So, another year, another month of August to end the summer movie season with a whimper, amirite? Perhaps, but we here at The Playlist took the tagline to “American Beauty,” way back in 1999, to heart… look closer. There’s still plenty of McMovies to clog your cinematic arteries, but sometimes, those blockbusters are tasty. And if you step outside of the multiplex, there are plenty more movies that give you a more healthy, balanced cinematic diet.
And so, here’s 11 films to see in August that we think (and in some cases, already know) may be well worth your time and dollars. They range from super-sized Marvel offerings, to oddball musical comedies, to comic road trips and zombie rom-coms. Like we said, it’s a balanced meal, so read on…..
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
Synopsis: Peter Quill, a seeming Han Solo-type, goes to space jail after stealing a mysterious orb. As villain Ronan hunts down the macguffin, Quill teams up with a ragtag group of alien outlaws to break free and perhaps, just maybe, they guard said galaxy.
What You Need To Know: Touted as the weird, wild cousin to the more standard, “semi-realistic” movies of the MCU, ‘Guardians’ has long been viewed as a potentially risky dip into the more outre realms of Marvel’s deep gallery of heroes and villains. It does look to deliver on this promise, with our own Oli Lyttelton declaring (in his B+ review) it as one of the few films to actually come close to the original “Star Wars” vibe, “as if the Mos Eisley Cantina was spread across a larger universe” (I’ll have what he’s having, please). The reviews are mostly positive and it’s reportedly tracking well, so good on Marvel for stretching a bit. Oli goes on to mention that ‘Guardians’ is fresh because it feels like a “deviation from the Marvel formula, a gloriously, defiant weird movie that nevertheless proves to be an enormous crowd-pleaser.”
Release Date: August 1st
Synopsis: A comedy about a wannabe musician (Domhnall Gleeson) who joins up with a weirdo band led by a frontman who makes music simply for pleasure, and just happens to always be wearing a rather large, cartoonish-looking papier-mâché head. Creative chaos ensues.
What You Need To Know: Our Editor-In-Chief Rodrigo Perez caught the film during its Sundance premiere back in January and kinda, sorta went nuts for it (read his grade-A review here and you can also hear him and contributor Cory Everett tell me all about it on our festival wrap-up podcast). His glowing review described it as “bizarrely brilliant,” proving that “quirkiness need not be a four-letter word in the language of movies.” He does warn “it certainly won’t be for everyone,” but nonetheless declared it to be a “strikingly original film” and “mandatory watching for the adventurous viewer.” That’s all we needed to know to buy our ticket. Well, that and the fact that Michael Fassbender plays Frank(!).
Release Date: August 15th
“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
Synopsis: A return to Basin City and all its sick and twisted inhabitants, who cross paths and cause all kinds of nasty mayhem. This one should mostly take place before the events of the first film, but will also jump ahead in the timeline to deal with some of its consequences.
What You Need To Know: It’s been nine years since the first “Sin City” was released and went on to do very good business in the spring of 2005. The reviews were mostly good too (Roger Ebert gave it four stars), and, much to the joy of comic book purists, the film proved the exception to the rule that xeroxing a comic book into a movie can actually be done well. So why the long wait between movies? For one, director Robert Rodriguez is always busy, often juggling multiple projects at a time every year. And who knows, maybe he and co-director Frank Miller (also the creator of the seven-volume graphic novel collection and an all-around weirdo) are attempting their own comic book version of the ‘Before’ series or something? Either way, this one promises more blood, boobs and green screen environments created almost entirely on a computer. Whereas the first film was stitched together from three of the graphic novels, achieving a Jarmusch/Tarantino-esque labyrinthine, multi-threaded and overlapping structure, this one is primarily adapted from book 2 (they even share the same subtitle) with additional storylines taken from a short story in book 6 and also some original stories to no doubt make it feature length. So, the resultant jumbled chronology means characters that died in the first film return for this one. One character is even played by a different actor (Josh Brolin steps in for Clive Owen as Dwight this time), but that’s also straight from the books. (If you recall in the first film, it’s mentioned that Dwight had major surgery to alter his face; now you’ll know why.) All of that should do just fine, but there is that sinking feeling the ship may have long sailed on this franchise and its once-innovative, now kinda-tired use of digital technology. We’ll just have to see.
