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Apocalypse now and then

Doom, damnation, and other summer fun
By PETER KEOUGH  |  May 3, 2006

WORLD TRADE CENTER: Oliver Stone’s film is about two first-responders.

With Snakes on a Plane and World Trade Center opening on the same day, this summer won’t be offering the usual escapist fare. Civilization, whether symbolized by besieged airliners, doomed skyscrapers, an overturned ocean liner, or the house next door, will be looking pretty shaky as the weather heats up. So will movie fans as they stagger from the latest high- or low-budget natural disaster, insidious conspiracy, diabolical possession, or moral debauchery, feeling perhaps better able to face the greater nightmare that waits outside.

Maybe the most damning sign of our culture’s decline is the fact that we have to remake movies from three decades ago to express it. The ocean liner in Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure symbolized the inversion of values of the 1972 era of Vietnam and pre-Watergate Richard Nixon. I have my doubts that Wolfgang Petersen will do either the original or the age justice in Poseidon — I mean, Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, and a gay Richard Dreyfuss filling in for Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, and Shelley Winters? At least the effects will be better.

Expect no effects in Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential (May 12) as he follows up Crumb and Ghost World in his exploration of the subversive power of idle doodling. Expect instead a sardonic black comedy about a mediocre art student whose fortunes rise with murder. Max Minghella and Sophia Myles star.

Speaking of subversive art: probably only the Vatican will be offended by Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code (May 19). Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou try to sort out the world’s poorest-kept secret conspiracy before Opus Dei or the Little Sisters of the Poor or whoever can stop them.

Here’s a more believable plot: in Over the Hedge (May 19), the wildlife endangered by encroaching suburban sprawl decide to take advantage of the shifting environment. An animated adaptation of the Michael Fry & T. Lewis comic strip, it’s directed by Tim Johnson (Antz) and Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run screenplay) and features the voices of Bruce Willis and Steve Carell.

Civilization offers more discontents in The Proposition (May 26), an Australian “Western” in which lawman Ray Winstone, eager to tame the Outback, offers outlaw Guy Peace the title deal: kill his bad brother (Danny Huston) and Ray will spare the good one. Nick Cave wrote the screenplay and music; director John Hillcoat demonstrates his love of Sam Peckinpah.

Meanwhile, to paraphrase the Oscar-winning tune, it’s hard out there for a mutant. In X-Men: The Last Stand (May 26), a cure for mutantism drives the X-Men of Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the Brotherhood of Magneto (Ian McKellen) farther apart. Can the franchise survive this and director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), who replaces Bryan Singer?

Ever notice how possessions embody all that’s awful about our lives and relationships? See, for example,  The Break-Up (June 2), a black comedy in which a couple split and both refuse to vacate their condo. Conflict, War of the Roses style, ensues. Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughan star; Peyton Reed (Down with Love) directs.

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