June 08, 2009

A Summer Place

Drew McWeeny posed a great question to famous friends and just posted their answers at his blog, and I'd like to ask the same question here: what's your favourite summer movie?

Drew of course meant "summer movie" as a kind of state of mind, in which case you don't have to limit your answers to this year's sorry crop. (In other words, don't say Star Trek unless it really epitomizes the summer moviegoing experience for you.)

Harry Knowles definitely had the right idea when he answered Big Trouble in Little China, but I think my personal pick would have to be Back to the Future (1985). I was 10, it was the capper to a day at Clearwater Beach in Florida, and while the theatre cooled me off, the movie got me hot and bothered. I exited the cinema into the inviting arms of a warm front with a secret: I wanted to be a filmmaker. We had McDonald's before and ice cream afterwards. I was in paradise.

44 comments:

Dan said...

I remember the mania surrounding Batman in '89, but didn't really get sucked in myself. The first "summer movie" I really remember being incredibly excited about (having bought merchandise pre-viewing, etc.) was Jurassic Park in '93. I was 14.

Nothing really compares to that summer blockbuster, although Independence Day and Star Wars Episode I worked a bit of magic on me thanks to the hype-machine... but the latter in particular let me down. JP would only let me down 4 years later, with Lost World.

Patrick said...

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves would be off the top of my hat, also due to childhood experience. You see, in Germany, we never applaud in the movie theatre.

But as King Lionheart turned around and proved to be Sean Connery, the full auditorium gasped, and applauded. It was the surprised reaction of people totally caught up in a film. Plus, Alan Rickman is wonderful in that film.

Jefferson said...

I can tell you the summer of movies I HATED: Summer 1990. Robocop II, Total Recall, Dick Tracy, Die Hard II, Another 48 Hours, Days of Thunder, motherfucking Ghost, even Gremlins 2 left me bored, frustrated and angry. Inauthenticity on top of unoriginality, with me in the middle for a perfect hate sandwich.

August to September redeemed it somewhat, with Mo' Better Blues, Wild At Heart, Darkman, Pump Up the Volume, Hardware and Goodfellas. But I saw most of those later, in home format, so it was far too late to wash the taste out of my mouth. I never saw, and still have never seen, Back to the Future II and III.

So my summer movie would be the opposite of practically everything released in summer 1990.

Jefferson said...
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Jefferson said...
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Lee said...

Die Hard, without a doubt. It was the first R rated movie I ever saw at the theater (despite being 12 years old, my dad took me and three of my friends), and at that point, I had never in my life witnessed anything that thrilling.

Walter_Chaw said...

Empire Strikes Back, no question. I watched Back to the Future back-to-back with a buddy, Phil, of mine that I've only recently gotten back in touch with. We sat there and when the usher came by, we thrilled ourselves by telling him that we were just going to stay for the first minutes that we'd missed. We stayed for the whole thing. I was, what, 12?

Wargames, Indy 2 & The Temple of Doom - they were all grand experiences. I remember Hellraiser 2 vividly as well with that feeling of "I shouldn't be in here" after a pal's dad bought tickets for us and left. It used to be great to go to the movies, didn't it?

Dan said...

@Walter. Man, I could never watch anything twice over at the cinema! No matter how great the film.

And owing to stricter rules in the UK, getting into Hellraiser 2 if you're under 18 would be nigh impossible. Unless you were a mature-looking 16 year old.

Ryan said...

Summer of '97 was a great one for me. I had just turned 13 and replaced my glasses with contacts (which in seventh grade is EXTREMELY cool), started wearing my hair a little shaggier and started playing guitar. My mom dropped off my buddies and I to see The Lost World, and although it doesn't hold up very well today, we were thrilled by all of the over-the-top T-Rex stuff (pushing the trailer off the cliff, the two dinos tearing the guy in half, the dude being eaten in a waterfall, the other dude trying unsuccessfully to run into a Blockbuster)...