Release Date: August 22nd
“Love is Strange”
Synopsis/What You Need To Know: First things first, this is not a cinematic adaptation of the lovely song that shares its namesake by Mickey & Sylvia (used to brilliant effect in “Badlands” of course). What it is, though, is a subtle yet deeply affecting examination of a couple (played to perfection by Alfred Molina and John Lithgow) and the rather depressing consequences that unexpectedly spring from a very positive political action. After 39 years in a (effectively established) loving relationship, the two men are finally allowed to be legally wed in New York. The movie opens here, a joyous and nerve-wracking event that goes very well. Things begin to spiral out of control fast, though, as Molina is fired once word reaches the archdiocese of his “unholy union." Then forced to move out of their lovely apartment in the city, the two then move into different places (Lithgow with family, Molina with some neighbor friends). It all builds to an unexpected and crushingly sad denouement, which we won’t spoil here. Not the stuff of big summer movie box office, but a film you should consider no less (check out our A- review from Sundance) because it’s so well done, avoiding even a shred of political soapboxing, instead making points through character and good storytelling by co-writer/director Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”).
Release Date: August 22nd
Synopsis: An intimate portrait of the vivacious John Wojtowicz, the inspiration behind Al Pacino‘s character in Sidney Lumet‘s Oscar-Nominated “Dog Day Afternoon.”
What You Need To Know: What more do you need to know? If you love “Dog Day Afternoon” it’s a slam dunk. Drafthouse Films partnered up with Cinedigm to distribute which is promising, reviews out of SXSW were good and the trailer is compelling. In case you’re not convinced, we added "The Dog" to our recently released list of the The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far. Pretty good company to be in.
Release Date: August 8th
Synopsis: After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.
What You Need To Know: John Michael McDonagh, writer/director of “The Guard” and brother to Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges,” "Seven Psychopaths”), follows up his 2011 feature directorial debut with another Brendan Gleeson-starring, Irish-set, modern-day tale. McDonagh has said “Calvary” has a similar darkly comedic tone to “The Guard” but with a more serious and dramatic story. Our A- review out of Sundance described a “pitch-black heart and sober existentialism… its unwavering commitment to the intelligent thorniness of its themes, and the masterful control McDonagh exerts over the shifts in tone are worth cherishing, bringing it soaring close to something divine.”
Release Date: August 1st
“The Trip to Italy”
Synopsis: “They go and make another!” says Rob Brydon, in one of his many impersonations from the sequel to Michael Winterbottom’s first film, “The Trip.”
What You Need To Know: Winterbottom, Brydon and Steve Coogan all return for the second go-around. Sure, it suffers from a bit of sequelitis: everything’s bigger, even more gorgeous landscapes, the food porn is even hotter (if you follow), certain gags are repeated, a general amping up of the first film’s best and most memorable moments (cue another Michael Caine impersonation showdown). But it’s still a lot of fun to hang out with these two, as they drive around Italy, banter, eat really good food and work through more existential crises. And though it’s pretty much the same funny, enjoyable, mostly comforting experience as the first, it does manage to flip some of its dynamics in a surprising way.
Release Date: August 15th
“Life After Beth”
Synopsis: Aubrey Plaza plays the titular character, who returns from the dead much to the chagrin of boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan).
What You Need To Know: The directorial debut of Jeff Baena, who co-wrote “I Heart Huckabees,” it premiered at Sundance this year. Our review from the fest said that despite some fine talent both behind and in front of the camera, the film “has trouble distinguishing itself from the army of flesh-eating peers” but does feature a “go-for-broke performance from Plaza, a funny supporting turn by scene stealer Matthew Gray Gubler, a few laugh out loud moments, and a cool soundtrack (Can, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Neu!).”
Release Date: August 15th
“The One I Love”
Synopsis: Struggling with a marriage on the brink of falling apart, a couple escapes for a weekend in pursuit of their better selves, only to discover an unusual dilemma that awaits them.
What You Need To Know: Our critic at Sundance was kind but coy: “inspired by the early Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman collaborations, ‘The One I Love’ explores relationship dysfunction through an intriguing, high-concept premise (that we can’t really discuss here). It’s a very small-scale, unassuming relationship movie (with a heady little twist), but it sneaks up on you.” It’s the debut feature by Charlie McDowell (son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen). Playlist favorites Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play the couple, and Ted Danson appears.
