Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 14, 2014 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
< Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13, ****1/2): Matt Reeves’s followup to the surprisingly good reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the Godfather Part II of ape movies— or The Dark Knight of ape movies, if you prefer. Research project turned super-intelligent ape Caesar (based on the motion-captured performance of Andy Serkis) led an uprising of his fellow creatures, whom he dosed with the same chemicals that led to his enlightenment. A decade later the genetic mutation has spawned the simian flu, which has killed off most of mankind, while Caesar has formed an ever-evolving society outside San Francisco. When a group of humans (led by Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke) stumble across the apes’ enclave, both societies are thrown into an uproar. Clarke’s levelheaded man of action works with Caesar to forge a peace, but the reactionaries on both sides push for war. Reeves and his team of screenwriters do a wonderful job of balancing heady concepts and eye-popping spectacle. The apes are brilliantly rendered and more emotionally complex than their human counterparts. This is the summer’s best blockbuster— smart, thrilling, and richly imagined. Also featuring Keri Russell.
Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13, ***1/2): James Gunn’s sci-fi/superhero mashup gallivants through the cosmos, but it seems to exist in some different universe altogether where such movies are actually fun. Gunn’s candy-colored pop fantasy is the opposite of Christopher Nolan’s dreary Batman movies, and it’s driven more by tone than narrative. The shaggy-dog space comedy exists within a fairly familiar structure that, ultimately, doesn’t matter much at all. The plot— about the search for a missing gemstone that can destroy entire worlds— is secondary, an excuse to gather together the bickering team of genetically modified, gun-toting raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), his sentient tree-man bodyguard Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the green-skinned rebel daughter (Zoe Saldana) of cosmic overlord Thanos (Josh Brolin), and literal-minded hulk Drax (wrestler Dave Bautista) under the leadership of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a fast-talking spaceman thief. The movie flits from one brightly colored sci-fi setpiece to another, disposing with its good ideas as quickly as its bad ones. There’s as much nutritional value here as you might find in a box of Pixy Stix, but it tastes just as sweet. This is pure, inconsequential frivolity, but then again, when did we start taking superhero movies so seriously?
< How to Train Your Dragon II (PG, ***): This sequel to the delightful, surprise hit about a pipsqueak Viking lad (voiced by Jay Baruchel) who befriends an injured dragon and convinces his fellow villagers not to fear the majestic beasts lacks both the whimsy and heart of the original. The cobbled-together story feels like two not-that-great movies mashed into one, as our dragon trainer meets up with a mysterious figure from his past while trying to stave off a generic tyrant who wants to control the dragons to use as his own personal army. But what the movie lacks in its mediocre story it makes up for in spectacular visuals that surpass even the kinetic thrills of the original, one of the few movies to really justify the extra couple of bucks spent on 3D glasses. Not only do the flying sequences remain dizzying and dazzling, the sleek, slick-looking Toothless the dragon is joined by a horde of fellow creatures all with their own distinctive designs. Whenever the story lags, just sit back and enjoy the gorgeous aesthetic and top-notch computer animation. Plus, it’s got enough dragon action to fill fifty seasons of Game of Thrones. Featuring the voices of Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, Djimon Hounsou, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
Lucy (R, ***): The entire premise of writer/director Luc Besson’s new sci-fi action mashup is based on the misconception that human beings use only ten percent of their total brain capacity. That makes this a high-concept movie whose concept is entirely incorrect. Yet Besson’s gleeful stupidity and manic enthusiasm, along with a real flair for the frenzied and garish, help to create a fun, breezy blockbuster, even if enjoying it requires that you use way less than ten percent of your own mind. Scarlett Johansson stars as the title character, a party girl accidentally caught up in a deadly transaction with a Korean gangster (Oldboy’s Min-Sik Choi) inexplicably living in China. She’s forced to mule a new synthetic brain-boosting drug, but when she’s accidentally exposed to it she becomes a hyper-intelligent, constantly evolving badass-cum-superheroine who blasts her way through mobsters on her way to a higher plane of consciousness. The movie’s breakneck pace and hand-holding exposition (provided by Morgan Freeman) help viewers ignore the less-adroit leaps in logic and bizarre inconsistencies and just enjoy this madcap, clueless, but ambitious piece of genre candy.
