MONTHLY HIGHLIGHTS: July 2014

For those who have difficulty demarcating the dividing line between the front and back half of the year, I can’t say July usually does much to emphasize its place in the year. The most promising blockbusters have often come and gone by this point, though in some cases that allows for less expected charmers to snake through (For me, The Lone Ranger will probably continue to age better than Pacific Rim). For indie film, too, it’s often a rather inconspicuous dumping ground. Plenty of room for loose fodder to be strewn carelessly to bake in the summer heat. This year isn’t that different, with me stretching the possibilities of taste to fill out my list of recommendations. At the top, though, reside some of the year’s most incredibly promising prospects.

Top 10 Films to See in July

I Origins - Mood Indigo10. I Origins (Dir. Mike Cahill) or Mood Indigo (Dir. Michel Gondry)
Limited Release | July 18th

The best sci-fi this month may indeed be in the multiplex, but that’s not for lack of independent filmmakers trying. Like last year’s Upstream Color, this month’s I Origins and Mood Indigo use sci-fi concepts to feed what are essentially simple romances. In the former, Another Earth director Mike Cahill forms another tragic melodrama on the idea that someone’s soul can exist beyond death in a scientifically provable way. In the latter, well, a guy falls for a girl who then begins growing flora inside her stomach. I trust Gondry more for playful visual sensibilities, even if his work since Eternal Sunshine has largely been perched far on the side of lunacy. Cahill, meanwhile, brings up intriguing concepts that his rather flat dramatic stories simply don’t live up to. Still, better for some imagination than none at all. (I Origins trailer; Mood Indigo trailer)

 

Deliver Us From Evil9. Deliver Us From Evil (Dir. Scott Derrickson)
Wide Release | July 2nd

The reviews have hit for Deliver Us From Evil, and they aren’t particularly rapturous. Frankly, for this kind of effort, one wouldn’t expect them to be, regardless of how entertaining it is. The allure of a genuinely frightening horror film does a lot, particularly given the pristine shocks Scott Derrickson conjured out of Sinister. That command’s put to the test in this police procedural where a NY police detective falls into a case with genuine supernatural, even demonic, undertones. I’d be out the door and running the other way if the talent involved didn’t hook me. I have hopes for the career of Olivia Munn (a knockout in 2012’s Magic Mike) and Edgar Ramirez (even more so in Carlos), but seeing as Derrickson’s been announced to direct Doctor Strange, possibly the only Marvel property left that I have any glimmer of hope for, a lot depends on how entertaining and cinematic he makes this genre fusion. (Trailer)

Closed Curtain8. Closed Curtain (Dir. Jafar Panahi & Kambuzia Partovi)
Limited Release | July 9th

It’s a bit surprising of Panahi to return to the screen this quickly, given the fact that he’s still under house arrest, banned from making films for another 16 years. One might suspect that the emergence of profoundly independent documentary This Is Not a Film, and now his more innately fictionalized Closed Curtain, might put his position in his country at further risk. If it didn’t, though, there’d hardly be any reason to make these films. The buzz and fervor around this film is more muted than its predecessor, a sign that even daring revolution can be brushed off as monotonous in today’s society. It need not be ignored by us, however, for even if it’s a lesser entity than This Is Not a Film, it’s a sign not only of bravery against politically abrasive systems, but of the endurance of Panahi’s own human spirit. Oh, about the film itself? It has a dog. We’re more or less sold. (Trailer)

Magic in the Moonlight7. Magic in the Moonlight (Dir. Woody Allen)
Limited Release | July 25th

I saw the writing on the wall for Blue Jasmine to be a sweaty step up for Woody Allen, based solely on its cast and title. I’ve seen no such premonition for his latest film, which seems to be retreating to a typical rom-com premise. Mind you, I’m a proponent of the quirky rom-com. One of the best movies of the 21st century (Eternal Sunshine) is a quirky rom-com. But even with seasoned cinema veterans like Marcia Gay Harden, Jackie Weaver and Eileen Atkins on board, the prospect of seeing them play wide-eyed buffoons is less than enchanting. I’ve little doubt Emma Stone will do her wily best to up the enchantment factor, though I slightly cringe at the thought of Colin Firth, age 53, being romantically tied to Stone, aged 25 (but then, well, it is Woody, after all). Still, if you can count Allen down, don’t count him out. Across nearly 50 films, he’s yet to make something that feels anything less than Woody-esq. (Trailer)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Dir. Matt Reeves)
Wide Release | July 11th

Okay, the good stuff now. I mean, the very likely good stuff, because even the enhanced quality and emotion of Rise of the Planet of the Apes didn’t quite work on me the way it did others. With Matt Reeves now at the helm, though, having tackled tonally intriguing films as Let Me In and pared down, yet still massive spectacles as Cloverfield, the franchise is ready for a shot of something spectacular again. The setting advanced 10 years, apes and humans are now on the brink of war, and the consequences of human ignorance and violence are set to take their toll the same way the consequences of God-playing experimentation did in the last film. I’ve been on the fence with my anticipation for some time, but there’s a lot that a blunt force image like that of a chimpanzee wielding a machine gun. It’s not the typical feeling of “fuck yeah, apes against the man” revelry most male viewers will sadly misinterpret as. It’s of bleak sadness for an inevitable loss of innocence, and it’ll be wonderful if the film taps into such a deep, dark nerve successfully. (Trailer)

Happy Christmas5. Happy Christmas (Dir. Joe Swanberg)
Limited Release | July 25th

