The 2016 Summer Movie Preview: July And August, From ‘BFG’ To Jason Statham


Okay, now that the summer has cleared its throat with all those May and June movies we covered yesterday, it’s time to get down to business with the July and August releases. Both bring their share of sequels (Ice Age: Collision CourseStar Trek Beyond, Jason Borune) and high-profile reboots (Ghostbusters). But there are often a fair number of original titles here, starting with a new film from Steven Spielberg.


July 1

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton
The “BFG” of the title stands for “Big Friendly Giant,” here a mo-cap creation played by Steven Spielberg’s new muse Mark Rylance. An adaptation of a Roald Dahl classic, this is Spielberg’s first family-friendly film since The Adventures of Tin-Tin in 2009. The story of a kid who makes an unlikely friend brings him back to E.T. territory, as does Spielberg’s choice of screenwriter: the late Melissa Mathison, who also penned the director’s 1982 classic.

The Legend of Tarzan
Director: David Yates
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Lord of the Jungle is one of those characters whose fame has never really faded even if attempts to reinvent him for new generations have been met with mixed success. Disney’s had the best luck in recent decades with a 1998 animated version. It probably doesn’t help that Burroughs’ fantasy of a white Englishman becoming a jungle king thanks to his superior breeding, a spin-off of the author’s interest in eugenics, has made Tarzan feel a bit, to put it politely, antiquated with the passing of time.

Still, there’s a reason he’s stuck around and there’s no reason a smart take on the story couldn’t still work, and director David Yates proved himself more than capable of marshaling a large-scale fantasy adventure with the later Harry Potter films. Plus, Skarsgård looks the part, Robie should make for a take-no-sh*t Jane, and having Jackson and Hounsou should help defuse some of the potentially tricky racial politics.

The Purge: Election Year
James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson
There’s always been a not-so-subtle political subtext in this dystopian series about a government-sanctioned hell night, but this latest installment looks to lay it on thick, starting with the subtitle. Will there be echoes of our own political situation sprinkled amidst the ultraviolence? The smart money says “yes,” even if production was probably too far along to include timely references to the potentially dystopia-ensuring candidacy of Donald Trump.

July 8

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
Jake Szymanski
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Zac Effron, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Devine
Remember yesterday when we mentioned how Neighbors 2, like Neighbors, might be good in spite of a pat-looking premise? Okay, keep that in mind when thinking of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, a film about two out-of-control brothers (Zac Effron and Adam Devine) forced to bring respectable dates to a wedding in Hawaii only to find out their companions (Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick) have been hiding a wild side. The film comes from the same writing team as the Neighbors movies, and though Jake Szymanski doesn’t have a feature to his credit yet, he directed the much-liked HBO comedy 7 Days in Hell, episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and many Funny or Die shorts.

The Secret Life of Pets
Directors: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Chaney
Cast: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper
Between this, Finding Dory, and Angry Birds, is there a major actor not voicing a talking animal this summer? Maybe Max Von Sydow? Here Louis C.K. heads the cast as a beloved dog who has to deal with the arrival of a new pooch. Cue mismatched buddy hijinks across an animated New York. This is the sixth film from Illumination Entertainment, and only the third not to be connected to Despicable Me in some way. The trailer makes its what-pets-do-when-you’re-not-looking premise kind of charming. Whether or not it works at feature length remains to be seen.

July 13

The Infiltrator
 Brad Furman
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, Yul Vazquez
Hey, remember when Bryan Cranston was on that show about the normal-seeming guy who was actually a drug kingpin? Well, in the fact-based The Infiltrator he plays Robert Mazur, a DEA agent who assumes another identity to work his way into (one might even say “infiltrate”) the drug business. Post Breaking Bad, Cranston seems intent on focusing on film, and while last year’s Trumbo didn’t quite work, and found Cranston pushing his performance to the verge of caricature, this looks pretty promising. Brad Furman, best known for the slick, satisfying The Lincoln Lawyer, directs.

