Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 12, 2015 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Bridge of Spies (PG-13, ***): Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama is at its best when capturing the details of lives caught between bickering superpowers, and also in slyly questioning the ethos of the era. What it cannot quite do is render a series of nuanced, frustrating bureaucratic negotiations interesting for two-plus hours. Tom Hanks stars as James Donovan, an insurance lawyer turned unofficial ambassador when government agents ask him to defend a suspected Soviet spy (Mark Rylance). Donovan’s savvy legal maneuvering eventually lands him in Germany just as the country is being split in two by the Berlin Wall. Here he must exchange his client for a captured American pilot (Austin Stowell), but a secondary conflict in the newly sealed-off East Germany threatens to kill the deal. Hanks is as terrific as ever in a role only he and Jimmy Stewart could really do justice, and Spielberg brings the era to vibrant life. But as the story stalls out during the aggravating accords that make up the second half, the history lesson begins to drag, and some long-lost voice in your head begins to wonder, “Shouldn’t the bell ring soon and release me?”
< Crimson Peak (R, ****1/2): Guillermo del Toro’s vibrant gothic drama is the perfect movie for Halloween. The plot harks back to spooky, literary-pedigree melodramas by Daphne du Maurier and the Brontë sisters, but del Toro spikes the story with enough harrowing creature effects to give it horror-movie fangs. Mia Wasikowska stars as a young writer in the late nineteenth century who has written a ghost story, though she insists it’s just a story with a ghost in it— the key to the very movie we’re watching. She impulsively marries a British aristocrat (Tom Hiddleston) fallen on hard times and moves to his dilapidated English estate to live with him and his frosty sister (Jessica Chastain). Surprise, the place turns out to be haunted. But there are more surprises still in this lurid, hypnotic horror flick, which expertly balances its literary influences with creature-feature thrills. It’s perhaps del Toro’s best work to date, and not only one of the year’s best horror movies, but one of the best movies, period.
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.
The Peanuts Movie (G, ****1/2): Perhaps no beloved children’s entertainment is less-suited to slick modernization than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, which is why it’s so heartening to see director Steve Martino (working from a script cowritten by Schulz’s son Craig) brilliantly preserve the essence of the comic strip while translating it to a computer-animated feature. The defiantly low-fi antics of Charlie Brown and his gang seem downright revolutionary today, but the gentle, slightly morose themes that made newspaper strip and animated specials so appealing still resonate. The film is something of a greatest-hits collection, distilling many of the classic tropes and themes of the strip and fashioning them into a longer, if somewhat episodic, story. Charlie Brown struggles to find a way to impress the new kid in school, the Little Red-haired Girl, while his faithful dog Snoopy engages in imaginary aerial combat with the Red Baron. The quality of the computer animation here is key, favoring a clean, rudimentary design reminiscent of stop-motion animation, one that nicely splits the difference between Schulz’s clean linework and the dominant Pixar style of the last two decades. Martino makes use of more dazzling imagery in Snoopy’s literal flights of fantasy, swooping and diving the camera with rollercoaster glee, while Charlie Brown’s musings are rendered in those familiar squiggly black-and-white lines. It’s simple but not simplistic, thoughtful and affecting, a treat for nostalgists and younger fans alike.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (R, *): The title says it all in this perfunctory horror-comedy that definitely answers the question, “I wonder if these guys saw Superbad and Zombieland?” A trio of scout buddies are being driven apart by age. Annoying wisecracker Carter convinces flat, affectless hero Ben (the otherwise talented Tye Sheridan) to ditch their chubby tagalong pal Augie (Joey Morgan) at a campout to find a secret party for high-school seniors. While they’re separated, a zombie plague takes over the town and turns their scout leader (David Koechner) undead. The boys must put their scout skills to use to fend off the ravenous hordes. Alas, the movie relies more on jokes than scares, and the gags just aren’t there. Knockoff Apatow dialogue results in a rapid fire of groaners and clunkers. Minus a couple of decent gore effects, like a slow-motion exploding head, everything about the movie is lazy and slapdash.
