Summer Movie Magic…


Do you remember the anticipation of great summer movies? Not just blockbusters, but meaningful, memorable films to see and share with friends. We all have summer memories of plopping down by the pool or on the beach with your posse (nowadays under an umbrella… remember the reflector and baby oil days?!) and gabbing about great books and movies. Some things should never change… reading a new, hard cover book or talking about highly anticipated summer releases.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the film industry actually took the pulse of the people and stopped dumbing down America and the rest of the world?  Isn’t it obvious that compelling films make a lot of money and have longevity at the theaters?  A horror film or idiotic gazillion $$$ effects driven blockbuster may have an impressive opening weekend, but it does not necessarily sustain. 

My bestie, musical theater actress extraordinaire, Cathy Newman, posted on Facebook last night a recommendation for a movie I had seen on Sunday, “20 Feet From Stardom”. That got me thinking about a blog on some entertaining summer movie viewing so here are my 5 recommendations…orchestra builds to a crescendo and envelope please:

Unfinished Song (aka “Song For Marion”) starring Vanessa Redgrave, Terence Stamp and Gemma Arterton (James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace”). The talented duo of Redgrave and Stamp inject so much humanity into their roles. Gemma is equally compelling and adorable. Bring tissues and be prepared to face some stark realities, but it is a lovely, touching  film.

“20 Feet From Stardom” is the untold story of backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of our time. It is both uplifting and heartbreaking, exposing the cruel realities of the music biz. The documentary features a stellar soundtrack and interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, Cheryl Crowe, Bette Midler and Stevie Wonder.

As I think back on the hundreds of concerts I have experienced and remember being blown away by numerous backup singers, it was fascinating to see some who were featured in the movie. since 1989, Lisa Fischer has been a highlight on the Stone’s tour. She was a star in her own right and has a Grammy to prove it. When you see the film you will be astounded by her pure and nuanced tones. Her voice is simply one of the best I have ever heard and it is worth seeking out her solo album releases to fully experience the magic. I am convinced and the movie reinforces the belief that to make it big in the music industry you have to possess the drive, ambition, personality and monster ego to succeed.

Contrast Lisa with another great backup singer and artist, Darlene Love who possesses all of those qualities. Despite all her ups and downs, including a long stint working as a maid, she persevered and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Opportunity can knock unexpectedly as in Judith Hill’s case. A back-up singer on the tragically aborted final Michael Jackson tour, she sang “Heal the World’ at his funeral and people took notice. Whether she will be able to capitalize and launch a solo career is still an open question. The documentary always shines a light on Luther Vandross, who started out as a backup singer for David Bowie.

Not featured in the documentary is backup singer Rosemary Butler who sang with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Warren Zevon and Neil Young. I knew Rosemary and do not understand how she never made it as a solo artist, despite releasing an album in 1983…very talented woman in a very tough business.

I used to marvel at the unparalleled Tower of Power’s presence when they were on the road with Huey Lewis and the News…incredibly talented band and headliners in their own right. What a presence. They would blow audiences away, but people remembered The News performance. I would pitch Tower as much as possible as they were so deserving.

 It is a life lesson…talent alone is not enough to guarantee stardom. No whining allowed.  It takes hard, hard work, luck, and connections… and the sheer conviction and perseverance to never accept no.

I had previously written about, “Before Midnight” which is a MUST and for a good laugh see, “This Is The End” especially if they could cut 20 minutes, but it is a trip to see Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson Mindy Kaling and Emma Watson playing themselves and going all the way over the top. Another fleeting moment of celluloid entertainment is, “The Heat”. The dynamic duo of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are worth the price of admission minus a well-deserved 20 minute edit.

Note: a valuable reference is the “Rotten Tomatoes” app which I wish I was smart enough to come up with. On my “To See” list is, “The Way, Way Back” and “Fruitvale Station”.

Plan a movie date, pop some Jolly Time 100 calorie popcorn with 0 grams of trans fat and only 3 points on Weight Watchers (shout out to Mayor Bloomberg!), fill your baggie with fresh carrots and celery and head to the movies. My favorite time is the first showing (grab an egg on a roll and a Starbucks)…people aren’t as chatty, don’t display insatiable appetites at 10am and aren’t quite as obnoxious. Also, it is safer to shush a senior citizen as they are usually unarmed.

P.S., if there are tear stains on your screen, I am not afraid to admit that I just shed a few when Mariano Rivera jogged across Citi Field during the 8th inning of the All-Star game tonight. He entered to his theme song, Metallica’s, “Enter Sandman”. I have never cried during a heavy metal song…and, “We’re off to never, never-land”. This is Mo’s 13th and final All-Star game appearance as he is retiring after this season as the greatest relief pitcher EVER!  BTW, he got the batters out 1,2,3.

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