TROUBLE CITY

THE PROGNOSTICATOR: JUNE 2007

Movie NewsRuss FischerComment

 I'm pretty proud of myself -- I made it through May without seeing Shrek. Even with it being the only movie I haven't yet seen at my favorite local theater, I've resisted the occasional urge to see it just so that I can go to the theater and not see 28 Weeks Later or Pirates a third time. Or Pathfinder a second. By the blackheads of Loki, Pathfinder almost killed me.

But June brings a welcome breeze, with at least a handful of flicks that are basically guaranteed to entertain and enlighten: Knocked Up; Oceans 13; Fido; maybe even Sicko. You can gorge on gore twice over (Hostel and Captivity) or get so indie and well-educated, cinematically, that Louis C.K. will probably throw copies of Pootie Tang at you, just because he's still got a couple boxes of DVDs left. He'll get more milage out of that than most of us will out of Mr. Brooks, sadly.

Masochists, take note. It's been a dry few weeks since Pathfinder was released, but this month you can finally pay twelve bucks to see DOA on a big screen instead of all pixellated and Google video-ey. I hear it hurts a lot more when it's bigger.

Enough of me. Plan your month at the movies now.

June 1

Knocked Up

http://chud.com/nextraimages/knockedup_prog.jpgJeremy Says: Judd Apatow follows up his first directorial effort (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) with his second directorial effort. It stars Seth Rogen as a guy and Katherine Heigl as a girl, and Paul Rudd as another guy and Leslie Mann as another girl (only she's more like a woman because she has birthed two children). When the Rogen guy gets the Heigl girl pregnant, a Vietnam vet (Tommy Lee Jones) takes forceful control of Central Park to remember those who served and died in the Vietnam War. Helen Shaver and Yaphet Kotto co-star.

Prognostication: Well, I liked it. And you're going to like it, too. In fact, you're going to take everyone you know to see it opening weekend because everyone's going to like it. In all seriousness, I haven't had a bowel movement in four days. Also, I have a feeling this movie will play well into July and make a sizeable amount of cash ($200 million may sound ludicrous for an R-rated, 132-minute romantic comedy, but if Wedding Crashers can do it despite a terrible third act, Knocked Up can certainly do it with a heartwarming third act).

Mr. Brooks

 Micah Says:
The (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime pairing of Kevin Costner and Dane Cook should’ve been reserved for a torture porn flick or something uplifting like that. Instead, Costner goes to the dark side to play a split personality-stricken killer who is forced to take on an apprentice (Cook) who exacerbates matters by taping the entire ordeal and selling it to HBO for a weekly series.

Prognostication: Absolute utter failure. There’s no buzz on the film. The only reviews have been rather “ehhh.” It’s coming out in the shadow of a big and genuine mainstream-appealing comedy (Knocked Up). Worst of all, Costner lost the ability to really open films some time ago, and this will be yet another grim confirmation of that fact. I take no joy in this because I usually find myself irresistibly drawn to films like this with such a weird cast (e.g. Demi Moore, Jason Lewis, Matt “Wall Street” Schultze). I’ll probably have to move quickly, however, as I expect this to get swept out of theaters fairly quickly despite the wide release.

Gracie

http://chud.com/nextraimages/gracie_prog.jpgJeremy Says:
Devin says: "Carly Schroeder is Gracie, and she makes the film. She’s unusually beautiful – her hair is so blonde as to be almost white, and her skin seems translucent. She has a stronger jaw and a wider nose than you might expect from a teen starlet, but it works for her. Her face is distinctive, not like the cookie cutter girls who roll off of sitcoms and tween films, and I hope that she never goes under the knife to tweak that nose into a tiny button."

Prognostication: Damn. Devin's description of young Ms. Schroeder reminds me that she was one of the more striking things about the underrated Mean Creek (along with Scott Mechlowicz, who I had pegged as the next Brad Pitt. WHOOPS!!!). The only soccer movie that matters to me is John Huston's Victory (in which we see Pelé do the bicycle kick fifteen times in slow-motion), but I can make room in my heart for Gracie on Devin's recommendation.

Day Watch

http://chud.com/nextraimages/daywatch_prog.jpgDevin says: After the events of Night Watch, the armies of the Others are ready for something bad to happen. Both the Dark and the Light Others now have a Great Other, and perhaps a Capitalization Other on staff. There are conspiracies within conspiracies as each side jockeys for position in the days leading up to what looks more and more like the Apocalypse itself. The only thing that can maybe save the world: The Chalk of Fate. But in Soviet Russia, Fate Chalks You!

