The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 26, 2019 1:00 am

Kings of summer

Season of blockbusters arrives with plenty for all to choose from

Michael O'Sullivan | Washington Post

Popcorn movie season is kicking into high gear. But what are films to watch out for this summer? We offer up a list of some of the buzziest monster movies, rom-coms, family films, horror flicks, superhero sagas and art house drama for the next few months.

Opening dates are subject to change.


“Aladdin” (Opened Friday). There was a bit of backlash when the first trailer dropped for Disney's live-action remake of its 1992 animated hit. Some internet wags compared Will Smith's Genie – described as a hip-hop take on the motor-mouthed character originally voiced by the late Robin Williams – to Tobias Fünke from “Arrested Development.” But if the Mouse House's boldly revisionist “Dumbo” – the first of three live-action remakes of Disney classics this year – is any indication, such fresh thinking might not be a bad thing.

That's a sword that cuts both ways. This story of a ragamuffin (Mena Massoud) in love with a sultan's daughter (Naomi Scott) is directed by Guy Ritchie, a filmmaker who has already proved, in adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes canon and Arthurian legend, that he has a sometimes unhealthy disregard for source material.

“Booksmart” (Opened Friday). Beanie Feldstein, whose breakout supporting performance in “Lady Bird” dazzled critics, joins Kaitlyn Dever of “Last Man Standing” in a buddy comedy about a pair of overachieving high school seniors named Molly and Amy. Trying to make up for lost time, these studious nerds vow to cram as much partying as they can into the last few days of the year. The movie – which has been compared to a female version of “Superbad” – is the directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, working from a screenplay that first garnered buzz on the 2009 Black List, an annual compendium of the best unproduced scripts.

“Brightburn” (Opened Friday). A child from another planet comes to Earth, but rather than being a savior, he unleashes superhero horror. With Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner.

“Ad Astra” (Opened Friday). Astronaut Roy McBride travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father and figure out a mystery that threatens the survival of Earth.

“The Tomorrow Man” (Opened Friday). John Lithgow and Blythe Danner star in a drama about a small-town man preparing for some future disaster who finds love with a woman who can't stop shopping.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (Opens Friday). Everything old is new again. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, the studios behind Gareth Edwards' 2014 resuscitation of the seemingly undying Japanese creature feature, have teamed up for a sequel. In “King of Monsters” the titular kaiju (literally, strange creature) faces off against monsters Mothra, Rodan and the three-headed King Ghidorah. The big lizard, who first appeared on screen in 1954 – and whose movies have always had themes of man's meddling in the natural world – will next go toe to toe with a big ape born in 1933, and last seen in 2017's “Kong: Skull Island.” “Godzilla vs. Kong” is due out next year.

“Ma” (Opens Friday). “There's something off about Ma,” says one of the teens who has been invited to party in the basement of this film's title character. Perhaps so, but there's something that feels perversely right about this unexpected change of direction for Octavia Spencer, who, in her first horror film, plays Sue Ann (aka Ma), a creepy loner who evolves from enabler to evildoer after a group of underage high-schoolers recruit her to buy booze for them. According to filmmaker Tate Taylor, who previously directed Spencer in “The Help” and other films, the Oscar-winner was ready for a change of pace after a career marked by sober-minded fare. As Tate told Total Film, “Octavia – who's just one of my best friends – had called me up and said, 'I am so sick of having to put on period wigs and costumes.' ”

“Rocketman” (Opens Friday). Bryan Singer received credit for directing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” even though he was fired for erratic behavior. But now Dexter Fletcher, the filmmaker who stepped in – anonymously – to finish the Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury biopic, will get his own name on a project about a different gay 1970s rock icon: Elton John. Produced by John and his partner David Furnish, the drama “Rocketman” has been described by Taron Egerton as a fantasy musical – less episodic than impressionistic.


“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” (Opens June 7). The latest episode in the X-Men franchise – said to be the last entry in the long-running saga – takes place in 1992. Is that date important? Maybe, maybe not. The series never followed an easy chronology, in recent years jumping around from the Cuban missile crisis to World War II to the year 2029. Making matters more confusing, “Phoenix” focuses on Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), a character who died in the 2006 film “The Last Stand.” Here, Jean returns from a space mission with strange and dangerous new abilities, courtesy of something called the Phoenix Force. This puts her at odds with her mutant pals – Jennifer Lawrence as the shape-shifting Mystique, Evan Peters as the super-fast Quicksilver, etc. – as well introducing us to Jessica Chastain's new, otherworldly villain.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” (Opens June 7). A sequel to the animated comedy reveals more of the clandestine antics our animal companions engage in when we're not around. With the voices of Lake Bell, Hannibal Buress, Dana Carvey, Harrison Ford, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Nick Kroll, Bobby Moynihan, Patton Oswalt, Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet.

