Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 4, 2015 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (PG-13, ***): Writer/director Joss Whedon delivers on the most basic level in this sequel to the apex predator of summer blockbusters: He reunites the allstar cast, cracks some jokes, and destroys a city. But whereas the first Avengers film was a culmination of several movies’ worth of buildup, the followup feels like it’s serving too many masters. Whedon juggles a slew of subplots as he attempts to integrate characters and storylines from preexisting movies and Marvel TV shows like Agents of SHIELD all while setting up another sequel for the Avengers as well as several of its individual members. The resulting mess of a movie is intermittently fun but never finds its own rhythm and self-contained storyline. The major through-plot involves the titular tyrant, an artificial intelligence (voiced by James Spader) that seizes control of a fleet of Iron Man drones. Spader’s delightfully hammy robot villain is hastily established with some expository dialogue and birthed in a couple quick scenes, all while Whedon spends the lion’s share of his time setting up pins for other directors to knock down in forthcoming stories. Several new, not particularly interesting characters are introduced, including speedster Pietro Maximov (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), his telekinetic twin sister Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), and baffling robot-alien-gemstone hybrid Vision (Paul Bettany). As a consequence, ostensible stars Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, and Jeremy Renner are nearly crowded out of their own movie, relegated to a few quips and poses.
< Ex Machina (R, ***1/2): Author Alex Garland makes his directorial debut with this cerebral sci-fi thriller that plays like Stanley Kubrick by way of Neil LaBute. It’s a movie of big ideas and small scale, set entirely inside the secluded luxury compound belonging to Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive tech genius working on a groundbreaking new invention. Naïve programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to visit the inventor-turned-guru for a week to test out his secret new product, a fully articulated humanoid machine powered by artificial intelligence. While Caleb tests this robot lady, named Ava (Alicia Vikander), he begins to suspect that obsessive, domineering Nathan is running a grander experiment on them both. The film works better as a sci-fi head-scratcher than an outright thriller, although the explorations of toxic misogyny are nicely twisted in the movie’s final act as it becomes a kind of feminist horror story. The handsome aesthetic and ominous, slow-burning script make for an impressive movie, but stretched out to nearly two hours, it’s consistently admirable but only fitfully enjoyable, perhaps better suited to life as an especially sharp episode of Black Mirror.
< Furious Seven (PG-13, ****): Very few movie series get better as the sequels stack up, but since stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker reteamed in the fourth entry, Fast and Furious, this has become the go-to franchise for eye-popping, outsized action extravaganzas. The latest installment features some of the most smartly executed absurdity yet, with cars being dropped out of planes, cars jumping between buildings, cars fighting predator drones, cars crashing into other cars, and then, every now and then, dudes having serious conversations while standing next to cars. These hyper-masculine flicks have always had a soft side— they use the word “family” more often than Warren Jeffs or any given Juggalo— but the death of Paul Walker serves as a nitrous boost for the emotions. It’s an oddly touching and well-earned tribute. That said, the movie is still about wreaking beautiful havoc with a sexy, diverse cast, and that it does. Jason Statham plays the bad guy, which gives him a great excuse to fist fight with the Rock, making for the greatest title bout since King Kong versus Godzilla. The plot barely exists and the dialogue never gets out of first gear, but it hardly matters— you’re having too much fun to notice. Featuring Ludacris, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, and series newcomers Kurt Russell and Nathalie Emmanuel.
Mad Max: Fury Road (R, ****1/2): Director and cowriter George Miller’s thirty-years-in-the-making followup to his classic action trilogy is a sandblasted madcap heavy-metal opera. The smart, spare writing is overshadowed by the demolition-derby antics and peyote-tinted images, but its brilliance lies more it what it doesn’t say. The complex inner workings of a terrifying, elaborate post-apocalyptic society are mostly left up to implication. All you need to know is that the deranged leader of the tribe, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Burne), is on the hunt for his former deputy Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who took her tricked-out war rig and absconded with his harem of wives. Joe’s armored crew pursues Furiosa across the desert for the entire frenzied duration of this lurid spectacle. Max (Tom Hardy) is mostly along for the ride, somewhat indifferently providing backup to help Furiosa topple an oppressive patriarchy. All this subtext is (blissfully) left unspoken, or at least drowned out by the engine roar. The film mostly eschews dialogue in favor of bold, imagistic storytelling, much in the mold of John Milius’s great, operatic Conan the Barbarian. The movie might be limited by its brash, thick-skulled genre. But Miller— who all but invented the biker-punk post-apocalypse— finds a Cantorian infinity within those bounds. The adrenalized pacing, astounding widescreen vistas, precariously choreographed atrocities, and subversive notions work together in perfect concert.
