Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 22, 2012 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
For more film reviews and capsules, see the Nightlife section of
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.
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.
< Silent House (R, **1/2): This claustrophobic horror flick stars Elizabeth Olsen as a young girl trapped alone in her family's boarded-up vacation house with a mysterious presence that may have killed her father. The film takes place during eighty-five minutes and is structured to appear as one continuous take à la Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) certainly conjure up the terrors of confinement, but the story moves toward a lame final twist that unfortunately recalls the psychobabble silliness of another girl-in-a-spooky-house movie, the similarly disappointing High Tension.
21 Jump Street (R, ***): Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star in this bizarre remake of the not-all-that-popular late-1980s drama about cops going undercover as high-school students to stop youth crimes. It's less a straight retread, however, than a parody of the kind of movie that an actual 21 Jump Street remake would be-- that is to say, it's a pop-culture mashup thoroughly drenched in irony. It's moderately funny, too, thanks largely to the two leads, especially Tatum, who gets most of the big laughs as a clueless ex-jock forced to ingratiate himself with the nerds and losers he spurned during his school days. A bloody and outlandish finale only amps up the weirdness in a movie that's both consistently odd and relentlessly conventional.
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 only.
> The Hunger Games (PG-13): Suzanne Collins's wildly popular (and very good) young-adult novel series in which teenagers are pitted against one another in a deadly game for sport and entertainment in a dystopian future gets the inevitable big-screen treatment. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss, a wily peasant girl forced to fight against her would-be boyfriend (Josh Hutcherson). Featuring Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Liam Hemsworth.
< 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.
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.