Well, the July 4th weekend is upon us. It is a time filled with family barbecues, swimming pools, and fireworks. A time to commemorate the birth of our nation with hyperbolic displays of patriotism. A time where we can (hopefully) forget that we are greeted every morning with the “modern-day presidential” version of the rooster’s crow: 140-character rantings and ravings courtesy of our misogynistic, hypersensitive commander-in-chief.
If you’ve already burned through GLOW and are all caught up on the extraordinary Twin Peaks revival, don’t fret, for there are a wide variety of impressive films currently playing at your local cinema (or online). There is also a surfeit of shit, and no one wants to spend two hours of their day and $15 of their hard-earned money on a cineturd. So without further ado, and assuming you’ve already seen Patty Jenkins’ impressive superhero flick Wonder Woman, here are all the new movies to check out or avoid like the plague.
Any movie by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho is an anticipated event. He is, after all, the man behind the best monster movie of the 2000s (The Host) and the spellbinding dystopian thriller Snowpiercer. Bong’s latest, now streaming on Netflix, is like a cross between The NeverEnding Story and Soylent Green. It tells the tale of Mija (newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun), a South Korean farmgirl who for the last ten years has been raising a superpig, Okja, created by the Mirando Corporation. When the corporation and its CEO, Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), takes Okja back, Mija embarks on an epic journey that takes her from the hills of the South Korean forest to the streets of New York City to find it. Along the way, she crosses paths with a hardcore animal rights group (led by Paul Dano), an unhinged TV zoologist (Jake Gyllenhaal, insane), and a scenery-chewing Tilda in what is ultimately a stunning exploration of GMOs, corporate colonialism, and child-animal love. Put this one at the top of your queue.
SKIP: TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT
One thing you can say about Michael Bay’s symphonies of twisted metal is that you’ll definitely get some bang for your buck. But the “bang” will be monotonous, uninspired, and last way too long—like an overly enthused frat boy jackhammering away at you to Hoobastank. The fifth installment in Bay’s Transformers franchise features more racially problematic robots, sun-kissed beauties, a nonsensical plot tied to Arthurian legend, and Marky Mark rocking the worst action-movie hair since Brad Pitt in World War Z. It is a 2.5-hour distillation of everything wrong with Hollywood movies. Hard pass.
SEE: THE BIG SICK
Ever since 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the best romantic comedies have been shepherded in one way or another by Judd Apatow. Knocked Up. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Bridesmaids. Trainwreck. And now, joining those illustrious films is The Big Sick. Written by real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon—and based on their courtship—it centers on Kumail (Nanjiani), a struggling stand-up comedian and Uber driver who falls for Emily (Zoe Kazan), much to the chagrin of his arranged marriage-practicing Pakistani-Muslim family. When Emily falls into a mysterious coma, Kumail attempts to bond with her grieving parents, played to perfection by an award-worthy Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, while fending off romantic suitors from his parents. What transpires is a funny and heartfelt depiction of a cross-cultural romance, and, given the current administration’s demonization of Muslims, it couldn’t be timelier.
SKIP: THE HOUSE
The House did not screen for critics, which is always a bad sign. But it does star comedy geniuses Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, as well as the criminally underrated Jason Mantzoukas, who played the inimitable Rafi on The League, and the always-funny Nick Kroll. So in lieu of a press screening, I paid to see this flick about a couple of irresponsible parents who start running an illegal underground casino in their house in order to pay for their daughter’s college tuition. Don’t make the same mistake I did. The talented comedic cast is completely squandered, Ferrell and Poehler appear to be mailing it in, and there are maybe one or two chuckles to be had in the entire film. You’d be far better off hopping on Netflix and re-watching Parks and Recreation or some old SNL episodes.
SEE: BABY DRIVER
Let’s get the criticisms out of the way first: the love interest (Lily James) is a thinly-drawn blank and the ending feels alien to the rest of the piece. That being said, few filmmakers know how to compose and cut together an action sequence like Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz), whose Baby Driver features one exhilarating chase after another. This action-thriller about a music-fuelled, baby-faced getaway driver who runs afoul of a gang of dangerous bank robbers, led by a fantastic Jon Hamm, operates at Autobahn speed, boasting the most impressive onscreen car work since Ronin. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
SKIP: THE LITTLE HOURS
Aubrey Plaza is one of the most gifted comedians alive, whose unique rhythms and timing are always a sight to behold. Hell, she even made the messy Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates watchable. And she almost carries this Decameron-inspired sex romp—about a trio of horny, curse-happy nuns who begin dropping their habits like wild when a hot manservant (Dave Franco) stumbles upon their convent—across the finish line. But alas, despite the considerable talents involved, with Plaza joined by Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, and Fred Armisen, this one doesn’t quite soar.
SEE: THE BEGUILED
Look, I understand the criticism. It is slightly problematic when privileged white women romanticize the Plantation Era (see: Blake Lively), since it faintly echoes how so many white women turned a blind eye to the brutalities of slavery. That being said, Sofia Coppola is one of our finest female filmmakers, who’s brought a bevy of finely-etched woman characters to the screen. She brings several more to the fore in this beautifully-rendered drama about a group of women at an abandoned girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell). What follows is a spellbinding study of female desire, toxic masculinity, jealousy, and sisterhood, featuring bravura turns by Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst as the resident schoolmistresses.
SKIP: ROUGH NIGHT
Your viewing environment can greatly affect the way you perceive a film. Even the most hardened of critics can succumb to “festival fever,” where the energy of the crowd and overall heightened atmosphere tips the scales in the movie’s favor. I saw Rough Night at a rooftop in Brooklyn, surrounded by mostly women. We’d all been plied with booze prior to the screening, and yet, I still came away disappointed by the movie. Despite being a big fan of all the women involved—Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoe Kravitz—this screwball comedy about a bunch of gals on a bachelorette trip to Miami who accidentally kill a stripper is crammed with tired gags, and the cast’s considerable talents are largely wasted. It just goes to show that even a seemingly foolproof premise and all-star cast can be let down by a weak script.
SKIP: ALL EYEZ ON ME
One should always be wary of any biopic produced by the estate of a late music legend, whose family will typically demand a deified version of his/her life scrubbed of controversy. Of course, if you don’t have the estate onboard then you can’t use any of the music—a big reason why there hasn’t been a proper biographical movie of Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley, despite numerous attempts. Despite Demetrius Shipp Jr. serving as a dead ringer for hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur, nailing down many of his mannerisms, All Eyez on Me is a terribly watered-down representation of his life, devoid of the late art student turned gangster rapper’s myriad contradictions. Tupac deserves a far better movie than this, and for that, we’ll probably have to wait for Oscar winner Steve McQueen’s upcoming Pac documentary.