Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 11, 2012 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
< 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 docudrama 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.
House at the End of the Street (PG-13, *): The only person scared of this movie should be star Jennifer Lawrence’s agent. She’s a newly minted movie princess, yet here she’s stuck in a shoddy lite-Gothic melodrama that is by turns dull and silly, staring as a lonely transplant to a new town who falls for the boy next door (Max Thieriot). He’s living in the house where his sister murdered his parents, but he’s also keeping the family’s dark secrets. The script isn’t shrill enough to render the movie unintentionally entertaining, and the flat performance from Thieriot, whose contrast of menace and charm should be its crux, looks something like Ryan Phillippe on Ambien. Featuring Elisabeth Shue as Lawrence’s beleaguered single mother.
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 relegated to playing damsels.
Looper (R, ****): Rian Johnson's genre mashup is pastiche with more of a veneer of novelty than actual novelty, but he's thoroughly in control of his appropriations and manages to combine them into something awfully slick and entertaining. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a new kind of hitman in 2044 whose job is to execute people sent back in time thirty years to be disposed of in the past. When he finds that his latest target is himself three decades older (Bruce Willis), he faces a headtrip of a moral dilemma complicated by his future self's violent but possibly necessary plans. Though it sounds hard to follow, the plot of Looper is actually pretty streamlined. It's the character motivations and alliances that are complex and keep the movie compelling, which is why it's a bit of a shame that the climax is dominated by special-effects histrionics. Still, it's a smart piece of pop entertainment, handsomely executed and thought-provoking even in its more uneven moments.
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. 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 than 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 only.
< 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.
Taken II (PG-13, **): The sequel to the surprise action hit is even more xenophobic and manipulative than the original. The evil foreigner parents of the evil foreigners who kidnapped the daughter (Maggie Grace) of CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) attempt to kidnap the whole family for revenge, including Mills’s ex-wife (Famke Janssen). He must break free and end the cycle of violence against a group of people who are presented as inherently violent and incapable of reason, and whose primary goal seems to be to sexually menace white women. The subtext is plainly icky, while the quick pacing and slightly better-than-average action aesthetic make it a competent but unmemorable thriller that’s not nearly compelling enough to justify its dodgy agenda.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Argo (R): Ben Affleck directs and stars in this strange true tale about a CIA team that poses as a Canadian film crew making a fake sci-fi movie to free Americans trapped during the Iranian revolution. Featuring Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, and John Goodman.
> Atlas Shrugged Part II (PG13): The second half of the critically savaged adaptation of Ayn Rand’s ponderous novel about the evils of socialism and government regulation-- just in time for the 2012 election. Probably more boring but less damaging to the Obama campaign than the president’s first debate performance. (Wissmann)
< 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.
For a Good Time, Call (R): Jamie Travis film about two very different roommates (played by Lauren Miller and Ari Graynor) who enter the phone-sex trade to make rent money.
Frankenweenie (PG): Tim Burton expands the short film that helped launch his career in this macabre animated comedy about a young aspiring scientist named Victor who reanimates his dearly departed pooch with disastrous results. Featuring the voices of Catherine O'Hara, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, and Martin Short. In 2D and 3D.
> Here Comes the Boom (PG): Kevin James stars as a high-school biology teacher who enters a mixed martial arts tournament to raise money for his school in this mainstreamiest of comedies, featuring Salma Hayek and Henry Winkler.
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.
Pitch Perfect (PG-13): Jason Moore (Avenue Q) comedy about a catty, all-woman college a cappella ensemble. Starring Brittany Snow and Anna Kendrick.
> Seven Psychopaths (R): Dark comedy from the writer/director of the sharp and surprisingly soulful In Bruges. In his latest, an L.A. schlub gets mixed up with an intersecting array of gangsters over the kidnapping of a beloved Shih Tzu. Featuring Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, and Tom Waits.
> Sinister (R): Ethan Hawke stars as a true-crime novelist who finds evidence of a supernatural entity while studying gruesome footage for his research.
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)