The Dark Tower (Photo: Sony)

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.


The Dark Tower

Theaters everywhere August 4

“How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” went the ad campaign for Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s then-controversial literary classic. Of course, that question has nothing on the one dangling over this long-in-the-works adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling meta-fantasy cycle The Dark Tower: How do you turn King’s hefty, ambitious, multiverse-spanning magnum opus into a 95-minute Hollywood action movie? Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey lead the cast as the gunslinger Roland Deschain and his archetypal adversary, the man in black; Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) directed.
Will it be worth your time? Elba and McConaughey seem perfectly cast. Otherwise, this sounds like a mess—but then again, so does the idea of an eight-book, Tolkien-by-way-of-Leone Old West dark fantasy series that attempts to tie much of the author’s work into a metafictional multiverse.


Kidnap

Theaters everywhere August 4

Halle Berry lives out every parent’s worst nightmare as her son is abducted before her very eyes from an amusement park. The catch is that she sees the abduction and chases after the kidnappers, raising hell in a minivan. Yes, it’s another kidnapping thriller where Berry spends most of the time sitting down. Just one more—maybe this time she’s in a wheelchair or in coach on a long flight—and the Oscar winner will carve out the most weirdly specific niche ever by a big-name star.
Will it be worth your time? It depends on how much you enjoy howlingly bad writing and direction. Kidnap is the kind of inane, incompetent, butt-ugly trash-fest that comes but once in a blue moon.

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Wind River

Select theaters August 4

Having previously chased cops and robbers across the moral gray areas of the Southwest, actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell Or High Water) heads north for his directorial debut, about a murder investigation playing out against the unforgiving Wyoming winter. Jeremy Renner plays the Wildlife agent tracking a young woman’s killer across a secluded Indian reservation, while fellow Avenger Elizabeth Olsen is the FBI rookie officially on the case. Park City, Utah, where the film premiered in January as a Sundance selection, stands in for the freezing-cold Cowboy State.
Will it be worth your time? Sheridan isn’t as confident behind the camera as the directors who brought his other scripts to the screen, and there are issues to take with the way he handles both the tragic backstory of Renner’s character and the in-over-her-head greenness of Olsen’s. But Wind River is still mostly effective as a lean, mean crime yarn in the Elmore Leonard tradition, bolstered by Sheridan’s talent for crackling adversarial dialogue and his interest in the intricacies and absurdities of law-enforcement protocol.

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Fun Mom Dinner

Select theaters, VOD, and digital services August 4

Following a similar rubric as this year’s bumper crop of “women behaving badly” comedies, Fun Mom Dinner concerns a group of beleaguered mothers who get just one crazy night to cut loose over booze, a little pot, and some karaoke, a wild time during which new bonds are forged and revelations about the relative funness of motherhood are made, both at dinner and at the bar afterward.
Will it be worth your time? If you liked the profanity-laden dialogue of Bad Moms, Rough Night, Girls Trip, et al., you’ll be happy to know that Fun Mom Dinner is more of the same in that regard. But if you hate to see a better-than-average cast—which counts Toni Collette, Katie Aselton, Bridget Everett, and Molly Shannon among the moms, Adam Scott and Rob Huebel as their fuckup husbands, and cameos from David Wain and Paul Rudd—wasted on uninspired material, then this Fun Mom Dinner will give you a tummy ache.

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Columbus

Select theaters August 4

When a world-renowned architect falls into a coma, his lonely adult son (John Cho) travels to Columbus, Indiana to visit him, and ends up bonding with an equally lonely teenager (Split’s Haley Lu Richardson). The feature debut of film critic and video essayist Kogonada belongs as much to its backdrop as it does to its stars; the film makes the modern architecture of its titular Midwest city both a topic of conversation and a visual focal point.
Will it be worth your time? Indebted to the walk-and-talk city symphonies of Richard Linklater and Jem Cohen, Columbus is a little slight and familiar in the story department. But the performances are sensitive, and Kogonada supplies not just a wealth of beautiful compositions—most of them with beautiful buildings at their center—but also a strong sense of specific American location. It’s a small but lovely debut.

