Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 21, 2010 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
For more film reviews and capsules, see the Nightlife section of
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
< The American (R, ****): Anton Corbijn's debut feature film, based on Martin Booth's Graham Green-esque novel A Very Private Gentleman, is equally evocative of paranoid 1970s conspiracy thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and the Parallax View and meditative European fare of the era, notably Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger. Our distant, chilly hero, an assassin who calls himself Jack (George Clooney), and later Edward, faces disastrous consequences of his never-explained actions in Sweden, and must flee to the Italian countryside to hide out. He befriends a priest (Paolo Bonacelli), hires a prostitute (Violante Placido), and takes on a small job making a sniper rifle for a beautiful and mysterious woman (Thekla Reuten), but his real goal is to escape his past. "You Americans think you can outrun history," the priest scolds, and he's right. This slow-paced, cerebral thriller's plot still packs a little bit of a punch, but mostly the movie is a character piece, and a stirring one thanks to Corbijn's patience, screenwriter Rowan Joffe's script, and a wonderful performance from leading man Clooney, who shows his range by playing the exact opposite of the delightful, motormouthed lunatics he takes on in Coen brothers' films.
< Case Thirty-nine (R, *): If the first thirty-eight cases didn't convince you that René e Zellweger sucks, this one ought to do the trick. The inexplicably shiny-faced, squinty-eyed actress brings her trademark awkward line readings and narrow range to this wildly underconceived horror movie about a social worker (Zellweger) who rescues a little girl (Jodelle Ferland) from an abusive home. But when people around our half-wit heroine start dying, she begins to suspect that the girl's parents may have known something important about their spooky tot. Only the presence of supporting players Ian McShane (Deadwood) and Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica, Californication) make this plodding half-effort intermittently bearable. A few murky ideas filched from classic Twilight Zone episodes does not a movie make. Also featuring the ever-smarmy Bradley Cooper.
< Devil (PG-13, ***): This silly but entertaining horror flick isn't quite high concept— more like medium concept, at best. Five strangers (Geoffrey Arend, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, and Jenny O'Hara) are trapped in an elevator together, and one of them happens to be Satan himself. A police detective (Chris Messina) must figure out how to free them before Mean Mister Mephistopheles turns them against each other and leaves them all for dead. M. Night Shyamalan cooked up the delightfully preposterous premise, but thankfully he doesn't direct. As a consequence, the movie has a better sense of its own absurdity, and at just more than eighty minutes of running time it plays like the overlong episode of The Twilight Zone that it is. It's a nice apé ritif for the Halloween season.
Easy A (PG-13, ***1/2): This broadly appealing teen comedy in the vein of Clueless and Mean Girls is a riff on, not a retelling of, The Scarlet Letter. The even more broadly appealing Emma Stone stars as Olive, a straight arrow who pretends to sleep around with closeted gay guys and nerds to help them better their reputations. But she feels the backlash of her fake sexual liberation when she's ostracized from her friends, castigated by her teachers, and targeted by a group of evangelical Christians (led by Amanda Bynes). This saucy look at hypocrisy, teen sex, and double-standards is occasionally too quirky for its own good, but the Gilmore Girls-style rapid-fire banter and a winning performance from star Stone make this teen girl-centric movie accessible to a wider audience. Funny stuff, and smart to boot. More Emma Stone, please. Also featuring Thomas Haden Church, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, and Lisa Kudrow.
< Let Me In (R, ***): A solid remake of Tomas Alfredson's Swedish film, Let the Right One In. Both adaptations are slavishly devoted to the exceptional novel, written by John Avjide Lindqvist, though the American version dispenses with one of the book's weirder twists— and to its credit, as the Swedish version, though superior, is a bit confusing. Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as a lonely young boy who befriends his strange neighbor, a girl who looks twelve (Kick Ass's Chloë Moretz) but is in fact an ages-old vampire. This is an atypical vampire story, though, with much of the horror focused on our tiny blood sucker's murderous companion and the spooky implications of the characters' relationships, even if ultimately the American version leans heavier on the gore. When it borrows shots from Alfredson's eerier original, it at least steals them well. An excellent start to the Halloween season.
