Our Critics Pick Hot Blasts of Seasonal Cinema
Depends on who you ask. Maybe it's the green grass and chalk dust of a Little League diamond. Maybe it's the shimmering haze rising off steaming Brooklyn asphalt, or the bright cerise burn on a pretty Frenchman's sun-baked back.
We put the question to the crack crew at Rewind, City Paper Online's video/DVD-review column: What film really says "summer" to you? Not like they mean it in Hollywood, where "summer" means "$100-million first-week gross." Not even necessarily a film where the calendrical facts are integral; those movies usually just use summer as an excuse to put good-looking people in bathing suits. (Not a bad thing, mind you; just not what we're looking for here.) We wanted movies that truly evoke the middle months, in all their passionate heat, clammy discomfiture, and school's-out chaos.
Hence this list, augmented by a nostalgic reverie in which Ian Grey explains how he came by his own special definition of "summer movie." And why, in the name of all that is humid, would we suggest you rent movies that will only remind you how prickly and uncomfortable it is outside? Because you can watch them inside, lights down and AC way, way up.
The Bad News Bears
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Nothing says summer in America like Little League, right? OK, so those Asian teams usually win the world title. But what could be more American than a bunch of ragtag underdogs banding together to rise to a challenge? OK, so the ragtag underdogs in question are a gaggle of foul-mouthed misfits and pathetic losers coached by a never-was ballplayer (Walter Matthau at his laconic best) who drinks for a living and cleans pools on the side. Fed up with being doormats in a Little League that takes itself a little too seriously, the Bears are ready to pack it in when the coach turns them around with a fireballing girl hurler (Tatum O'Neal), a power-hitting hoodlum (Jackie Earle Haley), and some old-school baseball fundamentals. Underrated director Michael Ritchie specialized in satiric takes on uniquely American subcultures (media politics in 1972's The Candidate, beauty pageants in 1975's Smile); 1976's Bears is grittier and more broadly comic than those films (Bill Lancaster's script gets a lot of mileage out of kids cursing) but no less pointed as it builds to the big-game finale, a slyly subversive affirmation that it really is How You Play the Game--a point lost on the makers of the two sequels and innumerable knockoffs that followed. Bonus points for the most inspired use of the music of Carmen outside of Carmen. (Andy Markowitz)
Directed by Roger Donaldson
It wasn't Capt. Bligh's cruelty that drove his men to mutiny--not exactly anyway, according to Roger Donaldson's 1984 version of this oft-filmed tale. Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) and chief mutineer Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson) are close friends--or, at least, they are before the Bounty sails off to the balmy shores of Tahiti. The heat, the paradisiacal living, and the island's nubile female inhabitants soon loosen discipline among Christian and the sailors (including a young Liam Neeson). Meanwhile, the officers (including a young and supremely dour Daniel Day-Lewis) try to maintain their stiff upper lips while baking in their naval uniforms, and--in the film's boldest extrapolation from historical accuracy--Hopkins' Bligh poaches in his sheets, sweatily tossing and turning and gnashing his teeth. Did Bligh's deep insecurities and possible homoerotic crush on Christian fuel a crackdown and tip the balance toward the fatal uprising? Donaldson's film (scripted by Robert Bolt and Bounty expert Richard Hough) seems to offer that possibility. But it's the heat, not the cupidity, that stokes the film's slow burn. Not only does the tropical setting fuel the simmering tensions, it provides gorgeous scenery--including scores of half-naked Polynesians and tanned and tattooed Jack Tars. Sunbaked and complexly shaded at the same time, The Bounty is one of those rare historical epics you wish would go on a little longer. (Lee Gardner)
Directed by Joseph Losey
