/Film's Alternative Summer Movie Guide: What To Watch At Home Alongside The Big Blockbusters

Summer time and the living's easy.

It's already May, so there's a decent chance you've sifted through an assortment of seasonal preview pieces, letting you know exactly which tentpoles are hitting when, and why you should be excited to experience their whizzbang delights in a theater near you. But what do you do when the lights go up, and you've got a whole week to burn before the next big budget diversion rolls into your local multiplex? Or maybe you don't want to sit through another SFX driven bit of spectacle, and desire a different breed of entertainment while lounging at home?

That's why I'm here, to deliver /Film's "Alternative Summer Movie Guide". When I'm not writing, I'm privileged to run one of the last rental shops on the planet (Vulcan Video in Austin, Texas), so I spend a solid amount of time making off the beaten path recommendations to folks simply looking for slices of cinema they've never heard of. With that in mind, take all these titles as potential double-feature pairings with each week's major release; or perhaps a complete substitute, saving you a trip to the theater, so that you can be wowed by weirdness from the comfort of your couch.

The Major Release: Avengers: Infinity War

Your Suggested Alternative: Zardoz [1974, d. John Boorman]

We're obviously a touch late, but perhaps instead of setting up a second viewing of Infinity War this weekend, sit down with John Boorman's utterly bonkers, hallucinatory space adventure Zardoz, where Sean Connery (playing cosmic crusader Zed) wears nothing but a red mankini and some knee-high stripper boots. Easily one of the wildest studio monstrosities ever unleashed upon humanity, Zardoz sees advanced superbeings (the Eternals) waging war against a sect of savages (the Brutals), while creating their own God (Zardoz!) in the process. There's a bunch of subtext about despotic conquerors and false idols, yet what keeps you glued is the acid-doused visuals and a nubile Charlotte Rampling, vamping it up as a kidnapped Eternal. To reveal any more would do a virgin viewer a disservice, but let's just say you should have a healthy helping of drugs handy.

Zardoz is available to stream on Amazon.

The Major Release: Overboard

Your Suggested Alternative: Smiley Face [2007, d. Gregg Araki]

'90s queer indie cinema staple Gregg Araki's attempt to go somewhat mainstream, Smiley Face is a stoner comedy dedicated to Anna Faris devotees, following her blonde pixie burnout actress through an increasingly silly series of misadventures that're kicked off by a batch of pot-laced cupcakes. Araki's picture sits at the intersection of Cheech & Chong and Robert Altman; Half Baked for ex-video store rats that features a rather memorable appearance by a young John Krasinski and a collection of sun-soaked LA locations. Once it's finished, Smiley Face will make you want to call your dealer and explore a wacky rollercoaster day of your own.

Smiley Face is available on DVD, courtesy of Millennium Entertainment

May 11

The Major Release: Life of the Party 

Your Suggested Alternative: Back To School [1986, d. Alan Metter]

Anyone who grew up during the '90s and watched too much Comedy Central will recall Rodney Dangerfield's Thornton Mellon – the fat clothes titan who re-enrolled in college to both pursue his degree, and party like hell with his son (Keith Gordon). Back to School was the best Rodney vehicle (outside of Caddyshack, of course), capitalizing on his bug-eyed "no respect" persona, while trotting out a multitude of incredible cameos – including a screeching Sam Kinison as a 'Nam-obsessed history professor – to support this rather low-concept comedy, delivering a shitload of laughs, plus a coked-out Robert Downey Jr. wearing a missile helmet. Crank the Oingo Boingo and try out the Triple Lindy at your next pool party.

Back to School is available to stream on Amazon

May 18

The Major Release: Deadpool 2

Your Suggested Alternative: McBain [1991, d. James Glickenhaus]

NYC sleaze purveyor James Glickenhaus progressively improved with each reprehensible scum exercise he strung together. By the time you get to McBain – one of Glickenhaus' few studio pictures – you can still recognize the degenerate who helmed the psycho vigilante opus, The Exterminator. He's just slightly cleaned up and working with actors like Christopher Walken now, crafting his own personal Dogs of War by combining these "street justice" fascinations with a fixation on militaristic might (if you're feeling particularly ambitious, pair this mercenary bloodbath with his Bond knock-off, The Soldier). Showcasing a supporting cast that includes Michael Ironside, Glick regular Steve James (in one of his final big screen roles before his untimely death in '93), and Abel Ferrara freak Victor Argo, McBain is one of the better "mercs on a mission" movies you've probably never seen.