Later, during a rainy afternoon in the middle of our annual July beach trip, my dad took one of my brothers and I to see Men in Black. It was such a kick to watch my brother freaking out at Vince D'Onofrio tearing his skin off, and my dad laughing through the whole thing. After, we walked outside into hazy, warm weather and my dad smiled and asked, "What'd you think, guys?". It was great.

Bill C said...

Good gumdrops, everyone here is so *young*.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna have to agree with Walter on Empire Strikes Back. I remember standing in line with my Mom on opening day... It was a big free-standing theater and the line wrapped around it again and again like an ourobouros. Warm sun, popcorn, amazing.

Jefferson said...

Once I got past my crankiness, I found it: Ghostbusters. Summer ‘84 was a good one. I was 14. Lots of swimming that summer, and I think my friend Chris and I dragged the green scent of the lake in with us when we sat down in the theater. I was just becoming aware of the HOW behind movies, turning into a connoisseur of special effects, and this one wowed me. It was also probably the first flick I saw minus a parental figure.

And there were girls to talk to (read: try to impress with how dorky I could be) on the hot pavement outside the mall cinema. They smelled nice. Like suntan lotion.

Bill C said...

Good gumdrops, everyone here is so *old*.

'84 was definitely a good one. My brother pulled a bait-and-switch on me, promising we'd see GREMLINS and instead pulling up to the theatre playing GHOST BUSTERS. I got over it pretty quickly.

Jefferson said...

I'll be eagerly awaiting a card from you next year when I turn 40, Chambers, you whippersnapper.

Remind me to tell you about that matinee showing of Every Which Way but Loose, where I learned how to cuss. When I was 8. With my MOM.

re: Gremlins: Swimming, friend, girls, rinse/repeat ...

Dan said...

I was five when my dad took me to see The Empire Strikes Back in a movie theater in Dublin, and rather than defining 'summer movie' for me, I'd have to say it was such a powerful and formative experience that it pretty much defined the term 'movie'. I would never be the same again.

As for the pinnacle of summer-movie-ness, the 1984 double whammy of Gremlins and Ghostbusters was pretty good (although I remember actually finding the latter less funny than I had convinced myself it was), and 1985's Back to the Future would be even better. But for the ultimate summer movie, I'd have to go with Temple of Doom: big, fast, noisy, dumb, violent, and gloriously over-the-top. I begged, borrowed and stole to be able to go see it in its first week, together with by best friend, both aged 10, and I've never had a better time at the movies.

Dan said...

RE Walter's review of TDTESS: For the first time in a while, a Chaw review that made me laugh hard enough that I spilled my coffee. Way to go!!

Paul said...

Raiders, by a country mile.

Dan said...

'84 was a good summer blockbuster year. So was '99: Sixth Sense, Matrix, Phantom Menace*, Blair Witch, The Mummy, Austin Powers 2. We'll forget about Wild Wild West.

*Well, the hype was fun, admit it. It gave me that giddy tingle of childhood excitement.

Lee said...

Summer of '92, when I went to see The Player at the only theater in town at the time that ran independent movies. My friends thought I was "weird" for not wanting to see Patriot Games instead. It was the first time I ever experienced a tracking shot, and I was never the same.

jer fairall said...

Gotta be Terminator 2: Judgement Day, summer '91, for me. No doubt my love for the film is slightly enhanced by the memory of seeing it at the drive-in (second on the bill: Toy Soldiers).

Scanning over some of the other comments here, I gotta say that

a) I'm a bit bummed that I was too young to go to the movies in 1984;
b) summer '97 looks far more like a summer-flick nadir than '90: The Lost World and Men in Black (and let us not forget Batman and Robin) are all pretty ugly and charmless;
c) shit, 1990 was a damn good summer for me, actually. My age at the time may very well factor in here, but I actually really like Dick Tracy, Die Hard 2 and Gremlins 2 and am glad to have caught all of them in the theater.

Jason said...

