wilted teacakes and fried green tomatoes: summer movies (part one)

Summer has well and truly arrived in Boston, which means days at a time where the humid heat rises into the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit) and even after the sun goes down continues to radiate heat up from the ground where we've "paved paradise and put in a parking lot." We don't have a/c in our apartment, so weather like this means breaking out the fans, taking cold showers long and often, downing gallons of iced tea, and falling asleep with damp washclothes on our foreheads like I used to do as a child back in Michigan. The kind of weather that always makes me think of the passage on Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird in which Scout observes:

Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

How to combat the teacake-y feeling? Or at least distract when there's nothing to be done but wait it out 'til the next thunderstorm blows through? (again: I'm reminded of Garnet in Elizabeth Enright's Thimble Summer who lies in her bed every night listening to the distant echoes of thunder in the mountains, from rain that never makes it down to the shriveled plains) Why, watch movies, of course! Movies in which characters suffering from heat and humidity to a greater degree than you are suffering from heat and humidity (a little schadenfreude never hurt anyone, right?)! Movies in which characters are freezing their asses off and can only wish for the warmth you are currently enjoying in surfeit! And of course, for prolonged, multi-part distraction, television shows in which characters suffer heat and cold (sometimes both at once and more besides!)

Hanna and I have, accordingly, drawn up a four-part list of one hundred movies and television shows from which you can choose your distraction in the sweltering months to come. We'll be delivering it to you in four installments over the next month broken down thusly (links to come as posts go live).

Week One: Movies Wherein Characters Are Hotter Than Blazes
Week Two: Movies Wherein Characters Are Totally Chill
Week Three: Television Shows Wherein Things Happen Which Are Hot
Week Four: Television Shows Wherein Things Happen Which Are Cold

Crandall's Savoy Theatre

Obviously, as with previous such lists, the movies and/or television shows are chosen completely at our discretion and we reserve all rights to bend, twist, knot, reverse and otherwise alter the criteria of each week and the meaning of each movie to fit our desired titles on said list. We make no claims to comprehensiveness or gravity of thought -- these lists pretty much end up on paper (er, web pixels) as they pop into our heads, with little by way of composition or editing.

Please feel free to add those titles which you feel we have unjustly overlooked -- or merely those which you find help you out in an effort to beat the heat. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy!

Movies Wherein Characters Are Hotter Than Blazes

Jaws (1975)

H: jaws must be right up there in the ...oh, the top three, i'd say, for "quintessential summer movie watching." this first list is supposed to be "movies to watch when you want to feel hot" and this should do it for you. just when you're thinking, "gosh, that water does look nice and cool---" nope, not so much. that water looks nice and sharky. yeah, i know the shark kinda sucks -- it bounces and the teeth don't look right and the tail is a little weird but if you don't at least twitch when it rears up out of the water beside roy scheider, i think you're probably wrong in the head on some level.

A: Hanna finally made me watch this on a warm night last summer during which, if I remember correctly, they were performing horrendous road construction activities outside the window. Luckily, the dialog isn't all this has going for it -- though Richard Dreyfuss does a thoroughly charming turn as the enthusiastic shark expert from out of town, brought in on consultation that quickly turns deadly.

Star Wars (1977)

H: well, the first third takes place in a desert. i think that's reason enough, yes? beyond, you know, just everything else that's right with the movie.

A: Apparently, being of the female persuasion, we're supposed to be watching Sex and the City 2 this summer as the girl equivelant of the dudely Star Wars. Since I was pretty much hooked on the original trilogy the first time Leia appropriated Luke's gun, I cry "foul!" and suggest re-watching all three episodes back to back on a hot summer weekend.

H: everybody remember that scene on the death star when luke approaches chewie with the cuffs and says, "now, i'm going to put these on you---" not his wisest move, right? yeah, picture my reaction to anyone trying to get me to watch s&tc. at least without a healthy dose of irony on hand and, probably, a bottle of wine.

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)

H: "Oh, Felicia. Where the fuck are we." you want to know a fun way to make someone's mind bend? find a genre fan; make sure this process won't make them physically ill and then show them star wars: the phantom menace. then show them priscilla. then ask who they recognize. :) it also works with lord of the rings fans, but often not quite so well.

