Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas
Synopsis: When an irresponsible 20-something comes to Chicago to live with her older brother living a happy existence with his novelist wife and their two-year-old son, her arrival upends their tranquil domesticity
What You Need To Know: Indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg is the uber-prolific filmmaker who inadvertently launched the term mumblecore with his lo-fi indie projects. Don’t let that scare you off though, as he’s all grown up now, and his films have matured, attracting the interest of a lot of talented actors. This one stars Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Mark Webber, and Swanberg himself, plus a standout turn by Swanberg’s scene-stealing toddler son, Jude, who was only two years old a the time. While we noted it’s not quite as strong as his mainstream breakthrough film, “Drinking Buddies,” our Sundance review did endorse it and described it as, “largely engaging, truthful and affecting.”
Release Date: July 25th, though it’s on VOD now if you want to catch it early.


Synopsis: A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.
What You Need To Know: Admittedly, this is the big question mark of this grouping. Luc Besson hasn't made a good film in ... a long time, but if we're being optimistic, Scarlett Johansson is on a bit of a creative tear with “Her” and “Under The Skin” (even her "Don Jon" performance is deeply authentic), so we're hoping she picked this project because it spoke to her in some way. A 'Bourne'-esque looking blockbuster with a long-overdue female action lead the picture looks ... perhaps not quite original, but Besson knows from kinetic action and who knows, maybe this could be his modern day "La Femme Nikita" and or a long awaited return to form? We can only hope.
Release Date: July 25th

Closed Curtain

Closed Curtain
Synopsis: An Iranian director banned from making films for 20 years shoots (another) film in secret. This time a drama that combines documentary and fictitious elements.
What You Need To Know: In 2011, humanist director Jafar Panahi made “This Is Not a Film” while under house arrest, awaiting the result of his appeal of a six-year prison sentence and twenty-year ban on filmmaking (charged for propaganda against the Iranian government after several years of conflict with the state). The result was a frustrated, claustrophobic, but ultimately hopeful and defiant political statement against censorship and personal freedom (the movie was smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive hidden within a birthday cake where it would premiere at the Cannes Film Festival). While warnings came, fortunately there were no reprisals against Panahi. But every movie he makes in protest of his dogmatic government is a serious risk. And so “Closed Curtain” is Jafar Panahi's continued cinematic civil disobedience in the form of another documentary (co-directed with Kambozia Partovi). A must-see if only in support of the filmmaker and the deeply dictatorial laws attempting to suppress his voice.
Release Date: July 9th

The Congress

Honorable Mention & More
Of course that’s not all you might want to see in July. As noted, the mainstream releases are rather unspectacular looking (which is only going to hurt the 2014 box-office more), but there are a ton of strong independent choices.It won’t be in theaters quite yet, but Ari Folman's much anticipated follow-up to "Waltz With Bashir," the part-animated, part live-action film "The Congress" hits VOD on July 15th (our review from Cannes). If you're not in a limited release city, Bong Joon-ho's much-celebrated "Snowpiercer" starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and more also hits VOD on Jul 11th (our review). Lastly, "The Two Faces of January" doesn't come out in theaters until August, but it's on VOD July 3rd and has the terrific cast of Oscar Isaac, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst (our review here).

We didn’t give it an effusively impressive review out of Sundance, but pitched in a minor key, the buddy travelogue “Land Ho!” at least sounds like a mildly amusing way to spend your time over say, “Tammy” or “Transformers” or some of the recent blockbuster fare that was given D-grade ratings from most reviewers (including us). If there’s one mainstream film that looks tolerable (aside from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” of course), “Sex Tape” could be a mildly diverting comedy, but we hope it’s better than “Bad Teacher” from the same filmmakers and much of the same cast.

"Very Good Girls" stars Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen, two of the better actresses of their generation and we’re hoping it’s good, but the trailers are definitely questionable. Indie film fans might be interested in Zach Braff’s follow-up to “Garden State,” titled “Wish I Was Here,” but most reviews out of Sundance (including ours) suggested something rather middling. Still, it’ll probably have a good indie rock soundtrack if you’re into that kind of thing. Disney fans could be interested in "Planes: Fire and Rescue," but this "Cars" (and “Planes” sequel) spin-off looks like another cash-grab against parents. Horror genre fans may also want to check in with “The Purge: Anarchy.” And while it certainly doesn’t look great, it does star Frank Grillo and Michael K. Williams, so that’s a little bit of a saving grace.