Smile Politely

Films of Summer, 2013

What constitutes a summer movie? Does its action have to take place in the summertime, possibly involving graduating from school or going away to camp? Is it required that the film have been released during the summer months and, therefore, fall under the heading of blockbuster? Or must it simply make one nostalgic for summer days gone by: childhood adventures, vacation romances, aliens invading on the Fourth of July?

We put the question to some of our staff, wondering what films they thought of when they thought of summer. Their responses, not surprisingly, were a varied lot, equal parts thoughtful analysis and wistful memory.

Regular film reviewers Chike Coleman and Thom Schnarre are joined by Arts Editor Mathew Green to proudly present their completely subjective list of personal favorites. Have a look, reflect on your own list, and feel free to comment.

The Sandlot

A modern summertime classic, this movie tells the story of Scotty Smalls, who moves to a new neighborhood with his mom and stepdad and wants to learn to play baseball. The neighborhood baseball guru, Rodriquez, takes Smalls under his wing, and soon he’s part of the local baseball buddies. They fall into misadventures involving baseball, treehouse sleep-overs, the attractive lifeguard at the local pool, the snooty rival ball team, and the traveling fair. Beyond the fence at the back of the sandlot a legendary ball-eating dog called The Beast looms, and the kids inevitably must deal with him, too.

Based on that premise alone, how can you not at least be intrigued? This film is brilliant because it’s a story of a boy growing up over the summer and beginning his journey to manhood, all told brilliantly with baseball as a backdrop. Smalls is an everyday kid who is trying to accept the new changes in his life, including a new family member, a new town, and new friends. The joy of watching this film comes from experiencing that journey with Smalls. Maybe — just maybe — by taking that journey with him, we grow to understand ourselves a little better, too. It’s a fantastic way to spend a summer afternoon. (CC)


The second film on my list marked the beginning of Ben Stiller’s movie career, more or less. Heavyweights, which was produced by Judd Apatow, lets us meet a kid named Jerry. Jerry is overweight, has just finished another year of middle school, and is told by his parents that he isn’t staying home this summer; instead, he’s going to a place called Camp Hope. When he arrives there, Camp Hope is a great place filled with chubby kids just like him. Things change, however, when the camp is almost immediately bought by a psycho fitness instructor named Tony Perkins (Stiller). Ultimately, the kids have to find a way to take their camp back.

I think this film is brilliant for one reason: it perfectly illustrates what kids think of as the authentic camp experience. I know that I personally watched this movie as a kid and wanted to be friends with every single character … save for Tony and Lars. Heavyweights has comedy that is perfect for kids and it makes you long to be at summer camp where you could have fun and make new friends. But let the viewer beware … this film also has a tendency to make you hungry. (CC)


The final summer-evoking film I chose is CAMP. The plot of CAMP is simple: misfits in their lives back home, a group of young people live it up at musical-theater camp. While the sports counselor is completely ignored, the kids spend all their time in rehearsal for a grueling schedule that involves a new show every two weeks.

I love this movie! It is a musical without being a musical, and the characters all feel like real people with genuine problems. It’s about a place where a person can be accepted for whom he or she is for three whole months, while the outside world disagrees and sometimes even despises what they love. Of course there is drama and heartbreak, but there are also amazing amounts of support that the characters give to each other when it matters most. I have no doubt that if you choose to see this enchanting musical comedy (which was also the film debut of Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick), your heart will be filled with a lot of laughs and a little joy. (CC)

Edge of Seventeen

From my film choices, you can tell it’s a queer, queer summer, and we are partying like it’s 1999 for two-thirds of my entries! Summer is about heat, lovely, scantily-clad bodies, and loads of sun, sex, and great music. While there are many more well-known and lauded queer films, this one has the delightful distinction of having an 80s soundtrack and wardrobe; and unlike many of its genre, no one dies in the process of owning his or her sexuality. A disturbing trend I have seen in both films and TV that continues through current offerings is the tradition of killing off the queer-identified character, while allowing the bi/closeted character they dally with to get off with some teary heartache and a lesson about being “too out”: Brokeback Mountain, Boys Don’t Cry, the very recent Fox Network show The Following, and NBC’s lost little lamb Smash all tend to kill the aggressively queer amongst us as an unintended lesson for us all. It’s a lesson that has dire consequences for isolated queer teens, and one I think we can take a break from. Dear Hollyweird: there are other stories to tell. Enter Edge of Seventeen for your viewing pleasure! Teenaged Eric is coming to terms with his sexuality in the summer of 1984 and gets a summer job at a second-rate amusement park that seems to have been created by RuPAul and Ellen DeGeneres. As he dabbles with colorful hair dye, a bitchin’ Morrissey cut, some fabulous eyeliner, and a dishy and douchey frat boy coworker, all is not care-free kitsch.

