Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 11, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Admission (PG-13, ***1/2): Chris Weitz’s kinda romantic dramedy suffers from a bit of an identity crisis-- burdened with too many, too disparate subplots and a tone that’s never quite consistent-- but it’s nothing that comedy-nerd superteam Tina Fey and Paul Rudd can’t fix. Fey is excellent as Portia, an admissions officer at Princeton whose fealty to the strict rules of her job is tested when do-gooding schoolteacher John (Rudd) introduces her to a brilliant but nontraditional student (Nat Wolff) who might be the grownup son she gave up for adoption during her own undergrad years. Karen Croner’s script brings nuance to matters that otherwise would be simplified for easily digested lessons, and the complexities extend to the well-drawn, compelling characters. Despite imperfections-- distractibility and unevenness --there’s a lot to like about the Admission, which in many ways is about coming to terms with imperfect successes.
The Call (R, **1/2): This throwaway thriller is both overheated and undercooked, but its suspenseful real-time kidnapping sequence generates enough suspense to make it fun. Halle Berry stars as a 9-1-1 operator whose mistake leads a young girl to be abducted by a killer. Months later, she gets a call from a kidnapped girl (Abigail Breslin) who Berry suspects was taken by the same mystery man. The girl attempts an escape while Berry talks her through the process. When Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) shows up as a do-gooding limo driver, the stakes are raised and the chase takes a sharp turn. Silly as it is, The Call makes the most of its premise and ratchets up the tension in its middle stretch, which makes it all the more unfortunate when it lapses back into utter preposterousness in the last act, and becomes an expensive episode of CSI.
< Evil Dead (R , ***): There’s no real justification for this shiny, relatively expensive remake of Sam Raimi’s truly indie original, which remains of the last drive-in classics. That said, writer/director Fede Alvarez does a solid job of crafting this superfluous update, which is more a straightforward horror take on the material. A group of twentysomethings venture to a remote cabin in the woods to help their junkie friend Mia (Jane Levy) kick the habit, but when one of them reads a passage from a spooky old book they find in the basement, a demon is unleashed that turns them against one another and sets off a massacre. It lacks the essential glee and wit of the original, but Alvarez’s slightly different take is still a passable splatterfest, more carefully crafted and smartly paced than the average offering in the genre. It’ll never inspire cultish devotion, but it’s a good time for moviegoers who actually got all the jokes in the superior Cabin in the Woods.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (PG-13, *): There are plenty of worse movies than this sequel to the movie based on the cartoon based on the toy line, but not many that are dumber. Even by live-action cartoon standards, this 3D-enhanced cash-grab is poorly conceived and shoddily executed, with a plot involving a satellite that drops giant rods using the natural gravity of space to destroy cities around the world unless their leaders pledge allegiance to Cobra. Can the Joes stop it? Sure, but which Joes? Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis are all over the trailer, but they’re barely in the movie at all-- the focus is split between a trio of good guys led by The “Dwayne Johnson” Rock and a tangentially related plot involving the faceless, voiceless, personality-free Snake Eyes and his relationship with Cobra ninja Storm Shadow. The blundering storyline would be more forgivable if the action sequences were thrilling enough, but they lack any sense of scope or adventure. Makes Transformers look like My Dinner with Andre. In 2D and 3D. 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.
Jurassic Park 3D (PG-13, ****1/2): Michael Crichton’s pitch-perfect sci-fi novel made perfect fodder for the director of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Despite a few touches of the Spielbergian schmaltz that intensified in the sequel and beyond, this remains one of the most thrilling popcorn movies of the era--or any era--as Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, and Laura Dern trek through an amusement park gone haywire with rampaging dinosaurs. The combination of animatronics, puppetry, and first-wave computer-generated effects makes for special effects that still dazzle, but most of the awe and suspense comes from Spielberg’s uncanny sense of timing and visual dynamics. Now in 3D, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Olympus Has Fallen (R, zero stars): A potentially great premise for a silly action movie-- Die Hard in the White House-- is bungled at every level and reduced to a smoldering pile of absurdities and leaden quips in this patience-testing study of incompetence from director Antoine Fuqua. Ex-Secret Service agent Mike Bannerman (bad-movie king Gerard Butler) is back near his old office when the White House is attacked from without and within by North Korean terrorists. They take the President (Aaron Eckhart) hostage and force him to reveal nuclear codes that will allow them to detonate America’s entire nuclear stockpile in one fell swoop. Plot holes fall into other, bigger plot holes as Butler races around the White House dispatching terrorists with ease while all the politicians make blatantly stupid decisions. Fuqua’s inept action sequences are borderline incoherent, and he piles on the gore and exploitative September 11 imagery, along with American flags in various tattered states, making this an absolute slog.
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.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
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.
> Emperor (PG-13): When the Japanese surrender in the nuclear aftermath of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Gen. Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) is taked with determining whether Emperor Hirohito will die for war crimes. Starring Tommy Lee Jones as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and directed by Peter Webber (Hannibal Rising, Girl with a Pearl Earring).
Forty-two (PG-13): Biopic about Jackie Robinson, here played by Chadwick Boseman, detailing his struggles to break baseball’s color barrier. Featuring Harrison Ford, and written and directed by Brian Helgeland (Payback).
The Host (PG-13): Adaptation of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer’s non-vampire novel about a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) who must fight back when alien invaders overtake her mind. Featuring William Hurt and Diane Kruger.
< 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 only.
> Oblivion (PG-13): In this sci-fi action flick from Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski, Tom Cruise stars as an astronaut who discovers a conspiracy when he’s sent back to alien-occupied Earth to harvest the planet’s last resources. Featuring Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko.
< 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.
> Scary Movie V (PG-13): Cinema’s septic system once more overflows with yet another installment of one of the worst series in film history, which replaces jokes with cultural allusions and appearances by fallen stars like Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan.
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.