We’re in the thick of summer movie season and if you’ve fallen behind, you’ve got to start spending your dollars wisely. Summer movies aren’t especially known for their nuanced character portrayals and poignant storytelling (there are notable exceptions of course: Pixar crushed it last summer with Inside Out). But those are the exceptions to the rule: roll out the “serious movies” in the fall just in time for their stars to land on the red carpet in winter. Summertime is when you release movies with mass appeal. You know the type: explosions, naked ladies and several epic fight scenes.
And honestly? Bravo. Some days you want to take in a trenchant analysis of the suffrage movement, and other days you just want to watch teens in Los Angeles steal from famous people (Bling Ring, I love you forever). But, with so many blockbusters out right now, how do you know which one is worth shelling out anywhere from $15-$30 to see? You can’t look to your regular standbys, like Rotten Tomatoes, to guide you; this isn’t the time to care about character arcs! What you want to know is if this movie is worth seeing right now — both for its escapism and its place in the cultural conversation — or if you should wait two to six weeks to rent it on iTunes and watch from the comfort of your couch with a Bud Lime Light and a square slice of Ellio’s.
I get it, and, I’m here to help. I have no credentials, but lots of opinions, so if you are trying to decide what to spend your money on, scroll through the list below for a quick synopsis and a totally scientific calculation of the cultural currency each movie is worth.
Oh lo, how I wanted to love this movie. With the backlash of “my childhood is ruined” running rampant in the comments section of YouTube before anyone even saw more than a teaser trailer (side note: how lame was your childhood if one movie can ruin it?), I was hoping the movie could live up to the talent involved in making it. Sadly, it doesn’t. To start with, it’s an origin story about how the team of Ghostbusters came to be. Did we need that? I didn’t. Guys, I’ve seen Ghostbusters more times than I can count, and Ghostbusters II more times than I care to admit. I’m on board already.
That’s not to say the movie is bad: Paul Feig pretty much had my money after casting some of the best comedians working today, with Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones as stand-outs, but I would have preferred to see them in something original instead of what we got, which feels undercooked and not worthy of the talent involved.
Estimated net gain from seeing it: +$100 for partaking in conversations over the next few weeks about the value of rebooting a classic, +$50 for sticking it to internet trolls, +$25 for Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon starring in a movie (more of that please!), +$25 for no childhoods ruined in the making of this movie.
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$50 for a movie less interesting than watching the cast have lunch together, -$50 for really crappy cameos from the original Ghostbusters
Worth the cost of a ticket? Yes, I don’t know that this movie will stand the test of time, but as it will certainly be on everyone’s minds for the next few weeks, you may want to have something to say about it.
MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES
Everything you need to know about the premise of this movie is in the trailer. Two man-child type brothers (Zac Efron and Adam Devine) are told that in order to attend their sister’s wedding in Hawaii they need to bring respectable dates. In their search, they are hustled by two party girls (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) playing at “good girl” characters in an attempt to trick our heroes into taking them to Hawaii. The jokes are a mile a minute and the chemistry between the characters mostly works (without being reserved for just the romantic pairs). When I saw it, there were a lot of belly laughs from the audience, with plenty of help from an excellent supporting cast (Stephen Root, Kumail Nanjiani, Sam Richardson and Sugar Lyn Beard). It’s not a rush-out-and-see-it-so-that- you’re-in-the-know kind of comedy, but it’s funny and delivers on its premise.
Estimated net gain from seeing it: +$16, it’s a silly summer movie that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. It has plenty of raunch and nudity for everyone with enough of a storyline to keep it from feeling too pat. Also, it gives you two hours in an air-conditioned theater to distract you from the horrors of the world.
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$8, encouraging Hollywood to make more bromance movies.
Worth the cost of a ticket? Yes, but matinee price only.
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
An isolated superhuman trying to be a normal person in high society must return to his life in order to save his hometown from a madman. Sound familiar? Throw in Catwoman, Bane and some better special effects and you’re watching Dark Knight Rises. Now replace Batman with a character you haven’t thought about in years and make it about an Englishman in the Congo. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s the kind that you would only pay to see on the big screen for the effects … and those aren’t great. Even shirtless Alexander Skarsgard swinging through the trees can’t save this one.
Estimated net gain from seeing it: +$5 for Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz having good chemistry, +$20 for shirtless Skarsgard, +$2 for cocktail conversations about how Tarzan isn’t a story that can be modernized.
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$10 for bad visual effects, -$30 for the first 30 minutes of backstory on a foggy moor, -$100 for the uncomfortable feeling watching a white messiah figure going to save the Congo.
Worth the cost of a ticket? Only if you’re offered one for free.
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS
Do your pets nap the day away waiting your return? Do they tear up everything you own making you wish you’d stuck with just having fish? Or, do they have complex relationships with other animals that lead to adventures roaming the city? This movie posits the latter. It’s a familiar theme, but the breakneck pace plus the immense comedic talent voicing the characters (Louis C.K, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart and Lake Bell, to name just a few) keeps the movie from feeling stale. If you’re looking for an animated movie for adults, this isn’t it. But for a fun animated summer flick, it’s a good way to spend a few hours out of the heat.
Estimated net gain from seeing it: +$50 for two hours of “forget your troubles come on get happy”, +10 for Louis C.K. finally getting to play a ladies man (er dog) +$10 for Jenny Slate whose just the coolest.
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$5 for side eye you get seeing a children’s movie alone, sans children, at noon on a Wednesday with what is very obviously a box of white wine, -$10 for wondering what your pets are up to every time you leave the house.
Worth the cost of a ticket? Standard yes, 3D no.
Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson play former high school friends whose lives have taken them in very different directions. Johnson, once an overweight nerd, has since become a jacked CIA agent who ropes Hart into his latest op. Yah, it’s not groundbreaking. But the “buddy comedy” is all about the chemistry between the two leads and these guys surely have it, and then some. It’s fun and light and both actors have charm enough to carry a movie on their own, so imagine what they can do together?!
Estimated net gain from seeing it: +$100 for the amazing chemistry, +$50 for Dwayne Johnson getting back to doing comedy where he is just a charm factory, +$50 for Kevin Hart getting back to doing good comedies
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$50 Recognizable story, -$50 for annoying fat suit gag (seriously, why are we still doing this?)
Worth the cost of a ticket? Yes, if only so these two will co-star together again.
Pixar has set an impossible standard for itself, and Finding Dory suffers for it. It’s a good movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s funny, poignant and doesn’t feel like a throw-away sequel made for a quick cash in. But, in terms of the Pixar canon it’s not on the same level as a Wall-E or Toy Story 3. The movie is about Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) the forgetful sidekick from Finding Nemo in her attempt to locate her mother and father. There are some big laughs from the movie as well as the emotional gut punches you’d expect, but there’s not much from the big screen experience you won’t get at home.
Estimated net gain from seeing it: +$10 for supporting Ellen DeGeneres, +$5 for a fun/light story, +$5 for going to a children’s movie with no children, +$5 for Albert Brooks being in anything.
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$10 for supporting ho-hum movies by Pixar, -$5 for the amount of children talking during the movie, -$5 for not enough Albert Brooks movies.
Worth the cost of a ticket? Wait for it to come out on VOD, but definitely worth the watch.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
A few years back I was on a date with someone I’d been out with once before. Thirty minutes in, all siblings listed and hobbies discussed, we looked at each other with so much disinterest as if to say “I think we got it”. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of that moment. There are aliens, Jeff Goldblum, the lesser Hemsworth, an over explained backstory and a broken Bill Pullman. There’s no Will Smith and no fun. Much like my date from years back, I left disappointed and wishing I had stayed home watching the original Independence Day.
Estimated net gain from seeing it: Nothing. It’s not even so-bad-it’s-good. Ugh, what a disappointment.
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$100 for the lack of Will Smith, -$50 for the dour vibe throughout the movie, -$50 for wasting my time.
Worth the cost of a ticket? You’d be more entertained setting your money on fire.
While Independence Day: Resurgence was a huge let down, The Shallows was a pleasant surprise. Still hurting from the loss of her mother, Nancy (Blake Lively) travels to a beach in Mexico to have some time to herself and surf out her feelings … alone. Enter a big-ass shark. The next two days is centered almost exclusively on Lively trying to find a way to survive long enough for someone to find her as she’s trapped on a rock, being circled by a Great White. This is a straight up B-movie with cool camera angles and lots of jump scares. Lively is convincing even when the plot isn’t and the movie doesn’t try to pretend it’s anything more than a survivalist thriller with some slow motion bikini shots. The last 15 minutes is outrageous, but gives the audience exactly what they want to see.
Estimated net gain from seeing it: +$10 for jump scares, +$10 for good special effects, +$66 for overall audience participation, +$5 for follow-up conversations about how, holy shit, that Blake-Lively-Shark-Movie is really good.
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$5 for the amount of shade people throw at you when you tell them that the Blake-Lively-Shark-Movie is really good, -$5 for the knowledge that the ocean is full of monsters and we should stay out of it.
Worth the cost of a ticket? Yes, this is perfect summer movie fare.
When it comes to the Roald Dahl canon, I’m more of a The Witches gal. So I can’t say with any certainty that the movie is true to the source material, but I can say that when it comes to a movie about a giant who creates dreams to blow into the heads of sleeping children, I feel like it’s right in Spielberg’s wheelhouse. The movie is a pretty straightforward children’s tale, heartwarming and thoughtful without an ounce of cynicism, but with beautiful effects and a great performance from Mark Rylance as the BFG. There is a weird narrative shift in the last act, or maybe I’m just too old for prolonged fart jokes. Overall, great message for kids and an enjoyable watch for adults.
Estimated net gain from seeing it: +$20 for a minor work from the man who brought us E.T. that shows flashes of brilliance, +$30 for the warm fuzzies, +$15 for explosive farts
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$20 for being tonally uneven, -$15 for explosive farts
Worth the cost of a ticket? I’m 50/50 here. If you’ve read the book and need a shot of nostalgia, go for it. Everyone else can wait for it to stream.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
This movie is classic summer movie fare. Action? Check. Huge special effects? You got it. Packed with movie stars? Some might argue a little too packed, but yes. The main conflict in the movie falls under the same umbrella as the oh-so-dour Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is the obligation of superheroes to mitigate their powers in order to avoid racking up a body count of thousands of innocent bystanders. It’s an interesting premise, and Marvel has done a great job the last few years in making big-budget blockbusters with a message that don’t take themselves too seriously (Zack Snyder, please take note). It’s not the best of the Marvel bunch, but the fight scenes are great, and there are enough zingers to keep the movie from feeling too full of itself.
Estimated net gain from seeing it: +$50 for follow up conversations starting with “who would win in a fight between…”, +$30 for audience participation, +$15 for Robert Downey Jr. smirks
Estimated net loss from seeing it: -$20 for seeing it long after everyone’s talked about it, -$20 for too many characters for casual fans to know, -$20 for a lack of Samuel L. Jackson
Worth the cost of a ticket? Totally, this is a great summer movie. Good premise, lots of action, humor and the fun of seeing your favorite comic book characters in an epic battle.
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