On the Radar… (Spring Edition)

Remember when a movie that won the Academy Award for Best Picture included a scene from one of its Oscar-nominated actresses where she bludgeons a man to death with two comically oversized dildos? And then later featured a scene where two henchmen shove phallic-shaped trophies up their asses to obtain martial arts abilities against its Oscar-winning leading lady? I just want to make sure we understand the seismic cultural significance of the Academy not only nominating that movie for several Oscars, but possibly becoming the most-awarded individual film production of all time. Just… take that in for a few seconds.

Also, I heard that one of the actors from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was indicted yesterday. Wild, huh? Anyway, what do we have to look forward to this spring?


Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic

Starring the voice talents of Chris Pratt, with Anya Taylor-Joy and Jack Black

What is it about? A plumber named Mario travels through an underground labyrinth with his brother, Luigi, trying to save a captured princess.

How am I feelin’ about this one? I guess it makes sense, on some level, that Hollywood would give the most famous video game mascot of all time another go after fumbling the ball so catastrophically three decades ago with a needlessly grim hash of so-bad-it’s-no-it’s-just-bad cinema. It makes even more sense for them to go the fully-animated route this time around, since the iconography of the Super Mario Bros “universe” would be nearly impossible to satisfactorily recreate in live action without taking away its specifically cartoony charm.

But with cinematic CGI animation as polished and advanced as it is now, with incredibly high-definition video game graphics able to match that kind of animation nowadays… why wouldn’t you just play Super Mario Odyssey again? This trailer looks like I’m watching someone playing a modern-generation Mario game with Chris Pratt doing a Linda Belcher voice and some lame pop culture reference jokes. What’s the appeal here that I wouldn’t otherwise get from the games? We’re talking about Illumination taking on The Super Mario Bros. Movie, too, and no offense to those folks, who have certainly found a formula and have succeeded at it. But they’re not exactly known for subverting expectations, either. I’m doubtful we’re looking at the next The Lego Movie.

Which is the only reason I can think of – besides “This has brand recognition and will make a lot of money” – to even bother. Heck, I’d be more excited for an over-the-top “dark ‘n gritty” live-action parody (but not the kind of dark ‘n gritty that the late Bob Hoskins would look back on as the biggest regret of his life) because at least that would be surprising. Also, it’s really frustrating how they got Anya Taylor-Joy, as close to a flesh-and-blood embodiment of a cartoon princess as I’ve ever seen, and she’s just lending her voice to Princess Peach. Ah, well.

BEAU IS AFRAID – In Theaters April 21

Directed by Ari Aster

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, with Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane

What is it about? An extremely anxious but pleasant-looking man who makes a journey home that involves some wild supernatural threats after his mother dies… at least, I think that’s what it’s about?

How am I feelin’ about this one? I don’t know what to make of Beau Is Afraid, readers. Certainly, the trailer wasn’t at all what I was expecting from what was originally announced as a three-hour-long epic project about some fictional successful entrepreneur called Disappointment Blvd. I assume they changed that when they realized putting “Disappointment” in your movie’s title doesn’t help sell it to general audiences. Just ask D.J. Caruso how that worked out for him.

Nor does this look anything like a natural next step from the director who exploded onto the scene with the deeply distressing Hereditary and the mostly tedious Midsommar. This looks almost more comedic than scary or even suspenseful. Which is not a complaint! I wish more filmmakers who made a splashy debut with a horror/thriller feature diversified their filmographies earlier in their careers so they don’t just box themselves in as a “horror/thriller director.” Steven Spielberg’s follow-up to Jaws was Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Coen Brothers used their goodwill from Blood Simple to make Raising Arizona. Meanwhile, M. Night Shyamalan chased that “supernatural thriller with a tWiSt EnDiNg” dragon for nearly a decade after The Sixth Sense with, to put it kindly, diminishing returns.

So while I am not terribly pleased with how Ari Aster is not backing away from his fondness for super-long films here, I cannot imagine a cinephile anywhere seeing the prospect of something so unabashedly weird without at least some sense of curiosity. I have no idea how this will play with general audiences or if it will be some kind of possible awards contender (don’t laugh; the most recent Academy Award winner for Best Picture had scenes like this). Couldn’t even venture a guess as to whether or not this will be up my alley, personally. Should be an interesting object of discussion and debate, at least.

