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What's Worth Watching In Movie Theaters This Summer?


Sometimes all you need on a hot summer's day is a sweet, cool trip to the movies.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) What do we think of these ghostbusters? Are they to be taken seriously?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Dory?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Dory?

DEGENERES: (As Dory) Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You and I were friends.


CHRIS EVANS: (As Captain America) This doesn't have to end in a fight, Tony.


SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (As George Washington Williams) Tarzan.

SUAREZ: As always, Hollywood has some big ones and a few little ones in store, but which ones to see? NPR arts critic and movie maven Bob Mondello is here to answer that question. Bob, great to have you.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's good to be here.

SUAREZ: So what's on your recommended viewing list?

MONDELLO: (Laughter) Well, I really like "The Lobster," and I had a good time at "Swiss Army Man." Those are two of the strangest movies to come out in maybe, I don't know, forever.

"The Lobster" is about a guy who if he doesn't find a woman to marry in 45 days will turn into the animal of his choice. He chooses lobster. It's a very strange futuristic kind of movie. And "Swiss Army Man" has been called the Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse movie. And that pretty accurately describes it. It's a very strange picture.

SUAREZ: Out this weekend is Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's story "The BFG." There's also "The Legend Of Tarzan." If you've got younger viewers to take with you to the multiplex, which one would you choose?

MONDELLO: Oh, I think definitely "The BFG." Spielberg is wonderful with children's stories and this is - that's what this is. Roald Dahl wrote it for kids. It's about a big, friendly giant, and it's enchanting in a way. It's kind of strenuous whimsy, if you're in the mood for that kind of thing. But, you know, Spielberg - who could argue with his ability to make something visual and gorgeous? And the special effects in the picture are kind of wonderful.

"Tarzan" is a different kind of "Tarzan" even. This one is all about - it's trying to be anti-colonialist, which is a tough sell with Edgar Rice Burroughs. I think they did a reasonably good job of turning the story into basically Tarzan goes back to the Congo in order to keep the Belgians from raping the country in terms of its natural resources. And that's a interesting take on the story. It certainly gets a pass in certain things. I was expecting it to be sillier than it is. It's an interesting film.

SUAREZ: There have been a lot of critics who haven't liked this summer's movies. And a lot of audiences that are staying away from the theaters - is this just an off year?

MONDELLO: Yes and no. The summer pictures have made a couple billion dollars already, right? So it's not that bad a year. What's happened is that you're comparing it to last year, and last year had "Jurassic World." And "Jurassic World" all by itself made almost $2 billion worldwide. "Inside Out" was also that year and so was "The Minions."

And so those three pictures together made over $3 billion worldwide. It's going to take a lot of doing to catch up with that. If you take "Jurassic World" out of the mix, this year looks fine.

SUAREZ: Since you mentioned "Captain America," I mean, he's one of a whole host of characters that we've seen plenty of before. This, you know - stop me if you've heard this one, but "Captain America," "X-Men," "Star Trek," "The Bourne" series, even a new "Ghostbusters" with a female cast - is Hollywood sort of down to the bottom of the bag of tricks?

MONDELLO: (Laughter).

SUAREZ: Why all these sequels and reboots?

MONDELLO: Well, Hollywood makes a lot of money off of sure things. And they think that there is nothing surer than bringing back something that has already made $400 million. What is a little new is that there don't seem to be a lot of pictures in the mix that are real originals this summer. And that's a frustration.

You know, I started out talking about "The Lobster" and "Swiss Army Man." Those are two pictures that are completely original. And on the other hand, the two of them together won't make as much as "BFG" does on its opening day. So, yes, there are some original pictures out there, but Hollywood is correct in assuming that this is the season for things that are more pop.

SUAREZ: Well, one thing that doesn't have overturning cars and blowing up skylines is Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. Tell us about that.

MONDELLO: Well, Florence Foster Jenkins was a real character. In the 1940s, she was a socialite in Philadelphia and in New York. And she was just music besotted. She loved music. She thought it was just the most fabulous thing in the world. She lived for music.

And she thought she could sing, and she couldn't. And the problem was that she was wealthy enough to do things like renting Carnegie Hall and inviting people to come and hear her, and so she did. And in this movie, Meryl Streep plays her and is a riot.


MERYL STREEP: (As Florence Foster Jenkins, singing off-key).

DAVID HAIG: (As Carlo Edwards) Stop that. There's work to be done, but you've never sounded better.


MONDELLO: It's a very amusing picture. This was directed by Stephen Frears who did "Prick Up Your Ears" and "Philomena" and a whole bunch of other movies. And he's made it a very evocative movie. You end up feeling kind of sorry for Meryl Streep's character, even as you are tempted - oh boy, are you tempted - to laugh.

SUAREZ: Of all the big blockbusters coming out this summer, what are you looking forward to seeing?

MONDELLO: I confess to being an action freak on occasion. And the fact that we have Matt Damon returning to "The Bourne" series and director Paul Greengrass - if you want to know what I'm going to show up earliest at for the screening, that's the one.

SUAREZ: Middle-aged guys jumping off of bridges onto moving boats and all that...

MONDELLO: And we can all do it, every one of us.

SUAREZ: Absolutely. I mean, that's the thing. It doesn't even stretch reality.

MONDELLO: (Laughter).

SUAREZ: That's Bob Mondello, arts critic and our resident film guru here at NPR. Thanks for stopping by.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
Ray Suarez