By David Mumpower
1) Spider-Man 2
When studying the appeal of this movie, I think the most overlooked factor is the Shakespearean aspect of it. Peter Parker has been been blessed with awesome power, but all it does is isolate him from his friends and loved ones. That which makes him special is also what keeps him alone. I am not a fan of comic books, but I admire the layers of depth contained within the basic Mary Jane storyline. I am also intrigued by the developing Green Goblin redux. All of that is irelevant to the true selling point of this sequel for me personally. Alfred Molina is one of the finest actors of our age, and this opportunity to play over-the-top evil in a $400 million epic makes me want to repeatedly high five Sam Raimi for the savvy in his casting. A masterstroke of villainy is the proverbial icing on the cake of this developing saga.
2) The Village
The only topic of discussion for M. Night Shyamalan's latest work is whether it will be more of a Signs or a Unbreakable with regards to box office performance. No matter the long-term performance, opening weekend is a slam dunk. At this point, Shyamalan is the only director in the world (and I include Spielberg in that) whose name guarantees a first weekend haul. The Village looks to announce the presence of Ron Howard's daughter, Bryce, as a presence in the acting world. Other than that, it largely looks like a de facto sequel to Signs. Whether or not you consider that a good thing depends on how much you enjoyed the Mel Gibson epic. For me, that's great news, but I understand that a lot of folks are passionately against Shyamalan's style of direction. I find this unusual amount of discussion his films provide to be the strongest positive about his growing reputation.
3) The Bourne Identity
The first film was mired by some of the worst buzz in recent history. Doug Liman was repeatedly accused of being unable to run a set, and there are rumors that the final cut was out of his hands. Considering how negative his experience was, it's unsurprising that the Go! director chose a different project instead of this sequel (assuming he was even given the chance to return). What is much more surprising is how well received the Matt Damon: Amnesiac flick was upon its release. After a very strong domestic run, Bourne went on to become the most successful rental of 2003. With this market driving the industry, a sequel was something of a no-brainer though the speed of the follow-up production is somewhat unusual. The fact that it is hitting theaters after almost exactly the same amount of time as Spider-Man, the biggest opening in box office history, speaks volumes about Universal's satisfaction with this budding franchise. The question, then, is whether enough planning was done in creating a satisfactory follow-up outing for Jason Bourne. Otherwise, this project looks to have one of the best pedigrees of 2004.
Will Ferrell is funny. That seems to be the consensus, anyway. As someone who loathed Elf (yeah, I'm that guy), I don't see it. Well, I didn't see it in that movie. I am of the opinion that Ferrell is exactly as good as his material, so he will sink or swim solely based on how strong his script selections are from here on out. Anchorman is a concept that sounds lousy on paper, and the commercials aren't much better. Despite that, there should be enough goodwill from Elf to allow this to be a Dodgeball-sized hit.
5) King Arthur
This project will test two theories at once. Can Clive Owen be a large part of a hit movie? And I mean more than the eight-minute cameo in The Bourne Identity. The fate of the James Bond franchise hangs in the balance as the best actor for the job tries to prove he is not box office poision. Propping him up is the presence of Hollywood's biggest hitmaker, Jerry Bruckheimer. His name on the production increases the likelihood of this project being a hit by a factor of ten. And that's before we factor in the presence of Hottie du Jour Keira Knightley. The deck is certainly stacked here, so I have but one simple question. Why do the commercials suck? I would expect to be less bored at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions than I would at King Arthur based on what I've seen in the trailers. I have a lot of faith in Bruckheimer, but this one has the stink of failure...or at the very least disappointment on it.
6) I, Robot
The CGI in this commercial is great. I realize that's not the majority opinion at the moment, but I love the ominous facial expressions of the ghostly machines. Ethereal menace is no small feat in the tech world, so I applaud the work done here. As for the rest of the film, yeesh. Seriously, does anyone know if Will Smith's agent has been the recipient of repeated concussive blows to the head? I am trying to figure out what has gone wrong with one of the most promising young careers in the industry, but I'm at something of a loss. The presence of Bruce Greenwood notwithstanding, this looks like a trainwreck.
7) The Manchurian Candidate
I have a rather unique point of view about re-makes. For the most part, I feel that an attempt to update a previously successful idea from a past movie generation should be given every chance to breathe. I generally rail against the relatively close-minded thought process that art is eternal and classic movies should be allowed to gain dust on the shelf. This, however, seems to me to be an exception. The original movie holds up quite well, and there is very little that a new take on it could hope to offer in a world where the basic precepts of The Manchurian Candidate get taken for a spin every couple of years. In point of fact, even if Fahrenheit 9/11 hadn't stolen the thunder here, even shows as eclectic as The Dead Zone and The Chronicle have liberally borrowed from the formula in the past couple of years. There just doesn't seem to be any real buzz here nor does there seem to be any real need.
Redefining suck for a new generation, this is the worst looking piece of dreck since Batman and Robin. Any person suckered into the theater opening weekend deserves all the horror they receive. More to the point, if this does anything but bomb, I promise to personally slap each and every movie-goer who buys a ticket. Stupid is as stupid does, and you should know better by now. Have some pride, people. David Justice was able to get away from Halle Berry, so you should as well.
9) Harold and Kumar
Let's all take a moment to hearken back to a simpler time. In the late '80s, an unknown actor named Keanu Reeves took his friend Alex Winter along on a most triumphant journey through time. The duo's excellent adventure proved so successful that a sequel and a Saturday morning cartoon would follow. Later on, an even dumber thespian colloquially called Kelso wondered to his comrade about the location of their automobile. A new generation discovered the intrinsic comedy value of two braindead lemmings trying to find their way in the world. With Harold and Kumar, we have the latest iteration of this modern day answer to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's road adventures. To modernize the concept a bit, some 4:20 references have been sprinkled throughout, but the core idea remains. It's funny watching bad things happen to dumb people. This film is poised to be the sleeper hit of the summer.
10) A Cinderella Story/ Sleepover
These films are a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that as long as you are not stuck in the theater with them, the two releases manage to isolate pre-teen girls from the (much quieter) rest of civilization. The bad news is that some of you unfortunates have girls in this age bracket, meaning you will be trapped in the theaters with these shrill, overly excited girls. For those of you to whom this applies, I have but one suggestion: whiskey flask. Otherwise, that is going to be a brutal 90 minutes if you are sober.
Marty Doskins's July 2004 Forecast
John Seal's July 2004 Forecast
Stephanie Star Smith's July 2004 Forecast