Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 11, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Big Wedding (R, *): This American adaptation of a French comedy (which is the French term for “comedy about adultery”) has been improperly translated. The cultural dissonance between the stiff, WASPy family and the casual infidelities that drive the plot would be too much to bear even if the movie was overloaded with extraneous subplots that add nothing but running time. Robert De Niro stars as a divorced artist now living with the best friend (Susan Sarandon) of his ex-wife (Diane Keaton). But to appease his adopted son’s conservative biological mother (Patricia Ray), a Columbian Catholic/ethnic caricature, the family must pretend the divorce never happened during the wedding proceedings, setting off a series of low-grade farcical encounters. The bride and groom (Ben Barnes and Amanda Seyfried) are almost completely lost in the shuffle in this tonally inconsistent mess, which veers from light slapstick to strained ribaldry from moment to moment. Like most weddings, you’ll probably go to this out of obligation and mostly just be relieved it’s short.
< The Company You Keep (R, *1/2): Robert Redford directs and stars in this rambling, pedantic movie that rehashes tired arguments about the efficacy of the radical leftist movement in the 1960s. When an upstate New York attorney (Redford) is outed as a former member of the Weather Underground by an obnoxious, plucky journalist (Shia LaBeouf), he goes on a cross-country road trip to find the one person who can verify his innocence. Along the way he meets a bevy of one-dimensional characters who never have enough screen time to develop beyond their bumper-sticker platitudes, and the fact that they’re played by such notable actors-- Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliot, Chris Cooper, Susan Sarandon, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Julie Christie-- only highlights how little meat is left on these particular bones. Only slightly less pedantic than Redford’s awful antiwar movie Lions for Lambs, but twice as dull.
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 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 only.
< 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.
Iron Man III (PG-13, **1/2): Writer/director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) takes over the Iron Man franchise, which seems particularly lackluster post-Avengers. A bevy of subplots and superfluous supporting players isn’t enough to distract from a stupefyingly simple plot and one-note characters motivated by nothing more than plot necessity. An evil terrorist leader called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who is from a country that is not China, is somehow in cahoots with an evil scientist (Guy Pearce) who’s driven to villainy after being snubbed once a party. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) must contend with this, plus distractions galore from his girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow) and generic best friend (Don Cheadle) in between quips and lackluster action sequences-- although admittedly the final setpiece, featuring an armada of Iron Man suits, is pretty damn cool. Downey’s charisma has been reduced to a cheap special effect in this bland blockbuster. In 2D and 3D.
Oblivion (PG-13, ***1/2): This sci-fi action flick has nothing particularly original to offer, but it’s well-paced and gorgeous to look at. Writer/director Joseph Kosinski adapts his own graphic novel about the last two people left on Earth (Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough), who are assigned to be the maintenance crew for the last few machines left on the shattered planet after the rest of humanity has departed for the safety of a new colony on one of Saturn’s moons. But our man’s investigations in the ruins of his former civilization lead him to wonder if the alien attack that brought about the destruction isn’t a cover story for something more nefarious. The answers to his questions aren’t terribly original, but they’re deftly employed, and the action is crisp and effective. It makes for a movie that’s big and beautiful to look at but has barely a thought in its head. Featuring Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko.
< 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 only.
Pain and Gain (R, ***): Michael Bay’s version of a smaller-scale, quirky comedy is still over-edited and overblown nearly beyond recognition, but his pumped-up style is a nice match with the excessive milieu of the bodybuilding world and the bizarre true tale of a trio of meatheads (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie) who kidnap a loathsome entrepreneur (Tony Shalhoub) and hold him for ransom. Ultimately Bay’s penchant for hyperbole at all levels gets the better of him, but along the way he conjures up a decent action-comedy that works best as a showcase for the talents of Johnson, who gives a powerhouse performance that still never quite taps the full range of his potential. It’s a slick piece of entertainment that’s funnier than it has any right to be, although it remains near impossible to tell when Bay is winking and when he’s being serious.
< The Place Beyond the Pines (R, ****1/2): Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance focuses on tiny incidents while simultaneously expanding the scope of this riveting crime drama, which is an early candidate for best film of 2013. Ryan Gosling costars as an ex-con eager to prove his worth as a father to his skeptical girlfriend (Eva Mendes), but when he resorts to robbery to be a provider, he puts himself on a collision course with well-intentioned rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who has his own legacy to live up to. The meeting between the men sets off a chain of events that unfolds during the course of fifteen years and will change both of their lives. This is a fantastic, nuanced film that’s also decidedly pragmatic and unpretentious. A bevy of great supporting players, including Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, and Dane DeHaan, round out a terrific ensemble. Under writer/director Cianfrance’s guidance, they’ve made a crime drama more suspenseful than your average plot-driven shoot-’em-up and more affecting than any number of more nakedly ambitious movies.
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 only.
Disconnect (R): Ensemble drama about the way technology and social media causes isolation in modern society, featuring Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Alexander Skarsgård, and Paula Patton.
The Great Gatsby (PG-13): Baz Luhrmann applies his hyper-stylized technique to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel about the dark underside of the American dream, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role and featuring Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. In 2D and 3D.
> Mud (PG-13): Matthew McConaughey stars as a fugitive who convinces two young boys to hide him. Also starring Reese Witherspoon.
> Peeples (PG-13): Tyler Perry produces this distinctly Tyler Perry-esque comedy directed by Tina Gordon Chism about a lovestruck man (Craig Robinson) who faces flack from the well-to-do family of his girlfriend (Kerry Washington) when he shows up at the family reunion with plans to propose.
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.