By Laurence Lerman / New York City
The movies are back…again! Dozens of new films are scheduled for release in theaters and on streaming platforms this summer, just like they were in the days prior to the pandemic shutting down theaters in the summer of 2020.
It begins on Friday, May 26, with a dozen films coming out of the gate and arriving on screens to kick off Memorial Day Weekend, the movie industry’s unofficial beginning of summer. A few of them have already garnered some significant buzz.
Among them are the raucous Italian father-and-son comedy About My Father starring Robert De Niro and stand-up comic Sebastian Maniscalco; Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid, the studio’s beloved 1989 animated musical of the same; and writer/director Nicole Holofcener's You Hurt My Feelings, a comedy-drama starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus about a novelist’s marriage becoming unmoored after her husband negatively reacts to her latest book.
I’m looking forward to seeing them all--when they make it to a streaming platform.
But there are a trio of summertime must-sees on my list. Must-sees in a nice air-conditioned theater where I can give myself up to what’s happening on the screen, with a large popcorn and Diet Coke in hand.
Sign me up for the following three and I’ll see you at the movies!
Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny (June 30)
There are at least a half-dozen major franchise installments coming this summer, including the latest entries in the Mission: Impossible, Transformers and Spider-Man series. But it’s all about the intrepid Professor Jones for me. It’s been more than 40 years since Harrison Ford first cracked his whip as moviedom’s favorite archaeologist-adventurer and he’s back for what it being billed as the final installment in the series.
The accomplished James Mangold (Ford v Ferrari, Walk the Line) sits in the director’s chair with usual helmer Steven Spielberg taking on producer duties. Written by veterans Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow), the story is set in 1969 and concerns the U.S. government’s attempts to beat the Soviets in the Space Race.
Joining Ford in the outing are franchise newcomers Antonio Banderas, Mads Mikkelsen, Toby Jones and, as Indy’s goddaughter Helena, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who we’ve seen too little of since the final season of Fleabag in 2019.
I’ve seen the previous four Indiana Jones sagas in the theater—the first two are among my favorite nights at the movies as a teenager—and I’m not gonna let this one slip out of the theaters before I queue up and grab a seat. (Who am I kidding—I’ll probably buy the ticket online!).
Afire (July 14)
The latest entry from German auteur Christian Petzold won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. It’s Petzold’s sixth to have played in competition at the Berlinale.
Though his work is frequently set in cities, here the writer/director places his characters in a cozy coastal cottage in a sleepy beach town. In this case, it’s three young men on a low-key working vacation, and a young woman whom the cottage’s owner forgot to tell the boys would also be staying there. Simmering tensions and sexual dabblings come into play just as the skies begin to turn red and the threat of seasonal forest fires inject a foreboding feeling into the quietly anxious mix.
Petzold is the most successful director of Germany’s “Berlin School” film movement of character-driven, aesthetically restrained works that are best represented by his well-received Barbara (2012), Phoenix (2014) and Transit (2018). Afire’s trailer gives me the sense that it could be a little less restrained and more emotionally layered that his previous films. I’m game for that.
With its primary cast of four and secluded setting, Petzold’s new movie also appears to be more of a chamber drama than his earlier films, which means it would probably make for an acceptable title to stream on its first viewing.
But I’m excited to see it all its bigger-than-life glory on a movie house’s sizable screen.
Oppenheimer (July 21)
After his only partially successful attempt to bring audiences back to theaters in the fall of 2020 with the theatrical release of the large-scale Tenet, filmmaker Christopher Nolan returns to the big screen with his equally expansive historical drama starring Cillian Murphy as the titular nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the film follows Oppenheimer working with a team of scientists during the World War II era Manhattan Project, with a goal of developing the atomic bomb. Treading the precarious line between creation and destruction proves to be trickier than Oppenheimer ever imagined. Or, as Murphy's Oppenheimer puts it in the trailer, “We imagine a future, and our imaginings horrify us."
It's a massive and explosive subject (pun intended) that received a provocative telling in the 2014 TV series Manhattan and Nolan’s big screen take on the material will undoubtedly be incendiary as well. He’s certainly tapped a combustible supporting cast to help tell the story, including Robert Downey, Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Rami Malek, Josh Hartnett, Tom Conti, Kenneth Branagh and this year’s It Girl Florence Pugh of Don’t Worry Darling, A Good Person and the upcoming Dune: Part Two.
Like Nolan’s Tenet, Inception, Interstellar and others, Oppenheimer was shot with IMAX film cameras and is set to open on the nation’s widest and finest screens. So I’ve got that going for me when I slip into my seat.
Still, I like to remind myself how there was a time not too long ago that movies of all sizes and scopes would first be seen in a theater—and usually look great!. And the “theatrical experience” wasn’t the primary selling point for a film.
Remember those times?
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.