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Tucson Weekly Summer Flick Yardstick

A look at what lurks in the cool, dark theaters this summer.

By Zachary Woodruff

MAY 26, 1998:  THIS IS IT--cinema's last soothing summer of the century. Next year we'll be drowning in 20-plexes, sequel oversaturation (Star Wars: Episode One, Men in Black 2, Independence Day 2, Twister 2, Mission: Impossible 2, Total Recall 2, Scream 3, Indiana Jones 4, and a remake of Psycho!) and enough Millennium hoopla to last a thousand years. This summer? Nothing but quiet: comets pummeling the globe, giant lizards throwing tantrums in New York, Johnny Depp dropping acid in Vegas, Lethal Weapon 4 starring all the regulars and Chris Rock, too.... Ahhh, tranquillity.

Still, there are probably some light sleepers out there who actually find such spectacles of mayhem stimulating. If you're one such weirdo, then this Summer Movie Preview, filled with all the latest movie poop, is for you.


LOCALLY SPEAKING, there's enough going on to keep you entertained literally six days, seven nights a week. Giulio Scalinger, program director for The Screening Room, says the downtown venue's summer schedule will be "entertainment-oriented," with dozens of weekend Robert Mitchum film-noirs, classic Godzilla movies, Fourth of July 3-D spectacles, and late-night video salons across the street at the Grill. Entertainment-oriented? Of all the nerve. Call 622-2262 if you're less offended.

Filling the art-house, issue-based gap left by The Screening Room's emphasis on popcorn flicks, Vikki Dempsey's reliably diverting VideoTENSIONS series will take place every other Thursday at 7:30 p.m., starting on June 4 and lasting through the middle of August. Dempsey, an experimental video artist herself, has once again put together a provocative program of short, unconventional works revolving around such themes as futurism, local issues, the media, homosexuality, Mexico and (eek) Canada. Call 884-1354 for schedule and location details.

Okay, so you've got your weekends and Thursdays covered. How about Mondays? No problem there, either, thanks to the Upstairs Film series put on by Mike Toubassi and Ari Lieberman. Their 8 p.m. Monday screenings of past and present local works (followed by local band performances) will continue all summer long in the Hotel Congress. Toubassi's intention? "To help build Tucson's filmmaking community," of course. You, too, can subject your short film or video to audience scrutiny; call 622-1751 to find out how.

Filling in the weekdays are the usual second-run, classic and cult movies at the Gallagher Theatre (621-3102), which has been a mainstay of affordable film entertainment on the University of Arizona campus for decades. Sadly, the even more affordable (that is to say, free) video screenings at The Pink Motel came to an abrupt halt last month when the place went out of business. Christine's Motion Picture--which up until recently was the swankiest place in town to catch free flicks--has turned into a lounge/party zone due to similar struggles. We recommend you call 740-1493 and request that Christine continue showing motion pictures at Christine's Motion Picture. Or better yet, stop by. Repeatedly.


OKAY, WHO AM I fooling here? Local venues are fine, but what about ear-shattering THX sound? Thirty-minute ticket lines? The excitement of seeing something that's brand-spanking new and looks reeeaaally expensive? Now that's where it's at.

After all, size does--oh, I can't say it. But I'm eagerly anticipating the arrival of Godzilla's thunder thighs nonetheless. Everyone knows the best part of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's Independence Day was when everything got blown to bits, and their Godzilla promises to extend that first act into an entire movie. Dialogue? Who needs dialogue?! A sure-fire spectacle for nihilists and foot fetishists alike, Godzilla promises to whack a polyp.

I know what you're thinking: sometimes a gigantic lizard tearing up a major metropolitan city just isn't enough. Why not obliterate the earth? Well you're in luck, because Deep Impact is now playing, and Armageddon is on its way. My vote goes to the former, which has a real storyline; Morgan Freeman as the president; and a competent, fresh-on-the-scene director, Mimi Leder (The Peacemaker). The latter film, unfortunately, is directed by Michael "Spaz" Bay, last seen blasting San Francisco trolleys sky-high in The Rock. Talk about testosterone overload: The story centers on the efforts of some sweaty oil men (including Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck) to drill into the core of a huge asteroid and deposit nuclear warheads therein. Freud, anyone?

If all these movies' jockeying to out-scale each other leaves you feeling bloated, yet you're still up for some smashin', Small Soldiers awaits. Through the magic of plot contrivance, some miniature military weapons have accidentally gotten into some intelligent G.I Joe-like toys, which proceed to tear up a suburban community. Now that's more like it.


AMONG THE OTHER pictures receiving gargantuan, double-wide, jumbo size promotion this summer is The X-Files movie, which will finally, finally answer all your burning questions about Molder and Scummy. Such as: Why can't the Lone Gunmen get any dates? Will Cancer Man go to where the flavor is? And when Sculder and Mully finally jump each other, will they moan in those same stiff, wooden monotones?

