Screens

Screens

by Jeff Boam

 

Opening This Week

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Andrew Jacobs, Molly Ephraim
It has been more than 14 years since micro-budgeted thriller The Blair Witch Project broke box office records by pioneering faux documentary horror and 12 years since its awful sequel, which adopted a narrative structure, did not. In 2009, however, director Oren Peli brought faux documentary back to horror when his practically no-budget thriller Paranormal Activity became an instant classic. For the second, third and fourth installments in the franchise, Peli handed over the directing reins. Now, Peli and Paramount are spinning off the franchise with a cast of young Latino performers. In this R-rated horror flick, Jesse (Jacobs) begins to be pursued by mysterious forces after being “marked,” while his family and friends try to save him. The Plus: The genre. Paranormal Activity went on to net over $109 million on Peli’s original investment of $15,000, making it the most profitable movie of all time. Globally, the sequel racked up an impressive $177 million while the prequel bested it with $205 million. The Minus: The odds. Even with the Saw series on hiatus, Paranormal 4 couldn’t come close to the numbers scared up by its predecessors. It still made a tidy profit thanks to a small budget but this spin-off – divorced from the long-in-the-tooth storyline strung through the four preceding flicks – faces even more of an uphill battle.

 

Inside Llewyn Davis
Oscar Issac, Carey Mulligan
In this R-rated dramedy, the Coen Brothers (Fargo, No Country for Old Men) present a week in the life of a young singer (Issac) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. The Plus: The players. The last time that Cooper wrote and directed a film (2009’s Crazy Heart), Jeff Bridges walked away with the Oscar for Best Actor. Time (Raising Arizona) and time (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and time again (True Grit), Joel and Ethan Coen have wowed both critics and filmgoers in one fell swoop. Here, they direct Issac (The Bourne Legacy), Mulligan (The Great Gatsby), John Goodman (Argo), Garret Hedlund (TRON: Legacy) and Justin Timberlake (Runner Runner). The Minus: The odds. In-between releasing more audience-friendly fare (certainly, it’d almost be heresy to call the brothers’ offbeat and quirky style of filmmaking ‘commercial’), however, they often release a well reviewed gem with much less of a broad appeal (Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There, A Simple Man). If the trailers are any indication, Inside Llwelyn Davis seems to fall in that latter category.

 

Now Playing

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig
***1/2 — Beautiful Dreamer
A colorful and rich fever dream that could’ve easily played out like a nightmare on screen, Ben Stiller’s not-so-Secret Life as a director instead colors outside of the H’Wood lines to great effect with his latest. In this PG-rated fantasy adventure previously made into a 1947 film starring Danny Kaye, a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies (Stiller) embarks on a globe-trotting journey more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined. Even Walter’s job in Negative Assets sounds innocuous, but the film presents a vibrant palette and expansive canvas that’s every bit as ambitious as Life of Pi. Finding invention in convention, Stiller expands James Thurber’s whimsical short story about a lovelorn daydreamer into a fantastical feature-length narrative about a forgettable everyman whose life turns unforgettable when his dreams inexorably become realities. Sure, the storyline becomes contrived at times but this rare shot of optimism truly taps into a fun-filled dreamstate.

Saving Mr. Banks
Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson
***1/2 — Snootful of Saccharine
A soft pitch about playing hardball, the genial but gentle Mickey Mouse bio-pic Saving Mr. Banks plays it safe in telling a H’Wood story really worth hearing. In this PG-3-rated bio-pic, author P. L. Travers (Thompson) confronts her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney (Hanks) during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins. Mind you, it’s well told and supercalifragilisticly acted And by Mickey Mouse bio-pic, this reviewer doesn’t mean that the world’s most famous rodent has had his life story told in live action. Rather, it’s a reference to tone, style, and intention. It’s a Disneyfication of the making of a Disneyfication. Even though studio mogul Walt Disney smoked himself to death, the script puffs away just about all cigarette usage. Granted, he coughs a bit but it’s indicative of why this mostly true story is very good, but falls short of greatness. Yes, Travers hides some childhood pain behind her venom but the resolution gets a nice neat bow as opposed to being forthright with filmgoers.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill
***1/2 — Marty Never Sleeps
A long intoxicating lesson in excess, Martin Scorsese’s beautifully shot latest beds filmgoers down in a Wolf’s den so full of Valhallan decadence that they’ll feel the need for a penicillin shot afterwards. In this Hard-R white collar crime dramedy, penny broker-turned-power broker Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) rises to a vaulted level of wealth and power only for the Feds to poke around his connections to crime and corruption. Granted, it’s a comfy and gorgeous affair but the NC-17-level of sex and drugs make the extreme violence in Scorsese’s Casino look like small potatoes. Indeed, the audience easily gets dragged into a quaalude and prostitute-filled lifestyle that’s so infectious that it just about incites madness. And that’s the gift of a legendary director still doing some of his best work because, at its heart, Wolf is just a too oft-told rags-to-riches-to-rags lesson–a hopped-up Horatio Alger story in reverse. Fortunately and unfortunately, the style and detail set it apart. Though the film exhibits a talk-to-the-camera narrative voice and detailed breakdown of a badman’s after hours like Goodfellas, this ‘90s Wall Street tale actually resembles Scorsese’s The Departed more in terms of style. The camerawork proves breakneck and laugh-out-loud comedy bleeds through at every juncture — even explosive showdowns. Only the overly epic running time and some rushed slapdash editing keep it from joining the year’s top tier, though DiCaprio and Hill’s perfectly played debauchees nearly make up the difference.
Philomena
Judy Dench, Steve Coogan
**** — Mommie En-Dearest
An astoundingly touching true story about paternal bonds and loss, this exquisitely told tale of a bittersweet mother and child reunion will strike quite an emotional chord regardless if you’re a hearty or heartless filmgoer. In this R-rated drama, a world-weary BBC reporter (Coogan) picks up the story of a woman’s (Dench) search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent. Cynical and spiritual in the same scene, Philomena is the kind of film that paints a vivid and wholly compelling picture just by staying true to the story. Director Stephen Frears and actress Judi Dench deserve great praise but actor Steve Coogan’s screenplay proves to be this beautiful narrative’s utmost triumph. The sad strange truth plays out like great fiction, artfully, honestly, laughingly, and heartbreakingly told in one fell swoop.

 

Netflix

Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johanssen
***1/2 — Don of the Fêted
In this R-rated dramedy new to DVD, a New Jersey boy dedicates to family, friends and church develops unrealistic expectations of women from watching too much porn, so he works to find happiness and intimacy with a potential perfect match. An uncomplicated romance complicated by a pornography addiction, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Big Phat Italian Comedy presents a modern-day Don Juan tale but with more R-rated, ahem, spunk. Here, filmgoers find a meticulously thought-out and shot romantic satire with a razor-sharp eye and wit aimed at the unrealistic expectations we place on modern love. Oh, and let’s not forget the fiery letter-perfect performances. Confident, calculated, and complemented by some ace cinematography, writer/director/star Gordon-Levitt doesn’t rely on shaky handheld camerawork but assured and stabilized Steadi-cam framing and crackerjack transitions. Oh, and let’s not forget the fiery letter-perfect performances.