Ah, July. The days are longer, the nights are hotter, and the movies are louder, but fear not: Flavorwire has once again rounded up the best and most promising of this month’s narrative and documentary efforts from some of the smaller, less blockbuster-minded distributors and filmmakers.
A Girl and a Gun
Release: July 4 Director: Cathryne Czubek Cast: Documentary
Director Cathryne Czubek takes a look at the rise in female gun owners, and how that phenomenon challenges gender assumptions and perceptions of gun use. She does so by veering (sometimes uneasily) between anecdotal scenes with female gun users and historical commentary; there’s a bit too much of the former and not enough of the latter, but the material that’s there — looking at marketing shifts, historical precedents, women in the military, and women-with-guns iconography in popular culture — is valuable and thought-provoking.
The Way Way Back
Release: July 5 Directors: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash Cast: Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, Liam James, AnnaSophia Robb
The directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the latter familiar as Dean Pelton on Community) is being promoted as a heartwarming coming-of-age comedy/drama — and it works as one, capturing with remarkable specificity the desperate, gloomy loneliness of fitting in with neither your peers nor the grown-ups you’re stuck hanging out with. But it’s just as much an ‘80s-style fun-loving summer comedy, its Meatballs vibe fully realized by a wonderfully Murray-esque performance by Sam Rockwell at his fast-talking best. The plot tumblers click into place a touch too easily in the third act, but the emotions are genuine, and the ensemble cast couldn’t be better.
Crystal Fairy Release: July 12 Director: Sebastian Silva Cast: Michael Cera, Gabby Hoffman, Agustin Silva, José Miguel Silva, Juan Andrés Silva
Sebastian Silva put this one together in two weeks when his thriller Magic Magic (which also stars Michael Cera) went on hold; the actors worked from an outline, improvising their dialogue, and the picture is better for it. It’s got an off-the-cuff feel and hanging-out wit, which helps distract from the meager plot (basically, a bunch of guys and a girl go “to the north” for a mescaline trip). It’s droll and strange, and the audience isn’t always in the on the gag, but it arrives, strangely enough, at a place of genuine warmth and humanity.
Release: July 12 Director: Ryan Coogler Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Chad Michael Murray
Writer/director Coogler’s double Sundance winner has, as its springboard, the true (and shocking) story of Oscar Julius Grant III, the young black man shot during an altercation with police at a San Francisco BART station early in the morning of New Year’s Day, 2009. As such, it is astonishingly successful; Coogler fills the frame with keenly observed domestic details and coaxes a quietly powerful performance out of Michael B. Jordan as Grant (as well as the wonderful Melonie Diaz, playing his longtime girlfriend). But it’s not a simple film — Coogler and Jordan resist the urge to paint Grant as a martyr, instead presenting him as a troubled and problematic young man, which makes him more challenging (and dramatic) as a subject.
Release: July 12 Directors: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanches, Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard Cast: Kelsy Abbott, Devon Brookshire, Hannah Hughes, Lawrence Michael Levine, Mindy Robinson, Jeremie Saunders, Adam Wingard, John T. Woods
The found-footage horror anthology format of last year’s indie hit V/H/S is, unsurprisingly, easy to replicate: thin wraparound story, variety of scary stories from indie auteurs, easy breezy. But this is a rare sequel that surpasses its original; the films are scarier and more compact, the first-person pretenses more ingenious, and the centerpiece film — the cult investigation tale “A Safe Haven,” from The Raid’s Evans and The ABCs of Death’s Tjahjanto — is just about perfect.
Dealin’ with Idiots
Release: July 17 Director: Jeff Garlin Cast: Jeff Garlin, J.B. Smoove, Bob Oedenkirk, Timothy Olyphant, Nia Vardalos, Fred Willard, Richard Kind, Gina Gershon, Kerri Kenney
Curb Your Enthusiasm co-star and my new favorite podcaster Jeff Garlin’s previous film as writer/director/star was the wonderful 2006 comedy/drama I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, so this semi-improvised comedy about the world of Little League baseball sounded promising even without the benefit of its killer cast (and its numerous improvisational MVPs).
Release: July 17 Director: Andrew Bujalski Cast: Wiley Wiggins, Patrick Reister, Jim Lewis
It’s hard not to come at this one from a purely stylistic standpoint, because its look is so aggressively unique. Set in the world of early-’80s computer experts, Computer Chess is shot like a no-budget refugee from the era: ugly, smeary, full-frame black and white video, which appears to have been left on a shelf for the better part of the ensuing decades. The frames are filled with other aged technologies, from overhead projectors to the giant, desk-size computers at the story’s center, and the film’s throwback look and analog style help offset its genuine (though likable) peculiarity, occasional dry spots, and odd narrative loose ends.
The Act of Killing
Release: July 19 Director: Joshua Oppenheimer Cast: Documentary
The men who overthrew the Indonesian government and murdered over one million suspected Communists in the mid-‘60s still walk free in that country, and are celebrated as heroes — “war crimes are defined by the winners,” one explains. Director Joshua Oppenheimer doesn’t tell their shocking story in the standard fashion, however; he offered these paramilitaries and gangsters the opportunity to create their own reenactments of their crimes, in a variety of styles (gangster movie, Western, war film, and musical among them). And he documents that process, capturing not only the chilling work of these amateur directors (one, to his sobbing grandchild: “Your acting was great, but stop crying… you’re embarrassing me”), but the way that the dramatizations eventually seem to reframe these crimes in the eyes of the unapologetic men who committed them. Disturbing, powerful, and modestly brilliant.
Release: July 19 Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite Cast: Documentary
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s powerful, troubling documentary is primarily focused on a February 2010 incident in which a SeaWorld trainer was killed by a performing whale. But she uses that merely as a starting point for a closer examination of the horrors of killer whales in performance environments, particularly at SeaWorld, with stories of heartbreaking family separation (both at capture and in the parks), shameful living conditions, and wildly truth-spinning corporate types. Ably assisted by horrifying footage and testimonials from former trainers, Blackfish is paced, scored, and structured like a thriller, and leaves the viewer stunned and infuriated.
Release: July 26 Director: Woody Allen Cast: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, Bobby Cannavale
The latest from Mr. Allen — one film a year, right on schedule — finds the notorious LA-phobe making a rare jaunt to the West Coast, following shafted divorcée Blanchett to San Francisco. The eclectic supporting cast includes Boardwalk Empire’s Cannavale and Michael Stuhlberg, new Allen favorite Baldwin, and in what sounds like the makings of a stand-up comedy exchange program, Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay.