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(July 2004)

Summer Movies - 2004!

Last month we waxed nostalgic about the summers of our founder’s youth. Enough already. Now, a 21st Century summer- Summer of 2004! What follows are lists of movies scheduled to open this summer. 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 June:

Around The World in 80 Days:
Around The World in 80 DaysThe old guy drooling in the corner vaguely remembers the original 1956 version. It was a huge spectacle from master showman Michael Todd (who was instrumental in the development of single-projector wide-screen movies) and is best remembered for a stiff-upper lip, stoic performance from David Niven as Phileas Fogg and a charming and very funny performance from Mexican comedian Cantinflas as Fogg’s servant Passepartout. The movie was also famous for a fabulous lot of cameos including John Carradine, Charles Coburn, Glynis Johns, Peter Lorre, John Mills, Cesar Romero, Frank Sinatra, and Red Skelton. This 2004 version has British actor Steve Coogan as a much more lively Phileas Fogg and Jackie Chan playing a Chinese thief posing as Passepartout, Fogg’s servant. By all accounts it’s a delightful film that continues the use of campy cameos including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a womanizing Turkish Prince.

The Chronicles of Riddick:
A sort of follow up to the 2000 feature Pitch Black with Vin Diesel continuing in the title role as a good-hearted bad guy who can see in the dark. Most reviewers say the story is a mess and the plot impossible to follow.

The Darkness:
A spooky horror film from Spain starring Anna Paquin, Lena Olin and Giancarlo Giannini.

It’s said that this bio-pic of the great American songwriter Cole Porter is not perfectly aligned with the truth but it certainly is head and shoulders above the almost completely fictional Night and Day (1946). This earlier movie biography left out his overly pampered youth, his loving but probably sexless marriage and, of course, his gay life. Also, it repeated the tall tales Porter had come up with early in his life: he lived  in Paris during the First Ashley Judd as Linda PorterWorld War and while there made up stories of service in the French Foreign Legion. He was never in any military, much less the Foreign Legion, but he encouraged these stories the rest of his life and they appeared, as truth, in Night and Day. De-Lovely more openly shows the true richness and complexity of this genius’s life. We at The Toast like Kevin Kline who plays Porter and we really appreciate Ashley Judd who plays his wife Linda. Also looking attractive in this movie is the list of contemporary singers who contribute Cole Porter songs in period settings. The producers were told that today’s young singers wouldn’t  know who Cole Porter was. Wrong, they not only knew Cole Porter and his songs, the eagerly clamored to be in the film: Elvis Costello performs “Let’s Misbehave”, Sheryl Crowe performs “Begin The Beguine”, Vivian Green sings “Love for Sale”, Mick Hucknall performs, in a Canadian Mounties uniform, “I Love You”, Diana Krall sings “Just One of Those Things”, Alanis Morissette sang and danced “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” and Robbie Williams sings “It’s De-Lovely”.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story:
Professional dodgeball has been poorly represented in the media and this movie seeks to right that wrong. Truly an unlikely comedy premise, with Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller as dimwitted dodgeball team captains participating in the World Dodgeball Championship in Las Vegas, each trying to humiliate and beat out the other for the big cash prize. It is hilarious.

You would think with a ‘can’t lose’ character like Garfield, that fat, lazy, wisecracking cat from the comics, and long-time and very funny wise guy Bill Murray supplying the voice, you’d have a huge hit. However this live-action, animated hybrid hasn’t impressed either moviegoers or critics.

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle:
For our West Coast readers, White Castle is a hamburger chain back East. You know what we mean by ‘back East’, right? Moving from the West Coast, you have San Francisco, Las Vegas and then everything else is ‘back East’- simple and obvious to any native Californian. This movie is the tale of two 20 something slackers, one a Korean-American banker (John Cho), the other a Indian-American med student (Kal Penn) in a road-trip comedy of a Friday night adventure to stuff themselves with ‘sliders’ from White Castle.

