The summer movie season started earlier than usual this year with the hugely popular box office smash “Avengers: Endgame” on April 26. More action flicks soon followed – “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” and “Shaft.” Female leads headed a variety of films that got a jump on the season. In “Ma,” a benevolent Octavia Spencer befriends a group of teenagers only to reveal less than benevolent motives. Mindy Kaling copes with a tyrannical talk show host in “Late Night.” And, in “Booksmart,” high school seniors Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever realize that they’ve been missing out on lots of partying by striving to be top students. In the comedy department, there was “Men in Black: International,” and the animation genre was represented by “Toy Story 4.”
July and August promise an interesting assortment. A teen superhero wants to ease off saving the world to enjoy a normal high school life. A bizarre ancient ritual that occurs only once in nine decades turns ugly. A nerdy guy learns some secrets about an underground world of psychological indoctrination and violence. Iconic animated African characters make an eagerly anticipated return to the screen. An offbeat look at the movie-making capital of the world offers insight into its particular workings and its colorful folks. Two tough guys must face a formidable foe. Three strong women take over a crime ring. A beloved children’s hero attempts to solve an ancient mystery in the jungles of Peru. A book brings to life scary tales and creepy characters. A former soldier makes a deal with the FBI that backfires. Here’s a preview of these ten films, which will make their debuts in summer’s peak months, along with their release dates.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 2). Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is in Europe on a class trip. He’s torn between being a kid and stopping super-villains. He wants to keep a low profile and explore London, Prague, and Venice with his friends, but Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) recruits him to help battle a mysterious foursome called the Elementals, who can manipulate nature. Fury provides all-black stealth suit to keep Peter’s identity secret. He also connects Peter with a new ally, Quenton Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Holland and Gyllenhaal took to each other immediately and tended to crack each other up during takes. In earlier Spider-Man films, the web-casting superhero was played by Tobey Maguire in the Sam Raimi trilogy and Andrew Garfield in two films directed by Marc Webb. Holland portrayed Spider-Man in four previous Marvel Universe films.
Midsommar (July 3). Dani and Christian (Jack Reynor, Florence Pugh) are in a troubled relationship. Dani has suffered a loss and is in a waning relationship. They join friends Mark (Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) in Pelle’s remote village in Sweden. The inhabitants all dress in white and the village has the feel of an odd, cult-like commune. The village is hosting a festival held once every 90 years, and the visitors are invited to a number of elaborate meals to celebrate Midsummer. But the festivities soon become violent and disturbing pagan rituals. Directed by Ari Aster (“Hereditary”), the movie features a major sequence filmed in Budapest, Hungary, where the set of the village was built. For close to a month of filming, the temperature was unbearably hot and cast members had to sit in direct sunlight. Because the food on the table had sugar in it, wasps also plagued the cast.
The Art of Self-Defense (July 12). This dark comedy from director Riley Stearns stars Jesse Eisenberg as Casey Davies, a fragile loner who goes to the grocery store late at night to buy dog food and gets beaten and mugged by thugs on motorbikes. Casey hardly puts up a fight, and decides to enroll in a local dojo to learn some pointers in self-defense. He comes under the tutelage of a mysterious, charismatic karate instructor known only as Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) and soon feels more confident in his personal life. But he eventually observes what’s going on behind the scenes at the dojo – violent night classes for select students, bizarre mind games and broken bones. Anna (Imogen Poots), a student at the dojo since it opened, is as proficient as her male counterparts but has still not achieved the level of black belt in this sinister world of fraternity, violence and ultra-masculinity. A weird mash-up of “The Karate Kid” and “Fight Club,” “The Art of Self-Defense” straddles the line between thriller and comedy.
The Lion King (July 19). Disney has been on a roll with live action remakes of its animated films. “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Dumbo” have recently hit theater screens. It’s hard to classify “The Lion King,” directed by Jon Favreau, as a live action re-make, since all its characters are computer-generated. The action takes place in the African savanna, where a future king is born. Young Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes seriously his own royal destiny. But, not every creature in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother and former heir to the throne, has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, and ends in Simba’s exile. With help from a pair of newfound friends, Simba figures out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his. Voice talent is provided by Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Donald Glover (Simba), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), James Earl Jones (Mufasa) and Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari). Disney’s live action remakes have earned $5 billion since 2010. The original “Lion King,” released in 1994, is the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated movie ever made and was the number one movie worldwide that year. It won Oscars for Best Score and Best Song (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”) and was adapted into a Broadway musical.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (July 26). Director Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature film is set in 1969 Hollywood, one of the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), former star of a western TV series, and his longtime stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), struggle to achieve fame and success in a Hollywood they no longer recognize. Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor – Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). This is not a movie about the Manson murders, but Manson and his cult do play an important role in the film. The impressive cast includes Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Kurt Russell, James Marsden, Tim Roth, Damian Lewis and the late Luke Perry. Tarantino made his debut as director with 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs.” Other films he directed include the black comedy “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “Inglorious Basterds” (2009) and “The Hateful Eight” (2015).
