Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 8, 2012 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Artist (PG-13): , ****): It’s the movie everyone feels obligated to see! Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius’s silent film about silent film is gimmicky but also smartly executed. Jean Dujardin is spectacular as George Valentin, a silent-film actor whose career collapses after the popularization of talkies. It’s also a romance and a crowd pleaser, complete with a plucky gal on the make (Bé ré nice Bejo) and a cute canine sidekick. The whole movie is brilliantly summed up in a single, surrealistic scene in which George is first able to hear sound but unable to speak himself; it’s such a good scene the rest of the film barely needs to exist, which makes it a bit of a chore at times. Still, it’s a unique concept, well-articulated and nicely acted if perhaps a little self-congratulatory for the movie industry types. Costarring John Goodman and James Cromwell.
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.
< Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (PG-13, 1/2*): Not only is the sequel to the godawful first Ghost Rider film completely improbable, it's much, much worse. Crank writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Tailor amp the already giddily stupid franchise up to eleven and in the process make one of the most simplistic yet blazingly incomprehensible movies in years. Like a screaming child, it draws attention, but only in all the wrong ways. Yet again Cage is a former stuntman possessed by a demon spirit who rides a flaming motorcycle and dispenses justice, and he's still battling the devil (now played by Ciará n Hinds), this time specifically attempting to keep Satan from reincarnating in the body of a young boy. This is just about as bad as it gets. In 2D and 3D.
< Gone (PG-13, **1/2): Amanda Seyfried stars as a young woman traumatized by an encounter with a serial killer who kidnapped her and kept her in a hole in the woods for one long night before she escaped. Two years later, the police have still found no evidence to support her incredible story-- and then her sister goes missing. Convinced the killer has come back for her, she launches a one-woman search to prove she's not crazy. It's a cool concept for a thriller, and director Heitor Dhalia and screenwriter Allison Burnett nearly make it work, crafting sympathetic characters and building real tension for the first hour or so. Alas, an exceptionally weak climax deflates the film and renders it not so much bad as entirely forgettable. Featuring Wes Bentley and Jennifer Carpenter.
Project X (R, 1/2*): Repugnant teen-party comedy that plays like Tucker Max rewriting Superbad for Spike TV, this blatant cash grab seizes on as many trends as possible (faux found footage, YouTube stars) in telling a familiar story: some kids throw a massive party while their parents are gone, and it spins out of control. The characters range from dull (lead actor Thomas Mann) to astonishingly unlikable (Oliver Cooper as obnoxious best pal and coconspirator Costa), the small handful of jokes actually attempted fall flat, and the movie’s lurid obsession with underage girls remains thoroughly creepy throughout. Only the final throes of the chaotic party pack any punch, but it’s nowhere near worth sitting through the painful setup. One of the most vile and stupid films in some time.
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 Vow (PG-13, **): It's tough to believe Nicholas Sparks didn't pen this cloying, cliché -riddled romantic weepie about a couple separated by tragic circumstances. After a car accident robs her of the last several years of her memory, a free-spirited artist (Rachel McAdams) struggles to rekindle her relationship with her husband (Channing Tatum) despite interference from her cartoonishly villainous, WASPy parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange). The basic premise is a decent one, but the committee-written script steadfastly avoids originality and subtlety at every turn in favor of melodrama and pathos, making this grind of a chick flick something you'll be eager to forget.
Wanderlust (R, ***1/2): Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star as displaced Manhattanites who cast off in search for a new way of living and wind up on a hippie commune founded by aging acid freak Alan Alda and led by goofball guru Justin Theroux. They try to make a new life for themselves but discover that dropping out comes with its own perils. The film, directed and cowritten by David Wain with his regular collaborator Ken Marino, never really answers the significant questions it poses, but it's consistently hilarious, packed with great lines and powered by fantastic performances from Theroux, Alda, Rudd, Marino, and supporting players Joe Lo Truglio and Kathryn Hahn. It's an ace ensemble working off a great script on a production helmed by a guy who seems incapable of being unfunny-- Wain's previous films include the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer, the vastly underrated anthology film The Ten, and the more conventional but hilarious Role Models.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Act of Valor (R): This feature-length military recruiting ad stars active-duty Navy SEALs who span the globe to hunt down a terrorist cell.
Doctor Seuss's The Lorax (PG): Computer-animated adaptation of Doctor Seuss's environmentalist fable in which the titular creature (voiced by Danny Elfman) must save the beauty of the natural world from the greedy Once-ler (Ed Helms). Featuring the voices of Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Betty White, among others. In 2D and 3D.
The Iron Lady (PG-13): Biopic about the late Margaret Thatcher, starring Meryl Streep as the female British equivalent of Ronald Reagan.
> John Carter (PG-13): Sci-fi actioneer based on Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’s lesser-known character, a Civil War veteran who is mysteriously transported to Mars where he must do battle. Starring Taylor Kitsch alongside Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Bryan Cranston, Dominic West, and Mark Strong. In 2D and 3D
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. In 2D and 3D.
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.
> Silent House (R): Elizabeth Olsen is trapped inside a house with a mysterious figure in this horror film, which is presented as one single, eighty-five-minute take.
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.
> A Thousand Words (PG-13): Eddie Murphy stars as a fast-talking agent who discovers he is cursed and can only speak one-thousand more words before he dies. Costarring Kerry Washington.
Tyler Perry's Good Deeds (PG-13): In Tyler Perry's latest Tyler Perryfest, writer/producer/director/actor/caterer/key grip Perry stars as a high-powered businessman who learns redemptive lessons about family and stuff when he falls for a struggling single mom (Thandie Newton). Featuring Gabrielle Union and Phylicia Rashad.