Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 28, 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 Avengers (PG-13, ****): Six prequel films’ worth of setup climax in what is undeniably the biggest superhero movie ever made, with an ensemble played by Hollywood’s top stars. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson reprise their roles from earlier blockbusters, while Jeremy Renner is introduced as marksman Hawkeye and Mark Ruffalo steps into the role of the Hulk. Impressively, director and cowriter Joss Whedon manages to orchestrate all this chaos and make the story semi-intelligible to boot-- something about a magic gizmo that will allow aliens to come kill us all. Whedon nicely balances the interpersonal drama among the egotistical titans with big effects sequences so that the characters don’t get too lost in the massive scope of the movie. Whedon’s quippy dialogue and some fun performances, especially from Downey Jr. and Ruffalo, keep the film as light and zany as the comic books on which it’s based. In 2D only.
< Bernie (PG-13 , ****): Richard Linklater’s strange-but-true dark comedy about a funeral director (Jack Black) who kills his wealthy benefactress (Shirley MacLaine) is as much a portrait of small-town Carthage, Texas, as it is a mirthfully macabre adaptation of a magazine article by Skip Hollandsworth, who adapts the screenplay. Linklater intersperses the film with interview footage of actual Carthage residents to tell the story, giving the film a wonderful, gossipy authenticity. It’s a nice fusion of Linklater’s talking-head-collage approach in Slacker and Waking Life with his more easygoing mainstream fare. Black gives a hilarious but restrained performance, and Matthew McConaughey also shines as the fast-talking and self-assured district attorney Danny Buck Davidson.
Brave (PG , ***): Pixar’s latest is perfectly adequate but not up to their own high standards. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a flame-haired princess eager to buck tradition and shirk her responsibility to be partnered in an arranged marriage. She meets a witch, makes a wish, it backfires. What follows is both silly and predictable, with an anthropomorphic bear standing in during all the mother-daughter scenes that are supposed to form the emotional core. Neither the action nor the jokes work especially well, although the animation and visual aesthetic are astounding, especially with 3D to lend depth to the intricate backgrounds. It’s handsomely adorned but uninspired; great for kids and passable for adults, which is a big step down from Pixar’s usual demographic transcendence. Bolstered by nice vociework from Emma Thompson and, of course, Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson, who should be (and probably are) required casting for any Scottish-themed cartoon. In 2D and 3D.
Men in Black III (PG-13, *1/2): Wildly unnecessary sequel to a sci-fi franchise with a distinct 1990s vibe. When Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from a lunar prison, he goes back in time to erase the man who put him behind bars-- Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). To save his partner, Agent J (Will Smith) must go back in time and team up with a much younger K (Josh Brolin) to avert disaster. Along the way they encounter a slew of computer-generated effects. In fact, just about everything in the movie that isn’t Smith, Brolin, or Jones is green-screened in, giving this uninspired retread a cartoonish look that’s utterly inhibited by the incorporation of live-action actors. The result looks, well, dated. In 2D only.
Prometheus (R, ***1/2): Ridley Scott's first sci-fi film since 1982's Blade Runner is both a cerebral sci-fi exercise in the vein of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and a prequel to Scott’s own classic Alien. An alien signal leads to a deep-space expedition to a far-off planet, where a scientist (Noomi Rapace) hopes to discover the origins of humanity. What she finds may be both the secret of our beginnings and our final undoing, especially when the true nature of the mission, funded by a corporate executive (Charlize Theron) and overseen by her android assistant (Michael Fassbender), is revealed. Scott's film is full of breathtaking imagery and big ideas, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts, largely because the high-minded themes simply do not gel with the slimy creature-feature elements that tie the movie to Alien. It can be difficult to sort out the intentional ambiguities from run-of-the-mill plot holes, but the film doesn't lack for ambition and splendor. In 2D and 3D.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (R, **1/2): Steve Carell is in full-on sad-sack mode in this dramedy set during the final days before the impending secular apocalypse. With an asteroid bearing down on Earth, Dodge (Carell) is alone and grinding through his routine as society crumbles. He meets up with flighty Brit Penny (Kiera Knightley), who missed the last plane home to England, and the two set about on a redemptive road trip that turns the movie into an ensemble comedy. Trouble is, the jokes get mired in the movie’s somber sludge of a mood, and writer/director Lorn Scafaria can’t find the whimsy in the End. It features nice turns from bit players Patton Oswalt, T.J. Miller, Connie Britton, Martin Sheen, and Adam Brody, as well as solid performances from the two leads, who evidence more chemistry than viewers might expect. But it’s too drab and tonally inconsistent, straining for laughter and sometimes just straining.
Snow White and the Huntsman (PG-13, **1/2): Passable but uninspired faux-fantasy epic in which the Brothers Grimm fairytale is bloated to blockbuster length with a lot of Lord of the Rings-style battles and special effects. The evil queen (Charlize Theron) enlists the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to venture into the dark forest to capture the slain king's daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart). Instead he joins forces with her and a band of seven dwarves, and they help lead an army to depose the oppressive queen. The effects look appropriately expensive and the cast is (mostly) solid, but the movie feels like a soulless marketing exercise that marries the love triangle of Twilight with the episodic questing and big battles of Lord of the Rings not because they're suited to the story but because they sell tickets.
That's My Boy (R, *): A decent comic setup folds under the weight of producer/star Adam Sandler’s increasingly tedious formula. Washed-up Masshole Donny (Sandler) knocked up his teacher when he was a teenager, and did a hopeless job of raising their son. Thirty years later and in need of money, he tracks down his progeny (Andy Samberg) only to discover the kid is a total sputtering mess on the verge of a disastrous wedding. The trouble is, Samberg’s character is horribly written and utterly unlikeable, giving the talented performer no room to work. Sandler’s usual barrage of stunt casting and easy jokes involving horny old people, horny fat people, and giddy ethnic caricatures does little to bolster the ailing storyline, making this every bit as painful as Jack and Jill, which is saying something.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R): Writer Seth Grahame-Smith adapts his own kitschy horror novel that tells about the secret paranormal exploits of one of America’s most beloved presidents. Starring Benjamin Walker as Honest Abe, alongside Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Rufus Sewell. In 2D and 3D.
< The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG-13): A bunch of Brits head to India for a luxury vacation, only to find they were misled to a subpar hotel by a case of false adverting. Starring a pretty good cast led by Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, and directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love).
Madagascar III: Europe's Most Wanted (PG): Sequel to the computer-animated kiddie comedy about a group of New York zoo animals who get sent back to the titular land and must continue their journey back to captivity, like animals do. Featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Frances McDormand, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Bryan Cranston, among others. In 2D and 3D.
> Magic Mike (R): Steven Soderbergh directs this project produced by star Channing Tatum, who based the film on his earlier career as a male stripper. Featuring Matthew McConaughey as the slick and-- obviously-- shirtless club owner, alongside Olivia Munn, Alex Pettyfer, and Cody Horn.
> Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13): Wes Anderson’s latest film is typically star-studded, acclaimed, and (as befits the director of The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Rushmore) surreal. When a young couple run away together, the town must search for them, and weirdness ensues. With Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman.
> People Like Us (PG-13): Chris Pine stars as the son of a deceased record producer (Philip Baker Hall) who is tasked in the will with delivering $150,000 to an alcoholic sister (Elizabeth Banks) he’s never met. Featuring Olivia Wilde, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Mark Duplass.
Rock of Ages (PG-13): Hair-metal-themed musical, based on a stage play, in which the owner of a failing venue (Alec Baldwin) recruits the biggest arena-rock performer of his day (Tom Cruise) to put on a benefit concert to save the club. The ensemble cast includes Julianne Hough, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, and Russell Brand.
> Ted (R): Debut feature film from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane in which an emotionally stunted man (Mark Wahlberg) is urged by his girlfriend (Mila Kunis) to ditch his childhood teddy bear-- a real-life teddy bear that walks, talks, drinks, and screws his way into calamity.
> Tyler Perry's Madea’s Witness Protection (PG-13): This time around, Tyler Perry’s title character must turn her Atlanta home into a safe house and host a family (played in part by Eugene Levy, Denise Richards, and Doris Roberts) that her prosecutor nephew has brought her. Culture clash ensues.