On the Radar… (Summer Edition)

Summertime! A season of record-breaking heat waves, a last-minute attempt to avoid a purely self-inflicted economic catastrophe, and big-budget spectacle movies! I’m actually pretty surprised, in a good way, that movie theaters still exist in the post-pandemic era, and I will show my gratitude for their endurance in the face of a truly existential threat to their business by expressing unironic interest in all but one of the following movies:


Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson

Starring the voices of Shameik Moore, with Oscar Isaac and Hailee Steinfeld

What is it about? Brooklyn’s full-time, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man travels across the Multiverse to join forces with Gwen Stacy and a new team of Spider-Men to face off with a villain more powerful than anything they have ever encountered.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Did you know Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was my favorite film of 2018? I developed a bit of a reputation as a “snob” at Awards Circuit for my love of soul-chilling documentaries about historical atrocities and avant garde black-and-white romantic dramas from Portugal, but I assure you, in between those smaller, tougher, intellectually stimulating triumphs, I will also fall in love with hyper-aggressive apocalyptic action movies from Australia and unabashedly earnest historical fan fiction spectacles from India.

And, yes, an American animated superhero movie outside of the increasingly bloated canon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, utilizing a variety of cutting-edge animation techniques to tell a touching coming-of-age story that doubles as a celebration of the artistic diversity that the Spider-Man character has provided without ever feeling like cynical brand extension. During a year when we had not one, but two superhero movies released where the hero was literally a king, Rodney Rothman reminded us all how inspiring a true Everyman hero can still be. When we were deluged with ostensibly family-friendly spectacles doubling as late-stage capitalist psychological endurance tests, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller stepped in and put them all to shame.

Seriously, can we just be real for a second? Has any superhero movie ever been able to match the sheer emotional nirvana of this scene?

So I am of course super-excited for the sequel, titled Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse… right? And I am. Really, I am. But I also feel a little uneasy about it at the same time. For one thing, the legacy of the first movie is a bit… tainted, in my view, by how people collectively lost their minds over a live-action Spider-Man movie that essentially just stole Into the Spider-Verse’s central conceit and leveraged it for empty fanservice callbacks and MCU franchise canon table-setting a few years later. On top of that, with this sequel, there’s the promise of a lot more Spider-Men from alternate universes. One of the most substantial achievements of the original film was keeping its focus on Miles Morales without shortchanging the other five heroes who came to his dimension to aid him. It was a precarious balancing act that’s going to be much harder to pull off again with dozens of them this time around. That screenshot at the top is at the tail-end of a joke in the latest trailer that effectively ends on the punchline “Haha, Uncle Ben dying sure is a cliché, huh?” Which strikes me as… I don’t know, cheap? If we’re at the point where we’re reducing the drama at the heart of Spider-Man, why are we still making Spider-Man movies?

But then I have to remember that this movie is being shepherded by the same duo who made The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, two of the worst ideas for movies of the last fifteen years, into great movies. That Joey adored Across the Spider-Verse is also an encouraging sign that they have not lost sight of what made Into the Spider-Verse so special.

ASTEROID CITY – In Theaters June 16

Directed by Wes Anderson

Starring Jason Schwartzman, with Scarlett Johansson and seemingly one half of the entire Screen Actors Guild

What is it about? In 1955, students and parents from across the country gather for scholarly competition, rest, recreation, comedy, drama, and romance at a Junior Stargazer convention held in a fictional American desert town.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Ah well, ya can’t get ‘em all right. Or… all but one of them right, in my case. So Wes Anderson’s latest sprawling ensemble in a nesting doll of stories-within-stories-within-stories told by his trademark deadpan dialogue exchanges and his instantly recognizable visual style full of symmetrical knolling compositions, bright and limited color palettes, and adorably toyetic miniature props did not end his long losing streak at the Cannes Film Festival, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out anyway. I for one am hugely inspired by the career of Anderson even if I’m mixed on his filmography overall.

Think about it: how many truly “auteur”-like filmmakers have been able to do Their Thing, totally uninterrupted, for almost three decades and are still able to fund and produce their projects without any sort of compromise or interference to this day? Tim Burton more or less sold out by the dawn of the 2010’s, the Coen Brothers have broken up, David Fincher seems to have locked himself into this weird pattern of helming compromised stuffy Oscar-baiting epics and lurid crime thrillers recalling his older films, Quentin Tarantino appears to be throwing in the towel soon, and Woody Allen is… well, let’s just say I find the denials from his agent that he’s eyeing retirement a bit hard to believe.

But Wes Anderson? He’s still putting out movies at a steady clip, and he’s still making them on his terms, and he’s still a hot enough prospect that he can get major movie stars like Margot Robbie to agree to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos. “Pfft, who cares?” the strawman I invented just for this article scoffs, “Wes Anderson just makes the same kind of movie over and over again!” Okay, I don’t quite agree with that, but even if I did… no one else is, right? No one has tried to ape his style because it’s become synonymous with him. Only Wes Anderson can really make a truly “Wes Anderson movie.” And I for one won’t be sick of those any time soon.


