Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 14, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Adjustment Bureau (PG-13, *1/2): Matt Damon makes a rare misfire in director George Nolfi's adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story that captures the sci-fi master's sense of paranoia and psychic manipulation but unfortunately captures even better the logical inconsistencies and absurdities of Dick's fever dreams. Damon looks pretty credible as a young, brash politician who learns, via a mishap, that the world is overseen by a group of metaphysical bureaucrats called the Adjustment Bureau. They're God's paper pushers, and they can either alter your day slightly to change your overall life path, or they can erase your brain when you're bad. Damon is threatened with the latter if he can't reveal to his love at first sight (Emily Blunt) the truth about the bureau and why they can never be together. Most of the movie is spent explaining the powers (and occasional lack thereof) enjoyed by the boys in the bureau, but despite all the exposition it remains vague and, worse, gets pretty silly. They can't track your mind in the rain, they can't travel through special portals unless they're wearing a hat, et cetera. The film's tone is too somber and straightfaced to credibly embrace such weirdness, despite significant help from the two talented stars as well as John Slattery and Terence Stamp.
Hanna (PG-13, ****): Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) directs this art-house/action-flick fusion about a solitary young girl (Saoirse Ronan) raised in a lonely woodland cabin with her former secret-agent father (Eric Bana) and trained to be a ruthless assassin, all in preparation to execute a single mission linked to her mysterious past. The movie grows more conventional in both pacing and plot as Hanna races toward a final battle with her steely nemesis, a high-level government agent (Cate Blanchett) with significant interest in her family, but it's still an impressively paced, beautifully shot film that's refreshingly meditative and nuanced. Wright ultimately eschews Hanna's more interesting character conflicts in favor of thriller-plot machinations, but the excellent Ronan creates an extraordinary character truly worthy of a franchise, however unlikely that may be, and the result is a soulful and compelling action movie that recalls classics of the genre as disparate as Leon, Run Lola Run, and The Bourne Identity.
> I Am Number Four (PG-13, *): This off-brand superhero knockoff, based on a pseudonymous novel from coauthor and noted liar James Frey, is tangled up in its own silly mythology before it ever gets off the ground. The stilted, almost comically uncharismatic Alex Pettyfer stars as the fourth of nine alien beings sent into hiding on Earth after their planet was colonized by the evil Mogadorians, a nefarious alien race that looks like someone tried to recreate the villains from Dark City from memory but did a poor job. The Mogs hunt our bland hero, who, with his expendable protector (Timothy Olyphant), must navigate the mundane world of high school despite seemingly having a lot else on his plate. A silly climax involving lots of laser guns, a football field, and a shapeshifting alien puppy give rise to what is clearly supposed to be the launch of a franchise. Let's hope I Am Number Four turns out to be the only one.
Insidious (PG-13, ***1/2): The original Saw writer-director team of Leigh Whannell and James Wan reteam for a gore-free, not-entirely-novel riff on the haunted house genre, with familiar but worthwhile results. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne costar as the doting young parents of three kids, the oldest of whom slips into a sudden coma that turns out to be his soul getting lost in a spectral realm called the Further, a place in between life and death populated with restless ghosts. The couple fights to regain their son even as the spirits attempt to cross the divide into the world of the living. None of this is new, but Wan and Whannell generate some excellent scares, sometimes through mounting suspense and dread-filled atmosphere, and sometimes through cheap sound cues and quick cuts. At times the movie plays like a highly evolved carnival ghost-house ride, but then again, carnival ghost-house rides can be a lot of fun.
< The King's Speech (R, ****): The story of King Edward VIII's abdication of the throne in favor of the love of an American woman has been told many times before, but director Tom Hooper's excellent film follows a much less salacious consequence of the royal changeover, which is the ascension of Edward's brother, King George VI (Colin Firth), and George's struggle with a speech impediment. The smaller-scale story becomes a microcosm of the newly crowned little brother's struggle with the responsibilities of leadership and the psychological baggage that comes with royal life. Geoffrey Rush is fantastic as the Australian speech therapist whose unconventional methods help Firth's staid ruler find his footing. Hooper's focus on this singular conflict amid a more sweeping backdrop-- World War II is looming-- helps humanize the characters and cut through the faç ade of the monarchy without ever sinking to the level of lurid tell-all. Helena Bonham Carter costars as the future queen.
Limitless (PG-13, ***): Bradley Cooper stars as a hack writer turned super genius by a designer street drug that maximizes the brain's potential in this uneven thriller, which is driven forward by a strong concept yet never really goes anywhere. Cooper's Eddie Morra finds himself involved in a series of violent crimes, pursued by mysterious figures, and entangled in a vast financial power play with a wise and skeptical tycoon (Robert De Niro, who doesn't have enough to do here), all while dealing with the side effects of the long-term abuse of a drug nobody knows anything about. There's a lot going on here, and almost none of it is resolved well, or at all, with some major subplots left dangling-- director Neil Burger seems to entirely forget about one involving a murder. Burger and writer Leslie Dixon only feign to address the myriad themes and ideas raised by the nifty conceit at the heart of the film, and it's a shame. Instead of being a strange trip or even a great ride, Limitless just turns out to be enough to get viewers through to the next fix.
