Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 2, 2010 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
For more film reviews and capsules, see the Nightlife section of
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Due Date (R, ***1/2): What is essentially a slightly filthier, wilder update of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is both funnier and more affecting than it has any right to be thanks to the huge amount of talent shared between leads Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis's clueless Ethan is a would-be actor looking to trek from Atlanta to Los Angeles to become a star, and also spread his father's ashes along the way. His ineptitude causes him to ruin the travel plans of a hot-tempered businessman (Downey) trying to get back to his imminently expecting wife (Michelle Monaghan). The two embark on a zany roadtrip punctuated with outlandish set pieces and goofy guest stars (Danny McBride, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, RZA), but it's the quiet moments and zippy dialogue between the stars that make this fast-paced comedy sing.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (PG-13, ***): After more than a decade of Harry Potter hype, it's hard to conjure up much enthusiasm for the seventh and penultimate installment of the film adaptations, especially considering ninety percent of the action in the book takes place in the last hundred pages. After an exciting escape-and-battle sequence, Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) wander about in the woods staring glumly at a magic locket, which is just one of the talismans they must destroy to vanquish the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). The novel had no real middle point, so the first part of the bisected finale just ends, giving the movie the aimlessness and shapelessness of the first Lord of the Rings movie. Despite director David Yates being the most deft of the Potter directors (aside from perhaps the too-stylish Alfonso Cuaró n), this is the dullest installment since the lackluster first movie.
Megamind (PG, ***1/2): Will Ferrell provides the voice for the title character of this Superman spoof with a perspective shift. Metro Man (Brad Pitt) is at last bested by his arch nemesis, Megamind, but soon the bumbling villain finds himself bored without a rival. His attempt to create one leads to a disaster that causes him to question the nature of good and evil, and his allegiance to villainy. This is frivolous stuff, but it's fun, sporting some solid gags and kickass visuals that are enhanced not in the slightest by the superfluous 3D. Ferrell, Pitt, and costars Tina Fey and David Cross wring extra laughs out of an already sharp script. It's not quite The Incredibles, or even just incredible, but it's big fun.
The Next Three Days (PG-13, ***): Writer/director Paul Haggis got his start making B-grade TV action shows (Due South, Walker: Texas Ranger), so this unambitious but serviceable drama with a bent toward action is in his wheelhouse. Haggis's most recent efforts have been clumsy overreaches (Crash, The Last Kiss), but he's more comfortable here building slow tension as an English professor (Russell Crowe) concocts a plan to spring his wrongly accused wife (Elizabeth Banks) from prison. All the rough edges are ironed out, the moral murkiness scrubbed to shining clarity, which is a shame, because this could have been a more interesting movie had it not gotten caught up in its own admittedly passable plot machinations. Supporting actors Daniel Stern, Brian Dennehy, James Ransone, and especially Liam Neeson are wasted in one-off scenes, but they add a little texture to a movie that achieves its modest goals.
Red (PG-13, ***): This pandering, bloodless action-comedy about retired CIA agents banding together for one last big mission should by all accounts be god-awful, but a crazily stacked cast (Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Brian Cox-- in a movie together?), a peppy script from brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber, and jaunty direction courtesy of Robert Schwentke-- but mostly just the cast-- make it big, frivolous fun. Bruce Willis stars as a retired agent who becomes a target of his former employers as a bureaucratic measure; he teams up with long-distance would-be-girlfriend Mary-Louise Parker and goes on the run, reuniting with his deadly colleagues (the aforementioned acting legends) to trade quips and turn the tables on younger assassins in the most brutal possible way that does not earn an R rating. Malkovich is especially good as the paranoid subject of a prolonged government-sponsored mind-control experiment, and even when the movie hits its too-familiar beats, it does so with a wry smirk that excuses the misfires.
