By Michael Phillips
Tribune Media Services
---- — ‘BROKEN CITY’
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).
‘BULLET TO THE HEAD’
In this pretty cliche, grungy, uber-violent action flick, hit man Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) partners up with a crusading police detective played by Sung Kang, and the two get swept up in something to do with police corruption, skeezy development deals and an incriminating flash drive. Stallone is riveting in his way, and director Walter Hill (”48 Hrs.”) harkens back to action movies of old. It’s gory, brutal and you’ve seen it all before, but it’s not the worst movie ever. R (strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use).
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).
Unfortunately, this road-trip movie fails its stellar stars. Denver businessman Sandy (Jason Bateman) discovers his identity has been stolen, his credit ruined. To fix things, he must track down the culpirt, who happens to be Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a Florida con woman. The two go on the road to make things right, all the while followed by bounty hunters. Bateman and McCarthy are great performers and likeable, but the material is so dreadfully inferior, there’s just not much to see here. R (sexual content and 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 sly film from director Steven Soderbergh is a deftly plotted look at pharmacological states of mind. Emily (Rooney Mara) is a tense Manhattanite who’s husband, played by Channing Tatum, gets out of prison after a stint for insider trading. They struggle to connect, and Emily is prescribed antidepressants by her psychiatrist (Jude Law), who benefits on the side from enrolling her in a drug trial. Blood eventually gets spilled, and Mara is a sphinx of an actress, never truly giving us a bearing on her characters state of mind. It’s taut and worth seeing. R (sexuality, nudity, violence and language).
‘STAND UP GUYS’
We know these old mugs well. After a 28-year prison sentence, small-time hood Val (Al Pacino), and his nutty hair, is greeted at the gates by old friend Doc (Christopher Walken) and his nutty hair. Doc’s been hired, under threat of execution, to kill his pal Val. But first, some fun. The lads pay a visit to old friend, Hirsch (Alan Arkin). Misadventures, sex with Russian hookers, nostalgia and retribution upon a gang of rapists fill out the dance card. The trio are wasting their time here. It feels like 3 months in the movie slammer. R (language, sexual content, violence and brief drug use).
This goofy zombie comic-romance follows the undead fellow known as R (Nicholas Hoult), who’s pretty nostalgic and “just wants to connect.” One day while hunting zombies, human Julie (Teresa Palmer) gets saved from being eaten by R, and both of their heartstrings go zing. The two of them fall for each other and wind up sparking a revolution. John Malkovich shows up somehow playing Grigio, Julie’s father and leader of the movement keeping the zombies at bay. It’s a different twist on familiar themes, but lacks a certain something. PG-13 (zombie violence and some language).
‘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).