While the official start of the best season of the year isn’t until June 21, summer in the South is just around the corner. Deep South does advocate spending as much time as you can next to the pool, at the beach, sitting in a ballpark or exploring new places, but also realize thunderstorms, tiredness, sunburn or lazy days might keep you inside. For those kinds of days, here’s a preview of the summer’s most anticipated Southern movies, television and music to keep you entertained.
Two words: Reese Witherspoon. “Devil’s Knot” is based on the true story of the West Memphis Three, the ritual killing of three young boys in Tennessee in 1993 and the messy trial and imprisonment of three Arkansas teenagers for the crime. New Orleans-born Witherspoon plays the mother of one of the murdered boys, and Colin Firth portrays the role of Ron Lax, a private investigator who assisted with the case. The book on which the film is based, written by Mara Leveritt, centers around “Satanic panic” and fears of cult actions that revolved around the case. “Devil’s Knot” opens in theaters May 9.
Big-budget Civil War-era films have had a lot of popularity in the last few years. “Lincoln,” “Django Unchained” and “12 Years a Slave” all had success at the box office and with critics. “The Retrieval” is a different kind of Civil War movie, both in that it’s an independent film without a huge budget and because of the story it tells. The plot of the movie revolves around a 13-year-old slave named Will who works with white bounty hunters to catch runaway slaves and offers a unique perspective on slavery and freedom at the close of the Civil War. You might have to search “The Retrieval” out — screenings are scheduled in small theaters throughout May and June — but it’s sure to be an emotionally wrenching film.
Cold in July
Most people will recognize Michael C. Hall as the serial killer Dexter Morgan from the hit Showtime series “Dexter.” “Cold in July,” based on the novel by Texas native Joe R. Lansdale, has Hall killing again, but this time as Richard Dane, a homeowner who kills a burglar that breaks in his home one night and then has to deal with the aftermath: a father on the hunt for revenge and a complicated story involving small town police. Described as a “pulpy, southern-fried mystery,” “Cold in July” co-stars Sam Shepherd and Don Johnson and is sure to be a thriller (perhaps not for those with weak stomachs). It opens in theaters on May 23, so there’s still time to read the book first.
Anytime a Cormac McCarthy novel is being adapted into a film, count us in. “Child of God” is based on McCarthy’s 1973 book about Lester Ballard, a violent man living in the Tennessee mountains who haunts his community with chilling, volatile behavior. Ballard is played by actor Scott Haze, who prepared for his role by moving to Sevier County where the film is set and staying alone in a cabin in the woods. James Franco directs and stars in the movie, which might raise some eyebrows, but the greatness of the novel and McCarthy’s incredible artistry warrants checking it out. “Child of God” has been screened at festivals and should start showing up in theaters later this summer. So if you haven’t read the book, give it a read before seeing the movie.
“Life of Crime” is based on legendary novelist Elmore Leonard’s (who wrote the stories and novels that inspire FX’s Kentucky drama “Justified”) 1978 book The Switch. It’s a dark comedy that tells the story of two Detroit criminals who hatch a plan to kidnap a wealthy housewife for ransom money — except her husband decides he doesn’t really want her back. The film adaption is star-studded, featuring Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, Will Forte and Mos Def as part of the cast. Like other Elmore Leonard adaptions, including “Be Cool,” “Get Shorty,” and “Out of Sight,” “Life of Crime” looks to be a suspenseful thriller with a lot of dark humor tossed in. “Life of Crime” will be released on demand and in theaters August 29. You can check out a trailer for the movie here.
If you aren’t watching “Rectify,” you should be. The first season of the Sundance Channel show premiered last year, and the second will begin on June 19. Set in Paulie, Georgia, “Rectify” tells the story of Daniel Holden, a Georgia man who was sent to prison as a teenager for killing his girlfriend. The pilot episode picks up as Daniel is released from prison because of DNA evidence and returns to his small town after 19 years on death row. The show is incredibly well-acted (Abigail Spencer is amazing as Daniel’s sister, Amantha) and has the makings of a rich, achy Southern gothic. You can currently watch the first season on Netflix.
