04 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 111 | June 4, 2010

“Summer” Movies


Our theme this week
“Summer” movies (not soon playing at a theater near you)

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   The Endless Summer (1966)
Tuesday         —   Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Wednesday    —   Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Thursday        —   (500) Days of Summer (2009)

Summer of Sam (1999)

summer of sam

The city does not remain the same.  The city in Summer of Sam is unmistakably New York but it’s not the place you’ll find if you visit the city today.  It wasn’t the same in the booming, pre-9/11, late 1990s, either, when the film was made.  The Summer of Sam is New York in the summer of ’77.  Then, the city was in decline.  There was a slump on Wall Street, a nearly bankrupt city treasury, soaring crime, high tensions everywhere.  Add to that a blackout in 104-degree heat and a serial killer on the loose.  Calling Spike Lee.

Lee was born in Atlanta, grew up in Brooklyn, and started making movies in the 1980s.  His films offer some of the most gripping and powerful depictions of urban life to be found in recent decades.  Frequently his subject is African-American life, and he doesn’t pull punches when commenting on race.  Lee has earned a spot as one of the essential New York filmmakers, a group that includes Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet (Woody Allen is also in the group, but from a different zip code).

For Summer of Sam, Lee uses a wide canvas, covering as much territory as possible.  He doesn’t tell the story of a character or two, but the whole neighborhood—and he’ll squeeze in whatever else he can too (the return of the Yankees to glory, the beginning of punk).  The neighborhood here is a mostly white corner of the Bronx, though the action drops in at a few bygone hotspots—CBGB, Studio 54, and Plato’s Retreat.

The large and talented cast brings to life the energy, humor, and toughness of real New York.  The lead men are John Leguizamo, Michael  Rispoli, and Adrien Brody, and the women, who don’t get the better end of the treatment, include Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito, Bebe Neuwirth, and Patti Lupone. 

The main characters are not victims of the serial killer directly, though there are a few incidental connections.  Vinny (Leguizamo) nearly witnesses one of the killings and fears the killer may come after him.  Joey T. (Rispoli) suspects the neighborhood punk (Brody) is actually the real killer.  Terror is pervasive.  It does nasty things to people.  That as much as anything is the point of the movie.

The serial killer is David Berkowitz, known as Son of Sam (played in a few scenes by Michael Badalucco).  Like the shark in Jaws, we don’t see a lot of him.  But a little goes a long way.


Summer of Sam (1999)
Spike Lee, director
Trailer

 


Summer of Sam (1999)
John Leguizamo, Michael Rispoli, Adrien Brody, Jennifer Esposito


Summer of Sam (1999 )
John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino 


Quote of Note
Jimmy:  I know you from some place.
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  You don’t remember me?
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  You don’t remember we met a few years ago?  It was at a party or a dance.  We had a long conversation.  You can’t remember that?
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  I just want to explain to you, first of all, my parents are over there, my mother and father, my brother and sister.  So I got to see them because I just was two years in the service, you know, so they haven’t see me.  Now, I want to get your phone number so I can tell you tomorrow about what I was thinking about.  There’s something very, very important I’ve got to talk to you about.
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  No what?  No what?
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  No?
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  No, no, no.  You don’t understand.  Give me your number.  You got a pencil or something?
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  All right.  I have a photographic memory.  Just give me your number, and I’ll remember it.
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  Yes.
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  Yes.
Francine:  No.
Jimmy:  Can I meet you at Central Park?  I’m serious.
Francine:  I know.  No.
Jimmy:  I mean, come on.  There’s no way—
Francine:  No!
—Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro), Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli), New York, New York (1977)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 04 Jun 2010 @ 10:40 AM

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 03 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 110 | June 3, 2010

“Summer” Movies


Our theme this week
“Summer” movies (not soon playing at a theater near you)

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   The Endless Summer (1966)
Tuesday         —   Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Wednesday    —   Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

500 days of summer

They say there are no new stories.  It’s probably true.  Yet (500) Days of Summer is proof that there’s no end to how the old stories can be retold.  Often, with a fresh new twist.

Every generation needs its own love stories (one reason they keep making them).  This film probably will have a special resonance for people of a certain age.  It’s a smart enough film, though, likely to appeal to people of almost any age, i.e., to anyone who’s known the joy and heartache of love.  The narrator does say early on, “This is not a love story,” but don’t you believe it.  It’s a story about love as it often is in the real world—intoxicating one day, frustrating the next.  That may sound like the plot of a thousand romantic comedies, but you’ll see a thousand more before you find another that gets it as right as this.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) are co-workers at a greeting card company.  The “500 days” of the title refers to the span of their relationship, as they fall in love—or not in love, depending on who you believe.  Those 500 days don’t pass in sequence.  The film follows a non-linear narrative, and to good effect.  It is Tom’s story that matters most.  His point of view is what we see onscreen, and we understand why he’s fallen for the irresistible and enigmatic Summer.

