Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

Going Fishing: Classic Movies for the Summer Season

It’s the dog days of August here in L.A., and I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite summer flicks—the ones set in or somehow about the sunny season.  Like my St. Patrick’s Day compilation, this only reflects my personal preferences, not the Best Summer Movies Ever.  As a bonus, I’ve included each film’s Save the Cat! genre classification.


The ‘Burbs (1989)

Genre:  Whydunit (“Personal Whydunit”)


It didn’t get a particularly warm critical or box-office reception upon initial release, but time has bestowed much-deserved cult status upon Joe Dante’s stylish, quotable horror-comedy, starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, and Carrie Fisher.  Hanks is a Middle American suburbanite who begins to suspect, over the Memorial Day holiday, that the peculiar new neighbors on the block may in fact be satanic murderers.  Dante managed quite a tonal balancing act here in a movie that’s aged remarkably well, and the chemistry and comedic interplay among the cast is aces.  It’s the perfect movie to cozy up to with “a couple hundred beers” when, like Hanks’ hapless protagonist, you’ve opted for a holiday-weekend staycation.  The ‘Burbs is in some respects about the trouble we get into when we have too much free time on our hands—one of three movies on this list to tackle that subject, and all, oddly enough, co-starring Corey Feldman.


Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

Genre:  Dude with a Problem (“Law Enforcement Problem”)

Die Hard 3

Not as good as the first two but infinitely better than the last two, the third Die Hard is proof that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, but at least this movie wasn’t made on autopilot:  It has an infectious energy and snarky nineties charm all its own.  Eschewing the Christmastime setting of the earlier entries, Vengeance is set on the sweaty summer streets of New York, ricocheting Bruce Willis from Harlem to the Upper West Side to Wall Street to Alphabet City and elsewhere—at top speed.  My affection for DH3 has less to do with the action or story itself, which is perfectly entertaining if a little overplotted, than it does a personal nostalgic association:  When it first came out, I was enrolled in college on the Upper East Side, so Die Hard 3 serves as a snapshot to me of a very particular time and place.  It reminds me, in a tactile way, of the sights, sounds, and sensations of summer in the city:  when the smoky warmth of a corner hot-dog vendor’s cart momentarily blots out the stink of rotting garbage; when your hair is tousled by the oppressively stale, stifling gust of heated air that wafts up from the sidewalk grating every time a subway car whooshes by below; when the skies split open in late afternoon and flush the sticky atmosphere with a torrential downpour that sibilates on the canopy of green overhead.  No one, I imagine, intended for Die Hard with a Vengeance to operate as a tone poem, but that’s nonetheless how I often regard it.


Jaws (1975)

Genre:  Monster in the House (“Pure Monster”)


This one’s as de rigueur on the Fourth of July as fireworks and hot dogs.  Spielberg’s killer-shark masterpiece was a notoriously miserable production out there on the Atlantic off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, but that’s precisely what makes it so timeless:  If they’d shot it against a blue screen on Falls Lake here at the Universal backlot, as I’m sure the execs would’ve preferred, it would likely be an unwatchably dated relic today.  Jaws was, as most know by now, the first summer blockbuster of the modern era, and it’s worth noting how perfectly ordinary its heroes are (Richard Dreyfuss’ blue-blooded Hooper is actually repeatedly mocked by other characters for his dearth of working-class creds), how “low” its stakes are (there are only four casualties, not counting the creepy guy who gets his leg bitten off in the pond), and how off-screen most of its effects, most of its actual scares, are kept.  Horror is more effective when the world and the characters that populate it feel credibly believable, and Jaws is a reminder that as long as we’re invested in the plight of those characters, the Fate of the Entire Planet needn’t be in the balance in order to feel the story’s tension; most of the movies that came out this summer either ignored, forgot, or never learned that rudimentary storytelling lesson.


