Welcome to our monthly movie preview. Here, we will count down our top choices for films opening in the month of July. Items on the table include Tom Cruise’s return to his most venerable franchise, Amy Schumer tackling unexpected romance, Channing Tatum baring it all…again as well as one of the boldest moves, potentially, for the ever-evolving Marvel Cinematic Universe. The temperature is rising and the next month at the cinema is bustling with some of the most eagerly-anticipated titles of the year as well as a slew of smaller films well worthy of attention. Let’s dive in.
HONORABLE MENTION: TANGERINE
In a nod that’s certainly outside the box of anything else opening in the month of July, Tangerine focuses on the friendship and sometimes comic misadventures of Alexandra and Sin-Dee Rella (played by newcomers Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), two transgendered prostitutes. Venturing through the streets of Los Angeles on a particularly eventful Christmas Eve, their friendship is tested and affirmed as they search for the pimp that broke one of their hearts. Director Sean Baker (Starlet) shot the film exclusively on three iPhone 5S smartphones. On premise and in execution, Tangerine probably shouldn’t work, but the film became one of the few sensations of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where critics appeared entranced by the humor, ethos, and yes, even the film’s visual ingenuity. Baker wrote the screenplay along with Starlet co-scribe Chris Bergoch.
Buzzometer: 3/10 – Rave reviews aside, the theatrical take for Tangerine is secondary to the mere fact that a distributor (in this case Magnolia Pictures, which picked up the title after its Sundance debut) decided to make a go with it in the first place. That being said, Tangerine‘s life after its theatrical run might pack a heavier punch especially as we are coming of age culturally with transgendered acceptance (Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Transparent). With that, Starlet, Baker’s 2012 film – which was centered around an unlikely friendship between a young woman (Dree Hemingway) and an elderly woman (the late Besedka Johnson) – also used the sex trade as a narrative track and compassionately explored genuine human relationships with emotional honesty devoid of sentimentality. He may very well be a director worth keeping an eye on.
Release Date: July 10th (limited)
10) IRRATIONAL MAN
Like clockwork, summertime typically unleashes a new Woody Allen film. Sometimes that’s a good thing (Oscar winning recent successes include Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine) and sometimes it isn’t (recent misses include To Rome With Love and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), yet the next one is already on the way. Irrational Man - Allen’s 45th feature in nearly as many years – stars Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice) as Abe, a burnt out philosophy professor who begins a new job at the fictional Braylin College. A once brilliant mind who has succumbed to alcohol dependency and existential malaise, Abe is still a point of high gossip on the sleepy college campus and soon finds himself caught up with the desires of an undergraduate named Jill (Emma Stone, making her second Allen appearance after last years’ Magic in the Moonlight) and an unhappily married professor named Rita (Parker Posey), as well as deeper purpose that feeds into a bigger mystery.
Buzzometer: 4/10 – Irrational Man held its world premiere out of competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where critical reaction was mixed. The marketing and general premise tease a light romantic comedy, yet reviews have unmasked a darker, altogether stranger sensibility to the film, akin to Allen’s weirder and less accessible movies like Deconstructing Harry (1997) and Cassandra’s Dream (2007). Allen earned an Oscar nomination for writing the screenplay for Harry, yet both of those films mark two of his lesser-seen works.
Release Date: July 17th (limited)
9) THE END OF THE TOUR
James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now, Smashed) directs a fact-based drama based on David Lipsky’s nonfiction book Although Of Course You End Up Being Yourself focusing on a five-day interview between then Rolling Stone reporter, Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg, Oscar nominated for The Social Network), and novelist David Foster Wallace (How I Met Your Mother‘s Jason Segel), following the publication of the latter’s groundbreaking novel Infinite Jest. Anna Chlumsky (Veep), Mamie Gummer (Cake), Mickey Sumner (Frances Ha), Ron Livingston (The Conjuring), and Joan Cusack (Welcome to Me) co-star. Donald Margulies, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000 for the play Dinner with Friends, wrote the screenplay.
Buzzometer: 5/10 – The End of the Tour earned respectable notices when it made its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where almost immediately, critics admired Segel’s about-face performance, sparking early awards talk. The danger may lie in that this intimately scaled chamber piece might easily get lost in the shuffle of the summer movie season and that the film may a bit of a downer (Wallace committed suicide in 2008).