Life as We Know It (PG-13, *1/2): Alternately weird and formulaic romantic dramedy in which the death of two young people and the orphaning of their child provide the catalyzing incident that unites a control-freak chef (Katherine Heigl) and a self-absorbed jock (Josh Duhamel, of Transformers) in sweet, sweet love. The shrewish Heigl and blandly affable hunk Duhamel are left with explicit instructions in the will of their mutual best friends to raise the orphan girl (played by three tiny triplets) in the dead people's house, prompting much clucking from the suburban housewives and a succession of familiar parenting-is-hard-but-oh-so-rewarding comedies. The watchable but overwhelmingly bland tearjerker, directed by TV producer Greg Berlanti, keeps trying to pay homage to the somber subject matter yet escape the gravity of the situation to focus on the romance, which is not tact as we know it.
My Soul to Take (R, 1/2*): Horrormeister Wes Craven falls embarrassingly low in this unpardonable mess of a teen-slasher movie, which fails at nearly every conceivable level: It's both convoluted and overly simplistic, poorly acted, atrociously written, derivative, dull, and funny in all the wrong places. Seven kids born the night a generic serial killer died (or did he?) are stalked on their shared sixteenth birthday— but is one of them the killer? By the time the exposition-heavy first half-hour is over, it's impossible to imagine caring. Even the kill scenes are uninventive in this embarrassment, and the superfluous 3D retrofitted onto the movie only serves to force viewers to watch this utter failure through stupid-looking glasses. One of the worst films of 2010. In the 2D version only.
< The Other Guys (PG-13, ***): Will Ferrell reteams with his Anchorman co-conspirator Adam McKay for his funniest movie in quite awhile. The premise is paper-thin parody fodder— a pair of incompetent, desk-bound cops (Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) attempt to break a major case and replace fallen supercop heroes (Samuel Jackson and Dwayne "Do You Smell the Supporting Performance the Rock Is Cooking?" Johnson). But director McKay opts out of the genre riffing that turned this year's Cop Out into a snooze and instead packs his film with enough clever sketch concepts and running gags to keep it consistently funny. Wahlberg isn't much help as a hotheaded screwup, but Ferrell does solid work as a paper-pusher whose secret past has equipped him with the skills for the streets. Michael Keaton reminds us how funny he can be as the atypically soft-spoken police captain. Also featuring Steve Coogan and Eva Mendes.
Red (PG-13, ***): This pandering, bloodless action-comedy about retired CIA agents banding together for one last big mission should by all accounts be god-awful, but a crazily stacked cast (Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Brian Cox— in a movie together?), a peppy script from brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber, and jaunty direction courtesy of Robert Schwentke— but mostly just the cast— make it big, frivolous fun. Bruce Willis stars as a retired agent who becomes a target of his former employers as a bureaucratic measure; he teams up with long-distance would-be-girlfriend Mary-Louise Parker and goes on the run, reuniting with his deadly colleagues (the aforementioned acting legends) to trade quips and turn the tables on younger assassins in the most brutal possible way that does not earn an R rating. Malkovich is especially good as the paranoid subject of a prolonged government-sponsored mind-control experiment, and even when the movie hits its too-familiar beats, it does so with a wry smirk that excuses the misfires.
