Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 16, 2012 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Chronicle (PG-13, ****): Director Sam Trank and screenwriter Sam Landis, each just twenty-six years old, make their feature-film debut with this impressive genre mashup that is undeniably Cloverfield with superheroes, but is also a really sharply executed, character-driven Cloverfield with superheroes. Dane DeHaan stars as a camera-crazy loner struggling with a sick mother and abusive father. When he and two other students (Alex Russell and The Wire’s Michael B. Jordan) stumble onto a mysterious object that grants them great powers, they film their progress as emergent superhumans. Fun and games give way to mounting terror as DeHaan’s tormented teen begins to give himself over to his darkest impulses. The found-footage gimmick works brilliantly here, giving the first hour a level of real intimacy that makes the bangup climax play even bigger and crazier. These might not be new ideas, but it’s a hell of a remix.
The Descendants (R, ****1/2): George Clooney leads a phenomenal ensemble cast in this deeply affecting dramedy about a land baron (Clooney) struggling to maintain his family's historic legacy at the same time his wife, lingering in a coma, nears death. Clooney's ace businessman must reconnect with his estranged children (Amara Miller and the exceptional Shailene Woodley) and find a way to cope with a loss that stubbornly continues to unfold even as it seems to end. Yet despite the morose plot, director Alexander Payne's latest film is a deft blend of humor and sadness that finds sympathy with all of its characters, no matter how dubious they seem. A script dense with stirring and revelatory character interactions unfolds at a meditative pace, highlighted with great performances all around. This is a rare treat, a beautiful-looking studio film featuring standout performances from big stars that truly resonates. One of 2011’s best.
Red Tails (R, **): Wonderfully acted but awkwardly written, old-fashioned war picture based on the real-life exploits of African American pilots who had to fight just for the right to risk their own lives in aerial combat. The film’s exceptional ensemble, led by Nate Parker and a particularly good David Oyelowo, includes notable TV actors Tristan Wilds, Andre Royo, Michael B. Jordan, Bryan Cranston, and Gerald McRaney, as well as Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. But the film is stilted and unfocused, with too much emphasis on the candy-colored computer-generated special effects and too little focus on the sprawling, uneven story-- no real surprise, considering the film is the passion project of producer George Lucas.
Safe House (R, ***): Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds square off against one another in this thriller in which a low-level CIA agent (Reynolds) becomes entangled with a notorious traitor (Washington) who allows himself to be captured in order to evade mercenaries. Reynolds’s uncertain rookie must keep Washington’s calculating killer alive but still in custody, requiring an uneasy alliance. The battle of wits is the real fun here, with both actors bringing plenty to their respective roles. But once the action breaks out of the claustrophobic title location the tension lets up and Safe House becomes just another action flick, albeit a decent one. Featuring Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, and Sam Shepard.
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D (PG, *): Recall the excitement you felt just before the release of the first Star Wars prequel, after George Lucas turned nerddom upside down with his announcement that one of the most beloved franchises of all time would get three more installments? Now recall the crushing disappointment you felt after sitting through that first, dismal, two-and-a-half-hour experience full of wooden acting, dull plot machinations, and uninspiring computer effects, where we learned the not-so-exciting backstory of the future Darth Vader. You can relieve that feeling again, now enhanced through the magic of 3D. It’s like the failure is coming right out of the screen. Featuring Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, and Jake Lloyd. Remember Jake Lloyd?
The Woman in Black (PG-13, **): Achingly dull ghost story in which a bereaved lawyer (Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Potter role) is sent to a distant country estate to sort through legal papers, only to encounter the black-clad spirit the townspeople believe has claimed the lives of their children. Director James Watkins’s film is heavy on atmospherics, so much so that it’s really just a bunch of atmosphere filling out a spindly plot far too familiar from just about every ghost story you’ve ever seen. Radcliffe is fine and occasionally the movie conjures up a bit of menace, but its short-lived, and the boredom comes rushing back in.
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.
Big Miracle (PG): Inspirational drama based on a true story about a journalist (John Krasinski) and a Greenpeace worker (Drew Barrymore) who unite an unlikely group of volunteers to help save a pod of whales trapped under Arctic ice. Featuring Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, and Tim Blake Nelson.
< 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.
> Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (PG-13): Unlikely sequel to the awful superhero movie starring Nic Cage, who reprises his role as the flaming-skull-sporting demon-biker superhero who here must stop the devil from taking human form. Crank cocreators Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor take over the flailing franchise. Featuring Idris Elba, Ciaran Hinds, and Christopher Lambert.
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.
Journey II: The Mysterious Island (PG): Family-friendly sci-fi adventure sequel to the film rather loosely based on Jules Verne’s classic story. The Rock returns as a badass stepdad helping his young charges track down their grandfather (Michael Caine), who knows the location of an island full of deadly wonders. Featuring Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Hutcherson, Luis Guzmá n, and Kristin Davis.
< 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.
> The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti) (G): Animated adaptation of Mary Norton’s kids’ book about a family of four-inch-tall people who live in the crevices of a normal-sized human’s home. Featuring the voices of Amy Poehler, Saoirse Ronan, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett.
> This Means War (R): Type-A cutie Reese Witherspoon is romanced by a pair of embattled CIA agents (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) who will use all the tools at their disposal to win her affection. Featuring Chelsea Handler, directed by McG.
The Vow (PG-13): Romantic weepie improbably not based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. When a car accident gives Rachel McAdams amnesia, her fiancé Channing Tatum goes to great lengths to help her remember their relationship.