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I really enjoyed this movie. The Son of Sam killings are just a backdrop to a slice-of-life story in New York City in the summer of 1977. I believe that Spike Lee wanted to tell a story about the seventies - the excesses of sex, drugs and the desperation of the times. He chose a summer that stood out in the minds of the people who lived through it because of the record heat, the murders and the blackout. The Son of Sam killer was in one sense a strongly contrasting back drop and in another sense an extreme sign of the times. David Berkowitz was out of control and driven by invisible demons, but that could be said of the main character Vinnie. The difference between the two could almost be reduced to a matter of degree. I was struck by the part of the story where a group of friends thought the killer was one of their own because he was into punk rock and same-sex sex for money. Their misunderstanding of the killer seemed startling in light of what we know about serial killers today, but was dead on for the time. Spike Lee reminds us with this movie how much damage is done when we allow ourselves to be driven by our ignorance and fear. He makes us uncomfortable, of course, but the lesson rings so true. As far as the direction went, I thought that it was classic Spike Lee with a little taken from some other popular young directors, but if someone imitates something good and does it well, I don't complain. My favorite scene is where the punk rocker character Richie does a porno dance to The Who. The soundtrack is also pretty good, by the way. I gave the movie a 9 out of 10.
I know I may be one of the three people to say this (Roger Ebert being
another of the few), but I think "Summer of Sam" is a great movie! First
off, I'm a Spike Lee fan and I do feel that this is one of his best films.
I think the problem most people had with the movie was that it wasn't the
standard serial killer thriller they were expecting. If that's what you're
expecting, you will be disappointed. Instead, "S.O.S." is a character study
that focuses on the paranoia that spread amongst New Yorkers in the summer
of the late seventies, when everyone was suspecting one another of being the
Son of Sam. It was like a modern-day version of the Salem Witch Hunt. If
you were as much as an eccentric, you were a suspect (like in the case of
Adrien Brody's character in this movie). I like movies that focus on
characters, and take time to develop them to a point where a feel a deep
connection to each of them. Spike is one of those directors who favors
character development over plot devices, and I think that's what makes most
of his films work. The characters and dialogue are written in a very
realistic fashion. It helps that Spike cast mostly authentic New York
actors (i.e.: Adrien Brody, Jennifer Esposito, Mike Starr, Michael
Rispoli). First of all, they don't have to fake their accents. Secondly,
New Yorkers just have a certain vibe that cannot be fabricated. It also
helps that the actors all have a great chemistry with one another. The cast
is excellent all-around, with not one bad apple in the bunch. I think John
Leguizamo gives the best performance of his career. For a comedic actor, he
can surely pull off a straight role with flying colors. Part of the reason
why is because he doesn't try too hard to play the drama, and when there's a
scene that gives him a comic opportunity, he takes advantage. It's nice to
see that Brody became famous, after winning an Oscar for "The Pianist" (as a
side note, he's the youngest ever actor to win a Best Actor Oscar). If
you're anxious to check out one of his good earlier performances, he does a
superb job in this movie. Some people have criticized the use of F-bombs
throughout the film--and yes, there are many. If you're easily offended by
bad language, this will be like sitting through a death camp. But I didn't
feel the language was in any way gratuitous. We're dealing with
working-class Italian-Americans from the Bronx, who are involved in things
like drugs and prostitution! Obviously, they're not going to be saying
things like "gosh darn it!" This is not like "South Park" where there's
just profanity for the sake of profanity. It adds to the film's realism.
Finally, I loved the film's lighting style. Some of the shots are rough and
grainy, but it helps intensify the gritty tone of the film. If you're one
of those people who likes slow-moving character studies with great acting,
you might share my feelings about "Summer of Sam." Obviously, if you're
part of the summer blockbuster crowd who favors explosions and gross-out
gags, this will put you to sleep. The movie runs at approximately 2 hours
and 20 minutes, yet I never once felt bored. I'm not one of those people
with a minute attention span, but any movie that can sustain my interest for
2 hours and 20 minutes deserves much acclaim. I have nothing wrong with
long movies, as long as they're not overlong. After all, bad movies are
never too short and good movies are never too long. When a movie is this
great, you don't want it to end abruptly; you want it to keep going. (10
out of 10)
P.S.: The seventies soundtrack is magnificent!
Spike Lee goes berserk with SUMMER OF SAM, a twisted revisiting of the Son
of Sam killings, New York, 1977. Lee steps away from his usual message
pictures depicting the differences between blacks and whites and plunges us
into the small Italian neighborhood within the largest city in the United
States that serial killer David Berkowitz terrorized for months. The "Son
of Sam" himself (played by Michael Badalucco) is placed in the back seat and
Lee presents a community and an era for that matter in complete
SUMMER OF SAM has its good points and its bad points. We get to know this locale very well whether we like it or not. The characters who populate the neighborhood are funny, sad, and stupid all at the same time. You get a feel for the smells and the language of that time in that place. 1977 was the year of Disco's peak, the uprising of British punk rock (represented well by the Adrien Brody character "Ritchie"), and the Yankees were on top of the baseball world. These characters are truly nuts in their vigilante approach to finding the killer. Hell, Reggie Jackson (#44) may be the .44 caliber killer.
