Opening Friday: 42
Jackie Robinson has long been an elusive presence in contemporary American cinema, as filmmakers tried and failed to bring his life story to the screen. Brian Helgeland has finally succeeded in "42," a stirring, straightforward and ultimately soaring portrayal of Robinson’s historic entry into Major League Baseball in 1947.
Anchored by a solemn, quietly compelling lead performance from Chadwick Boseman, "42" possesses the solid bones, honeyed light and transporting moral uplift that define an instant classic.
"42" begins in 1945, when Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) decides to integrate the team. Insisting to his nervous associates that dollars aren’t black or white, only green, Rickey begins scouting for a player who not only will help the team win, but has the character to withstand the backlash that will surely ensue.
He settles on Robinson, a gifted athlete from California with an impressive record in the Negro leagues. When Robinson asks Rickey if he’s looking for a player without the guts to fight back, Rickey famously replies that he’s looking for "a player with the guts not to fight back."
Ford plays Rickey with a jutting jaw, squinting eye and hoarse bark straight out of the Irascible Old Coot playbook, his character constantly invoking God and the almighty dollar to justify what became known as Rickey’s "noble experiment." Late in the movie — which mostly confines itself to 1946, when Robinson played for the Montreal Royals, and 1947, his first season with the Dodgers — Rickey admits to Robinson that he was seeking to redeem his own silence at the injustice of the game’s color line. "You let me love baseball again," Rickey says with a gruff choke in his voice.
For his part, Robinson remains silent, as he does through much of "42." He proves to be a curiously recessive figure, less a psychologically complex hero than a screen for others’ projections — idealism and hope on the part of African Americans, anxiety and hostility on the part of his teammates, virulent, potentially violent animus on the part of his opponents and their fans — which he endures with stoicism that borders on the saintly.
"42" is suffused with the casual racism of the era, especially when Robinson is traveling through the Jim Crow South. Helgeland lards his script with sly references to "cultural heritage" and "way of life" that strike timely notes in an era of Brad Paisley and "Accidental Racist." But the worst comes from the nominally integrated North, specifically Philadelphia and Phillies Manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), whose vile stream of epithets during a game winds up rallying the Dodgers team and the crowd to the side of Robinson, who withstands the abuse with level-eyed, square-jawed forbearance.
Robinson breaks down out of sight, under the bleachers, but other than a few wry exchanges with his wife, Rachel (the lovely Nicole Beharie), and a monologue addressed to his newborn son, we don’t get much of a sense of his interior life. Instead, "42" captures Robinson as a character whose meaning and power is primarily existential. It was his very being around which the vortex swirled — a vortex of defiance, pride, pathological racism and, finally, awe.
Helgeland has enlisted a marvelous ensemble to bring that swirl to life, beginning with Boseman, who infuses Robinson’s taciturn self-containment with watchful charisma and skillfully re-creates his signature skittering, crablike dance off the bases. Some of the finest sequences in "42" are when Robinson craftily steals bases out from under his most hateful detractors.
Such real-life supporting characters as journalist Wendell Smith, game announcer Red Barber and Dodgers Manager Leo Durocher are portrayed in often funny, note-perfect turns by Andre Holland, John McGinley and Chris Meloni — who regrettably disappears after Durocher is suspended over his affair with a married actress.
Filmed with the gauzy, nostalgic light of an American summer and insistently underlined by Mark Isham’s Copland-esque orchestral score, "42" occasionally succumbs to the corny, but it’s never condescending. And a certain amount of old-fashioned sentiment is altogether appropriate for a movie in which composure, professionalism and finesse manage to overcome far more destructive, irrational forces.
The film boasts a particularly good sound design, with every crack of the bat and thwack of the mitt emphasizing the ballistic hardness of a ball that, in Robinson’s case, was as often as not launched as a weapon. At one point, Helgeland allows "The Star-Spangled Banner" to play in its entirety, pointing up the irony of the line "land of the free" by coming to rest on Robinson’s tense, wary face.
Like that one, the film’s most gratifying sequences are on the field, when Robinson is silencing his critics by the sheer beauty and athleticism of his playing, and when his teammates — who early in his career petitioned to have him removed — can be seen gradually coming around, as if awaking from a particularly toxic trance. By the time Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black) famously puts his arm around Robinson during a game in Cincinnati, "42" has taken on cumulative, undeniable momentum, not just as classically rousing entertainment but as a quintessential story of American aspiration.
Thanks to transitional figures like Robinson, we’ve always been the home of the brave. To be the land of the free, the film suggests, we all need to step up to the plate. (PG-13, 128 minutes)
— Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
Scary Movie 5
As long as people keep paying to see them, Hollywood will keep cranking out these crummy comedies. (PG-13, 85 minutes)
Relentless, pitiless, bloody and intense — that’s the remake of Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.”
But is this “Evil Dead” any good? Yes and no. It has several genuinely hair-raising moments and presents, for your edification and enjoyment, some of the most graphic horror violence ever presented on the screen.
But Fede Alvarez’s homage to the original “Cabin in the Woods” tale lacks the offhanded goofiness, the brittle jokes of young people, in that wooded cabin, facing death at the hands of something supernatural. Sure, they’re scared, and some of the cast of this new “Dead” — Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore, in particular — get across what utter terror feels like. But the sardonic wit is lost in a sea of blood and guts.
