Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 13, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
After Earth (PG-13, *): Costar Will Smith is credited with the idea that spawned this movie, which perhaps explains the heavy Scientology subtext, not to mention how the movie seems only to exist as a vehicle for the uninspiring Jaden Smith. The two costar as a father and son in a distant future who crash land on an uninhabited Earth, where the son must undertake a journey fraught with deadly flora and fauna--- not to mention an alien hitchhiker--- to find the machine that will signal for their rescue. This basically simple plot is overlaid with a bunch of kooky flourishes that create an unnecessary, elaborate mythology devoid of any real meaning. Attempts to artificially enhance the drama draw on videogame clichés that poorly serve the narrative. Even worse: The dreaded M. Night Shyamalan directs.
Fast and Furious VI (PG-13, **): Improbably, the Fast and Furious series has become one of the most financially successful franchises in film history. Even more improbably, the fourth and fifth entries in the series actually saw a relative increase in quality, increasingly over-the-top stunts and setpieces that generated enough dumb thrills to call them successes. This chapter, however, which directly leads into a forthcoming seventh movie, is a dud, with an overstuffed cast and a climax that's silly even by the franchise's own internal standards, defying not just physics but logic. Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and even Michelle Rodriguez, who was killed off two movies ago, return along with additions Dwayne Johnson and Gina Carano to battle a generic team of bad guys for an even more generic deadly device that might as well be called a MacGuffin Bomb. The tone is too serious for a movie this silly, and aside from a cool chase sequence involving a runaway tank, the trademark action sequences feel pat.
< 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.
Frances Ha (R, ****1/2): Noah Baumbach gets back to the comedy roots he laid down in the cult-classic Kicking and Screaming with this excellent character study that, like its heroine, is free-spirited but teetering on the verge of melancholy. Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a struggling modern dancer whose career and lifestyle begin to seem increasingly unsustainable when her codependent best friend (Mickey Sumner) moves out and gets a boyfriend. She goes on an aimless journey, and so too does the film, or at least it seems to, but the ace script cowritten by dynamite performer Gerwig is wily, and form follows function-- the questions of whether Frances and the film will both find their way become intertwined. It's funny, big-hearted stuff that's smartly articulated but delivered with supreme naturalism. Baumbach and Gerwig are a dream team.
The Great Gatsby (PG-13, ****): Baz Luhrmann adds a lot of embellishments to this livewire adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's American masterpiece-- an anachronistic hip-hop soundtrack, reconstrued racial politics, and 3D, not to mention a stupid frame story bookending the novel's action. By and large, Luhrmann's flourishes add value and some real novelty to what could otherwise be a stiff, conservative adaptation, and what it sacrifices in its goofiest moments it makes up for in fantastic ones. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the mysterious playboy Gatsby, who throws lavish parties hoping to attract the attention of lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan). With the help of his new pal, Daisy's cousin Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), Gatsby finally gets his wish, with disastrous consequences. This is a lively if unconventional interpretation of the book, not a replacement for it but a nice companion piece, and Luhrmann mostly makes the right decisions in the critical moments, making this an absolutely worthwhile oddity. In 2D only.
The Hangover Part III (R, *1/2): The sequel to the smash-hit Hangover had the boys (Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, and Ed Helms) getting drugged up and losing a member of the group before yet another wedding. It was stupidly improbable, but turns out no less dumb than doing a sequel without an actual hangover. Here the fellas, on a mission to take the increasingly out-of-control Alan to a sanitarium, are waylaid by a gangster (John Goodman) who wants to use them to find Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who absconded with $20 million in gold. The result is a generic road comedy that lacks the clever structure and audacious gags of the first two. Series director and now cowriter Todd Phillips attempts to nostalgize their previous adventures and cap the trilogy off with heart-warming callbacks, which is a betrayal of the crass, borderline-nihilistic humor that made the original such a success.
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 only.
