And it came to pass that, as the summer of 2018 rolled ominously into view, with phrases like ‘peak blockbuster season’ and ‘brand synergy’ ringing in his ears like plague bells, this writer took it upon himself to write a primer for the coming season’s selection of new and interesting feature films, all of them lower budget or independent features from a who’s who of talent that are counting on the cult and curiosity cinema crowd to make their money.
Consider this a cream of the crop-style report on some potential counterprogramming for the next four months of back-to-back blockbusters.
Breaking In (out now)
Coming to us from journeyman helmer James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Survivor), the movie concerns single mother Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union) who, after the sudden death of her father, takes her two children to his heavily fortified Malibu mansion in order to settle his estate, only to learn that the house is the target of four criminals intent on finding the house’s safe, kidnapping Russell’s children and locking her out in the process. So the premise is essentially the same as David Fincher’s Panic Room, albeit with more gadgets and Union seemingly taking a much less passive role in the rescue of her family, if the trailers are to be believed. Whilst McTeigue’s career trajectory has been defined by his assistant director work for the likes of George Lucas and the Wachowskis, his movement into B-features like this, whilst hit and miss, is always worth staying abreast of, if only for the novelty.
How to Talk to Girls At Parties (out now)
Speaking of punk rock, here’s a sci-fi rom-com set at the height of London’s punk scene, based on a short story by Neil Gaiman and directed by John Cameron Mitchell, creator of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Telling of a late-night meet-cute between Alex Sharp’s Enn and a manic pixie dream girl who is literally from another planet called Zan (Elle Fanning, making the first of two appearances on this list), and co-starring Nicole Kidman as Queen Boadicea (your guess is as good as mine), this film seems to draw on Mitchell’s love of music as seen in Hedwig and his fascination with love and sex from Shortbus, along with a splash of period 70s glamour and otherworldly camp lifted from the likes of Velvet Goldmine, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Earth Girls Are Easy and Derek Jarman’s Jubilee.
The Breadwinner (out May 25th)
Already an awards favourite following its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, Nora Twomey’s follow-up to Secret of the Kells goes into wide release later this year. Adapting the Deborah Ellis novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Parvana, a girl living in Taliban controlled Afghanistan who is forced to disguise herself as a boy to support her family after her father is wrongfully imprisoned by the regime, leaving them without an adult male relative in a hostile and changeable environment. Exploring themes of gender and equality in relationship to Islam has been a touchy subject in the past – Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, for instance, continues to be stymied both within and outside the Muslim world for its punk rock sensibilities and its stance on the Iranian Revolution – but the beautiful visuals and heart-warming story will hopefully ensure this animated feature gains some crossover appeal, especially given the relative dearth of children’s films depicting and aimed at Asian audiences.
Mary Shelley (out July 6th)
I’m not exactly the kind of film critic to go rushing to see the endless string of 'based on a true story' period drama hagiographies – Eddie Redmayne making sad puppy eyes will only get you so far. Good fortune, then, that this one has Elle Fanning donning the corset as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, whose proto-feminist sensibilities and connection to Romantic poets Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) and her husband Lord Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) not only helped shatter preconceptions of women's ability to write compelling literature, but also, through her novel Frankenstein, laid the bedrock for the entire science fiction genre. No surprises then that the film has at its helm Haifaa al-Mansour, the first female Saudi filmmaker and still one of that country's most controversial directors, giving this historical drama about breaking the glass ceiling an earnestness and authenticity so often lacking in the genre.
Hotel Artemis (out July 20th)
In a future that tries to echo and synthesise Escape from New York, The Purge series and John Wick, it might not seem too outlandish to find a hospital that caters entirely to criminals. Nor might it be quite unexpected to see Jodie Foster as the titular location’s head nurse with a very particular interpretation of the Hippocratic oath, Dave Bautista as her hulking orderly/bodyguard and Jeff Goldblum as a charismatic mob boss called The Wolf King. But for it to be the directing debut of writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3), and to have a supporting cast stacked with the likes of Sterling K. Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella, Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate, Kenneth Choi and Father John Misty himself, that makes it a must watch.