Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 15, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Conjuring (PG-13, ***1/2): Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) has never developed a distinctive style of his own, but he’s excellent at taking moves from other people’s playbooks. Here we get a little Shirley Jackson, a little Blair Witch, a little Stanley Kubrick, and a lot of Paranormal Activity. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson costar as husband-and-wife paranormal investigators who attempt to cast a demon out of a haunted house before it possesses one of the owners (Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston). The plot is boilerplate, but the execution is well above average. The first hour is almost unbearably suspenseful, as Wan uses a combination of atmosphere, shadow, and creaking doors with occasional flashes of gory effects to generate some big scares, especially during a harrowing game that involves the family members blindfolding themselves for a game of hide-and-seek. The end devolves into a lot of Exorcist-style hokum that reaffirms the power and glory of the Catholic Church. The clichés will keep it from being even a minor classic, but it’s good for a few summertime screams.
Despicable Me II (PG, ***1/2): The followup to the ho-hum computer-animated comedy about a bad guy (Steve Carell) who goes good after he adopts a trio of little orphan girls is sharper and superior to the original in almost every way. With the characters firmly established, the returning crew of creators and directors delves into them more deeply, and with much success. Carell’s Gru must navigate his youngest daughter’s first crush on a boy while dealing with his own romantic issues with new partner Lucy (Kristen Wiig), who has enlisted him to help catch a secret supervillain who’s gone undercover to hatch a world-domination scheme. It’s fun stuff, with a lot of the best gags provided by the Minions, Gru’s goofy, yellow, pill-shaped followers, who’ll get their own spinoff movie next year. Before long the Minions might be as annoying and ubiquitous as former pop-culture aggravations like the Noid or the California Raisins, but at least for now they’re pretty damned funny. In 2D and 3D.
Elysium (R, **): Neill Blomkamp's debut, District Nine, was a clever if unsubtle sci-fi allegory about apartheid made on the relative cheap. His followup is more expensive but significantly less clever, and somehow even less subtle. Matt Damon stars as a prole living on overpopulated Earth. When he's hit with a fatal dose of radiation at work, he gets some fancy futuristic guns and decides to head into space to infiltrate the space station Elysium, where the world's mega-rich lead lives of peace and leisure. Blomkamp seems to have spent months inventing Damon's newfangled arsenal and about ten minutes constructing the story, which is borderline nonsensical, stumbling both as metaphor and as a plain old action-movie ride. District Nine’s Sharlto Copley has a fun turn as a black-humored mercenary, while Jodie Foster is exceptionally irritating as a villain with an inexplicable scheme and an even more inexplicable accent.
< Fruitvale Station (R, ****): The Wire’s Michael B. Jordan gives a stellar performance in this day-in-the-life tale of Oscar Grant III, whose murder at the hands of transit police in Oakland was captured on cell-phone video on New Year’s Day 2009. Echoes of the Trayvon Martin case are inescapable, but first-time writer/director Ryan Coogler avoids making his movie explicitly political. And while we know Grant’s fate thanks to that grainy, haunting cell-phone footage, which Coogler shows during the opening moments of the film, the movie is far more than a countdown to a murder. This slice of urban life is a compelling chronicle of a troubled young man’s struggle to mature into adulthood and leave behind the legacy of his bad decisions. Featuring standout supporting performances from Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer.
Grown Ups II (PG-13, zero stars): This is the least-effective representation yet of Adam Sandler’s increasingly tiresome formula. Expect fart jokes, relentless mockery of the overweight and unattractive, cheap cameos from unfunny celebrities, an unlistenably cheesy soundtrack, and an appearance by a music icon from decades past. Of course, that’s Sandler’s last five movies, but this is the new nadir, an uninspired follow-up to the tepid 2010 family comedy about five old pals reconnecting. Now there are four old pals (Rob Schneider has been decommissioned like an old ship), but David Spade, Kevin James, and poor Chris Rock, far and away the most talented of the bunch, humiliate themselves to no end. The scattershot plot revolves around various bullies, all of whom are either beaten up or won over when Sandler’s Sandlerian Sandler character throws a big party. I was rooting for the bullies.
The Heat (R, **1/2): This programmatic buddy-cop comedy would be tolerable but perfectly forgettable if not for costar (and SIU alumna) Melissa McCarthy, who shines in seemingly any situation. Here she’s a loutish Boston detective paired with an uptight FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) to bring down the world’s most generic drug ring. A great cast of supporting players, including Jane Curtin, Bill Burr, Tom Wilson, and Southern Illinois’s exceptional homegrown talent Ben Falcone, help compensate for the thin plot, while Bullock holds her own without bringing anything distinctive to the table. Cops in these movies always gripe that they work better alone and don’t need a partner. In McCarthy’s case, it’s probably true.
< Pacific Rim (PG-13, ****): This summer’s best big dumb fun movie is plenty big, and not too awfully dumb. Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, and Rinko Kikuchi play pilots who control giant robots designed to fight Kaiju, the Japanese term for giant monsters, which emerge from a portal deep beneath the sea. That’s really all you need to know about this epic-scale sci-fi smackdown, which packs just enough plot to justify its grand computer-generated imagery disasters. Director Guillermo del Toro delivers the goods when he has to, and even if the movie sags a little in the middle, the thrilling opening and long, loud, beautifully rendered climax are more than enough to justify the price of admission. This isn’t an artful exercise like del Toro’s best work, the dark allegory Pan’s Labyrinth, but in a summer full of movies trying and failing to deliver expensive cheap thrills, this is one of the few that actually makes good on its promises. In 2D only.