Now You See Me (PG-13, 1/2*): One of the most flagrantly stupid movies in years. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco costar as magicians who are brought together by a fifth mystery man who helps them plot elaborate tricks in which they rob banks and give the money to their audiences. Mark Ruffalo is the FBI agent tasked with tracking them down, with some aid from professional magician-debunker Morgan Freeman. The plot is a convoluted, hilariously implausible mess leading up to a big reveal that plays more like a punchline. God-awful director Louis Leterrier can't recreate the literally impossible magic tricks with practical effects, but must use digital wizardry, which isn't magical in the slightest. An insult not just to the audience's intelligence, but to intelligence itself.
The Purge (R, *): Writer/director James DeMonaco squanders a potentially interesting premise in this mixed-up home-invasion thriller masquerading as B-movie social critique. In the America of 2022, crime and unemployment have been solved with the annual purge, when all crime is legal for a period of twelve hours. The specifics of how this works are never discussed, but the big concept is ultimately just used as an excuse to set up a basic and not-too-thrilling thriller about a man (Ethan Hawke) trying to protect his family from invading hordes. The film feigns interest in moral complexity a few times without ever having the intelligence or attention span required to follow up on its promises, and instead delivers an unimpressive carnival of carnage that gets the audience hooting for all the wrong reasons.
Star Trek into Darkness (PG-13, ****): J.J. Abrams's sequel to his pretty nifty Star Trek reboot is sleeker and shinier than the last installment, but not smarter. Almost all traces of the franchise's fondness for moral dilemma and cosmically rendered social-justice issues have been swept aside in favor of breakneck action sequences that are undeniably pretty thrilling. Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the rest of the crew (Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin) venture toward hostile Klingon territory to seek vengeance on an assassin (Benedict Cumberbatch) who attacked Starfleet, only to discover their target is one of their oldest and deadliest foes, and that they may have been manipulated by forces back home. There's some too-clever inversion of the original series' second movie, but a dynamite cast and some awe-inspiring images of space, along with a great turn by Cumberbatch, keep it exciting even if it is all pretty frivolous. In 2D only.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Before Midnight (R): Third installment in a series of experimental, hyper-verbose romantic dramas from director Richard Linklater. The original traced one night spent by wayward travelers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who reunited in the sequel-- filmed in real time-- in which the two met again for the first time in eight years. The latest rexamines their lives nine years after rekindling the relationship.
Epic (PG): In this computer-animated cartoon adventure, a teenager gets miniaturized and embroiled in a conflict between warring sects of tiny forest creatures. Featuring the now-mandatory rundown of celebrity voice talent, in this case Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, and Aziz Ansari. In 2D and 3D.
The Internship (PG-13): Wedding Crashers costars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson reunite for this comedy about two jobless middle-age buddies who face much younger competition when they apply for internships at Google. Featuring Rose Byrne and John Goodman.
Man of Steel (PG-13): Zack Snyder (Watchmen) attempts to revamp the Superman franchise after the Bryan Singer-directed snoozer Superman Returns, retelling the origin story and pitting our hero against General Zod (Michael Shannon). Featuring Henry Cavill as Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Kevin Costner as Pa Kent, and Russell Crowe as Superman's Kryptonian father. In 2D and 3D.
> Monsters University (G): Pixar goes back to the well for another sequel, this one a prelude to an earlier hit that shows how monsters Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) met at college. Featuring the usual lineup of celebrity guest voices, including Charlie Day, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Dave Foley, and Aubrey Plaza.
Mud (PG-13): Matthew McConaughey stars as a fugitive who convinces two young boys to hide him. Also starring Reese Witherspoon.
This Is the End (R): Seth Rogen and his Superbad cowriter Evan Goldberg script and direct this comedy about a bunch of celebrities playing caricatures of themselves who devolve into pettiness after the apocalypse begins during one of their parties. Featuring Jonah Hill, James Franco, Paul Rudd, Craig Robinson, and the usual Apatow/Rogen crew.
> World War Z (PG-13): Brad Pitt stars as a United Nations employee searching for the connections that will help him stop the global zombie apocalypse in this loose, PG-13-rated adaptation of Max Brooks's popular novel.