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?
• BULLET TO THE HEAD (R) Director Walter Hill’s first movie since 2002’s Undisputed (starring Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames in case you missed it) does not rank up there with his stylish best (The Warriors, naturally), but Bullet to the Head embarrasses neither Hill nor aging action icon Sylvester Stallone. Sly, as a veteran hitman seeking revenge for his partner’s death, actually delivers one of his best recent performances in what would otherwise be a pretty forgettable feature. Stallone brings a world weary gravitas to Jimmy Bonomo, as he and a wimpy detective (Fast Five’s Sung Kang, a Gainesville, Ga. native) traverse New Orleans killing baddies, much to the cop’s professional chagrin. Christian Slater and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje add little to the action, but once and former Conan, Jason Momoa, injects his beefy hired killer with a tiny jab of character growth hormone. Sadly, the movie’s most interesting cast member, Jon Seda of HBO’s “Treme” and “The Pacific,” dies too soon; the charismatic Seda should have traded places with the milquetoast Kang. However, that change might have diminished the movie’s international box office, which is where the pulpy pic is going to make its money. In the States, it’s just another forgotten Stallone flick.
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.
DO THE RIGHT THING (R) 1989. Spike Lee’s best film to date remains his third feature; Do the Right Thing rides high on my list of greatest films of all-time. Violence and bigotry explode on the hottest day of the year in Bed-Stuy. Danny Aiello received his only Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Sal, the owner of Sal’s Pizzeria. Lee also stars alongside Bill Nunn, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, Frankie Faison and Giancarlo Esposito, now better known as Gus Fring. Nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and two Academy Awards (Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor). (UGA Tate Theatre)
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.
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (R) Wondering how Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters made it to theaters is a far more interesting way to spend the action fairy tale’s sub-90-minute runtime. The fabled origin of Hansel and Gretel is well-known. Two kids are left alone in the forest and stumble upon a witch’s candy house; the kids kill the witch. Dead Snow’s Tommy Wirkola imagines what happens next, as Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) grow up to be traveling hunters of deadly witches. Apparently, the biggest, baddest witch (Famke Janssen) is hatching a plot that requires Gretel, due to a not-so-surprising mid-film reveal. Renner deserves better starring roles than this, or the ones in The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy. He needs a role to highlight his dry delivery and superheroics. Arterton’s pretty and British, but her Gretel is an interchangeable part that could have been played by many a former Bond girl. Wirkola also seems to have some difficulties with tone, shifting from mean and callous to slapstick in seconds. Perhaps the presence of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay as producers pushed the movie to be funnier than it needed. Hansel & Gretel will be forgotten by February.
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.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (R) The surprisingly versatile Bill Murray looks to make a fine 32nd president. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s love affair with his cousin, Margaret Stuckley (Laura Linney), becomes the focus of a 1939 weekend visit from the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman). Director Roger Michell previously helmed Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus and 2010’s Morning Glory; this film looks like it could be better than all of those combined. With Rushmore’s Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt. (Ciné)
IDENTITY THIEF (R) Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy star in the new comedy from Horrible Bosses’ director Seth Gordon (who also gave us the awesome King of Kong). Bateman stars as Sandy Patterson, a mild-mannered businessman on the hunt for the woman, played by Bridesmaids’ McCarthy, who stole his identity. The trailers look amusing (as does anything with Bateman), but one wonders if Rebel Wilson might have brought more to the movie. With Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, T.I., Genesis Rodriguez, Morris Chestnut, John Cho, Robert Patrick and Eric Stonestreet.
• THE IMPOSSIBLE (PG-13) So this is what Juan Antonio Bayona has been working on since his first release in 2007, the well-received horror film The Orphanage. This astonishing film’s title could refer to several things; one being obviously the true life story of a family of five (headed by Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) who survived the 2004 tsunami that struck Thailand and swept away mother Maria and eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland in an impressive debut). How and what they survive to be reunited with the rest of their family is incredible. The title could also refer to how Bayona shot this film, using real water as opposed to a digital wave. Water and kids are two of the three hardest things with which to work while filming. Bayona got the most from both. The film is upsetting and ultimately uplifting. The disaster occurs with realism and rapidity; it’s inescapable. I believe intensity partly explains why The Impossible has performed so poorly at awards shows outside its native Spain. The post-disaster portions are harrowing even for me, who has laughed at far more gruesome horror movies. The Impossible is probably the best film of 2012 about which most people forgot. (Ciné)
KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE (G) 1989. The Studio Ghibli Film Series returns, bringing four fresh classics from legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. A young witch starts a delivery service in a seaside village while on her mandatory year of independence. Winner of awards from Awards of the Japanese Academy, Kinema Junpo Awards and Mainichi Film Concours. (Ciné)
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, another 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!
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.
OSCAR SHORTS (NR) The Oscar nominated Live Action and Animated Shorts Programs return to Ciné. This year’s Live Action nominees include South Africa’s “Asad,” Afghanistan’s “Buzkashi Boys,” USA’s “Curfew,” Belgium/France’s “Death of a Shadow” and Canada’s “Henry.” The Animated Short Film nominees are “Head Over Heels,” “The Longest Daycare” featuring Maggie Simpson, Disney’s “Paperman,” “Fresh Guacamole” and “Adam and Dog.” Finding out the winner on Oscar night is a whole lot more fun when you’ve seen the nominees. (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.
