Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 28, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Hanna (PG-13, ****): Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) directs this art-house/action-flick fusion about a solitary young girl (Saoirse Ronan) raised in a lonely woodland cabin with her former secret-agent father (Eric Bana) and trained to be a ruthless assassin, all in preparation to execute a single mission linked to her mysterious past. The movie grows more conventional in both pacing and plot as Hanna races toward a final battle with her steely nemesis, a high-level government agent (Cate Blanchett) with significant interest in her family, but it's still an impressively paced, beautifully shot film that's refreshingly meditative and nuanced. Wright ultimately eschews Hanna's more interesting character conflicts in favor of thriller-plot machinations, but the excellent Ronan creates an extraordinary character truly worthy of a franchise, however unlikely that may be, and the result is a soulful and compelling action movie that recalls classics of the genre as disparate as Leon, Run Lola Run, and The Bourne Identity.
Insidious (PG-13, ***1/2): The original Saw writer-director team of Leigh Whannell and James Wan reteam for a gore-free, not-entirely-novel riff on the haunted house genre, with familiar but worthwhile results. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne costar as the doting young parents of three kids, the oldest of whom slips into a sudden coma that turns out to be his soul getting lost in a spectral realm called the Further, a place in between life and death populated with restless ghosts. The couple fights to regain their son even as the spirits attempt to cross the divide into the world of the living. None of this is new, but Wan and Whannell generate some excellent scares, sometimes through mounting suspense and dread-filled atmosphere, and sometimes through cheap sound cues and quick cuts. At times the movie plays like a highly evolved carnival ghost-house ride, but then again, carnival ghost-house rides can be a lot of fun.
Limitless (PG-13, ***): Bradley Cooper stars as a hack writer turned super genius by a designer street drug that maximizes the brain's potential in this uneven thriller, which is driven forward by a strong concept yet never really goes anywhere. Cooper's Eddie Morra finds himself involved in a series of violent crimes, pursued by mysterious figures, and entangled in a vast financial power play with a wise and skeptical tycoon (Robert De Niro, who doesn't have enough to do here), all while dealing with the side effects of the long-term abuse of a drug nobody knows anything about. There's a lot going on here, and almost none of it is resolved well, or at all, with some major subplots left dangling-- director Neil Burger seems to entirely forget about one involving a murder. Burger and writer Leslie Dixon only feign to address the myriad themes and ideas raised by the nifty conceit at the heart of the film, and it's a shame. Instead of being a strange trip or even a great ride, Limitless just turns out to be enough to get viewers through to the next fix.
The Lincoln Lawyer (R, ***): Matthew McConaughey sheds his stoner Romeo image for a slick suit as Mick Haller, a corner-cutting, wheel-greasing shyster who operates his law practice from the back of a chauffeured Lincoln. He takes the case of a preppy heir (Ryan Phillippe) accused of attempting to kill a prostitute and is drawn into a web of deception that reaches far back into his past. McConaughey's fast-talking antihero is far more intriguing than the plot in which he becomes enmeshed, but the movie, based on the novel by thriller writer Michael Connelly, delivers when it needs to. This unessential but consistently entertaining genre exercise is elevated by nice supporting turns from a slew of excellent actors including Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, and William H. Macy.
Scream IV (R, *): Tired horror master Wes Craven and yesterday's Variety news Kevin Williamson reteam to stab a dead horse in this utterly empty third sequel to their wonderfully sardonic, influential original. Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox reprise their roles alongside a new crew of young hotties (including Emma Roberts, Alison Brie, Hayden Panettiere, and Rory Culkin) who are stalked, quizzed with movie-trivia questions, and massacred by the Ghostface Killer. Williamson and Craven seem to think that wry acknowledgement of the film's endless shortcomings qualifies as excusing those failings, rather than just highlighting them. Insufferable, unfunny, and never scary. Scream? Not so much. Yawn? Almost certainly.
