August is traditionally one of the deader months in mainstream movie-going – studios tend to schedule their big summer blockbusters early in the season, before explosion-and-sequel fatigue sets in, while holding their higher-quality stuff for the awards-friendly environs of fall. But no one’s slouching on the indie front, so we’ve got a wide variety of dramas, comedies, and documentaries to recommend. Here we go:
RELEASE DATE: Out now (limited), August 4 (wide) DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow CAST: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Jason Mitchell, Will Poulter, Jack Raynor
Oscar-winner Bigelow’s account of the assaults and murders at the Tangiers Hotel by Detroit Police officers in the midst of the city’s 1967 riots is a tough, uncompromising piece of work, zeroing in on that brutal night of “interrogations” and giving the viewer no more of an escape route than its participants. That middle hour or so is harrowing, infuriating filmmaking; the rest of the movie is a bit messier, for better and worse, with director Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (their third collaboration, following The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty) perhaps biting off a bit more story than they could chew. But whatever the film’s flaws, it should be seen and considered; this is urgent cinema, tackling a subject that is in no way confined to the past.
RELEASE DATE: August 4 DIRECTOR: Kogonada CAST: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey
Jin (Cho) is just in town for a few days, carrying strained relationships with both his father and his culture. Casey (Richardson) has been here forever, and will probably be here forever. Their lives shouldn’t intersect, but they do, and the ways in which their brief encounters change their lives form the bedrock of this wonderful character drama from writer/director Kogonada. His script is masterfully observant – to the rhythms and stumbles of everyday conversation, the kind of searching, prodding talks that these circumstances can forge, and of what it is to be a young woman who is both open and vulnerable, and unafraid to call bullshit. Kogonada places those conversations in elegantly framed yet offbeat compositions, often keeping the camera at a respectful distance, lest he invade these private moments. Columbus is one of those movies that doesn’t seem staged and filmed, but overheard and captured – and just to be clear, that’s a compliment of the highest order.
RELEASE DATE: August 4 DIRECTOR: Taylor Sheridan CAST: Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Graham Greene
Actor-turned-screenwriter Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) turns director with this snowy mystery set high in the Wyoming mountains. It’s awfully wobbly in the early stages, as Sheridan struggles to get his procedural ducks in a row and pull the characters past their obvious types, all the while waxing a bit too lyrical. But somewhere around the midpoint, it starts to work; Sheridan’s script and filmmaking build tension, pay off the mystery beautifully, and execute a truly breathtaking out-of-nowhere shoot-out. Olsen struggles with her poorly written role, but Renner has some awfully good moments, and Greene is, well, Greene (which is to say, wonderful).
The Trip to Spain
RELEASE DATE: August 11 DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom CAST: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Marta Barrio
The Trip movies, modest comedy/dramas consisting of two British comedians traveling, eating, and talking, are the most unlikely film franchise this side of the Before series – and yet they work on much the same level, less about advancing a story (or, God forbid, a “universe”) from film to film than fleshing out and evolving a personal relationship. The mild irritations of their first outing, back in 2010, are now complemented by genuine affection and amusement – yet these two still know how to get under each other’s skin, the little cuts they can use to chop the other down to size. The plot is much the same (a week-long eating tour through Spain), but the plot isn’t the point; these are hang-out movies, and it’s hard to think of two people I’d rather relax with for a couple of hours.
Ingrid Goes West
RELEASE DATE: August 11 DIRECTOR: Matt Spicer CAST: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
This story of obsession, loneliness, and social media is sort of a spiritual successor to Observe and Report – a film that bravely puts a pitch-black comedy spin on a premise that could’ve been played for much easier laughs. And director/co-writer Spicer has the right woman for the job in Ms. Plaza, aces as a mentally ill wallflower drawn to the fabulous life of an Instagram celeb (Olsen, thankfully grounded) and bent on becoming a part of it. It’s a funny picture – Plaza’s sprung comic timing and adroit physicality can summon laughs on command – but its intensity and darkness is always right under the surface, a time bomb ticking louder the deeper she gets. Not exactly a crowd-pleaser, but challenging and rewarding for the right kind of viewer.
