…aaaand we’re back.

May. The most obvious month in cinema. I know that everyone reading this is planning to see Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean, and I’m afraid that some of you are going to plonk down duckets for Shrek, as well. Your funeral, pal.

And yet in spite, or because of those massive bookending blockbusters, this month is actually packed with cool movies. 28 Weeks Later… might not suck, Devin has already loved Once to death, Waitress may just be the touching end to Adrienne Shelley’s career we’ve hoped it would be, and The Boss Of It All might change some minds about Lars von Trier.

And in case we already haven’t said it loud enough: See Severance. It’s just pure, wicked fun. If it opens anywhere near you, it’s definitely worth the drive. While you’re on the road you can create yet another betting pool about which tentpole film will take the biggest numbers this year — as much as I love Spidey, good money now is split between Pirates and Potter.

(The post-Spidey edit: word of mouth is a killer, and Webhead might have a really rough second weekend. Place your bets accordingly.)

Week of May 4

Spider-Man 3

 Devin Says: Marvel Comics’ signature hero is back for another go round. This time Peter Parker has to deal with a plethora of issues: his girlfriend is unhappy, his new costume is making him a dick, Sandman is robbing banks and a rival photographer is turned into a supervillain looking to just ruin his day. Oh, and his best friend blames him for his father’s death and has juiced himself up with super powers and is looking for a little vengeance. And if all that wasn’t enough, Bruce Campbell is giving him a very hard time.

Prognostication: Spider-Man 3 is getting mixed reviews (Nick, Jeremy), and I think that will extend to audiences. Sam Raimi and company have packed this film to the very gills with characters, conflicts and action scenes, and either it’s going to leave you stunned by the sheer overwhelming energy or it’s going to leave you wishing the story had been put together a little bit better. Either way, you and everyone you know are going to see it.

Lucky You

 Dan Says: Eric Bana is ace poker player Huck. No relation to Finn. Huck’s getting tired of the career shadow his Pop (another ace poker player ala Robert Duvall) has cast over him and heads to Vegas to confront his father issues once and for all. Naturally, he has a meet cute with Drew Barrymore, a singing singer. Through their lucky love, they come to understand life is great, what you make of it and all that schmaltzy stuff.

Prognostication: I’ll give Eric Bana high fives all day long, but Warner Brothers is about to let this rom-dram thing give up the ghost, thanks to Lucky You having been kicked around more often than the drunken hobo you found passed out on your remote control. First slated for a September 06 release, then March 07, Lucky You gets dropped straight down on Spider-Man 3‘s turf this Friday. Sayonara, sucker.


Away From Her

 Jeremy Says: Actress Sarah Polley makes her feature directing debut with this adaptation of an Alice Munro short story about a husband, Grant, (Gordon Pinset) who is emotionally devastated when his recently institutionalized, Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife, Fiona, (Julie Christie) falls in love with another nursing home patient, Aubrey (Michael Murphy). When Grant decides to let Fiona go to ensure her happiness, he must contend with the contrary wishes of Aubrey’s wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis).

Prognostication: It might sound unbearably syrupy, but Away from Her has garnered enthusiastic notices for its sober-minded consideration of romantic love. Polley’s work as an actor has always been emotionally acute, so it’s not surprising to hear that she’s delivered a work of great sensitivity. The presence of living-legend Christie will draw older art house moviegoers; expect this film to do respectable business in limited release.


Paris je t’aime

 Jeremy Says: Ah, to be in Paree and in love! Twenty-two directors from around the world contribute short films about Paris, and lest you think this will just be some barely related hogwash like that fancy-pants Aria movie that showed folks makin’ weird kinds of whoopee, consider this: each film will transition into the next by sharing their final and opening shot. The intention of this omnibus is to show various aspects of the City of Lights, and the directors involved (Olivier Assayas, the Coen Brothers, Christopher Doyle, Alexander Payne, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant and many, many more) suggest that variety is exactly what the viewer will get.

Prognostication: They’ll also be getting a 120-minute movie that very few critics have liked. The consensus seems to be that none of the vignettes are terribly memorable – some are okay, some are less than okay, while the Coens’ segment, featuring Steve Buscemi, is the only real keeper. The novelty might attract decent-sized art film audiences wherever it plays, but it’ll probably have disappeared from theaters by the time June rolls around.


September Dawn

 Russ Says: September 11 wasn’t just a bad day in 2001. Way back in 1857 it was the date of the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah, during which an emigrant wagon train was decimated by a group of Mormon militia and Paiute Indians. Rather than focusing entirely on the massacre, the film frames a love story between the daughter of the emigrants’ pastor and the son of a Mormon bishop. That’s lame, but the cast is interesting: Jon Voight, Terence Stamp, Lolita Davidovitch, and, er, Dean Cain.

Prognostication: Supposedly director Christopher Cain’s intentions with his film are decidedly partisan, so this probably isn’t going to play well in Salt Lake City. And since Mormons are one of several current religious targets of choice, it probably will play everywhere else, providing people know it exists. Color me extremely curious about the film’s actual character. It’s one thing to portray and decry religious extremism, but quite another to lob bombs at an easy target like Mormonism because a few people once took that lifestyle as a mandate to harm others. It’s possible that September Dawn is well balanced enough to come off like an investigation rather than an attack, but I have my doubts.

Waitress

 Jeremy Says: A sad occasion begets a charming movie. Writer-director Adrienne Shelly, best known as the star of several Hal Hartley movies, was inexplicably murdered last year, making it difficult to know how to regard her unintended swan song. The film is an ensemble tale featuring Keri Russell as a pregnant woman slogging it out as a waitress in a southern diner. This sweet-natured film also stars Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto, Nathan Fillion and, for some real southern verisimilitude, Andy Griffith.

Prognostication: The goodwill generated by the tragic circumstances surrounding Waitress makes this look like a sleeper in the making. Reviews are largely positive, sometimes rapturous (Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal absolutely loved it); if Fox Searchlight markets this film carefully, they could ride it for months as a steady performing midsize release.

Week of May 11

28 Weeks Later

 Dan Says: Time heals all wounds– especially big, gooey bitemark ones. 28 weeks after the initial Rage outbreak in London, all vectors have starved to death. And so it’s up to the Americans to clean up the mess and save Euro asses all over again as they show up on the scene with a bunch of guns and Lysol handi-wipes. Unfortunately, all it takes is one oozing and yuck-mouthed virus holder to send everyone back to partying like it was 6 months earlier. Fearful of 28 weeks earlier, London starts calling to the tune of "blow me the eff up", which means the new survivors need to get the hell out before the US contingent starts doing what it does best.

Prognostication: Despite a promising director (Intacto‘s Juan Carlos Fresnadillo), some very promising clips and a plot that gets me kind of giddy when I think about it, I’m not sure how well this is going to do in the wake of superhyped Spider-Man 3. There’s obviously been TLC given to 28 Weeks Later… in an effort to make it anything but a quick and cheap sequel, but how strongly will it show on arrival?

Georgia Rule

 Micah says: From the director of Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries comes a story of three generations of women who…sheesh. Who writes this stuff? Anyway, most of you online peeps probably know this movie as the one where that oft-circulated candid photo of Lindsay Lohan appearing to go down on a guy in broad daylight came from (Yeah, that one). It also happens to have Jane Fonda and Felicity Huffman in the multi-generational story of spicy, sassy Suuuuh-thern women who learn about life, love, and each other and resolve life-long issues in 90 minutes or so.

Prognostication: Well, Garry Marshall has a sterling track record here of turning the kind of easy-to-digest pap people have already seen 30 times over. The weekend this opens, there’s nothing in the same chick flick lane except for The Salon and that only opens in “select markets.” I figure the film will do well, but I just want it to arrive so that the previews and TV spots in which Jane Fonda’s character, Georgia, says the words “Georgia Rule” 67 times a second will end. Also, is it me, or is Lindsay Lohan aging in dog years?


Delta Farce

 Devin Says: Just in case the actual Iraq war isn’t enough to piss you off and offend you, Larry the Cable Guy has brought his massive talent to bear on the topic. He stars as one of three dimwitted National Guardsmen bound for Iraq who accidentally ends up in a Mexican village under attack by hostile forces. Hey, they’re all brown people, right?

