Last month, 15 titles made the cut for the June edition of this column, and July is no different. It’s a packed summer schedule, and completely understandable if you’re still trying to catch up with films that came out last month. This is simply the reality of the moviegoing cycle this time of year, where titles feel “old” after a week in release and most of us are ready for the new bright and shiny thing. While it’s tougher than ever to keep up with all the amazing options we have for cinematic entertainment, fear not: I’ve whittled down a healthy mix of titles, big and small, for your viewing pleasure.
This summer has seen a dip in overall box office (at least stateside, if not internationally) and a few BIG movies have gobbled up most of the available bucks. “Jurassic World” has already become one of the highest grossing movies ever made. There was little doubt it would be popular, but holy cow, did anybody expect just how popular? There are obviously some big titles coming this month that could contend with this dinosaur spectacular, but maybe July is a good time to search for something a little bit different. As such, we’ve got more than enough variety below for you suss out what’s worth your time.
"Magic Mike: XXL"
Synopsis: Three years after Mike bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, he and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance.
What You Need To Know: Our review recently dropped for this sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s surprise 2012 hit, and while it’s sure to be a pretty big moneymaker, the opening paragraph makes it clear that this part two is “certainly bigger… a fair bit bulgier, too, and in almost all of the wrong places.” Frequent Soderbergh collaborator Gregory Jacobs is directing this time around, with Soderbergh here serving as editor and DP. A look at who’s missing from the first film is both unfortunate and reassuring (Matthew McConaughey was electric and hilarious, but will audiences really miss Alex Pettyfer and Cody Horn? Probably not). But it wouldn’t be “Magic Mike” without Channing Tatum, who is front and center now and contributes his glorious dancing abilities, which are apparently “the best it’s ever been.”
Release Date: July 1
Synopsis: John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected.
What You Need To Know: Though the series hit a new low with McG’s coulda/shoulda been awesome “Terminator Salvation” back in 2009, there’s just no keeping even a half-great/half-bad franchise down for long. And so, we have the annoyingly misspelled ‘Genisys,’ which based on the uninspiring marketing campaign that gave away a lot of the plot’s twists (much to the chagrin of director Alan Taylor), looks like a bizarre alternate reality hodgepodge of all the cool bits from James Cameron’s first two undisputed classic films, but only more convoluted, silly, CG-addled and paradoxical. But maybe with Arnold Schwarzenegger physically back in the film (you may remember the CG monstrosity from ‘Salvation’) things will get back on track. Rodrigo Perez’s C grade review dropped earlier today, and while he claims it’s the best since ‘T2’, he also admits that’s a pretty low bar. “In completely demolishing what has come before, and unsatisfyingly laying the foundation for the future, it’s unclear whom this film is actually for. Longtime fans will walk away feeling the series is obsolete, while newcomers will be puzzled by the upgrade.”
Release Date: July 1
Synopsis: A documentary about two different vigilante groups fighting Mexican drug cartels.
What You Need To Know: The war on drugs has been the subject of many a great modern narratives, from “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad” on TV to the Oscar winning “Traffic," mostly because it seems endlessly pliable and strong fodder for thrills, violence and politics all in one package. This documentary from Matthew Heineman (co-director on “Escape Fire”) had our Katie Walsh pretty much raving to the tune of an A- grade when she caught it at Sundance this year (referring to the opening sequence as “Breaking Bad: The Documentary”). Word is that this run-and-gun documentary, which captures gun fights on camera, is stunning to look at even though it was clearly made guerilla style on the fly: “Aesthetically, it is a vibrant, electrifying work, with stunning visuals and a sure hand over layers of complicated audio. Heineman, in placing himself in such danger, has managed to create a remarkable and distinctive film that takes on a difficult issue that cannot be so conveniently remedied or ignored.” Sign me up.
Release Date: July 3
Synopsis: A documentary examining the life and career of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse.
What You Need To Know: Featured recently as one of our favorite docs of this year so far, this touching, depressing, illuminating and artfully constructed work shines a light on Winehouse, showing her as a person with plenty of flaws and struggles, but also as a supremely gifted artist. There’s no denying the tragic arc of her short life and the hideously ugly nexus of drugs and celebrity that became the overarching focus of her final years. Yet the film doesn’t glorify or point fingers (though Winehouse’s father, tour manager and former husband don’t appear in a terribly complimentary light), and instead paints an empathetic portrait almost entirely out of home movie and archival footage. This tactic worked beautifully for director Asif Kapadia on his previous work, “Senna,” and is no different here. It’s tough but worth it, as the Playlist’s Jessica Kiang mentioned in her Cannes review. “The greatest (and most useless) sorrow that Kapadia’s punchingly powerful film will leave you with is that, no matter how much you will want to, you cannot simply reach into the screen and save her, you can only bear witness once again to this particular tragedy and try to discern the lesson it might have to teach us.”
