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Critics share the must-see films of the summer movie season


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: It's another summer of movies, with big blockbusters returning to theater and some comedy and horror indie films too. But will that combination be enough to finally draw people back to theaters? Jeffrey Brown zooms in with two film critics for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: As always, there are way too many movies out or out soon for us to cover, but we will offer a few suggestions with the help of Ann Hornaday, chief film critic of The Washington Post, and Aisha Harris, host of NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" and author of the new book "Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me."

Nice to see both of you. Aisha, congratulations on your book. Let me start with you.

A couple of the big blockbusters. This is the season, right? So what's coming that you're looking forward to?

Aisha Harris, NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour": I think the blockbuster that I'm most excited about is "Barbie," which is directed by Greta Gerwig, and it is I.P. It's a franchise. I know a lot of us critics, including myself, are little over the franchisification of everything, but I am excited about this because Greta Gerwig is one of the most interesting directors we have working right now. And the cast is amazing. You have Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Issa Are, many, many other stars.

And Greta Gerwig and her co-writer, Noah Baumbach, seem like they are taking Barbie in a different direction and a little bit more of a subversive direction. So I'm excited for "Barbie" especially.

I'm also very curious about the new "Mission: Impossible." Of course, Tom Cruise is a reliable box office star. And I'm really excited for that, because it's one of those franchises that I think keeps getting better every new installment. And Tom Cruise is still really fun to watch.

Jeffrey Brown: Ann, you're nodding your head with Tom Cruise, right?

Ann Hornaday, Film Critic, The Washington Post: Avidly. Avidly. (LAUGHTER)

Ann Hornaday: I am completely with Aisha on "Mission: Impossible."

This franchise has proven to be so durable. And as she pointed out, it does get better and better. And I think we can attribute a lot of that to Tom Cruise.

Jeffrey Brown: OK, have you got a couple of other biggie blockbusters for the summer?

Ann Hornaday: Well, same day as "Barbie," we're going to get "Oppenheimer," which is the biopic from Christopher Nolan about Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the nuclear bomb.

This is based on a masterful biography by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, "American Prometheus," which was just this really comprehensive look at Oppenheimer's life and all the contradictions of his character and, of course, obviously having to do with his later remorse over developing the Bob, just a fascinating man of contradictions and paradoxes.

And I'm optimistic that Nolan will really embrace those. Cillian Murphy will play Oppenheimer, which I think looks like a stellar piece of casting. So I'm really optimistic for this one.

Jeffrey Brown: How about a smaller film? You want to start us on our next round, Ann, an independent, something that gets less attention?

Ann Hornaday: Absolutely.

I mean, this has been such a great year for first-time filmmakers. And one of them is this woman named Celine Song. And she has a new movie coming out called "Past Lives" starring Greta Lee about a young woman whose family emigrates from South Korea when she's 12, and she has to leave her best friend and kind of schoolgirl crush behind.

She ends up moving to New York to become a writer. And she and her old flame played by Teo Yoo reconnect online. And this is just this acutely observed, delicate, sensitive, just I think a beautifully wrought drama. It's a love story we don't really see very often on screen. And Celine Song has just brought it to life with such subtlety and style and flair. I'm a huge fan.

Jeffrey Brown: Aisha, do you have a couple of smaller or more independent films, something you're really looking forward to?

Aisha Harris: Yes.

The first one I would say is "The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster." It's by newcomer Bomani J. Story. And the premise really intrigues me. It is about this young girl who loses her brother to gun violence. And she's sort of this science nerd whiz kid. And she decides to mourn her brother and express her grief by creating this sort of Frankenstein-ish monster.

And Story has talked about sort of being inspired by the Frankenstein Mary Shelley story. And so I'm really curious to see how him taking this very -- this story that's been told many, many times, and creating this very new piece of work will play out. So I'm really looking forward to that.

I'm also excited about something I did see at Sundance, "Theater Camp," which is sort of a Christopher Guesty-style comedy about a summer theater camp.

Actress: You guys are so talented. So unbelievable. This will break you. This will fully destroy you.

Actor: Congratulations on being the most talented kids at camp.

Aisha Harris: And they have to sort of figure out what they're going to do. The camp is in danger of shutting down because their director and their leader is ill.

And it's really, really funny. You have got Ben Platt, Molly Gordon. And if you're a theater nerd, like I am, I think you will appreciate how funny and spot-on this, like, parody of that world is.

Jeffrey Brown: Ann, you mentioned Tom Cruise, and you went on about Tom Cruise.

Are there other actors, directors -- we talked about Christopher Nolan -- are there other people with films out this summer that you're really looking forward to?

Ann Hornaday: Well, there's a big and a small.

I -- speaking of franchises, I'm also a fan of "The Equalizer," which is the Denzel Washington franchise, and this is a movie that's going to be coming later this summer, which I think is nice, because, by that time, I think we're often looking for something to see. And the big, big blockbusters have already played.

This will arrive a little bit later. And, again, I just think it's become a really reliable series. He's always amazing to watch. He's one of our last great movie stars. And I'm always interested to see what he will do.

And then there's a smaller movie coming out called "Problemista" from Julio Torres. And some people might not be familiar with his name, but he was the creator of a cult HBO show called "Los Espookys," which was this kind of surreal, really almost sui generis television show.

And this is his feature debut. He's playing a toy designer from El Salvador who comes to New York, and he's trying to get something going before his work visa expires.

Actress: This sucks so much for you.

Ann Hornaday: And Tilda Swinton plays his mercurial and idiosyncratic boss. And just the idea of Tilda Swinton, plus Julio Torres, is delicious to me.

Jeffrey Brown: I just want to ask you both in the time we have left.

I mean, we are in the middle of a writers strike. It's not impacting the film's we're talking about, clearly. But how -- as people who love the movies, how worried are you both, Aisha, at this point?

Aisha Harris: I think, aside from being just generally concerned about these writers being able to make a living for what they do, I think I'm also just a little concerned about what projects by minority filmmakers and those who often have a harder time getting stories pushed through, how those projects will be affected in the long run, while they're kind of in limbo.

Are we going to see a slip back from the growth and representation we have been seeing because they are kind of locked in this battle right now? So that's my huge concern at this moment.

Jeffrey Brown: And, Ann, one other question is, do we see people coming back to the theaters after pandemic?

Ann Hornaday: Yes and no. The box office is rising. We're not at pre-pandemic levels yet. And the strike plays into this, because I think that we have these big hits like a "Top Gun: Maverick" or an "Avatar," but then there's a lull.

And I think what we have yet to get to is that steady cadence, that steady kind of ecosystem, where people feel all sorts of reasons to go to the movies, and not just for superheroes or for cartoons or for horror, but for a whole wide range of movies. We haven't hit that steady state.

And a glitch in the pipeline that a protracted strike means can actually affect that cadence down the line.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, Ann Hornaday, Aisha Harris, thank you both very much.

Ann Hornaday: Thank you.

Aisha Harris: Thank you.

Geoff Bennett: I have to say I'm looking forward to the final Indiana Jones film out this Friday.

Amna Nawaz: Yes.

Geoff Bennett: How about you?

Amna Nawaz: So many great movies there.

I have to say, the one I have seen is "Theater Camp." I was not a theater nerd, but I loved it anyway. I was a different kind of nerd.


Geoff Bennett: And you can find the full list of movie recommendations online at

Correction -- Due to an editing error, this transcript misidentified the correspondent who led this discussion. It has since been updated. We regret the error.

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