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Yahoo, Sidious: The biggest event of the summer movie season is the long-awaited 'Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith.'

Hiatus Status

The summer holidays are the only holidays for which the weather is worth the trouble of not going to work. This year, with the price of a gallon of gas spiraling every closer to the price of a venti latte, real vacations—get-far-away-from-it-all adventures involving multiple modes of fossil-fuel-consuming transportation—are probably out of the question except for pension-protected United Airlines executives.

Luckily, for the rest of us, there is more than enough to do to make summer in the valley and the Bay Area a three-month-plus bacchanal of musical, theatrical and cinematic pleasure.

This year, Metro's guide to all things summery includes a rundown of the season's best bets and musts-to-avoid at the local cineplex by critic Richard von Busack, music editor Todd Inoue's tip sheet (Caution: Wendy's joke ahead) to the top concerts in the region and theater writer Marianne Messina's survey of summer stage productions. To wrap up, we've assembled an exhaustive month-by-month roster of art and wine festivals, street fairs, family days, fireworks shows, holiday hoedowns and special happenings, from Memorial Day through the end of September—anything to distract us from worrying about Barry's rehab.

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Summer 2005 Guide
Movies
Music
Theater
Festivals

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Repeat After Me, My Career Is Over: Nicole Kidman casts a spell on Will Ferrell in 'Bewitched,' opening June 24.

Light-Saber Cats, Remakes and Cheap Thrills

From the nerdgasm of the 'Sith' to a big-screen 'Bewitched,' the summer movie season proves once again that Hollywood doesn't know the meaning of the term 'lowest common denominator'

By Richard von Busack

THE LONG-HOPED-FOR summer-box-office savior is no masterpiece, but unlike the last two episodes, Sith happens. Though tempted to the Dark Side by his enormous fortune, George Lucas decided to add some actual political commentary to Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (opening May 19 throughout the known universe).

Held at bay by Yoda, the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) foretells his plans for galactic domination with a genuine George W. Bush quote: "Either you're for us or against us!"

"Only a Sith speaks in such absolutes!" cries Yoda, shocked into better grammar for a change.

This most surprising moment in Episode III shows that there are some things even escapism can't escape. Lucas' epic films inflamed some all-too-easily inflamed imaginations. They spawned Star Wars weaponry, Ronald Reagan's deep thoughts about the Evil Empire and the names of Enron's imaginary subsidiary companies. So this last-minute identification of Bush's conquistador policies with the Dark Force is something of a real shock.

Revenge of the Sith is as episodic as its predecessors. The interplanetary scenes are once again pasted together with bizarrely shaped computerized wipes. Still, this keystone in the Star Wars series proceeds, in its own square-wheeled way, to an operatic point: the chancellor becoming the emperor, and the Jedi scattered from their temple.

If technology is what this way-too-sexless sextet is about, the tech side has improved dramatically since the last one. Episode III looks light-years better than its two predecessors. The computerized color palette has grown more sophisticated, yet more natural. Pity there was no technology advanced enough to repair Hayden Christensen's essential lack of mojo (apparently only evil can give you mojo, since Vader has plenty of it).

Super Saber

It is well known that Lucas roughed out in-progress screenings of the first Star Wars using stock footage of military fighter planes for the not-yet-ready outer-space battle scenes. Maybe he should have used excerpts from samurai movies to illustrate the acting style he wanted.

Once again, Lucas is stuck with a group of Anglo-American actors trying to impersonate the mannerisms of Japanese actors. Nobody does samurai like Japanese actors. No one else has the ability to emote such carefully regulated flickers of contempt or humor, or such perfect composure. No one else has such authority in their walk. Even the English can't walk that way without laughing at themselves.

Of the cast, none is so rigid as Natalie Portman, as smothered in her brocaded silks as a kyo doll. The Padme, who we kept hoping was going to pick up a light-saber or something, turns out to be a princess of the old school: a walking womb.

The dialogue is so astoundingly flat that the Bush quote fits in perfectly with the surrounding prose. Christensen and Portman warm each other with endearments that haven't been heard in a theater since the days when Victor Mature used to crush Gina Lollabrigida against his manly brisket.

