Screens


Screens

by Jeff Boam

 

Opening This Week

RoboCop
Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman
Time (JFK) and time (True Romance) and time again (Leon: The Professional), Gary Oldman has taken a supporting role and left filmgoers forgetting the headliners — nevermind his unforgettable starring gigs (Sid and Nancy, Bram Stoker’s Dracula). Not content to let only two blockbusting franchise stand on his CV (he played Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series and Commissioner Gordon in the Dark Knight trilogy), this British actor will next star in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and is in talks for a role in Star Wars: Episode VII. First, however, comes RoboCop V.2.0. In this PG-13-rated remake, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp realizes their vision for a part-man, part-robot after police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — a loving husband, father and good cop — gets critically injured in the line of duty. The Plus: The players. Here, Jose Padiha (Elite Squad) directs Kinnaman (AMC’s The Killing), Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Michael Keaton (The Other Guys), Abbie Cornish (Seven Psychopaths), Jackie Earle Haley (Lincoln), Jay Baruchel (This is the End) and Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers). The Minus: The un-necessity. Though far from perfect, Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Robocop was a darkly comic and brutally violent piece of pop culture that doesn’t necessarily deserve a 2nd helping, especially after recent shortsighted remakes of other ‘80s sci-fi fan faves The Thing and Total Recall (also based on a Verhoeven flick).

About Last Night
Kevin Hart, Joy Bryant
In this R-rated romantic comedy, the love lives of two couples (Hart, Regina Hall, Bryant, Michael Ealy) fall under the microscope — from the bar to the bedroom and are eventually put to the test in the real world. The Plus: The material. Based on Tim Kasurinsky‘s stageplay, About Last Night first hit the screens in 1986 with David Mamet providing the screenplay and Rob Lowe and Demi Moore in the title roles. Here, Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine) directs a nearly all African-American cast that includes current box office sweetheart Hart (Ride Along) along with Bryant (Hit and Run), Ealy (Fox’s Almost Human) and Hall (The Best Man Holiday). Also, with an adaptation by Leslye Headland (The Bachelorette), comedian Hart can finally indulge on screen in the kind of adult humor that defines his stage shows. The Minus: The competition. Beyond its target demographic, About Last Night is opening against two other Valentine’s Day-themed flicks, Winter’s Tale and Endless Love, which thins an already thin herd at the box office.

 

 

Now Playing

The LEGO Movie
Voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks
***1/2 — Attack the Blocks
A bustling toybox of crackling wit and imagination, The LEGO Movie defies the odds and gives moviegoers as fun an afternoon as is humanly possible for a blockhead … and that’s meant as a high compliment. In this PG-rated animated comedy, an ordinary LEGO mini-figure mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary master-builder (Pratt) is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant (Will Ferrell) from gluing the universe together. I mean, these are Interlocking bricks, right? How funny can this flick be? In all honesty, it’s got more laughs than most of the modern blockbusting animated flicks put together because it knows just what it is: a major motion picture based on a plastic plaything. The LEGO Movie ends up to be a sarcastic triumph, tearing itself down with tongue firmly in cheek as much as its builds itself up, but also successfully integrating a multi-pop-cultural world of superheroes, wizards, presidents and Star Wars characters into one fantastic joyride. A cornucopia, cacophony and cultural cocktail, the movie also boasts some eye-popping animation and use of 3D that’s well worth the price of admission and some appropriate celebrity pipes that don’t come off as stunt casting.

 

The Monuments Men
George Clooney, Matt Damon
***1/2 — World War Zing
Though it doesn’t exactly reach the heights of monumental filmmaking, some Men of good standing nevertheless turn this history lesson into a war zone romp that’s solidly entertaining. In this PG-13-rated historical drama, an unlikely World War II platoon (Clooney, Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban) are tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners. Owing more to Kelly’s Heroes than Ocean’s Eleven, director/star George Clooney’s film plays out more like a zippy ensemble piece than seriously hard-hitting drama. This goes double for the running time, which whisks filmgoers right into the action and rarely lets up. A blessing and a curse, this whiplashed breeziness means you’ll never get bored but you’ll also never feel the characters’ weary anguish at being homesick. I mean, they just got to Europe 20 minutes ago, right? Still, there are some truly teary moments courtesy of a letter narrated from the grave and a Christmas greeting broadcast over an Army camp loud speaker — expertly shot/edited brief moments that elevate the entire production within mere minutes. Without the letter-perfect cast, however, these moments would be for naught. What’s funny is that Clooney doesn’t do as well with out-and-out comedy (Leatherheads) as he does with funny moments interspersed in his dramas (Good Night, And Good Luck). Monuments Men never inspires a feeling that you should be taking these goings-on seriously. For better and worse, it betrays more of a good-time Charlie Company vibe that just happens to tell a story worth hearing.

Kids for Cash
Directed by Robert May
***1/2 — Children of a Lesser Judge
Ripped from the national headlines, this locally-bred American Horror Story makes for a ridiculously engrossing documentary even if though it leaves an ill feeling in the pit of your stomach by proxy. This R-rated documentary looks behind the notorious judicial scandal that rocked the nation, exposing a shocking American secret where millions got paid and the justice system got waylaid. Sadly, the true events prove too unbelievable to be mistaken for a narrative film — despicably stranger than fiction. The fact that Pennsylvania’s justice system became a Draconian super villain to children would almost be deemed too melodramatic if sold as a drama. The staggering facts play out almost like a Dickensian tragedy, which makes this subject and its subjects well worth documenting. And aside from some stylistic gaffes, the documentation gets expertly presented. Robert May produced amazing films from both the narrative (The Station Agent) and documentary realm (The Fog of War). These experiences obviously provided a brilliant training ground for shooting hundreds of hours of interview footage, securing actual news coverage, and compiling them both into an informational but digestible piece of pop culture. When the mother of a deceased victim confronts Judge Mark Ciavarella on the steps of a federal courthouse, it comes as a jaw-dropping climax more powerful than something Herman Mankiewicz (Pride of the Yankees, Citizen Kane) could even craft — all because it smartly comes at the precisely perfect moment of running time. Of course, there are the missteps. To offset the monotonousness of watching endless interview footage, a child’s constructions — paper dolls amid a cardboard suburb — gets integrated. At first, it perfectly offsets the very real tragedy of victimized youth. Then, when integrated too prominently and far too long during some segments, this device starts to lay this editorial voice on too thick. Also, the film leaves audiences with multiple codas, statistics well worth knowing … at first. The first three provide the perfect dropping off point for further inspection. But then, the information overload continues … ad nauseum. This statistical glut almost derails the whole experience.

Ender’s Game
Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford
***1/2 — The Blast Starfighter
In this PG-13-rated sci-fi actioner new to DVD, the military seeks out a brilliant young mind (Butterfield) who can lead his fellow soldiers into a battle that will determine the future of Earth. Like Twilight time for Starship Troopers, this tale of a teen titan Enders up to be a surprisingly rousing and thought-provoking star war. Though aimed squarely at the teenage set, the SFX, cast, and themes can’t help but engage older sci-fi fans more used to Ford grumbling his way through Han Solo than Colonel Graff. The more the line between war games and actual battle blurs, audience feels the title character’s inner strife boiling over like teen angst in this coming-of-age story.