Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer … or maybe not. While you’ll certainly feel hazy and crazy after you take in this month’s movies, you can’t be lazy if you want to catch all that Hollywood is sending your way in July. Lots of sequels, lots of – shall we say? – mature actors playing roles they probably shouldn’t be playing (When this is posted online, Woody Allen definitely won’t be calling me to star in next year’s Untitled Woody Allen Fall 2016 Project.)
The films are previewed in order of their national opening dates.
Terminator Genisys — Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure as governor of California will probably go down in the history books as fairly unremarkable, but there’s no question about his box office power. Or is there? The release of this film, the fifth in the Terminator series, will tell us whether “Ahnuld’’s” still got it or not. In this iteration, we’re in the future, and John Connor sends Kyle Reese back to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah. But something gets screwed up with the timeline, and it’s an unexpected and lethal world where Reese sets down. Time travel figures in another way as well. Schwarzenegger’s playing the same character he played 31 years ago … and from watching the trailer, I’d say the computer power needed to achieve his Photoshopped younger face could energize a small city. “I’ll be back … in time for bingo night at the senior center.”
Magic Mike XXL — No, you didn’t fall asleep and miss the previous 29 Magic Mike sequels; this is only the second one. The studio just thought “XXL” would be a funny allusion to the length of – well, you know exactly to what they’re alluding, so I needn’t elaborate. Anyway, this is the follow up to the surprise 2012 summer hit about a group of male strippers living the high and low life in Tampa. In case you missed the first one, Mike (played by Channing Tatum whose early years were the inspiration for this story) was the star stripper who, in teaching a newbie the ins and outs of the trade, discovered himself and retired from the business. In XXL he’s agreed to put on the thong and Velcro pants one last time, and he and the boys take a road trip to Myrtle Beach for a final performance. Carnegie Mellon University grads Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer return, although Matthew McConaughey does not. (His salary demands after an Oscar win priced him of the running.) It sounds, perhaps, a little silly … but imagine a summer movie in which no buildings blow up.
Minions — It’s not, as you might think, the next sequel in the Despicable Me franchise. No, that would be Despicable Me 3, which is due out in 2017. This is a prequel, of sorts, in which we discover the history of Minions in general (those cute little yellow things from the first two movies) and the back story of Kevin, Bob, and Stuart, Minions who stole the show in the previous outings. We meet up with them again in the swinging 1960’s, when they pledge themselves into the service of the evil Scarlett Overkill and her plan to take over the world. It will be interesting to see if three lead characters who only speak gibberish can actually carry a film. Supporting voice talents include Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush, and the glorious Jennifer Saunders.
Self/less — In 1966, John Frankenheimer, following up on his successful “paranoia thrillers” The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May, directed the film version of a novel by David Ely called Seconds in which a wealthy man with the help of a shadowy group known only as The Company transfers his consciousness into the body of a younger man, played by Rock Hudson. The film was a flop, but through the years it has garnered a huge cult following. (Interesting trivia: The movie so frightened an already unsteady Brian (Beach Boys) Wilson that he didn’t see another movie in a theater until E.T. was released in 1982.) Self/less is a remake of sorts from Tarsem Singh, a director with a most singular vision. He’s responsible for Immortal, The Cell, and, one of my favorites, The Fall. Even when he’s treading familiar ground (a.k.a. Mirror Mirror about Snow White with Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen), the results are bizarre, so heaven knows what he’ll do with this tale in which Ben Kingsley wakes up inside the brain of Ryan Reynolds. Matthew Goode, Michelle Dockery, and Victor Garber are also on hand to add to the weirdness.
