In 2017, there have been great films every month and August is no exception. From the long awaited adaptation of the Stephen King epic,“The Dark Tower” to the star studded, romantic period piece “Tulip Fever” to John Travolta as John Gotti to “Logan Lucky”, to the latest from Steven Soderbergh to the animated “Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature” to feel good documentary “Step” – there is something for every moviegoer. This month also sees the release of three films covering injustices against the African-American community – “Detroit”, “Crown Heights, and “Whose Streets” – that are both riveting and disturbing, This trio of films about police brutality and wrongful convictions offer vital glimpses into five decades of American history and our continuing struggles to achieve racial equality in our justice system.
The Dark Tower
The long awaited film version of the Stephen King epic “The Dark Tower” series is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. I had hoped to read the books before seeing the film but have never had the time. However, after some initial negative rumblings about Elba as the Gunslinger, the trailer seems to have assuaged King fandom.
Plot Summary: Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last Gunslinger, is locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black. The Gunslinger must prevent the Man in Black from toppling the Dark Tower, the key that holds the universe together. With the fate of worlds at stake, two men collide in the ultimate battle between good and evil.
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley, Katheryn Winnick
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Action
Production Co: Media Rights Capital, Columbia Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, Weed Road Pictures
After the press screening of this very sad tale, I literally had to weep for a few minutes. It is so harrowing and timely that while it is a must-see, it is a hard cinematic pill to swallow. I did find it curious that director Kathryn Bigelow, chose to white knight one of the law enforcement participants. I later found out this man was not really on the side of right on the night of the Algiers Hotel murders. I’m living to ask her about that odd decision. I am advising everyone to google “algiers hotel murders” after you see the film for the facts on that individual. I do not want to give the film away. But once you see it, you will know who I mean.
The cast is pitch perfect. John Boyega is like a young Sidney Poitier and I would love to see him take on more serious roles. Will Poulter will likely be up for a Best Supporting Actor come awards season. His portrayal of the murderous, sociopathic cop is Oscar worthy and he totally disappears into the role. How can this adult monster be played by the kid from “Chronicles of Narnia” and “We The Millers”? It’s amazing acting on Poulter’s part.
I initially thought the film was a bit too long. But I later realized that it was the right length to make viewers feel the horrors of police brutality on innocent people. We, the viewers literally relive the experience of police brutality. It’s so visceral that, at times, you will feel like you are actually in the hotel on the night of July 25th, 1967.
(Opened in select theaters and cities on 7/28; opens wide on 8/4)
The Real Story from CBS This Morning
Plot Summary: In the summer of 1967, rioting and civil unrest starts to tear apart the city of Detroit. Two days later, a report of gunshots prompts the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard to search and seize an annex of the nearby Algiers Motel. Several policemen start to flout procedure by forcefully and viciously interrogating guests to get a confession. By the end of the night, three unarmed men are gunned down while several others are brutally beaten.
Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Jack Reynor
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Genres: Crime drama
Production Co: Annapurna Pictures
Step, directed by Amanda Lipsitz and distributed by Fox Searchlight, is one of my favorite documentaries of all time. When I first heard about the film, I was so excited about it because the art of stepping is such an intregal part of African-American culture and history. Then when I saw it, it exceeded every expectation! You will instantly fall in love with all of these lovely young black woman. The film follows Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger and Tayla Solomon through their senior year at Baltimore’s Leadership School for Young Women as they navigate the college admissions race while participating in the school’s step team.
Step is two wonderfully uplifting films in one. It is a mashup of two films. On one hand, it is a film about the personal struggles and triumphs that three talented black teen girls and their middle class families face. On the other, it is a movie about a team trying to win its first championship. I cried, laughed then cheered and cried with joy again! You will too.
Plot Summary; The senior year of a girls’ high school step team in inner-city Baltimore is documented, as they try to become the first in their families to attend college. The girls strive to make their dancing a success against the backdrop of social unrest.
Director: Amanda Lipitz
Production Co: Vulcan Productions, Scott Rudin Productions
Distributors: Fox Searchlight
An Inconvenient Sequel
August is ushering in loads of timely films that are shining spotlights on the ignorance that is so prevalent in the country right now. With the White House pulling out of the Paris Accord, the House passing a bill to gut protections on Americans’ water and the EPA chief and others in the Trump administration open climate deniers, it is vital that everyone see this movie. Knowing the truth about the effects of climate change and vowing to fight to stop the devastation to our environment is vital to the very future of humanity. There is no more important film to see than this one.