Prognostication:
Larry the Cable Guy has managed to find a concept that actually sends my blood pressure through the roof – it’s not bad enough that the whole premise is predicated on easygoing racism, but Delta Farce goes one step further and just rips off Three Amigos wholesale. Make all the Arab and Mexican jokes you want, LTCG, but you stay the fuck off of Dusty Bottoms’ turf. It’s worth saying upfront that I hope you die if you pay to see this movie. Or if you see it for free, for that matter.


Home of the Brave

 Russ Says: Irwin Winkler’s very serious look at the Iraq war isn’t so much a war story as a post-war story. Four soldiers return to the states after their last mission, a humanitarian medicine run, was ambused with heavy casualities. Their physical and psychological struggle to return home dwarfs the problems faced overseas. Jessica Biel, Sam Jackson and Christina Ricci star, as does 50 Cent, though he’d rather we call him Curtis Jackson for the time being.

Prognostication: This movie rolled out last year (Dec 15, to be exact) in New York and LA, where it made a massive six grand, enough to qualify for an Oscar push that never happened. Reviews were decent, though, which makes you wonder why it’s not being held back until the fall, when a real war movie would stand to bank a little extra cash. I’m honestly hoping it’s not because the picture is lousy, as a lot of people have been waiting to see this particular aspect of war put up on the dramatic screen, where it might finally become real for a lot more people. That it’s opening against Delta Farce is just delicious.

The Flock

 Jeremy Says: Hey everyone, it’s Andrew Lau’s English-language debut starring the Indian kissing bandit Richard Gere and Claire Danes! What? Why are you shrugging? The guy directed the great Infernal Affairs, the perhaps-even-better Infernal Affairs II and the just-not-good-at-all Infernal Affairs III! We should be excited about this! Who cares if the plot – hatched by the writers of the historically imbecilic Highwaymen – concerning a federal agent chasing a sex offender sounds incredibly underwhelming? It’s Andrew Lau!

Prognostication: There is zero buzz on this movie. It’s getting released by the folks who hid Artie Lange’s Beer League from you, so temper your expectations. In fact, The Flock should be in and out of theaters in two weeks; go ahead and Netflix it now.


The Salon

 Micah says: Yeah, I know most of you have never heard of it. It’s one of them thar “urban” movies. In fact, it’s based on a “chitlin’ play” from Shelley Garrett (Beauty Shop, so you probably understand why this has a different title), who’s looking to join Tyler Perry and David E. Talbert in the ranks of embarrassing black “playwrights” with movie deals who trot out trite stereotypes in place of actual characters. It’s also written and directed by the same guy who did Barbershop, and accordingly, it has the same story as every other black hair care comedy: At a scrappy salon/barbershop, blacks talk openly and scandalously about everything, but this is all threatened when the good-hearted proprietor of said shop faces closure/competition from the city/a rival shop/a gangster.

Prognostication: Despite Fox putting this out and despite Terence Howard appearing briefly, this thing is barely getting a release. They’re narrowcasting the ads at black shows only and narrowcasting the release to “black” theaters (Hope you have a Magic Johnson Cinema near you if you care about this), which indicates a complete lack of confidence about any sort of mainstream appeal. But with a low-wattage cast, I have little doubt about this being an eventual moneymaker. In fact, the DVD will be a sort of double-dip as a mega-cheap DVD of the original stage play is already out and being bootlegged in black hair care salons across America.

Week of May 18

Shrek The Third

 Dan Says: Shrek’s back and ready to fart/puke/burp/wipe boogers all over your kids. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that Donkey’s been getting’ busy with Lady Dragon and creating abominations of nature, God and science. What you may not know is the King of Far Far Away is ready to take a royal dirt nap, leaving Shrek and pals to find a new heir to the throne. In the mean time, Prince Charming wants to throw a little party he’s calling Coup D’etat. Suddenly, Far Far Away becomes Thunderdome when Charming’s forces of marginally evil clash with Fiona’s Led Zeppelin singing maidens and woodland creatures.

Prognostication: Has it really been so long? 2004 was the last time we saw donkey, Princess Fiona and Shrek joking their way through a gauntlet of pop culture gags. Shrek is beloved as a blast off the ol’ hash pipe and a warm blanket to many, which is going to mean high performance expectations are well founded.

