8 movies to see (or not) this Fourth of July weekend
Fourth of July celebrations aren't for everyone — it's hot, barbecue smoke stings the eyes, and you can only hear the same summer songs so many times. If you would rather celebrate America's independence by finding some of your own, perhaps in a cool, dark theater, know that there are many movies of varying genres currently available to watch on the big screen. Below, we listed eight films recently reviewed by our film critic, David Edelstein, and noted what he had to say about them. (And for even more movie ideas and recommendations, check out our streaming hub, too.) Just don't try to sneak some sparklers into the cinema, okay?
Steven Spielberg is back with his adaptation of the fantasy-adventure children's book by Roald Dahl, and it features a captivating performance by its young lead actor Ruby Barnhill. "Spielberg's fantasy The BFG is a labor of love that sometimes wears its love too laboriously, but a surfeit of rapture isn't the worst thing in a movie — especially when its director has a genius for translating emotion into the rising and falling of his camera or laugh-out-loud disjunctions in scale," Edelstein writes. "I could watch and listen to Mark Rylance's BFG forever, though. Is his CG visage a little too dear for a Dahl creature? Yes, but his cracked, tender Cockney voice with its ebbs and flows is exquisite, and he all but sings those made-up words that tickle the ear and confound the spell-checker."
The Legend of Tarzan
The latest entry in the Tarzan canon is not without its small joys — or, as the animals go, even its large joys. Edelstein writes, "The CG apes are impressive, the elephants (I don't know if they're CG) magnificent, and a short scene in which a pair of lions nuzzle Clayton absolutely lovely." But, he continues, "The humans could have used some help," and that applies to both the onscreen characters and the filmmakers responsible for putting them there. "The Legend of Tarzan feels as if it wants to be longer, to breathe a little and get down," Edelstein explains. "The staging isn't inept, but individual shots seem truncated, the action pared down to its unoriginal essence." It's yet another unremarkable reboot that set sail for theaters without remembering to pack some heart, and it will presumably underperform in similar fashion. If you want some action this weekend you could do worse — though as Edelstein notes near the end of his review, "The Jungle Book has the monkey-man franchise sewn up." And since that movie is still in many theaters as it eyes the billion-dollar mark, the comparison won't help Tarzan's cause.
Independence Day: Resurgence
Sure, Independence Day: Resurgence is pretty bad. But for all of the Jeff Goldblum worshipers out there, his presence alone might be enticing enough to see this unanticipated (and unnecessary) sequel, which picks up 20 years after the sci-fi original. "This hodgepodge has been thrown together in so slovenly a way that it's no surprise the studio didn't show it to the press," Edelstein writes. "Does [director Roland] Emmerich even care? Soundly ridiculed for his heartfelt Stonewall, he and his co-writers seem too depressed to put conviction into their trademark soap-opera subplots ... no wonder his Stonewall movie rang so hollow. At heart, he wants to make the world safe for predators." Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman, and even Goldblum don't do much to help chug the plot along, either.
The dark comedy Wiener-Dog consists of four short, eclectic stories that are all connected by an adorable female dachshund — you know, a wiener dog. The pup's different owners appear in order of their age, from an excited boy to a sensitive young woman, to a male has-been screenwriting professor (Danny DeVito!) to an elderly woman on the brink of death. "I loved it, but you might not. Despite its often prostrating bleakness and an ending likely to inspire howls of outrage it might be the closest [director Todd Solondz] will ever come to making an inspirational work," Edelstein writes. "Solondz doesn't show the same arch contempt for materialism that he did in his early films. More than ever, he evokes the pain of people for whom there is no possibility of transcendence — unless, of course, they get a dog."
Pixar is currently putting a lot of eggs into its sequels basket, with Cars 3, Toy Story 4, and The Incredibles 2 slated for release in the upcoming years. For 2016, we got Finding Dory, which picks up one year after the events of Finding Nemo, with our vivacious regal-blue tang now in pursuit of finding her parents. "Is Finding Dory, the new Pixar movie, all that, as you've no doubt heard? No and yes," Edelstein writes. "No because it feels in its opening scenes like a sequel, made for no burning creative reason, whereas Inside Out, Up, Wall-E, and Finding Nemo were riskier works that could have bombed as easily as been boffo. Finding Dory leaves nothing to chance: It opens sweety-cute, it ends sweety-cute. Formula-wise, it hugs the shore. Yes because directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane and their stable of sterling writers and artists have miracles up their sleeve. They have the biggest, busiest, and best sleeve in the business."
Book editing might not be the sexiest of topics, but if you throw in Colin Firth portraying renowned editor Maxwell Perkins, you have something relatively enticing. The central plot stems from Perkins's discovering an excellent manuscript from the charming southerner Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), and the process of the two making edits to get the book ready for print. "Genius does a pretty good job of capturing the peculiar drama of the relationship between editors and writers, in this case some of the most revered in American letters," Edelstein writes. "Watching Genius, you might have the nagging sense that the most vivid stuff is occurring offscreen, when the other characters leave Perkins and go back to their messy lives. And while that might be the point — we've had plenty of self-destructive author biopics, but none that focused on people who tried to instill discipline in them — it makes for half-baked drama."
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping finds the comedy trio the Lonely Island — Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer — in their newest project, a mockumentary musical-comedy about a former boy-band phenom going through the ups and downs of pursuing a stable solo career. "Apparently there are people who think that Popstar:Never Stop Never Stopping is a witty satire of pop celebrity instead of a soulless hodgepodge of star cameos and gags that go nowhere," Edelstein writes. "Could they have as little taste as the onscreen fans of the vain, moronic title character, 'Conner4Real,' played by Andy Samberg? Or have we entered a new phase of pop culture, in which audiences are worshiping hype itself, however manufactured?" If this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, perhaps try the Lonely Island's numerous digital shorts instead.
Me Before You
The Queen of Dragons herself, Emilia Clarke, stars in this weepy romantic drama as an inexperienced caregiver for a wealthy quadriplegic with designs on ending his life through assisted suicide. "Clarke is so insistent on becoming the new adorkable life force that she's excruciating to watch. The movie makes you admire all the more her restrained power in Game of Thrones, in which her eyebrows are largely stationary," Edelstein writes. "Fans of the best-selling novel by Jojo Moyes will be heartened to hear that she wrote the screenplay, too, and that she has preserved all the lines that — when read aloud — will provide much mirth at your next dinner party." Have tissues at your disposal!