We're already into July and it's been a while since I've posted any movie reviews. That's not to say that I haven't been going to the theater. Far from it. I've seen almost everything that's been released this summer. I've done my homework. I've formed my opinions. And now, fellow movie fans, I'm here to help you and guide you through the thicket. Let's run down each of 2016's summer movies (through July 1) in order of release, and decide whether you should see it, or skip it.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. A fantastic superhero film that shows Marvel at the peak of its universe building powers. The airport battle sequence is a true show-stopper. Gives every one of its characters their due, and leaves you wanting more from newbies Black Panther and Spider-Man. Don't worry - you're going to get them. Maybe not soon enough though. SEE IT.
MONEY MONSTER. I'm normally all for a modest thriller that feels like a throwback to the kinds of star-driven vehicles that dominated the '90s, but despite Jodie Foster behind the camera, the plot (terrorist takes over a financial TV show) is beyond ludicrous. It's eye-rollingly stupid, and George Clooney seems hopelessly lost in the Jim Cramer-type lead role. SKIP IT.
THE LOBSTER. Colin Farrell leads a game cast in this wholly unique, funny and fascinating fable about single people at a resort who have 45 days to find a mate or be turned into the animal of their choice. Weird, right? Sure, but it plays out like a great episode of Black Mirror as if directed by Stanley Kubrick. The story loses steam in the second half, but the final moments sear their way into your brain. SEE IT.
HIGH-RISE. Handsomely mounted production with a terrific lead performance by Tom Hiddleston and beautiful art direction, but, man, this is one boring movie. None of the story beats stick, and it moves at a snail's pace. If you want a film about class warfare, you're better off with Snowpiercer. SKIP IT.
THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE. Video games have had a rough go of being adapted into movies. Angry Birds does nothing to change that fact. Frequently obnoxious, and arriving in theaters about 3 years too late, this may work for the very wee ones, but there's nothing here worth seeing for anyone over the age of 10. SKIP IT.
NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING. The first Neighbors was a surprise hit in summer 2014, but this sequel fails to hit the same heights. It has a laudable progressive streak, and there are a handful of solid laughs (Rose Byrne remains the series' MVP), but this is a typical comedy sequel. The same jokes just aren't as funny the second time around. SKIP IT.
THE NICE GUYS. Shane Black is one of my favorite screenwriters, but after this, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Iron Man 3, he's quickly leaping up the charts as a director as well. This is a funny, smart noir-ish tale of dueling private investigators uncovering a conspiracy in 1970's L.A. The period details are vividly captured, the music is great. Ryan Gosling is deeply funny here and works excellently opposite Russell Crowe. SEE IT.
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Yikes. Putting Johnny Depp's personal issues aside, this is a sequel nobody wanted and the box office sure reflects that. The first Alice may have made all the money but it was terrible, and this sequel (with Tim Burton producing, but not directing) is just as bad. Bland, dull, and utterly worthless - nothing to see here, folks. SKIP IT.
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. It's not X-Men Origins: Wolverine level of bad, but, apart from that catastrophe, this is the worst legit X-Men film yet. Very dispiriting that Bryan Singer directed it, after returning to the franchise he started fairly successfully with 2014's Days of Future Past. Oscar Isaac gives his worst performance yet while buried under ugly-ass purple make-up. Apart from James McAvoy, none of the actors look like they want to be here. How many times can we see the same story? SKIP IT.
ME BEFORE YOU. Until the last 20 minutes when the story goes off the rails, this sweet and funny romance works like gangbusters. That's largely due to the chemistry between Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. Clarke constantly threatens to go over-the-top and become unbearable, but she stops just short of that. Many may tear up at the end, but I couldn't get over the somewhat offensive and off-putting twist, so the movie left a bad taste in my mouth. Still really enjoyed everything up till then. SEE IT.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS. This sequel improves slightly upon the much maligned first film, mostly because it embraces the characters' '90s cartoon roots, but it still suffers from many of the same problems. There are some fun action sequences, and the Turtles themselves are less obnoxious this time, but it sure is an ugly-looking film with way too much CGI. SKIP IT.
POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING. Hands down, the funniest movie you'll see this year. Currently reigns as my favorite movie of the year. The Lonely Island and Judd Apatow achieved what they set out to do: make a modern-day Spinal Tap. Time will tell if it holds up as well as that classic, but this has cult favorite written all over it. Think Anchorman, Wet Hot American Summer, Office Space - these are all movies that were embraced and discovered after they left theaters. Awesome soundtrack too. SEE IT.
