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Summertime, and the Box Office is Humming

A few summer film standouts



This summer is an odd mix of reprisals—Poltergeist, Vacation (really?), and Jurassic Park—as well as the normal dose of superhero films—Fantastic Four (messing it up once wasn't enough?), Ant-man—but it also has a surprising helping of high quality documentaries.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (June 12): The likely contender for summer favorite breakout film, and audience favorite at this year's Sundance Film Festival is, on one level, a film about filmmaking and, on a wholly enjoyable level, a story about a high school senior who becomes friends with a girl with cancer—and goes about making a film about it. Yeah, oddly, it is funny.

Live From New York (June 12): For four decades, the middling humor of Saturday Night Live has somehow served as a powerhouse producer of one-liners, caricatures, and famous comedians. Not at all a tribute, but a documentary look at this cultural powerhouse.

Big Game (June 26): How wonderful would the world be if Samuel L. Jackson truly were the president! An odd crossbreed of Mad Max, Air Force One, and Snakes on a Plane, this plucky Finnish film has Air Force One shot down over Finland and President Jackson evading terrorists in the Finnish countryside.

Ted 2 (June 26): If you didn't like the first Ted, the story about an post-celebrity, bong-smoking, party-hopping teddy bear, then you are an idiot. Mark Wahlberg takes on more steps toward his title as the most important living American with his reprised role in this film about, yes, teddy bears, sperm donors, and Tom Brady.

What Happened to Miss Simone? (June 26): A story that seems like it should be much better known about one of jazz/blues' greatest, most outspoken civil rights musicians, but that also somehow seems perfectly timed for release right now. Roundly well-received at various festivals, a documentary pieced together from concert footage and decades-old interviews with Nina Simone.

Magic Mike XXL (July 1): Possibly the summer's biggest dud. Magic Mike was charming for its twisted, tough, sad story about greed and ambition, mixed in with, yes, a good helping of abs and grinding. This film seems to promote just the skin-level appeal and none of the depth.

Cartel Land (July 3): Just in time for July Fourth, a documentary about the two different groups—one on each side of the U.S.-Mexican border—trying to battle back against the ultra-violent drug cartels. Amazing for its unblinking access and frightening for the implications about vigilantism. Winner of Sundance's coveted Best Documentary.

Amy (July 10): English director Asif Kapadia, wo has made beautiful films about people living in extreme and unforgiving circumstances—like rural India and the Himalayan outback, turns that sensibility to the tragic life and career of Amy Winehouse.

Irrational Man (July 17): Woody Allen continues to gather some of the generation's best talent (Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone) and place them in slightly uncomfortable essays about love, lust, and generational differences.

Ant-Man (July 17): Paul Rudd as a superhero? As a superhero the size of an ant? No, really, this isn't a Saturday Night Live skit, it is Marvel's summer blockbuster! With some campiness a la Toy Story, and some incest power ala Spiderman, could this be the film that catapults Rudd onto Hollywood's A-List?

Vacation (July 29): Probably inevitable, so thankfully placed in the hands of Ed Helms, as a grown-up Rusty, returning with his family to Walley World.

A Lego Brickumentary (July 31): A real documentary! By director Daniel Junge who also produced a documentary about Christian mixed-martial art fighters and a murder of an environmentalist in Brazil. This is not to be confused with the Lego Movie, it covers the odd history of the Danish company that has shaped so many childhoods. Narrated by Jason Bateman.

Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation (July 31): With nearly as many installments now as the TV series itself, MI employs Tom Cruise to take on Scientologists' clever plan to overtake Hollywood and the world.

Fantastic Four (August 7): Three years ago, Josh Trank directed his first major picture, Chronicle, a relatively low budget ($12 million) bit of sci-fi with a clever aesthetic of being stitched together by found footage. This is his first time in the big leagues, with the reboot of the familiar story. Oh boy, it went so well last time they tried this.

Straight Outta Compton (August 14): In the 1980s, N.W.A. told stories about south-central L.A. that were being told nowhere else—about gangsta life, police abuse, racism. A biopic told by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, who may have just a touch biased opinion on the matter.

People, Places, Things (August 14): The typical mid-life crisis comedy stars Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement as a graphic novelist whose life is swirling down the toilet.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend (August 28): The fight coordinator from the popular 2000 film returns as the director.

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