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All Strung Out: Can 'Spider-Man 2' snare the superhero audience this summer?

Sun Screens

Monsters, paranoia and revealing documentaries heat up the summer movie releases

By Richard von Busack

AMID WHAT IS going to be a turbulent summer, blown wild by political rhetoric, it's consoling to see so many old-time summer-movie faces: Phileas Fogg and Frankenstein, Godzilla and Helen of Troy, and the Stepford Wives and the Manchurian Candidate. Escapism abounds, but a number of populist documentaries reflect the struggle outside the theaters all summer.

When the smoke cleared from the San Francisco International Film Festival recently, what were most talked about were the documentaries. Not just the hit Super Size Me but also Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (opens July 16), a remarkably intimate look at a band at the midlife breaking point, directed by the Paradise Lost team of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky.

No one knows for sure what the opening date is for Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie that Miramax's parent company, Disney, balked at distributing because Moore draws links between unsavory Saudis and George W. Bush. While we're waiting, The Corporation (June 4) could turn out to be the most successful documentary since Bowling for Columbine; it's already a phenomenal success in Canada. This strangely hopeful film examines the history and personality of the corporation, a subject that paralyzes the average person with dread. Interviewees include (of course) Noam Chomsky and an unusually thoughtful Michael Moore, as well as Milton Friedman and Royal Dutch Shell chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart.

The Yes Men (Aug. 27), the Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance, concerns two performance artists who took up a prankster career posing as representatives of the World Trade Organization.

Those who prefer their paranoia fictionalized can hang on for Jonathan Demme's unusually well-cast and timely remake of The Manchurian Candidate (July 30). The evil Maoists have been transposed to "The Manchurian Corporation," and Denzel Washington steps in for Frank Sinatra. Paramount pushed up the film for release before the elections. The joke's on the studio if the president cancels the elections, isn't it?

Of the summer's imported films, Love Me If You Dare (May 28), should be a true art-house date movie success of Amélie proportions, though to me it looked like a two-hour-long Skittles commercial. (The French title, which translates to "Child's Play," suggests the film's essential juvenility.) A pair of wacky rejects--a poor Polish émigré and an as-good-as-parentless French boy--embark on a series of dares that become more and more romantically extreme as they age.

Most of the above movies will be turning up at the new Camera 12 Cinemas complex in downtown San Jose. The multiplex is set to have its grand opening June 18, taking over the empty UA, a multiplex they help put out of business. The goldfish swallows the whale.

For revivals who cling to the idea that films really were better in the old days, the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto will shortly be announcing its always-busy summer schedule of silents and vintage movies. And in July, the always first-rate Silent Movie Festival returns to the Castro Theater in San Francisco.

At Santana Row, the summer-long Picnic, Popcorn and Picture Show free series includes Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man (June 30); that's the very night Spider-Man 2 opens, and our hero commences his life-or-death struggle with Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina). As they lounge in their smoking jackets, with the Debussy and the smoke from $10 cigars wafting around their leather wing chairs, true Spider-Man fans must allow that Otto "Dr. Octopus" Octavius was the one villain who could really go after Spider-Man wherever he crawled, and thus he must be counted his greatest nemesis.

Throughout the summer, Santana Row's alfresco film series includes Pirates of the Caribbean (May 19), The Addams Family (June 16), Seabiscuit (June 23), Moonstruck (July 28) and A Fish Called Wanda (Aug. 11). The garden-surrounded screen at Santana Row is close to all modern conveniences, as well as after-movie pie at the Flames coffee shop.

Monster Mash

The summer monster-movie season that began with Van Helsing continues with Alien v. Predator (Aug. 13). This long-delayed installment in the Alien franchise finds the evil mansquid in a bout against the Predator, a low-rent extraterrestrial palooka.

The original Japanese Gojira (Godzilla) of 1954 opens in late May for a 50th anniversary date. Those who think "rubber suit" when they hear the name Godzilla will be shocked by the poignancy of Ishiro Honda's movie, a serious protest against nuclear testing. It boasts a human-interest plot that balances--and almost eclipses--the king of monsters.

If you want chuckles instead of tears with your mammoth reptiles, wait until Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchids (Aug. 27). This time, the snakes are infesting Borneo, hopefully played by the Descanso Gardens in L.A., where the first Anaconda was filmed.

The most fiber-free of this summer's sci-fi offerings is a wacky Disney version of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days (June 16), with ace British comedian Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People) as Phileas Fogg and Jackie Chan in the Passepartout role.

Coogan's director in 24 Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom, helms a teaming of Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton in Code 46 (Aug. 6), a dystopic future romance about the liaison between a married man and a forger of identification papers.

I, Robot features Will Smith as the android-hating detective who learns Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics the hard way (July 16). The remake of 1975's The Stepford Wives (June 11) is played for comedy by director Frank Oz. Star Nicole Kidman is always at her best in macabre material.

Science fiction or science fact? as Paul Frees used to intone. In The Day After Tomorrow (May 28), nature has its globally warmed day of wrath: 250 mph tornadoes paddle Los Angelenos with their own Angelene billboards, and tidal waves and glaciers cancel the Long Island Ferry. Watching the fun are Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, the talented Emmy Rossum (of Songcatcher) and, as the doom-saying scientist, Ian Holm. And reluctant world-saver Donnie Darko returns in a director's cut of the cult film.

Sky Captain in the World of Tomorrow has been booted to Sept. 17, which is a disappointment; I loved the previews, in which CGI has been melded into flesh to re-create the look of old Fleischer Brothers Superman cartoons.

