Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 18, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
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.
Forty-two (PG-13, ***1/2): The life of baseball legend Jackie Robinson is such an inspirational tale that any movie about him is bound to be affecting, but writer/director Brian Helgeland's appropriately reverent biopic is such a straightforward hagiography that it fails to capture the nuances of the man and the troubled era in which he lived. Chadwick Boseman, with emotive eyes and a credibly athletic build, is excellent as the man who broke baseball's color barrier. Less inspiring is the jowl-centric, hammy performance by Harrison Ford as Branch Ricky, the Brooklyn Dodgers' owner who hired Robinson and who, to my mind, receives far too much screentime. The film doesn't entirely avoid the tough issues, but it mostly provides the kind of historical gloss you'd expect out of a museum filmstrip. It's better for Forty-two to exist than to not, but such a remarkable life deserves a more remarkable film.
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.
The Host (PG-13 , 1/2*): Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War), who should know better, writes and directs this bumbling adaptation of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s asinine sci-fi novel. A group of defenseless glowing alien bugs with limited technological superiority have somehow managed to completely take over Earth, and only a handful of survivors remain. One of the survivors, Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), is captured and implanted with an alien called Wanderer, but her mind remains intact, and she forges a bond with the creature controlling her body. Together they seek to make peace between the alien overlords and the human resistance fighters, which leads to a bizarre love triangle between Melanie, her boyfriend Jared, and Kyle, a fellow resistance fighter who falls in love with the alien inside Melanie’s body. (Awkward!) The sci-fi trappings here are absurdly perfunctory and cheap-looking, and the human drama here can only aspire to the level of soap operatics. A failure on every conceivable level.
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.
Side Effects (R, ****1/2): Steven Soderbergh directs this nifty thriller that examines America’s fondness for better living through prescription pills, but social critique never gets tangled up in the twisty plot machinations, which are heavy with Hitchcockian overtones. Rooney Mara stars as the emotionally fragile wife of a recently released white-collar criminal (Channing Tatum). Smarmy psychiatrist Banks (Jude Law) puts her on an experimental drug he just happens to be getting a $30,000 kickback to test. When she commits a sudden, shocking act of violence during a druggy stupor, not only are his ethics called into question, but his culpability is examined. Soderbergh has of late harmonized his abilities to make slick genre pictures and more unconventional and experimental films, and the results have been consistently fantastic, never better than here. His latest is part lurid potboiler, part chilly, cerebral examination-- the combination of which produces a dizzying high. Also featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones.
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).
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.
> The Place Beyond the Pines (R): A motorcycle stunt rider (Ryan Gosling, of course) turns to bank robbery to make ends meet, which proves a significant complication for his straightlaced brother (Bradley Cooper), a young cop trying to elevate his position on the police force. From Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance.
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.