This weekend marks Columbus Day, the Peggy Schuyler of federal holidays. To celebrate this hard-earned day off, some may engage in a raucous, uninhibited long weekend of fall-themed festivities, while those of us who are not currently attending college might opt for a simpler, quieter evening spent watching one of the many newly released films. We rounded up eight recent films reviewed by Vulture’s film critic, David Edelstein, and shared a sampling of his thoughts below. (If home-viewing is more your thing, check out Vulture's streaming guide.)
Shia LaBeouf has a rattail. He also leads a crew of free-wheeling teenagers as they party and sell their way across the country in a van. Director Andrea Arnold is known for casting unprofessional actors in her projects and Edelstein applauds her risk: “Think of the risk of putting a film in the hands of untested performers and functioning in part as an observer on one’s own movie. In this case (as in Fish Tank), the payoff is so huge you feel the medium is expanding before your eyes.” He also found much to praise about the performances of all three leads, “[Sasha] Lane is everything Arnold must have hoped she’d be. The longing is in her eyes, but her mouth, with its thick upper lip, suggests skepticism and a healthy self-possession. Star’s only loss of control is around Jake. If you think LaBeouf is a joke, you need to see him here. There’s wildness there, but acting centers him. He’s magnetizing. Keough — the granddaughter of Elvis and Priscilla — has a soft face but hard eyes. Krystal has a fascinating strategy: She gives her charges the illusion of freedom.”
Tom Hanks. Clint Eastwood. That is all, or perhaps it’s not. Hanks's portrayal of Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger — the skilled pilot who performed the "Miracle on the Hudson" in 2009 — is the saving grace of unnecessary film. “With his white hair and mustache and thin frame, he looks like the man," writes Edelstein. "More important, he has the ability to suggest he’s thinking onscreen. You watch Hanks’s face as Sully figures the options — looking left over Manhattan and right over the Palisades — and his demeanor comes across as a state of grace. Hanks and those scenes in the cockpit make the movie worth seeing, in spite of the dumb melodramatics. But only just."
The Birth of a Nation
Although highly praised at Sundance in January, Nate Parker’s directorial debut has since been overshadowed by his personal scandal. Unfortunately for Parker, critics have also been less kind to the film since its official debut. Edelstein, one of those underwhelmed by the melodramatic saga, writes, “I was surprised by how closely it conforms, beat by beat, to the most ruthless Hollywood vigilante template. It’s all about insults, emasculation.” But he did note its place in the current cultural landscape, however middling: “Almost lost in the scandal is the impact of the film itself on our urgent, ongoing national conversation about how far protests against obvious injustices should go. The sad part is that one more simpleminded revenge saga will add very little to that conversation.”
Bridget Jones’s Baby
In the 12 years since she last graced our screens, Bridget Jones has gotten a new job, new friends, and now, a new baby — the latter of which could have been fathered by Colin Firth or Patrick Dempsey. How terrible. Renée Zelleweger once again deploys her trusty British accent, and though she's gotten a bit clumsier, her return provides an enjoyable romantic comedy. “Although it’s patchy and gives off an air of trying too hard, the movie is surprisingly funny," Edelstein says. "It’s not nearly as good as Bridget Jones’s Diary but not nearly as bad as the second film, Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, a camp travesty. I like Zellweger and the filmmakers enough that I was relieved to hear the audience laughing and see people enjoying themselves. If nothing else, it’s alive.”
The Girl on the Train
So much hype led to Emily Blunt’s fateful ride on this particular train. Although not nearly as well-received as director Tate Taylor hoped, fans of Paula Hawkins’s 2015 thriller are still expected to turn out for the lackluster adaptation. Edelstein wasn’t impressed: “I got depressed early, when I realized I’d be spending two hours in the hands of people who didn’t know how to tell a story. But it’s possible that the director, Tate Taylor (The Help), thought that he was making a serious film about the female mind in extremis and that conventional suspense techniques were beneath him. Which is fine, but the train still has to move.”
Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon could’ve been a disaster flick engineered as a guilty pleasure, but instead the director spins an emotional tale of survival aboard the ill-fated offshore oil-drilling unit. “Every burst of steam and lethal debris, every burn and laceration, feels momentous, because these were real people trying to stop something that we know with hindsight was inevitable. Berg puts you right in the middle of a melee in which almost everyone is disoriented — there’s no manual for this,” Edelstein writes. “It’s very moving when the survivors, lit by the flames of the Deepwater Horizon, drop to their knees and recite the Lord’s Prayer. But along with our God who art in heaven, I wish they had beseeched our government, which art on Earth to ensure that something this monstrous never happens again.”
The Magnificent Seven
The unofficial tagline for the 2016 Western: So many stars and so many guns. Led by Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, among at least five others, Antoine Fuqua’s remake lacks anything deeper than the usual action flick. “The Magnificent Seven has the trappings of a classic Western and it hits its marks. All of Fuqua’s movies hit their marks — even sadistic formula junk like The Equalizer. But there’s no grandeur in its images or generosity in its soul. I don’t think Fuqua ever loved Westerns. And by the time this movie ended, I’d forgotten why I do,” writes Edelstein.