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Movies for the Homebound XV: Summer!

Posted on July 7, 2020 at 8:00 am

More movies for families to enjoy at home together. This week, some great summer movies!

The Endless Summer and The Endless Summer II The classic 1966 documentary about surfing and the 2003 update are both laid-back pleasures, gorgeous beaches, rolling waves, and balance in every sense of the word. You’ll even meet the real-life Gidget. (Also try: Step Into Liquid and Riding Giants)

Gidget: Speaking of Gidget, here’s the movie that made her a sensation, with Sandra Dee as the “girl midget” who shows the boys on the beach that she can rock a surfboard. Followed by “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” and “Gidget Goes to Rome” and the Sally Field television series.

DogTown and Z Boys: This documentary (much better than the feature film it inspired), is a rare look at a history-changing moment. A bunch of kids left to themselves in a summer drought when pools were all drained turned the sleepy world of skateboarding upside down, creating not just crazy tricks but a whole new world of extreme sports.

A Goofy Movie Let’s face it. All kids think their parents are goofy. But Max’s dad is the real Goofy. And when they take a cross-country car trip together (ah, remember those?) you can imagine, they get into some goofy situations and some heartwarming ones as well.

The Inkwell More mature audiences will appreciate this story about a sweet teenager visiting Martha’s Vinyard with his family. Larenz Tate and Jada Pinkett Smith are both outstanding.

The Flamingo Kid: This is one of my very favorites. Matt Dillon stars as a kid from a lower-class family who gets a job at a posh country club. Matt Dillon and Richard Crenna are terrific.

The Parent Trap: Two girls show up at summer camp and discover they are identical twins separated when their parents divorced. Both the original with Hayley Mills and the remake with Lindsay Lohan are a lot of fun.

Roll Bounce: Another one of my favorites, this is the story of a group of kids from the poor side of town who decide to compete in a roller skate competition. Great story, great skating, great soundtrack.

The Sandlot: You can almost feel the sunshine in this beloved family classic about a bunch of kids in the neighborhood who play baseball.

The Way Way Back: A teenager and his mom visit her mean boyfriend’s summer home, and the boy finds friends at the local amusement park. Sam Rockwell has one of his best roles as a slacker with a kind heart.

Tribute: Ennio Morricone

Posted on July 6, 2020 at 4:18 pm

The great movie composter Ennio Morricone has died at the age of 91. Adam Bernstein’s superb obituary in the Washington Post captures not only what he did but why it sounded so gorgeously perfect.

Mr. Morricone was a boldly adventurous composer who saw himself as a full partner in telling stories on-screen. He thrived with directors known for their visual excess, including Tarantino, Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma.

But Mr. Morricone, whose scores could be gritty, unsettling or exquisitely gentle, was impossible to categorize. His portfolio seemed to span every conceivable mainstream genre, including comedy, drama, romance, horror, political satire and historical epic.

Some examples:

And to understand better the embrace of film and score, see this very knowledgeable essay by Bilge Ebiri about the best pieces as they were used within the context of individual scenes in the films themselves. For example:

Though much of A Fistful of Dollars’ score is quite spare, for the final showdown, Morricone gives us something altogether more melodic and traditional. This ornate trumpet dirge popped up earlier in the film as well, but here, it fits perfectly — as the clouds of dynamite smoke and dust blow away to reveal Clint Eastwood’s character, seemingly back from the dead to exact retribution on Ramon Rojo and his gang. This has become established as one of Morricone’s signature pieces, which is somewhat ironic, as it’s also an homage to Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for Howard Hawks’s John Wayne Western Rio Bravo.

Morricone was a giant in the history of film. May his memory be a blessing.

Roxana Hadadi on “Michael Clayton”

Posted on July 6, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Copyright 2007 Castle Rock
On Rogerebert.com the wonderful Roxana Hadadi writes about “the deserved anger” of “Michael Clayton,” a 2007 George Clooney film that seems even more timely today. Her gorgeous writing and illuminating insights make this a must-read.

A hypnotic thriller about a law firm’s “fixer” realizing that the agricultural company he’s defending is involved in a murderous conspiracy, Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton” used George Clooney’s wounded eyes, Tom Wilkinson’s frenzied soliloquies, and Merritt Wever’s soft-spoken melancholy to wonder how much commercial corruption we could fall victim to, and how much blatant immorality we could tolerate. Lauded at the time for its unrelenting tension, its steady pacing, and its sharp script, “Michael Clayton” was a critical darling, topping numerous critics’ best-of lists and netting seven Academy Award nominations, including a win for Tilda Swinton for Best Supporting Actress.