A: I was introduced to the soundtrack of this movie back when I was about twelve and spent at least one summer listening to it fairly incessantly -- on cassette tape no less! Likely on the Sony walkman I thought (when I got it for my ninth birthday) made me look like a totally cool teenager. Hanna (where would I be without her?) finally sat me down to watch the film last fall and I'm so completely glad I did. Really.

Sexy Beast (2000)

H: "But you're dead. So shut up." i'm tempted to say that i'd pay for someone to explain the bunny in this movie to me but...you know what? i'm not sure i want someone to explain the bunny to me. it's weird and grisly and psychotic and kind of haunting and i think it's fine just the way it is. i never fully realised how creepy the bunny is until i saw this movie on the big screen last year. not to mention how creepy ian mcshane is. ray winstone comes across as quite cuddly by comparison. ben kingsley as don logan is just so far out in left field it pretty much beggars description. really, the best description of his character is the chill that goes over the dinner table when h -- not me -- reveals logan's imminent arrival. there's a table of four adults who have been chatting about their approaching evening and the mere mention of this man who is coming the next day is enough to change all their expressions, body language, voices, the whole nine yards. to say nothing of the scene in ray winstone's house in spain where kingsley and winstone are in the kitchen -- kingsley is out of shot most of the time, an unseen harangue of profanity and accent from which winstone is physically flinching. he's the bigger man -- he outweighs kingsley by a solid 50 pounds; he has weapons all around himself; and he's in his own damn house and he is flinching back as though kingsley is hitting him. it's like watching a badly one-sided boxing match.

A: And Ian McShane is in it! Although only in the London bits. But his character is slightly more understandable than the character he played in the recently-released 44 Inch Chest which was good excepting we aren't quite sure what the title refers to, what happened to the dog, or what the movie was about, really. So back to Sexy Beast which I promise I really did enjoy except that Hanna took me to see it in the Coolidge Corner theatre back when we were first dating? And to be honest, although I remember thinking the movie was brilliant, thinking back on it I mostly remember how thrilling it was that she let me hold her hand in the dark while we watched it.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

A: This was a "me" addition to the list, and I added it mostly for the quote I referenced in our intro -- since it takes places in the hot summer of the South, although that summer stretches into autumn. And when you ask children what they remember about the film, according to Robert Coles, what they remember is not the legal case or the commentary on American racism but the children's relationship with Boo Radley, the reclusive neighbor next door whom they are frightened of and drawn to and who -- in arguably one of the most gripping scenes in the story -- rescues Scout on a stormy Halloween night.

H: to be honest, i've watched this movie only once, many years ago, and i remember very little about it. i remember the courtroom scene -- i remember the last scene with boo radley -- and that's about it. um. this may make me a bad person.

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

A: I defer to Hanna on this one since she has a relationship with cars that, while I thoroughly admire and stand slightly in awe of, I do not intuitively share.

H: i have a theory about movies. it isn't much of a theory but as far as it goes it runs as follows: every movie has a moment that makes it worthwhile. if you run across a movie that doesn't, then you have found a true piece of cheese and you should be able to erase it from your brain. excellent movies, of course, are made up of more of these moments -- you can see how the rule expands or contracts according to need or personal opinion. f&f has several such moments: brian's lunch problems in the first half of the movie; dominic's reaction to the car brian dumps in his garage ("i retract my previous statement."); and much of the end of the movie. it's cheesy, yes; it's simple, yes; but, hey, there's something likeable about these characters; there is something to watch for other than the tricked-out cars.

The Proposition (2005)

H: what a movie. hot. every frame of it leaches heat. it's hot, it's dry, it's desert-baked in a way lawrence of arabia never thought of. it is hard to watch. the acting is sharp -- there isn't a dud note in it, down to the extras that populate the half-horse town. strange, violent, strangely violent, depressing, and hopeful.

A: Yeah, I'm with her on the hopeful, though you really, really have to hang in there till the end to get there. Through a really graphic rape scene (for those of you who can't watch them) and brutal, brutal violence. It's a movie that pulls no punches, but offers some really fascinating moral dilemmas for its characters to deal with -- and refuses to let them off the hook. At all. Meathooks. And you can't get away from the scenery, which is really a character all its own.

