Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 8, 2015 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Black Mass (R, ****): Johnny Depp’s turn as notorious Boston-born gangster James “Whitey” Bulger should win him a spot among Hollywood’s scariest movie monsters. He’s not at his scariest when he’s machine-gunning an old man in a country-club parking lot, but rather in his terrifying quiet moments when there’s nothing left for him to say, which means there’s only one thing left for him to do. He’s vampiric— not a seductive Dracula, but a grotesque Nosferatu, with sallow cheeks and thinning white hair stretched over a knob of skull. That’s the difference between director Scott Cooper’s chilling biopic and potentially similar gangster fare by the master, Martin Scorsese: There’s no good in Cooper’s fellas. He traces Bulger’s ascendency through the Boston underworld in the 1980s and the toxic effects it had on everyone around him, including former boyhood pal John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), now an FBI agent who tries to build his career by forming a dark alliance with the mob. This is a beautiful, intense, and consistently frightening movie, so compelling it overcomes its sometimes clunkily on-the-nose voiceover narratives and overload of machismo. Featuring exceptional ensemble performances by a slew of terrific actors, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, W. Earl Brown, Jesse Plemons, and Julianne Nicholson.
Everest (PG-13, ***1/2): This icy mountain survivalist narrative is based on the real-life events of a doomed adventure hike to the mountain’s fabled summit, the one George Mallory ascended “because it was there.” Everest expert Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) leads a doomed expedition to the mountain’s peak. His group includes a brash Texan who traipses up mountains to stave off secret depression (Josh Brolin), an amiable mailman hoping to inspire small-town kids (John Hawkes), and nature writer John Krakauer (Michael Kelly). Hotshot mountaineer Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) leads another group, and as presented he’s begging to be an icicle the moment he’s introduced. But director Baltasar Kormákur doesn’t try to villainize any of the climbers. He presents their ordeal with great sympathy and attention both to the physical rigors of their journey, but also the motivations that led them to their mountaintop fate. There’s a lesson about hubris here, but the stories of these deaths are not just cautionary but stirring. The nobility of their ambitions isn’t necessarily voided because they fall prey to it.
< The Green Inferno (R, **1/2): Hostel director Eli Roth dishes up an homage to the still-controversial 1980 grindhouse cult classic Cannibal Holocaust. The title can be read as a literal description of the lush, foreboding Peruvian jungle, in which a group of well-meaning student activists are massacred by blood-hungry natives, but it can also be read as “liberal hell.” The latter interpretation is probably better suited to Roth’s iconoclastic intentions, which is to present a blackly comic, somebody-else’s-tongue-in-your-cheek sendup of naïvely well-meaning leftist do-gooders. He tweaks P.C. culture with his blatantly xenophobic depiction of the indigenous Peruvians, but just because you might appreciate what Roth is up to doesn’t mean you actually want to watch it. The acting and the dialogue might actually be tougher to sit through than the grisly scenes of cannibalism, which are undeniably effective horror setpieces. But watching Roth revel in bad taste for so long eventually becomes the cinematic equivalent of a tantrum from an arch, intermittently capable director who, like a miscreant child, has trouble distinguishing between good and bad attention.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (PG-13, *1/2): The first Maze Runner slightly distinguished itself from fellow Hunger Games knockoffs with its more singularly focused plot: Who trapped a bunch of teenagers inside a massive, elaborate labyrinth, and how can memory-wiped new kid Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) lead them out? The pro-forma sequel lapses into a dutiful checklist of modern apocalypse-movie tropes— and that’s before a terminally disinteresting mid-movie twist that reveals the whole thing to be a complicated setup to the umpteenth zombie movie. Thomas and his pals (who include Ki Hong Lee and series newcomer Jacob Lofland) are trapped in a facility run by the maze makers, until an escape plan sends them out into the zombified hellscape known as the Scorch. Thomas’s girlfriend (Kaya Scodelario) thinks megacorporation agent Janson (Aiden Gillen) really has their best interests in mind back at the scary dystopian science lab, but he thinks they’re safer among the computer-generated man-eaters as they search for a rebel army of character actors including Giancarlo Esposito and Lili Taylor. Just because the movie slows down doesn’t mean it can’t be consistently boring. The hodgepodge of too-familiar ideas scattered among slick but uninspired visuals from director Wes Ball amounts to an awful lot of nothing.
