Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 2, 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.
Fifty Shades of Grey (R, 1/2*): Amateur writer E.L. James famously tweaked her bondage-themed Twilight fan fiction into the bedroom read of the decade. Not sure about the book, but the film adaptation is confoundingly contradictory: a bondage movie for people who think bondage is disgusting. Domineering billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) is a megalomaniac who spends the entire movie trying to cajole virginal audience surrogate Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) into indulging him in offbeat sex fantasies. His kinky tastes— which are never terribly kinky, at least as evidenced by the sex onscreen— are treated as a pathology. Rather than being empowered by her sexuality, Ana is half afraid of it and uses it as a bargaining chip to enjoy the trappings of material wealth. She’s shallow, he’s borderline abusive, and nobody smiles or has any fun. It is, as the French say, “un petite boner killer.”
Inside Out (PG, ****1/2): Animation innovator Pixar’s latest is one of its most high-concept hits to date, but its cerebral premise doesn’t surrender any of its deeply felt emotion. Preteen girl Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) deals with her first bout of grownup stress when her parents move from a bucolic Minnesota town to cramped, unfamiliar digs in San Francisco. The real action, though, takes place inside the complex inner workings of her mind, where a literalized team of emotions— Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith)— try to guide Riley through her day. The sudden shift in environment has caused Sadness to act up, and when team leader Joy tries to reset the machinery, she and Sadness are accidentally exiled from the control room. They must journey through the deepest recesses of Riley’s mind while the other emotions struggle to maintain control. Cowriters and directors Peter Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen’s most remarkable achievement is to make such a heady concept so accessible and intuitive. They pack an incredible number of clever ideas and brilliant jokes into an hour and a half. It’s a dizzying achievement, perhaps less visually stunning than Ratatouille or Wall-E, but more cerebral. It’s a total delight, with nifty new twists on the premise flowing right through the closing credits, and some excellent supporting voicework from a host of notables, none of whom can surpass the great character actor Richard Kind’s turn as the surreal, imaginary friend Bing Bong.
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.
< Love and Mercy (R, ****): This tremendous true story about the life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson takes an innovative approach and, in doing so, avoids nearly all the clichés of the music biopic. Director Bill Pohlad, working with screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner, focuses on two distinct periods in Wilson’s life: the creation of Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations” leading up to his crackup during the Smile sessions, and two decades later when he’s fallen under the influence of a duplicitous pop-psych Svengali (Paul Giamatti). Paul Dano plays the younger Wilson, both burdened and blessed with the gift of genius, while John Cusack plays him as older and manipulated into living a shell of a life, at least until a flinty Cadillac saleswoman (Elizabeth Banks) helps free him from an exploitative psychologist. This is a terrific movie full of insight into Wilson’s process. The mirrored timelines— the descent into madness of the 1960s and his reemergence into the world in the 1980s— keep the tone from becoming too heavy, and of course there are constant little payoffs in the form of Wilson’s songs, which still sound so gorgeous you’d be happy to just sit in the dark theater and listen to the albums on a great sound system.
< 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.
Spy (R, ****): Melissa McCarthy is incredibly talented but too often underused by filmmakers who don’t see her full potential. Not so with writer/director Paul Feig, who gives McCarthy her best purely comic role in years in the zippy new Spy. It’s a broad genre parody, but one that’s more slyly subversive than it lets on, tweaking the typical formula of espionage movies where women are window dressing and dapper dudes rule. Here, McCarthy’s desk jockey CIA agent is called into the field when America’s entire network of deep-cover agents is revealed. But it turns out that Cooper isn’t just okay at the spy game, she’s the queen. Everyone, including her coworkers, underestimate her; in the movie’s best running joke, a metacommentary on McCarthy’s status in Hollywood, she’s saddled with a series of increasingly undignified cover identities though she’s superior to her former partner, a thickheaded 007-type played by Jude Law. On her way to avenging the death of Bradley Fine and recovering a bomb, Susan discovers her true calling— and also takes down sultry villainess Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who plays a Bond girl as mean girl and is sublimely bitchy. McCarthy and Byrne are supported by an ace cast that includes Allison Janney and great self-parodic work from Law and a never-funnier Jason Statham, who got his start in comedy back in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
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.
< 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).
> Magic Mike XXL (R): Sequel to the Channing Tatum-centered male stripper dramedy, now with one-hundred percent less Steven Soderbergh and Matthew McConaughey. Here, a newly unretired Mike makes a road trip with his stripper pals for a big show. Costarring Elizabeth Banks.
Max (PG): In a movie that should have just been called AMERICA!, a bomb-sniffing German shepherd that once belonged to a slain Marine must save the fallen soldier’s little brother (Josh Wiggins) and his family (Lauren Graham and Thomas Haden Church) from an evil intruder.
> The Overnight (R): A couple new to Los Angeles brings their son to a playdate with some friends, only to discover the invitation came with ulterior motives. Check out the Plot Keywords on the Internet Movie Database if that’s not enough of a hint.
< 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.
< The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water (PG): SpongeBob leaves the ocean to regain the secret formula for Krabby Patties.
Ted II (R): In this sequel to Seth MacFarlane’s comedy about a man-child (Mark Wahlberg) and his magical talking, swearing, smoking teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane), Ted must prove in an adoption court that he has a soul so he and his floozy fiancée can adopt. Featuring Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried.
> Terminator: Genisys (PG-13): Yet another attempt to reboot the Terminator franchise, with more time-travel confusion and plot rationalizations to (re)tell the tale of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), a soldier sent back in time to save the woman (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) who will give birth to the military leader who fights back against a robot insurgency. And yes, Arnold is back.