photo above of Y Tu Mama Tambien
As the summers roll by and my memory languishing to movies of the recent past that make for especially good re-visits during the season, this “Summer Recs List” grows. As in Part 1, I’m mixing the selection with high brow and low brow, with emphasis on keeping it lighter than usual - it’s summer after all. Instead of simply adding to the existing post, a “Part 2” seemed applicable in addition to giving an opportunity for more photos and fresh publicity.
Summer of Soul - In The Sunmer of Soul ( … Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) by first time filmmaker, Questlove, is a feature documentary about a legendary concert series promoting Black culture and pride during the summer of 1969 in Harlem. In it, he tries to right a wrong in which yet again, Black history had been erased from American minds and archives. A virtual cornucopia of Black music and comedy talent took to the stage over a 6-weekend period, with thousands in attendance. It was taped, but soon after the stage was cleared and summer long gone, the tapes were put in a vault never to see the light of day until now and thanks to the determination of Questlove. Interwoven with the footage, are several current day interviews with Harlem residents who attended the concert, and musical participants, such as Mavis Staples, Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis and Gladys Knight.
More than a concert or music documentary, The Summer of Soul shines a light on the importance of history to our emotional and cultural well being, and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest. It also served as a catalyst to bring Black and brown communities together, with Puerto Rican residents in attendance and Afro-Latino performers sharing stage time. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and many more. Highlighting the concerts’ importance to the community in historical context is a key film theme as residents had been beaten down by poor housing conditions, drugs and racism, as well as coming on the heels of the deaths of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Likewise, the reasons for the concert being overlooked are explored. The obvious is white supremacy and the need to repress Black excellence, but also theorized is the fact that another big, multi-act concert was taking place at the same time one state over- Woodstock. Whatever the reasons, it is a relevant and appreciated that the concert footage has been unearth, restored and available for all to enjoy in-theaters and streaming on Hulu.
Y Tu Mamá También - This film is genre mixing perfection by one of the best directors of our time, Alfonso Cuarón. The biggest genre category for Y Tu Mamá También, is coming-of-age, and that it is indeed, but it is also a road trip and drama/ life journey story. Maybe that last one isn’t an official genre, but it should be and in this film, it’s a great example. Taking place at the onset of the. summer of 2000, in Mexico City, Tenoch and Julio are childhood friends who have just graduated from high school and put their girlfriends on a plane to travel abroad for the season. What appears to be a routine frivolous summer of teen boys- sleeping in, drinking, smoking and swimming in Tenoch’s family pool- turns into anything but. This is in large part due to a chance encounter of Tenoch’s older cousin’s wife, Luisa, and a spontaneous road trip she takes with the two boys.
The road trip to a remote beach destination along the Mexican coast, and the film, begin with an apparent light tone that soon gives way to incredible honesty and layered complexity of each character. While Luisa, a native of Spain, seems to want to innocently and secretly go on the trip with the boys as a mere diversion while her husband is away on business, her desire goes beyond beach weekend getaway. She is fleeing her cheating husband, failed marriage, internal repression and undisclosed health issues. For her, this is a journey of liberation. Along the way, she teaches her travel companions about sex and imparts some life lessons.
Y Tu Mamá También works because of Cuarón’s immense writing/ directing talent who unabashedly portrays raw, messy teen sex, with some awful truths while deftly weaving in humor. He, along with is director of photography, Emmanuel Lubeski, create a backdrop of rugged and real landscapes of the Mexico’s countryside and politics. Although this is less stylized filmmaking example from the filmmaker that eventually would bring us Gravity and Roma, it is as beautiful as it is harsh and simplistic. If all that is why Y Tu Mamá También works, then the reasons it captures your heart and soars is due the performances of Maribel Verdú as Luisa, Gael Garcia Bernal as Julio, and Diego Luna as Tenoch. The three are unbelievably believable in the roles individually and collectively.