Sicario (R, ***1/2): This self-satisfied drug-war drama is beautiful to look at and riveting scene to scene, thanks to talented Canadian director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins. But for a movie this smug and condescending, it offers precious little insight, instead covering the same bleak territory as the far superior and more metaphorical No Country for Old Men, and, to a lesser extent, The Counselor. Both those movies were written by Cormac McCarthy, and you’d swear this one is too but for its lack of stylized dialogue like grim poetry. The flinty Emily Blunt stars as Kate, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent conscripted into the quasi-legal underbelly of the drug war. Her new bosses (Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro) won’t even tell her who they work for, and battling the complex inter-agency protocols becomes almost as fraught as shootouts with drug runners. The greatest sin in the film is naïveté, and like its characters, the movie itself seems to sneer and roll its eyes at the audience, affecting an unearned superiority that becomes increasingly onerous as it fails to live up to its own lofty promises.
The Visit (PG-13, ***1/2): M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation has taken a deserved pummeling during the past decade, but this small-scale return to his horror-movie roots is a return to form— for all the good and ill that entails. Shyamalan still struggles with plausible emotions and dialogue from his characters, who are more ideas of people than anything like real human beings. Here, teen heroine Becca (Olivia DeJonge) is a gratingly precocious budding filmmaker out to shoot a documentary about her estranged grandparents, whom she and her younger brother (Ed Oxenbould) have never met. The perfectly fine DeJonge is forced to make casual references to “denouement” and “mise-en-scène” sound natural, while Oxenbould is asked to perform not one but three lengthy freestyle raps for strained comic relief. That said, when they do arrive for their weeklong stay with Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), Shyamalan’s instinct for patiently paced menace and knee-slapping twists kicks in. The movie works when it counts, as the writer/director turns the tone from darkly comic to flat-out terrifying. The final twenty minutes are breathlessly intense. All those groan-worthy lines and tedious asides early on fade into memory, but images of Dunagan rampaging through a dark house or the unsettling sounds of what turns out to be the world’s most upsetting Yahtzee game linger in your brain for days.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
< Hell and Back (R): This rare adult-oriented animated comedy follows a pair of pals who go to Hell to rescue their accidentally damned friend. Featuring the voices of SIU alumni Bob Odenkirk, Nick Swardson, Mila Kunis, T.J. Miller, Susan Sarandon, Maria Bamford, and Danny McBride.
Hotel Transylvania II (PG): In this sequel to the family friendly animated comedy, Dracula (Adam Sandler) must help his human grandson embrace his inner monstrosity so he can keep working at the hotel staffed by famous beasts. Also featuring the voices of Andy Samberg, Kevin James, and Selena Gomez.
The Intern (PG-13): An overwhelmed entrepreneur (Anne Hathaway) learns lessons about life and business from her older-than-average intern (Robert De Niro) in this dramedy from Nancy Meyers also featuring Rene Russo, Adam DeVine, and Nat Wolff.
The Martian (PG-13): Ridley Scott directs this adaptation of Andy Weir’s thrillingly wonky sci-fi survivalist tale about a lone scientist (Matt Damon) stranded for months on the Red Planet while the best minds at NASA (led by Jeff Daniels) scheme to get him home. Featuring Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, and Sean Bean.
> Pan (PG): Joe Wright (Atonement) directs this computer-effects heavy, Lord of the Rings-ified prequel about the origin of the boy who refused to grow up. Starring Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, and Hugh Jackman.
< Sleeping with Other People (R): A pair of philanderers (Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis) make a friendly, uncommitted romantic arrangement that’s ruined when some action romance sets in. Written and directed by Leslye Headland and featuring Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, and Adam Brody.
> The Walk (PG): The IMAX and 3D visuals are the big draw in this dramatic recreation of the dazzling true-life stunt Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) performed in 1974 when he walked on a wire strung between the World Trade Center’s twin towers. Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
War Room (PG): Christian-themed drama about an old person who fixes a broken modern family with her Jesus-based advice. Written and directed by Kirk Cameron cohort Alex Kendrick (Fireproof, Courageous).