PARKER (R) Parker is another solid crime thriller starring Jason Statham that suffers from the stale familiarity of another solid crime thriller starring Jason Statham. This umpteenth big screen version of Richard Stark nee Donald E. Westlake’s popular, amoral thief (previously played by Lee Marvin, Anna Karina, Jim Brown, Robert Duvall, Peter Coyote and Mel Gibson) adapts the novel Flashfire, in which Parker plots to steal jewels in West Palm Beach. After being left for dead by his partners (led by Michael Chiklis) in Ohio, Parker, who has a strong, if messed up, sense of honor, seeks vengeance in Florida with the assistance of a down on her luck realtor (Jennifer Lopez). If Lopez thought lightning might strike twice, it didn’t; Parker isn’t as good as her breakout turn in Soderbergh’s Elmore Leonard adaptation, Out of Sight. However, Statham might be the best Parker yet. He perfectly blends charisma with an unbending sense of righteousness. Director Taylor Hackford mostly stays out of the way, keeping the film running at a gritty, lean pace (minus some unnecessarily jarring flashbacks). Parker’s the best character Statham has been given yet; here’s hoping for better heists to come.
PLAYING FOR KEEPS (PG-13) Blessed with charisma, looks and that accent, Gerard Butler unfortunately lacks the fundamental ability to judge a movie based on its script. It’s either that or the ugly alternative: he just does not care that the majority of movies he chooses to make are not very good. Playing for Keeps follows in the mediocre footsteps of P.S. I Love You, The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter. Maybe it’s just that Butler chooses weak romantic vehicles. In his latest, he stars opposite Jessica Biel as a former soccer superstar, George Dryer, who moves to suburban Virginia to be close to his young son (Noah Lomax, who does a pretty swell job for a child actor). The movie lacks a singular identity. As soccer moms played by Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman throw themselves at George, it makes like a cleaned-up sex comedy. When George begins earnestly wooing Biel’s Stacie, it becomes a romantic drama. This adult coming-of-age flick, stocked with sitcom-ish scenarios about infidelity and parenthood, is unfunny, unromantic and undramatic. The television version starring Tim Allen would probably be a moderately-sized hit.
RUST AND BONE (R) Writer-director Jacques Audiard follows up his critically acclaimed A Prophet (the Oscar and Golden Globe nominee won awards from Cannes and the Césars) with Rust and Bone, starring Marion Cotillard in another potentially award-winning role. Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) departs Belgium for Antibes with his young son. While living with his sister and her family, he bonds with Stephanie (Cotillard), a killer whale trainer who suffers an awful accident. Audiard’s film was nominated for Cannes’ Palme d’Or. (Ciné)
SIDE EFFECTS (R) Brace yourself: Side Effects could be your last chance to see a Steven Soderbergh film on the big screen. The Oscar winner is hinting (again) at a retirement, where he’ll focus more on theater and TV. Side Effects sounds intriguing. A young couple (Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara) must deal with the side effects of a new drug prescribed by the young woman’s psychiatrist (Jude Law). Scott Z. Burns (The Informant! and Contagion) wrote the script. With Catherine Zeta-Jones.
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.
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.
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.
• WARM BODIES (PG-13) Having witnessed many a zombie apocalypse, I can say with complete assuredness that Warm Bodies is not your usual end of the world via the flesh-eating living dead flick. This zomrom stars X-Men: First Class’ Nicholas Hoult (poised for a big year with March’s Jack the Giant Slayer) as R, who is not your typical zombie. Blessed (or cursed) with a rather rich inner life, R still munches brains but he’s conflicted about it, especially after meeting Julie (Teresa Palmer, Take Me Tonight). She kickstarts his heart, starting a chain reaction amongst all the corpses (the survivors’ term for zombies), except for the too far gone Boneys. Working from Isaac Marion’s oddly delightful premise, filmmaker Jonathan Levine, who’s on quite a roll (he’s 4-for-4 in my book) after 50/50, whips up a still horrific, mostly romantic early Valentine for adventurous couples and soft-hearted horror fans. Levine retains his spot on the young filmmaker’s to watch list (that maybe only I am keeping). Not wasting Rob Corddry, as R’s BLDF (Best Living Dead Friend), and John Malkovich, as Julie’s overbearing, military father, is another of the film’s boons. Ignore the mawkish CW-meets-Twilight marketing and enjoy some rare bloody romance/heartfelt horror.
WILD HORSE AND RENEGADES (NR) 2010. Speak Out for Species Animal Voices Film Festival returns for an eighth year to explore human relationships with our animal friends. Director James Kleinert examines the disappearance of wild horses, the symbol of the American West, as the government continues to make way for the oil, mining and livestock industries. The discussion will be led by Dr. Sarah Wright, associate professor in the UGA Department of Philosophy; Dr. Wright specializes in environmental ethics and is a native of Colorado, where the movie was filmed. (UGA MLC, Room 101)
WRECK-IT RALPH (PG) 2012 was a good year for animation. Good luck deciding on the year's best animated feature from a strong list that includes Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman and now Wreck-It Ralph. In Disney's latest, Wreck-It Ralph (v. John C. Reilly), the bad guy from popular arcade game Fix-It Felix Jr., decides he wants to be a good guy. Leaving the safety of his own regenerating world, Ralph enters a Halo-ish first-person shooter named Hero's Duty in search of a medal. Too bad Ralph is better at wrecking things than fixing them. This cute, inventive cartoon boasts several creative game worlds like the cavity-friendly candyland of Sugar Rush and a treasure trove of Easter eggs for lifelong and newer gamers. Director Rich Moore definitely learned a thing or two from his time working on the inside joke-heavy worlds of Matt Groening, "The Simpsons" and "Futurama." The voicework by Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling and more is top-notch, but one expects that level of competence from a high-profile animated feature. It's the plentiful heart and laughter Wreck-It Ralph offers viewers of all ages, gamer or not, that sets it apart. (UGA Tate Theatre)
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.