The over-the-top poppycock that is Hollywood’s summer stock-in-trade has a certain appeal to me at the moment, I have to admit.
Between the domestic political horror du jour and tragedy and turmoil abroad, I’ve rarely found escapism so inviting. If I’m going to listen to delusional declarations with horrific consequences for millions, I’d prefer they be uttered by supervillains in kitschy costumes rather than the President. I’m even willing to accept the spectacle of several dozen digital explosions, and all that CGI-generated CO2, as part of the deal.
On that optimistic note, let’s check out our best options and most enticing alternatives.
'Cars 3' (June 16)
In support of the Bay Area economy, and the stock options of Pixar’s hard-working employees, I’m waiving my longstanding objection to sequels for this one. It’s a comeback story this time around, with graybeard Lightning McQueen overtaken by a field of next-generation racers and compelled to rely on a young female race tech to regain his mojo. The hour-and-49-minute running time seems more suited to grownups than kids, which I interpret as Pixar’s contribution to our tenuous national sanity.
'The Beguiled' (June 23)
Remakes generally don’t find favor with this curmudgeonly correspondent, but I’ll make an exception for Bay Area product Sofia Coppola. In her sixth feature behind the camera, Coppola revisits Thomas Cullinan’s novel about a wounded Union soldier recuperating in a Confederate girls’ boarding school. The director has been fascinated by the behavior of women in groups since her debut with The Virgin Suicides, and she explores the built-in sexual tension and shifting power dynamics through low-light naturalism rather than hothouse melodrama. Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood took a rather different approach, shall we say, to this material in 1971.
'War for the Planet of the Apes' (July 14)
The previous installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, boasted a script that was as serious as it was smart, and a San Francisco setting. That’s ample reason to tout the next chapter in this apocalypse-courting science-fiction saga over the numerous other threats-to-our-species exercises in ersatz heroism clogging the multiplexes in the next few months. That, and Woody Harrelson as the villain.
'Dunkirk' (July 21)
At long last, Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar) has abandoned the sham profundity of his bloated sci-fi morality tales for a chunk of actual history. Or, to be less charitable, he’s tired of being Ridley Scott and aspires to David Lean. Featuring a roster of familiar names and faces alongside battalions of extras, Dunkirk reenacts the 1940 evacuation of some 300,000 Allied troops from France over 10 days. Pack a lunch -- and earplugs. (Nolan has a notoriously heavy hand when it comes to sound, especially in the third act.)
'An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power' (July 28)
Local documentary makers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (Audrie & Daisy, now on Netflix) pick up Al Gore’s ongoing global crusade to light a fire under the tushes of elected officials, CEOs and the greater population. Along with a treatise on the imminent dangers of climate change, the film necessarily delivers an upbeat assessment of the human potential -- through now-existing technology and public will -- to take major action before we reach the point where another Inconvenient sequel will play as tragedy.
'Detroit' (Aug. 4)
Aiming to duplicate the August box-office success of Straight Outta Compton in 2015, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s third nerve-shattering collaboration (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) immerses us in a different summer in the (inner) city. Detroit dramatizes the misguided and ruthless police raid of an interracial party at the Algiers Motel 50 years ago this July, and the ensuing public outcry. Escapist? Hardly. Timely? Plus ça change, and all that jazz.
'The Glass Castle' (Aug. 11)
Newspaper reporter and columnist Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memoir, published in 2005, described a complicated childhood and adolescence spent with an alcoholic father and artistic mother in poverty and constant movement from town to town (including a stint in the Tenderloin). Brie Larson portrays the writer in Destin Daniel Cretton’s screen adaptation, a high-profile reunion following their breakthrough work on the 2013 indie drama Short Term 12. If all that isn’t enough to pique your interest, Naomi Watts and the redoubtable Woody Harrelson play Rex and Rose Mary Wells.
'Patti Cake$' (Aug. 25)
Flash-bulb acclaim at Sundance is no guarantee that a film will receive a sunny reception on general release. Here’s hoping that writer-director Geremy Jasper’s acclaimed debut, and his indomitable heroine, find an audience. Danielle MacDonald plays a New Jersey ugly duckling who trades her prosaic given name of Patricia Dombrowski for the titular moniker while pursuing an identity (and a career, possibly) as a rapper. An urban underdog saga forged from the time-tested triumvirate of family troubles, societal indifference and artistic expression, Patti Cake$ may be the most hopeful movie of the summer.