Like the Fourth of July and the Folklife Festival, Washington’s most iconic summer events beseech us to take advantage of the great — but muggy — outdoors. Screen on the Green, which begins Monday, is no exception. The HBO- and Comcast-sponsored film festival takes place on the Mall over four weeks. The combination of sunset and classic films on a 20-by-40-foot screen makes for an out-of-the-ordinary night in the city.
Here’s everything you need to make the excursion worth it: a film critic’s guide to the four films; tips and tools to help you get comfortable on the grass; and picnic ideas to make sure you’re well-entertained and well-fed.
Screen on the Green’s lineup generally favors classics over contemporary films, and this year’s slate is no different. Whether you’re a student of the silver screen or a Netflix new releases addict, here’s how to sound like a cinephile when discussing each film with your friends.
JULY 21: “THE KARATE KID” (1984)
The 1984 hit that spawned two sequels and a 2010 remake is a reliable, if cheeseball, tale of the underdog outsider. Skinny, working-class Italian American teen Daniel LaRusso (played by a 22-year-old, baby-faced Ralph Macchio) is targeted by a pack of karate bullies after transferring from his New Jersey high school to one in California’s San Fernando Valley — the 1980s epicenter of feathered blond hairdos and headbands.
Set to a soundtrack of cringingly bad power ballads by the likes of Survivor and Joe “Bean” Esposito — who? — the film follows Daniel’s martial arts training under the tutelage of his apartment building’s Japanese American super, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Miyagi teaches his young charge karate, along with the virtues of patience and humility.
Morita brings surprising poignancy to the role of Daniel’s wise but emotionally wounded mentor. His nuanced performance, which earned Morita an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, elevates the film, giving what is essentially a formulaic come-from-behind tale of sports redemption — and a part that is substantially written as an ethnic caricature — a dose of dignity and gravitas it wouldn’t otherwise have.
Look for: Elizabeth Shue as Daniel’s upper-crusty love interest.
Iconic quote: “Wax on . . . wax off.” Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel karate moves by making him perform such menial chores as washing and waxing his fleet of vintage cars.
PG. Contains bullying, martial arts violence and brief coarse language. 126 minutes.
JULY 28: “LOVER COME BACK” (1961)
The second of Rock Hudson and Doris Day’s three film collaborations pits two advertising executives from rival agencies against each other in an odd-couple rom-com about a devious playboy and a squeaky clean Midwestern gal. Needless to say, they fall in love, but only after sparring for much of the movie.
The film’s Oscar-nominated screenplay may be based on a preposterous premise — women need to be lied to and men need to be tamed — but it reveals the roots of many of today’s romantic comedies. You can also see the origins of “Mad Men” in the film’s rampant sexism, embodied by Hudson’s Jerry Webster, a shallow, boozing playboy who doesn’t just use sex to sell products, but also to seduce — and, if necessary, steal — clients.
Competing to market a product that doesn’t even exist yet, Day’s naive Carol Templeton gets sucked into a romance with Webster, whom she mistakes for the nebbishy chemist trying to develop the new product. The mistaken-identity gimmick is far-fetched, but fun.
Look for: The late Ann B. Davis, who died in June, as Carol’s no-nonsense secretary.
Iconic quote: When Carol’s boss compares Hudson’s character to the common cold — “You know you’re going to get it once or twice a year” — Carol fires back this double entendre: “There are two ways to handle a cold. You can fight it, or you can give in and go to bed with it. I intend to fight it.”
Unrated. Contains mildly naughty sexual humor and a drug reference. 107 minutes.
AUG. 4: “KEY LARGO” (1948)
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made four films together between 1944 and 1948. If this last collaboration isn’t their best, it remains memorable for several reasons. Chief among them is the great Edward G. Robinson, an actor known for his portrayals of heavies. Here, Robinson plays Johnny Rocco, a violent gangster who terrorizes Bogie’s World War II vet and Bacall’s war widow while they wait out a dramatic hurricane in an offseason Florida hotel.