The Gallows — It wouldn’t be summer without at least one cheapie slasher film, now would it? The Gallows, however, has the potential to be the scariest of all since it’s set in the world of (cue reverb and creepy music) high school theater!!!!!! It’s a “found-footage” horror film (i.e. Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield) written and directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing. Twenty years ago, Beatrice High School puts on a play called “The Gallows,” and wouldn’t you know it, a boy named Charlie dies during the show. (The best of theater is fraught with danger.) Now the school, two decades later, decides to honor Charlie’s memory by re-staging “The Gallows,” and, get ready for a shocker!—people start dying again. (If you ask me, that’s what they get for doing a revival.)
Ant-Man – This thing has had more rewrites than Ben Affleck’s genealogy chart. It’s about a man who makes himself smaller at will while increasing his own strength. (Maybe not the most spectacular of superpowers, but by the time Hank Pym, the inventor of Ant-Man technology‚ showed up in a Marvel Comic in 1962, most of the really splashy superpowers had already been taken.) Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish began writing a big-screen adaptation in 2006 with Wright set to direct. Wright’s famous for Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and the considerably less successful Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Tintin. The script started to become a very “Wright & Cornish” movie … whereas Marvel was explicitly looking for something that existed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (already populated by the Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, and Captain America movies). Eventually Wright and Cornish left the picture and other writers were brought in to make it adhere more closely to the M.C.U. aesthetic. (I bet you didn’t even know there was one.) After Paul Rudd was signed to play the title character, he and Adam McKay did even more rewrites, which were then rewritten by another team of writers. Amazing! All that to make a movie you know is going to be just like every other movie of its kind in the last 10 years.
Trainwreck — Currently the buzz-worthiest woman on television, Amy Schumer branches out into feature films by writing and starring in this R-rated rom-com directed by Judd Apatow. Here she plays a hard-living career woman known more for the number of her relationships than their duration. But one day Cupid shoots his arrow, and Bill Hader playing a doctor shows up, and now she’s got some decisions to make. Colin Quinn’s on hand, along with Vanessa Bayer, Tim Meadows, and an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton playing a Helen Gurley Brown wanna-be. There’s also cameo appearances by Chris Evert, Marv Albert, Matthew Broderick, LeBron James, and Marisa Tomei.
Mr. Holmes — Popping up in the middle of summer, without a hero in spandex or a building exploding in the third act, Mr. Holmes is a cinematic oddity. It’s based on a 2005 novel written by Mitch Cullin. In it we find a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes living in rural England and unhappy with the way Watson has chronicled their last case. At his advanced age, however, he only remembers snippets: a young lady, an angry husband, possibly a dead child. He needs to enlist the aid of his housekeeper and her son to solve this final mystery. The film reunites director Bill Condon and Sir Ian McKellen, the duo who last worked together on the 1998 James Whale biopic Gods and Monsters. Laura Linney and Roger Allam show up in what is certainly the most unlikeliest of summer films.
Irrational Man — Speaking of interventions … Irrational Man is Woody Allen’s 45th feature film (possibly his 46th, 47th, or 48th, depending on whether you count What’s Up Tiger Lily? Don’t Drink the Water, and New York Stories.) That’s one hell of a lot of movies, and some of them have been just brilliant. But how many years has it been since he’s put out not necessarily a great one but just a good one? (Blue Jasmine doesn’t count since he stole the plot from Tennessee Williams, and, really, Cate Blanchett was the reason it was watchable.) We need to let him know that he has earned his place in the Hollywood Hall of Fame … and that he can stop now. Unfortunately a
dvance word says Irrational Man isn’t going to solve the problem. Joaquin Phoenix plays a philosophy professor at a small college where he’s romancing a fellow teacher (Parker Posey). But he falls in love with a new student (Emma Stone) who has a big problem, which Joaquin sets out to solve. It’s described as a mystery comedy, but one reviewer said that it’s a mystery anybody would call it a comedy. Woody, really, you can stop.