Prognostication: I’ve already reviewed this sucker, right here. But let me recap for those of you in the cheap seats: Day Watch is a big improvement over the incoherent but visually interesting Night Watch. The story makes more sense, the narrative flows more smoothly and the production values are much higher. Just be prepared for an ending so frustratingly bad that you’ll wish for me doing more rotten Yakov Smirnoff jokes.


I'm Reed Fish

 Russ Says: Reed Fish is both the real writer of this indie and the semi-real title character, whose high school flame returns home to the little town of Mud Meadows just as Reed is about to marry the daughter from Gilmore Girls. If that's not Blowing Charlie Kaufman enough for you, there's a meta plot with the 'real' Reed as he makes his movie and grooves on indie bands that aren't so obscure that he can't use them to score pussy.

Prognostication: In the year since it hit festivals, Reed Fish has had plenty of opportunity to be branded the next Garden State, but not in a good way. And it does sound like a pastice of saccarine indie tropes: heartfelt music, ironic story layers and an official webpage that's been replaced by one on MySpace. There is hope in Alexis Beidel, however. With Gilmore Girls gone, are her fans hungry for anything, or wary of being burned again?

Crazy Love

http://chud.com/nextraimages/crazy_love_prog.jpgDevin says: True love can be a powerful emotion, powerful enough to make you hire a guy to throw lye in the face of the girl who spurned you and blind her. But what makes that woman want to marry you years later when you finally get out of jail? Crazy Love examines a bizarre and so, so New York couple who made the headlines with their odd lovelife over the course of many, many decades.

Prognostication: This documentary is not a strong first date movie, and it’s an even worse break-up movie. You don’t want to give her any ideas. This documentary is intermittently fascinating but a little too long; still, it’s hard not to marvel at the bizarre way the blinded woman just accepts her attacker back into her life. Weirdly, this movie feels like it would have made a better narrative film, where dramatic license would have allowed us to go into the heads of these people, as opposed to being stuck with their old time New York nonchalance.


Rise: Blood Hunter

http://chud.com/nextraimages/rise_blood_hunter_prog.jpgJeremy Says: Directed by Sebastian Gutierrez, who's already won at life by bagging Carla Gugino and taking a credit on Snakes on a Plane, this long delayed movie is yet another variation on the vampire genre in which, this time out, the creatures are sans fangs and unsusceptible to daylight. Lucy Liu plays a "female reporter" who gets turned into a bloodsucker and spends the rest of the movie hunting down the sect responsible for making her undead. Since she's impervious to sunlight, I don't quite understand why she's so cheesed.

Prognostication: According to one negative IMdB review of Rise: Blood Hunter, "the weaponry is disappointing". Well, fuck. Still, Liu allegedly goes topless in this, and Cameron Richardson, so memorable as Vincent's Coat Room Tryst on Entourage (I'm being totally serious!), co-stars, so I'll be Netflix-ing this in a few months. When I lived in New York and paid to see at least four movies a weekend, I might've seen checked this out theatrically. Oh, and on a big time WTF? note: John Toll shot this.

June 8

Hostel Part II

 Russ says: As I understand it, this is pretty much the first film with three girls instead of guys, and with a deeper glimpse into the process of buying a victim at the Eastern European torture playground for the rich. I expect the inclusion of 'Part' in the title is meant to connote some direct relationship to the first film, as if we didn't know that already.

Prognostication: Something happened I never expected: I've grown tired of talking smack about Eli Roth. I don't know if it's the rising tide of people who mistakenly think Hostel is good, or the fact that Thanksgiving was genuinely fun. I don't, however, have any more faith in Eli Roth than I do Michael Moore, and I expect this will pander to the same audience and therefore drink up the same, if not a slightly larger audience than before. Roth should just be psyched he ended up with a two-week jump on Captivity.

Ocean's 13

 Micah Says: Despite chasing away 95 percent of the fan audience from Ocean’s Eleven with the brilliantly lackadaisical pacing and plotting of Twelve, Clooney and gang know they have a solid property with this film series, and they’re wisely sticking with it. This time, the super duper double cross switcharoo story has been jettisoned in favor of a more straightforward revenge narrative, and Al Pacino will probably get to yell and gesticulate wildly for a few spare moments whether it’s in the script or not.