> A Most Wanted Man (R, ***1/2): The late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final starring role reminds us why he was one of the great actors of his time. Even with the specter of his tragic demise looming over this final project, he still manages to force the audience to suspend disbelief as he disappears into the role of Gunther Bachmann, the leader of a secret counterterrorism agency operating out of Hamburg, Germany. Bachmann’s team has eyes on Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechen militant and devout Muslim who arrives in the city illegally, with mysterious purpose. The rest of the international-intelligence community, including an inscrutable American agent (Robin Wright), wants Issa brought in immediately, but Bachmann insists on keeping him free to set up a local spiritual leader and philanthropist (Homayoun Ershadi) who’s potentially a major financier of global terrorist cells. The film is based on the novel of the same name by John le Carré, whose spy stories are the antithesis of Ian Fleming’s James Bond power fantasies. Bachmann’s world is lonely, secretive, and claustrophobic— he’s trapped on all sides by grim realities and overlapping, often conflicting truths. Hoffman’s powerhouse performance is laced with subtle hesitation and regret. He pushes his weight out in front of him like a self-guided wrecking ball and rarely makes eye contact, not because he’s intimidated but because he’s thinking of three other things at once. The movie lags a little when he’s offscreen and it’s left to the devices of Rachel McAdams as a sympathetic liberal lawyer, but when Hoffman is onscreen he dominates. Especially wonderful are his handful of scenes with Willem Dafoe as a banker caught between family loyalty and legal obligation. Director Anton Corbijn’s film is fine and well-controlled, one of the better le Carré adaptations, but it exists mostly as a showcase for Hoffman, who reminds us once more how greatly he will be missed.
< The Purge: Anarchy (R, **1/2): If you ignore that it was in no way good, 2013’s The Purge is ideal sequel fodder. The star wasn’t the top-billed actor, but rather the hysterical high concept that in near-future America, crime and poverty and have been significantly alleviated by a new program called the Purge, an annual twelve-hour event during which all emergency services are suspended and all laws nullified. The original confined itself to the home of one hapless family, recalling John Carpenter’s 1976 classic Assault on Precinct Thirteen. In the sequel, writer and director James DeMonaco amps up the Carpenterian social commentary (and attending love of gun violence and wonderfully hysterical metaphors) and takes the action to the streets, focusing on a group of disparate strangers (Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Carmen Ejogo, and Zoe Soul) as they follow a nameless, revenge-driven antihero (Frank Grillo) through the chaos of Purge-night Los Angeles in search of safety. Evidence of a conspiracy mounts, hinted at early on in viral videos of revolutionary leader Carmello (Michael K. Williams). Frustratingly, all the substance of the larger plot is left to implication and vague suggestion (along with hints of elaboration in a teased second sequel). The social commentary swings between blunt and garbled, a not-so-deadly combination of secondhand insights embellished with a meaningless hodgepodge of subversive iconography. But the end result is dark, shrill fun that at least has the courtesy to hark back to the work of better, more compelling filmmakers.
Tammy (R, **1/2): Comedy superstar and SIU alumna Melissa McCarthy headlines her first film, three years after her career-making performance in Bridesmaids. The movie is a mixed bag that isn’t able to reconcile its tonal shifts from big-comedy setpieces and quieter, sometimes morose character moments, but it does give McCarthy ample opportunity to showcase her impressive range. She plays the title character, a good-natured buffoon with a hot temper who we meet on the worst day of her life. After crashing her car, getting fired, and discovering her husband’s infidelity, she hits the road with her saucy, sauced grandma (Susan Sarandon) for a road trip that turns out to be pretty aimless. Tammy hotdogs on a jetski, drives through a campground, robs a fast-food joint, sets fire to a car, and attends a lesbian Fourth of July party, but to what avail? The movie’s central flaw is that we never really know what it is that Tammy wants. It is funny, though, just intermittently and unsteadily, but even its flaws suggest further promise from director, cowriter, and SIU alum Ben Falcone, who errs on the side of more ambitious character-driven comedy than slapstick chicanery. McCarthy is as wonderful as ever, but aside from Sarandon and bit players Kathy Bates and Gary Cole, the rest of the stacked cast— which includes Dan Aykroyd, Sandra Oh, Nat Faxon, Allison Janney, and Toni Collette— doesn’t have much to do.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
And so It Goes (PG-13): Michael Douglas stars as a realtor who must adapt to family life with the help of his neighbor (Diane Keaton) after his estranged son unexpectedly leaves him in charge of his granddaughter. Directed by Rob Reiner.
