Cool Summer Double Features

By Jen Chaney Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008

The Hollywood studios have started to unleash their usual blast of summer movie fare in multiplexes across the country. But what if the kind of summer flick you crave isn't the latest blockbuster, but a film that evokes the feelings of the flip-flops-and-sunburn season?

With that in mind, here are five DVD double features, each centered on a different theme, that are guaranteed to put you in a hot-and-humid state of mind, even if you view them in the air-conditioned comfort of home.

Suspense in the Summertime

You can almost feel the sweltering summer air when you're watching Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," an exploration of the perils of voyeurism that came long before Shia LaBeouf did the peeping-tom thing in "Disturbia." If the compelling mystery about a murderous neighbor doesn't get you, Grace Kelly's ultra-chic summer dresses certainly will. Follow it up with another elegant thriller, 2003's "Swimming Pool," which is set in a vacation home in the south of France and boasts a young babe (Ludivine Sagnier) in a bikini as well as a twist ending.

School's Out for Summer

It's technically about skipping school, not summer break. But the picture-perfect Chicago day and carpe diem vibe in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (not to mention that the comedy classic was originally released June 11, 1986) make it an ideal summer cinema choice. Pair it with what I consider an annual post-Memorial Day movie-viewing ritual: "Dazed and Confused," Richard Linklater's ambling ode to the last day of school circa 1976. (The DVD extras on the most recently released versions of both -- for "Dazed," that means the Criterion Collection edition -- are worth a look.)

Two for the Kids

If you have a child who loves the ocean and horses, pop "The Black Stallion" into your DVD player ASAP. The 1979 adaptation of the children's novel about a boy and his love for a wild ebony beauty features some of the most stunning beach scenes you'll ever see. Complete the double feature with another family favorite from the same year: "The Muppet Movie." Released in the summer of '79, the road trip musical takes Kermit from the steamy swamps of Florida to the bright studio lots of Hollywood, with plenty of cameo appearances (Steve Martin! Richard Pryor!) and catchy tunes along the way. I challenge you not to tear up when Gonzo sings, "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday." Can't be done.

A New York Summer State of Mind

If the "Sex and the City" movie sparks a craving for more New York stories, try this pair, both from decidedly opposite ends of the New York spectrum. "The Seven Year Itch" offers a summer-centric plot (a Manhattan workaholic connects with a tempting neighbor while his family spends their lazy, hazy days in the country) and the prospect of watching the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe's billowing skirt flap seductively above a subway grate. After this Billy Wilder comedy, jump forward a few decades to fight the power with 1989's "Do the Right Thing," Spike Lee's groundbreaking exploration of racial tensions, set on the hottest day of the summer in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

An Indie Summer

Opt for a decidedly unconventional double feature by watching "Spanking the Monkey," the debut from off-kilter filmmaker David O. Russell. Jeremy Davies, in pre-"Lost" mode, plays a med student who passes on a summer internship to take care of his mom, who has been rendered immobile after an accident. The twisted subject matter (things get decidedly, um, Oedipal) may not be for everyone, but "Monkey" deserves credit for telling a coming-of-age story from a fresh angle. Afterward, turn your indie spirit on to "Off the Map," Campbell Scott's 2003 gem set in the desert climes of New Mexico. Starring Sam Elliott, Joan Allen and J.K. Simmons, the film, another coming-of-ager, focuses on one summer in the life of an 11-year-old girl grappling with her father's depression and the arrival of an IRS agent determined to collect the family's back taxes. It's a lovingly shot, quiet pleasure and a sublime cinematic escape at the end of a steamy summer day.

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