Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 1, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Ides of March (R, ****): George Clooney directors, cowrites, and costars in this solid political drama that cuts to the quick of our disillusioned times. Young politico Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is a true believer who thinks his candidate (Clooney) can bring about significant change in Washington, and to achieve that Stephen and his cohorts (including Philip Seymour Hoffman) are willing to make extreme sacrifices. But when the other side (led by Paul Giamatti) goes dirty and a scandal blows up involving a sexy intern (Evan Rachel Wood), Stephen is forced to confront his own willingness to compromise his ethics. Though the crux of the drama is a little tawdry and easy, the ideas are challenging and the execution is superb. A great cast helps Clooney make this a dismaying but accurate portrait of America's jaded feelings toward our own government, and perhaps a rather personal and emotional plea from prominent lefty Clooney. With its Shakespearean title and hard-to-miss iconography, it's tough not to read the film as an elaborate articulation of a single line: “Et tu, Barack?”
In Time (PG-13, **1/2): Writer/director Andrew Niccol has a great metaphor at the center of his latest cerebral sci-fi thriller: In the future time is literally money, and the genetically engineered populace can literally purchase immortality if they're on the favored end of the economic scale, while the poor work themselves to death so that the rich may live. But the realization of this concept is shoddy at best, too silly to pass off as suspension of disbelief, and so the movie never really gains traction when its story gains momentum. Justin Timberlake stars as a ghetto boy who kidnaps a private-sector princess (Amanda Seyfried) to ransom her off for a thousand years, to be distributed to the poor, but the couple wind up bringing about the full wrath of the system. It's a movie for the Occupy Wall Street movement, but it fails to first occupy the realm of logic. Featuring Cillian Murphy and Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser.
J. Edgar (R, **): Clint Eastwood has directed some truly great American films, but he continues a late-period career decline into tedium with his third consecutive boring-as-hell movie, a rote biopic that makes all the classic mistakes: favoring scope for intimacy, hitting highlights rather than digging into substance, and submitting good actors to some truly awful old-person makeup. Leonardo DiCaprio does a fine job as the movie's protagonist, and his costars Naomi Watts and Armie Hammer do diligent work as well, but they're caught up in a visually flat, utterly dull historical reenactment that seems to waver between psychoanalytically conspiratorial and textbook-level dry. There's no saving grace here, and sitting through the film feels like a painful and protracted obligation with no insightful payoff.
Jack and Jill (PG, 1/2*): Adam Sandler hits a new nadir, or at least reconnects with an old one, in this godawful comedy about a commercial director (Sandler) tormented during a protracted holiday visit by his twin sister (also Sandler, in bracing, broad drag). A turn by Al Pacino as a caricature of himself obsessed with the Ladysandler is weird fun, but it’s not nearly enough to save this mostly laughless, intentionally and unintentionally annoying exercise in cheap gags and celebrity cameos. Nick Swardson and Allen Covert snag a few stray gags along the way, but it’s not enough to save a particularly uninspired-seeming Sandler and his costar Katie Holmes.
> Midnight in Paris (PG-13, ****): Woody Allen's latest is one of his strongest efforts in years, a delightful intellectual trifle that gives way to something more substantial in its final act. Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a screenwriter vacationing with his philistine of a fiancé e (Rachel McAdams) and her family (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) in Paris. Even as they fail to appreciate the history and Old World charm of France, Gil gets lost in its past, quite literally, when a car picks him up on a lonely street and ferries him to a party in the 1920s. Every night he boards the car and returns to the past to booze it up with Papa Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, and a host of other great artists, but a fling with a beautiful art groupie (Marion Cotillard) and a dive further into the magical-realist concept that drives the movie changes Gil's mind about nostalgia and gives him a new perspective on the future. This is great fun from start to finish and features an exceptional cast of characters doing more-than-credible work as some of the most brilliant minds in modern history. Particularly good are Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald, Corey Stoll as Hemingway, Adrien Brody as Dali, and Kathy Bates as Stein. It's unabashedly intellectual, kind of like English Major Night at the movies, but it never loses its momentum and good humor.
> Moneyball (PG-13, ***1/2): Based on Michael Lewis’s fascinating account of a math-based strategy that redefined baseball scouting, this uneven but interesting true-life drama follows failed Major League prospect Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) as he teams up with a Yale-trained statistics whiz (Jonah Hill) to find a system that levels the playing field between the Oakland A’s $40-million budget and that of the $130-million Yankees. The movie falters when it fails to practice what it preaches and sacrifices an interesting ensemble effort to give more screen time to star Pitt, who is very good nonetheless, with a zinger-packed script from Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian. Bennett Miller (Capote) directs.
