Photo: 20th Century Fox

So many movies, so little time. Every week brings a new crop of them, opening in multiplexes and arthouse theaters across the nation, and arriving in increasingly high volumes on streaming platforms like Netflix. How’s a voracious moviegoer to keep up? That’s where The A.V. Club comes in. The first week of every month, we’ll be previewing all the major movies coming to theaters (or laptops or gaming systems or Rokus) near you, helping narrow down these upcoming releases by making educated guesses on whether they’re worth your time and money.


Spider-Man: Homecoming

Theaters everywhere July 7

Sony cuts its losses on those mediocre Amazing Spider-Man movies, allowing the friendly neighborhood web-slinger to play around in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a share of the sure-to-be-enormous profits. Reprising the role he so winningly occupied in last summer’s Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland swings into the spotlight as a barely pubescent Peter Parker, eager to please superhero benefactor/mentor figure Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), but also to woo his senior dream-girl crush. Can he thwart high-tech weapons dealer The Vulture (Michael Keaton) while still passing the 10th grade?
Will it be worth your time? Okay, so yes, it’s the start of another Spider-Man franchise, just three years after the last one ended, and only a decade removed from Sam Raimi’s trilogy. But even the reboot-fatigued may be helpless to resist the charms of Homecoming, which smartly sidesteps another retelling of Spidey’s origin story while also dropping him back into high school and into the superhero-blockbuster equivalent of a John Hughes comedy. Holland’s boyish enthusiasm is the driving force, and it’s catching.


A Ghost Story

Select theaters July 7

Rising from a hospital slab after a fatal car accident, a man returns as a ghost straight out of a grade-school funhouse: a floating bed sheet with two black holes cut into it for eyes. Writer-director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) reunites Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, the stars of his Texas outlaw romance Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, for a similarly languid but much more singular Sundance sensation. Imagine a haunted-house movie from the perspective of the haunter and you’re on your way to understanding what Lowery has conjured.
Will it be worth your time? There are bound to be those who find A Ghost Story silly and/or boring, given that it features both a Halloween-store apparition and a lot of statically filmed scenes of not much happening within a quiet suburban house. But beyond its strikingly beautiful imagery, Lowery’s movie turns out to be much more ambitious than its low-key early stretch lets on, spanning huge expanses of time and getting into big questions about legacy, eternity, and the mark we all make on the spaces we occupy. There are plenty, too, who will be awed by it.

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City Of Ghosts

Select theaters July 7

Documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s last film, Cartel Land, overcame some poor framing choices and succeeded thanks to the sheer potency of the real-life scenes he captured. If anything, City Of Ghosts looks to be even more riveting: It follows members of the online citizen journalism advocacy group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently who joined forces to document the atrocities committed by ISIS after they took over the city in 2014. Heineman’s camera follows men who have endured death threats, kidnappings, and violence against family and friends in order to expose the terrorist group’s activities to the world.
Will it be worth your time? Almost certainly. Even just the footage seen in the trailer is awe-inspiring, and the film’s intimate look into the cloak-and-dagger world of underground journalism in the heart of a beleaguered city has the potential to be more thrilling than most fictional narratives.

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War For The Planet Of The Apes

Theaters everywhere July 14

The follow-up to Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes takes its predecessors’ impressive effects and motion-capture characters a few steps further by telling a story almost entirely from the point of view of the rapidly evolved, sapient simians—a curious, post-human riff on revenge Westerns and Apocalypse Now that finds ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) journeying deep into the snow-capped woods in search of an insane, Kurtz-ian colonel (Woody Harrelson, doing his best Marlon Brando voice) who rules his detachment of human survivors as a cult of personality. Apart from an opening battle with blatant Vietnam overtones (the only scene presented from a human point of view), this is barely a war film, and the most striking thing about it is how fluidly director Matt Reeves handles a cast of largely non-verbal, digital characters.
Will it be worth your time? Bearing a surprising number of similarities to this year’s Logan, War For The Planet Of The Apes is easily the most formally accomplished film in the Planet Of The Apes reboot/prequel series. But its over-reliance on winking film references and a weak story—which eventually devolves into a rehash of wartime prison-break movies—creates an internal conflict between its bleak, ambitious means and its formulaic ends.

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Wish Upon

Theaters everywhere July 14

A mysterious music box grants a high school girl’s every wish, and you will not fucking believe this, but it turns out to be a little more than she bargained for. Mean girls start dying, baths of blood start getting filled up, and—if the trailer is to be believed—some heinous shit goes down with a garbage disposal, as if we needed another reason not to stick our hands in those things. Ryan Phillippe and Sherilyn Fenn provide face recognition for people above the age of 30.
Will it be worth your time? Director John Leonetti previously helmed the trashy but adequate Annabelle, and has served as cinematographer on similar fare like the Insidious movies and The Conjuring. Where it falls in that range remains to be seen, but this is clearly genre entertainment with no designs on transcendence.