H: well, really, if you can't handle the first scene, just don't go further. really. honest advice here, folks. this movie is bloody. nasty. unpleasant. unpicturesque violence. the characters and the story coming through all of that are worth it in my book. the reaction of the townsfolk to the public punishment of an arrested boy alone makes much of the blood, sweat, and tears worthwhile, but there is no use in torturing yourself to get there.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

H: never seen it. er. sorry.

A: This was my pick! My brother Brian, if memory serves, introduced me to this Spike Lee movie a handful of years ago. I've lost the specifics now, but remember the contours involving heat, heat in the city, and the short tempers that inevitably break when the heat is so damn hot you can't remember what it felt like to be cool.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

A: Mary Louise Parker is kick-ass, and really the reason to watch this movie. I mean, okay, there are lots of reasons to watch this movie, but as a young adolescent I mostly watched it to watch Mary Louise Parker kick ass. And cook the bad guy and serve him up for dessert.

H: oh! and there's that great bit where the tiny little cook whangs the awful rapist child-thieving mean dude with the frying pan! i love that bit! so satisfying! plus the bit where ruth dies in the book made me cry when i read the book in college and understood what was actually happening.

Wizard of Oz (1939)
A: To be honest, Oz scared me as a child -- it comes from the same genre of out-of-kilter children's fiction as Raggedy Ann and Andy stories, in which unhinged characters do things you really wish they wouldn't, and punishment is meted out unpredictably and by some sort of foreign logic known only by the story creator themselves. L. Frank Baum was not a well man (possibly he spent too much time holed up in his summer cottage located in my home town, writing about the denizens of Oz). I'm with Gregory Maguire on this one: the Wizard of Oz is not a benevolent man, Oz is not a happy place, and the Wicked Witch of the West is not the one we should be frightened of. That having been said: it's a classic MGM musical with all the bells and whistles, which starts and ends with a tornado in Kansas. What could be more summery than that? Just settle in with a emerald-colored Mojito and enjoy.
H: who wasn't scared by oz as a kid? seriously -- put up your hands so i can fail to believe you. if it wasn't miss gulch, it was the tornado. if it wasn't the tornado, it was the munchkins -- or glinda -- or the trees -- or the witch -- or -- or -- or -- you gettin' my drift here?

The Mummy (1999)
H: there is rachel weisz. there is brendan fraser. there is john hannah. there are just so many things that make this -- and pretty much every other -- stephen sommers movie a great ride. i've never been able to understand why so many people seem to hate what sommers does -- why spend all that time and energy hating something that's so much silly fun? and so good into the bargain? yeah, he clearly loves him the old universal monster classics -- and what's wrong with that? hell, if they really are going to go ahead with a remake of the gillman, i'd vote for sommers to do it any day. at least i could have faith that he's seen it! A: What she said. There's a librarian who (at least some of the time) saves the day, And John Hannah whom I will pretty much follow to the ends of the earth regardless of what he's in, and Brendan Fraser who always looks like he's having so much damn fun. And when you've finished this homage, go read Elizabeth Peters' first installment of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, Crocodile on the Sandbank from which so much of these chracters were so obviously and lovingly pilfered.

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
A: Strictly speaking, this a a film suitable for any season as it is set in four parts, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. but again with the pull-all-the-stops MGM musical genre and it opens with an ice wagon, which is how people used to get ice for their refrigerators (ice boxes) way back when, which is fun. It pedals nostalgia like scalpers selling tickets, but as long as you know that's what you're getting it can be fun. And as a bonus, you get the winter bit too--so snow and ice and silly Christmas songs as well.
H: um. never seen this either. but i have seen the trolley song on some documentary about musicals somewhere! that counts, right? A: It totally counts -- the trolley song is one of the best things about it. Oh, and little Margaret O'Brien doing soft-shoe.

