Film Review: White Water Summer (dir by Jeff Bleckner)


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White Water Summer is a weird movie that was made in either 1985 or 1987 (more on that in a minute.)  It stars a youngish Kevin Bacon and a very young Sean Astin.  It starts out as a comedy and then it turns into a tribute to male bonding bullshit and then it’s a comedy again and then it’s a thriller and then it’s back to the male bonding as Kevin and Sean go camping together and then it’s a thriller and then Sean Astin has to cross a rickety bridge and the whole movie turns into Lord of the Rings.  And then Kevin Bacon starts singing and you’re like, “Oh my God, this is a musical too!”  And then suddenly, Kevin Bacon starts acting all crazy-like and it’s a thriller again.  But then Kevin breaks his leg and it’s up to Sean Astin to save his life, despite the fact that Kevin appeared to be attempting to kill all the campers just a few minutes earlier.  So, I guess that would count as more male bonding BS.

(One great thing about being a girl is that I’ve never had to prove myself by going camping.  Or, for that matter, killing a wild boar while armed only with a sharpened stick.  Seriously, I imagine that would be difficult and messy!  BLEH!)

Another reason why White Water Summer is a weird movie is because it’s on TV like every other week.  According to what I’ve read online, White Water Summer was not even released into theaters.  (Even stranger, I have yet to find a single interview where Kevin Bacon even acknowledges that this film exists and that’s saying something when you consider that Kevin has never been shy about mentioning how many bad films he’s appeared in.  Kevin regularly talks about Quicksilver, for fug’s sake!)  And yet somehow, this film that nobody appears to have wanted has achieved an odd sort of basic cable immortality.

And that immortality is why I’m taking the time to review this movie.  Because, seriously, White Water Summer seems to show up on TV even more than The Shawshank Redemption or reruns of Cops!  That’s a lot!

Anyway, as for the film itself, it’s basically a celebration of male bonding bullshit.  Alan (Sean Astin) is a sheltered kid from New York.  He’s into astronomy and plays chess.  To toughen him up, his parents arrange for Alan to go on a camping trip with Vic (Kevin Bacon), this ultra intense guide who talks in zen riddles and occasionally dangles people over the edge of a mountain.  Alan doesn’t want to go and, at first, he struggles to get along with the other three boys on the hike.

However, soon all of the boys have a common bond.  They all fear (and yet, because this is male bonding bullshit, strangely respect) Vic, who apparently is a bit of authoritarian.  Vic is determined to make them into men and his techniques including forcing them to cross a rickety bridge, forcing them to fish by hand, forcing them to carry a canoe across a hill, and finally abandoning them for a night in the middle of the wilderness.  At one point, when Alan ends up falling off a mountain and finds himself dangling in mid-air at the end of a rope.  Vic refuses to help him.  Instead, Alan must find his own way to get back on the mountain. Alan manages to do just that but seriously, what the Hell is Vic thinking?  At times, the movie suggests that Vic is a sociopath and then, at other times, it suggests that his methods are actually working.  After all, by the end of the summer, Alan is a lot more confident and he also knows how catch fish.

And really, that’s what makes this movie so strange.  It has no idea who Vic is supposed to be and, as a result, the film doesn’t know if it’s a comedy, a thriller, or a coming-of-age adventure movie.  Towards the end of the movie, Vic finally goes too far and gets smacked in the face with an oar.  This leads to Vic breaking his leg and suddenly, it’s up to Alan to save Vic’s life.  In order to do so, Alan has to call on a combination of his own intelligence and the survival skills that he learned from Vic.  So, that would seem to suggest that the movie is partially pro-Vic but, if that’s the case, why was Vic also portrayed as being somewhat psychotic?  Is this film pro-psychopath or is it just anti-Alan?  It’s hard to tell.

Making things even stranger is Alan’s narration.  In between scenes of camping, hiking, and attacking, we get these weird little vignettes of a slightly older Sean Astin speaking directly to the audience.  (According to the imdb, the camping scenes were filmed in 1985 while Astin’s narration was filmed in 1987.)  Narrator Alan is snarky and sarcastic, which would suggest that he doesn’t feel that he learned anything of value from the whole experience.  So does older Alan regret saving Vic’s life?  Does he still resent the fact that his parents forced him to go on the hike?  Or is he just trying to impress us with attitude?  Again, it’s hard to tell exactly what the film was trying to accomplish.

