A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Sunday, August 5

Summer Movies: Part 6

A great ten days at the movies. Here's a quick look...

There have been no movie moments this summer more satisfying than when Jason Bourne outmaneuvers, outwits or outfights (always with extreme ingenuity) his CIA nemeses. The choreography and editing; the hyped-up, hand-held camera work; the build-up and payoff within each scene: all of it is expertly executed by Paul Greengrass. The whole cast is first-rate, and Matt Damon is terrific as the emotionally tortured, breathtakingly capable, amnesiac assassin trying to uncover the secrets of his past. Although there are a few groanable narrative machinations (really? the only scrap of paper that survives the explosion has that address on it?), The Bourne Ultimatum is visually thrilling, loads of fun, flat-out excellent. After United 93 and now this, I can't wait to see what Greengrass comes out with next.

I wish I could say that I pay such close attention to the news, to the War in Iraq, that No End In Sight was just a nicely packaged rehash of what I already knew. But that would be a lie. I learned a ton in this gripping, clear and incisive documentary about how Bush and his cronies launched us half-assed into war, and then let a bad situation degenerate (irreversibly?) into an out-of-control nightmare. Directed by Charles Fergusson and nicely balancing on-scene footage with an all-star lineup of talking heads, this is the story that, among its many other virtues, clearly pinpoints the exact decisions and actions—and those who made them, particularly Cheney, Rumsfeld, and L. Paul Bremmer—that have proved so devastating for American soldiers, for Iraqi citizens, and, really, for all of us still waiting to suffer the unknowable future consequences of these blunders. Yes, the film has a clear agenda, but the people telling the tale are the men (and one woman) who were present at the creation, who tried to implement what they thought were America's policies, only to see their efforts undermined, and then forced witness first hand the devasting results. The smug-ass rich boys who run this country have rarely looked so disgraceful.

Though we've watched a few complete seasons on DVD together —specifically, 2, 4, 5 and 6—my eager-to-giggle daughters and I are not what you'd call rabid Simpsons fans. So we weren't expecting some sort of grand, 18-years-in-the-making culmination of all things Springfield with The Simpsons Movie... we were just hoping to have some fun. Which, if you want to call cracking up for almost 90 minutes straight "fun," we most certainly did. Anarchic, big-hearted, and the most relentlessly hilarious movie of the year (and, therefore, a bit exhausting), James L. Brooks and Matt Groening's feature film sticks closely to the formula that has made their TV series among the longest-running in history: Homer screws up, Bart rebels, Marge is concerned, Lisa is earnest (but gets a huge crush a new Irish boy), Barney's drunk, Chief Wiggum is a moron, etc. The plot is superfluous, of course, and the humor ranges from slapsticky one-offs to biting satire, and just about everyone makes an appearance. Basically, if you think you'll enjoy seeing this movie, you most probably will.

"Parents can be annoying," says one pre-teen sage towards the beginning of the sweet, leisurely-structured documentary Summercamp! "Cats and dogs can be annoying. So you just come here…" Ahhh, to have a "here", which in this case means the Swift Nature Camp in Wisconsin, where filmmakers Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price followed a group of mostly oddball kids during one dirty, bug-bitten, glorious three-week slice of summer. This is not a message movie, and potentially deeper lines of inquiry are quickly dropped (wait… is every kid here on meds?) in favor of the emotional and the nostalgic: scenes of silly songs and crazy relays, wedgies and armpit farts, painful crushes and giggly truth or dare sessions, fights and hugs and homesickness. There's a talent show (one entrant's promised entertainment: "Put poolrack over myself"), a dramatic lakeside rescue when a camper gets a fishhook through his eyelid, and, for dinner one night, a pot of mashed potatoes, cooked over a campfire, stirred with a stick. But for all the film's romancing of "kids being kids", it's the children's struggles with their feelings—awkward, angry, sad, isolated—that lingered most for me. Bo and Co were deeply engaged the whole way through, laughed out loud more than a few times, and quoted the funniest bits all the way home… though neither of them, it should be said, were at all inspired to leave their urban, musical-theater camp anytime soon.

Finally, the least successful movie of the week was still pretty good. Danny Boyle's Sunshine is a kind of homage to those classic deep space/ science fiction films (think 2001 and Alien) that, like most of his efforts, is visually interesting, springs a few genuine surprises, but ultimately lacks an honest emotional core. The movie's first two-thirds or so are by far the best: in the distant future the Sun is dying, and a team of astronauts are dispatched to blast our life-giving star into re-ignition. Needless to say, the trip doesn't go as smoothly as they would like, and there are many wonderfully tense scenes as the geeked-out crew scrambles to solve technical/mechanical problems. Like Apollo 13, but 100 years later. Then comes Sunshine's final act, and the introduction of an external force, and, well... to me, the movie just kind of falls apart. Love those golden suits, though. And the whole freezing thing.



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