Celluloid Seuss

By John Breneman

"To eat them on a train, or not to eat them on a train: that is the question."

Kenneth Branagh's "Green Eggs and Hamlet," widely hailed as a rhyme-drenched fusion of Shakespearean tragedy and Seussian whimsy, is the most ambitious film to date in the new cinematic genre inspired by the late Theodor Geisel.

Enraged by the murder of his father the king, the youthful Prince Sam-I-Am (Branagh) seeks to exact his vengeance by tricking the killer into eating a poison plate of breakfast. Confusion and high intrigue ensue as his simplistic poetic badgering is consistently rebuffed.

Now that the box-office bonanza unleashed by "The Cat and the Hat" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" has trumpeted Dr. Seuss's posthumous emergence as a bankable Hollywood powerhouse, industry insiders are buzzing about a slew of new projects.

"It's like 'Citizen Kane' meets 'The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins'," Leonardo DiCaprio confided to a blond companion while nibbling pan-seared sneetch foie gras at Spago. A few tables over, Danny Devito literally drooled into his wasabi oobleck puree while discussing the merchandising potential of "Yertle the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle."

Spike Jonze, director of "Being John Malkovich," is doing a dark comedy called "Billy Bob Thornton Hears a Who." Jonathan Demme has signed Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster to costar in "The Silence of the Brown Bar-ba-loots." And Jack Nicholson is eager to play the feisty mental patient Randall Patrick McBoing-Boing in Milos Forman's "One Flew Over the Ruffle-Necked Sala-ma-goox's Nest."

Fright-meister Wes Craven is plotting an evil adaptation of one of the good doctor's earliest works. In "Nightmare on Mulberry Street," the murderous Freddy Krueger slays his victims with a Luger then feeds the corpses to a cougar. Even B-movie legend Roger Corman is getting into the act with the campy "One Fish, Two Fish, Attack of the Giant Man-Eating Blue Fish."

As with any Hollywood trend, the Seuss craze is generating its share of controversy. Robin Williams is demanding $20 million to reprise his role as the brawny, spinach-munching sailorman in "Hop on Popeye." And a source close to Tom Cruise says the actor is furious at Warner Brothers executives for refusing an eleventh-hour plea to change the title of his new film to "The Last Samurai-I-Am."

Finally, movie-goers have not seen the last of the Grinch, the green-hued protagonist who grossed $340 million worldwide for Universal three years ago when Jim Carrey ignited the Seuss-on-silver-screen phenomenon.

Entertainment Tonight reports that Adam Sandler will play a bumbling, yarmulke-wearing scrooge in "How the Grinch Stole Chanukah." Sandler's unorthodox Grinch awakens from an angry Manischewitz hangover in time to learn the true spirit of the holiday from Little Cindy-Lou Jew.

(Note: The producers may seek an injunction to block a similar December 2004 release, but friends say the Wayans brothers are determined to move ahead with their blaxploitation holiday spoof, "How the Grinch Stole Kwanzaa.")


Hollywood spins off Spider-man's web

By John Breneman

Fueled by the phenomenal box-office success of "Spider-Man," Hollywood is spinning out a slew of big-budget films about superheroes who are part human, part bug.

Timed to coincide with the onset of mosquito season are potential summer blockbusters like "Ladybug-Man," "Wonder Worm" and "Captain Earwig."

Executives at Mandible Entertainment are already predicting Oscar nominations for the poignant story of Franz Kaufman, a mild-mannered entomologist by day who scurries behind his refrigerator at dusk and metamorphoses into ... "Cockroach-Man," a crusty crime-fighter whose special powers enable him to survive nuclear holocausts and repeated stompings.

"Praying Mantis-Woman" stars Angelina Jolie as a lanky green supervixen who seduces adversaries with her sensuous triangular head and bulbous bedroom eyes, then mates with them and eats them alive.

George Clooney and Michael Keaton are said to be vying for the title role in "Gnatman," a dark thriller about a wealthy Gotham City businessman who dons a tiny mask and cape to annoy archvillains, making them so itchy they can't concentrate on perpetrating evil.

"Dung Beetle-Man" is the story of Steve Scarab, a tormented waste treatment plant worker who falls into a vat of radioactive effluent and emerges with a rancid but impenetrable exoskeleton and the ability to smother foes in his highly toxic feces.

"Sergeant Tapeworm" features a parasitic crime-buster who infests the bad guys' digestive tract and gnaws like mad until they no longer have the stomach to commit diabolical deeds.
And movie fans are expected to flock like locusts to see cotton-pickin' criminals laid low by "Boll Weevil: Enemy of Evil."

The emerging insect-action genre relies on a familiar formula: Colorful champions distinguished by their rippling thorax muscles team up with trusty sidekicks like Aphid, Flea and Chigger to battle repellent archvillains like Lord Maggot, Venus Fly Trap and the nefarious Woodpecker.

The genre also features unique musical styles. "Grasshopper-Man," for example, hums with a lazy, haunting soundtrack provided by the tympanal organs of the Caped Cicadas.

Hollywood is also buzzing about a string of campy Bee-Movies. "The WASP" chronicles the comic misadventures of Whitey Saxon, an uptight Protestant mud dauber living in a colony of angry black militant hornets. And "Queen Bee-Man" features rock star Sting as a transvestite hive boss struggling to keep his true gender a secret from his faithful but suspicious sidekick, Drone.

Even the adult-film industry is getting into the act with the steamy multiple-organism romance, "Katydid Dallas and Johnny Inch-Worm."

Meanwhile, don't adjust your antennae. Bug fare is also creeping onto the small screen with the major networks set to debut "The Pest Wing" and "Who Wants to Be a Millipede?"



Terror grips Tinsel Town

By John Breneman

Eager to cash in on America's fascination with terrorism, Hollywood is releasing a barrage of summer blockbusters like "Sleeping With the Yemeni" and "Al Qaeda on the Western Front."

Though critics have assailed trendy terror-themed films like "The Anthrax Chainsaw Massacre," studio executives are defending their right to turn the public's plutonium nightmares into silver-screen gold.

"If we allow them to scare us into not making tasteless movies jammed with explosions and gratuitous killing, then the terrorists truly will have won," said producer Adam Baum, plugging his controversial new release "Last Tango in Pakistan."

Some critics are dismissing the new genre as formulaic and derivative, noting that most of the films are nothing more than old favorites crudely refitted with flimsy storylines, their titles riddled with racial stereotypes and horrifying puns like "Man in the Iron Mosque" and "Allah Doesn't Live Here Anymore."

Undaunted by charges of celluloid fear-mongering, studio executives say this new wave of Tinsel Town terror provides a form of in-your-face escapism that American movie-goers crave.

Not even the classics are safe. Swept up by a violent tornado, Dorothy and little Toto encounter the Cowardly Suicide Bomber and the Wicked Witch of the West Bank in "The Wizard of Gaza."

Mystery enthusiasts are flocking to stylish whodunits like "Martyr on the Orient Express" and the Hitchcock-inspired "Dial J for Jihad." Fans of courtroom drama are finding guilty pleasure in "12 Angry Mullahs." And audiences are raving about the classic western remake "Stungun Fight at the O.K. Corral."

Among the terror-comedies set for summer release, Bob Hope mugs his way through a knee-slapping nuclear standoff in "Road to Kashmir" and Mel Gibson plays a psychotic U.N. inspector in "Lethal Weapons of Mass Destruction."

A certain obnoxious Iraqi dictator is the target of well-aimed jokes in Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Baghdad" and the heavily armored Mel Brooks vehicle, "Blazing Saddam."

With "Take the Stock Options and Run," Allen is also one of several filmmakers capitalizing on the corporate scandals that are all the rage this summer. Other high-finance horror stories include "Nightmare on Wall Street" and "The Devil and Miss Dow Jones."

All this, coming soon to an overpriced, steel-reinforced multiplex near you.