Aside from seeing into a sometimes gripping and stupefying world of violence and flash, the film does go overboard many times. Lee continuously rams the sex aspect of the period into our minds and Berkowitz is not seen or known enough. I did not expect a Berkowitz bio at all, however a more focused look at the killer would have proved more effective. The relationship between "Vinny" and "Dionna" (John Leguizamo and Mira Sirvino) is well-done, but over-told. True, "Vinny" is the movie's central character, but he has barely a redeeming quality and is a hard-headed product of his environment.
The cinematography and overall sound of SUMMER OF SAM is awesome. It looks grimy when it should and the use of The Who on the soundtrack is emotionally rousing, especially during the inevitable climax. I liked the picture mostly for cinematic reasons than for historical or emotional ones. The fictional neighborhood pieces are not as good as the small glimpses of Berkowitz, who does indeed chat with dogs. It did remind me in many ways of Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING, but this film has a larger canvas to paint. It works despite the shortcomings.
The Summer Of Sam is the story of just one group of people and what they went through during the Summer of 1977 in New York during the "Son of Sam murders". If you are expecting a film the is solely about the David Berkowitz and the son of sam murders you will be dissapointed because while this does tell that story all the way through the film it is more about a just one set of people and how it affected them. The acting is very good especially from John Leguizano (vinny) and the gorgious Mira Sorvino (Dionna) and although sometimes the film drags a little they make this fresh and worthwile sticking through the 137 minutes. The soundtrack is fantastic as is the direction from Spike Lee and it is nice to see him doing a subject that is different from his usual African American topics. A good movie . 8 out of 10.
Summer of Sam was berated on its US release by New Yorkers and relatives of
the victims of serial killer David Berkowitz alike. In the summer of 1977,
paranoia eclipsed disco fever as the so-called .44 Killer murdered six and
injured seven, all while keeping in contact with columnist Jimmy Breslin
(whose comments bookend this movie). Not the kind of events to revisit in
these days of the easily offended, and seeing Lee's claustrophobic take on
Berkowitz in his deranged apartment is almost enough deter you from
the Big Apple.
The focus of the movie is an insular community of Italian-Americans. Mistrust rules the roost: the only thing close-knit about them is an occasional cheesy tank-top. Fear and conformity underpin the set-pieces upon which Lee thrives, from cops meeting a Mafia chief (Ben Gazarra) to a half-hearted Studio 54-style orgy. John Leguizamo thrives when passing himself off as John Travolta, but his marriage is a hollow sham. His quest for redemption hinges on saving punk friend Ritchie (Adrien Brody) from both himself and the lynchmob they grew up with.
Summer of Sam has invited comparisons with Do the Right Thing, on account of its portrayal of the simmering tensions building up to horrendous violence. Yet the lifestyles on show throughout make it closer to Scorsese's Mean Streets, albeit balanced by several strong female leads, notably Mira Sorvino. At 142 minutes it has stretched the attention span of some viewers and reviewers, but as the closing credits roll Lee has got us to care about the characters as each boils over. Ditching the irksome music video/sitcom visuals - even at a Late-term Abortions gig, with Ritchie on guitar - this is Spike Lee's most mature joint to date.
With films like 'Inside Man' and the upcoming 'Selling Time', it
appears as though Spike Lee is departing from his gritty streetwise
films on racial prejudice, and into the pleasant commercial world of
Hollywood. He stills touches upon the odd racial issue today, as is his
trademark, but they seem more like mandatory inclusions than anything
else, being left unexplored and unimportant. This is not saying Summer
of Sam is a lecture on racism or anything (in fact, it steers away from
the topic), but it fits the gritty crime-infested streets style that
Lee used to do so well.
Summer of Sam brutally zooms in on an Italian-American South Bronx neighbourhood in the summer of 1977 -- the hottest summer ever, a real killer. Lee does not shy away from sex, drugs, raunchy dialogue or violence in his portrayal of the events which are based on reality of the summer nights when Sam murdered women on the streets. As the Bronx inhabitants grow anxious and suspicious of the murders, Summer of Sam focuses its story on Vinny (John Lequizamo), his marriage with Dionna (Mira Sorvino) and his friends and we see how the killings affect their lives, while plating the "Son of Sam" himself in the backseat to make room for these dynamic characters.