Severance

 Devin Says:
A group of employees on a sales tour of Eastern Europe stop at a mountain inn for a team-building retreat. Unfortunately, they all work for a weapons manufacturer, and the locals know their products from first hand experience. Soon enough the team building becomes team dismembering, as each of the employees has to try and survive a night on the mountain before being given the axe. Nobody actually gets killed with an axe, though. That’s a metaphor.

Prognostication: Horror comedy can be the hardest genre to pull off, but Severance has no problem balancing the two tones. While not quite as classic as Shaun of the Dead or Slither (wait… is the secret to the horror comedy having your title start with an ‘S’?), Severance is a gory hoot. Populated with characters who would be at home in Office Space of The Office (either nationality!), Severance works as a sly satire on office politics as well as a slippery slasher film. Imagine if Milton took his stapler and lent it to one of Hostel’s torturers and you’d come up with Severance.

The Wendell Baker Story

 Micah says: What year is this again? I get confused every time I see this film pop up on a release docket. If you’re an outside the US Chewer, you can rent this film at will since it’s been on European shelves for years now. The film was actually due for initial theatrical release here in 2004. Then, it bounced around film festivals for a year or so before falling into the celluloid black hole. Now, three years later, THINKFilm dredged this thing from the depths for a limited release. The story, such as it is, follows con-man Baker (Luke Wilson) as he battles a mean head nurse (Owen Wilson) at a Texas retirement home. Will Ferrell, Eddie Griffin, and Eva mendes co-star.

Prognostication: I’m getting an image in my head….I can see money…being…wasted on prints of this film. Given that THINKfilm has a perfectly viable and healthy slate of indie docs and lower-budget films, why bother with such a lame duck like this? Luke Wilson is box office poison, and even if you cut a trailer that focused solely on Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson, I doubt you could sucker people into dropping dough for this because almost nothing funny happens in this film from the trailers I’ve seen. Why this film is making a theatrical pit stop on its way to Blockbuster clearance bins I honestly have no idea.

Fay Grim

 Russ Says: Who ever expected Hal Hartley to make a sequel, much less one to the literary antics of Henry Fool? Calling once again on Parker Posey, James Urbaniak and Thomas Jay Ryan, Hartley picks up ten years later. Simon (Urbaniak) is in jail, Henry (Ryan) seems to be dead and Fay (Posey) is trying to raise her son, when a CIA agent (Jeff Golblum, getting right into the spirit of things) arrives looking for Henry’s notebooks. That kicks off a plotline that finally sees Hartley hit the full on sardonic James Bond mode he hinted at in Amateur.

Prognostication: Normally, I’d say that launching a Hal Hartley movie in the first weeks of summer is no less absurd than trying to put out the sun by throwing ice cubes. But this week is a good place for Fay Grim – plenty of urbane moviegoers will take a lot better to the constructed, deliberate oddity on display here than the broad swipes of Shrek or the gore of Severance. Arguably there’s too much of the director’s style overhead obsuring the film, but come on — Hartley is boring when he goes halfway. This is a deadpan, bizarro post-9/11 caper movie with an increasingly rare great turn by Jeff Goldblum and Parker Posey as a likable character. (Shock!) I really enjoyed it last year. Hopefully others will, too.

Week of May 25


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

 Russ Says: Jack Sparrow is stuck in the Kraken and Elizabeth Swann, Will Turner and Captain Barbossa have to sail to the literal end of the earth to find him and take out Davey Jones, who has allied with Lord CUtler Beckett to control the seas and Destroy All Pirates! Hoo ra! So Will Turner and Barbossa blow on a chonch or use the Force or something to call together all the Pirate Lords to fight as one. Among them is Sao Feng, who might finally give Chow Yun Fat something good to do in an American movie. Who lives? Who dies? Who gets to kill that goddamned monkey?

Prognostication: Does it matter? Everyone has already invested five hours in this story, and the promise of a real ending might bring in people that didn’t even see the last movie. That means an easy $800M worth of tickets and probably a lot more. Sure, there are jitters since the ‘two at once’ approach means the boredom that permeated chapter two might not be gone. I’d like to see Depp act again, and not as a charicature of himself. The pirate battle might do it, though, if Depp doesnt. Granted, I’d have to use a time machine to get back to the days when I anticipated Chow Yun Fat’s appearance saving a picture, and why waste it on that when I could go back 30 years and bang Sophia Loren instead? In the end, it still doesn’t matter. The only question is whether those hundreds of millions will buy tickets that leave us feeling vindicated or bitterly let down. Though I’d rather spend an eternity recutting Lucky You than watch Dead Man’s Chest again, I’m hedging slightly towards vindicated.

