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The Aisle Seat Summer Movie Preview

by Andy Dursin

So, here we are again. Sitting on the threshold of a summer that promises to be filled with an eclectic group of movies--the usual blockbusters, crowd-pleasing sleepers, and all sorts of other films that will alternately surprise or disappoint. Hollywood studios stake their claim on a specific summer release date often years in advance, and the success or failure of a studio often relies solely on its performance during the high-stakes months of June, July and August. Of course, it's also a time when we get movies targeted to specific age groups and, therefore, are more strictly "commercial" than mainstream releases the rest of the year. Witness last summer's bland concoctions, MEN IN BLACK and THE LOST WORLD, both of which raked in cash from vacationing school children but registered barely a blip on the critical scale.

This summer, it's obvious to point out these sure-to-be-hyped blockbusters, and we can only hope they live up to their potential more than recent overblown media events like, for example, the final episode of SIENFELD.

As we did last Holiday season, I have brooded (well, not a whole lot, but a little) over the glut of "Summer Movie Preview" articles that have been appearing in publications and newspapers around the country, and have come up with a completely subjective "Must See Index" from 1-10 based on pre-release buzz, trailers, and all sorts of other mitigating factors. Since we have a bunch of movies to go through, this will be brief and will only cover the major releases, though I've tried to find what we think could be some genuine sleepers this summer. So, without further adieu, here we go with a rundown of the movies you'll be seeing this summer, in tentative chronological order:

MAY

GODZILLA (May 19th, TriStar, PG-13). STARS: Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, the big green guy. DIRECTOR: Roland Emmerich. MUSIC: David Arnold. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Positive. THE SKINNY: Emmerich and Dean Devlin's follow-up to ID4 pretty much has everything going for it... good trailers, solid word-of-mouth from test screenings, and the promise of being less pretentious than the visually spectacular but erratically-written predecessors from its filmmaking duo. David Arnold's score ought to be excellent, as should the execution of the visual effects. Like THE LOST WORLD, everyone will be going to see it, but hopefully this one will live up to its expectations. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 10

HOPE FLOATS (May 29, Fox, PG-13). STARS: Sandra Bullock, Harry Connick, Jr., Gena Rowlands. DIRECTOR: Forest Whitaker. MUSIC: Dave Grusin, though the soundtrack is filled with country/pop artists. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Mixed. THE SKINNY: An attempt at counter-programming, a la Julia Roberts's MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING from last year, with Bullock as a separated mom who returns to her hometown. Harry makes his leading man debut while Rowlands does the same loving mom routine she performed in SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT, the Roberts summer comedy from a couple of years ago. Sounds like a date movie-only to me. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 5

JUNE

A PERFECT MURDER (June 5, Warner Bros, R). STARS: Michael Douglas, Gwenyth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen. DIRECTOR: Andrew Davis. MUSIC: James Newton Howard. EARLY BUZZ: Very good. THE SKINNY: A remake of Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER, with Douglas as the husband, Paltrow as the cheating wife, and Mortensen as her lover. Looks good, with Douglas in familiar territory. Director Davis needs this one after mega-flops STEAL BIG, STEAL LITTLE and CHAIN REACTION. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7

THE TRUMAN SHOW (June 5, Paramount, PG). STARS: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris. DIRECTOR: Peter Weir. MUSIC: Burkhard Dallwitz (replacing Philip Glass, though some of Glass's music remains in the final cut). EARLY BUZZ: Outstanding. THE SKINNY: We've been hearing about this movie seemingly forever, and all of the early reviews point to potential Oscar noms for Carrey and Weir, plus screenwriter Andrew Niccol, who penned last year's underrated GATTACA. David Thomson of Esquire has called it the "Movie of the Decade." We'll see if this quirky tale of a man whose life is filmed as a television show truly is when Paramount finally releases this long-awaited picture in a couple of weeks. MUST-SEE INDEX: 9

SIX DAYS SEVEN NIGHTS (June 12, Touchstone, PG-13). STARS: Harrison Ford, Anne Heche, David Schwimmer. DIRECTOR: Ivan Reitman. MUSIC: Randy Edelman, reuniting with Reitman for the first time in years. EARLY BUZZ: Mixed. THE SKINNY: An AFRICAN QUEEN styled action-romance. Unfortunately, Ford and Heche apparently exhibit few sparks (at least according to many early reviews), and with Reitman coming off the bomb FATHER'S DAY, this could be a misfire. MUST-SEE INDEX: 5

THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (June 19, Fox, PG-13). STARS: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, Martin Landau, Blythe Danner. DIRECTOR: Rob Bowman. MUSIC: Mark Snow. EARLY BUZZ: Mixed, but... THE SKINNY: Feature-film extension of the peaking TV series picks up where the season cliffhanger concluded. Apparently, that's part of the problem--early reviews have said the movie fails to stand on its own, and that no promised alien revelations are revealed. However, some maintain that series creator Chris Carter has deliberately withhheld the secrets behind the show's conspiracies in test screenings for fear of media leaks. Or is this just another conspiracy in itself? MUST-SEE INDEX: 7 (for regular movie-goers), 10 (for fans), 10 (for anyone wanting to see the STAR WARS: EPISODE I trailer which will accompany the movie)

MULAN (June 19, Disney, G). VOICES: Ming-Na Wen, Donny Osmond, Eddie Murphy. DIRECTORS: Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft. MUSIC: Songs by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, score by Jerry Goldsmith. EARLY BUZZ: Good. THE SKINNY: Another seemingly strange, non-commercial story choice for the Disney animators, a Chinese fable about a girl who pretends to be a boy in order to fight the evil Huns invading her homeland (though with an audience-friendly dragon, voiced by Murphy, to connect with kids). The animation and design look outstanding, and Disney hopes Mulan will score with pre-teen girls the same way that heroines Pocahontas, Belle, and Ariel did in studio efforts of yore. As far as the music goes, after the forgettable HERCULES, lyricist David Zippel is here paired with Matthew Wilder for the songs, while Jerry Goldsmith came into replace Rachel Portman for the (usually thankless in Disney features) dramatic underscore. It looks intriguing, but will it be another overly ambitious Disney effort that won't appeal to current movie-going kids? ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 8

DR.DOLITTLE (June 26, Fox). STARS: Eddie Murphy, voices of numerous comedians. DIRECTOR: Betty Thomas. MUSIC: Richard Gibbs. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Unknown at this point. THE SKINNY: A live-action comedy remake that seeks to combine the raunchy laughs of Murphy's last hit, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, with BABE's talking animal gimmick. The trailers look completely vulgar and unfunny, so I'm not too keen on this one right now. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 4

OUT OF SIGHT (June 26, Universal, R). STARS: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Dennis Farina. DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh. MUSIC: Cliff Martinez. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Good. THE SKINNY: Elmore Leonard adaptation by GET SHORTY screenwriter Scott Frank boasts a strong cast, a capable filmmaker, and a funny trailer. Looks like a potential antidote to the louder bombast of Godzilla, Willis & Co., which will be playing nonstop on other multiplex screens. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7

JULY

ARMAGEDDON (July 1, Hollywood, PG-13). STARS: Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi, Will Patton. DIRECTOR: Michael Bay. MUSIC: Trevor Rabin. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Good. THE SKINNY: A three-hour long epic about an asteroid headed towards Earth (see also: DEEP IMPACT, last year's laughable ASTEROID mini-series, and the Sean Connery '70s disaster-entry METEOR). This go-around boasts an eclectic cast (including FARGO's Buscemi and Peter Stomare), sure-to-be-offbeat humor, the official approval of NASA (which allowed the film access to its facilities), and, unfortunately, direction from Michael Bay. Let's hope the filmmaker of BAD BOYS and THE ROCK this time manages to hold the camera steady for just a few minutes, or we could all be sick before this lengthy sci-fi actionfest finishes. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 8

LETHAL WEAPON 4 (July 10, Warner Bros). STARS: The usual suspects (Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo), Chris Rock, Jet Li. DIRECTOR: Richard Donner. MUSIC: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton & David Sanborn. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Unknown. THE SKINNY: Movie Mel got a wicked paycheck to reprise his role in this latest sequel, the only pure follow-up of Summer '98. An Asian badguy (Li) is the key behind this fourth installment, with the returning cast joined by comedian Chris Rock. Considering that it took years for Gibson to consent to reprise his role, we can only hope that it was the script and not just the cash that lured him back, and that this sequel is fresher than the last, creatively stagnant go-round. ANDY'S MUST SEE INDEX: 5

