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Alt-Summer Movie Preview 2016: The Wild, WTF and Oh-So-True

From docs on sex scandals and rock stars to a stop-motion samurai epic, your cure for the summer blockbuster blues

Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone; A Tale of Love and Darkness; The Neon Demon; Weiner; Tony Robbins; Frank Zappa

Netflix, Amazon Studios, Rowntree/Mirrorpix/Zuma

Every summer, those of us who still leave our houses and ignore our backlogged DVRs/fit-to-burst Netflix queues to see movies in theaters — the few, the proud, the filmgoing — will gorge on stories about superheroes, aliens, superheroic aliens, action heroes, anthropomorphic animated animals and the occasional revised fairy-tale character. If we're really lucky, we get a few spiffed-up reboots of old favorites and a sequel or 12. Even though the notion of releasing big-tent, brand-name blockbusters between Memorial Day and Labor Day isn't as cut-and-dried as it used to be — why wait for July when you can get your Deadpool audience in February! It's summer all year-round now! — the multiplexes are still jam-packed with the traditional shoot-'em-up, blow-'em-up, and/or crack-'em-up entertainment associated with the warm months.

And like you, we love this stuff when it's great! No, really. We'll be waiting in line along with everybody else to see if Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, et al. ain't afraid of no ghosts, or to watch the Lonely Island guys send up Bieber-style pop stars, or check out if an all-star team of supervillains can get things done as well as a group of muscled-up do-gooders. But man can not live on franchise filmmaking alone; occasionally, you want to push the Happy Meal aside and eat a salad, some chicken tandoori or a really nice plate of tortellini.

So we've put together a quick 'n' dirty list of your non-blockbuster options for your moviegoing between now and the dog days of August: foreign-language dramas, documentaries on everything from political sex scandals to scatological rock legends, bizarre animated whatsits, psychotronic neo-exploitation movies, and a few things that are genuinely unclassifiable. Some of them feature movie stars (in front of and behind the camera), one or two have studio backing, and others are so off the grid that you'd think they were being beamed in from a different cinematic solar system altogether. The one thing they all have in common, however: They all double as a cure for the blockbuster blues. Seek these out by any means necessary.

Weiner; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Sean McGing

‘Weiner’ (May 20)

After a sexting scandal derailed his political career, former U.S. Rep Anthony Weiner started his long, hard road back to respectability by running for mayor of New York City. He invited documentarians Josh Kriegman (his former congressional assistant) and Elyse Steinberg along for the ride, his poll numbers start to rise — and then quicker than you can say "Carlos Danger," details of new improprieties taint the campaign and his comeback. If you've ever wondered what it's like to be in the middle of a media shitstorm, this you-are-there doc is what you've been waiting for.

Unlocking the Cage; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Chris Hegedus

‘Unlocking the Cage’ (May 25)

Veteran doc-makers D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back) and Chris Hegedus follow attorney Steven Wise — and his activist collaborators, the Nonhuman Rights Project — as they attempt to prove in a court of law that chimpanzees deserve the same legal protection as humans. The outcome of their efforts could forever alter how the judicial system handles to concept of inter-species rights, or at the very least how captive animals at zoos, marine parks etc. are treated. An eye-opener, this.

Presenting Princess Shaw; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

‘Presenting Princess Shaw’ (May 27)

She's a singer-songwriter from New Orleans named Princess who posts her tunes on YouTube; he's an Israeli DJ who specializes in chopping up found music from the Internet and discovers her work. Filmmaker Ido Haar profiles the former without telling her that the latter has started turning her compositions into unlikely online hits; if you think this story isn't heading toward the sort of uplifting, your-dreams-can-come-true ending that will restore your faith in humanity, we suggest you consult the Book of Oprah for how these things work.

The Fits; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Paul Yee

Paul Yee

‘The Fits’ (June 3)

One of the best movies to come out of this year's Sundance, Anna Rose Holmer's tale of a tomboyish young girl (Royalty Hightower) who becomes fascinated with a drill-routine dance group at her Cincinnati community center has it all: a coming-of-age story that somehow feels fresh; a charismatic breakout-star lead; a woozy dollop of magical realism thrown in with the gritty neo-neorealism; and the sense that you've just discovered a major new talent finding her groove right before your eyes.

