Oh hai! July here, presenting you with the five indies and five studio flicks to consider checking out this month, for better or worse, and one movie to avoid at all costs, for better x1000. This month, we have the movie that won Sundance, the one that got booed at Cannes and, because it's July, the one with the monsters fighting the robots. Don't cancel the apocalypse quite yet, it's time for a look at the best movies to see this month.
THE WAY, WAY BACK (July 5) // READ OUR REVIEW
This Sundance hit that closed the Los Angeles Film Festival last week comes to theaters riding all sorts of hype. Although ads tout the film as being from the "studio that brought you "Juno" and "Little Miss Sunshine"", "The Way Way Back" is more similar in tone to directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon's Oscar winning screenplay "The Desendants", leaning heavily towards the genuine rather than the quirky.
"The Way Way Back" is firmly grounded in reality (although Steve Carrell playing such a horrible human being does take some getting used to), as it tells a classic coming of age tale surrounding a 14 year old boy as he starts working at a water park and finds a mentor in Owen, the enthusiastically loquacious man in charge, portrayed with usual vigor by Sam Rockwell. Don't wait too long to catch this one, as it might seem rather slight when held up against its early praise. Ultimately, "The Way Way Back" has its heart in the right place and is worth a watch, even if it might not be the sleeper Oscar darling Fox Searchlight is hoping it will be.
PACIFIC RIM (July 12)
Already stirring up controversy due to low tracking numbers, Guillermo del toro's $200-million robot vs monster action extravaganza finally hits theaters a full year after fanboys and girls lost their collective s**t at the Warner Brothers panel at Comic-Con 2012. In this action movie set in the near future, monstrous creatures known as Kaiju have begun emerging from beneath the ocean, causing chaos and destruction everywhere they go. Naturally, the human race develops giant robots called Jaegers to fight back. "Pacific Rim" specifically chronicles the end of this war, as hope begins to wane and few options remain, but somehow the secrets to victory involve Charlie Day, Ron Pearlman AND Idris Elba. Expect dymaic fight scenes and appropriately bizarre B-movie humor, plus all of the conventions in place you would expect from a movie of this size, but without the cynicism evinced in blockbuster fare like the Transformers series.
CRYSTAL FAIRY (July 12) // READ OUR REVIEW
In this indie flick that made the festival circuit rounds to relatively positive reviews earlier this year, Michael Cera plays an American on vacation in Chile determined to have a hallucinatory cactus trip on the beach. In a bold move, Cera portrays his most unlikeable character yet as Jamie, a self-involved, judgmental twenty-something in desperate need of redemption. The stand out here, however, is Gaby Hoffman, as the titular free spirited woman who Jamie encounters along the way. It's questionable whether or not this arthouse flick would have seen the light of day without the attachment of Cera, but if you're willing to go on the journey, you may find that "Crystal Fairy" has lot to say about how and why we look inward and outward, playing with notions of perception and introspection in an easy, hands-off sort of way.
FRUITVALE STATION (July 12) // READ OUR REVIEW
Keep an eye on director Ryan Coogler's Sundance Grand Jury and Audience Award winner. If you want to be in on this conversation early, before the hype becomes too much to live up to, head to a theater this weekend to catch this fictionalization of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant (an outstanding Michael B. Jordan), the young man infamously and unjustly killed at Oakland's Fruitvale Station by police officers in 2009.
THE CONJURING (July 19) // READ OUR REVIEW
This horror flick from James Wan ("Saw", "Insidious") has been appearing on the genre convention circuit since last year's New York Comic Con, where its debut footage had 3,500 people audibly squirming and screaming. The film, based on the true story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) who take on the case of a family allegedly being terrorized by dark forces, is apparently so scary, it received an R rating despite having absolutely no gore, intense violence, nudity, or harsh language to speak of. Early reviews have praised the old-fashioned effectiveness of thoughtful, visceral scares that rely more on tension and imagination than blood and guts.
R.I.P.D. (July 19)
Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges star in this adaptation of the popular Dark Horse title, "Rest In Peace Department", about deceased cops who carry their jobs over in into the afterlife, catching and returning souls who try to escape death by disguising themselves as ordinary people on Earth. The first footage, which debuted at Cinema Con 2012, looked pretty fun and humorously on the nose coming off of Bridges' performance in "True Grit". But can Reynolds, whose last credited live action role was February 2012's "Safe House", still draw blood at the box office? Do we even care?
