Excess Hollywood

In the season of sequels and Happy Meal toys, '05 may be a pleasant surprise

George A. Romero's Land of the Dead
Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento and ZOMBIES!
Written and directed by: George Romero
What it's about: The creator of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead finally gets to make a new big-budget zombie movie, after the mediocre Dawn remake made a pretty penny. Continuing the Romero Dead saga, the film envisions a postapocalyptic world in which humans live in fortified cities while trying to ignore the fact that every place outside their walls is inhabited by flesh-hungry zombies.
Why it will be fabulous: It's a sequel that's been requested for 20 years -- almost as long as Revenge of the Sith. And Romero is not the kind of director who will go soft.
Why it will be dreadful: John Leguizamo? Why?

Opening June 29

War of the Worlds
Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: David Koepp and Josh Friedman, based on the novel by H.G. Wells
What it's about: A family fights for survival amid an invasion of "alien tripod fighting machines."
Why it will be fabulous: Expect lots of special-effects dazzle in the Close Encounters/Jurassic Park style, and more of Spielberg's characteristic empathy for the little guy.
Why it will be dreadful: Tom Cruise.

Dakota Fanning and Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds.
Dakota Fanning and Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Opening July 1

Starring: Martin Lawrence, Horatio Sanz, Megan Mullally and Breckin Meyer
Directed by: Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care)
Written by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
What it's about: A misbehaving college basketball coach (Lawrence) is fired and winds up having to coach a losing middle-school team.
Why it will be fabulous: It could do for Martin Lawrence what School of Rock did for Jack Black. That's clearly the intent, anyway.
Why it will be dreadful: Gee, um . . . Martin Lawrence?

Opening July 8

Dark Water
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Pete Postlethwaite and Ariel Gade
Directed by: Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries)
Written by: Rafael Yglesias (From Hell)
What it's about: American remake of Ringu director Hideo Nakata's other movie about a malevolent drowned girl ghost with hair in her face and the power to manipulate water.
Why it will be fabulous: The original is one of the scariest movies ever, and Salles is no slouch.
Why it will be dreadful: Nakata's original came out three years ago, and since then, audiences may have overdosed on that whole "long black hair covering the face" bit. Also, both of the Hollywood Ring movies and The Eye cribbed liberally from the original already.

Fantastic Four
Starring: Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba and Julian McMahon
Directed by: Tim Story
Written by: Michael France, Simon Kinberg and Mark Frost
What it's about: Four astronauts -- Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and sister Sue (Alba), Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Ben Grimm (Chiklis) -- are bathed in gamma rays during an outer-space trip and are transformed, respectively, into the Human Torch, Invisible Woman, the stretchy Mr. Fantastic, and the hideous Thing. The superhero team, a 44-year-old Marvel Comics institution, battles its armor-clad nemesis Doctor Doom (McMahon); chaos ensues, duh.
Why it will be fabulous: Because Marvel has managed to do the superhero movie thing right with the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises.
Why it will be dreadful: Then again, The Punisher, Daredevil, Elektra and Hulk were super-awful, and the trailer looks fantastically horrid.

Directed by: Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
What it's about: This documentary about quadriplegic rugby players, who manhandle and mangle their opponents from souped-up wheelchairs that look as though they were rescued from a postapocalyptic garbage dump, tells of Team USA's struggle to capture the title at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Why it will be fabulous: It is fabulous, so much so that when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the members of Team USA were treated like movie-star royalty at every party they attended. And they attended a lot of them. (These guys love to party.)
Why it will be dreadful: It won't be. Seriously. Don't worry.

Opening July 15

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore and Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August
What it's about: Charlie Bucket (Highmore, Depp's Finding Neverland co-star) finds one of the golden tickets that allows him to tour the candy factory of demented sweets-maker Willy Wonka (Depp). Also on the treacherous tour are the usual suspects, including Charlie's Grandpa Joe, Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, and the Oompa-Loompas.
Why it will be fabulous: There's no music this time, and Burton promises to go deeper and darker than Mel Stuart did in his 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Why it will be dreadful: Because as much as you and I and everyone else loves Johnny Depp, he ain't no Gene Wilder. And because, alas, "Pure Imagination" is a swell song that will be missed.

Wedding Crashers
Starring: Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Christopher Walken
Directed by: David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights)
Written by: Steve Faber and Bob Fisher
What it's about: Two wild and crazy guys keep crashing wedding parties in order to score with chicks, but when they hit up the wedding of a presidential candidate's (Walken) daughter, one falls in love while the other meets a psycho obsessive girl.
Why it will be fabulous: Any movie that envisions Christopher Walken as a presidential candidate must ipso facto be fabulous.
Why it will be dreadful: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson aren't the most picky actors in the world when it comes to scripts.

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