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Step

Select theaters August 4

A nice bit of summer counter-programming, Step is a documentary following the step dance team at the Baltimore Leadership School For Young Women, set right as the inaugural class starts its senior year. The school began in 2009 with a mission to send every student of its low-income population to college, and the application process and wait for acceptance provides an urgent and dramatic backdrop to the story, which centers on three members of the dance group as they and their teammates train for a state dance-off.
Will it be worth your time? Slick and feel-good, Step can barely feign interest in stepping (its nominal subject) and never really works as a true-to-life underdog story. Instead, its carried by the personalities of the ambitious teenagers and parents that orbit the team.

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4 Days In France

Select theaters August 4

It’d be overstating things to call 4 Days In France “the Grindr movie,” but that app does play a significant role in Jérôme Reybaud’s first narrative feature. (He’d previously made a documentary about cult French filmmaker Paul Vecchiali.) Apparently bored with his long-term relationship, Pierre (Pascal Cervo) impulsively gets in his car and heads out on the road, using Grindr to meet other men wherever he may roam. His various adventures—not all of which are sexual in nature, by any means—offer a window on a broad, eccentric cross-section of humanity. Meanwhile, his distraught lover, Paul (Arthur Igual), tries to track Pierre down, using Grindr to monitor his movements.
Will it be worth your time? It’s a lot of time (137 minutes), especially for a film that’s essentially plotless and prone to meander. But each one of Pierre’s encounters is memorable and entertaining, cumulatively weaving an empathetic tapestry that suggests he—and, by extension, we—has something to learn from every random person who crosses his circuitous path. The film is also, in its stealthy way, a fine romance.

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Icarus

Select theaters and Netflix August 4

Here’s one for the “stranger than fiction” pile. Planning a prospective documentary on doping in sports, amateur biker and filmmaker Bryan Fogel attempted to get on an athletic drug regimen, the idea being that he would track his own performance on enhancers and try to avoid getting caught. But the search for a hookup led straight to a Russian scientist, whose own role in the country’s anti-doping campaign led the filmmaker deeper still into a scandal involving Russia’s Olympic athletes. What starts as a personality-driven stunt documentary becomes a real-life political thriller—one that sold to Netflix out of Sundance for $5 million, one of the highest amounts spent to acquire a nonfiction film.
Will it be worth your time? Although Fogel struggles to keep the film on track, the practices (and personalities) he uncovers are more than enough to sustain interest; the story he lucked into is the sort of thing investigative journalists spend years trying to dig up.

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Annabelle: Creation

Theaters everywhere August 11

Wait, didn’t Annabelle, the first starring vehicle for that creepy doll from The Conjuring, already explain her malevolent origins? A prequel to a spin-off, Creation apparently takes another crack at the backstory, making the cursed plaything the handiwork of a bereaved doll maker, then unleashing her on a bunch of terrified orphans living in a 1950s farmhouse.
Will it be worth your time? Early reviews suggest that Creation is an enormous improvement on the last Annabelle, possibly because they hired director David F. Sandberg, who established his qualifications for the gig with the problematic but formally ingenious Lights Out. Anyway, they can rewrite the mythology of the “Conjuring extended universe” all they want, so long as they keep a firm grasp on the fundamentals of this franchise: scaring the piss out of everyone with expertly timed jump scares and spooky funhouse attractions.

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The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature

Theaters everywhere August 11

The rascally squirrel gang that everyone tolerated for 90 minutes and then promptly forgot about is back in this sequel to 2014’s The Nut Job, the animated film beloved by children everywhere for getting Brendan Fraser work. Sadly, Fraser doesn’t return for this follow-up, which finds Will Arnett’s thieving Surly teaming up with his fellow animals (voiced by Maya Rudolph, Jackie Chan, Katherine Heigl, and more) in order save their park from a scheming mayor voiced by Bobby Moynihan.
Will it be worth your time? The first Nut Job was a pastiche of slapstick, fart jokes, and “nuts” puns so indifferently smashed together that it all ended with a credits dance sequence to “Gangnam Style.” Surely you want to find out what popular song they dance to this time?

