Though this column is mostly focused on new releases, I must use this opening to champion a few exciting re-releases of classic films: The Apu Trilogy (look for our Satyajit Ray feature coming soon) and “The Third Man” have both been given shiny new 4K digital restorations and will be distributed to arthouse theaters around the country via Rialto Pictures. This is cause for celebration, folks, especially if you’ve never seen them. Not enough ink/pixels are spilled on movie theaters that show older films. It’s tough times for repertory cinema in the theatrical exhibition world, yet it does continue, and for good reason. If you’re lucky enough to have one of these theaters in your city, don’t miss the rare opportunity to see these classics on their big screens.
Fear not, though, dear reader, we’ve got plenty of other recommendations to seek out in this pretty well-packed movie month. The domestic box office continues to nosedive, but worldwide has been a different picture, with grosses surging and becoming the most important element of a picture’s theatrical profits. What does it all mean? Cynically speaking, it spells doom for idiosyncratic, specific work from interesting directors and seems like it will encourage more broad, easily-digestible product to be produced. Then again, in this crowded movie year, the great films sometimes can push through and make an impact. There’s always hope that good work will rise to the surface. One such film, “Heaven Knows What,” I mistakenly left off last month’s column, so I must use this space to give at least some love to it, as it’s quite good, and will be making its way to other cities in the coming weeks.
Here’s 15 other (new) films worth seeing at the cinema this month. Let us know what you think in the comments.
“A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence”
Synopsis: Novelty salesmen observe as their fellow humans drift through lives of desperation and loneliness.
What You Need To Know: Winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, this final entry in Swedish director Roy Andersson’s thematically connected Living Trilogy (following “Songs From the Second Floor” and “You, the Living”) is just the kind of arthouse film us Playlisters tend to fall for head over heels. When Jessica Kiang saw it, her enthusiastic review mentioned that it “rounds out the trilogy on a graceful, crepuscular note… bring[ing] Andersson into the company of Beckett and TS Eliot, and captures more fully than perhaps any film we’ll see for the next eight years the awful, glorious absurdity of being a human.” That eight year reference isn’t random. Andersson is the anti-Woody Allen in terms of output, so whenever we get a new film from him, it’s not only cause for celebration but something we hope to enjoy again and again until the long wait is over for another project from the man. If you’re lucky enough to have this playing in a theater in your city, skip one of those easily accessible “big” movies you can always catch up with later and make some time for something different. Discover why Andersson is such a world cinema icon.
Release Date: June 3
“An Open Secret”
Synopsis: An investigation into accusations of children and teenagers being sexually abused within the film industry.
What You Need To Know: Director Amy Berg has, after only two great documentary features (Oscar-nominated “Deliver Us From Evil” and “West Of Memphis”), quickly risen as a top tier nonfiction filmmaker. Her particular brand of investigative crime journalism is thrilling in its efficient storytelling, distillation of the facts and clearly laying out all sides of the story, going so far as to get on-camera interviews with some of the perpetrators. Now in the midst of a prolific streak (“Prophet’s Prey,” another doc, is coming soon and several other projects are in the works), and with the public’s appetite for crime docs like “The Jinx” seemingly peaking at the right time, she could very well blossom into an actual (and rare) known and marketable name in modern documentaries. Editor-In-Chief, Rodrigo Perez, interviewed her last month, and when he saw “An Open Secret” at last year’s Doc NYC Film Festival, he praised the film for its approach to the very difficult, highly controversial subject matter. (Michael Egan, who brought sex abuse charges against “X-Men” director Bryan Singer last year, features as a key interview subject.)
Release Date: June 5
Synopsis: A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster.
What You Need To Know: Ever since the massive success of “Bridesmaids,” director Paul Feig has been the Scorsese to Melissa McCarthy’s De Niro. Their team ups thus far have proven wildly successful at the box office, even if their second collaboration, 2013’s “The Heat,” was less well-received critically. This third go-round sees McCarthy once again in R-rated action/comedy mode, doing what she does best, as she goes from office drone to undercover spy in just two hours. Drew Taylor’s review out of SXSW compared it positively against their last collaboration, stating that Feig finds a more successful mashup of outrageous comedy and straight up espionage tale: “This approach of delivering a silly comedy with a straight face benefits ‘Spy’ hugely, and makes it an uneven but undeniably entertaining romp… Feig’s commitment to the genre, and some truly wonderful set pieces, make “Spy” as lovable as its main character.”