I was 5 years old in 1989, so I was at just the right age for Tim Burton's Batman to make a major impact on me. It was the first movie I obsessed over and got all giddy due to hype. Everything about it was perfect -- it was big, it was loud, it was brash, it sold us all on Diet Coke due to the ads with Alfred and the little can wearing the bat-cape, and it had neat toys and merchandise as well. It's the perfect Summer Movie, as An Experience, even if it's not that good of a movie on its own merits.

It's also the first movie I remember going to see in the theaters, mainly due to a skip in the reel right after the opening credits, and us having to wait for the projectionist to rethread it and start over from the beginning. I never understood why the people were booing; I thought it was part of the whole movie-going experience.

I also think it's fitting that another Batman movie, The Dark Knight, is the best recent example of a movie absolutely defining a summer movie season. I've never been as stoked for a movie as I was for that one, and I got absolutely swept up in all of the viral marketing for it. The fact that it's one of the best films in recent history to boot? Gravy.

DaveA said...

Coming from Germany, I don't really have a "summer movie experience". All the summer blockbusters ran in winter, since no one in Germany wanted to go to the movies in summer (it's not really that hot around here, so there's no craving for air conditioning).

Anyway, I second Back to the future as the most memorable one. But four years later - I was 13 - I went to the cinema with my older brother. I don't know what we wanted to see originally, but my brother said "Hey, this movie's got Michael J. Fox in it! Remember? That guy from Back to the future?". I was excited, of course, but when I saw the movie had an "18" rating (similar to your "NC-17"), I became doubtful, but my brother more or less forced me in. This movie was Casualties of war, and it took me the whole summer to recover from that. I saw it again years later, and I still think it's great.

DaveA said...

OK, IMDB just called me, seems Casualties had a "16" rating... I don't think I could have snuck in with an "18" anyway...

Dan said...

@Jer: 1997 was certainly a terrible summer blockbuster year. Add The Avengers to your list. And didn't Speed 2 come out then, too?

Bill C said...

Summer of '97 wasn't all bad: you also had URSA MAJOR.;-)

Jefferson said...

The sweetness of Ursa Major is overpowered by the stench of The Saint, The Fifth Element, My Best Friend's Wedding and Spawn.

Dan said...

@Jefferson. It's official. 1997 was the worst blockbuster year ever. Add Even Horizon and Volcano to the list. Even Titanic knew to avoid summer and move to winter. Mind you, it did have Con Air, Face/Off, Men In Black and Grosse Point Blank. Hmm, maybe we're being hasty. But the bigger, more commercial blockbusters were dire.

Jefferson said...

OTP, but ... Andrew Sarris is out at the NY Observer, along with a third of the editorial staff.

Vincent said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned it, but perhaps that's because I'm older than even Jefferson.

I was eight in the summer of '75 when my dad took us to see JAWS on the last day of school before the summer vacation in which we rented a beach house. None of us wanted to set foot on that damn beach and my mom never forgave my dad. (That fear didn't stop me from begging to see it twice more.)

This was also the moment at which I first understood that a movie, which was always an "event" to me, could also be a communal/cultural event. Even for a Wednesday matinee, the line stretched around the block and the sidewalk in front of the theater was festooned with chalk renderings of the JAWS logo - shark mouth, nude swimmer and all.

JAWS will always be the ultimate summer movie for me, not just because it's a great film and not because it's set in the summer, but because for me it epitomizes summer.

Pobojc said...

Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Indy 2, Trek 3, Karate Kid...can I throw in Top Secret! and Tightrope? Has it really been 25 years since the greatest summer of my life? I was 18 and I saw some of these with my 15 year old brother. But others were with some knockout girls that I haven't seen in 20 years. But the topper, the transformative one, the one that made '84 King was...Prince. Teased with the single "When Doves Cry" in May, then the "Purple Rain" album itself in June, I and many were positively stoked for the movie by July. Saw it at least twice, as well as other attempts(it was sold out often on those sultry, weekend nights), it ranks as one of my greatest film experiences ever(if you're laughing---trust me...you HAD to be THERE). It was out on VHS by November for 29.99, and I still have that tape to this day. Shared many of the awesome summer shots that others have listed above, but a purple man in heels made 1984 my summertime Blockbuster champ. Pobojc

Pobojc said...

