[one]Jurassic Park. Independence Day. Spider-Man. Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. When you hear these titles, what’s the first thing you think of? Big box-office. And what time of year does the biggest box office? That’s right, kids, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: summer movie season. Much like Christmas, summer movie season is a festival of flickering lights; and one that usually starts you out with a feeling of euphoria and hope, only to have that feeling of joy devolve into bitterness and despair as you realize what a hollow, shallow exercise in commercialism it really is. Nevertheless, we, the film-going public always return to the season, enticed by flashy trailers and the hope that this year will be different. That this year, summer movie season will have us leaving the cinema not bitter that we wasted $7 and two hours to see Will Smith fight a giant spider robot controlled by a quadriplegic Colonel Sanders in Wild Wild West, but, rather ecstatic that we spent $7 and two hours to see, say, Christian Bale singled handedly remind us that Batman movies didn’t have to suck incredibly badly (Joel Schumacher and George Clooney, I’m looking at you) or that Mickey Rourke could still kick ass, even under the miles of prosthetics he wore in Sin City.
As with all things, summer movie season is more or less a crapshoot. Or, more accurately, a minefield of crap and disappointment with a few nuggets here and there of pure, undiluted 100 percent grade-A cinematic awesomeness. So, you may ask yourself, however will I navigate this treacherous patch of time, wallet and dignity intact? Well, fear no more, reader, as I will guide you through the summer Cineplex and supply you a guide of what to look for and look out for this season.
Joining, as always, is the Pete Nichols Suck-O-Meter: a scientifically-proven, positively infallible barometer that can calculate the suck of a film down to the smallest decimal point. However, for the purposes of this article I will simplify my time honored system from a scale of 1 to 5, with half measures thrown in when necessary. To aid your understanding of the system, a primer:
0: Not even worth your time. A special cinematic hell reserved for movies such as Alone in the Dark, Titanic, House of the Dead, and Stay Alive. This is a movie that was released in the summer because the studio didn’t want to sacrifice a good movie at the opening weekend altar of X-Men or Superman so it dug around in the vault to find lowliest waste of time and money they still hadn’t released yet. These movies are not even of the “so bad it’s good” variety. These are movies of the “I am gouging my eyes out while simultaneously trying to choke myself with my Jujubes because I want this hell to end” variety. Avoid at all costs.
1: Marginally better than 0’s, 1’s are the kinds of complete failures that at least have something mildly interesting going on. But bear in mind these are still travesties, and should not be seen by, well, anyone. Examples: The Libertine, Doom, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie.
2: Probably a decent movie. Nothing spectacular, but has the potential to kick a little ass. Not a complete waste of your time, but close. These movies are frequently over-hyped movies that, sans hype, would have probably ranked a little higher. Examples: The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, Heaven’s Gate.
3: Will likely be a completely average movie. Not eye-goughingly bad, but not mind-blowingly fantastic, either. Mediocre at best, a 3 will be a movie that you will vaguely smile at while watching and not feel too screwed for throwing down your hard-earned cash, either. You will forget this movie before you leave the theater. Examples: The Art of War, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Scary Movie, Demolition Man.
4: Now were getting somewhere. A 4 could be a pretty entertaining movie. Almost cinematic bliss, but not quite. A few things (be it pre-release hype, some weak acting, Quentin Tarantino or Robin Williams doing ubiquitous, wildly annoying pre-release interviews on any show that will have them) may prevent this movie from being truly great, but you could do much worse. Examples: X-Men, Jackie Brown, Spiderman 2.
5: A rating reserved for only the finest fine. This is a movie that has the potential to be the greatest cinematic experience of your life. See this at all costs. Examples: Memento, Spiderman, X2: X-men United.
So, after the long-winded primary introduction, here are the summer blockbusters you’ve all been waiting for.
5/5: An American Haunting
Synopsis: A movie about the only documented case of a ghost killing someone. In 1818 the Bell family of Tennessee became haunted by a ghost referred to as “Old Kate.” The Bell family is trapped within their home and must find a way to survive the vengeful spirit that haunts them.