Release Date: July 10
Synopsis: After hearing that her boyfriend/pimp cheated on her while she was in jail, a hooker and her best friend set out to find him and teach him and his new lover a lesson.
What You Need To Know: A lot of attention was given to this street-level indie because its two leads are transgender women and it was shot with an iPhone and actually looks like a proper movie, but Katie Walsh’s Sundance review seemed more taken with the film’s boundless verve: “Like a shot of vitamin C or a streak of a SoCal sunset, ‘Tangerine’ is a stream of pure energy. Fresh, funny, original, and energetic, director Sean Baker‘s film captures the seedy, gritty streets of Hollywood… [it’s] a breath of fresh air in an indie landscape that often tends to focus on #WhitePeopleProblems… Utilizing underseen subjects, he captures their world in a thoughtful and artful way, and it also happens to be a damn fun ride.” We certainly hope this can be one of the rare indies in 2015 to do some decent box office (it’s been a slow year for them so far).
Release Date: July 10
Synopsis: A disfigured concentration camp survivor, unrecognizable after surgery, searches post-war Berlin for her husband to find out if he betrayed her to the Nazis.
What You Need To Know: Hitchcock would probably be proud of this thriller from German auteur Christian Petzold, re-teaming with the incredibly talented actress Nina Hoss (they last worked on 2012’s very good “Barbara”) for another humanist thriller with historical and political undertones. Though the survival holocaust drama is well worn these days, Petzold finds a more entertaining path than most to get at the horrors and misery of that time. Nik Grozdanovic’s A- review out of TIFF last year explained how “Countless films have explored Holocaust survivors either many years after the war or right in the middle of it, but it’s a rare thing to follow a survivor in the immediate aftermath and in the very city that spread the poison of the war. In this way, Petzold distills a familiar atmosphere to create a work veiled in vibrant, cohesive, sensitively stimulating power.” It’s so good we’ve already named it one of the 25 best films we’ve already seen this year back in January. The ending will leave the audience breathless—it’s so great!—but what’s really refreshing is how “Phoenix” works as a movie and not only a dry, didactic history lesson.
Release Date: July 14
"A Hard Day"
Synopsis: A homicide detective accidentally kills a man with his car, then tries to hide the body in his mother’s coffin on the day of her funeral.
What You Need To Know: Another finalist on our very prestigious January list of best films we’d already seen, this South Korean genre pic was a total blast for our Jessica Kiang when she caught it Cannes 2014. It sounded like it was one of those inevitable but always invigorating surprises at the fest that year, the kind of movies we at The Playlist love to discover: nothing is known beforehand, we go in blind and have a total blast. Cannes is known for its challenging, more highbrow arthouse cinema, but they do still champion worthy genre films. Even though Kiang mentioned early in her review that there’s a “faint but unmistakable shamefacedness — we all kind of believe we should be seeing something more worthwhile. But then we get to see something like ‘A Hard Day’, which makes a brilliantly entertaining case for being perhaps the most necessary Cannes 2014 film to date: its cheerfully nutso inventiveness, the ballsy cycling of ramped-up tension with cathartic release, and not least the many belly laughs it elicited has us feeling completely renewed.”
Release Date: July 17
Synopsis: With the ability to shrink in size but grow in strength, a con man must help his mentor protect the secret of his Ant-Man suit and pull off a heist that will save the world.
What You Need To Know: The first reviews are mixed for the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but will it really matter? Disney’s comic book movie powerhouse seems unstoppable at this point, so we imagine people will be excited—maybe even more excited than second ‘Avengers’?— for something new, since that’s pretty much the Marvel method in a nutshell: keep things moving, building on top of each other and leave them wanting the next chapter. We’re still excited to see how Paul Rudd fits into his superhero outfit, and the potential for super cool visuals and action on a hyper-small scale, but the sour taste left long ago from original director Edgar Wright’s departure and what could’ve been still feels like the story even at this point, so close to its release. Can’t say that’s a good thing, but again, Marvel has their shit down when comes to opening their movies strong. Will their winning streak continue? Probably.
Release Date: July 17
Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy.
What You Need To Know: According to our review out of SXSW, Amy Schumer + Judd Apatow = good things. Our critic noticed a change in style for Apatow; it seems the script and lead performance by comedian Schumer (whose Comedy Central sketch show is very funny and totally worth checking out) seems to have been be a blessing for the reigning king of Hollywood comedy. Add to that healthy mix a co-starring romantic lead in Bill Hader and this one sounds like a blast, but even more importantly, an evolution for Apatow the filmmaker that actually sticks the premise and landing. Though there are some story and visual qualms out critic had with the film, overall “the focus that Schumer gives to Apatow — it’s a credit to both the story and runtime as a result. The endearing indulgences of ‘Funny People’ or ‘This is 40’ had their place, but ‘Trainwreck’ allows a new development and angle to Apatow’s trademark anxieties through a unique point of view, and one of his most hilarious and finely-tuned films to date.”
