The Vacation Read: DERRICK, Mike Binder, my web nerd homies, and Jason Flemyng
Yes, I unironically used the word homies in that headline. Deal with it.
I can't say this has been the greatest of vacations. It certainly wasn't the one I had planned. But I did get to spend a great deal of time with my family, so nothing else really matters. One thing that has been a pleasant surprise has been the enthusiastic reaction so many of you have had to the Vacation Read that's been up while I was gone. In the future, any time I'm on vacation, I will plan one of these in advance, because it's turned out to be better than I hoped.
Today's final column (for now, in case even more of these end up in my mailbox, in which case I will definitely run them in the Morning Read) is a grab bag of some really fun answers from a very diverse group of folks, including several of my online peers who I reached out to over the last few days.
First up, a guy I seem to always run into in Los Angeles, and who I always enjoy, both in person and when I see his films. Mike Binder is a guy who toils at his craft, making film after film after film, and even if he's not churning out blockbusters or giant festival buzz hits, he's building a really solid filmography of personal work that says something about his experience and his world view. I admire that. Let's see what his answer to the question "What is your favorite summer movie?" looks like:
[more after the jump]
My favorite movie of the summer is The Hangover which I saw twice in a row. The first time I've done that in about twenty five years.
If you haven't gone yet, you will. Your friends will talk about it so much and so often that you will break down and see it and it will be one of those rare times when the hype will sit nicely with the reality. It is spit popcorn out funny. It is fresh, and fast and it drives at a pace akin to a great amusement park ride that you just want to get back on and experience it again.
First off, it's just really nice after spending so much time talking about how bad studio movies and studio comedies in general are, to get to settle in and watch one that doesn't feel like a cookie cutter product made by execs that don't know what they are doing, telling filmmakers what to do, while they are admitting that they don't know what they are doing. Someone stepped out of the way here and let Todd Philips do his thing and his thing was to break all of the rules.
This thing shits on the rules. You never know where this is going. The structure would get you laughed out of one of those screenwriting seminars. It works not because it follows structure or because it's characters have an 'arc' or that we 'empathize with our characters plights'. It works because it's funny as hell and it's rude, and it burps, it's people we know, people we are, want to know, or wish we were. It's real, and it's spooky. It's creepy, and it leaves you for long periods of time with your jaw wide open glued to the screen. (Then you laugh and spit popcorn again.)
This movie has been done before. Neil Isreal made it years ago with an unknown Tom Hanks in the lead, it was called Bachelor Party. It was a big hit. Peter Berg did a version of it, but Phillips has updated the treatment and made it so unique (the opening ten minutes feels like an indy film) and built it on such a rickety formation of structure that it's danger rides along with you for every second of the movie, set up included.
His cast is perfect. Bradley Cooper and Ed Helm are genius. Zach Galifianakis feels squeezed into the rhythms exactly the way an outsider would be, and the supporting players all pop up like new wind, chiming nicely in perfect places. Going with new faces was smart, brave, important, and maybe the major difference as to why this is so damn good.
Brad Grey, Disney, Amy over there at Sony.... Jeff (?)over at Warner Bros... hats off to you. Take these guys to lunch and talk to them. Speilberg too. The guy that used to only work with actors now only works with 'stars.' Get on it Steven. Make Dreamworks use fresh faces. We are sick of movie stars. Read the tea leaves. C'mon. Copy. For awhile. Just copy off of them. You know you can do that, right? Make a bunch of high concept comedies with new people. Let them shine and don't tell the teams you hire what to do. Stand back, shut up, and don't bug people for once. All of you guys. This is how it's done. You just forget and every now and then and someone reminds you. Bravo. Hats off. Todd Phillips, I could kiss you.
I like how that just gets more passionate as it goes. Mike was obviously one of the people who took the question as "what is your favorite movie this summer?" as opposed to "what is your favorite summer movie ever?"
