Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 22, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Blair Witch (R, *1/2): Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the talented director/writer duo behind nifty horror flicks You’re Next and The Guest, take a stab at updating the influential 1999 found-footage horror classic The Blair Witch Project. They ignore the events of the misbegotten sequel Book of Shadows, yet they don’t do a significantly better job. The 2016 version is a sequel teetering on a remake, with a search for missing original filmmaker Heather Donahue. Her brother (played by James Allen McCune) thinks he spots her in a video clip fifteen years after her disappearance, and his girlfriend (Callie Hernandez) decides to turn the search into her own documentary. Blair Witchery ensues. It’s a surprisingly limp riff on the original, with almost no attempt made to recreate the slow-building dread that made the original so frightening. Wingard and Barrett up the ante in the climax, but by then it’s too late, and the half-glimpses we get of the title monster are little compensation for the charmless slog that preceded it.
Don’t Breathe (R, ***1/2): Fede Alvarez writes and directs this nifty, claustrophobic horror movie about a trio of inept robbers (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto) who break into the home of a blind military veteran (Stephen Lang) in search of a promised stash of cash and find much more than they bargained for. Alvarez’s attempts to make the characters sympathetic mostly fail, but once he begins putting them through an hour’s worth of funhouse horrors it’s an awful lot of awful fun. Lang’s nameless blind man isn’t supernatural yet seems supernaturally capable of everything, transforming into a boogeyman somewhere between Saw’s Jigsaw killer and Jason Voorhees. He’s terrifically terrifying. Like Alvarez’s blood-drowned Evil Dead remake, this meaner, modern-day riff on Wait Until Dark even pushes the bounds of bad taste, but then that’s what movies like this are for.
< 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 were 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.
< 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.
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.
Sully (PG-13, ****): Clint Eastwood directs this solid, sometimes harrowing dramatization of the Miracle on the Hudson, when pilot Chesley Sullenberger became an overnight hero for his astonishing water landing of a failing passenger jet. Sully saved the lives of 155 people, turning him into America’s surrogate grandpa. Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki overcome the structural challenges of fashioning a movie around a single 209-second event by showing the crash-landing twice, once from multiple perspectives and then again at the end from the cockpit view of the movie’s publicity-averse hero (played nicely by Tom Hanks, perfectly cast). In between, Eastwood moves through time to show how Sully copes with the sudden fame and scrutiny from an improbably villainous Federal Aviation Administration review board. Though it never does much with supporting characters like Sully’s wife (Laura Linney) or his trusty copilot (Aaron Eckhart), the movie nicely captures what makes Sully the ideal American hero: a humble citizen who’s great at his job, and who knows all the rules but uses a dash of maverick ingenuity to transcend the boundaries of what we perceive as possible. The film is a fine, fitting tribute.
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.
Bridget Jones’s Baby (R): The third installment of the once wildly popular British rom-com series finds our heroine (Renée Zellweger) unexpectedly pregnant and torn between Darcy (Colin Firth) and a new bloke (Patrick Dempsey).
< The Disappointments Room (R): Not the designed backstage area for the Republican presidential primary contenders, but rather a spooky movie about a single mother (Kate Beckinsale) who buys a house with an attic full of untold horrors. Directed by the capable D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, The Salton Sea) and written by actor Wentworth Miller, who also scripted the underrated Stoker.
> The Hollars (PG-13): John Krasinski (The Office) directs and stars in this movie about a man who returns to his small hometown— and dysfunctional family— when his mother develops brain cancer. (Wissmann)
< 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)
> The Magnificent Seven (PG-13): Denzel Washington leads six other gunslingers in Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the American remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Washington partners up with Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke among others to stop evil businessman Peter Sarsgaard from terrorizing a small town.
< 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.
Snowden (R): The increasingly paranoid, digressive Oliver Stone directs this true tale of the National Security Agency whistleblower (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose release of thousands of documents shook up the American government. Featuring Zachary Quinto, Nicolas Cage, Shailene Woodley, Tom Wilkinson, and Melissa Leo.
> Storks (PG): Now consigned to delivering packages instead of people, a group of storks are confounded when tasked with bringing an actual baby home in this computer-animated family comedy featuring the voices of Andy Samberg, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Kelsey Grammer, Key and Peele, and more. From Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Nick Stoller.
When the Bough Breaks (PG-13): Thriller about a surrogate (Jaz Sinclair) who becomes fixated on the husband (Morris Chestnut) whose baby she’s carrying. Featuring Regina Hall, Romany Malco, Michael Kenneth Williams, and presumably a dog-eared script of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
The Wild Life (PG): Animated retelling of the story of Robinson Crusoe as told from the perspective of a parrot.