Prognostication: As one of the five percent of peeps who loved (not liked, loved) Twelve, I am personally disappointed that they seem to be reacting to the grumbling over that film with this one rather than building on the bizarrely stylish fun of that film. I understand that even Clooney and Soderbergh claim disdain for Twelve, but even they’re mistaken. Still, even with them throwing it under the bus and trying to make an audience-pleaser, I think this will be a fun heist flick, and I’m happy that Matt Damon’s Linus gets a more prominent role, as he’s been my fave throughout the series. Hopefully, the audience is still there.

Surf's Up

 Dan Says: Penguins continue their unholy quest to build themselves into a worldwide brand intent on total film and merchandising domination. I missed the allure kicked off by March of the Penguins but Sony Animation is falling in line with the Penguin's grand design and taking a whack at the cuter, less oozy side of Danny Devito's alias, this time focusing on a surfing penguin (voiced by Shia LeBouf), the championship he's intent on entering and the lessons he learns along the way via a bunch of quirky characters including Chicken John Heder, promoter James Woods and aging surf legend penguin Jeff Bridges.

Prognostication: Sony had a fair share of success with last year's Open Season (thanks for the push past $100 million, International!), but without a name like Disney or Shrek, who knows how this one will be received as monster success and plain ol' success usually take sides along those lines. I like the aesthetic look of the thing (thanks to the camera crew angle as seen in the trailers) and penguins and surfing should make a decent showing. Combine that with the fact about everything coming down the pike with CG animation sites set on ankle biters and the families who foster them draw crowds, I'd say Surf's Up won't be huge, but it's going to do well.


You're Gonna Miss Me

 Russ says: The history of American rock music is littered with prototype endeavors that most people, even those who consider themselves music fans, will never rediscover. That was the fate of the 13th Floor Elevators, an Austin, TX band formed in 1965 by singer/guitarist Roky Erickson. The Elevators had an electric jug player and basically created psychedelic rock, but broke up in '69 when Erickson chose a psychiatric hospital over prison as punishment for a pot bust. That's where the film begins -- it follows escape attempts, horrific shock treatments, full mental breakdowns and a family that's torn between prayer and medicine as treatment for a creative and broken son.

Prognostication: Think Brian Wilson went bugfuck crazy? Did Crumb push your 'fractured family' buttons? Erickson's story goes a lot further, and though it does finally have a happy ending of sorts, there's a lot of good down home American horror in the way. The Elevators and Erickson deserve wider love, and this might be the way to finally see some of it.

The Method

 Russ says: Seven job applicants arrive for interviews, at first not realizing that they're competing for a single position. Pressured into testing themselves according to the 'Gronholm Method', the group engages in paranoid games and humiliating acts to prove their worth to the company.

Prognostication: This sucker was being shooped around in 2005, and it would have been a smarter release then, when audiences who bellied up to The Apprentice could easily have been reeled in. Now that the tide of Trump's cultural glow has receeded past his hairline this is a harder sell, and right now Palm Pictures has enough to do just getting something onto screens, much less in front of an audience. Too bad, too, because I remember some good notes from this two years back.

La Vie en Rose

http://chud.com/nextraimages/lavieenrose.jpgJeremy Says: Marion Cotillard reportedly gives the performance of the year as Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan's follow-up to... Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse? Piaf, the beloved chanteuse who entertained Nazis at the One Two Two Club while cleverly assisting the French Resistance, is a fascinating figure; it's about time someone got around to offering up a definitive take on her life. I'm just not sure Dahan is that someone.

Prognostication: The early reviews indicate that Cotillard's phenomenal performance compensates for Dahan's overbearing style. It's a bit lengthy at 140 minutes, but the subject matter should pack 'em in for months at art houses all over the country. I bet Picturehouse will be booking and re-booking this one until the fall, when Cotillard will certainly start being touted as the frontrunner for Best Actress (though I hear Jessica Alba's quite good in Good Luck Chuck).

June 15

Fantastic Four

http://chud.com/nextraimages/ff_silver_surfer_prog.jpgDevin says: Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben are back, and this time they’re saving the world. On the eve of Reed and Sue’s marriage, a mysterious silver guy on a surfboard shows up – and his name, counterintuitively enough, is The Silver Surfer! He’s pretty powerful, and brings the noise to our small blue planet, but it turns out that he’s really the recon force for a bigger threat: Galactus, devourer of worlds.

