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Starring: Blake Lively
Synopsis: A surfer adrift at sea tries to avoid becoming a shark’s dinner.
What’s The Word: Lively is in great form, but the plot drags and the suspense feels fake. “At times, it’s hard to tell whether The Shallows is trying to sell a tropical vacation, that Sony Xperia phone or a fantasy date with Lively herself, but in any case, the film looks virtually indistinguishable from a slick, high-end commercial,” wrote Variety’s Peter Debruge. At The Guardian, Jordan Hoffman compared it to Gravity in its arresting simplicity: “What could have been mere summertime chum is actually one of the more cleverly constructed B-movies in quite some time.” Lively is good as a solo star, but the rest is of the movie is another story, wrote The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy: “Shallow is a mild word for it. Others would be silly, miscalculated, unconvincing, artless, pandering, hokey, ridiculous. Or just plain awful.”
Independence Day: Resurgence
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox
Synopsis: Earth’s nations are in cahoots to battle aliens.
What’s The Word: If you want to spend some time in an air-conditioned theater, watching big explosions with minimal character development, this is your movie. “It's technically and visually marvelous, but it's hard not to get a little fatigued before the big finish,” wrote CNET’s Luke Lancaster. “But the real problem isn't the borderline tiresome carnage. It's the cast.” At The Film Stage, Dan Schindel wrote that Will Smith’s absence is palpable: “It doesn’t help that, though the script does a remarkable job of recapturing the original’s winning sense of goofiness and the cast is game for it, it severely lacks a Will Smith.” For GQ U.K., Helen O’Hara called it a bit of fun foolery: “So while this is utter nonsense for much of its runtime, overstuffed with people you will struggle to care about, and while its finale shamelessly begs a sequel (like Steven Hiller, Emmerich apparently ain’t heard no fat lady), there’s still a (molten) core of wild entertainment beneath the hokum.”
Free State of Jones
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell, Mahershala Ali
Synopsis: An honorable farmer rebels against slavery during the Civil War.
What’s The Word: A contrived take on race and America that errs on the History 101 side. “It’s a tale of racial liberation and heroic bloodshed that is designed, at almost every turn, to lift us up to that special place where we can all feel moved by what good liberals we are,” wrote Owen Gleiberman for Variety. It’s not terrible, wrote Michael Phillips for the Chicago Tribune, but “often in Free State of Jones we feel like visitors to a historical re-enactment site.” At The Village Voice, Bilge Ebiri called it cluttered, but said it’s well intentioned: “The movie is gradually overwhelmed by onscreen title cards doling out historical context, along with the occasional informative and/or inspirational speech.”
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn
Synopsis: A pup sprinkles some joy into the lives of an offbeat group of characters, including a bitter old woman, a veterinary nurse, and a screenwriter.
What’s The Word: It charms, but with an oddball sensibility. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll wince, and you’ll sigh. Such is the genius of Wiener-Dog, and of [director Todd] Solondz, and why he remains a reliable visionary,” wrote Michael Roffman at Consequence of Sound. At The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy was less taken with Solondz’s signature misanthropy: “By embarking upon an episodic road movie, Solondz is able to create a miniature portrait of the modern American landscape, and it isn’t a pretty picture; but, then, it never would be, no matter what area nor what era he was dealing with, so corrosive is his view of human nature and how people conduct themselves.” Writing for The Playlist, Noel Murray said the movie isn’t perfect, but it’s not terrible: “Not everything Solondz comes up with works, but he’s still pulling interesting ideas out of his oddball head.”
The Neon Demon
Starring: Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone
Synopsis: A charming beauty turns cold after becoming the It Girl of L.A.’s modeling scene. Expect cat fights and lots (and lots) of blood.
What’s The Word: It’s weird (and it was booed at Cannes). But maybe in a high-fashion, artsy way that just happens to turn gruesome. “[Nicholas Winding] Refn’s built a career on the exploits of violent men — of underworld hustlers, vicious convicts, and Viking warriors,” wrote AV Club’s A.A. Dowd. “He pivots here to a feminine perspective but only abstractly: This is a film about objectification that mainly sees its characters as objects, to be dressed and undressed, plastered in glitter and gore, and arranged like furniture against vast expanses of negative space.” Modeling really is the kill-or-be-killed industry we all thought it was, wrote The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane, and Refn is keen to prove it: “By the end of the movie, Refn has toyed with cannibalism, lesbian necrophilia, the egestion of an eyeball, and other minor sports, all of them filmed in lavish taste.” At Rolling Stone, Peter Travers panned the glitzy modeling drama: “I'd talk about the acting, but I never saw the cast doing any; it's all posing. Even the sex and violence have lost their allure, and every take is drawn out with such excruciating precision that you want to scream.”