Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 12 , 2012 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Amazing Spider-man (PG-13, **1/2): The appropriately named director Marc Webb does decent work with this reboot of Marvel Comics' most successful character, but he never makes a case that it needs to exist. It's a familiar origin story: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) gets bitten by a radioactive spider, fails to save his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), makes a costume, and becomes a web-slinging crime-fighter. Yet again the scientist who runs the lab where Peter is bitten injects himself with a serum and becomes a super-villain, this time around a raging lizard monster (played in human form by Rhys Ifans) that consistently looks like a character from a videogame-cut sequence circa the year 2000. Better-than-average dialogue and character interaction between Parker and girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone) and solid performances make the drama work far better than the humdrum action, which mostly takes place in the dark or underground in the sewers and is tediously conventional. Either Webb has seen too few superhero movies, or we've seen too many. In 2D and 3D.
< 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.
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, and 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.
Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13 , ****1/2): Wes Anderson's latest unfolds on a bucolic island off the coast of New England in 1965, the setting for the small-scale epic love story between Sam (Jared Gilman), a lonely scout at summer camp who runs away with kindred spirit Suzy (Kara Hayward), a morose loner trapped with her stuffy psychologist parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). Their secretive departure, the stuff of campfire legends, creates a buzz of excitement around the island as the scout master (Edward Norton) and police officer (Bruce Willis) launch search parties to find the missing couple. This isn't Anderson stretching the bounds of his comfort zone, it's Anderson at his Andersony-est, which is fantastic. All his hallmarks are here: embellished dioramas, meticulously orchestrated tracking shots, the wonderfully fussy set designs. Anderson continues to refine his aesthetic and succeeds, like his characters, in creating his own tiny, personalized, perfect world.
< 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.
Ted (R, ***1/2): Family Guy creator Seth MacFarland makes his debut both as a director of feature film and live-action (sorta) in this characteristically raunchy comedy about a little boy who makes a wish for his teddy bear to come to life. That wish comes true, and thirty years later the boy, now grown up into a lazy man-child (Mark Wahlberg), is still best friends with his talking bear (voiced by MacFarland), a pot-smoking poon-hound living in the post-glory days of his celebrity as the world’s first magical being. An impending marriage proposal to the requisite girlfriend (Mila Kunis) threatens to break the two pals apart as they’re both forced to grow up and face the adult world. The plot is a goofy, magical realist take on a too-familiar storyline, but MacFarland is an undeniably sharp jokewriter and fantastic voice talent who finds plenty of demented laughs along the way. The movie is inert whenever the computer-animated star is out of frame, suggesting MacFarland is still more comfortable with cartoons than real live performers, but it’s a solid first outing.
< 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.
To Rome With Love (R , ***1/2): Woody Allen's latest, another of his European travelogue movies, is a whimsical throwback to his sketch-comedy past featuring four vignettes about the lives of tourists and citizens in Rome. An architect (Jesse Eisenberg) seeks spiritual advice from the imaginary apparition of his idol (Alec Baldwin) to help him navigate a love triangle (with Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page); a beautiful tourist (Alison Pill) falls in love but fears the outcome when her father (Allen) visits and attempts to turn her future father-in-law into an opera star; a middle-class office worker (Roberto Benigni) is baffled when he becomes an inexplicable overnight celebrity; and a pair of small-town lovers (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) get separated for a day in the city and stumble upon temptation. This is lightweight Woody fare, but it's not frivolous. Some great jokes and wonderful performances from Baldwin, Eisenberg, and Page, plus an especially hilarious Benigni, make the movie feel like a two-hour summer vacation.
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.
> Ice Age: Continental Drift (PG): A big melt sends the crew of pre-historical animals Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary), and Sid (John Leguizamo) adrift on an iceberg and floating toward new adventures in the second sequel to this computer-animated family comedy. Preceded by a new computer-animated Simpsons short, The Longest Daycare. In 2D and 3D.
Katy Perry: Part of Me (PG): You won’t see the part of Kate Perry that made her famous in this PG-rated faux-documentary about the onstage and offstage life of the plastic pop star, which works as a feature-length commercial for a product already thoroughly forced on the American public. Made all the more shameless by a cash-in on the 3D craze. In 2D and 3D.
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 only.
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.
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.
> Safety Not Guaranteed (R): A strange classified ad seeking a companion for a time-traveling adventure leads a journalist (Aubrey Plaza) and her cohorts to an eccentric loner (Marc Duplass) in this comedy featuring Kristin Bell and Jeff Garlin. Directed by Colin Trevorrow.
Savages (R): Oliver Stone adapts Don Winslow's razor-sharp, action-heavy tropical noir about a pair of pot-farming buddies (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson), their shared girlfriend (Blake Lively), and the Mexican cartel that comes between them. Featuring Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro.
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.