McBain is available to stream on Amazon

May 25

The Major Release: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Your Suggested Alternative: Three Outlaw Samurai [1964, d. Hideo Gosha] 

Though the trailer for Solo is prominently selling Star Wars' Western influences, Three Outlaw Samurai will serve as a great reminder regarding how most of these intergalactic operas are simply Japanese Ronin tales transplanted in space. Many will recommend that you take in a Kurosawa cut for the purest refresher on George Lucas' primary inspirations, but Three Outlaw Samurai is one of the better, often overlooked tales of feudal righteousness, told with razor sharp precision by Hideo Gosha, and containing some thrilling early '60s swordfights. At 95 minutes, it's a much easier sit than many of its more famous samurai counterparts.

Three Outlaw Samurai is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

June 1

The Major Release: Action Point

Your Suggested Alternative: Rollercoaster [1977, d. James Goldstone]

While Johnny Knoxville is catapulting himself through the side of barns and using waterslides as human cannons, Rollercoaster gifts you George Segal investigating a terrorist targeting the nation's favorite amusement park attractions. James Goldstone's lo-fi thriller was one of the few movies to be shown in Sensurround – a D-Box precursor that almost deafened you with its blaring soundtrack and made your butt rumble in its seat. The whole exercise is incredibly silly, but the Lalo Schifrin score will be stuck in your head for days afterward, and there's legitimate tension, waiting for the next set of careening cars to fly off the track.

Rollercoaster is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Shout! Factory

June 8

The Major Release: Ocean’s 8

Your Suggested Alternative: Set It Off [1996, d. F. Gary Gray] 

Ocean's 8 is out here acting like it's the first female-fronted heist film ever made. Wrong. Before F. Gary Gray was helming biopics about famous rappers, he was delivering cheap thrills like Set It Off – a bank heist picture where four desperate black women – Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise, Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett – pull off the score of a lifetime, only to get caught up in a web of deceit and paranoia. A masterclass in '90s action craft, Gray makes us fall in love with these beautiful badasses, all while an obsessed dick (John C. McGinley) tries to bring them down. Added bonus: a soundtrack comprised of radio-ready bangers.

Set It Off is available to stream on Amazon

June 15

The Major Release: The Incredibles 2

Your Suggested Alternative: The Return of Captain Invincible [1983, d. Philippe Mora] 

Yes, the kids should be left at home for this one, but if you've never seen Alan Arkin play a washed-up hero, emerging from retirement to take down Christopher Lee's diabolical Mr. Midnight, then you simply have not yet lived a full life. Much like Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, Captain Fantastic was also forced into retirement; his post-WII heroics curbed by McCarthy-esque persecution. Instead of moving to suburbia and settling down, Arkin's spandex-sporting creep relocated Down Under and began drinking himself to death. A true gem that arrived at the tail end of the Aussie Ozploitation boom of the '70s and early '80s, The Return of Captain Invincible is just waiting there to become you new favorite "cult classic".

The Return of Captain Invincible is available on DVD, courtesy of IMAGE Entertainment

June 22

The Major Release: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Your Suggested Alternative: It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive [1987, d. Larry Cohen] 

What began as a bizarre metaphor for the difficulties of parenting (It's Alive) and evolved into trademark Larry Cohen societal commentary by the second film (It Lives Again), morphed into full-blown preposterous monster movie territory by the third and final installment, Island of the Alive. Michael Moriarty is no longer the caretaker of mutant infants, but rather their liberator, travelling to the desert isle where they've been quarantined by the government. The best exploitation movies were about exploitation itself, and Cohen has genuine sympathy for these sideshow demons, allowing us to see them in a whole new light, while never denying their deadly place on this horror film food chain. In short, It's Alive III is further proof of the writer/director's genius, and one of the rare second sequels that may be better than both of its predecessors.

It's Alive III: Island of the Alive is available as part of the It's Alive Collection, courtesy of Shout! Factory.