Garth Franklin is probably the single most beloved movie webmaster behind the scenes, among his peers, and there's a reason: he's just plain cool. Garth doesn't spend his time nitpicking other webmasters or second-guessing them or running them down. He doesn't steal material or make bone-headed ethical blunders. He doesn't Digg whore. Basically, he does what he's been doing at Dark Horizons since the early Mesazoic era: he runs the news, he runs it well, and he runs it often. That's it. He's a reviewer, but he's always kept himself at a bit of a remove, never putting his personality front and center on the site. For those who know him personally, that's hard to believe, because he's such a character. So I'm glad he answered the question... it's a glimpse at the real Garth, the one I'm looking forward to hanging out with in San Diego this year:
One of the quintessential 'Summer movie experiences' I ever had, that wouldn't get me arrested, was also one of my first - "Labyrinth". It was the end of Summer, February 1987 here in Australia, the film had come and gone from the main theater circuit and was now playing in the various cheaper matinee places such as my local RSL - community clubs which put on screenings for like $1 a ticket. You could enjoy a lunch or dinner during the screening on, what was then, an impressive projector screen for a non-movie theater.
It was a venue I remember well because the two previous times I had come was to see "The Dark Crystal" and later "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". Of course I had been 5 & 7 respectively at the time so with 'Crystal' I left after twenty minutes bawling like Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech because I was scared sh**less by Jim Henson's weird and wonderful creations. 'Doom' I had made it all the way through but the scene with the heart being pulled out of the guy's chest still hits me with more chills than it should even as an adult.
With "Labyrinth" I was 9, right in that sweet spot between ages 8 & 12 where you're cinematic mind is like a sponge and many of the movies you see become the formative films of your life. Of course kids grow up faster and are harder to impress these days, and back then there was no internet let alone DVD, YouTube or Blu-ray. Even multiplexes were few and far between so cinema going was much more of an experience than just hopping down the mall like it is today.
The late 80's were a gold field for me. I fell in love with so many Summer films of the era and many scenes I still remember the first time I saw them - Ripley battling the Queen in "Aliens", Arnie screaming in his delightful broken english "Get to the chopper!" in "Predator," Michael Keaton's sleazy antics in "Beetlejuice," that harrowing resuscitation scene in "The Abyss," being shocked when Nicole Kidman harpoons her dog in "Dead Calm", "Batman," "A Fish Called Wanda," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", "Big Trouble in Little China", "Adventures in Babysitting," "My Stepmother Is an Alien," "The Lost Boys," the first "Bill & Ted", and so many more.
Back to "Labyrinth" and I sat there watching it in silent awe. It was a film I had little anticipation for considering my past experiences at that theater, while the only work of David Bowie I was familiar with was the music video for "Dancin' in the Street" where he and Mick Jagger jump about and nearly make out (nothing says 80's like a full-length leopard print bodysuit with white trench coat and sneakers). When it started I was a little nervous, but it's still the first film I can truly remember being utterly swept up into the story and transported to a completely different place for the full runtime.
I was RIGHT THERE with the young Jennifer Connelly as she fell down the well of hands, as she tried to solve the puzzle o f the doors where one always told the truth and the other always lied, where she's running through the upside-down maze of stairs, and when she finally stands up to Bowie in his white fright wig and basically tells him to p*ss off. It's rare, and I've found it increasingly infrequent as I get older and crankier, to find experiences like that where the rest of the world drops away and you're so engrossed in the narrative that real life concerns from work-related stress to the simple passing of time don't matter.
Two decades on I don't revisit "Labyrinth" very often and while I still like it, it's hardly stuck with me like a lot of the other films of the period have. I've re-watched it once, maybe twice since the early 90's. Yet that first experience has left an indelible impression on my life and could quite fairly be said to have had an influence on how I viewed cinema, how it became my favorite hobby, and how I've come to be writing about it going on thirteen years now. I still chase experiences like that, and thankfully many Summer films of my youth that I revisit still provide that escape. The few times I've found it in recent years, such as Chris Nolan's two "Batman" films or the first "Pirates of the Caribbean", I've learned to truly savour the experience.
Awesome. See what I mean?
