Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 11, 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.
Due Date (R, ***1/2): What is essentially a slightly filthier, wilder update of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is both funnier and more affecting than it has any right to be thanks to the huge amount of talent shared between leads Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis's clueless Ethan is a would-be actor looking to trek from Atlanta to Los Angeles to become a star, and also spread his father's ashes along the way. His ineptitude causes him to ruin the travel plans of a hot-tempered businessman (Downey) trying to get back to his imminently expecting wife (Michelle Monaghan). The two embark on a zany roadtrip punctuated with outlandish set pieces and goofy guest stars (Danny McBride, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, RZA), but it's the quiet moments and zippy dialogue between the stars that make this fast-paced comedy sing.
< 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.
< Hereafter (PG-13, *): Clint Eastwood tries to riff on Alejandro Gonzá lez Iñ á rritu and comes up lacking in this airless, plodding, trite examination of the afterlife that spans the globe, not to mention nearly two-and-a-half hours. Matt Damon costars as a psychic who can communicate with the dead; he's inevitably going to hook up with a TV journalist whose near-death experience convinced her to investigate the great beyond (Cé cile De France) and a British foster child (identical twins Frankie and George McLaren) seeking to communicate with his dead brother. The movie offers no insight outside of blandly comforting, generic notions of heaven, a pan-religious place represented by a total lack of aesthetic. Instead, Eastwood traffics in his too-familiar misery, as though grimness is inherently redemptive. It's a slog.
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.
Megamind (PG, ***1/2): Will Ferrell provides the voice for the title character of this Superman spoof with a perspective shift. Metro Man (Brad Pitt) is at last bested by his arch nemesis, Megamind, but soon the bumbling villain finds himself bored without a rival. His attempt to create one leads to a disaster that causes him to question the nature of good and evil, and his allegiance to villainy. This is frivolous stuff, but it's fun, sporting some solid gags and kickass visuals that are enhanced not in the slightest by the superfluous 3D. Ferrell, Pitt, and costars Tina Fey and David Cross wring extra laughs out of an already sharp script. It's not quite The Incredibles, or even just incredible, but it's big fun.
< 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.
Saw VII 3D (R, Zero Stars): The worst film series of all time comes to a conclusion (or so I hope) in this entry, which is all but indistinguishable from the last five. A sleazy self-help guru (Sean Patrick Flanery) who profited off a book claiming he survived one of Jigsaw's (Tobin Bell) traps is put through the same bloody wringer as ever, and so are we. The series continues to side with the villains and advocate a neo-conservative worldview of moral purity achieved through massive bloodletting. If you watched any of these movies past the first installment (which actually bears little resemblance to the ugly sequels it spawned), you're worse off as a human being; I certainly am. In 2D only.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
For Colored Girls (R): Tyler Perry writes and directs this anthology film about African American women, featuring Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, and Loretta Devine, among others. Based on the play by Ntozake Shange.
> Conviction (R): One hell of a cast (Sam Rockwell, Hilary Swank, Juliette Lewis, Minnie Driver, Clea Duvall) join character-actor-turned-director Tony Goldwyn (best known for helming acclaimed TV series like Justified and Dexter, as well as less critically loved fare) in this true-crime story. When Betty Anne Waters's (Swank) older brother Kenny (Rockwell) is arrested for murder and sentenced to life in prison 1983, the little sister puts herself all the way through law school in an effort to free him. Eventually, the rise of DNA evidence might prove Kenny's innocence. (Wissmann)
> Morning Glory (PG-13): Rachel McAdams stars as a TV producer charged with reinvigorating a low-rated morning talkshow fronted by a pair of bickering hosts (Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton). Good Morning America gets the Broadcast News treatment, but without James Brooks. Also featuring Jeff Goldbum and Patrick Wilson.
< N-Secure (R): Independent film by novice director David M. Matthews that follows the Greek concept of a tragic fall-- a successful professional's bad romances lead to murder. (Wissmann)
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.
> Skyline (PG-13): Remember Independence Day? That's what this is, pretty much: Alien ships descend and wreak havoc on a city, and a few scrappy survivors attempt to fight back against the invasion.
> Unstoppable (PG-13): The dreadful Tony Scott directs this blue-collar action-hero movie about a pair of engineers (Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) who must team up to stop a runaway train full of chemicals from destroying a Pennsylvania town.