DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Stolen Summer (Project Greenlight) and The Battle of Shaker Heights , Feast

Title:  Stolen Summer

Release Date:  2002

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 96 minutes

MPAA Rating:  not given ( PG )

Distributor and Production Company:  Miramax / LivePlanet / Project Greelight

Director; Writer: Pete Jones (both)

Producer: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris Moore

Cast:  Aidan Quinn, Kevin Pollack, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Kristie Kelly, Adi Stein 

Technical:

Relevance to doaskdotell site: getting into the movies; religion and culture

Review:

 

Movie Review of Stolen Summer

Starring Aidan Quinn, Kevin Pollack, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Kristie Kelly, Adi Stein

Written and Directed by Pete Jones, Produced by Project Greenlight and Live Planet  (1997) 

 

(For current details about the latest Project Greenlight contest go to the website shown here.)

This film is the end product from the screenwriting contest sponsored by Project Greenlight in 2000 and 2001, with Pete Jones winning the opportunity to direct his own movie. At one point I had volunteered to be a reviewer but dropped out because of the time constraints.

And a very important and timely film this is. It presents the problem of religion in America (Chicago in 1976) at three levels: grown-ups, teens, and little kids. It is the grownups who need to have religion politicized for their advantage.

The story, which does follow a fairly linear "literary agent" plot skeleton, starts when the son of a Catholic firefighter wants to set up a free lemonade stand in front of a synagogue to help "non-Christians" go to heaven. Immediately, there is a clever script line from the rabbi that he won't be taken seriously unless he charges money for his treats. We do have the expected dialgoue about "saving souls"; I wondered that myself at age eight or so, did lack of "Belief" really deny access to heaven after death?--I didn't "believe" that. The boy is sincere, but as his parents get drawn in things are anything but simple. The firefighter (played by Aidan Quinn) vigorously defends his working-class Irish Catholic group religious values. He is soon challenged by the older son (Patrick, played by Eddie Kaye Thomas) when the rabbi offers the son a college scholarship. The father resents this as a "Jewish" publicity stunt. At one point, he accuses the "Jews" of not having enough children for "selfish" economic reasons. (Conservative commentators on the Middle East problems note that the tendency in Israel to have fewer children than the Palestinians sets up demographic problems in the future, but then that is how someone like Pat Buchanan thinks!) The story develops as the rabbi's son has leukemia, and the boys have a friendship.

Of course, the story hits hard now because of current events since the screenplay was written. It delineates in a small setting how religion gets mixed up with personal motives. The teenager (rather a perfect son, kind of "Clark Kent" -like) does not understand why religious identity should interfere with a personal career and initiative -- and this is the sort of thing we hear conservatives write about today when discussing the values of radical Islam.

The Catholic father, in fact, plays his proper male role hard. "A dad takes care of his family," he says. Or is it, "a man takes care of his family"? A man in circumscribed by his family. His life took the position that becoming a father (and proper "ritual" practice of group faith) was a more fundamental step towards adulthood than any career "choice." For him, "family values" is a primary motivation.

This film so far (as of 5-2002) has seen only very limited screenings. I hope that word-of-mouth with encourage the suburban chains to rent it so that Miramax makes a "fair" profit and can sponsor more contests. I hope that there is no squeamishness from exhibitors due to the controversial nature of the (religious) subject matter.

Viewers may remember the Sunday night "Project Greenlight" series on HBO, a series of 30-minute programs documenting the making of this film. It gives you an idea of what can be done today for $1 million. (So what is DADT to cost? $60 million??) The baseball game scene did not seem to show up in the final cut; maybe it was "rained out." I recall the burning house, and the Lake Michigan scenes. Chris Moore was a real taskmaster as a boss, constantly pressuring Pete about progress every day, even under adverse conditions, sometimes ordering him back to LA. With a "small" budget, schedules are extremely tight.

Readers will want to visit projectgreenlight.com, navigate to the bios for "Stolen Summer" and read Matt Damon's advice on getting into showbiz. Yeah, yeah, there's a catch-22, you need an agent to get a job to get an agent....you have to get into the union ... don't do it?? .... well, Matt, you wrote your way into this business. And technology is giving indie's all kinds of possibilities for micro-budget film-making, with turf controversies likely to follow.