Prognostication: Based on the classic, classic Fantastic Four stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer has a lot of expectations, even from people who hated the first one (fools). I really dug the first movie, and have watched it a couple of times on DVD since, and I’m excited about FFROTSS, but also worried; I really don’t know if Tim Story can pull this one off, and the rumors about Galactus appearing as a big storm cloud… oy vey. Maybe he’s INSIDE the storm cloud.


DOA: Dead or Alive

 Micah Says: Straight from the dusty video shelves in pretty much every other country in the world comes this last gasp to make some money off this low-budget martial arts monstrosity in the United States. Even though it’s based on the video game, this mostly eschews what people (read: adolescent boys) love about the game (tits) in favor of what people barely notice in the game (martial arts, narrative). And it’s packed with a grab bag of Z-listers (Eric Roberts, “Big Sexy” Wrestler Kevin Nash, Robin “Mortal Kombat” Shou) in a remake of pretty much every other martial arts film featuring a tournament on an exotic island and lead characters with something to prove. Unfortunately, Enter the Dragon, this aint.

Prognostication: Seeing this popup randomly on Google Video a little while back was good for a laugh or two and a waste of an afternoon. But having to go to a theater and actually concentrate on this gah-bage for 80 minutes? Um, no. I respect the attempts to trick out this pig with lipstick and blush. Hell, the trailer I saw creep up in US theaters a month ago almost fools you into thinking you’ll see some interesting low-budget wire-fu. But that stuff’s TV-level at best in this film, and it indeed plays like a pilot for one of those syndicated Sunday-at-3AM travesties like Cleopatra 2525 or She Spies. Besides, you can wait four weeks for this to finally show up on video here in the US, can’t you?


Nancy Drew

 Russ Says: Emma Roberts is the plucky, willfully stuck in the '50s Nancy Drew, whose father moves her to Los Angeles so he can take a new job. She promises to stop sluething, but golly! There's a mystery that just won't let her well enough alone. And she's so smart and full of good ideas and intentions! That Nancy always does the right thing.

Prognostication: This is what I said about the film to someone I'd just met earlier tonight who was surprised that I'd gone to see a screening of Nancy Drew last week: I would have been thrilled to walk out of the film wishing I had a daughter* so I could take her to see it; instead I was happier than ever that I don't have kids so I don't have to talk them out of it. Roberts is fine, and there's a sorta fun Bruce Willis and Adam Goldberg cameo, but the idiot manchild sidekick and doublemint twats meant to provide comedic respite are just the top layer of a badly misconceived script. It'll make a goddamn mint on DVD.

*Not a sexist comment, necessarily. Guys, when this movie comes up in conversation: "Huh? There's a new one?" Women: "OMG! You've seen it already? I can't wait!" There's a built-in audience here, and it ain't boys.

Eagle Vs Shark

http://chud.com/nextraimages/eaglevsshark_prog.jpgJeremy Says: Miramax is clearly hoping that they've got summer 2007's Napoleon Dynamite with this whimsical New Zealand comedy about two nerds who fall in love at an annual "come as your favorite animal" party. Jarrod (Jermaine Clement) is the Eagle, Lily (Loren Horsley) is the shark, and this all sounds like it could be terribly unbearable. I've heard "deadpan", "quirky" and "wry" being thrown around regarding this movie, which makes me nervous. I'd rather "good", "genuinely funny" and "not a complete waste of ninety minutes".

Prognostication: The internet critics seem to love it, but the trade publications both went negative when it screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The thick Kiwi accents will probably keep it from crossing over into the mainstream, while the mixed response could hurt Miramax's marketing efforts in limited release. But there's always an audience for this kind of twee nonsense, so maybe it'll develop a cult following on DVD. Or maybe it'll just go away like Happy, Texas.

Fido

 Dan Says: Why waste a perfectly good zombie (or Grampa for that matter) when you can put a collar around his neck and turn him into a perfectly functional subserviant? Fido plops the audience in the middle of a world stuck in 1950 where a comet has sprinkled a little pixy dust enabling all dead to become undead. Suburbia still exists in gated communities where science has given the zombie problem the upside of cheap labor, which has everyone keeping up with the Joneses in getting the latest moaning, teeth-gnashing flesh-eating appliances. Enter Timmy and his slightly dysfunctional family who grab themselves a late-model zombie. Timmy names the zombie Fido and endearing bonding ensues, only to go awry when Fido samples the drumstick on a grumpy old granny.

