Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 21, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Big Short (R, ****): Adam McKay diverges from his gloriously goofy Will Ferrell collaborations for this surprisingly effective but not-too-straightfaced post-mortem about how the housing market collapsed. Based on the book of the same name by ace business writer Michael Lewis, the film renders the complicated, somewhat abstract crisis both explicable and at least somewhat relatable. Occasional forays into fourth-wall-breaking gimmicky help parse through the dry details; some work better than others, but at the very least it’s better to err on the side of being too lively when doling out such potentially punishing exposition. McKay nicely personalizes the crisis by following several insiders who saw the collapse coming, particularly eccentric fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale). Once Burry starts making big bets against the market, some other clear-eyed investors see the calamity coming, even though no one will listen. That enrages hotheaded crusader Mark Baum (Steve Carell), whose distrust of the financial industry sent him toward a personal meltdown after his brother’s suicide. We probably won’t look back a decade from now and say this was the absolute best movie of 2015, but we might well say it’s the one to which we should have paid more attention. Featuring excellent performances by Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt.
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.
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 Boy (PG-13): The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan stars in the spooky story about a nanny hired to care for a full-scale lifelike doll— who may or may not actually be alive.
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.
> The Danish Girl (R): Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) directs a film about a man who underwent one of the first sex-change operations in history. Starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. (Wissmann)
> Dirty Grandpa (R): Hapless hunk Zac Efron roadtrips with his cantankerous grandpa Robert De Niro during a wacky spring break.
> The Fifth Wave (PG-13): Chloë Grace Moretz stars as a schoolgirl trying to save her younger brother from an alien invasion in this sci-fi flick based on yet another young-adult novel about apocalyptic catastrophe.
The 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.
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.
> The Room (R): After a kidnapped woman and her son are kept captive for his entire life, the two escape to face a larger world. Inspired by a true story. (Wissmann)
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.)