Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 27, 2013 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.
< 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.
Before Midnight (R, ****1/2): The best movie of the summer is a sequel, but there are no superheroes or Avengers involved. Writer/director Richard Linklater collaborates with his two talented leads (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) for the third installment in his introspective series about the realities of romantic love. In the first movie they met cute during a European vacation, then reunited nearly a decade later after he wrote a book about their liaison. Now another eight years down the road, Jesse and Celine are living together with twin daughters, but a long fight one fateful night in a hotel room in Greece calls into question the foundation of their union. The individual lines of dialogue have never been better, and the conversation is just as heady and compelling as ever. The movies' sensibilities are growing and maturing along with Linklater and his performers, and each new chapter adds layers of richness to the preceding installments while posing new questions, perhaps the most salient of which is: When can we see another one?
< 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.
< 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 Internship (PG-13, **1/2): Wedding Crashers costars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson reunite in this tepid spiritual sequel in which the boys play fun-loving doofuses caught on the wrong end of the economic downturn. They apply for a competitive internship at Google, which pits them against the best and brightest new college grads, but during the course of assembling their scrappy team of nerds Vaughn and Wilson teach the book-smart kids a little something about life. It’s so by-the-numbers it seems directly generated by a sentient version of the Final Draft screenplay-writing software, although perhaps it was written directly by Google-- the movie feels like a feature-length infomercial for the booming tech company. No data mining references to find here. Let’s just hope the Bing movie is better.
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) 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.
Man of Steel (PG-13, *): Christopher Nolan produces and Zack Snyder directs this god-awful update of the Superman story, stripping it of brightness and levity and making having superpowers seem like a total drag. Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is actually Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, raised by his adopted parents (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) after his planet was destroyed. The few remaining Kryptonians, led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), come to Earth looking to turn it into New Krypton, and only Kal can stop them. It’s a straightforward story mangled into nonsensicality by a lot of unnecessary diversions and embellishments. The awkwardly structured script keeps the story from ever settling into a rhythm, so the final product turns out to be a relentlessly nonsensical, decontextualized group of action sequences. The performers, including Amy Adams as Lois Lane, do their best, but there’s nothing they can do to redeem this occasionally pretty but consistently moronic, self-serious material. In 2D and 3D.
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, instead delivering 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.
This Is the End (R, ***1/2): Seth Rogen's directorial debut, with partner Evan Goldberg, is both a standard Seth Rogen movie and a parody of Seth Rogen movies. Rogen and his frequent onscreen pals (Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Michael Cera) all play cartoonish versions of themselves as they hole up at James Franco's house trying to ride out the Biblical apocalypse. The big armageddon jokes are impressive in scale, but most of the comedy still comes from the bickering and bantering between a gang we've become so familiar with at this point it feels like we're a part of it. That's what makes the movie work so well, but also why this hopefully really is the end for this cycle of filmmaking. This is either going to be the capstone to a fun cycle of comedies with a rotating troupe or the jump-the-shark moment we'll recognize only in hindsight, when we really are lining up to buy a ticket to Pineapple Express II.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Despicable Me II (PG): Sequel to the mediocre computer-animated kiddie comedy about a villain (voiced by Steve Carell) who goes soft when he inadvertently adopts some kids. Here he's back, helping the Anti-Villain League fight a fellow foe. Featuring the voices of Kristen Wiig, Russell Brand, and Steve Coogan.
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 only.
> The Heat (R): SIU alumna Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock costar as mismatched police partners tasked with bringing down a drug ring in this action-tinged comedy from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. Also featuring Southern Illinois's exceptional homegrown talent Ben Falcone.
> The Lone Ranger (PG-13): The Social Network's Armie Hammer puts on the cowboy hat and eye mask as the hero left for dead and returned to dispatch justice with his six-shooter and his trusty pal Tonto, here given an increased presence and weirdness courtesy of Johnny Depp.
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. In 2D and 3D.
> White House Down (PG-13): In the second movie released this year with this plot, an off-duty government agent must save the president when the White House is seized by terrorists. This time it's Channing Tatum as the hero cop and Jamie Foxx as the president.
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. In 2D and 3D.