Teresa Palmer in Lights Out

Friday, July 22, 9:55 a.m.-ish: Few things get me more psyched for a quadruple-feature – or, more accurately, get me less dreading one – than knowing my day’s first screening will be over in a scant 80 minutes. So I enter director David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out feeling pretty good. Somewhat incredibly, I exit feeling really good, because this hour-20 horror trifle gives you just what you want from these things and too rarely do: a creepy and clever premise, a snappy pace, a bunch of good scares, a few strong portrayals, and a relative lack of eye-rolling stupidity.

Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo in The Infiltrator


A true tale that plays like fiction, director Brad Furman’s The Infiltrator concerns a federal agent (Bryan Cranston) who poses as a money launderer to help bust Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, and it’s based on a memoir written by said agent Robert Mazur, not on a pre-existing movie. Yet it somehow feels like even more of a remake than the new Ghostbusters – principally a remake of Donnie Brasco, The Departed, or any number of similar entertainments involving disguised cops playing long cons, wire-tapping, bloody retribution, and swarthy gangsters in flashy suits conversing while topless women pole-dance in the background. It may boast saltier language and more bare breasts than broadcast-TV allows, but the movie wasn’t even 20 minutes old before I thought, “Hey ... haven’t I already seen this episode of Miami Vice?!”

Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters


Haters, as we all know, gonna hate. So there was probably no way the new Ghostbusters was ever going to win over the trolling Internet fanboys convinced that director Paul Feig’s female-led reboot – a nuclear bomb aimed directly at their childhood memories – was the end of civilization as we’ve known it. What consequently saddens me is that the movie spends so much time sucking up to those guys. While watching Feig’s latest, it’s easy to forget about the film’s underwhelming, dare-I-say-dreadful trailers, as the work in full is frequently very funny. But it’s also exhausting, because hardly a minute passes in which you’re not reminded of the Ghostbusters legacy – Ivan Reitman’s 1984 original, sure, but also the tired “controversy” surrounding its new presentation. All told, this might be the most simultaneously apologetic and defensive Hollywood blockbuster I’ve ever seen.


Considering it doesn’t demonstrate any real ambition outside of providing 90 minutes of goofy, disposable family fun, the act of criticizing The Secret Life of Pets is almost literally like kicking a puppy. But while its pluses mirror those of many 21st Century efforts of its kind – sensational animation, a zippy pace, famous comedians voicing animals, yadda yadda – it’s hard not to see directors Yarrow Cheney’s and Chris Renaud’s outing as a bit of a blown opportunity, given that it keeps hinting at a potential greatness it seems forever uninterested in pursuing.

Friday, July 1, 10:45 a.m.-ish: My latest quadruple-feature begins with The BFG, and the movie is a bit of a BFD, because it’s been nearly five years since Steven Spielberg directed anything a little kid might conceivably want to attend. (And even that 2011 release was The Adventures of Tintin, so, you know, it’s actually been more than five years.) But even though the crowd I’m with is barely deserving of the term “crowd” – it’s merely a couple-dozen tykes accompanied by taller chaperones – you can tell that this gentle, charming adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel is working for them, because they’re unusually quiet during Spielberg’s many moments of lovely stillness, and they really dig the fart jokes. And hoo-boy are there fart jokes.


Unless you’re in the ocean and one is heading directly toward you, dorsal fins, thanks to Jaws, are inherently funny/scary. So is director Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows, in which Blake Lively finds herself tormented by a shark for close to an hour and a half. I’ll offer further plot synopsis, but that’s pretty much it. It’s Blake Lively, and a shark, and about 90 minutes – and happily, the star, the fish, and the film’s length are all just what you want and need them to be.


Independence Day: Resurgence boasts white heroes, black heroes, and Chinese heroes and is still, by a considerable margin, the most colorless movie of the year. It doesn’t even resemble a typical 21st Century blockbuster sequel so much as those sad, 20th Century sitcom reunions – The Brady Girls Get Married, say, or The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island – that existed only to remind you how old beloved figures had gotten, and just how stale “timeless” material can become. Roland Emmerich’s 1996 original was an easy film to laugh both at and with, but despite the derisive chuckles it inspires, the most proper response to the director’s wildly unnecessary follow-up would be a two-hour yawn.


Taken on its own, Pixar’s Finding Dory is a delightful time: smart, clever, entertaining, gorgeously animated, and, Pixar being Pixar, all but guaranteed to get you weepy on at least three occasions. But I also can’t help feeling just a little bit pissed at it, if only because of how irrevocably it might change the experience of its predecessor.


During its entire first hour, and at random times during its second, Now You See Me 2 is something I never thought it would be: fun.


At nearly any given moment in its two-hour running length, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster has the power to make you laugh or cry. If you choose to laugh out of derision or cry with frustration, that’s your business, and it’d be hard not to empathize with either reaction. If, however, you find yourself on Lanthimos’ and his movie’s shared, absurdist-deadpan wavelength, you might find the Greek writer/director’s latest tragicomedy – and first English-language one – both extraordinarily funny and almost embarrassingly moving. Never before has the mere sight of a Shetland pony made me chuckle, or well up once I registered exactly what it was I was chuckling at.