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‘DePalma’ (June 10)

He's been called the Master of the Macabre, a misogynist and one of the great modernist moviemakers to come out of American cinema — now hear Brian DePalma talk about his work in his own words. Fellow filmmakers and superfans Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow intersperse the New Hollywood legend's anecdotes with dozens of clips from his work, and the result runs the gamut from insightful (DePalma's comments about how his relationship with his father bled in to his suspense flicks) to priceless, are-you-kidding me compartmentalizing (his confusion over a scene being offensive to women as the world's most phallic drill becomes an onscreen murder weapon). Even if you're not a fan, it's still a must-see portrait of an artist as a die-hard obsessive.

Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

‘Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story’ (June 17)

What, you think the French can't outshock us in the cinema-du-oversexed-youth area? This steamy story of kids who spend a summer afternoon testing the boundaries of their carnal knowledge has caused some minor stirs on the festival circuit; if nothing else, it does prove that neither Larry Clark nor the marketers at Calvin Klein have a lock on lascivious teens. Credit director Eva Husson for walking the fine line between old-fashioned sexploitation and arthouse hot-and-heaviness — in a good way, naturally.

Tickled; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

© 2015 A Ticklish Tale Limited

Photo Courtesy of Sundance

‘Tickled’ (June 17)

It starts with New Zealand TV personality David Farrier investigating an online fetish site that features young men being "competitively" tickled (because, you see, it's a sport … riiiight). So far, so subculturally quirky. What follows, however, is a harassment campaign that would give the Church of Scientology pause — at which point Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve's gonzo documentary turns into a first-person account of being in the crosshairs of a cyberbully high on power, corruption and lies. Not coincidentally, it also becomes a much more interesting movie.

Frank Zappa; Eat The Question: Zappa in His Own Words; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

January 8, 1971 - Frank Zappa. American musician..Pictured in London...Picture taken 8th January 1971..See other frames in this set with his wife Gail... (Credit Image: © Rowntree/Mirrorpix/NC via ZUMA Press)

Rowntree/Mirrorpix/NC/Zuma

‘Eat That Question: Zappa in His Own Words’ (June 24)

Not to be confused with the Alex Winter-directed Frank Zappa profile currently in production, this French-German doc on the late, great musician/avant-garde composer/countercultural icon presents the man in his own words — literally, via copious found-footage interviews on European and public-access TV, Congressional testimonies, and the occasional chat-show appearance. Those looking for nonstop concert clips will be bummed to discover that the talk wins out over the rock; everyone else will find themselves reminded that Zappa was an eloquent debater, an unpretentious defender of free speech and a philosophical artist par excellence.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Courtesy of The Orchard

‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ (June 24)

Going back to his coming-of-age movie roots after his peerless horror mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi crafts a story about a 10-year-old juvenile delinquent (Julian Dennison) and his cantankerous, misanthropic caretaker (Jurassic Park's Sam Neill) who go on the road after a series of tragedies and misunderstandings. Do you think these two will form an unlikely bond and learn a few life lessons along the way? Have you ever seen a movie before?

Les Cowboys; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Anvers, Belgique. 16 décembre 2014. Scene exterieure avec la voiture d'Alain et Kid stationnée. Tournage du film "Les Cow-Boys" (réalisateur : Thomas Bidegain). Photo : Antoine Doyen

Antoine Doyen

‘Les Cowboys’ (June 24)

We're used to tales of taciturn, he-man cowboys scouring the plains and fighting frontier dangers on, say, weekend binges of TCM marathons; we're not used to them being set in modern times and coming out of France. But Thomas Bidegain's Gallic update of The Searchers, in which a Wild West-obsessed gentleman (Francois Damiens) goes in search of his missing daughter — who may or may not have run off with Islamic jihadists — and finds himself thrust into a world he simply doesn't understand. And yes, that is John C. Reilly as a tracker-for hire, continuing his run as an unexpected, scene-stealing guest star in foreign movies (see also The Lobster).

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Amazon Studios

‘The Neon Demon’ (June 24)

Danish filmmaker and neo-exploitation auteur Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) goes the full L.A.-eats-itself route in the story of a young, new-in-town model (Elle Fanning) who finds herself on the fast track to success. Along the way, naturally, she meets all sorts of Hollywood predators, from sexed-up make-up artists to Terry Richardson-ish photographers to a skeevy motel manager played by Keanu Reeves. Refn has been namedropping Seventies cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky as an influence for years, and this head-trippy no-biz-like-showbiz parable proves it ain't lip service — by the end, you'll seriously think somebody slipped something in your drink. That's a compliment.