Release Date: July 31st (limited)
8) MR. HOLMES
Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, the master sleuth Sherlock Holmes, has been a screen staple for over a century and has been essayed from the likes of legendary actors Basil Rathbone, Christopher Lee, and more recently by Robert Downey Jr. (in two action-packed Guy Ritchie films), Benedict Cumberbatch (in the series Sherlock), and Jonny Lee Miller (in the current CBS procedural Elementary). For a different take comes Mr. Holmes, where Ian McKellen portrays an aged, retired Holmes living in near isolation – with the exception of his housekeeper (played by Laura Linney, The Savages) and her young son (Milo Parker, soon to appear in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) – haunted by the unsolved case that drove him into retirement. Jeffrey Hatcher (The Duchess) wrote the screenplay based on Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind. Bill Condon (Gods & Monsters, Dreamgirls) directs.
Buzzometer: 5/10 – After its world premiere at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival, McKellen’s performance was widely praised, which may trickle into the awards season later on this year. More so, Mr. Holmes looks like a return to form for Bill Condon – the writer/director won an Academy Award for writing the James Whale bio Gods & Monsters (which also starred McKellen) but recently directed the critically panned Julian Assange bio The Fifth Estate as well as the two finale movies in the Twilight franchise. At any rate, this could prove to be a moment for grown-up refinement before Condon moves onto the upcoming live-action Disney reboot of Beauty and the Beast.
Release Date: July 17th (limited)
With just a small body of work, but with a voice that was distinctive and soulful in ways that can never be emulated, Amy Winehouse established a indescribable musical legacy. That she passed away at that cursed age of 27 due to her addictions makes that legacy even more heart-wrenching. Director Asif Kapadia (Senna) paints a portrait of her life and legacy with his latest documentary that, through previously unseen archival footage, lets Winehouse tell her side of the story.
Buzzometer: 6/10 – It seemed a pretty big deal when Amy was announced as part of the lineup for the 2015 Cannes Film Festival (albeit, out of competition) and the reception that immediately followed seem to confirm that Kapadia succeeded in telling Amy Winehouse’s ultimately heart-breaking story for the screen. Kapadia’s last feature-length film was the critically acclaimed and BAFTA-award winning 2011 documentary Senna (which focused on the late Formula One racer Ayrton Senna). That film, like Amy, examined its subject through painstakingly researched and assembled archival footage. Many critics were angry when Senna failed to get an Oscar nomination; perhaps Amy (if the film latches onto audiences in the same manner as critics) can right that wrong.
Release Date: July 10th (limited)
6) MAGIC MIKE XXL
Channing Tatum and his stripper posse return to the grind. Three years have passed and Mike (Tatum) has all but hung up his g-string, but returns to put on one final show in Myrtle Beach, bringing his buddies along for the ride. Gregory Jacobs (Criminal) takes over directing duties for Steven Soderbergh (who does however return as producer and cinematographer) with a script credited to returning scribe Reid Carolin. While original players Alex Pettfyer (Endless Love), Cody Horn (End of Watch) and Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey (who won an Independent Spirit Award for his memorable role as the impresario Dallas) are not returning to the franchise, Matt Bomer (the upcoming The Magnificent Seven), Joe Manganiello (Knight of Cups), Kevin Nash (John Wick), and Adam Rodriguez (About Last Night) are all back. They are joined by a new crop of ensemble players including Jada Pinkett Smith (Collateral), Donald Glover (Community), and Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day).
Buzzometer: 6/10 – The first Magic Mike evoked guffaws on multiple levels. What exactly would someone of the caliber of Steven Soderbergh see in a comedy of manners centered around the world of male strippers, all loosely inspired by Tatum’s real-life early career as a male exotic dancer? Yet, the industry took plenty of notice when the first film made nearly $40 million on its opening weekend in the summer of 2012. That number is even more startling considering the first film only cost about $7 million to make. A sequel, on that front, appeared inevitable, and Magic Mike XXL, if nothing else, will increase the number of abs on movie screens this season by about a thousand percent.
Release Date: July 1st
5) TERMINATOR: GENISYS
He said he’d be back. Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to franchise that made him a star, in the fifth movie in the series first introduced with James Cameron’s 1984 classic The Terminator. Here, Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) takes the directing reins in this sequel/reboot/side-swiping of the already confusing timeline established over the course of five films and three decades. The premise follows a grown John Connor (Jason Clarke, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as the leader of the human resistance who sends Sgt. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, Unbroken) back to 1984 in order the save the life of his mother Sarah Conner (Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones) to ensure his existence; along the way a certain Austrian icon (and former California governor) joins the fray as an unlikely ally. Recent Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) co-star. The script is credited to Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry).