I can admit that there is no strong point or focus in this film, but I don't think it's entirely necessary. It's a portrayal, and a realistic one at that -- it is also a portrayal of an era, the 1970s and this is most apparent in the flashy 54-styled nightclubs that Vinny and Dionna go to. It occasionally drags on, but this is good because it emphasizes the terrible heat and anxiousness of the city, making it almost nightmarish. It is so realistic that you can almost feel the heat and dirt on your clothes as if you were right there in steaming hot New York City. I therefore feel that a great deal of praise is due to a film that succeeds in being haunting without actually dealing with the murders head-on.
Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam," like most of his films, emerges as an
intriguing but, nevertheless, regrettable failure. Using as his background
the long, hot summer of 1977, when the serial killer known as the Son of
held New York City in the grip of terror, Lee spins a tale of drug abuse,
infidelity and violence among a group of Italians living in a Bronx
neighborhood. Unfortunately, Lee's meandering take on the subject robs it
of much of its potential drama as he searches for a focal point that will
make it compelling to the audience. He only occasionally succeeds and that
is when he concentrates on the two lead characters: Vinny, whose deep
religious convictions and sincere devotion to his wife cannot compel him to
resist his womanizing compulsions, and Dionna, his beautiful but
longsuffering wife, who suspects his infidelities and desperately struggles
to satisfy Vinny's strong sexual needs but who runs up against the
of her husband's strange misapprehension about what exactly constitutes the
extent of marital relations. Vinny, in particular, as he struggles against
the demons that plague him and the guilt they impose on him, suggests a
complexity of character that makes him a compelling center for this
otherwise sprawling story.
Unfortunately, many of the subsidiary characters, who surround these two and keep pulling us away from them, emerge as little more than ethnic and sexual stereotypes, from the neighborhood mob boss (Ben Gazarra) to the loving-father drug dealer to the punk rock iconoclast to the local flaming "fairy." Not even strong performances by a game cast can infuse these roles with the depth and humanity necessary to justify their inclusion in the film.
Stylistically, this film is much less visually flashy than previous Lee works with less elaborate camerawork and only the occasional near-subliminal quick cuts (used to convey memories) to distract us. Lee should, also, have avoided at all costs the temptation to cast himself as an on-site news reporter. Even more egregiously, why oh why did Lee feel compelled to visualize literally (through animatronics) the demon dog that Berkowitz reportedly cited as the motivation for his crimes actually barking out instructions to the crazed psychopath?
The risk in these docudramas is that the moviemakers will not be able to match, in their narrative, the compelling nature of the actual events upon which they are based. Lee's film is no exception, for just as the killer is captured, the fictional side of the story resolves itself in a flurry of heavy handed "Ox Bow Incident" melodramatics, scarcely credible even for a cadre of characters as lacking in common sense as these are. "Summer of Sam" is notable for the performances of John Leguizamo and Mira Sorvino in the central roles, its disco-drenched soundtrack and its letter-perfect recreation of a particular moment in recent American history. What a shame, then, that the film never really coheres into a satisfying whole.
It's a shame this movie came out when it did, during a time when it was as politically incorrect as it could get to have violence in a movie (think post-Colorado shootings). If this movie were released a year sooner or later it wouldn't have been as ignored and hated as it is. This is really a good movie, if you aren't expecting a crime-thriller, but an interesting look at the summer of 77 in New York. The use of music is outstanding in this movie, the atmosphere is incredible, the editing is flawless, and it makes my top ten of 99. Not for the faint of heart (ie. conservatives who go insane when they see sex or violence on the screen). There is nothing 'a priori' wrong with having sex or violence in a movie. If you don't like that kind of stuff, what the #$%$ did you see this movie for?
The film is a collection of cliche's on just about anything out there. It
has no focus whatsoever, no goals, no real message. Symbolism is pushed over
the top and stereotyping is abundant and outrageous.
This movie can't resist the temptation of making drama where non exists.
Every small exchange of words turns immediately into a lengthy, unjustified
dialog that is so typical of an acting class rehearsal. Where there is no
substance to this exchange, the actors (regardless of how good they are
normally) can't help but compensate with exaggerated emotion, aka "raising
the stakes". Over acting, to put it simply. The directing is of no help
here. Nothing can save this non-story. It is forced, faked and boring to
Inaccuracies in portaraying punk rock with The Who, piercings and flashy
90's outfits. Characters wander without a role, detail and motive. Locations
are arbitrary. This is Boogie Nights cum The Good Fellas cum Saturday Night
Fever, with meaning and art ripped out.
Good DP. I'll give it that.
Some films have flaws. This film is Lee's flaw. He sold out, like the rest of them. Became irrelevant. He has nothing of interest to say anymore.
I have no desire to see anything again from this guy (whom I'll refrain from naming from now on).
Summer of Sam is complete cinematic crap, and an utter waste of time. It's not the sex, it's not the violence; it's the terrible characters, the meandering and plotless script (lots of subplots, but no real plot), and the horrid directing that make this one big stinking pile and one of the worst if not THE worst film of 1999.
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