Bug

 Dan Says: Paranoia and parasites make hot sweaty love (as do Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon) in this William Freidkin directed take on the stage play of the same name. Ashley Judd plays to type as a girl who needs protectin’ and Shannon is a dude that needs committin’ (to a mental ward) when the two hole up in an art director’s dream of a hotel room. There they descend into the self-mutilating paranoia of military bred parasites and conspiracy theories, all the while Harry Connick Jr. is beatin’ down the door to get a beat down on Ashley.

Prognostication: Bug debuted a full year ago at Cannes and received some favorable French reviews. Well, hell- that’s France, so American reviews were decidedly mixed when it premiered at Fantastic Fest five months later. One thing, however, almost all agree on- the performances of the leads are frenetic and intense. Still, with all the folks having seen it, there’s very little buzz, which has me prognosticating it goin’ nowheres when it hits theaters May 25.

Angel-A

 Jeremy Says: Luc Besson’s widely-loathed 2005 movie stars Jamel Debbouze as a petty criminal who resolves to hurtle himself into the Seine as a means of avoiding his impending murder. But just as he’s about to do the deed, he sees a beautiful woman (Rie Rasmussen) contemplating a similar fate, and intervenes to save her life. Now, the down-on-his-luck fella has the hottest "Clarence" in the history of film watching over him; shockingly, for a Besson movie, she doesn’t look fourteen.

Prognostication: The end of Luc Besson’s cinema as we know it.

Paprika

 Devin Says: A device that lets people enter your dreams gets into the wrong hands. It’s up to the group of scientists who invented it – one of whom moonlights as a dream superheroine known as Paprika (possible supergroup affiliation: The Spice Rack) – to find the device and stop the villain from using it to destroy reality for no actual reason that is ever articulated.

Prognostication:
Look, maybe I’m biased, but most Japanese anime doesn’t make any sense. Willfully so, as if coherence is too Western. Paprika takes that and goes the extra mile – not only does the main plot make not one single whit of sense, but half the film is spent in the dream world, where sense-making is detrimental. Some of the imagery is lovely, but the film itself is so stupidly, pointlessly enigmatic as to be frustrating. Also, there’s lots of grunting. Anime always has a lot of grunting. Cut that out, Japanese people – either use a word or keep quiet.

The Boss of it All

 Russ Says: When the guy who started a successful tech company wants to liquidate and run away with the cash, he finds himself in a troublesome spot. See, he hid unpopular corporate moves behind the orders of a fictional president, and now potential buyers want to meet ‘The Boss’. Naturally, he hires an actor friend to play the boss, putting the thespian into a progressively more twisted moral position.

Prognostication: Written and directed by Lars von Trier. There, now everyone who just wanted to see this movie based on the description is treating it like an AIDS-infected tampon. Really, though, the reception for The Boss so far has been good, and Trier is a lot more fun than anyone gives him credit for, especially when he stops obsessing over an idea and just gets it on film. His twisted nature and willingness to go the distance have been proven many times over, so his take on The Office sounds like ideal summer counter-programming.

The Golden Door

 Jeremy Says: Emanuele Crialese’s follow-up to 2002’s Respiro is a period drama set at the turn of the twentieth century about a poor Sicilian farmer’s (Vincenzo Amato) struggle to transport his entire family to America. Along the way, he encounters the refined, English-speaking Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who seduces the poor farmer in order to secure passage on the ship to America. The film is also notable for featuring the final performance of Vincent Schiavelli

Prognostication: I wasn’t crazy about Respiro, but anything with Charlotte Gainsbourg is of interest to me. The Golden Door won a ton of awards at last year’s Venice Film Festival, but hasn’t been embraced by American critics in a manner that might help its meager commercial prospects in limited release. The film does have an epic sweep; it might be worth seeing on the big screen – especially if you’re looking for a reason to avoid Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.