Silver Screen: The Score Card , September 30, 2010 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The American (R, ****): Anton Corbijn's debut feature film, based on Martin Booth's Graham Green-esque novel A Very Private Gentleman, is equally evocative of paranoid 1970s conspiracy thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and the Parallax View and meditative European fare of the era, notably Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger. Our distant, chilly hero, an assassin who calls himself Jack (George Clooney), and later Edward, faces disastrous consequences of his never-explained actions in Sweden, and must flee to the Italian countryside to hide out. He befriends a priest (Paolo Bonacelli), hires a prostitute (Violante Placido), and takes on a small job making a sniper rifle for a beautiful and mysterious woman (Thekla Reuten), but his real goal is to escape his past. "You Americans think you can outrun history," the priest scolds, and he's right. This slow-paced, cerebral thriller's plot still packs a little bit of a punch, but mostly the movie is a character piece, and a stirring one thanks to Corbijn's patience, screenwriter Rowan Joffe's script, and a wonderful performance from leading man Clooney, who shows his range by playing the exact opposite of the delightful, motormouthed lunatics he takes on in Coen brothers' films.
Devil (PG-13, ***): This silly but entertaining horror flick isn't quite high concept-- more like medium concept, at best. Five strangers (Geoffrey Arend, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, and Jenny O'Hara) are trapped in an elevator together, and one of them happens to be Satan himself. A police detective (Chris Messina) must figure out how to free them before Mean Mister Mephistopheles turns them against each other and leaves them all for dead. M. Night Shyamalan cooked up the delightfully preposterous premise, but thankfully he doesn't direct. As a consequence, the movie has a better sense of its own absurdity, and at just more than eighty minutes of running time it plays like the overlong episode of The Twilight Zone that it is. It's a nice apé ritif for the Halloween season.
< Eat, Pray, Love (PG-13, ***): Director Ryan Murphy (the creator of Glee and Nip/Tuck) turns Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling memoir about her spiritual journey into a lovely looking travelogue with vague ambitions. It's partly his conventional approach, but also the limitations of the medium that keep the movie focused more on the surface of Gilbert's book than its depths. But Julia Roberts does a fine job as Gilbert, who leaves her flaky, aimless husband (Billy Crudup) after a decade to find herself-- in the Oprah sense of the phrase-- by taking a yearlong trip to dine in Italy, learn meditation in India, and kick it with her main medicine man in Bali, where she also happens to meet the swarthy and charismatic Javier Bardem, who provides the "love" part. Murphy's adaptation is unremarkable, but it's not bad, either. It's well-intentioned, beautifully shot by cinematographer Robert Richardson, and nicely acted by Roberts and some better-than-the-material supporting performances from bit players like the great Richard Jenkins. It's absolutely pleasant, if pleasant is what you're looking for.
Easy A (PG-13, ***1/2): This broadly appealing teen comedy in the vein of Clueless and Mean Girls is a riff on, not a retelling of, The Scarlet Letter. The even more broadly appealing Emma Stone stars as Olive, a straight arrow who pretends to sleep around with closeted gay guys and nerds to help them better their reputations. But she feels the backlash of her fake sexual liberation when she's ostracized from her friends, castigated by her teachers, and targeted by a group of evangelical Christians (led by Amanda Bynes). This saucy look at hypocrisy, teen sex, and double-standards is occasionally too quirky for its own good, but the Gilmore Girls-style rapid-fire banter and a winning performance from star Stone make this teen girl-centric movie accessible to a wider audience. Funny stuff, and smart to boot. More Emma Stone, please. Also featuring Thomas Haden Church, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, and Lisa Kudrow.
< Last Exorcism (PG-13, ***1/2): Daniel Stamm uses the faux-documentary approach popularized by The Blair Witch Project to great effect in this surprisingly thoughtful, nuanced scary movie about a skeptical preacher (Patrick Fabian) called to a remote farmhouse to expel a demon from a sheltered teenage girl (Ashley Bell). Though Stamm ultimately arrives at gore, sprints through the dark, spooky woods, and other horror-movie money-shots, he uses the earlygoing to build character and atmosphere to great success. Preacher Cotton Marcus's crisis of faith is treated seriously, and the movie neither panders to nor denigrates either side of the religion/atheism divide. Solid performances from Fabian, Bell, and Louis Herthum as the girl's widower father help elevate this haunting film above simplistic scares, even if Stamm and his screenwriters aren't always able to maintain the integrity of the documentary gimmick.
< Machete (R, **): Robert Rodriguez adapts his hilarious two-minute fake trailer from Grindhouse into a not very hilarious, nearly two-hour-long real movie. Wonderful character actor Danny Trejo gets a star turn as an ex-Federale whose wife and child are killed by a pan-ethnic drug lord (Steven Seagal). He survives a would-be-killing and hops the border to live a quiet life, only to be drawn back into murder and mayhem when he's hired to kill a state senator for conspiring with vigilante border guards to build an electrified fence between Texas and Mexico. The plot is surprisingly complicated, but aside from the occasional loaded gag like our hero dispatching suit-clad thugs with various gardening implements, the movie's anti-anti-immigrant ideology is muddled to the point of stupidity. The real thrill is watching Trejo live out perhaps the first above-board Mexploitation movie as the south-of-the-border Shaft. But Rodriguez's fondness for trash, occasionally thrilling though it is, only carries Machete so far, and it's not long before the nudging and winking gets tiresome. It's less a movie than a series of hit-and-miss gags and some stunt casting, all in the name of making a bad movie that pretends to be a good movie pretending to be a bad movie. Dios mio.