Directed by James Mangold

Starring Harrison Ford, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Mads Mikkelsen

What is it about? In 1969, Indiana Jones lives against the backdrop of the Space Race and has started to feel doubts when the U.S. Government recruited former World War II enemies in desperation to beat the Soviet Union out in the competition. His goddaughter, Helena Brody, accompanies him on his journey. Meanwhile, Jürgen Voller, a NASA member and ex-Nazi is involved with the moon-landing program who wishes rectify the world into a better place as he sees fit.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Join me, won’t you, in a bit of a time travel thought experiment…

We’re in 1981. Ordinary People just won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the Iran Hostage Crisis just ended, and Major League Baseball is about to go on strike. What would you think if the biggest movie slated for a June release that year was the fourth sequel in the Gone with the Wind cinematic universe (also pretend Vivien Leigh didn’t die in 1967)? Imagine if there was all this hype surrounding Scarlett O’Hara, pushing 70, now dealing with World War I or something. You’d think that was crazy, right? Obviously, something had to go very wrong in American culture for us to still be clinging to sequels to movies that old, starring aging actors who should have moved on from these characters a long time ago.

Except here’s the thing: the span of time between Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the one movie in this preview article I’m not even slightly interested in seeing, and Raiders of the Lost Ark is exactly the same span of time between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gone with the Wind: 42 years. That is older than anyone who currently writes for this website. Older than Academy Award-winning actress Anne Hathaway. There will be legal adults eligible to vote in next year’s United States presidential election whose parents weren’t even born yet on the day Raiders of the Lost Ark made its theatrical debut. If you want to put our current cultural atrophy into perspective, I can hardly think of a better example.

I also think it’s worth asking why actors are still willing to support de-aging technology even though it a) is terrible and still doesn’t look convincing fifteen years after the release of David Fincher’s worst movie, and b) is clearly something major studios are trying to strong-arm audiences into accepting anyway out of a desire to reach some sort of technological “breakthrough” to replace actors entirely. How is the Screen Actors Guild not sounding the alarm after the hideous approximation of the late Peter Cushing in Rogue One? How are they not looking at the current Writers’ Guild Strike, and seeing how studio executives are very clearly not budging on demands because they think they can use ChatGPT to auto-write their scripts that they can then bring on an underpaid, overworked intern to “punch up” from now on, and think to themselves, “Oh my god, they are trying to use technology to push all of us out and rip the humanity out of cinema forever?” It’s great that they’re close to a strike authorization themselves for similar reasons as the WGA, but the threat of “de-aging” technology on their profession should be foremost on their minds.


Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning – Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Starring Tom Cruise, with Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby

What is it about? Ethan Hunt, amazingly, still chooses to accept these impossible missions. Also, Ilsa Faust is still super-hot and kicks ass. Not really part of the plot synopsis, but I feel like that definitely is an important part of it somehow.

How am I feelin’ about this one? My colleague Maxance Vincent was able to catch how much of Ethan Hunt’s pledges of self-sacrifice in the latest trailer for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (good lord, that title is a bloated word mountain!) kinda sorta seem to be a meta-commentary on Tom Cruise himself. Specifically, his borderline life-threatening commitment to the magic of old-fashioned, practical-effects-and-stunts-driven spectacle. “All of your lives are more important to me… than my own” wasn’t really directed at his IMF teammates. He’s saying that to us. He’s telling us that he will leap off of mountains, fight on top of speeding trains, and take punches from actors half his age for us. He’s putting his life on the line for our enjoyment, so the least we can do is fork over the cash to see these movies of his in a theater the way it was meant to be experienced, dammit.

And hey, why shouldn’t he lionize himself a little in this regard? Keep in mind that he stubbornly insisted Top Gun: Maverick was not going to be dumped on streaming when everyone else around him was trying to convince him that was the best move to make in the post-pandemic era. He was practically alone in his firm belief his shamelessly jingoistic fighter pilot legacyquel had to be a theatrical event, and he was right. He made a bet that paid off amazingly for him and against the conventional wisdom of his peers. Say what you will about Tom Cruise as an actor (for the record, I’m very much on Team Tom Cruise Is A Good Actor, Actually, and Joey Magidson is an even bigger fan of his abilities in front of the camera), but as a producer, he may very well have one of the shrewdest business minds in the entertainment industry today. He understands not only what audiences want, but more importantly, what they’re willing to pay to watch, on an instinctive level that even the most seasoned executives at Disney struggle with.

I’m one of them, to be clear. The trailer looks dope as hell, my absolute favorite character in the entire franchise wields a sword in one scene, and there is no dime-store-looking green screen or shabby compositing anywhere that I can detect. I don’t even care that it’s two-and-a-half-hours-long… though I’m hoping I don’t have to remember any of the series lore because I hardly remember these characters’ names? Let alone their backstories or whatever happened in the first movie?

