Summer film guide 2019: From blockbusters to indie flicks and the best of the festivals
As part of our Summer Culture Guide 2019, Paul Whitington charts the best of film for the next three months
Summer is usually a time for silliness in the cinema, where broad-strokes action films and family franchises traditionally dominate. But as the dust settles on ‘Rocketman’, ‘Toy Story 4’ and the twice-released ‘Avengers: Endgame’, 2019 has much to interest the more thoughtful cinemagoer. Of course, there are some big and noisy blockbusters on offer, like ‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’, Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ remake and a ‘Fast & Furious’ spin-off, but this summer it’s the quieter, smaller films that will be most worth watching. Here’s our pick of the best, together with some interesting festivals.
As the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings approaches, Todd Douglas Miller’s visually stunning documentary uses previously unseen 70mm footage of Apollo 11’s launch and recovery to tell the story of that fateful mission. What strikes you as you watch is the staggering scale of the enterprise, involving outsized trucks, a massive craft and massed banks of analysts and experts. There are no talking heads here, nothing is placed in context, making Nasa’s historic achievement all the more powerful. Should be seen in a cinema.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
While one could have argued that we needed yet another Spider-Man reboot like a hole in the head, the 2017 Marvel/Sony film Homecoming was one of the best superhero movies of them all, in large part because of the perfect casting of Tom Holland as Peter Parker. The perky hero returns in this sequel, and is in mourning after the death of his mentor Tony Stark when he goes on a high-school trip to Europe and gets mixed up in an alien attack.
Robert Bresson Retrospective
Irish Film Institute, Dublin
He was the great aesthete of French cinema, a stern purist who rejected polished acting, cinematic frills and overbearing soundtracks in favour of a spare, lean, sometimes hypnotically poetic style. This month-long festival treats us to big-screen showings of Bresson’s great films, from early classics like Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne and Les Anges du Péché to later works like Lancelot du Lac and Au Hasard Balthazar. And on July 7, what for me is his greatest film will be screened: Diary of a Country Priest, starring Claude Laydu as a young priest who faces ridicule and hostility in his new parish. www.ifi.ie.
People got very excited about Ari Aster’s feature debut Hereditary, a slightly bonkers demonic horror that showed bracing flashes of originality. Midsommar promises to be even crazier, and stars our own Jack Reynor and up-and-coming English actress Florence Pugh as Christian and Dani, a troubled young American couple who go on holiday in rural Sweden. When they visit a small village that’s enacting an ancient pagan ceremony, the suspiciously friendly locals insist they take part. I’m sure that will end well.
Light House, July 6–Sept 5
Of late, Dublin 7’s Light House cinema has staged some imaginatively themed seasons, and in this one, which stretches through the summer months, they’ll show some of the most memorable coming-of-age movies. At the centre of it all is the Harry Potter sleepover, which will involve showing all the Potter movies back to back. But for those with less sturdy constitutions, there’s much besides to enjoy, from classics like Dead Poets Society and Rebel Without a Cause to more recent offerings, like Lady Bird, Sing Street and Boyhood.
The Dead Don’t Die
A fabulous cast coupled with Jim Jarmusch’s trademark deadpan humour ought to make this zombie comedy at the very least watchable. Bill Murray is Cliff Robertson, a world-weary small-town police chief who begins to realise something strange is going on. For a start, night has refused to fall when it should have. Added to this, a strange, sword-bearing Scottish woman (Tilda Swinton) has moved into the locality, and strange gurgling noises are emanating from the cemetery. Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny play Murray’s deputies, Tom Waits and Steve Buscemi are among the local eccentrics, and Iggy Pop is perfectly cast as a zombie.
Ron Howard’s documentary about the great tenor looks and sounds as splendid as you’d expect but steers clear of darkness and is something of a hagiography. The son of a Modena baker, Luciano Pavarotti was perhaps the most talented operatic tenor of his generation, and became a star after being teamed with Joan Sutherland on an international tour. The ‘King of the High Cs’ crossed over into the musical mainstream in the 1980s and 1990s through his collaboration with pop stars like Bono and Elton John. Lots of lovely singing to listen to in this film, but the man himself remains elusive.
The Lion King
Disney’s re-imagining of its back catalogue continues apace with this big-budget remake of their much-loved 1994 animation. This Lion King is directed by Jon Favreau and boasts the same eerily realistic computer animation Favreau used on The Jungle Book. One wonders how those great songs will seem issuing from the mouths of actual lions, but the trailer looks splendid and Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Beyoncé are among the voice cast, which reassuringly also features the return of James Earl Jones as Simba’s dad, Mufasa.
IFI Family Festival
Summers can be long for parents with young children, and in late July there’ll be plenty of entertainment for Dublin-based kids at this three-day IFI festival. There’ll be some charming films from across the world, including the French cartoon feature Minuscule, a Peek Zoo special from Irish animators Igloo Films, and Okko’s Inn, the beautiful debut feature from Studio Ghibli animator Kitarô Kôsaka. Tickets start at €5.50. www.ifi.ie/familyfest-2019
Tell It to the Bees
This handsome-looking period drama is based on a novel by Fiona Shaw (not that Fiona Shaw) and set in 1950s Scotland, where the close relationship between two women causes scandal in a small town. Holliday Grainger is Lydia Weekes, a woman with a young son whose marriage is collapsing when she’s befriended by the new doctor, Jean Markham (Anna Paquin). The pair bond over Jean’s love of bees, but when Lydia is evicted and moves in with the good doctor, local gossips soon decide that something else is going on.
Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love
Fans of the late Leonard Cohen will fondly remember his song ‘So Long Marianne’. It was based on his ardent love for a Norwegian woman, Marianne Ihlen, to whom he never really said goodbye at all, and in this documentary Nick Broomfield explores a relationship which would prove so artistically fruitful for Cohen. They met on the Greek isle of Hydra in 1960, when Cohen was still a poet, and they enjoyed an idyllic courtship among the island’s expatriate bohemian community. They did part, but shared a rich correspondence, and died within months of each other in 2016.
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw
Dumb they may be, but the Fast & Furious films wear their stupidity as a badge of honour, and are infuriatingly entertaining. In this flashy spin-off, Dwayne Johnson’s federal agent Luke Hobbs takes centre stage, and is not best pleased when he’s forced to team up with his old enemy Deckard Shaw, a catatonic mercenary played by Jason Statham. A cybernetically enhanced terrorist (Idris Elba) is about to unleash a deadly virus, and only the bickering buddies stand in his way. Sounds absurd: should be fun.
HOT SPOT: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino returned to Cannes in all his pomp this year, and while Once Upon a Time in Hollywood didn’t win anything, it did get strong early reviews and a standing ovation from a notoriously taciturn crowd. A typically ambitious drama, it’s set in 1969 and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, a TV actor who’s failed to make the transition to movies and is glumly contemplating a move to Italy when something strange happens next door. Rick happens to live on Cielo Drive, right beside the house recently rented by Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate that will shortly be the scene of one of America’s most notorious crimes. Damon Herriman gives an icy portrayal of Charles Manson, while Margot Robbie is Sharon Tate, and Brad Pitt plays Dalton’s stunt man and best friend. Tarantino’s film does plays fast and loose with literal truth, and mischievously mixes fact and fiction.
In the 1990s, American literary critics were thrilled by the arrival of a major new voice: teenage boy JT LeRoy’s gripping accounts of drug use, poverty and childhood abuse earned rave reviews and led to huge public interest in him, but he was frustratingly elusive, and would only communicate by phone and email. It was all a hoax, masterminded by writer Laura Albert, who’s played by Laura Dern in this drama by Justin Kelly. Kristen Stewart plays Albert’s sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, who began impersonating ‘LeRoy’ in public appearances. A strange story.
One of the standout features at this year’s Dublin Film Festival, Christian Petzold’s Transit brilliantly re-imagines Anna Seghers’ 1942 novel about the Nazi occupation of France by giving it an eerily contemporary setting. When a great but ailing writer is forced to flee Paris to avoid capture, an aimless young man called Georg agrees to accompany him to Marseilles. When the writer dies, Georg assumes his identity, and falls in love with the man’s beautiful widow. An enthralling film.
Pain & Glory
Given a warm reception at Cannes, Pedro Almodóvar’s thoughtful, melancholy drama stars Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo, a once-celebrated film director who’s succumbed to depression and hypochondria and hasn’t made a movie in years. He’s haunted by memories of his mother (Penélope Cruz), and friends and colleagues who’ve died, but when an acquaintance introduces him to the dubious pleasures of heroin, Salvador comes to life.
HOT SPOT: IT: CHAPTER TWO
Andy Muschietti’s It was a huge success in the late summer of 2017, and made more at the box office than any other horror film. Based on Stephen King’s 1980s novel, it combined special effects and a Spielbergian tale of beleaguered kids brilliantly, and featured a beguilingly graceful performance from Bill Skarsgård as the clown-like entity. This sequel will shoot forward in time to 2016, as Bill, Beverly and Co have grown into adulthood but never quite managed to put the nightmares of the past behind them. And they must return to their home town of Derry to face their deepest fears again when ‘It’ resurfaces. A fine cast includes James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader and Skarsgård, and when I spoke to Muschietti recently, he told me he’s managed to cut his film down to a pithy three hours. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
The question the producers of this lavish British period drama must be anxiously asking themselves is, will anyone care? The soapy TV series ended back in 2015, and its distractable audience has long since moved on to other things, but director Michael Engler and his cast will be hoping that curiosity gets the better of them. Downton Abbey finds the Crawley clan in the late 1920s, moving on from recent tragedies and excitedly preparing for a visit from the king. Most of the original cast return, and Maggie Smith will be handling the jokes.
This intriguing crime drama based on a DC Comic is set in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s and tells the story of a group of women who keep their Irish-American husbands’ crime empire going while they’re in jail. Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish play the wives who, after a few teething problems, grow into their task with enthusiasm and end up merrily running the numbers and wiping out their rivals. Domhnall Gleeson co-stars as a twitchy hitman who becomes an ally.
Rambo: Last Blood
The strange thing about Sylvester Stallone movie franchises is that they never really end. Way back in 2008, we were reliably informed that Rambo would be the last we’d see of the grizzled and put-upon Vietnam veteran, yet here he is again, older but not much chattier and emerging from retirement to help a friend. A girl has been kidnapped and taken across the Mexican border by cartel types who will soon regret it. Paz Vega co-stars, and you know exactly what to expect.
Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort and Sarah Paulson head the cast of Irish director John Crowley’s eagerly anticipated film based on Donna Tartt’s bestselling 2013 novel. Elgort is the protagonist Theo Decker, who as a child was visiting an art gallery with his mother when he saw her killed by a terrorist bomb. Thereafter, he’s sent to Las Vegas to live with his repellent father, and after a series of picaresque adventures becomes an art forger. Looking forward to this one.