This weekend at the movies, we’ve got Jason Statham versus a giant shark (The Meg, co-starring Li Bingbing), puppy pals versus loneliness in Los Angeles (Dog Days, starring Nina Dobrev and Vanessa Hudgens), some Massachusetts teens versus a spindly menace (Slender Man, starring Joey King and Julia Goldani Telles), and Spike Lee versus The Man (BlacKkKlansman, starring John David Washington and Adam Driver). What are the critics saying?
Giant sharks and Jason Statham can both be pretty darn entertaining up on the big screen. Put ’em both together and you ought to have yourself a rollicking good time, right? We now have what would seem to be the definitive answer with The Meg, and unfortunately, critics say it never really hits that B-movie sweet spot the way you might expect. An adaptation of the 1997 Steve Alten bestseller, it stars Statham as Jonas Taylor, a rescue diver whose previous experience with sharks happens to come in extra handy when he winds up in an underwater research station under attack by a 75-foot Megalodon. It’s the type of preposterous setup begging for ladles full of action thriller cheese, but reviews describe the end results as rarely more than just okay. As a home viewing experience, it isn’t hard to see this attracting a cult following over the years. For the price of a ticket to the theater, however, it sinks.
If our culture’s ever-expanding collection of internet memes is anything to go by, people love Love Actually almost as much as they love dogs, so why not just go ahead and put them together? Critics say that’s pretty much what director Ken Marino has done with Dog Days, in which an ensemble cast (including Eva Longoria, Nina Dobrev, Adam Pally, and Finn Wolfhard) play Los Angelenos whose intertwining lives and loves are fluffed up by a menagerie of canine companions. As one might expect of a rom-com titled Dog Days and released in the dog days of August, reviews describe a movie made of decidedly undemanding stuff; if you’re expecting much more than an air-conditioned interlude with a handful of heartwarming moments, you may come away disappointed. On the other hand, from its poster on down, one could hardly accuse this movie of pretending to be anything it isn’t — which is to say that if you’re in the market for Dog Days, you know exactly what you’re getting. In the context of the genre, it might be a bit of a mutt, but you’ve probably seen mangier.
Studio tussles, release delays, pleas for common decency — all manner of obstacles conspired to keep Slender Man from reaching theaters, but his creeping advance cannot be denied. Perhaps the only thing capable of finally thwarting this internet-inspired, true crime-adjacent horror outing is the utter lack of interest it seems to be generating among the critical set: if the number of early reviews are anything to go by, there isn’t much in the way of anticipation for the movie, which attempts to turn a freaky-looking meme into the basis for a chilling tale about teenagers in supernatural peril. If you’re into horror movies, critics say you’ve almost certainly seen worse — but there really isn’t much about any of this that’s honestly scary, or even terribly memorable. Add in the staunch (and understandable) opposition of family members involved in the real-life 2014 assault inspired by the character, and you’re left with a fairly long and compelling list of reasons to beware this Slender Man.
Spike Lee has dabbled in a number of genres over the years, but he’s typically best remembered as a filmmaker with a strong social conscience — one that returns to center stage with his new release, this weekend’s BlacKkKlansman. Inspired by the real-life story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American police detective who infiltrated his local Ku Klux Klan in 1979, Lee’s latest joint blends purely entertaining drama and pointed social commentary as only his films can — and critics say it’s one of the writer-director’s best, seething with a potent fury that’s brought powerfully to life by a solid ensemble led by John David Washington as Stallworth and rounded out by Laura Harrier, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace. It may not be the type of thing you’ll want to seek out if you’re in the mood for mindless entertainment, but BlacKkKlansman has a lot to say about America’s past, present, and future, and it proves one of modern cinema’s most singular visionaries hasn’t lost a step.
Well-crafted and compelling as ever, Better Call Saul‘s fourth season deftly balances the show it was and the one it will inevitably become.
Broad stereotypes, clumsy social commentary, and a failed attempt at “wokeness” make Insatiable hard to swallow.
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