Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) oversees domestic duties in the Oval Office while President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) makes a difficult decision in "The Butler." The movie is a true story about one man's experiences working in the White House from the 1950s to '80s.

The Weinstein Co./courtesy

Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) oversees domestic duties in the Oval Office while President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) makes a difficult decision in "The Butler." The movie is a true story about one man's experiences working in the White House from the 1950s to '80s.

The Bock’s Office: Summer full of unique films if you know where to look

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

— For all the repetition among blockbusters this summer, there have been smaller movies that have shined, some of which already are on DVD and others you still can catch in theaters.

’Tis the season for teenage rebellion

“The Kings of Summer”

3 out of 4 stars

Fed up with their intrusive parents, best friends Joe and Patrick (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso) opt to run away from home, build their own house in the middle of the woods and live off the land. Yet even in the solitude of the forest, the hazards of growing up are far from gone.

If Henry David Thoreau had access to Boston Market roasted chicken and still blushed whenever a girl talked to him, “Walden” might have turned out a little differently. This coming-of-age tale will make you smile fondly, especially the weirdness of the boys’ unpredictable companion Biaggio (Moisés Arias), who for some reason mistakes cystic fibrosis for feelings of homosexuality.

“The Way, Way Back”

2.5 out of 4 stars

Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) was miserable enough when his mother (Toni Collette) began dating a jerk like Trent (Steve Carell), but spending the whole summer with them and Trent’s spoiled daughter (Ava Deluca-Verley) at a beach house is too much to take. His only relief comes from spending his days working at the local water park, where his easygoing boss (Sam Rockwell) helps him come to terms with his angst.

After winning an Oscar for their screenplay for “The Descendants,” writer-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon get behind the camera for this agreeable story of water slide shenanigans, philosophizing about life over Pac-Man and being forced to sit with the luggage in an outdated station wagon. James is a capable lead as timid Duncan, Rockwell a great man-child mentor, and Carell a surprisingly good antagonist as complete blowhard Trent.

Art house delights

“To the Wonder”

2 out of 4 stars

After a whirlwind romance in France, Ukrainian woman Marina (Olga Kurylenko) accompanies her new beau Neil (Ben Affleck) back to the U.S. with her 10-year-old daughter (Tatiana Chiline) in tow. What seems perfect at first crumbles when their strong feelings begin to subside, and their plans to start a life together seem to follow suit.

Terrence Malick’s follow-up to “The Tree of Life” is more intimately focused on human emotions than his previous film, but the narrative is so ambiguous you can’t make heads or tails of its bipolar nature as it shifts from unbridled euphoria to malaise so severe you want to walk into traffic. Knowing Malick drastically cut out scenes from the film makes you think this is only a small part of a larger, more cohesive whole.

“Much Ado About Nothing”

3.5 out of 4 stars

At the stately home of Leonato (Clark Gregg), love is in the air as young Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese) prepare to wed, with comparable sentiments floating around regarding reluctant lovers Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof). However, the scheming of Don John (Sean Maher) could ruin everyone’s future.

The language and basic plot of Shakespeare’s play are the same, but its modern setting provides a different perspective in the battle of the sexes, as told by filmmaker Joss Whedon. Shot in black and white and full of unusual set pieces, this might be the best contemporary rendering of Shakespeare, capturing the feel of the stage without sacrificing all the touches that can only come from a movie.

Not-so-romantic comedies

“Before Midnight”

3 out of 4 stars

While vacationing in Greece, couple Jesse and Céline (Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy) need a night away from children and friends to just reconnect and find that spark that brought them together in the first place. But with all the strife they’ve gone through in the past, time together could be the last thing they need.

The third in Richard Linklater’s continuing account of a man and woman brought together by chance keeps many of the same tactics we saw in “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” with the Greek scenery as gorgeous as a night in Vienna or an afternoon in Paris. Where it differs is there’s a lot more resentment between these two, now in their 40s, resulting from some of the choices they made in the previous films.

“The To Do List”

2.5 out of 4 stars

High school valedictorian Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) has come to the realization that as knowledgeable as she is about most subjects, she’s a complete novice when it comes to sex. Her new goal: to experience as much bedroom activity as possible before college, hopefully culminating in hooking up with her dream guy (Scott Porter).

We’ve seen plenty of flicks about boys trying to lose their virginity, but seeing it from a female point of view mostly is uncharted territory. The clinical approach the girl in question takes to her new project, shows there’s really no strategy for everyone, even if the right person is under your nose.

The black experience

“Fruitvale Station”

3.5 out of 4 stars

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) has been in and out of trouble with the law for most of his life, but since being released from prison, he’s been trying to clean up his act, provide for his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and daughter (Ariana Neal) and make his weary mother (Octavia Spencer) proud of him. When he takes a train to San Francisco as part of a New Year’s Eve celebration, what follows on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system has a profound impact on everyone around him.

Debuting director Ryan Coogler could have turned this into a soapbox film about how the deck still is stacked against the African-American community today or implying that all cops are racist, but it’s more about the fragility of life, regardless of skin color, and the uncomfortable reality that it doesn’t take much for things to go from bad to worse in a crisis.

“The Butler”

3 out of 4 stars

Working as a domestic servant since childhood, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) finds his ideal job when he is approached to join the staff at the White House in the 1950s. His proximity to the presidential administrations in the next three decades gives him some unexpected influence over policies regarding minorities in the country, but he must also contend with a growing estrangement from his wife (Oprah Winfrey) and eldest son (David Oyelowo).

After something as harrowing as “Precious,” Lee Daniels tones down his intensity for a less alienating depiction of struggling black people, akin to broader stories like “Driving Miss Daisy” or “The Help.” At least Oprah makes a welcome return to live-action films after 15 years.

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@craigdailypress.com.

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