Summer Movies 2004: A Deja View
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2004; Page H02
It's a scary world out there. Let's go to the movies.
What with the country still mired in a slow-boil war overseas and the threat of domestic terrorism always lurking in the backs of our heads, who can blame people for wanting to hide out in the dark security of the movie theater? This summer is no exception to the traditional seasonal preponderance of escapist fare, offering up such predictably reality-avoiding films on the docket as the high-profile "Shrek 2," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Spider-Man 2" "Catwoman" and "I, Robot." Yet, more and more, the place the movies invite us to escape to from the headaches of today is not the world of the future, or of fairy tales or comic books, but the world of the past.
It's no secret that Hollywood has, for a while now, seemed more interested in looking backward than forward. What summer would be complete without the period costume drama? This year, there's Clive Owen on horseback in "King Arthur" and Reese Witherspoon in 19th-century finery in "Vanity Fair." Naturally, there are remakes, too ("The Manchurian Candidate" and "Around the World in 80 Days"); sequels galore ("The Chronicles of Riddick," "Before Sunset," "The Bourne Supremacy" and "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement," to name a few); a prequel ("Exorcist: The Beginning"); even a few rereleases ("Donnie Darko -- The Director's Cut" and, in a well-timed answer to "The Passion of the Christ," the return of "Monty Python's Life of Brian").
More interesting, perhaps, is the so-called re-imagining and its postmodern ilk, films that, like the recent "Starsky and Hutch" and this summer's "The Stepford Wives," appropriate, digest and, with a healthy amount of irony, regurgitate the past, and the not-too-distant past at that. Even a film like the hilarious "Napoleon Dynamite" (whose very name suggests the blaxploitation films of the 1970s), while set in the present day, makes ample use of such winking time-capsule touches as fanny packs, moon boots and aviator glasses. As its young director, Jared Hess, has said, the time period it's set in is "Idaho."
It's as if Hollywood has been overtaken with the same affection for vintage-looking cheese as the fashionista-fueled fad of trucker hats and "throwback" sports jerseys. Check out, for instance, Will Ferrell's so-uncool-it's-cool hair and mustache in the '70s-set "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (or Ben Stiller's in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story"). If you're looking for Afros, there are plenty of them in Mario Van Peebles' homage to his filmmaker father, "Baadasssss!," a film whose very exclamation point bespeaks an earlier, more excitable and innocent time.
Even this summer's monster movie, "Alien vs. Predator," and the disaster film "The Day After Tomorrow," hearken back not just to their more recent antecedents ("Alien," "Predator" and such thrillers as "Armageddon") but to longer-buried cultural gems such as "Godzilla vs. Mothra," not to mention everything disaster-movie producer Irwin Allen ever made.
So, if the world outside your window gets too much for you to handle, run, don't walk, into your friendly neighborhood multiplex/time machine.
Who's Who: Mike Myers, Antonio Banderas, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Julie Andrews and John Cleese supply the voices.
What's What: Call it an animated "Meet the Parents." When Princess Fiona (Diaz) brings home her new man -- er, ogre (Myers, reprising the title role) -- the bride's upper-crusty mother and father (Andrews and Cleese) are less than pleased. In an inspired nod to his roles in both "Desperado" and "The Mask of Zorro," Banderas plays the feline hit man, Puss in Boots, hired to whack Shrek. (May 19)
COFFEE AND CIGARETTES
Who's Who: Roberto Benigni, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Cate Blanchett, Joie Lee, Bill Murray and Tom Waits star. Jim Jarmusch writes and directs.
What's What: How many of the above cast names do anything for you? None? Okay, how about comedian Steven Wright, musicians Meg and Jack White of the White Stripes, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan or maybe the Wu-Tang Clan's GZA and RZA? Still nothing? In that case, turn in your hipster credentials on the way out. All others bow down before indie king Jarmusch's black-and-white homage to coffee, cigarettes and surrealism, structured around a sequence of conversations about Elvis, Abbott and Costello and physicist-inventor Nikola Tesla that are as stimulating -- and nutritionally empty -- as caffeine and nicotine. (May 21)
Who's Who: Rodrigo Noya stars. Alejandro Agresti directs.
What's What: Don't kick yourself for missing the opening-night offering of the recent Washington DC International Film Festival. Returning to town is Argentine filmmaker and Filmfest DC fave Agresti's autobiographical tale of a bespectacled 8-year-old matchmaker (charmer Noya) who inadvertently manages to fix up a lonely neighbor with his estranged father's soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. (May 21)
Who's Who: Val Kilmer, Jonathan Tucker and Rachael Leigh Cook star.