The steamy, combustible oppression of summer gleams dully on every frame of Joseph Losey's The Go-Between (1970), adapted by Harold Pinter from L.P. Hartley's poignant novel. In turn-of-the-20th-century England, middle-class youth Leo Colston spends a sultry summer at the sprawling home of aristocratic school chum Marcus Maudsley, whose chief claim to fame is his lovely older sister Marian (the stunningly effervescent Julie Christie). Marian's beauty and kindness and the steadily rising heat melt the guileless Leo, who unwittingly becomes involved in her tempestuous love affair with a rough-and-tumble farmer, Ted Burgess (a pleasantly shaggy Alan Bates). Carrying messages back and forth between the illicit lovers--Marian's fiancé, Lord Trimingham (a feisty Edward Fox), appropriately if unknowingly dubs the young man "Mercury--the messenger of the gods"--Leo gradually comes to suspect the significance of the letters, and his sparkling summer slips into the clammy discomfort of the realities of adulthood. Deceptively languid, The Go-Between builds to a slow but scorching climax that, like too many summer memories, marks its victims for life. (Luisa F. Ribeiro)
The Hot Spot
Directed by Dennis Hopper
Honored film eccentric Dennis Hopper's restrained but still tweaked country noir The Hot Spot (1990) has two scenes that neatly summarize the suffering of long, hard summers, and the relief an air-conditioned movie experience offers. In a Hitchcockian overhead-shot intro, amoral skeezeball drifter Harry Madox (Don Johnson--and who gives better amoral skeeze than Don Johnson?) stands alone on a parched Texas road, depressed from being lonesome, lost, and hot. Later, Gloria (Jennifer Connelly), secretary of nymphomaniac femme fatale Dolly (Virginia Madsen), chitchats with her friend Irene (Debra Cole) at a nearby chilly pond in an artistically valid, very long nude scene. That both of these fine performers are full-frontal naked only adds to the film's, um, tension. Anyway, as in all noirs, heat signifies trouble and bad lust brewing, leading to crime and disaster. Harry gets a gig as a used-car dealer, is seduced by Dolly (the boss' wife), and, sex-stunned, figures out a way to steal the boss' bank. Acts of blackmail, bisexuality, sudden violence, and gratuitous smoking follow. Hopper languorously straddles the line between saucy '40s stylization, outright parody, and/or over-the-top weirdness while John Lee Hooker and Jack Nitzsche's sizzling porch-blues score provides suitably febrile accompaniment. (Ian Grey)
Directed by René Clément
The image that stays with you after watching Purple Noon (1960), René Clément's sultry, suspenseful French-language adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, is star Alain Delon slumped over in a sea-slapped adrift dinghy, his broad back seared a sickening rosy hue by the scorching Mediterranean sun. He's the victim of a prank by coddled expatriate Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), who's on the defensive after discovering that Delon's Tom Ripley has been hired by Greenleaf's disapproving industrialist father to fetch his son and bring him back to America. Greenleaf eventually rescues Tom, but the damage is done: Ripley may be a cad whose creepy envy of the errant heir borders on the psychotic, but after you get a load of his singed skin--and Delon's seductive, masterful performance--the character wins you over. Eventually, Ripley offs Greenleaf and assumes his identity--not for revenge's sake, but to cash in on the pampered playboy's cushy lifestyle. Purple Noon's denouement features a jaw-dropping twist that's a departure from Highsmith's novel, but, as in the book, what really astonishes is the the film's ability to manipulate the audience into empathizing with its amoral protagonist. (Adele Marley)
Directed by Carl Reiner
The late, great John Candy essays one of his latest, greatest roles as Jack Chester, a suburban everyman stressed-out from his job as an air-traffic controller and forced to take one of those extended family-style vacations to an overbooked summer beach community. Local lemmings who take part in the annual eastward migration to the seasonally sun-dappled shores of Ocean City, Md., will see a lot of themselves in the general idiocy of humans congregating in mass quantities with sand between their toes as Jack attempts to reconnect with his wife and kids and gets sunburnt, hobbled, and shit-faced drunk in the process. Also starring the great but (as of this writing) not yet late Rip Torn as Scully, a, uh, pirate (with a hook for a hand and the "arr"'s and everything) restaurateur who helps Jack in the big boat race versus white-bread asshole Al Pellet (Richard Crenna), who will surely resonates with a lot of actual OC residents in his hatred for the two-weeks-a-year crowd. And featuring Carmine Caridi, the poor man's (late, great) Vic Tayback. (Joe MacLeod)
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201