The writing is so puerile that it is hard to praise Lucas for adding some breathing room in the movie between the hurling metal and the cataclysms. But let's praise him: there are actual moments where you can look at the surroundings. For instance, Lucas stops the show for a visit to a red-velvet-lined theater, where the future elite gather to contemplate helicopter-size soap bubbles.

Lucas stretched himself here with genuine scenes of intrigue, romance and espionage. Even so, they are just supplements to what he engineers best: space battleships broadsiding one another and the light-saber fights, the battles between feuding arc welders.

One especially electric swordfight stands out—the duel between Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan and a scuttling, skull-headed android named Gen. Grievous (the warlord shudders with coughing fits—a computer virus?).

The emperor is probably right. Resistance is futile. The Star Wars saga is made up of basically terrible movies, but it has achieved stature just by being around so long. The old movie Force is with these films; they are suffused with the personalities of everything that went before them—all those Errol Flynn and Flash Gordon matinees.

Even if you know better, you can't resist reverberating inside while watching the emperor knight his new apprentice: "From this day forward, you shall be known as Darth Vader!" The clunkiness just adds to the charm.


Four On the Floor: Chris Evans (from left), Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd fight injustice in 'The Fantastic Four,' opening July 8.

Epic Gestures

The rest of the summer film season should be just as drenched in spectacle in pursuit of a declining base of moviegoers willing to leave their DVD players and actually go out in public: Steven Spielberg's new version of War of the Worlds, with Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning (June 29), Batman Begins (June 17) and The Fantastic Four (July 8). In Batman, Christian Bale retrieves our hero from the clutches of that joker, Joel Schumacher; for premium nerdgasm, Batman Begins is also being released in IMAX.

As for The Fantastic Four, the original story has been given a Ben Grimm-style clobbering. The film is villained by an all-metal Victor Von Doom, who doesn't have his beloved Latveria to boss around. Bad timing for this long-delayed franchise to start, since George Lucas filched the idea for Lord Vader (cloaked, masked, scarred, armored, a misuser of magic and technology) from Von Doom years ago. Yet another superhero movie—Robert Rodriguez's Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl—is slated for June 10.

Madagascar (May 27) is the latest from Palo Alto's PDI and DreamWorks. It is appealingly animated and seriously undergagged. The animals are less animals that talk like human beings than they are celebrities standing around making animal jokes. The big names include Ben Stiller as a lion, Chris Rock as a street-wise zebra and Robin Williams as a lemur king (at least he has the pelt for the part). Valiant (Aug. 19) features a computer-animated carrier pigeon facing the Nazis in the big war.


Fear Here Now: Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor are stuck on 'The Island.' July 22.

Dead Movies Walking

As usual, horror and suspense form the backbone of the summer fare. The Island (July 22) finds Michael Bay directing a story of a future utopia where one Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan MacGregor) looks forward to a vacation, little knowing that he'll lose more than his luggage if he goes. (It co-stars Scarlett Johansson, who could use a vacation herself.)

Land of the Dead (June 24) is George Romero's third sequel to Night of the Living Dead; those trying to live in a gated, zombie-proof community include Dennis Hopper and the quite edible Asia Argento. Undead (July 1) follows up on the zombie theme, this time with a poisonous comet setting off zombieitis.

Dark Water (July 8) is Walter Salles' remake of the Japanese horror film, with Jennifer Connelly menaced by bad plumbing.

The summer's economically made, no-star horror flicks include Paul Schrader's Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist (May 20); the vintage Times Square-style French home-invasion shocker High Tension (June 3); and Night Watch (July 29), a Russian box-office success about an impending war between the forces of night and day.

The Devil's Rejects (July 22) is Rob Zombie's sequel to House of 1000 Corpses. Presumably, those who missed the first one won't really miss any of the many nuances, such as the fact that Zombie named most of his characters after Groucho Marx's nom de guerres; for instance, vintage bald-headed weirdo Syd Haig plays a gopher named "Captain Spaulding." Hurray, hurray, hurray.

Red Eye (Aug. 19) is a Hitchcockian tale by Wes Craven in which Rachel McAdams is trapped on a plane with a ruthless assassin (Cillian Murphy) who blackmails her into cooperation. The Cave (Aug. 26) features scuba divers Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut and the ineffable Piper Perabo avoiding a carnivorous underwater monster. Cry Wolf (Aug. 26) concerns an online hoax that takes on a life of its own.

