Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Typically, my usual readers will know I only do three big movie preview/review blogs a year- one for January-April, one for the summer, and one for the end of the year. But this year, I’m feeling a bit froggy. In my summer preview, the films I was looking most forward to came largely from the first few months. No surprise- Hollywood is good at blowing their summer load before you can even get protection on. So what does that mean for August? Well, since school’s getting back in, it means lower grosses and crappy reviews. That’s not always the case, though, right? “The Fugitive” was an August opener that not only hit it big at the registers, but also landed itself a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Same with “The Sixth Sense,” which took all the wind out of the “Blair Witch” hype machine in ’99 to be the most sustained smash since “Titanic.” “Signs” did pretty well for itself in the dog days of August too, as did the “Rush Hour” movies (even last year’s terrible “Rush Hour 3”), “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Superbad,” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Will any of this year’s August offerings seize the opportunity for success, and knock the “Dark Knight” behemoth off the top slot, since all the big blockbusters are already in release? Here are a few films (in order of personal anticipation) that are taking a chance on it- some of them may even do it- as well as some smaller films that could make some noise with audiences sick of Hollywood fare.

1. “Tropic Thunder” (August 15)- Is there anyone who’s seen the preview for this comedy satire NOT looking forward to it? I’ll admit, I wasn’t much of a fan of Ben Stiller’s first two directing projects (“The Cable Guy” and “Zoolander”), but one look at this trailer- with three stars of a Vietnam war movie taken to shoot out in the jungle, only to be mistaken for actual soldiers by the locals- and it has to rate high on my must-see list. Add to that cameos by Steve Coogan and Tom Cruise, and a can’t miss turn by “Iron Man” Robert Downey Jr. as an acclaimed star who puts on blackface (in a way) to play the platoon’s African American soldier, and all of the sudden, August starts to look like it has some tricks (and wild treats) up its’ sleeve.

2. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (August 15)- Wait a moment, weren’t we supposed to be done with “Star Wars” on the big-screen after the problematical prequel trilogy? Last time I checked, but this is a special occasion. This Fall marks the launch of the first of two proposed “Star Wars” TV series, the first one being the animated “Clone Wars.” Taking their cue from the success of Cartoon Network’s “Clone Wars” micro-series leading up to the release of “Revenge of the Sith,” Lucasfilm and the network are expanding on the idea, adding some pretty cool-looking CG animation, and delving further into the great wars we first heard about in 1977’s “A New Hope.” The storyline to this big-screen launch project seems a little too geared to get people in the seats, but only the completely jaded “Star Wars” fan among us can’t get excited about the possibilities…especially with George Lucas out of the writing-directing chair. πŸ™‚

3. “Hamlet 2” (August 22)- Steve Coogan is a comedy treasure from Britain. Whether it’s a comic vignette with Alfred Molina in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” or a star turn in the criminally-underseen “Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” or the director he’s playing in “Tropic Thunder,” Coogan is one of those actors that makes comedy actually, you know, funny. This time around, he plays a washed-out actor who becomes a drama teacher at an American high school. But the drama program is failing. His solution? Produce an original play entitled “Hamlet 2.” Don’t expect the Bard, though. As conceived by “South Park” co-writer Pam Brady and director Andrew Fleming, it’s a fascinating amalgam of Shakespeare, “The Time Machine,” Jesus, and Satan, and a song that goes by the name “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” I’ll take a ticket.

4. “Death Race” (August 22)- No, this is not a typo. A film directed by American hack-meister Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Alien vs. Predator,” “Soldier,” “Event Horizon”- none of them good) is actually something I’m looking forward to. True, it’s a brainless remake of “Death Race 2000,” but with tough guy Jason Statham playing a race car driver who gets wrongfully imprisoned and Joan Allen as the hard-ass warden who has her own plans for her new inmate, and extreme racing scenes that look just exciting enough to transcend the script’s likely stupidity, what can I say? Call me crazy, but I might actually enjoy this.

5. “Pineapple Express” (August 6)- “Superbad” writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg + comedy superproducer Judd Apatow + “Spider-Man 3” costar James Franco as a stoner + respectable director David Gordon Green + an overqualified cast that includes Bill Hader, Rosie Perez, Gary Cole, and hottie Amber Heard = likely comic gold. The only reason it’s not higher? I’m still not sure whether “Superbad” was quite my cup of tea. That said, the trailer does has some very funny moments.

A little too leaning towards the funny for you? That’s what kind of summer it’s been. I’m just hoping for less “Love Guru” and “Step Brothers” and more “Zohan” and “Get Smart” in that department. I wouldn’t expect much in the action blockbuster front, though- even though “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” (August 1) looks marginally better than its’ predecessors, deduct points for the absence of Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz as Brendan Fraser’s wife (“History of Violence’s” Maria Bello is taking over for her). “Mirrors” (August 15), a horror shocker from Fox and the director of “The Hills Have Eyes” (the remake, not Wes Craven) looks promisingly intense, but horror is more hit-and-miss than any other genre out there- expect a big, by horror standards, opening though. Kevin Costner has a scrappy potential hit in the waiting with the election parable “Swing Vote” (August 1), but can anyone really appreciate the satirical bite when we’ve seen similar “malfunctions” in the past two presidential elections? Can Woody Allen finally rediscover his box-office legs with “Vicki Cristina Barcelona” (August 15), a comedy about the romantic trivails Oscar-winner Javier Bardem gets himself into with Penelope Cruz, Rebecca Hall (“The Prestige”), and Allen’s recent muse Scarlett Johannsson? Will Anna Faris break out of the shadow of the “Scary Movie” franchise she headlined the way she deserves to with the amusing-looking comedy “The House Bunny” (August 22)? Can Vin Diesel actually give Labor Day weekend a genuine box-office smash with the sci-fi thriller “Babylon A.D.” (August 29)? Will anyone honestly give a rat’s ass by the time those hacksters behind “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” and “Meet the Spartans” give us another painfully-obvious spoof in “Disaster Movie” (August 29)? Don’t worry- sometimes people get it right when going to the box-office in the late summer months.

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com
www.myspace.com/brianskutle
www.myspace.com/cinemanouveau

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