Memorial Day Movie Guide

‘Men in Black 3,’ ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ and More Weekend Movies to See or Skip (PHOTOS)

While Marvel’s superhero spectacular The Avengers continues to break box office records—grossing $1.2 billion worldwide and counting—there’s a plethora of other movies, large and small, to see at the cinema this Memorial Day weekend. From Hollywood blockbusters like Battleship and Men in Black 3 to indie flicks Bernie and Moonrise Kingdom, here are The Daily Beast’s picks for what to see or skip.

Clockwise from top left: Columbia, Paramount, Focus, Universal

While Marvel’s superhero spectacular The Avengers continues to break box office records—grossing $1.2 billion worldwide and counting—there’s a plethora of other movies, large and small, to see at the cinema this Memorial Day weekend. From Hollywood blockbusters like Battleship and Men in Black 3 to indie flicks Bernie and Moonrise Kingdom, here are The Daily Beast’s picks for what to see or skip.

By Marlow Stern

ILM / Universal Pictures

See: ‘Battleship’

Yes, it is based on the Hasbro board game of the same name. That, combined with its bizarre CGI orgy of alien machinery reminiscent of The Avengers and Transformers 3, led cynical critics to write this off as a ridiculous trifle before the opening credits even started rolling. However, Peter Berg’s Hawaii-set blockbuster about a bunch of alien ships that square off against the U.S. Navy is a helluva good time. The plot is ridiculous: alien ships respond to a signal beamed up from a satellite in Hawaii, and proceed to wreak havoc on a group of Navy destroyers during a training exercise. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and his ragtag group of seamen—and one woman, played by the pop star Rihanna—are forced to square off against the otherworldly threat. Liam Neeson also pops in for a few moments as a Navy admiral, but real-life Army amputee Gregory D. Gadson, who plays a badass amputee in the film, steals every alien ass-kicking scene he’s in, as does Rihanna, who is just fine in her first film role, and who utters the movie’s best kill line before blowing an alien to smithereens: “Mahalo, motherf*cker.” It’s Hollywood absurdity of the first order, and the actual aliens look like a silly cross between Halo and I, Robot, but the movie is just plain fun if you don’t take it too seriously. 

2011 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

Skip: ‘Men in Black 3’

Released in 3D 10 years after its lame predecessor, Men in Black II, and 15 years after the first installment in the franchise, this is clearly the sequel that nobody wanted—or asked for. Production nightmare aside, the film is a totally passable summer blockbuster. Agent J (Will Smith) is forced to travel back to 1969 to prevent the assassination of his partner, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones, with the younger version played by Josh Brolin), and save the world. Men in Black 3 boasts some fun visual effects, Will Smith one-liners, Josh Brolin doing a spot-on Tommy Lee Jones impersonation, and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement as the villain, Boris the Animal. But seriously… who gives a shit about Men in Black anymore?

Deana Newcomb / Millennium / Everett Collection

See: ‘Bernie’

Directed by Richard Linklater, this dark comedy is based on the real-life 1996 murder of crabby 81-year-old millionairess Marjorie Nugent (played by Shirley MacLaine) in the small town of Cathage, Texas, by her 39-year-old gay companion—and the local mortician—Bernie Tiede (played by Jack Black). When Nugent goes missing, nobody seems to notice until the local district attorney (Matthew McConaughey) investigates. When Bernie admits to the crime, the locals rise up in his defense against the mean-spirited Nugent. It’s hard to describe Linklater’s eccentric little film—is it a satire of the South? A darkly comic mystery? Either way, Black’s performance as Bernie is a career highlight. He imbues the character with a three-dimensionality that we’ve rarely seen from him, and McConaughey steals every scene he’s in as the local lawman, in a movie that reunites him with the filmmaker who gave him his start in 1993’s Dazed and ConfusedBernie is already one of the most underrated films of the year, and a must-see. 

Niko Tavernise / Focus Features

Skip: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

Wes Anderson directed (from France) the fantastic stop-motion animated 2009 film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Moonrise Kingdom marks the quirky auteur’s first live-action film since his underwhelming 2007 travelogue, The Darjeeling Limited. The film centers on a pair of young, star-crossed lovers—orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and outcast Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward)—who flee their New England town to frolic in the wilderness. This sets off a search party, led by local sheriff Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Sam’s Khaki Scout leader, Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton). Bill Murray and Frances McDormand also pop up as Suzy’s lackadaisical parents, and Tilda Swinton joins the ruckus as an icy social worker. The pastel production design is gorgeous, as expected, and the two young leads are adorably naïve, but the movie as a whole is a bit of a bore and, as a pair of dysfunctional married lawyers, Murray/McDormand should’ve been Tracy/Hepburn in Adam’s Rib, but they’re really given nothing to do. Critics, most of them sworn Anderson acolytes, are giving the film positive reviews, but you should steer clear of this one. 

Paramount Pictures

See: ‘The Dictator’

I was ready to hate The Dictator. While Borat was hilarious, Bruno was less so, and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s promotional antics—doing interviews in character, dumping ashes on an unamused Ryan Seacrest at the Oscars—seemed so tired. Plus, the film looked like a carbon copy of the Adam Sandler-Judd Apatow comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. And yet, Cohen’s film is both surprisingly funny and gross, and even serves as an interesting satire of oppressive Middle Eastern regimes. The funnyman stars as General Aladeen, an oppressive dictator from the fictional country, the Republic of Wadiya. When he’s captured by the CIA, his trademark beard is shaved off and he’s forced to assimilate to working-class life in New York City. Cohen is ace as usual, and the film also boasts fun supporting turns from Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, and Megan Fox—as herself.

Peter Mountain / Warner Bros.

