21 June 2010

Movies For Those Long Summer Evenings

Would I actually suggest that a person spend part of a lovely Summer day sitting at home watching a DVD? You better believe I would. For one thing you may be living in some God forsaken place where its too bloody hot to do anything but sit inside. But even if that's not the case and you're one of those outdoor types (hmm, the outdoors, isn't that where some movie scenes are filmed?) you've got to come inside eventually.

I'd imagined you'd can get plum tuckered out climbing hills, frolicking in the surf or puttering around in your garden. Let's say its dusk and you're ready to stretch out on the sofa. Perhaps you don't have to rise early the next day and fancy a movie that you can settle into. It would be my great pleasure to offer some suggestions. All of the following choices offer two things: a top quality viewing experience and length. Also, none are depressing or require taxing your cerebrum any more than you want to. And for my money you can watch them in the middle of a gorgeous day if you want to.

Chillin' With the Corleones Either The Godfather (1972) or The Godfather Part 2 (1974) will do. In fact make them back-to-back choices over the course of a weekend, just don't go overboard and watch the third Godfather film which is to the first two as Hoboken is to Paris and Rome. The original remains to me the greatest film of all time and part two the greatest ever sequel. One can watch them in a variety of ways such as exploring the tragic transformation of Michael Corleone or as a parable for modern times. For purposes of this discussion, however, they are best viewed for the sheer fun of their look, their performances, the characters and the scope of the story.

Lean On Me British director David Lean created two of the greatest epics on film, Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). If you're in the mood for a World War II  film set in the Eastern theater of operations and especially if you like a little POW action, Bridge is an excellent choice. It's a sprawling, audacious story with characters to match played wonderfully by the likes of Alec Guiness, William Holden and Sessue Hayakawa. If, however, you'd like to spend some time in the desert, maybe with Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif, Lawrence is the way to go. Plenty of action and well defined, compelling characters here too. Either way you are going to see the textbook definition of classic cinema.

Indy Films In this instance Indy refers to Indiana Jones the hero of four films. Stick to the even numbered ones, two and four are best avoided. But Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the first in the series, and number three, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) are pure pop corn munching delights. These are much, much imitated films but their brilliance has rarely been approached and never equaled, let alone topped. These are rollicking adventures with comic book style bad guys, a charismatic hero (Harrison Ford with Sean Connery thrown into the Last Crusade as his dad) and superbly done scenes of derring do and disaster avoided just in the nick of time. Most films that are designed to be pure fun are pure shlock. Good action adventure is clearly not easy to do. Great action adventure is pretty much just these two films.

Fun With Fellini You want long, you want fun, you want excpetional and you want Italian. Look no further than Federecio Fellini classics La Dolce Vita (1960), 8 1/2 (1963) or Amarcord (1973). Three choices and each is, in my mind, better than the next. Like all other films on the list they are long and like the others you wouldn't have them a second shorter. Fellini had a lot to say and by God wasn't waste time being concise. Editing is so very time consuming and when you've put such beautiful films on celluloid as these, why bother? The first two offer the benefits of Marcello Mastrionni and a bevy of beauties. Amacord is my favorite though, a moving but unsentimental look at the great Italian director's hometown around the time he was growing up. All are, needless to say but I'm saying it anyway, Felliniesque, which means a melding of reality and fantasy and plenty of extraordinary characters.

Great Escapism Something about The Great Escape (1963) makes it seem the perfect Summer movie. A cast that includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn and David McCullum  may have something to do with it. Also you've got Nazis, not the Schindler's List kind who shoot people in the head but also not the To Be or Not to Be who are total buffoons. In other words Nazis that are just right -- at least for the action genre. Add to this a mass escape which includes the coolest motorcycle chase you'll ever see (at the foot of the Alps, no less) and you're in for some serious fun. This is the best of the umpteen World War II films that Hollywood cranked out during the Baby Boom years.

Kickin' it with Kubrick For hours of visual mastery you can't do better than either 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Barry Lyndon (1975) two outsized classics from director Stanley Kubrick. I discussed 2001 in a recent post and Barry Lyndon in my preceding post, saying as much as I had to offer about both at the time. I will here add that both are great Summer films because you can watch them just for the look if you so desire, worrying very little about plot or themes.

Happy 100th Akira Why not celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa with a viewing of his masterpiece, The Seven Samurai (1954)?  This was one of many epic length Kurosawa films and clearly the best of the lot. It is also one of the most imitated films of all time, particularly of the action genre. Seven samurai are recruited by the poor but plucky residents of a small village to fend off a large group of bandits who are terrorizing their town. The ensuing violence is not terribly graphic but it is not silly, contrived or gratuitous. It is what I'd call realistically balletic. Warning: Watching Seven Samuarai may lead you to explore many, many more Kurosawa films.

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