Twister (1996)
H: "we got cows!" oh, what a silly movie. what a deeply silly, very wrong movie. and yet somehow so deeply, deeply watchable. not least for helen hunt in a frequently soaked tank top but also for the group dynamic and the kind of cheerfully paced action movie that, lets face it, jerry bruckheimer does so well. does it make sense? well-- -ish. does it follow established scientific fact? well, there's that bit where-- does a lot of shit go fast? and explode? yes. absolutely yes. and there is philip seymour hoffman. and, bewilderingly enough, cary elwes. and the guy from george of the jungle. explain that one.
A: I was traumatized by Cary Elwes being run through the head by an iron T-bar and can now never, ever drive behind trucks carrying long slender things which might fly off the back of said truck and through my windshield. Other than that, great summer fun and some totally adorable Movie Science(tm), including, if I remember correctly, something beautiful involving lots of ping-pong balls taking flight.
H: you do realize, anna, that you cobbled that scene together in your own head, right? it's his driver who gets impaled. And it's through the chest, if memory serves. A: Oh bah.

Fire (1996)
H: i'm out.
A: Oh, sweetheart, I should really sit you down and make you watch this one sometime :)! It's the first of a triptych of films by Indian director Deepha Mehta (
Earth and Water being the other two, more historio-political, installments) and tells the story of a woman in a traditional Indian family who falls in love with her brother-in-law's new wife. It's a good messy family drama with, ultimately, a fairly happy ending.

H: oh, i've heard of it. i've just never watched it.

Murphy's Romance (1985)
H: a romantic comedy from before the days when "romcom" had become one of the worst slurs in film reviewing. A: And at the end of that brief, sweet-sweet era in which gutsy women characters (in this case a woman who's trying to make it on her own with her teenage son after walking out on an unhappy marriage) could win the man without losing the independence that made them great characters to begin with. Oh whither the day?
H: in all fairness, she hasn't "walked out" -- there has been a divorce. it isn't like she's hiding out from "Bad Husband (tm)." A: Hehe. True, I was mostly remembering how he showed up later wanting to hang around and patch things up. The ex-who-would-not-leave...

French Kiss (1995)
A: There's sunshine, I remember that, and cheese. I'm leaving the rest to Hanna.
H: this isn't a very "hot" movie. yes, there are some lengthy walks in the countryside of the south of france where our two protagonists -- kevin kline and meg ryan -- do look very warm, but that's about it. no slogging across deserts; no thirst-defying treks. but it is a very sweet, very funny romantic comedy -- absolutely perfect for a disgustingly hot evening in the real world when you just about have enough energy to get brie, crackers, and a cold beer (or glass of wine, if that's your preference) and lie down in front of the tv with a fan blowing on your head. oh, and did i mention there's a kick-ass soundtrack? and that kevin kline has a french accent? and a black leather jacket? now i have. :)

American Graffiti (1973)
H: god, i love this movie. i really should have been more suspicious of my last ex when i realised she didn't care for it all that much. this should have been a clue. a lot of the people who started out in this movie now own large chunks of hollywood. really, very large chunks. you get to watch george lucas indulge his antique car fetish; his thing with the '50s (which he doesn't try to indemnify or make into a harmless place and time (entirely)); and his fascination with growing up, something i'm not entirely convinced he's ever done which probably makes him a very happy, contented person.
A: It's Wolfman Jack, really. Hallie Flanagan, one-time director of the Federal Theater Project during the great depression once said "The power of radio is not that it speaks to millions, but that it speaks intimately and privately to each one of those millions." Somehow, Lucas makes that point through film, which really deserves a gold star.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
H: everyone in this movie is hot, almost 99.99% of the time. if there's a frame where richard dreyfus isn't sweating, i can't remember where it is.A: Maybe they filmed in Texas in August?

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
A: This is a hard, hard movie to watch, but absolutely breathtaking in its brutality and (yes) hopefulness, I think. Hopefulness that despite all the overwhelming evil in the world there will be people -- often unexpected people -- who continue to perform small and courageous acts of kindness, justice, and bravery. "Heat" in this context could, I guess, stand for both the intensity of the situation and the burning passion of those survivors who carry on.
H: um. yes. that. go with that.

