Contrary to what video store proprietors and Internet list makers suggest, Christmas is not the only holiday on which one can schedule quality video viewing. And while I, too, could easily prattle on about what to watch in December, today's Vidiot is about how to occupy one's field of vision on the Fourth of July.
It would be ridiculous not to advocate playing outdoors and viewing as many Old Faithful-scented explosions as possible on Saturday. But if your stash of fireworks runs out early or you need something to occupy the daylight hours before their launch, then make like a Revolutionary general and select from the following strategies:
PLAN A. Pick anything military-themed. Even if tales of warfare are not your thing, cannon volley and gunfire are undeniably patriotic. Technically, you ought to get bonus points for selecting Revolutionary War titles--like Mel Gibson's mildly trite but thoroughly bloody and exciting The Patriot--but my recommendation for quality, emotion-soaked conflict is Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick in the Civil War-set Glory. Or you could go with the oh-so-heartbreaking WWII rescue story Saving Private Ryan, which, coincidentally, was released theatrically while I was in Air Force Basic Training back in 1998.
PLAN B. Avoid films with the holiday's name in its title. On any other day, renting the Randy Quaid/Jeff Goldblum/Will Smith alien crapshoot Independence Day would seem a fun throwback to the summer of '96, but it seems cruelly insufficient for the actual Fourth, and only tongue-in-cheek enough to impress an inebriated college buddy. Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July, however appropriate its nomenclature, is a winding tale of a youth mangled by the military machine during the Vietnam conflict and is far too long and depressing to be viewed on any day of celebration.
PLAN C. Do like I did--grab a copy of HBO's three-disc, seven-part, 500-minute chronicle of John Adams' political life. It's hard to say how accurate its depictions of the events described in David McCullough's biography are, but this miniseries breathes exuberant new life into our country's second president and arguably most underappreciated founding father. With famous characters like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson floating around, it's a lot like a first-volume presidential encyclopedia in motion. And it guides viewers from the Boston Massacre in 1770 to the Continental Congress to Adams' death in 1826. Granted, an eight-hour trek through early U.S. history is probably not something you'll want to cram into a single July afternoon, but the film's quality storytelling and Paul Giamatti's engaging title performance serves as a great warm-up for anyone's festivities.
PLAN D. Though the aforementioned miniseries did not touch on his affinity for beer, make like our second president's rabble-rousing cousin, Samuel Adams, and throw back a cold one or 12 on Saturday--and then who cares what you watch! Given a long holiday weekend in the City of Trees, I'd like to think at least one of our forebears would have happily shared a Bud Light Lime and cheesy weenie with me.