RELEASE DATE: August 11 DIRECTORS: Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis CAST: Documentary
Martin Luther King once said, “The riot is the language of the unheard,” and that quote, which appears onscreen early in this timely, angry documentary, reverberates throughout all that follows. The subject is Ferguson, Missouri – specifically, the days and weeks following the murder of Michael Brown Jr., which became a flashpoint for protests of police brutality and abuses of authority across the nation. Sensationalistic news reports focused on fire and looting (the question of “property over people,” the film notes, was never really a question at all); Whose Streets provides a snapshot from ground-level, captured both by its own cameras, and phone videos of those in the thick of it. That footage, of ordinary citizens standing their ground and looking militaristic thuggery directly in the eye, is scary enough to watch from the safety of theater; the bravery of living in those moments is almost unfathomable. This is a powerful film, blunt and forceful in its cutting, imagery, and you-are-there immediacy, and if there’s a sense of grasping for an ending, that’s understandable – because the struggle doesn’t end. But there is hope, and possibility, and dedication. And that’s inspiring.
RELEASE DATE: August 11 DIRECTOR: Brendan Muldowney CAST: Tom Holland, Richard Armitage, Jon Bernthal
This moody and muddy 13th century tale of monks, invaders, crusades, and relics is a grimier item that the clanging epic you might expect; it’s smaller, more personal, and thus more disturbing. Top-shelf performances all around, particularly from your new Spider-Man, Tom Holland, as the young monk who loses his innocence fast, and your new Punisher, Jon Bernthal, as a mute monastery hand who turns out to be a bit of a fighter. (Gory indie period pieces are apparently what actors do between Marvel projects.) It’s impressively mounted, taking advantage of the Irish locations and their rolling hills, misty boggs, and dank forests, but a film that’s decidedly unsentimental in its worldview, especially by the time it reaches the particularly un-Hollywood ending.
RELEASE DATE: August 18 DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh CAST: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig
You’re unlikely to have a better time at the movies this month than you will with Steven Soderbergh’s triumphant homecoming to feature filmmaking, a deliriously entertaining and deliciously well-executed return to his specialty, the heist movie, but with a twist: rather than the finely-tailored likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, he focuses on a family of backwoods bad-luck cases, and their plan to rip off a NASCAR speedway. An observer winkingly dubs it “Ocean’s 7-11,” and that’s about right; it’s like a bunch of Coen Brothers characters wandered into a Soderbergh movie, with all the dry verbal wit and visual ingenuity that equation suggests. Here’s hoping it’s the modest hit the director’s aiming for, because it’s awfully good to have him back.
RELEASE DATE: August 18 DIRECTOR: Justin Chon CAST: Simone Baker, Justin Chon, Curtiss Cook Jr.
This low-budget snapshot of the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots is more than a little rough around the edges; the acting is sometimes amateurish, and the pacing is punchy. But there is emotion and urgency in this story of two Korean-American brothers, the African-American girl who works for them, and how the tensions between those communities come to a boil in the micro as well as the macro. Chon’s more interested in interpersonal than societal dynamics, which is perhaps to the picture’s benefit. But we spend enough time just observing these characters (it’s in the great lived-in movie tradition of Boyz N The Hood, Menace II Society, and other African-American films of the period) that their struggles and heartbreaks are genuine, and affecting.
RELEASE DATE: August 18 DIRECTOR: Michael Almereyda CAST: Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, Lois Smith
The ever-idiosyncratic Almereyda scripts and directs this adaptation of Jordan Harrison’s play, a kind of effects-free science fiction story of a few-minutes-ahead future wherein our departed loved ones can stay with us via A.I. holograms. It’s a good concept, one that allows discussions of thoughts on memory, perception, death, and mourning. Marjorie is perhaps a colder film than some moviegoers like – Almereyda keeps his camera at a respectful distance, and often lets big events happen off-screen, leaving them for us to puzzle out from their fallout. It’s for a very specific kind of moviegoer, in other words, but if you like this kind of thing, you’re going to love this.
RELEASE DATE: August 25 DIRECTOR: Janicza Bravo CAST: Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Gillian Jacobs, Jeff Garlin
One of the oddest comedies of this (or any) year, Bravo’s debut feature is so bizarre and deliberately alienating that it occasionally flirts with the kind of smug self-satisfaction that makes films like The Comedy so unwatchable. But in the pursuit of its bonkers tone, Bravo and co-writer/star Gelman remember to put in some actual laughs, and their sui generis style mostly pays off; several terrific comic characters actors get a chance to shine (Cera, Greer, David Paymer, and Megan Mullally are standouts), and by its closing passages, you might even feel some affection for the weirdo world they’ve built.