Similarly pressing matters are addressed in Six Days, Seven Nights, a romantic thriller which finds the hunky Harrison Ford stranded on a desert island with the alluring Anne Heche. Can an actress this thoroughly "outed" continue to inhabit convincing roles in mainstream movies? And will Jodie Foster be next? This movie should answer at least one of those questions.

Among the other big, brazen releases that look promising are: The Mask of Zorro, which combines Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and the plunging bustline of Catherine Zeta Jones into terrific crowd-pleasing potential; The Avengers, another sparkling postmodern tele-revision that finally puts Ralph Fiennes to good use opposite Sean Connery and Uma Thurman; and Saving Private Ryan, a drama that finds Steven Spielberg setting aside dinosaurs and minority groups to return to his first passion: World War II.

A Perfect Murder, a slick updating of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, probably falls short of perfect. But with Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas (playing her dad, oops, I mean her husband) casting suspicious gazes at one another, it might at least be trashy fun.

But what really looks good is The Truman Show, about a man who's the subject of a worldwide joke: His whole life is fake, and all of humanity watches it on TV. Director Peter Weir always brings a spiritual dimension to his films (including high-concept comedies like this one); and ever since The Cable Guy I've been willing to give Jim Carrey the benefit of the doubt. So place your bets on this paranoid pony.


THE TRUMAN SHOW seems funny, but what kind of comedy finds humor in a white politician berating African Americans for their cultural short-sightedness? Or pointing out how Hollywood is controlled by Jews? A Bulworth kind of comedy, apparently. The excuse for all this anti-P.C. bombast is that the title character, played by Warren Beatty (who also wrote, directed, produced and occasionally key-gripped), is suicidal and wants to get himself assassinated. Beatty's early career took off after he slapped audience expectation in the face with Bonnie & Clyde, so maybe he's up to a similar trick here.

If Bulworth sounds potentially discomforting, Dirty Work comes across as downright painful--although the sight of Norm MacDonald running around enacting revenge for hire might inspire a smirk or two. Expect a lot more laughs from There's Something About Mary, another anything-goes comedy from the makers of Dumb & Dumber and Kingpin. This one allegedly contains some of the most disgusting semen gags, er, jokes ever filmed, but with Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller and Matt Dillon aboard, they shouldn't be too hard to swallow.

If you dig those Naked Gun-style genre spoofs, you've hit the jackpot: Wrongfully Accused stars Leslie Nielson as a Fugitive-guy trying to track down the one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed man who really dunnit; while Jane Austen's MAFIA! features the late Lloyd Bridges in a send-up of gangster flicks. Save your money, though, and see Plump Fiction instead--if only because it's accompanied by the short independent film Swing Blade, a Sling Blade/Swingers parody that vaulted its first-time, nobody director to instant major-player status. He's so money...grmmmm.


WITH THE LAST strains of Celene Dion's voice echoing in the distance, many are ready for their next dose of romance. Leonardo-lovers should probably gallop past The Horse Whisperer, which stars the weather-worn Robert Redford as a man who really has a way with reins; Ever After--A Cinderella Story, starring Drew Barrymore, is likely much more their speed. By the way, no summer would be complete without an obligatory dancing movie, and Dance With Me (starring Vanessa Williams) is it. Hey, Macarena!

But these are beaten paths. Why not take the unbeaten route with Niagara, Niagara, in which shoplifter Henry Thomas finds his soulmate in Robin Tunney, a troubled victim of, dammit, Tourette's Syndrome? Or the well-received indie flick Still Breathing, a mystical, oddball romance starring Brendan Fraser and Joanna Going?

Or how about Hope Floats, the movie Sandra Bullock demanded the studio make in exchange for her "performance" in Speed II? Bullock plays a small-town girl who appears on a Jenny Jones-style show and discovers that her best friend is having an affair with Bullock's husband. Personally, I'd be thrilled if the film were simply 90 minutes of Bullock and Rosanna Arquette pulling out each other's hair, but Hope Floats is directed by Forest "Waiting to Exhale" Whitaker, so it's sensitive and laced with pathos and stuff. All together now: "Forest has emerged as a first-rate director of women."


YOU CAN'T STAY home watching that worn-out Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tape forever. Sooner or later, the kids will go insane. So subject them to Warner Brothers' The Quest for Camelot or Disney's Mulan instead. The first one uses the Arthurian Legends as a springboard; the second is a similarly wide-canvassed tale of war, kings and kinship, except it's set in China and has a heroine instead of a hero.

You could stay away from cartoons and bad Broadway-style singing altogether and take the tykes to Dr. Doolittle, starring Eddie Murphy. Hey, talking animals! Burping animals! Farting animals! Kids love it! Other options include the popular children's story Madeline (featuring Frances McDormand as a nun); My Favorite Martian (with Christopher Lloyd); and a remake of The Parent Trap, though I don't see how anyone could ever hope to top the albino-twin Hayley Mills version.


