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This summer's new movies

This summer’s new movies — ”Godzilla,” ”Deep Impact,” ”Hope Floats,” and more

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Written And Reported By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Kristen Baldwin, Anita M. Busch, Steve Daly, Andrew Essex, Daniel Fierman, Jeff Gordinier, David Hochman, Dave Karger, Tricia Laine, Chris Nashawaty, Joe Neumaier, Degen Pener, Megan Quitkin, Jessica Shaw, Tom Sinclair, And Benjamin Svetkey. Edited By Mark Harris

Hey, is everybody ready for the first post-Titanic summer — a season full of young love and epic tragedy? Sorry, folks, it takes Hollywood 18 months to react to anything, so brace yourself for a 1998 summer season that’s going to feel strangely familiar. The blockbuster onslaught begins with a distinctly ’50s feel (the current so-old-it’s-new trend: meteor movies) and ends with the ’60s Brit-camp of The Avengers. In between, we’ll be offered a trip back to WWII with Saving Private Ryan, a double dose of the glitterball era (The Last Days of Disco and 54), and the fourth part of that oh-so-’80s buddy series Lethal Weapon. Looking for Leo? Mooning over Matt? You’ll have to settle for such ex-golden boys as Warren Beatty, Harrison Ford, and Robert Redford — average age: 59 — romancing Halle Berry, Anne Heche, and Kristin Scott Thomas — average age: 31. (Just what we need in summer movies: more fake-looking effects.) Which leaves one last trip down memory lane: a remake of an obscure 1956 Japanese monster movie called…

MAY

Godzilla

STARRING Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria, Maria Pitillo

DIRECTED BY Roland Emmerich

We movie freaks all know that deep down we’re lemmings when it comes to the annual blitzkrieg of summer blockbusters. But c’mon, do we really want to be treated that way? Well, Sony’s taking no chances. Ever since last summer’s ”Size Does Matter” TV teaser showing a skeletal T. Rex getting stomped by a huge lizard foot, we’ve been bombarded with an onslaught of Godzilla PR that’s had all the subtlety of a jackhammer to the cranium: He’s as tall as the Brooklyn Bridge! He’s taller than the Statue of Liberty!

With all this hype, can Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s ’90s tribute to the King of All Monsters possibly deliver? That’s the $120 million question. ”I’d be lying if I said Roland and I weren’t terrified of coming out with all that stuff a year early,” says producer-writer Devlin. ”But I think it worked because what we said is, Memorial Day is our date — we’re willing to challenge all comers.”

Fortunately, Devlin and Emmerich (who replaced director Jan De Bont after his proposed budget of $140 million was deemed too high) know a little something about cobbling together a popcorn movie — their last film, Independence Day, made more than $800 million worldwide. And the duo is keeping this batch of popcorn under tight wraps. Secrecy about the fire-breathing atomic lizard has resembled a CIA Black Ops project. ”They’re very careful,” whispers Broderick, ”And they’ve beat it into me…I feel I may be under surveillance right now.”

Here’s what we can reveal: The Terror of Tokyo no longer looks like a clumsy guy in a green rubber suit. He’s sleeker, faster, and headed for New York, where he’ll doubtless smash the crap out of all of those tourist-friendly monuments he’s ”taller than.” Hunting him down are Broderick as a brainiac scientist (think Jeff Goldblum in ID4), Pitillo and Azaria as a reporter-cameraman team, and Reno as a shady insurance man. Says Broderick, who’s already signed to do two sequels, ”I can’t see that this won’t be big. But I don’t want to be the guy who says that, then — ‘Ha! Ha!’ — they show your face with that quote underneath.” (May 20)

THE LOWDOWN Godzilla is the event movie to beat. But since its makers are so size-happy, we’ll follow their lead: If it doesn’t match The Lost World‘s $229 million domestic take, it goes in the disappointment column.

The Horse Whisperer

STARRING Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Neill, Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper

DIRECTED BY Robert Redford

You know you’re on a big Hollywood production when the star has a chiropractor flown from L.A. to New York on a moment’s notice, and that star is…a horse. But given the stress of getting Nicholas Evans’ 1995 romantic novel from page to screen, it’s amazing that only the four-legged talent threw out their backs and erupted in hives (they were allergic to fake blood). ”You either laugh or shoot somebody,” says producer Patrick Markey, ”But it isn’t funny to call Disney and tell them, ‘My horse has acne.”’