The Other Guys (PG-13, ***): Will Ferrell reteams with his Anchorman co-conspirator Adam McKay for his funniest movie in quite awhile. The premise is paper-thin parody fodder-- a pair of incompetent, desk-bound cops (Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) attempt to break a major case and replace fallen supercop heroes (Samuel Jackson and Dwayne "Do You Smell the Supporting Performance the Rock Is Cooking?" Johnson). But director McKay opts out of the genre riffing that turned this year's Cop Out into a snooze and instead packs his film with enough clever sketch concepts and running gags to keep it consistently funny. Wahlberg isn't much help as a hotheaded screwup, but Ferrell does solid work as a paper-pusher whose secret past has equipped him with the skills for the streets. Michael Keaton reminds us how funny he can be as the atypically soft-spoken police captain. Also featuring Steve Coogan and Eva Mendes.
The Town (R, ***1/3): Ben Affleck cowrites, directs, and stars in this sharp, action-heavy crime drama about the son of a convicted bank robber who now runs his own crew with his hotheaded best friend (Jeremy Renner). During a robbery gone wrong, they take a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage, and she becomes the only one who can identify them. Instead of killing her, Affleck's morally conflicted crook strikes up a relationship with her and begins manipulating her testimony to the FBI agent on the case (Jon Hamm). The film tips a little too far toward action as it nears its climax, prioritizing cordite over character, but it's scintillating action for sure, and the movie still packs a dramatic punch. Chris Cooper nearly steals the show in a single scene as Affleck's incarcerated father. Affleck impressive directorial sophomore effort also features Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, and Titus Welliver.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13, ****): Oliver Stone's sequel to his 1987 morality play about white-collar crooks and the men who idolize them is almost as improbable as a follow-up to JFK, but it works surprisingly well. Michael Douglas is in top form, returning as Gordon Gekko, recently released after an eight-year prison stint resulting from the events of the first movie. His son-in-law to be, Jake (Shia LeBeouf), is also a money man, and he seeks Gekko's advice on how to avenge the undoing of his mentor (Frank Langella) at the hands of one of Gordon's old foes (Josh Brolin). Gekko here is like Schwarzenegger turned against Skynet in Terminator II, a villain turned avenger, but can he ever be trusted? Stone's latest is occasionally heavy-handed-- no surprise there-- and it cops out with a preposterous, too-positive ending, but it nicely captures the rapid decline of good sense and even the vaguest sense of morality in the financial sector. It's both thematically and dramatically relevant. The effervescent Carey Mulligan shines as Gekko's good-hearted daughter, and Brolin is wonderfully loathsome.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
< Alpha and Omega (PG-13): Animated kiddie fare about a pair of wolves, one a loser voiced by Justin Long, and the other the pack's most sought-after bitch (hey, that's the term!) voiced by Hayden Panettiere, who are separated from the group and must work together to survive. Only in the 2D version.
> Case Thirty-nine (R): René e Zellweger stars in this horror flick as a social worker who saves a young girl (Jodelle Ferland) from an abusive home, only to discover there's more to the strange little girl than meets the eye. Costarring Ian McShane and Bradley Cooper.
Get Low (PG-13): What a cast-- Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek. Novice director Aaron Schneider leads them in a film about a reclusive man, Felix (played by Duvall), about whom wild rumors abound. Get Low follows Felix as he steps into town and begins engaging the public during the process of planning his own funeral.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (PG): This family friendly computer-animated fable about a new recruit in an army of brainwashed soldier owls is improbably helmed by Three-hundred and Watchmen director Zack Snyder. Featuring the voices of Abbie Cornish, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, and Sam Neill. Available only in the 2D version.
> Let Me In (R): Cloverfield's Matt Reeves directs the American adaptation of the film based on Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist's spectacular novel Let the Right One In about a bullied young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who befriends the spooky vampire girl next door (Chloë Moretz). Featuring Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas.
< Nanny McPhee Returns (PG): The not-even-remotely sequel follows the glowering, magical nanny (Emma Thompson) as she seeks to tame the rambunctious charges of wartime homemaker Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in this kiddie flick. Featuring Ewan McGregor and Maggie Smith.
< The Switch (PG-13): Wally (Jason Bateman), the best friend of a single mom (Jennifer Aniston), reveals that he switched the sperm samples in her artificial insemination and secretly fathered her child in this comedy costarring Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, and Patrick Wilson.
> The Social Network (PG-13): David Fincher's biopic of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is the bitterly ironic tale of a whip-smart social outcast whose cold calculations make him hundreds of millions by connecting friends across the world. Featuring Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, and Rooney Mara, and written by Aaron Sorkin.
Winter's Bone (R): When a drug-dealing Ozark Mountain man jumps bail after using the house as collateral, the rest of the family faces eviction and homelessness. It falls to his seventeen-year-old daughter, Ree Dolly, to play Dog the Bounty Hunter. Directed by Debra Granik, Winter's Bone actually looks more like a family drama than an actioneer. (Wissmann)
You Again (PG-13): A successful businesswoman (Kristen Bell) returns home for her brother's wedding only to find out that he's marrying her high-school nemesis (Odette Yustman). Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis costar as the girls' similarly rivalrous mothers, and Betty White also shows up, because that's just what happens now.