Summer movies need not mean escape.  Here's a handful of films that take place - for the most part - in the heat when romance and adventure take on a heightened reality that attempts to override common sense and leaves us panting for more.  

CHINATOWN.  Roman Polanski sets this thriller in Los Angeles, a city built in a desert.  Jack Nicholson's perfectly tailored white suit seems to keep him perspiration free.  His Jake Gittes is cool in both senses of the word, even when he's having his nose realigned by Polanski and his fleshly appetites appeased by Faye Dunaway.  Alas, by the movie's end Jake is alone in Chinatown and he's wearing a dark suit.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.  Another desert, another hero in white who's just as confident as Jake Gittes and meets pretty much the same fate - a beautiful strategy gone awry.  Don't sit too close to the TV screen unless you come equipped with protective head gear to keep David Lean's sands out of your eyes - and nose. 

THE WILD BUNCH.  More blood and sand, this time south of the border in a Mexico where the rebel leader Mapache ravages the countryside for his own profit.  Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his men need one more heist to be able to move to cooler climes, but the Bunch has to contend with a posse of bounty hunters, the US. Army, Mapache, and an unforgiving terrain.  They go down in mesmerizing glory. 

THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA.  Let's stay close to the border.  We can smell the dust and  experience the desolation of a region that has a love/hate relationship with Mexico and the people who are continually attempting to cross over into the United States.  When Tommy Lee Jones (who directs as well as plays the main character) learns of his friend  Melquiades's death we see no histrionics, only a blighted face experiencing loss.  This movie is about life, its worth and the lengths we can go to make it sacred. 

THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR.  Just one more "sand" movie.  We're in the Hamptons.  Ted and Marion Cole (Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger) have lost their two teenage sons in an automobile accident.  Ted seems only oblivious; at first view his primary goal seems to be the seduction of women.  Marion Cole does not deal directly with her loss but escapes into some place so deep inside her that no one, not Eddie the teenager (Jon Foster) and especially not Ted can  reachThis fearful condition spawned by an intense sorrow is at the heart of Tod Williams’ “The Door in the Floor,” based on the first third of John Irving’s novel “A Widow for One Year.”  Much underrated by most critics.


WIMBLEDON.  Finally we're on grass, manicured grass which can, however, be just as unforgiving as the barren desert.  For this is Wimbledon, the most famed tennis venue in the world.  Isn’t it fun to go to a movie where the director—in this case Richard Loncraine—makes all the right decisions:  first get good actors who look the part, hire  an editor who knows enough about tennis to keep the action crisp and entertaining, get a photographer who knows London.  And by the way, I haven’t seen London ever look this good in a movie in a long while.   

A SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY.  The story takes place on a summer Sunday in the French countryside near Paris in 1912.  The date is important, for the reputations of Monet, Renoir, Caillebotte are in the ascendancy and Academic painting is being marginalized. Monsieur Ladmiral is old and will soon die, yet he keeps to his routine, polishing his shoes, bantering with his housekeeper, checking his studio, walking to the train station to meet his son and family whose Sunday visits are a source of both pleasure and wistful regret.  A pure pleasure to watch, thanks to Bertrand Tavernier's impressionist sensitivity and the work of Louis Ducreux and Sabine Azéma.

BROKEN FLOWERS.  Jim Jarmusch is an independent filmmaker in the true sense of  the term. He owes very little to the Hollywood establishment, preferring to make movies that have few similarities with today’s blockbusters.  If you’ve never seen a Jarmusch movie you’ll be surprised to hear that “Broken Flowers” is his most accessible. Bill  Murray has turned minimal acting into high art.

DON'T COME KNOCKING.  Butte is not Montana's most picturesque city, yet cinematographer Franz Lustig's cityscape is replete with regret, like Howard Spence (played by Sam Shepherd), a washed up cowboy movie star who goes on one of the quirkiest odysseys you're likely to see.  Jessica Lang and Sam Shepard  have not made nearly enough movies together.  Here they both are alone in Butte--alone together.  It defies logic, and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as we get to feel their thinking.

MANHATTAN.  Manhattan is New York City's smallest borough measuring only 23.7 square miles, and one of the most densely populated places in the United States.  Woody Allen's Manhattan, on the other hand, is expansive, rarely crowded; its inhabitants have space to walk unimpeded, to run if needs be, to be liberated.  It's an exhilarating place to be.  Allen's best picture.