Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 20, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Accountant (R, ***): Director Gavin O’Connor juggles an enormous number of characters and storylines in bringing to the screen Bill Dubuque’s overheated script, but he does it with enough confidence that it always seems like it’s going somewhere even when it’s going everywhere. Ben Affleck stars as an on-the-spectrum accountant who dabbles in the occasional assassination or murder. When he’s hired by bigwigs (Jean Smart, John Lithgow) at medical-tech company to find out if an employee is stealing millions, he’s swept up into a deadly financial conspiracy. Meanwhile, a top treasury agent (J.K. Simmons) conducts an investigation to find the mystery accountant’s real identity. The crazily interwoven plotlines don’t make a ton of sense in retrospect, and screenwriter Dubuque adds too many sensational elements— including what’s essentially a superhero origin story— to story that was improbable enough to begin with. Affleck is compelling but not quite up to the difficult task of simultaneously masking and conveying emotion. But despite some major flaws, the movie is loopy fun, dumber than any smart thriller but smarter than most dumb action movies. The ace supporting cast, led by Simmons but also including Jon Bernthal and Anna Kendrick, help keep it credible-seeming, at least in the moment before you actually stop to think about it.
< 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.
The Girl on the Train (R, ***): Tate Taylor’s benignly handsome adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s novel (a Gone Girl-esque thriller, we’ll say charitably) retains most of book’s pulpy charm, but the lack of an interior voice to make the characters sympathetic leaves them inscrutable and unlikable for too long. By the time you find out that everything you know is wrong, you might not care. Emily Blunt is certainly fantastic as Rachel, an alcoholic rendered aimless in the wake of her divorce. When she’s not drunk-dialing her ex (Justin Theroux) or harassing his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson), she’s obsessing over their new neighbors, whose house she can see from her daily commuter train. When the woman (Haley Bennett) she’s voyeuristically fixated on disappears, Rachel begins to worry that information lost in her own drunken blackouts may hold the answers to the mystery. It’s lurid fun, the kind of tawdry drama for adults that rarely seems to get made anymore. The plot leans a little too heavy on coincidence, but the final half-hour yields several satisfying surprises.
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?
< 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
> Keeping up with the Joneses (PG-13): An affable middle-class couple (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) are swept up in a spy plot thanks to their secret-agent neighbors (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot).
> Kevin Hart: What Now? (R): The incredibly popular standup brings his comedy act to a sold-out football stadium, where it was captured for the big screen.
> Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PG-13): Tom Cruise returns in another installment based on Lee Child’s popular action-adventure novels. Here the heroic drifter returns to Washington, D.C. to come to the aid of a wrongly accused soldier (Cobie Smulders).
< 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.
> Ouija: Origin of Evil (PG-13): In this prequel to last year’s generic game-based horror flick, a fake psychic accidentally conjures real spirits with her planchette in 1967. Directed by Oculus’s Mike Flanagan.
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.
> Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween (PG-13): Tyler Perry writes, directs, stars, and Tyler Perrys as his geriatric drag persona battles ghosts and annoying relatives in a haunted house.