So… I guess we’re back? If you’re an American, chances are you’ve been vaxxed to the max already and or are probably awaiting your second dose, which should come quickly. As we already noted, folks like Marvel are already flexing, welcoming audiences back to theaters, and well, that means nature is healing, right? Cinema is healing too, and with New York vowing to reopen fully on June 1, that probably means the rest of the country isn’t far behind.
Now, that may not mean you’re still going to go to movie theaters, go unmasked, or heed caution to the wind of all your personal COVID safety protocols, but regardless, you’re probably going to be watching movies anyhow, in some shape or form, whether it’s in theaters, on VOD, or in the case of Warner Bros, waiting for titles to hit HBO Max given they hit concurrently with theaters.
Whatever the case may be, there’s going to be a lot of movies this summer, and yes, the options will be limitless and diverse; you’ll have all the big blockbusters, the artful indies, the VOD titles, the mid-sized dramas, the micro-budgeted films, and every little thing in between. With life returning to normal (fingers crossed) and cinema seemingly set for the same normalization, now is as good a time as ever to drop our big summer movie preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to the most in the comments.
Gia Coppola’s feature debut, “Palo Alto,” was dreamy and poetic enough to live up to the pedigree of her illustrious last name. While there is certainly no shortage of talented Coppolas, “Palo Alto” was memorable enough that it left us itching with anticipation as to where its young director would go next. “Mainstream” is Coppola’s hyperactive-looking sophomore feature: a kinetic, absurdist satire of our oversaturated, relentlessly overstimulated social media epoch that stars Maya Hawke, Andrew Garfield, Nat Wolff, Johnny Knoxville, and everyone’s favorite Coppola familiar, Jason Schwartzman. “Mainstream” has sharply divided critical opinion in the wake of its Venice 2020 premiere, with our own Guy Lodge giving the film a less-than-favorable review, calling it “a big, blunt, sanctimonious satire of YouTuber idolatry.” A harsh, albeit well-written, take, to be sure, but Ms. Coppola possesses such an inventive authorial voice that we’re basically in for anything she does at this point. (May 7, IFC)
Anthony Mandler, a music video vet who’s worked with everyone from Jay-Z to the Jonas Brothers, premiered his feature debut, the star-studded legal drama “Monster” at Sundance 2018. Three years and a global pandemic later, and Mandler’s film will be made available to stream via Netflix come May 7; the sober-sounding drama tells a timely, hard-hitting story about a young Black man whose tangential, innocuous connection to a deadly crime ends up thrusting his future into a state of tumult and jeopardy. Based on Walter Dean Myers’ novel of the same name, “Monster” stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., a dynamic actor who has tackled similar material in the likes of “Luce” and “Monsters and Men,” and will also feature Jennifer Hudson, John David Washington, Tim Blake Nelson, Jharrel Jerome, and rappers A$AP Rocky and Nas in auxiliary roles. (May 7, Netflix)
“Wrath Of Man”
With 2020’s “The Gentlemen,” Guy Ritchie returned to his roots, and his latest, “Wrath Of Man,” offers further proof that the director clearly sees no need to go back to franchise filmmaking anytime soon. “Wrath Of Man” is more lean, low-down Ritchie pulp; this one’s about an enigmatic, badass security driver who reveals hitherto unknown fighting skills when the heist of an armored truck goes sideways. The five-second elevator pitch is essentially “A History Of Violence” by way of “Den Of Thieves,” but if skeptics need convincing, consider that “Wrath of Man” reunites Ritchie with Jason Statham, the iconic cockney bruiser whom Ritchie directed to much acclaim when he was still a relative unknown in the likes of “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels.” Will “Wrath Of Man” continue the director’s recent winning streak, or will it be just another passable punch-‘em-up? As they say, only one way to find out. (May 7, United Artists)
Remember French filmmaker Alexandre Aja, known for horror fare like “Piranha 3D” (2010), “Horns” (2013), and “Crawl” (2019)? He’s back, but this time it’s with a sci-fi horror called “Oxygen” starring Melanie Laurent from Mike Mills’ “Beginners,” Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” and a whole slew of French films before that. The thriller co-stars Mathieu Amalric and Malik Zidi. It has the most basic of premises, which sounds like a good thing (and maybe not unlike the Ryan Reynolds movie “Buried”): a woman wakes up in a medical cryo unit, she doesn’t remember who she is or how she ended up in this claustrophobic box. More importantly, she’s running out of oxygen and must rebuild her memory to find a way out of her nightmare. (May 12, Netflix)
