Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 8, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Allied (R, ***1/2): In this throwback pleasure, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard costar as Max and Marianne, World War II-era spies who fall in love when they’re assigned to play a married couple for an assassination plot in North Africa. (Specifically, in Casablanca, nudge-nudge.) They move back to England to raise their young daughter, only to be followed by the war— Max’s commanding officer (Jared Harris) informs him that Marianne is suspected of being a German double agent. Max has only a few days to stage an impromptu investigation to clear her name. As a thriller, director Robert Zemeckis’s film moves slowly, but that slow-to-idle pace is part of its appeal. Zemeckis lets the romance breathe, which is a wise choice in a film where the central characters— and two vastly appealing leads— are more intriguing than the fairly straightforward plot. A few solid supporting players circle their orbit, including Lizzy Caplan and Matthew Goode, but the relationship between Max and Marianne outstrips the wartime bombast.
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.
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
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.
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) tries to use science, not theology, to drive a stubborn demon from a young boy. (Wissmann)
> Miss Sloane (R): Jessica Chastain stars as an Olivia Pope-style political fixer— or is she a stand in for Trump campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway? Either way, look for an exploration about (a)morality in politics. (Wissmann)
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)
> Nocturnal Animals (R): When a man writes a violent thriller, his ex-wife interprets it as a threat. Starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. (Wissmann)
> Office Christmas Party (R): A group of office employees stage a massive Christmas bash to woo a client and save the company in this comedy featuring Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, T.J. Miller, Jason Bateman, and more.
< 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).
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.