July 15

Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Leslie Jones
There’s really no reason a remake of a beloved ’80s comedy helmed by a tried-and-true director and filled with funny people should be the year’s most controversial movie, and yet here we are. In a way, Ghostbusters 2016 faces a no-win situation. People who hate it on sexist principle are going to hate it no matter what. And because of the conventional, also sexist, wisdom that women aren’t as good at leading comedies as men, any shortcomings won’t be blamed on the material, or artistic misjudgment, or any of the many things that can go wrong with any movie but on the decision to go with an all-female cast. It doesn’t just have to be good, it has to be better than anyone expected. Shut-down-all-arguments good. Forget-the-first-Ghostbusters good. It’s a seemingly impossible task, especially since most remakes aren’t good, even ones as full of talent as this one. Here’s hoping it delivers big time so we can start having less maddening conversations.

July 22

Star Trek Beyond
Justin Lin
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
With J.J. Abrams having moved from Star Trek to Star Wars, it’s now up to others to supply the ongoing adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise. (Though Abrams is still on board as a producer.) The third rebooted Star Trek film looks to continue the action-oriented direction of the first two. But will it be as charming like Star Trek or frustrating like Star Trek Into Darkness? Right now, it’s tough to guess. The film’s been through two directors and has five credited screenwriters (including co-star Simon Pegg), which is often a troubling sign. But Lin, best known for his work on the Fast/Furious franchise, should provide a sure hand.

Lights Out
David F. Sandberg
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman
Lights Out began as a clever short film about a woman tormented by an entity that she could only see when she turned out the lights. The short wrings a lot of scares out of simple premise, but can what works at two-and-a-half minutes be stretched to the length of a feature? Every summer seems to find room for at least one low-budget horror movie that could be the next sensation. Maybe this is it.

Ice Age: Collision Course
Mike Thurmeier, Galen T. Chu
Cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah
Yes, these are still happening. (This one features Neil DeGrasse Tyson as a weasel astronomer.)

July 29

Jason Bourne
Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Alicia Vikander
Hey, remember The Bourne Legacy, in which Jeremy Renner took over the franchise when Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass went on to other things? Okay, well forget that because Damon and Greengrass are back for a new Bourne movie. And while there’s a chance this will be one trip to the well too many, there’s plenty to be optimistic about here. Damon’s Bourne movies (including the first one, with director Doug Liman), have all been smart and stylish, helping to introduce a new, shakier, down-to-earth style to action movies in the ’00s. Now that that style has become more common, here’s hoping they find some new tricks for the latest installment.

Bad Moms
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are best known as the writing ream behind The Hangover and other films. After 21 and Over, this is their second film as directors. It sounds about as simple as the title: Mila Kunis is a good mom who lets loose with some other moms as they take a stand against some stuck-up fellow moms. It’s a movie with a lot of moms, in other words, and presumably a lot of hijinks. Lucas and Moore aren’t exactly famous for creating well-rounded female characters, but this might prove an exception. The appealing cast can’t hurt, either.

August 5

Suicide Squad
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman
On the one hand, there’s a lot riding on this movie. Warner Bros. would like to start its own equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe feature DC Comics characters, but so far it’s off to a rough start thanks to the divisive Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Did anyone ever figure out if that was a massive hit or a huge flop?) On the other hand, Suicide Squad seems to be kind of its own thing. It has, in David Ayer (FuryEnd of Watch), a distinctive director and it seems to have a sense of humor about itself, however grim. Then again, what other kind of humor could a movie about supervillains conscripted to perform likely fatal missions have?

Now, here’s the real question: Between now and August 5, how many more “You won’t believe the disgusting things Jared Leto did to get in character as The Joker” stories are we going to have to hear? (Good guess: many.)

