Wake Me for the Summer Blockbusters

During the lull after Oscar season, here are some DVDs worth staying in and watching. Hey, your other option is Christina Ricci with a pig snout.

It’s going to be a bleak time in movie theaters for a little while.* The Oscars are over, but the world’s not ready for this year’s roster of superhero sequels. The weather is slightly better, but not mild enough to really embrace any notion one might have to romp around outdoors. Top Model just started, but the rest of your favorite shows won’t come back from the strike until April. So what is there to do, you ask?

Museums. No, seriously. I’ve been in a museum-y mood lately, and it seems like where the world of cinema wanes, the art and history world waxes. The White House of the Confederacy, the Valentine, and the Museum of Virginia (et al) seem to be cranking out tons of good exhibits lately, according to the WeeklyRant, but while I can happily fill up my weekends with ambitious culture-absorbing plans, my weeknights remain at the mercy of the digital video disc. So without further ado, here’s my guide to some DVDs to get you through the long haul…for those of you who feel me.

1. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

I don’t think that anyone will disagree with me when I say that you shouldn’t expect Cillian Murphy to defend Irish rights with the intense vehemence that is Daniel Day-Lewis’s trademark. Ruddy-cheeked, hopeful, youthful exuberance, though, Murphy has got down. And what better for the month of March than a beautifully-filmed depiction of what kind of waistcoated guerrilla warfare was going on in the Irish Counties while Michael Collins was off negotiating with the English. It’s rainy, it’s green, it’s full of accents and honor. It goes best with blankets, slippers, hot chocolate, and a cat on your lap.

2. Flight of the Conchords (2007)

Why do I resist things? I always end up liking them in the end, so what’s the point of being a stubborn asshole? I repeat this to myself in the mirror sometimes, occasionally wagging my finger and trying to look stern. Forgiving myself is pretty easy, though, and to my credit, my only exposure to this simultaneously hilarious and adorable show was my boyfriend quoting it and my brother sending me YouTube links. I hate YouTube links. I love Jermaine and Bret though. And I love any TV show that is also a musical. And I love stupid sweatshirts, apparently. Who knew?

3. Brief Encounter (1945)

Quick movie trivia in case you were unaware: a giant chunk of twentieth century American cinema operated under the Production Code of 1934. Movie studios signed agreements to adhere to a very strict code of morality within their films, and anything involving sex, drugs, nudity, or illicit behavior of any kind was summarily censored. All sorts of fascinating things have become fixtures as a result. For instance, we are conditioned to expect someone who murders another human being in a film to be punished, because for such a long time that was the way things legally had to be. Eventually, directors like Otto Preminger (rent Anatomy of a Murder too, while you’re at it) started challenging the rules, then outright defying them. Later on, the studios themselves began releasing films that were a little more realistic and a little less fairyland. The Code morphed into the MPAA rating system, and, luckily for all of us, Viggo Mortensen is free to cavort around a Russian bath in his birthday suit as much as he likes.

Another curious result of the Code is that we tend to think of the 40s, 50s, and even most of the 60s as a morally innocent time in American history. You know, everyone sleeps in separate beds, the wife always has dinner ready for the husband when he gets home from work, and no one ever screws up and gets away with it. Because of this, pictures from the pre-1934 period (like Jean Harlow in Bombshell) seem almost scandalously saucy. Every ribald comment stands out as it becomes surprisingly clear that no one in these movies are waiting until marriage.

Well, films that were made under another country’s system (such as England’s, in Brief Encounter’s case) are almost more shocking in their way. Here it is, clearly the 1940s, and this woman is actually seriously considering adultery. Adultery! And she gets away with it! And…she’s a WOMAN! Making these decisions for herself! Brief Encounter incorporates this gleeful departure from the norm with elegant filmmaking and a score that consists entirely of Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto – what’s not to like?

4. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Guys playing arcade video games is more touching than you think. Five stars more touching.

5. Scotland, Pa. (2001)

This little comedy is one of the most fun films I’ve ever seen. I Netflix it once every couple of years, and it never fails me. I was already convinced that perpetual bit-parter James LeGros is a genius, but cast him as MacBeth in 1975 (MacBeth who owns a fast food restaurant), stick some Christopher Walken in there ,and you’ve got yourself a perfect rainy day flick. But, I mean, I’d be inclined to think so about any movie with a Bad Company soundtrack. Now that’s just funny all on its own.

*Although, to be fair, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is at the Westhampton on Friday.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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