One of my favorite guys I've ever met during a set visit was Jason Flemyng, who was working on "Stardust" when we first ran into each other. Flemyng's hilarious, and a real working-stiff actor, a guy who seems genuinely pleased by each and every gig he books, and who works his ass off when he's there. He's shooting "Clash Of The Titans" right now, but he sent me a quick response from his iPhone when I sent him the question:
"I've Loved You So Long." French, no car chases... and no nudity!
But fuck! What performances! It reminds you that a good movie is just a bloody good movie, no matter what language. Those nights when you think you are to tired for subtitles and say, "Let's just watch something easy"? Lo and behold, you go to bed bored!
I really dug that film when I finally caught up with it. Kristen Scott-Thomas is powerful in it, and it's one of those movies where you just start to dread certain revelations, because you don't want to hear the worst. Cool choice, man. Kill a Gorgon for me!
Next up is my buddy Damon, aka Andre Dellamorte over at CHUD. He writes the box-office column there, which cracks me up, because he's so not a box-office kind of guy. He's a fairly snooty cineaste, and he was Tweeting the other day about having read one of the earlier "Vacation Reads" this week, and I asked him to send me his reaction to the question instead of Tweeting about it.
So he did:
Q: "What's your favorite summer movie?"
A: The question suggests - in our modern era - something ephemeral. But when I think favorite, I think benchmark, and over the last twenty years, most films don't hold their ground. I loved Terminator 2, Spider-Man 2, and Teen Wolf Too while I watched them, but there's not a lot of gravity there - and their "whoas" are dated. That's fine, that's what they're there for: A good ride. But the digital era is a burden and blessing, and every year shows improvements to CGI to the point that many films that were once revelatory now survive best through nostalgia. Perhaps even the films I love the most of these sorts.
It would be a cliché to suggest that Jaws is that film, but it is that film. As I watched it recently, I realized that even though I knew that Hooper was going in the cage, the cage was going in the water, and the shark would be in the water - like Hooper, I had no spit. I was palpably tense about a story that's conclusion was made evident to me many times over the course of my life. Seeing the film when I was eight, it was something that etched itself into me. I spent the next year reading about sharks, but was chasing the wrong dragon. And if Jaws was that first fever-soaked dizziness of arousal to the possibilities of cinema, then Do the Right Thing was the moment that made that arousal practical - and with this sort of prose, I dare not call the film seminal. Do the Right Thing showed me what film could be, what maybe it should be. When I was thirteen. Watching it with my mom. Having grown up on Siskel and Ebert, I knew that Do the Right Thing was a must-see, and in Portland, Oregon it was playing in one theater, a single screen called The Guild (years later, the reason for this would be made evident: They were afraid of black audiences rioting). I was not of age to go by myself, so I enlisted my mother (my dad took me to Lethal Weapon 2), who made me promise to read up on the film both before and after (she was a high school English teacher through and through).
The film starts with the mournful tones of Bill Lee's score, but then comes alive with Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," a song that is at once raw, angry, funky, and sexy. From that moment, watching Rosie Perez work it out in front of a multi-colored backdrop, I was in. Though Portland, Oregon is as far from Bed-Stuy as one is likely to get horizontally in America, I grew up in a mostly black neighborhood, and the film connected to me on a number of levels. But more importantly, for the first time I saw that a film was more than the sum of its story, and that a good or great director can make a film transcendent. Do the Right Thing is nothing but alive, from the heat (another reason why it's my favorite summer movie) to the standout supporting cast featuring Robin Harris, Samuel L. Jackson and Martin Lawrence, to the performances by Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Bill Nunn, Giancarlo Esposito and Spike Lee (who is excellent in the film, it's fair to call his acting work here underrated), all delivering some of their best work (if not best, period). As I walked out of the theater, I knew that I had seen something indelible, and it would send me to read all the books Spike Lee put out, watch all his movies, and steal a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X from my middle school library (Note: I apologize). A year later I bought a laserdisc player, and pursued the Criterion collection as much as I could. It was Do the Right Thing that forced me to consider cinema history on a level I had not before, I loved it that much, and Spike Lee showed that he loved Martin Scorsese and Vincent Minnelli equally. And when I finally saw Night of the Hunter, I grinned ear to ear. Spike was a good thief. It's easy to suggest a favorite is a film that you return to like comfort food, but if it wasn't for Do the Right Thing, I don't know if I would love movies the way I do, and I don't know if I would be as game to chase after the obscure in the hopes of those rare great experiences. That's the gift Do the Right Thing gave me in the summer of 1989, and I've spent twenty years basking in that.
