There’s no reason to beat around the bush here – this summer’s big movies have been a pretty sorry lot, with the likes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and Ocean’s 8 ranging from disappointing to repugnant. And it’s not like you can always depend on an indie movie to make up the difference (keep in mind that, by definition, Gotti is an independent film), but your odds are certainly better. Here are a half-dozen we’ve pre-screened and approved for your consumption:
Sorry to Bother You
RELEASE DATE: July 6 DIRECTOR: Boots Riley CAST: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Terry Crews
The Coup frontman Riley’s social satire is something like a hipper Idiocracy, but without the necessity of the futuristic setting – it’s set right here in our dumb, dumb present. Or something like it; he constructs a corporate world, full of slogans, rules, and legends, and then has a great time blowing it all up. Which is not to imply mere anarchy, as this is a filmmaker with (refreshingly) a lot on his mind, from the use and misuse of race in the workplace to the power of unions to Trump-era normalization of hopelessness. Like Idiocracy, it runs out of steam in the back third, when it eventually has to give in to the requirements of conventional narrative. But even then, Riley is serving up provocative imagery and whip-smart dialogue, creating one of the most indisputably original pictures of the year.
RELEASE DATE:July 20 DIRECTOR: Bo Burnham CAST: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Daniel Zolghadri
“I’m just nervous all the time,” Kayla confesses, and girl, I wish I could tell you that went away. She’s about to enter high school and has the kind of social anxiety that rarely goes away entirely – but certainly seems to be at its most painful at that age, in which school transitions, hormones, and general uneasiness in one’s own skin are at their height. Fisher is marvelous as Kayla, earning our sympathy without ever pandering for it, and Hamilton crafts a wonderful, open-hearted performance as her kind, goofy dad. But what’s most striking is the sensitivity of the filmmaking; writer/director Burnham knows when to get close and when to keep his distance, and his instincts are spot-on. What a lovely film this is.
RELEASE DATE: July 20 DIRECTOR: Barbara Loden CAST: Barbara Loden, Michael Higgins, Dorothy Shupenes
The old line about punk is that there were only a dozen people at the Sex Pistols’ Manchester Gig but they all started bands, and it feels like something similar must’ve happened with this 1970 drama from writer/director/star Barbara Loden (recently restored for theatrical re-release) – it barely made a blip when it was originally released, but you can see its footprints all over American independent film. Loden was something akin to Hollywood royalty (she was married to Elia Kazan, and appeared in several of his films and plays), but Wanda feels like it was made by a documentarian, most likely one from its rural Pennsylvania setting; she doesn’t just point her camera at these drab, depressing motel rooms, studio apartments, dive bars, and diners, but seems to live in them. And her performance is a marvel of quiet observation, full of flat yet compelling line readings, a character so passive, she becomes a criminal accomplice mostly by default. Loden’s only directorial effort, it’s the work of a major talent that the industry simply wasn’t ready to reckon with.
RELEASE DATE:July 20 DIRECTOR: Carlos López Estrada CAST: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar
Diggs and Casal co-write and co-star in this wildly funny and proudly provocative story of Collin (Diggs) on his last three days of probation, and first day of (relative) freedom after. But this is not some wacky, Friday-style hangout comedy – that’s clear right away, when Collin witnesses a cop shooting an unarmed black man, and is haunted thereafter by the image of the crumpled body on the street – and their script takes well-aimed shots at gentrification, racism, and black rage. But it’s funny as hell, and can turn on a dime, moving from witty, vernacular dialogue humor into the kind of scenes where people say the uncomfortably quiet part out loud. Estrada crafts an energetic visual style, popping from scene to scene and shot to shot with a rhythmic intensity that mirrors the (mostly hip-hop) needle drops. Like Sorry to Bother You, which premiered alongside it at Sundance, Blindspotting feels like an early shot in a new movement of absurdist social satire, and it’s long overdue.
RELEASE DATE: July 27 DIRECTOR: Steve Mitchell CAST: Documentary
“I’m just sitting here, waiting to be adored by people,” Larry Cohen announces, from behind the table at the film convention. “Anybody like me?” He’s kidding, but he’s not, and one of the pleasures of Steve Mitchell’s bio-doc is how thoroughly it conveys the sense of a man who only wants to put on a good show, and will do absolutely anything to achieve that end. Something of a legend to a certain kind of cinephile – his credits include Hell Up in Harlem, It’s Alive, and Q: The Winged Serpent – the jovial Cohen is also a hell of a storyteller, even if (when cross-referenced with his collaborators) the details don’t always check out. It runs a little long, but that minor complaint aside, this is an energetic and entertaining portrait of a one-of-a-kind moviemaker.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
RELEASE DATE: July 27 DIRECTOR: Matt Tyrnauer CAST: Documentary
Scotty Bowers was (ALLEGEDLY) Hollywood’s “gentleman hustler,” who ran a gas station during the Golden Age that was basically a drive-up brothel, with a particular specialty in arranging trysts for the industry’s closeted gay and bisexual actors and filmmakers. Director Tyrauner backs up Bowers’ true stories and tall tales with other interviews that both contextualize and sometimes even confirm, and spices up the talking heads with cleverly chosen old clips, but also gives due time to the moral questions involved in outing others. A fascinating portrait that neither lionizes nor judges its subject; it merely lets you take him for what he is.