Plot Summary: Former Vice President Al Gore continues his tireless fight, traveling around the world to train an army of activists and influence international climate policy. Cameras follow him behind the scenes — in moments both private and public, funny and poignant — as he pursues the inspirational idea that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion.
Cast: Al Gore
Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Production Co: Paramount Pictures, Participant Media, Actual Films
According to the NY Times, the real Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming has a crime rate five to seven times the national average and a long history of ghastly homicides. Thus, this noir starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen is sure to be gritty and suspenseful. From the writers of one of my favorite films of 2016, “Hell Or High Water,” this is must for crime drama fans.
Plot Summary: An FBI agent teams up with a veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, Kelsey Asbille, James Jordan, Martin Sensmeier
Fun Mom Dinner
Perfect comedy for Moms’ Night Out and I hear Adam Levine is pretty hot in this too.
Plot Summary: Four women whose only common ground is their kids’ preschool class, decide to get together for a harmless dinner. The night begins as a disaster, but the combination of alcohol, karaoke, and a cute bartender leads to an unforgettable night where these seemingly different women realize they have more in common than motherhood and men.
Cast: Katie Aselton, Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, Bridget Everett, Adam Scott, Rob Huebel, Adam Levine, Paul Rust
Director: Alethea Jones
Production Co: Voltage Pictures, June Pictures, Gettin’ Rad
Distributors: Momentum Pictures
With the current resident of the White House literally egging the police on to commit more acts of police brutality, this film is a timely look at the heroic young men and women behind the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Plot Summary: An account of the Ferguson uprising as told by the people who lived it. The filmmakers look at how the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown inspired a community to fight back and sparked a global movement.
Director: Sabaah Folayan
Production Co: Magnolia Pictures
Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature
There is nothing like a great animated film to take the wee ones minds off the fact they’ll be back at school in just a couple week. With the hilarious Maya Rudolph and Will Arnett voicing main characters, this will be fun for the whole family.
Plot Summary: Surly (Will Arnett) the squirrel and his animal friends spring into action when the evil mayor (Bobby Moynihan) of Oakton plans to bulldoze the park that they live in.
Cast: Will Arnett, Jackie Chan, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph, Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham, Joe Pingue, Rob Tinkler
Director: Cal Brunker
Genres: Family, Adventure, Animated, Comedy
Production Co: Gulfstream Pictures
Distributors: Open Road
I find dolls, especially antique dolls, pretty darn creepy. So the whole concept of Annabelle has always scared the wits out of me. This film, the latest from James Wan, the director of the super scary “The Conjuring”, is sure to keep us all up at night.
Plot Summary: Former toy maker Sam Mullins and his wife Esther are happy to welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their California farmhouse. Years earlier, the couple lost their 7-year-old daughter Annabelle in a tragic car accident. Terror soon strikes when one of the girls finds a seemingly innocent doll that seems to have a life of its own.
Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Philippa Coulthard, Grace Fulton, Samara Lee, Tayler Buck, Anthony LaPaglia
Director: David Sandberg
Genres: Thriller, Horror
Production Co: New Line Cinema, Atomic Monster
Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures
The Only Living Boy In New York
An all-star cast with a NYC story of youth, love and friendship makes this film a must-see late summer release. Part early Woody Allen part “The Graduate”, the trailer screams instant NY classic. And I could watch Jeff Bridges, who elevates everything he appears in, read the phone book! (I was pretty upset he didn’t win Best Supporting Actor last year for his incredible turn in the aforementioned “Hell Or High Water.” ) The trailer is awesome and made me want to see this. I agree with the main character when he states that “NY’s most vibrant neighborhood, at the moment, is Philadelphia!” Unfortunately, that’s accurate but a whole other conversation.
Plot Summary: After graduating from college and moving to an apartment, young Thomas Webb befriends an alcoholic neighbor, who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside shots of whiskey. Webb’s world soon comes crashing down when he learns that his father is having an affair with a beautiful and seductive woman. Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas winds up sleeping with her, launching a chain of events that will change everything that he thinks he knows about his family and himself.
