Holiday Movie Guide

Movies to See or Skip on the Fourth of July: ‘Amazing Spider-Man,’ ‘Ted,’ ‘Magic Mike’ (PHOTOS)

From the indie fairy tale ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ to the uproarious ‘Ted,’ all the movies to see or skip over the holiday.

Clockwise from top left: Fox; Universal; Warner Bros.; Focus

Clockwise from top left: Fox; Universal; Warner Bros.; Focus

Movies to See or Skip on the Fourth of July: ‘Amazing Spider-Man,’ ‘Ted,’ ‘Magic Mike’ (PHOTOS)

The Fourth of July always draws crowds to the theaters, and this year offers some good flicks as well as some duds. From the indie fairy tale Beasts of the Southern Wild to the uproarious comedy Ted to the rebooted The Amazing Spider-Man, consider our guide to what movies to see—or avoid—over the holiday.

By Marlow Stern

Sundance Film Festival

See: ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

Set—and shot on location—in post-Katrina Louisiana, the visually resplendent fairy tale Beasts of the Southern Wild centers on a 6-year-old girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who sets off on an epic journey in search of her long-lost mother after her tough-love father, Wink (Dwight Henry), falls ill. Meanwhile, the polar ice caps have melted, resulting in a terrible storm, as well as the unleashing of an army of mythical prehistoric creatures called “auruchs,” that are headed straight for her. “There’s really a personal freedom and a celebratory-ness and a humor that’s happening in the face of some pretty dire environmental circumstances down there. I found the resilience and the tenacity addictive,” said Benh Zeitlin, the film’s director. “I still do, and I’m probably going to live there the rest of my life.” Beasts of the Southern Wild, which took home the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes, is one of the best films of the year, and boasts an extraordinary performance from its miniature protagonist, who just may hold the distinction of being the youngest Oscar nominee in Academy history.

The Walt Disney Co.

Skip: ‘Brave’

This 3-D computer-animated family film is notable not only for being Pixar’s first fairy tale, but also their first movie boasting a female protagonist. Slightly darker in tone than previous Pixar efforts, Brave is set during the 10th century in the highlands of Scotland and follows Merida (voiced by Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly Macdonald), an archer-princess whose mother is cursed by a witch, and must undo the spell and save her kingdom before it’s too late. With the departure of two of their finest directors to the live-action realm, Andrew Stanton (Finding NemoJohn Carter) and Brad Bird (RatatouilleMission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol), coupled with Cars 2’s disappointing box office/critical reception last summer, Pixar has a lot riding on this, and while the film performed decent business—by Pixar’s lofty standards—with its clichéd, lame fairy-tale story, obscured visuals (why is the film so damn dark?), and pointless 3-D, Brave holds the distinction of being one of the worst films in Pixar’s celebrated canon.

Sony Pictures

See: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

Although people questioned whether it was too soon to reboot the Spider-Man franchise just five years after the underwhelming Spider-Man 3, and early preview footage looked a bit too “adorkable” for our taste, director Marc Webb, best known for helming the indie dramedy 500 Days of Summer, has achieved the near-impossible with The Amazing Spider-Man: he’s not only made the best superhero film since The Dark Knight, but also the best Spider-Man movie, period. Webb’s film is an origin story that follows Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), a geeky high-school outcast, who is smitten with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). After discovering a mysterious briefcase belonging to his father, Parker finds himself on the path to becoming the web-slinging superhero, Spider-Man, and facing off against Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who transforms into The Lizard. Webb’s film boasts outstanding usage of IMAX 3-D—you feel like you’re swinging through the city—and outstanding performances from its stars, in particular Garfield and Stone, whose chemistry is so magnetic it’s no wonder they’re rumored to be dating off-screen as well.

David James

Skip: 'Rock of Ages'

Directed by Adam Shankman, who helmed the impressive Hairspray remake, and adapted from the jukebox Broadway musical of the same name, Rock of Ages is a comedy-musical centering on a waitress/aspiring actress, played by Footloose’s Julianne Hough, and a busboy/aspiring rocker, played by newcomer Diego Boneta, who fall in love and hope their dreams become reality amid the 1980s hair metal music scene. Featuring the music of everyone from Bon Jovi to Journey, the film also stars Tom Cruise as hair metal singer Stacee Jax, who was described by Shankman as a cross between “Axl Rose, Keith Richards, and Jim Morrison”; Russell Brand as the narrator and manager of the Bourbon Room, where the protagonists work; Alec Baldwin as the owner of the Bourbon Room; and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the conservative activist who wants to shut the place down. While Cruise does a fine job as the oft-shirtless, serpentine rocker—a more family-friendly version of his creepy womanizing self-help guru in Magnolia, and Baldwin and Zeta-Jones look like they’re having a ball, the leads (Hough/Boneta) are awful, and there’s really no semblance of a story in between the deliberately tacky musical numbers, making the film look like one big ol’ mess. 

