Summer movies: Hope beyond the crap

May 23, 2006 at 8:19 pm

Summer is traditionally the time when the crappy blockbusters are foisted upon us. Nevertheless, there are always some gems to be found if one is willing to dig below the surface. While there are noteworthy films in all categories, summer films are still mostly for kids, of course.

In the mega-blockbusting-worldwide-hyped-to-heaven-action thriller-category, there are a number of obvious standouts. The first to arrive was Ron Howard’s much-anticipated take on “The DaVinci Code,” starring Mr. All Purpose, Tom Hanks. With or without Hanks, Howard has a real feel for this sort of fantastic but still believable material, and there is a good chance that “The DaVinci Code” will be one of those films that actually improves upon its source material. Dan Brown’s original novel is, after all, not much more than a potboiler.

The other long-awaited epic is the third installment of the “Mission Impossible” series. Tom Cruise has plenty of other things on his mind these days, and that’s good; MI3 looks a bit threadbare. There are also new installments in the “X-Men” franchise and the unlikely juggernaut that is “Pirates of the Caribbean” (a film series based on an amusement park ride!). “Miami Vice” will feature Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, each desperate to prove they are not flashes in their respective pans. There is hope that their wishes may come true as the great Michael Mann — who worked before with Foxx (“Ali”) and who wrote, directed and created the original series as well as so many great films — is being helming the movie.

Oliver Stone’s surprisingly conspiracy-free take on 9/11, “World Trade Center,” also is much anticipated and sure to be controversial. Remakes of both “The Omen” and “The Poseidon Adventure” are on the way. The blockbuster of blockbusters, though, may prove to be “Superman Returns,” although I have grave doubts. Newcomer Brandon Routh in the lead role looks just plain wimpy, and director Bryan Singer desperately needs a hit; he’ll probably do every cheesy thing he can to please the studio suits, so look for gratuitous SFX and worse.

Hope for filmgoers looking for quality comes any time a new Robert Altman film is ready to screen. His summer offering is “A Prairie Home Companion,” based on Garrison Keillor’s writings and utilizing Altman’s trademark patchwork-quilt plotting. The story depicts the hypothetical final broadcast of the beloved public radio show, with Keillor and practically everyone else who has ever been in an Altman film in a co-equal ensemble comedy.

The movie I am most personally enthusiastic about is Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly.” The film is an adaptation of the genius science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name. Perhaps Linklater is the one to breathe some new life into the tired genre, but he is choosing an odd way to do it. This film takes place in the future but is primarily concerned with drug addiction as social control. “A Scanner Darkly” was shot with live actors (including Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr. and the lately unseen Winona Ryder) and then traced over and re-colored by animators. Ralph Bakshi (“American Pop”) pioneered the technique in the late 1970s, and it served Linklater well once before in the astonishing “Waking Life” from 2001.

“Snakes On a Plane” is a thriller-comedy with Sam Jackson. The title gives you pretty much the whole plot. “Barnyard” is another animated “serious” film that still appeals to the kiddies from first-time director Steve Oedekerk. Other animated releases include “Cars” about — you guessed it! — cars, featuring the voices of Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt and Owen Wilson.

Car racing also plays a major role in the new Will Ferrell comedy “Talladega Nights: the Legend of Ricky Bobby,” a sort of “Anchorman” retread with Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G). “Talladega” will try to extend the winning streak for adult comedies that started with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Wedding Crashers.” For fans of less clever comedies, rejoice! There is a new Adam Sandler film called “Click” due in July.

There is a “Love Boat” workout scheduled for late summer/early fall. “The Devil Wears Prada” with Meryl Streep will most likely be the summer’s standout chick-flick. Bubbling up from underground is Amy Sedaris (sister of author David), whose TV comedy “Strangers With Candy” is getting the big-screen feature film treatment and a July release.

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