Big Screen or Bust: 8 Summer Movies to See in Theaters

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Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield in 'Sorry to Bother You.' (Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures)

It’s been said, many times in many ways, that we are currently enjoying a golden age of television. Between the cable networks and streaming services, you can find any flavor of accomplished long-form drama. Films, which most people consume on their flat-screens or devices, have become integrated and assimilated into the endless tunnel o’ content that most of us consume and forget.

But it’s summer, people: Break out of the box, subvert the paradigm, take the off-ramp, go to a theater and see a movie on the big screen, without interruption, the way God and Cecil B. DeMille intended.

'Adrift' (June 1)

Summer, for large numbers of Americans, means getting out on the water. There will always be a home in summer movies, therefore, for sharks, pirates, perfect storms, subterranean monsters, wardrobe malfunctions and other sea hazards. Director Baltasar Kormákur, whose resume includes The Deep, an ocean survival story set off the coast of his native Iceland, baits us with another real-life saga set in the sunnier climes of Tahiti. New romantics Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin set out a-yachting to San Diego when a hurricane intrudes. Can love, and a diet of peanut butter and canned rations, conquer all? High drama is a form of high art, after all.

'American Animals' (June 8)

British filmmaker Bart Layton’s background in advertising—as well as his acute intelligence—was instantly apparent in his slickly manipulative and compulsively watchable 2012 doc-fiction hybrid The Imposter. His multilayered new film depicts an 2004 art theft engineered by a quartet of Kentucky college students desperate to escape the bonds of everyday life. Both the amateur crooks and Layton take their cues from crime movies, with the director savvily exposing the gulf between escapism and reality.


'Incredibles 2' (June 15)

It’s incumbent on me to spotlight worthy local artists, and Emeryville’s pixelated animators deserve inclusion by virtue of a glorious track record of craft, entertainment and box office. For the sequel to its delightful 2004 tale of an ordinary family of superheroes, Pixar wisely (though not surprisingly) reconvened writer-director Brad Bird and the original (voice) cast, which is pretty much all you need to know.

'Boundaries' (June 22)

While the post-millennial generation is fed a steady diet of superficial superhero movies, Baby Boomers gorge on a smorgasbord of films about adults coming to terms with their elderly parents. Writer-director Shana Feste’s father-daughter road movie is infinitely superior to the treacly norm, with the brilliant Vera Farmiga hauling her monstrously selfish, drug-dealing dad (Christopher Plummer), her son and all their baggage from Portland to Los Angeles.

'Sorry to Bother You' (July 6)

Oakland musician, activist and filmmaker Boots Riley’s feature debut, a sensation at Sundance and a sellout hit on both sides of the Bay at the recent SFFILM festival, is an outrageous satire of great, big targets: corporate culture, immersive marketing, white power and black ambition. A wildly creative heir to Putney Swope, Robert Downey, Sr.’s savagely funny cult classic from half a century ago, Sorry to Bother You heralds the arrival of an important East Bay filmmaker.

'Gauguin' (July 20)

Paul Gauguin lives in the shadow of a certain frustrated genius, cinematically speaking, despite Anthony Quinn and Wladimir Yordanoff’s flamboyant supporting performances in the Vincent Van Gogh biopics Lust for Life and Vincent and Theo. French filmmaker Edouard Deluc places Gauguin in the center of his canvas, er, frame, where Vincent Cassel slides into the character. The revelatory film focuses on the painter’s initial sojourn to Tahiti, and explores his relationship with the adolescent Tehura (Tuhei Adams). Moral qualms aside, Deluc conveys how much effort is required to be an artist whose work endures across the centuries.

'Christopher Robin' (Aug. 3)

Adult responsibilities tend to kill the buzz of childhood innocence, and to slam the door on the promise of endless possibilities. That’s what afflicts our decent pal Chris (Ewan McGregor), until a bear named Pooh reenters his life. The natural reference point to Marc Forster’s blend of live-action and animation would appear to be Finding Neverland, his sentimental tale of how J.M. Barrie came to create Peter Pan. But the screenwriter is Alex Ross Perry, the hit-and-miss indie auteur who made the complex, brilliant and painful Listen Up Philip about a successful (and insufferable) young author. If Disney didn’t instruct the script doctors to excise Perry’s quirks, this film could be more subversive than sappy.

'BlacKkKlansman' (Aug. 10)

It pains me to tout the work of a known egomaniac, but 1) Spike Lee is far from the only director who’s a legend in his own mind; and 2) his new film fired up the crowd at Cannes. Based on the true story of a black detective (played by John David Washington) who managed to get hired by the Colorado Springs Police Dept. in the early ’70s and paired up with a white cop (Adam Driver) to infiltrate the KKK headed by David Duke (Topher Grace), BlacKkKlansman hammers the racism in a swath of institutions—including Hollywood studios.