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To The Bone

Netflix July 14

Lily Collins stars as Ellen, a 20-year-old suffering from anorexia, in Netflix’s teen-focused original movie. Collins lost a frightening amount of weight for the film, which chronicles Ellen’s last-ditch effort to beat the disease by moving into a group home after years of more conventional therapies and treatments have failed. Speaking of unconventional, Keanu Reeves makes an unexpected appearance as the doctor who challenges Ellen to take risks and learn to enjoy life again after years of obsessive calorie-counting and compulsive exercise.
Will it be worth your time? Netflix’s trailer for the film makes it look like your typical slice (no pun intended) of earnest uplift, complete with suspiciously banjo-and-handclap-heavy background music. Writer-director Marti Noxon proved her skill with creating acerbic antiheroines with her Lifetime series UnREAL, though, so if anyone can bring an edge to the material, she can.

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Lady Macbeth

Select theaters July 14

Based on the novella Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk by Russian author Nikolai Leskov, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth moves the action to 19th-century rural England, where Katherine (Florence Pugh) is bored as stiff as her starched petticoats by her loveless arranged marriage to a man twice her age. With her husband frequently away and her father-in-law openly contemptuous toward her, Katherine strikes up an affair with a farmhand on her husband’s estate. What begins as a way to pass the time quickly becomes the one source of pleasure in Katherine’s otherwise joyless life, and she turns to increasingly cold-blooded methods to preserve it.
Will it be worth your time? Pugh is a standout as the sociopathic Katherine, a dubiously feminist figure whose rebellion against the Victorian patriarchy takes some seriously perverse turns. A costume drama with a title taken from Shakespeare may seem like a bore, but while the film’s style is highly composed, its content is both bold and brutal.

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Dunkirk

Theaters everywhere July 21

A passion project for director Christopher Nolan, this technically extravagant war film dramatizes the 1940 evacuation of more than 330,000 Allied troops over the English Channel from Dunkirk, a small coastal city in the far north of France. Reportedly broken into three parts, Dunkirk depicts the rescue and defense effort from different points of view, employing a large ensemble cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and pop singer Harry Styles. But the real draw here is old-fashioned spectacle: The film was shot entirely in 70mm, with Nolan’s usual preference for practical effects and sets over digital imagery.
Will it be worth your time? Unless you’re able to regularly time-travel back to the 1950s, sincerely lavish spectacles of this type are now rarer than hen’s teeth. Plus, Nolan is the kind of director whose clumsiest work still holds plenty of interest, and considering that this is his shortest film since the shoestring-budgeted Following, it’s unlikely to drag.

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Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

Theaters everywhere July 21

Luc Besson takes a break from penning and producing intentionally boneheaded action movies and returns to space opera with an adaptation of Valérian And Laureline, a long-running French sci-fi comics series that provided one of the countless influences behind his earlier big-budget space adventure The Fifth Element. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne star as a couple of 28th-century cops who are dispatched to a Mass Effect-esque interstellar metropolis called Alpha to save it from a sinister threat and yada yada yada. The real appeal here is in seeing Besson go wild with effects, creature designs, and sci-fi production. The cast includes Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer, and jazz fusion legend Herbie Hancock, because why not.
Will it be worth your time? No one can question Besson’s love of the French sci-fi comics tradition, which has been obvious since his post-apocalyptic debut feature, The Last Battle, through to later projects like The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec and Lockout. As the most expensive film ever made in France (a record once held by The Fifth Element), Valerian finds Besson working on the largest possible scale; even if it turns out to be a dud, it’ll be an eyeful.

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Girls Trip

Theaters everywhere July 21

A group of female college friends reunite for one wild weekend of R-rated raunchiness, rekindling the lapsed bonds of sisterhood through a series of comic misadventures. However, they don’t kill a male prostitute, and it’s this—along with its primarily black cast—that will help you distinguish Girls Trip from Rough Night in the summer’s crowded field of female riffs on The Hangover.
Will it be worth your time? The similarities between Rough Night and Girls Trip have already been documented, as have the divisions they unfortunately perpetuate between “white” and “black” movies. So there’s a lot of unexpected sociopolitical weight to that question, especially for a lighthearted movie about ladies getting their respective grooves back. But see it if you support equal representation, even in the increasingly derivative genre of “women behaving badly” comedies—or you just want to watch Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah et al. get trashed in New Orleans.

