Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 21, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
< All Is Lost (PG-13, ****): J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) writes and directs this deliberate but fascinating tale about survival on the high seas. Robert Redford is the film’s lone actor, a nameless sailor whose small yacht is damaged by a drifting shipping container. It’s the first in a series of calamities that will force him to confront the very meaning of existence as he struggles, seemingly in total futility, against the awe-inspiring power and indifference of the elements. This is mostly a procedural film, with virtually no dialogue, and though it occasionally threatens tedium, it’s never boring. Chandor is able to convey the sailor’s desolation without turning the movie into a long, waterlogged bummer, and in the film’s final, moving minutes, the struggle is validated on its own terms. That, Chandor seems to be saying, is the very best we can hope for.
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.
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.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (R, *1/2): The earlier Jackass movies were supersized installments of the show, but here star and ringleader Johnny Knoxville attempts to shift the enterprise into a Borat-style narrative, with interstitial scenes providing a narrative arc to a series of unscripted pranks. The trouble is the storyline, in which Knoxville’s cantankerous grandpa, Irving Zisman, must ferry his estranged grandson across the country to live with his deadbeat dad. The narrative seems to exist for no one’s benefit— the filmmakers seem disinterested in it and the audience has proven it needs no connecting tissue between bouts of outrageousness. Worse, though, the pranks fall flat as often as not, partly because they’re often uninspired, but mostly because they’re targeted at average folks who mostly seem to want to help. There’s none of the vindictive pleasure Borat found from mocking racists and bloviating politicians. What did these people do to deserve this? And what did we do?
Thor: The Dark World (PG-13, *): The worst Marvel movie of the Avengers era finds Thor (Chris Hemsworth) drained of any intriguing character traits save for a hammer and a nice bod. In this especially pointless outing, he must do battle with a generic villain with vague motives played by a little-known actor seeking to gain control of an ill-defined MacGuffin for no particular purpose. Five credited screenwriters attempt to hide how little is going on both in the plot and in the hero’s head by overstuffing it with distractions, including some thoroughly un-intriguing intrigue about Thor’s homeworld of Asgard as well as painfully protracted sequences of comic relief by superfluous supporting players Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård. If you want to know how bad the movie is, just look into the eyes of female lead Natalie Portman. No matter what line she’s delivering, those big, beautiful peepers are full of boredom and distaste, as though she’s being forced to eat an incredibly bland meal prepared in unsanitary conditions. In 2D and 3D.
Twelve Years a Slave (R, ****1/2): Director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of the memoir of Simon Northup, a free black man drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the mid 1800s, is as harrowing as it is essential. McQueen is a chronicler of suffering whose previous two movies have focused on physical deprivation. Here he turns that same interest on the visceral horrors of slavery, where we follow Simon (an excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor) from the dehumanization of the market to a pair of plantations, one run by a genteel, conflicted master (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the other by a sadistic drunk (Michael Fassbender) to examine their different forms of horror. A recurring theme is the wrenching contrast between the sublime countryside settings and the elegance of McQueen’s compositions with the destitution and misery of the circumstances. At times McQueen’s art-school framing and chilly aesthetic removes us from the drama of the material, but far more often it deepens the horror. A truly remarkable, unsettling film, featuring great performances all around from the aforementioned actors, as well as Paul Giamatti and Lupita Nyong’o.
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).
The Best Man Holiday (R): Malcolm D. Lee writes and directs this sequel to his 1999 breakout. The ensemble dramedy reunites Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Regina Hall, and Morris Chestnut.
> Black Nativity (PG): Inspirational tale about a troubled teen (Jacob Latimore) who travels to New York to spend Christmas with his extended family. Featuring Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, and Tyrese Gibson.
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 only.
> Dallas Buyers Club (R): When a Texas rodeo star (Matthew McConaughey) contracts HIV in the 1980s, he puts together an illegal cooperative designed to get experimental drugs to others with the virus. Also starring Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, and Steve Zahn.
Delivery Man (PG-13): Vince Vaughn stars in this comedy about a slacker who learns he’s the father of more than five-hundred children thanks to his sperm donations two decades ago. Director Ken Scott remakes his own French-language movie, Starbuck, which was released only two years ago, in case you hate reading subtitles.
< 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.
> Frozen (PG): Computer-animated, Disneyfied adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale about a girl (voiced by Kristen Bell) who makes a polar journey to convince her powerful sister to lift the Kingdom’s eternal winter. Also featuring the voices of Alan Tudyk and Josh Gad.
> Homefront (R): When a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent moves to the country, he soon runs afoul of local meth lords. Cowritten by Sylvester Stallone but starring James Franco, Jason Statham, Kate Bosworth, Winona Ryder, and Rachelle Lefevre.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (PG-13): The second installment of the adaptation of the popular young-adult sci-fi novel series finds heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) returning to the Hunger Games as a symbol of the rising revolution against a dictatorial regime. Philip Seymour Hoffman joins the returning cast, including Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth.
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.