alternative summer movie guide

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

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