Also, right after the show (at Dupont Circle in Washington) I visited a nearby mosque (and bazaar there) for the first time in my life. The visit was very interesting.

The winner of the 2002 Project Greenlight screenwriting contest is The Battle of Shaker Heights, by Erica Beeney. (I was a reviewer in the contest, although I did not read this screenplay.) This film was distributed by Miramax in platform release in August 2003. The title refers to a certain layering of the story, where the “battle” is a recreation of a World War II battle (the Battle of the Bulge) for a video as stage by nerdy high school senior Kelly Ernswiler, played by a most charismatic Shia La Beouf (from Holes), but then this gets to be translated into a battle between Kelly and his various high school chums and nemeses in an upper middle class Cleveland suburb high school. Yes, Cleveland, although the story stays in the neighborhood with Ohio license plates and cell phones suddenly giving away the mock opening battle (that reminds one of the Minnesota film The Retreat). Which points to a “problem” the 2002 contest winning screenplay. That is, the plot is rather loose and improvised, with it coming across more as an improvisation by an obviously gifted teenager, who has ample reason to be disappointed with his dad (now on hemodialysis) having frittered away his college fund on drugs. La Boeuf carries the entire show with his quick wit, fast talk and colorful metaphors. How many teenage boys could talk about the Civil War New York draft riots in history class? (The screenwriter would not have had the chance to see Gangs of New York before turning in this entry.) La Boeuf was pretty much like that, able to master anything, on his Regis and Kelly appearance. He is a bit of Will Hunting, Clark Kent, and Ephram Brown (Everwood) wrapped into one, and delivery also reminds one of Gregory Smith’s delivery of Ephram on the WB channel. So perhaps this film attracted executive producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (as well as Chris Moore) who saw a chance for a miniature Will Hunting type of film. That it is.  I just would have wanted so see more done with the WWII history video, to bring it more tightly into the story, and maybe a field trip to Jacobs Field or the Rock and Roll Museum (Cleveland deserves to get back on the map – I spend my boyhood summers there in the 1950s). The wedding scene bore a curious remembrance to American Wedding, which, again, the writer could not have known about.

Feast (2006, Dimension, dir. John Gulager, wr. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, 86 min, R) was the winner of the 2004 contest, which was supposed to be sci-fi and horror. In fact, this is a monster movie, plain and simple. “They’re hungry, you’re dinner.” A bunch of seedy characters for the most part (the one exception is “Hot Wheels” played by Josh Zuckerman, an appealing college-age man in a wheel chair and he seems to be able to direct the actions of others while surviving the onslaught himself). There is brother Bozo (Balthazar Getty, from David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”). The rest of them are pretty tawdry. Sean Penn’s mother is said to be in the film. In the opening sequence, the characters, assembled in a ramshackle bar in the desert. are introduced with inserts, each with a “life expectancy”. (A veteran has a l.e. of “don’t ask don’t tell” and later Bozo is “asked” if he is gay.) A visitor warns that the monsters are coming, and that he is their angel “to save your ass.” The monsters do come, and they look-like the arthropod mutants from the “Alien” movies. They even have a baby and are a “family.” (Sigourney Weaver is missing here.) There rest of the film is a night-long gorefest, with body parts rolling. At one point, a girl vomits, as the victim, his eye replaced by leeches, says “You should be a nurse.”  The characters try to fight back with improvised liquid explosives that would make the TSA cringe. The script is filled with campy one liners and metaphors. The screenplay was posted online for a while at the Project Greenlight site, and it reads almost like a T.S. Elliot poem. The winning script went for gore and camp, and did not take itself seriously.

The PGL website is still http://projectgreenlight.liveplanet.com/  and you can click to see the past finalists and view some of the directors’ contest films.

I have a blogspot entry about the Project Greenlight contest here.

 

Season 2 finalist “Renaissance” has become a stage play. Details at link below, or at this blogger entry. 

 

Related reviews:  Chicago Stories  (separate film from one of the directors’ contest finalists)  play Renaissance

 

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