The Social Network (PG-13, ****1/2): David Fincher knocks the zeitgeist in this wry, often darkly compelling tale of the inception of Facebook. An off-his-ass good Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of perhaps the biggest hotspot on the internet. Here we see him as a student at Harvard, confounded by his inability to connect with the student body at large, particularly the appealing student body of actress Rooney Mara. He invents Facebook as a campus-wide phenomenon and, assisted by his best friend (Andrew Garfield) and eventually the creator of Napster (Justin Timberlake), takes it global, but loses something along the way— or perhaps fails to ever attain it. The script by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men) is razor sharp, and Fincher matches it with breathtaking imagery and a round of performances mostly unmatched so far this year. The movie, like the book it's based on, seems to play a little loose with the facts, but when it falters in accuracy it excels in artfulness.
The Town (R, ***1/3): Ben Affleck cowrites, directs, and stars in this sharp, action-heavy crime drama about the son of a convicted bank robber who now runs his own crew with his hotheaded best friend (Jeremy Renner). During a robbery gone wrong, they take a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage, and she becomes the only one who can identify them. Instead of killing her, Affleck's morally conflicted crook strikes up a relationship with her and begins manipulating her testimony to the FBI agent on the case (Jon Hamm). The film tips a little too far toward action as it nears its climax, prioritizing cordite over character, but it's scintillating action for sure, and the movie still packs a dramatic punch. Chris Cooper nearly steals the show in a single scene as Affleck's incarcerated father. Affleck impressive directorial sophomore effort also features Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, and Titus Welliver.
< Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13, ****): Oliver Stone's sequel to his 1987 morality play about white-collar crooks and the men who idolize them is almost as improbable as a follow-up to JFK, but it works surprisingly well. Michael Douglas is in top form, returning as Gordon Gekko, recently released after an eight-year prison stint resulting from the events of the first movie. His son-in-law to be, Jake (Shia LeBeouf), is also a money man, and he seeks Gekko's advice on how to avenge the undoing of his mentor (Frank Langella) at the hands of one of Gordon's old foes (Josh Brolin). Gekko here is like Schwarzenegger turned against Skynet in Terminator II, a villain turned avenger, but can he ever be trusted? Stone's latest is occasionally heavy-handed— no surprise there— and it cops out with a preposterous, too-positive ending, but it nicely captures the rapid decline of good sense and even the vaguest sense of morality in the financial sector. It's both thematically and dramatically relevant. The effervescent Carey Mulligan shines as Gekko's good-hearted daughter, and Brolin is wonderfully loathsome.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Hereafter (PG-13): It's the afterlife by way of Alejandro Gonzá lez Iñ á rritu, in which an American with psychic abilities (Matt Damon) is connected to a French journalist and an English boy. Clint Eastwood directs this globe-hopping meditation on the great beyond, written by Peter Morgan (The Queen).
< I Want Your Money (PG): A right-wing propaganda flick about the terrible oppression faced by the wealthy during the age of Obama. Porn for teabaggers. (Wissmann)
Jackass 3-D (R): At long last, the technology finally exists to capture the scope and visual nuance of Johnny Knoxville and his crew of pranksters falling off stuff, hitting each other, and wallowing about in excrement. In 3D and 2D versions.
< Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (PG): This family friendly computer-animated fable about a new recruit in an army of brainwashed soldier owls is improbably helmed by Three-hundred and Watchmen director Zack Snyder. Featuring the voices of Abbie Cornish, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, and Sam Neill. Available only in the 2D version.
> Paranormal Activity II (R): The artistically unlikely but financially inevitable sequel to the nifty 2009 (that's last year, if you're counting) original. This time around, a couple with a newborn child suspect a series of break-ins in their home and set up cameras, then discover... well, if you saw the first one, you can probably guess. Katie Featherston returns.
Secretariat (PG): The inspiring story of the inspiring horse who won the Triple Crown, inspiring his own movie. Inspiring. Featuring Diane Lane, John Malkovich, and James Cromwell, as well as some horses.
< You Again (PG-13): A successful businesswoman (Kristen Bell) returns home for her brother's wedding only to find out that he's marrying her high-school nemesis (Odette Yustman). Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis costar as the girls' similarly rivalrous mothers, and Betty White also shows up, because that's just what happens now.