The success of the film owes much to the two leads, both smart, attractive, and likable actors.  Their enjoyment with each other is palpable, and their performances seem like a modern update to some classic screen couples of the past.  Gordon-Levitt has all the makings of a huge star.  Deschanel will be worth keeping an eye on too.

I won’t spoil it here, but the film ends on a last line about as good as anything in recent memory.  The writing and timing are crisp throughout, and first-time director Marc Webb handles the material with a deft touch.


(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Marc Webb, director
Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, writers
Trailer

 


(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
“You Make My Dreams” (Hall & Oates)


Quote of Note
Nothing from that first day I saw her, and no one that has happened to me since, has ever been as frightening and as confusing.  For no person I’ve ever known has ever done more to make me feel more sure, more insecure, more important, and less significant.”
—Herman Raucher/Narrator (voice of director Robert Mulligan), Summer of ’42 (1971)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 01 Jun 2010 @ 05:20 PM

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 02 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Wednesday Minute
No. 109 | June 2, 2010

“Summer” Movies


Our theme this week
“Summer” movies (not soon playing at a theater near you)

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   The Endless Summer (1966)
Tuesday         —   Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

suddenly last summer

Suddenly, Last Summer may have been the most disturbing film I saw as a child.  It’s hardly a children’s film, but it played many times on local television while I was growing up in New York.  We didn’t have many choices back then.  No doubt certain elements of the story were over my head at the time, yet it haunted me.  I could watch a war movie with a thousand men dying in battle and be less troubled than by scenes of madness and cruelty from this twisted tale of Tennessee Williams.  What was so scary?  Plenty, actually, and the icy matriarch played by Katharine Hepburn was part of it.  But the idea that you could have to face a truth so terrible that you might lose your mind was pretty damn frightening.  (The older I got, the better I understood that the fear of admitting uncomfortable truths is not just an aberration.  It’s one of the defining characters of society.)

Elizabeth Taylor stars as Catherine, whose cousin Sebastian died on their vacation in Europe.  Catherine is so distraught after witnessing his death that her family has her institutionalized.  Katherine Hepburn is Mrs. Violet Venable, Sebastian’s wealthy mother, who simply does not want to know the truth about her son.  Good ol’ Aunt Vi tries to force the sanitarium into giving her niece, Catherine, a lobotomy.

A doctor played by Montgomery Clift performs an evaluation of Catherine, and with his encouragement, she at last describes the events of the summer, those days on the beach with Sebastian.  She was the unwitting decoy in Sebastian’s schemes to attract boys for prostitution.  One day he fought with a group of them.  They chased him across town, cornered him, and beat him to death.  Catherine watched the gruesome killing, screamed, but could not help.

Telling the story leaves Catherine shaken, in tears.  But learning the details of her son’s homosexuality and death is more than Mrs. Venable can handle.  She loses her grasp on reality and needs to be taken away.

Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz adapted Williams’s one-act play for the screen, with Gore Vidal getting one of the writing credits.  Some of the more perverse material was tamed down for the film version, notably the cannibalism of Sebastian’s death.  Still, the film had plenty of shock value, certainly more the typical film of the ’50s, and more than anything else I remember seeing on television in those halcyon days before cable TV.


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, director
 


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, director


Quote of Note
“Ah, you Americans, you’re advanced in so many ways!  But when it comes to sex, hmm, childish!  Operate on the brain, perform a lobotomy—fine!  But take a pair of testicles and everybody explodes!”
—Dr. Victor Dahlmen (Oscar Beregi Jr.), The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970)

…58…59…60.

 01 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 108 | June 1, 2010

“Summer” Movies


Our theme this week
“Summer” movies (not soon playing at a theater near you)

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   The Endless Summer (1966)

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

smiles of a summer night

Ingmar Bergman directed comedies.  (Who knew?)

Bergman had been been making movies for about a decade when he wrote and directed Smiles of a Summer Night, the film that first won him wide international acclaim.  He had already made Summer Interlude (1951) and Summer with Monika (1953), so something about the season seemed to inspire him.  In later years he directed The Virgin Spring (1960), Winter Light (1962), and Autumn Sonata (1978), proving he could make a film for any time of year.

Smiles of a Summer Night may be Bergman at his lightest, though it’s hardly without suffering.  There’s more of that here than you’ll find from other directors aiming for tragedy.  The film is set in the bourgeois society of turn-of-the-century Sweden, with husbands and wives and mistresses and lovers all looking for romance and finding mostly trouble.  The women are scheming and the men full of vanity.  The action culminates in a summer weekend in the country, with eight of them coming together, both friend and foe.  Bergman steers just an inch short of catastrophe, while the women conspire to lead the men through their grand designs, as the couples find the solution to their dilemma by swapping partners.

The cast includes several legends of Swedish acting.  Eva Dahlbeck plays the actress Desirée, the once and would-be lover of Fredrik Egerman, a lawyer, with Gunnar Bjornstrand as the male lead.   Ulla Jacobsson plays Fredrik’s young virgin of a wife, and Harriet Andersson the young and world-wise maid.  One of the highlights of the film is Mrs. Armfeldt, played by Naima Wifstrand, who has one sharp line after another.  When her daughter, Desirée, claims, “For once I was truly innocent,” she replies, “It must have been early in the evening.”