The Lost Boys (1987)

Genre:  Monster in the House (“Supra-natural Monster”)

lost boys

Don’t save this one for Halloween:  The Lost Boys is set in the summertime, and is very much about the trouble that seems to find teens during that gulf of time between school years.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, and The Vampire Diaries all owe a creative debt to Joel Schumacher’s stylish, star-studded horror-comedy:  Though teenage vampires are their own cottage industry nowadays, it’s hard to remember that in 1987, they’d never been done before—this was the first.  That The Lost Boys, a box-office hit, never spawned a franchise is a bit hard to fathom.  (Well, Corey Feldman did reprise his role as vampire hunter Edgar Frog in a pair of straight-to-video sequels two decades later, but the less said about those, the better.)  Like Jaws, Lost Boys was actually shot on location where it was meant to take place—Santa Cruz, California—something that lends the picture a verisimilitude that couldn’t have been achieved on a set-dressed studio backlot.  This is still one of my all-time favorites; it even inspired me, back in the summer of ’94, to shoot my own homemade sequel.  (Side note:  In 2008, WildStorm released a four-issue comic-book miniseries called Lost Boys:  Reign of Frogs that wasn’t half-bad.)


National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Genre:  Golden Fleece (“Buddy Fleece”)


It became a family-friendly franchise later, starting with Christmas Vacation, but the late Harold Ramis’ original is a raunchy, R-rated comedy (scripted by the also-deceased John Hughes, based on his own childhood experiences) about one father’s quest to drive his family from their suburban Chicago home to a Disney-esque theme park in Southern California.  The plot is no more complicated than that, but the predicaments that arise along the way are still, over thirty years later, side-splittingly hilarious.  Chevy Chase was at the height of his stardom as an overworked, well-meaning dad—“I am not your ordinary, everyday fool”—trying to make up for all the time he’s missed out on with his family over the rest of the year in two overscheduled, overambitious weeks, and growing increasingly frustrated as things fail to go to plan.  In a way, the movie’s message is more relevant than ever in 2016 for a generation of misguided young parents who’ve collectively prioritized the experience of their children’s upbringing—with overproduced birthday parties, excessive material possessions, and no limits or parameters in an inexplicable and unattainable bid for some idealized fairytale childhood—ahead of their own sanity.


Dirty Dancing (1987)

Genre:  Buddy Love (“Forbidden Love”)


It’s a testament to the emotional power of this movie that we really didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in it (my wife and I, both eleven upon its release, somehow missed the whole abortion subplot!), and yet were nonetheless completely taken with the romance of a selfless girl on the cusp of womanhood and cynical dancer at a Borscht Belt resort in the summer of ’63.  Time and experience have only deepened my appreciation for this charming little treasure (I sang its virtues in an analysis of Buddy Love movies for Save the Cat! last year), probably my favorite love story ever.  There have been countless attempts to remake it over the years (one of which is finally coming to fruition), but Dirty Dancing, so perfectly cast with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, was lightning in a bottle; there’s simply no reproducing its singular magic.  It’s one of a kind, and worth revisiting just as it was.


Smoke (1995)

Genre:  Institutionalized (“Issue Institution”)

There’s no explaining, really, how a short Christmas story that originally appeared in The New York Times Op-Ed became a feature-length independent movie set against the backdrop of a sweltering Brooklyn summer—you just have to see it for yourself to understand.  Harvey Keitel plays the manager of a Park Slope cigar shop where different lives and different stories intersect—that’s about the best I can offer by way of a plot summary.  It’s a story about storytelling, but it isn’t for all tastes:  It’s casually paced and (purposely) meandering.  But it resonates with me—always has—probably because I spent so much time in the mid-nineties working the counter of mom-and-pop retail shops in the Bronx, and I appreciate the contribution those local institutions make to the character of a neighborhood.  And, like Die Hard with a Vengeance—certainly the first and only time these two films have been compared—it captures a feeling of summer in New York that I almost never get to experience anymore here in seasonless, always-the-same Los Angeles.  It occurs to me now, actually, that with the sole exception of The ‘Burbs (filmed on the Universal cul-de-sac prominently featured in Desperate Housewives), every movie on this list was shot, at least in part, on location where its story is set, and I suppose I value an authentic sense of place and time in my fiction, something I’ve strived to achieve in my forthcoming novel, Escape from Rikers Island.


