Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 18, 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.
Deadpool (R, ***1/2): If Spider-Man was created when a radioactive spider bit an ordinary teenage boy, then Deadpool must have been bitten by a radioactive teenage boy. This gleefully profane, ultraviolent superhero romp is unabashedly adolescent, even by the standards of a genre based on young male power fantasies. While it’s sometimes grating, especially in its total inability to bypass a stupid or obvious joke, that sophomoric attitude distinguishes the movie from its blander, less-entertaining counterparts. Ryan Reynolds stars as a snarky hitman bestowed with superhuman healing abilities by a secret science experiment. It’s straightforward Marvel Comics formula, but the zany execution conjures the artful insanity of animators Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. Reynolds has the timing of a decent standup comic, which he uses to deliver a barrage of gags so fast that the good ones distract you from the really bad ones. It works, mostly, more as an unhinged comedy than a truly thrilling action flick. Featuring Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, and Ed Skrein.
< The Finest Hours (PG-13, ***): In this resolutely old-fashioned tale about heroism on the high seas, a brave Coast Guard crewman (Chris Pine) leads a dangerous attempt to rescue a crippled oil tanker set adrift by a powerful winter storm. The most compelling scenes in the film, inspired by true events and adapted by director Craig Gillespie, take place aboard the shattered ship, where a shy but quick-thinking sailor (Casey Affleck) leads a group effort to keep their heads above water. These scenes, recalling the soggy heroism of director Wolfgang Petersen’s famous waterlogged calamities Das Boot and The Perfect Storm, play like an ode to the power of collectivism. It’s the group effort among the strong ensemble of character actors that keeps the movie itself afloat when it struggles through duller, more antiquated stretches. Ben Foster, John Magaro, Kyle Gallner, Michael Raymond-James, and Abraham Benrubi are terrific. And while Pine is ostensibly the star of the show, he’s upstaged by the sneaky-great Affleck, who proves yet again he’s every bit as impressive as his lantern-jawed matinee-idol brother. The movie is a bit regressive by omission— you won’t find this many white guys aboard one boat until the next Nickelback rock ‘n’ roll cruise, and the womenfolk mostly stand around and worry— but its old-school reverence for hard work and sacrifice stirs a kind of primal American pride.
Hail, Caesar! (PG-13, ****): The Coen brothers embrace their frivolous, pranksterish side in this total delight of a comedy, one likely a bit underrated due to the directors’ pedigree. This isn’t a philosophical musing or a literary adaption, but rather a series of ace comedy sketches all linked by a fixer for a Hollywood studio, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Mannix must save the production of a Biblical epic when its star (George Clooney) is kidnapped by a Communist conspiracy. Meanwhile, Mannix must also deal with a secretly pregnant starlet (Scarlett Johansson), the clash between a prissy director (Ralph Fiennes) and his singing cowboy star (Alden Ehrenreich), twin gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton, twice!) and a dancer (Channing Tatum) with a secret of his own. The various movie-within-a-movie parodies aren’t just gags, they let the Coens dabble with genuine affection for bygone genres. The movie is a bit messy, sure, but it’s packed with sublime gags that run the gamut from subtle background details to broad slapstick to obscure historical allusions. If it doesn’t feel like a substantial, main-course kind of a movie, that’s because it’s not. It’s a spectacular dessert, a brownie-studded cookie sitting atop a chocolate sundae draped over bananas foster smoldering on a baked Alaska.
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.
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.
How to Be Single (R): Gal-bonding comedy about funny friends unlucky in love, starring Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, Rebel Wilson, and Alison Brie.
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.
> Race (PG-13): Biopic about the great athlete Jesse Owens (Stephan James), whose performance in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany inspired the world. Featuring Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, and William Hurt.
< 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.
> Risen (PG-13): Frequent Kevin Costner collaborator Kevin Reynolds writes and directs this tale about Christ told from the perspective of Roman soldiers (Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton). If you’re wondering, yes, that is exactly the plot of the fake movie-within-a-movie, Hail, Caesar!.
> The Witch (R): In writer-director Robert Eggers’s coolly old-fashioned horror flick, fifteenth-century New England settlers are terrorized by dark forces some ascribe to witchcraft. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy.
Zoolander II (PG-13): Fifteen years after the vastly underrated original slipped under the radar comes this sequel about the ridiculously good-looking model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller), who now must team up with former rivals Hansel (Owen Wilson) and Mugatu (Will Ferrell).