Blockbuster movie season is in full force, bringing yet another summer full of mutants, robots, aliens, monsters and all manner of CG creatures to our silver screens. Even if monsters and mechs aren’t your thing, July is jam-packed with reasons (both CG-heavy and not) to make it out to theaters. Here are recommended films to catch this month:
A Hard Day’s Night
Directed by Richard Lester — FilmScene, July 4-10
What are the odds that a film made to help sell the most successful pop group of all time would also be a classic of British comedy and world cinema? Brimming with the formally rebellious energy of an early Jean-Luc Godard film and the irreverence of ’50s British TV comedy—director Richard Lester cut his teeth working with Peter Sellers’s group The Goons — A Hard Day’s Night (1964) is a great film before you even get to the music. To paraphrase the advertising exec in the film (talking to George), you’ll really “dig” it. It’s “fab,” and all the other pimply hyperboles.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt — FilmScene, July 4-10
Director and co-writer Kelly Reichardt has been doing a bit of genre-hopping over the last decade: She’s made the indie bromance Old Joy (2006), the neorealist-ish drama Wendy and Lucy (2008) and the Western Meek’s Cutoff (2010). In her new thriller Night Moves (2013), Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning star as two environmentalists whose plan to destroy an environmentally devastating dam lead to one of the genre’s staple unforeseen-consequence spirals. As Reichert says the film promises to be “more about people than politics,” which is to say that the focus of the film is primarily on the morally ambiguous situation in which the characters have lost themselves.
RiffTrax Live: Sharknado
Sycamore Cinema, July 10 and July 15
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett played the main characters in the latter seasons of cult favorite show Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K, 1988-1999), the show in which a human and two robots mocked bad films. Several years ago, the three actors resurrected the beloved show’s format as purchasable audio MP3s, and as live events in digitally equipped theaters. On July 10 and 15, they’ll be mocking the B-movie Sharknado (2013). With something like Sharknado, a self-consciously “bad” film—in fact, a byproduct of the culture of irony MST3K helped to shepherd into existence—both the charm of the film and the biting snark of the commentary are bound to be less effective. But some measure of MST3K is better than none at all.
Directed by Gillian Robespierre — FilmScene, July 11-17
Jenny Slate stars in writer/director Gillian Robespierre’s comedy about a single 20-something who gets pregnant after a one-night stand. The film is earning overwhelmingly positive reviews as this summer’s down-to-earth, indie-comedy antidote to the more cynical, overblown blockbuster fare. One can expect a mostly conventional, albeit quirky, romantic comedy, with the rare distinction that it actually treats abortion as a legitimate option in the lives of women dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. It might be described, it seems, as a more grown-up, responsible Juno (2007).
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Matt Reeves — Coral Ridge and Sycamore Cinemas, opening July 11
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the surprise of 2011, succeeding as an action film and a drama despite a middling lead performance by James Franco—and despite being a film about highly intelligent apes coordinating a political uprising against their keepers. But for longtime fans of the series (I’m sure they exist), it was probably less surprising.
If one returns to the Wikipedia summaries of the latter three Planet of the Apes films from the ’70s, one finds a compelling sci-fi opera about an orphaned being from the future who rallies his kind to fight for their freedom, complete with stirring descriptions of reversals, betrayals and war—all accompanied by grim apocalyptic overtones that evoke meditation on the end of what some now call the anthropocene, or human era. Where the ’70s films failed in execution, these quasi-remakes (sans time-traveling) promise to shine with their ability to create an empathetic, if not always entirely convincing, CG rendering of Caesar, the chimp who leads the revolt.
Directed by William Lustig — FilmScene, July 16
“When a cop turns killer, you have the right to remain silent … for eternity.” What seems strange about Maniac Cop‘s (1988) addition to FilmScene’s “Late Shift at the Grindhouse” series is that it adopts the generic formula of a slasher—in which a faceless murderer with quasi-supernatural abilities stalks dimwitted, beautiful people—and inserts a uniformed policeman in the role of the killer. Does placing a “maniac cop” in this role trivialize or relegate to fantasy the reality of police brutality? Or is it a productive way of acknowledging and working out anxieties about the wanton exercising of power by culprits who are allowed to hide behind the facelessness of a uniform? You can debate these things at the screening on July 16.
A Most Wanted Man
Directed by Anton Corbijn — Coral Ridge and Sycamore Cinemas, opening July 25
One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final roles comes in the latest adaptation of a novel by John Le Carré, whose works adapted to the screen have included the The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965), The Constant Gardner (2005) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). In A Most Wanted Man, Le Carré gives a post-9/11 update to his morally complex tales about Western intelligence and surveillance apparatuses. Hoffman plays Carré’s typical, slightly jaded spy, Bachmann, who himself is caught in a shifting landscape of international espionage and controlled from the shadows by the CIA. With direction by Anton Corbijn, A Most Wanted Man provides something of a more thoughtful alternative to the same week’s international action-thriller Lucy.