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The Glass Castle

Theaters everywhere August 11

Jeannette Walls’ distinctive memoir gets the big-screen treatment. The story follows the real-life tale of a woman (Brie Larson) whose discovery that her parents are now homeless—and squatting not far from her—prompts a reflection on her deeply idiosyncratic childhood. Led by a crusty father (Woody Harrelson) and artsy mother (Naomi Watts), she and her siblings spent their formative years living semi-nomadically out of automobiles and run-down houses, all the while receiving unusual life lessons. The movie reteams Larson with her Short Term 12 writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton.
Will it be worth your time? Anyone who saw the trailer knows how easy it is for this kind of material to fall into the twee-indie, Captain Fantastic-esque rabbit hole of preciousness. But Cretton has demonstrated an agile hand with potentially cheesy material, giving us hope that this adaptation maintains the raw and nervy spirit of the book it seeks to dramatize.

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The Trip To Spain

Select theaters August 11

Michael Winterbottom’s amusing BBC series The Trip (edited into a feature for U.S. release), which starred Steve Coogan and bigger-in-Britain comedian Rob Brydon as fictionalized versions of themselves on a tour of restaurants in the north of England, has become a bona fide multi-media franchise. In this cut-down version of the third season, the two journey across Spain, sampling pricey menus while trading celebrity impressions and improvised passive-aggressive barbs.
Will it be worth your time? Do you like comedy podcasts, Instagram pictures of meals, and the concept of “travel,” and want to go to a movie, but not, like, a movie movie? Then congratulations, you and your Tinder date will have something to do besides talk about your dogs.

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Good Time

Select theaters August 11

Robert Pattinson completes his transformation from YA heartthrob to electrifying character actor with this gritty, eccentric crime caper from New York auteurs the Safdie brothers (Heaven Knows What, Lenny Cooke). Set mostly over a single long, tense evening in the Big Apple, Good Time casts the one-time Twilight star as a bank-robber desperately scheming to bust his younger brother (Ben Safdie himself) out of police custody after a botched heist. The film premiered to mostly ecstatic reviews (including our own) at Cannes back in May.
Will it be worth your time? Absolutely. As with their last movie, Heaven Knows What, the Safdies take familiar material—in that case, a junkie drama; in this one, an underworld fugitive thriller—and reinvent it through scrappy naturalism, a sprawling cast of oddball NYC personalities, and an urgent synth score. (The pulsing music, essential to the mood, comes courtesy of Oneohtrix Point Never.) And of course, Pattinson fanatics will want to have seen Good Time yesterday; all animal instinct and quicksilver intelligence, it’s the performance that proves, once and for all, that he can do a hell of a lot more than mope and stare.

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Nocturama

Select theaters August 11

The audacious new film from French writer-director Bertrand Bonello (House Of Pleasures, Saint Laurent) is an unlikely cross of Dawn Of The Dead and Weekend. Fresh off a killing and bombing spree, a band of ambiguously radicalized teenage terrorists holes up in a huge Paris department store, where they play dress-up, act out fantasies, and watch coverage of their attacks on display-model TVs, only to have it all come crashing down when Nocturama reveals itself as the bleak genre movie it’s been all along. Controversial from the get-go, the movie was one of the highlights of last year’s Toronto Film Festival, but took a long time to find an American distributor willing to plunk down the cash for its lavish soundtrack. (You’ll never be able to hear “Whip My Hair” or the theme from The Persuaders the same way again.)
Will it be worth your time? Bonello is one of today’s great movie sensualists, and the entrancing, intoxicating, and eerie Nocturama finds him near the height of his powers; even if you’re alienated by the subject matter, you owe yourself the experience.