Hellboy (2004)
A: I'd say it was wrong of us to pack the list with two del Toro films, but really, can't have too much of a good thing and aside from the unmistakable stylistic markers, it really is a world away from Pan's Labyrinth in tone, though I suspect the same underlying fairytale morality underlies both films. Anyway, how could we possibly skip a film that involves a character who's a demon from hell and a young woman with a talent for bursting into flames?
H: and the cats. don't forget the cats. and john hurt. oh! and the seriously creepy clockwork bad guy. can't forget him.

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)
H: god bless this strange little remake. if i hadn't gone to see it -- in the theatre, no less -- then when christopher eccleston was announced as the 9th doctor, i wouldn't have been able to say: "wait -- but wasn't he the bad guy in gone in 60 seconds?" and thought: "oh my god we are so screwed." and then have to eat both words and thoughts within, oh, approximately, 15 seconds of him showing up on screen in "rose." anyway, the point here is not to hymn the wonders of christopher eccleston as doctor who (although that is always fun!) but if you're in the mood for cheap one-liners, great cars and some unexpectedly good acting -- mostly from eccleston, giovanni ribisi, vinnie jones, and angelina jolie ("hello, ladies---") -- see this. it is hot -- it's so-cal in the summer time: how much hotter do you want? -- and there's also timothy olyphant playing a gleefully numbskulled cop which, after watching him play an entirely ungleeful law enforcement man in deadwood is worth watching the movie for all on its own. there's also a kick-ass soundtrack ("flower," by moby; "too sick to pray," a3, and "painted on my heart," by the cult top the list, definitely) and more leather than you know what to do with. oh, and cars. did i mention the cars? this movie cemented my love affair with mustangs and the shelby. god bless eleanor. :)
A: I'm out on this one...Hanna hasn't caught up with me on my delinquency yet!

Apocalypse Now (1979)
H: i'm out.
A: I'm in, mostly because of Martin Sheen whom I will follow to the ends of the earth in necessary (oh, President Bartlet, I do miss you!) and also because I associate
Heart of Darkness with this incredible history of the Belgian Congo I read in undergrad, by Adam Hochshield (Leopold's Ghost) and the two together pushed me to finally watch this movie -- which is basically a remake of Conrad's novel set in Vietnam. With the heat and the subtropical humidity and the sick, twisted imperialism.
H: well, i'm only "out" because vietnam films make me uneasy. what i know about
apocalypse i know from film documentaries and jarhead which is deeply disturbing.

Predator (1987)
H: as far as atmosphere goes, note-perfect stifling, hot, and sweaty. about as macho as a movie can reasonably get without knotting itself up so tightly it can't move. i haven't seen rambo which i suspect might out-testosterone this. but this movie also has one of the all-time great, classic, world-beating creatures. who the hell puts together a sci-fi action thriller where you can't see the monster for 3/4 of the movie?! john mctiernan and stan winston. of course, they also incidentally created a franchise with a 20+ year span, but we can't hold them responsible for the second avp abortion. (and i use the word "abortion" advisedly. yuerrgh.) also, this movie falls under my previously mentioned movie rule -- the key moment here is, i think, between, bizarrely enough, schwartzenegger as dutch, the nearly-mindlessly tough commanding officer and bill duke as mac, whose sidekick blain has been killed in an encounter with the predator. dutch, trying to make mac feel better, says of blain: "he was a good soldier." mac pauses for a minute, thinks, looks up at dutch, and says, "he was my friend." A: I remember lots of jungle and rain and cool hunting sequences.

The Painted Veil (2006)
H: out.
A: It's a curious film, adapted from a 1925 novel by English author W. Somerset Maugham. It's a story about an abusive, desperate marriage (adultery on her side, autocratic control on his) between an English debutant (Naomi Watts) and a doctor (Edward Norton) who takes his wife to a remote part of China where they encounter a cholera outbreak and are forced to come to terms with the expectations each of them brought into their hasty marriage. Toby Jones and Liev Schreiber do solid turns as secondary characters, and there is a wonderful cameo appearance by Diana Rigg, who plays a mother superior at a mission school.

1 comment:

  1. Ah you should've included some Tennessee Williams in part one. A Streetcar Named Desire, The Rose Tattoo, Baby Doll; all sweltering heat and sweaty bodies.

    Love this post. But I'm sure I'll be thinking about such films for the rest of the day.