Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve actually become a little keyed up about the summer movie season. I’ll admit that, but it’s certainly what I would call a cautious optimism. It’s nice to be excited about the new few months of movies for a change. It’s not that I’m completely against a long season of what is supposed to be one glorious, artery-clogging blockbuster after another. I just have a habit of getting bored easily, and very few things keep my disinterest higher than sequels to movies I barely cared about the first time, remakes of things that didn’t need the treatment, comedies that don’t strike me as particularly funny and epics that just don’t appeal to my tastes. I think it’s just a question of getting pickier as time goes on. For every one summer movie I look forward to, it seems as though there are two or three that I wouldn’t even watch on Netflix Instant.
This summer at least feels a little bit more promising. Sequels like The Dark Knight Rises, reboots like The Amazing Spiderman, comedies like Moonrise Kingdom, animated epics like Brave and others have all caught my interest in one way or another (two of the biggest surprises would have to be Prometheus and The Amazing Spiderman, neither of which I was particularly interested in until I saw the trailers).
Will I turn out to be right in thinking this? I won’t know until I see at least some of what’s coming down between now and the fall (sorry, but I still don’t give even a tenth of a damn about Battleship). It’s at least nice to have more than a couple of movies to look forward to, and that they make up a pretty broad range of genres, budgets and even countries.
I guess The Avengers is what has me feeling so hopeful. I expected to have a good time, but I didn’t expect to think, about five seconds after I left the theater, “You know, I could probably go back and see it again later tonight.” I didn’t, but it was a nice thought to leave the theater with. The trailers that preceded The Avengers didn’t hurt either. Almost all of them were interesting in some way.
Sometimes I can’t go to the movies for one reason or another. Other times I just don’t feel like. This summer I can actually see myself making the effort. Nothing is likely to come out of the chance that I’ll be disappointed. Even so it would be great if I wasn’t more often than not. Summer is historically my least favorite season (I don’t like the weather). Bring on any and all distractions that will keep me going until the fall.
Out of the Past (1947): A+
People who hang around me long enough to listen to me babble about movies (it doesn’t take long) will get a sense of my favorite actors and actresses pretty quickly. I’ve only in the past couple of years started working my way through the films of Robert Mitchum, but it’s been a great ride so far. His mere presence has been enough to elevate the lesser movies and just terrible ones he appeared in over a career of nearly sixty years. That’s fine, and it’s rare for me to like someone that much. For those who would rather not go that route, there are quite a few classic roles of his to choose from. It’s in the noir genre where he made his name and established a screen character that has since become legend. With noir alone you have a lot to choose from, and the classic 1947 film Out of the Past is an amazing place to start. Even if you haven’t seen a lot of noir it’s likely you won’t have a lot of trouble recognizing some of the essential elements of the genre. Found here in the story of a private detective (Mitchum) who runs afoul of a mobster (a very young Kirk Douglas) and his missing former mistress (Jane Greer), and then skips town in a doomed bid to escape everything that happens (he falls in love with Greer, which we inherently know is a bad idea). Mitchum would be the guy with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide in many a film, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better one than Out of the Past. The absolute best noir films of the Hollywood golden age only show their age but so much. Out of the Past feels as intense, bleak and desperate as it undoubtedly did for those who saw it in 1947. Great performances mark the entire cast, and the movie sets a perfect pace that is maintained beautifully until the end. Those are things that can always be part of a great film. To watch something like Out of the Past execute so many classic filmmaking and noir elements so well is to watch the kind of film that serves as both an obvious influence on later releases. And as something that can easily be enjoyed now. It’s perfect, and certainly more memorable than its 1980’s remake, or a lot of other films of its type. Mitchum is undoubtedly the man here, but that’s just the beginning. Everything in Out of the Past is flawless. Did anybody involved in its production imagine the status it would enjoy today? Probably not, and there’s something kind of charming about that. It’s a “nothing-to-lose” attitude that you don’t see as often anymore. It dictates everything about Out of The Past.
