Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 28, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice (PG-13, *): The title tells you exactly what you’re in for, but that doesn’t make this befuddling, somber superhero flick all that much easier— or more desirable— to follow. It’s like having a black bag thrown over your head by ISIS and being driven toward your own execution— you know exactly where you’re going, but you won’t have any clue how you got there. Incensed over the collateral damage seen in Man of Steel, Gothamite billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) decides to employ his alter-ego Batman to stop Superman (Henry Cavill) before he can cause more harm. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) talks him into it. They duke it out before finding common ground and uniting to match up against a greater threat. It’s standard-issue superhero plotting, but director Zack Snyder nearly transforms the movie into an art project with his lack of transitions from scene to scene, its abandonment of traditional narrative cohesion, the frequently unsignaled descents into lengthy dream sequences, and dialogue so ponderous it verges on abstraction. It’s distinctive, admittedly, but it’s also a joyless mess without structure, momentum, or a single likable character. At over two and a half hours, it’s so long you could actually go see a regular-length movie starting at the same time, then theater-hop over just in time to catch the promised title bout. In fact, that’s probably the only smart way to see this fundamentally misguided clunker. Biggest upside: Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shows up, and she’s pretty neat.
The Boss (R, ***): Tammy, Melissa McCarthy’s last collaboration with her director and cowriter (and husband, and son of Southern Illinois) Ben Falcone, failed to make use of her incredible versatility and likability. Their second go-round is a bit uneven but a delightful showcase for her exceptional talents. She plays Michelle Darnell, an unapologetic— and sometimes oblivious— business tycoon who plots her return to success after a stint in jail for tax fraud. She teams up with her former put-upon assistant (Kristen Bell) to help form a more empowering— and profitable— version of the Girl Scouts called Darnell’s Darlings. What the movie lacks in plot and conflict it makes up for with its rich characterization and strong punchlines. In between an overly broad opening and a baffling mess of an ending is an hour and fifteen minutes or so of bombastic, empathetic comedy that gives McCarthy access to her full powers. Michelle is awful at times, but also sympathetic, often both at the same time. Some nice supporting performances, including a brief, funny turn from the director himself, help McCarthy along, but the whole enterprise revolves around its mesmerizing star. When the movie isn’t setting up plot or reluctantly trying to wrap it up, and just letting Michelle be Michelle, it sings.
Criminal (R, **1/2): This genre-bender from director Ariel Vromen and The Rock screenwriters Douglas Cook and David Weisberg isn’t especially good with any of those individual genres— action flick, sci-fi headtrip, espionage drama, serial-killer thriller— but it throws everything together in such an endearingly loopy way as to remain consistently interesting even in its inconsistency. It helps that the B-movie premise is gussied up with an A-list cast. Kevin Costner stars as Jericho Stewart, a feral beast of an inmate whose damaged brain happens to be the only one perfectly suited to a revolutionary new technique pioneered by Doctor Franks (Tommy Lee Jones). Franks will implant the memories of a slain Central Intelligence Agency agent (Ryan Reynolds) into Stewart in hopes of finding a lost secret that will lead authorities to a computer hacker (Michael Pitt) who can save the world from an anarchist tycoon (Jordi Mollà). Gary Oldman, Alice Eve, and Wonder Woman Gal Gadot shoehorn their way into the movie, too, for some strange reason. To say this all works would be a stretch. But it’s easy to imagine an alternate universe where Criminal is beefed up to be a Michael Bay blockbuster— or another one where it’s a runty orphan of a movie born into the harsh world of video-on-demand and Hulu back-catalogue dross. That it exists as it does is some shoddy little miracle, like a two-headed cow or a potato shaped like Jesus.