June 29

The Major Release: Sicario: Day of Soldado 

Your Suggested Alternative: The Boss [1973, d. Fernando di Leo] 

Possibly little-known fact, Day of Soldado director Stefano Sollima is the son of noted Italian exploitation workman Sergio Sollima, who was behind the camera for two of the greatest poliziotteschi pictures of all time (Violent City, Revolver). Perhaps this explains why the second Sicario looks so much seedier than the first, as Sollima Family blood is pumping through its disreputable heart. With that in mind, perhaps you should sit down with Eurosleaze master Fernando di Leo's scummy masterwork The Boss, which sees a skilled hitman (leather-faced Henry Silva) effectively kicking off a full-scale war between Mafia families. The final entry in Di Leo's loosely connected "Milieu Trilogy" – don't worry, you don't have to see the other chapters to understand this one (though you should, because they're awesome) – The Boss is also the scummiest, cinematically embodying its creator's disdain for these greasy hoods. In short, The Boss is a total scorcher that's also an essential entry into the Italocrime canon.

The Boss is available as part of The Fernando di Leo Collection, courtesy of Raro Video

July 4

The Major Release: The First Purge

Your Suggested Alternative: The Killing Of America [1981, Sheldon Renan & Leonard Schrader]

An American Mondo doc co-directed by Paul Schrader's brother Leonard, The Killing of America details a fascist red, white and blue state via a torrent of cruel footage, which escalates to near apocalyptic levels of brutality against innocent lives. Post Trump, the new cliché regarding searing older works that cover America's incurable societal woes (racism, abuse of power, predatory behavior) is that they're "more relevant now than they were then", but that certainly applies here. Every minute of The Killing of America is a brutal impeachment, shoving fear and violence down our throats for 90 minutes, while offering zero suggestions regarding how to change our evil ways. It's as if those who incepted the fictional Purge watched this real-world document and just decided to let us off each other without legal repercussions.

The Killing of America is available to stream on Amazon.

July 6

The Major Release: Ant-Man & The Wasp

Your Suggested Alternative: Dollman [1991, d. Albert Pyun]

Tim Thomerson became something of an in-house player for Charles Band's Empire Pictures/Full Moon over the years, and while many will (rightfully) cite Jack Deth in the Trancers series as his defining work, master of sci-fi disaster Albert Pyun (Cyborg) made damn good use of his square-chinned C-List badassery in Dollman, where Thomerson plays the titular twelve-inch guardian of the galaxy. Regardless of what Earth's done to his size, Brick Bardo must take on angry gangs, dodge curious kids, and thwart intergalactic enemies, despite being so damn little. It's all very silly, but at 78 minutes, you're in and out with a smile on your face before you know it.

Dollman is available to stream on Amazon.

July 13

The Major Release: Skyscraper 

Your Suggested Alternative: Sudden Death [1995, d. Peter Hyams] 

The Rock's upcoming Die Hard riff (apparently set in the world's most technologically advanced high-rise) looks like it's coming out roughly 20 years too late. Rewind back to the mid-90s, where you have the very best John McClane riff in Jean-Claude Van Damme's sporty terrorism banger, Sudden Death. After Powers Boothe and his thugs take over the Pittsburgh Civics Arena during Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, it's up to Van Damme's lowly security guard to thwart the terrorists' nefarious plot. What starts as a simple knock-off becomes increasingly outlandish, climaxing with Van Damme getting on the ice with the Penguins, disguised as their goalie. Eat that, Dwayne Johnson.

Sudden Death is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Universal Pictures

July 20

The Major Release: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Your Suggested Alternative: Xanadu [1980, d. Robert Greenwald] 

Technically not a sequel to Grease, that Broadway adaptation's massive success helped Olivia Newton-John (already a pop star in her own right) catapult to cinema superstardom, only to have Xanadu rain on that silver screen parade. A disaster by all critical accounts, this "old meets new" remix of Hollywood's Golden Age with the "sounds of the '80s" (all on roller skates) is still incredibly fascinating, if only to hear Newton-John backed by ELO, while dancing side-by-side with Gene Kelly (again, all on roller skates). Trying to recap the plot is a fool's errand, but you don't sign up for something like Xanadu expecting Shakespeare. Instead, it's a gaudily gorgeous curiosity with another killer soundtrack, whose visual schematic is totally captivating, mostly because it's brutally flamboyant.

