Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 10, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Birth of a Nation (R, ***1/2): Nate Parker’s dramatization of the Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion is an artistically uneven but historically and cinematically significant debut. The director and cowriter also stars as Turner, a fieldhand and preacher who rallied fellow slaves in a two-day uprising that killed more than fifty-five white men, women, and children and resulted in the retaliatory murders of hundreds more African Americans. As a director, Parker is occasionally given to hokey montages and bumbled pacing, but he also creates some haunting images. Many of the movie’s most devastating scenes are its subtlest, like the one in which a little white girl leads a playfully skipping black child by a rope around the neck, unaware of the horrible reality they’re simulating. Moments like these serve to underscore both the historical significance and brutal context of Turner’s rebellion. Alas, he also gives in to the too-easy Hollywood tradition of turning the movie into a revenge fantasy, and curiously rushes through the rebellion itself after doing such a fine job building the tension toward it. The movie is a fascinating intersection of ideas and agendas that’s often deeply problematic, but worth trying to sort out.
Deepwater Horizon (PG-13, ***1/2): Peter Berg directs this dramatization of the disaster aboard the now-infamous drilling rig that led to the catastrophic, months-long British Petroleum oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico. Rather than ghoulishly transform a real-life disaster into a thriller, though, Berg goes deep into the mechanics of deepwater drilling and the particulars of life aboard a massive, floating rig that can house more than one-hundred workers. That attention to detail is not only oddly compelling itself, but it makes the series of shortcuts and calamities that lead to Deepwater’s destruction clear and cogent. The narrative is confined to the day of the disaster, with ship captain “Mister Jimmy” (Kurt Russell) leading a group of rig workers (including Mark Wahlberg, Gina Rodriguez, and Dylan O’Brien) in an effort to save their friends— and then themselves. It’s harrowing stuff that doesn’t feel exploitative, even if Berg is prone to a bit of Michael Bay-esque military fetishism and disaster porn. The film not only points toward the subsequent environmental ruin but points fingers at sleazy BP execs, like the one played by John Malkovich. It’s a fairly rare movie that’s simultaneously informative, thrilling, and humane.
< 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.
The Magnificent Seven (PG-13, *1/2): This historical revisionist remake reimagines the classic Western story (adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s classic Eastern story) as a multiethnic shoot ‘em up. Denzel Washington leads a crew of six other killer cowboys (including Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) to help save a town from a nefarious mine owner (Peter Sarsgaard). The only novelty to this otherwise handsome but tiresome conventional Western is director Antoine Fuqua’s intentional misremembering of history, where racial conflicts were mild enough that a black guy could lead a Korean, a Mexican, a Native American, and a trio of kooky white guys without anyone much noticing. Fuqua seems intent on repurposing iconography long denied non-whites both because of historical verisimilitude and Hollywood prejudice. It turns the film’s overall blandness into a kind of statement unto itself— but it’s still pretty bland. The question remains: Does Fuqua’s intentional warping of history yield worthy enough results to justify the perils of wishful misremembering?
< Snowden (R, ***1/2): Brash stylist Oliver Stone tones down the aesthetic intensity and twitchy paranoia in this dramatization of the classified-document dump by national-security whistleblower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Stone’s relative calm transforms into commanding restraint that ultimately helps him sell the very valid paranoia over the government overreaches that slowly turned Snowden from dutiful patriot to a man chased across the globe by his own country. Stone’s handsome, crisply paced biopic restores the humanity to what has become a larger, more abstract national debate, reminding us of the personal toll and intimate consequences of American policy. He traces Snowden’s path through the military and ultimately private contracting, where along the way he’s influenced by an ominous father figure (Rhys Ifans), a disgruntled technophile (Nicolas Cage), and his plucky liberal girlfriend (Shailene Woodley). It’s not as luridly thrilling as Stone at his most sublimely kooky— for sheer fun, go back and watch his recent drug-running shoot-’em-up Savages— but it’s a compelling case deftly made, one that doesn’t drag along like cinematic homework.
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
> The Accountant (R): A socially awkward math genius (Ben Affleck) is a killer with a calculator and a rifle, working for his mob-connected family in director Gavin O’Connor’s thriller. Featuring Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Lithgow.
The Girl on the Train (R): Adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s Gone Girl-lite mystery novel about an alcoholic (Emily Blunt) who suspects foul play involved in a dispute between a couple she habitually spies on through a train window. Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Haley Bennett, Lisa Kudrow, and Allison Janney costar.
Masterminds (PG-13): Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess helms this comedy about a bumbling guard (Zach Galifianakis) of an armored car who decides to pull an inside job to steal a load of cash. Featuring Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Owen Wilson, and Kate McKinnon.
> Max Steel (PG-13): A teenager (Ben Winchell) must bond with an alien suit in order to control the powerful energy he can harness in this off-brand superhero movie featuring Maria Bello and Andy Garcia.
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (PG): Kiddie comedy about a pre-teen (Griffin Gluck) who teams up with his friend in an effort to break every single rule at their repressive middle school. Featuring Lauren Graham, Rob Riggle, and Andy Daly.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (PG-13): Tim Burton directs this adaptation of Ransom Riggs’s popular young-adult novel about a haven for mysteriously powerful children and their place in a larger, mind-bending conflict. Like spooky twee X-Men. Starring Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp, and Allison Janney.
< 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.
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.