Stand by Me (1986)

Genre:  Golden Fleece (“Buddy Fleece”)

Stand by Me

Corey Feldman strikes again, as one of four young friends who set out on Labor Day weekend of 1959 across rural Oregon to find the dead body of a missing boy.  Over the course of their adventure, they wrestle with a looming sense of separation anxiety (they’re headed into the larger world of junior high school), and confront the loss of innocence that comes from the realization—and acceptance—that parents and authority figures sometimes (often) let us down.  This is, quite simply, the finest artistic expression of boyhood friendship I’ve ever encountered (and a wonderful, remarkably faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Body), celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this summer as a rightfully regarded classic.  I first watched the film in the summer of ’88, when I, like the protagonists, was twelve years old, and saw myself and all of my friends in Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern.  All these years later, it still moves me to tears.


Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

Genre:  Dude with a Problem (“Domestic Problem”)


If I need a pick-me-up after Stand by Me, I reach for this other Labor Day “classic,” a movie so committed to its flagrantly idiotic “unwanted corpse” premise that you have to admire its conviction.  Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman play, in typical eighties fashion, mismatched pals (the former’s a slacker slob, the latter an uptight goody-two-shoes) who arrive at the Long Island summer home of their sleazy boss, Bernie Lomax, only to discover he’s DOA!  Through a series of comedic misunderstandings, they are forced to make it appear as though he is still alive and kicking in order to fool the contract killer Bernie had hired to rub them out.  As patently absurd as the whole thing is, it got even crazier:  Bernie was resurrected as a zombie in a 1993 sequel!


So if, like me—and evidently the rest of the movie-going public—you’ve been avoiding the theaters this summer, you could do worse than cool off in the A/C with one of the above.  As a kid, there was nothing quite like spending my vacation running around the streets of the Bronx, then coming home each evening to pizza and Pepsi and the latest VHS rental.  Those endless summer days are now a thing of the past, but each of these films is a welcome reminder of their particular seasonal pleasures.


  1. Some of my favorites in there, Sean. I rarely watch movies twice and you’ve got some repeaters in your list. Stand by Me and National Lampoon’s Vacation are two that I’ve seen many times. And after watching Jaws as a teenager, I didn’t go in the ocean for 15 years (I’m not kidding). That movie was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen. 🙂

    Then there is my all-time least favorite movie (not the worst made by a long shot, just one that makes me groan). Dirty Dancing. I don’t know why, but it just kills me. Ha ha. Maybe I was too old or too cynical or something! (I was 24, married, and a mom when it came out.) I know so many people who see it as the quintessential teenage summer romance fantasy, so maybe its just me. 🙂

    A fun post, Sean. Movies are a blast to muse over, and they do connect us, like music, to certain times in our lives. Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce 🙂

    • Well, thanks for taking a walk down memory lane with me, Diana! You know, I’ve actually made a conscious effort this year to watch new movies (or at least ones I’ve never seen), listen to new music, read new books — and to revisit the personal classics a little less often. I’ve recently become very much aware that, like the rest of my generation, I seem to be caught in a nostalgic time loop, and, as such, I’m trying to push myself out of my cultural comfort zone by reaching for the old DVDs and tuning over to the classic-rock station a little less frequently.

      That said, I think it was worth honoring these movies, many of which made a huge impact on me. As kids, we used to vacation quite a bit out on a small island off Long Island, not all that dissimilar from Martha’s Vineyard, and thoughts of Jaws were never far from my mind! Stand by Me is just the perfect encapsulation of boyhood friendship, and Vacation is still hilarious (I actually didn’t hate the recent sequel-cum-remake as much as others did; I found it perfectly amusing if not entirely memorable, but maybe it helped that I watched it for free on HBO one Saturday night after a few drinks).

      As for Dirty Dancing: You know, we all have those movies or TV shows that we just don’t “get,” despite popular opinion. When Sex and the City was at the height of its cultural impact, I recall just hating that show: I hated its vapid ethos; I hated its self-congratulatory, “Yay, us!” comedy stylings; I hated its depiction of New York, which didn’t in any way resemble the blue-collar city I grew up in (like the one from Smoke). Needless to say, I was in the minority (though recent retrospective critiques of the series have been less flattering). I never cared for Friends, either, which always played to me like a pale knockoff of Cheers and Seinfeld, minus any wit, subtlety, or genuine heart (which Cheers had in abundance); the characters were two-dimensional and the jokes all way too polished to credibly pass as the off-the-cuff remarks they were intended to be. But, again: Few shared my distaste for the show. All I can say is that sometimes a story touches us in a profound manner for reasons we can’t fully articulate — usually in a positive way… but not always! Dirty Dancing is corny, I’ll acknowledge, and you either buy into that or you don’t. It probably helped that I was eleven when I first saw it, though my affection for it isn’t purely nostalgic: I think it’s a deceptively complex piece of storytelling in which no fewer than five characters undergo personal transformation (Baby, Johnny, Penny, Lisa, and Dr. Houseman). I wish movies today were as carefully crafted…

      Thanks, as always, Diana, for joining the conversation! Hope you’ve got something good to watch this weekend!