“Riders Of Justice”
Written and directed by Danish screenwriter/filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen (“After the Wedding,” “Men & Chicken“), his latest, “Riders Of Justice” apparently walks a tricky line of violence and dark comedy. It also stars one of his consistent favorites, Mads Mikkelsen, the star of many of his previous works, including “Men & Chicken.” The film follows a recently-deployed soldier who is forced to return home to care for his teenage daughter after his wife is killed in a tragic train accident. But when a survivor of the wreck surfaces claiming foul play, he begins to suspect his wife was murdered and embarks on a bloody mission of revenge. How do you spin comedy out of that? Only the Danes could tell you that. Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro, Gustav Lindh, Roland Møller also star in the film. (May 14, theatrical, May 21, VOD)
In addition to being a serviceable potboiler, January’s “The Little Things” was also a reminder that there is still very much an audience out there for the post-“Se7en” serial killer procedural. Enter “Spiral,” the latest chapter in the book of “Saw,” which looks to be a marriage of that aforementioned throwback subgenre with the more outsized, sadistic depravity that this particular series has become (in)famous for. Chris Rock will be flexing his dramatic muscles once again following the third season of “Fargo,” playing Detective Ezekiel Banks, who, surprise surprise, unwittingly finds himself drawn into a grisly slate of ritualistic slayings (the fact that Atlanta rapper 21 Savage, he of the murderous, monotone, Jigsaw-like flow, is writing songs for the movie is also intriguing). Honestly, this could be enjoyable dreck, or it could be just dreck… that said, we have to believe there’s a reason that Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, and Marisol Nichols signed up for this, right? (May 14, Lionsgate)
“Those Who Wish Me Dead”
Taylor Sheridan has a very particular thing that he does – he’s a master of the moody, macho, smoldering neo-Western, as evidenced by his terrific scripts for “Sicario” and “Hell Or High Water” – and the upcoming “Those Who Wish Me Dead” marks the writer/director’s second effort behind the camera following 2017’s reservation-set murder mystery, “Wind River.” Angelina Jolie stars as Hannah Faber, a veteran firefighter battling a raging blaze in the woods of Montana, who crosses paths with a scared boy who is being pursued through the wilderness by cold-blooded assassins. Yup, sounds like Sheridan! Jolie is better-known for her directing and philanthropic work as of late than for, y’know, being a movie star, but she looks tremendous in this film’s trailer, and we’re hoping that she can inject a vital feminine perspective into the overwhelmingly masculine milieu Sheridan is known to work in. (May 14, Warner Bros)
While many of us are looking forward to the coming summer movie season as an excuse to relax and unwind with our favorite blockbusters, a wake-up call of a documentary-like “Us Kids,” which takes a hard look at America’s ongoing gun violence epidemic, could prove to be necessary viewing for those who are looking for something a bit more politically urgent and tough-minded than, say, “Black Widow.” Directed by Kim Snyder (whose documentary “Newton,” another nonfiction investigation of gun violence, won a Peabody award some years ago), “Us Kids” is specifically focused on the March For Our Lives movement and how this youth-driven initiative is mobilizing American citizens to tackle foundational issues like racial justice, police-sanctioned brutality, and income inequality. There’s certainly some truth to the maxim that the children are our future, and those who are curious about checking out Snyder’s latest can do so when the film hits PVOD in the second week of May (May 14th, Greenwich Entertainment).
“The Woman In The Window”
Honestly, it feels like a minor miracle that Joe Wright’s latest, the starry throwback thriller “The Woman In The Window” is even getting distribution in 2021, since the film was originally slated to be a December 2019 prestige release. Between reports of Tony Gilroy-assisted rewrites, the studio being unhappy with early test screenings, and the whole Disney–Fox acquisition drama, no one would ever claim that the road to release for Wright’s film has been easy. Still, if nothing else, the multiple delays have stoked anticipation for this glossy-looking adaptation of A.J. Finn’s best-selling mystery novel. We’re certainly looking forward to seeing Amy Adams sinking her teeth into a juicy lead part, and the fact that she’ll be assisted by the capable likes of Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Wyatt Russell, and Julianne Moore does a good deal to put us at ease. (May 14, Netflix).
