Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 1, 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>.
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
Cloud Atlas (R , ***): It took three directors and cowriters to adapt David Mitchell’s sprawling modern classic, but it seems Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski still needed some help. The movie turns out to be a beautiful, consistently compelling mess that loses or lessens most of the novel’s big insights as it struggles to pack in the six intertwining plots. Those stories are interlinked thematically and sometimes literally: The seafaring adventures of a nineteenth-century lawyer who befriends a stowaway slave, a rakish young composer working for his dying mentor, an ace reporter investigating corruption at a nuclear-power plant, an old man mistakenly confined to a nursing home, a clone created to serve a corporation in futuristic Neo Korea, and the final vestiges of humanity returned to tribalism after an unexplained apocalypse. It’s to the filmmakers’ credit that the stories remain cohesive, and tight editing keeps the film moving at a fast pace that makes the nearly three-hour running time race by. But each story seems more a sketch than a complete arc, and their sum feels like no more than the whole of its parts. It was a fundamental mistake to cast actors, even good ones like Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, and Doona Bae in multiple roles, creating distraction and some unintentional comedy via awkward prosthetics and even more awkward ethnic transformations.
< 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.
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.
Perks of Being a Wallflower (PG-13, ****): Author Steven Chbosky adapts and directs the popular coming-of-age novel he first published two decades ago. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a shy and sensitive freshman still vulnerable from tragedy when he’s befriended by best pals and step-siblings Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who open his eyes to the possibilities of life. It’s a small but well-crafted movie that succeeds in its many winning small moments, but like the book it overrelies on capital T tragedies and seems too eager to bestow every character with life-altering trauma. Still, the fantastic young cast is capable with emotions big and small, and Chbosky makes a warm and incredibly endearing teen drama that has plenty of appeal beyond its target demographic. Also featuring Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, and Mae Whitman.
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.
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.
Flight (R): Denzel Washington stars in this morally murky thriller as an airline pilot who becomes a hero when he makes a spectacular crash-landing to save passengers, but is later vilified when his personal life is revealed. From Cast Away director Robert Zemeckis.
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.
The Man With the Iron Fists (R): Martial-arts throwdown directed by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, cowritten by Eli Roth, and produced by Quentin Tarantino, starring RZA, Russell Crowe, and Lucy Liu. What else do you need to know?
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.
Wreck-it Ralph (PG): Animated family comedy about a videogame villain (voiced by John C. Reilly) who gets tired of being the bad guy and tries to be a hero with disastrous consequences for the videogame world. Featuring the usual fundraiser’s worth of celebrity names, including Sarah Silverman, Ed O’Neill, and Jane Lynch. In 2D ad 3D.