Monday, August 10, 2015

Terrible Summer Movies

I love summer. I really do, despite the heat, the humidity and the freezing office temperatures from mid-June till mid-September. And when that first autumn day actually brings in a modicum of relief, I feel inexplicably sad.  It doesn't last long, but it never fails to accompany that first day when I need something more than a T-shirt on. I am never sad when spring is over or when winter is over, not even when the beautiful Washington fall is over.  Only when summer is over.

Perhaps my end-of-summer melancholy was hardwired back during my school age when summer always meant fun and freedom, while the onset of fall was a harbinger of a long period of duties, structured routine and obligation.  Adding to the blues, I am sure, was the eastern European poetry, in which autumn always signified aging and death.

Take for example the poem, Autumn Evening, by Antun Gustav Matoš:

Olovne i teške snove snivaju
Oblaci nad tamnim gorskim stranama;
Monotone sjene rijekom plivaju,
Žutom rijekom među golim granama.
Iza mokrih njiva magle skrivaju
Kućice i toranj; sunce u ranama
Mre i motri kako mrke bivaju
Vrbe, crneći se crnim vranama.
Sve je mračno, hladno; u prvom sutonu
Tek se slute ceste, dok ne utonu
U daljine slijepe ljudskih nemira.
Samo gordi jablan lisjem suhijem
Šapće o životu mrakom gluhijem,
Kao da je samac usred svemira.

It goes something like this: "The clouds hovering over dark mountain sides are dreaming heavy lead-colored dreams.  Monotonous shadows are swimming in the yellow river,  (presumably from the fallen leaves) that is meandering among naked branches...  "and so on and so forth.  There is sun "dying from wounds", there are willow trees "black from crows" that sit on them, and there is a poplar tree "whispering like a loner in the universe."  How much more depressing can it get?

But autumn in Washington is the best season of the year.  It's sunny and warm.  The colors are gorgeous.  The tourist crowds thin down.  All your friends are back from vacation. It's a pleasure to be out and about. And cultural events return to town.  So much to look forward to! 

Summer, on the other hand is a pain. I avoid traveling during my once favorite season because of the long lines everywhere, and I don't spend much time outdoors because of the unbearable temperatures. So my entertainment is confined to air-conditioned venues such as restaurants, movie theaters and private homes. I don't have Netflix and never watch TV. But I love seeing a movie on a big screen with nothing to distract me except the crackling of snack bags and pop-corn crunching by movie goers around me.

Unfortunately, the movie industry has figured out (why, of why?) that summer is the best season to unload all of the dreadfully dumb movies. There is nothing to see but over-the-top action, horror, sci-fi and kiddy stuff, something no one would want to see if their brains were not cooked in the scorching sun.

One shining exception this summer is Landmark Bethesda's La Sapienza, a wonderful philosophy about architecture and the meaning of life. I referred it in more detail in my previous blog so I will only add that along with The Great Beauty  (La Grande Bellezza), it is the best movie I've seen in the past decade.  I measure a film's value by how long I remember it.  I think the programmers had no idea of the movie's depths and scheduled it along with the summer trash by mistake.

Thanks to a couple of area's "art" theaters, there is also an interesting offering from Israel, A Borrowed Identity, which focuses on the irrationality of ethnic conflict and the ability of courageous individuals to overcome it.  Although not exceptionally good, the movie is like a drop of water in the summer desert of mediocrities.

Cartel Land - a documentary I went to see reluctantly because however much I am interested in the topic, I avoid stuff that I cover at work during my time off - turned out to be a deadly bore.  The camera follows a group of Mexican vigilantes from village to village as they try to gain support for their fight against drug cartels, and then switches to a counterpart group on the US side of the border - all without much drama or true horror that such a topic must include. 

Then this weekend some new movies came out and I thought I could not go wrong with Maryl Streep.  Well, I could and I did! Ricki and the Flash turned out to be Ricki and the Trash.  It was painful to watch this talented and beautiful woman decked in leather and chains, with a skewed hair style - one side swept forward, revealing a bald patch, another side braided in several strands - and generally looking pathetic and uncomfortable, a far cry from anything she has done so far in that genre, certainly less entertaining than Mamma Mia!  God, I hope we don't all look as pathetic as Ricki when we get older.

Kevin Kline, Streep's one time wonderful partner in Sophie's Choice, didn't make any effort to improve the movie. 

Before the disaster of Ricki, a friend persuaded me to see Amy Schumer's Trainwreck.  He said she was a new talent, writing her own comedy - worth a try.  I went prepared for the worst because I think only the Brits can make a good comedy.  And it was the worst: full of sophomoric toilet humor  (two women talking while they sit in public toilet booths for extended period of time, we see their feet, and in one case underwear, but we don't hear the sound of urination, so it must be - wait, wait don't tell me .... All I could think was: "How bad does it smell?") sex with a guy I would not feel comfortable sitting next to in the metro, and an exceedingly charming young doctor  (Bill Hader) who is not pursued by hordes of women (what planet are we on????).

Granted, there are a few genuinely hilarious moments, most of them supplied by Tilda Swinton - a Brit (of course).  The only advantage in seeing the movie for me was the introduction to Amy Schumer.  I had never heard of her before and she appears to be a new celebrity, especially after a gunmen killed two women in Luisiana during a screening of Trainwreck.

The movie made me realize how sorely lacking I am on the subject of celebrities.  I had been so proud of finally being able to recognize Kim Kardashian on magazine covers in food stores, even though I am still not clear on what she does.

So, today, when an ad popped up on my computer with the headline saying something like Celebrities You Did Not Know Were Married to Each Other, I clicked to test myself.  The list included 20 couples, i.e. 40 people.  Of the 40 I could only only identify 3:  Michele Pfeifer, Harrison Ford and Claire Danes.  The others drew a complete blank and I wondered how such plain looking people could be celebrities.  

Why am I so behind?  I am sure it has something to do with those terrible summer movies I have been avoiding like plague.  Like, who are Vincent Kartheiser and Alexis Bledel?  Or Felicity Huffman and Wiliam H. Macy?  Jennifer Grey and Clark Gregg?   Christina Hendricks and Geoffrey Arend?  They must have become celebrities while I was sleeping. Imagine running into them at a shopping mall and failing to stare!

I have to restrain my negativity and rush to see more summer flicks while they last.  In less than a month we'll have serious stuff coming in.  Not only better movies, but the opera season will kick in, and the theater stages promise things like Sophocles's Antigone, featuring no less than Juliette Binoche, who at least at one point in her life was a celebrity.  With competition of that sort, there'll be no time for  Ant-Man,  Shaun the Sheep or Fantastic 4.

So much to look forward to in the fall! I have to remember that when the customary melancholy tries to set in with that first breezy day, smelling of autumn.