic of Miranda. The film has the rich, free-flowing humor of underground comic books and Monty Python episodes, but it has restraint and class, too. It represents a unique kind of comedy that died with Buñuel. Buñuel showed similar class when he received the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for it. The elderly director aggravated the Academy by thanking them publicly for accepting his bribe.

Double feature it with:

The equally surreal Tammy Faye Baker, heroine of the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye (July 28), all about the life of the flamboyantly made-up televangelist, whose wild ride ended in the courts and the hospitals.

Grass (June) A new documentary assembled from a century's worth of anti-cannabis propaganda. It shows how a weed smoked by the poor became the devilish herb of Satan and a schedule-one drug, a killer that threatens to cook the fragile eggshell minds of our children like a short-order cook would fry a pair of sunny-side-ups. At the very least, Ron Mann's documentary is a chance to see your tax dollars at work (why do you think they call us dopes?).

Double feature it with:

The remake of that 1974 drive-in movie that went so well with rag-weed pot. Gone in 60 Seconds (June 9) is the Angelina Jolie/Nicolas Cage remake of a picture originally produced by city of Carson automobile recycler and auteur H.B. Halicki, a man who had a brilliant solution for what to do with his surplus of several hundred Detroit gas-hog junkers--namely smash them up and film the results. Like Halicki, the remake's producer, Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, et al.), certainly knows a little something about the selling of junk.

'Gone in 60 Seconds'
Speed Demons: Angelina Jolie and Nicolas Cage hope that their wannabe action hit 'Gone in 60 Seconds' lasts longer than that at the box office.

Cecil B. DeMented (Aug. 11) Tired of seeing a favorite actress starring in bad films, radical cinéastes kidnap a chronically misused actress (Melanie Griffith) and force her to act in their own underground Fassbinder-inspired films. Also stars Stephen Dorff and Ricki Lake and, since it's a John Waters film, Patty Hearst.

Double feature it with:

Steal This Movie (Aug. 25) with the always-wonderful Vincent D'Onofrio as that man for all seasons, Abbie Hoffman. It tells the story of the famous Yippie's misadventures at the Democratic Convention in 1968.

Groove (June 9) San Francisco filmmaker Greg Harrison's modest tale of an all-night dance party is the real E-ticket event of the summer. I can't say how authentic it is to the ethos and experience of rave music, but when it comes to the realm of drugs and loud music, some things never change. It's a modest feature, short and sweet. For a while I even imagined I could tell the difference in styles between the various DJs, including DJs Forest Green, Digweed and DJ Pollywog, who has real star quality.

Double bill it with:

Human Traffic (now playing), the other rave movie this summer, about the Telletubbyishly named Jip, LuLu, Koop, Nina and Muff, who all live together on a double-decker bus--wait, I'm lying again, in various squalid flats in Wales, working awful jobs and waiting for the chance to take drugs and dance around. When will they learn? Justin Kerrigan directs.

The Legend of Bagger Vance Will Smith and Matt Damon tee up in 'The Legend of Bagger Vance.'

X-Men (July 14) We'll watch them fret over whether they have what it takes to be an X-Man, as they did in each and every issue of the comic book. We'll wonder why Wolverine seems to be dressed in one of Michael Jackson's discarded leather jumpsuits from the "Bad" video. Oh, who am I trying to impress with this sniping? Naturally, I can't wait either. Some of the allure: Ian McKellan as Magneto, a concentration-camp survivor who considers himself the messiah of the Homo superior; direction by Brian Seltzer, late of The Usual Suspects; a tasty subtext waiting to be drawn out of the plot about the political persecutions of the mutants, mirrored in current rounds of the ancient American sport of witch hunting.

Double feature it with:

Chicken Run (June 23) Animators Peter Lord and Nick Park, of Wallace and Grommit, have crafted a full-length film about similar persecution of misunderstood chickens in a hatchery where, if you don't lay, you're soup. Voices include Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, Jane Horrocks and Timothy Spall.

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From the May 18-24, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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