Summer’s in full swing, and you know what that means: If you don’t pack up the kids and head to an air-conditioned theater you’ll go smack out of your mind! Here’s a list of some of what’s being unspooled this July. Movies are listed by national release dates and we’ve also got a peek and what’s going on at the local independent houses.
The BFG – Stepven Spielberg returns to a land of children’s fantasy (a world he last visited in 2011’s Tintin) with this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1982 contemporary classic about a young girl, Sophie, who teams up with a Big Friendly Giant. Hollywood’s been trying to turn this thing into a movie since the early 90’s and now Spielberg directs from a script by the late Melissa Mathison (the writer of E.T.). Via motion-capture photography, Mark Rylance (who won an Oscar in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies) plays the eponymous character, an outcast from the world of giants. He collects and distributes happy dreams to children. The rest of the giants, who like to eat kids, understandably aren’t all that crazy about BFG’s do-gooder ways. When Sophie stumbles into this bizarre world, she and BFG have to capture the evil giants and, with the help of Queen Victoria, put them away so they can’t hurt anymore children. The score is by John Williams, of course, and the film features Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall and, as Sophie, newcomer Ruby Barnhill.
Our Kind of Traitor – It’s amazing to think that spy novelist John le Carré is still churning out espionage thrillers. His first was published in 1961 and his latest in 2013 … at the age of 82. God bless the little scribe! His 2010 novel, Our Kind of Traitor gets the big screen treatment in this version directed by Susanna White and adapted by Hossein Amini. Ewan McGregor, and Naomie Harris play British tourists in Morocco who meet up with a flamboyant Russian, Stellan Skarsgård, who turns out to be a money launderer for the Russian mafia and he wants McGregor to help him seek sanctuary in England in exchange for information on terrorist financing. It’s blows up into an international, globe-trotting game of hide-and-seek with deadly consequences. Damian Lewis, Jeremy Northam, Mark Stanley, and Mark Gatiss also star.
Captain Fantastic – I know what you’re thinking: “Oh no, it’s another Marvel comic book movie! Captain Fantastic—is he the one leap tall hedges in a single bound or the one who shoots Kleenex out of his wrist?” You’re so wrong. About as far away as you can get from a summer action movie, Captain Fantastic is about a man, Viggo Mortensen, who has lived with his family in seclusion in the Pacific Northwest in the belief that a rigorous physical and intellectual education would be the best thing for them. When his wife dies and he visits with the real world he comes to see that instead of helping his kids, he may have actually done more harm than good. The film is written and directed by Matt Ross and co-stars Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, and Steve Zahn.
The Secret Life of Pets – Did you ever wonder what your pet does when you go off to work? Me neither. I figure that as long as they don’t doodoo on the rug, I don’t really care what else they do do. But the fine folks at Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment have wondered and to that end bring us this animated movie about a pampered pet, Max, who has to join forces with a mongrel named Duke when they find out a bunny rabbit called Snowball is creating a battalion of abandoned pets with one goal in mind: Ruin the lives of pets and their owners! Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney co-direct from a script by Ken Aurio, Brian Lynch, and Cinco Paul. Voice talents include Ellie Kemper, Kevin Hart, Albert Brooks, Dana Carvey, Louis C.K., Steve Coogan, and Eric Stonestreet.
Ghostbusters – In hopes of squeezing out some more money from this series of 80’s comedies, Sony Pictures have gone and rebooted the franchise with a gender-switched cast—what could possibly go wrong? Well, how about this: “Women ruin everything.” Or this: “Pssshht. Female scientists? Yeah, right.” Or get a load of this: “Feminists just f**ked my childhood… going to ignore every movie with these actresses since now.” Those are just a few of the comments left on the Sony website mere moments after posting the first trailer for the remake… and now the industry is on tender hooks wondering if this wanton misogyny will tank the movie. At the pitch meeting, it must have seemed like it couldn’t fail: Paul Feig writes and directs and the cast includes a galaxy of star power: Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones are the leads, with Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts from the original stopping by. Plus there’s Chris Hemsworth, Andy Garcia, Michael Kenneth Williams, Cecily Strong, and Michael McDonald. Lets hope that the evil fanboys stay home and shut up.