Two Guns (R, ***): This buddy-cop action flick is in the vein of Tango and Cash and Lethal Weapon; your reaction to that probably depends on your age. It’s pretty boilerplate stuff, but the absence of computer effects, abundant green-screen shots, and superpowers makes it a kind of mild relief, if a fleeting one. A Drug Enforcement Administration agent (Denzel Washington) and a Navy intelligence officer (Mark Wahlberg) are both working undercover to bring down the head of a drug cartel (Edward James Olmos). Unfortunately, neither guy knows the other is undercover, and they’re attempting to catch each other in the same setup. The funny misunderstanding begets a lot of quips and shootouts, which aren’t terribly original but filmed with the requisite verve by director Baltasar Kormákur. The twist of noir in the story doesn’t work well, thanks mostly to the gorgeous but not terribly convincing Paula Patton, but as a sunny-day shoot ‘em up, it’s old-school fun.
The Way, Way Back (PG-13, ****): Descendants screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash cowrite and direct their first feature, a familiar but endearing coming-of-age tale about a lonely teenager (Liam James) forced to spend his summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her douchebag boyfriend (Steve Carell). The kid comes out of his shell thanks to the help of his new mentor Owen (Sam Rockwell), the motormouthed caretaker of a semi-dilapidated water park. Even in its moments of relative mediocrity, this smartly written, well-acted dramedy lays flat the Goliaths of summer. Terrific performances from a rarely funnier Rockwell and a wonderfully loathsome Carell help buoy a simple story that earns both its laughs and its sentimentality.
The Wolverine (PG-13, *1/2): Director James Mangold brings a veneer of professionalism to the second solo outing of Marvel’s most popular X-Man, but a dull, occasionally incomprehensible script and flat, poorly staged action sequences turn this into a summer slog. Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is called out of self-imposed exile by a Japanese industrialist he saved from the nuclear blast at Nagasaki seventy years prior. The old man offers Logan the opportunity to rid himself of his mutant abilities and die a peaceful death, but soon our clawed hero becomes entangled in a secret plot to bump off the old man’s granddaughter and steal his fortune. The result is a lot of awkwardly staged fights leading up to a climactic battle with a computer-generated robot that’s so stiff and silly I wanted to shout at the screen, “Didn’t you guys see the much cooler-looking robots Jackman fought in that other movie two summers ago?” In 2D and 3D.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
The Butler (PG-13): Lee Daniels (Precious) directs this biopic about a White House butler (Forest Whitaker) who witnesses the Civil Rights movement from a unique perspective. Featuring Oprah and Terrence Howard, as well as Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, and John Cusack as Richard Nixon.
Jobs (PG-13): In the most hilariously inverted casting since Rock Hudson played a hetero sex symbol, Ashton Kutcher plays tech visionary Steve Jobs in this biopic about the origins of Apple. Costarring Josh Gad and J.K. Simmons.
Kick-Ass II: Balls to the Wall (R): Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Moretz, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse return as regular folks donning costumes and acting out superhero conflicts in the “real” world. They’re joined by Jim Carrey, playing the unhinged patriot Colonel Stars and Stripes.
> The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (PG-13): In yet another horror-themed story based on a book for teens, a seemingly normal girl (Lily Collins) discovers she's the heir to a clan of warriors who stop monsters and demons from crossing over and taking control of our world. Costarring Lena Headey.
> Paranoia (PG-13): Corporate espionage abounds in this thriller about an ambitious kid (Liam Hemsworth) ordered by his high-powered boss (Gary Oldman) to spy on a rival company run by a dangerous boss (Harrison Ford). Also featuring Amber Heard.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters (PG): Sequel to this American Harry Potter riff finds the titular hero (Logan Lerman) battling gods and sea monsters in his quest to find a magical totem that will save the world, like they always do. In 2D and 3D.
Planes (PG): Cropduster Dusty (Dane Cook) attempts to overcome his fear of heights to win a famous race. Also featuring the voices of John Cleese, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Teri Hatcher, Stacy Keach, and Brad Garrett. In 2D and 3D.
Red II (PG-13): Sequel to the old-folks’ action movie about retired secret agents (Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich) who can’t stay out of the action, this time hunting down a rogue nuclear weapon. Morgan Freeman, who failed to live through the last one, is replaced by Anthony Hopkins.
The Smurfs II (PG): Remember the live-action Smurfs movie from a couple years back? This is the second one. In 2D and 3D.
Turbo (PG-13): Computer-animated family comedy about a speedy snail who’s determined to win a big race. Featuring the usual plethora of celebrity voices, here including Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, and Snoop Dogg. In 2D and 3D.
We’re the Millers (R): A low-level drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) hires a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a thief (Emma Roberts), and his goofball neighbor (Will Poulter) to pose as his family on a run to pick up a shipment of pot from Mexico. Also featuring Ed Helms.
> You're Next (R): A couple on vacation find themselves stalked by mysterious masked intruders in this horror flick.