My follow-up research shows that Top Secret! was, at best, a minor hit. So allow me to replace it with one I can't believe I forgot. "NERRRRRRRRRRRDS"! Thanks.

Paul Clarke said...

I vividly remember seeing Jaws at the tender age of 8. Everyone, and I mean fricking everyone, was talking about that film in the playground, and my little mind was blown. It was the first genuinely scary film I ever saw, and here I was seeing it on a big screen with my dad. I remember squeezing his hand when the shark attacked the boat in the lagoon and that guy's severed leg sank to the bottom. It's still a quintessential (no pun intended) thriller.

Spielberg, in cahoots with Lucas, did it to me again a few summers later with Raiders of the Lost Ark, which remains, all these years later, my very favourite film. For me, Raiders is as damn near perfect as any film ever made. I absolutely loved every frame, and still do.

Am I old enough for you Bill?

Bill C said...

Am I old enough for you Bill?

That's what she said.

I wish NERDS had been a summer movie for me, but it did become a VHS perennial--which is probably another good discussion topic.

Pobojc said...

Bill, At 18 and pre-college, I found Nerds hilarious and awesome. However, I do remember that the 22 year old Lehigh graduate I was dating at the time(those WERE the days)called it sophmoric. As if! I've always wondered if it had come out in 1988 if it would have changed my view. Probably, I'm afraid. Especially considering that by '88, I was crossing picket lines to see "The Last Temptation of Christ" and raving about a little disturbing film that NO ONE had seen called "Dead Ringers".

Bill C said...

@Pobojc: Ah, summer of '88. As an insufferably precocious 13 year old, I called in to a radio show on CFRB the night LAST TEMPTATION opened to say the protests were pointless since the film was being condemned sight-unseen. Weirdly, I had no real idea who the fuck Scorsese was, let alone Jesus. But something about it got my hackles up.

NERDS II (which I *did* see theatrically) almost put me off the original, but then my Dad started doing the nerd laugh after the movie all the way back to our car and I suddenly felt less disappointed.

Jefferson said...

Like Jason, Burton's Batman kept me, a young comics geek, jazzed up all through summer '89. But by that time I was already growing estranged from "event" movies. I think the divorce was finalized in 2000, with Gladiator, which I hated so, SO much. The hate carrid over: When Joe Pantoliano's wormy Maximus-quoting character on "The Sopranos" finally got whacked, I cheered loud and long.

I desperately need a good summer movie right now. At SIFF, I just sat through the worst Lasse Hallstrom has to offer. This weekend, perhaps Up.

Bill C said...

@Jefferson: You want to see a good summer movie? Check out DRAG ME TO HELL--though I was sadly alone in my preference for it after seeing it back-to-back with UP. (I don't know that Walter's ever written a review I agreed with more than his take on UP.)

Anonymous said...

"Drag Me to Hell" is a Piece. Of. Shit. and just shows how overrated Raimi has been for years. I am amazed at how well it's received --it just shows that people don't actually LIKE horror movies and don't want something that's actually scary, just something that they can safely condescend to.

Bill C said...

It's not a piece of shit, and I'll go so far as to sign my post because I have the courage of my conviction.

Look, I love horror movies more than is healthy, and I feel deeply mischaracterized by the statement "it just shows that people don't actually LIKE horror movies and don't want something that's actually scary." You have essentially said that people like WALL-E because they hate DEMON SEED--it's a weirdly false dichotomy at best, and it shows a profound ignorance of what DRAG ME TO HELL was actually trying to accomplish.

