Blast From The Past Summer-#1
The picture above doesn't do justice to the words I wrote, but I hope you keep reading anyway.
I have been noticing that several online movie sites have been in a nostalgic mood recently. Why not be? June is here and two weekends ago was Memorial Day weekend, whether you are a calendar nerd or not, summer has unofficially “officially” started. While I was reading my favorite movie sites, I have noticed that several online voices are taking a look back at summer’s past. They are looking at the summer movie seasons they grew up with and they are talking about them. I have had a ball the last few weeks reading movie lovers take a look back at the summer’s of 1982, 1984 and 1989. There are good reasons to love those summer movies, I mean those were the summers that gave birth to “Indiana Jones,” “Ghostbusters,” “Tron,” “Poltergiest,” E.T., “Batman,” “The Karate Kid,” “License To Kill” and more. I could go on and on and on. These are movies that make us think of the big blockbusters, these were the summers that defined their tradition.
This has looked like a lot of fun and I began to think why not join in on the debate? Sure, I am quite a bit younger compared to a lot of these voices, but does that mean my perspective counts less? I have had several wonderful film experiences, and a lot of those experiences came from the summer season. Summer is one of my favorite times of the year for several reasons and one of those reasons is the summer movie season. I have had some gigantic highs during a summer movie season and just as many lows and I think it is worth examining. So I have decided that, all summer season long, I am going to write about one summer of my past. I want to write a piece on a summer at least once a week or once every two weeks. I will just have to wait and see, but I am sure you will like taking the look back with me.
I am going to be starting this exercise with the summer of 2008.
I grew up watching a lot of big 1980’s blockbusters listed above, and I grew up watching films like “Toy Story,” “Independence Day,” “The Mummy” and other summer blockbusters from the 1990’s. I always thought that the summer movie season was a big deal based on all these movies and I thought each season would be special. As the 2000’s hit, I began to realize that the special feeling was not completely there and I was overall disappointed with several summer movie seasons between 2000 and 2007, and I thought I’d never have a special season of my own to live through. That all changed quickly once 2008 arrived.
The year 2008 was a wonderful year for me, as it was the year I graduated high school and began my four year college career at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, IA. The summer I graduated from high school was one of the best summers of my life. I had a great time doing last-minute hang-outs with my friends, I loved watching Michael Phelps garner several gold medals and of course, I laid witness to the best summer movie season I have ever seen. Yes, I am not big on hyperbole and I don’t throw it around much, but I can feel this. I completely feel that 2008 had the best summer movie season I have lived through so far. From my humble opinion and data, I count about 12 movies from that summer alone that I find amazing, not good or great, but amazing. I count at least 5 or 6 other movies that were incredibly fun, movies I am glad I watched at the theater. There were some stinkers in the summer of 2008, but that just added to the flavor of that summer, and I had never tasted anything like that summer since, well since I was a kid. That is all part of the reason why summer 2008 means so much to me.
The summer movie schedule always begins in May, and May 2008 opened big with “Iron Man.” Of course, I was ecstatic to see the movie and when I finally did; my mind was firing off on what the future might highlight. That small little exchange between Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Downey Jr. during the post-credit scene after “Iron Man” not only changed the way we approach superhero films but it changed the status-quo of the genre forever. (And still does to this day). The summer season began huge, and even though crap like “Made of Honor” and “What Happens in Vegas” stunk up theaters in mid-May, I have a good feeling knowing that the superhero genre may have been back on track. I know I maybe in a minority here, depending on who you ask, but I have absolutely no love toward “Speed Racer,” I found it too silly, too stylized and ever single performance in the film was so over-the-top that I found myself not caring at all.