“Army Of The Dead”
We’ve been talking about Zack Snyder’s cut of “Justice League” so darn much that it’s become easy to forget that the “300” auteur has another movie scheduled for release this year: that would be “Army Of The Dead,” a high-concept horror-action hybrid in which a troop of heavily-armed mercs ventures into the zombie-overrun modern-day Las Vegas strip to pull off a $200 million heist. Snyder has been so firmly locked into the funereal style of the DC films as of late that, if nothing else, “Army Of The Dead” could signal a return to the more playful tone that distinguished his earlier movies (remember, one of Snyder’s best films remains his remake of George A. Romero’s “Dawn Of The Dead”). For what it’s worth, the cast is also stacked with heavy-hitters, with Dave Bautista leading an outfit that also includes Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, and more. (May 21, Netflix)
For better or worse, class-focused allegories are all the rage in our current cinematic landscape. Those who possess an appetite for that sort of thing are going to want to check out “New Order,” an intense-looking new dystopian genre item from “April’s Daughter” filmmaker Michel Franco. The movie’s central hook certainly feels steeped in the same urgent inequality consciousness that has informed the recent likes of “Parasite” and “The Platform”: in an economically divided contemporary Mexico, an armed proletarian militia take over a 1%-er wedding ceremony with the intent of taking hostages. It sounds enjoyably wild, and the movie’s brutal trailer certainly gives audiences an idea of what fresh madness they might be in for; Playlist critic Carlos Aguilar rewarded the film with an A rating, writing: “bound to be contentious at home for its brutal depiction of a not-so-implausible and not-so-distant dystopia, the auteur’s latest shocks with blistering purpose.” See what the fuss is about when “New Order” hits select American theaters in early May. (May 21, Neon)
The filmmakers of “Cruella” want you to know that you’ve never seen a Cruella de Vil quite like the one they’re offering up in their revisionist update of “101 Dalmatians.” This “Cruella” will be played by a sneering Emma Stone against the gritty, evocative backdrop of the 70’s London punk scene, with directing duties falling to “I, Tonya” filmmaker Craig Gillespie. Stone and Gillespie are currently laughing off presumptuous journalistic allusions to Todd Philips’ “Joker,” but Stone’s director recently clarified the comparison, insisting that this “Cruella” will be an unlikely origin story that simultaneously shows the “darker side” of the iconic villainess while also being, apparently, “a lot of fun.” Hey, sounds like a wicked good time to us – particularly if you’ve got Disney+ Premier Access! (May 28, Disney)
“A Quiet Place Part II”
The release plan for “A Quiet Place Part II” has become frustratingly impossible to forecast, although this dilemma is admittedly not unusual for many high-profile films that were supposed to see U.S. distribution last year. “Part II” was originally supposed to bow in March 2020 before the pandemic brought upon multiple postponements, with Paramount eventually debating whether or not to shuffle the tentpole to their newly-minted streaming service (the previously-planned September 17 date has since been bumped up to a Memorial Day weekend release). The first “Quiet Place” was the definition of a movie you had to see on a big screen, and one can only hope that this second installment, helmed once again by Krasinski, will offer up the same giddy, frightful multiplex thrills. Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds return to reprise their characters from the original, while series newcomers include Cillian Murphy and Djimon Honsou. (May 28, Paramount)
The Rest Of May: Arthouse aficionados will want to carve time out of their viewing schedule for Heidi Ewing’s “I Carry You With Me,” bowing May 21 via Sony Pictures Classics. There’s also the latest offering from Bleecker Street, “Dream Horse,” which stars Toni Collette and Damian Lewis in an inspiring true story about a small-town bartender entering the unlikely world of horse racing.
For those in the mood for additional grown-up fare, see “Here Today,” an unlikely buddy dramedy starring and directed by Billy Crystal. The “When Harry Met Sally” actor shares the screen with the great Tiffany Haddish. David Oyelowo and Rosario Dawson will headline “The Water Man,” about a desperate boy who becomes obsessed with a mythical creation when searching for a cure to his mother’s life-threatening illness, while Emilia Clarke and Jack Huston will star in “Above Suspicion,” a kind of neo-noir throwback courtesy of “The Bone Collector” and “Patriot Games” director Philip Noyce.
For those who are seeking out thoughtful international cinema as an alternative to summer’s bigger, noisier movies, there’s also Haifaa Al Mansour’s “The Perfect Candidate,” and the latest from genius filmmaker Jia Zhang-Ke (“A Touch Of Sin,” “Ash Is Purest White”), titled “Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue,” sure to be another hard-hitting look at the social and political intricacies of Chinese society.
Prime Video subscribers who also happen to be connoisseurs of aughts R&B will also want to check out “P!NK: All I Know So Far, a new doc from “The Greatest Showman” director Michael Gracey that follows the award-nominated R&B superstar on her 2019 “Beautiful Trauma” tour, and hopes to give audiences an inside glimpse at her life as a performer, and also just as a person (the doc hits Prime on May 21st). For those who are looking for another, even more, to-the-moment doc about a contemporary musician, may we suggest “The Boy From Medellín,” a presumably more lighthearted outing from the normally more serious Matthew Heineman, director of “Cartel Land,” which will aim to provide audiences with an intimate personal portrait of reggaeton superstar J. Balvin, who really is everywhere these days, as he prepares for a sold-out stadium show in his hometown of Medellín, Colombia.