Friday, June 26, 2009

Weekend/ MOVIES: Want to get out of the sun? Try a hot flick in a cool theater



The blockbuster season is in full swing, with the two big summer Hollywood movies already in wide release--"Terminator Salvation" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."

The only other big action movie opening in Japan this summer is "G.I. Joe" (Aug. 7), which has less to do with the iconic military action-figure from the 1960s than with super-hero comics like "The Avengers." It features an international all-star cast and was directed by Stephen Sommers, who was responsible for past computer graphic-enhanced blockbusters like "The Mummy" and "Van Helsing."

Otherwise, there's Liam Neeson's ex-CIA agent killing everything in sight as he tries to save his kidnapped daughter in "Taken" (Aug. 22), and the cockeyed spirituality behind even greater violence (i.e., the end of the world) offered up by the Nicolas Cage vehicle "Knowing" (July 10).

In Japan, family films are a bigger summer draw, as evidenced by the perpetual box office success of seasonal features based on popular TV anime series like "Crayon Shinchan."

Disney has two local releases this summer.

The more popular will be "Bolt" (Aug. 1), which was already nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film and is Disney's first animated release since John Lasseter, the man responsible for some of Pixar's best movies, took over as creative head of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Besides being more technically proficient than past Disney computer animation movies, "Bolt" is funnier and more imaginative. A dog is fooled into thinking that the TV show he appears on is actually real life, until he escapes and sees what real life really is.

The other Disney feature, "Race to Witch Mountain" (July 4), is a reworking of a 1970s family science-fiction adventure for a newer audience who demands more action, which in this case means car chases and former pro wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson beating up bad guys.

Two other CG animated movies are opening here. "Monsters vs Aliens" (July 11), a broad parody of classic 1950s "creature features," like "The Blob" and "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman," is filled with rapid-fire jokes aimed at adults.

It will be offered at some theaters in a spectacular 3D version, but as with all foreign 3D movies in this country, you should check beforehand to see if screenings are dubbed.

The "Ice Age" crew of wisecracking prehistoric mammals will be around for a third film, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (July 25).

But if you like your animation more old-fashioned and your humor less ironic, you'll probably prefer the latest Wallace and Gromit adventure, "A Matter of Loaf and Death" (July 18), which finds the absent-minded inventor and his resourceful mutt in the bread business and staving off a serial killer who holds a grudge against bakers.

The main all-ages movie of the summer is "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (July 15), in which everyone's favorite boy wizard develops even stronger romantic attachments while learning about the history of his archrival Voldemort.

Since it's directed by David Yates, we can expect more of the breathless pacing that characterized "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Yates will also direct the final story in the series "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which will be released in two parts.

One of the bigger family hits overseas, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," opens here Aug. 13. Ben Stiller returns as the reluctant museum guard, as do most of the high-priced actors (Robin Williams, Steve Coogan, Owen Wilson) who made the first movie amusing with their cameo appearances.

This time the titular Washington D.C. museum gets the CG treatment, not to mention a few local tourist attractions like the Lincoln Memorial.

On a much more serious note, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" (Aug. 8) is about the 8-year-old son of a German concentration camp commandant who makes friends with an 8-year-old Jewish boy on the other side of the barbed wire without understanding the real purpose of the camp. The simplicity of the story indicates that younger viewers would probably gain the most from it, though parents may find the subject matter too disturbing for children.

Some of the adult-themed movies that might get trampled in the blockbuster stampede include the indie hit "Sunshine Cleaning" (July 11), about two sisters who start a cleaning business specializing in crime scenes; "3:10 to Yuma" (Aug. 8), a violent remake, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, of a classic 1957 Western; "Coco Chanel" (sometime this summer), a TV biopic with Shirley MacLaine as the legendary imperious French designer; "Cadillac Records" (Aug. 15), a well-acted history of Chess Records, the Chicago blues label that brought the world Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Etta James (Beyonce); Spike Lee's fantastical epic "Miracle at St. Anna" (July 25), about a group of black Americans fighting in Italy during World War II; and "He's Just Not That Into You" (Aug. 1), a talky, all-star romantic comedy.

And for cross-cultural synergy, you've got Richard Gere starring in "Hachiko: A Dog's Story" (Aug. 8), Lasse Hallstrom's re-imagining of the famous true story about a dog's undying devotion that has been shifted from 1920s Tokyo to a small American town in the present. For once, Japanese audiences get to see a major American movie before the Americans do.(IHT/Asahi: June 26,2009)

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