Buzzometer: 7/10 – It’s been well over a decade since Schwarzenegger last participated in a Terminator outing – though it might have been a smart move considering the critical and fan dismissal of the Christian Bale-headlined Terminator: Salvation (released in 2009) – and that may well be enough to stoke interest for the sake of nostalgia, if nothing else. Time, too, may have worked out the kinks for the franchise to get back on track. Distributor Paramount Pictures, regardless, has a new trilogy in mind at any rate.
Release Date: July 1st
Boxing is one of cinema’s all-time favorite sports (think Rocky, Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby, even On the Waterfront‘s Terry Malloy was a one time pugilist). Perhaps, in part, it’s because the literal punches and blows can makes such a ripe metaphor for the pitfalls of the human condition. Whatever the case, Jake Gyllenhaal joins the ranks as Billy “The Great” Hope in Southpaw, a new drama from Training Day director Antoine Fuqua, working from a screenplay by Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy). “The Great” seems to have it all – he’s the reigning Junior Middleweight Champion of the World, is happily married (Rachel McAdams plays his wife) and has a lovely daughter (Oona Laurence). After tragedy strikes, Hope hits rock bottom, yet strives to come back. Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Naomie Harris (Skyfall), and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (Get Rich or Die Tryin’) co-star.
Buzzmeter: 7/10 – From his Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominated work in last falls’ Nightcrawler to an eclectic recent mix of performances in movies including Enemy (2014), Prisoners (2013), and End of Watch (2012), Gyllenhaal has been on something of a creative roll as of late. With that in mind, there’s unquestionable excitement (and perhaps an awards play) with his latest. The trailers have shown the physical extremes Gyllenhaal is willing to go to for a role, but can he balance that with an emotional intensity here? The only reason for pause may be that Fuqua’s recent output has been a little inconsistent – films like Brooklyn’s Finest, Olympus Has Fallen, and The Equalizer are all a far cry from Training Day.
Release Date: July 24th
3) MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION
Nineteen years ago Tom Cruise made his debut as IMF agent Ethan Hunt in the first Mission: Impossible film. The fifth movie is nearing its way to theaters as Hunt faces what may be his most difficult mission yet (well, aren’t they all?), as he and his crack team must defeat the Syndicate, and international rogue organization bent on destroying the IMF. Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher and the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects) takes over directing duties and Jeremy Renner (American Hustle), Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), Alec Baldwin (Blue Jasmine), Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), and Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules) co-star.
Buzzometer: 7/10 – The Mission: Impossible franchise may literally be long in the tooth, but it hardly shows its age at all. The franchise has seen five movies and five different directors (Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird all preceded McQuarrie) yet stands on the charismatic shoulders of Cruise, the niftiest spy gadgets this side of James Bond, and some the most insane stunts put to mainstream cinema – Rogue Nation already boasts Cruise hanging outside an airplane in fight (a stunt, the actor did without a stunt double or CGI). As long as the elements are in place, the mission will be around.
Racy comedies are a dime a dozen these days, yet Trainwreck is the first starring and written by comedian Amy Schumer, who has ignited an endless supply of laughs, astute social commentary, and a firestorm of think-pieces with her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer. In Trainwreck Schumer plays Amy, a career-centric single woman who has long turned her back on long-term relationships. She’s therefore thrown for a loop when she meets a sports doctor (Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins) who, gasp, she might actually like. Judd Apatow directed the film – his first since the poorly received 2012 comedy This is 40. The ensemble is rounded out by SNL vets Vanessa Bayer and Colin Quinn, Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Randall Park (The Interview), screen legend Norman Lloyd, Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton), and seemingly half the Screen Actors Guild membership.
Buzzometer: 7/10 – The premise may sound familiar but Schumer is having a definitive moment right now. The third season of Inside Amy Schumer has been widely praised and has provoked discussion of gender, sexuality and age in provocative fashion. Furthermore, a “work in progress” premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival suggested Trainwreck delivers the goods. Critics were quick to throw praise in Schumer’s direction as well as point to a rejuvenation of sorts for Apatow – it’s been a decade now since The 40-Year-Old Virgin came out in theaters.
