Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 21, 2012 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.
The Avengers (PG-13, ****): Six prequel films’ worth of setup climax in what is undeniably the biggest superhero movie ever made, with an ensemble played by Hollywood’s top stars. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson reprise their roles from earlier blockbusters, while Jeremy Renner is introduced as marksman Hawkeye and Mark Ruffalo steps into the role of the Hulk. Impressively, director and cowriter Joss Whedon manages to orchestrate all this chaos and make the story semi-intelligible to boot-- something about a magic gizmo that will allow aliens to come kill us all. Whedon nicely balances the interpersonal drama among the egotistical titans with big effects sequences so that the characters don’t get too lost in the massive scope of the movie. Whedon’s quippy dialogue and some fun performances, especially from Downey Jr. and Ruffalo, keep the film as light and zany as the comic books on which it’s based. In 2D only.
Bernie (PG-13 , ****): Richard Linklater’s strange-but-true dark comedy about a funeral director (Jack Black) who kills his wealthy benefactress (Shirley MacLaine) is as much a portrait of small-town Carthage, Texas, as it is a mirthfully macabre adaptation of a magazine article by Skip Hollandsworth, who adapts the screenplay. Linklater intersperses the film with interview footage of actual Carthage residents to tell the story, giving the film a wonderful, gossipy authenticity. It’s a nice fusion of Linklater’s talking-head-collage approach in Slacker and Waking Life with his more easygoing mainstream fare. Black gives a hilarious but restrained performance, and Matthew McConaughey also shines as the fast-talking and self-assured district attorney Danny Buck Davidson.
< Dark Shadows (PG-13, *1/2): In the early going, Tim Burton’s smirking adaptation of the cult-classic supernatural soap opera is a nifty marriage of camp humor and gothic melodrama in which a secretive woman (Bella Heathcote) insinuates herself into a spooky, dysfunctional family for mysterious purposes. But Burton steers the movie toward broad slapstick when the family is rejoined by descendant Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a vampire imprisoned underground for two-hundred years. Depp, doing what has become his regular schtick, mugs his way through a lot of easy man-out-of-time comedy in the swingin’ seventies, effectively rendering this spoiled trifle Austin Vampowers. Costarring Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, and Chloë Moretz.
< The Dictator (R, ***1/2): Sacha Baron Cohen reteams with his Borat and Brüno collaborator Larry Charles for this relatively more conventional narrative comedy. No mockumentary hijinks here in the story of tyrant Aladeen (Cohen), the bumbling oppressor of the fictional country of Waadeya who is deposed by his right-hand man (Ben Kingsley) and stuck working at a hippie co-op while he plots to return to power to save his country from the evils of democracy. Cohen’s signature mashup of high and low humor is on great display here. The shock gags and gleeful filth are layered in with wonderfully subtle verbal comedy and some sneaky social commentary, although the film’s target is a pretty easy one. It lacks the knockout punches of Borat or even the social relevance of Brüno, but it’s without a doubt one of the funniest movies you’ll see all year.
Men in Black III (PG-13, *1/2): Wildly unnecessary sequel to a sci-fi franchise with a distinct 1990s vibe. When Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from a lunar prison, he goes back in time to erase the man who put him behind bars-- Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). To save his partner, Agent J (Will Smith) must go back in time and team up with a much younger K (Josh Brolin) to avert disaster. Along the way they encounter a slew of computer-generated effects. In fact, just about everything in the movie that isn’t Smith, Brolin, or Jones is green-screened in, giving this uninspired retread a cartoonish look that’s utterly inhibited by the incorporation of live-action actors. The result looks, well, dated. In 2D only.
