Oh, the horror (and drama and comedy) of summer
I know, I know — you thought that after the final “Game of Thrones” season and the final “Avengers” movie, popular culture no longer matters. Summer 2019 is here to tell you you’re wrong. And popular culture is more digital than ever.
Let’s get the franchise properties over with first. With “Aladdin” arriving in late May and “The Lion King” in July, Disney ups the ante on its diabolical plan to ceaselessly remake its own product until no other movies exist. Both are being touted as “live action” new versions of beloved animated properties, but unless you know any meerkats that can actually talk, “Lion King” is as pixelated as they come.
There’s a new Godzilla coming down the main drag, plus a new “Shaft,” a second “It,” a fourth “Toy Story” and “Men in Black,” and we’ve given up counting how many “Spider-Man” movies there have been. Franchise extensions include “Dark Phoenix,” telling the story of X-Woman Jane Grey (Sophie Turner, who as of this writing may yet be the queen of King’s Landing), and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” which lets Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson have their own movie while everyone else gets a rest.
Thankfully, all these big guns are offset with a lot of counterprogramming, including some tasty comedies like “Booksmart,” a female “Superbad” that arrives on wings of hilarity after a triumphant SXSW playdate. The same goes for “Late Night,” a behind-the-scenes talk-show comedy starring Mindy Kaling and — oh, joy — Emma Thompson that killed at Sundance. Kumail Nanjiani follows up 2017’s “The Big Sick” with “Stuber,” about an Uber driver who gets taken for a ride, and there are two comedies that play on our fondness for classic rock icons: “Yesterday” imagines a world where only one guy knows about the Beatles, and “Blinded by the Light” is a crowd-pleaser about a Pakistani kid in Thatcher’s London who falls hard for The Boss.
For dramatic ballast: “Rocketman” hopes to do for Elton John (and actor Taron Egerton) what “Bohemian Rhapsody” did for Queen (and Oscar-winner Rami Malek). “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” gives Cate Blanchett a welcome seriocomic turn as a runaway mom, and “The Farewell,” another festival favorite, allows the usually raucous Awkwafina a straight role as a Chinese-American woman coping with a family crisis. And perhaps the most simultaneously awaited and dreaded release is “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” a Quentin Tarantino opus set during the time of the Manson murders. (Five words: Dakota Fanning is Squeaky Fromme.)
You like documentaries? Here’s who you’ll learn more about this summer: Mikhail Gorbachev, Luciano Pavarotti, John DeLorean, Orson Welles, David Crosby, Bill Wyman, Christo, and water (“Aquarela”). Aside from the all-female yachting crew of “Maiden,” women apparently are not quite as interesting as men.
Given the rise of art-house horror in recent years, it’s not surprising that some of the summer’s more challenging fare plays in the fields of that and other lowdown genres. This would certainly include “The Dead Don’t Die,” a zombie movie from Jim Jarmusch starring Tilda Swinton and the usual Jarmusch Players that one hopes will be as good as his vampire movie, “Only Lovers Left Alive.” And it includes “The Nightingale,” a grisly period revenge thriller that’s the much-awaited return of director Jennifer Kent (“The Babadook.”) More serious business is “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a multileveled gentrification saga and a multiple Sundance prizewinner.
Actually, horror seems to be one of the primary themes of Movie Summer 2019. There are three killer-doll releases (a “Child’s Play” remake, a new “Annabelle,” and something called “Brahms: The Boy II”). There’s also new work from Ari “Hereditary” Aster (“Midsommar”), an evil-Superman saga (“Brightburn”), and “Crawl,” about a woman, a flooded house, and a passel of alligators. As usual, Hollywood is betting that we’ll want to face our make-believe fears with popcorn and air conditioning rather than go outside and deal with the really scary stuff.