DOCUMENTARIES DON'T play long in Peoria, and they disappear even faster in Tucson. Still, if we're lucky we might get a chance to see Soon-Yi bossing Woody Allen around in Wildman Blues; trash exploitationist Nick Broomfield revealing the worst sides of Courtney Love for Kurt and Courtney; a pathetic man putting his humiliating romantic life on parade in 20 Dates (which is exactly what its title implies); Michael "Roger & Me" Moore using more smart-ass, anti-corporate antics for The Big One; and techno artists programming their way into pop culture's heart in Modulations. With any luck, The Loft will carry a few of these titles, though they laughed when I asked if they'd planned their summer schedule yet.


FOR THOSE NOT up on their French, an auteur is a director known for consistently bringing a distinct sensibility to his or her work. Such directors' emphasis on self-expression results in more originality, riskier casting and a greater sense of style. Usually. That's why I'm most excited by the new films from Terry Gilliam, Whit Stillman, Hal Hartley, Steven Soderbergh, and the three Johns: Duigan, Dahl, and Waters.

Gilliam's film comes from a prim little book called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, written by a little-known author named Hunter S. Thompson who has never taken drugs in his life. Anyone who's seen Brazil or Time Bandits knows we're not exactly in for understated naturalism here. Expect hallucinations, swirling cameras and characters so bizarro they make David Lynch look like Ron Howard.

Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco should be a soothing antidote for those who found the id-dominated characters in Boogie Nights too monosyllabic. Stillman, best known for Metropolitan, favors prep-school innocence and pseudo-profundity, with heaping side orders of witty cynicism supplied by regular collaborator Chris Eigeman. John Waters' Pecker follows the career of a Baltimore artist (Edward Furlong, the T2 kid) who reluctantly becomes a star of the New York art scene. As for Hal Hartley's Henry Fool, it stars Parker Posey--what more do you need to know?

Don't know much about John Duigan's Lawn Dogs, but John Dahl's Rounders looks great. It stars Matt Damon and Edward Norton as a couple of poker buddies trying to get out of debt in New York's underground gambling scene. Especially intriguing is Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, based on an Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty) novel about a female federal marshal taken hostage by a prison robber. It'll be fascinating to see how Soderbergh--who made Sex, Lies and Videotape and has more directing talent than he knows what to do with--handles such actors as George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Albert Brooks and Catherine Keener.

My personal pick? Brian DePalma's Snake Eyes. DePalma, last seen directing the not-quite-coherent Mission: Impossible, lives for suspense set pieces--and that's certainly what he's got in this tale of an investigator (Nicolas Cage) who tries to catch an assassin using the security cameras at a heavyweight-boxing arena during a thunderstorm. Only DePalma, who has spent over half his career attempting to improve on Hitchcock, could pull this one off.


WHO KNOWS WHAT to expect from Wes Craven's remake of the horror classic Carnival of Souls; or a philosophical sci-fi piece called Pi; or the obsessive-boyfriend romantic comedy Mr. Jealousy? Who knows what to make of Disturbing Behavior, about a town that somehow manages to turn rebellious teens into Stepford Wife-like overachievers? Will The Negotiator, a generic-sounding thriller, waste the talents of Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson? Will Cube, about a cubic labyrinth full of booby traps, live up to the similar dreams I've had? Will Clay Pigeons, a bloody black comedy starring Vince Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix and Janeane Garofalo, be smart enough for its cast? How can the disco movie 54, starring Mike Myers, Salma Hayek and Neve Campbell, ever measure up to Boogie Nights? And why bother with Baby Geniuses, a comedy about super-intelligent toddlers, when you can expand your mind watching Teletubbies for free? These are the questions. Only time, and a great many wasted afternoons in the cineplex, will answer them.


SOMETIMES HOLLYWOOD DOES you a favor and turns out movies you just know will blow. You can be sure, for instance, that Dead Man on Campus (which has been rotting on a shelf for over a year) won't live long in theaters; and there's no worry of the Jamie Lee Curtis evil-alien movie Virus replicating itself into any sequel. BASEketball, featuring the underwhelming talents of Jenny McCarthy and Ernest Borgnine, sounds like a no-hitter based on name alone (though some will undoubtedly go just to see South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone make jokes about "foul balls"). At least Van Damme's Knock Off has an appropriate title: It's indistinguishable from anything else he's ever done.

But when it comes to tired, one-joke comedy, Super Dave Osborne--whose shtick consists of attempting Evel Knievel-like daredevil stunts that end with a dummy-Dave dying horribly--surpasses them all by leaps and bounds. Super Dave's movie Be the Man even makes Dorf on Golf sound brilliant. It could be the one picture in this list that's so bad, it's actually good.

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