Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 19, 2017 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Fences (R, ****): Denzel Washington and Viola Davis costarred in a revival of August Wilson’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play on Broadway. Now Washington himself adapts that production for the screen. Washington stars as Troy, a charismatic former baseball player slightly too old to play in the Majors following Jackie Robinson’s desegregation. The former ne’er-do-well Troy has mostly settled down and made a life for himself, providing possibilities to his two sons (Jovan Adepo and Russell Hornsby) that he never had. But he can’t shake the resentment of his own stolen opportunities, and he chafes against the confines of the past. He can’t reconcile his true legacy with the one he dreamed about, which puts him at odds with his obliging wife Rose (Davis). Troy’s inner conflicts play out in his relationships with his sons, the youngest of whom has the athletic opportunity he could only dream of. There’s also Troy’s relationships with his best pal Bono (Stephen Henderson), Rose, and his older brother (Mykelti Williamson), who was gravely wounded in the war. Washington’s understandable fidelity to the source material keeps him from making the kind of minor alterations that might have helped make his adaptation feel more like a film and less like a stage piece filmed from several different angles, but the acting is phenomenal and the story is a timeless classic.
La La Land (PG-13, ****): Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle infuses the old-fashioned musical with a twist of modernity in this unapologetic song-and-dance romance. Emma Stone’s wide-eyed wannabe actress finds love with Ryan Gosling’s stubborn jazz pianist, but the trajectories of their careers in the capricious world of showbiz threatens to pull them apart. After the big opening number, an impressively staged citywide singoff during a traffic jam, the music remains consistently pleasing but never especially memorable. The romantic storyline is the movie’s really catchy hook. It’s a straightforward, pretty gimmick-less love story that excels on the strength of deeply felt emotion and pretty much perfect casting. Stone and Gosling have fantastic natural chemistry. They’re immensely appealing separately and even more so together, where Stone’s brass and pluck pair perfectly with Gosling’s odd balance of clumsy and suave. Yes, it’s a self-congratulatory ode to the already self-obsessed, and the hero is a white guy who thinks that the only reason people don’t love jazz is they haven’t heard the right jazz. But it’s worth it for the surfeit of romance— in the tunes, the setting, the cinematography— and a terrific love story with real emotional resonance.
Patriots Day (R, ****): Peter Berg directs this sturdy ensemble drama about the hours before and after the Boston Marathon bombings. Mark Wahlberg leads the cast as Tommy, a vaguely cantankerous but otherwise sinless Boston cop who is present for the bombing as well as key moments during the subsequent manhunt. He’s at his best playing blue-collar bros, as in his earlier Berg collaboration this year, Deepwater Horizon— surprisingly plausible given his previous “Good Vibrations” credentials. But screentime is divvied up among a wide cast of characters that includes other cops (J.K. Simmons, John Goodman), runners and well-wishers caught in the bomb’s blast (Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea), Federal Bureau of Investigation investigators (Kevin Bacon), a Chinese immigrant forced into the pursuit at gunpoint (Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Yang), and the bombers themselves (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze). Berg takes a removed, semi-documentary approach. He carefully orders the individual events, then weaves between the stories with little comment, his nominally dispassionate display of events colored in by our own awareness and allegiance. It’s understandably reverent, but a little stifled by that same admiration. Still, Berg has crafted a taut drama that captures the intensity of the events without exploiting them for thrills, and in its best moments Patriots Day captures the breadth of Boston as a city and the intricate mechanics of its various parts all working toward the common good.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
The Bye Bye Man (PG-13): Horror flick about three friends who discover the titular Bye Bye Man (Doug Jones, known in Australia as the G’Day G’Day Man), a demonic figure who compels people to do evil low-budget stuff. Featuring Faye Dunaway, Carrie-Anne Moss, Saw writer Leigh Whannell, and the best worst title in a long time.
Hidden Figures (PG): Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monae costar in this true historical tale about the unheralded African American women whose mathematical formulas helped NASA first venture into space. Also featuring Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, and Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali.
Live by Night (R): Ben Affleck directs and stars this adaptation of another Dennis Lehane novel, this time as a Prohibition-era gangster caught in a gangland conflict that stretches from Boston to Florida. Featuring Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana, and Chris Cooper.
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.
> Monster Trucks (PG): Live-action/animation combination that seems pretty self-descriptive— except that instead of being vehicles (Herbie, Transformers), the beasts lurk within them. (Wissmann)
< Moonlight (R): Writer/director Barry Jenkins’s stirring coming-of-age tale about a young African American boy (Ashton Sanders) coming to terms with his sexuality and the tough Miami neighborhood where he’s raised. Featuring Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, and Andre Holland.
< A Monster Calls (PG-13): A young boy (Lewis MacDougall) whose mother (Felicity Jones) is dying conjures up a tree monster to help him deal with the loss in this handsomely rendered bummer of a fable written by Patrick Ness.
< Passengers (PG-13): Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt costar in this sci-fi romance about civilian space travelers inadvertently taken out of cryogenic hyper-sleep decades too soon. How will they pass the time?
< Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (R): Promise? Seriously, you swear this is the last installment of the videogame-inspired horror-action franchise in which gun-toting babe Milla Jovovich battles the monstrous legion of an evil corporation after the apocalypse. So, promise: No takebacksies.
> The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (PG): Christian-themed film about a former child star forced to perform community service in a church, where he joins a theatrical production and redeems himself. (Wissmann)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PG-13): Felicity Jones leads a stacked cast as a Rebel pilot working to steal design plans for the Death Star in this prequel that fits in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Featuring Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, and Forest Whitaker, directed by Gareth Edwards.
Sing (PG): Computer-animated animals stage a singoff to save their struggling theater in this paean to pandering featuring the voices of most of Hollywood, including Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, and Seth MacFarlane.
Sleepless (R): Jamie Foxx stars as a crooked cop coerced into pulling a heist to save his kidnapped son, all under the nose of a suspicious fellow cop (Michelle Monaghan). Featuring Dermot Mulroney, Gabrielle Union, and Scoot McNairy.
> Split (R): In the latest thriller by M. Night Shyamalan, a man (James McAvoy) kidnaps three girls, who must try to bargain in different ways with his multiple personalities. (Wissmann)
> Trespass Against Us (R): After a failed robbery, a criminal (Michael Fassbender) must flee not only the police but his own criminal father. (Wissmann)
> xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (PG-13): Vin Diesel returns to the action series that originally tried to position the title character as an American answer to James Bond. (Wissmann)