Disney has faced worse traumas since paying $3 million for Evans’ best-seller about a horse trainer (Redford) who changes the life of a Tina Brown-ish magazine editor (Scott Thomas) whose daughter (Johansson) suffers a brutal riding accident. Redford — directing himself for the first time — nixed several drafts of the script, then lost his original choices for leading ladies (Emma Thompson passed; Natalie Portman had scheduling conflicts). With Montana’s winter looming, production was delayed a year. ”I thought about not doing it,” Redford says, ”But I had a feel for the material. This was probably the one film I could direct and act in.”

In April 1997, the actors began a shoot that Montana’s miserable weather stretched to six months. ”It was a hell of a lot longer than I thought,” admits Scott Thomas. ”It was frustrating to wait for the rain to stop or the land to dry or the river to go down…. It stopped being about work and became your life.”

When Whisperer‘s release was pushed from an Oscar-friendly December slot to May, Redford reshot the crucial riding-accident scene and whittled his four-hour-plus film down to a still-lengthy 164 minutes. ”You can’t slam this kind of movie together,” Markey says of Whisperer‘s odyssey. ”You have to remember that eventually it will be over, no matter how joyous or painful the experience is.” (May 15)

THE LOWDOWN Romance-hungry audiences might be frustrated that Redford seems more in love with the Montana landscape than with Scott Thomas.

Deep Impact

STARRING Tea Leoni, Morgan Freeman, Elijah Wood, Robert Duvall, Maximilian Schell, Vanessa Redgrave

DIRECTED BY Mimi Leder

When the sky’s falling, who’s got time for love? The script for this joint DreamWorks-Paramount disaster flick about a monster comet smashing into earth originally sported an affair between star Leoni — an MSNBC anchor who breaks the doomsday news — and her cameraman (British actor Dougray Scott). But it overloaded the two-hour movie, whose plotlines already included a teen astronomy buff (Wood) and a retired astronaut (Duvall) bracing for oblivion. So, except for a few isolated shots, goodbye Scott. ”I didn’t find out till I was re-looping dialogue that he was almost completely gone,” says Leoni. ”I felt kind of bad for him. I know as an actor, you can’t help but take it personally.” (May 8)

THE LOWDOWN It’s got two competition-light weekends to perform. After that, as director Leder puts it, ”Godzilla opens, and all other box office activity will stop.”

Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas

STARRING Johhny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Christina Ricci, Gary Busey

DIRECTED BY Terry Gilliam

”We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold….” So begins Hunter S. Thompson’s substance-addled 1971 cult chronicle of the American Dream gone to seed, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. After hightailing it to the Neon Babylon with his wasted lawyer (Del Toro) and a trunk packed with a laundry list of illicit drugs, the armed and dangerous author (Depp) is laughably assigned to cover a drug enforcement conference. Hard to imagine why it’s taken Hollywood more than 25 years to turn this baby into a movie, huh? Over the years, everyone from Martin Scorsese to Jack Nicholson to Belushi and Aykroyd has flirted with the project. Monty Pythoner-turned-trippy auteur Gilliam (12 Monkeys) was hired at the last minute after Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy) left abruptly. And ”in true gonzo fashion” Gilliam says he chucked the script and wrote his own in eight days (though Gilliam, Tony Grisoni, Tod Davies, and Cox share the credit). Luckily, his star was prepared: ”Johnny’s some kind of vampire. He sucked Hunter’s soul out of him — he drove his car and wore his clothes,” says Gilliam. Now the director has only one more hurdle: ”We’re terrified. Hunter’s still alive and dangerous. Fortunately, he only knows my fax number.” (May 22)

THE LOWDOWN The trailer-length glimpse of Depp working the accent, the shades, and the cigarette holder is intriguing. But all those moviemakers who deemed Thompson’s book unfilmable may not have been wrong.

