May 24-30, 2006

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Those '70s Shows

The smell of disco polyester infiltrates summer films

By Richard von Busack

When singer Robyn Hitchcock warbled "It feels like 1974," he might have been anticipating this cinematic summer of '06. Submitted for your approval, the revamping of such '70s artifacts as Mission: Impossible, The Poseidon Adventure, Superman and even The Omen, which comes to town on the amusing release date of 06/06/'06, the Mark of the Beast (with extra zeroes).

Al Gore went to D.C. as a Class of '76 congressman and now stars in a highly recommended disaster movie that beats anything from the Bad Vibe Decade's cinema of destruction: the environmental fright documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth' (June 2).

Observe the rest of the 1970s lore being used for source material. Richard Linklater's 'A Scanner Darkly' (July 7), a reverie about narc-paranoia, is based on the dog-eared Philip K. Dick paperback that used to stick out of the back pocket of so many bell-bottomed Levis. Linklater's adaptation is a computer-animated story of a futuristic narcotics officer (Keanu Reeves) assigned to hunt himself. Robert Downey Jr. plays a speed-rapping addict--a real stretch.

One might find in the other pocket Brian W. Aldiss' also-from-1977 'Brothers of the Head' (Aug. 4), a cryptodocumentary about the famous rock duo consisting of conjoined twins Tom and Barry Howe (Harry and Luke Treadaway)--that is, if Aldiss' story of Siamese-twin rock gods hadn't been published in large format.

'Wah-Wah' (currently in limited release) is the first comedy written and directed by Richard E. Grant, better known as that '70s reprobate Withnail. Grant takes the title of this coming-of-ager from an obscure 1970 track from George Harrison's triple-album All Things Must Pass. Neil Marshall's Appalachian spelunking horror film 'The Descent' (July 8) keeps being described as a salute to Deliverance (1972). And it wouldn't be a '70s revival summer without Woody Allen. His 'Scoop' (July 28) has Scarlett Johansson as a student newshound sniffing after Hugh Jackman.

If you have to look up the word "bummer" on Wikipedia, maybe you need a date with 'Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man' (July 14), a profile of the singer-songwriter who kept denizens of the '70s from grinning themselves to death. (Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" is still a favorite on the "breakup and suicide note" Top 100.)

'Strangers with Candy' (July 7) reprises Amy Sedaris and free-speech hero Stephen Colbert's TV show about the high school education of a stuck-in-the-'70s skank (Sedaris). And 'Invincible' (Aug. 25) has Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale, the ordinary working-class Philadelphian who was picked at an open-call 1976 audition to become a player for the Philadelphia Eagles.

And what is the soon-to-be-immortal 'Snakes on a Plane' (Aug. 18) if not a redo of the immemorial 1974 ABC Movie of the Week Fer de Lance? The original could have been called Snakes on a Sub if they'd only had the stones for it. The Snakes on a Plane phenom on the blogosphere has kept many a home warm during this despicably cold spring. Yes, the one and only Samuel L. Jackson plays Snakefighter of the Stratosphere, reading the riot act to those bad, bad slitherers. ("The snake weel hold you tighter than your lovaire"--Jon Voight, Anaconda.)

True, the summer's films include a few efforts decidedly not about the 1970s. Take the much-lauded Romanian drama 'The Death of Mr. Lazarescu' (June 30) or Fatih Akin's 'Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul,' a documentary on Turkish music. In his superlative Head-On, Akin broke up the action with a suite of live performances of Turkish music on the banks of the Bosporus. Here, he assembles some of the leading names in Istanbul pop today, Baba Zula, Orient Expressions and Sezen Aksu among them.

Dominik Moll weighs in with 'Lemming' (June 23), a nerve-tightener about adultery and beyond-the-grave possession. In Moll's first film in five years since the marvelous With a Friend Like Harry, Charlotte Rampling plays a boss' wife who can't seem to stay dead.

'Wordplay' (June 23) is a clever documentary about Will Shortz, the diabolical genius who creates the New York Times crossword puzzle. It follows the man to the annual crossword puzzle convention in Stamford, Conn.

Pixar's 'Cars' (June 9), with its fleet of talking autos, has to be better than its previews and its apparent source, a series of Chevron commercials. A hotshot race car (voiced by Owen Wilson) learns to take the slow lane when he ends up stuck in a middle-of-nowhere desert town. Paul Newman co-stars.

'The Reaping' (Aug. 11) should be a hoot, a Christian-crisis thriller with Hilary Swank observing Biblical plagues in backwater Louisiana. 'Nacho Libre' (June 16) by Jared Hess, the Jarmusch-lite director of Napoleon Dynamite, offers more jokes hanging in midair like exhausted pigeons. Jack Black plays a plump monk who turns lucha libre wrestler to finance an orphanage. Now, if he can only find leotards that'll stand the strain. Shot in Oaxaca.

There's only one excuse for 'My Super Ex-Girlfriend' (July 21): the delish comedienne Anna Faris. Breaking up is hard to do, especially when your ex is G-Girl (Uma Thurman), a superpowered vigilante. Under Ivan Reitman's direction, Luke Wilson is the man running for cover; Faris (yay!) is his new special lady. Jealousy, how sharper thou are than the tooth of a snake on a plane.


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