Release Date: July 17
"The Look of Silence"
Synopsis: In this companion piece to “The Act of Killing,” a family that survives the genocide in Indonesia confronts the men who killed their relative.
What You Need To Know: Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow up to his bold, surreal and Oscar-nominated “The Act of Killing” takes a look at the same dark period of Indonesia’s history (the 1965 genocide) but from the other vantage point, here focusing on an optometrist who lost his brother in the massacre. He confronts his brother’s killers, still living happily and in some cases, still in power, and somehow finds the strength to attempt an open dialogue with them. While not as mind-blowing or surprising as ‘Killing,’ “The Look of Silence” is perhaps the more necessary film (it’s already appeared in both our best docs and best films so far lists). There’s perhaps no bigger champion of ‘Killing’ than our Jessica Kiang, who also got to see ‘Silence for its Venice premiere last year, and she was not let down in the least: “amidst the moral degradation and abject horror you can find astounding people… determined to reclaim the buried, scuffed-over past and to meet it with unending compassion and grace.”
Release Date: July 17
"The Stanford Prison Experiment"
Synopsis: In 1971, Stanford’s Professor Philip Zimbardo conducts a controversial psychology experiment in which college students pretend to be either prisoners or guards, but the proceedings soon get out of hand.
What You Need To Know: Sure, most of us know at least a little about this now infamous experiment, but this movie version has a lot going for it beyond simply recreating the past. Rodrigo Perez labeled it this year’s “Compliance” when he saw it at Sundance. “The confrontational, abrasive picture at Sundance that polarized audiences to the point of inspiring screaming matches,” adding that it’s “even more provocative, as well as more accomplished and thought-provoking. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez take a quantum leap into left field (his last film was the David Sedaris comic adaptation “C.O.G.”) with this examination of a disturbing true story.” With an impressive cast—Billy Crudup takes the role of Zimbardo, while the guards and subjects are made up of young upstart actors who’ve appeared in some great recent films (Michael Angarano, James Frecheville, Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan). I’ve found these more difficult or divisive films that come out of Sundance tend to have the longest shelf life and are flat out often the best work (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Simon Killer” to name a few) to come from the festival, even if they’re not as wholly embraced as the big winners every year.
Release Date: July 17
Synopsis: A boxer fights his way to the top, only to find his life falling apart around him.
What You Need To Know: Last year, The Playlist staff concluded that Jake Gyllenhaal gave the best performance of the year in the fantastic “Nightcrawler.” We we’re so taken by his work in the film that we looked back at 5 of his recent performances and how they revitalized his career; hell, we went full Gyllenaissance on it. The Academy ended up snubbing him for lead actor in one of the many glaring, inevitable “omissions” that happen every year. But now Harvey Weinstein’s on the case, and he smells Oscar blood with the actor’s latest, this boxing drama directed by journeyman Antoine Fuqua (“The Equalizer”). The first reviews praised the performance but not much else. The boxing film has often been a great route to acting awards glory (see “Raging Bull” and “The Fighter”), and I’m confident Gyllenhaal’s hot streak of electric, at times excitedly unhinged but still always in control performances will continue with “Southpaw,” but let’s also hope the movie is more than just a mantle piece to show off a great turn.
Release Date: July 24
Synopsis: Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a road trip to Walley World in order to spice things up with his wife and reconnect with his sons.
What You Need To Know: Not a reboot of the very funny Chevy Chase original (which spawned three sequels) but actually a continuation of the Griswold mythology, and though it may appear to be some pointless sequilizing of a familiar and once popular franchise brand, in this case it feels refreshing that there will be some continuity as opposed to just making a plain old reboot. This time, Rusty (Ed Helms; in the first film played by Anthony Michael Hall) takes his family out to Wally World for the best family trip ever that will inevitably go very, very wrong and be humiliatingly funny for the characters. The last we posted about the film was for its latest trailer, and buried in the final paragraph is a promising bit of hype/news: “‘Vacation’ was originally set for a October 9 release date and then was suddenly bumped up earlier in the year to a much-more summer friendly July 29 opening… because New Line’s film has apparently tested through the roof and the studio is very confident about this one being just a very funny and satisfying comedy that should connect with summer moviegoing audiences.”
Release Date: July 29
"The End Of The Tour"
Synopsis: A magazine reporter recounts his travels and conversations with author David Foster Wallace during a promotional book tour.
