Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 23, 2015 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Ant-Man (PG-13, ***1/2): Original director Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim versus the World) ushered this improbable B-list superhero onto the big screen only to depart the project prior to filming. The screenplay (credited to several different writers) still bears his name, and traces of his influence remain. But too often the movie veers away from a zanier tone in favor of increasingly tired conventions of the Marvel superhero universe. Star Paul Rudd makes for an appealingly distinctive superhero. His Scott Lang is neither a soldier nor a concave-chested geek chosen by fate. He occupies neither side of the power fantasy divide, and instead is a sort of kindhearted underachiever whose criminal status gets him mixed up in a tech war between brilliant scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Pym’s former student Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross wants to hijack his old mentor’s revolutionary shrinking formula, so Pym convinces cat burglar Lang to steal it and keep it safe. Once in possession of the super-shrinking formula and matching suit, Lang is transformed into Ant-Man. This is far more lighthearted than the other Avengers-related films, with the exception of the superior Guardians of the Galaxy, which was allowed to embrace its own weirdness. Ant-Man is goofy, smirking fun except when it has to pause for obligatory fights with a generic villain (no fault of the talented Stoll). Replacement director Peyton Reed injects several scenes with real verve, but it’s tough to imagine Wright helming any action sequences as stodgy and formulaic as some of this movie’s more familiar fisticuffs. Ant-Man is still refreshing in the era of increasingly dour, destructive blockbusters, breezing along on its charming cast and good humor. Also featuring Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, and Bobby Cannavale.
< Get Hard (R, *): Comedy is all about opposites and extremes, which makes a movie about an ex-con (Kevin Hart) training a white-collar criminal (Will Ferrell) for his upcoming stint in prison something like a sure thing. How do you screw that up? Director Etan Cohen does it by not even really doing it at all. Hart’s hardworking carwash owner Darnell isn’t really a criminal, he’s just mistaken for one by Ferrell’s clueless financial titan James King. King isn’t a crook, either—his future father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson) frames him in a hokey plot twist that comes straight out of the laziest 1980s comedy. So many of the jokes, too, seem pilfered from a less-enlightened era, particularly the queasy, recurring prison-rape gags. Hart and Ferrell are too funny not to generate a few laughs, but they’re not just going up the river here, they’re swimming upstream. They could be a comedy dream team in an alternate version of the movie that has enough courage in its convictions to dole out some actual convictions. Instead, they’ve pled down to something far lesser.
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.
Minions (PG, **): The gibberish-spouting yellow sidekick creatures from the Despicable Me series get their own spinoff movie— not, apparently, out of some fit of inspiration. This franchise expansion reeks of marketeering. It’s less a movie than a reverse-engineered financial opportunity to sell more Minions merchandise. The titular creatures still retain their almost infuriating ability to be funny even as they scurry from one endorsement deal to the others, but director Pierre Coffin has no idea how to fill an entire hour and a half with their corporate-synergy-baiting adventures. After an energetic prologue describes the Minions’ plight throughout history, the action jumps to 1968 where a trio of them— they’re all essentially the same, a point the movie can never get past— venture to America, then England, in search of a new master. The movie’s new villain, Scarlett Overkill, is bland and unmemorable (not to mention miscast with the voice of Sandra Bullock), while Scarlett’s husband Herb is badly underwritten despite an ace performance by Jon Hamm. Creator and director Coffin finds a few big laughs, always with the Minions, but the material would work far better as a series of short sketches as DVD extras for Despicable Me. But with potential earnings so vast, those little yellow fellows inspire green eyes among Hollywood hucksters looking to milk extra cash from obliging parents.
< Self/less (R, **): Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds play the same character in this sci-fi thriller, but apparently nobody bothered to tell them that. Kingsley plays Damian, a wealthy architect with a terminal illness granted a second chance at life by the mysterious doctor Albright (Matthew Goode). For a hefty fee, Albright transfers Damian’s mind into a fresh body (played by Ryan Reynolds) grown in a lab. But after the procedure, the shiny new Damian begins to experience strange, eerily consistent hallucinations, which he suspects are actually another man’s memories. The film sports the kind of loopy premise you absolutely buy into when the execution is sharp, but which you cannot get past when it’s bungled. Director Tarsem Singh and his screenwriters Àlex and David Pastor don’t fully commit to or explore the intriguing concept, but rather use it as a mere excuse to stage a standard-issue series of car chases and shootouts. Kingsley and Reynolds seem not to have even met once over coffee to discuss how to keep Damian’s character consistent between their two performances. The film uses the laziest of shorthand— a blatant physical tic or a piece of jewelry— to signify the body-hopping, rather than revel in the surreal possibilities of a consistent mind across different physical incarnations. Like 2011’s Limitless, it has one foot in sci-fi but another in straight-to-DVD thriller, uncertain about which direction to step. Also featuring Natalie Martinez, Derek Luke, Victor Garber, and Michelle Dockery.
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, underestimates 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.
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.
Trainwreck (R, **1/2): Amy Schumer’s hit-and-miss semiautobiographical romantic comedy seems to hit the hardest when it hews closer to her real life and lose focus when it turns its attention to the demands of the rom-com genre. The movie’s biggest problem is the significant gap between the sensibilities of Schumer and her producer and director, Judd Apatow, whose conservative worldview stifles Schumer’s attempts at iconoclasm. The movie version of Amy is a boozy, pot-addled writer for a men’s magazine called S’nuff, where she’s assigned a profile of a prominent surgeon (Bill Hader) who specializes in sports medicine. She falls for Hader but has to reconcile her wild ways with his traditional lifestyle, all while dealing with the declining health of her chronically ill father (Colin Quinn). Apatow and Schumer are simpatico on the family-dramedy front, which is where Schumer’s razor-edged wit is at its sharpest. Her struggles with her ornery father and goody-two-shoes sister (Brie Larson) are both funny and emotionally raw. Wonderful though Hader is, however, the romantic comedy element threatens to swallow Schumer up, recasting her as a troublemaker in need of reform even though we like her because she’s a troublemaker. The movie’s final insult is a reverse Sandra Dee that transforms our would-be-individualist into an all-American cheerleader. Schumer’s feminism has always been clouded and confounding, but here it’s muddled all to hell in the name of cinematic conventions. The stunt casting of LeBron James, Marv Albert, and other notable athletes further overinflates the excessive running time and distracts from its star and central character.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
< 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.
> Mister Holmes (R): A dying Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) tries to solve an old case. Directed by the great Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, and, well, let’s just forget about those Twilight movies). (Wissmann)
> Paper Towns (PG-13): Another adaptation of a popular young-adult novel by Fault in Our Stars writer John Green, starring Nat Wolff as a lovestruck teen on a city-hopping quest to find a mysterious, beguiling girl played by Cara Delevingne.
> Pixels (PG-13): Kid pap purveyor Chris Columbus directs this family friendly action comedy in which aliens mistake videogames for Earthly weapons and send a pixelated army to destroy the world. Adam Sandler and Kevin James must save the planet so they can torture it with another Grown Ups sequel.
> Southpaw (R): Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a boxer whose greatest fight is outside the ropes when tragedy strikes his family in this no doubt dreary, violent movie from the forever dreary, violent director Antoine Fuqua. Costarring Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, and 50 Cent.