In the years since, though, as various other lauded films from 2007 have been reassessed and reconsidered, “Michael Clayton” has faded from memory. It’s an undeserved dynamic, given that the film has so much to say about how skewed the relationship between American corporations and the people they’re supposed to serve really is—an imbalance that remains as drastic today as it was back in 2007.

The corporate world that “Michael Clayton” depicts is flimsily held together by favors and handshakes, rife with insults and threats. The workers trapped within it are beholden to a class structure that discredits and undermines them, overwhelms them with paranoia, and drowns them in debt. “What kind of people are you?” someone asks Clayton, aghast at the backstabbing and the deceit with which Clayton fills his days. How to fight against that, at the sacrifice of human lives for business interests? By playing dirty.

The Outpost

Posted on July 2, 2020 at 5:50 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence and grisly images, pervasive language, and sexual references
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Nudity/ Sex: Very crude sexual references and humor
Alcohol/ Drugs: Substance abuse, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense wartime peril and violence, very graphic and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, possible suicide attempt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2020

Copyright ScreenMedia 2020
There are war stories that are about strategy and courage and triumph over evil that let us channel the heroism of the characters on screen. And then there are war stories that are all of that but also engage in the most visceral terms with questions of purpose and meaning that touch us all. “The Outpost,” based on the book by news correspondent Jake Tapper, is that rare film in the second category, an intimate, immersive drama from director Rod Lurie, a West Point graduate and Army veteran who knows this world inside out and brings us from the outside in.

The script by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy wisely avoids the usual expository dialogue as a newcomer is introduced to the group. Instead, we get a crisp, military briefing-style scene-setting with on-screen text informing us that the military has set up outposts in areas that are impossible to defend and given the 53 soldiers there the impossible task of both befriending the locals and fighting off the Taliban. This one is Combat Outpost Keating, located in a near-indefensible mountain-enclosed area in Afghanistan 14 miles from the Pakistani border.

Lurie and his cast, including Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, and breakout star Caleb Landry Jones, understand the small revelatory moments, the trash-talk and taunting that is the way people away from home and coping with unendurable uncertainty connect to each other. Then there are the brief calls home when they pretend to be normal and maintain those connections. As a sign nearby reminds them to keep the calls to 10 minutes, one soldier puffs away while assuring his wife that he stopped smoking. A series of new commanding officers each bring his own ideas and style of communication. Over the course of the movie, we see how much we expect from the military, from 21st century warfare to diplomacy. Over the closing credits, we get a devastating reminder of how heartbreakingly young these soldiers are.

There are telling moments in the interactions with the locals. The soldiers do their best to implement the policies they are there to carry out, which means “soft power” like paying them for their people who have been killed as collateral damage or even as enemy or possibly those who are dead by other means but maybe a way to get more money from the Americans. “I will lose my honor with my elders,” one explains via a translator. “I can regain my honor one of two ways. One way is for all of you to lay down your arms and watch as your communities flourish with the help of the US and Allah.” That support comes in the form of “money, contracts, projects.” The other way does not need to be explained to the Afghanis or to us. The outpost also has to develop sources of intelligence in a place where there is no reason for anyone to trust them and they do not speak the language. There is a local version of the boy who cried wolf, constantly warning of an attack but with no useful details. And then there are the attacks, always expected yet always unexpected because they never know when.

Impeccable camerawork from Lorenzo Senatore and editing by Michael J. Duthie give the film a documentary feel matched by understated, natural performances from the cast. We feel their exhaustion. And we feel their dedication, more important even than their training or their courage. Their loyalty to each other in the face of risk so dire the outpost is known as Camp Custer is itself the answer to the question the story raises about purpose, meaning, and why we are here. The question of why we are there it is wise enough not to try to resolve.

Parents should know that this is a war movie with constant, intense, and graphic military and terrorist violence, disturbing images, characters injured and killed, constant very strong and crude language, sexual humor, smoking and substance abuse.

Family discussion: Which was the best commanding officer of the outpost? How do the soldiers manage their stress?

If you like this, try: “Beaufort” and “1917”

Tribute: Carl Reiner

Posted on July 2, 2020 at 2:06 pm

I had the privilege of writing a tribute to one of my all-time favorites, Carl Reiner for rogerebert.com. He was a legend in every possible form of entertainment, as a writer, actor, showrunner, director, and resident wit on social media. From his time in the legendary writers’ room of “Your Show of Shows” alongside Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, and his lifetime best friend Mel Brooks to his 2020 appearance in Pixar’s “Forky Asks a Question” series, his mentorship to newcomers Mary Tyler Moore, Steve Martin, Dick Van Dyke, and many others, his affectionate skewering of popular culture, he was a major force in the culture of more than half a century.

I love this affectionate remembrance from TCM.

Here is one of my favorite moments from what Reiner said was his best creation, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

May his memory be a blessing.