The Infiltrator – Bryan Cranston stars in this film version of a true story about U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur. In the early 1980’s he posed as the phony “Bob Musella” to discover how international drug lords were laundering their cash. He got in pretty deep and by 1986 was involved in the money schemes of Medellín Cartel supreme drug lord Pablo Escobar—aka “The King of Cocaine” because at the height of his activities it’s estimated he supplied 80% of America’s nose candy. Mazur pursued the case and, ultimately, brought down 85 drug lords and corrupt bankers. The screenplay is by Ellen Brown Furman, it’s directed by Brad Furman and co-stars John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Benjamin Bratt, Jason Isaacs, and Olympia Dukakis.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie – Jennifer Saunders achieved international stardom in 1992 when the British TV show she wrote, Absolutely Fabulous (known as AbFab by it’s fans) debuted. It’s the story of two narcissistic hedonists, Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone, lost in the trendy world of fashion and celebrity publicity. Saunders caught lightning in a bottle by trenchantly profiling the go-go zeitgeist of the time; Eddie and Patsy were the embodiment of the 90’s. But she kept bringing the characters back for four additional series, each—to be painfully honest—never quite as funny as the first three. Now the whole gang, Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield, Celia Imrie, Jane Horrocks, Kathy Burke, Christopher Ryan, and Mo Gaffney return. There’s something like a plot—Eddie and Patsy think they’ve killed supermodel Kate Moss—but, as is usual with AbFab, the real story is the celebrity cameos which include (big breath) Rebel Wilson, John Hamm, Joan Collins, Chris Colfer, Lily Cole, Mark Gatiss, Sadie Frost, Barry Humphries, Dawn French, Emma Bunton, Jerry Hall, Lulu, Perez Hilton, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Stella McCartney, Ruby Wax and a phalanx of British stars you’ve probably never heard of. Let’s hope our favorite drinking and drugging wastrels have successfully transitioned to the new millennium.
Star Trek Beyond – Okay, here’s the facts according to Wikipedia: This is the 13th film in the Star Trek franchise and the third installment in the rebooted series after 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. And that doesn’t include the five television series. That’s a lot of “Beam me up, Scottys.” Several sources describe the plot as the USS Enterprise crew forced to abandon ship and becoming stranded on an unknown planet. The script for Beyond was written by Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and Doug Jung. Chris Pine and Pittsburgh born Zachary Quinto (Kirk and Spock) return, as do Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin. New to this venture are Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella. All in all it’s turned out to be a pretty long five-year mission.
Equity – Though there’s plenty to recommend Wall Street, The Wolf of Wall Street, Greed, Margin Call, and The Big Short… all these pictures about the nefarious world of high finance had one thing in common, they were relentlessly male focused and even a few, while painting how deeply misogynistic Wall Street is, reveled in the bad boy’s club antics. (I’m talking to you, Mr. Wolf.) So here comes the first female-driven Wall Street thriller: Meera Menon directs a script by Amy Fox and it stars Anna Gunn as an investment banker who gets caught up in financial scandal and corruption. Alysia Reiner plays a federal prosecutor trying to bring her down. James Purefoy, Craig Bierko, Lee Tergesen, and James Naughton play some of the men brooding around the edges.
Jason Bourne – Matt Damon returns as the amnesiac government-created killing machine Jason Bourne—a part he first played in the 2002 film The Bourne Identity. (Based on the 1980 novel by Robert Ludlum.) Damon also appeared in two sequels, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, both of which were directed by Paul Greengrass. Damon then said he’d never make another Bourne film without Greengrass at the helm. When there’s money to be made, Hollywood waits for no man … not even a megastar like Damon and so 2012 saw The Bourne Legacy in which Bourne is not an onscreen character. So here we are with Greengrass back in the director’s chair (he also co-wrote the script with Christopher Rouse) and Damon’s playing the lead. There’s some sort of plot, your usual international spies and whatnot, but I think the real suspense might be wondering, 14 years on, if Damon is in danger of breaking a hip with all the stunts. Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, and Vincent Cassel also put in an appearance.
