“Five Star” (August 4)
Keith Miller’s “Five Star” is set amid the perils of gang life in the Brooklyn housing projects, following a lifelong member of the Bloods as he takes the son of his slain mentor under his wings and verses him in the codes of the street. A setting and storyline often sensationalized on the big screen, Miller has earned widespread acclaim for bringing an unflinching realism to the proceedings, going so far as to use non-actors who are actual former gang members riffing on their own lives. The result is a film that creates an almost documentary feel to its narrative structure, blurring the line between fiction and reality for a powerful gang drama that taps into larger truths about its very real world.
“Dark Places” (August 7)
Based on the book of the same name by “Gone Girl” scribe Gillian Flynn, “Dark Places” brings a similar dose of murder-mystery, action, emotion and star power. Charlize Theron, fresh off her critically acclaimed turn in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” stars as Libby, a woman who survived the brutal killing of her family as a child who is forced to confront the events of that day when new developments in the case begin to unfold. Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner and co-starring Drea de Matteo, Corey Stoll and Tye Sheridan, the film effectively navigates a twisty plot that would make “Gone Girl” proud.
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“I Am Chris Farley” (August 11)
The iconic comedic genius gets the documentary treatment in Brent Hodge and Derik Murray’s “I Am Chris Farley.” Described as the “definitive” biographical film of the “Saturday Night Live” legend, the movie features countless well-known comedians as they recount memories and stories of their time with Farley, including Lorne Michaels, Bob Odenkirk, Christina Applegate and Adam Sandler. Also included are a handful of the late actor’s most memorable sketches, as well as photographs and home movies that audiences have never seen before. Whether you’re a fan of Farley or not, the doc is an honest and heartbreaking ode to one of the genre’s greatest talents.
“Final Girl” (August 14)
A group of deranged teenage boys dress up in black-tie and ceremoniously lure girls into the woods to hunt and kill them for sport. But their latest victim, Veronica (Abigail Breslin), is an assassin-in-training whose final test is to turn the tables on these sick and twisted boys. After seeming like another easy target, Veronica sets up the chase only to devastatingly reveal that she’s actually armed and knows how to defend herself. Directed by Tyler Shields, “Final Girl” doesn’t just send up the 80s slasher movie, it subverts it entirely by returning the murderous power to the #1 victim: The scream queen.
“Ten Thousand Saints” (August 14)
Giving the standard coming-of-age drama the atmosphere of the 1980’s New York City punk scene, “Ten Thousand Saints” is an effective adaptation of Eleanor Henderson’s novel of the same name. Written and directed by “American Splendor” duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, it follows a new NYC transplant (played by Asa Butterfield) who joins a “straight-edge” musician (Ethan Hawke) and a troubled uptown girl (Hailee Steinfield) to start a band and gain a new surrogate family. With a dynamite ensemble and 80s nostalgia seeping through the story at every corner, “Ten Thousand Saints” barrels through numerous themes that are relevant no matter the decade.
“Tom at the Farm” (August 14)
After premiering at the 2013 Venice Film Festival, where it won the coveted FIPRESCI prize, Xavier Dolan’s psycho-sexual thriller “Tom at the Farm” finally lands stateside this month courtesy of Amplify Releasing. Starring Dolan in the title role opposite Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy and Evelyne Brochu, the drama centers on a grieving young man who travels to his late boyfriend’s country home for his funeral, only to discover his family has no idea about the two’s relationship. A seductive and ominous mind game soon begins between the man and his deceased lover’s older brother. While not as grand or thematic as Dolan’s recent breakout, “Mommy,” the drama is tightly wound mental thriller, one that would certainly make Hitchcock proud.
“People Places Things” (August 14)
Anchored by a stellar cast and a hilarious script, director Jim C. Strouse balances dramatic elements with quick-witted comedy in the winning “People Places Things.” The heart of the film is the performance by Jemaine Clement (“Flight of The Conchords”) as Will Henry, a depressed graphic novelist and single father trying to put his life back together after catching his wife cheating on him on his twin daughters’ birthday. Shot in intimate locations throughout New York, the film maintains a grounded, personal feel. It’s held together by beautiful artwork that serves as both a coping mechanism for Will and insight into his unspoken feelings, as he feels a wall is being built between him and his family. Ceaselessly entertaining, witty and sentimental, “People, Places, Things” speaks to many sensibilities at once.
“The Boy” (August 18)
Adapted from one chapter in Clay McLeod Chapman’s 2003 book “Miss Corpus” (and produced by Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision label), Craig Macneill’s eerie thriller explores the childhood of a would-be Norman Bates-like psychopath driven to murderous extremes in adolescence. This is hardly a spoiler considering the morbid inevitability in each scene, but Macneill’s elegant treatment of the material keeps its central mystery in play, with the palpable suspense derived from how and when young Ted will finally snap. Aided by German composer Hauschka’s minimalist score and cinematographer Noah Greenberg’s widescreen cinematography, “The Boy” delivers a lyrical, audiovisual encapsulation of an alienated setting that may as well be post-apocalyptic.
“Being Evel” (August 21)
Produced by “Jackass” star Johnny Knoxville, “Being Evel” chronicles the life of legendary stunt rider Robert “Evel” Knievel. The doc not only traces Knievel’s rise to superstardom, but also examines his legacy as the King of the Daredevils through the lens of subsequent generations of sports stars who have been inspired by his hair-raising stunts. What the film lacks in formalistic flares — it’s told with a conventional mixture of talking head interviews and and archival clips — it absolutely makes up for in not just exploring the stunts that made Knievel famous, but in digging beneath the man to expose what it exactly was that led him to risk his life time and time again. Like its risk-taking subject, “Being Evel” is a death-defying hit well worth viewing.
“Mateo” (August 25)
Matthew Stoneman always dreamed of pop stardom, but a stint in jail altered his path to music glory. Learning Spanish and emerging as “Mateo,” Stoneman is America’s first white mariachi singer, who uses every nickel earned by singing on the streets of L.A. on travel tickets to Cuba, where he’s on the brink of completing an album of original songs in Havana. But his estrangement from friends and family, his criminal past and his love for Cuban women could derail him on his quest for fame. Aaron I. Naar’s documentary about this stranger-than-fiction character may sound too wacky to believe, but underneath this very specific ground is a vibrant, relatable story about the hard work it takes to make your dreams come true.
“Digging for Fire” (August 25)
Joe Swanberg has slowly been fine-tuning his mumblecore sensibilities for mainstream audiences in features like “Drinking Buddies,” but he’s cracked open his most appealing story to date in the Sundance hit and ensemble comedy-drama, “Digging for Fire.” The movie stars Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt as a squabbling married couple who seize the opportunity to take separate weekend vacations. The resulting events give way to an adventure tale about marriage, parenthood and complacency. With a supporting cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Chris Messina, Mike Birbiglia, Anna Kendrick and Brie Larson, Swanberg crafts a surprisingly accessible and polished look at unhappiness, one that suggests the beginning of a new phase for him as a larger-scale filmmaker.