Kevin Williamson culls the teenage population in Backwater (Aug. 26), a voodoo swamp movie. Also in the swamps: Kate Hudson, being slowly terrified by the Spanish moss in The Skeleton Key (Aug. 12). Lastly, The Woods (Sept. 2) has art-house fave Patricia Clarkson as the sinister headmistress of a remote girls' school.

Victory at Sequel

The summer film scene is also overloaded with the usual remakes, sequels and TV adaptations (hey, screenwriters deserve vacations, too).

The Honeymooners (June 10) puts Cedric the Entertainer in the Jackie Gleason role. Herbie: Fully Loaded (June 24) teams Lindsay Lohan with a talking VW that yearns to enter NASCAR. Richard Linklater's retake on The Bad News Bears (July 22) does over one of the most copied movies of all time.

Two summer movies that note the Bad News formula: Rebound (July 1), with Martin Lawrence as a basketball player teaching a class of rejects, and the remake of The Longest Yard (May 27), in which Adam Sandler organizes a team of lovable prison misfits.

Bewitched (June 24) delivers a pomo remake: a movie of TV's Bewitched is complicated when it turns out the actress cast to be Samantha is a true witch. Will Ferrell plays the male patsy to the actress portraying Samantha-—Nicole Kidman, who can't quite execute the nose wiggle as deftly as the lissome Elizabeth Montgomery.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (July 15) has Tim Burton doing Roald Dahl with Johnny Depp as the eccentric psychedelic sweetsmonger. The Dukes of Hazzard (Aug. 5) togs out Jessica Simpson in the famous Daisy Duke costume. Since Marlon Brando is dead, only Burt Reynolds could be found worthy enough to assay the role of Boss Hogg. The Pink Panther (Aug. 5) features Steve Martin pimping for the Legion of Honor by taking on the part of Inspector Clouseau.

Reality Movies

The summer's documentaries may provide a little respite to those who had enough of them crazy Duke boys the first time around. The Aristocrats (August) tells the history of the dirtiest joke ever created, as filmed by Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza. Interviewers include Hank Azaria, Drew Carey, Billy Connelly, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Jon Stewart, Fred Willard, Steven Wright—all weighing in on the subject of a long-running vile joke that comedians have told each other backstage ever since the gaslight era.

Murderball (July) documents cutthroat games of wheelchair rugby played by quadriplegics. Tell Them Who You Are (June) looks at filmmakers Haskell and Mark Wexler, father and son; the father was present at the creation of much of the most exciting American cinema of the 1970s; the son is trying to pin down his father as an interview subject.

May 27's Mad Hot Ballroom aims to be the Spellbound of children's ballroom dancing. Rock School (June 3) similarly aims to be the Mad Hot Ballroom of children's rock & roll; in a real-life version of The School of Rock, talented Philadelphia kids are coached by mercurial musician Paul Green.

Shake Hands With the Devil (June 10) profiles Roméo Dellaire, a Canadian general with the U.N., who was a helpless witness to the slaughter in Rwanda. (Dellaire was dramatized, and none too well, by Nick Nolte in the recent Hotel Rwanda.)

Risks Worth Taking

Having seen the milestones of the summer season, what sounds especially novel? Weekend by weekend: Greg Araki's controversial Mysterious Skin (May 27), a film about amnesia and pedophilia. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (June 3) suffers from a terrible title, but it previews well and has a talented director, TV vet Ken Kwapis, a regular hand on Grounded for Life, a sitcom that was too shrewd to live.

While Lords of Dogtown (also June 3) is the fictionalization of a superb documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, this cradle-of-skateboarding drama is similarly directed by a real talent, Thirteen's Catherine Hardwicke.

Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle (June 10) will provide a smart alternative to Mr. and Mrs. Smith (June 10) with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, in what looks like this year's Gigli.

For smarter lethal romance, try My Summer of Love (June 17). Pawel Pavlikovski's film is so intimate that's it's hard to believe it was directed by a man. My Summer of Love concerns the affair between an upper-class culture vulturette and a scratchy small-town girl (the excellent Nathalie Press), set in a backward town during a hot English summer, with appropriately provocative music by Alison Goldfrapp.