OPPENHEIMER – In Theaters July 21

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring Cillian Murphy, with Emily Blunt and seemingly the other half of the entire Screen Actors Guild

What is it about? A biopic about the infamous theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the manager of the Los Alamos Laboratory during the Manhattan Project and the father of the atomic bomb.

How am I feelin’ about this one? The story of the Manhattan Project is the craziest story in all of science. I’m going to say that again, because I want to be clear that I understand this is a very bold claim to make, considering how many crazy science stories there are, but trust me when I say that the story of the Manhattan Project is the most bizarre, twist-filled, jaw-dropping, unpredictable, and just full-on craziest story in all of science.

We’ve had two theatrical docudramas and one made-for-TV special about this seismic event in human history, but The Beginning of the End, Fat Man and Little Boy, and Day One were nowhere near the scope, ambition, or pedigree of Christopher Nolan’s first-ever pure biopic, simply titled Oppenheimer (which disappoints me, honestly; why can’t they come up with more imaginative titles for these movies about real people? Why is it almost always just their first or last names?), is setting out to be. Joey named this his most anticipated film of the year, and it’s not hard to understand why. I’m also eagerly awaiting this one. Not only is this just a fascinating and dramatically potent bit of historical drama ripe for a great movie, I tend to like Nolan best when he stays within these tangible, realistic milieus. When he’s trying to apply his overbearing fastidiousness and earnestness to the cosmos or time travel, that’s when he stumbles in my eyes. So, I can hardly think of a more appropriate filmmaker to recreate the most infamous, high stakes, top secret scientific project ever.

I’ve had my reservations about Christopher Nolan over the last few years, but much like the aforementioned Wes Anderson, there’s something admirable about a single filmmaker able to marshal actual production budgets and the interest of some of the biggest movie stars in the world solely on his reputation in this day and age. Also inspiring? The fact that one of his most consistent actors, Cillian Murphy, who has always been game to play small supporting roles in Nolan’s films stretching all the way back to Batman Begins, is front-and-center this time. No one will win any rebel prizes for predicting him to be a major competitor for Best Lead Actor this season. Whether or not the rest of the cast can stand out is anyone’s guess.

BARBIE – In Theaters July 21

Directed by Greta Gerwig

Starring Margot Robbie, with Ryan Gosling and Will Ferrell

What is it about? A doll living in Barbieland is expelled for not being perfect enough and sets off on an adventure in the real world.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Of all the upcoming summer releases, Barbie is, by a pretty wide margin, the one I am most… let me say “curious” about. Because on the one hand, it seems like this movie only exists because someone at Warner Bros realized that they finally found themselves an actress who was as close to a real-life personification of a Barbie doll as any we’ve seen in the 21st century and after Universal Pictures and Sony Pictures let the rights lapse, it was now (“now” meaning 2019 when Margot Robbie signed on to the eponymous role and then blah blah worst pandemic in over a century slamming the entertainment industry to a halt yada yada some production delays and now here we are) or literally never to cash in on this iconic doll line.

Pretty cynical, right? No need to care about this glorified advertisement for a toy line that has contributed to a toxic degree of beauty standards enforced on literal children, as outlined in Mary Pipher’s book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, which is also… one of the inspirations that laid the foundation for the screenplay to this movie? Wait, what? Yeah, apparently Greta Gerwig found the ideal character arc for Barbie in this seminal work about the overwhelming societal pressures on American girls and, oh right, have I mentioned that Greta Gerwig, one of only seven women nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, is helming this movie? Because she’s directing this movie.

That should seal it for me, right? No way can I be anything less than excited for anything from the director of masterpieces like Little Women and Lady Bird. Except… the movie looks really visually unpleasant. At least when it’s in Barbieland. Which might be “the point,” but just looking at images like this:

And this:

It gives me a headache, honestly.

On the other hand, Hollywood reportedly went wild for this movie’s screenplay. Every actor who read it immediately begged to be a part of the project, including Simu Liu, Will Ferrell, and Ryan Gosling. Margot Robbie said that it is so bold and out-there that she assumed it would never be greenlit. And sure, maybe they’re just saying that to be good sports during the promotional tour, but also, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach are both excellent writers. Is it really that out of the realm of belief that they mined something truly special out of the seemingly sparse material that this doll line would provide them?

It is a true enigma to me, readers. I have no idea how Barbie will turn out, based on all of the hype and mystery and personal reservations I have about it. How unusual.

And how intriguing.

Let us know what you’re looking for to most this summer in the comments below!


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3 months ago

Barbie looks nauseating, but Greta is amazing. I grew up playing with these dolls, so I am looking forward to seeing this movie.



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 somewhat unorthodox attempts at cinematic therapy?

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