Cast: Callum Turner, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons, Jeff Bridges
Director: Marc Webb
Genres: Comedy drama
Production Co: Roadside Attractions, Amazon Studios, Bona Fide Productions
Distributors: Roadside Attractions, Amazon Studios
The Glass Castle
Based on the Jeanette Walls memoir of the same name with Oscar winner Brie Larson in the lead and twice Oscar nominated Naomi Watts as her Mom, this film is not to be missed. Add Woody Harrelson, who has in the past few years, gone from strength to strength, and this film brings Oscar-worthy fare to summer movie goers. The powerhouse performances literally jump off the screen.
Based on a memoir, four siblings must learn to take care of themselves as their responsibility-averse, free-spirit parents both inspire and inhibit them. When sober, the children’s brilliant and charismatic father captured their imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Meanwhile, their mother abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want to take on the work of raising a family.
Ingrid Goes West
Elizabeth Olsen is all over movie screens this August! I am curious about this film. From the trailer it looks like it could either be really funny or advocate stalking!
Plot Summary: Following the death of her mother and a series of self-inflicted setbacks, young Ingrid Thorburn escapes a humdrum existence by moving out West to befriend her Instagram obsession, a Los Angeles socialite named Taylor Sloane. After a quick bond is forged between these unlikeliest of buddies, the facade begins to crack in both women’s lives — with comically malicious results.
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff
The Trip To Spain
One of the things I miss the most about living in the UK is the quick wit of the Brits. All of my friends from across the pond are funny. Their humor is smart and silly at the same time. I missed the first two in this Coogan/Brydon series of road trip movies. So will be binge watching them in anticipation of this third, sure to be hilarious, outing.
Plot Summary: Steve and Rob sample the restaurants and hotels of the Spanish coastline, trading jokes and impressions over their lunches.
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Marta Barrio, Claire Keelan, Margo Stilley, Rebecca Johnson
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Genres: Comedy drama
Distributors: IFC Films
Robert Pattinson is the draw for this noir set in NYC.
Plot Summary: After a botched bank robbery lands his younger brother in prison, Constantine embarks on a twisted odyssey through the city’s underworld in an increasingly desperate attempt to get his brother out of jail. Over the course of one night, Constantine finds himself on a mad descent into violence and mayhem as he races against the clock to save his brother and himself, knowing their lives hang in the balance.
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, Ben Safdie, Buddy Duress, Cliff Moylan, Souléymane Sy Savané, Phil Cappadora
Director: Joshua Safdie, Ben Safdie
Genres: Thriller, Crime drama
Production Co: A24
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Who can miss an action buddy film with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel Jackson? I certainly can’t! Plus, I love Salma, who since she got married, we do not see her nearly enough.
Plot Summary: Ryan Reynolds plays the world’s top protection agent is called upon to guard the life of his mortal enemy, one of the world’s most notorious hit men, portrayed by Samuel L Jackson. The relentless bodyguard and manipulative assassin have been on the opposite end of the bullet for years and are thrown together for a wildly outrageous 24 hours. During their journey from England to the Hague, they encounter high-speed car chases, outlandish boat escapades and a merciless Eastern European dictator who is out for blood.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim de Alemeida, Kirsty Mitchell, Richard E. Grant
Director: Patrick Hughes
Genres: Action, Comedy
Production Co: Campbell Grobman Films
Distributors: Lionsgate Films
Channing Tatum is at the very top of my t0-do list! In my mind, anything he even makes a cameo in is a must-see. Directed by Stephen Soderberg, one of the most eclectic and genre prolific directors in Hollywood, this is is sure to be a hit. Oh and Elvis’ grandbaby, Riley Keough is also in this. As a lifelong Elvis fan, I consider her like family.
Plot Summary: The Logans are a hardscrabble family from the hills of West Virginia, and their clan has been famous for its bad luck for nearly 90 years. But the conniving Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) decides its time to turn the family’s luck around, and with a little help from his friends, the Redneck Robbers, he plans to steal $14 million from the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Farrah Mackenzie, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Charles Halford, Seth MacFarlane
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Production Co: Gran Via Productions
Distributors: Bleecker Street Media, Fingerprint Releasing
I am on the fence about this film which looks to be a female “8-Mile”. However, it was the darling of the major film festival circuit, so may be worth a look.
