- Deseret News - Friday, July 10, 2015

I took a look at local theater listings the other day and found them overstuffed with big-budget summer blockbusters.

Which is as it should be now that summer is actually here — as opposed to the early summer of the Hollywood calendar, which began in May with the Avengers sequel … or was it in April with the “Fast & Furious” sequel?

Anyway, here’s the bulk of what’s playing right now:

A monster movie (“Jurassic World”), a disaster movie (“San Andreas”), a superhero movie (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”), a couple of cartoons (“Inside Out,” “Minions”), a couple of futuristic apocalyptic action movies (“Terminator Genisys,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”), a couple of horror movies (“The Gallows,” “Insidious: Chapter 3”), a couple of raunchy comedies (“Spy,” “Ted 2”), a raunchy male-stripper flick (“Magic Mike XXL”) and a raunchy musical (“Pitch Perfect 2”).

But if you’re looking for movies about human interaction, movies about relationships or movies about people, including a couple of true stories, there are some other choices out there.

Here are five summer-movie alternatives to all those overbearing blockbusters — and each one is playing, as they say, at a theater near you:

“The Cokeville Miracle” (PG-13). The latest faith film from local moviemaker T.C. Christensen (“17 Miracles”) is the true story of a 1986 hostage situation in Cokeville, Wyoming. The first half chronicles the tension-filled crisis as a deluded “genius” with guns and a gasoline bomb holds some 150 kids and teachers hostage in an elementary school. The second half has the local sheriff, who has been struggling with his own faith, discovering that many of the children are independently telling stories of being helped by angels and deceased relatives. Wisely using a light touch, Christensen lets the story unfold naturally in what is arguably his best work to date.

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” (PG-13). In her 70s now, character actress Blythe Danner is completely winning in this comedy-drama that provides her with her first lead role in 40 years, as a widow who is floating aimlessly through life when she becomes friends with a pool boy (Martin Starr) and finds romance with a retiree (Sam Elliott). Danner also demonstrates an appealing singing voice with a nice arrangement of “Cry Me a River.” Great cast includes Mary Kay Place, Rhea Perlman and June Squibb as her pals, and Malin Akerman as her daughter. (This one is exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Love & Mercy” (PG-13). The story of musician Brian Wilson, who led the Beach Boys to fame and fortune, is one of tragedy and redemption as he suffers a series of mental breakdowns and allows himself to be manipulated and abused by an unconventional doctor until being rescued by a woman he begins dating. The film is uneven, employing time shifts between Wilson as a young singer/songwriter (played by Paul Dano) and as a middle-aged burnout (played by John Cusack) under the care of a self-aggrandizing doctor (Paul Giamatti). But there are moments of brilliance, and the cast, which includes Elizabeth Banks, is uniformly excellent.

“Max” (PG). A bomb-sniffing dog named Max that is used by Marines in Afghanistan is traumatized after his handler is killed. When he is brought to the United States, Max forms a bond with the younger brother of his late handler and helps thwart a crime that involves the boy’s family. Most of the way this is a nice variation on the boy-and-his-dog theme, but the routine gunrunning crime plot that comes into play is less interesting. Still, it’s worth seeing if you’re looking for a family friendly diversion.

“Me & Earl & the Dying Girl” (PG-13). Although it’s a bit too vulgar in places, this comedy-melodrama about a high school misanthrope (Thomas Mann) being coerced into a friendship with a cancer victim (Olivia Cooke) is warm and often quite funny. Especially amusing are the movie spoofs he makes with his best friend (Ronald Cyler II). It’s vigorously offbeat but clever, with Molly Shannon, Connie Britton, Nick Offerman and Jon Bernthal in support.

There are also three very good films that played in theaters recently and are now on Blu-ray, DVD, streaming platforms, etc.

The best of these is “Woman in Gold” (PG-13), with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds in the true story of a woman in America trying to retrieve a painting from the Austrian government that was taken from her family by the Nazis during World War II.

And in the category of disenfranchised-underdogs-proving-themselves are “McFarland, USA” (PG), with Kevin Costner as a real-life high school coach leading a Hispanic team of cross-country runners to victory, and “Spare Parts” (PG-13), with George Lopez as a real-life high school teacher leading a Hispanic team of robotics-club nerds to victory. Both are excellent family films.


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