Silver Screen: The Score Card, January March 21 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 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.
< Dark Skies (PG-13, **1/2): The passable but unmemorable horror movie from writer/director Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest) mashes up alien-abduction and haunted-house movies with mostly familiar results. Struggling parents (Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton) find their house plagued by a series of strange incidents and their youngest son (Kadan Rockett) plagued by sleepwalking fits. A quick Google search of the strange goings on reveals that space invaders have tagged the family for study, and they won’t stop until they take someone with them. The first half of the movie is semi-effective with its spooky goings on, but the movie climaxes early with a brief appearance by J.K. Simmons as an eccentric expert on spacemen. By the time the borrowed iconography from Close Encounters of the Third Kind shows up, you’ll know where it’s headed.
< Dead Man Down (R, 1/2*): This early candidate for worst movie of 2013 is actually two bad movies rolled into one. Colin Farrell stars as a gangster who is actually a widower undercover who has infiltrated the crime world to orchestrate an elaborate revenge scheme on the boss (Terrence Howard) who ordered the murder of his family. Meanwhile, a shut-in (Noomi Rapace) scarred after a traffic accident, witnesses Farrell’s faux-thug kill another gang member and blackmails him to murder the man who caused her disfigurement. This is a hot mess of implausible plot points, absurd twists, and silly contrivances. Nothing makes sense, even for a passing second. It occupies that narrow swatch on the Venn diagram where “slipshod insanity” and “overpowering dullness” overlap.
A Good Day to Die Hard (R, *): The original 1986 Die Hard remains one of the greatest, if not the single greatest, action movie of all time. What remains onscreen for this fourth sequel bears almost no resemblance to it whatsoever, as former everyman cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is transformed into an aging superhero who jaunts off to Russia to help his estranged CIA-agent son (Jai Courtney) stop terrorists from acquiring weapons-grade plutonium from Chernobyl. It’s a mess of car crashes and shootouts that’s big and expensive-looking without packing any real thrills. The plot is hard to follow right up to the point that it becomes not worth following at all, thanks largely to a generic villain unworthy of Alan Rickman’s great Hans Gruber or even Jeremy Irons’s turns as Gruber’s aggrieved brother. Only the stale Yippie-ki-yay catchphrase serves to remind audiences this isn’t just another assemblyline shoot ‘em up coughed out in the waning winter months. It’s a sad, shoddy perversion of a franchise that should have bowed out gracefully in the 1990s.
Identity Thief (R , ***): This mismatched-buddy road comedy about a disastrous journey that takes several unexpected turns travels all the main roads on the way to a place we already know we’re going, leaving no too-broad calamity unturned. But despite its surfeit of distractions and clichés in the form of a painfully generic crime syndicate plus a scruffy bounty hunter (Robert Patrick), stars Jason Bateman and SIU alum Melissa McCarthy keep it fun through sheer dint of comic ability. The two leads make a hilarious pairing as Sandy (Bateman), a hardworking businessman trying to provide security for his family, and Diana (McCarthy), the crazed monster of selfishness who steals his identity and runs up massive credit-card bills during an orgy of consumer spending. He cajoles her into traveling from Florida back to his home in Colorado to help clear his name, paving the way for some needlessly absurd plot twists but also a lot of fantastic interactions between two terrific comic actors. When the movie slows down enough to let the leads indulge in some character-based comedy, it’s very funny. More Melissa McCarthy, please.
Oz the Great and Powerful (PG, **): The real wizards of this Oz prequel are the digital-effects crewmembers who do all the conjuring. Pretty much everything in this vivid but sometimes gaudy cartoon is computer animated except for the actors. The story is something between a faithful recreation and an unimaginative rehash (pre-hash?) of the original, with the titular wizard sucked into a tornado during a black-and-white prologue and transported to a magical land where he must do battle with some wicked witches, aided by new friends, including a sassy flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff). It’s not a terrible movie by any stretch, but its cheap aping of the original and total lack of a raison de Oz renders it little more than an expensive but craven cash grab piggybacking on someone else’s imagination. Starring James Franco as Oz, Michelle Williams as Glinda, and Mila Kunis as a soon-to-be-wicked witch. In 2D and 3D.
Silver Linings Playbook (R, ***1/2): The eccentric David O. Russell moves yet another step closer to convention with this adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel about a bipolar divorcé (Bradley Cooper) trying to reconnect with his ex-wife after a stint in a mental hospital. In addition to dealing with his compulsive gambler of a father (a very good Robert De Niro), he becomes entangled with a socially maladjusted widow (Jennifer Lawrence) who coerces him into partnering with her in a dance contest. It’s a well-acted, frequently funny take on a pretty conventional romantic drama. The characters are uniquely depicted, and Russell does a particularly strong job of presenting the daily tribulations of dealing with mental illness. The story follows an arc that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever gotten a peek at Hollywood’s playbook.
< Snitch (PG-13, ***): What at first looks like a straightforward action vehicle for star Dwayne Johnson is actually a surprisingly earnest drama-- maybe not a great one, but more complex than the bombastic ad campaign suggests. Johnson stars as a small-business owner whose son (Rafi Gavron) is framed in a drug bust. He can’t take a plea deal because he doesn’t know any other criminals to set up, so, with the help of an ambitious prosecutor (Susan Sarandon), our man sets out to find one and do the snitching himself. He cajoles one of his employees, an ex-con (The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal), to help find a way into the criminal underworld, which threatens to break one family apart even as he tries to keep his own together. What starts off as a blatantly conservative fantasy about a self-made upper-middle-class man using guns, muscles, and American willpower to save his son from scary black prisoners reveals itself in the final moments to be an awkward sermon about the evils of mandatory-minimum sentences for drug-related offenses, but not before it lapses into standard action-flick silliness. It’s a mixed bag, but it’s more ambitious and a little better than a small-scale action movie released in the dregs of winter has any right to be.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Admission (PG-13): Tina Fey stars as a Princeton admissions officer who pulls strings for a plucky underachiever when she discovers he might be the baby she gave away as a teen. Costarring Paul Rudd.
The Call (R): A 9-1-1 operator (Halle Berry) must help a kidnapped girl (Abigail Breslin) fight to stay alive as she attempts to escape her captor, a killer the operator has dealt with before.
> The Croods (PG): Computer-animated family comedy about a prehistoric family that ventures out of a cave to discover the wonders and terrors of the natural world. Featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, and Ryan Reynolds. In 2D and 3D.
Escape from Planet Earth (PG): Computer-animated, family friendly comedy about a group of goofy space aliens who crash land and must subsequently get off of Earth. Featuring the usual spacecraft full of celebrity voice talent, including Brendan Fraser, Ricky Gervais, Jessica Alba, and Sofia Vergara, among others. In 2D only.
> G.I. Joe: Retaliation (PG-13): The long-delayed sequel to the shoddy live-action adaptation of the 1980s cartoon sees Bruce Willis joining the gang to fight Cobra, who have taken over the White House. Featuring Channing Tatum, Jonathan Pryce, RZA, Walton Goggins, and Dwayne “Not Another Middle Name Joke” Johnson. In 2D and 3D.
InAPPropriate Comedy (R): Comedy sketch film that is, no kidding, based on computer apps. Politically incorrect computer apps. Featuring Rob Schneider, Adrien Brody, and Lindsay Lohan. Seriously, though, it’s a movie about computer apps.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (PG-13): An estranged duo of flamboyant Vegas magicians (Steves Carell and Buscemi) must re-team lest they lose the spotlight to an oddball upstart (Jim Carrey). Featuring Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, and James Gandolfini.
Jack the Giant Slayer (PG-13): Bryan Singer directs this blockbuster approach to a fairytale in which Jack (Nicholas Hoult) ascends his famed beanstalk only to find a land of giants eager to wage war on humans. Featuring Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, and Stanley Tucci. In 2D and 3D.
< Mindless Behavior: All Around the World (G): Documentary about the exploits of a G-rated hip-hop/rap group on tour.
> Olympus Has Fallen (R): When enemy invaders seize the White House and threaten the President (Aaron Eckhart), only an ex-Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) can stop them. Totally unbelievable-- I mean, come on, a white president? Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and featuring Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo.
Quartet (PG-13): Dustin Hoffman directs this light drama about aging musicians (Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, and Tom Courtenay) who settle old scores as they reunite for a concert celebrating Verdi’s birthday.
> Spring Breakers (R): Sleazemonger Harmony Korine writes and directs his most commercial effort to date, in which a quartet of college girls (including Disney princesses Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, and Ashley Benson) rob a diner to get money for a spring break trip that lands them in cahoots with a drug dealer (James Franco).
> Tyler Perry's Temptation (PG-13): A marriage counselor begins cheating on her husband. Written and directed by Tyler Perry, but not starring him-- the cast includes Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Vanessa Williams, and Brandy Norwood.
Warm Bodies (PG-13): Romantic comedy in which girl (Teresa Palmer) meets boy (Nicholas Hoult), but dad (John Malkovich) doesn’t approve. Except here the boy is a sensitive zombie and the girl and her dad are fighting for survival against hordes of the undead.