This weekend at the movies, we have Dwayne Johnson saving the world from giant monsters (Rampage, co-starring Naomie Harris), Blumhouse’s latest spine-tingling franchise in waiting (Truth or Dare, starring Lucy Hale and Tyler Posey), another acclaimed stop-motion effort from Wes Anderson (Isle of Dogs, featuring the voices of Bryan Cranston and Liev Schreiber), the animated adventures of a real-life canine war vet (Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Gérard Depardieu), and a political thriller in Lebanon (Beirut, starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike). What are the critics saying?
It really wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of making a movie out of an arcade game about giant monsters smashing buildings (and/or each other) would have seemed preposterous, if not completely beyond the range of special effects technology. Times have changed in a multitude of ways, however, and modern Hollywood is all about finding franchises even if you have to look in the unlikeliest of places — or turn the wildest of scenarios into lifelike blockbuster entertainment. Case in point: Rampage
, a Dwayne Johnson-led adaptation of the coin-op classic that asked players to smash cities to rubble as a giant lizard, gorilla, or werewolf. Obviously, that setup is a little light on the narrative side, so a team of screenwriters have conspired to imagine a scenario in which a trio of innocent animals are embiggened and embark on a spree of destruction that can only be stopped by a kind-hearted primatologist (Johnson) and a genetic engineer (Naomie Harris). Pretty much par for the course with Johnson, in other words — and the critical response is more or less also what you’d expect, with reviews running the gamut between “big dumb fun” and just “dumb.” If you were waiting to see what the critics thought about Rampage
before buying a ticket, then you may want to steer clear… but who are we kidding? You almost definitely weren’t.
Add up the grosses and average out the Tomatometers for Blumhouse’s latest handful of low-budget horror outings, and it’s clear that they’re on a pretty incredible tear: Split
, Get Out
, and Happy Death Day
all hit paydirt last year, and that winning streak continued with the box office success of Insidious: The Last Key
in January. The studio rides that hot hand into this weekend’s Truth or Dare
, about a group of college seniors (including Lucy Hale and Tyler Posey) who make the ill-fated decision to engage in a round of the titular game… with freaky supernatural results. When all else fails, “kill a bunch of pretty young people” is always a reliable fallback setup for a horror movie, so genre enthusiasts may get a few thrills out of the end results; unfortunately, critics are typically harder to impress, and they say this is all standard stuff — neither inventive nor scary enough to set Truth or Dare
apart from the decades of dreary slashers that came before it. If you’re really in the mood to listen to people scream in the dark for an hour and a half, go for it — but all things considered, the box office fate suffered by Battleship
is still probably a scarier game-related Hollywood story.
Wes Anderson has never made what most people would consider children’s movies, so when he ventured into the traditionally kid-friendly arena of stop-motion animation with 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox
, it came as something of a surprise. As it turns out, the medium is a perfect fit for the writer-director’s gentle whimsy and attention to detail — and he’s back with Isle of Dogs
, now entering wide release. Anderson’s latest outing tells the story of Atari (Koyu Rankin
), a Japanese boy determined to rescue his dog (voiced by Liev Schreiber) from an island where the animals have been quarantined during an outbreak of canine flu — again, not your average setup for an animated movie, but one that critics say provides rich creative ground for a cinematic experience that’s deeply enjoyable on a number of levels. Another acclaimed addition to Anderson’s filmography, Isle
ranks among 2018’s best-reviewed movies thus far, and offers one of your safest destinations at theaters this weekend.