Universal Pictures / AP Photo

See: 'Ted'

Written, produced, and directed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, his feature film directorial debut, Ted, stars Mark Wahlberg as John, a Bostonian whose childhood wish is granted: his beloved teddy bear, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), comes to life. The two enjoy a happy slacker existence—smoking weed and lounging around all day. However, when John grows up and decides to pursue a serious relationship with the love of his life, Lori (Mila Kunis), Ted begins seeing red. A foil of sorts to Pixar’s Brave, the CGI-animated teddy bear, Ted, who takes bong rips, blows coke, and curses like a trucker, is completely f--cking hilarious, and Wahlberg builds on the impressive, award-worthy comedy chops he showed in I Heart Huckabees to deliver an incredibly winning turn as an over-the-hill Masshole. MacFarlane’s film is probably the best R-rated comedy to come out since Bridesmaids.

Claudette Barius / Warner Bros.

Skip: ‘Magic Mike’

On the other end of the former underwear model spectrum is Magic Mike, based in part on star Channing Tatum’s stint as a male stripper at the age of 18. Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), this ensemble comedy-drama centers on Mike Martingano, a.k.a. “Magic Mike”—a stripping veteran who teaches a young apprentice (Alex Pettyfer) the ropes while also trying to assimilate to a normal life with the help of his protégé’s sister, played by relative newcomer Cody Horn. But more noteworthy, perhaps, is Matthew McConaughey, who stars as a former stripper named Dallas who owns Xquisite, the club where “Magic Mike” gets down. McConaughey plays bongos, serenades the crowd with a guitar, and rocks backless chaps in his most testosterone-crazy performance since Reign of Fire (in a good way, that is). But tonally, the movie is all over the map. Transitioning awkwardly from outrageous comedy to druggie drama, the entire middle of the movie drags, and Horn, as Tatum’s love interest, is an awkward actress who never for a single moment makes you believe she’d pull him away from his life of debauchery, including three-ways with Olivia Munn.

Darren Michaels / Dodge Productions

See: ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’

Marking the directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), this romantic comedy centers on Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell)—a sad-sack guy whose wife leaves him. With the end of the world near thanks to an unavoidable asteroid headed for earth, Dodge teams up with his longtime British neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), to go on a search for his childhood sweetheart. The film is the typically brooding Knightley’s first mainstream Hollywood comedy, and unlike her frantic turn as a psychiatric patient in A Dangerous Method, she delivers a fine, understated performance here. And Carell once again proves that he’s this generation’s Tom Hanks with another eminently likable performance in what is overall a charming, lo-fi distraction to all the explosion-happy dreck at the cinema. The film also benefits from a stellar supporting cast, including Patton Oswalt, Melanie Lynskey, Derek Luke, Rob Corddry, and CSI’s William Petersen.

20th Century Fox

Skip: ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’

Sure, the concept here in the other apocalyptic film in theaters is gleefully absurd: the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), discovers that vampires are plotting to take over America. So with the help of his gigantic ax and dedicated valet, played by Anthony Mackie, he vows to put an end to the tyranny once and for all. Based on a novel—and adapted for the screen—by Seth Grahame-Smith, this film is directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Like his last film, Wanted, there’s very little creativity here; merely plenty of CGI-heavy action sequences. Unlike Wanted, however, Benjamin Walker is no James McAvoy, and there’s no sultry, tattooed Angelina Jolie to distract from any narrative clumsiness. It should be noted though that those objecting to the film on the basis that it denigrates our 16th president are even dumber than the film.

Francois Duhamel / Universal Studios

See: ‘Savages’

Although Oliver Stone hasn’t made a truly exceptional film since 1995’s Nixon, his upcoming film, Savages, marks a return to the bizarre mayhem exhibited in U-Turn and Natural Born Killers (although the Tony Scott–esque desaturated yellow “look” needs to go). When Mexican drug-cartel leader Lado (Benicio Del Toro) kidnaps their “shared” hippie girlfriend, O (Blake Lively), two marijuana growers—former Navy seal Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and college boy Ben (Aaron Johnson)—go on the warpath to get her back. The plot is ludicrous, its poorly structured, and Blake Lively narrates the damn thing, but it’s still a helluva good time thanks to Salma Hayek’s saucy turn as a tough-as-nails Mexican drug kingpin, Del Toro as her bloodthirsty enforcer, and John Travolta as a frantic DEA agent. Plus, you get to see an Oscar nominee be bullwhipped until his eye falls out and Riggins from Friday Night Lights furiously bang Serena from Gossip Girl. Not too shabby.

Philippe Antonello / Sony Pictures Classics

Skip: ‘To Rome with Love’

On the other end of the auteur spectrum is this. Initially conceived as a modern-day take on The Decameron, legendary writer-director Woody Allen’s follow-up to his highest-grossing film in theaters, Midnight in Paris, is a romantic comedy comprised of four vignettes set in Rome. The love letter to Rome stars Allen, marking his first acting role since 2006’s dreadful Scoop, along with a talented ensemble cast, including Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Greta Gerwig, Judy Davis, and Life Is Beautiful’s Roberto Benigni, in a comeback role. Unlike the lovely Midnight in Paris, however, this utopian vision of the rich and famous in Italy—which, in real life, is currently in the throes of an economic crisis—is a trifling affair bogged down by unfunny jokes. To make matters worse, the actors stumble over Allen’s dialogue—in particular a miscast Ellen Page—making them sound like hyperliterate Dawson’s Creek characters. Allen seems lethargic and unmotivated onscreen, and the film is, overall, a bit of a bore.