Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 17, 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 S.H.I.E.L.D. 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 Grand Budapest Hotel (R, ****): Wes Anderson’s latest is more of the same by his standards, and something completely different by any other standard. His distinctive style and unique aesthetic are as prominent as ever in this comedy that’s larger in scope but still fascinated with quirks and minutiae. The film is set in the fictional European nation of Zubrowka, in a lavish hotel whose heyday came between the world wars. The hotel’s eccentric manager (Ralph Fiennes) has a proclivity for wealthy dowagers, and when one of them (Tilda Swinton) dies and leaves him her estate, the family is outraged and accuses him of murder. Along with his faithful protégé (newcomer Tony Revolori) he absconds with a prized painting and careens around Europe, which is near to falling into the clutches of tyrants (Anderson’s cartoonish version of the Nazi S.S.). Anderson’s ace comic timing and aesthetic magnificence are on full display here, and the hotel setting is the perfect staging ground for his macro-dioramas. Everything here is so perfectly manicured that you can’t help but wish for some slight intrusion of messy reality, something jagged or unfiltered to throw the careful polish into sharp relief and remind us of the limits of control, yet Anderson’s postmodern gag of an opening sequence reminds us that he remains steadfastly antirealist and is doing exactly what he wants. He’s aided by a supergroup of regular collaborators that includes Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, and Harvey Keitel.
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.
< The Raid II (R, ***1/2): Gareth Evans’s followup to his streamlined, superb Indonesian action flick takes an antithetical approach. In place of the original’s brutal simplicity, the sequel significantly expands its scope, timeline, and cast. Rama (Iko Uwais), the lone survivor of the police raid on a gang-controlled highrise, goes undercover to catch the crime lords responsible for Jakarta’s corruption. He buddies up to the son of a crime boss and infiltrates the organization just as it is beginning to collapse from within. The plot is too complicated by half, but it’s worth sticking with. Certainly the story is more than just a delivery system for a series of fights and shootouts. But oh, what fights and shootouts! Slick camerawork and thudding, bone-crunching sound effects give every punch and kick maximum impact as casts of extras big enough for a Busby Berkeley extravaganza gone rabid attack one another with gory glory. Uwais is a fantastic action star with soft features and soulful eyes that belie the spirit of a badass who can dole out blurred flurries of punches and sling himself through the air like a cannonball. The Raid II is a little overlong and overstuffed. But don’t expect any American filmmaker this year to make anything so artfully frenetic and viscerally thrilling.
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.
> Brick Mansions (PG-13): This parkour-tinged action flick about an undercover cop trying to save Detroit from a powerful crime boss (Wu Tang’s the RZA) is the penultimate movie from the late Paul Walker.
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.
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 Quiet Ones (PG-13): A college professor (Mad Men’s Jared Harris) leads a crew of students attempting to find a psychological solution for claims that a woman has supernatural powers in this atmospheric horror flick from renewed British spook factory Hammer Productions.
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.
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.