Five Films to Beat the Blockbuster Blues

The 2014 summer blockbuster film season has been less of a boom and much more of a bust.

Sure, the films themselves are making money, but there hasn’t been all that much interesting from the big studios. Transformers might be fun, but who wants to watch battling robots for three hours? Sounds more exhausting than exhilarating. The Spider-Man reboot wasn’t bad, but the trailer had all the hallmarks of the last of the Sam Raimi trilogy: too many characters, not enough good story or development (which, according to the reviews, turned out to be right).

But, if you’re like me, you still want to go to catch a summer film anyway. So what to do? Here’s five films that might help break this summer’s ho-hum feeling.

CHEF (88% Rotten Tomatoes)
Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) suddenly quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner (Dustin Hoffman), he is left to figure out what’s next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), his friend (John Leguizamo) and his son to launch a food truck. Taking to the road, Chef Carl goes back to his roots to reignite his passion for the kitchen — and zest for life and love. (Rotten Tomatoes)

BEGIN AGAIN (80% Rotten Tomatoes)
The latest film from writer-director John Carney (ONCE), BEGIN AGAIN is a soul-stirring comedy about what happens when lost souls meet and make beautiful music together. Gretta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) are college sweethearts and songwriting partners who decamp for New York when he lands a deal with a major label. But the trappings of his new-found fame soon tempt Dave to stray, and a reeling, lovelorn Gretta is left on her own. Her world takes a turn for the better when Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a disgraced record-label exec, stumbles upon her performing on an East Village stage and is immediately captivated by her raw talent. From this chance encounter emerges an enchanting portrait of a mutually transformative collaboration, set to the soundtrack of a summer in New York City. (Editor’s Note: Keira Knightly can really SING! Also, this movie is incredibly, obviously feel-good, which is turning off some people. Not me; I had a great time.) (Rotten Tomatoes)

EDGE OF TOMORROW (90% Rotten Tomatoes)
The epic action of “Edge of Tomorrow” unfolds in a near future in which an alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop-forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again…and again. But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). And, as Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy. (Editor’s Note: I know; not an indie release, but THIS film is what summer blockbusters should be).

BOYHOOD (100% Rotten Tomatoes – not a typo)
Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason (a breakthrough performance by Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, BOYHOOD charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, set to a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay’s Yellow to Arcade Fire’s Deep Blue. BOYHOOD is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting. It’s impossible to watch Mason and his family without thinking about our own journey. (Editor’s Note: Writer/Director Richard Linklater is the MAN – I have yet to see this film, however.) (Rotten Tomatoes).

SNOWPIERCER (94% Rotten Tomatoes)
In this sci-fi epic from director Bong Joon Ho (The Host, Mother), a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet. The final survivors board the SNOWPIERCER, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. When cryptic messages incite the passengers to revolt, the train thrusts full-throttle towards disaster. (Editor’s Note: This is the only film on this list I’ve seen that I recommend with slight reservations. The second half was far too long). (Rotten Tomatoes).