Summer 2004 Guide
Concert Highlights
Concert List


Soul Plane
(May 28) Afro-Airplane! featuring Method Man, D. L. Hughley, Kevin Hart and Tom Arnold as ballast.

(May 28) At a Christian high school, an impregnated student (Jena Malone) faces the scorn of born-again mean girls, but she's rescued by a pack of rejects.


(June 4) Feature film about the making of the proto black-action film, 1971's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song ("Rated X by an all-white jury!"); a father/son collaboration by Melvin and Mario Van Peebles.

The Chronicles of Riddick
(June 11) In other words, Pitch Black 2, with Vin Diesel as an escaped convict who learns of his origins on a sword-and-sorcery planet of the future. ("It's Lord of the Rings in Space," attests Diesel.) Judi Dench is in it for a cameo.

Dodgeball: A True Underground Story
(June 18) Little guys rally against the construction of a huge chain gym run by the supercilious Ben Stiller.

Garfield: The Movie
(June 11) Cats are funny, cartoons are funny, and even the name Garfield is funny, and yet ... Bill Murray--perhaps needing a little Suntory at the end of the day--does the voice of the morbidly obese 3-D animated cat.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
(June 4) Harry is marked for death by the mad escaped sorcerer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). The film is based on the best book of the series, with its Halloween tones and its demonlike Dementors lurking about. The best news still: the franchise's former director, Chris Columbus, has been replaced by someone with an adult sensibility: Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá Tambíen).

Napoleon Dynamite
(June 11) Twenty-four-year-old newcomer Jared Hess' comedy about the Pee-wee Hermanesque Idaho kid who wants to be a champion milk-tasting judge.

A Slipping Down Life
(June) Lili Taylor stars as a depressed music fan who falls for a rock star (Guy Pearce); it's based on Ann Tyler's novel.

The Story of the Weeping Camel
(June 18) In the Gobi Desert, catastrophe strikes when a camel refuses to nurse its calf. Mongolia's import for the Oscars shows a world little seen onscreen.

The Terminal
(June 18) Steven Spielberg's newest features Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski, a stateless Eastern European stranded for months in JFK airport, whose life of waiting is enlivened by Catherine Zeta-Jones, even as he's pestered by an airport official (Stanley Tucci).

Two Brothers
(June 25) "Tigers are neat. Tigers are fierce. Tigers have teeth and claws that pierce," said the poem by Hobbes the Tiger. Not just claws that pierce, but Guy Pearce turns in this live-action movie about a pair of tiger cubs separated at birth.

White Chicks
(June 25) The Wayans Brothers, Shawn and Marlon, play FBI agents who have to disguise themselves as prissy white women.

Photograph by Doane Gregory

Feline Wiles: Halle Berry makes a very sleek 'Catwoman.'


Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
(July 9) Star/co-writer Will Ferrell plays a polyester-clad news anchorman of the 1970s who wars with a rising female reporter (Christina Applegate).

Before Sunset
(July 2) Richard Linklater's sequel to his haunting Before Sunrise, the Vienna romance between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy.

The Bourne Supremacy
(July 23) Retired and in hiding secret agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is suspected of having assassinated a high official in the Chinese government. Supposedly, it's much closer to Robert Ludlum's book this time; co-stars Brian Cox, Joan Allen and lots of fast little cars careening into one another.

A Cinderella Story
(July 16) Modern-dress version, for laughs, with Hilary Duff as a put-upon high school student and Jennifer Coolidge as the stepmother.

(July 23) Halle Berry as the nefarious criminal. No sign of Batman. Why?

Cheer Up
(July 23) Al Gore's roommate Tommy Lee Jones as a Texas Ranger who disguises himself as a cheerleading coach at the University of Texas.

The Clearing
(July 2) Willem Dafoe plays a desperate kidnapper who has snatched a Pittsburgh millionaire (Robert Redford).

Garden State
(July 30) To be sold as this year's The Station Agent. Andrew "Large" Largeman (Zach Braff, who wrote and directed) goes off his meds and hangs out with his New Jersey neighbors--including Natalie Portman, Ian Holm and Method Man.

King Arthur
(July 7) Jerry Bruckheimer produced this post-Roman pre-Anglo-Saxon version, with an eye toward historical accuracy. Mud, blood and swords, in short. Clive Owen plays the once-and-future king and Keira Knightley is his unfaithful queen.

(July 30) The Hood (Ben Kingsley) attempts to steal a squad of futuristic aircraft. Can Bill Paxton and Anthony Edwards top the acting of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's marionettes in the original 1966 Thunderbirds Are Go? Certainly, and I am actually Edmund Wilson.

The Village
(July 30) Joaquin Phoenix and Sigourney Weaver are denizens in an Early American village, where the citizens are in an uneasy truce with unearthly, perhaps devilish night creatures in the woods. Night Shyamalan--an "M." no more--directs.


(Aug. 6) Tom Cruise shows up as a hit man who hijacks a cab; the hack (Jamie Foxx) is forced to drive his lethal passenger on his appointed rounds. Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett Smith and Javier Bardem co-star; Michael Mann directs.

Danny Deckchair
(August) Miranda Otto and Rhys Ivans (the Lithgowian nice-guy in Once Upon a Time in the Midlands) in a fictional story of a lawn chair/helium balloon pilot who becomes famous. Director Jeff Balsmeyer is a longtime storyboard artist turned director.

Open Water
(August) The harrowing true-life story of a vacationing couple on a skin-diving trip, mistakenly abandoned by their tour hosts in shark-infested seas.

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From the May 19-25, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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