Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 1, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Finding Dory (PG, ***): Pixar’s perfunctory sequel to the 2003 animated hit tags all the bases and looks uniformly handsome, but never for a moment does it dazzle. The studio has set an awfully high bar for itself, one it seems increasingly willing to not even try to clear on its safer projects, like this one, which repackages the original with a slightly different (and less-interesting) setting. This time around it’s sidekick Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) turn to search for her missing parents, a task made difficult by her lifelong memory disorder. She enlists the help of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and the formerly wayward Nemo (young replacement Hayden Rolence), along with a kooky new cast of characters from an aquatic-rescue facility and amusement park. Those include a cranky octopus (Ed O’Neill), a nearsighted shark (Kaitlin Olson), and a finicky whale (Ty Burrell). The voice actors are all in top form, but the tiresome cycle of getting lost and found again wears thin, especially as the new setting lacks the visual splendor of the original’s undersea world. It’s fine, inoffensive, and perfectly pleasant. By the end, all but the youngest audience members might find themselves sharing Dory’s syndrome: You’re smiling and feeling generally positive, but you really can’t remember why.
Ghostbusters (PG-13, ***): This women-starring reboot of the 1984 classic is at its best when it’s not retreading plot points and piling on references to the original, which it seemingly spends half its time doing. When director Paul Feig and writer Katie Dippold venture beyond the confines of nostalgia, they make a pretty fun movie. A credible physicist (Kristen Wiig) and her less-credible old pal Abby (SIU alumna Melissa McCarthy) recruit a kooky young scientist (Kate McKinnon) and a brassy former metro transit worker (Leslie Jones) to create a business catching and trapping ghosts, which are in sudden abundance in New York City thanks to the supernatural meddling of a weaponized internet troll (Neil Casey). This is a shinier, cartoonier take on the material that’s played as more straightforward comedy. It’s pretty funny thanks to the kickass leads and a fun supporting turn from Chris Hemsworth as a hipster himbo. If only it was more willing to be its own movie.
Hell or High Water (R, ****1/2): This soulful crime drama from director David McKenzie and Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan is the rare film that’s both meditative and incredibly suspenseful. Chris Pine and Ben Foster costar as down-and-out Texas brothers who hatch a bank-robbery scheme to save their family farm. Meanwhile, a soon-to-retire lawman (Jeff Bridges) and his beloved but put-upon partner (Gil Birmingham) slowly but relentlessly pursue the pair. The sharp script takes time to linger in the moments of male bonding, be it impromptu wrestling matches between the brothers or the Texas Rangers sharing a smirk at a waitress meaner than both of them put together. But these good-humored and well-earned slice-of-life moments are suffused with the quiet tension of the inevitable moment when the four men’s paths will cross. The whole cast is exceptional, especially thespian Buddha Bridges, for whom deep pathos and quick humor are always immediately within reach, and the underrated Ben Foster, who bends every movie into his own gravitational pull.
Jason Bourne (PG-13, **): Star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass reteam nine years after the last outing for a sequel to the Bourne trilogy, but alas, like the title character, the movie is stuck in the past. Bourne (Damon), having learned the truth behind his secret identity as a brainwashed assassin, is living a life of mopey masochism when old cohort Nicky (Julia Stiles) clues him in to a new Central Intelligence Agency program that harks back to his own past. From there it’s a return to the Bourne formula, one as increasingly ossified as the Bond franchise but a good deal less fun. A control room of frantic typists overseen by an aging character actor (Tommy Lee Jones this time) track Bourne while an anonymous assassin know as the Asset (Vincent Cassel this time) hunts him. The car chases and fistfights retain their verve, but the story around them is a dull mess of clichés and shoddy logic. A vast amount of the screentime is taken up by Alicia Vikander as a naïve intelligence agent and Riz Ahmed in a frustratingly tangential subplot about a social-media mogul. At least Ahmed is an especially welcome presence, as is ace character actor Bill Camp. Better to focus on the little highlights and supporting players, because the sum of the parts is awfully unadventurous for a globe-hopping action movie.
Sausage Party (R, ****): In this adults-only parody of animated kids movies, a group of grocery-store items led by hotdog Frank (voiced by writer/producer Seth Rogen) learns the terrible truth about what happens to food taken past the electronic doors to the great beyond. This filthy riff on the hero-journey formula plot is a spot-on sendup of the Pixar tropes that defined decades of family filmmaking, but it’s even better when it stretches beyond the bounds of spoof into the surreal. To get to these hilarious moments, though, you’ll have to push through a thicket of dick jokes and easy ethnic gags. It’s not offensive, just tiresome in the repetition, but it’s a small price to pay for the warped Saving Private Ryan homage and an unhinged final act. The ace voice cast includes Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Bill Hader, Salma Hayek, Ed Norton, Danny McBride, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and more.
Star Trek Beyond (PG-13, **1/2): Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are back, this time sent off on a dangerous rescue mission through an unstable nebula to rescue the crew of a downed ship— but exactly what downed them will prove to be trouble for the Enterprise. All the characters are in place, as perfectly cast as any group in remake history. Karl Urban’s Bones and Zachary Quinto’s Spock are a terrific mismatched-buddy team, Simon Pegg is a hilariously amped-up Scotty, Zoe Saldana would shine as Uhura if the filmmakers would give her something to do, and John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin round out the group nicely. But the storyline here is simplistic and unmemorable, with a generic villain (played by the more than capable Idris Elba) whose character and motivations aren’t revealed until the very end, when it’s easy to be far past caring at all. Nothing about the plot affects the characters, and nothing endemic to the characters is relevant to the plot. This is a plug-and-play sci-fi blockbuster with some familiar characters dropped in, enough to serve as passably glittery entertainment, but nothing interesting or distinguishable enough to convince anyone these stories need to be remade fifty years from now.
