There was a time when the summer movie season was a season, sandwiched between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. By the 21st century, the start date drifted back to the first weekend in May. This year, the superhero flicks started arriving with Deadpool’s release on Feb. 12. Only two months earlier, Star Wars: The Force Awakens had been unleashed, handily outgrossing every summer movie ever. All six prior Star Wars entries had been released in May, but that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
In any case, we’ve arrived at Memorial Day with at least nine intriguing hot-weather delicacies yet to be unveiled.
The Conjuring 2 (June 10) — Horrormeister James Wan stepped outside his wheelhouse to direct 2015’s well-received Furious 7, and at last check he was still slated to break into the superhero biz with Aquaman. In between, he made a second paranormal spookfest with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprising their roles as real-life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren. This time, they investigate the Enfield Poltergeist, a case of alleged demonic possession of two prepubescent sisters in a North London council house, which transfixed the British press circa 1977-79. Wan’s command of tension and atmosphere made his similarly themed Insidious a chiller, too, but something about their period setting makes the Conjuring pictures even more irresistible.
Swiss Army Man (June 24) — While it probably contains less onscreen flatus than The BFG, the “Daniel Radcliffe–as-a–farting corpse movie” tag that writers-directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s comic fantasy picked up after it screened at Sundance has proven tough to shake — even after Scheinert and Kwan shared the festival’s Best Director prize. Paul Dano plays a guy who finds himself stranded alone on an island; when a body (Radcliffe) washes ashore, the castaway finds it offers many practical conveniences, and good company, too! In their feature debut, Scheinert and Kwan reportedly evince a visual aesthetic as surreal and imaginative as their material.
The Neon Demon (June 24) — That I almost referred to Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn as a “provocateur” because he makes challenging, occasionally abrasive films says more about the anodyne tastes of Hollywood than it does about his work. The Drive director’s first out-and-out horror film stars Elle Fanning as a novice fashion model just arriving in Los Angeles, where her beauty and youth earn her some powerful enemies. “There is a 16-year-old girl inside every man,” Refn told reporters while promoting the movie at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this month, where the picture earned boos variously described as “resounding” and “lusty.” There must’ve been a reason.
The BFG (July 1) — Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book premiered at Cannes, too. Our critic Bilge Ebiri found it listless and unmagical, while his predecessor Stephanie Zacharek, now at Time, was considerably more enthusiastic. But with Mark Rylance in the title role and a script by E.T.’s Melissa Mathison, who died before the film was completed, Spielberg’s first all-ages picture since Tintin sparkles with promise. Rylance’s Oscar-winning performance was the best thing about Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies last fall, and with Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall and Bill Hader rounding out the cast, The BFG feels like what the esteemed Cahiers du cinéma critic Joe Biden would call a BFD.
Star Trek Beyond (July 22) — J.J. Abrams, the man who relaunched Star Trek before moving on to some other space project, said the pioneering ’60s TV show was too cerebral for him; his two Trek films considerably upped the whiz-bang quotient. But anyone who found Abrams’ Beastie Boys–scored, Bud-Lite Lime-A-Rita version too talky and philosophical will rejoice that this third entry in the rebooted Trek-iverse comes from Justin Lin, best known for his four Fast & Furious sequels. Series co-star Simon Pegg is one of several credited screenwriters, so at least it should be funny. Idris Elba stars as Krall, a mysterious new character who is most likely not a Grammy Award–winning Canadian jazz artist married to Elvis Costello. But in a series that uses time travel as much as this one has, you just never know.
Jason Bourne (July 29) — After the spy franchise’s original star exited, producers got a cheaper actor to fill in for one underperforming movie before luring the original guy back for an adventure featuring a car chase on the Las Vegas Strip. Very few people regard the result — the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever — as a highlight of that series.
The third Paul Greengrass–directed Bourne thriller, for which Matt Damon has returned after a nine-year absence, will almost certainly be better than that, given the track record of all involved. Still, its similarities to the circumstances under which Sean Connery left and returned to the mother of all spy series are amusing. Damon claims the new film channels the geopolitical insecurities of the WikiLeaks era; the trailers are selling his motorbike skills and his knockout left hook. What was good enough for Steve McQueen is good enough for Will Hunting, apparently.
Equity (July 29) — This Wall Street morality play earned strong notices at Sundance in January. Written by Amy Fox, produced by Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas (both of whom are in the cast) and directed by Meera Menon, the picture stars Anna Gunn, whose contributions to the greatness of Breaking Bad were too often overshadowed by that series’ male stars. High finance is a nontraditional milieu for a project with women in all the key creative roles, but this is no celebration of empowerment. Those who’ve seen Equity found its casual depiction of influential ladies being just as venal and duplicitous as influential men to be one of its rewards. The female-led Ghostbusters is getting all the attention, but a distaff Wall Street sounds like an altogether more intriguing equation, no?
Sausage Party (Aug. 12) — This is the summer’s only computer-animated, R-rated survival adventure comedy. Directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon are animation veterans, but the sensibility comes courtesy of primary screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who dreamed up the anthropomorphic-foodstuffs scenario wherein the edible residents of a supermarket learn what horrors await after their dreams of being purchased and brought home by a customer actually get fulfilled. So, Frank, a sausage voiced by Rogen, and Brenda, the hot dog bun (Kristen Wiig) with whom he is in a relationship, try to cheat destiny. It’ll be plankton to the whale that is Pixar’s Finding Dory, of course. Even so, if you enjoyed Babe but wished it had been much, much filthier, then this should do, Pig.
Southside With You (Aug. 26) — Another Sundance entry, writer-director Richard Tanne’s feature debut has a nervy premise: It’s a fictionalized account of Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date, in the summer of 1989, when they were both in their 20s and working for the corporate law firm Sidley Austin. As played by Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter, the future president and first lady visit the Art Institute of Chicago and take in a screening of Do the Right Thing before going for ice cream. That sounds like a lot to do on a first date, but these two were clearly going places. Southside With You probably won’t singlehandedly resuscitate the romantic comedy, but it may at least provide a momentary escape from a despondent election season. And how can you not want to know whether the future leader of the free world was more sympathetic to Mookie or to Sal?