Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 21, 2014 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Boyhood (R, ****1/2): Time is the unbilled costar of Richard Linklater’s quiet but audacious film twelve years in the making. For more than a decade Linklater and his cast spent a few weeks each year shooting scenes for this coming-of-age drama so that the movie’s young protagonist Mason (Ellar Coltrane) could grow up in real time. Linklater mostly avoids high drama and rites of passage in favor of small moments and modest epiphanies. Mason is raised by his beleaguered single mother (Patricia Arquette) along with his domineering older sister (Lorelei Linklater), but his absentee father (Ethan Hawke) eventually settles into maturity and reluctant fatherhood. Linklater’s significant appeal is the balance between his intellectual curiosity and grounded, workmanlike approach, and here he brilliantly merges concept art with plainspoken narrative. He’s so keen to avoid turning Mason’s childhood into a series of episodes and signposts pointing toward some kind of destiny that occasionally he errs on the side of making the boy’s life too uneventful, so much so that the character is at times indistinct. Still, it’s a remarkable, affecting, thought-provoking movie, a towering achievement that’s also extremely enjoyable to watch. This is no arthouse chore. The two-hours-and-forty-five minutes of screen time rush past, propelled forward by a timely soundtrack and the momentum of the years.
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?
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.
Magic in the Moonlight (PG-13, **): Woody Allen’s output of a movie every year since 1982 has yielded many great films— and a few trifles in the years between the more inspired efforts. His latest seems particularly compulsory, a result of a reflexive creative approach. Stage magician and semiprofessional skeptic Stanley (Colin Firth) is enlisted by a wealthy family to prove that cutie-pie psychic Sophie (Emma Stone) is a fraud looking to swindle their lovelorn heir (Hamish Linklater). When Stanley is unable to disprove Sophie’s seemingly supernatural abilities, his eyes open to a new world of possibilities— including big feelings for the little medium. Magic in the Moonlight’s greatest asset is Firth, who’s nicely cast as one of Allen’s acerbic curmudgeons, but he has absolutely no chemistry with the separately adorable Stone. The age discrepancy is a big problem, but an even bigger one is the script’s total lack of reason for the two to fall for one another. A plot twist late in the film makes their relationship even more improbable in retrospect. Firth gets off a few good quips, but most of the dialogue is exceptionally stiff, and for a movie with magic in the title it feels awfully rote and programmatic.
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.
< 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.
Earth to Echo (PG): Family friendly found-footage movie about a group of kids who band together to help a wayward alien. You might think of the alien as an extraterrestrial, or an E.T. of sorts. Perhaps. I mean, come on.
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.
> Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (R): Nine years after the original, comic-book artist and writer Frank Miller reteams with cowriter and director Robert Rodriguez to adapt another anthology of his highly stylized hardboiled stories about the cops, crooks, and victims in a gritty neo-noir fantasy city. Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, and Powers Boothe return alongside newcomers Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ray Liotta, Eva Green, and Christopher Lloyd.
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.
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).
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.
> The November Man (R): Pierce Brosnan stars as a former CIA agent who must come out of retirement to contend with his former trainee (Luke Bracey). Featuring former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko.
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.