Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 16, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Captain America: Civil War (PG-13, ****): This overstuffed superhero smackdown is both burdened and blessed by its abundance of characters. A cadre of producers and writers, fronted here by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and led by adept directors Joe and Anthony Russo, spend a lot of time— like two-and-a-half hours of it— juggling a bloated roster, trying to unite some plotlines and launch others. Though nominally a sequel to 2014’s Winter Soldier, this is actually the biggest installment yet in Marvel Studios’ ongoing serial. When the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), an old war buddy of Captain America (Chris Evans), is framed for an assassination, Cap takes a group of fellow superheroes (including Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jeremy Renner) off the grid to find the real killers. That draws the ire of their pals, led by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who agrees with the government that the superheroes need some kind of regulatory oversight. The eventual result is a big, beautifully destructive setpiece in which a dozen or so characters (including Chadwick Boseman’s debut as Black Panther and new Spider-Man Tom Holland) face off for an effects extravaganza of a royal rumble. All the while the movie maintains the breezy sense of humor that so nicely suits the Marvel movies, and is such a sharp contrast to the grim obligation of that other superhero showdown from earlier in the year.
The Conjuring II (PG-13, **): Not only does the sequel to James Wan’s 2013 surprise hit fail to capture the spooky atmosphere of the original, it actually renders the first movie less enjoyable by highlighting all the flaws Wan papered over with aesthetic and technique. Pious ghost hunting couple Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) travel to England where a single mother (Frances O’Conner) struggles with the haunting of the shabby house she shares with her four children. Toy trucks drive on their own accord, old playground equipment squeaks in the mist, and little girls mutter threats in gravely demonic voices. All the old familiar tricks are pulled out, but with surprisingly little inventiveness. Wan is capable with jump scares and occasional frightening images, but this stuff is uninspired at best and fumblingly manipulative at worst. It’s a baffling pop hagiography of the Warrens, two real-life paranormal “experts” who time and again have been proven to be fakes. But here they’re holy warriors, a perfect nuclear family whose love of Jesus and tradition can save the sad single mum. It’s icky, paternalistic stuff in a movie not nearly fun enough to distract you from its boring conservative subtext.
< The Lobster (R, ***1/2): Assigning a numerical-quality rating to a movie this singular is an exercise in futility. The latest from Greek master of the surreal Yorgos Lanthimos and his frequent collaborator Efthymis Filippou doesn’t coddle its audacious concept— it piles on absurdities in some cerebral balancing act. A never-better, schlubbed-out Collin Farrell stars as David, a widower in a dystopian society that views coupling as the ultimate greater good. Unmarried citizens are sent to a hotel, some combination of reformatory and singles’ spa, where they have forty days to find a mate before they are turned into an animal of their choosing and released into the wild. Lanthimos is an absolute master at rendering surreal scenarios plausible. Like Charlie Kaufman, or the excellent short story writer Kelly Link, he devises hauntingly recognizable alternate universes governed by outlandish rules he’s able to define gracefully and to tantalizing near-clarity, so few unanswered questions remain. The movie whips from humor to pathos to outright horror without ever deviating from its singular tone. Brilliant insights and deadpan glee comingle with cockamamie diversions in what ultimately becomes a trainwreck of an allegory that still succeeds, despite its late-stage emotional manipulation, on the strength of its true uniqueness. Featuring standout performances from Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, and Léa Seydoux.
< Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (R, ***): As a movie, this Lonely Island-produced, unofficial Saturday Night Live spinoff is mediocre at best. As a series of semirelated sketches and random gags, it’s pretty damn funny. Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer codirect this mockumentary about sweetly clueless egomaniac Conner “For Real” Friel, a teen idol aging gracelessly. The directors also costar as his erstwhile bandmates and best friends, watching from disparate vantage points as Conner’s life crumbles into a glittering wreckage of celebrity indulgence. The slew of truly funny jokes— my personal favorite bit being a Daft Punk-style helmet that emits a piercing beam of light and the sound of an apocalyptic foghorn— almost work better if you don’t follow along too closely or try to connect them with the obligatory plot. This is a potential cult favorite destined for greater success on the small screen, where it can play in the background at parties or at the foot of the bed for the hungover and the sick, spinning out silliness in all its disconnected, kookily surreal glory. Featuring way, way too many movie stars for a movie trying to successfully skewer celebrity, including Justin Timberlake, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, et cetera.
X-Men: Apocalypse (PG-13, ***): Director and cowriter Bryan Singer has helmed four of the six X-Men movies: the first two, then Days of Future Past and now its followup. Singer still has a facility for outsized setpieces and the ability to project the illusion of gravity into an otherwise weightless swirl of digital effects, but he’s lost touch with the more intimate conflicts and smaller character interactions that gave the better installments of the series their humanity. Here the X-Men (led by James McAvoy, and including Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Evan Peters, along with newcomers Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner as a young Cyclops and Jean Grey) must do battle with the ancient being Apocalypse (an unrecognizable Oscar Isaac, lost under makeup and vocal filters), who wants to destroy the world and repopulate it with mutants. It’s a large-scale scheme, but not a terribly interesting one, and the new villain does little more than make grandiose proclamations and stare. He’s a dud, despite his off-the-charts power. Michael Fassbender returns as Magneto to inject a little bit of intrigue, but he’s the only character existing in any kind of moral gray area. Mostly the movie lurches from one big setpiece to the next, with no time to have any fun in between. It’s fine, but dour and mostly uninspired, save for another excellent sequence featuring the very funny Peters and a fun cameo from an old favorite.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Alice Through the Looking Glass (PG): Tim Burton-produced this followup to his take on Alice in Wonderland featuring Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Hey, at least it’s based on actual sequel source material.
< The Angry Birds Movie (G): The P.O.ed birds and their nemeses the pigs go from the smallest of screens— your stupid cellphone— to the big one. Think of it as an app you can only look at once and have to go to a theater to use. But does Sean Penn lend his voice? Yes, he does.
> Central Intelligence (PG-13): Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart join forces for this mismatched-buddy comedy about an accountant who reunites with an old pal who’s now a Central Intelligence Agency agent. (Guess who plays whom.) From Dodgeball director Rawson Marshall Thurber, featuring Aaron Paul and Amy Ryan.
> Finding Dory (PG): In Pixar’s sequel to 2003’s aquatic tearjerker Finding Nemo, forgetful fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) gets a backstory and a quest to reunite with her own family. Also featuring the voices of Albert Brooks, Idris Elba, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, and more.
< 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.
Me Before You (PG-13): Game of Thrones’ khaleesi Emilia Clarke takes off the wig to perform as a caregiver to a recently paralyzed man. Will romance ensue amid the teardrops, or will dragons swoop down in time to save them from pathos? (Wissmann)
Now You See Me II (PG-13): The godawful, ridiculous movie about magic that could only work with digital special effects inexplicably returns for a sequel. Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan, and Dave Franco return, joined by Daniel Radcliffe, for a followup to a heist movie that— in case you couldn’t tell— I really hated.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (PG-13): In this sequel to the Michael Bay-affiliated reboot, the turtles must do battle with man-animal hybrids created out of a new purple ooze. Megan Fox and Will Arnett return, joined by Laura Linney, Tyler Perry, and Stephen Amell.
Warcraft (PG-13): The overqualified Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) directs this adaptation of the popular fantasy videogame about a land overrun by an invading army of orcs. Featuring Ben Foster, Paula Patton, and Dominic Cooper.