Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 22, 2014 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Amazing Spider-Man II (PG-13, ***1/2): At this point, Spider-Man’s greatest foe must be déjà vu. Many of the events of this sequel to the reboot were already covered in Sam Raimi’s disastrous Spider-Man III. Once more a generic loser is turned into a supervillain by an unlikely act of science (this time it’s Jamie Foxx as Electro) at the same time that Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) realizes his father’s legacy and becomes the Green Goblin in order to kill his former best friend Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his girlfriend (Emma Stone). The big difference is, this time around it’s fun, with Garfield’s likable, good-humored Spider-Man cracking silly jokes and having a good time saving the people of New York City from some pretty impressive special effects. It’s uneven and overstuffed, but Garfield and Stone make an appealing couple. Director Marc Webb shows a continuing facility with comedy and romance while significantly stepping up his game with the action sequences, which are brighter and more thrilling.
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.
< 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).
Godzilla 3D (PG-13, **1/2): Godzilla is really two movies. One is a five-star action movie featuring gorgeous, awe-inspiring scenes of terror and destruction that takes Toho Studios’ biggest star to new aesthetic heights. Unfortunately, that movie is only about fifteen minutes long. The other hour and forty-five-minutes is a turgid family drama full of empty character moments in which the uninspiring Aaron Taylor-Johnson attempts to save his wife (Elizabeth Olsen), something his own, increasingly obsessive father (Bryan Cranston) could not do fifteen years before when an accident at a nuclear plant killed his own wife (Juliette Binoche). Director Gareth Edwards made a remarkable low-budget creature feature in Monsters, but in several critical ways he fails to up his game here. Monsters wore its cheapness on its sleeve and worked mostly through shadow, sound, and implication, but this is a big-league, zillion-dollar Godzilla movie; it’s time to show, not imply. The eye-popping monster fight is almost worth sitting through the rest of the production for, although you might just consider showing up an hour late.
< 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.
Neighbors (R, ***1/2): This light but not entirely frivolous comedy takes a sympathetic approach to characters on both sides of its central feud. New parents Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) want to seem cool to the frat guys who move in next door, even if they also really want the guys to turn down the music. Meanwhile, frat leaders Teddy and Pete (Zac Efron and Dave Franco) have a bromance that graduation is about to break up, with beefcake Teddy fearing life after college while Pete still struggles with his own parents’ divorce. But fear not, there’s plenty of drug-taking, riffing, raunch, and revelry in this solid summer comedy from ace director Nicholas Stoller, which gets plenty wacky but is supported by solid emotional underpinnings. Though he’s not involved, Judd Apatow’s influence is apparent throughout, mostly for the best.
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.
> Blended (PG-13): Adam Sandler turns another vacation into a movie. This time he’s off to Africa, where he and his new girlfriend (Drew Barrymore) attempt to merge their children from other marriages. Featuring Terry Crews, Kevin Nealon, and Joel McHale.
> Fading Gigolo (R): In a rare move, Woody Allen stars in a film he doesn’t direct. Costar John Turturro takes the director’s seat instead. Allen acts as a manager— pimp might be too harsh a term— for Turturro’s would-be lover-for-hire. (Wissmann)
< God’s Not Dead (PG): Young Josh defends his faith when confronted by a lib-rul atheist college philosophy professor. (Wissmann)
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.
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (PG): Computer-animated, kid-friendly cash-in based not on the classic works of L. Frank Baum, but on a novel by his cousin Roger. Featuring celebrity voices including Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, Kelsey Grammer, and Martin Short.
Million Dollar Arm (PG): Feelgood Disney sports movie starring John Hamm as an agent with the idea to recruit Asian cricket players to turn their skills toward Major League Baseball. Costarring Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Lake Bell, and Bill Paxton.
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.
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).
> The Railway Man (R): Colin Firth stars as a British World War II veteran who survived an inhumane prisoner of war camp. Years later, he returns to Asia to confront one of his torturers. (Wissmann)
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.
> X-Men: Days of Future Past (PG-13): The casts of the original X-Men series (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry) and the prequel (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence) come together when Wolverine is sent back in time to help his friends’ younger selves stop a threat that could destroy all of mutantkind. Original series director Bryan Singer returns. Also featuring Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage.