Summer movies, by tradition and definition, are mindless guilty pleasures. We can always count on Hollywood for mindlessness, all right, but pleasure is often harder to come by. Superheroes, supervillains, sequels—blockbusters can be awfully exhausting. But there’s nothing else to do, frankly, but grab a bucket of popcorn, adjust your expectations and wade into the fray.
Godzilla (May 16) The original Japanese monster movie, back in the ‘50s, was born of nuclear radiation and Cold War paranoia. What fears stalk our dreams today, and rise with the beast from the depths of the ocean?
San Francisco Silent Film Festival (May 29-June 1) A pair of Soviet gems stand out among the many and varied vintage films on display: The sci-fi adventure trip Cosmic Voyage (1936) imagines socialist space travel (talk about flights of fancy), while The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) is an utterly delightful satire of, well, the West.
A Million Ways to Die in the West (May 30) Seth MacFarlane chews the scenery and the sagebrush in a comedy that aims squarely for the broad side of a barn. A manically anachronistic Western crammed with expletives and sex jokes, it aspires to make Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles look like Budd Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome.
The Fault In Our Stars (June 6) The inevitable screen adaptation of John Green’s widely praised teen romance stars the luminous Shailene Woodley and the gorgeous Ansel Elgort, supported by national treasures Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe. Kleenex sales will be HUGE.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13) Hollywood history is filled with sequels, none of which had the tagline, “Expect the unexpected.” “More of the same” is more like it, but this children’s crowd-pleaser will likely provide enough wit and freshness to carry the day.
Frameline (June 19-29) The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival presents, among its many, many offerings, a pair of long-awaited documentaries by local filmmakers. Nancy Kates’ Regarding Susan Sontag is a probing study in scarlet (and other shades) of the New York Jewish lesbian intellectual, while Jennifer Kroot’s To Be Takei is an affectionate portrait of Star Trek actor and activist George Takei.
Jersey Boys (June 20) The high-energy doo-wop of the Four Seasons, led by Frankie Valli, leapt out of car radios in the ‘60s. Four decades later, baby boomers embraced the high-octane stage musical, which married the group’s songs to a riveting behind-the-scenes saga. The same demographic is already queuing up for Clint Eastwood’s glossy, gorgeous take.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27) Our bet for the loudest movie of the summer. What, you want more?
They Came Together (June 27) David Wain and Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer) send up the winsome charm and pervasive inanity of the romantic comedy in a witty spoof that could be a word-of-mouth hit among urban twenty-somethings. Immerse yourself in the collected works of Meg Ryan ahead of time to get the full effect.
Deliver Us From Evil (July 2) A cop and a priest team up to solve a harrowing series of crimes that are freaking out seen-it-all New Yorkers (aka godless heathens). Repent before it’s too late.
Life Itself (July 11) Documentary maker Steve James deftly and poignantly transposes the late, great film critic Roger Ebert’s memoir to the screen. Not exactly summer escapism, perhaps, but there are many ways to be reminded of the special joy of movies.
Venus In Fur (July 11) Roman Polanski’s late-career penchant for intimate dramas originally written for the stage continues with this black comedy starring his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, as an actress and the estimable Mathieu Amalric as a director.
Jupiter Ascending (July 18) The Wachowski siblings offer another delirious and probably deranged slab of chromosome-determined destiny, starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum. It takes place in a near future where computer-generated effects still have the power to make people mutter, “Cool,” but you knew that.
Boyhood (July 18) Richard Linklater’s unique and remarkable epic of adolescence was shot over a dozen years with the same actors. Arguably the film of the year, it’s a remarkable accomplishment with an exceptional emotional impact.
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 24-Aug. 10) The SFJFF’s eclectic potpourri of (primarily) European, Israeli and American cinema encompasses nostalgia (20th Century culture), controversy (current perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian morass), adult comedy (the province, typically, of the U.S. and French narratives) and personal histories (from fading echoes of the Holocaust to contemporary searches for identity).
Magic in the Moonlight (July 25) Woody Allen’s latest piffle trafficking in the mores and machinations of another era is set on the Cote d’Azur in the 1920s. A talented cast, including Colin Firth and Jacki Weaver, partakes of Jazz Age clothes, libations and flings.
Hercules (July 25) Brett Ratner directs Dwayne Johnson in a movingly profound and poetic character study of a barbaric mercenary who redeems himself by joining a just cause. Much blood is shed along the way, because you can’t get to Redemption City without going through the Valley of Death.
Lucy (August 8) Scarlett Johansson plays an over-the-top action heroine in Luc Besson’s latest exercise in genre worship and stylized mayhem.
November Man (August 27) No summer is complete without a nail-biting tale of double-crossing spooks trying to avert geopolitical catastrophe. Pierce Brosnan furrows his brow while director Roger Donaldson choreographs the fusillades and French kisses.