There are bumps on this journey because Eric still must goes home at night to his religious mom and work with his clueless best friend/girlfriend. Eric makes both good and bad choices, like most protagonists of teen rom-coms, but ultimately he’s a survivor who will do okay in the future. This is fluffy, frothy, and sexy, with a surprisingly touching moment or two. This film also is awarded my summer heat award for one of the more realistic portrayals of gay deflowering I’ve seen on a mainstream-ish film (A clue: It’s a bumpy night and not totally in a good way!) The cast is charming with lovely work from Chris Stafford as Eric, Stephanie McVay as his mother, Tina Holmes as his girl “friend,” Anderson Gabrych as the douchey frat boy, and out comedian Lea DeLauria in a lovely and moving turn as Eric’s butch older boss and gay mentor, Angie.

With a romantic and sweet script by the scribe of the raunchy Another Gay Movie franchise, Todd Stephens, and skillful direction by David Moreton, who directed another hot and disturbing summer queer film about a vengeful stalker entitled, Testosterone, this is a lovely journey back in time and a fun intro to summer gay films … without a body count. The costumes and sets are lovingly nostalgic, and the music is the shit! So dust off your 45 player, put on your best Cyndi Lauper LP, grab some popcorn and some hair mousse, and enjoy the summer heat! (TS)

The Talented Mr. Ripley

When summer is well underway, I always long for a good thriller or horror flick. So next, I turn to Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s suspense novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Long before showing his tan-lined tushy in HBO’s spring film, Behind the Candelabra, Matt Damon played a different type of gay boy: the scrawny, pasty, poor type. But the charming Mr. Ripley can finesse himself into high society and does so with the lovely and cold-hearted Jude Law and his callous crew. The pair of fancy lads languish in the European sun as Ripley’s sexuality goes off like an alarm clock, waking the prick-teasing and “confused” Law into evil action.

As a nice change of pace, the closet case (SPOILER ALERT!) gets an oar to the temple and swims with the fishes, as the sad Mr. Ripley assumes his Dickey identity and takes over his sizable checking account. That’s when shiz gets real! The performances are luminous with fine support by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a perfectly Americanized Kate Blanchett, and Gwyneth Paltrow reminding us that before she reproduced and met Robert Downey Jr., she could do more than write cookbooks and slink sullenly across red carpet events while waiting for some action flick that would pay for her poseur time in England; in other words, girl could act. You’ll also note handsome Brit actor, Jack Davenport, most recently the slutty Broadway director in NBC’s dead and buried Smash, as a nerdy and romantic gay boy.

The cinematography is romantic and sprawling, and the sets and costumes make me a little dizzy (G-G-G-GORGEOUS!). It’s a scorcher of a dark little film, so bring some sunscreen and enjoy! (TS)

Top of the Lake

Too hot to go out, dear readers? No worries! Auntie Thommy has found you a lovely six-hours-plus confection on the Sundance Channel: the twisted adult mystery Top of the Lake. I first heard of this via a news item reporting on this year’s Sundance Film Festival on E! Entertainment News. The reporters were gushing about the hits from this year’s festival and noted that many of their friends had bought a ticket for the first hour or so of Jane Campion and Gerard Lee’s epic mystery, only to find themselves addicted and returning for the entire seven episode screening. Set on the chilly New Zealand coast, the film/mini-series revolves around Madmen’s Elisabeth Moss as a feisty, off-duty detective on leave from her big city life to care for her ailing mum. The rural town she grew up in is rife with secrets and skeletons from her past, and she is soon brought in to interrogate a twelve-year-old suicidal preteen with an inconvenient pregnancy and an even more inconvenient bloodline of half-wit degenerate male meth dealers. Stir in a misogynistic police force, a mute gay teen, and a cult of wacky women running from their abusive mates, and you’ve got one helluva artsy cocktail to cool your tongue on.

This mystery takes a bit of time getting started, but it is riveting and twisted from start to finish. You won’t see any of the revelations coming as the tale unfolds, and the performances are incredibly good, including the fine work of Moss, Peter Mullan as a psychotic family patriarch (and possible baby-daddy), and an almost unrecognizable Holly Hunter as the trippy and blurrily gendered cult leader/self-help guru, GJ. The women are put-upon and ready to kick ass, and the men are inked in wicked cool ways, making the numerous romantic hook-ups and sex scenes steamily reminiscent of such classic scenes from Campion’s The Piano and In the Cut and the modern noir classic, Body Heat. True, it’s a cold and chilly landscape, with every sort of perversion on full display, but what’s an air-conditioned weekend indoors for, if not an addictive and naughty romp or two? This film is currently On Demand with Comcast and is well worth your time in the steamy dog days of summer! (TS)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Summer can mean many things to movie lovers. I have my own list of criteria, at the top of which has to be the crazy, over-the-top, blockbuster action film. The more epic the story, the better. In my life, I’ve encountered lots of these films, from comic book adaptations to the inevitable barrage of inevitable sequels. [Full disclosure though: although I usually scoff at sequels, I’ve read that the seventh (!) Fast and Furious film will add Jason Statham to the cast, and I have no problem with that whatsoever. Just sayin’.] Perhaps my favorite big, wacky action-adventure, and the one that made Mr. Johnny Depp one of the most bankable actors in the world (for a while … *cough* … speaking of sequels), is the original Pirates of the Caribbean film, Curse of the Black Pearl.

