Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 3, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
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.
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 he 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.
The Witch (R, ****1/2): In his exceptional feature-filmmaking debut, writer/director Robert Eggers adeptly conjures early seventeenth century New England with patient pacing, a handsomely simple aesthetic, and early modern English dialogue. By the time you’re fully immersed in the pre-colonial terror of one Puritan family’s struggle to survive alone in the untamed American woods, you don’t even notice that Eggers has barbed his old-fashioned tale with contemporary concerns. The question for our unsettled settlers, God-fearing Puritans all, is who exactly planted the seed of evil causing their children to be snatched away by some dark force? Is it the pride of pious father William (Ralph Ineson), the nascent sexuality of flowering daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the goat Black Phillip that the youngest children swear whispers evil suggestions—or a witch terrorizing the clan from her wooded encampment? Eggers explores the possibilities that evil comes from within and from without with equal credulity, and to great effect. This is a wonderfully acted, meticulously executed vision with deep psychological resonance that doesn’t skimp on visceral, imagistic horror. The first great movie of 2016 (even if, okay, it was technically released in 2015).
< Zoolander II (PG-13, *1/2): A decade and a half after the disappointing release of his excellent cult classic comedy Zoolander, Ben Stiller follows it up with an improbable sequel... that also flops. Difference is, this one should have. Much of the charm of the original is gone, lost among a bevy of needlessly complicated subplots and obnoxious celebrity cameos that take the place of jokes. Stiller is still amusing as the really, really ridiculously good-looking Derek Zoolander, and Owen Wilson is funnier than ever as his sidekick Hansel. Will Ferrell returns in the final act to inject some much needed energy into the movie, but it’s too late.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Eddie the Eagle (PG-13): Feel-good biopic about Michael Edwards, who in 1988 became Britain’s first Olympic ski jumper. (Wissmann)
Gods of Egypt (PG-13): The once-promising Alex Proyas directs this computer-effects-heavy Clash of the Titans knockoff starring Gerard Butler (of course) as a guy who shouts and sweats and fights things that obviously are not there. To free slaves or find his wife or something? Let’s agree to never find out.
< 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 to 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.
London Has Fallen (R): In this sequel to the successful and pretty grim Olympus Has Fallen, a former Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) once again must team up with the President (Aaron Eckhart) to save lives after terrorists destroy a landmark. Instead of the White House, they knock down most of London in an effort to kill all world leaders. Big fun. With Morgan Freeman and Radha Mitchell but not original director Antoine Fuqua.
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.
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!.
Triple Nine (R): Excellent director John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition, Lawless) leads a stacked cast (Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Kate Winslet) in a film about Russian mobsters who blackmail corrupt police into sacrificing a rookie in order to facilitate an heist. (Wissmann)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (R): Tina Fey stars as real-life journalist Kim Baker in this dark comedy about journalism in Afghanistan directed by Bad Santa and I Love You Phillip Morris team Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Zootopia (PG): The directors of Wreck-it Ralph and Tangled team up for an animated faux-noir about a pair of mismatched critters trying to uncover a conspiracy in their anthropomorphic society. Featuring the usual yachtload of celebrity voice talent, including Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Alan Tudyk, and more.