Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 10, 2014 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Bad Words (R , **): The very funny Jason Bateman stars and makes his directorial debut in this comic misfire about a grownup child prodigy who attempts to vindicate himself by scamming his way into the National Spelling Bee. While contending with a sexually conflicted journalist (Kathryn Hahn), angry officials (Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall), and angrier parents, he befriends a fellow contestant, the hopelessly innocent and optimistic Chaitanya (Rohan Chand). It’s clear from the get-go that, despite the curmudgeon’s self-aware insistence to the contrary, his aloof façade will crumble as he helps his new young friend. It’s a cliché, but one the movie plays into well, and the scenes between Bateman and Chand are endearing. When the two are apart, however, the movie drifts. The film unravels when the Bateman character’s secret motives are revealed, making him look more whiny and petty than sympathetic or righteous. The biggest problem, though, is that Bateman and screenwriter Andrew Dodge don’t seem to have much love for any of their characters, making most of the caustic zingers more mean-spirited than funny. It lacks the crude poetry of the similar but vastly superior Bad Santa, or that same movie’s grudging redemption.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (PG-13, ***1/2): The Avengers mega-franchise gets its first truly successful solo outing since the first Iron Man film. Now unfrozen and living in the modern world, Captain America (Chris Evans) is a man out of time acclimating to a more complex and morally murky society. He’s already questioning the validity of superspy organization SHIELD when director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked by enemies from within who plot to turn the group’s newest technology into mega-drones that will police the world. Cap must team up with fellow Avenger Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and new pal Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to uncover the conspiracy and do battle with a new villain, the masked and mysterious Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan). New series directors Joe and Anthony Russo execute the material sharply and find a nice balance between heavier action-movie carnage and campy fun. The movie fits nicely into the overall Avengers story but is also self-contained enough to be internally satisfying.
Divergent (PG-13, *1/2): This blatant Hunger Games knockoff swipes the post-apocalyptic setting and girl-fights-crooked-government storyline of the popular franchise, but wraps it in a metaphorical mythology so convoluted that not even the filmmakers can keep it straight. The talented but miscast Shailene Woodley stars as Tris, a girl coming of age in a society that divides everyone into one of five factions that dictates their personalities and life paths. But Tris is Divergent, showing signs of belonging to all five factions, which makes her a threat to the nefarious leader of the Erudite faction, led by Kate Winslet, which seeks to remake the totalitarian bureaucracy in its own image. Tris fights back with the help of a hunky soldier (Theo James). No plot hole is too gaping, no leap of logic too grand for this nonsensical film to take on as it sprints toward a sequel without ever distinguishing itself as a complete movie. Competent direction by Neil Burger and a better-than-average supporting cast (notably Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Mekhi Phifer, and Ray Stevenson) help keep the moving entertaining enough, even if it never makes a lick of sense the entire time.
< 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.
Noah (PG-13, 1/2*): Director Darren Aronofsky certainly has Goliath-sized balls to do a major rewrite on the Bible, but as is usually the case with him he’s far more in love with his own vision than anyone else could possibly be. This pseudo-Biblical epic turns the Good Book into a bad joke, adding needless action and heaps of pretension— not to mention a legion of vengeful rock monsters— to the famous story about the man who built an ark to save the creatures of the world from God’s watery wrath. Yep, rock monsters, which must have been in the director’s cut of the Bible. The trouble with the story of Noah is that, ironically, it has no arc. Instead Russell Crowe must team up with the rock monsters to stop a horde of barbarians that stand in for Tolkien’s orcs. Add in a mutiny plot aboard the boat and the grafted-on story of Abraham and you’ve got the biggest mess anyone has made of Christianity since Fred Phelps. Self-serious, overwhelmingly pretentious, and unintentionally silly— it’s the dumbest bits of the Bible and the Lord of the Rings movies mashed together, proof that if there is a god, he’s cruel and angry.
< Sabotage (R, **): End of Watch director David Ayer takes a big step down from his tense, emotionally engaging police dramas with this grim, dunderheaded actioneer that tries to make up for massive script deficiencies through an assault of gore and hyperbole. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Breacher, leader of a team of elite Drug Enforcement Administration agents who are targeted after they steal $10 million from a cartel stash house. A demure police detective (Olivia Williams) investigates the murders but begins to suspect one of the team members (including Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Sam Worthington, and Mireille Enos). The movie is briskly paced and action-packed enough to achieve the base-level entertainment goal of distraction, but the bloody blitzkrieg is too grim to be pulpy fun and not nearly good enough to justify its own excesses.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Bears (G): John C. Reilly narrates this Disney-produced nature documentary about a season in the life of a bear and her cubs.
Draft Day (PG-13): Ivan Reitman directs this behind-the-scenes National Football League drama about the complex machinations of the yearly draft, with sports-movie icon Kevin Costner in the starring role as the general manager of the struggling Cleveland Browns. Also featuring Jennifer Garner and a host of real-life sports-pundit personalities.
> The Grand Budapest Hotel (R): Wes Anderson’s latest definitely Wes Anderson-y comedy focuses on a concierge (Ralph Fiennes) at a posh European hotel between the two World Wars, and features a standout cast of Anderson favorites including Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, and newcomer Tony Revolori as the concierge’s apprentice.
God’s Not Dead (PG): Young Josh defends his faith when confronted by a lib-rul atheist college philosophy professor. (Wissmann)
> A Haunted House II (R): Another Wayans-starring parody of popular horror movies, this one featuring Jaime Pressly and Cedric the Entertainer.
> Heaven Is for Real (PG): Talk about your spoiler alerts. This Christian drama is based on the allegedly true story of a child whose near-death experience proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that Heaven is definitely for real, so you can stop wondering about that now. Featuring Greg Kinnear, Thomas Haden Church, Margo Martindale, and newcomer Connor Corum.
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.
> Oculus (R): After her brother is accused of committing murder, his sister (Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan) attempts to prove the killing was related to a haunted mirror. Featuring Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica and Rory Cochrane of the 1990s.
> The Raid II (R): Writer-director Gareth Evans sets his sequel to the hyperkinetic crime flick shortly after the titular incursion that pitted badass detective Rama (Iko Uwais) against an entire highrise full of deadly thugs. Now he must infiltrate an organized-crime syndicate to deal out more lethal justice.
Rio II (G): Sequel to the computer-animated kiddie comedy about a pet-store parrot (Jesse Eisenberg) who returns to the wilds of Rio de Janeiro, now with a wife (Anne Hathaway) and kids in tow. Also featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Leslie Mann, and John Leguizamo.
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.
> Transcendence (PG-13): A terminally ill scientist (Johnny Depp) uploads his consciousness into a computer, which transforms him into a godlike form of new life in this sci-fi thriller costarring Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, and Paul Bettany.