Director Robert Schwentke certainly has a strange enough track record as the man responsible for "Flightplan", "Time Traveler's Wife", and "Red" (the sequel for which is coincidentally opening opposite "RIPD" this weekend) and critics are already worried as the film isn't screening until the night before opening. But…Jeff Bridges! Don't suck. Come on. Ugh. This is totally going to suck.
Available in probably unnecessary 3D.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (JULY 19) // READ OUR REVIEW
Warning: Nicholas Wending Refn's next movie, the most anticipated of his career following break out hit "Drive", is not a crowd pleaser. "Only God Forgives" is strange, slow, violent, morbid, disturbing, and absolutely nothing like "Drive" beyond the fact that Ryan Gosling stars in both and, for the most part, speaks in neither. It follows a mother (a deliciously diabolical and undeniably fantastic Kristen Scott Thomas) seeking revenge for her eldest son's murder, and the role her youngest son (Gosling) plays in this misguided mission. "Only God Forgives" is a full sensory experience that Winding Refn himself likens to an acid trip. It may fascinate you, bore you, piss you off, or some combination of the three.
Not in 3D. Thank god.
THE ACT OF KILLING (July 19)
This unsettling documentary first made its mark at last years Toronto and Telluride film festivals and further demonstrated its popularity with sold out screenings at SXSW and LA Film Festival in 2013. This month is your chance to finally see this powerful, surreal and chilling doc in which Indonosian death squad leaders reenact the mass killings they themselves have committed, in the style of their beloved American movies. To further the strangeness, these men are considered heroes in their country, a notion fundamentally counterintuitive to what we as a people believe and are capable of perceiving. But if you have ever wanted to see the perpetrator of mass genocide star in his own western/musical/gangster flick about committing said atrocities, well hey, now is your chance! Do not miss your opportunity to catch this brilliant piece of filmmaking while it is in theaters and don't be surprised to hear of it a hell of a lot more come Oscar season.
THE WOLVERINE (July 26)
Hugh Jackman returns to what he does best in this non-sequel to "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (which was itself a prequel to "X-Men"), this new film taking place directly after the events of "X-Men: The Last Stand", that also might be universe crossing with "X-Men First Class", a prequel to this entire universe, which has a sequel on the way that further crosses over with the later "X-Men" and "Wolverine" movies. What? You asked. This particular arc is based on the time Wolvie went to Japan and fell in love and crap, based on the 1982 arc "Wolverine" by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, a story that Guillermo Del Toro considers his personal favorite. The film doesn't seem poised to be a critical success, but with director James Mangold ("3:10 to Yuma") behind the camera, you have good reason to keep your fingers crossed.
Yes, it is in 3D, but post converted and eh.
THE TO-DO LIST (July 26)
In a move sure to rock indie romantic comedies everywhere, Aubrey Plaza makes the jump from quirky supporting character to quirky lead character in the feature length directorial debut of Maggie Carey, Funny or Die writer and wife of Bill Hader. Plaza plays a straight A square in the early 90s who decides she must become more sexually experienced before beginning college. Everyone ever who is funny appears in this movie, ranging from the Derrick Comedy boys (who Plaza worked with on 2009's "Mystery Team") to Bill Hader, natch, to Clark Gregg to Adam Pally to Andy Samberg to Alia Shawkat and okay, maybe not everyone funny EVER, but lots of them, certainly. Definitely go see it on a date with a fellow high schooler you hope to lose your virginity to.
TURKEY OF THE MONTH:
Too easy, you say? Why this when "Turbo" and "Smurfs 2" and "Pacific Rim" (SHUT UP ALREADY!) are also opening? Because. This represents all that is sad about everything. Four comedians past their prime doing something stupid for money. Not into it. And if it beats my baby "Pacific Rim" at the box office like everyone is predicting, I'm gonna have the biggest sad since "White House Down" opened nationwide at #3. We tried, Chan. We tried.
Ed note: Um, also there's a new Woody Allen film this month! "Blue Jasmine" opens on July 26.