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Photo courtesy of A24

‘Swiss Army Man’ (June 24)

Once upon a time, a man (Paul Dano) found himself trapped on a desert island. He had no idea how he got there or where, exactly, he was. All he knew was that he had to get home — and that mysterious farting corpse who looked a lot like Harry Potter was going to help him accomplish that goal. Weird does not begin to describe this debut feature from music-video directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, a.k.a. the guys who did that "Turn Down for What" clip, which should tell you everything you need to know. Let's just say that if Daniel Radcliffe was trying to put a stake through the whole boy-wizard association, he's that much closer to doing so now.

Wiener-Dog; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

WD-6-19-15-111.CR2

Linda Callerus

‘Wiener-Dog’ (June 24)

An adorable dachshund travels from one owner to another — sounds cute, right? What if we told you that Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) was the one behind the camera? Slightly changes things, doesn't it? Indie cinema's head misanthrope returns with his most canine-friendly, if not human-friendly, movie to date, as the little pup serves as a link for many tales of quiet desperation and the opportunity to watch celebrities (Danny DeVito, Greta Gerwig, Julie Delpy, Zosia Mamet) embrace the writer-director's feel-bad cinema.

Life, Animated; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Owen Suskind in the film LIFE, ANIMATED. Photo Courtesy of The Orchard.

Photo Courtesy of The Orchard

‘Life, Animated’ (July 1)

Most parents with autistic children will tell you that the most random things will help their offspring find a connection to the world outside their head — and for Owen Suskind, the key that opened the door was animated Disney movies. Roger Ross Williams' documentary on the now–23-year-old man who's found a way to relate to family and friends courtesy of Ariel, Peter Pan etc., offers a glimpse into how this extraordinary individual has overcome the obstacles put in his path. Most surprisingly, however, is how it makes you view the Mouse House's output in a completely different manner. Suddenly, those princess movies you've scoffed at for years don't seem so soulless, do they?

Captain Fantastic; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

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Erik Simkins/Bleeker Street

‘Captain Fantastic’ (July 8)

He helped lead a bunch of hobbits, elves and dwarves to throw a magic ring in the fires of Mordor — so surely Viggo Mortensen can bring a bunch of homeschooled kids into mainstream society, right? The star plays a dad who, after years of reclusive rural living with his brood, must venture forth into the outside world after tragedy strikes. Expect tears, some laughter, a complete lack of orcs, one stunning tight-fitting red suit and, to the best of our knowledge, no guest appearance by any character named the Brown Dirt Cowboy. (All apologies, Elton John fans.)

Our Little Sister; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

‘Our Little Sister’ (July 8)

Three adult sisters living outside of Tokyo hear that the father that once abandoned them has passed away — and are then forced to confront their anger and attempt to forgive the late patriarch when the 13-year-old stepsister they never knew comes to live with them. If you've never seen any of Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda's emotionally resonant dramas, this tender story is a great place to start. If you have, you know what to expect: a heartfelt sense of humanity and explorations how the ties that bind can often choke you even as it brings you closer to your loved ones.

Zero Days; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Photo courtesy of Magnoia Pictures

‘Zero Days’ (July 8)

Just in case you're not paranoid enough about the crumbling world we live in, along comes Alex Gibney's doc on the cutting edge of cyberwarfare to keep you up at night. The Going Clear filmmaker works better at institutional takedowns than he does at profiling famous musicians or fallen-from-grace politicians or athletes, and this deep-dive look into methods of viral sabotage — notably the infamous Stuxnet worm used against an Iranian power plant — suggests he's found a fertile target to go after.

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Kristen Stewart as Nia in the film EQUALS. Photo courtesy of A24.

Photo courtesy of A24

‘Equals’ (July 15)

In the future, the world will be a sterile, cold place, one where emotions are banned, love is outlawed and everyone is forced to wear unflattering, utilitarian white suits. (Because of course.) But listen, when you're as good-looking as Nicolas Hoult and Kristen Stewart, the temptation to indulge in some amorous behavior — and thus becoming enemies of the state — is just too muchto pass up. Better known for less dystopic romances (see Like Crazy), filmmaker Drake Doremus throws his hat into the sci-fi thriller ring to examine what happens when the beating of two hearts means risking the breaking of one's bones — or worse.

Tony Robbins: I’m Not Your Guru; Tony Robbins; I’m Not Your Guru; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru

Netflix

‘Tony Robbins: I’m Not Your Guru’ (July 15)

He's one of the single most popular motivational speakers in the world, inspiring thousands of people to be their best selves while commanding huge fees and conducting Nuremberg-style rallies. But what really makes Tony Robbins tick? And why does he not want to be your guru? Documentary O.G. Joe Berlinger (the Paradise Lost trilogy, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) trains his cameras on the self-help author/icon for a look at the man behind all those follow-your-bliss seminars and go-for-it Power Point presentations.

