I hate to sound optimistic (ask anybody), but I've been developing a theory that, in spite of literally everything, Summer 2022 has become a pretty good movie season. This is due in no small part to my constant, chiggerish contrarianism, which I'll address momentarily, and to my sadistic satisfaction at the movie-industrial complex maybe finally addressing/adapting to the changing landscape of media consumption. In my defense, my warm feelings about a few months of releases are not solely born of vindictiveness and reactionism, just mostly. I still like having a good time at the movies, even if I'm home instead of, well, actually "at the movies."
No one will brook the argument that Top Gun: Maverick will not go down as the definitive Summer Movie, 2022, and more power to it. I may love it all the more for remaining an outlier, a vivified relic of an era rapidly vanishing in the rearview. Because I quietly revel in the minor disruption of popular opinion, though, I also love it because it is not from one of the major families of contemporary American movie franchises. A sequel, sure, but one that pays homage to its roots while also (pun intended) flying in the face of certain other efforts to dazzle and impress us.
By the same token Thor: Love and Thunder, the most recent addition to the poorly received MCU fourth whatever-you-call-it, is deeply satisfying on its own merits but also because it seems to have fomented unease and discomfort among the faithful.
Similarly, The Gray Man, which people seem to hate due to apparently misbegotten expectations, turns many of the techniques of comic book tentpoles in on themselves to create a winking work of pure entertainment. With its low-stakes, green-screen grandiosity, it satisfies the need for a big popcorn movie without having to leave the house (or wherever one affixes oneself to one's streaming device).
By contrast, Nope goes all in on the notion of the theatrical experience, with a many-layered narrative and breathtaking images that create an enveloping, engrossing experience, even if it doesn't cohere into a work of greatness.
A disclaimer: Circumstances at home and abroad have prevented some of the industry's lesser efforts from reaching the marketplace and allowed me the luxury of disregarding most of those that did. In addition to watching fewer movies, optimism and a trepidatious collective exhale (or inhale) may well have colored my reception of the ones I did see and enjoy — that stubborn optimism again.
So now it's late-season and we've got a couple of new releases, one theatrical and one streaming, both imperfect but continuing the trend of solid summer movies.
BULLET TRAIN. In the last decade or so, stunt players/coordinators and second-unit directors have risen from obscurity into the ranks of major directors, David Leitch perhaps foremost among them. John Wick (2014), Atomic Blonde (2017), Deadpool 2 (2018) and Hobbs & Shaw (2019) have together made about a zillion dollars and collectively changed our expectations regarding fight choreography and action per minute ratios in mainstream movies. And, in another era, might have made Leitch a household name. Weird.
Leitch has now applied himself to a talent-laden, nonstop update of the archetypal British-style whodunnit. (In this case, update means death by nearly every violent means possible). Couched in some business about power struggles within the Yakuza and a ransom demand, the plot of Bullet Train primarily serves to mix an allsorts of assassins on a candy colored train bound for Kyoto. Late-period Brad Pitt does his best, jokily inept version of himself as an operator intent on self-interrogation and personal growth. Brian Tyree Henry wears probably the best denim jacket in contemporary cinema, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson somehow pours all of '70s UK grime cinema into a very smart three-piece suit; delightful cameos abound. R. 126M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
PREY. As I've undoubtedly harped on before, Predator (1987) is one of my original foundational texts. Peak Schwarzenegger, peak-1980s nonsense, peak John McTiernan action dominance, it both amazed and deeply frightened me when I first saw it. 35 years later, it remains a classic, a movie far better made than it has any right to be and an origin point for much of what has happened since, not to mention a great number of sequels of varying quality.
The latest installment, from director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane, 2016) presents a sort-of origin story, with a predator visiting Earth — specifically the North American Great Plains — in the early 18th century, where it tests its mettle against a grizzly bear, some loathsome buffalo hunters and a convention-defying Comanche girl named Naru (Amber Midthunder).
While Prey undeservedly suffers from living in the shadow of Predator and, perhaps more fairly, doesn't add a lot to the fearsomeness of its storied antagonist species, it is a rousing, atmospheric exercise in historical action. R. 99M. HULU.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
BODIES, BODIES, BODIES. Rich kids playing a murder game in a big, fancy house. What could go wrong? Starring Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Lee Pace and Pete Davidson. R. 95M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
DC LEAGUE OF SUPER-PETS. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Kate McKinnon voice superheroes' best friends. PG. 106M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
EASTER SUNDAY. A working comedian comes home for a big Filipino family gathering full of crazy. Starring Joe Koy, Lydia Gaston and Tia Carrere. PG13. 96M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
FALL. I don't know why these adventurous besties always end up trapped in shark cages and whatnot but these two are stuck atop a 2,000-foot radio tower. Ladies, you can actually just chill by a hotel pool. PG13. 107M. BROADWAY.
MACK & RITA. Peak Coastal Grandma comedy about a woman in her 30s (Elizabeth Lail) who wakes up as her 70-year-old self (Diane Keaton). PG13. 95M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU. Animated prequel with the chaotic little henchfolk. PG. 90M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
NOPE. Strange things are afoot at a California ranch and Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya witness them in this Jordan Peele sci-fi thriller. R. 135M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER. More Norse space-god action from the Marvel universe, with Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman doing couple-matchy capes. PG13. 119M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK. Tom Cruise returns to the cockpit with a note-perfect work of pure energy that sidesteps thorny politics for the pure physicality and mental plasticity required of a modern fighter pilot. PG13. 137M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. A girl who grew up alone in the swamp in North Carolina is embroiled in a murder. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre (707) 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.