Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 14, 2015 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
< Creed (PG-13, ****1/2): Fruitvale Station’s Ryan Coogler writes and directs a franchise reboot that breathes new life into the Rocky series. This rousing reboot taps into the spirit of the 1976 original with a renewed focus on the characters’ relationships and gritty street life of Philadelphia, with stunning results. The premise is simple but elegant: Former heavyweight champ Apollo Creed had a son out of wedlock who was eventually raised by his widow (Phylicia Rashad). Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), the lost boy turned child of privilege, rejects a lucrative career path to follow in his father’s footsteps. For help he turns to his dad’s greatest friend and opponent, the Italian Stallion himself. An older, wiser, wearier Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) agrees to train his young charge for a big fight that turns into an even bigger one. It closely follows the formula of the original, but Coogler subtly innovates throughout and invigorates it with fresh ideas. Stallone might not have been this good since 1976; it’s a soulful, heartbreaking performance perfectly matched by his powerful protégé. Adonis has a plucky girl of his own (Tessa Thompson), but though she’s no wallflower, it’s the mentor-mentee relationship that dominates this heartfelt, truly inspiring film, which balances the character study of the original with thrilling fight choreography. You’ll cheer, you’ll hum the theme, and you will most certainly root for Adonis Creed in this, the best sports movie of the new millennium.
Hateful Eight (R, ****): Quentin Tarantino’s prankster spirit is alive and well. The writer/director is irascible as ever in this indulgent, provocative Western, which courts divisiveness with its dark racial comedy, gleeful misogyny, ambling pace, and inevitable but still stunning descent into brutal violence. The eight characters of the title converge in a snowy Wyoming outpost for a grim night of revelation. The only woman, Daisy Domergue (a never better Jennifer Jason Leigh) is to be hanged in nearby Red Rock, thanks in large part to white-hatted bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell). But the chance encounter with another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), a would-be sheriff (Walton Goggins), a silent cowboy (Michael Madsen), a Confederate military officer (Bruce Dern), and a pair of cagey immigrants (Tim Roth and Demián Bichir) leaves Ruth to suspect a conspiracy to kill him and free his prisoner. Tarantino reverts back to too-familiar tricks in the end, but the leadup to the inevitably bloody conclusion is chock full of crackerjack dialogue, gorgeous snowscapes, and grim slapstick. Jackson dominates the screen while Goggins sneakily steals the show. It’s a story about the power of storytelling, and even its digressions and faults are fascinating.
< The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (PG-13, *1/2): The popular dystopian teen-lit adaptation lumbers to a conclusion in this halting, poorly paced, anticlimactic final installment. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) rejects her new role as the mouthpiece of the revolution and hitches a ride with a group of soldiers toward the front lines, where she plans to storm the Capitol and kill President Snow (a wonderful Donald Sutherland). The first two-thirds of the movie are bogged down by a lot of moping, and the ineffectual action— most of it just an inconsequential blur of computer effects— largely takes place in a dingy sewer. The actual climax is almost literally over before you know it, giving way to a tedious series of false endings that would make Peter Jackson twiddle his thumbs in frustration. Most of the interesting characters (and better actors) are shuffled to the side. There’s both too much and not nearly enough going on here, thanks in part to the screenwriters’ oppressive fidelity to author Suzanne Collins’s flawed text. The whole blockbuster franchise turns out to be something of a bust. It’s one-and-a-half good movies spread across eight-plus hours of running time. Its ultimate legacy will be as a starmaking platform for the excellent Lawrence, who elevated the material until it couldn’t keep up with her any longer.
Joy (PG-13, ***): Writer/director David O. Russell reteams with the fantastic Jennifer Lawrence for what’s supposed to be a darkly funny feminist biopic about real-life inventor Joy Mangano, who became a home-shopping mogul. Lawrence certainly has the chops to play the feisty Joy, a creative child whose creative aspirations are stifled by her mentally ill mother (Virginia Madsen) and her self-obsessed father (Robert De Niro). The title character is certainly a steely, impressive lady, but the movie is more aggravating than inspirational. Russell stacks the deck against his heroine to an almost obscene degree without providing the requisite catharsis. He curiously misuses all of his time focusing on one narrow, especially difficult period in Joy’s life, then speeds through a couple decades of vindication in a handful of minutes, as though showing her enjoy any kind of success would weaken the abundantly clear theme. No one, not the real Joy, the fictionalized Joy, nor the audience should be forced to spend so much time with her shrill, irredeemable family. Only Édgar Ramírez as her unfocused but well-meaning ex-husband manages to charm. Everyone else just stands in the way of Joy, and of joy.