“Late Night” (Opens June 7). Mindy Kaling, an Emmy-nominated TV producer and writer making her feature-film debut as a screenwriter, also happens to play a writer in this comedy, set in the backstage world of late-night talk TV. She's also plays foil to Emma Thompson, who stars as a sharp-tongued chat host who, after 28 years in the biz, is about to get canned. (Kaling plays the new blood on the show's all-white, all-male writing staff.) It was well reviewed at its Sundance premiere.

“Pavarotti” (Opens June 7). A documentary directed by Ron Howard on opera great Luciano Pavarotti. 

“The Dead Don't Die” (Opens June 14). A zombie flick may seem an odd choice to open the Cannes Film Festival, but this one has serious art-house pedigree. Directed by the ever-unpredictable auteur Jim Jarmusch (“Paterson”), this horror-comedy about small-town cops battling the undead stars, Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Carol Kane and Rosie Perez. Keep an eye out for musicians – and Jarmusch regulars – Tom Waits, Wu Tang Clan's RZA  and Iggy Pop (the subject of Jarmusch's 2016 documentary “Gimme Danger”).

“Men In Black: International” (Opens June 14). The fourth film in the franchise about alien-hunting secret agents will be lucky if it can replicate the witty repartee between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith – the partnership that carried the first three films. Here, the jaded veteran is played by Chris Hemsworth, and the fresh face is Tessa Thompson, a trainee with a hidden history with the Men in Black Agency. “International” centers on an investigation into the assassination of an emissary from an alien government – a global hunt that is compromised by a mole in the agency. In a series that has always grappled with the themes of immigration and otherness, look for performances by Kumail Nanjiani, as an alien disguised as a chess pawn, and Rebecca Ferguson, as an extraterrestrial with three arms.

“Shaft” (Opens June 14). The tagline for the new “Shaft” movie – “More Shaft Than You Can Handle” – is more than a naughty double-entendre. It's also a plot description of sorts. “Shaft” is a sequel to the 2000 film of the same name, in which Samuel L. Jackson played Detective John Shaft II, the nephew of Roundtree's John Shaft (a cool-cop character originated by the actor in the 1971 blaxploitation classic). In this new chapter, there aren't just two generations of Shaft, but three – with the addition of Shaft II's grown son, John Jr. (Usher), an MIT-educated FBI agent with a specialty in cybersecurity who recruits his father in the investigation into a friend's death.

“Toy Story 4” (Opens June 21). Cowboy Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) and his toy-box pals take a road trip with Bonnie, the little girl who inherited a carton of secondhand playthings from the now-college-age Andy at the end of Pixar's “Toy Story 3.” But while traveling with her family, Bonnie's new favorite “toy” – a reluctant craft project named Forky (Tony Hale), fashioned from a disposable plastic spork – runs away. This leads Woody, ever the champion of children and their tchotchkes, to go after him.

“Child's Play” (Opens June 21). The murderous doll Chucky is back in this revival of the 1988 horror classic. With Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry and Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky.

“Yesterday” (Opens June 28). The new rom-com from Danny Boyle (“T2 Trainspotting”) looks – and sounds – like nothing else you'll see this summer: A struggling singer-songwriter and Beatles fan named Jack (Himesh Patel) wakes up after a global blackout to discover that he's living in a world in which no one has ever heard of the Fab Four, except him. This puts Jack in demand as a creative genius, while driving a wedge between him and his childhood friend (James), the only person who has always believed in him.

“Annabelle Comes Home” (Opens June 28). The deadly doll wreaks horror on the family of demonologists.


“Spider-Man: Far From Home” (Opens July 5). Wait – Spider-Man is back? He wasn't looking so hot at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” as you may recall. That's one mystery that was addressed by April's release of “Avengers: Endgame.”

But there are others, such as: Is Jake Gyllenhaal's Mysterio the bad guy or the good guy?

A villain in the comics, the character – an expert in illusion and special effects – is said to join forces with Spidey in the fight against several “elemental” entities representing Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

“Midsommar” (Opens July 5). Filmmaker Ari Aster (”Hereditary”) has been tight-lipped about his follow-up to his 2018 debut, a psychological horror film as deeply unsettling as it was artful. Set in a rural community outside Stockholm, Aster's sophomore effort centers on an American couple (Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor) who join in on a traditional Scandinavian folk festival whose cult-like rituals gradually turn dark and menacing. As scary as it looks, perhaps it's a good thing that Aster says it will be his last horror film for a while.

“Crawl” (Opens July 12). Rising waters from a hurricane prove to be the least of their worries for a young Florida woman and her trapped father. 

“The Farewell” (Opens July 12). A young Chinese American woman returns to China with her family to celebrate her dying grandmother as part of an elaborate ruse.