Before anyone had seen this film, I can’t imagine who thought this thing would work. First off, it’s based on the tackiest, most lame-ass ride at Walt Disney World. Seriously. The friggin’ tea cup ride is more exciting. And there hadn’t been a successful pirate film since, what? Douglas Fairbanks? Then they announce that Johnny Depp, old white-face scissor boy, was going to play the pirate antihero Jack Sparrow. And what happened? He rocked it. Forget about the sequels for a second (feels good, right?), and think back to the first appearance of Depp as Captain Jack. Swaggering about in full-tilt-boogie Keith Richards drag, he completely sold an amoral, exciting, hilariously watchable pirate. Add to that the first-rate villain work of Geoffrey Rush as Barbosa and the tremendous special effects and swordfights, and you have a big movie that could have (and should have) stood alone. (MG)


What makes Jaws a great summer film? Well, the fact that it takes place during the summer tourist season at a prominent vacation destination is a good start. Add to that the numerous beach scenes, and the…

OH COME ON! IT’S JAWS!! Look, people, I have made it clear many times throughout my life that Steven Spielberg’s seminal terror-from-below film Jaws is my favorite movie of all time, no matter what season it is. I stand by that, and my reasons are plentiful. Among them, I could mention that it is genuinely scary, genuinely funny, and very genuinely acted by a cast of mostly unfamiliar, real-looking people. The townsfolk of Amity Island are spectacularly regular, and the big-name actors among them (Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw) fit right in. They inhabit their characters in a way that few actors in high-profile movies ever bother to do, and the story is that much richer for it. When Richard Dreyfuss arrives as trust-fund shark expert Matt Hooper, his energy is the perfect contrast to that of the fearful, suspicious Chief Brody. I could go on and on. Mrs. Kintner, with her black mourning dress? Jesus. And Murray Hamilton as the mayor of Shark City … possibly my favorite supporting performance of all time.

And yeah, it takes place at the beach, mostly. Lots of boats, lots of water, lots of people in boats and in water. Oh, and there’s also a giant shark. (MG)

Bull Durham
You can’t have a list of summer movies without including one about the national pastime. And also baseball. (See what I did there? But seriously, folks…)
Ron Shelton’s grown-up comedy Bull Durham, in addition to being a damn good movie about life in professional minor league ball, is also one of the funniest, sexiest, most astute movies I’ve ever seen about love, sex, and romance. Tim Robbins, not yet a star, plays Ebby Calvin Laloosh, a hot pitching prospect who comes under the tutelage of two very different mentors. The first, Annie Savoy (played by reliable sexy older woman Susan Sarandon) is a baseball groupie who becomes Laloosh’s lover, instilling confidence and a certain amount of maturity in the brash young stud. Also charged with “maturing” Laloosh is Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner at his very best. Costner has always had a way with charming scoundrels, especially in his early career, and — with respect to Dances With Wolves — Crash Davis is his finest achievement. Crash is a philosopher, a teacher, a tough older brother, and (above all) a man. He gives eloquent, epic speeches about life and sports and sex and respect, and he also manages to show the vulnerability of a man who is better than where he is in life.
The movie works on so many levels, from the athleticism of the actors to the believable sparks between Sarandon and Robbins (who began what would become a long-time partnership during this film) and even more believable sparks between Sarandon and Costner (which must have made Robbins feel very uncomfortable on the night of the premiere). Play ball, indeed. (MG)

Point Break
For my final entry in the Films of Summer extravaganza, I have saved the best for last. Long before Kathryn Bigelow was awarded an Academy Award for directing The Hurt Locker, she took an insane premise about bank-robbing surfers, a rookie FBI agent, and Gary Busey and turned it into one of the most underrated action thrillers of modern cinema. Make fun of Keanu Reeves all you want (and I know, he probably deserves it), but his brand of laid-back disbelief sets the perfect volume level for Johnny Utah, the ex-college-football star whose first undercover assignment in the crimefighting big leagues is to track and infiltrate a traveling band of surfers who “rob banks to finance their endless summer.” Yes, it’s a loopy idea for a movie, but it’s strangely easy to buy when you see this crew of adrenaline-junkie criminals, led by the zenned-out and impossibly dreamy Bodhi, played by Patrick Swayze.
You want action? There are too many high-octane chase and fight scenes to adequately describe, although special points must be given to a chase scene that takes place in mid-air. And I know the footchase that ends in Reeves’ character emptying his gun into the air has been reverently mocked (if that’s something one can do) in the terrific action-comedy Hot Fuzz, but there’s a reason the scene is so ripe for parody: it’s just a little bit … iconic —just the right amount of preposterous plotting, added to just the right about of pumped-up macho overacting. It’s a great recipe for a good time. Just add water. (MG)

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