Release Date: July 17th
The ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow as Ant-Man a.k.a. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, They Came Together) joins the fray, heading to cinemas for the first time. As for origins, Lang is a master thief who is enlisted by his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Oscar winner Michael Douglas) to pull off a monster heist in order to save the world. To do so, Lang is armored with a with a technical marvel of a suit – one that has the ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength. Peyton Reed (Bring it On) directs with a script credited to Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Adam McKay (Anchorman), and Rudd. Corey Stoll (Netflix’s House of Cards), Evangeline Lily (Real Steel), Bobby Cannavale (Spy), and Michael Pena (End of Watch) co-star.
Buzzometer: 8/10 – As was common knowledge before filming began, Wright was set to direct Ant-Man before departing the project due to creative difference. Wright’s intention was to make an action-adventure-comedy hybrid of sorts, which sounds like a great way to treat a comic book superhero with such a silly name. Wright may be gone, but Reed is an underrated filmmaker in his own right (Bring it On and the little-seen 2003 romantic comedy Down with Love are trifles, but pleasurably detailed and masterfully stylized) and there’s a hopeful refrain that specks of the original vision managed to stay the course. Marvel can fill seats in theaters for just about anything, but Ant-Man poses their greatest challenge since Guardians of the Galaxy last summer. Guardians proved that a little comedy and a great soundtrack go a long way in parsing out exposition.
Release Date: July 17th
ALSO OPENING IN JULY:
- BEST OF ENEMIES – Documentary centering around the series of infamous televised debates in 1968 between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. (Opens July 31st – limited)
- CATCH ME DADDY – Acclaimed British thriller revolving around a young woman (newcomer Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, who won a British Independent Film Award for this film) on the run from her family. (Opens July 17th – limited)
- CARTEL LAND – Director Matthew Heineman won the Directors Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival for this documentary about the drug cartels just south of the border. (Opens July 3rd – limited)
- DO I SOUND GAY? – Comedian Margaret Cho and author David Sedaris are among the personalities who opine about the “gay voice” in this new documentary that had its world premiere at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival. (Opens July 10th – limited)
- THE GALLOWS – Horror title centering around a high school’s ill-fated attempt to honor tragic events that occurred twenty years prior. Suffice it say, things don’t go over well. (Opens July 10th)
- JIMMY’S HALL – Biography of 1930s Irish political activist Jimmy Gralton from filmmaker Ken Loach. (Opens July 3rd – limited)
- A LEGO BRICKUMENTARY – With the LEGO brand as successful as ever, this new documentary examines the legacy and global obsession with our favorite building blocks. (Opens July 31st – limited)
- THE LOOK OF SILENCE – Not for the faint of heart, surely, but perhaps a contender for the Best Documentary Oscar come the end of the year as director Joshua Oppenheimer returns to profile the devastating after effects of genocide in Indonesia in this sequel to his Oscar-nominated 2013 film The Act of Killing. (Opens July 17th – limited)
- MINIONS – The fumbling yellow enablers of the Despicable Me films take center stage in this prequel (and pre-Gru) adventure. The animated comedy features the voice of Oscar winner Sandra Bullock as super villain Scarlet Overkill. (Opens July 10th)
- PAPER TOWNS – Nat Wolff (Palo Alto) stars as a young man who quests to find his dream girl– his next door neighbor who has disappeared. Based on the novel by The Fault in Our Stars writer John Green. (Opens July 24th)
- PIXELS – When aliens declare war on Earth while in the form of classic arcade game characters, Adam Sandler and Kevin James seem logical choices to lead the fight. (Opens July 24th)
- SELF/LESS – In this new science fiction from director Tarsem Singh (The Fall, The Cell), Ryan Reynolds plays a wealthy cancer victim who, thanks to a unconventional medical innovation, has his consciousness transferred in the body of a young healthy man. (Opens July 10th)
- THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT – Dramatization of the real-life 1970s experiment headed by Dr. Philip Zimbardo (played by Billy Crudup) in which twenty-four male students were randomly assigned as prisoners and guards in a mock prison set-up. The film won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. (Opens July 17th – limited)
- VACATION – Reboot/sequel of the classic Chevy Chase films. Here, Rusty Griswold (played by The Hangover‘s Ed Helms) brings it full circle by trying to design the perfect family vacation to his favorite boyhood theme park — Wally World. (Opens July 29th)