Thursday, May 3, 2018

Reserved Seating: Summer Movie That Mattered to Us

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo are ready to dish on their summer movie crushes...not people...but actual movies.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: This week, Rob and I are each going to pick three summer releases from years past that meant a great deal to us. If nothing else it should provide a bird’s eye view of our movie madness. To avoid being too obvious, we took the no-brainers like Jurassic Park or Batman (1989) off the table and chose deeper cuts.

My first pick is from the summer of 1988 and it’s Willow. I was just barely six years old when Willow was in theaters and it’s pretty much the only fantasy film from the 1980s that I experienced first-hand in its original run. I remember Willow being one of the earliest times I became obsessed with a movie. I didn’t go to the movies all the time at this point, so I’m pretty sure I learned about it in one of three ways: a) I saw the preview before seeing Beetlejuice in theaters during the spring of 1988; b) I saw the ad for the theatrical poster in the Chicago Sun-Times (I used to cut out the ads for this and other movies I was excited about and make a movie theater on the fireplace) and/or c) It’s one of the movies my great uncle Abe and my uncle George went to go see and told me about. My movie fandom was accelerated by those two uncles and they would tell me about every movie they saw regardless of whether or not it was for kids. I remember in 1990 they were like “You need to see David Mamet’s Homicide.” In turn, I would go to my third grade classmates and be all “The Rescuers Down Under is terrific but have you heard about Joe Mantegna? He’s burning up the screen - in Homicide!”

I saw Willow in theaters with my dad and loved it (I think he thought it was fine). Truthfully, I didn’t grasp that this movie was a disappointment financially and not beloved by most filmgoers until years later. I always thought it was a blast. It was funny and scary (those pig-dogs at the beginning, the witchcraft, the monkey men, the three headed monster) and gave me everything I wanted from an adventure movie. I recall having a fair amount of Willow merch back then, too. I had a Willow magic trick from a cereal box that I then lost at Baskin-Robbins (my mom asked a kid working there to fish through the trash to try to find it, but he never did so I cried) and I also collected a bunch of the action figures (some of which I still have from toys my parents saved). One time, I got a Willow figure as a get well present. I got stitches on my forehead after running straight into a wall at a McDonald’s birthday party. It was worth it.
I saw Willow most recently about five years ago at a repertory screening. It was one of my friend’s birthdays so I decided (whether he wanted to or not) that I was taking him to see Willow as part of the festivities. To our delight, the movie still held up. The score by James Horner is incredible, Warwick Davis owns the title role and Val Kilmer is as charismatic as it gets. Also, it played well to the crowd that had some children who were about six years old now. That made me happy. Another generation of Willow fans were born that afternoon. I want to podcast this movie so bad!

Rob: This is another one of those times where I feel like I should just pack it in after you write something amazing like that, but I’ll try to press on (and to revisit Willow as soon as I can).

My first pick is 2001’s A Knight’s Tale, written and directed by L.A. Confidential’s (and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’s) Brian Helgeland and starring Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, and Shannyn Sossamon. This was the summer right before my freshman year, and my friends and I went into the screening with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. We probably knew Ledger as the 10 Things I Hate About You guy, and I doubt we knew anyone else at all. It just looked like a dumb and fun medieval adventure. What I found instead was a smart, earnest movie that spoke to everything I’ve always loved about the medium. Its anachronistic style wasn’t just a charming gimmick; it was a way to bring the sports movie to the Middle Ages without losing its wit and relatability. The modern soundtrack gave the story a fun universality that — since the movie never leans on the anachronisms too hard — actually gave the period setting that much more character and life. I ended up learning a ton about Medieval courtship and jousting. It made the Middle Ages cool long before I knew about Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

Also, Paul Bettany plays Geoffrey freaking Chaucer! Do you know how much I nerded out about that? Chaucer is in an action movie? You know, The Canterbury Tales? Did the other kids in the audience get that? My friends and I were sure they didn’t (we were SMART, or at least we thought we were) and it only made the whole movie feel like a bigger secret between us. I know it’s become old hat, but the metatextuality that A Knight’s Tale plays with reminded me so much of Back to the Future II, a movie that I still appreciate as one of my first lessons on the kind of sheer dexterity the cinematic format can bring to a story. For that, it remains one of my favorites.
I love the friendships in this movie. I love the action. I love any movie smart enough to cast Rufus Sewell as a bad guy. Most importantly, I love the romance between Ledger’s William and Sossamon’s Jocelyn. They have great chemistry. It feels like they actually love each other, that they actually compliment each other’s personalities and earn their big kiss in a way that many movie couples don’t. Jocelyn feels like a real person with real agency who makes real decisions. I love what she and Will sacrifice to be together. I really love this movie.