Pixels — According to the Pixels plot, video feeds of arcade games (Pac-Man, Galaga, Centipede, etc.) were beamed into outer space back in the 1980’s. Unfortunately the aliens who lived up there thought they were a declaration of war, and so adopting the game characters as their battle armor, they come to earth to destroy humanity. Four former childhood friends—and arcade champions—resurrect their skills to kill the invaders. With this movie, millions of middle-aged men will see their wasted teenage years validated. “No really Mom, I have to play because if I don’t someday the world might collapse. Now leave me alone!” The friends are played by Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, and Kevin James (who is actually the President of the United States in the movie.) Slightly surprisingly, Chris Columbus directs; although if you can buy into James playing a man who is both the U.S. president and married to Jane Krakowski, then there’s really nothing left to surprise you.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — Okay folks, I think it’s time for us to hold an intervention. If we don’t act now, someone we care deeply about is going to be hurt. Yes, I’m talking about Tom Cruise and his latest MI:5 movie. I’ve seen the trailers, and in them Cruise is swinging off the wing of an airborne plane, zooming down the highway on a motorcycle at about 120 miles an hour, doing karate kicks while suspended from the ceiling with chains, and driving sports cars up walls and over stairways and across great divides. And here’s the thing: he’s 53 years old. How can I possibly enjoy a film when I’m going to spend most of my time worrying if the leading man is going to break a hip? In this movie, he’s fighting, as usual, some international cartel of terrorists and, as usual, everybody but a handful of supporting players—Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames—are trying to kill him. Why bother? Just get his AARP card revoked; that’ll show him who’s boss.
All the President’s Men — Now here’s a film worth a second look. Of course everyone knows this 1977 movie is about Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward breaking the Watergate scandal, which would eventually lead to President Nixon’s resignation. But if you haven’t seen it in a while, you might have forgotten that it’s an exceptional movie in it’s own right. Nominated for seven Oscars (it won four), the film was directed by Alan J. Pakula from William Goldman’s script (based on the Woodward and Bernstein book). It’s a creepy meditation on the corrupting nature of power and paranoia, and much of the film is set in shadows and secret places, making the 70’s look incredibly evil. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman star, with appearances by Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Martin Balsam, and Hal Holbrook, among many other. (July 3-9)
Airplane! — “Don’t call me Shirley!” With that line, Leslie Nielsen reinvented himself from stock 2nd-leading man status to world-class comedian in this 1980 film. Written and directed by Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker, Airplane! was originally a one-off spoof of Airport and other disaster movies from the 1970’s. But it turned out to be such a hugely successful film that a sequel was released two years later. A whole host of TV and movie stars show up for a non-stop gag fest … including Ethel Merman! It may be true that 40 years on, as many jokes miss as hit, but when they hit, it’s … well, it’s time for takeoff! (July 17-23)
Rashomon — A classic of international cinema and arguably one of the best films from Japan master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. A samurai has been brutally slain and at the trial three eye witnesses tell their versions of the crime, each one’s story illuminating and contradicting the other’s. In the film, Kurosawa weaves together an almost elegiac tale about reality and the nature of truth. Toshiro Mifune stars. It has been said that this film is the reason the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created the “Best Foreign Film” category. (July 24-31)
The Overnight — Being a new parent in a new city is hard! Take Alex and Emily. They’ve recently arrived in L.A. with their baby son RJ and don’t know anyone. Fortunately they meet another couple in the park with a child of their own and arrange a play date for their kids. As it turns out, the play date ends up being for the parents; after the children are tucked away in bed, the four adults begin to explore other ways of having fun. A sex comedy written and directed by Patrick Brice, The Overnight has been described as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Kink?” Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, and Judith Godréche star. (July 3-9)