Source Code (PG-13 , ****1/2): Duncan Jones's followup to the nifty Kubrickian riff Moon is even better than his excellent debut. This time, with the help of screenwriter Ben Ripley, he's channeling Philip K. Dick, but the pair navigate the big ideas and cerebral plot twists to ultimately deliver a climax with startling emotional resonance. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Colter Stevens, an army pilot who wakes up disoriented on a commuter train set to explode in eight minutes. He's thrust back in time over and over, forced to relive those eight minutes until he can discover the identity of the bomber. But even as he attempts to complete his mission, he uses his time in the past to uncover the secrets of his place in the high-tech project known as the Source Code. The parallel mysteries work brilliantly and dovetail in the end to add up to much more than the sum of their parts. Doubtlessly there will be some debate about the film's final twist, which depending on your perspective either undercuts the humanism subtly drawn out of the concept or folds the plot back in on itself one more time in an act of cinematic origami. Either way, it's pretty fantastic. Costarring Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright.
Water for Elephants (PG-13, ***): Totally adequate but uninspired adaptation of Sara Gruen's novel about a grieving veterinary student (Robert Pattinson) who hooks up with a failing circus circa 1931. He falls for Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who's married to the mercurial and potentially murderous owner and ringmaster (Inglourious Basterds' ace villain Christoph Waltz). The unique setting is dulled by the film's conventional staging and utter disinterest in any kind of examination beyond the cursory. It helps not one bit that romantic lead Pattinson has the wooden inexpressiveness to make him a shoo-in to star in Frowning Toward Freedom: The John Kerry Story in thirty years. It doesn't give Witherspoon much with which to work, but she manages, although her best scenes come with Waltz, who steals the show, such as it is. But this isn't even The Greatest Show in Your Local Mall Movietheater.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Arthur (PG-13): Remake of the Dudley Moore semi-classic in which a boozy heir risks his family fortune for love. The grating Russell Brand is Arthur as sheltered manchild, although his spacey girlfriend is played by the fetching Greta Gerwig. Featuring Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner.
> Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (PG-13): Comic-book-inspired film about the title character, a private eye who works among the undead in New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana bayous. Werewolves, vampires, and zombies will go to war unless Dylan can find some sort of artifact. Directed by Kevin Munroe, who was responsible for the failed 2007 relaunch of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. (Wissmann)
> Fast Five (PG-13): Third sequel (not counting the irrelevant Tokyo Drift) reteaming Vin Diesel's charismatic gearhead crook and Paul Walker's cop-turned-outlaw as they commit pretty much every moving violation known to man. This time they're hunted by a federal agent played by Dwayne "The Rock but Only When I'm Wrestling, When I'm Acting It's Just 'Dwayne Johnson'" Johnson.
> Hoodwinked Too! Hood versus Evil (PG): The sequel to the Shrekified computer-animated fairytale mashup that it's hard to imagine anyone asking for. This time the Big Bad Wolf (voiced by the awesome Patrick Warburton) teams up with Red (Hayden Panettiere, replacing Anne Hathaway) to search for an AWOL Hansel and Gretel. As indicated by the combination pun-homonym-exclamation point in the title, it's going to be a zany time. Also featuring the voices of Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Joan Cusack, Glenn Close, Martin Short, and enough second-tier celebs to field a full-court game of Hollywood Squares. In 3D and 2D versions.
Hop (PG): Holidaysploitation computer-animated kiddie flick about the rock 'n' roll dreams of the Easter Bunny's teenage son. Featuring the voices of Russell Brand, Hank Azaria, and Hugh Laurie.
> Prom (PG): Disney-produced ensemble drama about the public-school pageantry/teenage social ritual of the title, but cleaned up for its young demographic-- think what Demi Lovato's prom would be like on TV as opposed to what Demi Lovato would actually do at her prom. Friday Night Lights' Aimee Teegarden leads a cast of relative unknowns.
Rio (PG): Computer-animated kiddie comedy about an awkward, domesticated macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) from Minnesota who inadvertently undertakes an eventful trip to Rio de Janeiro when he's paired with free bird Jewel (Anne Hathaway). Also featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Jane Lynch, and Tracy Morgan. In 3D and 2D versions.
Soul Surfer (PG): Christian-themed inspirational true-life drama about a teen surfing enthusiast (AnnaSophia Robb) who takes back to the waves after she loses her arm in a shark attack. Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt costar as her parents.
Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family (PG-13): Another hyper-moralizing dramedy from one-man-hack-factory Tyler Perry, who writes, directs, and dons drag to star in another installment about the titular sassy granny who this time around must reunite her relatives to aid her ailing niece. Featuring Loretta Devine and Bow Wow, no longer so Lil'.