Warrior (2011): B
I thought the same thing about Warrior that I would imagine a lot people felt. “Oh, well, it’s Rocky with MMA stuff. Good luck with that.” It probably doesn’t help either that I’m only a casual MMA fan (I’m an anachronism—I still like boxing and pro-wrestling more). It wasn’t until I noticed a pretty steady tide of good reviews, and then an Oscar nomination for one of my favorite actors, Nick Nolte, that I finally thought it was only fair to give it a shot. The redemptive elements of the first Rocky do exist in Warrior’s story of two brothers (Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, both of whom do extremely fine work here) from two walks of life. Taking separate paths to an eventual showdown at the largest MMA tournament ever staged. What director and co-writer Gavin O’Connor, as well as fellow screenwriters Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman, do with that redemptive story is remarkable and surprising. The biggest breath of fresh air they insert in this story comes from their strong, believable characterizations of the brothers, and of Nolte as their alcoholic, broken father. With three believable, human performances behind that Warrior comes through as so much more than a mere Rocky clone.
Tales of Hoffman (1951): A
George A. Romero says all one could ever really say about Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s painstaking, gorgeous and vivid film re-creation of Jacque Offenbach’s famous opera. The story of a man who tells three different tales of love, extremely poor decisions (I could be completely misunderstanding the film/opera here, but Hoffman seems like kind of a dupe at times), heartbreak and damnation in the wake of that heartbreak. Tales of Hoffman has a feature on its Criterion edition DVD of Romero expressing a childhood love for the film that continues to this day. He speaks of its grandeur in the story it tells through opera, it’s gorgeous backdrops and wonderful performances (my favorite is Robert Helpmann as the less-than-honorable influence). I actually watched that first, but by the end of the movie I agreed with all of those pluses and more. A film about an opera definitely isn’t for every taste, but those feeling adventurous, or those who already suspect they’ll love it, will no doubt echo Romero’s sentiments, too.
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982): C-
I had a feeling that I would only be able to get into this famous, Oscar-winning (for Louis Gossett Jr’s rather badass performance as the drill sergeant) film but so much. It turns out I was right, but it’s not without merit. I’ll never be a big Richard Gere fan, so my interest in his desire to go through the Navy’s Aviator Officer Candidate School, and in his relation with a woman who lives near the base (Debra Winger) waned throughout. Even so it’s a good story with equally-good supporting performances (perhaps most of all David Keith as Gere’s buddy). I’m not completely sorry I caught it on TV and decided to stay for the whole thing.
The Great Buck Howard (2008): B
Colin Hanks gets on my nerves in a lot of the films and TV shows (well, The Good Guys, anyway) that I’ve seen him in. Watching him act is like watching a weird, half-finished clone of his father, Tom Hanks (who produced this film and makes a short appearance as his son’s character’s father). It’s unfair to make that comparison, but I seem to keep making it all the same. In The Great Buck Howard, based around the life of Carson-era Tonight Show-mainstay, mentalist The Great Kreskin, Hanks isn’t too bad at all. He actually makes for a pretty good hapless straight man to John Malkovich’s eccentric, entirely-too-egotistic-given-his-current-circumstances Buck Howard. There’s no question that the star of Buck Howard’s universe is Howard himself. Even though we meet Howard long after his glory days have faded. There’s also doubt that the star of The Great Buck Howard is Malkovich himself. His career is lined with films in which he is at his best playing bizarre figures that can be both comic and pitiable in a single scene. Thanks to writer-director Sean McGinly (Two Days), The Great Buck Howard is one of Malkovich’s best.
The Yes Men Fix the World (2009): A
It would take more a paragraph to properly describe culture-jamming activists The Yes Men. Or to even properly describe the range of global corporations, U.S. government agencies and economic practices (particularly the notion that we are here to make as much money as possible, and damn the consequences) that fall under their unique, intelligent and often hilarious brand of fury. It’s a fury that includes setting up fake websites, posing as members of corporations such as Dow Chemical for interviews with the BBC, fooling a room full of people into getting excited about a device called the SurvivaBall (a giant ball that a person could wear in order to endure the consequences of climate change) and more. Whatever your politics the actions of The Yes Man are never boring. They don’t fix the world at the end, but it’s difficult to imagine someone watching this and not reacting to it in some way. One would like to at least imagine that could do a lot of good for the world, too.
Battle: Los Angeles (2011): D+
I like Aaron Eckhart, and I even like a completely ridiculous, over-the-top, decadently-stupid battle for the earth between humanity and some alien race. I was hoping for fun-stupid with Battle: Los Angeles. What I got was just stupid. Battle: Los Angeles is a film completely devoid of humor, tension, style or even a moment worth remembering. The D+ is for Eckhart, a supporting cast that tries very hard to get me to care and nothing else. The fact that this grossed over 200-million worldwide and is expected to get a sequel is the only disturbing thing to be found here.