Don’t Think Twice; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Jon Pack

‘Don’t Think Twice’ (July 22)

Stand-up comic and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia follows up his breakthrough movie Sleepwalk With Me (2012) with this dramedy about a longtime sketch group who've toiled away in clubs and low-stakes improv-showcases for years. Then one of their members gets a key slot on a Saturday Night Live-style TV show, and the group's dynamic changes entirely. A comedy-geek all-star cast — Gillian Jacobs, Keegan Michael-Key, Chris Gethard, Garfunkel & Oates' Kate Micucci — help bring the tragi-funny.

Author; The JT Leroy Story; Author: The JT Leroy Story; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Photo Courtesy of Sundance

‘Author: The JT Leroy Story’ (July 29)

Remember when there was a teenage prostitute-turned-transgressive-lit wunderkind who was all the rage, hanging out with alt-rock superstars and Italian starlets — and was then revealed to be the alter ego of a thirtysomething woman? This doc on the JT Leroy/Laura Albert situation by filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston) lets the author herself discuss the experience, from instant fame to the resulting fall from grace.

Gleason; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Photo Courtesy of Sundance

‘Gleason’ (July 29)

In 2006, New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt during a game against the Atlanta Falcons and helped the team regain their fighting spirit after Hurricane Katrina. In 2011, the sports hero found out in quick succession that he was about to become a dad and was diagnosed with ALS. Filmmaker Clay Tweel captures the former athlete adjusting to life under the most trying of circumstances, as well as the trials and triumphs of his self-proclaimed "badass unit" family as his condition worsens. Bring tissues. Like a Costco econo-sized box of them.

Indignation; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Courtesy Roadside Attractions

‘Indignation’ (July 29)

Longtime independent-filmmaking bigwig James Schamus makes his directorial debut with this impressive adaptation of Philip Roth's novel about a young Jewish college student (Logan Lerman) from New Jersey suffering from the Ivy League culture-clash blues while attending a high-falutin' university. Come for the gorgeous period production design and Sarah Gadon as a shiksa goddess with problems of her own; stay for a knockout 16-minute sequence in which Lerman and the mighty Tracy Letts debate in the dean's office, already a strong contender for the single best scene of the year.

Yoga Hosers; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Allan Amato

‘Yoga Hosers’ (July 29)

Another year, another Kevin Smith movie: This fact either excites you to no end or causes you to tilt your head toward the heavens, scream loudly and then run, weeping, into the hills. If you fall in that first category, you'll want to check out the cult filmmaker's latest, in which two young Canadian women (Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp, a.k.a. the director's kid and Johnny Depp's daughter) try to make it to a high-school kegger while battling a "Bratzi" — a miniature Nazi made of sausage. The once and former Jack Sparrow also shows up in heavy prosthethics to reprise his Quebecois detective from Smith's previous film, Tusk; all screenings will be BYOB (bring your own bong).

Kubo and the Two Strings; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Laika/Focus Features

‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (August 19)

A new from the stop-motion animation house Laika is always cause for celebration — and this story of a young Japanese lad who find an ancient suit of Samurai armor or fall prey to angry Gods and beastly creatures looks like they've kicked their usual fractured-fantasy style to a whole new level. In a summer that's not lacking for animated features, this is the one we're most excited about. If you can watch this trailer and not start salivating, you're a better, more disciplined person than us.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Magnolia Pictures

‘Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World’ (August 19)

We all know the Internet is an evil, vile place full of trolls and other virtual monsters, that technology is developing faster than our moral centers can keep up and that we're all caught in the web of the Web in the unhealthiest of ways. So why see a 10-part essay-doc on the subject, you ask? Because Werner Herzog is the one making it, which means you'll get incredible offbeat tangents, insightful deep-dive interviews and the best Teutonic-deadpan narration this side of Dusseldorf museum tour. We're logging on for the long haul with this one.

A Tale of Love and Darkness; Alt-Summer; Movie; Preview; Rolling Stone

Ran Mendelson

‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ (August 19)

Natalie Portman didn't just write and direct this adaptation of Amos Oz's bestselling memoir about life during Israel's infancy — she also plays the novelist's mother, both an inspiring figure to her son and a tragic character who finds herself bumping up against social barriers and gender biases. We're admittedly curious to see how the actress fares as a filmmaker; given her own connection to the country (she lived in Jersualem until she was three years old), this is clearly a personal labor of love.

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