      • I’m totally in agreement on the sit-coms. I can watch Seinfeld episodes over and over again and never get bored. Same with Cheers. Never got into Sex in the City or Friends. I don’t watch much TV anyway, so what I do watch has to be really good (in my opinion, of course). And I got a kick out of the Vacation “remake/sequel” though I agree it doesn’t rise to the level of classic. I won’t watch it again.

        Yeah, Dirty Dancing. Baby drove me nuts. But maybe if I’d been a young teen when I first saw it, it may have sparked my romantic imagination. I’m open to that. 🙂

  2. Some great choices here. Jaws remains one of my all-time favorites, and I think it has more to do with the characters than the shark… wonderfully acted, nothing showy, just solid writing and terrific directing. ‘Stand by Me’ is up there, too. I read the novella before I saw the movie, and I think it’s probably the most faithful adaptation of all of King’s book. ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’? The last of the great ‘Die Hard’s. ‘Dirty Dancing’? Sure, why not? Great soundtrack, and I’m a sucker for a good love story.
    Thanks for reminding me of some great movies. I’d rather rewatch these in the comfort of my recliner than some of the dross that’s been showing in the cineplex. And now I’ll resume shouting at the clouds 🙂

    • Thanks, Steven, for reminiscing with me!

      Yeah, Jaws is just a masterpiece in every way, from the authentic performances to Carl Gottlieb’s lean and mean screenplay to Spielberg’s assured direction to Joe Alves’ terrific production design. Not a lot of movies qualify as “timeless,” but I certainly think this (along with Raiders and The Godfather) is one of them. Back in 2003, I worked with cinematographer Bill Butler on an obscure short film, and had him sign my deluxe-edition Jaws LaserDisc! (Remember those?!)

      Stand by Me is hands-down the most faithful book-to-movie adaptation, King’s or otherwise, I’ve ever known (save, of course, the title), right down to a majority of the dialogue! (Contrast that with Jaws, whereby not a single line from the book, to my knowledge, is ever uttered by any of the actors in the movie.) And the few changes Reiner and his screenwriters implemented actually improved the story — made it tighter and more focused on the friendship aspect.

      At the time, Die Hard with a Vengeance seemed like a somewhat disappointing departure from the series’ “confined thriller” formula (which had been, to be fair, run into the ground by the spate of “Die Hard on a ______” rip-offs that had, for a while, become their own subgenre), but in light of Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard, Vengeance now seems like the Citizen Kane of high-octane action extravaganzas. I don’t think everything about it works — it’s overplotted, the B-story about McClane’s estrangement from his wife is gratuitous and emotionally hollow, and the racial tension between McClane and Zeus seems underdeveloped and thematically incongruous — but it at least feels like the filmmakers were trying to deliver an ambitious product, which is certainly more than can be said of the phoned-in Good Day to Die Hard.

      I share your sentiments on this recent summer movie season, my friend. Just this past winter, I lamented the state of Hollywood in a lengthy dissertation on the proliferation of superhero cinema, and I plan to run a follow-up piece next month on the apparent (and not unwelcome) collapse of the franchise tentpole that unexpectedly ensued this summer. Stay tuned…


  3. I love many of the movies you mentioned and I wonder if it’s any coincidence they are all from a time period long ago. Movies produced today seem to always leave me looking for more. I’ve begun to think the real writing has gone to television. Something that wasn’t always the case in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Like you Sean, I wasn’t a huge fan of Friends. I watched it because it led off the Thursday night line up and ER was what I was really after. At least for the first several years. I’d love to see a movie whose script isn’t based on a book, but has fully formed characters, a plot that won’t quit, and an ending I can’t guess.

    • Thanks, Stacey, for stopping by to comment!