There were teenagers outside my screening of DRAG ME TO HELL making the complaint that it wasn't scary, and idiot girls going, "Yeah, it was, like, stupid giggle giggle text Twitter omigod," and I just have to say, "Well, there's a sucker born every minute." Because what they were critiquing was Universal's bait-and-switch marketing campaign. Sam Raimi made a Sam Raimi movie--maybe *the* Sam Raimi movie--and that miseducation is not his fault. It's not horror, it's horror burlesque, his specialty--liking it doesn't make you anti-horror, it makes you pro-gross-out comedy (and maybe a bit of an auteurist), and I frankly don't understand how someone could even "condescend" to it. What is there to condescend to?

It's possible to use the form of one genre for purposes of another, which is what Raimi does. He takes the sadism of the Three Stooges to its logical end; I'm sad that more people can't simply enjoy it, or presume that Raimi's somehow incompetent or, perhaps worse, contemptuous of horror, along with his fans.

Kids today. Sorry for feeding the troll, but I keep seeing these sentiments echoed throughout the web.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was drunk and tired when I wrote that. It was trollish and I retract it, and in the light of day, I'll admit the opening and ending scene scared me so bad I couldn't sleep that night.

But as far as everything in between goes, it's ... not funny. Or scary. Even if it had been, it sure got old by the final scenes. Maybe I'm anti-grossout comedy then. I really adore all the Spider-Man movies, but I really hate Army of Darkness -- when Raimi does his shtick well, it makes the movie more intense, but here I felt like it was actively making distance between it and the audience.

Dave Gibson said...

I thought Drag Me to Hell was tremendous fun. Coasting the interwebs, I think some folks are confused by it because it is not homage; a throwback or knowingly post-modern—it is actually the real deal; EC; COF grade horror. Save for the Mac computers—this baby could have starred Evelyn Ankers and Troy Donahue and been parsed breathlessly by Forry Ackerman (OK, it probably wouldn’t have been as gross—but it would have TRIED) Its also a good Sam Raimi film and Raimi has a lot more in common with Joe Dante than Eli Roth. (No mention of Roth—I just often have a suspicion that his brand of torture-porn is what I am supposed to think of when the term “real horror” is busted out) “Real Horror?” Sigh. I have heard the “Real Horror” dig before and I think it has something to do with enduring gore-heavy films as some sort of sedentary contact-sport rather than appreciating the horror aesthetic in the wider context of film appreciation. (you know, good horror films are just good films) I think that if you did not like the burlesque, Tex Avery style key to DMTH---then you probably do not like Sam Raimi. I mean, Evil Dead 2 is a quintessential horror-comedy and that’s not a dig, that’s a successful marriage between the two toughest nuts in filmmaking. When it really cooks—great horror is always great comedy. DMTH was tight, well-acted (by Alison Lohman no-less, Raimi MUST be a great director) and actually thematically earned its final jump-scare, probably its grandest achievement. I’m a shameless horror fan and defender but I’m beginning to feel like Peter Vincent.

Anonymous said...

"Evil Dead 2" isn't my favorite movie in the world but it does indeed work very well. I think that's a movie that was built to withstand Raimi's particular style. "Drag Me to Hell," on the other hand, was obviously an old script pulled from the junkpile with Raimi sequences stapled onto it. I like the observation that Nightmare on Elm Street movies fail when Freddy laughs with you, and succeed when Freddy laughs at you, and I guess I felt like the grossout stuff in "Drag Me to Hell" did the former. I mean, an anvil... Jesus. The problem is that the movie was clearly not made for that, so it gets undercut by the goofiness. The horror of "Drag Me to Hell" is that there is a hell, but no God, and that is legitimately a terrifying concept. I really wish Raimi had not gotten so... I guess "indulgent" is what I mean.

Rick said...

As for people who *hate* Drag Me To Hell, well, some people are severely depressed and tend to lay it out on anything, no matter how high the quality is.

simonsays2 said...

Ahh the nostalgia. Summer '81 - Raiders of the Lost Ark then to Chucky Cheese - best birthday ever.