Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 11, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
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 and 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.
Django Unchained (R, ****1/2): Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a wonderfully overstuffed revenge fantasy that mashes up spaghetti westerns and various 1970s exploitation movies to great effect. Jaime Foxx stars as Django, a slave recruited by bounty hunter King Schlutz (Christoph Waltz) to track down a trio of targets. In exchange, Schultz vows to help Django find his lost wife, who’s being held at the estate of the nefarious Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). The film is ahistorical pop fantasy, which, depending on your perspective, does or does not justify some of its factual discrepancies or what might even be called stylized racism. Bu tTarantino also does a fine job of articulating the horrors of slavery often overlooked by more polite depictions, and Waltz’s wonderful character Schultz undergoes an interesting moral transformation that’s not about a realization that slavery is evil so much as coming to understand the immensity of its evil. And as pop fantasists go, there aren’t many better than Quentin Tarantino.
< Flight (R, ****): Robert Zemeckis isn't known for subtlety, but his latest is a thorny morality play steeped in 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.
Guilt Trip (PG-13, ***): Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand costar in this mild, affable comedy about a mother-and-son road trip. Feelings are shared, zany adventures are had, and lessons are learned. The movie is most notable for what it doesn’t do, which is indulge in grossout gags and easy cross-generational sex jokes, or go too broad in general. It’s a polite but funny movie where a lot of the jokes hit, they just don’t hit very hard.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (PG, ***): The Hobbit, originally written explicitly as a children’s story, better suits director Peter Jackson’s (often annoyingly) campy sensibilities than J.R.R.Tolkien's far darker Lord of the Rings. Thus with The Hobbit Jackson begins to atone for his desecration of Tolkien’s masterpiece by turning part one of this film adaptation into a mostly enjoyable adventure. Unfortunately, Jackson pads the film by creating a couple of irritating scenes from whole cloth; the tone and quality of Jackson’s writing suffers noticeably compared to Tolkien’s glorious source material. The Hobbit’s 3D effects and higher framerate form an almost entirely astonishing show in their own right (though in a few places they make green screens look obviously fake and cheap). For the best experience, show up a few minutes late and skip Jackson’s unnecessary prologue, and hit the bathroom whenever the camera comes across Radagast the Brown (who Jackson curdles into his own Jar Jar Binks)-- or wait for the DVD and program those scenes out of the presentation. In 2D and 3D. (Wissmann)
Jack Reacher (PG-13, ***): This is a Tom Cruise vehicle produced and developed by Tom Cruise for the purpose of showing you all the things that Tom Cruise can do. The movie’s biggest surprise is that you are not offered an opportunity to buy a Tom Cruise when it’s over. That said, it’s a slickly produced if indistinctive star vehicle from director Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun), adapting Lee Child’s trashy-fun novel about a sniper who picks off five seemingly random people in broad daylight. The man accused of the crime asks for ex-military policeman Reacher (Cruise), who once tried to convict him of another murder in Iraq, but once in town the flinty Reacher discovers a bizarre conspiracy with the help of a lawyer (Rosamund Pike). Also featuring Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins.
Lincoln (PG-13, ****): Steven Spielberg's portrait of the sixteenth president, from a script by Tony Kushner adapting Doris Kearns Goodwin's acclaimed book, avoids most of the traditional biopic failings by focusing on a single month of Abe's life, just after his reelection, as he enacts a series of political machinations to abolish slavery. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a stellar, impressively understated performance as the most mythologized American, but his turn and Spielberg's whole picture aim to rescue Lincoln from his status as a legend and show him as a conflicted man making great personal sacrifices for the betterment of society. Day-Lewis is aided by a terrific cast of supporting players, including Sally Field as Mary Todd, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as his eldest son, Tommy Lee Jones as feisty abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, and a scene-stealing James Spader playing a political operative working alongside Tim Blake Nelson and John Hawkes to score votes by coercion and bribery. It's a surprisingly wonky film that in its best moments plays like a nineteenth-century episode of The West Wing, but it's also an incredibly moving take on Lincoln that not even Spielberg's bumbling, melodramatic, and sentimental coda can sully.
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 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.
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part II (PG-13, *): The Twilight franchise comes to an even duller-than-expected conclusion in this anticlimactic final installment, which is essentially just a protracted coda that explains how newly vampiric Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her hunky undead boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson) come to live out their happily ever-after ending with their daughter and the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who married said daughter when she was an infant. The appealing weirdness of director Bill Condon's last installment is gone, replaced by more indulgent lifestyle fantasy for Bella, who gets a new house and wardrobe for free plus a baby whose computer-generated smile means motherhood will be totally easy. There's barely a conflict, and [spoiler alert] it's resolved with a non-solution that reduces the long-promised showdown between Edward's family and the evil Volturi (led by Michael Sheen) into a gimmicky dream sequence, all while polishing up the series' final message: If you want to be happy, girls, forsake your career and individuality so you can immediately marry your high-school boyfriend and spend all your time with his family. Not exactly inspiring.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Gangster Squad (R): Director Ruben Fleischer’s stylized take on the L.A. cops (played by Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin) trying to keep mobsters from the East Coast (led by Sean Penn’s Mickey Cohen) from seizing control of the town. Also starring Nick Nolte and Emma Stone.
> Haunted House (R): Scary Movie’s Marlon Wayans writes and stars in this sendup of Paranormal Activity, featuring Essence Atkins, Nick Swardson, Cedric the Entertainer, and J.B. Smoove.
Les Miserables (PG-13): The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper helms this big-screen adaptation of the stage musical, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Monsters, Inc. 3D (G): One of Pixar’s earlier efforts gets converted to 3D just in time to promote the upcoming sequel-- but since the movie is so fun and visually imaginative, crass marketing accidentally begets a little more of a good thing. In 3D only.
Parental Guidance (PG): Billy Crystal and Bette Middler costar as grandparents struggling, in the most broadly comic ways possible, with their roles in raising their grandchildren.
Promised Land (R): Gus Van Sant directs this well-intentioned antifraking drama that pits true believer John Krasinksi against Matt Damon, the mining representative who comes to convince the town to sacrifice its land and water.
Texas Chainsaw 3D (R): This installment of the series about a family of murderous rednecks is set shortly after the events of the 1974 original-- but, you know, in 3D! A woman seeking an inheritance stumbles onto the dark legacy of the Saywer family. A legacy that is rendered in three dimensions. In 3D only.
This Is Forty (R): Judd Apatow writes and directs this highly personal dramedy starring his real-life wife (Leslie Mann) and kids (Iris and Maude Apatow), along with Paul Rudd, about the struggles of family life and the balance between passion and personal responsibility.
> Zero Dark Thirty (R): The Hurt Locker team of director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal reunites for this highly touted dramatization about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Starring Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, and Kyle Chandler.