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Naked

Netflix August 11

No, this isn’t a rerelease of Mike Leigh’s punishing portrait of a caustic misanthrope. Netflix instead promises its own bleak exploration of the human condition in the form of a time-loop comedy where Marlon Wayans wakes up naked, over and over again, repeating the hour before his wedding.
Will it be worth your time? As Marlon Wayans movies go, this one has an unusual pedigree: It’s a remake of the 2000 Swedish film Naken. Still, even that film was derided as a bad copy of Groundhog Day; adding Wayans repeatedly screaming about people seeing his dick might make you want to pop Leigh’s film in after all.

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The Only Living Boy In New York

Select theaters August 11

Upper-crust white people problems get a new workout in The Only Living Boy In New York, a coming-of-age story from director Marc Webb ((500) Days Of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man). Callum Turner stars as an overeducated and undersexed college grad whose burgeoning friendship with Jeff Bridges’ older intellectual leads to an attempt to seduce the woman (Kate Beckinsale) with whom his fusty father (Pierce Brosnan) is having an affair. Shenanigans, awkward encounters, and hard-won life lessons ensue.
Will it be worth your time? Lifestyles of the young and financially secure are usually best explored by someone with Whit Stillman’s humor, Wes Anderson’s eye, or at least Nicole Holofcener’s sense of irony. Webb has exhibited none of those qualities in the past. At best, his latest might be a wry and fitfully charming exercise. Having Bridges on board helps.

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Ingrid Goes West

Select theaters August 11

Aubrey Plaza is having a busy year. Doubling down on the unhinged energy she let loose on Legion and in The Little Hours, Plaza stars in Matt Spicer’s dark comedy about a misfit who heads off to Los Angeles to stalk her favorite Instagram celebrity, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr., who stood in for his famous dad in Straight Outta Compton, is the title character’s new love interest, dragged along on a bumpy ride.
Will it be worth your time? A little of Plaza’s belligerence can go a long way, but Ingrid Goes West was mostly well-received at Sundance, where it won a prize for screenwriting. The red-band trailer, which features a shot of the lunatic heroine macing a bride in the face on her wedding day, also suggests that this could be a much more twisted movie than your average American festival darling.

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Whose Streets?

Select theaters August 11

The word “Ferguson” is, at this point, a shorthand not just for the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson but also the entire national movement that followed, from the months-long uprising in the city’s streets to the international Black Lives Matter movement that grew out of it, as well as similar protests following similar shootings of young black men by police. Whose Streets? aims to document the Ferguson demonstrations and protests using the voices of the activists and leaders who were there, and it features stark, firsthand footage of the cycle of police violence that was perpetuated in its wake.
Will it be worth your time? First-time director Sabaah Folayan originally conceived of the project as a piece of print journalism produced in collaboration with St. Louis-based artist Damon Davis. But when the two became disillusioned with the narratives perpetuated in the second-by-second news cycle around them, they decided to turn the footage into a full-fledged film. Early reviews have praised Whose Streets? as an essential document of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Planetarium

Select theaters August 11

French writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski (Grand Central) casts Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp as American siblings who believe themselves capable of communicating with the dead. When the two find themselves in Paris between World War I and II, a French film producer tries to harness their gift, hoping to capture a spirit of the dead on film. At least that’s nominally what the film seems to be about; for once, the trailer doesn’t give too much away.
Will it be worth your time? Early reviews have largely been critical, suggesting that Zlotowski let her penchant for abstract lyricism overwhelm her narrative. But those same accounts also say it’s gorgeous, so maybe just go in ready to soak up Georges Lechaptois’ lush cinematography and leave logic at the door?