Suck-O-Meter: 3. Ordinarily, a movie that sounds like a cheap mixture of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Amityville Horror would be ripe for one. It claiming to be based on a “true story” (is there any other kind of horror movie, nowadays?) would knock it down to a one. But this movie stars Donald Sutherland, who has yet to be in a movie that has sucked. He kicks a lot of ass.And if he’s up for this movie, I’m willing to hedge my bets and say this might be a horror movie with merit.
Art School Confidential
Synopsis: Terry Zwigoff, fresh off the back-to-back successes of Bad Santa and Ghost World returns with a movie that could be his best yet. Following a kid named Jerome as he navigates the strange and rigid social world of a pretentious art school, he finds love, and when he loses it, concocts a scheme to win the girl that will throw the already chaotic student body into a tailspin.
Suck-O-Meter: 5. Terry Zwigoff can do no wrong. From Crumb forward, he has created some of the best movies of all time. The story line may seem a bit trite, but set in a snooty art school, this movie will be sure to please people who hate the one kid at every party who busts out his acoustic guitar and tries to impress people with how “artistic” he is.
Mission: Impossible III
Synopsis: Ethan Hunt is back and Tom Cruise-ier than ever in the third installment of a second-rate franchise. However, with fresh blood behind the camera (J.J. Abrams of Lost and Alias TV fame) and more true to the show version of team work, plus a coherent, continent spanning, intrigue plot, the Impossible Mission Force might live to see another day.
Suck O Meter: 4.5. Less Tom Cruise? More Ving Rhames? Seymour Hoffman as the bad guy? A recipe for awesome from the guy who made starving on deserted island look cool. I’m there.
5/12: Poseidon
Synopsis: A remake of the 70s Irwin Allen disaster classic. The largest passenger boat ever created it struck by a tidal wave, capsizing her. An eclectic bunch of survivors attempt to reach the top (bottom?) of the ship to escape before the boat sinks.
Suck O Meter: 2. Not even a cast featuring Kurt Russel, Richard Dreyfuss and Andre Braugher can prevent this movie from being a lame-ass rehash of movie that wasn’t even that good. Director Wolfgang Petersen has been sucking on fumes since Das Boot.
5/19: The Da Vinci Code
Synopsis: The book you couldn’t avoid is now the movie you cannot resist. Follow symbologist Robert Langdon and his rag tag crew as they investigate a murder that leads to information that could rock the Vatican…and the world.
Suck-O-Meter: 3. A solid 3. Behold the sheer average-ness of it all: a decent, overrated book becomes a book directed by Ron Howard, the most cowardly and milquetoast director since Chris Columbus, with a cast led by Tom Hanks, the most offensively inoffensive human being on the planet. Prepare for mediocrity…and a lot of it.
5/26: X-Men: The Last Stand
Synopsis: The X-Men return for what very well could be their last adventure, and it’s a doosy: the regular cast is joined by some new faces (Beast, chiefly), Magneto gears up for all out war on the human race, and the humans begin to try and “cure” the mutant gene through a potentially deadly serum and unleash robotic “Sentinels” to track and kill mutants.
Suck-O-meter: 3.5 This should be a 4 or 5, but sadly the loss of series director Brian Singer and his replacement with Bret Rush Hour Ratner is less than confidence inspiring. But, the storyline seems solid and all the principals have returned. Guardedly expect a good time.
6/6: The Omen
Synopsis: Damien returns in this remake of the original, starring Liev Schreiber as the lucky father of the anti-Christ.
Suck-O-Meter: 3. Should score lower, but let’s face it: Liev Schreiber is always fun to watch and the movie is being released on 6/6/06. Can’t fight that. Should be only midly entertaining, but wins points for excellent marketing and timing.
6/16: Nacho Libre
Synopsis: Jack Black continues to ruin his career in this kid-friendly movie from Jared Hess, writer/director of 2004 most overrated piece of unrepentant crap, Napoleon Dynamite. Black is wanna-be Mexican wrestler calling himself Nacho, who desperately tries to break into the hallowed ranks of lucha libre.