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Watching White Water Summer, it’s obvious that, in 1985, there were difficulties that probably left the film incomplete.  Astin’s 1987 narration was obviously tacked on in a desperate attempt to try to save the movie.  To be perfectly honest, it’s fascinating to witness how haphazardly this film was put together.  One of the pleasures of White Water Summer is watching this oddly edited film and trying to figure out what exactly happened.

Anyway, I’ve never been into the whole camping or hiking thing and, after watching White Water Summer, I have no regrets.*  And yet, this is another one of those films that I do think that everyone should watch at least once, just because the movie itself is so weird.

Add to that, it’s on TV all the time!

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* Now Wild, that’s a great hiking film!

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Val’s Movie Roundup #14: Hallmark Edition


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Love Is a Four Letter Word (2007) – This was really disappointing. I could say something like shit is also a four letter word, but disappointing is really a better word for this movie. The movie is about three couples. The first are newlyweds. The second are an older couple who are getting divorced. The third are the two divorce attorneys handling each end of the older couples divorce. What’s so disappointing is that the beginning of this movie has some of the sweetest, affectionate, and genuine moments between two lovers I have seen in a Hallmark movie. However, it then just degenerates into a pitiful attempt at a 1940’s screwball comedy while trying to keep the emotions of the beginning of the film alive on top of cutting between the three couples to tell their stories in parallel. It doesn’t work! Why couldn’t the movie have stuck with the couple we met at the beginning and just tell a nice simple love story. Is it a sin to follow the principle of KISS when making a movie? That being Keep It Simple Stupid! There’s no reason to waste your time on this movie.

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Jack’s Family Adventure (2010) – This movie is okay, but that’s the problem. It’s so okay that it’s not really worth watching. A guy played by Peter Graves dies and leaves a cabin to his son played by Jonathan Silverman. No! I’m not going to make that joke.

Jack decides to take his family to said cabin because we all know that getting away from city life brings families together. While they are adjusting, a guy called Wild Bill (Peter Strauss) shows up. They all have a good time and the family emerges closer than when they arrived. That’s it! Like I said, it’s just so okay that boredom sets in pretty quickly. Not worth seeking out, but you’ll survive if you end up seeing it.

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Dear Prudence (2008) – Was Jane Seymour always this annoying? I think I have only seen her in Live And Let Die (1973). She is like the living embodiment of the wig from Lies Between Friends. Awful! Well, Seymour plays some TV show host who basically shows you life hack type stuff. She gets sent to a special place in Wyoming. It doesn’t take long for her to stumble upon a crime. I didn’t even know this was going to be a murder mystery going into it. I mean it doesn’t have “murder” or “mystery” in the title to tell me. Sadly, that is so common with Hallmark that I was honestly surprised when she came across blood on a carpet. However, I wasn’t surprised to quickly figure out this was actually shot in Canada. Little tip for Canadian productions trying to pretend they are in the U.S.: Don’t have your Canadian actors say the word “about”.

So in between fantasies of Jason showing up to cut off Seymour’s head, a murder mystery unravels. It’s not an interesting mystery by any means, but Seymour and her trusty side kick giving out all these stupid household remedies for everything will suck any fun you might derive from it right out of it. Skip!

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Murder 101: College Can Be Murder (2007) – This is easily the best entry in the Murder 101 series. Despite “murder” being in the title of the movie, it is actually all about Dick Van Dyke trying to get his bike back after it is stolen. It’s an old bike that has a lot of sentimental value. He of course hires his friend played by his son Barry Van Dyke to help him track it down. It’s so funny! Dick keeps seeing people on campus riding his bike around and tries to chase them down. He never catches them. He goes to the gym to try and get in shape in the futile hope that it will help him catch the thief. Barry keeps going around questioning people all about this bike. Posters are put up all around campus. There’s even a scene where Dick is in class and has what I can only describe as a spidey sense that his bike is nearby. He runs out into the hall to find the thief waiting for him on his bike. A hilarious chase ensues.

I would have totally loved this movie if that was what it was actually about. In reality, the stolen bike is just a subplot. I made up some of that stuff, but he does keep chasing after the bike, goes to the gym to gain speed, and Dick does put up posters. Why couldn’t the movie be one long joke about that bike? Instead, some college professor gets killed by eating an orange. At first it’s natural causes, but after Barry does some dumpster diving to retrieve the orange (how the hell did he do that?) they discover he was poisoned. It all winds up revolving around the saying of “publish or perish”. It’s a decent entry in the Murder 101 series, but I really wanted that bike movie instead.