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The Wound

Select theaters August 16

Prepare to wince, as the wound in question is caused by quick and dirty circumcision, sans anesthetic. That’s step one in a coming-of-age ritual undergone by some Xhosa men in South Africa. John Trengove’s debut feature unfolds over the days that follow, which they spend slowly healing together in the woods. Each initiate is assigned a combination mentor/drill sergeant, and The Wound focuses on one pair in particular: Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), a rich kid from Johannesburg who resents being forced to take part in this, and Xolani (Nakhane Touré), the authority figure who harbors his own big secret.
Will it be worth your time? Touré gives one of the year’s best performances, and Trengove—an outsider to this culture—deftly explores the emotional contours of this real-life Xhosa tradition without exoticizing anyone. The film winds up painting itself into a disappointingly conventional narrative corner, though. Also, if you don’t think you can stomach an adult circumcision montage, you’d do well to arrive 10 minutes late.

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Logan Lucky

Theaters everywhere August 18

The mind-bogglingly versatile, workaholic director-cinematographer-editor Steven Soderbergh “retired” in 2013, but has still somehow found time to executive-produce three TV series; shoot several yet-to-be-released projects; take over camera, lighting, and editing duties for an excellent sequel to one of his hits; and direct, shoot, and cut every episode of one of the most formally accomplished shows of the last decade. Now he’s given up whatever pretenses of retirement he might have had left to make a caper comedy about two loser brothers (Adam Driver and Channing Tatum) who come up with a plan to rob North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway with the help of a career criminal (a cast-against-type Daniel Craig).
Will it be worth your time? Soderbergh, incompetent protagonists, heist movie. Whaddaya need, a road map?

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Theaters everywhere August 18

Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3, Red Hill) directed this action-comedy about an elite bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) who is hired to protect a notorious contract killer (Samuel L. Jackson) so that he can testify at The Hague against a dictator (Gary Oldman). Salma Hayek and Richard E. Grant round out the cast.
Will it be worth your time? Admit it: You’re almost sure you’ve already scrolled past this extremely generic-looking and -titled action flick on a Netflix home page or a Redbox screen. You haven’t, but in a way, you have. Does it share a writer with one of those pay-the-bills Bruce Willis B-movies? Of course. Was it shot partly in Bulgaria? You betcha.

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Patti Cake$

Select theaters August 18

In this low-budget, distaff 8 Mile, an aspiring MC (Danielle Macdonald) struggles to rap her way out of a dead-end life on the fringes of New Jersey, forming her own crew and preparing for a big hip-hop competition that could be her ticket to a record deal. But because she’s white, a woman, and heavyset, almost no one in the neighborhood takes her seriously—not even her own mother (Bridget Everett), the one-time frontwoman of a defunct hair-metal band.
Will it be worth your time? There’s a reason Patti Cake$ earned standing ovations at Sundance back in January: It’s the type of totally shameless crowd-pleaser that’s been engineered, top to bottom, to hit every convention on the underdog star-is-born checklist. If you can swallow the corny clichés (including, believe it or not, a rapping grandma), you, too, might find yourself rising to your feet in approval. Just don’t look to the film for anything resembling authenticity, musical or otherwise. And did we mention the rapping grandma?

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Marjorie Prime

Select theaters August 18

Though still probably best known for his Ethan Hawke-led postmodern take on Hamlet, writer-director Michael Almereyda has become increasingly prolific in the last few years, directing a variety of documentaries (including the recent Escapes, about Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher) and shorts, while still making time for fiction features like Cymbeline and Experimenter. His latest boasts a near-future premise that wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of Black Mirror, though it’s actually an adaptation of a play by Jordan Harrison that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize For Drama. Lois Smith reprises her role from the original stage production as the title character, an elderly woman who is given a holographic companion (Jon Hamm) programmed to look like her late husband.
Will it be worth your time? Almereyda is a filmmaker with a vast range of interests, and even when his movies don’t completely fulfill their ambitions, they can be counted on for two things: intriguing premises and an eclectic collection of talents. This one boasts Tim Robbins and Geena Davis in supporting roles, a score by Mica Levi (Under The Skin, Jackie), and camerawork by Sean Price Williams, one of the most reliably interesting cinematographers on the current indie scene.

