By Noah Gittell
Believe it or not, summer is here – at least at the movies. With this Friday release of “Avengers: Infinity War,” the summer blockbuster season is officially upon us. It seems to start earlier every year, but after our never-ending winter, any sign of warm weather is one to be celebrated.
The movies themselves are less deserving of celebration. We’re looking at another four months of capes, tights, muscles, and mammaries. Or as director James Cameron recently put it, “Come on guys. There are other stories to tell.” In fact, there are. With the preponderance of sameness at the summer multiplexes, the indie studios have gotten very good at counter-programming. Here are your best chances at finding a diamond in the rough:
They’re seeing: “Avengers: Infinity War”
You’re seeing “Disobedience”
A hit on the festival circuit last fall, “Disobedience” features two of Hollywood’s best Rachels — Weisz and McAdams — in a romantic drama directed by Oscar-winner Sebastian Lelio (“A Fantastic Woman”). A story of same-sex love blooming in a repressive Orthodox Jewish community, “Disobedience” is a tale of powerful, rolling emotions and a showcase for its two terrific and under-appreciated actresses.
They’re seeing: “Deadpool 2”
You’re seeing: “First Reformed”
Screenwriter Paul Schrader is rightfully best known for his collaborations with Martin Scorsese (“Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull”), but he’s also been directing films for 40 years. His best known works are “American Gigolo” and “Affliction,” so, yeah, it’s been a while since he was on top of his game. Word has it that “First Reformed,” about a small-town priest’s crisis of faith is his best work in years, and that he coaxes an all-time performance out of his lead actor Ethan Hawke.
They’re seeing: “Ocean’s 8”
You’re seeing: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
I’ll admit that “Ocean’s 8,” the female-driven sequel to Seven Soderbergh’s trilogy of heist films, looks like a lot of fun, but if escapism is really what you’re after, look no further than “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” a joyous documentary about TV personality Mr. Rogers. Ebullient dispatches from Sundance in January pitched “Neighbor” as a perfect antidote to our dread-filled days. On the other hand, is there ever a bad time to receive a living lesson in kindness and empathy? Bring your hanky for this one – the trailer alone will have you in tears, whether you grew up in the Land of Make Believe or not.
They’re seeing: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”
You’re seeing: “Under the Silver Lake”
The latest “Jurassic” film looks genuinely great – for the first time since 1997’s “The Lost World,” the dinos wreak havoc on the mainland – but I’m more excited about “Under the Silver Lake.” The reason? Director David Robert Mitchell, whose previous efforts – ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover” and the stellar horror film “It Follows” – floored me. His latest is a day-glo noir about a young loser (Andrew Garfield) tracking down his lost love (star-in-the-making Riley Keough) in modern-day Los Angeles. Fans of “Inherent Vice” and “The Big Lebowski” should start lining up now.
They’re seeing: “Skyscraper”
You’re seeing: “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot”
I can’t blame anyone for wanting to see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson do battle with a really tall building, but I’m more interested in the true story of Dan Callahan, a disabled alcoholic who gets sober and discovers a talent for writing comics, which gains him a national following. If it sounds treacly, consider the integrity of the talent involved. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Callahan, with Jonah Hill and Rooney Mara on board as his sponsor and girlfriend, respectively. It’s also written and directed by Gus Van Sant, who has a spotty filmography but appears to be in indie, crowd-pleasing mode here, a la “Good Will Hunting” and “To Die For.”
They’re seeing: “The Equalizer 2”
You’re seeing: “Blindspotting”
I mean, is anybody really seeing “The Equalizer 2”? It’s fun to see Denzel Washington take down bad guys with impunity, but this seems like the ultimate sequel-that-no-one-asked-for. Instead, check out the first onscreen starring role for Daveed Diggs, late of “Hamilton.” Co-written with his childhood friend Rafael Casal, “Blindspotting” tackles race and class in its story of the last few days of parole for an ex-con in Oakland. Early reviews from Sundance were downright gleeful. If you need an extra reason to check it out, consider it your local duty: the film was produced by Rye Country Day School alumnus Keith Calder (Class of ’97). Represent.