Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 12, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Fast Five (PG-13, **1/2): The unlikely fourth sequel to the slick car-chase symphony that temporarily made Vin Diesel a star isn't quite as good as the last one, but the gonzo spirit and cartoonish action sequences remain thrilling enough to make sitting through the unbelievably leaden writing and wrenching banter worth it. Barely. Diesel and cohort Paul Walker return as fast-driving fugitives looking to make a big score, and this time they're pursued by an elite team of American lawmen led by Dwayne "Are You Seriously Going to Make Another Rock Joke?" Johnson. The physics-defying action setpieces, especially the last one, put this uneven actioneer over the top, but just barely. Also featuring Jordana Brewster, who only really does this sort of thing anymore, as well as the charming rapper Ludacris and the less charming rapper Tyrese Gibson.
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.
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 Rite (PG-13, *): Deadly dull exorcism flick that never deviates from the formula of the genre. The uninspiring Colin O'Donoghue stars as a skeptical would-be priest who goes to Italy to study under exorcist Father Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), only to encounter a demon and rediscover his faith. It's mostly a watered down Exorcist knockoff masquerading as a character study, but it packs absolutely no punch. Skip it and instead check out Daniel Stamm's far superior The Last Exorcism, which basically attempts to do everything this movies does, only Stamm actually succeeds sometimes.
Scream IV (R, *): Tired horror master Wes Craven and yesterday's Variety news Kevin Williamson reteam to stab a dead horse in this utterly empty third sequel to their wonderfully sardonic, influential original. Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox reprise their roles alongside a new crew of young hotties (including Emma Roberts, Alison Brie, Hayden Panettiere, and Rory Culkin) who are stalked, quizzed with movie-trivia questions, and massacred by the Ghostface Killer. Williamson and Craven seem to think that wry acknowledgement of the film's endless shortcomings qualifies as excusing those failings, rather than just highlighting them. Insufferable, unfunny, and never scary. Scream? Not so much. Yawn? Almost certainly.
Something Borrowed (PG-13, *): A surprisingly odious romantic comedy despite its resiliently chipper tone, this misguided, dissonant story spends much of its time trying to justify the actions of wallflower Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin), who consummates a long-standing crush on the staggeringly uncharismatic Dex (Colin Egglesfield) even though he's due to marry her best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson) in a matter of months. Director Luke Greenfield, working off a novel by Emily Giffin, stacks the deck against Darcy by making her selfish and grating, but that doesn't make Rachel and Dex's dual betrayals any more sympathetic. Only supporting player John Krasinski as a third-wheel childhood friend seems to be striking the tone required of the material; everything else is pop-music and dewy-eyed montages. The bracing premise could be a good one for a sharp-edged comedy in the vein of Woody Allen or Neil LaBute, or even an introspective dramedy à la James L. Brooks, but what it is not is the airy, romantic romp it feigns to be.
Thor (PG-13, ***): The God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), here reimagined as a hunky alien defied by Viking folk, is cast out of his kingdom by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and banished to Earth, thanks to treachery on the part of his scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Stripped of his powers and abandoned in our world, Thor hooks up with a sexy scientist (Natalie Portman) who helps him try to regain his hammer and his magic powers so that he can defend our realm from the war spilling out from his. It's all a long setup for the forthcoming Avengers movie, which will team Thor with previously established heroes Iron Man and the Hulk as well as Captain America, who will get his own flick later this summer. But it's a fun setup-- and an entertaining, weird one with its mashup of psudo-mythology, sci-fi, paranoid conspiracy, and action movie, played straight by director Kenneth Branagh but with just enough of a sense of humor to recognize its own ridiculousness. In 3D and 2D versions.
Water for Elephants (PG-13, ***): Totally adequate but uninspired adaptation of Sara Gruen's novel about a grieving veterinary student (Robert Pattinson) who hooks up with a failing circus circa 1931. He falls for Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who's married to the mercurial and potentially murderous owner and ringmaster (Inglourious Basterds' ace villain Christoph Waltz). The unique setting is dulled by the film's conventional staging and utter disinterest in any kind of examination beyond the cursory. It helps not one bit that romantic lead Pattinson has the wooden inexpressiveness to make him a shoo-in to star in Frowning Toward Freedom: The John Kerry Story in thirty years. It doesn't give Witherspoon much with which to work, but she manages, although her best scenes come with Waltz, who steals the show, such as it is. But this isn't even The Greatest Show in Your Local Mall Movietheater.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Bridesmaids (R): Kristen Wiig leads an ensemble cast as an insecure maid of honor trying to show up her rich rival (Rose Byrne) as they play the wedding festivities for her best friend (Maya Rudolph). Also featuring John Hamm, Tim Heidecker, and SIU alum Melissa McCarthy, this is producer Judd Apatow's attempt to apply his often dude-centric style to a predominantly female cast. Directed by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks).
The Conspirator (PG-13): Robert Redford's well-received film about Mary Surratt, the only woman charged and executed for conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Starring James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Alexis Bledel, and Robin Wright as Mary Surratt. (Wissmann)
< Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (PG-13): Comic-book-inspired film about the title character, a private eye who works among the undead in New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana bayous. Werewolves, vampires, and zombies will go to war unless Dylan can find some sort of artifact. Directed by Kevin Munroe, who was responsible for the failed 2007 relaunch of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. (Wissmann)
Hoodwinked Too! Hood versus Evil (PG): The sequel to the Shrekified computer-animated fairytale mashup that it's hard to imagine anyone asking for. This time the Big Bad Wolf (voiced by the awesome Patrick Warburton) teams up with Red (Hayden Panettiere, replacing Anne Hathaway) to search for an AWOL Hansel and Gretel. As indicated by the combination pun-homonym-exclamation point in the title, it's going to be a zany time. Also featuring the voices of Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Joan Cusack, Glenn Close, Martin Short, and enough second-tier celebs to field a full-court game of Hollywood Squares. In 3D and 2D versions.
> Jane Eyre (PG-13): Yet another film version of Charlotte Brontë 's novel, this one directed by Cary Fukunaga (in his first American feature) and starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, HBO's In Treatment) in the title role. (Wissmann)
Jumping the Broom (PG-13): Rev. T.D. Jakes produces and has a part in this Christian-themed moralizing romance about a couple (Paula Patton and Laz Alonso) that agrees not to sleep together until they're married in front of their warring families. Featuring Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Mike Epps.
> Priest (PG-13): Horror-tinged action flick about a rebellious priest (Paul Bettany) living in a futuristic dystopia who breaks ranks to rescue his niece (Lily Collins) from vampires. There's a lot going on there. Featuring Maggie Q., Brad Dourif, and Christopher Plummer, and based on the Japanese comic books. In 3D.
< Prom (PG): Disney-produced ensemble drama about the public-school pageantry/teenage social ritual of the title, but cleaned up for its young demographic-- think what Demi Lovato's prom would be like on TV as opposed to what Demi Lovato would actually do at her prom. Friday Night Lights' Aimee Teegarden leads a cast of relative unknowns.
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.
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.
Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family (PG-13): Another hyper-moralizing dramedy from one-man-hack-factory Tyler Perry, who writes, directs, and dons drag to star in another installment about the titular sassy granny who this time around must reunite her relatives to aid her ailing niece. Featuring Loretta Devine and Bow Wow, no longer so Lil'.