A Poem Is a Naked Person — Les Blank was a documentarian who may never have been a well-known filmmaker, but he was highly regarded in the industry and considered a maverick in his field. In 1974 he was hired by musician Leon Russell to film him at work in his Oklahoma studio compound. The project lasted three years, but the film was never released and only seen in public at small screenings overseen by Blank. Following Blank’s death in 2013, his son Harrod worked through the legal issues with Russell, and the film is finally making it into the cinematic world. George Jones and Willie Nelson also show up in a few scenes. (July 10 – 13)
Manhattan — After having been so ungenerous to Woody Allen in this preview, I was hoping to say that in his stable of earlier, better films you’ll find Manhattan. Unfortunately it’s not that simple. This 1979 movie is a love letter to New York City, and certainly it has never looked better than in Gordon Willis’ stunning black-and-white cinematography, for which he won a BAFTA. (And the famous sequence with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” playing in the background still takes your breath away.) It’s also one of the first films featuring Meryl Streep. But Woody’s Woody, so, of course, every woman in the movie is in love with him, including, and here’s the problem, Mariel Hemingway as a 17-year-old high school girl. Even back when the film was released that was icky … and in light of all that’s happened since, it kinda makes your skin crawl. Interestingly, Tisa Farrow (sister of Mia) has a small part. (8 p.m. July 5)
The Hustler — Don’t believe what you hear about the sweet innocence and swingin’ good times of the early 1960’s. Robert Rossen’s 1961 film The Hustler will show you how it really was, which is basically how it is now and has always been. (I leave it to you to decide what that is.) Paul Newman plays “Fast Eddie” Felson, a pool hustler trying to make his name in the world of high-stakes wagers and high rollers. To do that he has to go up against legendary pool player “Minnesota Fats,” played by Jackie Gleason in a rare dramatic performance. Felson teams up with a ruthless manager, Bert Gordon (played by George C. Scott), to bring Fats down. The Hustler, with Rossen’s relentlessly realistic style, is a gimlet-eyed look at winning and losing and what it takes to be on top. In 1994, Newman reprises the role of Felson in The Color of Money in which he teaches his tricks to a newcomer, played by Tom Cruise. Newman won Best Actor for that performance. (8 p.m. July 19)
Silk Screen Film Festival
Now in it’s 10th year, this annual festival celebrates the best of contemporary Asian film. Check Silkscreenfestival.org for a complete listing of films, venues and times. (July 10 – 19).
How to Win at Checkers Every Time – Based on a series of short stories by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, this film, directed by Josh Kim, is set in 1990’s Bangkok and centers of the lives of two orphaned brothers, Ek and Oat. The older, Ek, has been raising his brother alone but is now entered into the national military lottery … and Oat decides to take drastic steps to keep his brother at home. (In Thai with English subtitles.)
Man From Reno – This 2014 film directed by Dave Boyle is a quirky mystery in the Twin Peaks vein. Aki Akahori, a Japanese mystery writer, takes a vacation in San Francisco to escape the marketing blitz behind the release of her latest novel. While stateside she begins an affair with a stranger at her hotel … who vanishes one day. Meanwhile, in a rural town far away a local sheriff accidentally hits a pedestrian on the highway; when and how these two stories meet up is the real mystery at the heart of this USA/Japanese co-produced film. (In English.)
Melbourne – A big winner at the Cairo, Stockholm, Venice, Tokyo and Zurich Film Festivals, this Iranian film unspools in real-time and takes place almost entirely in the Tehran apartment of Amir and Sara, an average middle-class couple packing up their home and moving to Australian to continue their studies. The plot centers around a sudden, terrible event which forces them to confront their future and the choices they need to make to live their lives. Directed and written by Nima Javidi. (Persian/Italian with English subtitles.)
Miss India America – Set within the Indian-America community, Miss India America is a comedy about a typical high school overachiever, Lily Prasad, living in Orange County. Lily is the perfect student, perfect daughter and perfect girlfriend; she knows what she’s doing, where she’s going and how she’s going to get there. When her boyfriend falls in love with the reigning Miss India National beauty queen, however, Lily’s future is suddenly in jeopardy and she’s going to have to reconsider everything to get what she wants. Ravi Kapoor directs from a script by Kapoor and Meera Simhan. A USA/India coproduction. (In English.)
Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic.