Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 19, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Captain America: The First Avenger (PG-13, **): Director Joe Johnston helmed the underrated 1991 superhero movie The Rocketeer, and unfortunately this pre-Avengers film looks like it was made only a year or two later. Cheap-looking effects and inertly staged battle sequences significantly hinder this bland actioneer in which a puny soldier wannabe circa World War II (Chris Evans) is injected with a super-soldier serum that turns him into the Ü ber patriot Captain America. He battles the ridiculous-looking and utterly uninteresting Red Skull with the help of his anachronistically empowered girlfriend and multiethnic band of ragtag soldiers. Only the climactic fight scene provides some thrills, which is all Marvel really needed to have happen-- it’s all a big, expensive tease to the Avengers movie next summer. In 2D only.
Cowboys & Aliens (PG-13, ***): Blandly satisfying big-budget popcorn-movie extravaganza in which aliens descend on a sleepy post-Civil War Arizona mining town. Mysterious outlaw Jake (Daniel Craig, flinty and awesome) and tyrannical cattle rancher Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) team up and lead a posse to find the creatures' hideout and rescue the abducted townsfolk. Director Jon Favreau plays the material surprisingly straight, and to his credit it never lapses into unintentional parody. At best, though, it's a blandly satisfying action flick that delivers exactly what it promises without ever hinting at anything new or particularly interesting. The movie is buoyed somewhat by a strong supporting cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano, and Walton Goggins.
Crazy, Stupid, Love (PG-13, **): Semi-ambitious misfire that attempts to be The Usual Suspects of romantic comedies, which is as awkward as it sounds. When he’s dumped by his restless wife Emily (Julianne Moore), Cal (Steve Carell) befriends local lothario Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who vows to help him learn the ways of being a ladykiller. But Jacob finds himself increasingly vulnerable after he meets a beautiful, high-strung law student (Emma Stone). The screenplay by Dan Fogelman strikes false notes at nearly every turn, from improbable plotlines to clunky dialogue and implausible characters. A side plot involving Cal’s son’s crush on a pretty babysitter (talented newcomer Analeigh Tipton), who herself has a crush on boring Cal, is particularly dissonant. The whole cast is strong, and Gosling and Stone are especially good, but they can only render their material tolerable. A respectable failure from directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who generally do excellent work (Bad Santa, I Love You, Phillip Morris).
Friends with Benefits (R, **): Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are an appealing couple who never have much to work with in this mediocre romantic comedy that matches its almost identical recent predecessor, No Strings Attached, beat for beat. Kunis and Timberlake are young, emotionally unavailable hotties who decide to start knocking boots without getting into romantic entanglements, but who of course get into a romantic entanglement anyway, the kind that can apparently only be clarified with the help of a mucho macho gay friend (Woody Harrelson) and a visit with an ailing father (Richard Jenkins). It’s passable, but barely.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (PG-13, ****): The long-- sometimes too long-- story of Harry Potter reaches a conclusion that's both viscerally thrilling and emotionally resonant in this spectacular finale from director David Yates. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his pals Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) are nearly finished destroying the magical talismans providing power to the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), but then they must meet him for a final confrontation during the siege of the Hogwarts school. Astounding effects and some exceptional acting by a host of British thespians, most notably Alan Rickman, work in perfect concert with J.K. Rowling's story to bring this elaborate saga to a deeply satisfying conclusion. Rowling's great achievement was to create a story that grew along with its audience through the most tempestuous years of life. During the dark, climactic battle, what we're watching isn't just the destruction of Hogwarts but the destruction of childhood, razed to make way for adulthood, and it's both thrilling and terrifying. In 2D only.
< Horrible Bosses (R, **1/2): This passably funny but mostly uninspired comedy with a dark premise and no teeth stars Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis as old school friends who labor under tyrannical bosses. They agree to help each other kill the evil employers (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston), setting in motion ill-advised schemes that give way to bumbling at every turn. The likeable leads help sell an intermittently sharp script, one sprinkled with good zingers but never strong concepts. Some notable guest stars and fun cameos help pad things out, but the movie never really clicks as a workplace satire or macabre humor. Only Spacey is good enough to really inspire murderous feelings, while Aniston is saddled with an embarrassingly misguided subplot as an ethically bankrupt, sexually voracious dentist, which sounds a lot more fun than it actually is.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13, ****): In a summer chock full of remakes, this update/prequel to the classic 1970s series is surprisingly fresh, reimagining the uprising primates not as people in monkey suits but actual animals rendered with impressive nuance by computer effects. James Franco stars as the scientist who inadvertently gives his pet chimpanzee an evolutionary leap forward while working on a drug to combat the Alzheimer's afflicting his father (John Lithgow). This is one of the rare instances in which special effects add to the subtlety of the story, rather than just making for glossy scenes of chaos-- although there are a few of those in the movie's slam-bang climax. The net effect is a move away from the racial themes of the original to an animal-rights message, but director Rupert Wyatt nicely juggles theme and story without sacrificing plot momentum. Add a deliciously evil supporting turn from the fantastic Brian Cox as the nefarious owner of a patently ridiculous primate holding facility and you've got the delightful mashup of the silly and cerebral not seen since Chuck Heston dueled with Roddy McDowall in 1968.
Thirty Minutes or Less (R, ***1/2): Ruben Fleischer’s followup to the surprisingly fun Zombieland is somehow even more frivolous than his debut, but it’s breezy fun for its entire eighty-three minutes. A cold-hearted loser (Danny McBride), with the help of his dunderheaded buddy (Nick Swardson), hatch a scheme to bump off his rich father (Fred Ward) for his inheritance. To raise the $100,000 they need to hire a hitman (Michael Peñ a), they kidnap a pizza-delivery man (Jesse Eisenberg), strap a bomb to his chest, and force him to rob a bank. It’s a convoluted, utterly improbably scheme very loosely based on a real-life tragedy, but the madcap plot it sets in motion-- and moves forward at a brisk pace-- lays the groundwork for a lot of fun interactions between McBride (doing his usual schtick), a particularly funny Swardson, and Aziz Ansari, who steals the show as Nick’s high-strung best friend. Eisenberg is miscast as the slacker antihero, more caustic and calculating than burned out, but he’s deft with comedy and makes a nice pairing with Ansari. It’s an Elmore Leonard story for the Judd Apatow set.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (PG-13, *1/2): Michael Bay’s third Transformers movie is hyperkinetic and overstuffed even by his own extreme standards. A perfunctory plot involving a mechanized MacGuffin, the American moon landing, and the former Autobot leader (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) create an excuse for a bunch of robot-fighting sequences. And some of them are pretty dazzling, notably the destruction of Chicago and a chase through the smoldering guts of a collapsing skyscraper. But the crazed overabundance of subplots, side characters, and strained attempts at comic relief-- including a barely sane John Turturro, Kevin Dunn and Julie White as star Shia LaBeouf’s Midwestern-caricature parents, Ken Jeong in an out-of-the-atmosphere-above-the-airspace-over-the-top performance, John Malkovich as a finicky industrialist, Alan Tudyk as a computer-literate personal assistant with a crazy accent, the Kennedy assassination, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama, plus Bill O’Reilly and Buzz Aldrin playing themselves-- make for a frenzied, migraine-inducing hash of pop culture designed to stupefy people into silence while it sells them shit. In 2D and 3D.
< The Tree of Life (R, *****): Terrence Malick’s latest is an astounding, audacious attempt to address the biggest questions in life. At one point Malick literally flashes back to show the creation and evolution of the universe, highlighting the symbiosis of nature at both the micro- and macrocosmic levels, on the way to exploring the life of one family through the eyes of a young boy. In a series of increasingly cohesive fragments we witness the earliest moments in the life of Jack O’Brien, the oldest of three brothers born to a mercurial, embittered father (Brad Pitt) and doting mother (Jessica Chastain). Most of the film’s action focuses on Jack as a young boy (played in these scenes by Hunter McCracken) on his way toward young adulthood in 1950s-era Waco, Texas. It’s an image-driven, occasionally conceptual but definitely accessible film that is as ambitious as any feature in recent memory. A significant achievement, even by the standards of the elusive Malick, who has established himself as a singular voice in just five films in nearly forty years.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Buck (PG): Cindy Meehl’s documentary about real-life horse whisperer (and inspiration for the Nicholas Evans novel and subsequent Robert Redford film of the same name) Buck Brannaman traces the wise trainer’s past and explores the differences and similarities between man and animal.
The Changeup (R): Freaky Friday-style body-swap comedy in which two best pals, an easygoing lothario (Ryan Reynolds) and a frustrated family man (Jason Bateman), deal with the consequences of having their lives magically switched. Featuring Olivia Wilde and Leslie Mann.
> Conan the Barbarian (R): Revamp of Robert E. Howard's pulp classic about the titular barbarian, played here by Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones), as he slashes and screws his way through a land filled with monsters, soldiers, and slave girls while he seeks to avenge his slain parents. Featuring Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, and Rachel Nichols. In 2D and 3D.
Final Destination V (R): A handful of comely teenagers have somehow survived a bridge collapse, thereby cheating Death, who decides to not let them off so easily, or without enough frightening close calls to justify, however flimsily, a fifth movie based on the same basic premise as its predecessors. In 2D and 3D versions.
> Fright Night (R): Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) directs this remake of the 1980s comedy-horror cult favorite in which a teen (Star Trek's Anton Yelchin) suspects his neighbor (Colin Farrell) to be a vampire and enlists the help of a showbiz phony (David Tennant, former Doctor Who) to slay the undead bloodsucker. Featuring Toni Collette and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. In 2D and 3D.
Glee: The 3D Concert Movie (PG): Gleeks rejoice: The cast of the grating musical sitcom takes to the stage for a live performance that probably would have been totally boring in 2D.
The Help (PG): Adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel about a quirky Southern gal (Emma Stone) who attempts to bridge racial divides by writing a book about the secret lives of the African American women who work in the homes of the well-to-do. Scandal and, of course, understanding ensue. Costarring Viola Davis, Cicely Tyson, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jessica Chastain.
> One Day (PG-13): Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) costar in this romance that charts the evolution of a twenty-year relationship by focusing on the same date each year. Featuring Patricia Clarkson, and directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education).
The Smurfs (PG): The annoying, hive-minded band of blue creatures living in a cartoon forest make the brutal transition to live-action when they’re chased into the real world by Gargamel (Hank Azaria). Neil Patrick Harris stars alongside animated smurfs voied by Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry, Wolfgang Puck, Paul Reubens, and Jeff Foxworthy. In 2D only.
> Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D (PG): Another sequel in writer-director Robert Rodriguez's candy-colored kiddie action series in which a pair of super-tweens (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) team up with their folks (Jessica Alba and Joel McHale) to foil the villainous Jeremy Piven, who is probably also playing a villainous character. In 2D and 3D.