      The best screenwriting has gone to television. Adults don’t go to the theaters anymore, only teenagers do (’cause, despite advances in technology, they still need a physical place to go on a Saturday night that isn’t under the watchful eye of their parents), hence the reason all the movies now are geared toward their juvenile sensibilities: Fast & Furious, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, etc. In a forthcoming post, which I mentioned briefly in my reply to Steven, I’m going to talk about where I think filmed entertainment is headed in the next decade. In short: I don’t think movies or television as we’ve traditionally known them will exist anymore; I think they’re going to merge into a new hybrid form of entertainment, obviating the need for both movie theaters and television networks. But, I’ll discuss that in more detail soon.

      Movies today certainly don’t have the staying power they once did, that’s for sure. Part of that is owed to the (idiotic) business model, which basically has the studios releasing a major tentpole offering every week, and part of it is the fault of the material itself, which just doesn’t have the emotional resonance the blockbusters of the Lucas/Spielberg era had. In this recent conversation published over at Uproxx, they talk about how disposable films are today, and cite The Karate Kid as a great example of a movie that found an audience and tapped into the zeitgeist when it was released in 1984, but wouldn’t be “big” enough to get made today, and certainly wouldn’t make itself heard over all the “nosier” cinematic offerings that have glutted the marketplace. And the thing about Karate Kid is that there’s barely any karate in it! Instead, it’s a really well-written, well-acted drama about a boy who finds spiritual enlightenment through the mentorship of an unlikely teacher. That goes to what I was saying about Dirty Dancing — that far from a hollow teenage love story (I’m talking to you, Twilight), you’ve got five characters in that movie wrestling with emotionally engaging transformational arcs! (And it’s worth nothing — because you brought it up — that both KK and DD were based on original screenplays, and not adaptations of some preexisting material.) And as much as I hate to sound like an old man, this was back in the days when popular entertainment — crowd-pleasers — could still have depth, something you don’t see even a little of in Fast & Furious and Transformers and Twilight.

      But that’s why cinema (as we know it) is dying, per Indignation director James Schamus. It will metamorphose into a new permutation in the coming years, however, something I’ll elaborate on in the next post…

      Thanks so much, Stacey, for participating in the conversation!


  4. May I make a few suggestions?

    Dog Day Afternoon
    Addams Family Values (summer camp!)
    Dazed and Confused
    Independence Day
    Leon the Professional
    Mad Max: Fury Road
    The Rum Diary
    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
    What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

    Those all scream “summer” to me!

    • Good suggestions, Jeff!

      Dog Day Afternoon for sure. I don’t revisit that movie too often, though, because its true-life story actually has a very direct connection to my family: The FBI agent “Murphy,” played by Lance Henriksen, is in real life my first cousin, once removed. I’ve discussed the incident with him at length — those make for fascinating conversations, believe you me — and he participated a decade ago in a documentary about the case called Based on a True Story. I almost included Do the Right Thing here, but left it out because it isn’t exactly “easy watchin’.” At least I’ve got Smoke on the list to represent Brooklyn in place of Dog Day and Do the Right Thing!

      Friday‘s a good one, though I don’t specifically recall which season it was set in (that’s the trouble with Los Angeles: every season looks the same). Addams Family Values would have been a fitting inclusion. Independence Day — which I remember seeing in theaters! — is entertaining enough, but I feel like that movie made a much stronger cultural impression on the generation behind me; I almost never revisit it. I love all the Mad Max and Indiana Jones movies, and associate them with summertime because of when most of them were originally released, but they’re all set in the desert, so it’s hard to tell which season they’re meant to take place in (I tried to choose movies in which the season was somehow important to the story). I haven’t seen What’s Eating Gilbert Grape since it was released theatrically, because I found it too emotionally powerful to ever re-experience (same with Forrest Gump). Some movies, like Edward Scissorhands and Schindler’s List, are just too poignant to see again. I’ve also never seen The Exorcist more than once; it scared the shit out of me so effectively when I was fourteen, I’ve been unable to ever try it a second time, even though I know it probably wouldn’t have the same effect now.