Prometheus (R, ***1/2): Ridley Scott's first sci-fi film since 1982's Blade Runner is both a cerebral sci-fi exercise in the vein of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and a prequel to Scott’s own classic Alien. An alien signal leads to a deep-space expedition to a far-off planet, where a scientist (Noomi Rapace) hopes to discover the origins of humanity. What she finds may be both the secret of our beginnings and our final undoing, especially when the true nature of the mission, funded by a corporate executive (Charlize Theron) and overseen by her android assistant (Michael Fassbender), is revealed. Scott's film is full of breathtaking imagery and big ideas, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts, largely because the high-minded themes simply do not gel with the slimy creature-feature elements that tie the movie to Alien. It can be difficult to sort out the intentional ambiguities from run-of-the-mill plot holes, but the film doesn't lack for ambition and splendor. In 2D and 3D.
Snow White and the Huntsman (PG-13, **1/2): Passable but uninspired faux-fantasy epic in which the Brothers Grimm fairytale is bloated to blockbuster length with a lot of Lord of the Rings-style battles and special effects. The evil queen (Charlize Theron) enlists the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to venture into the dark forest to capture the slain king's daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart). Instead he joins forces with her and a band of seven dwarves, and they help lead an army to depose the oppressive queen. The effects look appropriately expensive and the cast is (mostly) solid, but the movie feels like a soulless marketing exercise that marries the love triangle of Twilight with the episodic questing and big battles of Lord of the Rings not because they're suited to the story but because they sell tickets.
That's My Boy (R, *): A decent comic setup folds under the weight of producer/star Adam Sandler’s increasingly tedious formula. Washed-up Masshole Donny (Sandler) knocked up his teacher when he was a teenager, and did a hopeless job of raising their son. Thirty years later and in need of money, he tracks down his progeny (Andy Samberg) only to discover the kid is a total sputtering mess on the verge of a disastrous wedding. The trouble is, Samberg’s character is horribly written and utterly unlikeable, giving the talented performer no room to work. Sandler’s usual barrage of stunt casting and easy jokes involving horny old people, horny fat people, and giddy ethnic caricatures does little to bolster the ailing storyline, making this every bit as painful as Jack and Jill, which is saying something.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R): Writer Seth Grahame-Smith adapts his own kitschy horror novel that tells about the secret paranormal exploits of one of America’s most beloved presidents. Starring Benjamin Walker as Honest Abe, alongside Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Rufus Sewell. In 2D and 3D.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG-13): A bunch of Brits head to India for a luxury vacation, only to find they were misled to a subpar hotel by a case of false adverting. Starring a pretty good cast led by Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, and directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love).
> Brave (PG): Pixar’s latest computer-animated tale follows a strong-willed princess (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) whose wish to break tradition threatens to destroy her Scottish kingdom. Featuring the voices of Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, and Emma Thompson. In 2D and 3D.
< For Greater Glory (R): Andy Garcia stars in this religious-themed historical drama about the Cristeros War in the 1920s when citizens rebelled against Mexico’s then-atheistic government.
Madagascar III: Europe's Most Wanted (PG): Sequel to the computer-animated kiddie comedy about a group of New York zoo animals who get sent back to the titular land and must continue their journey back to captivity, like animals do. Featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Frances McDormand, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Bryan Cranston, among others. In 2D and 3D.
Rock of Ages (PG-13): Hair-metal-themed musical, based on a stage play, in which the owner of a failing venue (Alec Baldwin) recruits the biggest arena-rock performer of his day (Tom Cruise) to put on a benefit concert to save the club. The ensemble cast includes Julianne Hough, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, and Russell Brand.
> Seeking Friend for the End of the World (R): Character-driven dramedy set during the last days before the asteroid-induced apocalypse, in which Steve Carell and Keira Knightley play mismatched loners who team up to help each other achieve their final goals.
< What to Expect When You're Expecting (PG-13): Another in the newly emergent subgenre of celebrity-choked ensemble chick flicks, this one a series of stories about women trying to have and/or having babies. Featuring Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Chris Rock, Anna Kendrick, Dennis Quaid, and the very funny Southern Illinois native Ben Falcone.