Release Date: August 22nd
Synopsis: Describing “The Congress” in brief is a fool’s errand, but here goes nothing. Robin Wright plays a version of herself in an unknown and semi-plausible future. She sells her digital likeness to a greedy Hollywood movie producer, to be used however he sees fit. About halfway through, the film takes a turn for the trippy and tumbles down an increasingly more nightmarish (and Bakshi-esque animated) synthetic reality. Things get weirder from there.
What You Need To Know: Another meta and hallucinatory (at least partially) animated film from Ari Folman, whose “Waltz With Bashir” was a harrowing, gorgeously-rendered descent into the repressed memories of its director’s personal experience during the 1982 Lebanon War. This long in the works follow-up is based on the novel "The Futurological Congress" by Polish author Stanislaw Lem (“Solaris”) but deviates quite a bit from the source. Our writer at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival threw up her hands a bit in her B-/C+ review, acknowledging the film’s ambition but also its faults: “It really is a difficult film to categorize because while there is an exuberance to it and a love of film on display ("Dr. Strangelove" gets a direct reference, but there are many more subtle cues within), it poses the old question of whether the immense ambition of the project should be admired over the fact that it falls down on so many of those ambitions. We’re going to err a little on the former side because as messy and convoluted, as overwritten and overstuffed and overcooked as the whole thing is, it’s certainly unique and displays more boldness and giddiness than we expect to see from any other film in Cannes. It’s just a shame that it has fully as many (unexplored) plot-lines, themes and ideas as the entire rest of the slate combined, too.” Admittedly, it’s a step backward from Folman’s last effort, but there’s an audience for “The Congress.” They’re probably getting stoned and philosophizing in a dorm room as you’re reading this.
Release Date: August 29th
Synopsis: The title comes from prison slang for when a young offender is transferred from a juvenile to an adult facility. And that’s exactly what happens in his merciless and dehumanizing look at a prison system where troubled teenager becomes “Starred Up” and meets his match with a man who happens to be his father.
What You Need To Know: Screenwriter Jonathan Asser spent twelve years as a prison psychotherapist so he knows what he speaks from, and perhaps this is why “Starred Up” is an authentically brutal and uncompromising portrayal of life behind bars. The acting talent in the film is top notch too, rising star Jack O’Connell is the lead (he’s already being pegged as an Oscar contender for “Unbroken”), Ben Mendelsohn (“The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Place Beyond The Pines”) is the father and Rupert Friend from “Homeland” plays a prison psychotherapist. Directed by David Mackenzie ("Hallam Foe," "Young Adam"), is it good? Hell yes. In her glowing A-grade review our own Jessica Kiang called it an “instant classic of the prison movie genre.” Looks like we’re more than sold on this one.
Release Date: August 29th
Honorable Mention & More:
Top of mind with indie releases is the romantic comedy “What If” starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis from “Halt And Catch Fire”; the psychosexual thriller “The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears”; Catherine Breillat’s "Abuse of Weakness" starring Isabelle Huppert; "The Liberator" starring Edgar Ramirez; "The Last Of Robin Hood" starring Dakota Fanning, Susan Sarandon and Kevin Kline; Sundance thriller “Jamie Marks Is Dead” and the George Takei doc, "To Be Takei."
That’s obviously not all there is and the aforementioned 10 are personal highlights. If you’re into the action thing there’s the Warner Bros. tornado thriller "Into The Storm" arriving soon as well as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "The Expendables 3." Other mainstream releases include the James Brown biopic “Get on Up”(reviewed here), Fox comedy "Let’s Be Cops" and The Weinstein Company‘s new YA offering "The Giver" starring Jeff Bridges. There’s also a weepie YA drama coming "If I Stay" with Chloë Moretz and "Step Up All In," which sounds like an unfortunate accident with dog feces on a sidewalk, but possibly it’s your thing.
Other indie(r) offerings to choose from include another James Franco directing effort “Child of God,” the ‘Big Chill’-esque indie drama “About Alex,” Pierce Brosnan spy thriller “The November Man,” and “Are You Here,” the directorial debut from the creator of “Mad Men” that stars Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and many more (temper those expectations though). Other releases worth considering include the Jennifer Aniston-starring “Life Of Crime,” Universal horror “As Above/So Below,” the documentary “Expedition to the End of the World,” and the drama “Coldwater.” Happy movie-watching in August, we hope we’ve steered you in the right direction.