It's summertime, and that means blockbuster movie season. Instead of forking over a day's wages to pack in with sweaty crowds seeking refuge in a frigid theater, why not rent a flick and kick back in your own comfy home? Here're a few flicks we've reviewed in the magazine, starting with three from the genre everyone loves to hate, horror...
A notorious real-life incident inspired this monster movie’s opening scene: It’s 2000, and a U.S. military mortician orders a Korean subordinate to empty hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde into the sink and thus, ultimately, into Seoul’s Han River. Jump ahead a few years: An enormous amphibious creature with a penchant for eating people leaps from the river. The film follows a wonderfully dysfunctional family in search of its youngest, who was snatched by the mutant. Think Little Miss Sunshine meets Alien—this cautionary environmental tale is suspenseful yet surprisingly funny and touching.—Alisa Opar
Birdemic: Shock and Terror
As horror flicks go, Birdemic is arguably one of the best of the worst, with wooden acting, cheesy dialogue, and corny special effects—homicidal birds that are more reminiscent of Nintendo’s “Duck Hunt” than Hitchcock. What sets the film apart is its blatant environmental messages. The hero sells solar panels and craves a hybrid car. An ornithologist stresses over climate change. And a hippie guards a forest that’s a refuge from the avian terror plaguing the NorCal-esque town beyond. California suburbia, best keep your eye on the sky.—Julie Leibach
A New Zealand farmer tries to create the perfect sheep, but his barnyard project goes terribly wrong. An altered animal infects his herd, turning its members into carnivorous killers that attack anything within biting distance, including people, who mutate into enormous sheep that gorge on human flesh. A trio of unlikely heroes springs into action: sheep-phobic Henry; Tucker, the fearless farmhand; and Experience, a feng shui–embracing activist. Black Sheep is a must-see for fans of horror movies and comedies. But insomniacs should take heed: Don’t expect that counting sheep will ever again help you fall asleep.—Susan Cosier
And for the horror-averse out there...
No Impact Man
Oscilloscope Laboratories and +impactpartners, 90 minutes
In the new documentary No Impact Man, Colin Beavan ropes his somewhat unwilling wife, Michelle Conlin, and their two-year-old daughter, Isabella, into living “deliberately” for a year. The surprisingly funny film follows the Manhattanites as they reduce their environmental impact as much as possible: biking in place of subways; cutting out electricity and toilet paper; doing laundry in the bathtub; and housing worms (for composting, of course). Beavan, sincere and committed to his pursuit, may be No Impact Man. But what makes this film compelling is watching him and his wife, a self-proclaimed high-fructose- loving shopaholic with a healthy sense of self-deprecating humor, strive to stick to the plan. The experiment yields some unexpected benefits, as Beavan ponders aloud: “What if I called it ‘The Year I Lost 20 Pounds Without Going to the Gym Once,’ or ‘The Year We Didn’t Watch TV and Became Much Better Parents as a Result,’ or ‘The Year We Ate Locally and Seasonally and It Ended Up Reversing My Wife’s Pre-diabetic Condition’?” Viewers aren’t likely to replicate the lengths the family goes to, but this entertaining and poignant film is sure to motivate others to action, even if just piecemeal.—Susan Cosier
Disneynature; 99 minutes; Rated G
A mother polar bear teaches her two cubs to hunt in the Arctic. An African elephant herd crosses the Kalahari Desert in search of water. A humpback whale and her calf migrate thousands of miles from the tropics to the Southern Ocean. Earth loosely weaves together the tales of these families’ struggles to survive over one year. It’s the first feature film from Disney’s Disneynature division, and marks the company’s return to family-friendly nature documentaries, a genre it spawned with its True Life Adventures series in the 1950s. Much Earth footage is repackaged from the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth series, but rather than feeling stale, the spectacular cinematography comes to life on the big screen. Narrated by James Earl Jones in his unmistakable sonorous voice, it touches lightly on changing environments, with brief mentions of melting polar ice caps and desertification. But the scope is really the animals’ exploits, and not just the three families. There are plenty of asides, from shots of adorable mandarin ducklings’ first flight, to slow-motion footage of a cheetah, muscles rippling, chasing down a gazelle. In such instances, the audience doesn’t actually see the bloody death. It is, after all, a G-rated production.—Alisa Opar
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
Florentine Films and PBS, 12 hours
One summer when I was a teenager, my family piled into our minivan and drove from New Jersey to Arizona, pit-stopping at Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon national parks, the Petrified Forest, and Mesa Verde. To me, earning a National Parks Passport stamp at each entrance gate practically equaled seeing the parks themselves. Turns out, I’m what filmmaker Ken Burns calls a national park collector. In his six-part documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” Burns introduces more than 50 unique characters, including the Gehrkes, a childless couple that, in the 1920s and 1930s, traveled from park to park in “a revolving parade of new Buicks.” The documentary, which opens with awesome imagery of spewing lava and raging rivers, offers lots of spectacular footage and chronicles many of the system’s milestones, from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1903 Yellowstone visit to that park’s gray wolf reintroduction in 1995. There’s black-and-white footage of Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps and gorgeous shots of bison and other grand wildlife, interspersed with compelling observations by park rangers, historians, and nature lovers alike. The 12-hour program, over six nights, is so captivating that it seems much shorter. And it tells a uniquely American tale. Burns says, “For the first time in human history, land was set aside not for kings or noblemen or the very rich, but for everybody and for all time.—Michele Wilson