Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 7, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
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.
Carrie (R, **): Kimberly Pierce directs this decent but misguided remake of the Stephen King classic originally— and more adeptly— adapted by Brian De Palma. Chloë Grace Moretz is too conventionally bright and pretty to play Carrie, the brittle, sheltered daughter of a zealously religious single mother (Julianne Moore). When a group of mean girls (led by Portia Doubleday) set Carrie up on a prank, the young girl’s telekinetic powers are unleashed in a fury in the most famous prom night in fiction. This remake is competent but unnecessary, with few innovations and much less style than De Palma’s superior 1976 version. A little updating might have made it feel slightly more relevant, but it’s too faithful to the literal beats of the original story without capturing any of the atmosphere of barely repressed hysteria and mounting dread. Moretz is talented but miscast, although Moore is perfect; only her scenes as the shrill, abusive mother achieve anything close to scary.
The Counselor (R , ****): This gritty, perhaps too forthrightly cerebral crime thriller is taken from an original script by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy. Though a bit overwritten, it’s still wonderfully written, with staccato noir banter shot through with nakedly philosophical pondering. The tale is simply and brutally inevitable: A criminal lawyer (Michael Fassbender) decides to cash in on the illegal side of the drug trade with two underworld partners (Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt) despite warnings of what such a venture may cost him. Penélope Cruz has little to do but be saintly, and Cameron Diaz is miscast as the ruthless girlfriend of a drug runner in a performance that’s all back tattoo and gold tooth. Despite its flaws, though, the movie is coolly directed by Ridley Scott and builds slow but significant intensity, even if it inevitably pales next to the Coen brothers’ McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men. But then, don’t most movies lose out in that comparison?
< 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.
Ender’s Game (PG-1 3, ***): This decent adaptation of the 1985 young-adult novel does a nice job of compressing a complicated story into two hours, but in doing so most of its characters are reduced to plot points. Ender Wiggum (Asa Butterfield) is the most promising recruit in the history of a futuristic military academy designed to train soldiers for war against the invading alien Formics. The school’s steely military commander (Harrison Ford) conscripts Ender to be the leader of a new army— but to what purpose? The battle simulations are fun to watch and the climactic battle sequence is impressive, but the film feels too chilly and removed to be really affecting, although the twist near the end is a nifty shocker.
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.
< 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 Brühl) 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
> About Time (R): Rom-com master Richard Curtis helms this sci-fi-tinged chick flick about a time traveler (Domhnall Gleeson) who uses his powers to get a girlfriend (Rachel McAdams).
> All Is Lost (PG-13): Robert Redford stars in an acclaimed film about a man trying to survive a sailing accident. Directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call).
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.
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.
Free Birds (PG): Thanksgiving-themed computer-animated kiddie comedy about a pair of turkeys (voiced by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson) trying to spare their ilk from being fodder for a holiday feast. in 2D and 3D.
< 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.
Last Vegas (PG-13): This comedy featuring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline, about three guys taking their friend to Vegas for a bachelor party, could smugly be described as The Hangover for old guys. Or just accurately described as The Hangover for old guys.
< 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.
Thor: The Dark World (PG-13): A powerful new villain (Christopher Eccleston) forces part-time Avenger Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to team up with his nemesis Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Featuring the return of Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, and Idris Elba. In 2D and 3D.