Well, moviegoers, the summer is in full swing, as you may have noticed from the multiplexes shaking with explosions and the marquees bursting with sequels and superheroes. But those whose tastes run a little further from the mainstream have plenty of options for air-conditioned entertainment as well; the art houses have got counter-programming galore, and here’s just a few of the fine indies making their way to you in the month of June.
Much Ado About Nothing
Release: June 7 Director: Joss Whedon Cast: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg
Joss Whedon modernizes the dress, cranks up the slapstick, and fills his cast with regulars and friends who give Shakespeare’s dialogue a distinctively screwball snap. His reimagining of the Bard’s classic is respectful but not reverential; he fills the edges of the frames with goofy business and gives the entire affair the feel of a party that won’t end (which, considering the off-the-cuff nature of the film’s production, it sort of was). We’re all invited, though, which is much of the picture’s charm — it’s sweet, coy, sexy fun.
Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Story
Release: June 7 Directors: Daniel Miller, Seth Kramer, Jeremy Newberger Cast: Documentary
The Morton Downey Jr. Show was a pop culture phenomenon that rose and fell with equal expedition — it went on the air in New York in October 1987, went nationwide early the following year, and was canceled in July of 1989. Within that brief but loud period in the spotlight, the show prompted endless hand-wringing and countless editorials: it was, people worried, an appeal to the viewing public’s basest instincts, a show that celebrated the worst of human nature, a worrisome indication of where we were heading as a society. Ha ha, they might’ve been right; experiencing that circus for the first time since its heyday in the stimulating new documentary Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, it’s impossible not to see not only the DNA of Jerry Springer and Jersey Shore, but of O’Reilly, Hannity, Glenn Beck, and the rest. This documentary digs up miles of clips (from both on and off air) and sifts in plenty of vintage commentary about the fall of civilization that was emanating out of that Secaucus, New Jersey studio. Downey’s show may have lasted less than two years, but it is still all over our political and media landscape, and Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie offers a probing look at a fascinatingly prescient point in our cultural (de)evolution.
Release: June 7 Director: Douglas Tirola Cast: Documentary
This documentary valentine to “craft bartending” examines both the history of cocktail culture and the ins and outs of the job today, focusing on a handful of high-profile mixologists at bars across the country (but mostly in New York). It tells a good story and hones in on some interesting people, but these folks take themselves awfully seriously, and director Douglas Tirola seems to buy in (there’s only a fleeting moment’s acknowledgment that sometimes working in a bar is less about being an artist than it is about dealing with drunken assholes). Plenty to enjoy and learn here, but your enjoyment may depend somewhat on your ability to drink the (fresh-squeezed, jiggered, served over giant cut ice) Kool-Aid.
The Bling Ring
Release: June 14 Director: Sofia Coppola Cast: Emma Watson, Katie Chang, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann
For her first film since the beautifully inert Somewhere, writer/director Coppola again casts her gaze on Beverly Hills ennui, this time telling the true(ish) story of a group of party girls who robbed and stole from their contemporaries. It’s one of our most anticipated movies of the summer, promising copious opportunities to jeer at the rich and ogle Emma Watson (and by that I mean her remarkable American accent, obviously).
Twenty Feet from Stardom
Release: June 14 Director: Morgan Neville Cast: Documentary
In the best scene of this raucous, joyous, marvelous music documentary, legendary back-up singer Merry Clayton strolls into the studio where she was brought, in the middle of the night, her hair in curlers, to record the unforgettable female part on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” Director Morgan Neville plays Clayton’s isolated vocal track, and it makes your hair stand on end; it’s a valuable reminder that, so often, the difference between a great song and a perfect one is the contribution of someone whose name you might not know. (The scene recalls Al Kooper’s description, in No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, of how he came to provide the organ part on “Like a Rolling Stone.”) That moment is what Neville’s film is all about: acknowledging the collaborative nature of popular music, and seeing that those who contributed to it get their due.
I’m So Excited
Release: June 28 Director: Pedro Almodovar Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Hugo Silva, Antonio de la Torre
With his recent output, Almodovar has explored new depths in the genre of thriller (The Skin I Live In), drama (Broken Embraces), and melodrama (Volver). His latest effort, however, reportedly moves away from that darker territory, working with an overtly comic spirit familiar from early in his filmography. But don’t think of it as a retreat; this is a filmmaker who is always moving forward, even when (as here) he just seems interested in a lighthearted lark.
Release: June 28 Director: Neil Jordan Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Barry Cassin
In the years since directing his biggest commercial success, Interview with a Vampire, Neil Jordan has quietly directed some of the most underrated, wonderful indies on the scene (this viewer is particularly partial to The Good Thief and Ondine). Now, he returns to the vampire genre with this moody tale of two mysterious women and the coastal town they inhabit.
Release: June 28 Director: Daisy von Scherler Mayer Cast: Zoe Kazan, Emily Watson, Jennifer Morrison, Adam Brody, Kristen Bell
Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty) was carving out a pretty interesting career before he hopped the train to Cage Crazytown, and it’s taken him a while to recover. But his Some Velvet Morning, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, found him rivetingly up to his old tricks, and this adaptation of his play features an ensemble of terrific young actors. Intriguingly, it’s helmed not by the writer, but by Party Girl director Daisy von Scherler Mayer, so it should be interesting to see what happens to the words of LaBute (often accused of misogynistic writing) when viewed through the lens of a female filmmaker.