EVIL DEAD RISE – In Theaters April 21

Directed by Lee Cronin

Starring Alyssa Sutherland, with Lily Sullivan and Gabrielle Echols

What is it about? A twisted tale of two estranged sisters whose reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them into a primal battle for survival as they face the most nightmarish version of family imaginable.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Right off the bat, sight unseen, there’s something Evil Dead Rise appears to be doing that I wish more movies did in this late-stage, brand-dominated, hypercapitalist hellscape that is modern Hollywood: it takes the basic setting of an existing I.P. and tells a completely new story with new characters within it. I think I would be far less annoyed at the prevalence of these ongoing franchises if they just did that instead of trying to pander to the same generation of fans with the same stories tenuously connected to the same characters over and over again.

The worst offender is Star Wars; I’m not a stakeholder in Disney and don’t sit on their board of directors, so I’m sure there’s some calculus they’re considering for the company’s bottom line in constantly tying everything back to the Skywalkers and the Palpatines. But if I paid $4 billion for an entire galaxy far, far away’s worth of potential, I would feel like I was short-changing my substantial investment by tying everything to them and their connections to the original trilogy, the third installment of which is approaching its fortieth anniversary (Note: I have not seen Andor, but by all accounts, it’s exactly the kind of Star Wars series that breaks away from those canonical shackles, so good on franchise shepherd Kathleen Kennedy for finally letting that happen). This does not, as far as I can tell, link back to Ash or “Klaatu barada nikto” or any of the lore built up in that tv show from a few years back. And that’s good! More long-running movie franchises should just roll with the broad strokes of the existing worldbuilding to tell new stories with new characters in different settings!

I don’t know if I like how it’s seemingly continuing the intensely violent and serious tone established by Fede Álvarez in his remake back in 2013, though. The thing that distinguished Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead trilogy from other similar demonic possession movies that were all the rage after The Exorcist was its tongue-in-cheek humor, and if there’s one thing this current era of horror doesn’t need more of, it’s po-faced seriousness. But then again, this was also a pretty somber trailer so maybe we’re getting some deceptive (in a good way) marketing?


Directed by James Gunn

Starring Chris Pratt, with Zoe Saldaña and Will Poulter

What is it about? Still reeling from the “loss” [sic] of Gamora, Peter Quill must rally the Guardians of the Galaxy to go on a mission to defend the universe and protect one of their own.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Hey, did you know InfoWars figurehead Alex Jones was apparently the first choice for the role of Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, in Guardians of the Galaxy? They (and by “they,” I mean the Globalists, of course) were willing to pay him double what Chris Pratt earned for the first installment, and all he had to do was swear his fealty to Satan. This offer was allegedly presented to him in 2008, a year before Nicole Perlman even started writing her first draft of the screenplay. Totally believable story about just how highly in-demand he is in the entertainment industry. He is definitely not a sad, destructive, self-aggrandizing liar.

So with that bit of movie trivia out of the way, what should we expect from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the probably maybe I am pretty reasonably sure final adventure of the titular team of misfit space renegades? Keep in mind that series director James Gunn has left Marvel to try to resurrect the now-defunct D.C. Extended Universe into something a little more coherent and broadly appealing. Dave Bautista has declared this will be his final outing as Drax the Destroyer. Karen Gillan is strongly implying in interviews that this movie is the conclusion of Nebula’s arc, Alex Jones Chris Pratt sure has come off pretty emotional in interviews in a way that does not make much sense outside of the context of a good thing coming to an end, and it seems like there is going to be an increased focus on Rocket Raccoon to bring an alleged “end” to his story as well.

Emphasis on alleged “end,” to be clear. I truly hope that all of these signs really do point to a definitive finale for these characters. Not that I dislike the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, necessarily; the last two installments were better-than-average in terms of character growth and meaningful narrative consequences. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe desperately needs to commit to some finality to its now-overstuffed roster of characters. It’s nice that they gave Tony Stark and Steve Rogers their big send-offs, and are finally letting Natasha Romanoff go after a bizarrely-timed solo spinoff, but there are still way too many holdovers who are just hanging around doing nothing of any real interest long after their stories have been resolved.

Most of “Phase IV” has suffered from this problem (with the possible exception of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings since that was an origin story for a new character) and this current “Phase V” is starting off on an even worse foot, with the flat-out narratively broken Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania being possibly the absolute worst Marvel movie I have yet seen (needless to say I disagree strongly with Joey’s positive assessment).