I wish every coming-of-age movie possessed the elements of this film- innocence, experience, sex and death. There are times throughout, you’ll laugh out loud, but in the end, you’ll be left thinking.
Julie & Julia (2009): Maybe it’s because it was released in the summer the year it came out, or because there were numerous summer scenes, but when I think of this simple delight of a movie, I think of summer and that’s when I re-watch it. Julie Powell is a 29-year-old frustrated writer who works as a lowly government worker, post-9 11 disaster. She lives with her husband and cat above a pizza parlor in a small, dumpy apartment in Queens. In 2002, when the world wide web and blogging were new, she got the idea to throw herself into starting a blog. The blog would focus on a self imposed challenge to complete the recipes from Child's legendary cookbook in a year, and document all the frustrations that came with that. From her blog popularity came a book called “Julie & Julia.”
The script from writer/director Nora Ephron, was a clever combination of Powell’s book and Julia Child's memoir, “My Life in France." Capturing a pivotal time in both women’s lives, Ephron's film successfully delivers a story that is a joy to all home cooks or foodies, and then some. Meryl Streep, as always, is pure bliss playing Julia Child as she discovers her passion for cooking and teaching about French food and cooking during her years in France with her husband Paul, played wonderfully by Stanley Tucci. It’s Julia before she became the Julia we all came to know and love. Amy Adams plays a less likable character as Powell (whiny and narcissistic), but with an interesting story as well, especially combined with the influence of her idol, Julia. It’s a movie about the love between both couples, as well as love for food, cooking and finding purpose for one’s life.
Chef (2014): The head chef (Jon Favreau) of a somewhat swanky neighborhood restaurant in Los Angles has a meltdown when his need to put out more interesting cuisine is squelched by the restaurant’s owner, while at the same time a famous food blogger criticizes him for losing his creative edge. Chef Carl Casper’s meltdown quickly leads to unemployment. Unemployment leads to a much-needed change in perspective as chef Casper eventually launches a food truck career at the encouragement of his ex-wife played with surprising delight and aplomb by Sofia Vergara.
Between the transitions, there is much hilarity and heart in this small comedy of relationships and self-discovery. To make things even better, it’s a near masterful ensemble of comedic actors that includes Casper’s cook buddies in the kitchen played deliciously by John Leguizamo and Bobby Canavale. Dramatic actors take on and flourish in unusually small parts here, but add so much to whatever time on screen. For example, Dustin Hoffman is only in a couple of scenes, but pitch perfect as he fills the screen with his presence as the short sighted, dogmatic restaurant owner pushing Casper over the edge and out the door. Likewise, Scarlett Johansen trades her trademark blonde locks for jet black hair and an edgy quiet elegance as the restaurant hostess, seating guests and comforting Casper. At risk to their romantic bond, she urges him toward a better personal and professional path.
The meat of the story is a cross country trek as Casper launches his food truck and new mobile career on the road with his young son who has long been the target of his neglect. Along the way, he finds his way back to his true passions as a chef and a father. This normally would be a set up for sap and cliches, but Favreau as actor and director pulls it off believably, with a welcome balance of comedy, sensitivity and reality.
Summer Hours (2008): It opens on a lazy, long summer day with kids playing along the French countryside. They eventually meet up with the rest of the family at their grandmother’s house. Hélène (Edith Scob)is the elegant matriarch of the family and the guest of honor for her 75th birthday dinner. This is a film that is as much about family, memories and inheritance as it is about economy and globalization. It’s about love and loss of family, as well as love and loss of country. The topics are handled with such subtlety and earnestness that you’re blissfully unaware of not only being presented with these intense issues, but how effected by them you are. In a word, this is director Olivier Assayas’s MASTERPIECE. Read full review here - http://www.paulafarmer.com/film-blog/summer-hours
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Speaking of masterpiece, this may very well be Spike Lee's. Groundbreaking for its time, it tackled race and racism in a new, fresh and interesting, all be it, very stylized way. As the heat of summer 1989 cranked up, so too did the racially divide in one particular Brooklyn neighborhood. A local Italian owned pizza joint flaunted photos of only Italians, sparking hostility among some of the Black residents. That along with gentrefication creeping in with white college boys sporting new expensive sneakers and buying up "affordable" property, driving up the prices to low income Blacks with an historical stake in their hood. The clashes come with humor, drama and what would become Lee's trademark photography, reflecting summer heat and smoldering ethnic tensions. Although the clothes and music are definitely 80s, the movie overall holds up for its social and cinematic relevance. Watch it, or re-watch it with a tall, cool glass of something.