We’ll get to reviewing this in time for its release, but BAMcinemaFest was handily our favorite film we saw at BAMcinemaFest this year. Director Joe Swanberg has had a habit of failing to fully realize his films, pleasant as they often are, as full fledged cinema. Last year’s Drinking Buddies revealed Swanberg as formally curious, but still eager to entertain, and Happy Christmas advances the latter while lending a rich texture that wasn’t there before. It’s still a small, relatively polite movie, but with charms in the homey earthiness of its family drama – Swanberg’s infant son Jude is the adorable comic genius behind the film’s biggest smiles – and particularly in the delightful sparring and blooming friendship between Melanie Lynskey and Anna Kendrick’s characters. Writing porn has never had such a feminist touch about it, nor has a Swanberg film, for that matter. And without being inundated with holiday movie pitstops, this is one Christmas movie quite welcome in July. (Trailer)

Life Itself4. Life Itself (Dir. Steve James)
Limited Release | July 4th

This month we’re more or less saying a belated big screen goodbye to fallen legends of the past century of film, in this case one whose influence has shaped much of the public dialogue regarding how we talk about films. Last year we said our aching last words to Roger Ebert (my short, gut-reaction one’s here; Justin’s deeper, more eloquent one’s here), but we knew Steve James’ documentary about him was on the horizon. Frankly, I had more than a touch of fear at the notion. A film about one of the godfathers of film criticism would certainly earn the frustration of film critics if it sets a hair out of place. Thankfully, the critical reaction has been a charmed one. It’s yet to be discovered, however, if that love is one of an insider who’s grown up inspired by the man. How does it work as a piece of cinema? It’s what Roger would ask, and with luck the film doesn’t disappoint on that score. (Trailer)

A Most Wanted Man3. A Most Wanted Man (Dir. Anton Corbijn)
Limited Release | July 25th

One of the biggest perpetual feats of crying in my life happened when Philip Seymour Hoffman died earlier this year, and the sting hasn’t yet dissipated, if it ever will. I’m not sure A Most Wanted Man will soften the blow, but it’s already set to be the most hearty of reminders why we cared so much in the first place. Directed by ace thriller craftsman Anton Corbijn and based on the novel by John Le Carre, it’s a cold war spy thriller in the vein of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but clearly with a more kinetic, icy tinge to it. If it’s hard to know exactly what’s happening or what’s at stake in the trailers, it’s still exciting to see Le Carre’s propulsive narratives brought to being such proficient and electrifying screen incarnations. With Hoffman large at center, and enticing cast of Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe and others backing him up, it may not be a personal farewell (revisit Synecdoche, New York for that), but it’ll be indicative of what he’s done best. (Trailer)

Land Ho!2. Land Ho! (Dir. Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens)
Limited Release | July 11th

I don’t know about Martha Stephens’ prior work, but Aaron Katz is one of the most humane, genuine voices in American independent cinema. If his work isn’t followed with the adamance of more ambitious filmmakers’ fanbases, it’s nonetheless primed to be an entirely pleasant refresher for those overworked by blockbuster excess. He took the mystery thriller logline to incredibly personal, counter-intuitively easygoing places with Cold Weather, and while Land Ho! may not be a work totally of his own heart, it has the impression of his fingers visible on the surface. The old men go on a fun-seeking vacation in Iceland following one’s divorce/wife’s death (It’s not specified by the trailer). With a premise as simple as that, I’m excited to see what charming work Katz, stars Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson, and co-director Martha Stephens make of it. With luck I’ll be hailing to distinct indie cinema voices by the end of the month. (Trailer)

Boyhood1. Boyhood (Dir. Richard Linklater)
Limited Release | July 11th

I can’t think of any director working today who has taken quite as huge risks as Richard Linklater. He’s revisited the romance of the (past two) decade(s) without diminishing its impact. His film Bernie helped ensure the release of the real life Bernie, currently in residence with Linklater and his family. His biggest gamble, however, may be this 12-year project, chronicling the lives of one family, and one particular boy, across twelve years. The ongoing talent of those involved is one dicey lynchpin to rely on, as is how well Linklater can hold together a film that’s forming itself over an expansive period of time. Will it be too vague in attempting to capture the universal childhood experience, or will it succeed more for how it doesn’t fall into a conventional peg of what a family life is like. These are the questions I’ll be pondering when Boyhood arrives, but the promise is self-evident. We talk of films having high expectations, but this is something I expect nothing of. Nothing more than to be itself, that is. (Trailer)

Seriously, though, we should probably retire the expression of films meeting expectations, because only the most boring of movies set themselves within such strict guidelines.

Other Film Things Releasing in July

LucyI’m not actively anticipating a lot of wide releases, but that doesn’t mean I won’t seek a couple out due to destructive curiosity. If I need some laughs, I’m sure Tammy will have some to accommodate me, even if it’s a lesser Melissa McCarthy exercise. Brett Ratner is a hilariously dumb director, so I’m very excited to witness the joys of his blunder with Hercules – as advertised, it feature no less than three animal-eating-the-cameraman shots. And then there’s Lucy, the latest boring recycling of the 10% of your brain hypothesis thriller, but this time with Scarlett Johansson owning the screen. Certainly that’s enough reason to see it, even if the film will almost inevitably fail to reward. And hey, if you’re looking for something really great, The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night returns to theaters via Janus Films this weekend, so there’s your counter-programmed 4th of July plans for you!

Earth to Echo – July 2nd
Tammy – July 2nd
A Hard Day’s Night (re-release) – July 4th
A Long Way Down – July 11th
Planes: Fire and Rescue – July 18th
The Purge: Anarchy – July 18th
Sex Tape – July 18th
And So It Goes – July 25th
The Fluffy Movie – July 25th
Hercules – July 25th
Lucy – July 25th

What films are you most anticipating in July? Do let us know!

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