Fireworks Are So 2018
Traditionally, July 4th is an outdoor holiday spent grilling meats, guzzling beers, and gazing at fireworks. Of course, none of this is as simple as it used to be in 2019. Are the burgers real? Is the beer gluten free? Can I watch fireworks with my dog? At the end of day, there are still a few facts that unite us in our fragmented society. We'll still drink that beer whether it's gluten free or not, and we'll definitely need something to put on TV after the party's over. For simple, uncomplicated nostalgia, there are plenty of options out there to enjoy on America's birthday. Netflix has a new season of Stranger Things they definitely hope you'll binge this holiday weekend. Over on Hulu and Amazon, viewers can stage impromptu Rocky marathons. Additionally, Hulu subscribers can indulge in post-Cold War patriotic jingoism via the original Independence Day. However, for Bundlers who want to celebrate the changing nature of July 4th as an acknowledgement that the good ol' USA is and always has been more complex and diverse than America saving the world, here are some recommendations for an Independence Day that won't scare your pets and doesn't involve Will Smith punching an alien in the face.
Remember when the United States started a bunch of wars this century that are still kinda going on? Arguably, it's going to take more time and more stories to process the impact of American military conflicts in the 21st century. Richard Linklater's film about a Vietnam veteran (Steve Carell) recruiting his old war buddies (Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne) to help bury his son who died fighting in Iraq examines the ideas of service and sacrifice, explicitly drawing a link between the two controversial wars. If three soldiers on a road trip seems a tad familiar, it's probably because the film is a "spiritual sequel" to Hal Ashby's The Last Detail and is based on a source novel by the same author. If it feels like the film swaps its predecessor's bleakly ironic bite for some contemporary sincerity, well, Linklater's a different director and the times they are still a changing. (Amazon)
James Gray's drama about Polish sisters coming to America in the early 1920's manages to both question and extol the notion of the country as a land of opportunity. In this vein, it's a lavishly filmed period piece with high production values and excellent performances from Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner, and regular Gray collaborator Joaquin Phoenix. At the same time, the story pulls no punches in regards to the difficulties faced by aspiring Americans and the gritty realities that continue to this day. Plus, this title expires from Netflix on July 13, so it's as a good a time as any to watch! (Netflix)
With just three films to his name, it's no exaggeration to state that Barry Jenkins has already emerged as one of the most important voices in black cinema... or American film as a whole. His adaptation of James Baldwin's classic novel manages to transform abstract ideas about systemic racism and injustices into a vivid, evocative narrative about a young black couple in 1970's New York. Jenkins continues to experiment with story structure and the emotional reversals in every scene as he pieces the hopes and shattered dreams of their romance together. Perhaps the best realization of this outside of Regina King's Oscar winning turn is a memorable monologue from Brian Tyree Henry in a small but crucial role. (Hulu)
Set in Bakersfield, the flyover country of California, this account of a dysfunctional family chronicles the disappointments that have afflicted the American middle class in the last few decades. Co-creator Zach Galifianakis plays dual roles as Chip and Dale Baskets, an aspiring Paris-trained clown working at a rodeo and a self-promoting for-profit educational guru respectively, but it's really Louie Anderson as the family matriarch who steals the show along with the painfully ordinary Martha Kelly. Yet the show's real magic trick is turning the blandness of the American middle with its franchises and consumer goods into a rich tapestry that's both hilarious and disheartening at once. Like most great series, the first season is a little slow, but it pays off to stick with it or just skip to season 2. (Hulu; Season 4 currently airing on FX)
Every July 4th needs a history lesson, and this limited series adaptation of David McCullough's best-selling biography of the second American president (Paul Giamatti) is as good as historical TV drama gets. W hile views on the Founding Fathers have evolved mostly for the negative, John Adams has emerged as one of the more overlooked figures given his opposition to slavery and articulate political philosophy, as well as the strength and early feminist views of wife Abigail Adams (Laura Linney) that played an important role in his life and career.
What if we told you nobody watched the best documentary TV show of 2018 because it aired on premium cable's forgotten network and didn't have a true crime hook? This acclaimed series from Hoop Dreams director Steve James explores the intersection of race, class, gender and educational inequity at Oak Park and River Forest High School, a diverse public school outside of Chicago that produced such notable and distinct alums as teen online magazine phenom Tavi Gevinson (whose father makes appearances in scenes on the School Board) and NBA star/secretly awesome slam poet Iman Shumpert. Following about a dozen students of different races and backgrounds, the show humanizes some of the most important debates in American culture today through its intricately crafted portraits of teenagers dealing with the issues head on. It's the type of show that will give you hope for the future while also breaking your heart, and honest to God features some of the funniest moments of TV in a long time. (Starz via Amazon; Starz)