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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Before You Go: ‘5 Movies to Enjoy All Summer Long’

CRL columnist John Gray reflects on the best flicks from the warmest of months.

Chasing lightening bugs at dusk, jumping off a dock into the murky lake, begging your parents for a quarter when you heard the music from the ice cream truck drawing near – these are childhood memories that spin in my mind like baseball cards on a bicycle wheel. Autumn has always been my favorite season, but after the unforgiving winter and rainy spring, a few weeks of warm sunshine and cold lemonade is a welcome friend.

As a child, summer seems to last forever, doesn’t it? School lets out, a month goes by and then you look at the calendar and realize you still have a long way to go. (Funny, how when you’re a big kid with bigger responsibilities the summer breeze blows by so quickly.)

I was never one of those kids who went away to a summer camp. For me it was trips to Crystal Lake, fishing with my dad or playing a game of pick-up baseball with my friends in South Troy. I pitched pennies against the local drug store wall, built forts in the woods, even played ‘Truth or Dare’ where I got my first kiss. Summers when you’re a child are indeed full of adventure and mystery.

Hollywood tries to capture the magic of summer in cinema, but like a kid who lets go of the rope swing too soon, they often fall with a splat instead of a splash. Once in awhile they get it right though, and I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite ‘summer movies’. See if they kick-start a memory or two for you.

“Meatballs” – As I said earlier, I never went to summer camp, but this movie sure made me want to. Bill Murray is at his finest as an out-of-control camp counselor in this classic tale of the lovable losers vs. the rich kids. With character names like ‘Spaz’ and ‘Fink’ there wasn’t a 12-year-old in America who wasn’t cheering for the underdogs in the competition between Camp Mohawk and North Star. Mixed in with the humor was Bill Murray reaching out to the weakest of the children, a little boy named Rudy. The film wasn’t about camp as much as it was about being different and trying to find your way in a scary world. As a lot of us faced a new school or even a new town at that age, “Meatballs” made every kid feel better about who they were.

“Summer Rental” – Two words: John Candy. I loved the man and his movies, but this is one of my favorites. Playing a dad with a XXL-sized heart, Candy just wants to take his family for a much needed vacation to the beach. But, of course, from the start everything goes wrong. Like sleeping in the wrong house (where his child wets the bed) to his trip to the restaurant where a country club snob steals Candy’s lobster dinner. Laugh out loud funny. In the end our hapless hero challenges the snob to a yacht race and we find out how valuable a big pair of pants can be. Just a great movie for the entire family.

“Sandlot” – Baseball, friendship and ‘The Beast’. For little boys everywhere they were the ingredients needed for a perfect summer. You and your buddies met up at the nearby lot to play ball, trade bubblegum cards and stories, and of course, there was that one yard where you couldn’t hit the ball or the giant dog within would make you his lunch. Clever, sentimental and funny, “The Sandlot” makes you homesick for the child you used to be.

“Grease” – On June 16th, 1978 America fell in love with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. They were both stars before, but not like this. ‘Danny’, the bad boy in the leather jacket and the goody-two-shoes ‘Sandra Dee’ proved that love conquers all and talking trash to Stockard Channing will get you a head full of milkshake. From “Summer Nights” to “Hopelessly Devoted To You” to the finale, “You’re The One That I Want”, the songs and story made us all want to run to the beach and fall in love before the school bell rang that September. Still a great movie.

“A River Runs Through It” – There are three things in life you should never be late for:  work, church and fishing. That’s the simple philosophy of Paul Maclean played beautifully by a young Brad Pitt in what is a very special movie about family, frailty and fly fishing. If you don’t know the difference between a fishing pole and the North Pole, it doesn’t matter. This movie is the true story of the love between two brothers, the devotion of their strict minister father and our connection to nature itself. So magnificently shot, watching it is like going to a museum and staring at a framed work of art. I promise it will touch your soul and may break your heart, but it will never leave you.

Based on a book that was strongly considered for the Pulitzer Prize, it is sprinkled with wonderful, thoughtful prose. My favorite: “It is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.” Fifty-eight words that capture the very meaning of ‘family’.

Good laughs, great songs, stories of people and their triumphs and tragedies. I suppose on careful reflection these are my five favorite summertime movies because I see pieces of me in each of them. From the sandy beaches, to the friendships faded, to lazy summer evenings when my Dad and I would cast our line into calm waters and hope for a tug on the line. Forty years removed, they are memories that tug at my heart, still, as I’m sure do yours. If we can close our eyes and see them, I suppose they aren’t really gone. Still, isn’t it a shame some summers have to end?

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