Saturday, March 19, 2016

MY SUMMER STORY (1994) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Olive Films
Release Date: March 22, 2016
Region Code: A
Duration: 85 Minutes
Rating: PG
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Bob Clark
Cast: Mary Steenburgen, Charles Grodin, Kieran Culkin

Synopsis: The laughs are hardier and the adventures more adventurous as Ralphie Parker (Kieran Culkin, Father of the Bride) goes in search of the perfect spinning top in order to beat his arch rival and school bully Scut Farcus (Chris Owen, American Pie), while Mrs. Parker (Steenburgen) and Mr. Parker (Grodin) cope with the boisterous neighbors, among other summer pursuits. Bob Clark (A Christmas Story) directs My Summer Story from a screenplay by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Clark based on the novel by Shepherd.

Until My Summer Story appeared on DVD from MGM a few years ago I had no idea that there was a sequel to the beloved holiday classic A Christmas Story, which may have had something to do with the fact that the movie studio opted to change the name of the movie shortly before it was released into theater under the name It Runs In The Family back in '94. Bob Clark returned to direct the sequel along with humorist/author Jean Shepherd who wrote the source material and narrates both movies. Unfortunately our beloved Darren McGavin and Peter Billingsly who portrayed the old man Mr. Parker and Ralphie are nowhere to be found this time around, in fact the only returning cast member aside from narrator Jean Shepherd is Tedde Moore, the memorable school teacher Miss Shields, which is sort of a bummer as the first movies longevity is based largely on the presence of both McGavin and Billingsly.

However, having Bob Clark and Jean Shepherd on board does offer some sweet nostalgia for me, with Shepherd's slice of Americana narration setting the stage for the movie and Clark's direction does harken back to the first movie. In place of McGavin we have Charles Grodin who seems to be doing a very rough impersonation of of the former and it feels shallow, Grodin has always played cynics and he doesn't even come close to filling the shoes of the old man. As young Ralphie is the woefully miscast Kieran Culkin  who I love in Igby Goes Down and Dangerous Loves of Altar Boys, but he doesn't in any way capture the charm and wild-eyed wonder of the character we have loved for thirty-plus years, these are huge nostalgic shoes he has to fill, and while he is not awful,  as a continuation of a beloved character his image and portrayal are all wrong. Mary Steenburgen however does turn in a decent performance as the mom this time around. 

In A Christmas Story young Ralphie was obsessed with the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and "this thing which tells time", this one which takes place the following summer is more episodic in nature, which can be said of the original as well, with young Ralphie looking to find the ultimate spinning top toy so he can beat his nemesis, the demented looking brace-face Lug (Whit Hertford), at a game of "killer" whein two tops battle for supremacy. Poor Scut Farkus and Flick from A Christmas Story have been downgraded to sidekicks for Lug. Meanwhile old man Parker continues his war with the hillbilly neighbors the Bumpuses, who are given a bit too much screen time in my opinion. Even Mrs. Parker gets her own storyline as she endeavors to win a Ronald Colman gravy boat at the local cinema, a storyline that did absolutely nothing for me. 

The movie definitely falls flat when compared to the original movie, but I must admit I do have a soft spot for it beyond reason. A lot of this goodwill has do do with seeing more of humorist Jean Shepherd's vision onscreen in the hands of Bob Clark, which makes me happy, even if it doesn't rise to the high standard of the original movie. There's are a few scenes of Ralphie fishing for crappie with his father at the local lake, these scenes reminded me of my own trips to the lake with my father, and this is where the nostalgia for the original story and my own familiar nostalgia cross paths and kick this one up a notch or two. It may not be one of Bob Clark's best movies, but it is certainly not his worst, and it is not the straight-up cash grab that A Christmas Story 2 was, which might be a bit of a backhanded compliment.

My summer story arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films with a healthy looking 1080p HD image, sporting a nice layer of fine film grain with some modest fine detail, depth and clarity. The English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 audio sounds good, some good depth and separation for a stereo channel track, and the Pauil Zaza (My Bloody Valentine) score sounds great. 

While researching the movie I discovered that PBS made a series of TV movies based on the Parker family for American Playhouse, 'Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss', 'The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters', and 'The Phantom of the Open Hearth', not sure who owns those rights but I would be down drop some cash to see them on home video. 3/5.