The Opposite of Sex

STARRING Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow, Ivan Sergei, Lyle Lovett

DIRECTED BY Don Roos

A cross between Amy Fisher, Alicia Silverstone, and Satan’s demon seed, the acerbic teenage vamp at the center of this acid-tongued indie singlehandedly destroys the lives of everyone she meets — particularly her gay half brother (Donovan), his studly, dim-witted lover (Sergei), and their cranky gal pal (Kudrow). Says Ricci of her deliciously nasty character: ”When I read the part, I was like, ‘I have to audition for this?’ Dedee’s so much like me.” As for writer-turned-director Roos, well, we’ve all heard screenwriters bellyache about how they’re treated like Hollywood’s stepchildren. But during his debut, he found the proof in the pudding. Literally. ”The first day at the catering truck I said, ‘Gee, I really like pudding,”’ says Roos. ”So, there was pudding every single day after that. As a writer I could’ve starved for pudding.” (May 22)

THE LOWDOWN Guess what movie has the task of opening opposite the Lizard King? ”I have a feeling Godzilla might do a little better,” deadpans Roos, ”But I think our lead character is scarier.”

Bulworth

STARRING Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Christine Baranski, Jack Warden, Paul Sorvino, Josh Malina, Don Cheadle

DIRECTED BY Warren Beatty

Warren Beatty has never been one to shy away from controversy in movies, be it promiscuous Hollywood sex (see Shampoo), the Communist party (see Reds), or Madonna (perhaps you shouldn’t see his cameo in Truth or Dare). Here he plays a U.S. senator so fed up with life and the state of politics that he speaks his mind about race and wealth as if it were his last politically incorrect day on earth. Which is, in fact, what Senator Bulworth believes, since he’s taken out a contract on his own life. ”Most people [in Hollywood] are a little afraid to deal with issues like why the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor,” says Berry, who plays Beatty’s love interest. ”Not Warren.” What drew him to a project that combines earnest discussions of the redistribution of wealth with hardcore rap? ”Um,” he jokes, ”just being a very sick man.” (May 15)

THE LOWDOWN Either a movie for two audiences — Beatty buffs and rap fans — or a movie for none. Give it a week, then look for it under Godzilla‘s foot.

Woo

STARRING Jada Pinkett Smith, Tommy Davidson, LL Cool J, Duane Martin, Dave Chappelle

DIRECTED BY Daisy Von Scherler Mayer

While playing the no-limits title character in this $13 million comedy about a disastrous (in movies is there any other kind?) blind date, Pinkett Smith wasn’t exactly thinking about comedic timing. Five days before the shoot, her friend Tupac Shakur was killed; the production had already been delayed two weeks because Pinkett Smith broke her foot. In Living Color. alum Davidson ”was my escape because he joked 24-7,” she says. ”He pulled me out of my funk.” (May 8)

THE LOWDOWN The vibrant Pinkett Smith is just one good role short of a killer film career. But we can’t help wishing Woo‘s producers had been able to afford her husband, too.

Quest for Camelot

STARRING The voices of Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne, Cary Elwes, Jessalyn Gilsig, Gary Oldman, Bronson Pinchot, Jane Seymour

DIRECTED BY Frederick Du Chao

There’s money in animation. Disney knows it, Fox knows it, and after watching its Space Jam rake in $90 million, you can bet Warner Bros. knows it too. With Quest For Camelot, about two youngsters who foil a plot against King Arthur, Warner will try to pull the sword from the stone again. ”It was tough going,” remembers director Du Chao. ”We were writing a script, setting up a new animation studio, and working with people from all over.” The voice cast had a rough time too, suffering repeated callbacks over a year and a half. ”I keep joking it was the cheapest job I’ve ever done,” says Jane Seymour (Lady Juliana). ”It was the least amount of money for the most work — but it was a labor of love.” (May 15)

THE LOWDOWN Space Jam had Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. Camelot has Cary Elwes and Bronson Pinchot. You do the math.

Hope Floats

STARRING Sandra Bullock, Harry Connick Jr., Gena Rowlands, Mae Whitman, Rosanna Arquette, Michael Pare

DIRECTED BY Forest Whitaker

If he wasn’t already an actor and a director, Forest Whitaker could be a professor emeritus of male sensitivity classes. Take his 1995 feature directorial debut, Waiting to Exhale. The film thumbed its nose at those who doubted the potential of a gentle drama about African-American women, raking in $67 million. With the marketplace now more receptive to female-appeal films, Whitaker enters action season a week after Godzilla with a weeper about a jilted housewife (Bullock) who returns to Texas to live with her wiggy mother (Rowlands) and tries to get her life back together with the help of a good man (Connick). Armageddon it ain’t. But many, says Connick, ”will be sick of shoot-’em-up movies after a while. I don’t know, people get paid to figure that stuff out.” (May 29)

THE LOWDOWN Bullock’s appeal is potent, but Fox might have done better to float Hope in late summer, after we get sick of those shoot-’em-ups.

