Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 1, 2014 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
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.
Draft Day (PG-13, *): This National Football League-approved film is more a feature-length commercial for one of the wealthiest and most vexing corporations in America than an actual drama. You need look no further than the endless aerial shots of shiny new stadiums, cathedrals to capitalism built by taxpayer dollars to drum up money from a private enterprise. As for the movie’s attempt at drama, it follows an eventful day in the life of the Cleveland Browns’ general manager (Kevin Costner) as he deals with personal crises that distract him from selecting the year’s best draft pick. The movie struggles to find relevance in the nerdy behind-the-scenes dealings for a pretend sporting event. Watching the actual NFL draft is dull enough, and only interesting for the consequences it will have on actual football games; watching a pretend NFL draft is like sitting through an Oscars ceremony to see which nonexistent filmmaker wins best director for a movie he never made and that you can never see. The script is inert, the characters are generic, and the football logic is shoddy at best. It’s not an exposé, nor is it much any fun, unless you like watching Jennifer Garner awkwardly pretend to know anything about football. At best this is softcore stadium porn enjoyable only to the kind of people who are thrilled by a cameo by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The mixed-bag cast includes some terrible performances (from Garner, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs) and a few good ones (Costner, Chadwick Boseman, an underused Terry Crews, and Dennis Leary as a surprisingly plausible Jim Harbaugh-style head coach).
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.
Oculus (R, ***1/2): This nifty scary movie overcomes a potentially stupid premise— it’s a haunted mirror!— to deal out some big scares and effective psychological horrors. The timeline is split into two simultaneous narratives: In one, young Kaylie and Tim (Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan) watch their parents (Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff) lose their sanity and turn on one another. In the other, years later, a grownup Kaylie and Tim (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) try to prove their bloody past is the fault of a mirror that channeled evil spirits and drove their folks to murder. Director and cowriter Mike Flanagan uses the story to examine the frightening possibility that your perceptions may be dangerously removed from reality. In the frenzied final act, these perceptions become so muddled that we, the audience, have a difficult time keeping track of what’s really going on, so much so that a couple of the movie’s big-shock moments don’t register for a few minutes, until it’s clear they actually happened. Still, Flanagan provides a wicked ending and some potent atmosphere. It’s not quite a classic, but it’s one of the most fun under-the-radar genre pictures of the year.
The Quiet Ones (PG-13, *): This standard-issue scary movie cashes in on ubiquitous horror trends of possession and found footage but adds nothing new to the genre. Sam Claflin stars as a working-class cameraman hired by an eccentric Oxford professor (Jared Harris), who is running experiments on a troubled young girl (Olivia Cooke) in order to prove the supernatural events happening around her aren’t caused by demonic possession but rather telekinetic energy. The result is an unmemorable, almost perfunctory rundown of generic horror-movie imagery. Director John Pogue’s primary tactic for frightening audiences is startling them with blaring sound cues. You could sit in a dark room and pay a kid eight bucks to sporadically bang on pots and pans and achieve the same effect, and there’s still a chance that the kid you hired, unlike any of this movie’s characters, might be somewhat likable.
< Transcendence (PG-13, *1/2): Johnny Depp costars with Rebecca Hall as the world’s most attractive pair of computer scientists. When he’s mortally wounded by a Luddite terrorist group, the two of them concoct a way to upload his personality into a computer and bridge the gap between human and artificial intelligence. But no sooner does he mind-meld with the internet than the good doctor becomes an egomaniacal demigod who can control all connected electronic devices. He creates a headquarters in a small desert town where he rapidly accelerates scientific progress and creates an army of interlinked supersoldiers to remake the world in his own image. If this were a lot better or just a little bit worse it would be entertaining, but instead cinematographer-turned-director Wally Pfister’s debut project is a silly, humorless mess, bereft of plausible emotion or anything approximating levity. Thanks to Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer of choice, it’s a handsome movie, but the slick aesthetic only serves to highlight how much attention went into composing trivial scenes while the gaping holes in Jack Paglen’s script and the movie’s unpalatable, somber tone remain unattended.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
The Amazing Spider-Man II (PG-13): Followup to the Marc Webb-directed reboot staring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, student by day and web-slinging superhero by night, or at least a little later in the day. Here he squares off against Electro (Jaime Foxx) and the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) as he attempts to keep New York City safe while finding time for romance with his girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone).
Bears (G): John C. Reilly narrates this Disney-produced nature documentary about a season in the life of a bear and her cubs.
< Belleville (NR): A widower farmer (Tim O’Leary) is brought out of his shell by a mysterious visitor from a distant land played by Ted Trent, an actor from Belleville, Illinois, in this drama of local interest.
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.
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.
> Moms’ Night Out (PG): A group of moms (include Sarah Drew and Patricia Heaton) leave the kids with their ineffectual, dumbass husbands (including Sean Astin) so they can have a night out on the town, with disastrous consequences for both groups.
> Neighbors (R): Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne costar as new parents whose domestic bliss is interrupted by a feud with their new neighbors, members of a wild frathouse led by Zac Efron.
The Other Woman (PG-13): Comedy about a group of women— the wife (Leslie Mann), the girlfriend (Cameron Diaz), and the other girlfriend (Kate Upton)— who ban together to get revenge when they discover they’re all romantically linked to the same cheating cad (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
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.