The Lincoln Lawyer (R, ***): Matthew McConaughey sheds his stoner Romeo image for a slick suit as Mick Haller, a corner-cutting, wheel-greasing shyster who operates his law practice from the back of a chauffeured Lincoln. He takes the case of a preppy heir (Ryan Phillippe) accused of attempting to kill a prostitute and is drawn into a web of deception that reaches far back into his past. McConaughey's fast-talking antihero is far more intriguing than the plot in which he becomes enmeshed, but the movie, based on the novel by thriller writer Michael Connelly, delivers when it needs to. This unessential but consistently entertaining genre exercise is elevated by nice supporting turns from a slew of excellent actors including Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, and William H. Macy.
< Paul (R, ***1/2): Comedy duo Nick Frost and Simon Pegg reteam for another culture-riffing comedy, this time with Adventureland's Greg Mottola standing in for Edgar Wright. Frost and Pegg costar as a sci-fi writing/illustrating team that stumbles upon an actual alien while taking an RV tour of extraterrestrial hotspots in the American Southwest. That alien, a jaded, laid-back little gray man voiced by Seth Rogen, needs help evading government agents (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio) on the way to a rendezvous with a spaceship that will take him home. What threatens to be an amusing but in-joke-laden string of pop-culture references takes a surprising turn toward the touching thanks to the affable Paul and a great supporting performance from Kristen Wiig as a fundamentalist Christian whose beliefs are rattled by her close encounter of the third kind. It's slight and requires viewers to have at least an associate degree in geekology, but it's funny, sweet stuff.
Source Code (PG-13 , ****1/2): Duncan Jones's followup to the nifty Kubrickian riff Moon is even better than his excellent debut. This time, with the help of screenwriter Ben Ripley, he's channeling Philip K. Dick, but the pair navigate the big ideas and cerebral plot twists to ultimately deliver a climax with startling emotional resonance. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Colter Stevens, an army pilot who wakes up disoriented on a commuter train set to explode in eight minutes. He's thrust back in time over and over, forced to relive those eight minutes until he can discover the identity of the bomber. But even as he attempts to complete his mission, he uses his time in the past to uncover the secrets of his place in the high-tech project known as the Source Code. The parallel mysteries work brilliantly and dovetail in the end to add up to much more than the sum of their parts. Doubtlessly there will be some debate about the film's final twist, which depending on your perspective either undercuts the humanism subtly drawn out of the concept or folds the plot back in on itself one more time in an act of cinematic origami. Either way, it's pretty fantastic. Costarring Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Arthur (PG-13): Remake of the Dudley Moore semi-classic in which a boozy heir risks his family fortune for love. The grating Russell Brand is Arthur as sheltered manchild, although his spacey girlfriend is played by the fetching Greta Gerwig. Featuring Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner.
Beastly (PG-13): Alex Pettyfer stars as a hunk who has it all-- until a witch (Mary-Kate Olsen) puts a curse on him that turns him ugly, which will remain intact forever unless he can find someone to love him within one year. Vanessa Hudgens costars in this remake of Beauty and the Beast.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (PG): Sequel to the surprisingly popular film based on the children's book series. This time the weakling hero Greg (Zachary Gordon) and his similarly beleaguered pal (Robert Capron) are tormented by Greg's older brother (Devon Bostick).
Hop (PG): Holidaysploitation computer-animated kiddie flick about the rock 'n' roll dreams of the Easter Bunny's teenage son. Featuring the voices of Russell Brand, Hank Azaria, and Hugh Laurie.
Rango (PG): Johnny Depp provides the voice for the title character in this computer-animated kiddie comedy about a lizard who is mistaken for the sheriff come to clean up a desert town populated by dastardly critters. Also featuring the voices of Isla Fisher, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Root, and Alfred Molina, and directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Ring).
< Red Riding Hood (PG-13): Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke helms this stylized, horror-tinged riff on the classic folktale. Amanda Seyfried is Red, a bit saucily dressed for a trip to granny's, judging by the trailers. Also featuring Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie, and Gary Oldman as a werewolf hunter.
> Rio (PG): Computer-animated kiddie comedy about an awkward, domesticated macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) from Minnesota who inadvertently undertakes an eventful trip to Rio de Janeiro when he's paired with free bird Jewel (Anne Hathaway). Also featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Jane Lynch, and Tracy Morgan. In 3D and 2D versions.
> Scream IV (R): Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson reteam to try to kickstart the self-aware, smarmy horror franchise. Neve Campbell returns as Sydney, who a decade after the last film has written a book about her trio of horrific experiences. When she returns to her hometown, populated by a crop of fresh serial-slasher coed bait, the Ghostface Killer returns. Featuring returning stars David Arquette and Courteney Cox, plus a supergroup of twentysomething Hollywood cuties that includes Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Aimee Teegarden, Alison Brie, Emma Roberts, and Hayden Panettiere.
Soul Surfer (PG): Christian-themed inspirational true-life drama about a teen surfing enthusiast (AnnaSophia Robb) who takes back to the waves after she loses her arm in a shark attack. Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt costar as her parents.
< Sucker Punch (PG-13): ADDirector Zack Snyder (Three-hundred, Watchmen) cowrote and directs this videogame-and-animation-inspired, computer-effects heavy fantasy about a group of girls (Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens) stuck in a boarding school who imagine themselves to be in a magical realm as they fight to escape their prison. Also featuring Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm, and Scott Glenn.
Your Highness (R): Meditative indie director and, of late, stoner goo-off David Gordon Green (Undertow, Pineapple Express) helms this slackerized medieval swashbuckler in which a reluctant goofball (Danny McBride) joins his noble brother (James Franco) to rescue the latter's kidnapped wife (Zooey Deschanel). McBride cowrites with Eastbound and Down cohort Ben Best, and Natalie Portman costars.