Prognostication: I caught this cute little number at Sundance earlier this year and as long as the film's been in circulation (which has been almost a year at various festivals and international releases) there's been lots of people who have seen it. And it's a film worth seeing, playing on the whole straight laced and pomaided suburban 50's schtick while throwing in delicious bits of dark humored pulp and spin on zombie lore to remind you the film you're watching isn't necessarily for the kids. Billy Connelly plays Fido, the zombie with a heart and Tim Blake Nelson gives a fun performance as a lecherous but friendly neghbor. In fact, performances (including Carrie-Anne Moss, Dylan Baker and Henry Czerny) are fun and breezy all around. While a little flat in some places thanks to obvious gags, Fido is still a breath of fresh air that I don't think will explode at the box office, but will certainly create a lot of good will with those who see it.


June 22

1408

 Micah Says: From the increasingly feeble imagination of Stephen King and the unendingly accepting agent of Samuel L. Jackson comes this rather bland-looking horror flick featuring a skeptical schlub (John Cusack) who checks into a sinister hotel room to debunk the dark mystique surrounding it. He don’t know it very well, do he?

Prognostication: Like a lot of people probably did, I thought this thing came out already as it’s been previewed for some time. Its random summer release does not bode well for the confidence behind it, but moreso than that, what’s the appeal? Cusack can make trash interesting, at least initially, but is that really enough to get you or anyone else into theaters to see this? Sam adds nothing, at least from the look of the trailer, so we’re left with another humdrum ghost story which is increasingly falling out of vogue for more visceral horror films. I suppose you could try to pass this off as more of a suspense/thriller-type film, but you’d need some…oh, I dunno…actual thrills in the trailer to pull that off, wouldn’t you?


Captivity

 Russ says: Elisha Cuthbert is a model who gets kidnapped, put in a cell and tortured a lot. For a detailed, hilariously high-minded bullshit description, read the one by production company After Dark Films right here. Seriously. They actually want to play the 'inspired by real events' card?

Prognostication: Like others, I've half rejected this out of hand without seeing it. That's bad. I mean, someone could read a very similar description of Funny Games and write it off, too, which would be a big mistake. But even if The Killing Fields director Roland Joffe was calling the shots, do you really see this having anything like the commentary embedded in a single scene of Haneke's movie? (The original, not the remake, which I can't wait to see.) At least Elisha is sexy, eh? Why didn't they just call it Die Hawt?

Evan Almighty

http://chud.com/nextraimages/evan_almighty_prog.jpgJeremy Says: How the sequel nobody wanted became the most expensive comedy of all time should form the basis of a great cautionary tale ala Julie Salmon's The Devil's Candy. Though everyone saw the casting of Steve Carell as a budget conscious attempt to avoid Jim Carrey's $20 million quote, this film, about Congressman Evan Baxter being commanded by God (Morgan Freeman) to build a second ark in anticipation of another great flood, somehow ended up costing upwards of $175 million. I hope all of that money didn't go into the erecting of this.

Prognostication: The trailer looks downright awful. Carell's audience is generally too smart for Tom Shadyac's brand of feel-good pap, so expect them to stay away. That means Universal is going to have to sell the rest of America on Carell filling in for Carrey in a kinda-sorta sequel to a movie they may not have liked in the first place. Evan Almighty has June 22nd pretty much all to itself (unless you think Captivity or 1408 pose a challenge), but negative buzz and a telltale 89-minute run time indicate that this could be the bomb of the summer.

You Kill Me


http://chud.com/nextraimages/you_kill_me_prog.jpgDevin says: He’s a drunken Buffalo mob hit man sent to San Francisco to dry out. She works at a mortuary and has no boundaries. Together they make an odd pair, but it gets even odder when a war erupts back home and his deadly services are needed again… and she comes with him.

Prognostication: Remember when Ben Kingsley’s name in the credits of a movie meant something? Those days are long gone, as he has spent too much time slumming with the likes of Uwe Boll. Sadly his co-stars – Tea Leoni and Luke Wilson – don’t elevate You Kill Me into ‘must see’ territory. But there’s hope: the movie is directed by John Dahl, who has been floundering since the unappreciated Rounders back in 1998. Could You Kill Me be his return to form, circa Red Rock West or The Last Seduction? Our fingers are crossed.