Suicide Squad (PG-13, *1/2): DC Comics’ latest movie is a handsome mess, a mismatched heap of stylish footage stuffed uncomfortably into a standard-issue blockbuster plot. The cool premise: Government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) hires a team of captured supervillains to carry out covert missions to earn their freedom. The bummer: Only a couple of the characters are remotely interesting, specifically Margot Robbie as the psychiatrist-turned-warped-girlfriend of the Joker (Jared Leto), an archaeologist possessed by an ancient witch called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), and... well, that’s it. Among the other characters, there’s an assassin guy (Will Smith), a literally fiery-tempered Latino (Jay Hernandez), and a duped soldier (Joel Kinnaman) duped into leading them into battle. Against what? Turns out, they are their own villain, which means if the team had never existed, nothing would change. Poor fodder for a potentially fun, dark-humored special-effects extravaganza that is instead an inert, tonally inconsistent bore that sparingly doles out doses of Joker and Batman (Ben Affleck in a bit part) to cajole the audience into swallowing a lot of dreck.
War Dogs (R, ***1/2): Hangover director Todd Phillips moves into semi-serious territory with this dark comedy based on the real-life events detailed in a terrific Rolling Stone article, “Arms and the Dudes.” The story is told from the perspective of David Packouz (Miles Teller), an aimlessly ambitious twentysomething with a pregnant girlfriend and a money problem solved by his old pal Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), a brash A-hole recently introduced to the quasilegal arms-dealing business. The two navigate loopholes and skirt laws to land a nine-figure military contract that puts them in over their heads— and in league with terrorist gunrunners, Albanian kidnappers, and the U.S. government. It’s a movie making fun of self-aggrandizing white guys with Scarface posters on their walls that at times spends a lot of time reveling in exactly the kinds of things those guy would do if they had money and guns. Your enjoyment of the movie will one-hundred percent depend on whether or not you find Hill’s aggressive, oily performance funny. I dug it. Plus, Phillips has devastating comic timing, especially with minor visual gags like the TV image of Dick Cheney leering, just out of focus over Packouz’s shoulder, while he considers a Faustian bargain.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Bad Moms (R): Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Kathryn Hahn costar as a trio of overworked mothers whose attempt to let off a little steam goes haywire in this comedy also featuring Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Wendell Pierce.
< Ben-Hur (PG-13): Remake of William Wyler’s classic, based on Lew Wallace’s novel about an exiled prince (Boardwalk Empire’s excellent Jack Huston) who returns to his homeland for redemption, and chariot-racing. Featuring Morgan Freeman.
Don’t Breathe (R): Fede Alvarez directs and cowrites this claustrophobic horror flick about a group of teens who break into an old man’s house looking for money and find much more than they bargained for.
> Equity (R): Anna Gunn (Skyler White on Breaking Bad) is a Wall Street investment banker who may be getting sucked into a financial scandal.
> Hands of Stone (R): In 1980, lightweight Roberto “The Hands of Stone” Durán baited welterweight boxing king Sugar Ray Leonard into a brawl in Montreal— and one of the greatest fights of all time resulted. This film tells the story from the perspective of Durán (played by Edgar Ramirez) and his trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro). Usher plays Sugar Ray. No film can top the bout itself, or the equally dramatic rematch. Go check both out on Youtube. (Wissmann)
< Ice Age: Collision Course (PG): In this improbable fourth sequel to the computer-animated family comedy, Manny the mammoth and his pals Sid and Diego must help fend off a meteor strike that would render them all extinct. Once more featuring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary.
< The Insanity of God (NR): Faith-based documentary about a group of missionaries who travel to Somalia.
Kubo and the Two Strings (PG): Young Kubo (voiced by newcomer Art Parkinson) must use a suit of armor to avenge his father in this new animated film from quiet powerhouse studio Laika (Boxtrolls, Coraline) featuring the voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, and Rooney Mara.
> Light Between the Oceans (PG-13): When a baby washes ashore on a rowboat, a lighthouse keeper and his wife raise her. Directed by the acclaimed Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) from M.L. Stedman’s novel, and starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz. (Wissmann)
Mechanic: Resurrection (R): In this improbable sequel to Jason Statham’s mildly amusing genre-trifle remake, our hitman must come out of retirement when bad guys from his past kidnap his lady and force him to carry out a series of killings. Featuring Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones, and Michelle Yeoh.
> Morgan (R): After a lab creates an artificial human, scientists begin to ponder the ethics— and potential necessity— of destroying it in this spooky sci-fi thriller starring Kate Mara.
Pete’s Dragon (PG): Remake of Disney’s kinda-classic live action/animation blend about an orphan (Oakes Fegley) who retreats into the woods to live with a friendly dragon. Featuring Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard.
The Secret Life of Pets (PG): In this computer-animated comedy, housepets only reveal their sophisticated emotions and intellects when their owners are away. Louis C.K. voices Max, top dog in his household until his owner brings in an annoying new pup (Eric Stonestreet). Featuring the voices of Albert Brooks, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Jenny Slate, Dana Carvey, and Steve Coogan.
Southside with You (PG-13): Well-received film about the future first couple’s first date in Chicago in 1989. With Parker Sawyers as Barack Obama and Tika Sumpter (Ride Along, Get on Up) as Michelle. (Wissmann)