Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 15, 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 Intern (PG-13, **1/2): Nancy Meyers’s latest professionally assembled, oppressively pleasant dramedy is a low-stakes pontification about the new generation gap. Meyers applies the trappings of romance to a mentor-mentee scenario, where the unfailingly polite, composed widower Ben (Robert De Niro) comes out of dull retirement for a senior-citizen internship program at a trendy dot-com business. He’s matched with the company’s type-A founder Jules (Anne Hathaway), a kindhearted control freak struggling to maintain control of her business. She sees no use for an assistant, but of course his time-worn wisdom wins her over. Once they unite forces, all the minor conflicts wither away, so that when the movie ends the audience is almost startled at the lack of tension. Still, the movie promises congenial good humor and a soft-edged time, and on that it delivers. Meyers slips some decent insights into her dialogue, and her characters’ interactions are warm and comforting, even if they’re not too believable. Featuring Rene Russo and Adam DeVine.
The Martian (PG-13, ****): Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard are in top form in their adaptation of Andy Weir’s wonky space-survivalist tale, which is driven by an enthusiasm for science that borders on fetishism. It’s delightful nerdiness, and swapping out Weir’s clunky prose for Scott’s beautiful imagery is a great trade. The result is a sci-fi castaway tale about a man stranded on Mars that never even bothers to pause for existential brooding. Instead, star Matt Damon, as wisecracking botanist Mark Watney, keeps himself motivated with irrepressible good humor, even though in space no one can hear his charm. Though physically isolated, he takes consolation in the connections he does have with his crew (including Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, and Kate Mara) still in space and the NASA scientists back home (including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Sean Bean, and Mackenzie Davis). The thrills come from the collective problem-solving efforts to rescue Watney and overcome the dangerous Martian atmosphere and the perils of space travel. It’s thrilling, brainy stuff whose positive energy and spirit of collectivism is not just refreshing, but maybe essential.
< 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.
The Walk (PG-13, ***): The only really compelling reason to see this dramatization of French performance artist Philippe Petit’s famous stunt is for the walk itself, a beautifully realized recreation that puts the audience just over Petit’s shoulder as he walks across a cable strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The rest of the movie is fairly inessential, as star Joseph Gordon-Levitt narrates his way through a conventional biopic. All these details are far more impressive coming from Petit himself in the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire— plus, the documentary has the added bonus of not subjecting us to Gordon-Levitt’s Pepé Le Pew-esque French accent. Gordon-Levitt recreates Petit’s ebullience and mischievousness, though, enough to maintain interest through the otherwise mildly tedious first half of the movie. When Petit and his coconspirators (including Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, and Ben Schwartz) arrive in New York to start plotting the caper, momentum begins to build toward the money shot. The finale is truly awe-inspiring, especially when enhanced by 3D effects that lend real depth to the 110-story plunge beneath Gordon-Levitt’s feet.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Bridge of Spies (PG-13): Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks reunite in this Cold War-era tale about an American lawyer working in secret to free a pilot trapped in the Soviet Union. Featuring Amy Ryan and Alan Alda, with a script polished up by the Coen brothers.
> Crimson Peak (R): Guillermo del Toro embraces gothic horror in this ghost story about a house haunted with the terrible power of family secrets and tragedy. Featuring Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, and Charlie Hunnam.
> Goosebumps (PG): Jack Black plays a goofily fictionalized version of popular children’s writer R.L. Stine, whose soft-edged horror stories come to life in this gentle Halloween-themed comedy.
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.
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.
< 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).
> Woodlawn (PG): Christian faith helps African American football players overcome racism at a newly desegregated Alabama high school.