Summer Movie Top Picks

Steven Horley Blogs

As summer draws nearer, I thought I would use the season as inspiration for the blog. I’ve picked out a selection of films I think are good viewing and not typically summer fare. Therefore, the films make for a more rewarding watch.

Of the selection some are classics, a few are independent, some are reviled, and others are in a league of their own. But they all take place during the Summer, with the season having a direct effect on the context of the events in the films.

‘Life sure has a sick sense of humour doesn’t it?’

~ Bodhi, Point Break

#1 Point Break (1991) Steven Horleys Summer picks

FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) gets called on to a case involving bank robbers who are known as the ‘dead presidents’. Known for wearing masks bearing the likeness’ of former American presidents.

After much investigation he has a theory, that the bank robbers may or may not be surfers. Prompting him to go undercover and find out more.

Point Break appeared in theatres in the early 1990’s introducing audiences to an intelligent action – drama. Which combined an aestheticization of bank robberies and extreme sports.
Point Break glamourized its characters in a blatant way. What film doesn’t?

Beneath the glamour of surfing and overtly masculine fetishization of the male surfers, lies a story about two men. Men whose main drive in life is to push life to the limits. Johnny Utah finds something of a kindred spirit in Bodhi, played by the late Patrick Swayze.

Both men are driven by the same impulses but one of them is constrained by his role as an FBI agent. Whereas the other doesn’t appear to have any constraints at all, and ultimately appears conflicted with his very existence.

It’s a smart, well-choreographed, and exciting Summer film, which came courtesy of talented director Kathryn Bigelow.

#2 The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)

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A handsome and intelligent film based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith.

It tells the story of Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a psychotic but very deviant and intelligent man, who weaves his way into millionaire playboy, Dickie Greenleaf’s life (played by Jude Law). With some unpleasant repercussions.

Like most of Patricia Highsmith’s work, the novel upon which the movie is based channels a more mature representation with homoerotic overtones.

This may or may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s set during the Summer and looks great, and the film is excellent. However, it is dark and disturbing, and the character of Tom Ripley, though charming, is quite unpleasant.

Also, I’d recommend the film adaptation of ‘The Two Faces of January’ which is also based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, and reminds me stylistically of this film.

‘Evil spelled backwards is Live.’ ~ Ritchie, Summer of Sam

#3 Summer of Sam (1999)  Steven Horley Blogs

Directed by Spike Lee and with a starry cast including; Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, John Leguizamo and John Turturro to name a few.

It’s a love letter to 1970’s Italian America set very loosely around the serial killer who called himself the ‘Son of Sam’ – despite the title.
The ‘Son of Sam’ murders are used as a catalyst for the drama, which is slightly tongue in cheek, with a darkly comic tone.

It doesn’t quite achieve what it sets out to, but it’s a respectable effort and deserves praise for trying something new.

#4 Sleepaway Camp (1983)

A 1983 cult classic, carrying a respectable 80% on rotten tomatoes.Young but traumatized Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) is sent to a youth camp for the Summer but doesn’t really fit in. Later, some deaths occur at the camp and Angela may, or may not be what she seems…

This is a great and nostalgic 1980’s camp horror film set during the Summer and contains one of the most politically incorrect endings – especially by todays standards – in film history and it’s all the better for it.

It is films of this ilk that got me interested in cinema to begin with. These 1980’s well crafted, stylistically formulaic, and politically incorrect, tongue-in-cheek horror films set at Summer Camps.

‘We made a pact and we’re keeping it.’ ~ Barry, I know what you did last Summer

#5 I know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Steven Horley Blogs

Four friends involved in a tragic car accident, then embark on covering it up, only to be stalked by a man wielding a large hook.

The film features actresses Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), a young Ryan Phillipe adn Freddie Prinze Jnr.

I Know What You Did Last Summer, was written by Kevin Williamson who was very prolific in the late 1990’s and had a particular style and ability to craft horror films which estheticized youth whilst simultaneously offering a very subtle- post-modernist – tongue in cheek edge.

Kevin Williamson came straight off the back of Dawson’s Creek success with film credits including; Scream, Scream 2 and Halloween H20. They are all self-referential horror films- especially the Scream series. A year after Scream he penned ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’, which was based on a novel by Lois Duncan. It’s cut from the same cloth as Scream in its style, but it’s nowhere near as intelligent, almost deliberately so.

A fun, popcorn flick, that moves along smoothly but loses its way in the last half hour.
Horror cinema gives people the opportunity to explore their subconscious fears and insecurities over life vs death, in safe way. By taking in the themes present in such creations as the original Halloween and the subsequent films that have borrowed from it or indeed, been inspired by it.

A new Halloween film is set for release on October 19, 2018 which will ignore all the sequels and pick up some 40 years later from the original.

