MONTHLY HIGHLIGHTS: June 2014

We’re still scrambling to catch up with our most anticipated films of May, but if June represents any significant shift in content, it’s in size. In critical circles, we’re used bemoaning summer blockbuster season as a death valley of quality, but with four wide releases among our most anticipated films this month, we have very little to moan about this summer. Skepticism remains, of course, and not all films will live up to expectations for everyone, but there’s a variety as enormous as the films themselves, and you needn’t avoid the indie sector when seeking popcorn entertainment, either.

Top 10 Films to See in June

Edge of Tomorrow10. Edge of Tomorrow (Dir. Doug Liman)
Wide Release – June 6th

I’m not sure if Doug Liman gets a bad rep, but he’s certainly had a strange progression with his career. Starting off with comedies like Swingers, abruptly jumping to spy thriller with The Bourne Identity, then a more playful spy outing in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, going plain dim-witted with Jumper, trying engrossing drama with Fair Game, and now this? Ambitious sci-fi action of a pretty peculiar variety, Edge of Tomorrow is a movie with little franchise future based on its very premise, which is exciting and gives it a suspense that blockbusters are all too devoid of nowadays. The set-up of reliving the same violent day over and over again is one that works as potentially both playful and intense. Liman’s worked in both arenas over the years, so it’ll be interesting to see how, and if, he juggles all those duties in one blockbuster body. (Trailer)

The Case Against 89. The Case Against 8 (Dir. Ben Cotner & Ryan White)
HBO Premiere – June 23rd

What can a documentary do when history’s already been made? Perhaps more pressing, how do we keep such advocacy documentaries as this from becoming extended sympathy commercials of the Upworthy variety? By using the cinematic form to its fullest extent, and that’s not necessarily to say visually. Proposition 8 isn’t the only attempt to encroach on the rights of LGBT individuals in America, or even the most severe, but the role it’s played in our social culture since has been that of a salient example of public hatred overcome. How it’s represented onscreen will make the most difference as to how lasting and affecting it is. It doesn’t necessarily have the recurring impact as How to Survive a Plague, but if reviews are to be believed, it’s a strong account of one of the most relevant and significant movements in modern American culture and one of their most known successes. (Trailer)

Borgman - The Sacrament8. (TIE) Borgman (Dir. Alex van Warmerdam)
The Sacrament (Dir. Ti West)
Limited Release – June 6th

Presuming The Fault In Our Stars is as un-horrifying as it appears, June 6th still has two freakish indies to sate fans of summer horror worried that Deliver Us From Evil won’t, er, deliver. More unsettling than it is actively scary is Borgman, a modern day Teorema that replaces Pier Paolo Pasolini’s idle revelation of domestic class corruption with a more sinister protagonist. The sensual teasing – and psychological/bodily terror – sadly never slides into the homo-sensual, but this Dutch thriller still bewilders with how calmly it allows its strange events to unfold, and allows us to slowly put together the pieces of its twisted mythology. (Trailer)

It’s easier from the onset what’s going on in Ti West’s The Sacrament, a film which quite evidently restages the 1978 Jonestown massacre from a modern perspective, using social media machine VICE as its found-footage viewpoint. If we know what’s happening from the get-go, as is the case with most of Ti West’s films, how he teases out the suspense and terror is still incredibly impressive. Family indie faces Amy Seimetz brings unsettling brightness and a slight twinge of humor to proceedings, but the film never becomes a laughing matter, particularly as grounded by Gene Jones unconventionally magnetic, but conventionally disturbing, performance as the leader of the Jonestown-esq. commune. The Sacrament is horror that works for one-off stomach-coiling as well as for more long-term disturbance. It’s been a good while since a horror made us queasily skeptical of the world we live in. (Trailer)

Snowpiercer7. Snowpiercer (Dir. Bong Joon-Ho)
Limited Release – June 27th

You may have to wait till the end of the month for the most massive spectacle, but when it arrives, you’ll have your pick of mainstream and indie blockbusters. On the small end is Snowpiercer, though I hesitate to call this effects laden, post-apocalyptic action thriller small. The stakes are merely confined and streamlined, quite literally in this case, as class warfare commences on a train carrying what remains of humanity. It carries with it an overt metaphor for how class dissonance is a well-oiled machine that must be maintained – not unlike the spectacle-preferring blockbuster system – but it’s also an insane ride in its own right, with a scene devouring Tilda Swinton delivering a performance that somehow exceeds the weirdness of her turns in The Grand Budapest Hotel and Only Lovers Left Alive combined. (Trailer)

Transformers - Age of Extinction6. Transformers: Age of Extinction (Dir. Michael Bay)
Wide Release – June 27th

I can see your eyes rolling as I write this, but I have to shoot from the heart, which, bizarre as it turns out, has a soft spot for Michael Bay. I’ll happily join the chorus on the first two Transformers films being unintelligible trash, largely devoid of interest, but Dark of the Moon pulled off an awe-inspiring degree of hyper-detailed, lucid-by-necessity action while deliberately consigning American history to pew-pew-pew action blockbuster carnage. Having sharpened his technical skills over the past two decades, I feel it’s about time he deliver an un-ironically awesome action romp again. The visuals looking stunning, the plot stunningly stupid (robot dinosaurs, GO!), and the human talent credible (Stanley Tucci and Mark Wahlberg are very likeable, but I want this movie to be great for What Richard Did‘s breakout star Jack Reynor’s sake). Turn off your brain or keep it alert to the sharp visual detail, but at least withhold the gut urge to disregard it entirely as the typically violent trash it has every possibility of being. (Trailer)

Obvious Child5. Obvious Child (Dir. Gillian Robespierre)
Limited Release – June 6th

This looked like a kind of strange pick for A24, the fresh distribution house mostly known for alluringly abrasive art house films, with an occasional smattering of pre-teen sweetness. A directorial debut comedy with know name stars sounds less certain than they’re used to, but isn’t it thrilling that they’re willing to court such uncertainties, especially when they look as delightful, yet emotionally insightful as this? Not a whole lot of comedies can integrate difficult real life drama without becoming dramedy, but Obvious Child appears to hold on to its sprightly sense of humor through its lead’s (Jenny Slate) realization that a one-night stand has resulted in the rough decision to get an abortion. In a year when comedy really does appear to be king (Isn’t it a gift that The LEGO Movie, Muppets Most Wanted and Neighbors all turned out hilarious without forcing us to cringe through it ala Todd Phillips?), this arrives in pretty outstanding company. (Trailer)

How to Train Your Dragon 24. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Dir. Dean Debois)
Wide Release – June 13

Dreamworks has certainly earned more than its share of resistance over the years, for good reason. Most of their previous 28 films fall through the woodwork as indistinguishable (I can barely tell you the difference between the Shreks, let alone any of their identically unengaging one-offs), but they’re not lacking occasionally stunning visuals, and occasionally they work out a story with true sincerity, even danger. Up till now, How to Train Your Dragon has been their best outside their Aardman collaborations, which puts legitimate expectations on the shoulders of this sequel. Naturalistic texture, believable and tensely undecided characters, a legitimate sense of peril; these ought to be requisites of successful Dreamworks storytelling, and maybe when they wise up to why How to Train Your Dragon was a success, they can branch out more successful films, but that rests very much on if director Dean Debois remembers his own lessons with the sequel and delivers the necessary escalation of stakes and drama. As a Dreamworks defender, I’m hopeful. As a lover of the first film, I’m enthusiastically excited. (Trailer)

22 Jump Street3. 22 Jump Street (Dir. Phil Lord & Chris Miller)
Wide Release – June 13

Speaking of promising sequels to unexpectedly wonderful films, 22 Jump Street sounds pointless on paper. It’s more or less the same premise as 21 Jump Street, but with high school switched out for college. We’d be out the door if the first film weren’t so hilariously self-reflexive of its nature as an otherwise totally disassociated remake of an 80s TV show. That was a film about the progressive flip-flop of culture, so the identical sequel is in prime position to make some overt and hilarious statements on sequel culture. Hopefully it does so while being a great sequel in itself, enhancing the relationships and the absurd humor. The principal parties, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller, are at the height of their talents and with no reason to hit a steep decline in sight. Hilarity is very much expected. (Trailer)