Grrrrrrreat pick. Seriously. 20 years old this year. Can you believe that? I love that movie with every bone in my body, and I think it's got some of the best dialogue of the '80s. I'll be writing about it soon, too, thanks to the new 20th anniversary DVD Universal sent me.
Next up is Dan Trachtenberg, one of the creators of The Totally Rad Show and Geekdrome, a really good commercial director, and an all-around hard-working uber-nerd. Great guy, and when you listen to any of the podcasts he's done or read anything he's written, you can tell just how much he lives and breathes film fandom. This is the sort of person who I am perpetually thankful to the Internet for bringing into my orbit. Crossing paths with people who take all of this as seriously as you do, and who enjoy it the way you do, is what it's all about.
So what's his summer movie memory?
First of all, I must say what I love about this article is that it pays tribute to a very specific sentiment in the movie going experience. The "Summer Movie" experience is one marked by unbridled anticipation, unapologetic infatuation and a third something that I don't have words for, only an image- that of a young boy staring up (not ahead, very specifically, UP) at a screen with wide eyes and dropped jaw. It is these III things that make up my III favorite summer movie experiences and they are all part III's.
I was two years old when the last (OG) Star Wars was on the big screen, so, for me, the summer movie-going experience was a chance to see parts of the stories I loved on the screen for the first time along with everyone else! To this day I have yet to see RAMBO III in its entirety (just in parts on TV stations that are SUPER). I was seven years old when it came out and it was rated R, and thus, I was not allowed to see it. I remember staring at the poster for hours (that's probably an exaggeration, but who remembers?), and walking by the screen it was playing on at the movie theater and JUMPING as I walked by to see through the glass window on top of the door. I would learn all that I could about this movie despite not being allowed to see it. I was lucky, though, that my mother DID permit me to buy the soundtrack. Every morning on the long drive to day camp I would listen to that Jerry Goldsmith score, I would read the cue titles and basically imagine that movie over and over again- sometimes playing over my favorite scenes, sometimes "re-writing" them to make them better (I suspect the Stallone version didn't have a love interest). I can't bring myself to actually watch RAMBO III, but it will always have a special place in my heart.
I remember June 30, 1989 vividly, because I was stuck at day camp counting every second until I was finally in line to see KARATE KID Pt. III. The Karate Kid is one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time (I'm a big John G. Avildsen fan), but I was too young to have seen parts 1 and 2 in the theater. And here we come to my second descriptor of what makes the "Summer Movie" experience- unapologetic love. When I was a kid my infatuation for movies knew no bounds. I loved every movie I saw because they were all new. I didn't know I could even think what I was seeing was "bad", that wasn't on the menu. I didn't know that Terry Silver and Mike Barnes were poor imitations of John Kreese and Johnny Lawrence, or that the girl from Teen Witch was not as good as Ali with an I (I definitely thought she was hotter, though). I was seeing MORE Karate Kid. I would watch the first two over and over again and now I was going to watch my favorite characters doing DIFFERENT things and in a theater on a big screen! I don't know what captures the majesty of the summer movie more than that kinda unapologetic love, and when you truly love something, you love it in sickness and in health.
