ARGO (R) Ben Affleck’s career revival continues with his best directing effort yet, despite his snub by the Academy. Revealing the once classified story of how the CIA rescued six American hostages in the midst of the Iranian Revolution, Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee Argo is both an intriguing modern history lesson, a compelling, old-fashioned Hollywood thriller and a strong contender for Best Picture. Affleck has collected one hell of a cast—John Goodman, Academy Award nominee Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Victor Garber, Scoot McNairy, Chris Messina and many more recognizable faces—but its greatness is a sum of all parts—directing, writing (by first-time scripter and newly minted Academy Award nominee Chris Terrio) and acting. Now about that Best Director snub… (Ciné)
• BROKEN CITY (R) Is anyone else feeling like if you’ve seen one political-crime thriller, you’ve seen them all? (Anybody else remember 1996’s City Hall?) Diehard fans of Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe or Catherine Zeta-Jones (I guess there’s at least one person who has to watch everything she appears in) will be pleasantly met with a routine political thriller about ex-cop-turned-private eye, Billy Taggart (Wahlberg), discovering a deeper, darker scandal (but not too deep or too dark) after being hired by Mayor Nick Hostetler (Crowe) to find out with whom his wife (CZJ) is sleeping. The cast, which includes Barry Pepper and Kyle Chandler, makes the dramatic machinations of Allen Hughes’ first directorial effort sans brother Albert seem a lot more interesting, but so many better films are in theaters right now. Why waste time on an average flick you’ve essentially seen several times before?
CASTLE IN THE SKY (PG) 1986. The Studio Ghibli Film Series returns, bringing four fresh classics from legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki to the big screen (on fresh 35mm prints!). In Miyazaki’s third feature (and the first to be produced and released by Studio Ghibli), Castle in the Sky, a young boy and girl seek a floating castle while trying to escape air-pirates. The 2003 Disney re-release features the voices of Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Mandy Patinkin and Andy Dick! (Ciné)
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.
FLIGHT(R) Robert Zemeckis returns to live action movies for adults (since 2000's Cast Away) with this Denzel Washington-starring, after-work special about alcoholism dressed up as an airplane crash drama. Captain Whip Whitaker (Washington) may be a great pilot, but he's not such a great guy. Yet while hungover, still drunk and high on coke, Whitaker saves most of the 102 souls on flight 227 after a mechanical failure requires him to pull off an unconventional crash landing. Starring a big handful of swell actors—Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman and Melissa Leo join Washington—Flight calls to mind a '70s issue movie (something Sidney Lumet or Norman Jewison might have directed Al Pacino in) wrapped in a tense, quasi-legal drama. Every part is exceptional, though it is Washington's latest award-worthy turn (his first since 2007's American Gangster) which lifts the movie above the cloudy inspirational moralizing that probably would have occurred with another star (say, Will Smith). The crash sequence alone deserves a spot on the shortlist for 2012's best scenes; don't be surprised if Denzel and Flight soar come awards season.
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.
HANSEL AND GRETEL WITCH HUNTERS (PG-13) After surviving their childhood encounter with a witch, grown up Hansel and Gretel (Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner and Bond Girl Gemma Arterton) now hunt witches internationally. With the Blood Moon on the rise, a new evil threatens that also could hold the key to the siblings’ secretive past. Director Tommy Wirkola previously directed the Nazi zombie horror comedy, Dead Snow, a flick I wanted to enjoy a lot more. With Peter Stormare and Famke Janssen.
HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA (NR) Legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog (most recently seen in Jack Reacher) codirected his latest nature documentary (his Grizzly Man and The Cave of Forgotten Dreams were greeted with critical acclaim) with Dmitry Vasyukov. In Bakhtia, the heart of the Siberian Taiga, live approximately 300 villagers conducting their lives nearly exactly the same way their ancestors did 100 years ago. An official selection of the Vancouver and Telluride Film Festivals, Happy People won the Earth Grand Prix – Special Award from the Tokyo International Film Festival.
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.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (PG-13) Juan Antonio Bayona, director of the fantastic Spanish horror film, The Orphanage, returns with this re-telling of the story of a vacationing British family caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents of three sons who are separated from each other in the chaotic aftermath of the water surge.
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.
JOHN DIES AT THE END (R) Genre fan favorite filmmaker Don Coscarelli (the Phantasm franchise, The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep) adapts Cracked writer David Wong’s Internet sensation-turned-bestseller. Two slackers, David (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), do battle with forces from another dimension, thanks to a strange new street drug. This nominee for the Chicago International Film Festival’s Gold Hugo won awards from the Philadelphia and Toronto International Film Festivals. With Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown and The Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm.
KNIFE FIGHT (NR) Rob Lowe stars as a political strategist considering taking the high road while taking care of his three clients. “West Wing” fans will be excited about Lowe’s reunion with Richard Schiff. The rest of the cast cast (including “Once Upon a Time”’s Jennifer Morrison, Jamie Chung, “Modern Family”’s Julie Bowen, Carrie-Anne Moss, Saffron Burrows, Amanda Crew, Eric “Will” McCormack and Garbage’s Shirley Manson) is good, if a bit television heavy. Multiple Academy Award winner Bill Guttentag (“You Don’t Have to Die” and “Twin Towers”) co-wrote and directed.
• THE LAST STAND (R) Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen as an action lead isn’t among the charismatic muscle man’s top flicks, but this High Noon on steroids is more amusing than most modern action movies. Arnold stars as Sheriff Ray Owens, whose small town stands between a fugitive drug lord and Mexico. Standing with the sheriff are his inexperienced staff of oddballs—the trusty deputy (Luis Guzman, who is always good to lighten the mood), the young female office (Jaimie Alexander), a bad boy trying to make good (Rodrigo Santoro) and the local gun “collector” (Johnny Knoxville, who somehow wound up with his name above the title and his mug on the poster). The gags are strangely silly in the English language debut of The Good, the Bad, the Weird’s Kim Jee-woon, but the pops of bloody squibs are real, not digital. Arnold is as oddly magnetic as always, though the movie could use more of the 65-year-old action hero. I longed to get back to Schwarzenegger every time the story requires time be spent with Forest Whitaker’s FBI Agent or Eduardo Noriega’s drug lord. With one additional gimmick (real time?), The Last Stand could’ve been more than Arnold’s entertaining return.
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.
• MAMA (PG-13) As much of a horror movie fan as yours truly is, the ghostly stories often favored by Spanish filmmakers are not my subgenre of choice. In Mama, produced by Guillermo del Toro and based on a short expanded by writer-director Andrés Muschietti, two young girls are found in a cabin, where they have lived alone for five years. Unfortunately, when Annabel and Lucas (Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) get Victoria and Lily home, they discover the two girls were not alone in the woods, and they’ve brought their rather angry “Mama” with them. The buildup is slow and foreboding, but the final act asks far too much of its CGI creature, whose overly digital appearance elicits more giggles than screams. When coupled with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Mama sucks a bit more wind out of del Toro’s producing sails; so long as summer’s Pacific Rim doesn’t dim his writing-directing luster, everything should be okay.
MAMA AFRICA (NR) 2011. Mika Kaurismäki directs this documentary about the life of Miriam Makeba, a Grammy-winning African singer and civil rights activist who was the first artist to bring African music into American popular music. She toured with Paul Simon on his "Graceland Tour," performed with many other American musicians and around the world.
MOVIE 43 (R) Who isn’t in this proudly raunchy comedy? Emma Stone, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Chloe Grace Moretz, Elizabeth Banks (who also directs), Gerard Butler, Kristen Bell, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Kate Winslet, Josh Duhamel, Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman, Seann William Scott, Jason Sudeikis, Liev Schreiber, Terrence Howard, Johnny Knoxville and many more star in this interconnected series of short films helmed by twelve directors including the good, James Gunn, and the eh, Brett Ratner.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (NR) 1939. Jimmy Stewart stars as the titular Mr. Smith, Jeff, a naïve young scoutmaster overmatched by the veteran senators (like Claude Rains’ Joseph Paine) and corrupt political bosses (like Edward Arnold’s Jim Taylor), when he is appointed to fill the seat of a recently deceased congressman. Fortunately, Jeff has the help of pretty young assistant, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur). (UGA Tate Theatre)
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.
PARKER (R) Taylor Hackford (Ray) directs Jason Statham in a sort of modern day Robin Hood crime thriller—he steals but never from anyone who needs the money—that also features Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis and Nick Nolte. I like the stonily charismatic Brit enough to retain a vague interest, but JLo’s presence bodes ill. I figure the filmmakers have the hope this movie, based on the books by Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark), is the start of a new Statham franchise.
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)
PITCH PERFECT (PG-13) Infectious is the best word to describe this a cappella college comedy Pitch Perfect. It’s understandable that many, many people, especially males, are going to see the “Glee”-ful previews or read the synopsis and instantly decide, “I’m out.” That rush to judgment will deprive them of a decidedly anti-“Glee” experience. (UGA Tate Theatre)
RACE 2 (NR) The fourth highest grossing Bollywood hit of 2008 (it has a total lifetime worldwide gross of 106 crore!) gets its inevitable (I guess) sequel. Ranvir Singh (Saif Ali Khan) must traverse the Turkish Indian mafia in his quest to avenge the death of his partner-lover Sonia (Bipasha Basu). The poster for this foreign action crime thriller has a Fast and Furious look to match its plot description. Original directors Abbas Alibhai Burmawalla and Mastan Alibhai Burmawalla return.
RED DAWN (PG-13) This preposterous movie borne of the Cold War fears and tensions of the 1980s need not have been remade. A motley group of teenagers (including Chris “Thor” Hemsworth, Josh “Peeta” Hutcherson and Tom Cruise’s adopted kid, Connor Cruise) stage an insurgency against communist invaders; the North Koreans, with an assist from the Russians, replace the original’s Soviet/Cuban alliance. The idea that these teens could transform into an elite fighting force so quickly either underestimates North Korean military readiness or overestimates American teenagers' military prowess. Worse, this new Dawn simply lacks the indelible, if absurd, moments from the original, making it hard to imagine future audiences marveling at the new cast as we do the original’s “once was-ers” nearly 30 years later. Red Dawn Redux fails to rouse feelings of patriotism or jingoism and will not be remembered come 2014.
THE ROOM (R) 2003. Tommy Wiseau returns once again as the unpredictable, inexplicable Johnny in this cult classic. Part of Bad Movie Night. (Ciné)
• SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (R) Athens has been waiting for the arrival of David O. Russell’s multiple Academy Award nominee, and the dram-rom-com does everything but disappoint. Pat (Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a state mental hospital after a violent incident involving his estranged wife and another man. Maybe too soon after coming home, Pat meets Tiffany (Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Jennifer Lawrence), who lost it after the death of her husband. Instead of exacerbating each other’s unhealthy flaws, the relationship between these two cracked souls heals both, much to the surprise of everyone, including Pat’s parents (dual Oscar nominees Robert De Niro and Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver). Besides I Heart Huckabees (which deserves reevaluation) and Russell’s infamous tirade, The Fighter, the filmmaker has one of the strongest filmographies of any of the acclaimed auteurs first discovered in the 1990s. Silver Linings Playbook has an awkward edge—you keep waiting for Pat and Tiffany’s house of cards to collapse—that makes even the smallest successes so much sweeter. Russell’s fiery demeanor and beautiful writing certainly ignites his actors; Cooper and Lawrence give two of the year’s most generous and honest performances. Silver Linings Playbook should not be missed.
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.
THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (NR) 1954. In this classic Best Picture nominee (and winner of two Academy Awards), three American secretaries (Dorothy Maguire, Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara) make wishes for love after tossing coins into Trevi fountain. The cast includes Clifton Webb, Louis Jourdan and Rossano Brazzi. The film’s most lasting contribution has been the Academy Award winning song, “Three Coins in a Fountain.” The film is showing as part of the Georgia Museum of Art’s Americans in Italy Film Series. (Georgia Museum of Art)
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.