Here are the summer films to see
Don’t get me wrong. I found it perfectly amusing to watch the leather clad hussies set the bar aflame (literally) in ”Coyote Ugly.” And the digitally enhanced tiger in me certainly stood up and roared over the Coliseum scenes in ”Gladiator.” But every weekend since May I’ve been struck by the same troubling question: Why isn’t there a movie I really want to see?
I mean, let’s face it: You know things are bad when Roger Ebert is calling ”The Cell” ”one of the year’s best movies”; or when Winona Ryder is promoting the supposed big summer romance, ”Autumn in New York,” by admitting she’s not attracted to her costar Richard Gere; or that not one, but two, summer comedies — ”The Klumps” and ”Me, Myself & Irene” — rely on ”animals up the butt” jokes to keep the laughs rolling. Ha ha.
Not to be hoity toity or anything, but some of the best movies of the summer were films that tended to fly under the radar of most of the moviegoing public. And while these four may not all have the big budget firepower of, say, a ”Godzilla 2000,” they’re certainly worth checking out.
”The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is a riveting documentary about Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, the former wife of televangelist Jim Bakker and herself one of the great American spectacles. Though it’s shamelessly forgiving at times, the film offers a poignant look behind the makeup (though, in fact, the mascara never comes off) at a woman whose life’s a strange blend of tragedy and joke. There’s plenty to marvel at here, from the faux splendor of the now shuttered Christian theme park, Heritage USA, to the failed marriages and difficult relationships with her children, to her attempted comeback. Adding to the weirdness, it’s narrated by RuPaul.
You have to love a summer movie that can draw on the philosophies of Heidegger, Lao-tzu, and Groucho Marx without coming off as completely pretentious. But the ”The Tao of Steve” manages to keep its smarts without losing any of its warm summer breeze. Directed by first timer Jenniphr Goodman, and starring Donal Logue (who turned up in another little film this summer called ”The Patriot”), the ”Tao” is a sweet romance about a fat, bong-smoking kindergarten teacher from Sante Fe who manages to make himself irresistible to women. Even Logue’s obvious ”fat suit” prosthetics can’t spoil ”Steve”’s Southwestern charms.
It’s a natural human instinct. A man falls in love with a beautiful woman and what does he do? Of course! He throws knives at her. At least that’s the case in the offbeat gem ”The Girl on the Bridge,” a sumptuous black and white film set in Paris and starring Daniel Auteuil and Vanessa Paradis. She plays a young woman on the verge of suicide; he’s the charismatic circus performer who convinces her she’d make a fine target for his knife throwing act. The rest is a Fellini-esque carnival full of dwarves, clowns, and some of the most sensuous scenes of knife throwing ever captured on film.
Speaking of suicides, Sofia Coppola’s film, ”The Virgin Suicides,” may be the summer’s hippest movie and is certainly worthy of the buzz it’s gotten. Set in a Michigan suburb in the early 1970s, it’s a darkly funny suburban flashback about a seemingly normal family that quickly disintegrates after one of the family’s five lovely daughters kills herself. Quarantined in their claustrophobic house by their rigid mom (Kathleen Turner), the gorgeous shut ins become the infatuation of a group of neighborhood boys who want to save them. Not since ”The Ice Storm” has a movie nailed the experience of teenage suburban angst in such a heartwarming way. And like that movie, which helped propel the careers of Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, and Katie Holmes, this one is already spreading the word about its terrific young cast, including John Hartnett, Kirsten Dunst, and Hannah Hall.