      Right on with Dazed and Confused! I nearly put American Graffiti, similar to Dazed in many respects, on the list, but left it off at the last minute because, like Gilbert Grape, I find it too affecting to watch routinely. For the most part, I tried to put “fun” movies on this list. Stand by Me is certainly a tough movie to watch (and it gets tougher the older I get), but I just adore it so dearly because that’s exactly what me and my friends were like at twelve — to a tee. I identify so strongly with that story, because my preteen gang had a Chris, Gordie, Teddy, and Vern in it, too, and we had remarkably similar adventures on the streets of the Bronx in the 1980s. The movie meant one thing to me in 1988, when I first saw it, and now it means all sorts of things to me at forty years old: I completely understand now what Stephen King meant when he said, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?”

      Tombstone is one of my all-time favorites: As profound a meditation on boyhood friendship as Stand by Me is, Tombstone is an equally moving expression of the friendship between menthat’s a story about two guys who have each other’s backs, no matter what. It’s just a terrific film, even if it is a mythologized take on the Earp legend. For some reason I can’t explain, I watch all my Westerns in September, at the end of summer. Don’t know why — that’s just when I’m inspired to visit that world. I love Unforgiven, and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma is crackerjack. Kurt Russell recently appeared in an excellent, low-budget Western called Bone Tomahawk that I highly recommend. It’s a different kind of story from Tombstone — kind of a genre mashup, in a way — but it has better performances and more genuine thrills than movies made for one hundred times its $1.8 million budget.

      In many respects, Escape from Rikers Island (set in the dead of winter) is a Western, too: It’s about a lawman and outlaw that have to team up against a greater threat moving in on their territory. I suspect that as more and more postnarrative stories featuring ethically dubious or emotionally deranged protagonists (think House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot) permeate our culture, we will begin to long for prescriptive narratives with old-fashioned heroes again, and the Western in particular may find relevance anew in the Digital Age.

      Thanks for weighing in, pal! Readers of this blog are advised to check out the conversation Jeff and I had about his novel Fall From Grace in this post.


      • Dog Day Afternoon has that great opening that just oozes summer city heat. That type of oppressive, melt into the cracks of the pavement blaze bolstered by the sheer number of bodies in a city. I do not miss the LA summers, that’s for damn sure.

        Addams Family Values – I mean, come on, that’s just too much fun. I prefer the original film, but Wednesday at summer camp is classic. Plus Peter MacNicol is hilarious (he also turned in a yuck-worthy performance in Ghostbusters 2).

        Really, Dazed and Confused is too affecting? I’ve always found it to be pretty feel-good, but Gilbert Grape is as emotionally raw as they come. It’s one of those movies I own but rarely watch. Speaking of Depp, Rum Diary is a helluva good time. Perfect for summer day drinking, ha!

        Friday is all about the summer lazies. It certainly won’t motivate you to do anything worthwhile with your day.

        Funny about Independence Day, because here is where our 6 year age difference again makes a big difference. I think I was in 7th grade when it came out, and seeing Will Smith kick a dead alien in the face was about as awesome as summer films could be for me at that age.

        Tombstone, Tombstone, Tombstone…”I’m in my prime.” ‘Nuff said.

        That’s very interesting that Westerns are a September genre for you. Similarly, I watch The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies every winter (they were all December releases). There’s just something about cuddling up in the cold and watching serious, epic fantasy.

        • Dog Day is great. They don’t make movies like that anymore, something I’ll be discussing in my next post…

          No, Dazed itself isn’t too affecting (American Graffiti is, though), it just takes me back to my own high school days (I had just started my senior year when it came out), and I’ve spent too many decades repressing those memories to let Linklater dig them up for me!

          Regarding Independence Day: Our colleague Adam Aresty holds that movie in pretty high esteem (I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn on that one), but he’s closer to your age. If you were in your twenties when it came out, it was fun but disposable. But if you were in that preteen sweet spot (like my younger cousin, born in ’84), it was sort of the Ghostbusters of your generation. (And, as it happens, neither ID4 nor Ghostbusters could recapture their old magic this summer, for whatever that’s worth. Maybe we’re finally longing — fingers crossed — for new stories…)

          Tombstone: “I’m your huckleberry!”