Deep Blue (July 22) promises the best in underwater photography; it is the work of Alastair Fothergill and Andy Byatt of TV's Blue Planet. The new Terry Gilliam, The Brothers Grimm, has a tentative July 29 opening date, but expect postponement—it's a fictionalization of the Grimm Brothers' folkloric trek through Germany, with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as the story collectors.

Broken Flowers (Aug. 5) is the new Jim Jarmusch, with Bill Murray as a crisis-stricken bachelor who decides to revisit the women in his life (Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone and Tilda Swinton). The Constant Gardener (Aug. 26) brings together a pair no one could have dreamt of—writer John Le Carré and director Fernando (City of God) Meirelles—in a murder mystery set in Kenya. And Sept. 2 sees the release of John Dahl's The Great Raid, a World War II actioner about the 6th Ranger Battalion's rescue of 500 GIs from the Cabanatuan prison camp.

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

The Stanford Theater will be closed for the next couple of months for renovation. Meanwhile, there will be a complete (that is, four-film) centennial retrospective of Jean Vigo playing May 28-29 at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, with an as always not-to-be-missed chance to see L'Atalante again on a big screen.

And for the complete opposite of Vigo's dreamlike cinema: Major Dundee: The Extended Version (May 27 at the Cameras in San Jose), Sam Peckinpah's 1966 Apache-fighting Western, which was originally treated by its studio much like the Apaches treated their prisoners.

In June, the annual Ann Arbor Film Festival brings in a selection of the best of new 16 mm film to Foothill College. Also in June, UC-Berkeley Pacific Film Archives has scheduled a Studio Ghibli retro, with the animated works leading up to Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke and reprising the subtitled version of Howl's Moving Castle in anticipation of the Pixar-sponsored English-language version.



Errors in Review Have You

While my boyfriend and I were enjoying lattes this morning at a cafe, the review of Revenge of the Sith caught my eye (Cover Story, "Summer Guide," May 18). We've both already seen this movie multiple times, and I am always curious to read reviews of it.

I was left wondering if your reviewer had actually watched the movie or if the review was cobbled together from a collection of Internet rumors. The following passage contains multiple errors:

"Though tempted by the dark side by his enormous fortune, George Lucas decided to add some actual political commentary to Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith, opening May 19.

Held at bay by Yoda, the emperor (Ian McDiarmid) foretells his plans for galactic domination with a genuine George W. Bush quote: 'Either you're for us or against us!'

'Only a Sith speaks in absolutes!' replies Yoda, shocked into excellent grammar."

1) The emperor was held at bay by Count Dooku, not Yoda.

2) That line is spoken much later in the film, and by Anakin Skywalker, not the emperor. Also, it is misquoted here. Anakin does not directly quote George W. Bush, he says, "Or you are my enemy." And he's not speaking of a plan for galactic domination. He is speaking to Obi Wan, whom he fears has turned against him.

3) The line "Only a Sith speaks in absolutes!" is spoken by Obi Wan Kenobi, not Yoda. Who, it may be noted, is never shocked into excellent grammar.

I hope that this review is not indicative of sloppy journalism in other areas of your paper.

Kristen DelValle
Lucasfilm


Richard von Busack responds:

Yoda gets into a fight with the emperor. Drawing a lightsaber on him, he holds the emperor at bay. I wasn't talking about the earlier scene where the emperor (who was then a mere chancellor, remember) was kidnapped.

The correspondent is right that it was Darth vs. Obi-Wan rather than Yoda vs. the emperor when the quote was uttered, but the sense of quote is correct. What is the actual quote? Maybe one of the fans can nail this down. As for the rest, the correspondent is splitting hairs. Implicit in Anakin's choice of the Dark Side is his endorsement of the emperor's plan for galactic domination. I remembered Yoda saying that line instead of Anakin/Darth, but after that nigh-three-hour sensory battering I was lucky I could remember my name. I also apologize for saying there was a scene where Darth Vader flushed pages of the Koran down the space toilet.

Read the review, and you see that I actually endorsed this movie, soft-hearted fool that I am. I am pleased to have my memory refreshed by an actual Lucasfilm employee. Time and space prevent going over the numerous glitches in the Star Wars saga, but there are plenty of people on the Internet who can take care of that little matter. The one question I have for someone who works there is, how could they create a future that was so full of robots and spaceships, and still not have one single ultrasound for a pregnant woman?


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From the May 18-24, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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