In need of a break from fireworks this Fourth of July weekend? From Transformers: Dark of the Moon, to Larry Crowne, and Bad Teacher, WATCH our movie guide for what to see—and what to skip.
SEE: Cars 2
Cars 2 might not be getting the same overwhelmingly positive reviews as Pixar’s previous hits, but the cheery family flick charmed audiences and debuted at number one at the box office. In director—and Pixar chief creative officer—John Lasseter’s sequel, the affable race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and its tow-truck sidekick Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) head to Japan to compete in the World Grand Prix. The hot rods’ trip gets sidetracked, however, as Mater takes a detour into international espionage. While the more compelling McQueen takes a back seat to Larry the Cable Guy’s disarmingly sweet tow truck, the animated sequel makes up for any slack with stunningly rendered CGI cities, and an amusing Italian formula race car, voiced by John Turturro. “The rare sequel that not only improves on but retroactively justifies its predecessor, this lightning-paced caper-comedy shifts the franchise into high gear with international intrigue, spy-movie spoofery and more automotive puns than you can shake a stickshift at, handling even its broader stretches with sophistication, speed and effortless panache,” wrote Variety.
SKIP: Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The third installment in filmmaker Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise hopes to improve on the critically-maligned Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to bring your emotionally stunted teenager, well, more pointless eye candy—both human and robotic—albeit in a more AWESOME way. Unfortunately, it doesn’t improve much on its awful predecessor, and features two hours of tedious exposition involving a moon landing coverup by the Kennedy administration, just to describe that Optimus Prime’s father figure-Transformer double-crossed him, and opened a portal to another dimension that will lead to the end of humanity as we know it. Sure, there’s Shia LaBeouf as the unlikely hero, pouty Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replacing Megan Fox as the spectacularly objectified sexy beauty, and a motley crew of fine actors in supporting roles—Ken Jeong as a dorky double agent, John Malkovich as a no-nonsense aeronautics CEO, and Frances McDormand as the stubborn U.S. national intelligence director—but, like a regrettable one -night stand, all it does is leave you a bit lighter in the pocket, and with a certain feeling of emptiness.
SEE: Super 8
According to executive producer Steven Spielberg, this is TV god-turned-filmmaker J.J. Abrams’s first original movie—following Mission: Impossible 3 and Star Trek. Set in the summer of 1979 in small town Ohio, it’s the story of a young boy who takes his mind off the recent loss of his mother by shooting a zombie film on Super 8 with his geeky friends to enter into a local film festival. They even manage to recruit the pretty girl in school (Elle Fanning) to star in their amateur film. One day while they’re shooting a scene by the train tracks, the most spectacular train crash ever occurs, unleashing an otherworldly creature onto the town. While Abrams’ ode to the Super 8 films he made as a kid does seem like a melange of his aforementioned idol’s previous works, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds, and E.T., and the film’s “secret” is really anything but, the exceptionally loud film is still very engaging, and the performances by the young cast—particularly Fanning—are outstanding. Plus, any film that makes you feel like you just stepped out of the 1970s when you leave the theater is one that warrants genuine praise.
Skip: Green Lantern
Since Warner Bros. has been largely shut out of Marvel Comics’ immensely valuable stash of superheroes, the studio has decided to raid all the leftover DC Comics ones after Batman and Superman. Unfortunately, none of these (see: Jonah Hex, The Losers) second-rate superheroes translates very well to film, and The Green Lantern is no exception. The film stars Ryan Reynolds as an aircraft test pilot who is recruited into a very green fraternity of aliens called the Green Lantern Corps—an intergalactic police force. Armed with a magical ring, the newly recruited Green Lantern must square off against the fear-essence-being Parallax, and a mutated scientist, played by Peter Sarsgaard. There’s also Blake Lively looking pretty, and several bizarre CGI sequences on the Lanterns’ planet of Oa. “Green Lantern was meant to be a sci-fi adventure, but it proves to be a genuine mystery,” wrote The Wall Street Journal. “How could its megamoola budget have yielded a production that looks almost as tacky as “Flash Gordon” (which had the good grace to deprecate itself at every turn)?” If you want a DC hero worthy of your hard-earned dollars, better hold out for next summer’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is an overweight, downtrodden 15-year-old who begins to experience a breakdown of sorts—wearing pajamas to school and slacking off in class, attracting the ire of the school’s faculty. Assistant Principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), who in many ways sees himself in Terri, takes the boy under his wing, and grants him enlightening Monday-morning counseling sessions. As the two form an unlikely friendship, things start to look up for Terri at school. The sophomore feature from filmmaker Azazel Jacobs drew raves at Sundance, and John C. Reilly is on familiar ground here following his standout performance in Cyrus, where he, using very different methods, taught another overweight pariah (Jonah Hill) to grow. “What lifts Terri above its peers is not the plight of its protagonist or the film’s sympathy for him, but rather the care and craft that the director, Azazel Jacobs, has brought to fairly conventional material,” wrote The New York Times.