Based on a play by Maxwell Anderson, “Key Largo” is deliberately claustrophobic, setting up a showdown between the amoral Rocco and Bogie’s Frank McCloud, a good man who manages to simultaneously project self-confidence and self-doubt. In a relatively quiet role, Bacall is similarly three-dimensional, coming across as both fierce and tender.
Though a straightforward crime drama, “Key Largo” is enriched by the thorny moral dilemmas common to the genre of film noir, in which cynical self-interest wrestles with self-sacrifice.
Look for: A wheelchair-bound Lionel Barrymore, playing a kinder, gentler — though equally gruff — version of Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Iconic dialogue: “When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses,” says Frank, neatly summarizing the film’s central theme.
Unrated. Contains gun violence. 100 minutes.
AUG. 11: “A SOLDIER’S STORY” (1984)
The name Denzel Washington is buried deep in the opening credits of “A Soldier’s Story,” but the mystery — based on Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the murder of a black sergeant on a Louisiana Army base during World War II — was the actor’s breakout film.
Adolph Caesar, above right, may have gotten the Oscar nomination for his role as the loathsome and self-loathing victim. And Howard E. Rollins Jr. certainly shines in his portrayal of the spit-and-polish Army lawyer investigating the crime. But it’s Washington who seethes, volcanically, in one of his earliest and most powerful roles. “A Soldier’s Story” holds up as a complex and racially charged exploration of the nature of justice.
Look for: Funnymen David Alan Grier and Robert Townsend as enlisted men in the all-black company of soldiers, who have yet to see action in the still-segregated Army.
Iconic dialogue: “Who gave you the right to judge — to decide who is fit to be a Negro, and who is not?” asks Rollins’s Cpt. Davenport, at the film’s climax.
PG. Contains violence and coarse language. 101 minutes.
— Michael O’Sullivan
The sun is setting. The movie is playing. And your legs are about to fall asleep.
At outdoor summer events such as Screen on the Green, which begins Monday evening on the Mall, we love to feel the blades of green beneath our toes. Until we’ve been sitting for an hour and our body starts telling us how nice it would be to get off the darn ground.
Whether you’re sitting in a chair for long hours at work or stretching out on the grass, your body’s posture worsens the longer you sit, said Alan Lichter, a chiropractor and owner of D.C. Chiropractic on K Street. Bad posture, like rounding your back or craning your neck for extended periods, is an easy route to a painful experience.
But that’s no reason to ditch the great outdoors for the comforts of the couch. According to the experts we talked to, it’s possible to maximize your comfort and enjoyment under the stars this summer. Here are their suggestions.
Arrive early. Seating at most outdoor events is first-come, first-served. Latecomers are more likely to be cramped and sitting uncomfortably. — Deborah Ziska, chief of public information for the National Gallery of Art, host of the weekly Jazz in the Garden.
Think about the weather. If it might rain or has rained recently, bring a few trash bags to spread beneath your blanket. — Rachel Davis, director of events at the NoMa Summer Screen.
Bring bug spray. As it gets later in the summer, the mosquitoes will be out in full force, determined to ruin your night in the great outdoors. If you’re prone to getting bit, look for a spray with higher amount of DEET (25 to 30 percent) for longer lasting protection. — Brittany Singer, Friends of Screen on the Green.
Keep changing your posture. Muscle stiffening often comes from sitting in one position for too long. Try to sit however feels most natural to you, but change often. If you can, walking around once in a while helps too.
— Gabe Oran, general manager and personal trainer at Mint Spa.
Bring some back support. Most people aren’t used to sitting without support, so when they sit on the ground, their muscles are working much harder than usual. That leads to the soreness you feel after sitting for a while. — Alan Lichter, owner of D.C. Chiropractic.
— Jessica Contrera
We scoped out some portable furniture and accessories that can enhance your evening under the stars without blocking the view of anyone behind you.
● Avoid spills with a mini-table and beverage holders, such as the Steady Stick Table and Wine Holders, which screw into the grass. (A reminder: Alcoholic beverages are not permitted at Screen on the Green.) $19.99. www.redenvelope.com.
● One step up from bringing a blanket or towel from home is Brookstone’s picnic blanket with water-resistant backing, which provides a bit more cushion, a waterproof underside and a handle for easy carrying. $21.25-$25.99. www.brookstone.com.
● When is a chair not a chair? The Vitra Chairless is a minimalist fabric strap that wraps snugly around your waist and knees, providing support and allowing you to sit upright without a need for a back rest. $30. www.vitra.com.
● A smaller take on the reclining mat, the Oniva recliner seat made by Picnic Time is a bit more chairlike. $39.95. www.overstock.com.
● A reclining mat that elevates your back, such as the Picnic Time Striped Beachcomber Beach Mat, is perfect for an outdoor movie screening. $44.95. www.swimoutlet.com.
Sure, you’ve already seen the movie. But you know what might hold your attention? Snacks. Here are some portable, Screen-on-the-Green-friendly goods to load up on as you make your way to the National Mall.
● At GBD, a fried chicken picnic for two includes four pieces of chicken, two sides, two biscuits and two doughnuts for $25. 1323 Connecticut Ave. NW. www.gbdchickendoughnuts.com.
● Cork Market offers a $50 chicken basket with two house-made salads and cookies. There are plenty of other foodie snacks you can pick up there, too. Order your basket by calling 202-265-2674. 1805 14th St. NW. www.corkdc.com.
● Before you hop on the Green Line at U Street, grab something hand-held at
G Sandwich, where the cauliflower sub is excellent. You can get marinated roasted veggies and sweets on the side, too. 2201 14th St. NW. www.gsandwich.com.
● At Glen’s Garden Market near Dupont Circle, we’re fans of the summery Tony Wood sandwich, with house-smoked turkey and roast beef, local Gordy’s Pickles and spicy mustard ($10). You also can buy house-made pickles, potato salad and other picnic mainstays. 2001 S St. NW. www.glensgardenmarket.com.
● Coming in from Alexandria? At Society Fair, $50 gets you a fancy basket of charcuterie and cheese, olives, spreads, cookies and wine (but with alcohol prohibited on the Mall, you’ll have to save the bottle for later). Order at www.societyfair.net. 277 S. Washington St., Alexandria.
● With a convenient new location only a few blocks from the Mall, Red Apron’s meaty “Vespa” takeout box is a picnic of cheese, salami, pâté, olives and crostini ($28). There are sandwich and chicken picnics available, too. 709 D St. NW. www.redapronbutchery.com.
● The customizable noodle bowls at Newton’s Noodles in Foggy Bottom are perfectly portable in takeout boxes. They even come with an all-in-one utensil, the chork, a chopsticks-fork combo. 1129 20th St. NW. www.newtonsnoodles.com.
● Dupont’s new GRK brings the Chipotle concept to Greek food, offering build-your-own “Yeeros” and pita plates. 1140 19th St. NW. www.grkfresh.com.
● Grab a burrito and chips to-go from District Taco, only a few blocks from the screen. 1309 F St. NW. www.districttaco.com.
● Tom Sietsema called ShopHouse’s customizable noodle-and-rice bowls “the best fast-food idea in years.” Spice lovers will want to load up on the veggies here. 710 Seventh St. NW. www.shophousekitchen.com.
— Maura Judkis
● The Mall between Seventh and 12th streets
● Films begin at sunset, around 8 p.m.
● Films will be shown except in cases of extreme weather. There are no rain dates.
● Tall chairs and alcoholic beverages are forbidden.
● More information: 877-262-5866, www.hbo.com/screenonthegreen.