Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 3, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
For more film reviews and capsules, see the Nightlife section of <http://www.CarbondaleRocks.com>.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Butler (PG-13, ****): This true-life tale of a butler who served in the White House for three decades is ambitious to the point of overreaching, but director Lee Daniels manages to craft something affecting and nuanced in between broad historical strokes. Butler Cecil Gaines (an exceptional Forest Whitaker) devotes his life to working for a series of presidents, played to varying degrees of effectiveness by Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, and Alan Rickman. Cecil’s dedication to working inside the establishment causes a rift between him and his oldest son (David Oyelowo), who fights on the front lines of the civil-rights battle. In its worst moments it’s a heavy-handed historical highlight reel, but the central conflict is complex and compelling, and the film smartly articulates some difficult, contradictory truths of the civil-rights struggle. Whitaker’s gravitas grounds the movie whenever it threatens to drift away into distraction, but he’s buoyed by a stacked supporting cast doing excellent work, including Clarence Williams III, Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding Jr., and even frequent O magazine cover model Oprah Winfrey.
< 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.
Insidious: Chapter Two (PG-13, ***): Despite the pretentious title and hodgepodge horror plot, this sequel to director James Wan’s first haunted-house movie packs in plenty of PG-13 scares. The convoluted story-- about a family still haunted due to their son’s ability to cross over into a limbo world between the living and the dead-- borrows bits from The Shining, The Exorcist, Paranormal Activity, and The Haunting. There’s too much going on to really care about any of it, but even though the horror remains at a surface level, Wan is an excellent technician. He engineers frights with great atmosphere and a killer sense of timing. It’s a bit of a shame he already topped himself with his own other haunted-house movie, the summer’s earlier, superior The Conjuring, which also costarred Patrick Wilson. Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, and Ty Simpkins also return.
Prisoners (R, ****): This beautifully gloomy, compelling thriller brings more artistry to the screen than its pulpy premise suggests. When two young girls are kidnapped and the police dismiss the prime suspect (an extra creepy Paul Dano), a father (Hugh Jackman) launches his own vigilante investigation. Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve takes a slow-paced approach to the material, dwelling on the psychological implications of the crime on the characters before stealthily leading the plot in a more hysterical direction. Like a frog in a pan of water that doesn’t notice the steadily rising heat, we’re not aware we’re in a potboiler until it’s already boiling away. It works, thanks to a solid script from Aaron Guzikowski; strong ensemble work from Jackman, Danno, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bellow, and Melissa Leo; and gorgeous cinematography from the great Roger Deakins, whose muted tones underscore the story’s foreboding momentum.
< Riddick (R, ***): Vin Diesel returns to his other big dumb franchise in this second sequel to Pitch Black, which honors that first film better than the grandiose, misbegotten Chronicles of Riddick. Here writer and director David Twohy borrows liberally from Conan the Barbarian to make a simple, brutal movie that's at its best during the long stretches with sparse dialogue and uncompromising action. The intergalactic fugitive finds himself trapped on a sun-blasted planet with no means of escape, so he finds a distress beacon and turns himself in-- but only so he can kill the bounty hunters who come to arrest him and steal their ship. He and the warring bands of bounty hunters duke it out while various alien beasts try to make a meal of them. It's too digitized and greenscreened to inspire any awe, but the movie is an impressively ruthless, focused bit of genre fare. If only it were as lean and efficient as its title character, instead of plodding for too long toward a lackluster climax, it would be a likely candidate for its own cult following. Instead, it's still a pretty fun diversion.
Rush (R , ****): Ron Howard returns to form in this thrilling sports movie about the nature of rivalry and competition. The fodder is the true-life conflict between Formula One racing nemeses Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). The German Lauda's calculating nature and awkward social skills sharply contrast with the easy charm of British playboy racer Hunt, and their mutual respect for one another only stokes the fires of envy. It's a thoughtful, well-scripted examination of duality and convergence-- and it also features some kinetic sequences of cars going extremely fast. The opening and closing voiceovers are a little artless, and the last shot of the film is stupefyingly on-the-nose, but what's in between is both exciting and substantial, an ode to antagonism.
< The Spectacular Now (R, ****): An unlikely relationship between the life of the party (Miles Teller) and a mostly unpopular straight arrow (Shailene Woodley) changes the course of both their futures as they contemplate life after high school. It's a familiar tale, but director James Ponsoldt imbues all the familiar beats with such nuance and texture that it all sounds fresh again. Woodley and Teller are fantastic, and they're working in front of one of the year's best supporting casts, which includes SIU alumnus Bob Odenkirk, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Andre Royo. A brief detour into the melodramatic at the end is a blatant and unfortunate deviation from the movie's small-scale realism, but ultimately it does little to detract from what turns out to be one of 2013's more affecting films, one with a dramatic undercurrent but a surprisingly light touch.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Baggage Claim (PG-13): Paula Patton stars in this romantic comedy about a woman who travels cross country to audition ex-boyfriends to see if they've become marriage material.
Battle of the Year (PG-13): Noted abuser of women Chris Brown costars with Lost’s Josh Holloway, former Disney cog Josh Peck, and Laz Alonso in this dance movie that, like all dance movies, is about people trying to win a dance contest. In 2D only.
> Captain Phillips (PG-13): United Ninety-three and Bourne sequel director Paul Greengrass helms this true tale about a merchant-mariner captain (Tom Hanks) who must protect his crew when they’re boarded by Somali pirates.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs II (PG): Sequel to the computer-animated kiddie comedy about a scientist whose catastrophic food-creating machine goes haywire-- again. Featuring the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Will Forte, and Neil Patrick Harris. In 2D and 3D.
Don Jon (R): Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs, and stars in this comedy about an internet-porn addicted lothario who contemplates changing his ways when he meets the girl of his dreams, played by the girl of our dreams, Scarlett Johansson.
The Family (R): Robert De Niro stars as the head of a crime family having trouble adjusting to a new life in France under the witness-protection program. Featuring Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones.
< The Grandmaster (2013): Kar Wai Wong spent years on his biopic (several by others are readily available on DVD) about Yip Man, the kung fu master who taught Bruce Lee. The American release was reportedly edited into a fragment of Wong’s original version. Starring Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, and Cung Le.
> Gravity (PG-13): George Clooney and Sandra Bullock costar as astronauts who work together to survive when an accident leaves them floating through empty space in this highly anticipated sci-fi project from Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón. In 2D and 3D.
> Machete Kills (R): Sequel to Robert Rodriguez’s tongue-sort-of-in-cheek Mexploitation movie about a machete-wielding vigilante (Danny Trejo) who fights for justice south-- and just north-- of the border. Here he must stop the launch of a space weapon in a hyperviolent adventure featuring Jessica Alba, Antonio Banderas, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, and Mel Gibson.
> Metallica Through the Never (R): Documentary about the pioneering heavy-metal band. In 3D.
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.
> Runner Runner (R): A college kid (Justin Timberlake) looks to scam an online poker game only to discover the man who runs it (Ben Affleck) is very real, and very dangerous.
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.