Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 29, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Blue Jasmine (****1/2): The latter half of Woody Allen’s remarkable career has been most notable for the merging of his two earlier forms: goofball Woody dressed as a giant sperm and sadface Woody doing bleak riffs on his favorite European arthouse directors. His latest film is a realist melodrama with comedic undertones that hits the sweet spot between drama and comedy as well as any of his work since the excellent Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona. Cate Blanchett stars as a disgraced socialite who lost her Tiffany crystal marbles when her wealthy husband (Alec Baldwin) turned out to be a Bernie Madoff-style fraud. Near penniless, she moves to a middle-class neighborhood in San Francisco to stay with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), causing an interpersonal class conflict that does not go unnoticed by Ginger’s blue-collar chorus of boyfriends (Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, and Louis C.K.). The interplay between the mega-rich and the struggling middle class is timely, but played subtly and always in deference to the well-constructed characters. This is some of Allen’s best work, thought-provoking and nuanced yet consistently entertaining. It’s the work of a master craftsman who never stops refining his technique.
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 only.
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.
< 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.
Jobs (PG-13, **): The fascinating life of visionary tech guru Steve Jobs gets shoehorned into the familiar biopic format in this intermittently successful but consistently underwhelming portrait of one of the most significant figures in modern history. Swing Vote director Joshua Michael Stern, working from a script by newbie Matt Whiteley, focuses most of his attention on the span of time between the founding of Apple, its founder's ouster from the company, and his triumphant return. Ashton Kutcher is imperfect but better than you might expect in the lead role, although he's outmatched by superior character actors in bit parts (J.K. Simmons, James Woods, Matthew Modine) and even by Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak, the prototypical computer nerd who dreamed up the skeleton of the modern personal computer. You may leave Jobs awed at the force of raw creativity and innovation, but you’ll wish that same spirit was actively applied to the film itself.
< Kick-Ass II (R, zero stars): 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. Not just bad but thoroughly deplorable, the movie is as loathsome as Mintz-Plasse’s petulant, nihilistic, foot-stomping shrill villain, but as boring as Taylor-Johnson’s vanilla hero.
Monsters University (PG, ***): This able sequel to 2001's Monsters, Inc. is suitable but uninspired, answering the question nobody asked after leaving the theater post-Monsters, Inc.: “I liked Sully and Mike, but I still have a lot of lingering questions about their secondary education.” Turns out Mike (Billy Crystal) was a hardworking student with little chance of success, while Sully (John Goodman) was a legacy student coasting on his monstrous looks and his dad's name. When they both wash out of the program, they are forced to team up with a fraternity full of castoff losers to win a competition against the preppy jock monsters. It's familiar stuff, and surprisingly uninspired beyond the colorful, creative monster designs. While it gets the job done, it's not terribly exciting, and seems to have been born of commercial consideration rather than inspiration. In 2D only.
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 only.
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.
Closed Circuit (R): Rebecca Hall and Eric Bana costar as lawyers put in danger when they learn the terrorist attack their client is accused of committing may have been caught on film, revealing a deadly truth. Also featuring Jim Broadbent and Ciarán Hinds.
> Getaway (PG-13): Ethan Hawke stars as a man who must blindly follow the orders of a mystery man who has kidnapped his wife in order to force our hero to do his bidding. Featuring, oddly enough, Selena Gomez and Jon Voight.
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.
> One Direction: This Is Us (PG): Behind-the-scenes documentary and concert footage of the current boy-band du jour. Notably, this one is directed by Morgan Spurlock, most famous for his McDonald’s exposé, Super Size Me. In 3D only.
< 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 only.
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 only.
> Riddick (R): Vin Diesel returns to the role of the calculating killer he played in the excellent sci-fi horror movie Pitch Black and its awful sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. Here our antihero must contend with threats new and old when he's stranded on a blazing-hot planet.
< The Smurfs II (PG): Remember the live-action Smurfs movie from a couple years back? This is the second one. In 2D only.
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.
The World's End (R): Director Edgar Wright reteams with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz costars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for this sci-fi themed comedy about a group of schlubs on a pub crawl who find themselves the only ones left who can save the world from invasion.
You're Next (R): A couple on vacation find themselves stalked by mysterious masked intruders in this horror flick.