Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 9, 2015 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
< 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.
< The Overnight (R, ***1/2): This kinky, clever comedy from writer/director Patrick Brice explores the boundaries of prudence and prurience during the course of a night-long dinner party between two couples, shy Los Angeles newcomers Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) and gregarious bohemians Kurt and Charlotte (Jason Schwartzman and Charlotte Godreche). Alex is beguiled by Kurt’s freewheeling energy and diverse expertise, but whispered conversations with Charlotte leave Emily suspecting that Kurt is harboring a secret. Or two. Booze and pot help loosen the conversation and let everyone unburden themselves, including Alex, whose barely repressed shame has significantly defined his personality and his marriage. None of this is played for a goof, but even if the awkwardness builds at times the tone is always light. Brice has an agenda, but it’s a gentle one; he wags a lot of things in the audience’s faces, but never a finger. He’s made a very funny, unflashy, honest movie about sex and modern marriage that might occasionally overstate its case— and that ending, alas, is a bit of a copout— but that doesn’t sacrifice insight for laughs, or vice-versa.
Terminator: Genisys (PG-13, *1/2): The fifth installment of the series as unkillable as its title character actually gets off to a strong start. What initially seems like a straightforward reboot of the original is thrown into chaos when the original Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger, rendered young via the magic of digital effects) shows up back in 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) only to find an older good-guy version of the Terminator (the real, wrinkle-lined Arnold) waiting to stop him. The strangely altered timeline sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and Sarah on a new mission to destroy evil computer overlord Skynet before it goes online as a kind of cloud-based software system called Genisys. But the fragmented timeline ultimately reassembles to play out the same way, with a chase into an abandoned factory, the possible aversion of Judgment Day that will of course be undone when someone decides to make a sequel. It’s not just the series’ unfollowable circular time-travel logic that dooms these characters to repeat the same actions with the same outcomes for all eternity, but the movie studio’s unquenchable thirst for sequels and its refusal to let anything change significantly. Like the characters, we’re doomed to the same endless loop, conscripted to a foregone conclusion of a future where unthinking machines drain us of precious resources in their ongoing quest for global domination. Talk about a dystopia.
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.
> The Gallows (R): Horror flick about strange occurrences on the twentieth anniversary of a tragedy at a high-school play that ended in bloodshed.
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.
> Minions (PG): The improbably delightful, pill-shaped yellow anthropomorphic blobs from the Despicable Me series get their own spinoff in which the unintelligible, blunderingly industrious little fellows are recruited by a pair of aspiring villains (voiced by Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm). Also featuring the voices of Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Allison Janney, and Geoffrey Rush.
> Selfless (Self/less) (PG-13): Cell director Tarsem Singh returns to the cerebral-horror genre with this psycho-thriller about a dying rich man (Ben Kingsley) who has his consciousness transplanted into the body of a young donor (Ryan Reynolds) only to find out his deal isn’t what it seemed.
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.