The 1990s kept the summer blockbusters coming, but they weren’t quite the same as those that captured the 1980s. The development of computer-generated effects started to be used more liberally, and the practical effects of the previous decade began to fade. You still had some incredible matte painting work and animatronics in the nineties, but more and more computers were being used to paint fantastic landscapes even though the tech wasn’t quite there yet. These films have a different feel than their predecessors, a little more violent and dark, compare E.T. to Jurassic Park. Cynicism was creeping in more, but you also had experimentation of what could be a great summer blockbuster.
The Killing (1956) Written by Stanley Kubrick & Jim Thompson Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Just a year after Killer’s Kiss, Stanley Kubrick directed this heist film that dripped with noir. It should be noted that starting with this film, every movie Kubrick ever made was based on a novel. For the most part, his films would come to overshadow the books he adapted because Kubrick didn’t believe he was chained to the source material. I think that is an excellent thing because film adaptation is like language translation, you do not go for the exact 1:1 meaning, you shape the content to communicate the ideas and themes best. Kubrick made this picture under the banner of the Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation, a producing partnership he would continue for two more films (Paths of Glory & Lolita).
The blockbuster movie is defined as a piece of mainstream, fast-paced entertainment that resonates with the culture at a rapid pace. Director Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws is considered the first film that was a real blockbuster. This set the standard for summer and winter to be period where Hollywood studios put out big-budget high concept films with fantastic concepts that would appeal to all audiences. Today I will be looking at my top 10 favorite summertime blockbusters and explaining why they are great examples of this seasonal entertainment & why they still appeal to me so many years after I first saw them.
Killer’s Kiss (1955) Written & Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Specific names in filmmaking have power & weight to them. Stanley Kubrick is one of them. In the last decade or so, I’ve noticed a backlash of sorts about Kubrick’s place in the pantheon of great directors. I get that, though. The prevalence of some names over others allows lesser-known, yet equally deserving directors to be overshadowed. I would counter that I think part of what has led to this annoyance with Kubrick is that he intentionally made films that created division in audiences. Furthermore, his influence on the craft of filmmaking resonates across time, and I suspect will continue into the far future, should humanity survive and keep making movies.
It feels like the year both just started and has been going on for an eternity. I have to say that I wasn’t planning on producing this much content in the first half of 2020, but ending up quarantined at home while working allowed me to essentially get a jump on reviewing. By mid-June, I’d gotten through everything I had planned to put out over the summer, so it was pretty exciting to see what I could do for the rest of the break. Here is my plan for July through December with the additional note that if I end up working from home again, there’s a good chance I’d be able to crank out more content than usual. My state has seen a frightening spike in COVID-19 cases, and our governor just extended the state of emergency to the end of August. The other educators in my state and I are now waiting to see what this means for schools, which are scheduled to open back up around August 6th. In the meantime, here’s what you can look forward to on my site from now through December.
The Assistant (2020) Written & Directed by Kitty Green
The #MeToo movement of the last three years pulled a lot of masks off a situation that almost everyone knew was happening, but there had been a collective silence due to the fear of losing jobs and wealth. One of the biggest revelations was the uncovering of film producer Harvey Weinstein’s habitual abuse and outright rape of women for decades. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexual assault and rape in New York City with additional charges pending in Los Angeles. As much as it we want to celebrate his convictions, history tells us wealthy men who abuse their power don’t often serve those full sentences and have the wealth to make prison a very comfortable place while they are there. Justice for the victims of the powerful is a rare animal indeed.
Young Justice Book One (2017) Reprints Young Justice: The Secret, JLA: A World Without Grown-Ups #1-2, Young Justice #1-7, Young Justice Secret Files and Origins #1 Written by Todd Dezago, Peter David, and D. Curtis Johnson Art by Todd Nauck, Mike McKone, Humberto Ramos, and Ale Garza
You are likely familiar with Young Justice as the animated series, which aired on Cartoon Network from 2010-2012 and then revived on the DC Universe platform in 2019. That title and most of its characters had their start in this comic book series from the late-1990s. Young Justice in response to the Teen Titans being aged into early adulthood and thus leaving a vacuum for a youth-oriented super-team. A new name was chosen based on the popularity of Grant Morrison’s JLA run, and so we had Young Justice starting as a trio of characters and growing its roster from there.
How Long Til’ Black Future Month: Stories by N.K. Jemisin
This is a beautiful melange of fantasy & science fiction told from a black perspective. Some stories feel like a red hot bullet right between the eyes in our current context. There’s a story about the spirit of a city becoming aware she not merely a human walking its street with the idea that these city spirits travel and awaken their kin across the world over time. We’re presented with a Jim Crow-era story of a black witch and her children encountering a demonic fey-like entity posing as a beautiful blonde white woman. There are stories of secret agents from an alternate universe Haiti sneaking through New Orleans to take out a white cabal. You get the transformational narrative of a young chef introduced to alien ingredients and becoming a sorceress who can create food that radically affects her customers. The most resonant for me was the opening story, “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” where a beautiful utopia is described, a place where all prejudices are gone, and humanity lives in beautiful harmony and follows a path that parallels and reflect our own. You can read that story, and you most certainly should here.
Uncle Buck (1989) Written & Directed by John Hughes
Uncle Buck will forever be associated with John Candy. When you see the actor, you almost always think of this picture. In turn, it signals the end of an era for filmmaker John Hughes. This was the first film he did as part of a multi-picture deal with Universal. Hughes had already signed with Universal in the early 1980s after the success scripts for Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation. After The Breakfast Club, Hughes soured on the deal, he was known for being very contentious with studios. Uncle Buck was his return to Universal after a four-year sojourn, and about a year later, he would be trying to get out of the contract already. Uncle Buck is a movie that exists as both a pleasant piece of nostalgia for millennials but is also a moment when a great mainstream director’s career began to wither.