What You Need To Know: “Recreating a special moment in time can be difficult,” so says the first sentence in Rodrigo Perez’s B+ Sundance review of director James Ponsoldt’s (“The Spectacular Now”) latest. “Capturing what’s supposed to be a five-day conversation between two artists/writers, secondhand (thirdhand, even) is even tougher… ‘The End Of The Tour’ doesn’t look like much of a movie on paper. In fact, it feels like a play. At first, the picture doesn’t seem like it has enough compelling reasons to justify its existence. But as it begins to open up and build a head full of steam, [it] becomes an incredibly winning and engaging portrait of friendship, lasting connection and mutual understanding.” Ponsoldt has quickly risen in the American indie world, and with Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg as the leads this one looks a must-see. “Intimate, soul-baring, and winning, ‘The End Of The Tour’ is a special, lovely little gem.”
Release Date: July 31
"Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation"
Synopsis: Ethan and his team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.
What You Need To Know: The fifth entry in Tom Cruise’s only real sure bet these days, this time with Christopher McQuarrie (“The Way of the Gun” and he wrote and won an Oscar for “The Usual Suspects”) at the helm. This franchise has always been of interest, even though there’s never been a true classic to emerge (I still contend Brian De Palma’s first film is the best). Cruise has always been smart to choose different, talented directors for each entry (John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird made entries, respectively) even if the final result hasn’t worked. Nevertheless, this is a fun series that promises amazing stunt work and giant set pieces. The trailers and posters are wisely featuring Cruise’s insane-looking plane stunt where he’s strapped to one as it takes off. McQuarrie is a talented craftsman whose unfairly had a tough time finding other directing projects (‘Way of the Gun’ is extremely underrated and deserves to be reevaluated), but with Cruise by his side on this movie (they also worked together on “Jack Reacher,” “Valkyrie” and “Edge of Tomorrow”) his career should get a boost, and I’d love to see him back in smartass criminal mode in the future if he still has that in him.
Release Date: July 31
You know it’s a crowded month when even the latest Woody Allen film doesn’t make the final cut. His “Irrational Man” stars Joaquin Phoenix (who after an amazing run of dazzling performances sadly feels flat and uncomfortable in Allen’s milieu), Emma Stone and Parker Posey. It’s a riff on many of the writer/director’s previous themes, most akin to “Match Point” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors” in ambition but more awkward and flat like “Cassandra’s Dream” in execution. Our review out of Cannes wasn’t kind, for good reason. But Allen’s misses are often still worth seeing.
Several arthouse pics from gifted emerging filmmakers are coming this month. “Catch Me Daddy,” a social realist thriller hybrid, comes from director Daniel Wolfe, of that pretty great The Shoes video where Jake Gyllenhaal plays a serial killer (watch that here). Fabrice du Welz‘s "Alleluia," is now coming to VOD and may even make it to a major city theater or two. give this stylish exploitation film, about a pair of murderous lovers on a killing spree, a shot. It works on its own peculiar, at times shrill, wavelength, but is a great ride and du Welz will make something great soon, mark my words. (The film came up on my podcast, Adjust Your Tracking, but hasn’t got much attention elsewhere despite a good festival run.) Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s first film, “Policeman,” was a fantastic arthouse thriller that barely got any US theatrical release, so here’s hoping his follow up, "The Kindergarten Teacher."
"Stray Dog" is a new doc from “Winter’s Bone” helmer Debra Granik (and not the brilliant Kurosawa film nor the Tsai Ming-Liang), and here’s hoping she gets more opportunities to direct projects deserving of her talents.
"Pixels" and “Minions” will offer plenty of fun, be it loud and dumb or, who knows(?), just plain fun for families and people looking for easy entertainment. The latter movie should be huge given the popularity of these characters, now getting their own movie offshoot from the “Despicable Me” series.
"A Gay Girl In Damascus: The Amina Profile," has a helluva logline: Syrian blogger Amina Arraf – purportedly kidnapped by local authorities during the Arab Spring – was revealed to be an elaborate hoax persona, an entire international community realized it had been catfished. But the betrayal cut deepest for Canadian activist Sandra Bagaria, who had been involved in an online relationship with Amina. Playing out like a detective story, [the film] reconstructs this astounding tale of global deceit from Sandra’s perspective. As she crosses the globe in search of answers, questioning journalists, activists, and intelligence agencies, she prepares for a face-to-face confrontation with Amina’s true creator.
Need a new LEGO fix this summer? Check out "A Lego Brickumentary" to learn more about those crazy, fun and ubiquitous bricks.
“Boulevard” features one of Robin Williams’ last performances, so that alone makes it worthy of your eyeballs. “The Ardor (aka The Burning)" stars Gael Garcia Bernal, a great actor, in a revenge thriller set in the South American jungle. We called "Unexpected" slight but sweet when we caught it at Sundance.