> Boyhood (R): Richard Linklater’s acclaimed film was shot during the course of twelve years as his characters (and the actors who played them) age, and in some cases grow up. Starring Ellar Coltrane, with Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his parents. (Wissmann)
< Deepsea Challenge 3D (PG): In this documentary, adventurer, director, and visual-effects pioneer James Cameron leads an expedition into the deepest parts of the ocean ever captured on a manned film excursion.
> The Expendables III (PG-13): Third installment in the series whose plots are secondary to their catch-all cast list of former action stars, here including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Antonio Banderas, and Jet Li, along with, inexplicably, Kelsey Grammer.
< Get on Up (PG-13): Does anyone’s life seem less likely for a PG-13 retelling than wildman and Godfather of Soul James Brown? That’s the version The Help director Tate Taylor brings to the screen, although he has a secret weapon in star Chadwick Boseman, the best part of Forty-two and Draft Day. Also featuring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Dan Aykroyd.
> The Giver (PG-13): Before The Hunger Games, there was Lois Lowry’s young-adult dystopian novel about a young boy (played in this adaption by Brenton Thwaites) living in a seemingly pain-free society who is chosen to learn the realities that keep the world in order. Featuring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift.
< Hercules (PG-13): Dwayne Johnson stars in the title role as the demigod son of Zeus who here must lead an army in battle against hordes of computer-generated monsters with the help of his trusty friends (including Deadwood’s Ian McShane) and some supermodels (Irina Shayk, Barbara Palvin). Directed by Brett Ratner.
> The Hundred-Foot Journey (PG): Helen Mirren stars as the prickly manager of a French restaurant who is put off by the arrival of an immigrant family who opens a nearby eatery, but whose icy façade melts when she sees the talent in young chef Hassan (Manish Dayal), who falls for one of her employees (Charlotte Le Bon).
< I Origins (R): Mike Cahill explores the relationship between science and religion in this sci-fi film starring Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, and Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead). (Wissmann)
> If I Stay (PG-13): Chloë Grace Moretz stars as a young girl put into a coma by a car accident where, during an out-of-body experience, she must decide whether or not to return to life.
Into the Storm (PG-13): Townsfolk and storm chasers must combine forces to survive a deadly series of computer-generated tornadoes that descend upon a Midwestern hamlet in this disastersploitation flick.
> Let’s Be Cops (R): The New Girl costars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. reteam in this comedy about a pair of goofballs who take their Halloween costumes one step too far and decide to pretend to be cops and solve actual cases.
> Magic in the Moonlight (PG-13): Romantic comedy by Woody Allen in which Emma Stone stars as an alleged psychic and Colin Firth as the man trying to debunk her claims. (Wissmann)
> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PG-13): Nostalgia monger Michael Bay produced this flashier, more self-serious action-movie reboot of the popular kids’ franchise, here rendered all by computer effects alongside live-action stars, including Megan Fox and Will Arnett.
Step up All In (PG-13): Characters from previous installments of this flashy choreography-porn series come together for a big dance battle in Las Vegas.
> What If (PG-13): Daniel Radcliffe continues to dodge his Harry Potter superstardom in this low-key indie film about two best friends who might just be in love. Zoe Kazan costars. (Wissmann)
> When the Game Stands Tall (PG): Jim Caviezel stars in this inspirational sports flick about real-life high-school football coach Bob Ladouceur, whose team won 151 consecutive games. Featuring Michael Chiklis and Laura Dern.
< Wish I Was Here (R): Zach Braff makes his first return to directing since 2004’s well-received Garden State. (Wissmann)