Simply put: Marvel needs to start saying goodbye to a lot of these characters for real and putting a definite “The End” on several of their subordinate franchises if they hope to move forward. If they chicken out and just tease more spinoffs and extraneous characters out of this installment, I’d rather imagine Alex Jones overacting in a space fantasy setting like this one:

FAST X – In Theaters May 19

Directed by Justin Lin Louis Leterrier

Starring Vin Diesel, with Jason Statham and Michelle Rodriguez

What is it about? Dom and Letty and FAMILY and stuff.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Well, looks like I’m back to having to speculate on the potential lore and popularity of a franchise I haven’t paid attention to in decades and I’ve seen… I think three of these? Tops? I can only remember seeing two of them but I swore I saw pieces of Fast Five at some point in the past. Or maybe I’m thinking of Fast & Furious?

We’re back to the continuing adventures of this FAMILY as now they’re targeted by a new villain played by Jason Momoa, the… man, is he now the former Aquaman since the DCEU is dead and buried? I really don’t want to see that sequel even released in theaters anymore after such a bleak and horribly misogynistic farce of a trial that has forever stained that franchise. Anyway, he’s mad because of something that I think may have happened in a previous film so now he declares war against Dom’s FAMILY. Joining Dom’s FAMILY for the first time is Academy Award-winner Brie Larson, who I guess is now just going to slum through these big-budget action movies after starting off as one of the most interesting actresses of her generation with her powerful performances in small memorable films like Short Term 12 and Room. She also seems weirdly fatalistic about this career turn saying in an interview about agreeing to be in Fast X, “I was scared of what would happen to me. But what I always come back to is, I have to live with myself in a way that nobody else has to. The choices I make, I have to live with, whether I regret them or not.” Um… that… doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. She’s talking about signing on to a role like she’s about to marry a man she knows she doesn’t really love or something.

Let’s see, what else is going on with this movie… oh, it looks like Gal Gadot is returning after her character supposedly “died” in a previous installment (because death is never real in these movies). The original director, Justin Lin, stepped away from the director’s chair due to “creative differences” and now Louis Leterrier is the director of what is being pitched as a two-part finale closing out the journey of this FAMILY. I can’t imagine feeling so strongly about this noisy, silly, nonsense car chase franchise that you’d quit a directing gig over it. What did he want to do that Universal wasn’t down with? Did he want to take the FAMILY into space? Reveal everything to be in Tommy Westphall’s imagination?

If I were in charge of this franchise, I would honestly try to conclude it in the style of a Naked Gun-type farce. How cool would it be if the villains Cipher and Dante went out like this?

THE LITTLE MERMAID – In Theaters May 26

Directed by Rob Marshall

Starring Halle Bailey, with Daveed Diggs and Melissa McCarthy

What is it about? The Walt Disney Company continues to defile the memory of their animated classics by re-skinning the movie that kickstarted the Disney Renaissance.

How am I feelin’ about this one? God, look at that hideous still image up there. It looks like they forced poor Halle Bailey to sing what I assume is “Part of Your World” in murky toilet water. Compare that greyish-brown smudge to this:

No, I am not going to pretend to feel anything other than disgust at this trend of live-action Disney Renaissance remakes. They’re all vile affronts to art that cynically weaponize my generation’s nostalgia to bilk money in a way that screws over the creative artists who actually did the work of making something memorable. There are no exceptions to this. Trying to rewrite The Little Mermaid as some hashtag girlboss empowerment parable and patting themselves on the back for casting a black actress in the lead role, as if an originally white character is some ideal role that a nonwhite performer should feel grateful to be “promoted” into, doesn’t help their case, either. This is the same studio that (allegedly) abandoned Kelly Marie Tran in reaction to racist backlash from fanboys. You think they actually care about diversity beyond getting some cheap puff pieces about it? You think they are going to lift a finger to help Halle Bailey get an original project off the ground?

I hate these movies. I hate this fad. I hate that Disney is committed to doing this with all of their old properties as a means to avoid investing in original content for this generation of children. Shame on them for doing this, and shame on us for rewarding them for it.

So which movies are you most looking forward to this spring? How do you think the man now on the hook to grieving Sandy Hook families would have fared as a sci-fi/fantasy superhero? Let us know in the comments.


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Written by Robert Hamer

Formerly an associate writer for recently-retired Award Circuit, Robert Hamer is a military veteran who now 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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