Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 18, 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.
< Entourage (R, *): The HBO TV series Entourage began as a satire-tinged commentary about work, friendship, and sex in Hollywood. As the series dragged on, though, it slipped into self-seriousness and lost the capacity to laugh at its own absurd characters. This big-screen continuation brings everything odious about the dormant TV show back without any of the laid-back charm it briefly possessed. Implausible superstar Vince (Adrian Grenier) convinces his agent-turned-studio-chief Ari (Jeremy Piven) to let him direct a blockbuster about a superpowered DJ. But when Vince sleeps with “Blurred Lines” girl Emily Ratajkowski, he ticks off the financier (Haley Joel Osment) backing the alleged masterpiece, threatening a world in which the public doesn’t get to see Vince’s crowning achievement. The movie also boasts a series of useless, low-stakes subplots for his buddies, the titular entourage (Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, and Kevin Connolly), and a litany of celebrity cameos so brief you have to wonder if they even knew they were being filmed. The whole production is an aimless, amateurish atrocity that only comes to life when Piven— sometimes odious but definitely a movie star— arrives to inject some crackling comic energy. The show may have started as a semi-sly take on movie-star life, but it has disappeared into a talent void far more insipid than whatever it originally attempted to lampoon.
Jurassic World (PG-13, *1/2): Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster classic Jurassic Park was a dreamland of science and wonder turned terrifying by man’s inherent greed and hubris. In this sequel, greed and hubris drive inferior filmmakers to believe they can capitalize on that wonder by distracting the audience with enough special effects, subplots, and smirking self-awareness. The core concept is a good one: Two decades after the beta test of the original park failed, another tycoon (Irrfan Khan) has successfully executed the original plan to the delight of thousands of tourists. But the public grows weary for new attractions, so despite warnings from resident dino-wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt, wearing Han Solo’s vest and Indiana Jones’s academic purism), park scientists create a dangerous new hybrid dinosaur. The unpredictable monster of genetic tampering gets loose and sets off a series of catastrophes in the park filled with twenty-thousand visitors, including the nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) of the park’s frosty, cliché career woman manager (Bryce Dallas Howard). Learning no lessons from the fictional park’s delusional planners, director Colin Trevorrow and a team of screenwriters attempt to dazzle a fresh audience with bigger, newer, crazier attractions, only to see their efforts collapse into a disaster of clichés, awful characters, unlistenable dialogue, and only intermittently interesting setpieces, most of them sub-par riffs on great moments from the original. It’s a terrible movie that has no faith in its own audience— the sneering meta-gags make that abundantly clear— and no capacity to be awed by the beauty of nature. Like the most cynical Disney rides, it’s designed to simulate a nonexistent experience while separating you from your last paycheck. Exit through the gift shop.
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 in 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.
San Andreas (PG-13, **1/2): Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in this capable but formulaic disaster movie about a series of earthquakes that jolt the West Coast off its moorings. Even worse, while two major American cities are pulverized and tens of millions of people die, a pair of attractive white women (Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario) are imperiled. Luckily for those white women, they are the Rock’s wife and daughter respectively, and he will stop at nothing— including stealing a chopper, a truck, a plane, and a boat— to delve into the disaster area and save them. The movie has the queasy morality of all disaster flicks, with their fetishized shots of destruction and prioritization of a few individuals over the lives of millions. The team of screenwriters at least tweak the formula so that the climactic catastrophe occurs near the actual climax of the movie rather than forty-five minutes in. The movie’s most special effect, however, is its star. The Rock is the Marlon Brando of meatheads, the Daniel Day-Lewis of former professional wrestlers. His boundless charisma and ability to sell cheesy dialogue and add plausibility to cartoonish situations with his truly cartoonish superhero figure consistently elevate an otherwise forgettable movie. Also featuring the great Paul Giamatti as the movie’s obligatory nerd scientist/fountain of exposition.
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
> Dope (R): Coming of age story about a geek (Shameik Moore) growing up in a tough neighborhood who comes into his own when he discovers a new set of friends. Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood) and featuring Forest Whitaker and Zoë Kravitz.
< 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.
> Inside Out (PG): All the action in Pixar’s latest computer-animated family comedy takes place inside the mind of a young girl (voiced by Rashida Jones), as the film follows the internal conflicts between her personified emotions. Featuring the voices of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane, and Kyle MacLachlan.
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).
> Love and Mercy (PG-13): Biopic about the Beach Boys’ resident genius, Brian Wilson, who cracked under the stress of fame, madness, and drugs right as he approached his artistic peak. An incredible cast includes Paul Dano as the younger Wilson and John Cusack as the older Wilson. Bill Pohlad, who has produced some amazing films (Twelve Years a Slave, The Tree of Life), directs. (Wissmann)
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.
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.