by Jordan Ruimy
Summer movie season tends to start off the first Friday of May, but lately it’s been a different story, studios have been relying on mid-April to get things going. This year is no exception with the latest “Fast and the Furious” installment, “The Fate of the Furious,” getting released this coming Friday. No, in this summer movie preview you won’t find that movie, nor will you find “Baywatch,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Wonder-Woman,” “Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets,” “The Mummy,” “The Dark Tower,” “Pirates Of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tales,” just to name a few muckraking blockbusters. It doesn’t mean the formerly mentioned movies will bad, it’s just that there are better, more artful things, to look forward to this summer than The Rock and Zac Efron strutting their chiseled abs on the beach or Jack Sparrow fighting another villainous captain. Judging by the lineup of films I’ve chosen, 21 of them, cinema seems to be alive and well. The focus is on the movies, indie or Hollywood, that actually aim for some kind of artistic integrity this summer. The following films have the stuff to shake things up and, even, be contenders come awards season. There is hope in the next four months.
1) Detroit (August 4th)
The eagerly anticipated follow-up to Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” is probably the one many are looking forward to most, besides Nolan’s Dunkirk. It has a late summer release which has Oscar pundits scratching their heads until they realize that the film is likely to stir conversation and it’s always better to get that all over with before the more brutal Oscar season starts. Many films are simply chewed up and spit out for even daring to “go there” – so an earlier release date does two things: takes the Oscar heat off a bit, and gives people time to get it all out of their system before fall. Zero Dark came out way too late and by the time its absurd backlash died down it was long past too late. Mark Boal has written the screenplay which details the 1967 Detroit race riots, one of the biggest citizen uprisings in U.S. history. Bigelow is at her best dealing with scenes of war, or even violence on the streets.
2) Dunkirk (July 21st)
Christopher Nolan is trying to reinvent the war movie with “Dunkirk,” just like he tried to reinvent sci-fi with “Inception.” “Interstellar,” “The Prestige” and the superhero movie with “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” What strikes one most upon first look of the film’s trailer is how un-Nolan the whole thing feels. However, what one should expect are the incredibly ambitious shots that Nolan is known for pulling off. What a risk he’s taking by casting a mostly unknown bunch of actors, safe for Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance in supporting roles, to do the job. Completing the cast are Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Barry Keoghan and, yes, One Direction’s Harry Styles, who beat out more than 1000 other actors that auditioned for the role. Nolan has promised “pared back” dialogue and confirmed “Dunkirk” is a “survival tale.” My rule is Trust Nolan, he’s proven his worth. This could be just the story that Oscar ordered.
3) Okja (June 28th)
Bong Joon-Ho’s “Snowpiercer” was a brilliant film, and ended up being a mild commercial success, but found its groove with critics and developed quite the fan base. Joon-Ho really was the South Korean visionary that, his previous films, “Memories of Murder” and “The Host” set him up to be. It is then no coincidence that his next film is being produced by Netflix. The streaming company has given Joon-Ho total carte banche to make “Okja.” Not much is known about the plot, which is being kept secretive, but we do know the film follows a young girl that puts everything on the line to fight a corporate company that is trying to kidnap Okja, her unusual “animal” friend. The film stars Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and Lily Collins.
4) The Beguiled (June 30th)
Sofia Coppola remains among the most promising and important female filmmakers in Hollywood today. Her Oscar winning film Lost in Translation continues to grow and evolve as time wears on. Each time she releases a film it tells its story uniquely, even if it doesn’t hit the sweet spot with critics on occasion. “The Beguiled” is a remake of the similarly titled Clint Eastwood film from the 1970s. Judging by its trailer this “remake” looks like it will only be loosely based on the original. Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning star.
5) Logan Lucky (August 18th)
“Logan Lucky” is Steven Soderbergh’s first film out of his so-called retirement, which always seemed like an extension of Soderbergh performance art. In the meantime, he’s been concentrating on television, most notably his excellent FX show “The Knick.” Now that it’s been, frustratingly, cancelled, Soderbergh is back and ready to add more to an impressive filmography which includes “Traffic,” “The Limey,” “Out of Sight,” Sex, Lies and Videotape,” “Erin Brockvich,” and “Ocean’s Eleven.” “Logan Lucky” is a heist movie, set in the NASCAR world, starring Daniel Craig, Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, and Hilary Swank, among many others.
6) It Comes At Night (August 25th)
There is no doubt that many of you missed out on 2016’s hidden masterpiece: Trey Edward Schults’ “Krisha.” The film did not get a proper release and was all but shunned at the box-office. However, there is already a vocal fanbase building up on the film and many are starting see Schults as one of the most talented young filmmakers to come around in years, right up there with Shane Carruth. Not much is known about “It Comes At Night,” except that it stars Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott, and Carmen Ejogo. The short synopsis we did get was that about a man protecting his family from a presence, we’re not sure what, lurking outside his door. Schults’ incredible filmmaking prowess in “Krisha” will likely continue with this film. A major mainstream audience is what this writer-director deserves.
7) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (May 5th)
Am I looking forward to a Marvel movie this summer? You bet. But don’t expect “Spider-Man: Homecoming” or “Wonder-Woman” to make it on this list. The Marvel film I’m most looking forward to is writer-director James Gunn’s sequel to 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The first film had enough smarts and well drawn out characters to compensate for formula. Gunn’s keen eye for visual detail proved that he had the stuff to last. It also helped that the soundtrack, a blend of 70’s and 80’s bouncy pop , had us bopping our constantly heads in approval. Look for the 137 minute “Vol.2” to up the ante with everything that made the first film such a treat.
8) Alien: Covenant (May 19th)
Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with “Alien: Covenant.” This new chapter has the crew of the colony ship Covenant discovering uncharted paradise, but eventually uncovering a dark force hiding at every corner. We all know what this threat is and, it seems, like Scott might be playing it by the books here by making a survival picture, but how can anyone resist the urge to watch this film? Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir and Carmen Ejogo star in this highly anticipated prequel to Scott’s original 1979 classic.
9) War Machine (May 26th)
Countless production delays didn’t stop Netflix from Acquiring David Michôd’s “War Machine.” For good reason. Michôd proved his worth with 2010’s Aussie indie “American Kingdom,” and this latest film, based on a true story, stars Brad Pitt as an anti-Establishment four star general commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan. His own ego, and an aggressively committed journalist, could be his downfall, unless he realizes the severity’s of his mistakes. The cast includes Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Meg Tilly, Tilda Swinton and Sir Ben Kingsley.
10) All Eyes On Me (June 16th)
It’s about time they made a film about Tupac Shakur. After all, “Notorious” was made for Biggie, Straight Outta Compton for the N.W.A -the latter had fresh and vitally alive filmmaking, courtesy of F Gary Gray, and was robbed of a Best Picture nomination. Tupac songs are well-known in the hip-hop community, maybe not enough in the mainstream, but his life story, filled with twists and turns, highs and lows, should be told. Tupac lookalike Demetrius Shipp Jr. will play the legendary rapper. Did they wait two decades to make this movie just to get a guy that looks EXACTLY like Shakur? No matter the lack of acting experience, the 28 year old Shipp Jr. seems to be the real deal, at least based on the trailer. Danny Boom directs.
11) War For The Planet Of the Apes (July 14th)
Woody Harrelson is added to the cast for this sequel to 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Having recently re-watched the 1968 original, I know all about the social issues that can be raised in these films. Matt Reeves directs this new chapter, which will continue to follow Caesar’s rise as a revolutionary figure, one which will be talked about for centuries by his fellow apes, against the humans and the human army led by a ruthless colonel. The third chapter of franchise, Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel.
Also added are 10 indies that I’ve already seen, in order of release date, all of which rank among the year’s best films so far, make sure not to miss these, sure to be, summer MVPs:
Paris Can Wait (May 17th)
Eleanor Coppola, Francis Ford’s wife, is known for her documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” which is about the tumultuous and depressing shoot of her husband’s “Apocalypse Now” stands as a great, important time capsule in film history. She has never really delved into narrative fiction until now. With “Paris Can Wait,” another under-seen Telluride gem, she has made one of the most enjoyably sexy road movies in quite some time. Casting Diane Lane as Anna, an unsatisfied wife whose Hollywood producer husband (Alec Baldwin) is always away on the road, was a stroke of genius. This spiked bonbon of a film has Lane playing Anne, left alone again by her husband this time at the Cannes Film Festival, which leads to her being playfully lured to go on a two-day road trip through the south of France with her Hubby’s business partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard). Jacques delights in showing her a good time, but also doesn’t shy away from telling her how beautiful she is. Their cat and mouse game makes for an intriguing romcom filled with substance.
Wakefield (May 19th)
Bryan Cranston’s Howard Wakefield seems to have a great life: Success as a NYC lawyer, married to a loving, beautiful wife, two great teenage daughter, and, of course, a dream house. However, problems do lurk beneath and, before we could even get to know him a little better, he decides to disappear. He hides in the attic, where his family never really cares to go, and observes how his loved ones deal with his sudden disappearance. “Wakefield” would not be as fascinating if its central performance, courtesy of Bryan Cranston, wasn’t as fully fleshed out and brilliant. This is the best performance, most impressive acting of Cranston’s film career, made even more impressive by the fact that he is alone for the majority of the film. Riveting is the word to use for his work in “Wakefield.”
