Billy (Mark Wahlberg) is a disgraced former cop turned private eye who is hired by the mayor of New York (Russell Crowe) to tail his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom he suspects of having an affair. Billy finds some evidence all right, but that’s when the script goes a little nuts with coincidence and improbability. Crowe is a great shady mayor, and the scenes in which he growls back and forth with his rival played by a masterful Jeffrey Wright are worth the price of admission. All in all, it’s entertaining, if a little too convoluted. R (pervasive language, sexual content and violence).
Quentin Tarantino returns to the big screen with his long-anticipated and extremely controversial slave revenge western film. Jamie Foxx plays Django, a freed slave who teams up with his bounty hunter savior (Christoph Waltz) to rescue Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from a venal plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). It’s a mashup of Tarantino’s favorite old movies and songs, and it’s brutally violent in action and language. A lot of it is engaging and typical Tarantino style, but after the second hour, it gets a bit stale. R (strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity).
A triumph of production design but a pretty dull kill-’em-up, this 1940s-set LA cops vs. gangsters movie falls short of where it should have. Directed by Ruben Fleischer (”Zombieland”) and based on a nonfiction book, the movie’s violence is over the top and its script is underwhelming. Sgt. O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and his team of rogue officers (Ryan Gosling, Giovanni Ribisi, etc.) take on the notorious Mickey Cohen, played with relish by Sean Penn. A couple fine performances play off the iconic set design and help along the revenge killings. It’s entertaining enough, but as a whole it lacks a lot. R (strong violence and language).
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
You have to know what you’re getting into if you choose to see this R-rated horror action comedy fairy tale. It’s more Gatling guns and grenades than the Brothers Grimm. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have become witch hunters ever since their original goose cooking made them famous. Their hired to save the village of Augsburg from its witch blight and the Great Witch (Famke Janssen). There’s plenty of action and F-bombs, but it just doesn’t really work. R (strong fantasy horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language).
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
This first of three movies to be extracted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s slim novel is moderately engaging. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a homey hobbit ill-suited to dangerous adventures, gets mixed up in just such a quest. Bilbo and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarves set out to reclaim the ravaged kingdom or Erebor. Peter Jackson is up to his old tricks, and it’s pleasant enough, but 3 films seem a bit extreme and the controversial 48 frames-per-second that Jackson used is awful. See it in 24 if you can. PG-13 (extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images).
This new Tom Cruise vehicle does its work sleekly and well. However, to be honest, it’s a little hard to watch given recent news events. Jack Reacher (Cruise) is off the grid as a cop, ex-military sniper and investigator. An accused killer, coming out of a coma, asks for Reacher to help clear his name. Rosamund Pike plays Helen, the defense attorney who’s on the case. Eventually, it all boils down to The Zec, played with relish by Warner Herzog. It’s a sharp film, but with lots of gun violence. PG-13 (violence, language and some drug material).
THE LAST STAND
Arnold is back. The results are okay. Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of a sleepy Arizona border town. Little does he know that Mexican gangster Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has escaped federal custody and is speeding toward them to escape into Mexico. Federal agent Bannister (Forest Whitaker) warns Owens that they’re coming. So it’s up to Owens and his ragtag crew, which includes town eccentric Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), to block the border. Arnold may be old but he can still bring the smack down. R (strong bloody violence and strong language).
This film version of the popular French Revolution musical (based on the classic novel) is destined for Oscar nods. That being said, it doesn’t exactly work. Hugh Jackman has the chops to sing and mutter his way through as Jean Valjean. Anne Hathaway takes a turn as Fantine and nails her one song, “I Dreamed a Dream.” But otherwise, director Tom Hooper fumbles with a few numbers, moves his camera far too much, and relies on Russell Crowe who can’t really pull off the singing as Javert. It’s just all right. PG-13 (language and some risque material).
LIFE OF PI
Based on Yann Martel’s beautiful little book about a young man and the sea and a tiger, this film transforms into a big, imposing and often lovely 3-D experience. Ang Lee directs and while not all of it works, there is a lot to admire. Pi sets sail with his family on a freighter, accompanying a slew of zoo creatures. Terrible weather. The ship sinks. All die except for Pi, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. The adventures and astonishments keep on coming. PG (emotional thematic content throughout, some scary action sequences and peril).
Steven Spielberg returns with this impressive biopic about our 16th president, complete in almost every way. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, the film focuses tightly on the final four months of Lincoln’s life and his political maneuvering in support of the 13th Amendment’s abolition of slavery. It’s a fascinating backroom movie, hushed and intimate. Daniel Day-Lewis is magnificently human as Lincoln, and the supporting cast almost as impressive. It is a fascinating and careful examination of an incredible figure and time. PG-13 (intense scene of war violence, images of carnage and brief strong language).
The prologue tells us of a father fleeing scandal, grabbing his children and speeding into the mountains. They crash, wind up at a remote cabin, and then something happens to him. Five years later, searchers find the girls, now feral, nonverbal, like rats almost. Their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) takes them in, but his girlfried (Jessica Chastain) is reluctant. Naturally, all is not as it seems, thanks to whatever kept them alive in the woods. Chastain and the girls, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse, are great. A solid ghost story. PG-13 (violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements).
THIS IS 40
In the latest film from Judd Apatow, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) reprise their roles from “Knocked Up.” They’ve reached age 40; there are money problems; Pete’s label is on the verge of insolvency; their sex life has cooled; Debbie becomes pregnant again. Rudd and Mann are incredibly skilled comedic actors, and there’s a lot to like here, with Albert Brooks and John Lithgow supporting to boot. But Apatow seems to hesitate going deep enough, starting out well and bravely, and then settling for less and less. R (sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material).
ZERO DARK THIRTY
Director Kathryn Bigelow has accomplished something pretty special in this partially fictionalized yet pseudo-realistic film about the Osama bin Laden manhunt. Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA operative in Pakistan, who ultimately is appropriately sidelined for the climactic raid on bin Laden’s compound. Bigelow strives for immediacy and realism, and the film remains impressively complicated and nonpartisan in its treatment of the events. The best film of 2012. R (strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language).