Summertime movie madness: the luring darkness of the cinema

From The Lion King to Diego Maradona and a brand-new Tarantino: why wait for a rainy day when there is so much to see at the cinema? Hakuna matata!

The Lion King
Director: Jon Favreau
Release: 17/7

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The children that The Lion King lured to the cinema back in the day now have children of their own. To keep the circle of life turning, Disney invested a small fortune in remaking its great animated classic of the 1990s. CGI is now so advanced that it has become possible to make Simba, Scar, Nala, Timon, and Pumbaa look like a real lion cub, scarred lion, lioness, meerkat, and warthog, and to make them talk, act, and react as though they were characters in a Shakespearean masterpiece. If you don’t believe it’s possible, just watch the trailer and you will immediately see how majestic the savannah looks. Who will be most impressed, today’s children or those of yesteryear?

So Long My Son
Director: Wang Xiaoshuai, starring: Wang Jing-chun, Yong Mei
Release: 24/7

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It was no great surprise when the Brussels International Film Festival awarded this Chinese family epic the Grand Prix. In February, the actors had already won several prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival and director Wang Xiaoshuai had already demonstrated his skill in the film Beijing Bicycle. Over the space of three hours, his social-critical, social-realist, but above all very moving film shows us how radically China has changed over the past thirty years and how profoundly politics can indeed affect a human life. The prohibition to have more than one child and an unspeakably difficult tragedy ruin the lives of the initially very happily married couple Yaojun and Liyun. The past and the present are interwoven, highlighting all the more how cyclical life can sometimes be.

Donnie Darko
Director: Richard Kelly, starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone
Release: 24/7

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“That’s what’s so illogical, you know, about being a Smurf. What’s the point of living…if you don’t have a dick?” Donnie Darko wonders in the cult classic of the same name. The schizophrenic teenager – a breakthrough role for the young Jake Gyllenhaal – gets told by a giant rabbit that the end of the world is nigh, he tries to understand how people might travel through time via wormholes, and he hates teachers who simplistically divide the world into good and evil. The cinematic release in 2001 was no triumph. It took a long time for a group of people to realize that Richard Kelly’s film debut was almost as atmospheric, beautiful, and mysterious as David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Kelly’s later films were not a success and he went off the radar. Hopefully the re-release of Donnie Darko will catapult his talent back out of anonymity.

Diego Maradona
Director: Asif Kapadia
Release: 31/7

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Apart from the Vesuvius, nothing set Naples alight like Diego Maradona. He may be something of a joke now, but in the 1980s, he was the best footballer in the world. When he made Naples the champions against Juventus, AC Milan, and all the other rich clubs from the north of Italy, the Neapolitans elevated the kid from the slums of Buenos Aires to the status of demigod. But the city where even the devil would need bodyguards also orchestrated his downfall. How? To find out, you have to go and see the new film by Asif Kapadia, the man who made two memorable cinematic documentaries – Amy and Senna – about icons who died too soon. Interest in football is not a requirement for this film, which shows how Diego Maradona became less and less Diego and more and more Maradona. It is thus more akin to a Greek tragedy than a sports documentary.

The Beach Bum
Director: Harmony Korine, starring: Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher
Release: 31/7

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What if the summer holidays never ended? What if you just kept screwing, drinking, dancing, and smoking dope on repeat? What if you didn’t let yourself become enslaved to puritanism or capitalism? Matthew McConaughey shows what that would look like in this deliciously subversive stoner-comedy that is too insane for words and intentionally over the top. McConaughey plays Moondog, a poet who simply continues his hedonistic lifestyle even after he abruptly loses his material and financial security. His trips are no less trippy than Thomas Pynchon’s or Hunter S. Thompson’s stoners. Just like in Spring Breakers, cult director Harmony Korine manages to conceal where his fascination for excess ends and irony begins. The Brussels-based cameraman Benoît Debie could once again bask in the sun, sea, neon, and warm colours of Florida.

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky, starring: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Anatoliy Solonitsyn
Release: 31/7

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“Andrei Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all,” was the assessment of his Swedish colleague Ingmar Bergman. The Russian master is still deeply loved, as was very evident last year when the rerelease of Stalker was such a hit. That success motivated the distributor Lumière to release the restored version of Solaris in cinemas as well. This formally strict, anti-modernist science-fiction film is considered a response to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Tarkovsky thought Kubrick’s masterpiece was too cold and materialistic. Inspired by a book by Stanislaw Lem, he tells the story of a cosmonaut who is tasked with finding out why the crew of a space station went mad. An ocean planet affects his mood by showing him replicas of his young wife who took her own life. It turns out that he is still all too human to be able to grasp the universe.

Director: Ari Aster, starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper
Release: 7/8

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It is difficult to forget Hereditary (2018). Every scene was more sinister than the last and at the end you didn’t dare to go home. Ari Aster, the director and screenwriter of that hyped horror film, hopes that you are ready to turn the other cheek this summer and again to let yourself get sucked slowly but surely into a terrible nightmare. Or should we say daymare? A deeply traumatized American (the talented Florence Pugh from Lady Macbeth) accompanies her unpleasant boyfriend and his friends to a village in Sweden where the sun never sets. Before they know it, they are not witnesses to the heathen rituals that are performed there every ninety years, but participants. Darkness does not need night in this Wicker Man for the 21st century.

Once upon a time... in Hollywood
Director: Quentin Tarantino, starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Release: 14/8

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​​In his ninth feature-length film, Quentin Tarantino makes Pulp Fiction of one of the darkest events in the history of sunny Los Angeles. Fifty years ago, four hippies in Charles Manson’s sect broke into Roman Polanski’s house and brutally stabbed his pregnant wife Sharon Tate and her guests to death. But do not expect a crime epic. Instead, Tarantino has made a melancholy tribute to the old days of Hollywood in the 1960s. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a weepy, alcoholic western hero who starts realizing that his career is going downhill. Brad Pitt plays his unemployed and carefree stunt double and his only friend. You can say what you want about Tarantino – for example that he is incapable of moderation – but one thing is certain: he entertains you scene after scene and his cinematographic brilliance is almost as big as his love of film and pop culture.

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