Poltergeist (PG-13, 1/2*): This entirely superfluous remake of the Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg classic not only fails to conjure up the spirit of the original, it fails to conjure up The Conjuring and a slew of other modern horror movies (including Insidious) that have already mined the original Poltergeist for its most interesting elements. A generically troubled family (Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Kyle Catlett) moves into a house located above an old cemetery. The spirits, displeased with this mortal gentrification, abduct the youngest daughter and drag her into an ethereal realm. A squabbling husband-and-wife team of ghost hunters (Jane Adams and Jared Harris) attempts to bring her back. This needless remake is the very definition of perfunctory as it dutifully crosses horror-movie clichés off a list, logging a truly dull hour of running time before reaching a computer-effects-heavy, deeply unthrilling climax. Ostensible star Rockwell bristles with excess energy, bobbing on his feet and blathering out rapid-fire quips in a desperate attempt to inject some liveliness into the proceedings. He looks visibly uncomfortable, as though he’d rather be almost anywhere else. The audience can sympathize.
Tomorrowland (PG, ****): This infectiously positive sci-fi wonder from the brilliant Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol) is based on the Disney theme-park ride of the same name, but don’t let that hold you back. Yes, the movie occasionally evokes the obtuse nostalgia and Pollyannaish sense of impending prosperity that defines the Disney sensibility, but Bird has a true passion for the 1950s and 1960s sci-fi material that he refastens into a dazzling collage. In an era of movies dominated by a preoccupation with dystopia and apocalyptic doom, the infectious positivity on display here is downright rebellious. With the help of a crusty former boy genius (George Clooney), a feisty young scientist (Britt Robertson) must travel to a hidden city created fifty years ago by the world’s most brilliant thinkers. The retro-future utopia is laid low by a disturbance from within that threatens not just the city but all of our tomorrows. Robots, rocketships, and lasers abound in this refreshing, inspiring adventure story. A drawn out, sloppy final act can’t diminish the fleeting thrill of spending time in Bird’s beautiful, beguiling Tomorrowland. Featuring Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw, and costar Raffey Cassidy, who possesses the fascinating otherworldliness of a young Tilda Swinton.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
< The Age of Adaline (PG-13): Blake Lively stars in this romantic drama as a woman who becomes ageless in the aftermath of an accident. Decades later, she finds love but must confront her own confounded mortality. Featuring Harrison Ford and Ellen Burstyn.
Aloha (PG-13): Cameron Crowe’s latest romantic dramedy about a cocky white guy set adrift and returned to sanity by a woman costars Bradley Cooper as a military contractor and Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams as the ladies eager to be his salvation. Featuring Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, and Danny McBride.
Entourage (R): The bros are back in town with this big-screen adaptation of HBO’s ode to masculine superficiality. Vince (Adrian Grenier) wants to do something he hasn’t earned and isn’t qualified for, as usual, and is backed up by his hangers-on E., Drama, and Turtle (Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara) and his odious agent Ari (Jeremy Piven). Featuring more celebrity cameos than the September 11 fundraising telethon, but slightly less-depressing.
Home (PG): An alien on the run finds refuge with a young girl in this computer-animated kiddie comedy featuring the voices of Jim Parsons, Rihanna, and Steve Martin.
Insidious: Chapter Three (PG-13): Second sequel to the movie you keep confusing with The Conjuring. This installment, directed by writer Leigh Whannell, is a prequel about the origins of the psychic (played in the first two movies by Lin Shaye).
< Little Boy (PG-13): Faith-based story about a young boy who hopes to find a way to bring his father home safely from World War II. Featuring Kevin James, Emily Blunt, and Tom Wilkinson.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop II (PG): Kevin James’s bumbling mall cop stumbles upon a criminal enterprise while vacationing with his family in this comedy specially made for people who liked Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Pitch Perfect II (PG-13): A cappella group the Bellas must return to form to repair their good name after a disastrous performance in this musical comedy reteaming Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Adam DeVine, and Elizabeth Banks, the latter of whom directs.
San Andreas (PG-13): When an earthquake rips apart California, only the Rock can put it back together (with the help of Paul Giamatti, Carla Gugino, and Alexandra Daddario). What more do you need to know than “major earthquake” and “the Rock”?
Spy (R): Melissa McCarthy reunites with her Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and costar Rose Byrne for this action-comedy about an underequipped CIA agent tasked with foiling a global-terrorism scheme. Costarring Jason Statham and featuring Jude Law, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, and Morena Baccarin.