Skip: ‘Dark Shadows’

Conversely, I was all geared up to enjoy Dark Shadows. Adapted from the cult soap opera of the same name, the film looked like it marked filmmaker Tim Burton’s return to gonzo family-themed fare, a la Beetlejuice. The film centers on 18th-century vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) who is buried alive by his vengeful ex, Angelique Broussard (Eva Green). When he awakens, the year is 1972 and his estate, occupied by a motley crew of relatives, is in shambles. In order to return his family to their former glory, Barnabas must face off against Angelique. Depp is likable as the protagonist, Eva Green is absolutely delectable as the villain, and newcomer Bella Heathcote is a vision as Barnabas’ object of desire, but the film falls flat. It’s mostly a bunch of unfunny fish-out-of-water jokes, capped by a finale that’s a carbon copy of the one in Death Becomes Her. Meanwhile, here are Depp’s past five live-action films: Dark Shadows, The Rum Diary, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Tourist, and Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps it’s time for him to return to the edgy roles in smaller films that defined his early career. 

Fox Searchlight

See: ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), this cheeky comedy follows a group of seven aging Brits who wish to spend their retirement in exotic—and inexpensive—India. They’re lured by advertisements for the Marigold Hotel—a newly-restored luxury hotel in India, where they wish to spend their remaining days. The group consists of the newly-widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench); Graham (Tom Wilkinson), a high court judge; Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy); Muriel (Maggie Smith), a closed-minded ex-housekeeper; husband-seeking Madge (Celia Imrie); and ladies’ man Norman (Ronald Pickup). However, once they arrive at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it’s completely run-down and not what they expected, but the retirees eventually find themselves transformed by their new experiences in a foreign land. Madden’s film is an absolute delight, and boasts tremendously winning turns from its ensemble cast—in particular Dench, who is hilarious, and Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess herself, Smith, who steals every scene she’s in. 

Melissa Moseley / Lionsgate

Skip: ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’

On the other end of the ensemble comedy spectrum is… this. Based on the bestselling tome of the same name, What To Expect When You’re Expecting follows five Atlanta couples who are struggling with the childbirth/child-rearing processes. There’s Holly (Jennifer Lopez), who adopts a baby abroad after having difficulty conceiving with her husband, Alex (Rodrigo Santoro); Jules (Cameron Diaz), an aspiring singer; her partner on a celebrity dance show, Evan (Matthew Morrison); Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) and his much-younger trophy wife, played by Brooklyn Decker; Vic (Chris Rock) who founded the ‘Dude Group’ of unhappy new dads; and many more. While it’s not terrible—there are some funny exchanges, and Diaz and Lopez hold their own—it still falls somewhere between New Year’s Eve and He’s Just Not That Into You on the ‘regrettable ensemble comedies’ spectrum. The Village Voice, meanwhile, had this to say: “For all the fear, loathing, and overthinking that Murkoff's bedside text engenders, its journey ends with the hopeful beginning of a new life, whereas the movie leaves you hoping for a swift end to your own.” Ouch.

Toei Co. Ltd. / Everett Collection

See: ‘Battle Royale’ (2000)

Want to see the original—and grittier—Hunger Games? This Japanese film—the last by director Kinji Fukasaku—centers on a group of middle-school children who go off on a “field trip” to a remote island. There, they are placed in electronic collars, and forced to compete in the annual Battle Royale as part of the BR Act, which was passed after close to a million students ditched school. The students have three days to kill the others until only one remains, and are each given a bag with food and water, a map of the island, a compass, and either a weapon (gun, knife, etc.) or a survival tool (binoculars, coat hanger, etc.) in order to eliminate any advantage stronger students might have over weaker ones. Though banned by several countries upon its release, the film went on to become one of the highest-grossing movies of all-time in its native Japan, and is now considered a cult classic. Anchor Bay has decided to release a 3D version of the film in theaters on May 25. 

Patti Perret / ©Millennium

Skip: ‘A Little Bit of Heaven’

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen this movie, nor do I ever in a million years plan to. But I mean… have you seen the hilariously awful poster? Its one of the worst-reviewed films of the year, and pairing Kate Hudson with Gael Garcia Bernal makes about as much sense as…. OK, it makes no f*cking sense. In the words of the New York Post: “With the abysmal A Little Bit of Heaven, Kate Hudson's possibly unprecedented losing streak remains unbroken: She hasn't made a good movie since Almost Famous, 12 long years ago. Even Nicolas Cage can't say that.”

Bac Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

See: ‘Sleepless Night’

Like a cross between the recent The Raid: Redemption (except set entirely in a nightclub) and Taken, filmmaker Frédéric Jardin’s French action-thriller is non-stop ass-kicking. When a dirty cop and his partner steal a briefcase full of cocaine from a powerful drug lord, the kingpin turns around and kidnaps the cop’s son, leading the officer on a frenzied chase through a labyrinthine nightclub to retrieve him. Jardin’s film was a huge hit when it premiered in Toronto last year, leading Warner Bros. to immediately snap up the remake rights. But you can catch the original—and probably superior—French version in select theaters now.

Thierry Valletoux / The Weinstein Company

Skip: ‘The Intouchables’

Yes, The Intouchables has become an absolute phenomenon in its native France, where it’s become the second-most-seen French movie of all time (19 million and counting). The race-relations drama tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy French tetraplegic, who is white, and a young man of Senegalese descent who serves as his live-in caretaker. Although it’s made more than $330 million at the worldwide box office against a budget of just 9.5 million euros, the film is like the French Driving Miss Daisy in that its incredibly out of touch in regard to its treatment of race relations. Many U.S. critics, including at Variety, have branded the film “offensive” and borderline racist.