Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 30, 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.
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.
Hit and Run (R, ***): Writer, producer, and codirector Dax Shepard not only stars in this car-chase caper comedy, he cast his real-life girlfriend Kristen Bell as the romantic lead and loaned his personal collection of race cars and souped-up roadsters to the production. The result could be considered a vanity project, but if so, it’s an entertaining one. Think Cannonball Run by way of Elmore Leonard. Shepard’s reformed wheelman is just trying to get his girlfriend to L.A. for a job interview when the former partners he testified against (including a wildly miscast Bradley Cooper) come calling for revenge. It’s an absolutely frivolous movie, but it’s fun, with a script that surprisingly works best in the slower, character-driven moments. Shepard and Bell’s chemistry translates well to the screen, and their banter makes for the strongest moments in the movie.
Premium Rush (PG-13, ***): This fast-paced action flick based on the wild world of New York City bike messengers is as of-the-moment as adulatory looks at 1980s subcultures like Rad, Thrashin’, and Gleaming the Cube, which is to say it’s almost certain to look like a relic a decade hence. But cowriter and director David Koepp keeps it interesting, at least for now, with some kinetic action sequences and a wonderfully villainous performance by Michael Shannon, as cartoonish and bug-eyed crazy as usual. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, the best bike messenger in the biz, who’s tasked with getting an envelope across Manhattan in an hour and a half. The package also holds the key to redemption for Shannon’s crooked cop, so the chase is on through the streets and alleys. It’s bike porn, but it’s pretty good bike porn, with a typically solid and earnest performance from Levitt, a zippy script, and enough cycling jargon to fill an urban dictionary.
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.
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.
> Lawless (R): Screenwriter Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat reteam for this Depression-era crime drama about a gang of bootlegging brothers (including Shia LeBeouf and Tom Hardy) fighting to keep the law away from their stills. Featuring Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, and Gary Oldman.
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.
> Oogieloves in The Big Balloon Adventure (G): Matthew Diamond directs this animated, somewhat interactive children’s tale starring the voices of Toni Braxton, Christopher Lloyd, Chazz Palminteri, Cary Elwes, and Cloris Leachman.
> The Possession (PG-13): A girl (Natasha Calis) buys a trinket that holds an evil spirit-- but The Trinket isn’t a very good name for a horror movie. Jeffrey Dean Morgan costars with Kyra Sedgwick as the parents trying to lift the curse.
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.
< 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.