Plus, it has James Purefoy as Prince Edward. That guy should have been James Bond. His smile melts me.

Adam: I haven’t seen A Knight’s Tale in forever. I own the DVD and this makes me want to watch it tonight right after Boys & Girls. I also need to say that Sossamon is sublime. Every time I see her in a movie I think of the song from Mulan that’s all “What do I want? A girl worth fighting for!”

My next choice I was going to save for last because it’s the most inexplicable and craziest of my three choices, but since it came out one week before A Knight’s Tale in May of 2001, I have to go with it next. It’s The Mummy Returns. Full disclosure: I don’t even like The Mummy Returns, but I loved The Mummy (1999) and my anticipation of returning to mummy adventures with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz was high. The Mummy franchise is just the perfect thing for a summer movie season. It makes me happy that two films from this series opened a summer. I can’t explain it except to say it just feels right. It was also the summer kickoff movie that year and I look forward to any summer’s kickoff movie; I don’t care if it’s Van Helsing or Kingdom of Heaven. If it’s kicking off summer, then I’m there.

The thing is...I got a little carried away with The Mummy Returns. It opened on May 4th, 2001 and that was the last day of my freshman year in college. I was getting picked up by my dad on May 4th, so I wasn’t going to see The Mummy Returns on opening day. There was a midnight show on Thursday night/Friday morning, but I didn’t even want to go to that. I wanted to see it with my friends back home. Summer was for the Chicago suburbs. Fall, winter and spring were college’s thing, but summer wasn’t. So I had in my head that my friends and I would all get together, go to a local burger/hot dog place called Dengeos, talk about our year apart from one another and go see The Mummy Returns at the right theater: the AMC megaplex I still go to to this day. It had to be perfect. I could picture in my head us taking up a whole row (there were like nine or ten of us) and making jokes about all the cool upcoming summer movies like The Fast and the Furious and Jurassic Park III. In reality, I didn’t even need to have the day because I enjoyed it already in my head beforehand.
So on the night of Thursday, May 3rd, I packed up all of my things from my dorm room except for my computer and sat on my bed watching MTV music videos when I wasn’t at my desktop looking for more reviews of The Mummy Returns. I must have read thirty reviews (all were bad) of The Mummy Returns that night. The one I was counting on to turn the tide wasn’t supposed to drop until 12am on May 4th. It was on the now defunct website called This was my favorite movie review site at the time. They would call out a lot of indie movies I hadn’t heard of (and wanted to catch up with), as well as feature some entertaining and interesting writing. There was one critic (whose name I can’t remember) who I agreed with 100 percent of the time. He also loved the 1999 The Mummy. A lot was riding on his review of The Mummy Returns. 12:00am hits and I click refresh and...nothing. I clicked refresh pretty much every minute until the review finally came up - at about 3:30am. The critic gave it zero stars. I. WAS. DEVASTATED. My dad picked me up around 7am and took me back home. I was crushed the entire drive.

Days later, I micromanaged the outing with my friends to see The Mummy Returns just as I had planned. It took some doing, but it was one of those occasions where it all went just as I pictured it - except for the actual movie. The Mummy Returns sucked. I don’t think I’ve ever been more passionate (to myself, where I couldn’t tell anyone) about a movie than I was that week leading up to the premiere of The Mummy Returns.

Rob: I just want to reach out to the Reserved Seating audience and let you all know that I know Adam’s stories are better than mine. They’re better than yours, too. They’re amazing.

