Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 20, 2014 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Lego Movie (PG, ***): Cowriters and -directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller inject a significant amount of cleverness into this crass, computer-animated cash-in about an ordinary Lego Joe (Chris Pratt) who discovers he’s the chosen one who must stop the evil President Business (Will Ferrell) from using a super-weapon that will glue the entire universe together. Lord and Miller’s stroke of semi-genius is to model the plot after the different ways kids play with Legos, some rigidly sticking to the instructions while others mix and match pieces into their own creations. This idea reaches full fruition in the movie’s big meta-gag, which plays like a kiddie-movie version of a Charlie Kaufman twist. For all their inventiveness and lip service to creativity, they’ve done little more than inject a bit of ingenuity into a corporate property cross-promoted to tie into other corporate properties, including Batman, Superman, Gandalf, and Han Solo. It’s a series of tiny commercials built into a one-hundred-minute-long Lego commercial. The filmmakers laud visionaries who build new and unexpected things, but all the pieces they’re playing with are not just familiar, they’re trademarked. In 2D and 3D.
Need for Speed (PG-13, *): The title of this borderline-unwatchable street-racing movie is either an ironic commentary on its bloated two-hour and ten-minute running time, or a suggestion of the drug you’d have to take to stay awake until the end. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul stars as a generic gearhead who’s framed by a cartoonishly evil rival (Dominic Cooper) for the murder of his impossibly wide-eyed and stupid sidekick (Harrison Gilbertson). Once out of jail, he decides to get revenge while simultaneously winning a super-cool street race organized by the mysterious Monarch (a barely there Michael Keaton), but first he must drive across the country in forty hours with a blonde hottie (Imogen Poots). The stunts are mostly achieved through real driving and practical effects rather than computer-generated wizardry, which is the only thing to recommend about this overlong, unoriginal, lazy, and consistently dull exercise. Speaking of irony: For a movie about racing cars, it sure is pedestrian. In 2D and 3D.
Non-Stop (PG-13, ***1/2): In his latest Geriaction movie, Liam Neeson stars as a troubled Air Marshal receiving mysterious text messages during a transatlantic flight. The killer threatens to bump off someone on the plane every twenty minutes unless he receives $150 million wired into a bank account. But as the evidence mounts, Neeson’s off-the-rails Marshal becomes a suspect in the hijacking, which takes a wild turn when a group of rogue passengers try to secure the plane. This thriller by Jaume Collet-Serra is both a compelling mystery and an above-average action flick. It’s a smartly constructed, streamlined thriller that makes a graceful shift from claustrophobic whodunnit to disaster mayhem, all propped up by a solid performance by the reliable Neeson and a great supporting cast that includes Julianne Moore, recent Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, House of Cards’ Corey Stoll, and A-list dirtbag Scoot McNairy.
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.
Veronica Mars (PG-13, ***1/2): The cult-favorite TV show gets a second life on the big screen thanks to a fan-funded Kickstarter campaign. Writer/director Rob Thomas knows who paid for this new incarnation of his underrated series, and he pitches it directly at them— at the slight expense of potential newcomers. Former teen private investigator Veronica (Kristen Bell) is fresh out of law school in New York and headed for a new job at a big firm when she gets word that ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) has been accused of murdering his pop-star girlfriend. She returns to her hometown to give him free legal advice, but when the official story doesn’t add up, her old P.I. instincts kick in and she enlists her old crew (including Percy Daggs III and Tina Majorino) to help solve the case. The movie is resolutely uncinematic— it plays like a TV show, or rather a whole season of a TV show compressed into an hour and forty-five minutes, but Thomas streamlines the plot and makes it work. The characters remain compelling and the dialogue is as sharp and quippy as ever. The cast is still in top form, and favorites like Enrico Colantoni, Ryan Hansen, and Ken Marino are joined by Martin Starr, Gaby Hoffmann, and others. Fans will love it. Those unfamiliar might not find the film entirely accessible, although it may well serve as inspiration to go back and watch the original series, which would indeed be a worthwhile investment of time.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Divergent (PG-13): Dystopian teen-action/romance à la The Hunger Games, starring the appealing Shailene Woodley as a girl who fights back against a tyrannical government that forces children to choose one of five personality types and stick with them until death. Featuring Kate Winslet, Mekhi Phifer, Ashley Judd, and two of Woodley’s previous onscreen romantic counterparts, Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) and Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars).
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. In a singalong version, too.
Mister Peabody and Sherman (PG): Computer-animated adaptation of the Bullwinkle and Friends cartoon about a dog genius (voiced by Modern Family's Ty Burrell) and his young pal (Max Charles) who get into temporal adventures with Mister Peabody's time machine. Featuring a host of celebrity voices including Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann. In 2D and 3D.
Muppets Most Wanted (PG): The latest caper for Jim Henson’s deeply felt crew of felt finds them caught up in a jewel heist thanks to a Kermit lookalike, arch criminal Dominic Badguy, who takes the place of the famous frog. Featuring Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, and a slew of celebrity cameos.
Son of God (PG-13): Trimmed-down version of the TV miniseries about the life of Jesus, based on the popular novel by God.
Three-hundred: Rise of an Empire (R): Sequel to Zack Snyder's gaudy, jingoistic swords-and-shields action pic in which the Persian army, having killed Gerard Butler and 299 of his friends, faces off against another group of Greek soldiers. Lena Headey and Eva Green return. In 2D and 3D.
Tyler Perry's Single Moms Club (PG-13): A group of mothers whose children attend the same school form an alliance to bond and deal with single parenthood in this inspirational comedy from writer/director Tyler Perry, who remarkably does not play one of the mothers. Featuring Nia Long, Amy Smart, and Terry Crews.