The end of summer is always a crushing blow, but Labor Day weekend affords us one last (nationally recognized) long weekend in the warm months. If you’re making your extended holiday more of a staycation, here’s an assortment of movies still in theaters that you may or may not want to check out.
Hell or High Water
Ben Foster and Chris Pine play brothers with a mission in this neo-Western. As the bank threatens to foreclose on their family’s land, the two men start robbing branches of the institution that intends to take their home away. For their trouble, they get a Texas Ranger on the eve of his retirement — played by Jeff Bridges — hot on their heels. It’s Old West values meets New West troubles, and Edelstein gave it high praise. “This is the kind of Western in which we know there will be blood but pray there won’t be, because the violence is bound to be gratuitous, absurd, with a needless finality. … This is a work of broad scale and deep feeling, a film to make you excited about the potential for finding new stories in old places. Every moment of it is charged with emotion — but also with a terrible clarity.”
In case you’re still on the fence, Edelstein capped it with: “This is an amazing movie.”
The latest from the DC factory of critical disappointments is Suicide Squad, a confused movie that our critic David Edelstein said wasn’t sure what it was even trying to be; one that was also hamstrung by its franchising and licensing requirements.“The makers of Suicide Squad can’t fully commit to their premise because they’re afraid that the mainstream PG-13 audience can’t handle it,” he wrote. “The worst of the worst’ turn out to be rather sweet underneath, and the ‘suicide’ part of the title means zip, nada. Many of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven die in the course of their ‘suicide’ missions, but DC and Marvel can’t bear to part with copyrighted characters that have the potential for multiple spinoffs.” But as Edelstein points out, that’s what you buy into sometimes with this superhero biz. “The lack of real consequences in these movies (no hero does anything really bad, none of the good guys ever die) makes for explosively boring climaxes. As storytelling, Suicide Squad is the worst of the worst, but it’s no different in kind from the best of the best. This is all just high-priced junk.”
Florence Foster Jenkins
This year’s Meryl Streep–starring vehicle looks almost too corny to work, but then you remember, “Oh, yeah, it’s Streep,” and suddenly it’s on your radar for a best-actress nomination. It’s also directed by Oscar winner Stephen Frears, who has done a fantastic job over the past decade of bringing to life beautifully rendered stories of strong older women (The Queen, Philomena, and now Florence), featuring some of the best actresses of our age. As Edelstein put it, “It’s a wobbly, uneven, ultimately wonderful film — its unevenness befitting its title character, who we come to love despite her loopy lack of awareness of her own deficiencies.” And despite have the Streep front and center, it’s her co-star that Edelstein says steals the show, “Hugh Grant grounds the movie. Bayfield is the true protagonist, and few have ever had to navigate such emotionally precarious waters … Once or twice Grant shows his trademark gift for looking abashed in the midst of farce, but that was his youthful persona. This performance is a model of understatement: low-key but rich in feeling. He’s superb.”
The movie is an R-rated animated comedy about sentient groceries; you either want to spend your weekend that way or you don’t. If you need help deciding, our comedy writer Jesse David Fox might be able to help. “Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with stupid movies,” he wrote. “Some of the best comedies of all time are stupid. From The Jerk through Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, these are movies where stupid people do stupid things in stupid worlds.”
But that’s not exactly what we’re dealing with here. As Fox explained, “Sausage Party is not the dumb movie it advertised itself to be. That would be less of a condemnation if it ended up being a smart movie, but it’s not that, either. Sure, Sausage Party waxes allegorical about the existence (or nonexistence) of God, but for a film so anti-religion, it sure gets preachy. It doesn’t help that at times it plugs along laboriously like it was a homework assignment to make a full-script version of a silly idea.”
The sophomore feature from Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez is a strong follow-up to his Evil Dead reimagining from 2013. The story follows three petty thieves in Detroit who are looking to leave the life of crime behind by going after their largest bounty to date. But their intended target is a blind military veteran with good reason to want strangers out of his house, and the movie turns into a neat twist on the traditional game of cat and mouse. “I’m glad I [saw it] — not because Don’t Breathe has a particularly original premise or cool subtext, but because it’s visually resourceful and honest in how it sets up and delivers on its shocks,” Edelstein said. “There isn’t a single false scare. There isn’t, come to think of it, a scare that doesn’t set up another scare down the road in the manner of a good gag writer — horror and slapstick being sibling-close, as Don’t Breathe’s co-producer and proud Three Stooges fan Sam Raimi would be the first to tell you.”
The original Pete’s Dragon movie was a musical from the 1970s that Edelstein described as “God-fucking-awful.” But this updated tale of the little boy who loses his family and is raised by a friendly, fuzzy dragon is a marked improvement. “Pete’s Dragon starts working on you, much like those gold standards of the boy-and-his-otherworldly-friend genre, E.T. and The Iron Giant,” he wrote. “Your eyes start to water when the purity of childish, interspecies love collides with the demands of the harsh, grown-up world. And this film has an additional avenue for wringing tears: It conjures up ‘Puff the Magic Dragon,’ and its little Jackie Paper who gets too old to frolic in the autumn mist of Hannalee, as well as Inside Out’s Bing Bong, who must be left behind because he has no place in the life of a teenager.” Don’t skimp on the tissues.
Southside With You
A movie about the first date between our current U.S. president and his wife is a weird thing to wrap your head around — and while it’s not a perfect film by any stretch, Edelstein says it will win you over in the end. “The movie’s mix of romance and politics — both African-American and feminist politics — has a naïve kind of charm. The movie is charming even when it’s stilted, and it’s often stilted,” wrote Edelstein, who adds that the director, Richard Tanne, competently handles the dichotomy between representation and reality with our First Couple. “He captures Obama’s odd rhythms, especially those confident stammers, during which we wait for him to craft the exact right phrases and marvel at how sexy self-restraint and logic can be. I’m sure that’s Obama’s hope anyway — that he’s the sexy Mr. Spock. Michelle does everything she can to appear skeptical or at least unmoved. Sumpter seems arch in some of her early scenes, but she gives the movie its fiercely honest center: We see Obama through her appraising eyes.”
Star Trek Beyond
No long-weekend movie roundup would be complete without a space action-adventure, right? While the third installment of the rebooted Star Trek universe doesn’t boldly go with its narrative where no man has gone before, it comes in and gets its summer tentpole job done. “The new Star Trek picture — called, for no particular reason, Star Trek Beyond — is a wild ride, fast and crazy kinetic, a bombardment in the manner of the Fast and the Furious movies by the same director, Justin Lin,” wrote Edelstein. “Of course, ‘fast’ and ‘furious’ are adjectives that ‘classic’ Trek fans loved the series for not being. But in some ways it’s a relief to leave that more deliberate universe behind.”
Of all the movies that have underperformed this year, the saddest has been Ghostbusters, a film derided by sexist trolls and existing in the shadow of the beloved original film from the moment it was announced. But no matter how much we wanted it to quiet all those skeptics, it turned out that the new movie just … wasn’t that good after all. “The new Ghostbusters isn’t a horror, exactly. It’s just misbegotten. It never lives,” said Edelstein. “If you’re going to remake Ghostbusters, you have to come to grips with the fact that the original wasn’t just a blockbuster comedy, it was an event; a game-changer. Ghostbusters marked a seismic shift, and that casting four women in the remake is meant as a seismic shift, too — especially since none of them are conventional glamour girls in tight-fitting clothes. The mere fact of its existence is empowering. But there’s no other controlling idea in this Ghostbusters.”