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On the Radar… (Late Summer Edition)

Bleecker Street

So now that the fall season is coming up, I’ll have to revert back to the monthly editions of these On the Rader… pieces since there’s no way I’ll be able to cover an entire season of major upcoming releases and awards players in just one article. But right now, it’s the calm before the storm. Not many high-profile films at the tail-end of this (way too damned hot) summer, but there are a few worth covering. Specifically…

PREY – In Theaters August 5

Prey

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

Starring Amber Midthunder, with Dane DiLiegro and Michelle Thrush

What is it about? In the Comanche Nation in 1719, a fierce and highly skilled warrior named Naru learns the prey she is stalking is a highly evolved alien with a technologically advanced arsenal.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Now, okay, here is an I.P. franchise brand extension that I can get behind! If we’re going to keep mining this Predator well, let’s do something novel with it. Stop pitting this thing against tough guys in the modern world and trying to make that lighting strike twice. Go way forward or better yet, way back in time. Have the predator fight normies and people who aren’t jacked Arnold Schwarzenegger soldiers. Have them stalk different cultures and societies. At a minimum, Prey can’t possibly be worse than Shane Black’s The Predator.

Aside from some possibly understandably iffy CGI, the trailer itself looks like the kind of efficient, self-contained thriller that Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane was, and refreshingly free of any Marvel-esque “Well, that happened!” glib humor that sank the last one of these. Having our human protagonists be an 18th century Native American tribe could be… problematic, but to have a Native American actress headline a major sci-fi release is pretty damned cool, and could launch Amber Midthunder’s career to much higher prominence.

And it looks like Joey, at least, would validate my good feelings about this, praising the movie’s less-is-more approach and relentless suspense in his review. While he and I have not always seen-eye-to-eye on movies about killer aliens, the way he describes its greatest achievements being the things I’m most hopeful for gives me a great deal of hope that someone finally understood the appeal of this series thirty-five years later.

FALL – In Theaters August 12

Fall

Directed by Scott Mann

Starring Grace Caroline Currey and Virginia Gardner 

What is it about? After climbing to the top of a 2,000-foot radio tower in the middle of the desert, two best friends find themselves trapped after the structure’s only ladder breaks apart and crashes down to the ground.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Why the hell wasn’t this movie titled “Nope?” Because while I’m sure Mr. Mann has directed a proficient, white-knuckle, single-location thriller that will hopefully open doors for his career… yeah, I’m sorry, just looking at that one production still is making me say “Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nopity, nope, nope!” over and over. Can’t watch this. Won’t be able to handle it. Sorry!

EMILY THE CRIMINAL – In Theaters August 12

Emily the Criminal

Directed by John Patton Ford

Starring Aubrey Plaza, with Theo Rossi and Megalyn Echikunwoke

What is it about? Saddled with debt, Emily gets involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles.

How am I feelin’ about this one? For fans of Aubrey Plaza wondering if she’d ever get a plum role that showcases her dramatic chops and maybe even score a coveted O-word, your wait might be coming to an end soon. For up-and-coming John Patton Ford has decided to headline her in his feature debut Emily the Criminal, which looks to be a burgeoning sub-genre: the unbearably tense and frenetic low-budget crime thriller. The most well-known examples of this are arguably Good Time and Uncut Gems from Josh and Benny Safdie, but you also have The Guilty, You Were Never Really Here, Shimmer Lake, Super Dark Times, Green Room, and Nightcrawler. I’m sure there are cultural and industry reasons why this has become a more popular subgenre in the smaller, more adult-oriented market, but for the purposes of this article, it’s important to note that Emily the Criminal finds itself in pretty (relatively) popular company.

Now, one point against this movie’s favor is that it premiered at Sundance, which has… not been a festival I’ve gelled with very often. In its favor is a mountain of positive reviews, including from Joey, who singled out its harrowing tension and Plaza herself. Now, he’s less bullish on her odds of actually becoming “Academy Award Nominee Aubrey Plaza” in five months, but that doesn’t mean she won’t show up in places like the Spirit or the Gotham Awards in the near future. Hey, worked for Adam Sandler.

BREAKING – In Theaters August 26

Breaking

Directed by Abi Damaris Corbin

Starring John Boyega, with Nicole Beharie and Michael K. Williams

What is it about? A Marine Corps veteran in financial trouble attempts to rob a Wells Fargo Bank.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Speaking of modestly-budgeted crime thrillers from the perspective of a protagonist who resorts to crime out of desperation in a ruthless late-stage capitalist dystopia, it looks like Abi Damaris Corbin is looking to make her solo feature narrative debut in a similar vein, though Breaking looks a little more ambitious and dramatic.

Its marketing team has also made the unfortunate decision to invite comparisons between this film and Sidney Lumet’s classic Dog Day Afternoon and I… I mean, look, I’m not an advertising executive so maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about. But it feels like comparing your upcoming release to one of the greatest crime thrillers ever made might be setting the bar unreasonably high. 

But hey, I’m still optimistic. Mainly because the cast is stacked. Boyega has been getting the lion’s share of the critical praise (nice that he’s finally getting a chance to flex his acting chops after he was last seen shouting “Rey!” repeatedly and doing nothing else), but you’ve also got the always-dependable Nicole Beharie and the late Michael K. Williams in his last completed film performance. Those are pretty good indicators that, at a minimum, we’ll be seeing some great performances from this.

Will it be as good as Dog Day Afternoon? Probably not. Almost certainly not. And that’s okay, because Dog Day Afternoon is a nearly impossible standard. Plus, back when it was called 892 at Sundance, Joey loved it.

THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING – In Theaters August 26

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Directed by George Miller

Starring Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba

What is it about? A lonely scholar, on a trip to Istanbul, discovers a Djinn who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Here we go! Arguably the biggest release of this month (definitely my personal most anticipated), Three Thousand Years of Longing is George Miller’s first feature directorial effort seven years after releasing the best film of the previous decade. So yes, my hopes are high for this one.

Especially since the premise and the first impressions out of Cannes make it sound really weird; like a sort of 21st century “Arabian Nights” fable with its framing device being Swinton and Elba in a hotel room just kinda pontificating on life, death, love, and regret. Yeah, I’m totally down for that, even if not all of the early reviews were unqualified raves. Some of them felt it was lumpy and meandering, while others were surprised at how much of the movie is apparently more dialogue and conversation-heavy instead of the effects-heavy trippiness conveyed by the trailer.

Either way, I’m hoping this does well. I am desperate for Hollywood to bet more on spectacle that isn’t shackled to an I.P. I want to believe Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t the start of a steady step downward in quality of output from Miller. Give me a flawed, strange, baffling movie. Please!

How about you? Let us know in the comments which film you’re most looking forward to this month.

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Written by Robert Hamer

Formerly an associate writer for recently-retired Award Circuit, Robert Hamer is a veteran who spends his time obsessing over movies and pop politics.

He is returning to film and awards season commentary to return to a sense of normalcy in these plague-ridden times of rising fascism and late-stage capitalist dystopia. Join him, won't you, in these unorthodox attempts at cinematic therapy?

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