Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 9, 2017 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
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.
Manchester by the Sea (R, ****1/2): Kenneth Lonergan’s masterful portrait of grief and forgiveness is not the relentless bummer it’s rumored to be. Lonergan simply scours the dramatic conventions away from a familiar scenario to reveal its true form. But in taking away those cinematic milestones that guide us through the story, he leaves the audience alone, wandering through fraught territory. This gives tremendous power to a familiar scenario: Loner uncle Lee (Casey Affleck) must return home to care for his orphaned teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) following the death of Lee’s brother (Kyle Chandler). Writer/director Lonergan lets the situation play out with uncanny realism, revealing along the way moments of subtle but profound sadness, and also a lot of humor, even if much of it is of a darker variety. The real gut-punch comes from Lee’s backstory, revealed mostly in devastating flashback, where we learn what drove him away from town and his ex-wife (Michelle Williams). Near the end of the movie they share the best scene of 2016. Lonergan has done his best work yet, fusing the flawed ambition of Margaret with the richly satisfying humanity of his debut, You Can Count on Me.
Rings (PG-13, *): This plodding update of the Japanese-import horror franchise about a ghost that haunts a spooky video squanders a couple of neat ideas and a terrific opening sequence. Instead of straining toward daffy and demented, as it promises to at first, F. Javier Gutiérrez’s remake rushes back to dull familiarity. When a dopey college student (Alex Roe) gets entangled with a professor (Johnny Galecki) running a dangerous experiment with the cursed videotape, the bro and his credulous girlfriend (Matilda Lutz) retreat to a generically eerie northwestern town in search of the ghost’s origins. The nadir comes when our intrepid heroine is fleeing from a psychotic blind man, and her solution for escape is to turn off all the lights. Alas, it’s only this howlingly dumb in fits and starts, so it’s neither the fun B-movie it threatens to be early on, nor sublimely terrible.
< Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PG-13 , ***): The Disney assembly line is working at full force, now churning out Star Wars movies with the consistency of a tax bill. This is the first semi-standalone film in the series, a prequel that sits in the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope but follows a new set of characters, a ragtag set of non-Jedi space jocks. Felicity Jones is the hero here, Jyn, yet another orphan cajoled by ghosts of her past to get involved in a plot featuring the Death Star. In this case the planet-killing battle station was designed by her own father (Mads Mikkelsen), a scientist forced into servitude to the Empire by an evil middle manager (Ben Mendelsohn) who works for Darth Vader. Yep, Vader shows up, at least briefly, in two of the movie’s most interesting scenes. For a standalone movie, this effort from Monsters director Garth Edwards leans awfully heavily on references to the earlier movies (hey, there’s that guy we know!) to carry it through an exceptionally dull first hour and a half. The reward is a cool space battle that dispatches with a lot of characters whose names you’re hard pressed to learn in the first place.
Split (R, ****): M. Night Shyamalan doubles down on an overused potboiler premise to great effect in this nifty psychological thriller, which takes the hoary old multiple-personality disorder and cranks it up to eleven. Shyamalan turns this largely discredited condition into a kind of urban myth, which, according to a sympathetic psychologist (Betty Buckley) enables the afflicted to have mental control over their own physiology. Twenty-three personalities live inside the head of Kevin (James McAvoy), and several of them have conspired to kidnap three girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) for ominously mysterious purposes. McAvoy is stellar here, throwing subtlety to the wind but somehow never veering into camp while playing a whole host of characters menacing the hero (Taylor-Joy), a tremendously sympathetic character whose backstory gives the whole silly production serious emotional resonance. The result is a fun, frightening movie that’s almost straightforward by Shyamalan’s standards, although he does toss in an interesting final twist.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
The Comedian (R): Robert De Niro helped produce this film, in which he also stars, about a comic who is trying to escape the expectations of an audience who only remembers him as a young TV actor. A heck of a cast includes Leslie Mann, Cloris Leachman, Edie Falco, Jimmie Walker (maybe a little to on-the-nose in terms of casting), Gilbert Gottfried, Billy Crystal, Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito, and SIU alum Hannibal Buress. (Wissmann)
A Dog’s Purpose (PG): The story of a dog (voiced in internal monologue by Josh Gad) who finds multiple ways to connect with humans across several lifetimes. Yep, that’s right, you’re going to have to see a dog die multiple times, in a movie whose filmmakers allegedly abused the canine stars, which a video leaked to the internet purportedly shows them doing. Enjoy!
> Fifty Shades Darker (R): Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles in this sequel to the quickly fading fad based on a series of naughty books. BDSM abounds as she deals with his jealous ex-lovers and controlling mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Um... sexy?
< Gold (R): Matthew McConaughey stars as a modern-day prospector who teams up with a geologist (Édgar Ramirez) in an attempt to find hidden reserves of gold in the Indonesian jungle. Featuring Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, and Bill Camp, directed by Traffic and Syriana writer Stephen Gaghan.
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.
> John Wick: Chapter II (R): Star Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski, one-half of the original director duo team, return for this sequel to the improbably cool shoot ‘em up about a vengeful hitman. Now the title killer finds out someone has put a price on his head. Featuring Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, and Ruby Rose.
> The Lego Batman Movie (PG): A superhero spoof spun off the improbably successful Lego Movie. Here the egomaniacal, clueless Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) must juggle the responsibilities of crime-fighting and raising his new adopted son, Robin (Michael Cera). Featuring an anti-Trump protest’s worth of celebrities, including Rosario Dawson, Conan O’Brien, and Ralph Fiennes.
Lion (PG-13): As a result of a mistake, a child from the Indian countryside ends up in the city of Calcutta. As an adult, he attempts to find his way home to his birth family. Nominated for six Oscars. (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): 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.
< 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.
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.
The Space Between Us (PG-13): Sci-fi love story about a blooming romance between a boy (Asa Butterfield) living alone on Mars, sharing a long-distance relationship with an earthbound girl (Britt Robertson). Featuring Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino, and B.D. Wong.
< 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)