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(August 2004)

Summer Movies - 2004! Part 2

What follows are lists of movies scheduled to open this summer. Remember, some have already opened and are currently in theatres, others are yet to be seen. Our comments are a combination of what we at The Toast find interesting, what we may have read about the movies, and what some of our favorite critics may have written about each movie.

In July:

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
This cheerful movie is set in the swinging 70s, about 35 years ago. Interestingly, the movie I, Robot (see below) is set in the year 2039, about 35 years into the future. So on one hand, baby boomers can see how much has changed in the last three decades and on the other hand in I, Robot, we can all try to judge if the Anchormanworld of 2039 is a believable extension of three decades into the future.

Will Farrell, one of funniest graduates of Saturday Night Live has made a very successful leap from television to movies and is hilarious as the title character, anchorman Ron Burgundy, a pompous local San Diego TV newsreader with his all male team: investigative reporter (Paul Rudd) so tightly wound that he squeaks, dumb weather reporter (Steve Carell), and emotional sportscaster (David Koechner). They are, in their own eyes, the Fantastic Four (their station is Channel 4) and are lead by producer Fred Willard. Into this frat boy world comes ‘the threat’, a beautiful, ambitious female reporter gunning for the anchor job and played sweetly by the lovely Christina Applegate. More interesting connections: Christina Applegate was born in November 1971 – the same era that this movie is set.

Before Sunset
This is a love story for adults- for adults who allow themselves to dream. Actually, Before Sunset is the antithesis of a big, brassy summer movie. No special effects, no antic mayhem, no semi-porno sex scenes. Just poignant romance, lovely urban locations and delicious, engaging dialogue with a wonderful, realistic chemistry between Ethan Hawke as Jessie and Julie Delpy as Celine. This is a sequel of sorts to Jessie and Celine’s first meeting nine years ago in Before Sunrise. It’s a wonderful film with screenwriting credits going to Hawke and Delpy as well as to director Richard Linklater. Many reviewers are calling Before Sunset a masterpiece and one of the best movies, so far, of 2004.

The Bourne SupremacyThe Bourne Supremacy
Jason Bourne is the thinking man’s James Bond and, as played by hunky Matt Damon, a genuine heartthrob for the 21st Century woman. Jason is still the badass assassin he was in the first film and still a bit confused about who he is. We have Franka Potente back as the understanding girl friend Marie, and the terrific Joan Allen as a CIA director who wants to “get Bourne” and is doggedly persistent in her pursuit. The movie is still full of paranoid spy vs. spy action as The Bourne Identity (2002). Film critic Roger Ebert has a suggestion for the title of the next film in the series: Bourne Again!

Is it true that Halle Berry’s curve hugging costume in Catwoman was sprayed on? Regardless, it's said to be the best thing in this movie that is about mousy graphic artist Patience Philips who is turned, by a mystical Egyptian cat, into a feline crime fighter fully equipped with the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. That make sense: an Egyptian cat-god turns an un-empowered American girl into a Brazilian fighting machine. Multi-cultured pop feminism at its best. Besides filling the eye-popping reveling cat costume, Berry can also sure crack that whip.

The Clearing
We at The Toast bow to no one in our admiration for Helen Mirren and she doesn’t disappoint as the distraught wife left behind when her highly successful husband (Robert Redford) is kidnapped by a disgruntled former employee played by Willem Dafoe. These three veteran actors work to create a taunt thriller that entertains without flashy car chases or blazing shootouts. Ok so, despite a July release, The Clearing is also not a typical ‘summer’ movie. It's still a fine film with some great acting and we urge you to take a gander.

I, Robot
i, ROBOT with Will Smith
I, Robot, the movie, is set in the year 2039 -- 35 years into the future. Far enough away that unexpected scientific breakthroughs like positronic brains capable of creating robots that are nearly sentient are possible, but not so far away that day-to-day life is unfamiliar. To get a feel for the possible changes that may occur in a 35-year period, try to think back to 1971 (those of you who can remember that far back). Our younger readers will have to rely on history books or browse the Internet for information. There's one big change. In 1971 there was no Internet. In fact a creation like the Internet was beyond most peoples imagining. There were no personal computers, Apple Computer was still 5 years away and the IBM PC was a decade away. I, ROBOTIn 1971 Billy Jack and Fiddler on The Roof were the top grossing movies. Apollo 14 landed on the moon after the heart-stopping drama and near tragedy of Apollo 13 a year earlier. The voting age was reduced to 18 from 21. Nixon was still The One. Most telephones had dials and an 8-Track player was the hot thing for your car. So, ubiquitous personal robots in 35 years from now doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

I, Robot, the book, was published in 1954 as a collection of nine Isaac Asimov short stories. The stories follow the fortunes of robot psychologist Susan Calvin as she investigated aberrant robot behavior that seemed to violate the Three Laws. They explored ideas like: could machines be aware of their own existence? Could they be corrupted, could they scheme? Could they love? There were no police officers and very little shoot-em-up. It was more chewy intellectual science fiction. Investigating police appeared in later books like The Caves of Steel. I, Robot, the movie, is ‘suggested by’ the book. Sadly they reduced Susan Calvin’s (Bridget Moynahan) role to a mere shadow of her strong book persona. Instead, Will Smith as homicide inspector Del Spooner is the big star.

We like Will Smith and he was fine as the action star of this movie. We even liked the movie. But, as our good friend Chris Hoth pointed out- they could have made a great action movie about runaway robots starring Will Smith and didn’t have to call it I, Robot. Hell, they could even use the Three Laws of Robotics; everybody else has ripped them off. To be fair, Robyn Asimov, daughter of the great Isaac, has written defending the movie. She says her father never liked to write for the screen but appreciated those who did and he would have liked that a much wider audience would be inspired to think about these ideas. So if you’re a die-hard Isaac Asimov fan this movie will likely annoy you more than entertain you. For everybody else, it’s a kick-ass film.

King Arthur
Guinevere with blue face paint, hacking with a sword and wearing a leather brassiere? Forget about it. This is not the first time Jerry Bruckheimer has screwed up a perfectly good story. Look how he messed up Pearl Harbor (2001). He does fine with a fairly original story- we liked Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl (2003). He should stick to making movies out of amusement park rides and leave beloved historical stories to more sensitive souls.

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