Is it July already? This summer blockbuster season has gone by fast. The month of June was a bit of a toss up as far as releases go. Scott Sawitz had been greatly anticipating Man of Steel and if you read his review (note: contains spoilers) then you know he didn’t walk away disappointed. The latest attempt to make Superman relevant again with viewers has also become one of the most debated movies of the year. Some people loved it, others hated it, and if you go by what the aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes says, then you would automatically assume that Superman Returns is the better movie because it got a better critical response. Outside of the highly debated superhero release, Pixar tried its first prequel with Monsters University and proved that even during the summer class is still in session as the famed animation studio scored its fifteenth straight #1 weekend release. Brad Pitt had his biggest hit with World War Z. While the zombie apocalypse wasn’t a hit with me, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut, This Is the End, proved that all you really need with an apocalypse is Danny McBride telling it like it is, the return of a famous boy band, and a recognizable face wearing a dog collar to entertain.
Looking at the month of July the triumvirate of myself, Sawitz and Brendan Campbell decided to look beyond established franchises in favor of films that tend to put characters and story above special effects. Well, there is one special-effects heavy pick that we favored over some of the other popcorn entertainment. And that’s partially based on the track record of the filmmaker at the helm.
The Way, Way Back (opens in limited release beginning July 5th)
It seems that we are seeing a renaissance of coming-of-age films making their way to theaters. If identified as its own subgenre you could include a variety of features. Of recent merit you have The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Moonrise Kingdom as your traditional types of coming of age. You could even go as far as to include the Harry Potter franchise and the recent Man of Steel. This summer we already got one film full of pubescent growth in The Kings of Summer. Now we have the arrival of The Way, Way Back, a film that Fox Searchlight picked up at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Why You Should See It: Every summer there’s usually one good coming of age film that’s worth the effort to track down. From the creative duo (Nat Faxon and Jim Rash – better known as Dean Pelton on NBC’s Community) that wrote the Oscar-winning The Descendants, they have gathered a remarkable ensemble with the likes of Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, and rising talents Liam James (2012) and AnnaSophia Robb (Soul Surfer). It looks like it has just enough quirk to make it worthwhile. While I think this is yet another sucky month for movie releases, this might be one of the better films of July. (Scott Sawitz)
Pacific Rim (opens July 12th)
There have been quite a few summer blockbusters thus far, though most have been in the form of proven franchises or characters. Pacific Rim is a summer popcorn flick from writer/director Guillermo del Toro that’s testing the box office waters for the first time. While this is del Toro’s first directorial release since Hellboy II: The Golden Army back in 2008, one can’t really make a bigger splash than pitting enormous invading monsters against giant robots.
Speaking of Hellboy, the man behind the horns (or lack there of), Ron Perlman is in the film alongside his Sons of Anarchy co-star Charlie Hunnam – who’s appearing in his biggest cinematic role to date.
Why You Should See It: While del Toro is known for darker themed films filed with brooding atmosphere, Pacific Rim looks to be the exact opposite and exactly what moviegoers look for in a big-budget action film released in July. In a summer that’s seen its share of hits and misses, count on Pacific Rim to land a direct hit at the top of the box office. (Brendan Campbell)
Fruitvale Station (opens in limited release beginning July 12th)
This looks to be one of those independent gems that hits hard like a runaway freight train. Originally titled Fruitvale before the name change, the film comes from first-time feature filmmaker Ryan Coogler. Based on the true story of Oscar Grant (as portrayed by Michael B. Jordan – no relation to that other Jordan), Station chronicles the last twenty-four hours of his life, including the miscarriage of justice in which he was killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officers.
Why You Should See It: As a way to measure how well it will translate with audiences, one should not go clearly on the promise that Fruitvale Station won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. However, it also won the Audience Award, meaning there should be some carryover between the strictly arthouse crowd and the commercial establishments. Personally, I’m interested in seeing Michael B. Jordan’s performance. Having been a part of two remarkable series in The Wire and Friday Night Lights, this looks like his big break to be the actor that everyone will be talking about in the next few years.
The Hunt (opens July 12th)
We live in a time where someone’s word can destroy your life faster than one could ever imagine. In Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen (TV’s new Hannibal Lecter) plays a teacher who finds this out the hard way after a lie told by a young girl causes everyone in his life to believe he’s done something unfathomable.
Why You Should See It: Mikkelsen is a great actor, and even a brief glimpse at the trailer shows this to be an incredibly tense story that could really happen to anyone. It’s so easy to see the bad in people, because we see so much of it around us, and here Vinterberg (who famously directed The Celebration) tries to show just how quickly your life can change without you having any control over it whatsoever. This will be one to watch out for, as it will only have a limited run; however, if it’s playing near you, do yourself a favour and check it out. (BC)
Only God Forgives (opens July 19th)
Here we have Bangkok’s criminal underworld as the setting in a tale of a mother instructing her son (Ryan Gosling) to kill the person or persons responsible for killing her other son. Sounds promising. Then you read the poster or watch the trailer and see that the mother is played by Kristin Scott Thomas, an actress who probably should be competing with Meryl Streep for more roles in the States if it weren’t for the fact that she’s more popular in France.
Why You Should See It: That may be a bit of overselling KST, because the real reason to see Only God Forgives is because of the quick reunion of actor Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn. They made some magic with 2011’s Drive, so count me in. Gosling is a badass looking to secure some revenge and I think Refn is viewing him as his version of Steve McQueen. So far their two films together have been less about dialogue but more about the sheer presence of Gosling doing the same thing that McQueen used to do. (SS)
Blackfish (opens July 26th)
As the only non-fictional pick for the month of July (narrowly beating out the Drafthouse Films documentary release The Act of Killing) I decided to go with a cautionary tale of what happens when we take a killer animal and think we can train it to do tricks and make loads of money.
Why You Should See It: It’s a killer Orca movie! But don’t think it’s anything like Jaws. In the documentary Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite looks to want to make a convincing case of why we should keep wild animals in captivity for human entertainment. We saw what happened to Siegfried and Roy. Here we have the world-renowned bull orca whale Tilikum, a performer at SeaWorld Orlando, who has lived in captivity and still performs at the theme park despite having killed three individuals, including a top whale trainer. Say what? So, yeah, that’s why it’s worthy of your attention this July. (TL)