Bergman was a prolific film director and playwright, and along with Smiles of a Summer Night he made a handful of comedies.  This was probably his best known, and sweetest.  (Stephen Sondheim adapted the story for his 1973 musical, A Little Night Music.)  Bergman’s success at Cannes—the film won a prize for “best poetic humor”—helped save his career, which soon would take a different and darker path.


Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens Leende) (1955)
Ingmar Bergman, director
Eva Dahlbeck, Naima Wifstrand
 


Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Ingmar Bergman, director


Quote of Note
Helen:  No decent girl lets a boy kiss and maul her the very first night they meet!  I suppose it’s your Swedish blood in her.  I’ve read about how the Swedes bathe together and—and have trial marriages and free love.  I’ve read all about that.  Anything goes.
Ken:  So, now you hate the Swedes.  How many outlets for your hate do you have, Helen?
—Helen Jorgenson (Constance Ford), Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan), A Summer Place (1959)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 31 May 2010 @ 10:47 PM

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 31 May 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 107 | May 31, 2010

“Summer” Movies

If I were Bruce Springsteen (fat chance), I might have written a song called “21 Screens (and Nothin’ On).”  I remember the days when two or four screens at a theater were a lot, but today anything with less than half a dozen seems quaint.  Somehow, though, a trip to the local megaplex fails to provide the one thing you’d expect to find:  choice.

The problem is not the number of screens, it’s the movies that are playing.  Twenty-one screens don’t mean a thing when the only films showing are Prince of Persia, Robin Hood, Iron Man 2, Shrek Forever After, and Sex and the City 2.  One obvious problem is the lack of anything new—sequels and remakes rule—but there is something else missing in that list:  a film for grownups.

I met a friend last week and we planned to go to a movie.  After seeing what was playing, we very nearly skipped the movie altogether.  There was nothing we wanted to see.  I realize we’re not the target demographic of Hollywood, but we do have broad tastes.  We like lots of different movies.  It really shouldn’t be so hard.

It wasn’t always this way, but somewhere around the time of Jaws in 1975, Hollywood discovered the “summer movie.”  Like a monster that can’t be contained, the summer movie has grown bigger and badder, not to mention, more brainless and uninspired.  Which wouldn’t be so frightening except that Hollywood doesn’t make anything but summer movies anymore—the summer movie is the monster that devoured Hollywood, at least that part of the place that used to do anything else.

Summer movies are not just for summer, of course.  Even Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, arrives well after the start of the summer movie season.  You see, there are now just two seasons in Hollywood:  Oscar season, which lasts from Thanksgiving till New Year’s, and summer, which covers everything else.

Since the movie biz doesn’t wait for the summer solstice, neither will I.  This week, a theme about “summer” movies, films that tie in with the season in one way or another, though not ones that fit the usual Hollywood definition of the term.

Our theme this week
“Summer” movies (not soon playing at a theater near you)

The Endless Summer (1966)

the endless summer

Have surfboard, will travel.

The Endless Summer is a simple but great film title.  It captures the essence of an idea with undeniable appeal, especially to the young, whose sense of time has not been contaminated by the so-called realities of adult life.  (It would be a great title for the Beach Boys too; Endless Summer is the name of the band’s very successful greatest hits collection of 1974.)

The Endless Summer is a surf film.  It’s not just about a sport, though—it’s about a way of life.  No scenes with Gidget, thank you, this one’s a documentary—one part home movie, one part travelogue.  Two surfers from Southern California, Mike Hynson and Robert August, travel the world, hopping from one surf spot to another, catching waves in Malibu, Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii.  Bruce Brown shot the surfers on his 16-mm camera and provides the narration.  Highlights of their trip include Cape St. Francis, near the southern tip of Africa, and the Pipeline, on the north coast of Oahu.  The film works best when it sticks to the surf scenes, and like nothing before, it captures the sheer beauty of the action and the courage and thrill of the sport.

Brown had started making micro-budget surf films in the ’50s, and for The Endless Summer he raised $50,000, still a tiny sum but ten times what he’d ever had before.  Brown never had backing from any Hollywood film distributors.  In New York, he opened the film at a theater he rented himself.  It ran for a year.  The Endless Summer went on to make $20 million, spawned a couple of sequels, and helped define a subgenre of film that’s still popular today.


The Endless Summer (1966)
Bruce Brown, director


“Theme to The Endless Summer
The Sandals


Quote of Note
Willard:  Are you crazy?  Goddamn it, don’t you think its a little risky for some R and R?
Kilgore:  If I say it’s safe to surf this beach, Captain, then its safe to surf this beach!  I mean, I’m not afraid to surf this place.  I’ll surf this whole fucking place!
—Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), Apocalypse Now (1979)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 30 May 2010 @ 11:22 PM

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