Spotlight (R, ****1/2): Writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) imbues this real-life journalism procedural drama with the momentum of a fast-paced thriller, and he does it without maudlin melodramatics or stylistic hysterics. The film follows a crew of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe— played by a murderer’s row of great actors including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, and John Slattery— as they uncover the sex-abuse scandals involving Catholic priests, and the Church’s conspiracy to cover them up. McCarthy takes a cool-headed approach in exploring how the Boston community at large was complicit in the silence, and his smart script and subdued, straightforward aesthetic simulate a kind of journalistic objectivity. Make no mistake, though, the film burns with righteous indignation, but McCarthy isn’t so fanatical about his finger-pointing that he loses sight of the confounding complexity in assigning blame. Case in point is a smooth-talking attorney, played by Billy Crudup, who becomes a kind of holy-war profiteer only after his earnest whistleblowing attempts were ignored by everyone, the Boston Globe included. Stanley Tucci is especially good as an eccentric lawyer embittered by his terrible understanding of the crimes. This is without a doubt one of 2015’s best films.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (PG-13, ***): Now that giddy anticipation has given way to capitalistic onanism over weekend grosses and box-office records, ask yourself: What about the new Star Wars was really memorable? Any lines of dialogue, eye-popping sci-fi visual effects, or thrillingly choreographed action? It goes down easy, like a macrobrewed lite beer, and packs just about as much punch. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, fear not, you’ve already seen it— J.J. Abrams’s sequel is more of a feel-good reboot, with a structure and storyline borrowed whole cloth from George Lucas’s flawed but still original original. The new characters do at least charm, especially Daisy Ridley as heroine Rey, along with John Boyega as a lapsed Stormtrooper and the excellent Oscar Isaac as the new generation cool-guy pilot. Adam Driver’s big bad villain, alas, is more of a sci-fi school shooter than an intergalactic tyrant. The old crew is back, some more than others, and Harrison Ford still thrills even though looks like he’s actively suppressing chagrin in every scene. It’s expertly rendered fan service, and a vast improvement over at least three and a half other Star Wars movies, but don’t delude yourself— George Lucas took more risks in the anodyne prequels than Disney is willing to allow here.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (PG): The singing rodents with high-pitched voices head out on the highway to stop their manager, Dave, from getting married and leaving them.
The Big Short (R): A group of finance geeks predict the housing bubble and stock-market collapse of 2008 then set out to profit from it. The loaded cast includes Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Marisa Tomei.
> Carol (R): Two women (played by Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett) meet and fall in love in New York during the 1950s. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt and directed by Todd Haynes. (Wissmann)
Daddy’s Home (PG-13): Will Ferrell costars with Mark Wahlberg as a stepdad trying to keep his family intact when his ex-wife’s felonious former husband comes back into the picture.
Forest (PG-13): This horror flick sends Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer into the charmingly named “Suicide Forest” to search for her missing twin sister.
< The Good Dinosaur (PG): Pixar’s latest was a troubled production largely scrapped and reworked. It’s about a dinosaur who befriends a human boy, so perhaps it’s based on “research” from the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Featuring the voices of Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, and Sam Elliott.
> Lamb (R): Ross Partridge adapts Bonnie Nadzam’s novel about a man rebounding from a divorce and parental death. He meets a young, unpopular girl and the two go on a roadtrip to the Rocky Mountains. (Wissmann)
> Norm of the North (PG): A displaced polar bear and his Arctic pals must find a home in New York City in this global-warming-themed animated family comedy starring the voice of Rob Schneider. Read that sentence again, aloud, and marvel.
The Revenant (R): Leonardo DiCaprio fights a bear, the men who killed his son, and the harsh on-set practices of Alejandro González Iñárritu. Featuring Tom Hardy.
Ride Along II (PG-13): Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reteam as a badass cop and his goofball brother-in-law, the latter of whom now has a real gun and badge to back up his motormouth.
Sisters (R): Comedy superfriends Tina Fey and Amy Poehler star as sibs who decide to throw one last bash before they sell their parents’ home. Featuring Maya Rudolph, John Cena, Kate McKinnon, and John Leguizamo.
> Thirteen Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (R): Politico Michael Bay directs the movie adaptation of that thing your Republican friend won’t stop talking about. (The title may or may not refer to duration of said friend’s enraged monologue.)