Happy 4th of July!
Traditionally, my 4th of July plans involve a family gathering in one of those states where virtually every firework is legal. In an ordinary year, as you read this I’d be standing in a tent somewhere, clutching packs of black cobras, mortars and the ever-elusive day parachutes… or, more likely, several different people from my family would have made that sort of trip yesterday, and we’d be assessing whether our pile of stuff was big enough. And probably preparing to eat All the Food.
Alas, the last few years have not been ordinary, and I’ve spent the 4th in other states. And I’ve discovered that the 4th of July looks markedly different, say, in places where the only fireworks you see are at official shows. Since shows are scheduled at a certain time, you’re more dependent on the mercy of the weather. There’s more down time. On the other hand, you can certainly show your patriotic pride in ways other than running away from errant bottle rockets – for example, a gathering of friends that’s half outdoor barbecue, half movie marathon. In my experience, there’s usually Rock Band, too (limit the songs to American bands if you must, and tie a patriotic bandana around your instruments).
Most 4th of July movie lists center around movies that are actually set on the 4th. I’ve decided to pick a few of my personal favorites that might be a bit outside the box, but hopefully will get the ol’ patriotic juices flowing. Yes, some might be silly, most are from the 80′s and 90′s… but since when have Americans been ashamed of being sentimental and a little silly?
I’ve talked about this film before and why’s it’s simply fun: smart, cool kids at NASA! And the space program is kind of our crowning “USA is awesome!” glory. Granted, they’re not competing for the glory of the country or anything, more just trying to get through a trip to space alive, but still, it’s enough to fill you with warm fuzzies and look to the skies for things other than fireworks.
The Cutting Edge
First let’s take a moment and clarify that I do not mean those abominations pretending to be sequels that aired on ABC Family. No, I mean the original that centered around not one, but two Winter Olympics. Again, the story is less about bringing glory to the country and more about the love story between the two main characters, but it’s got dialogue that’s surprisingly funny after all these years and it makes ice skating look as exciting as I’ve ever seen it. By the end, you just may be cheering for Team USA (and how timely).
So much of modern American history is against the backdrop of the Cold War. ”The Russians,” as they were known during my earliest memories, were the ones that spurred us on to the moon; they were the ones we really wanted to beat at the Olympics. They were the stick against which we measured ourselves for so many years, and were the main foe during a good 30+ years of filmmaking.
War Games, however, uses a teen hacker (played by Matthew Broderick) to remind us that in the Cold War there really were no cartoon baddies, and how many lives are really at stake when countries play tactical games with each other. In this movie there is no cheesy American victory, just a computer reminding us that sometimes “The only winning move is not to play.”
We’ve all probably seen it 83 times, but this one is a must-watch for the 4th of July. Here, the battle is not the US against some other country, but Earth against an invading force. It’s one of the classic summer blockbusters, the one that made Will Smith something more than just a kid from a sitcom. It’s also fun to see who else pops up: Mary McDonnell as the First Lady long before she was Madame President of the Colonies, Mae Whitman (of Parenthood and voice of a million cartoons and games) as a wee young thing, and whatever happened to Lisa Jakub, who played the oldest daughter on Mrs. Doubtfire?
Oh, and the crazy scenes of alien destruction (a mesh of CG and models that seemed groundbreaking at the time) and rousing speech by Bill Pullman shouldn’t be missed.
Doctor Who: “The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon”
You know I love me some Doctor Who, and this 4th I think this two-parter will be the start of a new tradition. Again, not specifically 4th-themed, but the episode was set in America, actually filming in America, and fairly reveling in it. Stetsons make an appearance, as does a classic car, a yellow school bus, and a 50s-style diner – but then we move into Nixon, the moon landing, government conspiracy… Not to mention some of scariest aliens introduced in some time, and some stellar performances. Yep, it’s a new favorite.
How about you? What are your plans for today? And what are some of your favorite films for the 4th?