Insomnia File #1: The Story of Mankind (dir by Irwin Allen)


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What’s an Insomnia File?  You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable?  This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were suffering from insomnia at 3 in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1957 faux epic, The Story of Mankind.

I call The Story of Mankind a faux epic because it’s an outwardly big film that turns out to be remarkably small on closer inspection.  First off, it claims to the tell the story of Mankind but it only has a running time of 100 minutes so, as you can imagine, a lot of the story gets left out.  (I was annoyed that neither my favorite social reformer, Victoria C. Woodhull, nor my favorite president, Rutherford B. Hayes, made an appearance.)  It’s a film that follow Vincent Price and Ronald Colman as they stroll through history but it turns out that “history” is largely made up of stock footage taken from other movies.  The film’s cast is full of actors who will be familiar to lovers of classic cinema and yet, few of them really have more than a few minutes of screen time.  In fact, it only takes a little bit of research on the imdb to discover that most of the film’s cast was made up of performers who were on the verge of ending their careers.

The Story of Mankind opens with two angels noticing that mankind has apparently invented the “Super H-Bomb,” ten years ahead of schedule.  It appears that mankind is on the verge of destroying itself and soon, both Heaven and Hell will be full of new arrivals.  One of the angels exclaims that there’s already a housing shortage!

A celestial court, overseen by a stern judge (Cedric Hardwicke) is convened in outer space.  The court must decide whether to intervene and prevent mankind from destroying itself.  Speaking on behalf on humanity is the Spirit of Man.  The Spirit of Man is played by Ronald Colman.  This was Colman’s final film.  In his heyday, he was such a popular star that he was Margaret Mitchell’s first choice to play Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.  However, in The Story of Mankind, Colman comes across as being a bit bored with it all and you start to get worried that he might not be the best attorney that mankind could have hired.

Even more worrisome, as  far as the future of mankind is concerned, is that the prosecutor, Mr. Scratch, is being played by Vincent Price.  Making his case with his trademark theatrics and delivering every snaky line with a self-satisfied yet likable smirk on his face, Vincent Price is so much fun to watch that it was impossible not to agree with him.  Destroy mankind, Mr. Scratch?  Sure, why not?  Mankind had a good run, after all…

In order to make their cases, Mr. Scratch and the Spirit of Man take a tour through history.  Mr. Scratch reminds us of villains like the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (John Carradine) and the Roman Emperor Nero (Peter Lorre, of course).  He shows how Joan of Arc (Hedy Lamarr) was burned at the stake.  The Spirit of Man argues that, despite all of that, man is still capable of doing good things, like inventing the printing press.

And really, the whole point of the film is to see who is playing which historical figure.  The film features a huge cast of classic film actors.  If you watch TCM on a semi-regular basis, you’ll recognize a good deal of the cast.  The fun comes from seeing who tried to give a memorable performance and who just showed up to collect a paycheck.  For instance, a very young Dennis Hopper gives a bizarre method interpretation of Napoleon and it’s one of those things that simply has to be seen.

And then the Marx Brothers show up!

They don’t share any scenes together, unfortunately.  But three of them are present!  (No, Zeppo does not make an appearance but I imagine that’s just because Jim Ameche was already cast in the role of Alexander Graham Bell.)  Chico is a monk who tells Christopher Columbus not to waste his time looking for a quicker way to reach India.  Harpo Marx is Sir Isaac Newton, who plays a harp and discovers gravity when a hundred apples smash down on his head.  And Groucho Marx plays Peter Miniut, tricking a Native American chief into selling Manhattan Island while leering at the chief’s daughter.

And the good thing about the Marx Brothers is that their presence makes a strong argument that humanity deserves another chance.  A world that produced the Marx Brothers can’t be all bad, right?

Anyway, Story of Mankind is one of those films that seems like it would be a good cure for insomnia but then you start watching it and it’s just such a weird movie that you simply have to watch it all the way to the end.  It’s not a good movie but it is flamboyantly bad and, as a result, everyone should see it at least once.

 

 

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Insignificance


Happy birthday, Nicolas Roeg.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Walkabout (1971, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Walkabout (1971, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Don't Look Now (1973, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Don’t Look Now (1973, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Insignificance (1985, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Insignificance (1985, directed by Nicolas Roeg)