Black Sheep

 Russ says: Admit it, you've always wanted to go to New Zealand and bang a sheep. In the head with a hammer, of course. Either way, this one's got you sorted. Arrive with desires to nail a farm animal from either end and you'll go home happy. Genetic experiements cause an army of angry maneating super-sheep to terrorize a small part of the countryside, as an increasingly small number of humans tries to find another bottle of mint relish.

Prognostication: I saw Black Sheep at a packed festival screening last year and had a great time. Not that I loved it, but the mixture of classic WETA phsyical effects with a fun script had me fully engaged. Yeah, it's an obvious cop on Dead Alive, but it's a fun film in it's own right. Unlike, say, Evil Aliens, which was also a direct lift from Raimi and Jackson, but one I found boring and quite bad, this one stands on it's own and has a handful of memorable gags. It's never going to go very wide, but there are far worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Broken English

http://chud.com/nextraimages/broken_english_prog.jpgJeremy Says: The feature debut from Zoe Cassavetes (daughter of the great John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, and sister of the cool-as-shit Xan Cassavetes) is about Nora (Parker Posey), a woman in her thirties desperate for a stable relationship. Outside pressure from her friends and her mother (Rowlands) only helps to unnerve her more. But Nora's life changes when she meets Julian (Melvil Poupaud), "a quirky Frenchman" who does what quirky Frenchmen do, which means he probably fucks her silly.

Prognostication: I love the Cassavetes family. Love 'em. Even when Nick hauls off and makes a big sappy embarrassment like The Notebook, I explain it away. That's what these movies, this interview with Xan, and way too many childhood viewings of Gloria will do to a guy. In fact, it's my lifelong dream to be named an honorary Cassavetes. What this bodes for the critical or commercial prospects of Broken English, I have no idea. All I know is that I will see it and continue to celebrate the Cassavetes family for being so damn cool.


A Mighty Heart

 Micah Says: Angelina Jolie pisses off every Latina actress in her 30s to snatch up the role of Mariane Pearl, the widow to kidnapped and murdered reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman, not part of the esteemed peanut butter-making family). Rather than firmly stepping in one side of the political spectrum or the other, this is more of an emotional, personal tale, as it should be, I think.

Prognostication: I think curiosity is going to drive the viewership here as Daniel Pearl’s story is fairly recent and this film promises no new revelations or insight into the Middle Eastern maelstrom that it took place in. That just leaves you with Angelina’s altered appearance and little else, as she’s the only person of note here. I’m hoping that having Michael Winterbottom as director means that there’s some meat to this film, but I get the feeling that it just isn’t he case. The summer release date is also a troublesome sign for this sort of material, but perhaps the studio thinks could actually work as counter-programming with legs. Don’t count on it.


June 29

Live Free or Die Hard

http://chud.com/nextraimages/live_free_or_die_hard_prog.jpgJeremy Says: The first (allegedly) PG-13 rated Die Hard will either revitalize a franchise that's lain dormant since 1995 or end it like Fernando Rey in French Connection II. I'm rooting for the latter because I don't want Len Wiseman straying out of his depth; if he has to go on making movies, let's please relegate him to dopey action-horror hybrids about werewolves fighting vampires. In this fourth Die Hard, Bruce Willis's John McClane battles a terrorist (Timothy Olyphant) bent on shutting down the entire infrastructure of the United States.

Prognostication: McClane's back in Los Angeles for the first time since Die Hard I, but he's got the writer of 2004's pathetic Godsend penning his quips. Had Jeb Stuart and Stephen E. de Souza been corralled to give the quintessential regular guy action hero of the 1980s a proper sendoff, I'd be excited. As it stands, we're getting an anonymous, watered down summer popcorn flick. It'll open respectably, and die easily the following weekend when Transformers shows up.

Evening

http://chud.com/nextraimages/evening_prog.jpgDevin says: Get out the hankies: while Ann lies on her deathbed, she recounts to her daughters stories of her life 50 years earlier, especially stories about Harris, the man she loved and could never forget.

Prognostication: It’s a weepy chick flick fo’ sho, but look at that cast: Vanessa Redgrave is old Ann, while Claire Danes is Young Ann. And just in case the idea of Redgrave telling this touching story to her daughters on her deathbed doesn’t get to you enough, one of the daughters is played by her REAL daughter, Natasha Richardson! The other daughter is Toni Collette, whose career really should have been better by now, I have always thought. And finally there’s new CHUD mancrush Patrick Wilson, who’s quite possibly going to star in Watchmen. Can we all be gay about this guy and forget about one note Christian Bale already?

