August — it’s the January of summer! This is the part of the summer-movie season when studios trot out the properties too offbeat (read: light on explosions) to compete with your typical June and July blockbusters. You know, the time of year when the idea of a big-budget bonanza is a romcom doubling as an international tourism campaign, a self-aware man-vs.-colossal-prehistoric-shark opus or an attempt to turn A.A. Milne’s stories into some sort of meta-I.P. Pooh-verse. Meanwhile, Spike Lee’s back with his best film in years and Mark Wahlberg does his own martial-arts-centric, ballistics-heavy version of Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet. Here’s what’s coming to a theater near you this month.
BlacKkKlansman (Aug. 10th)
It’s an odd historical footnote, to say the least: At a Colorado Springs Police Department in the early Seventies, black rookie cop Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) and his Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) hatched a daring scheme to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. The crazy thing is that worked — Ron used a white voice on phone calls that led all the way to David Duke (a perfectly smarmy Topher Grace) while Flip blended in with the gentiles as the face of their operation. With equal parts comedy and white-hot, righteous fury, the mighty Spike Lee turns this Nixon-era period piece/true story into an urgent, modern treatise on racism, far-right fringe groups and how far we have not come in the decades since Stallworth put on over on those hooded hatemongers. It’s outta sight — and arguably Lee’s best movie in years.
Christopher Robin (Aug. 3rd)
This live-action/animation hybrid brings Disney’s clumsiest toy bear back to life — and this time around, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has grown into a no-nonsense working stiff distracted him from what really matters, i.e. friends, family, love, yadda yadda yadda. Who better to remind him of the most important things in life than good ol’ Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and the rest of the computer-animated gang? So the menagerie journeys from the Hundred Acre Wood into the big bad city and teach us all lessons about keeping our inner child alive and well. The forecast calls for light sniffling to full sobs.
Crazy Rich Asians (Aug. 15th)
The wish-fulfillment romcom heads East for this extravagantly fabulous silver screen take on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel. Chinese-American professor Rachel (Fresh Off the Boat MVP Constance Wu) couldn’t be more in love with her fiancée Nick (Henry Golding), but she still wonders why he never talks to her about his family. When he finally decides to bring her home to Singapore, she’s astonished to discover that he comes from an family of bazillionaire developer; what’s more, his controlling mother (MIchelle Yeoh) will not stand for her heir marrying a Westerner. Did we mention Ocean’s 8 comic relief/gloriously foul-mouthed rapper Awkwafina plays the requisite best friend? Don’t forget your passport.
The Happytime Murders (Aug. 24th)
How to describe this thoroughly deranged crime-comedy from Brian “Son of Jim” Henson? Take David Fincher’s sadistic serial-killer thriller Seven, transplant it to the dimension-bridging universe of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, add yards upon yards of felt and apply profanity liberally. There’s a murderer on the loose dispatching the puppets that live harmoniously alongside humans. The only ones who can take the homicidal bastard down are Detectives Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and Phil, the foulmouthed blue plaything who’s always got her six. Not since Avenue Q took Broadway has the legacy of Sesame Street been soiled with such gleeful abandon.
The Little Stranger (Aug. 31st)
After scoring an Academy Award nomination for Room in 2015, filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson wanted to do something unexpected. His next literary adaptation takes a hard right turn into high-Gothic period horror, cooped up in a dusty mansion circa 1947. Domhnall Gleeson is Dr. Faraday, a physician treating his latest patient in the home his mother once cleaned as a servant. His own faint memories of the building commingle with the paranormal for a classically-minded haunted house tour in line with Crimson Peak, complete with a disfigured war veteran (Will Poulter), a fetching woman harboring a dark secret (Ruth Wilson) and a creepy old lady (Charlotte Rampling) who speaks in ominous vagaries. Come for the extravagant production design, stay for the absinthe-tinged terror!
The Meg (Aug. 10th)
If you’ve seen one giant-shark-attack movie, you’ve seen ’em all, right? Wrong! For the 90-foot prehistoric leviathan known as the Megalodon is no mere Great White, people. It is a really, really, really big prehistoric predator. When this unstoppable vortex of teeth makes a move on the Chinese coast, Jason Statham leads the seafaring effort to save the day with a motley, foreign-market–friendly crew including Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Li Bingbing and Cliff Curtis. This over-the-top action bonanza guns for the same campy laughs that made a little independent film about a tornado full of sharks into a culture-sweeping phenomenon. If nothing else, audiences can be sure that they will get more than their ticket price’s worth of nautical wordplay and some choice Statham glares.
Mile 22 (Aug. 17th)
Following a string of successes with Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day, director Peter Berg and his muse Mark Wahlberg reunite for another tale of everyman heroism. A CIA agent in Indonesia is approached by a local policeman (The Raid‘s Iko Uwais) who needs to leave the country before mercenaries take him out. It’s up to Wahlberg and friends (including Ronda Rousey and The Walking Dead‘s Laurie Cohan) to get him to safety or die tryin’. Cue a lethal journey through hostile territory with bullets a-flyin’ and feet a-kickin’.
Searching (Aug. 24th)
Yeesh, another thriller shot through the perspective of computer screens and smartphones? Been there, Unfriended that. But writer-director Aneesh Chaganty’s contribution to the blossoming genre has a few things the others don’t: a script more interested in plumbing emotional depths than getting easy scares, a bona fide star in leading man John Cho and a slew of heartening notices from its Sundance premiere. Our man logs on to look for information about his recently deceased daughter, then quickly learns more about her secret second life than her whereabouts. Anchored by an increasingly desperate performance from the Harold and Kumar star, this film re-poses the age-old question of how well we can really know anyone with a modern technological spin.
Skate Kitchen (Aug. 10th)
This street-smart coming-of-age indie taps the New York all-female skateboarding crew that lends the film its title for its cast of mostly nonprofessional actors. (The exception: Some kid named Jaden Smith.) They roll around the five boroughs videotaping bitchin’ runs and stirring up mischief, eventually attracting the attention of straight-edge Camille (founding Skate Kitchen member Rachelle Vinberg). She starts to test the limits of her strictly regimented life as she befriends the tough, inspiring women, much to the chagrin of her strict mother (OITNB‘s Elizabeth Rodriguez). Filmmaker Crystal Moselle moves from documenting movie-obsessed, housebound young men (The Wolfpack) to shooting ollie-executing, avenue-prowling young women, each of them searching for their identity one double heel-flip at a time.
Support the Girls (Aug. 24th)
To the passing observer, the chain breastaurant Double Whammies might look like another one of the Hooters knockoffs dotting the highways of Texas. But with this kindhearted comedy, director Andrew Bujalski looks a little closer in this beer-buffalo-wings-and boobs-eatery and finds a uniquely American slice of life. Over the course of one hectic day, branch manager Lisa Conroy (Regina Hall, superb as usual) has to juggle disputes between employees, unruly customers, a severed cable hookup, an attempted robbery and a personal crisis or three. It’s an intelligent, empathetic take on race, work, womanhood and how the three intersect. Order up!