< Paranormal Activity III (R, ***1/2): The second sequel to the highly lucrative Paranormal Activity is indeed something of a retread of the first, delving back into the childhood days of sisters Katie and Kristi (Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden, played here as children by Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown) and exploring the original connection between the girls and the invisible demon that torments them. But novelty be damned, it's a pretty fun retread, with a cool new camera mounted on an oscillating fan that uses limited perspective for maximum suspense. As horror franchises go, this one remains fairly subtle, still relying far more on tense silence, shifting shadows, and atmosphere than big effects, to say nothing of the relative lack of gore. The tricks might not be new, but they're still a treat.
Tower Heist (PG-13, ***): Despite being almost too on-the-nose with its topical service-class-versus-crooked-one-percenter plot, the latest from director Brett Ratner has its roots distinctly in the 1980s action comedy. That works out perfectly for underused costar Eddie Murphy, who was one of the kings of the genre. He plays a street hustler recruited by the manager (Ben Stiller) of a luxury highrise to help the staff rob a wealthy penthouse resident who defrauded their pension fund. Fun turns from supporting players Michael Peñ a and Matthew Broderick, plus solid work from star Ben Stiller and villain Alan Alda, help keep the movie moving when it isn’t a showcase for Murphy, but the heist plot is weak and the script isn’t joke-dense enough to skate by on comedy alone. It’s passable big-studio entertainment, mostly forgettable except for Murphy’s welcome return to form.
< A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (R, ***): In a very un-stoner move, the second pot-comedy sequel arrives early for the holidays, although that’s the only expectation it defies. The latest installment, in which now-estranged pals Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are reunited to hunt down a replacement for a prized Christmas tree, hits all the familiar points, but it hits them well, with a slew of fun gags and guest appearances on the way to some semi-earned X-mas sentiment. A drugged-up baby, some Christmas-tree scammers, mobsters, Santa Claus, and the awesomely weird alternative-universe evil version of Neil Patrick Harris help make this unambitious seasonal comedy go down as smooth as a vaporizer hit. In 2D and 3D.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Arthur Christmas (PG): Computer-animated family comedy about Santa’s youngest son, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), who must outdo his more successful brother (Hugh Laurie) to save Christmas. Featuring the voices of Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Laura Linney, and Joan Cusack. In 2D and 3D.
< Courageous (PG-13): Faith-based film about four police officers who face fatherhood. Directed by and starring Alex Kendrick.
< Footloose (PG-13): Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow) remakes the silly, semi-rebellious 1980s hit about a cool new transplant (Kenny Wormald) who teaches an uptight small town how to fight the power with dance. Featuring Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell.
Happy Feet II (PG): Computer-animated singin’ and dancin’ sequel to the popular if uninspired original in which our hero’s new baby chick is entranced by a mysterious penguin who claims to be able to fly. Choked with celebrity voices including Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, P!nk, and others. In 2D and 3D.
Hugo (PG): Martin Scorsese’s kid-friendly 3D film follows orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who keeps the clocks running in a train station while trying to reconnect with his deceased father by building an automaton. Featuring Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, and Chloë Moretz. In 2D and 3D.
Immortals (R): If ever a movie could be described as “three-hundredy,” it’s this computer-generated-imagery-heavy tale of supernatural-tinged slow-motion swordfighting as future Superman Henry Cavill stars as Theseus, a man tasked by Zeus with defeating the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke-- because, why not?), who plans to destroy the gods. In 2D and 3D.
The Muppets (PG): Jason Segel writes and stars in the latest big-screen adventure for Jim Henson's deeply felt felt creations. Segel and his lady pal (Amy Adams) must help Kermit and the rest of the crew reunite to put on a show and save their old theater from destruction at the hands of an oil tycoon (Chris Cooper). Featuring appearances from a bevy of celebrities, including Zach Galifianakis, Donald Glover, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, and N.P.H.
Puss in Boots (PG): Spinoff prequel to the Shrek movies in which we learn the origins of the swashbuckling cat of the title. Featuring the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Sedaris. In 2D and 3D.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I (PG-13): The insipid teen vampire series/conservative-Christian abstinence/housewife metaphor threatens to get interestingly weird as Bella (Kristen Stewart) gets married out of high school and immediately knocked up by her soulless soulmate (Robert Pattinson) and threatened from within by her vampire baby. But it’s still going to be awful.
The Way (PG-13): Emilio Estevez directs his father, Martin Sheen, in a religious film about an American doctor, Tom, who goes to France to bring home the body of his son, who dies while hiking the Way of Saint James. Tom decides to take to the trail himself. Will a religious experience ensue?