Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 27, 2012 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
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 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.
End of Watch (R , ****): Writer-director David Ayer takes a docu-drama style approach to this stirring, character-driven drama about the bond between two cops working a patrol car in the toughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Former Marine Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and wryly introspective family man Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) forge a bond across their cultural barriers, and it's that relationship depicted in nicely paced scenes with excellent, naturalistic dialogue that serves as the movie's core. A running plot about the evils of a new Mexican cartel serves mostly as a distraction from an otherwise compelling and almost unbearably suspenseful cop drama that prioritizes emotion over pyrotechnics and accurately depicts the way men bond under pressure. It's superbly acted, one of the best movies about policework in many years.
Hope Springs (PG-13, ***1/2): Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones costar as a longtime married couple who go to a weeklong intensive therapy session to save their relationship and rekindle the spark. This thoughtful, well-made romantic drama broaches topics very rarely addressed with any seriousness in film: namely, old people doin' it. Although the film can be almost as squirm-inducing as listening to your own parents talk about sex, it's insightful and resists both easy answers and melodrama. Streep and Jones are fantastic together, and Steve Carell gives a nice performance as the therapist, present but unobtrusive and a little inscrutable, like a good shrink should be.
Lawless (R , ****): Director John Hillcoat reteams with his Proposition screenwriter Nick Cave for this neo-Western about backwoods bootleggers in the days of Prohibition. The three Bondurant brothers (Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, and Shia LeBeouf) refuse to allow their illegal liquor business to be overseen by a corrupt cop (an over-the-top Guy Pearce), launching a bloody conflict that threatens everyone in the county. It's a more conventional, plot-driven movie than The Proposition, but it's similarly potent and gritty. Hillcoat seems to be stretching to imitate the visual poetry of Terrence Malick, and he's not altogether unsuccessful, crafting some beautiful images that nicely complement Cave’s punchy, pulpy script. Alas, it's a man's movie in the style of Sam Peckinpah for better and for worse, which means Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska are relegating to playing damsels.
The Master (R): (R, ****1/2): The title of Paul Thomas Anderson's latest could just as easily refer to the writer/director, who continues to marry his controlled technique to audacious concepts. This is a movie about the search for meaning that demands you search for its meaning, in which a soldier (Joaquin Phoenix) fallen into depravity in the wake of World War II, seeks guidance from a guru (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose pseudo-scientific self-improvement methodology is not accidentally reminiscent of Scientology. But this is no thinly veiled Scientology exposé, it's an existential argument that happens to use a Scientology stand-in as its point of reference, although the details of the quasi-religion are largely unimportant. The conflict between Phoenix's outcast spiritual searcher and Hoffman's false intellectual prophet is the core of the movie, although it's far more effective on an intellectual level that it is emotionally engaging. Anderson mutes his stylistic flourishes, which may account for the movie's relative lack of singularly memorable moments.
ParaNorman (PG , ***1/2): The charming, slightly creepy stop-motion-animated comedy from the producers of Coraline lacks the goth street cred of a Neil Gaiman or a Tim Burton, but codirectors Chris Butler and Sam Fell have still made an awfully entertaining family film. The eponymous Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an outcast for his alleged ability to speak to the dead, but that becomes a major asset when his small town is overrun with zombies and placed under a witch's curse. It's more a macabre adventure tale à la Monster House than gothic, Gorey-inspired fare like Corpse Bride, but the jokes, though reliant on slapstick, are funny, and the visual gags are abundant. Kids will dig it, but it's entertaining enough you needn't bring them along to justify going. In 2D and 3D.
< The Possession (PG-13, *): This bland, unmemorable Exorcist riff contains a single element of novelty: This time the origin of the evil spirit possessing the innocent young girl (Natasha Calis) is a dybbuk, of Jewish mystic lore, and to cast out the demon our frazzled parent protagonist (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) must seek out a Hasidic Jewish scholar rather than your standard-issue priest. Otherwise, this is a by-the-numbers haunting with few scares and little novelty, competently but coldly crafted with computer effects that suggest the idea of a frightening image without actually being one. The young possessed girl is supposed to be terrifyingly out of control, but everything here seems predictably in place, which is a problem throughout the film. Director Ole Bornedal never even bothers to probe much into the potentially intriguing culture of Jewish mysticism, although in fairness that symbology does lack the overtly horrific qualities that have made Catholic iconography a staple of scary movies for decades.
< 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 Gordon-Levitt, a zippy script, and enough cycling jargon to fill an urban dictionary.
Resident Evil: Retribution (R, *): The fifth installment of this action-horror franchise based on a popular videogame is in fact an awful lot like watching your friend play Xbox. Milla Jovovich reprises her role as a leather-clad superheroine out to save the plague-ravaged world from the zombie virus unleashed by the evil Umbrella Corporation. She kills a lot of computer-generated monsters in slow motion in between expository sequences that play like the most awkwardly cut scenes in a videogame. Some unimaginably bad acting and clunky effects make this a poor example of even this lowly subgenre. In 2D and 3D.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Dredd 3D (R): An attempt to turn the badass of British comic-book fame into a big-screen star, after Sylvester Stallone's notorious failure. Karl Urban (Star Trek) straps on the helmet of the hyperviolent cop living in a dystopian future where he must do battle with the creators of a new street drug. In 2D and 3D.
Finding Nemo (G): Pixar's much-loved fish tale gets an almost certainly unnecessary 3D retrofit. See little Nemo's angst jump right off the screen when his mother is killed and he is swept away from his father (voiced by Albert Brooks), who goes on a journey to rescue his son. Featuring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Eric Bana, and Geoffrey Rush. In 3D only.
> Hotel Transylvania (PG): Animated kiddie comedy in which a reformed Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) quits bloodsucking to run a resort getaway for his monster friends. Featuring the voices of Steve Buscemi, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, and Selena Gomez. In 2D and 3D.
House at the End of the Street (PG-13): A single mom (Elisabeth Shue) and her older teenage daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) move into the house only to find that the mystery of their dead neighbors has yet to be solved.
The Last Ounce of Courage (PG): Right-wing propaganda film about the family of a fictional dead soldier. (Wissmann)
> Looper (R): Brick director Rian Johnson helms this cerebral sci-fi thriller in which the mafia controls time travel and uses it as a way to bump off their enemies in both the past and the future. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, and Jeff Daniels.
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.
Trouble with the Curve (PG-13): Clint Eastwood stars as an aging baseball scout who reconnects with his daughter (Amy Adams) in the twilight of his career. Featuring Justin Timberlake and John Goodman.
> Won't Back Down (PG): Daniel Barnz’s movie about a parent-and-teacher team (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis) who try to save a failing school district is drawing controversy for its overly simplistic antiunion sentiments. Also starring Holly Hunter. (Wissmann)