If things have seemed a little quiet here on the SLIFR ranch this past week, it's not because they were anywhere near quiet in other worlds, both real and virtual. Perturbing events raised their head in the blogosphere last week, and they've inspired tough questions for those directly involved in those events, as well as those of us who are trying to bring a modicum of seriousness to what we do here with film writing in this still-new format. I was more than just a little depressed as I turned all this over in my noggin over the weekend. And then I clicked on Jim Emerson's post "The Stepford Critics", which I didn't see until tonight. Jim posted it on Friday night, right about the time a friend and I were draining an unsuspecting diner of their Diet Coke supply and hashing over this issue and many others during a lovely three and a half-hour sit-down, the likes of which I hardly ever get to enjoy these days. The sit-down cheered me up immensely, and Jim's post, and the excellent comments that follow, hit me like a cold drink of water at the end of a dry, dusty day. I urge everyone to please head on over there, read it and chime in. I promise I will too, Jim.
Speaking of cheering up, I got another shout-out this week on The Hucklebug, a very funny podcast hosted by SLIFR reader and blogger Stennie and her jovial compadre Bet. I'm relatively new to the joys of podcasting, but I love listening to these two chat their way through their very loosely formatted show every week. As I wrote to them on the Hucklebug Web site, "I’ve always gotten a kick out of listening to conversations like the ones you guys have, where I feel like I’m an outsider, yet I understand enough to keep me engaged. (There aren’t so many in-refernces that I feel shut out, or that I couldn’t become familiar with after an episode or two more of listening in.) It’s like eavesdropping in a place where you’re welcome. (I love movies like this too, where you know there’s important stuff on the sidelines or outside the margins, but you have to work to find it or draw conclusions without it-- this is why I like Altman.) And I really enjoy the pleasure you two take in each other’s company. That’s something that can’t be faked." If you find yourself with an idle hour, do check out the chat on The Hucklebug. You may find yourself hooked... like me. (And when you do, tell me if Stennie doesn't sound like a certain Oscar-winning actress with a new movie about to come out in the next couple of weeks...)
Finally, as the last week of August comes shuffling in, I was thinking about the summer movie season and how relatively few big blockbusters I saw this year. I just could not muster up the energy to see many of the big three-quels-- Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and I remain unacquainted. (I did see Shrek the Third-- twice-- but I'm a father of two who likes to take his kids to the drive-in, so I would like to claim mitigating circumstances, right alongside claims of bad judgment.) I also skipped Transformers (though if it showed on a tasty double bill at a drive-in, I could easily be convinced to give it a look) and the new Harry Potter picture, only because I haven't yet seen number 4. The Bourne Ultimatum has to be the summer's biggest disappointment, based on the anticipation-to-rewards ratio. I did see Ocean's Thirteen and thought it was pretty keen, though less engaging than Eleven (I find Ellen Barkin in full sex kitten mode hard to resist, though.) Live Free and Die Hard and The Simpsons Movie were delightful, the former in a very unexpected way-- it was really funny!-- and the latter in a very expected way-- it was really funny! Knocked Up was just about as wonderful as I had presumed it would be-- but I was unprepared for how painful it was as well. On the short list of minor surprises would be Vacancy, 1408 and Hostel Part II. I would term Hot Fuzz a mild disappointment, but I have to admit that I was VERY tired the night I saw it, so its recent appearance on DVD should be one I gravitate to pretty quickly.
But as August wound down this weekend, the movies that topped my summer list were an eclectic bunch, emblematic of the things summer movies can and should do best, but so often do not-- thrill us with the sheer audacity of their command of craft, of character, of their desire to entertain us by keepng us company with vibrant, surprising characters and rich, subtle, sometimes shaggy craft. And one of them was a freakism, a reminder that oddities do float around the perimeters of the so-called popcorn season, as they used to in the less demographically dominated dog days, and sometimes people will go to see them (even if they have to get duped into doing it).
My best movies of summer list, in ascending order:
4) BUG William Friedkin's startlingly effective psychodrama dares to cross the line from relative sanity to unabated madness right along with the lead characters, played by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon. It's Friedkin's most unhinged, balls-out movie in decades, and Judd never shies away from the possibility that she'll be misunderstood or look foolish-- hers is a brave, brilliant portrait of the thin veneer that separates the appearance of normalcy from paranoid tragedy.
3) HAIRSPRAY For sheer joy, happiness and unerring ability to strip away every one of my preconceptions, Hairspray has every other movie I've seen this year beat in a walk, or a twist.
2) RATATOUILLE Pixar rebounds from the relative disappointment of Cars with another thrilling technical achievement wed to the ever more prodigious and full-bodied storytelling mastery of writer-director Brad Bird, who, with The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and now this family-friendly consideration of what it is to be an artist, is fast approaching national treasure status.
1) SUPERBAD Hairspray defeated my resistance. Superbad not only fulfilled my expectations, but easily surpassed them. This mind-bogglingly profane paean to the penis, and the unexpectedly tender ties between two high school guys who happen to sport 'em and obsess over 'em, reaches the rarefied air where Freaks and Geeks once reigned. Director Greg Mottola transcends the teen movie comedy with ease and a subtle, surprisingly tender hand, as one night in search of booze and babes spirals off into giddy comic highs and emotional grace. And the funk soundtrack! As a friend of mine simply stated in a one-word e-mail to me about this movie, brilliant.
What are your thoughts on the summer movie season? Any big surprises? Any disappointments? And is there anything on the horizon that looks to shake up your expectations and pull you away from that ever-growing stack of DVDs that you haven't gotten a chance to see yet? I have every reason to believe that, as schoolwork comes to a head this week that things on the SLIFR ranch may be as quiet again this week as they were last, so I invite you to pop in a check in with your thoughts. What about the state of internet film criticism? Are the Stepford Critics taking over? What about the Hucklebug? And feel free to log in on the Summer of 2007 in the SLIFR Forum too. What did the movies do for you besides provide reliable air conditioning and overpriced M&Ms from June through August?