Summer’s 10 most-anticipated movies aren’t as dumb as you might think
By Daniel Barnes
The summer movie season is traditionally a time for blockbuster fluff. However, with a bevy of superhero movies (“Shazam!”; “Avengers: Endgame”), sequels (“John Wick: Chapter 3”) and feature-length brand marketing campaigns (“Aladdin”; “Pokemon Detective Pikachu”) hitting theaters in the last couple months, you have to wonder whether there are any brain cells left for the 2019 summer movie slate to kill. Luckily, a surprising number of auteur-driven wide releases and intriguing independent films fill out this season’s release schedule.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 30)
I did not like the 2014 “Godzilla,” but with heavy-handed director Gareth Edwards (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) gone, the possibility of fun exists again. This time around, the giant lizard battles old-school nemeses Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah for the fate of the world. Considering that “Godzilla vs. Kong” already has a March 2020 release date, the outcome of the battle seems obvious, but you never know.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (June 7)
This indie drama from rookie director Joe Talbot received rave reviews earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Of course, you should always take Sundance raves with a pillar of salt, but the trailer for “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” indicates a thoughtful and heartfelt film about a young person (Jimmie Falls) trying to find a home in a city that’s priced him out.
The Dead Don’t Die (June 14)
Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to assemble an all-star cast for a low-budget zombie movie. This horror comedy pits small-town oddballs against the walking dead, and it features Tilda Swinton (star of Jarmusch’s 2014 vampire movie “Only Lovers Left Alive”), Chloë Sevigny, Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Selena Gomez, Danny Glover, RZA and Iggy Pop, among others. (Jarmusch discusses the film following an advance screening at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on June 5; rsvp at americancinemathequecalendar.com.)
Anna (June 21)
“La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element” director Luc Besson continues his obsession with willowy, ass-kicking women in this spy thriller. In “Anna,” 5’10½” Russian supermodel Sasha Luss plays the titular ass-kicker, a government assassin posing as a tall Russian supermodel. It sounds a lot like the unmemorable Jennifer Lawrence vehicle “Red Sparrow,” but I trust Besson’s knack for making brainless movies full of big ideas.
Toy Story 4 (June 21)
This film seems sure to test my remaining faith in Pixar as anything more than a content spigot for Disney theme parks. The first three “Toy Story” films form a collective miracle, but Disney is determined to tempt fate. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen return as Woody and Buzz, still counseling neurotic misfit toys. Meanwhile, new characters get voiced by Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves and Timothy Dalton.
Midsommar (July 3)
Hot on the heels of last year’s “Hereditary,” writer-director Ari Aster delivers another creepy movie about a creepy family doing creepy stuff. Florence Pugh stars as a young woman who joins her boyfriend on a creepy vacation to a creepy Swedish village with a creepy set of summer traditions. The enigmatic trailer is light on details, but it’s safe to say that we’re not talking about sun tea and Slip ’N Slide here.
The Lion King (July 19)
Given the abysmal track record for live-action adaptations of Disney animated classics, even I find this pick slightly appalling. On the bright side, director Jon Favreau made 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” the only one of these live-action cartoons that worked. He’s also assembled an outstanding voice cast, even getting James Earl Jones to reprise his role as Mufasa.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (July 26)
After “Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight,” writer-director Quentin Tarantino makes his fourth straight period film, this time offering his unique take on New Hollywood circa 1969. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as fictional actor Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as his body double, but the story touches on the real-life Manson murders, with Margot Robbie portraying Sharon Tate.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (Aug. 2)
Punctuation fans, please take heed: this “Furious”-adjacent film could be the first in cinema history with two ampersands and a colon in the title. Franchise supporting players Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) take center stage, teaming up to battle a genetically enhanced superhuman (Idris Elba, typecast).
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Aug. 16)
Cate Blanchett plays Bernadette Fox, a seemingly contented Seattle woman who unexpectedly disappears one day, leaving a trail of clues for her husband and daughter to follow. It feels like a lighthearted “Gone Girl” — not exactly a perfect fit for director Richard Linklater. Still, with the likes of Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers relegated to Netflix, I’ll take my director-driven cinema wherever I can get it.