SKIP: Bad Teacher
Yes, Cameron Diaz does an admirable job as the titular bad teacher who, after getting dumped by her rich ex, is on a mission to raise enough money to purchase breast implants so she can woo the even richer—and even more potentially closeted—substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) who’s the heir to a watch fortune. Diaz’s teacher smokes weed in her car, engages in sexy car -wash fundraisers, curses off her kids, and, in her most compassionate moment, gives one of the young boys her bra. But aside from the novelty of seeing offscreen exes Diaz and Timberlake dry hump one another, and Jason Segel’s effortlessly engaging performance as a slouchy gym teacher, there’s really no reason to see Bad Teacher. It’s poorly written, terribly unfunny, and Diaz’s teacher doesn’t hold a candle to Billy Bob Thornton’s nihilistic drunk in Bad Santa. Where’s the raunchy sex? And the blow? This teacher isn’t nearly bad enough, and that’s the problem.
SEE: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
After Conan O’Brien and his tidal wave of red hair were cruelly muscled out of his dream job hosting The Tonight Show by Jay Leno and NBC brass, he didn’t get mad, he got even—rallying the public against Leno and NBC, and embarking on a 32-city live concert-comedy tour called The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour, in order to purge his demons. O’Brien, classy guy that he is, didn’t even keep any of the proceeds from the tour, instead choosing to compensate his fired Tonight Show writers (take notes, Warlock). O’Brien’s tour is chronicled in the revealing documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, which grants viewers unprecedented insight into the man, the myth, the legend now known as Coco, as he performs a delicate balancing act between quip-armed comic and man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “An unexpectedly revealing, disconcerting documentary that benefits from the filmmaker’s unmediated approach, his home-movie-quality visual style, and his controlled use of on-the-fly moment,” wrote Entertainment Weekly.
SKIP: Larry Crowne
Tom Hanks’ sophomore directorial effort, following the wonderfully catchy 1996 film That Thing You Do!, centers on a middle-aged schlub who’s fired from his job at a big-box store, and, in midlife crisis mode, decides to enroll in community college and start anew. He soon befriends a group of students who ride around ion motor scooters, and sparks up a romance with his disillusioned speech professor, played by Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, much like his dalliance with Audrey Tautou in The Da Vinci Code, Hanks’ film is largely devoid of both laughs and sexual chemistry, as well as any sort of excitement. It may not have been the best idea to co-write the screenplay with My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s Nia Vardalos, whose last two films she penned—I Hate Valentine’s Day and My Life In Ruins—were rank sentimentalism at its finest.
SEE: Page One: Inside the New York Times
Forget Green Lantern and Shia LaBeouf. The real badass hero so far this summer is The New York Time’s media reporter, David Carr, the de facto protagonist of Andrew RossI’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times. Rossi spent a year chronicling the pitching, debates, and scoops at the Times’ newsroom, examining the paper’s struggle to adapt to new media. The Times is mainly examined via its talented media desk, as the contentious, old -school Carr wrestles with emerging news -delivery systems like Twitter, YouTube, WikiLeaks, the iPad, and more. In a shifting, increasingly violent world, RossI’s film is a vital portrait of an industry in flux, and the newsmen and women who bind us all together through the news. Despite The New York Times’ own bizarre, self-deprecating review of the film, it’s essential viewing for anyone who’s ever read All the News That’s Fit to Print.
SKIP: Monte Carlo
While Disney Channel TV star-cum-pop music sensation Selena Gomez’s squeaky-clean image may have taken a bit of a hit thanks to her recent hospitalization, Justin Bieber’s squeeze attempts to get back into her fans’ good graces with Monte Carlo, her most high-profile film to date. After liquidating their savings for a dream vacation to Paris, Grace (Gomez), her best friend (Katie Cassidy) and uptight stepsister (Leighton Meester) find themselves let down by the City of Light—that is, until Grace is mistaken for a spoiled English heiress (also played by Gomez), turning her life upside down. An uninspired rehash of Roman Holiday, the film is, according to The New York Times, “Cheery, corny and perhaps calculatingly unoriginal, this is packaged entertainment so familiar it feels like a remake and so wholesome you could swear Sandra Dee starred in the 1959 original. Think of it as No Sex and the City for tweeners.”