The Notebook:
The director here is Nick Cassavetes, the son of actor/director John Cassavetes, a pioneer in gritty, independent cinema verité, and Gena Rowlands, an actor who worked in many of her husband’s projects. In The Notebook Nick directs his mother in a love story that spans many years. She plays an Alzheimer’s patient in a nursing home visited by her loving and loyal husband (James Garner who just seems to get The Stepford Wivesbetter with age) and he reads to her from a notebook. With flashbacks, we are taken back half a century to the 1940s and ‘50s. We watch them as young lovers (played by Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling) as they struggle to find each other and live their lives. A sweet and touching movie with top-notch performances from all involved.

Spider-Man 2:
Regular visitors to CinemaToast know how much we admire Tobey Maguire. Thank goodness he agreed to continue on as Peter Parker/Spider-man in this terrific sequel to the 2002 blockbuster. Jake Gyllenhaal was penciled in to play the role when it appeared that Maguire might have to drop out due to back injuries. Since cartoonist Stan Lee first created Spider-man as a nerdy, angst-ridden teenager, Tobey Maguire’s laid-back performances fit perfectly to the role. He continues in Spidy-2 to show the consequences of a real person suddenly burdened with super powers. He can’t keep a job, he’s always tired from late hours fighting crime and he’s failing in school. His beloved Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is now a model with a budding acting career. And he has a scary new villain, Dr. Octopus played with delicious, vileness delight by Alfred Molina. The word is the special effects are much better than the first film. The first Spider-man movie was a big hit but the visual effects looked, grossly, like the computer-generated special effects that they were. This time, though, the visuals are seamless.

The Stepford Wives:
Writer Ira Levin’s original novel was a horror story. The 1975 movie was a horror and science fiction film. This 2004 movie is camp. And not very satisfying camp at that. Too bad- Frank Oz, the director, is a favorite of ours. His 1996 musical Little Shop of Horrors is a jewel of a film. His movie Bowfinger (1999) is a biting satire and delightfully funny take on Hollywood filmmaker wanna-be’s. Perhaps the current crop of reality, makeover television shows took the wind and the horror out of the lengths people will go to to make women beautiful and desirable to men.

The Terminal:
Director John Ford and actor John Wayne made more than a dozen movies together. These two were simpatico and that closeness (and their mutual Irish ancestry) aided them in making powerful, compelling and damn entertaining films. Director Billy Wilder and actor Jack Lemmon made seven movies together and Lemmon was the perfect 'everyman' to Wilder's sometimes acerbic dialog and direction. The TerminalTogether, the movies they made have became classics. Director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks have made 3 movies together. This movie, Catch Me if You Can in 2002 and Saving Private Ryan in 1998 and not a clunker yet. They too are simpatico and that closeness (and their wives and kids who are reported to get along famously) aids them in making damn fine movies. Can we say how much we loved The Terminal? Yes! Some critics have carped that it’s not ‘meaty’ in significance, that it’s no Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan. And we say ‘hey, the world and all human affairs are complex and significant’, even the travails of a decent man caught in the clutches of bureaucracy. See this movie.

Two Brothers:
This is certainly one of the more talky movies director Jean-Jacques Annaud has made. Other nature themed works from this filmmaker include Quest For Fire (1981) about our prehistoric ancestors grunting and looking for a new source of flame, essential to the survival of their tribe, and The Bear (1988) with fantastic landscape cinematography but almost no dialogue. Two Brothers follows the adventures of two tiger cubs, where one grows to become a circus performer and the other becomes a killer. Guy Pierce plays an adventurer whose life is entwined with the tigers.

White Chicks:
Two male African-American FBI agents go undercover as spoiled white girls as part of their assignment to protect hotel heiresses, a la Paris & Nicky Hilton, except in this movie they’re called the “Wilton” sisters. A funny Wayans family production with Marlon and Shawn Wayans playing the two agents and Keenen Wayans directing.

New Stuff
Philip K. Dick was a writer of mind-blowing ideas. What is human? How can you tell, really? Our good friend John Bruni seems to be working his way through those movies made from Phil Dick’s stories. Blade Runner is his latest piece and we’re most pleased to present it on CinemaToast.

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