Plot Summary: Aspiring rapper Patricia Dombrowski, aka Patti Cake$, is fighting an unlikely quest for glory in her downtrodden hometown where her life is falling apart. Patti tries to reach the big time in the hip-hop scene with original and affecting music. Cheered on by her grandmother and only friends, Jheri and Basterd, Patti also shoulders her mother’s heartaches and misfortunes.
Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty, McCaul Lombardi, Patrick Brana
Director: Geremy Jasper
Genres: Drama, Music
Production Co: Maiden Voyage Films, Department of Motion Pictures, RT Features
Distributors: Fox Searchlight
Nine words: Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Tim Robbins and Geena Davis. This movie is so poignant and moving especially for anyone, who has loved a family member and lost them. It’s based on a play so there is no real action. It is simply a study in grieving and remembrance. The acting is top-notch from all four of the major players and I feel in love with Tim Robbins all over again. A must-see for all true movie lovers.
Plot Summary: Eighty-six-year-old Marjorie spends her final, ailing days with a computerized version of her deceased husband. With the intent to recount their life together, Marjorie’s Prime relies on the information from her and her kin to develop a more complex understanding of his history. As their interactions deepen, the family begins to develop diverging recounts of their lives, drawn into the chance to reconstruct the often painful past.
Cast: Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, Stephanie Andujar, Hannah Gross, Leslie Lyles
Director: Michael Almereyda
Genres: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction
As a respite from constant blockbusters, I love these sort of off-beat weird films. Lemon is sure to be a goofy film to while away a summer Saturday evening.
Plot Summary: After Isaac’s blind girlfriend walks out on him, his life goes into free fall, and he directs an unhinged staging of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” attends the Passover Seder from hell, and attempts to woo a new flame.
Cast: Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Nia Long, Shiri Appleby, David Paymer, Fred Melamed, Jon Daly
Director: Janicza Bravo
Production Co: Killer Films, Burn Later Prods.
Distributors: Magnolia Pictures
In the late 90’s, I was an activist for innocent death row inmates. Thus, this is another film that is top of my list. I have met dozens of innocent people, many on death row, who did lengthy sentences and were later freed. However, somehow this story never hit my radar. But with thousands of similar cases, it is not an unusual one. Hopefully, this film will open American’s eyes to just how many people we have in prison that are actually innocent.
Plot Summary: In 1980, police in Brooklyn, N.Y., charge teenage immigrant Colin Warner with murder. Convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, Colin spends years in prison while his friend Carl King fights for the young man’s freedom.
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Amari Cheatom, Skylan Brooks, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Nestor Carbonell, Zach Grenier
Director: Matt Ruskin
Genres: Drama, Biography
Production Co: IFC Films, Washington Square Films, Amazon Studios
This will either be amazing and a career defining moment for Travolta or a complete flop. The lack of a trailer just weeks before the film’s supposed release does not bode well. But I am a mob film addict, so will likely see this.
Plot Summary: John Gotti rises to the top of the New York underworld to become the boss of the Gambino crime family. His life takes a tumultuous turn as he faces tragedy, multiple trials and a prison sentence.
Cast: John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach
Director: Kevin Connolly
Genres: Crime drama, Biography
Distributors: Lionsgate Premiere
With three Oscar winners – Alicia Vikander, Christophe Waltz and Dame Judi Dench – in a sweeping romantic period piece, this film is the perfect way to end your summer movie going.
A note to the ladies: This is a great third date film as you can tell a lot about a guy by his reaction to period films.
Plot Summary: Set against the backdrop of the 17th-century Tulip Wars, a married noblewoman has an affair with an artist and switches identities with her maid to escape the wealthy merchant she married. She and her lover try to raise money together by investing what little they have in the high-stakes tulip market.
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz, Judi Dench, Holliday Grainger, Jack O’Connell, Zach Galifianakis, Matthew Morrison
Director: Justin Chadwick
Genres: Historical drama, Romance
Production Co: Monumental Pictures, The Weinstein Company