‘We’re not perfect. Any of us.’ ~ Kim, The Last Song

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#6 The Last Song (2010

Featuring actress and singer Miley Cyrus as troubled teenager Ronnie. Who re-establishes a relationship with her musician father after a period of estrangement.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Nicolas Sparks, and has his style all over it.

This film is severely underrated, with Miley Cyrus doing an excellent job. Casting a real musician was a smart move that added layers to the film and it’s authenticity.

It’s unfortunate she’s not returned to drama, as I feel the negative press attention at the time was inaccurate in judgement of her performance as an actress and, indeed, the quality of this film.

It’s a melodrama with a bittersweet ending and tone – Nicolas Sparks signature style – and the film delivers what it set out to.

 

#7 Lolita (1997)   Steven Horley Blogs

Movie from director Adrian Lyne, starring actor Jeremy Irons as Professor Humbert Humbert and actress Dominique Swain as Dolores Haze, known as Lolita.

Based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov – a much loved and respected work which is culturally regarded as one of the most important and powerful novels ever written.

1997’s Lolita is an interesting film; especially when compared to it’s predecessor, as it received a theatrical adaptation in 1962 starring actress Sue Lyon, which was masterfully directed by Stanley Kubrick, and had a screenplay written by Vladimir Nabokov himself.

Yet the two films could not be more different. Why?

I think director Stanley Kubrick got lucky with the casting of actress Sue Lyon who just epitomised the role of Lolita, and the chemistry between herself and actor James Mason who played Humbert Humbert just isn’t matched here. The film feels distant and is emotionally uninvolved.

I personally think the Stanley Kubrick version is the better of the two, and an important work of cinema in itself, but Adrian’s Lyne version has a lot going for it. Not least some breath-taking sun-lit cinematography from Howard Atherton and a score by Ennio Morricone.

The novel and indeed the character of Lolita have more in common with male insecurities, disillusionment and unorthodox desires. With the character of Lolita just playing on this and taking the very educated and intelligent professor to the cleaners, not least with help from equally devious, and twisted character of Clare Quilty.

Adrian Lyne’s version tries to be more faithful to the novel, but just doesn’t capture the chemistry between the lead actors which was present in Kubrick’s version- and this is a death knell for any adaptation of Lolita.

#8 The Florida Project (2017)

Courtesy of American director Sean Baker, and starring new actress Bria Vinaite.
It tells the story of a struggling single mother who stays with her 6-year-old daughter Moonee (Brooklyn Kimberly Prince) in a motel in Kissimmee, Florida.

This was the best film of 2017 and should have won Best Picture at the Oscars but unfortunately wasn’t nominated in this category. Although actor Willem Dafoe was nominated for Best Supporting actor for his role as motel manager Bobby Hicks.

Summer Movie Top Picks

I’ve watched the Oscars every year or followed it, and 2017 was the most politicized selection of winners’ I’ve ever encountered – which is disappointing, as it should be about the quality of the film and the acting.

There is a natural understanding of cinema present here, and the film captures that all important, and extremely difficult to capture, sense of reality.

You know you’re watching a good film, when the dialogue flows naturally and the script doesn’t enter your mind.

The narrative present in The Florida Project doesn’t really leave the confines of the motel setting, nor does it need to. Covering the issues of poverty, inequality, vicious circles, and indeed overinflated living costs, which are more than enough food for thought.

Either way this is very eye-opening work, doesn’t have a pretentious bone in its body, and tells its story with respect, and style, and even manages to add a truly inspired ending
I’ll never forget the ending. I can’t remember a single frame of the other Oscar winners – not a frame.

Conclusion

With exception of the ‘The Florida Project’, most of these films were released over a decade ago.

But what makes them stand out?

For me there’s lots of reasons, but I think casting is extremely important.

Actors and actresses learn their craft and hope that they might have a sum of many qualities which will ultimately get them a role in a film. But I’ve noticed in recent years, too many actors in box-office breaking films appear almost synthetic like against the C.G.I. backdrops.

In a quite disturbing sense, I think you could capture more emotion from a CGI human creation – the role is filled, but the on-screen presence isn’t.

Good cinema is like mixing paint, you try lots of assorted colours until you get the right tone.

But in this artificial sense the film or the paint is coming pre-packaged in one consumerist colour, and it’s got to switch up. As recent blockbusters including some just this month have done quite poorly at the US box-office, and many of the mainstream media outlets have spoken of box-office fatigue.

I think it’s a lack of substance in the films. People aren’t buying what they’re selling.

For film reviewers and people like myself who want to discuss film, how can you contextualise something if it’s destined to be moulded to fit the highest place on the box-office ladder, let alone review or discuss the film critically?

Make your film with passion and context and if it’s any good, it will find its audience – no doubt about it. And its actors and actresses will find their audiences too.

These are my selection of movies to watch over the Summer; there’s some good ones in there worthy of anyone’s time away from the damage of the sun’s rays.

So, break down the tired convention of sunbathing, which I believe is extremely unhealthy, and watch a film indoors.

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