Release Date: June 5
“Love & Mercy”
Synopsis: In the late 1960s, the Beach Boys‘ Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) stops touring, produces Pet Sounds and begins to lose his sanity. By the 1980s, Wilson (John Cusack), under the sway of a controlling therapist, finds a savior in Melinda Ledbetter.
What You Need To Know: Touted as an “unconventional portrait” of the Beach Boys singer/songwriter, here’s hoping co-scriptwriter Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”), who also helped pen the wonderful Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There,” is able to bring some of that musical magic and more experimental vibe to this as well. Because, let’s be honest, the music biopic is beyond tired at this point. So a fresh approach makes it sound promising, and Wilson’s life is certainly filled with plenty of juicy material. Kevin Jagernauth’s TIFF review claims its “simple, effective structure,” where it jumps between two different timelines, is the key to its success. “The film has plenty of love and mercy for its subject, but also some edginess, in what is a fascinating look at one of popular music’s most important and influential songwriters.”
Release Date: June 5
Synopsis: A new mother’s increasingly unstable behavior threatens her relationship with her husband and the life of her infant.
What You Need To Know: “While We’re Young” co-star and soon-to-be much more famous “Star Wars” baddie, Adam Driver, and his co-star here, Alba Rohrwacher (“The Wonders”), each took home the best actor/actress prize for their work in this film at last year’s Venice Film Festival, in what was seen as a pretty big surprise. While I’m not personally familiar with Rohrwacher, Driver has fast become one of the most fascinating young screen presences working today. Anyone who’s watched even an episode of “Girls” should know this by now. “Hungry Hearts” is in the vein of early-era Polanski and Hitchcock, centering on a couple and the terror that can arise from being a new parent. When Nikola Grozdanovic caught up with it at TIFF last year, he made clear in his opening paragraph why the film sounds like perfect summer indie counter-programming: “With a unique blend of style and content, an escalating discomfort in atmosphere, a score that sounds like it was spawned from the nether regions of hell, and three ferocious performances, ‘Hungry Hearts’ is this year’s most unique horror film.”
Release Date: June 5
“Testament of Youth”
Synopsis: A British woman recalls coming of age during World War I.
What You Need To Know: This adaptation of the seminal novel by Vera Brittain, first published in 1933, also stars two fast-rising young acting talents in Alicia Vikander and Kit Harington. Vikander can still be seen in one of this year’s very best films so far, “Ex Machina,” where she gives an absolutely brilliant, methodically tempered performance as the A.I. character, Ava (don’t forget to check out our spoiler-heavy podcast on the film). And Harington is busy these days on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” kicking white walker ass and mixing it up with wildlings as Jon Snow. They’re both beautiful and talented, which should come in handy for this tale of romance squandered by the sudden conflict at hand. When Oliver Lyttelton reviewed it last year at BFI London Film Fest, he called it “simply well made” and that it’s “absolutely Vikander’s show.”
Release Date: June 5
“Me And Earl And The Dying Girl”
Synopsis: An awkward high-school senior and a gravely ill classmate surprise themselves by becoming inseparable friends.
What You Need To Know: Playlist contributor Drew Taylor may just have psychic powers we’ve yet to fully make full use of here at the site. On last year’s horror-themed Playlist Podcast, he praised director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s distinct style and mentioned he’s a filmmaker to watch. Only a few months later, at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Gomez-Rejon’s took home the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award (the same feat was pulled off by last year’s great, Oscar-nominated “Whiplash”) for this dramedy that apparently avoids just about all the often cloying “Sundance movie” trappings by being inventive and emotional. This looks to be the breakout indie hit of the Summer, with Fox Searchlight primed and ready to deliver the goods. I personally can’t wait to see all the “Be Kind Rewind”-esque sweded movie nerd elements mentioned in every review and in the trailers. Rodrigo Perez’s A- review called it a “spectacular delivery of tears, love and laughter, and a beautifully charming, captivating knock-out that asks us to keep the departed in our hearts and their narratives surging in our memories forever.”
Release Date: June 12
Synopsis: Visitors at the Jurassic World theme park run for their lives when the genetically engineered Indominus Rex and other dinosaurs go on a rampage.
