Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 24, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
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.
Captain Phillips (PG-13, ****): Paul Greengrass, who directed the powerful docu-dramas Bloody Sunday and United 93, once more brilliantly orchestrates the chaos of a historical calamity. Here it’s the taking of an American cargo ship by pirates off the coast of Somalia, an incident trivia-minded newshounds may remember led to a dramatic intervention by the Navy SEALS and the first major success of the then-new Obama administration. Tom Hanks gives a terrific, restrained performance as the no-nonsense captain of the title, whose steadiness and valor helped minimize the damage when his boat was overrun by a group of armed mercenaries led by a desperate young man (Barkhad Abdi). The timeline is tight, the pacing is fleet, and the suspense is nearly unbearable.
Escape Plan (R , ***): The movie event of 1988 finally takes place, with American action icons Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone teaming up for their first coheadlining gig. Sly plays a professional prison-break expert who’s paid to find the flaws in a private facility in a secret location, only to discover he’s been double-crossed and left to rot in jail. He teams up with a musclebound financial terrorist (Schwarzenegger) to break out of the mysterious facility run by the delightfully evil Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel). The movie is rife with logical inconsistencies and gaping plotholes, but a great and wildly improbable third-act twist pushes it over the top in all the right ways. It becomes increasingly cartoonish as it leads up to a slam-bang climax that lets these old boys do what they do-- or did-- best. The less said about the subplot involving Vincent D’Onofrio and Fifty Cent, the better. In fact, the less most of these guys say, the better.
Gravity (PG-13): Alfonso Cuarón writes and directs this amazing survival tale set in space, and while it may or may not be a great movie, it’s definitely a unique and thrilling theatrical experience. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney costar as astronauts blasted out into the infinite void when disaster strikes during a space walk. Cuarón’s chronicle of their attempt to reconnect and survive counterintuitively uses the immense scope of space to reaffirm a kind of prideful humanity. The visual effects are so rich and stunning, they perhaps won’t convey the same power on a small screen, but in a theater-- especially in 3D-- Cuarón’s slowly swooping views of the solar system are sublime. This is the nexus of storytelling, cinematography, and technology that could not even have existed ten years ago. It’s a marvel. In 2D and 3D.
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.
Machete Kills (R , **1/2): This sequel to the movie based on a fake trailer in Grindhouse suffers from the same shortcomings as the original: Though inspired by a grimy-looking series of outlandish ideas packed into a tight timeline, it spreads its few decent gags over an overlong running time and has an aesthetic closer to an after-school special than a seventies drive-in classic. Danny Trejo returns as Machete, tasked by the first Mexican American president (Charlie Sheen) to track down a crazed cartel leader (Demián Bichir) who has a nuclear missile pointed at Washington, D.C. The movie picks up significant speed when it goes for broke and turns into a sci-fi mashup, with an old knife-wielding guy squaring off against superscience thugs led by a psychic-weapons manufacturer (Mel Gibson) who plans to destroy the world and flee into space. It’s less fun than it sounds, but the final forty minutes are almost worth the slog of the first hour. Featuring Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas, and Lady Gaga.
< Runner Runner (R, *1/2): This perfectly competent but wildly unnecessary crime drama opens with a news montage meant to convince viewers of the growing menace that is online poker. It’s about as subtle and effective as any given two-minute section of Reefer Madness, and it’s just the first implausible turn in a series of unconvincing and consistently uninteresting storytelling decisions. Grad student Richie (Justin Timberlake) gets mixed up with an online gaming impresario (Ben Affleck) who brings him to Costa Rica for a job that turns out to be somewhat less than legal, prompting a generically unfriendly detective (Anthony Mackie) to pit Richie against his boss. Ironically enough, this is a movie about gambling that never takes any risks, and director Brad Furman, who directed the pretty decent legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer, does nothing to distinguish it.
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.
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.
Carrie (R): Boys Don’t Cry’s Kimberly Pierce directs this remake of the horror classic based on Stephen King’s novel about a tormented girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) whose psychic powers are revealed when she’s pushed over the edge. Featuring Judy Greer and Julianne Moore as one of the great crazy-mother characters in pulp fiction.
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.
> The Counselor (R): Michael Fassbender stars as a lawyer who agrees to represent drug traffickers, leading to a series of calamities in this crime drama from director Ridley Scott, based on an original script by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy. Featuring Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz.
> Ender’s Game (PG-13): The excellent young-adult sci-fi novel (written, unfortunately, by virulent homophobe Orson Scott Card) gets a big-screen adaptation, with Asa Butterfield starring as the young cadet in war-simulator training to defeat an alien race. Featuring Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, and Abigail Breslin.
Enough Said (PG-13): Acclaimed final movie by the late James Gandolfini of Tony Soprano fame. Nicole Holofcener writes and directs this comedy about a divorcee (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who discovers her ideal new boyfriend (Gandolfini) is her best friend's despised ex-husband. Also starring Toni Collette, Catherine Keener, and Carbondale’s Ben Falcone.
The Fifth Estate (R): Gods and Monsters’ Bill Condon directs the Wikileaks movie, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as controversial whistleblowing blogger Julian Assange.
Grace Unplugged (PG): A Christian musician is tempted by the trappings of fame.
> Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (R): Jackass ringleader Johnny Knoxville goes solo for a full-length feature of pranks and antics in disguise as a cantankerous old man. Movie Trivia Moment: More than 190 man hours and $4 million went into the creation of the movie's title.
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.
< RiffTrax Live: Night of the Living Dead (NR): George Romero’s zombie-apocalypse drive-in classic gets a parody.