The onslaught of "summer films" has begun, and I've attended several over the past few weeks, including "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," "Moonrise Kingdom," "The Amazing Spiderman," and "To Rome With Love." Actually, "To Rome," the Woody Allen piece, is not specifically a summertime movie; it just coincidentally got released. But the others name above certainly fit the genre – more focused on entertainment than any sort of social commentary. Of the entire lot, I liked "Moonrise Kingdom" the best. It's sort of a role reveral film. A bunch of kids take to acting like adults, putting to shame the adults in their life who are acting like immature kids much of the time. I especially loved the soundtrack, which used lots of music by Benjamin Britten, including the favorite old recording of his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, with Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic, narrated by Schuylar Chapin when he was still a child.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is not quite as lame as it sounds. (The NY Times critic commented that it was such a wonderful title for a film that it was a shame that they spoiled it by making the movie.) The film takes the life story of Lincoln and interjects vampires; so what could be bad? Young Abe, staying up late reading in the loft of the log cabin, sees the vampirish creditor of his deadbeat dad steal into the cabin and bit his mother, who subsequently dies in great pain. Lincoln determines upon revenge and when he grows up becomes a vampire hunter! The skills he learns come in handy when he is president and the crisis of the Confederate invasion of the north (culminating in the battle of Gettysburg) is amplified by Jefferson Davis's enlistment of a swarm of southern vampires, who have been living off the blood of black slaves. (C'mon, it's a vampire movie, so don't roll your eyes!) One of the conceits of this film is that a vampire's bite will finish you off if you have a "pure soul" like Lincoln's innocent mom, but will turn you into an "undead" vampire if not. Lincoln resists the offer of eternal life, rejecting the proffered bite of a vampire who befriends him, deciding instead to go to the theater with Mrs. Lincoln, and you know what happens next.
"The Amazing Spiderman" – Somebody decided to remake the original Spiderman movie, but to change various plot elements along the way. Andrew Garfield and his current girlfriend star as Peter Parker and his girlfriend. Complication: girlfriend is the daughter of the police inspector who's out to get Spiderman. Garfield is a sexier Spiderman than his predecessor – at least, his seems to fill out his Spiderman costume better – and he is also more subtle actor, which might seem out of place in this kind of summer spectacular which is so heavily devoted to special effects. At any rate, you get your decibel's worth in this film, and the 3-D effects put the earlier Spiderman movie in the shade.
"To Rome with Love" is the thinking person's summer movie, but it has its share of slapstick as Woody Allen takes some members of his usual crew of actors on a little vacation trip to Rome, mixing them with Italian actors for local color. I liked "Midnight in Paris" better, but then I'm a sucker for costume drama and impersonations of historical figures, which you get in the time-travel sequences of "Midnight". "To Rome" is set relentlessly in the present, but there is lots of good fun, and I hope it gets a wider release than the indy-house in which I saw it on a small screen.
And still I wait for the ultimate summer movie – the return of Batman as the Black Knight, coming up in a few weeks.