The Best Film, TV and DVDs for Summer

by PopMatters Staff

1 July 2011


Friday Night Lights and more...

Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)

Not enough football in the summer? NBC’s critical darling and perpetual underdog, Friday Night Lights, will get you through until August. Don’t care about football one way or the other? Sign yourself up for Panthers football, too. You won’t regret it. Now that Friday Night Lights has officially ended its five season run, the summer offers the perfect time to catch up with one of the best televised dramas of all time. Yes, it’s about football in a small Texas town, but it’s also about so much more than that. Ultimately, Friday Night Lights gives us the strongest depiction around of people doing their best when the world gets them down. You’ll cry, you’ll laugh, you’ll get on your feet to cheer (and not just at the two-or-three minutes of football per episode). This is feel good television you don’t have to feel guilty about watching. Clear eyes, full hearts. Corey Beasley

Green Lantern (Martin Campbell, 2011)

Yes, I’m recommending the Green Lantern set for release on 17 June and no, I haven’t seen it yet. I have a few key reasons for faith, though, in the $150 million production responsible for recreating my favorite superhero on the big screen. The first is Martin Campbell. The man behind Goldeneye and Casino Royale obviously knows how to take a big budget and produce entertaining, unrelenting action. Not only does it look like he’s taking the material seriously, but someone wisely decided to incorporate the Green Lantern oath into the climax of the commercials. It’s a great speech, and it should spark interest and please fans simultaneously. Finally, it’s about damn time Ryan Reynolds got his shot at a franchise. The actor has been consistently funny for longer than I can remember. It’s his time and, considering his profound love for comic books, I think he’ll take full advantage. Here’s looking forward to some original summer fun. Go Green! Ben Travers

Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Honestly, you can’t have a list devoted to summer entertainment and not include the film that literally invented the May to August blockbuster. An untried Steven Spielberg, star of a couple low budget films and a few acclaimed Universal TV series, was given the task of bringing Peter Benchley’s soon to be popular shark-based bestseller to the screen—and everything went wrong. The weather was horrible (filming started in the chilly fall on Martha’s Vineyard, off the New England coast), the casting was complicated and most importantly, the prefabricated fish refused to work. So Spielberg had no choice but to let his directorial skills do the scaring. It worked, turning this cinematic novice into the king of popcorn entertainment. Bill Gibron

John From Cincinnati (2007)

I live in Wisconsin, far from the California shoreline, and have never even come close to surfing, but John From Cincinnati, about a family of washed-out surfers visited by a possible angel-alien, is not only my favorite summer television show, but my favorite show of any season. Created by David Milch (Deadwood, NYPD Blue) JFC is unlike any TV you’ll ever see. Its antic characters, obscure monologues and swift shifts from the prosaic to the metaphysical threaten to alienate the most committed fan and may have contributed to the show’s barely-single-season demise. I think Milch anticipated cancellation and so did whatever he wanted, delivering a crazy, hermetic, philosophical mystery series that is both rewarding and perplexing. The cast includes intriguing amateurs, many of Deadwood’s strongest character actors, and more familiar faces, most especially Ed O’Neill, who gives one of the best performances ever. I mean it. Watch him and weep. Guy Crucianelli

Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List (2005-2010)

Kathy Griffin’s celebreality show aired six summer seasons (2005-2010) and is now on DVD, offering a tasty poolside cocktail of Hollywood satire mixed with guilty pleasure celeb worship. Smart and campy, Griffin ridiculed entertainment industry excesses, whether learning Paris Hilton’s paparazzi poses, tweaking Ryan Seacrest, or critiquing Oprah worship. Scathing enough to get banned from talk shows, Griffin insisted she loved the culture she bashed. Slamming Hollywood’s narcissism, she nevertheless celebrated artists who inspired her such as Betty White, Cher and yes, even Carol Channing (whom she stalked). Her show was a platform for her social activism. Her televised pap smear was a crazed PSA for women’s health and a send-up of celebrity “charity work” self-promotion. Griffin added personal-life reality plotlines, including her then-hubby’s embezzlement, her father’s death, and her buoyant love for 90-year-old mother Maggie. Turning the sharp commentary on herself, Griffin revealed a watchful sympathy underneath the snarky wit. Leigh H. Edwards

LA Story (Mick Jackson, 1991)

Steve Martin’s made more ambitious movies, and he’s certainly made more successful ones, but this 1991 love letter to Los Angeles, which Martin wrote, is one of his most consistently enjoyable and certainly most underrated. Martin is bumbling weatherman Harris K. Telemacher, who tries to escape his existential LA funk by wooing British journalist Sara McDowel (the wonderful Victoria Tennant), but not before getting through an unlikely relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker’s lovably ditzy SanDeE* (that’s how she spells it—hey this is LA!). Hijinks aplenty ensue, and Hollywood culture gets a good pre-Curb Your Enthusiasm skewering, but the film’s tone is as sunny as the palm tree-lined locations. Martin’s stream of great one-liners never lets up, and there’s as much genuine feeling here as you could expect from a film whose plot turns on a magical road sign. With a great supporting cast including Richard E. Grant, Marilu Henner, and Patrick Stewart, LA Story goes down like a refreshing yet satisfyingly strong mojito. John Bergstrom

The League (2009-present)

Does It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia seem a little too, um, loud to you? If you dig the quickfire, deadpan humor of that show but get sick of ALL THE YELLING (seriously, calm down, you guys), check FX’s cult favorite, The League. It, too, revolves around a group of friends backbiting and backsliding into adolescence, but it does so with just a bit more character and little more likeability for the dudes (and lady) themselves. (Well, maybe not for Ruxin.) Cue up Season One, sit back, and belly-laugh your way through Season Two and the summer, while you’re at it. Corey Beasley

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