Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 6, 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.
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.
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)— tries 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.
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.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (PG-13, ****): Like their improbably youthful star Tom Cruise, the Mission Impossible movies keep getting better with age. It’s counterintuitive, but somehow Cruise, as secret agent Ethan Hunt, is a more convincing action hero than ever. Here he leaps, dives, and dodges his way through a series of thrilling, complex setpieces while avoiding the unnecessary plot as best he can. All you need to know: Hunt and his team (including Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames) find themselves on the outside when a shadowy cabal of former international agents frames Ethan and gets the the Impossible Missions Force disbanded by a CIA bureaucrat (Alec Baldwin). Much fighting and spying ensues. Frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie takes over directing duties and nearly outdoes Brad Bird’s fine work in Ghost Protocol. McQuarrie wisely retains Bird’s zippy physical comedy, and his big action sequences are crisp and tightly controlled without ever feeling programmatic or mechanical. It’s pure popcorn-cinema bliss, perfect for a summer matinee, and the sort of exuberant escapism Hollywood tries so hard to capture but rarely succeeds at. Unlikely as it is, Cruise and his signature series keep getting better. Apparently it only seems impossible.
Southpaw (R, *1/2): This overheated boxing melodrama from Olympus Has Fallen and Training Day director Antoine Fuqua and Sons of Anarchy writer Kurt Sutter tries to be both an inspirational sports drama and a gritty revenge flick, but winds up indulging in the clichés of both genres without fully committing to either. Commitment is no problem for its star, though. Jake Gyllenhaal is rippled and veined near the point of grotesquerie to play our swole hero Billy Hope, a thick-headed palooka whose life is carefully managed by his brassy wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams). But when she’s gunned down in a mysterious tragedy that is curiously never resolved, Billy spirals out of control and loses custody of their daughter (Oona Laurence). To get his life and career back on track he enlists the help of wise, cantankerous trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker). Gyllenhaal is terrific, and his scenes with Whitaker hint at a more interesting movie that never materializes. The fight choreography is atrocious, cribbed from either the first Rocky or the Nintendo classic Mike Tyson’s Punch-out. Fuqua and Sutter fritter away time on two or three subplots only to abandon them halfway through in favor of a big fight that’s somehow both inevitable from the first five minutes of the movie but also curiously underdeveloped.
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
> Fantastic Four (PG-13): This reboot from Chronicle director Josh Trank follows a younger group of space adventures (Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell) who are transformed into superheroes by cosmic rays that also empower their nemesis, the megalomaniacal Doctor Doom (Toby Kebbell).
> The Gift (R): A married couple (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) are terrorized by a figure from his past who comes bearing an unwanted surprise. It’s also the feature film debut of actor Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby), who also wrote the script.
> Irrational Man (R): Woody Allen’s latest draws a huge crowd of A-list and indie-darling actors Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey) despite the sexual-assault allegations an estranged daughter made against him. Here Phoenix stars as a philosophy professor who decides to murder a judge, in the process reinvigorating his sex life. (Wissmann)
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.
> Ricki and the Flash (PG-13): Meryl Streep stars as an aging rock star who returns home to make amends with the family she left behind in this lighthearted drama from Jonathan Demme, written by Diablo Cody (Juno). Featuring Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, and Rick Springfield. Yeah, that Rick Springfield.
> Shaun the Sheep (PG): A sheep who leads his flock astray must return them home in this claymation family comedy.
Vacation (R): In this sequel/reimagining of the popular National Lampoon movie series, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), inspired by his father Clark (Chevy Chase), takes his own family on a trip to Wally World. From Horrible Bosses team John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, featuring Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Beverly D’Angelo, Chris Hemsworth, Keegan-Michael Key, and Charlie Day.