Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 4, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Boy (PG-13, ***): This cheap little horror film deposited in the frozen wastes of January is smarter, subtler, and better-looking than it has any right to be. It’s all relative, of course, but as haunted-doll movies go, this one is downright distinguished. The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan plays an American fleeing a troubled relationship. She moves to England where she gets a nanny job at an isolated estate. The catch: She’s babysitting a life-sized porcelain doll, a replica of the eight-year-old child the house’s spooky owners (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) lost in a fire decades before. Director William Brent Bell, working from Stacey Menear’s kinda-clever script, knows the horror lies in the doll’s potential, its unnerving stillness. So the doll-horror is mostly achieved through implication, an approach that turns out to be something of a plot point later in the odd climax, which is either preposterous or preposterously fun, depending on your perspective. I vote for the latter.
The Revenant (R, ***): The highlight reel of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s frontier survivalist drama would be astonishing. Iñárritu shot the film in the wilds of Canada using the fleeing natural light to capture some of the most breathtaking vistas of nature ever put on film. The setting and the gorgeous photography, combined with his meticulous choreography and camerawork, make for some exceptional scenes, most notably the opening sequence, an attack by a Native American raiding party that plays like the arrows-and-coonskin-caps version of Saving Private Ryan’s D-Day setpiece. All of this should perfectly suit a riff on the true tale of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), the real-life frontiersman who survived being left for dead after a bear attack and then crawled hundreds of miles back to civilization. But the pretentious Iñárritu can’t make a statement without overstating it, so in his quest to create another handsome misery parade, he burdens the real story with a subplot of child murder. Now Glass isn’t just surviving to track down the men who abandoned him— a more interesting, morally ambiguous quest— he’s after the villain (Tom Hardy, too villainous) who killed his son before his eyes. The result is a story no more thoughtful than the average sequel to a Liam Neeson action flick. It’s an occasionally overpowering but mostly overrated cinematic experience with nary a thought to share.
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
> The Choice (PG-13): It’s Nicholas Sparks movie time, which means there will be a coast and a beach and some boats and a strong-willed gal (Teresa Palmer) and a sensitive hunk (Benjamin Walker) and a secret and some health problems and some crying.
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.
Fifty Shades of Black (R): The latest fast-and-cheap Marlon Wayans-fronted pop-culture parody riff targets... well, if you don’t get the reference, don’t go.
The Finest Hours (PG-13): In case you don’t feel cold enough after sitting through The Revenant, catch this drama based on the true story of a daring Coast Guard rescue attempt during a blizzard in 1952, starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, and Ben Foster.
> Hail, Caesar! (PG-13): In the Coen Brothers’ latest, a Hollywood fixer (Josh Brolin) must help a studio track down its missing star (George Clooney) to finish a big-budget picture. Featuring Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, and Jonah Hill.
< Jane Got a Gun (R): An outlaw is targeted by a gang, and his wife (Natalie Portman) recruits her ex- to save him. With Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor.
Kung Fu Panda III (PG): Second sequel in the improbably decent computer-animated kiddie comedy about a schlubby panda (voiced by Jack Black) who masters the martial arts, now with three little charges to train. Featuring a host of celebrity voice talent, including Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, David Cross, and Bryan Cranston.
> Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PG-13): Horror, action, comedy, and the veneer of literature combine in this parody of Jane Austen’s classic novel of romantic torment. Now Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), Mister Collins (Matt Smith), and Mister Darcy (Sam Riley) will also be tormented by the undead.
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.
< 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.)