As May began to close I caught “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” I have written this before and I will again right now, but “Chronicles of Narnia” is hugely overrated. I can say without fervor that the second entry in the series was my favorite yet, and I hope we eventually see all seven books adapted to the screen. The weekend after “Caspian” came something I did not expect, but was somehow effective to me as film geek. That weekend, I laid eyes on “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull.” I know this is a movie of disagreement among film fans, but I find it hard to find a position on it. Yes, it is a lot sillier than the rest of the series and I think that hurt this entry most of all. But nobody could possibly pull off the character the way Ford did, and seeing him in full Jones get-up with the glorious Williams score blaring in the background, it felt right. I got a great nostalgic feeling watching it again, and maybe that is all I really needed from it. While I wouldn’t call “Crystal Skull” bad, it is the Indiana Jones movie I return to less for pleasure. The last weekend in May gave us “Sex in the City,” a movie I didn’t even bother to see. But we also got the quiet yet disturbing “The Strangers.” I can’t believe horror fans don’t bring this one up as much as I thought. This is a perfect haunted house movie that will surely give you the willies and it was a perfect way to end the month.
The beginning of June began strong with “Kung Fu Panda” and “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan” both which I enjoyed. I was glad to say that summer 2008 was a strong animation season for both Dreamworks and Pixar and I am glad they both brought it that summer. I feel “Kung Fu Panda” will continue to grow in time and will be a fun one for youngsters. I thought “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan” may not have been Adam Sandler glorious return to form, but he got pretty darn close. When I thought his best days were behind him, he made something at least halfway fun that I didn’t feel embarrassed to have sat through. The second weekend in June delivered M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening,” an experience I totally loathed. It was so sad to see a director who was called “the next Spielberg” fall so far from grace after three great films. It’s extra sad because it seems he’ll never find that footing again, I hope he does, but I am not sure. While “The Happening” was another clunker for Shyamalan, the Saturday after I saw “The Incredible Hulk.” “The Incredible Hulk” not only redeemed the 2003 clusterfuck of a movie, but it also shed more light on what Marvel was going to do. It promised audiences that what happened at the end of “Iron Man” wasn’t some wink-and-nod, but they were serious about a Marvel Cinematic Universe. I could not have been happier.
Mid-June gave us “Get Smart,” a movie I did not expect to like as much as I did. I won’t say I am fully in love with the movie, but it’s a fun way to spend a few hours and Steve Carrell cracks me up every time I watch it. I wasn’t much of a fan of Mike Myers’ “The Love Guru” and I pretty much forgot it the moment it was over. The last weekend in June gave us “Wall-e” and Pixar once again showed us how it was done. I loved that the studio constantly raised the bar on itself every summer, something I feel they haven’t done a few years now. “Wall-e” wasn’t only heart-wrenching and emotional; it was quite daring and had something real to say. I am still completely in love with the movie. Then there was “Wanted” and let me tell you about that. “Wanted” was based off a graphic novel by Mark Millar, and it was a about a guy who learns that his father was one of the deadliest supervillains of all-time and he is inheriting his riches. He then learns that many years ago, supervillains successfully killed every single superhero that challenged them, then completely wiped them from everyone’s memory. I remember reading the graphic novel about a month before the movie came out, destined to see this story come to life. The movie we got wasn’t exactly like the comic book, and that disappointed me bitterly. In a superhero climate like the one summer 2008 offered, “Wanted” could have been an interesting, deconstructionist experiment. Sadly, what we got was a mindless action movie that ripped-off of “The Matrix” and “Fight Club” more than anything. While I liked the performances and the action in it, I never thought it was built to last. It seems nobody else did either.
The Fourth of July weekend gave us “Hancock” and for the first time in a long time, a superhero not based on any comic book was released to the public. I wish I could have liked the film and while Will Smith really tries like hell to make it count, there is nothing worthwhile in the film except his performance. It features a poorly explored and poorly written mythology, wooden characters and an uninteresting hero. Too bad, being the first original superhero in years could have really been something. The next weekend made up my superhero strife when “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” was released and blew my mind completely. “Hellboy 2” is a rare example of a film that improves on everything that was good and everything that was bad about the first movie. I totally feel its underrated and that people should seek it out as soon as possible, easily one of the best comic book movies ever made. Both “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and Eddie Murphy’s “Meet Dave” made me so unhappy that I wanted to sob, but I had a good time catching up on independent releases of the season. “American Teen,” a documentary about high school kids, was inventive, creative and absolutely worth my time and I loved every minute of it.