Spectre (PG-13, ***1/2): The fourth Bond movie of the Daniel Craig era pushes the story away from the grim, relatively more realistic Casino Royale toward classic 007 territory. We’re not talking Moonraker here, but the plot takes a turn for the delightfully outlandish as Bond (Craig) learns about an overarching plot that ties together loose threads from the previous three outings. At the hub of it all is Spectre, a shadowy organization (literally shadowy, when they’re introduced) led by the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (born Bond villain Christoph Waltz). With the help of a supervillain’s estranged daughter (Léa Seydoux), Bond must untangle the confusion on his own while the double-oh program is menaced by bureaucratic meddling and both M (Ralph Fiennes) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are pushed out. This latest 007 outing kicks off with a thrilling, visually sumptuous action sequence it can never quite top. But despite being a little thick in the middle, it’s a thoroughly entertaining entry in the series with a few eye-popping sequences and all the hallmarks that make this formulaic series pleasantly familiar rather than frustratingly repetitive.
< Steve Jobs (R, ***1/2): Aaron Sorkin pens this biopic about the Apple cofounder and tech visionary. Sorkin bucks the conventional biopic form to structure the story around three public presentations spread across fourteen years of Jobs’s life. There’s no origin story to speak of, but rather a focus on his interpersonal relationships as he strives for perfection in the launch of the Macintosh, which finally pays off over a decade later when a gentler, wiser Steve (Michael Fassbender) presents the revolutionary iMac. The cast is overstuffed with serious talent, most notably Kate Winslet as Jobs’s steadfast right-hand woman Joanna Hoffmann, and also Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston, and Seth Rogen. But while director Danny Boyle nicely adapts his vivid style to be subservient to the material, Sorkin insists on forcing the semi-objective historical facts into his own dramatic template. The result isn’t so much a movie about Steve Jobs as it is Sorkin writing a classically Sorkin-esque play using characters on loan from Apple. It’s still a crackling, highly entertaining movie laced with smart, acerbic dialogue, but it seems the lauded playwright has employed the same “reality distortion field” so famously used and abused by the movie’s domineering subject.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Burnt (R): Bradley Cooper stars as a troubled chef who moves to start a new restaurant— and a new life— in London in this dramedy featuring Sienna Miller and Daniel Bruhl.
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.
< The Last Witch Hunter (PG-13): Vin Diesel leads the latest in a line of horror-action hybrids. This time the faceless hordes of computer-generated videogame monsters are witches, whom he must hunt, because nobody else will. Him being the last one and all. Featuring Elijah Wood and Michael Caine.
> Love the Coopers (PG-13): It’s hard to believe Nancy Meyers didn’t direct this gentle generational holiday comedy in which the world’s whitest family attempts to have the world’s whitest Christmas. Featuring John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Ed Helms, and Anthony Mackie.
> My All American (PG): A youth deemed too small to play college football gets his shot at the University of Texas. Starring Finn Wittrock and Aaron Eckhart.
Our Brand is Crisis (R): David Gordon Green directs this dramatized adaptation of Rachel Boynton’s documentary about a professional political campaign strategist (Sandra Bullock) who goes to South America to use her talents to prop up a new political leader in this cynical dramedy featuring Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, and Scoot McNairy.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (R): A family moves into a new home, only to find a box of videotapes in the garage. Any wonder what happens next? (Wissmann)
< Rock the Kasbah (R): Bill Murray stars as an over-the-hill music producer who spots an opportunity for renewed success if he can get a talented unknown Afghan girl (Leem Lubany) onto the reality-show hit Afghan Star. Featuring Zooey Deschanel, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Kelly Lynch, and Danny McBride, directed by Barry Levinson.
> The Thirty-three (PG-13): Dramatization of the mining accident that captured world attention when thirty-three Chilean mine workers were trapped underground for more than two months. Featuring Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gabriel Byrne, and James Brolin.
Woodlawn (PG): Christian faith helps African American football players overcome racism at a newly desegregated Alabama high school.