My next pick is 2000’s Mission: Impossible 2, directed by John Woo. And, look, I’m just going to say it: I know this is the series’ black sheep. I know it’s loud and dumb and incoherent and very, very late ‘90s. I don’t care. I still love it. Adult Cineaste Rob can probably defend it as an idiosyncratic reinterpretation of Hitchcock’s Notorious (it totally is), but Dumber and More Honest Middle School Rob was absolutely taken in by its over-the-top action and insane bravado. It was my first John Woo movie, and that’s a formative moment for any young movie fan, I think. It’s entirely possible that I became a man that weekend. Motorcycles doing crazy flips? Pistols akimbo? DOVES? DOVES EVERYWHERE!? It was very important. It’s a little time capsule of my coming-of-age.
Go ahead and rewatch that rock-climbing opening. Tom Cruise did that (sort of)! It was the beginning of the whole “Tom Cruise really did that (sort of)” thing! And if we’re talking girls worth fighting for — Thandie Newton? Get out of town! Plus, the Resident Celebrity IMF Leader Guy in this one is Anthony Hopkins. Hannibal Lecter! I’m sold. There’s a facemask-torture-fake-out scene that I still think legitimately works, too. I honestly think a lot of it still works. I’m getting amped up just talking about this ridiculous Four Loko of a movie. Woot! M:I 2!

Adam: Oddly enough, I rewatched this movie on cable about a week ago and enjoyed it more than I did back in 2000. The things I thought were goofy bad are now goofy good (e.g. Tom Cruise’s hair blowing in the wind as his car spins out and it looks more beautiful than Thandie Newton’s hair doing the same thing, two dudes driving motorcycles into each other head-on and jumping in mid-air for a tackle-hug). It’s bananas.

My last pick is a movie that technically was a spring release but platformed and took over the world during the summer of 2002 and that’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding. A lot of disparate elements converged to make this movie beloved to me. 1) I love dinner theater and this movie was the closest thing I saw in film form to the dinner theater show called Tony and Tina’s Wedding, which is a Chicago staple, 2) I was very very in love when I saw this movie. I didn’t want to see it at first, but through a mishap my girlfriend at the time saw it with her friends instead of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and I was jealous she saw a movie without me so I needed to correct it in my head and make her go with me to Greek Wedding, 3) During our Greek Wedding screening, I might have said the most baller thing I’ve ever said in my life. Guys and gals take notes. Next time you’re at a movie with your significant other just stare at them until they catch you. When they say “What?” you say “I was just thinking about how I don’t want to see another movie for the rest of my life unless it’s with you.” BOOM! 4) We saw the movie again (this time on a double date) at an old theater called The Catlow. My Big Fat Greek Wedding played at this single screen theater for almost a year. It literally saved the theater from closing because it sold out all the time. In the theater lobby is a poster for the film commemorating its run there. Additionally, on this double date, it was the only time I’ve witnessed someone cheating in front of my face. It was amazing. The other couple was supposed to be my casual friend Chris and his girlfriend Tina. Instead Chris brought a girl named Rebecca and was like “Don’t say anything about Tina.” My girlfriend and I were like “Ummm...okay.” We didn’t feel comfortable with this until about 20 minutes in and we loved Rebecca. She was so much better than Tina. I was all for this infidelity. My Big Fat Greek Wedding reminds me of that night. Lastly, 5) It’s a movie I introduced my own family to and they loved it just as much I do. I know it’s a dumb comedy and very stereotypical but it’s so good-natured and (I think) genuinely amusing with many fun characters. It’s a movie I come back to year after year.
Rob: This is the part of our friendship where I confess that I’ve never see My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I know. I’m horrible. I’m going to fix this as soon as possible.

I’m having a bit of a crisis of conscience with this last one. I’ve been going through the list of movies I considered for this column, movies like The Fifth Element, Batman Forever, and Air Force One. They were all released when I was roughly between ages 10-15, the period in which I was the most romantic and optimistic about movies and making the most firm emotional connections. But in all honesty, I would be lying my face off if I said there was a summer movie in those formative years more important to me than Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It was the biggest thing that ever happened to me to that point. I saw it eight times, very often after school at the good ol’ MacDade Mall United Artists. I remember so much about that period of my life: I remember riding my bike over to the mall and parking it next to the ACME supermarket before walking in through the arcade entrance (my mom would beep me...yes, beep me...when it was time for dinner). I probably played the Die Hard arcade game or shot pool alone. I’d get french fries at the Italian Delight (which eventually moved across the street when the mall closed for renovation). I might have stopped in the mom and pop video game store to look at N64 games I couldn’t afford. And then I saw The Phantom Menace.