The Last Days of Disco

STARRING Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Mackenzie Astin, Chris Eigeman, Matt Keeslar, Robert Sean Leonard, Jennifer Beals

DIRECTED BY Whit Stillman

Don’t be misled by the title: Stillman, who wrote and directed the snobby dramedies Metropolitan and Barcelona, hasn’t gone declasse. Disco, circa 1981, figures only as a backdrop against which the characters, recent college grads, try living like grown-ups. ”Nobody [else] makes movies about these kinds of people,” says Sevigny. Like the denizens of Barcelona, they grapple with an upper-middle-class angst Stillman sees as unaffected by time. When Sevigny, 23, asked the writer-director how she should prepare for the period piece, ”he said, ‘Reread Salinger.”’ (May 29)

THE LOWDOWN Stillman’s work is more talkathon than danceathon, but by taking advantage of ’70s/’80s mania and preceding the more glitzy 54 by two months, Disco could be his most commercial effort to date.

Also in May

ALMOST HEROES It’s not a good sign when a director (in this case, Christopher Guest) won’t comment on his own movie, but at least this Old West buddy comedy has curiosity value: It’s Chris Farley’s farewell. ”It’s a broader acting part than he’d done before,”costar Matthew Perry told EW this spring. (May 29)

BEYOND SILENCE What brings this 1996 German film about a clarinet prodigy raised by deaf parents to America? A 1997 best foreign film Oscar nod. Beyond, cast with nonactors, turns deafness into a metaphor for every family’s communication problems. ”I know it sounds dark and ponderous,” says writer-director Caroline Link. ”But it’s light and entertaining.” (moved to June 5)

THE HANGING GARDEN The shocking image of a 350-pound adolescent boy swinging from a noose haunts this Canadian feature by director Thom Fitzgerald. But the suicide attempt only begins the story of 15-year-old William (Troy Vienotte), a secretly gay teen who realizes that his family’s lack of acceptance is his real problem. ”He can’t change them,” says Fitzgerald. ”It’s God’s cruel trick.” (May 15)

I GOT THE HOOK-UP After his straight-to-video debut, I’m Bout It, moved 250,000 tapes, rapper Master P, a.k.a. Percy Miller, had no problem finding film companies to distribute his second feature. ”They knew they missed out,” says Miller. Picked up by Dimension, his new, self-financed $3.5 million film follows two ghetto guys (Miller and comedian A.J. Johnson) whose plan to sell cell phones keeps hitting hang-ups. (May 27)

LAWN DOGS ”He’s a hero — like a Spartacus or a Braveheart,” actor Sam Rockwell says of the hardworking lawn-mowing dude whose friendship with a 10-year-old girl portends disaster. However, we see more of Rockwell than we ever did of Mel Gibson, thanks to a buck-naked bridge-diving scene. Says the actor: ”Yeah, I got up there and dangled — in more than one way.” (May 15)

PLUS

Secrets & Lies‘ Claire Rushbrook and newcomer Samantha Morton are feuding sisters coping with their mother’s death in UNDER THE SKIN. Between love, death, and Mob money, director/star Nick Veronis’ dark comedy DAY AT THE BEACH is anything but. Rhino Films releases PLUMP FICTION, a Zucker-style send-up of 1994’s Pulp Fiction and assorted indies. Gay NYU grads struggle with postcollegiate life in Victor Mignatti’s BROADWAY DAMAGE. Miramax’s ARTEMESIA follows a female painter in Renaissance Italy; its rating was changed from NC-17 to R on appeal. French director Bruno Dumont’s debut, THE LIFE OF JESUS, explores the small-town malaise of an epileptic teen. Two detectives uncover murder in Norway in Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s INSOMNIA. Mariel Hemingway stars in LOUISA MAY ALCOTT’S LITTLE MEN, based on the follow-up to Little Women. In Benoit Jacquot’s drama, THE DISENCHANTED, 17-year-old Beth goes through three lovers in three days. An eclectic mix (Donna Summer, Jack Lemmon, Sharon Stone) appear in the documentary OFF THE MENU: THE LAST DAYS OF CHASEN’S, about the demise of L.A.’s restaurant of the stars. Finally, Parker Posey, Toni Collette, Lisa Kudrow, and Alanna Ubach are office drones who bond despite hellish jobs in CLOCKWATCHERS.

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