Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 5, 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.
Blended (PG-13, **1/2): Adam Sandler’s latest family comedy, his third pairing with Drew Barrymore, isn’t up to the standards of their first collaboration, The Wedding Singer, which remains his most fully realized comedy. But the broad, sometimes treacly family comedy does have some heart and at least rises to the basic standards of its star’s significant talent. Sandler costars as a widower who, via some unnecessarily complex plot machinations, is paired up on a blended-families retreat in South Africa with a struggling divorcée (Barrymore). It’s a pleasant family comedy that’s as blandly inoffensive as the big-box stores and corporate-chain bar-and-grills Sandler serenades, like the poet laureate of the interstate-exit strip malls, but the stars’ chemistry remains, and bit players like the great Kevin Nealon and the always-funny Terry Crews score some big laughs. It’s not one of Sandler’s gems, but it’s broadly appealing and nicely suited to its target audience.
< 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.
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.
Million Dollar Arm (PG, **1/2): The über-charismatic Jon Hamm stars as real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein, who practically colonizes this story about the first two Indian men signed by a Major League Baseball team. The first hour of the film crackles with surprising energy as J.B. travels to India with a curmudgeonly scout (Alan Arkin) to hold a contest and recruit a pair of potential pitchers (Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal). It becomes a sporting-Scrooge redemption tale with all the familiar, too-convenient beats once the crew returns Stateside and J.B. must learn the true meaning of family while training the guys and romancing his neighbor (the lovely Lake Bell). Screenwriter Tom McCarthy dodged most of the sports-movie clichés in his wonderful Win Win, but this cookie-cutter production smacks of interference from the Disney producers— or someone— who shoves the compelling story into a template that fits all the clichés. Still, a strong cast, including Indian actors Pitobash and Darshan Jariwala plus Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi and Bill Paxton, help elevate the material.
A Million Ways to Die in the West (R, *1/2): Seth MacFarlane cowrites, produces, directs, and stars in this surprisingly inert, unfunny Western sendup about a sensitive, progressive sheep farmer (MacFarlane) who falls for the wife (Charlize Theron) of a deadly gunslinger (Liam Neeson) after he’s dumped by his haughty girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried). The thin plot is stretched over nearly two hours of running time, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the jokes weren’t so flat, the timing so off, the characters so bland and unlikable. MacFarlane, who does the movie no favors by casting himself in the lead, is known for the rapid-fire style of his signature creation, Family Guy, but the pacing here is flat and the solid gags few and far between. It’s a limp followup to his hilarious feature debut, Ted, and hopefully a brief misstep in an otherwise impressive career. Only Theron and costar Neil Patrick Harris are able to generate movie-star charisma in what otherwise plays like a protracted, poorly conceived TV sketch.
< 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.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (PG-13, ***): This dour, convoluted superhero soap opera unites the casts and timelines of the first three X-Men movies and the First Class prequel crew via a time-travel plot that sees Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) go back to 1973 to stop the assassination of an anti-mutant scientist (Peter Dinklage), whose death will lead to the rise of a robot army that destroys the world fifty years later. Bryan Singer, returning to the director’s chair for his first installment since series highlight X2, remains a master of spectacle, and a couple of his action setpieces are worth the price of admission alone. Highlights include a prison break undertaken at super-speed by new character Quicksilver (Evan Peters, the only castmember in tune with the movie’s silliness) and an awe-inspiring image of Michael Fassbender’s Magneto floating a sports stadium over Washington, D.C. The stacked cast, which also includes Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen Page, and Halle Berry, helps make the movie’s stiff, expository dialogue sound like actual human sentences, although it would be interesting to see what such a talented group could do if they were able to play characters rather than just advance and explain complicated plot points.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Edge of Tomorrow (PG-13): Tom Cruise fights aliens again— presumably not the same ones he worships— this time reliving one day of battle over and over again until he gets it right. From Bourne Identity director Doug Liman, costarring Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, and Brendan Gleeson.
> The Fault in Our Stars (PG-13): Adaptation of John Green’s bestselling young-adult tearjerker novel about a pair of terminally ill teenagers (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) who fall in love. Featuring Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern, Mike Birbiglia, and the charismatic young Nat Wolff.
< 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.
Maleficent (PG): Another vaguely feminist revisionist fairytale, this one from the perspective of the so-called evil queen (Angelina Jolie) who roofies Sleeping Beauty (Elle Fanning).
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 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.