Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 18, 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.
> 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.
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.
Skyline (PG-13, *): Directors Colin and Greg, pretentiously billed as "The Brothers Strause," prove that modern-day effects wizards can do just about anything with a computer— anything, that is, except generate actual content. A slew of alien spaceships emerge from the green screen to menace Los Angeles, and an apartment complex filled with the best-looking actors a shoestring budget can buy must decide how to respond to the invasion. Eric Balfour not so ably leads a group featuring a couple likable TV star castaways (Donald Faison of Scrubs, who was good in the underrated Next Day Air, and David Zayas from Dexter) who make a series of obviously poor decisions that conveniently keep them inside a single set for most of the effects-heavy movie. The Cloverfield-meets-Independence Day ambitions are not entirely unadmirable, but the lackluster execution of everything that's not a computer-generated effect drains the movie of whatever thrills can be digitally conjured. (Even the effects, though, are just a hodgepodge of influences— predator robots from The Matrix, some lighting tricks from Spielberg, and the ship from District Nine.) This is just a reminder that even the battle for interplanetary superiority can be made boring in the wrong hands.
Unstoppable (PG-13, **): This Tony Scott film boasts of being based on a true story. Considering that it's about a runaway train that cannot be stopped, that means either the heroes stop the train, or there's still a runaway locomotive somewhere tearing through the countryside. The problem here isn't that the ending is pretty obvious; costars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine have a good enough rapport that it's easy to be content to just watch them interact. Washington's old-timer railcar driver is about to be forcibly retired, while Pine's well-connected conductor is consumed with his crumbling home life. The two must form an instant bond in able to team up and stop a runaway train packed with deadly chemicals from jumping the tracks and destroying a working-class Pennsylvania city. Scott shoehorns an interesting story into a too-familiar format that causes some serious logical dissonance (Pine's wife and kid rush to what seems to be the site of the imminent deadly chemical explosion to cheer him on?) and chops it all up into his usual shaky, hyperkinetic blur. The film only highlights the gap between reality and Hollywood: Here in the real world, two hard-working guys can only accomplish so much.
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)
> Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (PG-13): The final chapter of the lucrative story about the boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) battling the dark lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) comes to the start of its conclusion. Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and an older who's-who of British actors return as Harry and his pals search for the keys to kill the bad guy before his powers become too great and they're too old for this sort of thing.
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.
> The Next Three Days (PG-13): An everyman (the not-very-everymanish Russell Crowe) must hatch a plan to break his unjustly accused wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of jail in seventy-two hours. Based on the French film Pour Elle, adapted and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash).
< 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.