Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 10, 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.
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.
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.
< Triple Nine (R, ***): This macho crime drama would be a perfectly serviceable if perhaps straight-to-Redbox affair were it not for the confident direction of John Hillcoat (The Proposition, Lawless) and a whole paddy wagon’s worth of terrific actors. A Russian mob wife (Kate Winslet) blackmails a cadre of dirty cops (including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., and Norman Reedus) into stealing a batch of top-secret files from a heavily secured location. The only way they can pull it off is to distract their straight-and-narrow brethren with an even bigger problem, a cop killing. They target a soft-spoken newbie (Casey Affleck) to take the fall, but when he and his booze-swilling uncle (Woody Harrelson) turn out to be savvier than expected, they threaten to throw a wrench into the plan.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (R, ****): Tina Fey stars in this adaptation of journalist Kim Baker’s account about her experiences as an unlikely war correspondent in the early days of the War on Terror. The film’s lack of a significant throughline or specific goal is a function of the war’s uncertainty, and a kind of critique of the war itself. The genre-bending movie is a fascinating, funny, sometimes harrowing mosaic that explores the culture clash of Western journalists and the Afghan people, the chaos of war, and the small moments of clarity and humanity that emerge. Codirectors Glen Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris and Crazy, Stupid, Love) do nice work juggling the disparate tones and emotions, and screenwriter Robert Carlock helps his star put her considerable wit to use. There are several terrific performances in the movie from the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Margot Robbie, and Christopher Abbot, but Fey binds the whole fascinating mess together. She’s a rocketship full of talent and, perhaps pushed beyond her comfort zone into sometimes straightforward drama, she acquits herself nicely.
< 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).
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> The Brothers Grimsby (R): Writer and star Sacha Baron Cohen teams up with action director Louis Leterrier for a bullet-riddled comedy about the screwup brother (Cohen) of a superspy (Mark Strong). Featuring Isla Fisher and Rebel Wilson.
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.
< 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!.
> 10 Cloverfield Lane (PG-13): Mystery shrouds this J.J. Abrams-produced thriller about a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who wakes up trapped in a bunker with a man (John Goodman) who claims they cannot go outside for fear of some lurking terror— but is the terror all inside the basement? The title suggests a connection to the terrific 2008 Godzilla riff, but how so remains unclear.
> The Young Messiah (PG-13): Retelling of the early life of Jesus based on a book by Anne Rice, starring Game of Thrones’ Sean Bean.
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.