Hobbs & Shaw (Aug. 2). In this spin-off of the 18-year-old “Fast & Furious” franchise, Dwayne Johnson teams up with Jason Statham. Ever since lawman Luke Hobbs (Johnson), a loyal agent of America’s Diplomatic Security Service, and outcast Deckard Shaw (Statham), a former military elite operative, first faced off in 2015’s “Furious 7,” the duo have exchanged trash talk and physical blows as they tried to take each other down. Hobbs is a no-nonsense lawman of Samoan descent that will stop at nothing to see his foes brought to justice. Shaw is a smooth Brit with a dark past, more willing to bend the rules to serve his interests. But when anarchist Brixton (Idris Elba) – a super soldier whose cyber enhancements have turned him nearly invincible – steals a lethal bioweapon that could alter humanity forever, these two enemies must partner up to bring him down. Brixton also crosses paths with Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), Shaw’s sister and a skilled rogue MI6 agent who teams with Hobbs and Shaw. Helen Mirren appears as Hattie and Deckard’s mother, Magdalene Shaw. Stunt coordinator David Leitch joined the franchise to stage elaborate hand-to-hand combat sequences to supplement the film’s signature action set pieces.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold (Aug. 9). This is a live action adaptation of the animated series about a cute little girl and her friends, who help kids learn and speak Spanish. Even though Dora (Isabela Moner) spent most of her life exploring the jungle, she is about to embark on her biggest adventure yet – high school. Accompanied by a motley group of teens (including her cousin Diego) and Boots the monkey (voiced by Danny Trejo), she must save her parents while trying to solve the seemingly impossible mystery behind a lost Incan civilization. The film also stars Michael Pena, Eva Longoria and Benicio Del Toro. The animated series was created by Chris Gifford and became a staple on the Nickelodeon cable TV network. A native of Lima, Peru, Ms. Moner wanted to be an actress from a very early age and was inspired by Shirley Temple and Judy Garland movies. She started in community theater at age 6 and at 10 made her Broadway debut in a production of “Evita,” in which she sang in her native Spanish with Ricky Martin. For this film, Ms. Monet had to learn the Quechua language. The film was shot in Queensland, Australia.
The Kitchen (Aug. 9). Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish star as gangsters’ wives who take up the reins of their husbands’ criminal operation when the men are sent to prison. Set among the Irish Mafia in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1978, the film is adapted from the Vertigo comic book series by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. Kathy Brennan (McCarthy) is a devoted mother of two who rethinks her initial reluctance to enter the criminal world when she discovers her deft abilities. Ruby O’Carroll (Haddish) is an outsider who seeks self-sufficiency now that her husband is not around to protect her. Claire Walsh (Moss), the timid wife of an abuser, embraces the power and violence of her new life. With a lust for vengeance, the women prove unexpectedly adept at directing the criminal enterprise much more viciously than the men ever did, from running the rackets to permanently eliminating the competition. This film marks the directorial debut of writer/director Andrea Berloff.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Aug. 9). The shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large in the small town of Mill Valley for generations. Inside the family mansion, young Sarah Bellows turns her tortured life and horrible secrets into a series of frightening tales. These terrifying stories soon have a way of becoming all too real for a group of unsuspecting teens that stumble upon Sarah’s spooky home. The film is based on a series of three horror books written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell between 1981 and 1989. Schwartz drew heavily from folklore and urban legends for the stories. Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Shape of Water”) noticed the books and thought they “had the simplicity of campfire stories… with a great sense of setup and punchline.” Years later, he was asked to adapt them into a film and decided to approach the project not as an anthology but as a unified story with a framing narrative. Set in 1968, the movie follows a group of kids as they encounter various “Scary Stories” monsters based on their greatest fears, such as the Pale Lady from the Schwartz/Gammell short story “The Dream.” Other stories in the film include “The Big Toe,” “The Red Spot” and “Jangly Man.” Del Toro was determined to have the movie versions of the creatures provide the same eerie feel as the original illustrations. The film is directed by Andre Ovredal.
The Informer (Aug. 16). Joel Kinnaman stars as ex-con and honorably discharged Special Ops soldier Pete Koslow, who’s working undercover for shady FBI handlers as an informant to find evidence of fentanyl being dealt in a prison. Meanwhile, a police detective (Common) is investigating the death of someone close to Pete. FBI agent Montgomery (Clive Owen) worries the cop will discover that an FBI agent was present at the murder, so he orders that Pete be killed within the prison, against the advice of his colleague, Agent Wilcox (Rosamund Pike), who placed Pete there and promised him his freedom. Koslow now finds himself caught in the crossfire between the mob and the FBI. This action thriller, based on the novel “Three Seconds,” has the type of plot that Alfred Hitchcock relied on again and again – a man finds himself in a dangerous situation and must rely only on himself to extricate himself. Andrea Di Stefano directs.
Other July releases include “21 Bridges,” when a massive hurricane hits her Florida hometown, a young woman ignores evacuation orders to search for her missing father; “Stuber,” set over the course of one harrowing night, an Uber driver picks up a grizzled cop working the most dangerous case of his career; “Astronaut,” Angus, a lonely widower, has his long-extinguished dream to become an astronaut reignited when a national competition is announced); “Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story,” a documentary about the comedienne’s life after an image of Griffin holding a mask that resembled the severed head of President Trump was released; and “The Farewell,” a Chinese-American woman travels back to China to visit her ailing grandmother, discovers a family plot to keep grandma in the dark about her own terminal diagnosis, and agrees to help stage a fake wedding to give the matriarch one last party.
August brings “Love, Antosha,” a documentary about the life and work of late actor Anton Yelchin; “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” a witty and philosophical dog, Enzo, narrates a tale about his owner, an aspiring Formula One race car driver; “Blinded by the Light,” a British teen of Pakistani descent writes poetry as a means of escaping the intolerance of his hometown and inflexibility of his father; “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?,” a Seattle woman unexpectedly disappears and her family tries to discover where she might have gone; “Good Boys,” after being invited to a kissing party, 12-year-old Max panics because he doesn’t know how to kiss, but his friends convince him to use his father’s drone to spy on a teenage couple making out next door for some pointers; and “Angel Has Fallen,” Secret Service agent Mike Banning becomes the target of terrorists while mid-flight on Air Force One.
By Dennis Seuling