Suck-O-Meter: 0. Oh, boy, it’s Napoleon Dynamite in Mexico with tights. Joy oh joy. Critic proof, because people who like ND will flock to this and swear it’s genius, no matter how heinously it sucks.
6/30: Superman Returns
Synopsis: Following the continuity of the Richard Donner franchise, this movie sees The Man of Steel (you guessed it) returning to earth from a long space sabbatical. When he returns, he finds that while some things have changed (Lois Lane has moved on, along with Metropolis), some have remained the same (Lex Luthor still wants to rule the world.)
Suck-O-Meter: 4. Brian Singer created the best superhero movie with X2, so I think even he can make the lamest and most staid superhero franchise have some life. He’s got knowledge of the comics, love of the character, a fresh take on Supes, and Kevin Spacey as Luthor. The box office (and entertainment) value on this movie should leap the highest building in a single bound.
7/7: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
[two]Synopsis: Johnny Depp returns as the Keith Richards of the high seas, Captain Jack Sparrow, in another harrowing adventure. Seems Cap’n Jack owes his soul to sea devil Davey Jones, and Jones wants to collect. So, Jack rounds up Will and Elizabeth Turner (Orlando Bloom, Keria Knightley) and heads off to save his soul.
Suck O Meter: 4. I had low, low hopes for the first one, and it ended up being one of the biggest surprises of the year. Here’s to hoping this one doesn’t go the way of Matrix Reloaded.
A Scanner Darkly
Synopsis: A mind-bending roto-scoped thriller from director Richard Linklater starring Keanu Reeves as a government-tapped domestic spy in a paranoid future hired to follow his friends and report any suspicious activity. As his situation becomes more and more absurd, loyalties are blurred and reality itself begins to unravel.
Synopsis: 5. Don’t miss this. If Waking Life and Before Sunset are any indication of Linklater’s talents, this movie will entertain you, make you question yourself and your surroundings, and leave you thoroughly in awe of a filmmaker at the top of his game.
7/21: The Lady in the Water
Synopsis: Director M. Night Shyamalan tries, and probably fails, to resurrect his career with this ghost story about a building superintendent that sees a ghost-woman in his building’s pool, falls in love with her, and tries to send her back to her home to her world…which is a bedtime story, because this particular ghost-woman is a fairytale character.
Suck O Meter: 0. Not even Paul Giamatti as the super can save this from being the final nail in Shyamalan’s coffin.
7/28: Miami Vice
Synopsis: Director Michael Mann spends whatever goodwill he received in the wake of Collateral and ruins it in this dour, joyless take on this 80s cop classic. Crockett and Tubbs are now serious, hardcore undercover narc cops on their way to busting the biggest drug ring to run out of Miami.
Suck-O-Meter: 1. No Elvis the alligator? No Ferrari? No pastel suits? Not even a hint of irony? Michael Mann has been responsible for some of the most enjoyable movies of recent history, and his take has always been workman-like, but with movies like Heat, Manhunter, and Collateral, that tone has been aces. But for this? Sorry, Mike, but not even the most loyal of your fans can take Miami Vice seriously. And, from a fan, Jamie Foxx and Colin Ferrell are NOT Tubbs and Crockett. Especially Ferrell. Damn.
8/18: Snakes On A Plane
[three]Synopsis: Well, it’s about snakes. And these snakes, you see, are on a plane. Pretty simple. Not enough? Well, technically the plot is about an FBI agent (SAMUEL L. JACKSON, BABY!) protecting a mob witness who is going to turn state’s evidence. The best way the mob figures they can kill this guy is by unleashing a crate of snakes on a passenger airliner flying over the Pacific Ocean.
Suck-O-Meter: 24. DEAR GOD THIS MOVIE IS OFF THE SCALES. SEE IT. AS SOON AS YOU CAN. Sammy Jackson, beating the hell out of a planeload of snakes. Nudity. Gore. Snakes. Kenan Thompson from Good Burger and Fat Albert. Snakes. On A Plane. A recipe for awesome? Nay, it is a reason to LIVE.

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