Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 28, 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.
> 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.
Jackass 3-D (R, **1/2): The opening song for the third theatrical Jackass movie is Twisted Sister's "The Kids Are Back"-- something of a misnomer considering that star Johnny Knoxville is almost forty and the youngest member of the crew has crossed the rubicon into his thirties. Their stunts are still sometimes impressively creative, and they still conjure laughs from lowbrow grossouts and rampant nut shots. But there's only so many ways you can abuse your friends' genitals, apparently, so the whole enterprise feels repetitive. The 3D adds some gloss that also takes away from the punk do-it-yourself spirit of the initial MTV series. You can hardly accuse the boys of selling out their artistic integrity, but the schtick is wearing thin. In 3D and 2D versions.
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.
Paranormal Activity II (R, ***1/2): The improbable followup to Oren Peli's low-fi horror hit follows the template of the original closely, for both good and ill. It's a prequel, featuring the early adventures of the doomed Katie (Katie Featherston) and her sister, Christy (Sprague Grayden), the latter of whom lives with her skeptical husband and stepdaughter in a swanky suburban home that seems haunted. It is, of course, and the security cameras they set up capture a much more audacious set of supernatural goings on than the squeaking doors and weird shadows of the first installment. The end result is a handful of solid scares but an inability to recapture the mounting intensity of the original, all leading up to a climax that's interesting in relation to the first movie but disappointing overall. Still, this is scarier than almost any given horror movie, and even with amped-up effects and a slightly faster pace, it remains an impressive, small-scale bit of fun.
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.
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).
> Saw VII 3D (R): The seventh-- that's right, seventh-- installment of this wheezing, vapid franchise promises to be the finale, so cross your severed fingers. The survivors of the various sequels ban together to get help from a shrink (Sean Patrick Flanery) who turns out to have some dark secrets of his own. And there are some traps and some gore and probably Tobin Bell's recorded voice. Stop the madness. Only available in the 2D version.
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.