The Best Film, TV and DVDs for Summer

by PopMatters Staff

1 July 2011

Draw the curtains against that relentless summer sunshine. Crank the air conditioner not only for comfort, but to drown out that infernal sound of laughing children. While away some free time this summer in the company of your TV with these recommended shows.

Summer will have some rainy days, as well as some lazy days where you just don’t feel like leaving the house. In our “Watch” segment, PopMatters writers offer their favorite picks for those kind of summer days. These are the TV shows and films they’re queuing up on the DVD player, along with a few suggestions for upcoming metroplex fun and a few new shows.

Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009)

Take Dazed and Confused, drop most of the drug references and move everything to an amusement park during the end of the ‘80s and you have this modern classic from writer/director Greg Mottola. Unlike his previous raunchy sex comedy, Superbad, this filmmaker follows his aimless muse through a series of scenarios meant to show the less than focused feeling generated by the rise of Reaganism and the resulting decade of Greed. Our college kids—lonely, lost, and, and lacking ambition—spend their days running rides and resetting metal milk bottles, their nights acknowledging that, even after four years of education, they understand less about the world than they did before. Alienation has never felt so fresh and alive as it does here. Bill Gibron

The Adventures of Pete and Pete: Seasons One and Two (1993–1996)

Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete was the kind of quirky, children’s programming the network was known for in the ‘90s. Following the antics of the Wrigley brothers, Big Pete and Little Pete, the series was a blend of the absurd and the mundane. Small things such as a snippet of a song being heard on the radio could become the focus of an episode. At the same time, Artie, Little Pete’s personal superhero, made regular appearances and was as integral to the show as any of the little details. By bringing in such disparate elements – the everydayness of life and outrageous characters and situations, the series succeeded in creating something wholly unique. It’s a perfect summertime show for adults to enjoy with children, given its carefree eccentricity and overall looseness, plus you get a lot of great cameos and recurring cast members (Michael Stipe, Iggy Pop, Steve Buscemi,), and music to boot. Sadly, only the first two out of three seasons are currently available on DVD, but they’re worth seeking out. J.M. Suarez

Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)

It’s the greatest summer job ever—getting hired on by Rolling Stone to follow your favorite band around and write about it. This is indeed what happens to 15-year-old William Miller in Cameron Crowe’s autobiographic ode to teen rebellion and rock ‘n’ roll. The set-up, which sees our naïve young hero heading out with the electrifying—if often outrageous and inconsiderate—fictional group, Stillwater, plays as a combination of recall and revisionism. Crowe did indeed work as a journalist while still in high school, but the various life lessons he learned while on the road had to be toned down (a bit) to make the MPAA, and the studio, happy. Still, who wouldn’t want a backstage pass and a soundtrack like this for their coming of age years? Bill Gibron

American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973)

“You can’t stay 17 forever.” The day this truth hits you is a dark, cold one. It’s the end of your innocence. George Lucas may’ve made some others films about walking carpets and talking slugs, but American Graffiti is the film that really packs the heat. It’s tale is as bittersweet and poignant as fading August sunsets. It’s the last ray of sunshine for a bunch of starry-eyed 1962 dorks before diving off that high wire into adulthood’s inevitable, elasticated-waistband decline. Sounds like a grim, staring-out-of-rainy-windows Bergman-style downer, right? Hell no, this is the night before responsibility ‘n’ regrets, this is life exploding with a bang not a whimper. You, dear viewer, can relive those glory days spent pimping your first ride, failing to hypnotise the storeclerk into serving you liquor (“I lost my ID…i n a flood”), escapin’ whoop-ass from the local greasers and most importantly, trying desperately to trackdown that blonde. And the soundtrack! Jeez, only the No. 1 songs from Heaven—Buddy Holly, Del Shannon, Fats Domino, the Platters—all spun by the personification of no surrender rebellion, the lycanthropic lothario that is DJ Wolfman Jack. American Graffiti toasts the Holy Grail of eternal youth; those magical, hopeful summers at their very warmest. Come feel the glow. Matt James

Breaking Bad (2008-present)

While AMC shows like Mad Men and The Walking Dead have taken their fair share of the spotlight, AMC’s most complex and un-nerving show makes it’s long-awaited return. You’ve got plenty of time to catch up on the first three seasons of Breaking Bad before a resolution to last season’s cliffhanger/jaw-dropper is finally given. Bryan Cranston continues to unravel into further criminal depths as Walter H. White, the high school chemistry teacher cancer patient-turned-meth-production overlord. Walter’s gradual and self-justified descent into the underworld invokes a subtle throwback to predecessors as vast as The Godfather and Scarface, while Jesse Pinkman (played brilliantly by Aaron Paul) persists in his emotional implosion as Walther’s unwilling sidekick. The writing on this show progressively mesmerizes with it’s shades of moral ambiguity and uninhibited character studies and devotees to this show are awaiting some long-awaited answers to the unresolved questions of Season Three. Josh Antonuccio

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

A confident, if impetuous detective sits patiently at the top of a sloping cliff, overlooking the Los Angeles coastline as the day’s light drops into evening. He waits, lighting cigarette after cigarette, totally unaware that he has already stumbled into a hornet’s nest of corruption. The beauty of what he sees (and we see) perfectly conceals the brutal ugliness of what is really going on: unwittingly, Jack Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is about to lift up a rock and behold the guts and machinery of what gets sold as the American Dream. It’s hot and dry; indeed, the backdrop of the story is a severe drought that is wreaking havoc on local farmers. Over the course of a few scorching days, cars overheat, people drown in dry riverbeds, and a great deal of blood, sweat and tears indelibly compensate for the rain that won’t fall and the relief that never comes. Sean Murphy

CSI Miami (2002-present)

CSI Miami is part of the ridiculously successful CSI franchise created by television mastermind Jerry Bruckheimer. But while CSI takes place at night and its moody cousin CSI New York seems to always film in the middle of winter, there’s no question that CSI Miami is a summer show. The near-blinding light filters and characteristic beach shots are a dead giveaway. Watching the inimitable redhead Horatio Cane in his custom Ray Bans pose with his arms akimbo while his staff scuttle around him in the sweltering heat is enough to make anyone thirsty. CSI Miami is now in its ninth season, and if there’s anything to be learned from the show, it’s this: the sprawling Miami swamps are a great place to get rid of a body. Sally Fink

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