No Good Summer Movies

Jaws was released on June 1, 1975.  Taut, believable, and  brilliantly acted, telling the story of a gigantic great white shark that terrorized a resort town and then coldly set out to kill the men who were hunting it, Jaws was perfect fare for the summer.  Anyone who saw it in a theater with a big screen, with the iconic “dun-dun, dun-dun” music playing and letting you know to prepare yourself for the awful carnage that was going to begin at any moment, will never forget it and always feel a thrill when they think of it.

Summer used to be the big season for movies.  You could relax in air-conditioned comfort, enjoy the movie, and practice the hinge move on your girlfriend in a darkened room.  And Hollywood always seemed to deliver at least one great movie that ran throughout the summer.  Whether it was Jaws, the original Star Wars movies, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, or Animal House, every year there was at least one can’t miss movie that everyone was talking about.  Watch any of those films, or the other summer blockbusters that you remember, and you’ll see well-made films that stand the test of time.

Last weekend Kish and I decided a trip to the movies was a good idea, so we checked the roster at the nearby multiplex.  Another Transformers movie.  Another X-Men movie.  A silly comedy, Tammy.  A remake of a TV series, 22 Jump Street, that we never watched in the first place.  Edge of TomorrowThink Like A Man Too.  And others, equally forgettable.  And this weekend, the big premiere is of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — another remake, one that the previews indicate is full of computer-generated scenes of rampaging apes.  We yawned and decided to pass — and we’re not alone.  With these lame offerings, is anyone really surprised that Hollywood receipts are way down this summer?

In the past, Hollywood at least seemed to make an effort to deliver summer movies that were new and exciting, well-written, well-acted, and well-made.  Now, it offers a steady diet of remakes and movies that rely heavily on formulas and special effects, explosions, and groin shot humor.  If Jaws were released this summer, it would stand out among this tired and uninspired fare like LeBron James at a junior high school game.

C’mon, Hollywood.  At least try!

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Washing And Drying By Hand

Our dishwasher conked out during the height of the Christmas baking season, when dirty pots and pans, greasy cookie sheets and mixing bowls, and chocolate covered spoons and spatulas were piled high in the sink.  We knew it was cooked when we heard that vague, disquieting grinding sound that signals the death knell of every piece of modern machinery.

A repairman came, took a look, and said we could spend hundreds of dollars repairing an aging machine or we could buy a new one.  Hmmm — tough choice!  Dishwashers apparently have the most rugged job in the household appliance world, because in the years we’ve lived in this house we’ve now blown out three dishwashers, and no other major appliance is even close.

IMG_2241Of course, we’ll buy a new dishwasher — what American house could be sold without one these days? — but first we’ll do some careful research to assess which brand is most likely to stand up against the relentless pounding that occurs in the Webner household.

In the meantime, we’ve rediscovered there’s something calming about washing and drying the dishes by hand.  You stop the drain, squirt some dishwashing fluid into the sink, turn on the hot water, and let the steam and suds rise as you stare out the window, like Elliott in E.T.  When the soapy water reaches the point where it covers all the dishes, you begin to scrub and scour and rinse and set.  The motions become mechanical, and you fall into the dishwashing zone of consciousness.  Before you know it, the dishes in the sink are gone and have been transferred to the drying rack on the counter.

Then you fetch a dishcloth and begin drying, using the familiar circular motion that would delight Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid,and carefully put the dishes back in the cupboards and the utensils in their drawers.  When you’re done, you scrub down the sink until it gleams and towel off the countertops until they are spic and span.  Hey, the kitchen looks pretty good!

As I said, we’ll be buying a new dishwasher — but for now doing the dishes by hand really isn’t that bad.  In fact, you could argue that washing up by hand every now and then is good for the soul.

Our Car Looks Like E.T.

People tend to smile at our Acura SUV as it trundles past.  I think it is because our car looks like E.T.

I’m not just saying this because humans have a well-recognized tendency to see patterns as human faces.  Our brains seem hard-wired, from birth to dotage, to interpret random blotches and spaces and to organize them into face-like shapes.  This is why we see “faces” of religious figures and celebrities in wallpaper patterns, on buildings, on plates of food, and in rusted spots on the sides of giant oil storage drums.

In this case, however, our car’s eerie resemblance to E.T. is no fluke product of randomly firing synapses in the human brain.  No, our vehicle actually looks like the friendly visitor from another planet, with its large, wide-set eyes, its button nose, and its shy, happy smile — just like E.T.’s expression when the ship from his home planet returned to Earth to take him home.  Of course, our car lacks a glowing finger and a glowing chest cavity, but that’s beside the point.

Judge for yourself!

Super 8

From the 90-degree temperatures that have made Columbus a sweltering place in the last week or so, I think it is safe to say that it is summer.  So, Kish and I decided we should dip our toes in the summer movie season, and tonight we went to Super 8.  It was a wise decision.

Super 8 is a great summer movie.  It draws deeply on the strong Hollywood tradition of youngster “coming of age” movies.  Think of E.T., and Stand By Me, and you will get a sense of the arc of the storyline.  The movie is set in 1979 — and in Ohio! — where a gang of nerdy young boys who are filming a Super 8 movie about zombies end up enmeshed in a much bigger story than they expected.  The hero, who is dealing with tragedy in his own life, grows up quickly as he is faced with great challenges, and along the way the dialogue between the kids crackles, there are a number of humorous moments, and terrific recreations of the 1970s clothing styles, hairstyles, and lifestyles bring back lots of memories.  Couple that with some very moving set pieces — a scene where the young male and female leads inadvertently watch some home movies left Kish in tears — as well as action, sci-fi, an alien, a military cover-up, and just the right amount of computer-generated special effects, and you’ve got all of the elements that anyone could want in a summer blockbuster.

Director J.J. Abrams seems to have his hand on the pulse on America in the same way that Steven Spielberg did during his heyday.  Abrams gets wonderful performances from his two leads — Joel Courtney as the growing-up-before-our-eyes Joe Lamb, and Elle Fanning in a stunning tour de force as Alice Dainard — but the rest of the young cast members are quite good, too.  (I particularly liked Ryan Lee as firecracker-obsessed Cary, a pitch-perfect ’70s kid.)  They also are tremendously believable as the wisecracking young gang that is struggling to grow up while also still reveling in simple childlike pursuits, like lighting firecrackers, building models, and trying to make Super 8 movies. The adult actors are all good, but the kids really steal the show.

If you go to this movie — and I highly recommend you do — be sure you stay for the screening of the finished Super 8 movies that runs during the credits.  It is a classic in its own right.