Pretty much everything I just said about KK3 could be repeated about my next favorite- INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. Raiders came out the year I was born, Temple of Doom and it's PG-13 rating took some convincing for mom (sidenote: the day she let me see it on TV, I turned on the channel and started watching, it was really weird because there was this giant white Chewbacca looking thing and Harrison Ford looked really different- it took me 15 minutes to realize what I was watching was WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM). But in the months leading up to Last Crusade's release I did the 80's equivalent to what Ralphie in A CHRISTMAS STORY did to receive his "drink your ovaltine" message, I called the INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE fan hotline. It was a 900 number, probably cost my mom $5, I got to listen to the trailer (remember, this is before the internet, when the only way to see a trailer was to see a movie) and about a month later I got a postcard still from the movie. The worst part? I did it twice (and got the same flippin' postcard!).
That intense anticipation- feeling like you just can't wait- when you have to RUN to get your seat- the unfettered love I had for those movies- the look I musta had on my face- wanting to see it so bad you can do so without being in the theater...I wish I could have that back.
I've only recently gotten to know Mark Lisanti a little bit through Twitter, but of course I know him from Defamer, where he reigned as one of the cornerstones of web snark. He's written for Vanity Fair, and his Tumblr feed makes me feel like the Web is trying to eat my brain.
I'm not sure what I expected from his reply, but I dig it:
I suppose I could go with a summer movie that was slightly more epic, like something in a Star Wars or an Indy. But I think I have to take it a little smaller-scale: One Crazy Summer. Look, "summer" is even in the title! Not even George Lucas dared go seasonal!
Actually, Savage Steve Holland's mid-80s work, between OCS and Better Off Dead, probably changed the life of a pre-teen wiseass enduring another brutally humid suburban NY summer more than Lucas did. For a 12-year-old comedy fan briefly unchained from his Catholic school desk, it was an all-star cast: Cusack, Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, Bobcat, Taylor "Area Rug" Negron, the shouty dad from the Twisted Sister videos, and, of course, the hot chick who has sex with Robe Lowe--while, like, totally naked!--in About Last Night. (I think she went on to marry "Dude!" from Dude, Where's My Car? or something? Kind of lost track of her career.) Sadly, One Crazy Summer proved to be the last hurrah for the Savage Steve Repertory Players. We really could've used another installment to complete the kind of trilogy the Jedis-in-training and swashbuckling archaelogists got.
But to this day, anytime I come across Hoops, Cassandra, and the Stork Brothers playing on the cable movie channels where they now live for eternity, I have to stop and watch them through to the end. And resist the impulse to set up a rotating lobster target for my crossbow.
I'm going to wrap it up with a back-to-back serving of names that start with a "De."
First, it's the man that the internet loves to hate, the wildly opinionated and incredibly funny Devin Faraci. Since he moved to LA, I've found that Devin's one of my favorite web guys to hang out with. He gets a bum rap sometimes as a grouch, but I think he just suffers fools poorly. There are very few people who take the craft of writing for the web more seriously than he does, and I respect the heck out of that. He's a big reason CHUD continues to matter, and I'm pleased he sent me his response tonight:
I wanted to say Do the Right Thing or The Last Temptation of Christ, two films that are utterly brilliant and came out in the summer. I wanted to be the guy who did the summer movie counterprogramming and looked like the smartest, most sophisticated kid in the room. But while I love both films dearly, and while Do the Right Thing was, in a lot of ways, a seminal film for me, the real answer to this summer movie question is Predator.
It was opening night in Queens, New York. My friend and I went, along with his dad, and we were just pinned to our seats from the opening of the movie. Then, just as Dutch and the gang are realizing what they're really up against in the South American jungle, something happens to me:
I get a bloody nose.
Look, I'm a nerd. I always was a nerd. And one trait many a nerd shares is the chronic bloody nose. Maybe this was abetted by the kind of nose picking in which a 13, going on 14 year old boy might engage, but let's just leave it at 'I just used to get a lot of bloody noses'
This nose bleed left me in a quandry, because my bloody noses were more like blood geysers. Seriously, just gushing amounts of blood would pour from my nostril. I couldn't just sit there holding the crimson tide back; I had to stop it up with something. So I bolted from the theater, ran to the bathroom, got a huge wad of toilet paper, ran back to the theater.