Based on the 1996 Coen brothers film of the same name, the FX network’s “Fargo” premiered on April 15 and will run for 10 episodes throughout the summer. While the series is set in Bemidji, Minnesota, (pretty darn far north and close to the Canadian border), it stars Billy Bob Thornton, the Hot Springs, Arkansas, native who’s famous for his roles in movies like “Sling Blade” and “Friday Night Lights.” For his fans, this is the Thornton at his best in a brilliant dark comedy. Read the Deep South interview with him here.
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson
Don’t be put off by the peculiar title of Sturgill Simpson’s newest album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, which comes out May 13. The Kentucky native’s debut album High Top Mountain was out last year, and praise for this new record is already high. According to an interview Simpson did with Paste, “Myriad worldly offerings — religion, drugs, and more — all claim to be the omnipotent universal truth, but in my experience, love is the only certainty. That is what this record is about.” That quote sounds interesting enough to give the record a spin. You can preview a song from Metamodern Sounds here.
Remedy by Old Crow Medicine Show
It’s been 10 years since they released their breakout hit “Wagon Wheel,” but Old Crow Medicine Show isn’t done being rocked or rocking fans like one. The beloved bluegrass band will release their newest album, Remedy, on July 1. The album art depicts the three stars in a blue circle of the Tennessee state flag, a nod to the city (Nashville) and state where the band is based. In a press release, OCMS fiddler Ketch Secor said Remedy is “country music for people who think country music needs a whoopin.” I’ll buy that. With a track listing that includes song titles like “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer”, “8 Dogs 8 Banjos” and “Firewater,” it’s sure to be an energetic album. You can preview “Sweet Amarillo,” a song the band collaborated on with Bob Dylan, on Spotify. And be sure to check out dates for their summer tour here.
Lazaretto by Jack White
According to Rock Genius, a lazaretto is a special quarantine for someone with leprosy. According to me and anyone who can be trusted, Jack White is a genius. Lazaretto is White’s second solo album (the first, Blunderbuss, was released in 2012 and nominated for several Grammys) and will undoubtedly be a uniquely great summer listen. In an interview with Rolling Stone, White said of his newest batch of songs: “It’s definitely not one sound. It’s definitely several.” Here, here, I’ll enjoy any sound the Nashville Music City Ambassdor offers up.
CATCH UP ON …
I’m not endorsing bingewatching, but the summer can be a great time to catch up on television series, books or other media you’ve missed out on throughout the year. Here are a few suggestions for what you might dig into. If none of these are new to you, well, then you’re all caught up and have great taste.
HBO’s anthology crime series set around New Orleans and starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey has been heavily covered at Deep South — and that’s because it’s a great watch and a thrilling story with complicated depth and a creepy brand of mystery. Only 10 episodes (season 2 will have a new setting, characters and storyline) make up the first season, so it’s a quick watch, although I recommend taking it an episode or two at a time, and with a Lonestar in hand like McConaughey’s Rust Cohle would.
Perhaps I’m biased because I love the Elmore Leonard books on which this series is based, but FX’s “Justified” is one of the best — and certainly one of the most badass — shows on TV. Timothy Olyphant plays U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens: a bourbon-drinking, gunslinging officer of the law chasing down fugitives and busting up heroin rings around Harlan County, Kentucky. Walton Goggins, an Alabama native, is excellent in the show as Boyd Crowder, Raylan’s old friend but often-enemy who loves blowing stuff up and causing problems for the U.S. Marshall Service in Lexington.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Mississippi-born Donna Tartt went to Ole Miss, and while she was a student there gained admittance to a graduate short story course taught by Barry Hannah (who called her “a literary star”). Her most recent novel, The Goldfinch, just won the 2014 Pultizer Prize for Fiction, which is just about the biggest prize a novel can win. The Goldfinch is a weighty 784 pages, so it might not be the best poolside read, but if you’re looking for something to accomplish over the summer, it’s a well-written, smart, beast of a book.
Stay tuned for the Deep South Summer Reading List coming later this month!
Image from Devil’s Knot.