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Killing Ground

Select theaters July 21

A young family heads to nature for some much-needed R&R, finding a beachside idyll that quickly turns hellish. This taut, low-budget Australian flick looks to evoke the barking dogs, trucks full of violent men, and sinister foliage of fish-out-of-water horror like Green Room, The Hills Have Eyes, and Deliverance.
Will it be worth your time? The movie earned some buzz (and also some heavy disgust) at Sundance for funneling its tried-and-true narrative premise toward a genuinely harrowing climax. It’s writer-director Damien Power’s debut, so there’s not much to go on, but he has a very good horror-director name, so, you know, there’s that.

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Landline

Select theaters July 21

Writer-director Gillian Robespierre chases Obvious Child with another likable indie showcase for Jenny Slate. This time, the comedian’s loopy charm holds the center of an ensemble piece, with Slate cast as the eldest daughter of a dysfunctional New York family in crisis. While her character entertains a flirtation with an old college hookup (Finn Wittrock) behind the back of her fiancé (Jay Duplass), her angsty teenage sister (newcomer Abby Quinn) investigates the possibility that their father (John Turturro) may be cheating on their mother (Edie Falco).
Will it be worth your time? As its title sort of hints, Landline is set in 1995, for no other apparent reason than it allows Robespierre to pack her movie with a lot of distracting, unnecessary allusions to the era. (Remember CD players? How about Friends?) Not as uproariously funny as Obvious Child, the film still gets by on a strong cast—especially, again, Slate, who should really be a full-blown movie star by now, shouldn’t she?

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Amnesia

Select theaters July 21

Finally arriving in the U.S. two years after its Cannes premiere, this drama from Barbet Schroeder (Reversal Of Fortune) is a meditation on memory and trauma. Set in the ’90s, it follows Jo, a young German music composer who arrives in Ibiza for a gig DJing at a club, where he meets a withdrawn neighbor with a mysterious past. The two bond as clues about their respective pasts are revealed.
Will it be worth your time? Schroeder has a habit of tackling lofty themes with varying degrees of success; this one seems to involve how different generations of Germans address—or don’t address—the country’s Nazi past. The long delay between festival premiere and American theatrical release might suggest that the director has struggled to make something compelling out of that topic, but reviews from Cannes were mostly positive.

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The Emoji Movie

Theaters everywhere July 28

Those tiny pictures we use as a stand-in for genuine human connection finally become one big picture, which we can similarly use to avoid talking to each other for 90 minutes or so. In a story for anyone who’s ever wondered about the secret lives of those cartoon turds on their phone, T.J. Miller voices a rebellious emoji whose inability to fit in leads him on a journey of self-discovery.
Will it be worth your time? The trailer makes zero effort to hide its blatant mashup of Wreck-It Ralph and Inside Out, and with only Cars 3 filling the Pixar void this summer (plus a stacked voice cast featuring Anna Faris, Patrick Stewart, James Corden, Maya Rudolph, and Steven Wright), it could be an acceptable substitute. At least, in the way that a starry-eyed cat is the same as saying “I love you.”

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Atomic Blonde

Theaters everywhere July 28

If you’ve ever wondered what a distaff John Wick might look like, now you’ve got your answer. An adaptation of the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde plunks Charlize Theron’s British superspy Lorraine Broughton into Berlin shortly before the 1989 collapse of the wall. Paired with German operative David Percival (a very amped-up James McAvoy), Broughton is tasked with locating a stolen list of double agents who are being smuggled into the West. Exec producer Theron even brought in John Wick co-helmer David Leitch to make sure the ’80s-set actioner kicks sufficient ass.
Will it be worth your time? To put it as bluntly as the fight scenes, yes. The plot is needlessly complicated and the story doesn’t track nearly as well as the film thinks it does (as demonstrated by a late-act “this is what really happened” reveal), but Atomic Blonde is an action movie where the fights are a bone-crunching joy to watch. If you thought Theron was a badass in Mad Max: Fury Road, just wait until you see some of the moves she unleashes here. (Bonus points for being a major studio film where the main character is bisexual and it’s not treated like some weird big deal.)

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An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power

Select theaters July 28

Eleven years after hosting the PowerPoint presentation heard around the world, Al Gore is back to get everyone up to date on the ongoing climate crisis. This sequel to his Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth follows the “reformed politician” on a kind of global tour, as he meets with eco-friendly world leaders, trains loyal disciples on how to better get the message out, and continues to present his famous slideshow to rightfully scared-shitless audiences everywhere.
Will it be worth your time? No film advocating for an active response to global warming could be called a total waste of time. But though Truth To Power is more artfully put together than the glorified seminar that came before, it’s also way less useful: While the original genuinely changed hearts and minds with scary (if dryly presented) facts, the sequel plays more like a victory lap, forgoing information in favor of watching Gore bask in the adoration his tireless campaign has earned him. Its hopefulness also feels sadly outdated, given the climate denier in the White House—though the filmmakers have reportedly tacked on a brief, dispiriting update on the Paris Climate Agreement.

