Counterprogramming Your Summer of 2013

Studio execs call it “counterprogramming.” Summer blockbusters typically dominate ticket sales on the weekend they are released, so when a highly-anticipated movie is being released, other big movies stay out of their way and find their own weekend to dominate. Instead, you’ll often find a smaller movie with a niche demographic opening against the biggest mainstream offerings.

Thank God. This season usually gets me down. I am looking forward to a few of the big tentpole movies; I’m already on record as saying that Man of Steel might literally save the world. Generally, however, the summer is a bad time to see serious filmmaking, as studios are busy catering to teenagers who have the summer off and presumably nothing to do.

So counterprogramming brings substance to a season that is often big on thrills but lacking in real, satisfying drama. Of course, it doesn’t always work. For every Mamma Mia!, which opened opposite The Dark Knight in 2008 and grossed $609 million worldwide, there is a Did You Hear About the Morgans?, which went up against Avatar and grossed only $85 million worldwide (against its $88 million budget). So I guess quality still counts for something.

Here are your best options for serious adult movies this summer. As you can see, there is something worth seeing almost every weekend. And I guarantee you’ll be able to find a free seat.

*               *               *

When all of your bro-friends are at The Internship on June 7, you should see:

Much Ado About Nothing

In between last summer’s The Avengers and the forthcoming sequel, director Joss Whedon took a bunch of his favorite actors, brought them to his home, and shot this Shakespearean adaptation in black-and-white. Whedon is one of the most skilled directors working today, and, judging from the trailer, he appears to have found the right groove for this film, last adapted by Kenneth Branagh in 1993.


While the parents and kids are at Monsters University on June 21, you should see:

An Unfinished Song

Terrence Stamp is typecast in this feel-good dramedy about a grumpy, old man who learns to live again after being dragged into an old folks’ choir. This is paint-by-numbers stuff, but Stamp appears to take the role seriously, and at least there won’t be any annoying kids in the theater.


On June 28, fans of ‘80s-style action movies will be at White House Down, but you should see:

I’m So Excited

For those who love director Pedro Almodovar’s work, you don’t need to be sold. The Spanish director has an incredibly loyal fan base. I’m So Excited reunites the great director with Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas for an ensemble comedy that takes place aboard a doomed flight to Mexico City. As the pilots try to safely land the plane, the flight attendants and passengers are living it up, trying to enjoy what could be their last moments on (or above, I suppose) Earth. If this trailer doesn’t get you going, nothing will.


Over July 4th weekend, most people will be at The Lone Ranger, which should leave lots of empty seats for:

The Way, Way Back

I’ve already extolled the virtues of Sam Rockwell in this space, so you know that his presence alone is enough to pique my interest. But there is plenty to like here. The Way, Way Back marks the co-directorial debuts of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, the team that wrote 2011’s The Descendants, and they have cast Steve Carell in a semi-dramatic role as the dickhead boyfriend of the mother (played by the great Toni Collette) of their teenage protagonist. Oh, and Sam Rockwell is in it.


When the nerds and geeks are flooding the theater for Pacific Rim on July 12, you should seek out:

Fruitvale Station

The shooting of Oscar Grant by transit police in San Francisco in 2009 was captured by several bystanders on their video phones. The footage was quickly shared with the media and watched millions of times on YouTube. Fruitvale Station tells the story of that last day of Grant’s life. Many said it was the best film at Sundance earlier this year, and the performance by rising star Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, TV’s Friday Night Lights) has all the elements of a star-making turn.

Michael B. Jordan in "Fruitvale Station"

Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station”


Apparently, a lot of people are going to want to see R.I.P.D. on July 19, but I assume you’re smart enough to instead go to:

Only God Forgives

Ryan Gosling reteams with his Drive director, Nicolas Winding Refn, for this action thriller about an American drug smuggler in Bangkok investigating the death of his brother. Like Drive, this one promises lots of style and blood, both of which are teased by the great final line in the trailer: “Wanna fight?”


The Goyim will go see The Wolverine on July 26, but I will grab my shiksa and go see:

Blue Jasmine

I’m a huge Woody Allen fan, but I usually don’t see his movies in the theater anymore. I might make an exception for Blue Jasmine, which finds him returning to America after several movies in Europe. Despite the drop in quality of his films, great actors continue to jump at the chance to work with him. Blue Jasmine features Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg, who seems a natural fit for Woody’s style. Still, a great cast doesn’t always translate to a great film (see You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, or better yet, don’t), but the presence of Louis CK alone will probably get me to pony up my $11.50.

Sally Hawkins and Louis CK in "Blue Jasmine"

Sally Hawkins and Louis CK in “Blue Jasmine”


On August 9, Disney is releasing their Pixar knock-off  Planes, but I’ll be flying to:


Despite the terrible reviews, I went to see Striptease in the theater when I was 14 because…well you know. Something tells me the same demographic will show up for Lovelace, which tells the very dark true story of Linda Lovelace, America’s first real porn star. Early reviews have lowered expectations, but the quality of the cast cannot be denied: Amanda Seyfried, James Franco, Sharon Stone, Chris Noth, Peter Sarsgaard (again), Bobby Cannavale, Juno Temple, and Hank Azaria.


Kick-Ass 2 might be the last big hit of the summer, but on August 16, I’ll be lining up for:

Prince Avalanche

Director David Gordon Green was often called the next Terrence Malick after his first two films: the independent and visually compelling George Washington and All the Real Girls. Then he abruptly shifted course and tried to became the next Cheech and Chong. First came the very funny Pineapple Express, followed by the awful Your Highness and the passable The Sitter. He returns to semi-serious work with Prince Avalanche, which was a hit at Sundance this year. It looks different, at least, and I’m always game to see Paul Rudd in a quirky role.


Have fun this summer, adults.

2 thoughts on “Counterprogramming Your Summer of 2013

  1. Pingback: The Movie Date: Big Summer, Small Movies | The Reading Date

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