OK, so as we head into the fifth month of a pandemic, it’s finally happening: The glut of new entertainment is finally beginning to peter into a trickle. For this month’s home-movies column, I found fewer titles of note than any previous column, owing, no doubt, to the mass shutdown of movie productions and the studios that are still holding onto their tentpole titles for brighter days. Still, August features a handful of notable titles, from claustrophobic horror to a comedic neo-noir to a mobster’s final days.
Available Aug. 13:
An Easy Girl
It’s too early to tell if this coming-of-age import from France will emerge as one of the year’s most acclaimed international movies, but so far it’s received universal praise from the Rotten Tomatoes critics, and it secured the Best French-language Film award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Fitting, since the movie is set in Cannes, where Naima, a reserved 16-year-old girl, receives a summer visit from her free-spirited, fast-living Parisian cousin Sofia and discovers a different way of living. “Subtle” and “nuance” are the buzzwords of this quietly observant drama, which has been praised for its depictions of class, gender and sexuality in a post-MeToo world.
Available Aug. 23:
From “The Stepford Wives” to “Get Out” to “Midsommar,” horror films about seemingly utopian environments are rarely what they seem. So it is with “1BR,” the nervy story of Sarah, an aspiring costume designer who is accepted into an idyllic Los Angeles one-bedroom apartment, complete with solicitous, barbecue-throwing neighbors eager to get to know her better. As for those sounds she hears in the walls—the bumps in the night that apparently only she can discern? They’re only the beginning of a campaign of terror that pits Sarah against a cult of her fellow apartment dwellers.
Available Aug. 6
Slay the Dragon
It’s not the sexiest of political issues, but it’s arguably the most consequential in determining who represents us. I’m talking about gerrymandering, the crooked process of rejiggering congressional districts into torturous configurations so that politicians can remain in power. Both parties do it, and the new documentary “Slay the Dragon”—sorry, it’s not a Medieval fantasy—lays out the problem in stark terms, and lasers in on the un-jaded activists from groups like VotersNotPoliticians.com who are working to end this corrupt practice.
Available Aug. 24
The Roads Not Taken
Javier Bardem angles for another Oscar nod in this reflective and difficult feature from the uncompromising writer-director Sally Potter (“Orlando,” “Yes”). “The Roads Not Taken” meets its Frostian title head-on, centering on Bardem’s Leo, a sufferer of dementia, whose chaotic mind sends him on two paths far away from the New York City hospital in which his body resides—one in Mexico, to an imagined, tragic courtship with a childhood sweetheart (Salma Hayek), and one in Greece, with equally hefty consequences. The movie, costarring Elle Fanning and Laura Linney, takes a “day in the life” structure, but inasmuch as it is set in its protagonist’s wandering brain, it’s a film that travels far and wide.
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The Secret: Dare to Dream
Cynics may scoff, but Rhonda Byrne’s self-help book The Secret has sold 30 million copies on the strength of its law-of-attraction ethos, and it’s undoubtedly helped a lot of people. Now, it’s inspired this earnest feature from “Sweet Home Alabama” director Andy Tennant, about a widowed mom from Louisiana, played by Katie Holmes, whose fender-bender with a mysterious—and mysteriously helpful—stranger named Bray (Josh Lucas) changes her life. She can use the help, as the movie is set around an all-too-familiar atmosphere, especially at this moment: A hurricane is set to ravage the characters’ city. But I wouldn’t expect too much tragedy from the story’s optimistic premise about the way thoughts can change our reality. In a way, the timing for its release couldn’t be better; “The Secret” is chicken soup for an ailing nation. It is also available on Apple TV, VUDU and cable providers as a Home Premiere.
Available Aug. 5
The directorial debut of actor Clark Duke, who also wrote and costars in the movie, “Arkansas” treads a thin line between comedy and thriller. Vince Vaughn plays a drug kingpin known as Frog, who hires two young strivers, played by Liam Hemsworth and Duke, to moonlight as couriers for his product. But when the two men, who pose as park rangers by day, threaten to expose their unseen boss’s empire through their bumbling actions, Frog has little choice but to retaliate. Filled with the local color of its title state, and featuring John Malkovich in a role that almost borders on self-parody, the movie seems to capture an early Coen Brothers vibe.
Available Aug. 10
A leather-faced Tom Hardy delivers another one of his insanely committed performances as the legendary gangster Al Capone in the twilight of his rough-and-tumble life. Languishing in his Palm Island, Florida mansion following his prosecution from the U.S. government for tax evasion, the 40-something mobster deteriorates before our eyes, losing his mind to hallucinations, dark memories of lifelong crimes and, ultimately, neurosyphillis. Hardy has received expected praise for his embodiment of a familiar figure in an unfamiliar light.