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Summer Movie Preview

No mega franchise films -- just those potentially fresh & exciting

Jeremy Renner being chased by Jon Hamm and Ed Helms, among others, in Tag. Photo credit: New Line Cinema

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This summer will give us another impossible mission for Tom Cruise and a young Han Solo going solo and more Jurassic mayhem, but I'm not highlighting any of those films in my annual roundup of the June-to-September movies I'm most excited to see.

Nor am I including The Incredibles 2, The Equalizer 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Valley Girl, Ocean's 8, The Predator, The First Purge or Hotel Transylvania 3.

It's not that I'm NOT keen to see those films. (Well. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again seems like a particularly apt title, but we'll see.) It's just that in a movie world dominated by superhero mega-franchises and sequels and prequels and remakes and reboots and re-imagined and recycled stories, I figured we can spotlight a bounty of summer movies that at least have the potential of delivering something fresh and original.

There is one sequel on the list. I have to include it because I've already seen it, and if I had to rank the best movies of 2018 based on what I've screened thus far, it would be in the top three for sure.

In chronological order, according to scheduled release dates (which are subject to change):

Adrift (June 1)

In September 1983, Tami Oldham Ashcraft and her fiancé, Richard Sharp, were delivering a yacht from Tahiti to San Diego when they ran into a Category 4 hurricane. Their struggle to stay alive was chronicled in a captivating and powerful book Tami wrote titled Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea.

Two of our best young actors, Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin, will play the couple in the fictionalized adaptation of the book.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (June 8)

It'll be a year or two before we see a perfectly cast Tom Hanks playing beloved TV host Fred Rogers in You Are My Friend, but just around the corner is a documentary about Mister Rogers from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom).

Raise your hand if you're old enough to remember Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and you DON'T think we could use Mister Rogers now more than ever.

Didn't think there'd be any takers.

Hereditary (June 8)

I love Toni Collette in just about everything she's ever done, and the film festival buzz about Collette's work in this supernatural horror film was electric. Collette plays Annie, an artist who has just lost her mother and now believes some sort of presence in her house could be a threat to her teenage daughter.

"This isn't a scary movie," wrote A.A. Dowd of the AV Club after seeing Hereditary at Sundance. "It's pure emotional terrorism, gripping you with real horror, the unspeakable kind. ... It didn't play me like a fiddle. It slammed on my insides like a grand piano."

YES! I'm in.

Hotel Artemis (June 8)

Jodie Foster makes a rare onscreen appearance as Jean Thomas, aka The Nurse, who runs the Hotel Artemis, which has an emergency room where she uses revolutionary, cutting-edge techniques to tend to the wounds of some of the world's most dangerous criminals. Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella and Jeff Goldblum co-star.

Tag (June 15)

This feels like one of those movies that could go either way -- kind of like last year's The House, something I was really excited to see, until I actually saw it.

Here's hoping for a better experience with Tag, which is based on a Wall Street Journal article about a group of friends who played a month-long game of Tag every February -- for more than two decades.

How is that a movie? Well, the cast includes Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Annabelle Wallis, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones and Brian Dennehy, so hope springs.

Under the Silver Lake (June 22)

Andrew Garfield -- another terrific talent building an impressive resume year after year -- plays Sam, a Los Angeles man who is instantly dazzled by his new neighbor (Riley Keough), and baffled when she disappears in the middle of the night. Sam turns detective and goes down the rabbit hole into a world where subliminal messages and conspiracy theories rule the day.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (June 29)

The sequel to one of the best films of the decade is on a par with the original. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan continues the story of the ongoing war between the CIA and Mexican drug cartels, which has become even more complex and more violent. Josh Brolin returns as the badass government cowboy Matt Graver, who enlists the services of former undercover operative Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) to lead an insanely dangerous false flag mission that quickly goes sideways. Benicio del Toro won best supporting performance by an actor for Traffic (2001). If he doesn't win a second supporting actor Oscar for his work in this film, I can't wait to see the performance that bests him.

Damsel (June 22)

Word is the Zellner brothers' Western satire is a sly and smart, off-kilter deadpan comedy that touches on every cowboy movie cliché to great effect. Robert Pattinson (who continues to take on varied and challenging roles post-Twilight) and Mia Wasikowska star as an engaged couple mixed up in all kinds of dangerous hijinks.

Sorry to Bother You (July 6)

This sounds like something that could really pop and become a breakthrough hit. Hip-hop artist and producer Boots Riley is the writer-director of a surreal sci-fi comedy set in "an alternative version" of Oakland. Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12, Straight Outta Compton, Get Out) plays Cassius Green, a struggling millennial who gets a job at a telemarketing firm, and finds great success after he affects a "white voice." Tessa Thompson plays Cassius' fiancé, Terry Crews is his uncle, and Armie Hammer is his evil boss.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (July 13)

The great and incredibly versatile Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, Good Will Hunting, Milk) writes and directs the story of the late John Callahan, a quadriplegic who gained great acclaim as a cartoonist mining brilliant, uncomfortable humor on physical disabilities and other various dark material. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Callahan, and the supporting cast includes Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black.

Searching (Aug. 3)

John Cho is David, a widower desperately searching for his missing daughter. Debra Messing is the detective assigned to the case. As David digs into his daughter's Facebook and email accounts, he learns disturbing truths about her life.

Also: The entire movie takes place on a computer screen.

The Happytime Murders (Aug. 17)

Finally, it's the puppet horror murder mystery we've always wanted!

Our story is set in a world where humans and puppets co-exist (though the humans look down on the puppets as inferior citizens). A serial killer is systematically picking off the cast of a 1980s TV show called The Happytime Gang, but puppet detective Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) and human detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) are on the case!

Crazy Rich Asians (Aug. 17)

The greatly anticipated adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan and Lisa Lu in the story of Rachel (Wu), an American-born Chinese economics professor who goes with her boyfriend, Nick (Golding), to his best friend's wedding in Singapore and learns Nick comes from an extremely wealthy and very traditional family. 

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