Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 1, 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.
Bad Santa II (R, 1/2*): The aggressively unnecessary sequel is nothing but an abysmal semi-approximation of a Christmas classic. Billy Bob Thornton returns as Willy Soke, a low-rent criminal with a high-octane alcohol problem who dons a Santa suit to stage holiday heists with his spiteful partner (Tony Cox). Neither the original writers nor director Terry Zwigoff return, so in their absence Mark Waters and his team of writers slavishly recreate nearly every setpiece and idea from the original yet somehow capture not one bit of the dark charm. Thornton and Cox are funny guys, and Kathy Bates gives a game performance as their new partner, Willy’s estranged mother, but they’re trapped inside a coldly mechanical plot that doesn’t even bother to dispense jokes out the other end after it grinds its actors through the gears. It’s a cynical take on cynicism itself, a jokeless slog, and a calculated cash-in that can barely be bothered to sell its secondhand comedy.
The Edge of Seventeen (R, ****): Kelly Fremon Craig writes and directs this excellent, impressively grounded dramedy that also serves as Hailee Steinfeld’s first great starring vehicle. Steinfeld is Nadine, a cynical loner who causes a rift when her only friend (Haley Lu Richardson) hooks up with Nadine’s hunky older brother (Blake Jenner). It’s a fairly low-key premise that Craig never expands into broad comedy or melodrama. Nadine’s journey of self-discovery is confined to her own small town, and her ultimate realization is both minor and deeply significant. Though the movie isn’t without pathos, Craig has a light touch and a flare for verbal barbs, which Steinfeld delivers with aplomb. She’s aided by a strong supporting cast that includes Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick. It’s terrific for teens tired of being condescended to, and other moviegoers sick of the same treatment.
< 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.
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.
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.
> Incarnate (PG-13): An exorcist (Aaron Eckhart) must drive a demon from a young boy. (Wissmann)
< 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).
Moana (PG): In this Hawaiian-set animated flick from Disney, a Chieftain’s daughter (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) must go on a journey to end an ancient Polynesian curse. Featuring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk, and Jemaine Clement.
> Moonlight (R): A drug dealer takes a gay child under his wing in a three-act film that follows the young man into adulthood. (Wissmann)
> Rules Don’t Apply (PG-13): Warren Beatty returns to the screen— and behind the camera— for the first time in a decade and a half with this historical drama about a pair of young Hollywood hopefuls (Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich) caught in a web woven by their boss, the notorious billionaire Howard Hughes (Beatty).
< 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.
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.