Skyline (PG-13, *): Directors Colin and Greg, pretentiously billed as "The Brothers Strause," prove that modern-day effects wizards can do just about anything with a computer-- anything, that is, except generate actual content. A slew of alien spaceships emerge from the green screen to menace Los Angeles, and an apartment complex filled with the best-looking actors a shoestring budget can buy must decide how to respond to the invasion. Eric Balfour not so ably leads a group featuring a couple likable TV star castaways (Donald Faison of Scrubs, who was good in the underrated Next Day Air, and David Zayas from Dexter) who make a series of obviously poor decisions that conveniently keep them inside a single set for most of the effects-heavy movie. The Cloverfield-meets-Independence Day ambitions are not entirely unadmirable, but the lackluster execution of everything that's not a computer-generated effect drains the movie of whatever thrills can be digitally conjured. (Even the effects, though, are just a hodgepodge of influences-- predator robots from The Matrix, some lighting tricks from Spielberg, and the ship from District Nine.) This is just a reminder that even the battle for interplanetary superiority can be made boring in the wrong hands.
Unstoppable (PG-13, **): This Tony Scott film boasts of being based on a true story. Considering that it's about a runaway train that cannot be stopped, that means either the heroes stop the train, or there's still a runaway locomotive somewhere tearing through the countryside. The problem here isn't that the ending is pretty obvious; costars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine have a good enough rapport that it's easy to be content to just watch them interact. Washington's old-timer railcar driver is about to be forcibly retired, while Pine's well-connected conductor is consumed with his crumbling home life. The two must form an instant bond in able to team up and stop a runaway train packed with deadly chemicals from jumping the tracks and destroying a working-class Pennsylvania city. Scott shoehorns an interesting story into a too-familiar format that causes some serious logical dissonance (Pine's wife and kid rush to what seems to be the site of the imminent deadly chemical explosion to cheer him on?) and chops it all up into his usual shaky, hyperkinetic blur. The film only highlights the gap between reality and Hollywood: Here in the real world, two hard-working guys can only accomplish so much.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Burlesque (PG-13): If the lens on costar Cher was any more soft focus, you could put your fingers through it. The surgically and Auto-Tune-enhanced pop singer plays den mother to a group of burlesque dancers (including Kristen Bell) that gives rise to a new star (Christina Aguilera).
Faster (R): Dwayne "My, What Is That Delectable Aroma I Detect Coming from the Stovetop, Perchance from Something Prepared by the Rock" Johnson stars in this glossy B-movie about a vigilante (Johnson) picking off the robbers who killed his brother, all of whom are pursued by a lawman (Billy Bob Thornton).
For Colored Girls (R): Tyler Perry writes and directs this anthology film about African American women, featuring Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, and Loretta Devine, among others. Based on the play by Ntozake Shange.
Love and Other Drugs (R): Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a pharmaceutical salesman riding the early wave of Viagra whose career-driven lifeplan is rearranged when he meets a girl played by Anne Hathaway, because that's what you do when you meet anyone who looks like Anne Hathaway. The notoriously mediocre Edward Zwick directs this dramedy.
Morning Glory (PG-13): Rachel McAdams stars as a TV producer charged with reinvigorating a low-rated morning talkshow fronted by a pair of bickering hosts (Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton). Good Morning America gets the Broadcast News treatment, but without James Brooks. Also featuring Jeff Goldbum and Patrick Wilson.
Tangled (PG): Yet another fairytale recycled through the Disney-o-Matic machine. This time it's the long-haired captive in the castle tower (voiced by Mandy Moore) being rescued by a Prince Charming (Zachary Levi) from boredom and a nitpicky mother. Featuring the voices of Paul F. Tompkins, Jeffrey Tambor, Ron Perlman, and Brad Garrett. In 3D and 2D versions.
> Waiting for Superman (PG): Well-received documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) about the problems faced in the U.S. education system, and the barriers to reform.
> The Warrior's Way (R): Let's just call it what it is: Cowboys versus Ninjas (not to be confused with the forthcoming Cowboys versus Aliens-- I smell crossover appeal!). Expect lots of wire work, computer effects, and green screen in this sparkly, hyperkinetic action tale about a ninja (Dong-gun Jang) who battles gunslingers (Danny Huston, Geoffrey Rush) in the Badlands. Featuring Kate Bosworth.