The set-up is similar. Friends and family of Mia (Jane Levy) have dragged her from Michigan State to a remote cabin to clean her up, get her off drugs. Her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), who rarely sees her, is a reluctant intervener. But he’s brought his new girlfriend (Blackmore) along, because nothing bonds a couple like detoxing one’s sister.
The nurse Olivia (Lucas) and bookish school teacher Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) are there to help, though there’s friction because David, a big-city mechanic, hasn’t been involved in any of their lives. And here they are, caring enough to clean up a mess he should deal with himself.
There’s a stench in the semi-trashed cabin. It turns out there isn’t room to swing a dead cat in the basement because it’s full of dead cats and blood stains. We’ve seen the prologue. We know what’s coming.
They’ve only seen the dead cats. But that would be enough to make a sane person leave. Which they don’t.
That gives bookish Eric a chance to find the skin-covered book of witch curses and spells, and to stir up The Other Side. As Mia is menaced and possessed by the forest, as the rains come and wash out the road and as others are injured, brutalized and tested by their first encounter with the supernatural, Eric is the one who doesn’t think everything will work out in the end.
The makeup effects, with piercings, scalding, dismemberments and the like, are spectacular. You will believe that’s a human face, peeled off with a sharp object. Characters are chased, by the camera, through the woods and through this oddly roomy tiny cabin. They reach for the camera and are yanked back out of the frame, a favorite horror movie staging trick these days.
Occasionally — not often — you feel something for the dead and the doomed. None develop real empathy, and those we mourn for we do simply because nobody deserves their fate. David, in particular, is under-developed and blandly played in spite of all the tragedy and trauma.
That transforms “Evil Dead” from a cut-rate romp through horror conventions into a by-the-book bloodbath, chilling at times, not the sort of film that invites a cult following. (R, 91 minutes)
— Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers
Forget blowing the images up to IMAX size and converting the lunging velociraptors and T. Rexes into 3-D. The best reason to revive "Jurassic Park" for its 20th anniversary is Jeff Goldblum.
Yes, children, there was a time when Goldblum was sci-fi’s "ultimate explainer," as producer Dean Devlin labeled him in "Independence Day." Goldblum’s bug-eyes said "scientist-smart," and his mannered, considered and hesitating line-readings reinforce that. His very presence in movies from "The Fly" onward screamed "complicated science, made understandable and plausible."
As "chaos theory" expert Dr. Ian Malcolm, Goldblum is the "Jurassic Park" skeptic in a cluster of greedy entrepreneurs and spellbound paleontologists (played by Laura Dern and Sam Neill).
Goldblum, as Malcolm, has all the "What if things go wrong?" questions. And when they do, he utters this line, in that distinct, silky Goldblum purr:
"Boy, do I hate being right all the time!"
"Jurassic Park," adapted from Michael Critchton’s conceptually brilliant novel, is a horror movie wrapped in the trappings of early ’90s speculative science. Back then, kids were dino mad, the magical letters "DNA" were on every research grant, and the wonders of genetic code were just beginning to unravel.
What a great time for a scary movie about a tycoon (Richard Attenborough) whose efforts have led to the breakthroughs that enable him and his backers to open an island theme park where dinosaurs have been back-engineered back to life.
Not that they should have been.
Things, as Dr. Malcolm predicts, will go wrong. Storms happen, cages fail, "sterile" dinosaurs turn out not to be. And people, who never walked the Earth at the same time as these beasties, are now the main item on the menu. Chaos theory incarnate.
Steven Spielberg’s film captures the terror in thunderous approaching footsteps that could only belong to something bigger than King Kong, in breathy sniffs from a nose as powerful as an air compressor. The dinosaurs, impressive in their animated actions and leathery digital texture in ’93, haven’t lost much of their moist, tactile menace over the decades. When they start messing with the theme park’s SUVs, we still shudder in the knowledge that those on screen "are going to need a bigger truck."
The script (by Crichton and David Koepp) is still burdened with vintage Spielberg kids in peril and melodramatic flourishes. Having Wayne Knight of TV’s "Seinfeld" as the greedy programmer who sets the chaos in motion is comically too "on the nose."
But casting Bob Peck as the gamekeeper and "Great White Hunter" because of his shared silhouette with the velociraptors he so admires was inspired. The frights still work, super-sized and turned into 3-D for your viewing and recoiling-from-the-screen pleasure. It’s not nearly as scary on TV as it is in theaters.
If anything, science has closed the gap from the impossible to the merely improbable in the 20 years since this movie reminded us of "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth." Australians are close to bringing back a recently-extinct species of frog, and others are working to bring back the day when dodos ruled the earth.
Good idea? Maybe to some. But that’s where Jeff Goldblum comes in handy. Nobody explained the improbable, and the risks involved in it, like Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm.
"Oh, yeah. ‘Oooh, ahhh,’ that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming." (PG-13, 122 minutes)
— Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers
G.I. Joe: Retaliation, In 2-D and 3-D. (PG-13, 110 minutes)
The Host, (PG-13, 125 minutes)
The Croods, (PG, 92 minutes)
Olympus Has Fallen, (R, 120 minutes)
Oz the Great and Powerful (PG, 130 minutes)
Admission, The Call, Identity Thief.