The Rover2. The Rover (Dir. David Michod)
Limited Release | June 13th

This movie is an exciting blank slate, even after its debut at Cannes. It’s a post-apocalyptic thriller where Guy Pearce is a ruthlessly grizzled drifter who must team up with Robert Pattinson to get back what belongs to him. It’s vague enough to go in any number of directions, and the marketing has refreshingly maintained that ambiguity. All we’ve seen is eerie imagery of desert devastation, as beautifully shot as we hoped David Michod would do after such a tense debut with Animal Kingdom. He’s swapped out D.P. Adam Arkapaw for up-and-comer Natasha Braier, and if we’re judging simply from the trailer, her work has a calmly unsettling beauty to it. It’s an incredible opportunity for all involved, but more than that, it’s a unique and unpinnable vision, and I don’t throw the word unique around lightly. (Trailer)

Norte, the End of History1. Norte, the End of History (Dir. Lav Diaz)
Limited Release | June 20th

Among the literary sensations getting multiple cinematic tributes this year is Dostoevsky, whose The Double was given ripe detail by Richard Ayoade, with The Gambler set for adaptation later this year. The least overt tribute comes in the form of Norte, the End of History, a very loose modern adaptation of Crime and Punishment. More than that, I probably couldn’t tell you, except that the lives of three people are irrevocably changed after one commits a crime. What intrigues most is the helmer, Lav Diaz, known for intensely long films that usually don’t get US distribution. At four hours long (his shortest), this may well be the first, but the promise of a meticulously designed epic on an intimate scale is too juicy to pass up, particularly when it looks as lovely as this. It’s the most likely film this month to bring us a journey far from what we know. (Trailer)

Other Films Releasing in June

They Came TogetherIt’s not a particularly terrible month for films outside the most appealing properties, actually. The Faults in Our Stars may seem blatantly out for our feels, but it’s the kind of sweet story that serves its young stars well, particularly if told in a way that avoids sappiness. Policeman hit festivals two years ago to palpable interest, so that’s one worth looking out for. The Signal looks intriguing as a sci-fi property, but it’s entirely uncertain in what way. Concrete plot details have been scarce, if totally nonexistent, and this may just be bizarre for its own sake, not serving a deeper emotional core like Upstream Color did. Venus in Fur hit over a year at Cannes, and since has earned Roman Polanski a smattering of praise here and there. Finally, just clear of the list, They Came Together is the kind of all-out comedy parody that’s either a riot or an embarrassment. From skilled comic actors like Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, I’m certainly hoping for the former.

The Fault in Our Stars – June 6th
Hellion – June 13th
Policeman – June 13th
The Signal – June 13th
Jersey Boys – June 20th
Think Like a Man Too – June 20th
Venus in Fur – June 20th
They Came Together – June 27th
The Internet’s Own Boy – June 27th
Whitey: USA vs. James J. Bulger – June 27th

Film Misery Events

Kumiko the Treasure HunterBamCinemaFest and Human Rights Watch Film Festival Coverage

Sundance is widely recognized as the hot spot for fresh independent filmmaking, but there choices aren’t always particularly, er, independent. Their US dramatic competition this year was unusually baiting of A-list stars, which is why smaller festivals like IFFBoston or BamCinemaFest offer a more refreshing assortment. With barely a single recognizable name in the program (most of them in Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas), there’s a lot of room for talented young directors to make their mark. We’ll be there to cover many of the mostly undistributed films, from Minneapolis set Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter to the more excitingly obscure titles.

We’ll also have wonderful opportunity to cover some films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which has played host in the past to The Act of Killing, Call Me Kuchu, 5 Broken Cameras, War Witch, and many other devastating or eye-opening documentaries. Some films from this year’s festival may factor in Oscar conversation at year’s end, but that’s of much lesser interest to us than the causes the films themselves speak out for. We’re bound to miss something stunning, particularly when covering two New York festivals simultaneously, but the films we do see won’t be ones you already know everything about.

What are you looking forward to seeing in June? Let us know!

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