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 McDonald (“Boardwalk Empire”), Matthew Macfadyen (Wright’s Mr. Darcy), Olivia Williams and Emily Watson. (UGA Tate Theatre)
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)
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (PG-13) Comparisons to HBO’s “True Blood,” Twilight and Harry Potter haunt this adaptation of the first novel in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s YA Caster Chronicles series. Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) wants to get out of his small southern town until he meets mysterious new girl Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert). The respectable, award heavy cast includes Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson and the awesome Margo Martindale. Academy Award nominated writer Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King) is back directing after 2007’s double-barreled blast of Hilary Swank, Freedom Writers and P.S. I Love You.
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.
CRUEL INTENTIONS (R) 1999. Oh the trashy '90s. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon go slumming in writer-director Roger Kumble’s adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons. Kathryn (Gellar) bets her stepbrother, Sebastian (Phillippe), that he can’t take virginal Annette’s (Witherspoon) innocence. Instead, he falls in love. This cheesy, sleazy flick scratched an exploitative itch most people didn’t know they had. With Selma Blair, Louise Fletcher, Joshua Jackson, Eric Mabius, Sean Patrick Thomas, Swoosie Kurtz, Christine Baranski and Tara Reid. (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.
ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH (NR) More animated adventure hits the big screen to please kids and bore adults. On the planet Baab, astronaut Scorch Supernova (v. Brendan Fraser) is famed for his daring rescues, while his nerdy brother, Gary (v. Rob Corddry), heads mission control at BASA. When Scorch is caught in a trap on an alien planet, it’s up to Gary to save him. Featuring the voices of Ricky Gervais, Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara, Paul Scheer, Sarah Jessica Parker and William Shatner.
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.
A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III (R) Roman Coppola follows up his stylish debut feature, CQ, with this comedy starring Charlie Sheen (ugh), Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Katheryn Winnick (a strange little flick called Satan’s Little Helper), Patricia Arquette, Aubrey Plaza (so great on “Parks and Recreation”), Dermot Mulroney and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Sheen (ugh) stars as graphic designer Charles Swan III, whose wonderful life falls apart after his girlfriend, Ivana (Winnick), breaks up with him. Nominated for the Golden Marc’Aurelio Award at the Rome Film Fest.
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (R) Will audiences find Bruce Willis’ New York Detective John McClane running into trouble for a fifth time, in Russia, with his CIA operative son (Jack Reacher’s Jai Courtney), believable? Will it matter? Maybe. R-rated action is not doing so hot, with Arnold’s The Last Stand and Sly’s Bullet to the Head both underperforming their already low expectations. Respectable but unexciting action director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix, The Omen and Max Payne) should be better than Live and Let Die Hard’s Len Wiseman.
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.
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 in this Oscar hopeful. 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) Unfortunately, stars Melissa McCarthy (an Oscar nominee for Bridesmaids) and Jason Bateman are better than this more-annoying-than-funny odd couple road comedy. With two kids and another on the way, Sandy Patterson (Bateman) is struggling to make ends meet. Having his identity stolen by friendless Diana (McCarthy) only further aggravates his financial distress. In desperation, Sandy travels to Florida to bring his tormentor to justice. Inexplicably and unnecessarily on their heels are a couple of drug enforcers (Genesis Rodriguez and Tip “T.I.” Harris) and a mean ass bounty hunter (a pretty much wasted Robert Patrick). Strangely, the gags work best when Bateman’s straight man and McCarthy’s manic criminal bond rather than fight. Too bad the mean-spirited comic scenarios cooked up by screenwriter Craig Mazin (Scary Movies 3 and 4 and The Hangover: Parts II and III) lack originality. The punch lines lack the subtlety that brings out Bateman’s greatness. Director Seth Gordon (The King of Kong and Horrible Bosses) and his hilarious stars have done and will do comedy better.
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!
LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (NR) Abbas Kiarostami received his fifth Palme d’Or nomination for his latest film, which some critics feel to be a letdown from the filmmaker’s previous effort, Certified Copy, which led to his fourth Palme d’Or nomination. (Kiarostami won the Palme d’Or for Taste of Cherry and was previously nominated for Through the Olive Trees and Ten.) In Like Someone in Love, the Iranian Kiarostami tells the Japanese-language story of a Japanese student who pays for her education through prostitution. Nominated for the Chicago International Film Festival’s Gold Hugo for Best International Feature.
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.
NO (R) Pablo Larrain’s fourth feature is one of the Academy Award nominees for Best Foreign Language Film. In 1988 Chile, ad exec Rene Saavedra (Y Tu Mama Tambien’s Gael Garcia Bernal; think Don Draper en Espanol) plots to defeat Augusto Pinochet. Larrain’s previous features, Fuga, Tony Manero and Post Mortem, have yet to break through in the United States; this Oscar nominee could be it. Featuring archival footage of Jane Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Reeve and Augusto Pinochet as themselves.
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.
ROMAN HOLIDAY (NR) 1953. The Georgia Museum of Art’s Americans in Italy Film Series continues with William Wyler’s romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn as a bored princess and Gregory Peck as the American newsman with whom she falls in love on the streets of Rome. Hepburn won her first Academy Award; the Best Picture nominee also won Oscars for Best Costume Design (Edith Head, naturally) and Best Writing (once-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo). This Valentine’s Day showing is accompanied by a popularity contest, judged by how many valentines visitors leave at their favorite works of art. (GMOA)
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)
SAFE HAVEN (PG-13) Hollywood again adapts Nicholas Sparks for the big screen. A young woman, Katie (Julianne Hough), escaping her past winds up in coastal North Carolina where she and a widower father, