January 16, 2013

Movie Dope

Short Descriptions Of Movies Playing In And Around Athens...

ALEX CROSS (PG-13) I’ve never read one of James Patterson’s bestsellers featuring police detective/forensic psychologist Alex Cross, but I did see Kiss the Girls, which I recall enjoying. Alex Cross is no Kiss the Girls. In Detective Dr. Cross’ third cinematic case, Tyler Perry takes over for the much more capable Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Cross in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Perry’s Cross must hunt down Picasso (a muscular skeleton that once was Jack from “Lost”), a professional assassin-cum-serial killer whose first murder is a mass one. When Picasso makes his mission personal, Cross goes off the reservation, which, judging by Perry’s emotional acting playbook, is little different from being on the reservation. A strong supporting cast—Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols, John C. McGinley, Jean Reno, Cicely Tyson and Giancarlo Esposito—prove no match for Perry’s lack of screen presence, Rob Cohen’s mindless action direction and the laughable script by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson. This movie would have been more entertaining had Perry also donned his fat suits and pursued Picasso as Cross, Madea and her brother, Joe; Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Alex Cross is a bad movie idea I could get behind.

ANNA KARENINA (R) Joe Wright reunites with his Pride & Prejudice and Atonement star Keira Knightley for what could be another Oscar heavyweight. Acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead) adapted Leo Tolstoy’s acclaimed novel about the titular aristocrat (Knightley) who embarks on an affair with young Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass). The strong cast includes Jude Law as Anna’s husband, the excellent Kelly Macdonald (“Boardwalk Empire,” Brave), Matthew Macfadyen (Wright’s Mr. Darcy), Olivia Williams and Emily Watson. (Ciné)

ARGO (R) Ben Affleck’s career revival continues with what might be his best directing effort yet; the HFPA thought so, awarding him a Golden Globe Best Director. As life-or-death as the tension gets, the movie is ultimately a less grueling entertainment experience than either The Town or Gone Baby Gone. Revealing the once classified story of how the CIA rescued six American hostages in the midst of the Iranian Revolution, Argo is both an intriguing modern history lesson and a compelling, old-fashioned Hollywood thriller. The first-act scenes of the revolution terrify with present day relevance; the middle sequence that sets up the outlandish rescue op humorously skewers late-'70s Hollywood, thanks to excellent work by John Goodman as real life, Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers, as well as Oscar nominee Alan Arkin; and the climactic escape epitomizes edge-of-your-seat suspense. Affleck has collected one hell of a cast—Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Victor Garber, Scoot McNairy, Chris Messina and many more recognizable faces—but the movie isn’t dominated by any one showy actor, and certainly not its tightly controlled director-star. Its greatness is certainly a sum of all parts—directing, writing (by first-time scripter Chris Terrio) and acting. Nominated for Best Picture. (Ciné)

CLOUD ATLAS (R) For the ambitious Cloud Atlas, the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have masterfully adapted David Mitchell’s award winning novel, intermingling six disparate stories, spanning from 1849 to 106 Winters After the Fall. Each anecdote stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant and more in varying layers of makeup. While none of the stories warrants their own full-length feature, the six interconnected narratives are interwoven so skillfully and at such a swift pace that no one has enough time to overstay its welcome. The lush, imaginative film’s most serious flaw is its repertory, several of whom seem out-of-place (Oscar winners Hanks and Berry, most notably) in the film’s fantastical future bookend.

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (PG-13) Whit Stillman has not been heard from since 1998’s The Last Days of Disco, but his comeback pic supposedly shows the filmmaker picking up where he left off. Three coeds (Greta Gerwig, Megalyn Echikunwoke and Carrie MacLemore) attempt to help their peers at Seven Oaks College get out of their funk via good hygiene and musical numbers. Then some boys (including Adam Brody) get in the way. I enjoyed Stillman’s trio of '90s efforts, the Oscar-nominated Metropolitan, Barcelona and the aforementioned Last Days of Disco. (UGA Tate Theatre)

DJANGO UNCHAINED (R) Not many auteurs can take an academic cinematic exercise and turn it into one of the year’s most entertaining spectacles like Quentin Tarantino can. Slave Django (Jamie Foxx) is freed by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Golden Globe nominee Christoph Waltz, the single greatest gift QT has given American movie audiences). Together the duo hunts bad guys and seeks Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who belongs to plantation owner Calvin Candie (Golden Globe nominee Leonardo DiCaprio). For a critically acclaimed award nominee, Django Unchained is an ultraviolent blast. Every bullet creates an unbelievable explosion of blood, and every actor gives a gleefully energetic performance. DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson have a particularly grand chemistry. Modern cinema’s biggest cinephile-cum-director again proves how great a genre film can be. QT continues to bring exploitation flicks from the grindhouse to the multiplex and the award shows. Few modern movies convey their creator’s delight as a QT film does; one knows he is making movies he wants to see, not movies to which he thinks audiences will flock. Sure, detractors will slam Django Unchained for its bloody violence and offensive language, but it’s most notable for a perfectly rare combination of art and entertainment.

FOUND FOOTAGE FESTIVAL (NR) The Found Footage Festival returns to Athens. This collection of random, hilarious home movies, training videos, ill-advised PR stunts, and more—discovered by curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher (The Onion and “The Late Show with David Letterman”) at garage sales, thrift stores, warehouses, and dumpsters nationwide—will make your week, guaranteed. Recommended for anyone jonesing for MST3K –style laughs. I go every chance I get and own all the DVDs. The FFF ranks as one of the funniest experiences of my life. Do not miss this event. (Ciné)

• GANGSTER SQUAD (R) For anybody lamenting about a lack of Dick Tracy meets The Untouchables period mob flicks, Gangster Squad will fill that rather peculiar hole in your life. Former boxer turned mob kingpin Mickey Cohen (an almost out-of-control Sean Penn, who’s under so much makeup he resembles a Dick Tracy villain) is trying to take control of Los Angeles. Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) enlists several officers, led by Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), to fight fire with criminal fire. Based on a true story, Gangster Squad feels as if it were ripped from the pages of a pulpy crime magazine like True Detective thanks to the stylish flourishes of director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) and his actors. Gosling is particularly perfect as tough, pretty boy Lieutenant Jerry Wooters, whose love for Cohen’s moll (Emma Stone) could get them both killed. If one wants screen violence committed by dedicated, well-dressed policemen amidst the glitz of 1940s L.A. (fans of the videogame L.A. Noire know what I’m talking about), Gangster Squad will not disappoint. 

THE GUILT TRIP (PG-13) Certainly not as laughless as its trailers suggest, The Guilt Trip mines some genuine comic chemistry between its leads, Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, as Andy Brewster, a son traveling across the country with his mother, Joyce. The many car-bound scenes featuring just the two stars generate the movie’s biggest laughs. Unfortunately, Andy and Joyce make some excruciating pit stops that fall back on the sitcomishly simple gags like a Texan eating contest (which, for what little it’s worth, does involve Barbra as opposed to Rogen). Speaking of Ms. Streisand, she looks terrific for a septuagenarian. That the producers cast Adam Scott and Ari Graynor in such tiny roles is unforgivable. Though not nearly as bad as it could be, sons and daughters would be better off steering their mothers toward one of the several better cinematic products out this holiday season.

• A HAUNTED HOUSE (R) Marlon Wayans can be a pretty funny guy, and we already know from Requiem for a Dream that he can act when he’s trying. Found footage spoof, A Haunted House, occasionally works, mostly because Wayans acts like a normal, albeit egregiously silly guy. Wayans’ Malcolm invites his girlfriend, Kisha (Essence Atkins), to move in with him. Unfortunately, Kisha brings a ghostly presence with her, eventually becoming possessed. Malcolm tries everything to get his (sex) life back on track. Judging from the Scary Movie 5 trailer that preceded it, A Haunted House will be the superior horror spoof of 2013. Don’t take that assessment to be a sign of approval, but A Haunted House could have been less funny. It has a few moments of genuine hilarity. Mostly, it relies on sophomoric bathroom humor that will please its target audience. 

HERE COMES THE BOOM (PG-13) Adam Sandler’s made plenty of pictures worse than this Kevin James vehicle about outlandish ways to save education. James’ Scott Voss is a high school biology teacher who turns to MMA to fund the extracurriculars at his struggling school. An appealing supporting cast includes Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler, Greg Germann and real life MMA fighter Bas Rutten (after an appearance in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and voice work in Zookeeper, he’s becoming a James regular) to assist the extremely likable James in an odd, family-friendly mash-up of educational messages and inspirational sports, where the sports are extremely vicious. It doesn’t NOT work, but more refined audiences will cringe at the movie’s genial attitude toward violence.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (PG-13) How comforting it is to return to Middle-earth, especially with Peter Jackson (he replaced original director Guillermo del Toro, who retained a co-writing credit with Lord of the Rings Oscar winners Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens). Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, the BBC “Office” star, a master of reactionary mugging) is asked by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) to join a company of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Jackson and his writing cohort have expanded Tolkien’s single novel into three films by adding sequences from the series’ appendices, a decision that allows this first film to be paced a bit logily in getting the company on the road. Thanks to multiple childhood viewings of Rankin-Bass’ Hobbit cartoon, I’ve always preferred the prequel to the trilogy proper. While this first film lacks the epicness of Jackson’s previous series entries, it makes up for it with its comically entertaining dwarves and rousing action sequences. Bilbo’s first meeting with Gollum is so well-crafted and performed by WETA’s effects wizards and motion-capture genius Andy Serkis, who is still being shunned by awards groups lacking vision. This return journey to Middle-earth is an adventure worth taking over the holiday season.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (PG) Unlike the superior ParaNorman, which was a genuinely, safely frightening family horror flick, Hotel Transylvania is an amusing, run-of-the-mill animated family movie where the main characters are harmless monsters. (The lesson that monsters aren’t dangerous is a terrible, hazardous message to teach children.) To protect monsters and his daughter, Mavis, from their dreaded enemies, humans, Dracula (genially voiced by Adam Sandler) sets up a hotel in the safe confines of Transylvania. On the eve of Mavis’ 118th birthday, a human named Jonathan (v. Andy Samberg) discovers Drac’s hideaway. Thank goodness director Genndy Tartakovsky (“Dexter’s Laboratory,” “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Samurai Jack”) brings his visual creativity to this rather rote tale of prejudice and cross-cultural romance. The sequences that work best are the ones that have fun with the conventions of Universal’s classic movie monsters. Samberg’s saddled with a rather boring character, but Selena Gomez’s Mavis has spunk. The adults—Kevin James as Frankenstein, Steve Buscemi as the Wolfman, David Spade as the Invisible Man and CeeLo Green as the Mummy—are even better as cartoon monsters than their usual human cartoons.

JACK REACHER (PG-13) The episodic exploits of Lee Child’s popular literary character, a former Military Policeman turned drifter, would make a better television series than movie franchise, but star Tom Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (an Academy Award winner for his Usual Suspects script) pull off the big screen feat as entertainingly as possible. In this adaptation of Child’s One Shot, Cruise’s Reacher investigates the murder of five random people, allegedly committed by a sniper he knew in Iraq. Naturally, the plot gets thicker as Reacher stirs it. Jack Reacher might have been better with a little more Dirty Harry/Don Siegel/70s vigilante edge, but it will make audiences forget they don’t care for star-reliant, big budget action movies like they used to. As written by McQuarrie, Reacher is as well-equipped to verbally decimate an enemy as he is to physically dominate him, a trait which helps viewers forget the albeit exquisitely molded Cruise (remember, he’s 50) does not quite match Reacher’s burly 6-foot 5-inch, 210 to 250 pound physique. Jack Reacher accomplishes its mission—divert an audience’s attention for an enjoyably solid two-plus hours—as efficiently and capably as its title character.

THE LAST STAND (R) Ah-nuld always said he’d be back. He makes good on that promise in his first starring role since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Schwarzenegger stars as a border town sheriff who is the last thing standing between a fugitive drug lord and Mexico. I’d have little interest in the movie, were it not for the former governor’s presence (I grew up idolizing Arnold). I Saw the Devil director Kim Jee-woon's presence behind the camera is more than simply an intriguing bonus. With Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Peter Stormare, Harry Dean Stanton and Luis Guzman.

LES MISERABLES (PG-13) Golden Globe winner for best musical, Les Miserables harks back to the 1960s, when colossal musical adaptations were the rule, not the exception. (Four of the decade’s 10 Best Picture winners were musical adaptations.) Parolee Jean Valjean (Golden Globe winner Hugh Jackman) attempts to make up for his past crimes by raising Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of a fallen young woman named Fantine (Golden Globe winner Anne Hathaway). Constantly on Valjean’s heels is Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who will not give up the chase for this parole violator. Gigantically staged and competently sung, Les Mis will please the massive post-Christmas crowds and sway many an awards panel. Its Oscar nomination is already in; whether or not it wins depends on how old school the Academy is feeling. They could do worse; finding 10 films more captivating for its the whole of its near-three-hour runtime is difficult at best. Small criticisms abound for such a massive undertaking. Outside of Hathaway, the star-studded cast has vocal talents that rank somewhere below a regional touring company. Seyfried is especially reedy. A few words of advice: don’t take your bathroom breaks when Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are onscreen. Enjoy the show!

LIFE OF PI (PG) Having last thought of Yann Martel’s novel when I read it nearly 10 years ago, the ineffective trailers for Ang Lee’s adaptation failed to remind me of how wonderful and energetic Pi Patel’s life had been. I recalled a shipwreck, a lifeboat and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The imaginatively conceived and beautifully told work of art created by Brokeback Mountain Oscar winner Lee, who certainly deserves the  noms he received for Best Picture and Best Director, reminded me of the many, small joys that add up to make the life of Pi. Do not let the underwhelming previews deprive you of one of the year’s most moving, most artistic films of the year. The opening anecdote relating the origin of Pi’s name conjures up the modern fairy tale magic of past crowd-pleasers Amelie and Hugo. Newcomer Suraj Sharma, stranded for lengthy sequences with nothing but a tiger for a costar, and the ever-excellent Irrfan Khan (most recently seen in The Amazing Spider-Man) deliver delicate performances. (Ciné)

LINCOLN (PG-13) Historical biopics do not come much more perfect than Steven Spielberg’s take on our 16th president’s struggle to end slavery by way of the 13th Amendment. Rather than tell Abraham Lincoln’s life story, screenwriter Tony Kushner (the Oscar nominee for Munich also wrote the excellent “Angels in America”) chose the ideal, earth-shattering month upon which to focus. He populates Spielberg’s 19th-century hallways with living, breathing figures of American history like William Seward (David Strathairn), Thaddeus Stevens (Oscar nominee Tommy Lee Jones), Alexander Stephens (Jackie Earle Haley), Edwin Stanton (Bruce McGill) and Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris), but the film will be remembered and lauded as another platform from which Daniel Day-Lewis can solidify his claim to the title of greatest living actor. He uncannily becomes Lincoln with such ease; he also humanizes a larger-than-life figure we tend to treat far too reverently. His authentic performance helps keep Spielberg’s best film since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan from falling into the hagiographical trap. Lincoln is nominated in nearly every Oscar category. It is also the bipartisan film our post-election America needs to remind us what to expect from great leaders. If these elected representatives could compromise to make history, certainly ours can to salvage the present.

LUV (R) This Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize (and Humanitas Prize) nominee stars rapper Common as Uncle Vincent, the hero to young protagonist Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.). The recently paroled Vincent tries to straighten out his life, while Woody tries to decide whether or not to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. Writer-director Sheldon Candis has little to his filmography besides a trio of shorts and the feature Young Cesar. With Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover and Charles S. Dutton. 

MAMA (PG-13) I’m more than a little excited for the latest horror project being shepherded by Guillermo del Toro, even if Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark underwhelmed. Two young girls are found alone in the woods, seemingly having raised themselves. When their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau aka the Kingslayer from HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), and his wife, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), take the girls in, the couple begin to believe something else might have come with them. Director Andrés Muschietti adapts his own short.

MONSTERS, INC. (G) Disney is re-releasing Monsters, Inc. in 3D to remind audiences of Sulley and Mike before June's prequel, Monsters University. The cute story involves top scarer Sulley (v. John Goodman) and his pal, Mike (v. Billy Crystal), whose lives are turned upside down when a child ventures into Monstropolis. The film lost the Best Animated Feature Oscar to Shrek, while Randy Newman went home with an Academy Award for his song, "If I Didn't Have You."

NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (PG) 1984. The Studio Ghibli Film Series returns, bringing four fresh classics from legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki to the big screen (on fresh 35mm prints!) through Feb. 10. In Miyazaki’s second feature, a young princess struggles to prevent the destruction of her planet. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind won the Fantafestival award for Best Short Film, the Kinema Junpo Readers’ Choice Award for Best Film and the Ofuji Noburo Award from the Mainichi Film Concours. (Ciné)

PARENTAL GUIDANCE (PG) Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star as old-school grandparents forced to care for their decidedly 21st-century grandchildren. Director Andy Fickman’s filmography is more weak (The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain) than bad (You Again); I did enjoy his Amanda Bynes cross-dressing comedy, She’s the Man. Splash Academy Award nominees Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel are credited with the rewrite. With Marisa Tomei, Bailee Madison (the young Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark star is a boon) and Tom Everett Scott.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (PG-13) Stephen Chbosky (he wrote the screenplay for Chris Columbus' big screen Rent) directs the adaptation of his own YA novel about a freshman (Logan Lerman, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) being mentored by two seniors (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller). Most of the movie's prerelease buzz has focused on Watson's first major post-Harry Potter role, but it's Miller, so good in We Need to Talk About Kevin, that I want to see in action. With Nina Dobrev of “The Vampire Diaries.” (UGA Tate Theatre)

PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE (R) 1989. Few images from my days of skulking the video store aisles, studying VHS covers of horror movie classics like The Dead Pit and Frankenhooker, stands out like the melted face framed by a mall backdrop that signified Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge. Thanks to Bad Movie Night, this burned-in memory of my adolescence returns as a shopping center is terrorized by a badly burned teenager. With Pauly Shore, Morgan Fairchild and horror icon Ken Foree. (Ciné)

PROMISED LAND (R) Gus Van Sant’s new film, written by “Office” star John Krasinski and Matt Damon (from a story by Dave Eggers), stars Damon as a salesman tasked with purchasing property for a natural gas company. I’m assuming this is a fictionalized version of the real life “fracking” drama recounted in Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated doc, GasLand. Promised Land is the winner of the National Board of Review Award and the NBR’s Freedom of Expression Award. With Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook, Rosemarie DeWitt and Scoot McNairy.

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (PG) Author William Joyce’s very cool idea is brought to the big screen by first-time animated feature director Peter Ramsey and fantastical executive producer Guillermo del Toro. Holiday legends North (aka Santa, who is voiced very Russianly by Alec Baldwin), Bunny (v. Hugh Jackman) and Tooth (v. Isla Fisher) are joined by Jack Frost (v. Chris Pine) as they do battle with the evil Pitch (v. Jude Law). Imagining massive audiences of children falling hard for this potential animated franchise is not hard. The computer-generated animation is engaging (though one must wonder what thought process led to such an unappealingly birdlike appearance for the Tooth Fairy), and the narrative is action-packed. Adults will be intermittently bored by the pedestrian plotting and obvious obstacles placed in front of the legendary heroes. Hopefully, a sequel will take increased advantage of the extraordinary concept rather than relying so much upon tired cartoon storytelling.

SKYFALL (PG-13) The middle third of Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond is the best 007 adventure in 20, maybe even 30, years. Too bad director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and his team of scripters won’t just let Bond be Bond for the entirety of the film. Skyfall almost completely unravels before the opening credits. The pre-credits chase—involving Bond, a female agent, a train and a baddie—concludes with M (Judi Dench) showing no faith in her best agent, a decision that makes little sense in this, or any, Bond-verse. In three films, Bond has gone from a newly licensed Double 0 to a dinosaur; when can Bond just be Bond again? (At least Quantum of Solace got that very right.) For an hour and in its tantalizing conclusion, Skyfall dresses in the formalwear of traditional Bond. Q, an all-time great villain, Silva (a blonde, 100% pure crazy Javier Bardem) and more help balance cool deadliness with world-saving silliness. Through Moore and Brosnan’s tenures, the balance favored silly; Craig’s scale might be tipped too far in the opposite direction. If the right mixture can be found, we could again see a candidate for Best Bond Ever.

TAKEN 2 (PG-13) Most movies fail to encapsulate the description “unnecessary sequel” as perfectly as Taken 2. (I wish it had had some silly subtitle like Taken 2: Takenier, but alas.) As a consequence of the violent methods he employed to retrieve his kidnapped daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), in the first movie, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), must face off against the Albanian dad (played by go-to Eastern European baddie Rade Serbedzija) of one of the sex traffickers he killed during his rescue mission. Once Bryan get himself and Kim to safety, he must go after some more Albanians and save his estranged wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen). The scenery—Bryan must clean the Eurotrash from the bazaars of Istanbul as opposed to the streets of Paris—isn’t the only thing that’s changed. While writer-producer Luc Besson returns, he replaces Taken director Pierre Morel with Transporter 3’s Olivier Megaton. Unfortunately, that substitution brings with it action choreography/cinematography that is far less comprehensible. Add a far too slow opening act to the jumbled action and Taken 2 falls far below the bar set by its surprise success of a predecessor.

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (R) Leatherface returns! A young woman (the gorgeous Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) heads to Texas for her inheritance and runs into the dangerous Sawyer clan and its chainsaw-wielding, skin-wearing man-child. Original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen and The Devil’s Rejects Bill Moseley, who played Chop-Top in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, make return appearances as Sawyers. Unfortunately, the latest Texas Chainsaw, sans the titular Massacre, is directed by the same guy who did the dreadful Takers.

THIS IS 40 (R) Sure, This Is 40 will provide viewers with more laughs than any of its contemporary comedic peers, but it should; it’s at least one sitcom episode longer than a typical comedy. Writer-director Judd Apatow, of whom I am a big fan, could definitely benefit from some stronger criticisms of overstuffed, raunch-filled dramedies. This semi-sequel to Knocked Up follows Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) as they turn 40. Life isn’t quite what they expected. They struggle to raise their two daughters (Apatow and Mann’s real life kids, Iris and Maude), support Pete’s dad (the always welcome Albert Brooks) and succeed in their professional lives. Apatow packs way too much into a comedy that amounts to six episodes of a situation comedy. By Pete’s climactic party, the movie ratchets up, focusing as much on comic C-plots with ancillary characters played by Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd and Megan Fox as on the A-plot. Fortunately, the cast of funny people, led by the uber-likable Rudd, can make anything funny, even the struggles of potty-mouthed, unaware adults seeking to blame their messed up lives on anyone (but especially their parents) but themselves. Somehow, Rudd, God bless him, makes that funny.

• ZERO DARK THIRTY (R) Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow (recently snubbed for a second Best Director nomination) and her Oscar winning collaborator, screenwriter Mark Boal (he did receive his second nomination this year) follow up The Hurt Locker with this controversial, excellently crafted military thriller documenting the decade-long search for Osama bin Laden. Despite everyone (I hope) in the audience knowing how the story ends, Bigelow and Boal ratchet up the tension, as near misses and further attacks make the search, conducted by the ferociously single-minded screen proxy Maya (Best Actress nominee and slight favorite Jessica Chastain), that much more desperate. The controversial torture scenes, mostly contained in the first act, are tough to watch but factually necessary. The film ends with its well-earned climax, Seal Team Six’s daring nighttime raid, a rare action sequence that thrills and also chills with verisimilitude. Zero Dark Thirty is an intriguing, darkly patriotic counterpoint to the year’s other major American historical drama about a president willing to push the office’s constitutional limits for the sake of protecting the nation. Both films are award worthy and deserving of your entry fee, but Lincoln has the Oscar edge.