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Crown Heights

Select theaters August 18

Lakeith “Keith” Stanfield, the young actor best known for his scene-stealing turn on Atlanta, dons dreadlocks and a Caribbean lilt for his first starring role in this fact-based drama adapted from an episode of This American Life. Stanfield plays Colin Warner, a Trinidadian immigrant who was wrongfully convicted of a 1980 murder, but was exonerated almost two decades later through the efforts of his childhood best friend, Carl King (former NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha, who also produced). Matt Ruskin (The Hip Hop Project) wrote and directed the film; character actor and A.V. Club favorite Bill Camp plays Warner’s lawyer.
Will it be worth your time? Crown Heights won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance, which in recent years has become associated with both rising talents (Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, and Damien Chazelle all won it for their indie breakthroughs) and with festival-hype busts like The Birth Of A Nation and Me And Earl And The Dying Girl.

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Death Note

Select theaters and Netflix August 25

After the slight misstep of last year’s found-footage sequel Blair Witch, director Adam Wingard returns to traditional (albeit genre-bending) filmmaking with Death Note, an adaptation of the long-running and immensely popular anime/manga series. Nat Wolff plays symbolically named student Light Turner, an outcast who stumbles upon a magical notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in its pages. Willem Dafoe plays the creepy demigod Ryuk, who sets the bait and gleefully carries out the murders.
Will it be worth your time? Wingard has a proven track record (You’re Next, The Guest, basically anything that doesn’t rhyme with “air hitch”), so odds are good this hard-R experiment will mark a welcome return to form. Plus, we’re extremely curious to see Atlanta’s superlative Lakeith Stanfield play the mask-wearing detective assigned to bring the murder spree to an end.

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Bushwick

Select theaters and VOD August 25

Over one chaotic afternoon, a sheltered college student (Brittany Snow) and a hulking military veteran (Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Dave Bautista) make their way across the titular Brooklyn neighborhood, transformed into a war zone by a marauding militia of black-clad invaders. Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, who made the zombie comedy Cooties, stage the violent action thorough a series of elaborate Steadicam shots, chasing characters down battle-ravaged boulevards, into bombed-out buildings, and from one shoot-out to another.
Will it be worth your time? If you’re one of those cinephiles who thinks there’s nothing cooler than keeping the camera running for as long as possible, Bushwick may knock your socks off. But the long-take showmanship is a stunt that gets old fast, and it can’t stop Bushwick from feeling like a glorified Steven Seagal vehicle, even after the film drops a big political twist about the identity of the enemy.

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The Villainess

Select theaters August 25

Riding the South Korean action wave that started in the early ’00s and has yet to crest, director Jung Byung-gil offers his take on the female-assassin movie. Kim Ok-bin, a TV star in her native county probably best known to Westerners for her role in Park Chan-wook’s Thirst, stars as Sook-hee, a young assassin who joins a clandestine government spy agency with the promise that, in 10 years, she will be free to live a normal life. Ten years is a long time, though, and then there are the disturbing secrets Sook-hee uncovers about her childhood…
Will it be worth your time? Opening with a 15-minute first-person bloodbath where Sook-hee takes down dozens of henchmen with her gun, blade, and bare hands, The Villainess is overflowing with outrageous plot twists and kinetic gonzo action scenes. Just don’t expect it all to make sense.

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Beach Rats

Select theaters August 25

Writer-director Eliza Hittman chases her acclaimed debut, It Felt Like Love, with another tough, sensitive, dispiriting coming-of-age drama set against the warm days and carnival nights of Coney Island. In Beach Rats, a shiftless and often shirtless New York City teen (Harris Dickinson) teeters on the edge of adulthood, pickpocketing strangers with his hooligan buddies while entertaining—behind closed doors and in front of a computer—the possibility that he might be gay.
Will it be worth your time? Dickinson is quietly excellent in the lead role, and there’s an unvarnished beauty to the film’s summery, aimless teenage wasteland. But Hittman, who won Best Director at Sundance, has now made two movies that treat sexual awakening as little more than a one-way ticket to suffering. And once you’ve figured out where Beach Rats is headed, it’s just a matter of waiting around for the other shoe to depressingly drop.

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