What You Need To Know: If you’re old enough to remember seeing Steven Spielberg’s original movie in this series back in 1993, then you no doubt you believed “dy-no-sawers” had risen from the dead. Such was the staggering achievement of that first film’s groundbreaking special effects, a healthy mix of CGI and prosthetics. Now after two sequels of continuously declining quality, we have what is being touted as a direct sequel to the first film (somehow), in hopes of launching the franchise anew. In the director’s seat this time is relative newcomer Colin Trevorrow, whose Sundance hit “Safety Not Guaranteed” was met with a lot of critical enthusiasm and basically landed him this huge opportunity. The action certainly looks bigger and more computer-ized this time around (of course), but hopefully the now-bonafide movie stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard can make us care for some of the people who aren’t just dino-food.
Release Date: June 12
Synopsis: Locked away from society in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Angulo brothers, nicknamed “The Wolfpack,” learn about the outside world through the films that they watch.
What You Need To Know: For one, the Crystal Moselle-directed film won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance, which is the Utah-set festival’s biggest doc prize. “The Wolfpack” is a fascinating doc about sequestered kids, and although it doesn’t answer all its hows and whys — though it does hint at a father who suffers from mental illness — to see these kids obsessively watch (and meticulously re-create), their favorite films as a form of escapism into their own worlds is intriguing stuff. Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world. As our review from Sundance notes, this compelling doc is plagued by a lot of unanswered questions, and it’s a fair and valid criticism. But nevertheless, “The Wolfpack,” while disconcerting, is still worth the watch if in the end only so you can be the final judge.
Release Date: June 12 and expands June 19.
Synopsis: A shy boy arrives at a boarding school for the deaf. There he tries to find his place in the hierarchy of the school community, which operates like a Mafiosi group ungoverned by the outside world.
What You Need To Know: This is the film of the month, in my opinion! We need more bold, purely cinematic films like “The Tribe.” Playing like an even more disturbing combination of “City of God” and “Lord of the Flies,” Ukrainian director, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, in his debut feature, takes a potentially gimmicky conceit — all dialogue is spoken through sign language with no subtitles — and infuses it with dread, political subversion (it directly comments on current Ukrainian politics) and incredible filmmaking bravado. Nearly all scenes play out in impeccably choreographed long takes, with a camera that rarely stops moving — its style is akin to Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and features a similar foreboding, disquieting sense that things are going to end badly. And what’s so impressive is that although its formalism is so rigid, it rises well above gimmickry to become a truly great, unique piece of cinema (and a very fine crime movie to boot), conjuring its own world, commenting on ours and giving the audience something that’s actually palpably new.
Release Date: June 17
Synopsis: A trio of high school friends who bond over their shared love of 90s hip-hop accidentally steal a drug dealer’s stash. A wild adventure ensues as the youths try to evade armed thugs.
What You Need To Know: Seemingly right in our Playlist sweet spot of evocatively mixing music and cinema, this one looks like a perfect breezy summer movie. Though Rodrigo Perez gifted it with a B+ grade in his Sundance review, and he makes clear a few issues he had with it, he did still end strongly by stating “Chock-a-block with super fly freshness, the good certainly outweighs the uneven. ‘Dope’ is both intelligent and crowd-pleasing, and its vintage soundtrack (with new songs by Pharrell Williams, too) will attract a wider crowd beyond an indie audience… And while a little swollen narratively, it’s supercool vitality is much like the blithe Will Smith song “Summertime” the characters’ reference: something very close to a new classic.”
Release Date: June 19
Synopsis: After a girl moves to a new home, her emotions are plunged into chaos as they compete for control of her mind.
What You Need To Know: The latest from Pixar seems to have put them back in the good graces of critics after several (relative) disappointments and inferior sequels. Many at Cannes this year thought “Inside Out” even deserve to compete for the Palme d’Or. Nevertheless, it premiered there to a near-rapturous response. The latest from director Pete Docter (“Up,” “Monsters, Inc.”), one of the key members of Pixar’s creative brain trust, features a smashing concept — taking place mostly in the mind of a pre-teen girl where her emotions are actual, physical characters — that sounds more like the wildly original emotional wrecking balls from past glories like “Wall-E” and “The Incredibles.” And going by Jessica Kiang’s review, there’s even a subplot involving hockey(!), a sport this Minnesotan writer (Docter is also from the land of 10,000 lakes, natch) grew up playing, loves with all his heart and could use a little mainstream acceptance (ok, ok getting off my soapbox now). “Your cute inner Joy will be hugging your dumpy inner Sadness as the best of friends, because Pixar has so winningly found poetry in emotion.”