What's What: "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's" Tucker, playing a Marine trainee under the tutelage of a tough drill instructor (Kilmer), goes on leave and falls for a crazy -- I mean, literally, insane -- pop musician (Cook). (May 21)
Who's Who: Andrei Zvyagintsev directs.
What's What: A reunion between Russian brothers (Vladimir Garin and Ivan Dobronravov) and their estranged father (Konstantin Lavronenko) alters the familiar dynamic between the boys, escalating from a contest of wills to hostility to violence. (May 21)
Who's Who: Ki-duk Kim writes and directs.
What's What: On the one hand, there's violent sex and mutilation afoot in this offering from "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring" director Kim of South Korea. On the other, the story of a mute woman's revenge on the men who have mistreated her has also been described as "mesmerizing." (May 21)
Who's Who: Michael S. Ojeda writes and directs.
What's What: Winner of the best actress prize at the Milan International Film Festival, Oxana Orlenko plays a woman who flees the Balkans to America in a shipping container in this noirish, hard-boiled drama. (May 21)
Who's Who: Tom Arnold, Snoop Dogg, Method Man and Mo'Nique star.
What's What: The staff and crew of the first all-black airline would rather their customers get down with their bad selves than get "up, up and away" in this high-flying comedy. (May 28)
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW
Who's Who: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sela Ward and Ian Holm star. Roland Emmerich directs and writes (with Jeffrey Nachmanoff).
What's What: Global climate change on a freakish scale is the villain in this zeitgeist-y mother-of-all-disaster-films from the maker of "Independence Day" and the 1998 "Godzilla." (May 28)
Who's Who: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Patrick Fugit, Macaulay Culkin and Mary-Louise Parker star.
What's What: As you might expect from a film boasting the imprimatur of activist-rocker Michael Stipe's Single Cell Pictures, "Saved!" is a dark, edgy satire about a Baptist high schooler (Malone) whose former friends, led by goody-two-shoes Moore, demonize her when she gets pregnant. (May 28)
Who's Who: Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Helen Mirren, Hayden Panettierre, and Spencer and Abigail Breslin star. Garry Marshall directs.
What's What: The schmaltz-loving Marshall ("The Princess Diaries," "Beaches"), who cut his teeth in sitcoms, helms this featherweight dramatic comedy about a single, childless Manhattanite (Hudson) whose glamorous lifestyle comes crashing down to earth -- somewhere in the vicinity of Queens -- when her late sister's will leaves her in charge of two orphaned nieces and a nephew. The question is: Who makes whom grow up? Which I'll answer with another question: Didn't "Uptown Girls" cover the same ground? (May 28)
LOVE ME IF YOU DARE
Who's Who: Yann Samuell writes and directs.
What's What: French best friends Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) move from a lifetime of platonic one-upmanship to a future filled with passionate canoodling. (May 28)
A SLIPPING DOWN LIFE
Who's Who: Lili Taylor and Guy Pearce star.
What's What: In first-time writer-director Toni Kalem's adaptation of Anne Tyler's novel, Taylor plays a shy, overweight lonely-hearts (well, she's overweight in the book) obsessed with a rock musician (Pearce) she has heard on the radio, to the point that she carves his name in her forehead. Oddly enough, he does not run screaming away from her. (May 28)
MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN
Who's Who: John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman star and write. Jones directs.
What's What: On the 25th anniversary of its original release, the Pythons bring their religious satire back to theaters, taking shameless advantage of "The Passion of the Christ" hoopla. (May 28)
THE CLAY BIRD
Who's Who: Tareque Masud directs and writes (with Catherine Masud).
What's What: Set in the period of the 1960s just before Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan, "The Clay Bird" follows the struggles of an East Pakistani boy (Nurul Islam Bablu) to adjust to a strict Islamic school. (May 28)
Who's Who: Bruno Dumont writes and directs.
What's What: Frenchman Dumont, who made the award-winning (and disturbing) 1999 crime drama "Humanity," directs this California-desert-set tale, which is not to be confused with "29 Palms," starring Rachael Leigh Cook and Jeremy Davies. According to the official synopsis, this one involves "frantic sex, impassioned fights and hasty reconciliations." What's not to like? (May 28)
Who's Who: Robert Parigi directs.
What's What: A man develops an unhealthy obsession with a sex doll. (May 28)
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