Miles Ahead (R , ****): Don Cheadle doesn’t just take it upon himself to write, direct, and star in this character study of Miles Davis, he goes so far as to invent incidents in Davis’s biography from whole cloth. That sounds like trouble, but it’s an interesting tactic in this unorthodox, energetic biopic that heeds its subject’s advice to “Be wrong strong” and “If you’re gonna tell the story, come at it with some attitude.” Cheadle’s inventions include a pulpy neo-noir plotline in which Davis (Cheadle), freaked out toward the end of his five-year hiatus from music in the late 1970s, takes a frantic sojourn through the underbelly of New York with a reporter (Ewan McGregor) in search of a lost session tape stolen by a sleazy music producer (Michael Stuhlbarg). Cheadle essentially creates a fictional film starring the character Miles Davis, but one that attempts real fidelity toward the character himself, and the details don’t conflict much with the jazz legend’s real life. It works. Even cooler are Cheadle’s crackling transitions between the more contemporary story and flashbacks to a more conventional Davis during his relationship with his first wife (Emayatzy Corinealdi); these segues beautifully mirror Davis’s own improvisations, which startle and teeter on the brink of losing track before snapping back into the groove. Cheadle is phenomenal in the title role, and kudos to him for daring to make such an energetic oddball of a movie.
Zootopia (PG): Disney’s latest computer-animated comedy proves to be their first project in a long time that achieves the high mark set by its subsidiary studio Pixar— not a movie suitable for kids and tolerable to adults, but a truly all-ages film. The writer/director/animation whiz team of Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush blends a half-dozen or so subgenres of crime movie— including noir, buddy-cop, mafia, and a touch of Serpico— then sets the story in a world full of adorable talking animals. It’s not exactly high-concept, but the fusion of cutesy kiddie tropes and snuggle-softcore crime flick is surprisingly seamless. The cleverest innovation is a bustling city filled with diverse species all living in biome-appropriate neighborhoods, this the product of an old truce between predators and prey. When Judy Hops (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first bunny on the police force, she has to join forces with a conniving con-artist fox (Jason Bateman) to help crack a case that threatens the balance of the city itself. The movie drops references to Chinatown, The Godfather, and Breaking Bad, but moreover, it incorporates their sprit and aesthetic to become something (a little) greater than pastiche, all while packing in scores of clever animal gags. The movie’s obligatory message is a bit muddled— you can do anything you want to, except maybe you can’t, but you should definitely try!— but the jokes, the textured world, and the surprisingly kinda-compelling story more than make up for it.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Barbershop: The Next Cut (PG-13): Revamp/third installment of the comedy series about the customers and coworkers at Chicago barbershop starring Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Regina Hall, Eve, Common, Nicki Minaj, and Anthony Anderson.
God’s Not Dead II (PG): Wouldn’t a more logical title have been God’s Still Not Dead? Either way, spoiler alert. This time around a high-school teacher gets in hot holy water for talkin’ Jesus during school hours. Featuring Melissa Joan Hart, Robin Givens, Pat Boone, and the late Sen. Fred Thompson.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War (PG-13): This sequel to the pretty, and pretty godawful, Snow White reinterpretation throws Kristen Stewart over entirely to focus on a fantastical feud between the evil white queen (Charlize Theron) and her sister (Emily Blunt), as well as the Marvel-approved hunk (Chris Hemsworth) from the first movie. Featuring Jessica Chastain and Nick Frost.
The Jungle Book (PG): Disney’s live-action, unmusical remake of its own riff on the Rudyard Kipling classic tale about an orphan raised by exotic animals. Directed by Jon Favreau and featuring the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, the late Garry Shandling, and others.
> Keanu (R): A pair of harmless goofballs (the fantastic comedy team of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) pose as drug dealers in an effort to retrieve their stolen cat, named after the Matrix actor. Featuring Method Man and Will Forte.
> Mother’s Day (PG-13): In yet another of director Garry Marshall’s sentimental holiday anthologies (Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve), three generations of interrelated characters played by big stars in quickie roles reveal the different facets of Mother’s Day, the kind of holiday where you have to go with your mother to a movie like this. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and Jason Sudeikis.
> Ratchet and Clank (PG): In this animated adaptation of a popular videogame series, a mechanic/anthropomorphic cat teams up with his robot buddy to join a band of galaxy-saving heroes. The original videogame voice talent is joined by celebs including John Goodman, Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti, and Sly Stallone.