Then July 18 2008 rolled around, and changed my life completely…
July 18th, 2008 was, of course, the release date for “The Dark Knight.” That was the one movie I had to see that summer. If I had not seen anything else that whole season, I would have been satisfied. I watched every trailer countless times, I showed every friend I had “Batman Begins,” I followed every piece of viral marketing for the film, I was completely obsessed. I orchestrated a massive gathering for the midnight premiere, and me and dozens of friends all got together for it. I saw “The Dark Knight” five times that summer, that isn’t a rough estimate, it is a fact. That movie owned me for the rest of the summer, everything seemed to pale in comparison.
“Mamma Mia!” also came out that weekend, but I didn’t get around to seeing that until before I left for school. While it’s kind of silly and while I don’t think Pierce Brosnan can sing, I had a good time with it overall. During the last week of July, my family flew me out to visit San Francisco, CA for my graduation present. I dragged my dad to see “The Dark Knight” on IMAX, because I absolutely had to. I also caught “X-Files: I Want To Believe” while I was there. I was bitterly disappointed by it being an “X-Files” fan. While featuring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, it didn’t feel like X-Files at all, and that was what hurt the most. When I got back home from California, I took a couple friends to see “Step Brothers” and I wholeheartedly enjoyed it. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly created something positively memorable, and I had something else to quote for awhile besides The Joker.
The beginning of August was woefully sluggish. “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” was a piece of junk and “Swing Vote” was good but slight entertainment. So once again, I caught up with some great arthouse fare. “The Wackness” received a major release around this time and I completely fell in love with it. I declared “The Wackness” one of the ten best films of 2008 and I still stand by that statement today. I identified with it because it was about a boy who had just graduated high school and was eagerly awaiting college, just like me. Not only that, but the boy was struggling with a budding romance, and I had a girlfriend at the time who still had one year of high school left, and what to do about our relationship haunted us both. It was a great movie that got me pumped for college, which was exactly what I needed in August. I also caught “Bottle Shock” which was equally delightful. If you liked Alan Rickman in “Harry Potter,” you’d like him as a wine connoisseur, that is for sure.
The second week of August gave us “Pineapple Express” and I began to have full faith in the R-rated comedy again, something that had not happened in a really long time. When I saw “Tropic Thunder” two weeks later, my faith in R-rated comedies was back in full form. Both films were from two completely different viewpoints, but they made me laugh incredibly hard. By the middle of August, I was prepping my last-minute duties before heading off to college, so I did not get a lot of down time to go to the theater. I nearly ended my summer movie season that summer with “Star Wars: Clone Wars” something that almost ruined me as a fan of Star Wars. But while I had just a smidgen of time left, I ended that season with Woody Allen. I found “Vicki Christena Barcelona” to be a flashback to classic Woody. I also felt the shifting from New York City to Spain made a big different for him too. It was a wonderful way to finish out the summer movie season and head off to college soon after.
The summer of 2008 was vital to me for many reasons. It showed us that the long streak of painful superhero movies was over, and even a summer packed with them can deliver on several different levels. It proved that the R-rated comedy was back and it could not have come at a better time. Most of all, the summer of 2008 was a highlight for several genres, whether it was action, comedy, horror, independent, romance…every genre had a fair say and they each made the year memorable as a whole. My faith in summer movies was revitalized, and as I was being escorted up to college by my parents, all I could think about was the future of film and how happy it made me.
So I am going to be writing one of these articles all summer long, so check back here sometime next week. I have got a lot to say about what I have seen from summer’s past in my lifetime and I cannot wait to share it all with you as I witness another season of summer films in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.