Release Date: June 19
Synopsis: the story of a French DJ who is credited with inventing French electronic music, also known as “French Touch” or “French House.”
What You Need To Know: Yet another film that seems tailor-made to get our Playlist panties all bunched up in excitement, this fictionalized account of French House music by writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve (her 2009 drama “Father Of My Children” is devastatingly sad and beautiful) is a portrait of a young DJ, and partly based on her younger brother Sven’s DJ-ing aspirations. Our review outta TIFF was positive, stating “if you have enough patience, especially if you find yourself tapping your feet to the beats, you’ll discover an emotional journey of a young man’s entrance into adulthood. Having electro megastars Daft Punk feature all the way in back of the background is one of the bolder moves that ends up working out for Hansen-Løve. This isn’t a story of success and fortune, but a slice of life with a personal rhythm and a universal beat.”
Release Date: June 19
Synopsis: AJ Manglehorn seems to be an ordinary guy, but he’s an ex-con who gave up the woman of his dreams for a big ‘job’. He now obsesses daily over the choices he made.
What You Need To Know: Ever the cinematic chameleon happy to make a film in every genre, (our mostly beloved) David Gordon Green again seems to be carving a new path for his ever-shifting career. This time out, he’s got Al Pacino taking the lead as the titular character, and looks to be a more quiet, introspective performance from the legendary thespian than the “hoo-ahh!” yelling fits he’s so often accused of falling back on. During it’s festival run last year, it was met with mostly middling reviews, but our Jessica Kiang found much to admire: “[It’s] all anchored by a quietly assured performance that not only may be among the most atypical of Pacino’s career, but may also be one of his best. Even on those occasions when the film’s risks do not pay off, we have to credit the courage and confidence it took for Green and Pacino to attempt them; but more often than not they pay dividends and the result gently dazzles… it dives straight down to the lower reaches of a complicated man, down to the darkest waters that can contain both monsters and magic.”
Release Date: June 19
Synopsis: Alex, Emily, and their son, RJ, are new to Los Angeles. A chance meeting at the park introduces them to the mysterious Kurt, Charlotte, and Max. A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on.
What You Need To Know: This sex comedy features a stellar cast (Jason Schwartzman, Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling) and was met with enthusiasm and plenty of big laughs when it premiered earlier this year at Sundance. Contributor Katie Walsh saw it there and was impressed that, despite the fact that the genre is well-trodden, “The Overnight” managed a fresh angle and plenty of surprises without losing any of the sex or humor. “Bolstered by excellent performances, clever writing, and a true sense of authenticity… [it’s] hysterically funny, but it manages to ride the line between total broad, bawdy humor and real heartfelt vulnerability… Rather than go for cheap laughs or sex panic, ‘The Overnight’ takes the high road, making weird situations seem totally normal and real, thanks to the perspective of writer/director Patrick Brice. There’s an open, non-judgmental attitude about the whole affair, and what happens feels plausible.”
Release Date: June 19
(Repeat: “The Apu Trilogy” & “The Third Man.”) We praised Rory Culkin starrer “Gabriel” with an A- grade when we caught it at Tribeca last year, and it’s getting a small release starting June 19. The review praises Culkin’s performance: “He fully inhabits the character to a degree that is downright shocking. This is the kind of breakthrough role that young actors are rarely afforded, and the kind of performance that they can rarely pull off.”
I adored docu-essayist Rodney Ascher‘s “Room 237,” so even though we gave his latest, “The Nightmare, a middling C+ grade out of Sundance, I’m still holding out hope he finds the magic again with this docudrama about night terrors and sleep paralysis. There are few things more terrifying than the mad love in crazy talented Beglian filmmaker Fabrice du Welz‘s “Alleluia,” coming June 5, but 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.)
Hey, Alan Rickman directed a movie, “A Little Chaos.” It stars Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts (also featured in another period piece out now, “Far From the Madding Crowd”), who are both awesome. So that’s cool. Elsewhere in period piece land, we have “Madame Bovary,” starring Mia Wasikowska, Ezra Miller, Paul Giamatti & Rhys Ifans.
And finally, a grab bag of assorted movies with a smidgen of interesting elements: “Burying the Ex” sees underrated director Joe Dante take a stab at a zombie comedy. While “Insidious Chapter 3” is series writer Leigh Whannell‘s first stab at directing. And though there’s almost nothing interesting about them at all, I guess some of you may want to see “Entourage” and “Ted 2.” Maybe.