“Stuber” (Opens July 12). Kumail Nanjiani stars as an Uber driver who gives a ride to a cop only to be dragged into the dangerous pursuit of a murderer. 

“21 Bridges” (Opens July 12). Chadwick Boseman plays a New York City police detective leading a manhunt for a pair of cop killers. 

“The Lion King” (Opens July 19). There are no human beings in this remake of Disney's 1994 animated classic – just a bunch of CGI animals, including a talking, singing meerkat and warthog (voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, respectively). So it's a bit strange that people, even Disney executives, are referring to the CGI film as “live action.” (“The Lion King” was produced by Walt Disney Pictures, its live-action branch, not Walt Disney Animation.)

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Opens July 26). Rumored to be Quentin Tarantino's penultimate film, this story, set in 1969 L.A., focuses on two characters inspired by the late Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham: a cowboy actor who aspires to move from TV to movies (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt). Like “Pulp Fiction,” the film weaves together multiple threads, including the Tate-LaBianca murders by Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and subplots involving movie stars Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis).


“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (Opens Aug. 2). The enduring “Fast & Furious” action franchise jumped – like a nitrous-oxide-burning car – from stories about illegal street racers to the tales of international espionage around the fifth film. This ninth installment is not a sequel per se, but a spinoff, built on the sturdy backs of two of the series' recurring characters: Dwayne Johnson's lawman Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham's outlaw Deckard Shaw. (If you're coming late to this party, the two antagonists have been bickering with – and battering – each other since movie No. 7.)

Here, Hobbs and Shaw are forced to become unlikely allies, partnering with an MI6 agent (Vanessa Kirby), who just happens to be Shaw's sister, when a genetically enhanced anarchist (Idris Elba) obtains a biological weapon that – wait for it – threatens the fate of the world. The globe-trotting action includes a sojourn in Hobbs' native Samoa.

“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” (Opens Aug. 2). The intrepid explorer leaves the jungle and heads to high school in this live-action adventure. 

“Artemis Fowl” (Opens Aug. 9). Fans of beloved books are the toughest audience when their sacred texts are made into movies – especially ones that deviate even slightly from the source material. (Remember “A Wrinkle in Time”?)

Does that bode ill for this Disney adaptation of Eoin Colfer's wildly popular Y.A. fantasy novel, the first of several books about a 12-year-old criminal genius (Ferdia Shaw)? One male character, who in the book acts as a father figure to a supporting character, will be played by a woman (Judi Dench). That may be well and good, but some fans on Twitter have expressed concern about the film maintaining the integrity of the book. There are rumors that the title character, who in the books is characterized as something of a psychopath, may have been cleaned up a bit too much, in an effort to make him – gasp – more likable.

“The Nightingale” (Opens Aug. 9). Set in 1825 Tasmania, Jennifer Kent's second film is a stark departure from her 2014 debut, “The Babadook.” Unlike that contemporary psychological thriller about a monster terrorizing a disturbed child and his mother – or is it a disturbed mother and her child? – “The Nightingale” is a more clear-cut revenge drama, described by Variety as a “good-versus-evil Western.”

“Brian Banks” (Opens Aug. 9). A promising high school football player fights for justice after he is falsely accused and imprisoned for rape. 

“The Kitchen” (Opens Aug. 9). In 1978, the wives of three Irish mobsters take over the families' business after their husbands are sent to prison. With Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss. 

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” (Opens Aug. 9). Small-town teenagers investigate gruesome deaths in 1969. 

“Where'd You Go, Bernadette” (Opens Aug. 16). Former TV writer Maria Semple's 2012 best-seller is a comic pastiche of emails, letters, FBI files, medical bills and other ephemera that tell the story of an agoraphobic architect (Cate Blanchett) who disappears on the eve of her family's trip to Antarctica. Richard Linklater (“Everybody Wants Some!”) has been kicking around the idea of a film adaptation since 2015. And now it's here.

“The Angry Birds Movie 2” (Opens Aug. 16). The irritable avians of the popular game app return in this animated sequel. 

“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” (Opens Aug. 16). Four teen girls exploring undersea ruins discover they are not alone in this horror sequel. 

“Good Boys” (Opens Aug. 16). Bad decisions by three sixth-graders lead down a path of comic misadventures. 

“The Informer” (Opens Aug. 16). A former Special Ops soldier is caught in a war between the FBI and the mob. 


“It: Chapter 2” (Opens Sept. 6). Stephen King's nearly 1,200-page novel “It” was the inspiration for the 2017 horror movie that followed a group of children – known as the “Losers Club” – as they were terrorized by an evil clown called Pennywise in 1989. Set 27 years later, “Chapter 2” picks up the same seven characters, who as children had promised to reunite if their nemesis ever resurfaced. Well, guess who's back?

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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