Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 15, 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.
New Year’s Eve (PG-13, *): This celebrity-choked ensemble piece is as soulless and coldly calculated a cash grab as exists, and even worse, it's so saccharine and cloying that it makes you feel like a bully for hating it so much. The lazily conceived ensemble comedy intertwines a dozen or so one-note, predictable stories around the central conceit that New Year's Eve is a magical and nostalgic night for everyone, which just isn't the case. (At least Valentine's Day, for which New Year's Eve is a sort of pseudo-sequel, had more fertile territory to mine.) Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Biel, Halle Berry, Seth Meyers, Sarah Jessica Parker, and another baker's dozen of celebrities round out the cast, none of whom remain unscathed, but since nobody's on screen for more than ten minutes, it's quick if not painless for each individual. The same can't be said for the experience of being in the audience.
The Sitter (R, ***1/2): Jonah Hill stars as a slacker who reluctantly agrees to babysit three neighbor kids-- a neurotic (Max Records), a celebrity-obsessed tween (Landry Bender), and a felonious foster kid (Kevin Hernandez)-- then makes the very Elisabeth Shue-like mistake of deciding to take them into the city. Crazy episodic adventures ensue as they are pursued by a drug dealer (Sam Rockwell) and a host of bizarre characters. Director David Gordon Green brings his unique sensibilities to the project and lends the standard-issue plot an air of freshness. It's a bit like seeing someone do a paint-by-numbers portrait with a wild array of mismatched colors. But Green can't totally transcend the mundane material, or balance crass gags with the nice, quieter character moments, so the film winds up fun but forgettable.
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.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I (PG-13, *1/2): The penultimate installment of the Twilight series proves to be a huge improvement over the first three offerings. It’s every bit as bad, but at least here the plot goes so vampire-batshit crazy that it occasionally achieves the dubious rank of campy fun. Bella (Kristen Stewart), at long last, at the ripe old age of eighteen, gets married to her vampire high-school boyfriend. They have sex, now that it’s morally okay in the eyes of vampire Jesus, and she gets pregnant with a demon baby that threatens to destroy her from the inside out and spark a war between the vampires and werewolves. Featuring Robert Pattinson performing a C-section with his mouth and costar Taylor Lautner proposing marriage to an infant child. Still awful and self-indulgent, but here at least kind of hilariously so.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked (G): Yet another sequel to the computer-animation/live action blended kiddie comedy. In this one, the chipmunks and their chipmunk girlfriends get into misadventures on a cruise and wind up castaways on an island. Featuring Jason Lee and David Cross, and the voices of Justin Long and Christina Applegate. This is going to keep happening.
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.
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 only.
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 only.
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.
> Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (PG-13): Sequel to Guy Ritchie's popular action-movie riff on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective, which refashions the brilliant investigator as a dashing, cerebral superman (Robert Downey Jr.) complete with wisecracking sidekick (Jude Law) and a sexy dame (Rachel McAdams). This time around they must foil the plan of nemesis Moriarty (Jared Harris) to thrust Europe into world war.
Young Adult (R): Juno writer-director team Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman reunite for this dark comedy about a troubled teen-lit author (Charlize Theron) who comes back to her hometown and gets caught in an awkward love triangle with a now-married former boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) and an old friend (Patton Oswalt).