The Best Film, TV and DVDs for Summer

by PopMatters Staff

1 July 2011


Do the Right Thing and more...

Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau, 2011)

We’ve all seen this trailer and laughed at it. An 1800s Arizona cowboy town getting attacked by aliens is, in absolute honesty, a ridiculous plot. But within that absurdity lies the exact reason to see it. Based on a graphic novel of the same title, Cowboys & Aliens has the opportunity to live up to the classic old western, combining it with the modern edge of special effects and that-would-never-happen-in-real-life events. It will be tough to win over today’s cynical movie-goers, but with Jon Favreau (Ironman) directing Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and some of the screen’s best and most sought after talent, (Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine), it may be worth giving it the benefit of the doubt. Jonathan Kosakow

Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)

Like a whiff of marijuana smoke from a distant rock concert (or VW van), Richard Linklater’s coming of age comedy, set during the last day of school in the Bicentennial year of 1976, reeks of Me Decade dope and endless teenage dreams. Everything about this amazing period piece is right on point: the clothes, the music, the laconic “what me worry” attitude, and the rising sense that such lazy hazy days were quickly drawing to a close. While following the rituals of his own high school days and tapping into the universal sentiment of adolescent abandonment and freedom, Linklater crafted a classic of bong hits, bell bottoms, and breaking loose. Bill Gibron

Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

I’m not sure if any film has ever captured the feeling of heat better than Spike Lee’s landmark 1989 movie. From the brightly colored paint on the streets to the children playing in the water hydrant, Brooklyn in the heart of summer comes to glorious life. Lee’s film achieves a perfect marriage of setting and theme, since the external heat reflects the simmering internal feelings of racial conflict within the characters. Famously, these emotions boil to the surface in one of the most provocative works about race in recent memory. Jacob Adams

Spike Lee’s incendiary screed on racism and reality plays out during the hottest day ever in the already broiling Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. The main narrative sees a local pizza parlor targeted for its lack of diversity. The subplots and text then circle around the story, adding the kind of sweltering socio-political heat that no amount of sun can manufacture. It’s no surprise that things eventually explode, a resulting riot doing more to offset things than right or reset them. It stands as solid proof that not all summers are the setting for nods to nostalgia or works of wistful solace. Bill Gibron

Drive Angry on Blu-ray (Patrick Lussier, 2011)

What screams summer fun more than Nic Cage driving a muscle car out of hell to rescue his kidnapped granddaughter from satanic worshipers? Ok, so it’s not the lightest of material, but it isn’t exactly heavy, either. It’s pure popcorn entertainment that should have been released during these wild summer months instead of when it was, during dark, cold February. Maybe then it would have made more than one-fifth its cost back at the box office. Cage stars as Milton and, despite a somewhat lackadaisical performance, manages to remain menacing and hand out a few fun one-liners. Even better is the smokin’ hot Amber Heard as his illogical sidekick. Even more surprising is the two never take the time to hook up. Instead, the duo keeps on kicking butt for 90-plus minutes. So pop some corn, grab a beer out of the cooler, and rustle up some friends. They’ll thank you after the first slow-mo shootout. Trust me. Ben Travers

Empire Records (Allan Moyle, 1995)

“Damn the Man! Save the Empire!” A certified cult classic now but a small-scale critical and box-office disappointment upon release, Empire Records offers the kind of sweet and innocently angsty coming of age tale that speaks to every pop culture lover who ever worked at a record store, video store, or movie theater during high school summers. A relic of the ‘90s featuring early career performances from Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler, and Robin Tunney, Empire Records functions like a giddier The Breakfast Club for Generation Y, bringing together differential souls on “Rex Manning Day” the summer before their post-high school lives begin. With the young record store employees uncertain of their futures, they band together to save the future of their place of work, and the livelihood of their employer, Joe (Anthony LaPaglia). Pat and twee and all too memorable and fun, you’ll have Maxwell Caufield’s “Say No More, Mon Amour” in your head for weeks. Michelle Welch

The Eurovision Song Contest

You can keep your Idols, and all things Simon Cowell, for millions, there’s only one music show worth watching: The Eurovision Song Contest. This is a television event which for me, at least, marked the countdown to childhood summers in a northern English town. Cheerfully ignoring any artistic pretentions, The Eurovision Song Contest is a camp behemoth that devours musical styles whole, taking in nu-metal, pseudo-middle eastern drumming in strange hats and operatic wailing in nonsensical English. In recent years, The Eurovision Song Contest lost its footing as a music contest, attracting more interest for political hissy fits amid happy-clappy songs about love and understanding. Easy to forget, then, that The Eurovision Song Contest once launched bone-fide international acts, like ABBA and Celine Dion. UK commentary taken over by former stand-up Graham Norton (replacing Terry Wogan), remains traditionally xenophobic and endows the contest with the seriousness it deserves—or makes it an ironic guilty pleasure, beloved of slacking undergrads everywhere. Maysa Hattab

Frankie & Annette MGM Movie Legends Collection (1963-1967)

In an odd way, the beach movies of the early ‘60s were a way of selling juvenile rebellion to a new post-delinquent demographic. Good wholesome fun replaced gangs and glorified rumbles, and nobody did it cleaner (or whiter) than Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. With America already in the grip of the warm California sun, thanks to surf culture and its accompanying Brian Wilson penned soundtrack, the producers at American International Pictures hit paydirt. This collection captures some of their best—Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, and Muscle Beach Party, along with five others—and shows that, along with all the lame jokes and Central Casting stereotypes, there was a lot of happiness and heart. Bill Gibron

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