This weekend is an odd one. While Fox and Sony hope for massive hits with their respective alien invasion sequel and shark thriller, a Matthew McConaughey Civil War drama opens on nearly 3,000 screens with next to no marketing, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s controversial and disturbing thriller hits another 1,000.
Fox is releasing ‘Independence Day: Resurgence‘ on more than 4,000 IMAX, 3D and 2D screens this weekend. Much like ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’, Jeff Goldblum will return but the rest of the principal characters/actors from the first movie won’t. OK, fine, Bill Pullman is in it too – but Will Smith is nowhere to be found. Twenty years after America kicked alien ass by uploading a computer virus onto their mothership’s mainframe, the aliens are back. And this time they’re not fooling around. Seriously. American critics were uninvited to scheduled pre-release screenings, but those overseas critics who managed to catch it early are saying it’s a joyless bore – not even over-the-top fun like Roland Emmerich’s other grand scale disaster movies. Although some nostalgia may surround it, the trailers and TV spots have done absolutely nothing to make this an enticing option. Liam Hemsworth, Sela Ward, William Fitchner and Charlotte Gainsbourg join the ensemble cast.
Small-time distributor STX Entertainment has found success with a few of its releases, but this weekend it’s attempting to go big with ‘Free State of Jones‘. Playing out like some sort of high school required-viewing educational re-enactment, the drama stars Matthew McConaughey as the catalyst in a little-known Civil War story. While their men fought on the frontlines, poor Southern families were taxed to the point of poverty and starvation. Deserter Newton Knight hid in the swamps of Mississippi with runaway slaves and fellow deserters until their group became large enough to fight back against the crooked military and law enforcement. Although Gary Ross does a decent job directing, the film is an absolute mess. It’s unclear whether the blame lies with his screenplay or a hack editing job that makes it so choppy, sloppy, lacking tension and missing a climax.
It’s been a while since a shark thriller hit the big screen – too long, in my opinion. Sony must have felt the same way because this weekend we’re getting ‘The Shallows‘. This mindless and fun 87-minute flick follows Blake Lively as a young med student mourning her mother’s death by traveling to Mexico and surfing in a secret and secluded beach paradise. When her travel companion is too hungover to join her, she goes alone and has a perfect day riding waves with two friendly locals. Wanting to catch one last wave, she sticks around after they head home for the night, leaving her all alone – at least she thinks she’s alone. A gigantic and pissed-off Great White shark wounds her and leaves her fighting to survive on a stack of rocks that’s just too far from the shore for her to be able to swim to it. ‘The Shallow’ is equal parts ‘Terminator’, ‘127 Hours’ and ‘Jaws’. If that’s appealing to you, it’s not a bad way to kill brain cells.
Surprisingly, the fourth wide release of the weekend is Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘The Neon Demon‘, an artsy horror drama that focuses on the disturbing world of fashion modeling. Elle Fanning stars as the naïve girl who leaves her quaint home life in search of a modeling gig in Los Angeles. Once there, she quickly learns the reality of the job when her backstabbing competitors do anything and everything in the name of vanity to stay on top. As a fan of the director, the concept sounds great to me. However, I’m shocked at its wide release. Nothing about ‘The Neon Demon’ sounds mainstream.