By Aaron Cutler
By Amy Nicholson
By Simon Abrams
By Chris Klimek
By Nick Schager
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
It's a good thing you've found your way here, because not only will you be informed of much to anticipate in the cinematic year ahead, you'll be kept safe from those nincompoop mainstream critics who have already pre-mailed their annual comment cards to the studios, arbitrarily checking off words like "triumph," "masterpiece" and "yowza." Relax and return here often, as your discerning taste will be relatively well nurtured.
If you squint, you'll see this year looks almost exactly like last year, and the year before that. Time's funny that way. There will be good guys (Spider-Man, Jackie Chan) battling bad guys (Jason Voorhees, Adam Sandler). There will be lovers making a mess of things (as in Arliss Howard's Big Bad Love and Cameron Diaz discovering The Sweetest Thing). There will be sequel after blessed sequel. And there will be loads of movies held back until the human race is finally prepared for them, such as John McTiernan's remake of Rollerball, Andrew Davis' mercifully delayed Collateral Damage (featuring Hollywood's coolest unsung talent, Cliff Curtis) and the summer-camp fracas Happy Campers, which marks the directorial debut of utterly brill Heathers scribe Daniel Waters. Just hold on.
In the interest of cutting right to the most vital of matters, we should address the topic of Scooby-Doo, which opens in June. Recently, this intrepid critic decided to go tactical and crash a marketing presentation for the movie, aimed at fostering corporate tie-ins. (Studio executives and PR reps love this sort of behavior. Ask one!) Anyway, the scoop is that the effects house called Rhythm & Hues has done a bang-up job on that zany Great Dane, and believe you me we witnessed several tests of the mutt shaking his moneymaker. Topping this marvel, however, Matthew Lillard (who plays the stoner Shaggy) wheezed, "Scooby and I actually get into a farting contest! Your kids are gonna love this!" Even more peculiar is the fact that Freddie Prinze Jr. plays the very Scandinavian-looking Fred -- a casting stunt akin to Dolph Lundgren portraying Sancho Panza. Whatever. If you're up for screenwriter James Gunn's (The Specials) cheeky amalgamation of Charlie's Angels and KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, AOL Time Warner will humbly accept your donations. Zoinks.
Before summer strikes, however, bestowing upon us its Men in Black and Stuart Little sequels (both of which promise to distract you while their makers vacation in Fiji), we have a few months of film to sift through. Early on, we'll witness veteran funnymen Chevy Chase and Harold Ramis passing their sputtering torches to Jack Black and Tom Hanks' son Colin in Orange County, directed by Lawrence Kasdan's son Jake. (Nepotism? In the movies? Preposterous!) We'll also behold Jodie Foster -- who passed on the chance to redeem Hannibal -- evading meanies in a high-tech apartment in Panic Room, directed by David "Darkness Is Scary" Fincher. There's also something approaching involving Cuba Gooding Jr. and some huskies, but after Rat Race, you should sort that one out on your own.
Also filling up early 2002 will be a grab bag of potential delights, including the ever-so-slightly famous Nicole Kidman starring as a feisty Russian mail-order bride opposite Ben Chaplin's repressed nerd in Jez Butterworth's Birthday Girl. (Considering Miramax's consistently impressive output last year, from Blow Dry to In the Bedroom, the Weinstein label is worth watching.) Disney will also return us to Neverland, sans Michael and Bubbles, in its animated Peter Pan sequel, one of several offerings from the studio, including Lilo & Stitch (about a little Hawaiian girl who accidentally adopts a dangerous interstellar criminal) and The Country Bears, which apparently involves an all-star cast (including Christopher Walken) scuffling with America's favorite animatronic redneck caricatures. There's also a highly anticipated new version of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine soon to arrive, directed -- mostly, as word has it he collapsed a few times -- by Wells' great-grandson, Simon.
Speaking of Amblin and DreamWorks products, if you're curious about why some rather cheap-looking E.T. toys have appeared on the shelves of your local retailer, you can thank Steven Spielberg, who has sleekified his 20-year-old cash cow for a new generation, reportedly digitally enhancing the silly puppet and transforming the CIA's guns into extremely threatening walkie-talkies. I know it's supposed to be heartwarming and wonderful, but for two decades, I have maintained: Cosmic botanist or otherwise, if that creepy little rubberhead invaded my home, I'd bust out the tennis racket first and ask questions later.
And speaking of busting heads -- droid heads, Jedi heads, hopefully Jar Jar's head -- the other King of All Media, George Lucas, will unveil his new Star Wars movie in the spring. Of course, after The Phantom Menace, it's all too easy to fire at the exhaust port of the Force-ful one. Heck, given character names like Elian Sleazebaggano (no joke) and Christopher Lee's Count Dooku (alas, still no joke) plus the title itself -- Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones -- one might question the teetering sanity of the great Empire builder. But have you noticed that Phantom Menace got a lot better on video, nudging the imagination and dazzling the eyes with high-tech wizardry? Perhaps millions of voices crying out in cynicism will be suddenly silenced. Fingers are loosely crossed.
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