Jaws – Among it’s many claims to notoriety, the 1975 horror movie Jaws is famous for it’s by-now legendary movie poster, created by Roger Kastel, depicting that huge shark coming up from the depths to eat that poor woman swimming above. (There are fewer grains of sand on the beach than the number of times that poster has been parodied.) Jaws is also known as one of the films which ushered in the “new” film industry. This movie, along with Star Wars, invented the summer blockbuster business model which, depending on how you look at it, either saved or destroyed talking pictures. Jaws is also Steven Spielberg’s first box office bonanza, he was only 28 at the time! Based on Peter Benchley’s novel, the story concerns a New England summer beach community terrorized by a great white shark. Town officials and business leaders try to keep the attacks hush-hush … until the body count becomes too high. So Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss head out to sea to kill the shark; the animatronic model of which was affectionately called “Bruce” by the production crew. (July 1-7)
Fathers and Daughters – It’s what used to be known as a four-hankie weeper, so make sure you take Kleenex if you’re going to see this bit of emotional melodrama starring Russell Crowe as a troubled father and Amanda Seyfried as his troubled daughter. They were happy once, back in the day, but then Mom died in a car accident and Dad suffered a physical and mental breakdown. The dead mother’s sister, who hates the father like poison, got custody of the kid and didn’t let her see her father. Now it’s years later and dad is still trying to reconnect with his girl, but she’s become a barfly drowning her pain in men and liquor. There’s an impressive cast: Aaron Paul, Diane Kruger, Quvenzhané Wallis, Bruce Greenwood, Janet McTeer, Octavia Spencer, and Jane Fonda. And it was filmed in Pittsburgh! But don’t forget what I said about the Kleenex. (July 8-14)
Fursonas – You can’’t have missed them. Every June in downtown Pittsburgh you spot giant dogs, cats, foxes, wolves and heaven knows what else clogging up the intersections. Is it a gathering of sport team mascots? Has an evil overlord cast a spell on the city’s pets? Did you perhaps take a little too much Ambien the night before? Not at all, it just means that, as it does ever summer, Pittsburgh has the honor of hosting the annual Furry Convention. Furries are a subculture of people (mostly, but by no means all, young) who dress up and adopt animal personas. Not surprising the movement, which began in 1980, grew out of a sci-fi convention but has since taken on a very multi-faceted life of its own. This documentary, directed by Dominic Rodriquez, follows a group of Furries as they travel the country living their furry lives. (July 1-7)
Wiener Dog – On paper it sounds adorable: Todd Solondz directs a movie about a dachshund who is passed from owner to owner and how the animal changes their lives. The movie’s broken into four distinct stories and the film stars Greta Gerwig, Danny DeVito, Zosia Mamet, Ellen Burstyn, Kieran Culkin, Julie Delpy, and Tracy Letts. Everyone loves a little doggie, don’t they? And aren’t wiener dogs just the cutest? Of course, true film fans reading this will have spotted the problem right at the top: Todd Solondz. A director of singular vision, we know from his previous films Dark Horse, Palindromes, Happiness and, especially, Welcome to the Dollhouse that there’s no such thing as “too depressing” when it comes to a Solondz film. It isn’t really a problem when Todd is writing and directing human characters to sink into the depths, it’ll be more problematic when he gives an animal the same treatment. Judging from some of the pre-release buzz I’ve read, Todd’s going to be hearing from PETA PDQ. (July 15-29)
Legend – Did you know that Tom Cruise made a movie about a unicorn? I had completely forgotten that he appeared in this 1985 Ridley Scott fantasy adventure film. But looking at a publicity still from the time, we see him and his big teeth covered in lots of hair extensions, decked out in a sort of chain-mail/60’s supergroovy tunic standing next to a unicorn while a pretty damsel hangs on for dear life. It’s all because Tim Curry, playing Lord of Darkness, decides he’s going to kill all the unicorns in the world and marry the Princess. But hold on there, Mr. Darkness! Cruise has got several problems with that plan since, as a forest dweller who talks to animals, he counts unicorns among his circle of friends. He’s also in love with the Princess so, obviously, there’s trouble abrewin’. The film was a bomb when it first opened but has become something of a cult favorite. There’s a few different versions out there (original release, director’s cut, etc.) and, oddly, two different soundtracks; one by Tangerine Dream and one by Jerry Goldsmith. No word yet on which cut and soundtrack version Row House will be screening but, come on, it’s Tom Cruise and unicorns! (July 1-7)
On the Waterfront – The classic Elia Kazan-directed film about corruption in the New Jersey longshoreman’s union with Marlon Brando as an ex-fighter who struggles to find redemption and integrity in the gritty world of the docks. The screenplay was originally written by Arthur Miller. But then Kazan went before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1952 and identified eight actors as former members of the Communist Party. Miller refused to work with Kazan after that so Budd Schulberg (another HUAC informer) was brought in for a complete overhaul. The film is Eva Marie Saint’s debut and also stars Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger in what are considered iconic performances. And, of course, there’s Brando’s classic line: “I coulda been a contender, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” (July 22-28)
Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic.