---- — ANNA KARENINA
This heavily theatrical take on the old Russian classic is only a half-success. Directed by Joe Wright, it’s mostly staged inside a lavishly constructed playhouse, except when it’s not. And we watch the drama unfold between Anna (Keira Knightley), her pill of a husband (Jude Law) and her cavalry officer lover (Aaron Johnson). Its well-written script leaps between high comedy and piercing drama, and the film has its moments, but it’s a bit too frantic at times. R (some sexuality and violence)
This thriller from director/star Ben Affleck just plain works. Based on unclassified documents, the story is set in 1979 when 52 Americans were taken hostage in Tehran by Iranian revolutionaries. Six U.S. State officials escape and hide at the Canadian ambassador’s home. CIA operative Antonio Mendez (Affleck) concocts a plan: fly into Iran, pose as a film crew scouting locations, fly out again with the six Americans playing the roles of crew members. With a sharp script and deft direction, the movie is tense and entertaining. Oscar buzz is justified. R (language and some violent images).
BROOKLYN BROTHERS BEAT THE BEST
A pair of misfit hipsters hit the road in this likably goofy, lo-fi indie propelled by the syncopations of a cheesy keyboard — and the cheesy dreams of its hapless heroes. Ryan O’Nan wrote, directs and stars, joined on a cross-country concert tour by the nutty Michael Weston. Catchy songs, too. 1 hr. 38 No MPAA rating (profanity, adult themes)
CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER
Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg co-star in this offbeat comedy about events that either will drive a wedge between a separated couple or further reinforce their bond. 1 hr. 31 R (drug use, profanity, sexual candor)
CHICKEN WITH PLUMS
Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s lyrical live-action adaptation of Satrapi’s 2004 graphic novel set in 1950s Iran begins with a crescendo and can’t sustain its lyricism. 1 hr. 33 PG-13 (smoking, drugs, mature themes)
This film is about surfing, the legendary and mysterious secret break, the Mavericks, off the coast of northern California, and teenage Jay Moriarty who became famous there. Jay (Jonny Weston) gets the surfing bug from his nextdoor neighbor, Frosty (Gerard Butler). Jay lionizes Frosty and stows away when Frosty sneaks off to Mavericks, of which only a quartet of veteran surfers are aware. Frosty mentors the kid, training him to survive and ride the break. It’s an entertaining story with awe-inspiring surf footage. PG (thematic elements and some perilous action).
This adaptation of David Mitchell’s spinning top of a novel exists to vex, intrigue and discombobulate unsuspecting audiences six ways to Sunday. It defies description. Six storylines spanning several centuries, from an 1849 Pacific Ocean voyage to the year 2321, provide the narrative webbing. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and others play many roles apiece. Some of the stories work, but others fall flat. It’s a fascinating look at some very large themes, but it’s a bewildering effort that doesn’t really work. R (violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use).
DARK HORSE 3 stars. Todd Solondz’ latest suburban chamber of horrors is a wonderfully realized and surprisingly understated dark satire, an odd — and, at times, oddly endearing — love story between rude, obese, unlikable Abe and narcissistic, depressive Miranda. 1 hr. 24 No MPAA rating (mature themes, profanity)
DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL
The legendary fashion editor, society icon and cultural arbiter is celebrated in this illuminating doc. Interviews with Vreeland (conducted by George Plimpton), and with designers, photographers, models and stars, reveal a woman with preternatural instincts for recognizing talent and trends. Her philosophy was built on independent thinking and a belief in the transformative powers of beauty and art. 1 hr. 26 PG-13 (adult themes) — Steven Rea
Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis is back with this exciting and terrific film. Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a pilot who, after a night of drinking and snorting cocaine, crash lands a routine flight to Atlanta, rescuing most of his passengers and crew. An instant hero, Whitaker knows that other people know what was in his system, and the dynamic dance plays out from there. It’s sophisticated storytelling, with the audience unsure of how to feel about such a conflicted protagonist, but Washington is marvelous, as usual, and it’s a highly entertaining flight. R (drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence).
A boy reanimates his dog in this animated adaptation of the Frankenstein legend. A typically dark labor of love for director Tim Burton: incredible technique, limited appeal. 1 hr. 27 PG
This Halloween film concerns a Cleveland high school senior (Victoria Justice) who misplaces her preteen brother (Jackson Nicoll) on trick-or-treat night. This film is a soul-crusher, completely devoid of any humor, point, quality or value. The narrative shape recalls other more successful one-crazy-night films, but this fails magnificently. I don’t know for whom the hell this bell tolls. Maybe it will toll for Nickelodeon-fed offspring, but I doubt it. PG-13 (crude and suggestive material, partying and language).
HERE COMES THE BOOM
Scott Voss (Kevin James) is a burned-out high school biology teacher, a single man barely able to muster the gumption to ask out the school nurse (ummm, Salma Hayek). Their crumbling school needs $48,000 to save the longtime music teacher (Henry Winkler). Solution: Voss, who wrestled in college, enters mixed martial arts and makes it all the way to the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Vegas. Though it takes a while to get going, it’s actually all right. PG (bouts of MMA sports violence, rude humor and language).
Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) operates a swanky resort for his fellow outcasts and monsters. His daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) is turning 118, or 16 in human years. Despite his best efforts, Dracula cannot keep his daughter from the wider world forever. When a backpacker (Andy Samberg) stumbles upon the castle, he and Mavis take a shine to each other. Unfortunately, nothing in this movie is funny or remotely engaging. It’s really not worth any kid’s time. PG (some rude humor).
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).
LOOPER 3 1/2 stars. A slambang blast of a time-travel thriller, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as a guy named Joe — yes, they’re the same guy, separated by 30 years in the dystopian future, and brought together when Young Joe, a hit man, gets a job to kill Old Joe. Emily Blunt also stars, as the mother of a kid with weird and very significant powers. 1 hr. 58 R (violence, nudity, sex, profanity, drugs, adult themes) — Steven Rea
Joaquin Phoenix goes wild as a psychologically damaged Navy veteran in the early ’50s who meets up with a charismatic cult leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic exploration of religious fervor, and of the quest for spiritual transcendence in a physical world. Beautiful, but messy, and the momentum just falls away in its second hour. 2 hrs. 17 R (violence, sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a New York bike messenger who picks up an envelope — and picks up a tail along with it: a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) who must have it, or else. Lots of stunt riding in this silly, serpentine chase pic, ehich can’t decide if it’s a serious, ticking-clock thriller or an antic, stunt-driven cartoon. 1 hr. 31 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
Enchanting animated adaptation of William Joyce’s Guardians of Childhood, featuring Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Sandman and Jack Frost as the fantastic five who protect and serve children’s imagnations. 1 hr. 29 PG (Animated adventure, gloomy villain. For those six and older)
ROBOT & FRANK
A gentle, and gently funny character study, set “in the near future” and starring Farnk Langella as a retired cat burglar who begrudgingly lets a robot domestic helper into his life. 1 hr. 29 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes)
Bond is back for his 23rd installment, and this is more like it. Daniel Craig returns as 007, charged with rescuing the world from a computer savvy adversary, perhaps the most singular Bond villain in a decade, played by Javier Bardem. Sam Mendes directs stunning action sequences, and the return of Dame Judi Dench and various other recastings works well this time around. While “Quantum of Solace” largely failed, this installment returns Bond to its rightful, highly entertaining place, while also exploring some new territory. PG-13 (intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking).
Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a true-crime author in desperate need of a hit, and he doesn’t tell his wife and family that he’s moved them into a house that was the scene of a mass murder. He finds old home movies of that murder and many others, and, even though he’s shocked at the images of drownings, throat-slittings and the pale satanic figure that turns up in reflections, he doesn’t recoil and flee the house where his boy has night terrors, his daughter does strange drawings on the wall and his wife (Juliet Rylance) wonders what’s going on. The movie telegraphs its cheap scares, and doesn’t quite succeed. R (disturbing violent images and some terror).
Mary Elizabeth Winstead transcends addiction movie cliches in this sharp, spirited indie about an L.A. couple (Aaron Paul is the guy) who drink way too much. Authentic, heartbreaking, but thankfully kind of funny, too. 1 hr. 25 R (drugs, alcohol, sex, profanity, adult themes)
This sequel is so much lousier than it needs to be, largely due to a director in over his head. Extending a work trip to vacation with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter (Maggie Grace), Liam Neeson’s ex-CIA op, Brian Mills, is kidnapped and held captive in a hellhole by murderous Albanians. There is no film without Neeson shooting, stabbing, strangling, and mixed-martial-arts-ing dozens of Albanians who want him dead, want his ex-wife dead, and want his daughter as a sex slave. The action is a headache, and even Neeson can’t save this one. PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality).
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part2
Please let this be the last. The final installment of the “Twilight” franchise, hopefully, is strictly for the fans. Newly vampired Bella (Kristen Stewart) is adjusting to her new powers, new life, new child, and the uneasy truce with the werewolves led by Jacob (Taylor Lautner). There’s some Edward (Robert Pattinson) of course, and a bright spot turn by Michael Sheen as Aro, head of the undead Volturi, but largely this comes off as a particularly smug fashion shoot. PG-13 (sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity).
The latest from Disney Animation is a wild and imaginative exploration of a video game fantasy, i.e. what happens in the lives of our favorite game characters when we’re not playing them? Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is weary of his prescribed lot in life: he’s not a bad guy, so why does he have to play a bad guy in everybody’s favorite arcade game “Fix-It Felix Jr.”? Ralph breaks out and goes on the run, teaming up with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) to traverse the video game world landscape and grapple with the modern-era game soldiers led by Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch). It’s fun enough, but a bit hectic. PG (some rude humor and mild action/violence).
— Tribune Media Service