The Big Sick (June 23rd)
All hesitations you might have had about this Judd Apatow-produced film is thrown out the window once Kumail Nanjiani appears in Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick. The film, a touching and heartfelt personal account of the real-life relationship between Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon (played beautifully by Zoe Kazan), is one of the best romantic comedies to come around in ages because it makes us actually care about the outcome. This is the best Judd Apatow movie and it wasn’t even directed by Apatow.
A Ghost Story (July 7th)
David Lowery’s film is one of the most audaciously original narratives I have seen this decade. Shot with friends Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as a personal side project while he was filming Pete’s Dragon, the film is not really supposed to be scary as much as an engrossing meditation on life and death. The less you know, the better, but the film’s official synopsis is perfectly put together to tell you what you need to know: “This is the story of a ghost and the house he haunts.”
Lady Macbeth (July 14th)
Get ready for a star-in-the-making. Florence Pugh is mesmerizing in “Lady Macbeth,” first-time director Wiliam Oldroyd’s adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.” Pugh plays Lady Katherine, a young woman forced into marriage and who decides to take matters into her own hands. Katherine is a woman who defies conventions and will do almost anything to get the freedom she most desperately craves in a society that refuses to give it. Especially if you’re a woman. Her desires and needs are things that come naturally to women in today‘s society (freedom, true love, her own free will), but since this is a story set in Victorian London those things are taboo and punishable. She dares to break those conventions by doing unspeakable things, including murder. Oldroyd has reinvented the genre by injecting a much needed dosage of adrenaline. “Lady Macbeth” is a thriller masquerading as a period piece The critics were unanimous in their praise and Roadside quickly snatched it up not too long after. You’re in for a real treat.
Patti Cake$ (July 7th)
I thought of Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$ as a “hip-hop Whiplash” when I saw it at Sundance, and that’s an apt description for a familiar film that also feels like it’s directed by a new, exciting talent. The film’s breakout star, Australia’s Danielle Macdonald, plays Patti, an overweight, extremely white Jersey-born aspiring rapper who can win any free-style battle, but can’t find a way out of her miserable, blue-collar town. Jasper directs the hell out of the film, and his visually exciting style breaks through the film’s familiar tropes by making you care about Patti and her road to a better life. Jasper pulls off the impossible: although you feel like you have seen a film like this one before, you can rest assured that there has never been anything quite like Patti Cake$.
City of Ghosts (July 14th)
Another documentary about Syria, this one about ISIS stronghold Raqqa, Syria, might just be the definitive document thus far about the Syrian civil war. Director Matthew Heineman gets frontline access to the citizen journalist collective of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” as they try to defy threats against their lives by the terrorist organization and fight the misinformation and indoctrination of their people at the hands of evil. Another great Syria documentary, “Last Man in Aleppo,” also comes out this summer. Both are unflinching and unforgettable.
Ingrid Goes West (August 4th)
If there ever was a film that dealt with our craze for social media in the most intelligent and assured way, it would be Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West. Thee film has a career-making performance from Aubrey Plaza as an emotionally unbalanced, celebrity obsessed millennial (Aubrey Plaza) who decides to head out west and stalk an Instagram celebrity (a pitch-perfect Elizabeth Olsen) to the brink of martyrdom. It’s one of the best dark comedies to come around in ages and smartly updates the stalker genre for the social media generation. A perfect fit if you ask me.
Baby Driver (June 28th)
“Baby Driver” premiered at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival with, mostly, rave reviews. This is the first film director Edgar Wright has released since 2013’s “The World’s End.” His aborted plan to direct “Ant-Man” was probably the cause of the delay. Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx star in “Baby Driver,” which has a talented, young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) forced to work on a heist for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey). No surprise here, but the film is a visually driven, candy-colored mashup of “Drive,” The Driver” and Michael Mann’s “Thief.” In other words, it’s a cinematic delight. Wright doesn’t do boring, he’s one of the most visually interesting filmmakers working today and “Baby Driver” proves that once again. You can watch this film with no sound and still get sucked into Wright’s dream of a movie. He drives this film into sheer visual nirvana.
Brigsby Bear (July 28th)
Brigsby Bear sets up the viewer for an unpredictable ride. The film’s main character, 25 year-old James Pope (James Mooney), has a serious obsession with children’s show Brigsby Bear. We learn that James’ passion for Brigsby isn’t the only thing keeping him in his room. He lives with his parents in a bunker set up in a deserted, unknown location. It isn’t too long before the FBI shows up, raiding the bunker, arresting the parents and telling James the harsh truth: He was abducted as a baby by his fake parents who have taught him a completely different way of learning. His parents go to jail and James is then forced to reintegrate with his birth family, and society in general, which proves to be a difficult task. It’s an outrageous concept that’s pulled off quite brilliantly. McCary, an SNL writer and director, shows great promise and satirical sting with his directing chops, managing to create something wholly unique and original here. You haven’t seen anything like “Brigsby Bear,” and probably never will again.