If you’re like most people, then an animated movie about a dog who served with honor in the trenches during World War I probably doesn’t rank high on your cinematic wish list — but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make a good one, and Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero
is here to offer proof. Although a good many filmgoers are likely unfamiliar with the real-life Stubby’s military exploits, his story is legitimately incredible, and critics say it’s been told here with sensitivity and charm by director/co-writer Richard Lanni
. Viewers with young children may balk at the prospect of taking the family to see a movie about a dog whose life was repeatedly in mortal danger — or raise a skeptical eyebrow at the notion of a well-reviewed animated release from a studio that isn’t one of the usual suspects — but if you’re looking for a worthy cartoon diversion, it looks like this Stubby
It’s tough to jump from TV star to marquee idol, and even most of the Hollywood vets who’ve been lucky enough to make the leap — like George Clooney and Bruce Willis — needed a few mulligans before they really found their footing on the big screen. It’s far from unusual, in other words, that the film industry hasn’t really seemed to know what to do with Jon Hamm since he started focusing on movies after Mad Men
went off the air; although he certainly looks
like a movie star, he’s spent the last few years waiting for his breakout film role. The sober-minded and relatively complex Beirut
may not be the project that truly marks that transition, but critics say this is the type of stuff Hamm really needs more of — a movie that takes advantage of his ability to play charismatic yet damaged individuals, set against the backdrop of a gripping conflict. He stars here as Mason Skiles, a former diplomat who’s lured back into his old trade as part of an operation to help save the life of a friend he left in the titular city, and reviews describe a Tony Gilroy
-scripted drama that should satisfy fans of Tony Gilroy-scripted dramas — even if this one doesn’t quite do justice to the thorny real-life conflicts that fuel its plot. Absorbing despite its flaws and elevated by strong work from Hamm and Rosamund Pike, Beirut
looks like the place to be for fans of grown-up political intrigue this weekend.
What’s New on TV
Seductive and surprising, Killing Eve‘s twist on the spy vs. spy conceit rewards viewers with an audaciously entertaining show that finally makes good use of Sandra Oh‘s talents.
A superbly-mounted adaptation of E.M. Forster’s tale of British class tension, with exceptional performances all round, Howards End ranks among the best of Merchant-Ivory’s work.
Lost in Space‘s production values are ambitious enough to attract sci-fi adventure fans, while the story’s large heart adds an emotional anchor to all the deep space derring-do.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release
- The Judge (2017) , a documentary about Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first female Sharia judge, is at 100%.
- The Rider (2017) , based on the true story of a rodeo rider putting his life back together after a career-ending injury, is at 98%.
- Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017) , a documentary about artist Grace Jones‘ life and singular career, is at 90%.
- Hitler's Hollywood (2017) , a documentary look at the many varied films produced by the Nazi regime, is at 89%.
- Zama (2017) , a drama about the travails of a bureaucrat hung out to dry in South America by the Spanish crown, is at 88%.
- Bye Bye Germany (2017) , a dramedy about the efforts of a group of Jewish friends to migrate out of Germany after World War II, is at 86%.
- Wildling (2018) , a bit of werewolf horror starring Liv Tyler as a corrections officer who finds herself in the midst of some supernatural trouble after taking in a young girl, is at 82%.
- Borg vs. McEnroe (2017) , starring Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf as the titular tennis superstars whose 1980 Wimbledon match captivated fans around the world, is Certified Fresh at 81%.
- Jet Trash (2016) , in which a pair of friends flee London for southern India in order to escape the homicidal attention of a gangster, is at 67%.
- Flock of Four (2017) , a period drama about white 1950s teens on a pilgrimage to see a legendary jazz artist perform, is at 60%.
- Marrowbone (2017) , about four siblings whose lives go from bad to worse when they seek refuge in the wrong house after the death of their mother, is at 44%.
- An Ordinary Man (2017) , starring Ben Kingsley as a war criminal in hiding, is at 25%.
- Submergence (2017) , starring James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander as star-crossed lovers who meet in Normandy, is at 17%.
- Aardvark (2017) , starring Zachary Quinto as a man whose deep-seated sibling rivalry with his brother (Jon Hamm) leads him to seek the care of a therapist (Jenny Slate), is at 12%.
- Krystal (2017) , starring Rosario Dawson as the unattainable fixation of a sheltered teen, is at 0%.