Last weekend marked the unofficial start of summer, as people celebrated a muggy Memorial Day weekend by firing up the grill, spending time with friends, and heading to the shore. I celebrated by immediately getting a cold. Sapped of energy and the inclination to socialize, I did what any sensible film geek under-the-weather would do and spent many a glorious hour in front of the tv. Whether you’ve got a killer cold or seasonal allergies gunning for blood, here’s a handy guide to the movies and TV that will help you make the most of your summer sick day.
Sometimes you just need to take your mind off of things when said mind is congested beyond reason, and Sanjuro can help you do just that. Director Akira Kurosawa’s follow-up to the seminal wandering-samurai classic Yojimbo strikes the perfect balance between escapist fun and tight, gripping plot. When a nameless wandering warrior (Toshiro Mifune) overhears a group of young, untested samurai plotting to quash corruption in their clan, he offers his aid to the naive warriors, preventing them from blundering into traps and helping them rescue a noble chamberlain from imprisonment by a corrupt superintendent.
Now, subtitles might be a tall order for the viewer who’d rather veg than read, but the movie more than makes its worth it. While more lighthearted and comedic than its predecessor, Sanjuro plays like a tight chess match between two wily, cunning warriors that erupts into thrilling, elegant swordplay, as each put into action intricate plans to trap the other. If you don’t find the final showdown between our nameless hero and evil lord almost uncomfortably tense, you’re too sick to be watching movies, anyway. It’s gripping adventure that will also boost your arthouse cred, and honestly, when was the last time you got that from a sick day?
I’ve written about Rocky here in the past, and if you need an examination of why this movie works so well, I’ve got you covered. Part of Rocky‘s status as American myth means that everyone know how that movie ends, whether they’ve seen it before or not. But what makes Rocky a great piece of cinema is that knowing the outcome only makes getting there all the better. Watching Rocky when you’re sick is the cinematic equivalent of chicken noodle soup and plenty of fluids. You can’t help but be swept up in Rocky Balboa’s story and feel a burst of adrenaline and inspiration in the film’s last act, finding in yourself a burst of energy you didn’t know you had. I started that movie feeling like death warmed over, and by the time the credits rolled, I was convinced I could run a marathon, or at least get up to make some dinner. Watch it over Memorial Day weekend or the Fourth of July and you’ll get that bonus rush of seasonal patriotism*.
Cartoons and animated fare have long been a staple of my sick day regimen (and freak storm snow-ins), and through purely unscientific means, I have determined that Hey Arnold! makes you feel the best when you’re sick.
I could go on for many a paragraph about what makes this show so great (and plan to eventually, with the help of “Saturday Morning Cartoons” columnist Aubrey Fox), but in short, its mixture of gentle humor, magic realism, expert world building, and sweet humanist heart make it stand out as a phenomenal cartoon even without the benefit of rose-tinted 90s nostalgia. Get out a good cry with classics such as “Pigeon Man” or indulge in some kid-friendly (and occasionally not-so-kid-friendly) spookiness with any number of great ghost episodes. A good place to start is the seasonally-appropriate “Heat”/”Snow” episode, in which a hottest day of the summer nearly ends with 9-year-olds overturning an ice cream truck, and a snow-day becomes an endless succession of chore for Arnold. They’re narratively simple, but provide an atmospheric, free-form animation you don’t get much in cartoons, either then or now. There’s an episode for whatever mood you’re in, making for optimal and compulsively watchable sick day fare.
Kung Fu Hustle
What can I say? I was in a martial arts mood this weekend. Some people crave tea and a good book when they’re sick, I crave roundhouse kicks and sword fights, apparently.
In 30s Shanghai, the deadly Axe Gang is taking control of the city without a hitch until they find resistance in a slum secretly protected by Kung Fu masters living and working in mundane jobs. As the gang loses its grip, a series of deadly assassins are brought in to sieze control of the slum and seem poised to do so unless petty thief and wannabe gangster Sing (Stephen Chow) can get it together and become a Kung Fu master himself.
Kung Fu Hustle, directed by and starring acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Stephen Chow is one of the funniest and strangest martial arts movies ever made. Combining elements of slapstick, classic cartoons, references to Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers pictures, and elegant fight choreography from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon choreographer Yuen Woo-ping does not sound like it should work, but boy does it ever. Kung Fu Hustle is as genuinely exciting as it is aggressively silly, scratching that sick day itch for comedy and action with equal aplomb. If the humor gets a little broad at times, it’s because the movie is like a vaudeville act with high flying fights dropped seamlessly throughout. Swap out subtitle for the English dub, and you’ve got all the comforts of watching a mindless action movie to get you through the day without the “mindless” part.
*Assuming, perhaps wrongly, that all you cats reading this are American. To you foreigners: Hi! Thanks for reading! You should still watch Rocky because it is great.