          If I were to watch The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings this winter, I’d be holed up till spring! (Am I right? The total runtime of both trilogies — the extended editions — has got to equal the length of a full season of network television!) Which order do you watch them in: narratively chronological or the order in which they were produced? LotR is spectacular, but I was not a fan, much as I hate to align with popular opinion, of the Hobbit prequels. And retroactively splitting up a series that had been written and shot as two movies (still one too many, at that) into a trilogy wrought havoc on the story structure, I thought. Hobbit was, for me, too much of a good thing. But I do love hunkering down with an epic movie in the cold-weather season, even if in L.A. that’s just a slightly cooler shade of summer…

          So fun to have you weigh-in on this discussion, Jeff! Many thanks, pal!


  5. Loved your movie summaries and comments! I plan to watch some of these oldies but goodies. And what a wordsmith: “sibilant” rain hitting the treetops . . ? I’ve got to find a way to use that word.

    • Thanks, Leonide! Like I said: Die Hard with a Vengeance brings out my poetic side! It really does do a great job of capturing what New York feels like in the summer, and kudos to filmmaker John McTiernan (who also directed the first Die Hard, as well as one of Jeff Ritchie’s summer picks, Predator) for shooting the movie all across New York City; it becomes as important a setting, in its own way, as the Century City skyscraper was to the first film.

      One of the problems with the way action movies are shot and edited today is that it’s become very hard, as a viewer, to get a sense of spatial relationships — everything is so frenetically choreographed and cut. When we look back at the action movies of a previous generation — what McTiernan did in the first and third Die Hards, what Spielberg did in Jaws and Raiders — one can really get a sense of what a lost art effective genre filmmaking has become.


      • One of the few cinematic techniques I deplore is the use of “shaky cam” for action, often to hide the shallowness of what’s actually on screen. Some directors are said to use it effectively, Greengrass for one, but I still don’t like it. If we’re talking big, explosive action a la superhero, sci-fi, fantasy, I really enjoy key moments of slow motion that allow your eye to capture everything that’s happening.

        • You know, the first time I ever saw that used — and it was a revelation — was in NYPD Blue. You’re too young, I imagine, to appreciate what an impact that show had on TV drama, but I was seventeen when it premiered (and a television junkie), and I’d never seen anything like it! You have to remember, this was before original dramas were airing on cable (before most people I knew had cable, for that matter). In its later years, the series became a formulaic procedural (it ran for twelve seasons, after all, and couldn’t possibly have stayed innovative from start to finish), but during those first few seasons, it was groundbreaking. Aside from the partial nudity and adult language (which caused quite a stir back in ’93), the show had a very unorthodox narrative structure that set the template for everything we watch today: There was an A-plotline that began and concluded in every episode, a B-plotline that ran over the course of several eps, and then a C-plotline that spanned the entire season. Nobody had ever seen anything like that! And David Caruso, not that you’d ever guess from his self-parodying performance on CSI: Miami, was hypnotic: He was like no other TV cop you’d seen before; he felt like the real deal. And the show employed this vérité style of camerawork that lent it a verisimilitude that was a far cry from the polished sheen of policiers at the time. Take my word for it: When critics talk about how we’re in a Golden Age of Television, NYPD Blue was ground zero for that. The show doesn’t get enough credit for the trends it initiated — starting with first-rate writing.

          I agree with you, though: Shaky camera movements (particularly during action sequences) have become something of a cliché, perhaps owed to their overuse via found-footage movies (either the pure kind, like Cloverfield, or the mixed-aesthetic variety, like End of Watch and District 9). Funny thing about found footage: It is supposed to evoke a sense of immediacy, but for me, the effect is just the opposite — I find it distancing. I’m so aware of the presence of the camera, and so much screen time has to get taken up to explain why this footage is being shot in the first place, that I wish they’d just dispense with all that and get on with the story. (And horror movies, particularly, reach a point at which you wonder, “Why don’t they drop the fucking camera and run for their lives?”) I myself long for the steadier, more fluid approach to camerawork evident in early Spielberg, particularly the Indiana Jones trilogy. What’s the point in making movies feel “real” when we’ve got reality television doing that for free — in excessive abundance? Movies ought to be, for the most part, heightened reality. I’m not saying there isn’t room for different styles, mind you, but I think the Greengrass/Blomkamp aesthetic has become a little too mimicked of late. I like directors who let their movies feel like movies, like Tarantino and Nolan (incomparable though their particular styles might be). If anything, it seems as though scripted TV, like House of Cards, is going for a more conventional cinematic look these days.

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