THE CONJURING 2. Horror audiences are lucky to have James Wan directing genre movies. The guy has gotten so good at building suspense and paying it off with a shock, you almost feel like he could do this in his sleep. The movie runs a little long, but Wan adds a lot of visual flair to every scare sequence, and I found this sequel very effective. Just as good as the first, which is itself a rarity. SEE IT.
NOW YOU SEE ME 2. Another sequel that the whole world wanted to see. Okay, maybe not. This is harmless stuff though. Fairly entertaining, deeply stupid, and slickly directed. The cast seems to be having fun, but that doesn't really translate to the viewer. A decent way to pass the time if you catch it on cable, but super easy to turn off and change the channel when something better comes along. SKIP IT.
WARCRAFT. Another video game movie, another unwatchable mess. Gives fantasy a bad name. Duncan Jones is a talented filmmaker, but he rushes us into this weird-ass world without taking time to build it or introduce us to characters we care about. Some of the effects are great, but some of the character design (especially Paula Patton's orc hybrid) is questionable. I wanted out of the theater about 10 minutes in. SKIP IT.
FINDING DORY. Not as good as Finding Nemo, but still pretty great. Pixar's storytelling skills remain top notch, and there is much to love here. Young Dory is super cute, and all of the new characters shine. It's when the movie focuses on returning characters like Marlin that it feels like it's just going through the motions. Confining most of the film to a research facility works for and against it - makes for more contained suspense, but also makes the world much smaller. Stakes aren't as high this time around. That's why it's so tough to be Pixar - our expectations are sky-high. On the level of Monsters University. SEE IT.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE. The Rock can do no wrong in my book, and it's a lot of fun to see him goofing around here. He's clearly having a blast and steals a lot of the laughs from co-star Kevin Hart. They work well together, but the action comedy surrounding them is way too flimsy. Suffers, as most action comedies do, from the lack of focus. It's not that funny, and the action isn't that exciting. Just kind of occupies this agreeable middle space, which may be enough for some. I wanted more from it. SKIP IT.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. This is not how you do a sequel. It retains none of the charm or fun of the original, and despite several returning characters, doesn't even feel like the same series. There are some somewhat interesting sci-fi elements in the margins, but this movie feels hopelessly lost. Way too self-serious and stupid. The lack of Will Smith dooms it from the start. Ends with an obvious set-up for a third film that we'll probably never get. SKIP IT.
THE SHALLOWS. Minimalist survival thriller that pits Blake Lively against a shark, and that's about it. Sleek, simple, and gets the job done. Grows increasingly ridiculous as it goes along, but there are enough "what would you do" moments to keep you invested. A perfect antidote to overblown blockbusters during the summer season. SEE IT.
THE NEON DEMON. As frustrating as it may be to watch, this is the kind of movie that sticks with you long after you leave the theater. I want to see it again, even though I'm not entirely convinced I should. There's no denying that director Nicolas Winding Refn made exactly the kind of sick, twisted movie he set out to make. It has conviction, and Refn's visuals smack you across the face. Excellent score by Cliff Martinez too. The kind of bonkers movie you just have to see to believe. Though fair warning for the faint of heart - this may not be your cup of tea. SEE IT.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR. The Purge movies are fairly reliable. All three have a killer hook, and mostly deliver what you want from them. Election Year is more of the same. It's better than the first Purge, and retains the grimy, B-movie action thrills of the last entry, Anarchy. But, it overstays its welcome and director James DeMonaco makes some questionable choice behind the camera and in the editing bay. Doesn't really capitalize on the promise of its "election year' premise either. SKIP IT.
THE BFG. Spielberg's first movie for Disney may be narratively thin with the story (based on Roald Dahl's book) just running in place, but Spielberg's visual game is as strong as ever. There are some wonderful, awestruck moments of imagination here. The visual effects are tremendous, aided by another stellar performance by Mark Rylance as the BFG. Also has one of the best fart sequences in movie history. Even a minor Spielberg entry is still great in my eyes. SEE IT.
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN. This is a misguided attempt to do a Batman Begins-style telling of the classic Tarzan tale. It doesn't work. Too many flashbacks disrupt the narrative flow and director David Yates struggles to capture the right tone. Silly at times, overly violent at others, and often downright dull, Tarzan is a total misfire of a family movie that nobody in the family will enjoy. SKIP IT.
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