Sure, you can spend the summer soaking up rays while jogging on the beach, playing tennis or pedaling on your bicycle. But why risk exhaustion and sunburn when you could be indoors munching on popcorn in the cool of a movie theater or blissed out in front of the TV in the comfort of your own home?
Amid all the superheroes, zombies, aliens and robots on the loose this summer at the multiplex are some very worthy alternatives. Ditto for some terrific TV series, found between those ever-multiplying Kardashians and their lowbrow reality show pals. Here’s what we think you should definitely check out.
Five Movies to See This Summer
"World War Z" (opens June 21) If you’re going to see just one big, special-effect-heavy, apocalyptic blockbuster, make it Brad Pitt saving the world from a zombie invasion. This film is a little smarter than many of its ilk and the gore is a tad less gratuitous. And Pitt, even looking haggard and with bags under his weary eyes that are big enough to carry groceries, is still pretty damn irresistible.
"The Heat" (opens June 28) What would summer be without a raunchy, I-just-want-to-laugh comedy? "The Heat," a buddy movie starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as a couple of crime fighters out to bust a drug lord, perfectly fills the bill. The two have a blast playing off each other – Bullock’s FBI agent is uptight and McCarthy’s Boston police detective is a loose cannon – and director Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids") is smart enough just to turn 'em loose.
"The Way Way Back" (opens July 5) “They loved it at Sundance!” That phrase can be the kiss of death for an indie movie, but this charming coming-of-age comedy about a teen (Liam James) who gets a summer job at a run-down water park lives up to the praise it earned when first shown last winter at the film festival. Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell star. The movie is the first from directing duo Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who won an Oscar as screenwriters for "The Descendants."
"Blue Jasmine" (opens July 26) Writer-director Woody Allen is hit or miss these days, often hitting with one movie and then missing with the next. Given that "Midnight in Paris" (2011) was his biggest hit ever and "To Rome with Love" (2012) was kind of a miss, he’s due for another hit with this comedy starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale and Sally Hawkins. Blanchett plays a privileged Manhattan socialite who, when her marriage ends, heads out to San Francisco to visit her ne’er-do-well younger sister. Added bonus: Louis C.K. has a role.
"Elysium" (opens August 9) Sometimes you bet on a movie because the elements sound so promising. That’s what we’re doing with this one, a sci-fi thriller starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, who are both pretty smart about the films they are in. Also, it’s directed by South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, whose last movie was the Oscar-nominated "District 9." "Elysium" is set in the future, when the wealthy live on a space station while the hoi polloi are stuck on a devastated earth.
Indie List: Three more movies, while smaller, that also merit consideration this summer are "20 Feet from Stardom," a rousing documentary about talented backup singers such as Darlene Love and Merry Clayton; "A Hijacking," a Danish thriller about what happens when Somali pirates take over a Danish cargo ship; and "Fruitvale Station," a drama based on a true story about a young man (played by Michael B. Jordan) who on Dec. 31 gets a head start on making good on his New Year’s resolutions. The first two are already in theaters; "Fruitvale" opens on July 12.
Five TV Shows to Watch This Summer
"Dexter" (June 30 on Showtime) This is the eighth and final season of the intriguing series about fresh-faced Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a Miami police forensics expert who leads a double life as a serial killer — but only of other killers. The show’s producers have hinted that Debra (Jennifer Morgan), Dexter’s tough luck sister, is in for some dark times this year, and that Dexter himself will face down his own demons as his story winds up.
"The Bridge" (July 10 on FX) When it comes to smart drama series aimed at adults — think "Rescue Me," "Justified" and "Sons of Anarchy" — FX knows what it’s doing. The premise of its latest series certainly has promise. It’s a crime drama featuring two police detectives, one an American (Diane Kruger) based in El Paso and the other a Mexican (Demián Bichir) chasing down leads in neighboring Juárez. The two must work together to catch a serial killer who’s plying his deadly trade on both sides of the border.
"Web Therapy" (July 23 on Showtime) No one is better, or funnier, than Lisa Kudrow at portraying self-involved narcissists. In this caustic comic series, which expands on a show that Kudrow originally created as an online series, she plays Fiona Wallice, possibly the world’s worst therapist. Fiona counsels, and more often verbally abuses, her patients (guest stars in past seasons have included Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin) in quickie online sessions conducted in front of computer monitors via web cameras.
"Broadchurch" (Aug. 7 on BBC America) This 8-episode crime drama about the impact of the murder of a young boy on a small coastal community is an import from England, where it scored massive ratings. The series has "Doctor Who" fans all atwitter because it stars David Tennant, the Scottish-born charmer (who played the tenth iteration of a time-traveling hero in the popular British sci-fi series from 2005 to 2010), as a police detective intent on solving the crime.
"Breaking Bad" (Aug. 11 on AMC) The show that probably did more than any other to establish the popularity of lost weekends spent with Netflix’s streaming service returns with the second half of its fifth and final season. Given that Walter White (played by actor Bryan Cranston, who’s brilliant), the show’s high school chemistry teacher turned meth manufacturer protagonist, began the series with a diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer, series creator Vince Gilligan has long promised that this final season really will be the end.
For the DVR: Consider checking out "Copper" (June 23 on BBC America), about an Irish-born cop in Civil War-era New York City; "Ray Donovan" (June 30 on Showtime), in which the talented Liev Schreiber plays a well-connected fixer in Los Angeles with a problematic father (Jon Voight); "The Newsroom" (July 14 on HBO) offers a second season of creator-writer Aaron Sorkin’s opinionated, behind-the-scenes look at the TV news business; "Low Winter Sun" (Aug. 11 on AMC) is an American remake of a gritty British detective drama with the action now set in Detroit; and "White Queen" (Aug. 10 on Starz), a costume drama based on the historical novels of best-selling author Philippa Gregory, follows the machinations of three women scheming to get close to England’s throne in the 15th century.