Nine Lives
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Christopher Walken, Jennifer Garner
Kevin Spacey stars as a hard-charging businessman who, as punishment for neglecting his family, is trapped inside the body of a cat by a mysterious shopkeeper (Christopher Walken). What else could you possibly need to know? Oh yeah: The trailer suggests there’s a lot of jokes about pee and poop. This one looks to be straight from the Disney live-action family comedy playbook first created in the 1960s, with Spacey stepping into the sort of role Dean Jones might have played back then.

The Founder
John Lee Hancock
Cast: Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch
The irony starts with the title with this one: The Founder tells the story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) maneuvered McDonalds away from the two brothers who started it (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). John Lee Hancock (The Blind SideSaving Mr. Banks) directs from a screenplay by Robert Siegel (The WrestlerBig Fan).

August 12

Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell
Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has seen two previous movie adaptations, one in 1925 and one in 1959, both of them big hits. Will 2016 make it three-for-three? If nothing else, Kazakh-born director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) should turn in a stylish adaptation, but he has his work cut out for him, if only because William Wyler’s 1959 version has a set piece — the chariot race — that’s still regularly spoken of as one of the greatest action scenes ever filmed. Good luck topping it. (Then again, people probably said that to Wyler at the time.)

Pete’s Dragon
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford
When the first film version of Pete’s Dragon came out in 1977, it symbolized how out of touch Disney was with what audiences wanted. While Star Wars wowed viewers of all ages, Pete’s Dragon offered an endearing-but-klunky combination of live action and animation. In 2016 Disney has not only absorbed Star Wars, it’s learned how to make several varieties of family films, and this remake looks more Spielbergian than Bedknobs and Broomsticksian. Oakes Fegley plays a kid who claims to live in the woods with a dragon who, from all appearances, does not sing, unlike in the first Disney version. David Lowery, who directed the lovely indie Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, directs.

Sausage Party
Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
Cast: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader
To circle back to an earlier point: It looks like everyone not voicing an animal this summer will be voicing anthropomorphic food in this R-rated animated film from a story by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (yeah, them again). Set, initially, in a grocery store, it stars a bunch of talking food who want nothing more than to be purchased and taken home, little realizing the grim fate that awaits them on the other side. The film looks, in a word, filthy. (Rogen plays a hot dog in love with a bun (voiced by Wiig) with a barely SFW character design.) It also looks, in two words, really funny, a send-up of Toy Story and the sentimental underpinnings of most animated films. It could be the sort of late-summer palate cleanser we all need in August.

August 19

Kubo and the Two Strings
Director: Travis Knight
Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes
For those who prefer their animated films with fewer dirty jokes and a lot more beautiful imagery, here’s the latest from Laika, the innovative studio behind CoralineParanorman, and The Boxtrolls. Set in feudal Japan, its plot involves a magical suit of armor and, from the looks of the trailer, a lot of gorgeous shots of the moon. Travis Knight, Laika’s CEO, makes his directorial debut with this film, and simply by virtue of being from Laika it will almost certainly be worth checking out.

War Dogs
Todd Phillips
Cast: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller
In 2011, Guy Lawson published a Rolling Stone article whose title probably tells you everything you need to know about this adaptation: “The Stoner Arms: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapons Traders.” Jonah Hill and Miles Teller play said kids, Miami stoners who get in over their heads via some shady weapons deals. Todd Phillips directs, and it’s not yet clear whether he’ll treat this as another wild comedy in the vein of The Hangover or attempt a more ambitious sort of black comedy. Either way, it doesn’t look like it will be dull.

August 26

Mechanic: Resurrection
Director: Dennis Gansel
Cast: Jason Statham, Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones
And so the summer winds down as all summers must: With a Jason Statham thriller. This one’s a sequel to 2011’s The Mechanic, which was itself a remake of a Charles Bronson movie. Does any of that matter? Probably not. After sending up his image brilliantly in Spy and appearing as a multitude of Stathams in a bizarre cell phone commercial, this looks like a back-to-basics action movie. And with September beckoning with its promise of substantive, thoughtful, Statham-less movies, maybe we should just take a moment to enjoy the simple pleasures.