Sometimes while enduring a summer heat wave, the viewing preference turns to cooler settings. Here's the "winter in July selection" of the list. This movie is so incredibly creative and quirky, yet well-written and nuanced, it can only come from the minds of the Joel and Ethan Cohen. It is undeniably one of the Cohen brother's best movies and great for summer viewing as it's comedy in a brutal way (very violent) set in the midst of a deep freeze Minnesota winter. Just looking at the snow and ice will cool you down.
As bad as Jerry Lungaard is as a car salesman and businessman, he's even more inept as a crook. While working for his father-in-law's dealership in Minnesota, he gets himself in a major financial bind. To dig himself out of embezzlement, he hires thugs to launch a kidnapping scheme that goes from bad to worse very quickly. Cracking the case is a very pregnant, capable yet odd Sheriff, Marge Gunderson played by Frances McDormand who gave a career changing, Oscar winning performance. That, along with other brilliant performances from the entire ensemble cast delightfully showcasing the locals' lingo, and a remarkable original script, this is dark comedy at its best. Laugh, cringe and cool down very quickly with "Fargo."
-The Kids Are All Right (2010)
- Summer of Sam (1999)
- Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008)
- Stealing Beauty (1996)
KISSING COUSINS or FAMILY FOE?
Maybe “My Cousin Rachel” is a classic case of the movie just not being as good as the book, or maybe it’s just not as good as it could be and should be on its own. Either way it was a bit of a disappointment. It falls short for someone going in with high expectations for sinking into a movie with sweeping views, soaring vistas, creaky mansions and deeply disturbing and complex characters, with a mystery slowly unfolding. Although Rachel Weisz, as always, is perfection as the title character and her supporting cast is adequate, it’s not enough to elevate this little-known, classic Daphane Du Maurier novel from prose to cinematic big screen.
When Phillip, a young 20-something-year-old who lives in the English countryside anxiously awaits the return of his uncle/guardian from Italy, he is devastated to learn of his mysterious death. The tragedy came on the heels of his marriage to their cousin Rachel. Piecing together messages from his uncle, Phillip becomes convinced Rachel was the cause of his uncle’s death and soon plots his revenge for when Rachel comes to visit. What he is unprepared for is how beautiful Rachel is and what a seemingly warm, captivating personality she has. This makes him do a 180 degree turn on his suspicions. He quickly, maybe too quickly, goes from hatred to love to Rachel becoming the object of Phillip’s obsession.
Meanwhile the mourning widow asserts her innocence and independence like no other woman of her time. She claims she does not want any of her deceased husband’s money, yet she knows Phillip is smitten and ready to turn it over. The looming questions persist - did she or did she not kill her husband for the estate? Is she genuine in her befriending Phillip, or secretly seducing him to legitimately garner the entire estate? Is she a feminist ahead of her time, or a needy greedy “femme fatale” looking for a big paycheck?
The movie, like the book, should make the audience constantly wonder and cringe with anticipation. While it succeeds in never really answering any questions and leaving you to wonder did she or didn't she, it does not convincingly build suspense, spook or seduce. All aspects of the characters and mystery feel sped up instead of languid, alluring and unfolding. Unlike other gothic classics adapted to the big screen, such as “Jane Eyre” or “Rebecca,” “My Cousin Rachel” by writer-director Roger Michell only mildly mystifies and intrigues making a good enough pick for a quiet night in on the couch, but not full price at the theater.