Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Allure of a Great Summer Movie

I'm spending the next two weeks with my family at a nice little beach near Milton, DE. The sun rises and sets beet red on the horizon. Warm bay water laps softly at the sandy pebble beach. This is all fine, ideal, actually, but there's no boardwalk, no nearby amusements, nothing really to do at night outside of the house. So we've taken to watching movies that everyone can enjoy. Movies that must appeal to vacationers between the ages of 17 and 45.

Yesterday alone we watched both The Birdcage and Apollo 13. These two very different movies had more in common than you might imagine. Both were perfect, in some intrinsic way, beach watching movies. Yes, one was a humorous look at the struggle constantly facing the GLBT community while the other was about this time we didn't make it to the moon but we also didn't kill anyone. Yes, one is a comedy while the other is a period piece. But something thread those two together and when it hit me I was a little shocked. Both involved one-time masters of their craft, in their prime, acting their hearts out to tremendous results.

It's amazing how something like star power can really propel a movie. What, exactly, is so special about Robin Williams that he can transform a film. These days Williams has been decidedly non-transformative. But this movie reminded me of what he was like back when he made these classically good comedies. Tinged with social drama, movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Death to Smoochy showed the versatility of Robin Williams.

Team him up with Nathan Lane and Hank Azaria, set him against Gene Hackman, and The Birdcage becomes, in my opinion, an underrated stroke of brilliance. I'm astounded that, in 1996, the film was able to say everything it said without feeling cheap. This was one of those rare Robin Williams films where it wasn't just about Robin Williams being the center of attention. He actually played the rock to Nathan Lane's swooning sea. Robin Williams doesn't make movies like this anymore, but why?

The same can, to some extent, be said of the other target of this article: Tom Hanks. Hanks has had a more stable career of successes in his later years, but his new film Larry Crowne only got a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes (Transformers 3 got 37%, ouch). But damn, look at Apollo 13. Shot in 1995 this movie still delivers all the action, drama and technical specs you could ever want in a NASA flick. And Tom Hanks really leads the charge.

Gary Sinese, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon and Ed Harris are no slouches in this movie either. Tom Hanks just exudes this big, summer movie tentpole charm that carries this movie and takes it to another level. This was Hanks at his most charming. He could convince you of anything and you'd gladly go along. I've always been an unapologetic Hanks fan thanks entirely to Apollo 13. 

I'm not suggesting that every film an actor makes has to be pure gold. I know a lot of people make a movie, and something that seems great on set could end up ridiculous in celluloid. I'm not even bemoaning the current state of film (Super 8 was awesome, right?). All I'm saying is you should pick a great actor and watch them in their best films. It will cheer you up, it will remind you why these actors are great actors.

Go on, watch The Birdcage or Apollo 13, or Titanic or Congo (haha) or, hell, Silence of the Lambs. Good movies with good actors make for good fodder. But a great movie staring an actor in his prime, cheesy as it may sound, can be an invigorating experience.

Wow, it must be this sea air.