July 17, 2002

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in this issue


YOU CAN'T HIDE . Even if you build yourself a bomb shelter to avoid the confected mayhem of the summer movie, it will find you. When you come up for air, buses with gigantic advertisements for the latest civilization-eating dragon will arrive at your intersection. Billboards with the chirpiest of kids' cartoons will approach you in stopped traffic. A preview for the next gangster rewrite will slip into the sealed circuit of your art house. You will confront the American cinematic imagination in all its "blockbluster." You may even enjoy it.

I was deep in the mountains of Utah recently, as far away from summer-movie hype as one can get, when I found myself in intimate contact with a gigantic figure of my summer-celluloid dreams. I wouldn't call it face-to-face interaction; it was more like face-to-sternum. Kathryn Bigelow, bigger than life, stood at least a foot taller than me. Her career has taken on the same large dimensions: her characters drove the movie world out of a frightened feminism to a frightening one, from the crazed look on Jamie Lee Curtis's face in the Blue Steel (1990) to the crowd-splitting rape scene of Strange Days (1995). She wasn't taking questions about her new film, K-19: The Widowmaker, but perhaps it was best that way.

Celebrity, as it turns out, isn't what it used to be. The New York Times reported this week that Tom Cruise as cover boy was no longer piquing magazine browsers' interest. June found him loitering on the newsstands on the un-picked-up covers of Entertainment Weekly, Premiere, W, and Time. Was it the braces? The vaguely sinister cloud surrounding the breakup with Nicole? Disinterest in the policy ramifications of Minority Report, his P.K. Dick-to-Spielberg treatise on the lack-of-justice system? Or simply the fact that audiences have tired of reading public relations-controlled stories about their stars.

Could they want something more? This week's film section attempts to deliver just that – in the form of Annalee Newitz's look at the political subtexts of fire-breathing dragons, Chuck Stephens's analysis of Hollywood's all-you-can-eat P.K. Dick buffet, my ride down the career trajectory of Kathryn Bigelow, Johnny Ray Huston's take on this summer's pageant of steroid heroes, and Patrick Macias's description of a strange torture device finding new kung fu audiences with Master of the Flying Guillotine. It may be the "Attack of the Summer Movies," but at least you get to decide whether you're escaping from the movies or to them.

Susan Gerhard susan@sfbg.com