Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 15, 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>.
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 their 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.
Flight (R, ****): Robert Zemeckis isn't known for subtlety, but his latest is a thorny morality play steeped in moral ambiguity. Denzel Washington stars as William Whip Whitaker, an ace pilot with a substance-abuse problem who saves almost one-hundred lives when he executes an astonishing emergency-landing maneuver. The trouble is, he was drunk at the time, a fact that threatens to come back in a subsequent investigation. With the help of his lawyer and union rep (Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood), Whip struggles to manipulate the investigation while he kicks the booze habit, but even help from a fellow addict (Kelly Reilly) he meets in the hospital might not be enough to help him overcome his demons. Washington gives a fantastic performance as a man equally inspiring and despicable, splitting the difference without ever casting judgment in either direction. The film follows suit and works as a kind of moral Rorschach test, even if it does sag a bit in the middle and cheat a little in its final moments.
< The Man with the Iron Fists (R, **1/2): Wu-Tang Clan emperor RZA directs, cowrites, and unwisely stars in this hip-hop chopsocky homage that teeters between loving pastiche and vanity project. RZA gives a flat performance as a nameless Blacksmith who gets caught up in a political struggle between warring clans, the government, and outside influences in vaguely 1800s-ish China. Among the unlikely crew are a deadly brothel owner (Lucy Liu) and the brutal Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) who temporarily join forces amidst the frantic melee. The soundtrack is fantastic and the fighting is fun. Everything else, not so much. But then, when the fighting and soundtrack are good in a hip-hop martial arts movie, that's about all there is to it.
< 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 using 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.
Skyfall (PG-13, ****): The latest installment of the 007 series is one of its strongest, thanks to the steely badassery of star Daniel Craig, a great villainous turn by Javier Bardem, and lush visuals and thrilling action setpieces courtesy of perhaps the franchise's most acclaimed director, Sam Mendes. A bombing and a series of cyber attacks on British intelligence agency MI6 lead superspy James Bond to discover a plot against his flinty boss M (Judi Dench) being hatched by an old enemy from her past. But to save his boss and the lives of dozens of other spies around the globe, Bond must also deal with skeletons from his own closet. Like Casino Royale, this entry in the 007 series downplays the humor and gadgetry in favor of more intensity, suspense, and more realistic settings-- by Bond standards, anyway. It's an effective blend of shoot-‘em-up action, continent-spanning adventure, and lifestyle porn that also brings in new faces and ushers in some changes for the franchise. Also featuring Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, and Albert Finney.
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.
Wreck-it Ralph (PG, ***1/2): Videogame character Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is tired of playing the heel to hero Fix-it Felix (Jack McBrayer), so he crosses games to search for a hero's medal, leading to disastrous consequences when various videogame worlds collide. There's a fun Who Framed Roger Rabbit? mashup element, with classic Nintendo and Sega characters populating the background and plenty of pop-culture references for older viewers, along with poop-and-fart joke pandering to the young ones. This Disney flick fails to live up to studio branch Pixar's gold standard, pitching the comedy simultaneously at two different levels rather than crafting jokes that work the same way across all ages. But what it lacks in emotional core it makes up for in well-executed, rapid-fire gags and striking visuals nicely enhanced by 3D, as these computer-animated movies tend to be.
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.
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.
> Lincoln (PG-13): Daniel Day-Lewis stars in Steven Spielberg's long-awaited biopic of the American president, based on the award-winning book by Doris Kearns Goodwin and adapted by acclaimed playwright Tony Kushner. Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David Strathairn, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt round out an all-star supporting cast.
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.
> Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part II (PG-13): Our long national nightmare is nearly over as the final installment of the vexing vampire love story comes to a close with Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) enlisting werewolf pal Jacob (Taylor Lautner) to help defend their infant daughter against the undead equivalent of the Vatican, which has probably harmed fewer children than both the real Vatican and the Twilight series.