You know what memory always sticks out? The trailer for the animated film Titan A.E.. I never ended up seeing it, but I remember the trailer beginning with the Earth exploding into a thousand pieces. I remember sitting in that darkened theater and having a severe existential crisis. I had to close my eyes after the third or fourth time. It was intense.

And I don’t care if The Phantom Menace is good or not. Adult Rob believes it is not. Pre-teen Rob tried so desperately to like it, to make it make sense. To make it fit together. I remember arguing with my uncle that it was “a great introduction to the characters, if nothing else,” and marveling at the amazing special effects. My affection for it has nothing to do with quality; it’s about a period in my life in which I had a Star Wars movie that belonged to me. Before all the backlash and bullshit. I fantasized about where it would go and how it would all match up with the original trilogy. You know the poster for The 40 Year-Old Virgin? That was me. In the spirit of this column, that’s my most important summer movie memory.
Adam: That’s awesome. You sound like me when the Special Editions came out in 1997. I was so in the bag for Star Wars at that time. I had just discovered them the prior November (I didn’t watch them in their entirety until I was 14 somehow). Star Wars is special. I love that you love Star Wars, doesn’t matter if it’s The Phantom Menace in this specific example.

What are you up to covering next week? A little Pacino? A baseball flick? The remake of Overboard?

Rob: How did they get that remake off the ground? The entire premise, while fine when Goldie and Kurt made it, is #Problematic in every possible way, gender flipped or not. Whatever. Let’s go back to Al. Let’s go post-2000.

Adam: Oh boy. Ocean’s Thirteen or The Recruit?

Rob: I’ve never seen The Recruit. Make it so. Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.


  1. -Love Willow. Any time I was traveling (pre-GPS, smartphone days) and was kind of lost or searching for a route, I used to always say "Forget the bird, follow the river!"

    -Ahh, the Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack. The Metallica video and song was everywhere. My friend's mom took us to *Waves Music (RIP) in the mall and I bought it after we saw the movie that day. I remember being so pumped on the Limp Bizkit M:I theme too.

    1. I too loved that soundtrack. I still remember the track called Rocket Science (but can't remember the band). I used to listen to that on repeat. Probably haven't heard it in years but now it's playing in my head again.

  2. I also love Mission: Impossible II! And it's not even a reinterpretation of Notorious so much as a beat-for-beat remake, right down to exchanging intel at a horse race, at least until the second half, where it's pretty much just action (but does legitimately reinterpret the heroine's poisoning). And while Limp Bizkit is and has always been The Worst, the instrumental version of their M:I theme, which I always wanted but only found a few years ago, kicks all kinds of ass.

    Adam, your Mummy Returns story is excellent! I too so wanted to love that movie that I enjoyed it through sheer force of desire the one time I saw it in theaters. To be fair, I do still think there's a lot to love in it, from the awesome costumes to the fantastic sets to Alan Silvestri's amazing score, and though the effects weren't yet there, the design of the Scorpion King monster is pretty great. I love the recurring joke of how Rick and Evy are comically hot for each other a decade on (true, she's Rachel Weisz at peak Weiz-ity, so it makes sense on his side). Unfortunately, for everything that's great about Returns, there's also something terrible, most unforgivably the totally bogus Evy reincarnation subplot. It's perhaps the best-but-also-worst flick ever made. (IMHO.)

  3. I think the Phantom Menace was the last Star Wars I saw. My friends and I all saw it in HS bc we were obsessed with Ewan McGregor. After one of our last days of school my friend and I took a super long bus ride to see it again, it was like 10pm and we were the only ones in the theater and we fell asleep through it. I was so tired I didn’t want to leave the theater, I remember. But it was so cold. I knew the acting was HORRIBLE (except for Ewan), but it was back in those days when I guess I didn’t really care and I definitely wasn’t choosy. I didn’t have so many opinions; it was fine to me, fun even. I used to see anything, even horror movies that came to theaters and sit through them, terrified, with just my friends. No date to even cover my eyes. Wow! That was a long time ago. Movies meant way different things to me then.

  4. I will always love M:I-2, partly nostalgia due to being one of three flms I saw on Holiday in New York City (the other two being Gone in 60 Seconds and Shaft) and partly because I just love what Woo brought to the table... All. The. Doves!