In a few short days, Iron Man 3 will usher in the start of the summer movie season. If you’re a film geek, the summer is a great, great time of the year. The big studios will be offering up one mega-budgeted blockbuster after the next, sometimes two in the same weekend. Within the next six week, we’re going to get Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek into Darkness, The Hangover Part III, After Earth, and Man of Steel. I don’t know if there’s a single person on the face of the earth who’s more excited about Man of Steel than I am. It looks like it’s going to be a great summer.
But then, there’s this little thing the studios like to call “counter programming.” There is, after all, only so much popcorn you can eat before you get tired of it. Sometimes, after all that big budget escapism, it’s nice to trade in the candy for a nice steak and a complex red wine. Or maybe even a salad. Counter programming is when smaller budgeted movies are released in the summer, hoping to catch people when they’re hungrier for something more substantial. Two years ago, Woody Allen had the biggest box office hit of his career when Midnight in Paris was released in the summer to counter program all the $200 million tentpoles.
The ad campaigns for Iron Man or Star Trek are going to be pretty ubiquitous. I mean, who knew Tony Stark ate at Subway? There’s no way audiences won’t know those movies exist. In fact, we made be sick of them before we get to actually see them. I wanted to take a little time and let readers know about some of the smaller, but equally exciting, films that are being released between May and August this year. Many of them will be utilizing a platform release strategy, which means they will open in the big markets like New York and Los Angeles and then gradually roll out nationwide. They may not have big, fancy ad campaigns (though in some cases they might), and you may have to really hunt for them at your local art house cinema. They’re often very much worth the effort. So, without further ado, here are a half dozen under-the-radar summer movies that you might want to find.
The Iceman General Zod himself, the great Michael Shannon, stars as Richard Kuklinski, a notorious hitman who was believed to have killed between 100 and 250 people from the '50s to the '80s. Also a committed family man, when he was arrested his wife and daughter had no idea about his side job. Captain America's Chris Evans co-stars. A really great-looking thriller, The Iceman played at the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto film festivals last year to great acclaim and opens on May 3.
The Kings of Summer It doesn’t get more indie-sounding than this: a trio of teenagers decide to spend a summer building a house and living off the land. The cast is insanely great (Nick Offerman, Allison Brie, Megan Mullally, Mary Lynn Rajskub), and the film was a hit this year at Sundance Film Festival. It’s been described as Superbad meets Stand by Me, and it opens May 31.
Much Ado About Nothing Hold onto your butts, geeks. Not only will we be privy to an extension of Joss Whedon’s famous Sunday-night Shakespeare readings, we’ll also get to see the inside of his house without risking any pesky restraining orders. As you may already know, Joss shot the film at his home over a 12-day span while he was in post-production on The Avengers last spring. Many of his regulars show up (Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, Tom Lenk, Sean Maher) as does dead/not dead Agent Coulson. Shot in black and white, the film is a film noir, modern-dress take on one of the Bard’s more beloved comedies. Like many of these films, Much Ado made the rounds in many of the big film festivals (Toronto, Venice) last fall. It opens June 7.
I’m So Excited All I know is it’s about flight attendants and it was made by Pedro Almadova, and that’s really all I need to be all-in. Almadovar is one of the only exclusively foreign language directors to have an extensive fan base in the United States, so his work is usually widely seen for a Spanish director. After the weirdness of The Skin I Live In, it’s promising to see him back in lighter, fizzier material. Almadovar regulars Antonio Banderas and Penlope Cruz are in it, and I’m So Excited is the opening night selection for the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival. It opens June 25.
Blue Jasmine Here are the six words you need to know: written and directed by Woody Allen. As he’s aged, Woody’s output has become more and more hit-and-miss. But, from the late '70s to the early '90s, he went on a run where almost everything he did was at least very, very good and at best a masterpiece. Just look at this list: Annie Hall, Interiors, Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives, Bullets Over Broadway. Even in recent years, he’s made Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and the aforementioned Midnight in Paris. Woody is always worth a look. The new film stars Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, and Peter Sarsgaard. Also, Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K. are in it. Who doesn’t want to see Andrew Dice Clay in a Woody Allen movie? Blue Jasmine opens July 26.
Fruitvale Station I’m kind of surprised this is opening in July. A huge hit at this year’s Sundance, Fruitvale Station won both the grand jury prize and the audience prize. Evidently, it’s an extremely powerful film. It was picked up by the Weinstein Company and with its potential awards pedigree, I’m very surprised Harvey isn’t holding it until the fall to make an Oscar run with it. The film tells the true story of the last day of Oscar, a man gunned down by Oakland BART officers. Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan star. I’m a huge fan of Friday Night Lights, and Jordan was fantastic on that show as East Dillon quarterback Vince Howard. Comic geeks might have caught him last year in Chronicle. Fruitvale Station may very well be a star-making piece of work for him. It opens July 26.