SMALL SOLDIERS (July 10, Dreamworks/Universal). STARS: Voice of Tommy Lee Jones, Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman. DIRECTOR: Joe Dante. MUSIC: Jerry Goldsmith. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Promising. THE SKINNY: A live-action, PG-variation on TOY STORY, with a group of action figures containing top-secret military chips coming to life in suburbia. This is Joe Dante's first feature since 1993's MATINEE, and while the trailer contains violent scenes more along the lines of the original GREMLINS than Disney's peaceful G-feature (which it clearly resembles visually), a lot of folks think this has the potential to be the killer-kiddie pic of the summer. We'll see. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6

THE MASK OF ZORRO (July 17, TriStar, PG-13). STARS: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta Jones, Stuart Wilson. DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell. MUSIC: James Horner. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Mixed-to-good. THE SKINNY: The long-awaited big-screen adaptation, produced by Steven Spielberg, of the Saturday Matinee hero boasts a great cast and the promise to revive the old-fashioned serial adventures of yesteryear. Zeta Jones looks gorgeous, Banderas should be terrific, and Hopkins will provide immeasurable goodwill here. Hopefully director Martin Campbell--he of the underwhelming actioners GOLDENEYE and NO ESCAPE--will be up to the challenge. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 8

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (July 24, DreamWorks/Paramount, R). STARS: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns. DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg. MUSIC: John Williams. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Outstanding. THE SKINNY: A true WWII story-- with Hanks and Sizemore trying to save the missing title character (Damon) behind enemy lines--that promises, with the cast and director, to be one of the summer's top movies. An Oscar favorite, of course, and Spielberg's second R-rated film in a row. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 10

ALSO IN JULY: Assorted wacky comedies from the people that brought us AIRPLANE! and POLICE SQUAD so many years ago. The spoof BASEKETBALL (July, Universal) is directed by David Zucker and stars "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and is said to be fairly amusing. Meanwhile, POLICE SQUAD! co-writer Pat Proft offers WRONGLY ACCUSED, a "Fugitive" spoof with Leslie Nielsen and Richard Crenna, while Proft's HOT SHOTS! collaborator, Jim Abrahams, brings us JANE AUSTEN'S MAFIA, with the late Lloyd Bridges... if it's more romantic doings you're looking for, check out perky "Party of Five" co-star Jennifer Love Hewitt in CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, and if you need G-rated antics, Disney's remake of THE PARENT TRAP stars Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson in the old Brian Keith-Maureen O'Hara roles. "Baby Boom" co-writer Nancy Meyers makes her directorial debut here.

AUGUST

SNAKE EYES (August 7, Paramount). CAST: Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, Carla Gugino. DIRECTOR: Brian DePalma. MUSIC: Ryuichi Sakamoto. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Mixed. THE SKINNY: The secretary of defense is knocked off at an Atlantic City boxing match, and Cage and Sinise try to find the killer in this David Koepp-scripted thriller that is said to include all of DePalma's trademark directorial touches. The release date's move to August could either be a sign of nervousness on Paramount's part or an attempt to have the picture get noticed after the other summer actioners have fizzled out. Or perhaps both. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6

THE AVENGERS (August 14, Warner Bros, PG-13). CAST: Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery. DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Chechik. MUSIC: Joel McNeely, replacing Michael Kamen. PRE-RELEASE BUZZ: Not good. THE SKINNY: An apparently campy big-screen version of the classic '60s British TV show, with Fiennes as John Steed and Thurman as Emma Peel. Connery serves up the menace here, which alone should be enough to justify a viewing. Test audiences have not been kind to the film, resulting in the studio delaying its release to the junkyard of mid-August, though camp has always been a tough sell (can you say STARSHIP TROOPERS?). Still, it looks like it could be fun nevertheless. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7

POSTPONED FROM THE SUMMER

Don't be looking for a pair of Disney productions, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG or EATERS OF THE DEAD, to be appearing in theaters this summer. MIGHTY JOE YOUNG was moved to Christmas due to Disney having too many films scheduled for release in June-July, while EATERS is undergoing re-shoots and a title change (to the bland 13TH WARRIOR). The post-production woes on EATERS has also resulted in author/producer Michael Crichton taking over the final cut, dumping Greame Revell for Jerry Goldsmith in the music department, and allegedly letting director John McTiernan go from editing chores. Despite this, the film has had good worth-of-mouth going for it, but it's now scheduled for a November bow... New Line's BLADE, with Wesley Snipes and scored by Mark Isham, has also been moved to September so the FX can be finished, while the well-reviewed JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES, with James Woods, has finally been scheduled for a September release from Columbia.

Look for reviews all summer long here on The Aisle Seat, and do drop me a line at dursina@worldnet.att.net if you have the time! Until next week, Excelsior!


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