Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 25, 2012 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
For more film reviews and capsules, see the Nightlife section of <http://www.CarbondaleRocks.com>.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Argo (R, **1/2): Ben Affleck directs this well-crafted, intriguing thriller based on a fascinating true story that just happens to make for a pretty boring movie. Affleck stars as state department agent Tony Mendez, who concocts an elaborate scheme to rescue six Americans secretly living in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. His solution is to use Hollywood moviemakers (Alan Arkin and John Goodman) to pose as a Canadian film crew and extract the Americans before they’re taken hostage. The story is fascinating and Affleck constructs the film more than competently, but the story is front-loaded, better suited to a documentary. The final hour is a slog, with the climax being a twenty-minute trek through airport security that makes you feel exactly like you just went through airport security.
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.
Paranormal Activity IV (R, *): The latest installment in the creepy found-footage series shows the franchise is clearly out of scares, inexplicably sticking to the Katie Featherston backstory as it attempts to squeeze a little more out of a similar series of squeaking doors and lurking shadows. A teen (Kathryn Newton) convinces her conveniently tech-savvy boyfriend (Matt Shively) to rig all the computers in the house to record video so she can capture the strange goings-on that transpire after a new lady (Featherston) and her son move in next door. The same formula that once produced unbearable suspense from no-budget effects has become rigid and codified, and now evokes no suspense. It’s just a tedious slog waiting for something paranormal, or any real activity at all. Time to give up the ghost.
< Seven Psychopaths (R, ***1/2): Playwright Martin McDonagh’s second feature is a self-aware sendup of hyperviolent hitmen comedies that sometimes becomes the object of its own critique, despite the aforementioned self-awareness. In its best moments, it’s the Adaptation of hitman movies, with beleaguered screenwriter Marty (Collin Farrell) caught up in a deadly conflict between his thuggish pals Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) and a gangster (Woody Harrelson) whose dog they stole. Though it often fails to live up to its own ambitions, the movie is filled with crackling dialogue and fun performances, and it challenges the conventions of its own genre even if it does eventually fall into them.
Sinister (R, ***1/2): Ethan Hawke stars in this pleasant surprise of a low-budget studio horror movie that fuses modern found-footage horror with a classic haunted house tale. The resulting film isn’t terribly innovative, but it’s good, spooky fun. Hawke’s tortured true-crime writer moves his family into a house where another family was murdered in the hopes of turning their tale into a bestseller. In the attic he discovers a disturbing series of super-eight films that show not only the murder of the family he’s writing about, but of other families as well, in what seems to be a connected series of killings-- leading him to suspect that perhaps his wife and children are next. Director and cowriter Scott Derrickson isn’t shy about use cheap sound cues and startle-scares, but they only supplement the more substantial psychological and conceptual horror, and he also renders some memorable macabre images. A nice treat for the Halloween season.
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
Alex Cross (PG-13): The hero of James Patterson’s bestselling detective novels, once played by Morgan Freeman but now replaced with Tyler Perry, must track down a madman (Matthew Fox) who killed a member of his family. Featuring Rachel Nichols and Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito.
< 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)
> Cloud Atlas (R): Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix) adapt David Mitchell’s sprawling, genre-hopping literary masterpiece that skips across continents and centuries to interweave disparate tales of adventure, suspense, and tragedy. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, and Jim Sturgess play several different characters through time.
> Chasing Mavericks (PG): One of those based-on-an-inspirational-true-story types about a teen (Jonny Weston) who seeks a mentor (Gerard Butler) to help him surf some of the biggest waves in the world.
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 only.
> Fun Size (PG-13): Tween Halloween (Hallotween?) comedy about a girl who must enlist the help of her friends to find her little brother, who runs off while trick-or-treating. Featuring Nickelodeon starlet Victoria Justice, Chelsea Handler, and Johnny Knoxville, from Gossip Girl and O.C. creator Josh Schwartz.
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.
> Perks of Being a Wallflower (PG13): Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller star in Stephen Chbosky’s acclaimed adaptation of his own 1999 novel about teenagers coming of age.
Pitch Perfect (PG-13): Jason Moore (Avenue Q) comedy about a catty, all-woman college a cappella ensemble. Starring Brittany Snow and Anna Kendrick.
> Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (R): Sequel in the insipid series based on the scary videogame series. Another lady (Adelaide Clemens) wanders into a spooky, foggy town to be plagued by computer-generated phantoms. The surprisingly decent cast includes Martin Donovan, Malcolm McDowell, Sean Bean, and Radha Mitchell. In 2D and 3D.
< 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)