And as I stood outside the door, about to come back in, Jesse the Body Ventura got perforated by the Predator. I saw this amazing moment through the dirty, tinted porthole in the door of an ancient movie theater. And even from that vantage point I was punched right in the brain stem.
We live in a world of big screen plasma TVs and 1080p transfers and 6.1 channel sound and all that shit. But Predator is a movie that will still thrill you when seen through a tiny little piece of butter-smudged glass. And to me that's the ultimate summer movie experience - one that is so visceral, so awesome, that nothing will get between it and the kicking of your ass.
And finally, one of my favorite responses I've gotten all week, and I'll explain why.
If I'm being honest about the summer movie memory that affected me most, it's no contest. One title is in first place, and then there's "everything else." When I was seven, and I saw "Star Wars," it rewired me. It changed me. It's my Bruce Banner on the test site moment, Peter Parker in the lab with the spider on his hand. And when I read this next piece, it made me see a movie I already loved in a whole new light, because for them... THIS was that movie. This was that moment that made them realize the world is not what they thought it was.
DERRICK Comedy is a group from New York, newly relocated to LA, who were the creators of the Sundance sensation "Mystery Team" this year. We've never met, but we've chatted back and forth a bit since I reviewed their film. Asking them this question, and getting this reply, tells me that these are people I am going to enjoy watching build their filmography, and getting to know in the process:
We selected "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" as our best-loved summer movie. It was released June 22nd, 1988, when all of us were between four and five years old. It's the kind of movie that, had our parents realized it wasn't just a groundbreaking blend of animation and live-action, we probably wouldn't have been allowed to see it at twice that age. It IS that animation/live-action blend, but it's also a dead-on noir parody, a super-smart meta-commentary on creativity and imagination, and a comedy that's darker than most comedies that are targeted strictly at adults. One thing it isn't, really, is a kid's movie. Or a conventional summer movie. It's so unconventional, in fact, that we kind of can't believe it got made. But we're all so happy it did.
It was the first movie Donald remembers seeing in theaters, and was an early thrilling and terrifiying experience in all of our movie-watching lives. To have the first (or close to first) movie you see be one that purports to be a non-stop parade of your cartoon favorites on the big screen, and is that, but also turns out to be a genre-bending detective story that's subversive on about a thousand levels, subversive even of conventions you aren't really even aware of yet, that's a total mindfuck. In fact at that age, it's a pre-mind-fuck.
We're all still deeply no-fooling traumatized by that climactic scene where Christopher Lloyd is putting the innocent, writhing cartoon shoe in the vat of cartoon-dissolving Dip. We're all deeply thankful for whatever random impossible legal circumstances allowed all those characters from various studios to appear on the same screen. We're even more thankful to all of our parents and guardians, who all had the same very natural (and very mistaken) thought that summer: "Mickey Mouse! Bugs Bunny! Bob Hoskins! Those are all things kids love! Surely this is a can't-miss family entertainment!" The four of us that are dudes are thankful to Jessica Rabbit, for obvious hotness reasons. And we are all thankful for a summer movie that was breaking all the rules of what a summer movie, or any movie really, could be, before we even knew there were rules at all.
See, by the time I saw that film, it was a genre deconstruction I could appreciate as someone who was infatuated with Hollywood history and detective fiction and noir movies and Warner Bros. cartoons and Robert Zemeckis. It felt like a film that was perfectly tailored for me at 18. But for someone so much younger to see it, it was like a pop culture time bomb, planting all these great subversive seeds that would erupt over the years as they watch other films. Genius. I never thought of it that way, but now I love the movie even more because of their experience with it.
And with that, I'm going to wrap up my vacation, and the Vacation Read, and I'm going to thank each and every person who contributed to this during the week, or who took the time to send me a note about how much they enjoyed it, or who bothered to read it. I'll have a review of "The Taking Of Pelham 123" up later today, and then we'll be back with a vengeance next week.
The Morning Read appears here every day, Monday through Friday. Except when it doesn't.
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