Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 23 , 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 only.
The Bourne Legacy (PG-13, ***): The oddball experiment of making a Bourne movie without Bourne proves even more troublesome when series writer Tony Gilroy, now in the director's chair, turns new hero Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) into a genetically enhanced agent, a literal superspy, and shifts away from espionage and toward superheroics, as though the summer box office needs more superhero movies. When Cross is targeted for elimination following the public debacle of the Bourne situation, he absconds with the scientist who made him super (Rachel Weisz) to try and sever ties for good between himself and the generically evil bureaucrats who run the program (Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Scott Glenn). The action sequences lack the verve that made the originals so thrilling, and the plot, while passable, seems unlikely to have been made if not for the Bourne affiliation-- a connection that turns out to be negligible at best.
< 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 only.
The Campaign (R, ***): This election comedy costarring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis is benignly funny enough, but it seriously lapses when it attempts to stretch into satire. Ferrell’s vacuous, pandering congressman has always run unopposed, until a pair of billionaire industrialists (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) prop up a local numbskull (Galifianakis) to run against him, beginning a brutal, spite-filled election process that turns both men into the worst versions of themselves. The two leads keep it interesting, but its blunt attempts at insightful commentary are no more effective than those of similarly forgettable campaign comedies like Head of State, Man of the Year, and Welcome to Mooseport.
The Dark Knight Rises (PG-13, ***): Christopher Nolan concludes his Batman trilogy with this overlong, morose installment that stingily deals out spectacular action sequences amid a slog of exposition and needless subplots. Eight years after the events of the last film, a retired Batman (Christian Bale) must put the suit back on to stop masked terrorist leader Bane (Tom Hardy), who uses class-war rhetoric to exploit Gotham's restless underclass to help him hatch a deadly plot. Batman fights back with help from a sexy jewel thief (Anne Hathaway), the ever-faithful Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and a dedicated cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) inspired by the caped crusader. There are some cool concepts and beautiful scenes here, but they're lost in a mush of stilted dialogue, superfluous characters, and ponderous speeches, artfully rendered but no damn fun at all.
The Expendables II (R, *1/2): The first Expendables was more appealing in theory than practice-- two decades’ worth of action icons crammed into one old-school shoot ‘em up!-- but its gleeful audacity gave it a bit of nostalgic charm. Not so for this rehash, which grimly demonstrates why the 1980s standard of having a hero mindlessly pump endless rounds into nameless foreign people is not only morally dubious, it’s dull in comparison with stunt-driven, kinetic modern-day action. Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham lead a team of badasses into a fake eastern European country to avenge the death of their youngest team member, because apparently the team name is not meant to be taken literally. Jean-Claude Van Damme awkwardly says bad-guy lines while Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jet Li, and Randy Couture return; Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger step up their roles; and the never-cool Chuck Norris joins the fray. It’s a showcase of the worst actors of a generation.
< 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.
Total Recall (PG-13, **1/2): This perfectly passable remake makes a few interesting alterations but no compelling case for its own existence. Colin Farrell stars as a blue-collar schlub suffering a midlife crisis in a dystopian future. He pays for a high-tech, mind-altering procedure to implant memories of a wild vacation but ends up convinced he's a spy working against the government's tyrannical leader (Bryan Cranston). Quaid tries to sort out whether he's a paranoid psychotic or a deep-cover agent with amnesia amid a gamut of shootouts and flying car chases toward a rejiggered ending that adds a little something-- but not much. Kate Beckinsale is a lateral move from Sharon Stone, but the lack of Kuato is the final insult. The original might have aged awkwardly in places, but it's bloodier, pulpier, vastly weirder, and much more fun.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (PG): Second sequel in the kids’ series in which the titular wimp (Zachary Gordon) deals with a series of calamities during his summer vacation.
Hit and Run (R): In this lightweight passion project, codirector, writer, producer, and star Dax Shepard conscripts his own car collection to make an action comedy about a former getaway driver (Shepard) pulled out of the Witness Protection Program to perform one last job. Featuring Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, and Michael Rosenbaum.
Hope Springs (PG-13): An eager wife and unwilling husband (played by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) enter counseling (with a therapist played by Steve Carell) to reinvigorate their marriage.
< Ice Age: Continental Drift (PG): A big melt sends the crew of prehistoric 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 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
< Nitro Circus the Movie (PG-13): Stuntmen performing crazy feats-- sort of an off-brand version of Jackass. In 3D.
Obama’s America 2016 (PG): Right-wing hack Dinesh D'Souza (author of The Roots of Obama's Rage) goes after the president in an election year. (Wissmann)
The Odd Life of Timothy Green (PG): A childless couple (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) is shocked to find a child (C.J. Adams) magically emerge from their garden in this light, family friendly fantasy.
ParaNorman (PG): Macabre animated kiddie comedy about an oddball kid who can speak with the dead, who rapidly seem to be invading his suburb. Featuring the voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Norman and a typically celebrity-choked supporting cast including Anna Kendrick, John Goodman, and Jeff Garlin. In 2D and 3D.
Premium Rush (PG-13): Both surprisingly and not surprisingly at all, the world gets its first bike-messenger-themed action movie courtesy of David Koepp (Stir of Echoes, Ghost Town), who helms this tale of a courier (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who becomes a target when he picks up a mysterious package.
Sparkle (PG-13): The big story about this otherwise unremarkable musical about an emergent group of Motown singers (including star Jordin Sparks) is that it contains the final performance of Whitney Houston.