Xanadu is available to stream on Amazon

July 27

The Major Release: Mission: Impossible – Fallout 

Your Suggested Alternative: Ronin [1998, d. John Frankenheimer] 

David Mamet delivers more of his trademark machine-gun rhythm tough guy dialogue for a bunch of black bag operatives (including Robert De Niro, Stellan Skarsgård, and Jean Reno) to spit at one another, before action movie pioneer John Frankenheimer (The Train, 52 Pick-Up) puts them behind the wheel of multiple BMWs for some of the most stirring car chases this side of The French Connection. Ronin is a crash course in being hard as nails, and at the very least, you'll walk away knowing how to corner an opponent using only a cup of hot coffee.

Ronin is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Arrow Films

August 3

The Major Release: Christopher Robin

Your Suggested Alternative: Phenomena [1985, d. Dario Argento] 

Christopher Robin may be able to talk to cuddly Pooh Bears, but Jennifer Connelly can communicate with bugs in Dario Argento's fairy tale/giallo hybrid, Phenomena. In a career practically defined by eccentricity, Phenomena may contain the most idiosyncrasy-per-second of any of the Italian slasher maestro's better works. On top of Connelly's psychic teen, you've got a wheelchair-bound Donald Pleasence, and a monkey with a fucking straight razor, along with the usual showy murder set pieces we've come to expect from the Deep Red and Suspiria director. While Argento's films are the very epitome of "an acquired taste", Phenomena's colorful strangeness is just accessible enough to recommend to anybody.

Phenomena is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Synapse Films

August 10

The Major Release: The Meg

Your Suggested Alternative: The Car [1977, d. Elliot Silverstein]

Perhaps the strangest Jaws rip off – often replicating whole scenes beat-for-beat – James Brolin plays a small-town deputy who has death arrive at his doorstep. Only instead of manifesting itself in the form of a great white shark, the Grim Reaper is a black, sentient land cruiser, possibly driven by Satan Himself. There's a chasteness to Elliot Silverstein's TV Movie-level diversion, but the ace supporting cast (including John Marley and R.G. Armstrong) bring it to dusty, lumpy life, while the numerous hot pursuits are sped up to a ludicrous level of nightmarish abandon. This summer, you won't go near an ocean, or a highway.

The Car is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Shout! Factory

August 17

The Major Release: Crazy Rich Asians

Your Suggested Alternative: Better Luck Tomorrow [2002, d. Justin Lin]

Before he was helming Star Trek, Fast & The Furious, and True Detective installments, Justin Lin brought us this hyper-stylized tale of Asian-American overachievers who dip their toes into the criminal underworld (and of course get way more than they bargained for). Featuring a future Tokyo Drift player, and a boatload of audacious camerawork/editing, Better Luck Tomorrow is the type of shot-in-the-arm, personal low budget storytelling you desire from a young, hungry director. It's no wonder Lin went on to become a key component in these famous franchises. Better Luck Tomorrow proves he was born for this.

Better Luck Tomorrow is available to stream on Amazon

August 24

The Major Release: Slender Man

Your Suggested Alternative: Strangeland [1998, d. John Pieplow]

Way before Creepypasta, there was Captain Howdy, an S&M and body modification freak who prowled chat rooms looking for something nice and warm to play with. Written by and starring Twisted Sister weirdo Dee Snider, Strangeland is a horror picture polemic regarding the dangers of the Internet, conceived during cyberspace's infancy. Stuffed with morbid imagery, slasher film portentousness, and general unpleasantness, Strangeland isn't going to be for everyone, but it also feels oddly prophetic twenty years later. In its own perverted way, this cult gem was predicting a digital world, filled with opportunities to ruin yourself.

Strangeland is available on DVD, courtesy of Lions Gate.  

August 31

The Major Release: Kin

Your Suggested Alternative: XTRO [1982, d. Harry Bromley Davenport]

The premise of Kin – where a kid finds an alien weapon and uses it to save his brother from some gang types – sounds cute and all, but when it comes to extraterrestrial/adolescent tomfoolery, XTRO will always be my go-to. Filled with icky, psychedelic imagery, this notorious Video Nasty earned its rep via a rubbery, rapey creature, and the family who tries to stop it from tearing them apart. Totally out of its mind by the final reel, XTRO becomes singular, despite owning many familiar elements, merely because the movie isn't afraid to be utterly fucked up in its pursuit of alternately gross and cerebral scares.

XTRO is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Second Sight