Ratatouuille

 Russ says: Patton Oswalt, a cute dwarf who sometimes makes me chuckle, voices a rat with culinary ambitions in Brad Bird's latest Pixar effort. The rat can read and understand humans (duh) and manages to create a sort of French Master/Blaster relationship with a hapless cook in one of Paris's best restaurants, the better to advance both their careers. Yeah, that's right. What Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was to Hamlet, this is to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Don't look at me like that.

Prognostication: I hate being suckered in by marketing. Brad Bird's name had barely elevated this above a ho-hum interest level (which says a lot, because I'd give up a kidney before The Iron Giant) and then I saw the preview footage. Not that I was wowed, but Oswalt works, and the whole enterprise promises the same sort of charm that the rare '70s Disney feature offered. That's probably not exactly where Pixar wants to be right now, though. Without the easy merch hooks that kept Cars from falling flat, I'm afraid that Ratatoullie will be Pixar's first non-smash, and the repurcussions could be distasteful.

Sicko

 Russ Says: Michael Moore stays mostly behind the camera this time as he follows the plight of several Americans who are unable to get the health care they need. In his crusade to tear down what passes for the US health system, Moore avoids the confrontational interviews that have become a trademark, going instead for more intimate stories.

Prognostication: I've stated publicly more than once that I have no faith left for Michael Moore; his last two films proved to me only that he was more interested in his own PR than in making a cogent argument. I've also stated that I'd eat my words if Sicko lived up to Moore's own proclamations, and word out of Cannes suggests that it may do just that. I know that Moore suggests we scrap what we're working with and start over; I'm looking forward to what he suggests we enable in the resulting void. I'm also curious to see how many other people want to get sick with Mike. Without the partisan hook of his last two pictures, Sicko seems doomed to relatively middling returns.

Death at a Funeral

http://chud.com/nextraimages/death_at_a_funeral_prog.jpgDevin says: Nothing says comedy like a dead dad. At least Frank Oz hopes so – he’s directed this British comedy about a man who dies and whose secrets may come out at his hilariously incompetent funeral.

Prognostication: I don’t think Frank Oz has been involved in anything worth seeing this entire century. Could Death at a Funeral be a return to form for the director of Bowfinger, In & Out and What About Bob?? (Double question mark not meant to express a large amount of exasperation!) I would like it to be so, and while the buzz has been positive for this movie, which played the US Comedy Arts Festival, it hasn’t been deafening. But maybe that’s good – I love seeing a movie and being completely surprised by how good it is. And with a cast that includes Alan Tudyk, Mathhew MacFadyen and The Dink, Death at a Funeral has a real shot at being worth seeing.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil

http://chud.com/nextraimages/ghosts-cite.jpgDevin says: In 2004 Haiti is falling apart. The first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has turned out to be a dictator, and he’s been employing gangs from Cite Soleil slum – called the most dangerous place on Earth by the UN – to intimidate protestors. This documentary follows two gang leaders, Haitian 2Pac and Bily, who also happen to be brothers. Haitian 2Pac has turned against Aristide and writes rap about him while Bily remains a loyal supporter. As rebel forces get closer to toppling Aristide, the two brothers must deal with daily pressures in the slum as well as their feelings for a French aid worker.

Prognostication: This film is sort of incredible in that the story it tells would rival any Ed Zwick Hollywood action romance. The filmmakers have seemingly unlimited access to the gang lords, even filming them while showering. Their relationship, and their relationships with the aid worker, are gripping, and all set against a background of incredible national strife that both men know will probably lead to their arrests at best but most likely their deaths. Truly gripping.

Vitus

http://chud.com/nextraimages/vitusposter.jpgJeremy Says: Bruno Ganz plays "Grandfather" in this poignant tale of a young piano prodigy whose parents' enthusiasm for the exploitation of his innate ability forces him to take charge of his own destiny. Sounds like it should be called Searching for Glenn Gould. It won Switzerland's equivalent of Best Picture and has done well at various film festivals, so maybe it's worth seeing.

Prognostication: This kind of material always has a chance to strike a resonant chord with art film audiences who like to pretend they're adventurous but really just want to watch commercial movies in more respectable settings (e.g. The Full Monty, Amélie and Timerider). Its success depends on Sony Classics' release strategy and how aggressively the film mugs your emotions. It could be effective late June counter-programming to the blockbuster onslaught. Or it could be in and out of theaters before mid-July.