Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 26, 2012 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Contraband (R, *): Dismal, lazy heist thriller that assumes you’ve never seen another heist thriller in your life. Would-be September 11 hero Mark Wahlberg stars as a reformed ex-con dragged back into the criminal underworld when his brother-in-law gets in deep with a small-time hood (Giovanni Ribisi). Of course, that one last job never goes quite so well, families (including wife Kate Beckinsale) are threatened, double-crosses are pulled. It’s flat, unimaginative stuff with utterly unlikable characters and terrible dialogue. Only supporting player Ben Foster draws any attention, but he gets far too little screen time. There will be worse movies in 2012 to be sure, but for a brief time this gets to shine as the biggest waste of time at the movies so far this year.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (R, *): Overlong, indulgent, and ultimately dull adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s popular mystery novel that intertwines two primary stories, one about a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) trying to solve a decades-old disappearance, the other in which his inscrutable, punked-out research assistant (Rooney Mara) attempts to detach herself from her dangerous past. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian is unwilling to cut any significant subplots, so the result is a cursory pass over every element of a tangent-heavy plot that never comes into focus. Only Mara's exceptional performance as the intriguing Lisbeth Salander, along with some unsurprisingly nifty visual touches from director David Fincher, keeps the movie from being a total snooze.
Haywire (R, ***1/2): Real-life mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano makes her debut as an action-movie star with mixed results in Steven Soderbergh's latest genre exercise, a sharply executed boilerplate action-thriller with a bent for espionage. Carano stars as an ex-Marine working for a private military subcontractor who is sold out by her boss on a job in Barcelona. She returns Stateside to clear her name and find out who in the chain of command set her up; it's an agonizingly standard-issue plot leavened by Soderberg's nifty camerawork and Carano's truly intimidating presence. She's both an object of beauty and a true-blue badass, the latter fact made evident in some impressively brutal fight scenes. She's a mediocre actress at best, though, and not well served by a script that's all razzle dazzle and that never even allows her top-flight costars (Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton) to gain any traction. Soderbergh is clearly out to make a statement here about gender roles and femininity in the modern action movie, and he succeeds, although it never stops feeling like an experiment.
Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (PG-13, ****): Director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) makes his first foray into live action with the improbable third sequel to Tom Cruise's mediocre action franchise. In a pleasant surprise, this one turns out to be the best of the bunch, thanks not to the standard-issue plot-- generic madman threatens nuclear disaster, disavowed team of superspies must conduct secret mission to stop him-- but Bird's sharp execution. His kinetic camerawork is perfect for the big setpieces, which send star Cruise propelling through the air by fireballs and dangling off the world's tallest building, but Bird also brings a light touch and adds humor the series has long missed. An ace supporting cast, including Jeremy Renner as a suspiciously deadly bureaucrat and Simon Pegg as a motormothed techie, help make this one of 2011’s most enjoyable popcorn flicks.
War Horse (PG-13, **): Steven Spielberg is without a doubt a master technician able to create astonishing images and incredible textures with film, but as a storyteller he's given over to the maudlin and the teleological. That's the case with this occasionally great but mostly misguided World War I tale that uses the perspective of its title character, a horse sold into battle, to link together an anthology about the far-reaching effects of the conflict. The grimmer stories ring far truer than the hopeful fantasies, and while the narrative asides are illuminating, the frame story rings utterly hollow. Jeremy Irvine stars as the young farmboy who raises the horse and loses his own innocence in the war, but the real standouts are Tom Hiddleston as a pensive soldier in the cavalry and Niels Arestrup as an aging civilian trying to help his orphaned granddaughter survive the war.
< We Bought a Zoo (PG-13, ****): The plot of this film doesn't summarize easily-- a widowed father (Matt Damon), struggling to help his family find their footing, purchases a ramshackle zoo and attempts to reopen it as a way of reconnecting with his young daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and teenage son (Colin Ford). Damon gives a fantastic, immensely sympathetic performance, and director Cameron Crowe lets the drama hinge mostly on smaller moments and character interactions. The supporting cast shines as well, including costar Scarlett Johansson as the head zookeeper and Thomas Haden Church as Damon's pragmatic but supportive brother. Crowe's latest is a wonderful feel-good movie that occasionally slips into sentimentality but totally earns it.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> The Artist (PG-13): A silent black-and-white film by director Michel Hazanavicius about the dawn of the film industry. Nominated for ten Academy Awards and starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, and Malcolm McDowell.
Beauty and the Beast 3D (G): Rerelease of Disney's popular animated spin on the musical tale of a man cursed to live as a monster and the woman who sees beyond his affliction. Retrofitted for 3D, so the beastliness comes right out at you.
> The Descendants (R): AMC is finally bringing this Oscar-nominated film to Carbondale. George Clooney stars as a father who comes to Hawaii to join his daughters, where his philandering wife’s boating accident has left her on life support. Beau Bridges costars, and the acclaimed Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election, Citizen Ruth) directs.
< The Devil Inside (R): Faux-documentary horror flick in which the daughter of a woman allegedly possessed by a demon investigates murders related to a failed exorcism years ago and sets about trying again. Starring Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth.
< Don II (NR): Bollywood film about an Asian mafia boss who attempts to take over the European crime world.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (PG-13): Director Stephen Daldry (The Reader, The Hours, Billy Elliot) leads a terrific cast (Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Max von Sydow) in a film about a young boy trying to come to terms with the loss of his father after the September 11 atrocities.
> The Grey (R): Survivalist thriller from director Joe Carnahan in which badass senior citizen Liam Neeson leads a group of plane-crash victims toward safety through the treacherous wilds of Alaska. And he fights wolves.
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 only.
The Iron Lady (PG-13): Biopic about the late Margaret Thatcher, starring Meryl Streep as the female British equivalent of Ronald Reagan.
Joyful Noise (R): Two members of a church choir (Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah) battle it out to help their group win a national contest. Featuring Kris Kristofferson and Courtney B. Vance.
> Man on a Ledge (PG-13): Heist thriller in which an ex-con (Sam Worthington) fakes a suicide attempt to distract police while his brother (Jamie Bell) attempts to rob a crooked financier (Ed Harris). Featuring Elizabeth Banks, Kyra Sedgwick, and Ed Burns.
> One for the Money (PG-13): The first installment of Janet Evanovich’s chick-lit mystery novels gets the big-screen treatment with the toxic Katherine Heigl starring as plucky bail bondswoman Stephanie Plum, who’s tracking down an accused cop on the lam.
Red Tails (R): George Lucas produced this action-heavy war tale about the exploits of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a segregated unit of African American pilots who distinguished themselves during World War II. Starring Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Method Man, and Bryan Cranston.
< 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.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (R): Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson helms this adaptation of John le Carré ’s classic novel about a Cold War-era spy (Gary Oldman) who comes out of retirement to hunt down a mole. Featuring Colin Firth, John Hurt, and Tom Hardy.
Underworld: Awakening (R): Further proving that America just cannot get enough of vampires fighting werewolves, producer Len Wiseman cranks out yet another installment in this action-centric series starring his real-life wife, Kate Beckinsale, as the savior of the vampire race, who here are threatened with extermination not from the Lycans but the humans from whom they hide. In 2D and 3D.