Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 17, 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 a 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, helps keep it credible-seeming, at least in the moment before you actually stop to think about it.
Arrival (PG- 13, *****): This thoughtful, deliberately paced sci-fi masterpiece has a rare balance of cerebral concepts and character-based emotional impact. Amy Adams stars as a linguist tasked with the nearly impossible challenge of communicating with decidedly unhumanoid alien beings when they land twelve spacecrafts at different points around the earth. Standout director Denis Villeneuve dives right into the premise, but takes a deliberate approach to make a procedural film, both in terms of speculative first-contact protocol and linguistic puzzle. The result is a brilliantly acted, beautifully stylized story that earns its every heady conceit and pays off every startling twist. Costars Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg are fine, but this is the Adams and Villeneuve show, pretty much perfectly realizing a terrific adaptation of a short story from acclaimed writer Ted Chiang. One of the year’s true can’t-miss movies.
Doctor Strange (PG- 13, ****): Marvel Studios exhibit an impressive amount of quality control over their films, but sometimes that control feels like constriction. Here director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) manages to create a unique riff on the superhero story within Marvel’s own proscribed formula. The result is bolder visually than narratively, but it a compelling story dazzlingly told. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Dr. Stephen Strange, a self-obsessed neurosurgeon whose hands are badly damaged in a car accident. His search for a cure leads him to an ancient mystic (Tilda Swinton) who welcomes him into a secret school for sorcerers, where he trains to stop wayward pupil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) from accessing the power of a larger, darker cosmic force. Derrickson upends the traditional superhero fight spectacles by having his heroes and villains fight with reality itself, distorting the world around them and defying perspective in sequences of dazzling splendor. It’s weird, thrilling stuff actually enhanced by 3D, which so often is a cynical excuse to inflate ticket prices. Not so here. Come for the wonderful visuals, stay for solid performances from ace superhero Cumberbatch and grade-A villain Mikkelsen, plus nice turns from supporting players including Chiwetel Ejiofer, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and even a brief turn from Michael Stuhlbarg.
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.
Hacksaw Ridge (R, ***1/2): Mel Gibson’s gory but old-fashioned war film is a grim, bloody homage to the powers of peace and grace. Only such a profoundly conflicted director as Gibson could attempt such a confounding thing, much less pull it off so well. He turns the real-life story of war hero, Army medic, and conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) into a series of familiar war-movie styles— love story interrupted by the Big One, basic-training coming-of-age story, courtroom drama, Stage Door Canteen sketch, and ultimately a meat grinder of a combat narrative. Among Gibson’s elegant but near apocalyptic scenes of carnage and suffering runs pacifist hero Doss, saving the lives of his fellow soldiers on a contested bit of land in Okinawa. Garfield is good, the ensemble is strong, and Gibson is as artful as ever in his panoramas of punishment— but here, perhaps inspired by the truly courageous Doss, he finds a little more light at the end of that long, dark tunnel. Featuring Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn, and Sam Worthinton.
< Inferno (PG-13, 1/2*): The ill-advised third installment in Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series is the worst by far. Starting with The Da Vinci Code, the bright lights on the big screen have always revealed the gaudiest flaws in Brown’s daffy bestsellers, even in the capable hands of craftsman Howard. This is the nadir, when not even the zany art-history puzzles gruff academic Langdon (Tom Hanks) solves have any zip; at one point, the villain just handwrites a quote directly onto a painting, and nobody notices it for awhile. Here Langdon is solving an implausibly complex series of riddles based around the life and work of the poet Dante, all to stop a dead billionaire (Ben Foster) from posthumously releasing a deadly plague to even out the Earth’s overpopulation problem. Felicity Jones is the latest dainty, disposable foreign-born brunette to run alongside Langdon while he solves mysteries. She’s given more to do than predecessors Audrey Tautou and Ayelet Zurer, but that doesn’t turn out to be a good thing. Only Irrfan Khan’s brief turn as morally dubious man also on the hunt for the virus is worth watching.
< Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PG-13, *1/2): In the second adaptation of Lee Child’s delightful thriller series, Tom Cruise returns, intriguingly miscast, as a hulking brute of a former soldier with a wandering ascetic’s soul. Alas, director Christopher McQuarrie does not, replaced by the blander-than-bland Edward Zwick, and the results are crushingly benign. Reacher ventures to Washington, D.C. to meet in person with a sexy lady soldier (Cobie Smulders) who took over his old job. When he finds she’s been locked up in a military prison, he breaks a few dozen laws to spring her out, and they go on the lam to uncover a conspiracy within the army that led to her arrest. All the while, they’re forced to look out for a teen girl (Danika Yarosh) who is possibly Reacher’s estranged daughter. The makeshift nuclear family of flinty soldiers and a resourceful semihomeless girl lacks the appeal Zwick seems to think it might have, especially in a film so bereft of significant character detail. What it lacks in writing, it doesn’t make up for in staging, plodding along with a series of obligatory car chases and shootouts, none of which even begins to get the blood pumping.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Allied (R): Brad Pitt stars as an intelligence officer during World War II who is forced to investigate his wife (Marion Cotillard) isn’t a German spy. Featuring Jared Harris and Lizzy Caplan, directed by the hit-and-miss Robert Zemeckis.
Almost Christmas (PG-13): Writer/director David Talbert’s dramedy about a dysfunctional family reuniting for Thanksgiving after the death of their matriarch features Gabrielle Union, Danny Glover, Jessie Usher, J.B. Smoove, Omar Epps, and Mo’Nique.
> Bleed for This (R): The true story of boxer Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), who recovered from a near-paralyzing car crash to return to the ring. Featuring Ciaran Hinds, Katey Sagal, Aaron Eckhart, and Christine Evangelista.
> The Edge of Seventeen (R): True Grit standout Hailee Steinfeld stars in this dramedy about a high schooler who makes a new friend (Hayden Szeto) when her best pal (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her brother. Featuring Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PG-13): The first of a bazillion-part series of Harry Potter prequels/sequels/adjacent movies, this one following a wizardly writer (Eddie Redmayne) as he explores magic in America. Featuring Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Ron Perlman, Samantha Morton, and Ezra Miller.
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).
Shut In (PG-13): Naomi Watts stars as a psychologist haunted by the spirit of a lost boy in a remote New England house. Featuring Oliver Platt.
< 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.
Trolls (PG): This computer-animated kiddie comedy based on the wild-haired dolls that topped a lot of pencils circa 1994 features the voices of Anna Kendrick, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani, and Jeffrey Tambor.
< 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.