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CINEMA OF 2004

SOMETHING TO WEEP OVER OR SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO?

Columbia Pictures will release White Chicks, an action comedy about disgruntled FBI agents posing as caucasian women in order to protect two hotel heiresses, aptly called the Wilton Sisters. Keenan Ivory Wayans, the dude who lensed I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Don't Be A Menace (To South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood) and the lucrative Scary Movie franchise, directed the project, casting brothers Marlon and Shawn Wayans as the main stars. The film, which pokes fun at the Hamptons glitterati and Federal Bureau of Investigation, will reach theaters on June 25th. Scary Movie character actor Lochlyn Munro co-stars, along with Brittany Daniel and Busy Phillips. Something about the whole reverse minstel thing with black comedians in white make-up seems terribly familiar. Perhaps because it was a staple of Eddie Murphy's Saturday Night Live shtick and a regular occurrence on Comedy Central's Chapelle Show. But hey, as long as Anna Faris doesn't get hit by another car, then I'm all right with that.

Manic's Joseph Gordon-Levitt will star alongside Elizabeth Shue and Michelle Trachtenberg in the screen adaptation of Scott Heim's haunting and cerebral first novel Mysterious Skin (see: www.greggaraki.com). The story centers around a small-town teenager whose lapses in memory and innate fears and paranoia are the result of a childhood molestation at the hands of his Little League Coach. Although the premise sounds like a TV movie in the style of so many 90's HBO specials, it seems auspicious if only by virtue of who directed it. Filmmaker Gregg Araki, the uber-visual pro-sex helmsman who delivered such electrifying, euphoric and thought-provoking features as The Living End, The Doom Generation, Totally F***ed Up and Nowhere is behind the camera for this one. And again, you may say "Who gives a rip?" Hell, most people don't even like the guy, dismissing his work as promiscuous, sophomoric and lame. But those of us who can appreciate his Valley Girl in the Valley of the Post-Millenial Apocalypse aesthetic have to take notice when he suddenly decides to break from the trappings of his obvious track record (i.e.: working from a book and a script that he himself had no hand in. And no references to 666 yet! Maybe this looks promising after all. No release date has been issued.

Richard Linklater, who scored big this past year with the sleeper hit School of Rock, will be writing and directing an untitled college comedy for Paramount and Alphaville. The flick is set in 1980's Texas and is supposed to bear similarities to Linklater's Dazed and Confused. The protagonist is a young man who arrives on campus to join the baseball team. While I am a huge fan of the nostalgia-drenched classic Dazed and Confused and most everything else in the director's canon, I have to ask: Didn't For Love of the Game teach us anything?

Those quirky coots the Cohen Brothers (Joel-director, Ethan, producer) who segued from a string of brilliant and unique features like Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and The Man Who Wasn't There into the slightly more mainstream arena with last year's screwball George Clooney vehicle Intolerable Cruelty will unveil their latest effort, The Ladykillers, on March 26. Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans star as criminals of Southern distinction. Goldthwait Higginson Door III (Hanks) and his co-horts pose as a band who play church music so as to convince a pious old woman named Mrs. Munson to let them "practice their tunes" in her root cellar where they will really be digging a tunnel to a casino's safe. Only problem is, Mrs. Munson ain't as innocent as she seems and repeatedly thwarts their plans..."inadvertently". It's hard to utter a negative word about the guys who wrote The Hudsucker Proxy, but the idea of combining Duplex and Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks worries me. Nevertheless, I will be going to check it out on March 26th.

Speaking of Woody Allen, the master of New York neuroses and existential humor is behind the camera once again. And as if the box office failure of 2003's Anything Else proved nothing, Allen has decided to work with young It-actors again. Allen is famous for his privacy so, technically, the "name" of his latest production is a project he has done many times before. "Untitled Woody Allen Fall Project" is about...who the fuck knows? 'Fall Project' features everybody from Will Ferrell and Josh Brolin to Radha Mitchell and Chloe Sevigny. Allen regulars Charles H. Joffe and Jack Rollins once again executive produce.

Everybody seems to be taking the safe road these days, and I am not sure whether that is bad or good. Some projects, like the aforementioned School of Rock, are perfectly entertaining and valuable in spite of their lack of originality in the plot, casting and/or production department(s). But then you see something like the grandiloquent Steven Soderbergh mess Solaris (a remake, mind you) and you realize that sometimes the greatest, most groundbreaking artists in cinema should never be lauded or awarded. This is what happens when Erin Brockovich makes a goldmine.

But if what I just said pisses you off, you'll have the chance to disprove it by going and seeing the upcoming Patricia Arquette flick Tiptoes. The film, a romantic drama that centers on a pregnant woman being introduced to the "small" family of her baby's daddy, is being helmed by Matthew Bright. Matthew who? If you don't know his name, it is probably because every single film he has been involved in was released direct-to-video or made for cable. Freeway, Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trick Baby, Shrunken Heads, Gun Crazy and Modern Vampires were all low-budget shlockers, and some of us liked them that way. With Freeway, we were able to get a nice glimpse of a rowdy Reese Witherspoon before Hollywood bleached the ever-loving shit out of her and made her adapt the colloquialisms of a retarded valley girl. And you'd have to dig pretty deep to find another film in history with a better line than "You gonna fuck me, Bob? You gonna fuck me, Bob?!" Or maybe that's just me. After all, lest we forget what my name is.

Time will tell whether all these films prove to be 100% Grade B flotsam and jetsam, but maybe this is what the independent film world wished upon itself---to infiltrate the mainstream and reap all the benefits the lesser moviemakers had been enjoying for years.

If the films turn out to suck, who can we blame?

©Bob Freville 2004

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