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Brigsby Bear

Select theaters July 28

Rescued from the underground bunker where he spent his entire childhood, James Pope (Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney) discovers that his whole life has been a lie: His “parents” were really his kidnappers, the world outside wasn’t really a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the television show he watched religiously every week—starring a lesson-dispensing, space-traveling talking bear—was custom-made just for him. Dark as all that sounds, Brigsby Bear is really a sweetly earnest fish-out-of-water dramedy about one sheltered man’s inability to let go of the personalized, serialized adventures he grew up on.
Will it be worth your time? Actually, it’s a little too sweetly earnest. There’s so much potential, dramatic and thematic, in Brigsby Bear’s premise that it’s disappointing when the film settles for Sundance quirk—a problem that can be traced at least partially to Mooney’s ingratiating adorable-naïf performance. The film comes on like a gentler Dogtooth, but it’s really closer in spirit to Lars And The Real Girl.

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The Incredible Jessica James

Netflix July 28

Daily Show alum Jessica Williams takes on her first starring feature-film role in this Sundance-approved comedy from People Places Things writer-director Jim Strouse. Williams plays, well, Jessica, a charming, unfiltered, and emotionally vulnerable aspiring playwright who befriends equally sarcastic divorced dad Boone (Chris O’Dowd) during a particularly rough period in her life, where the only respite from her career woes seems to be revenge fantasies about her ex (Lakeith Stanfield).
Will it be worth your time? “From the filmmaker behind People Places Things” doesn’t inspire wellsprings of confidence, but Williams does; regular listeners of her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, know that the star playing a variation on herself is hardly a bad thing.

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Person To Person

Select theaters, VOD, iTunes, and Amazon Video July 28

Micro-budget indie stalwart Dustin Guy Defa (Bad Fever) expands his very appealing and well-received 2014 short film Person To Person—about a small Brooklyn record store, its hepcat proprietor, and the stranger he finds passed out on his floor—into a full-fledged low-key ensemble comedy. The original’s bearded and bespectacled star, the real-life record store owner Bene Coopersmith, is joined by an expansive cast that includes Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, Philip Baker Hall, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Rookie-founder-turned-actor Tavi Gevinson, each with their own unlikely stories.
Will it be worth your time? While indie paeans to the ostensibly unique character of New York City are a dime a dozen—and most of them deserve a degree of rightful scorn—Defa’s original short film displayed a gentle sensibility and an awareness of community that made it seem like a hungover hipster answer to Charles Burnett’s similarly short When It Rains. We’re hoping that carries over into the feature.

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From The Land Of The Moon

Select theaters July 28

César Awards bait of the highest order, this period drama stars Marion Cotillard as a woman who enters into a loveless arranged marriage toward the end of the World War II and then falls in love with a hunky veteran (Louis Garrel) while being treated for kidney stones at an Alpine sanatorium. Actor Nicole Garcia directed and co-wrote this adaptation of a novella by Milena Agus, shifting the setting from Italy to France; our own Mike D’Angelo, who saw the film at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, dubbed it “a film with such a regressive view of female desire that it’s hard to believe it was made by a woman.”
Will it be worth your time? Premiering in the same Cannes line-up as Toni Erdmann, Elle, Paterson, The Handmaiden, American Honey, and The Neon Demon, From The Land Of The Moon didn’t garner much attention—understandably so, considering that few critics seemed to like it, with some drawing comparisons between its central love story and the work of Nicholas Sparks.

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Menashe

Select theaters July 28

Is every movie from this year’s Sundance opening in July? A24 picked up Menashe, the narrative debut by documentary director-cinematographer Joshua Z. Weinstein, straight out of the festival. Based loosely on the life of its star, comedian Menashe Lustig, this drama set within Brooklyn’s strictly dogmatic Hasidic community concerns a widower in danger of having his son taken away from him lest he adhere to tradition and quickly find a new wife—no easy task for a man still mourning the spouse he loved and lost. The dialogue is delivered almost entirely in Yiddish.
Will it be worth your time? Reviews from Sundance were mostly glowing, and it’s always rewarding when movies offer windows into rarely explored subcultures. Getting acquired by the generally discerning folks at A24 is a good sign, too. (Menashe will be the first foreign-language release by the indie distributor.)

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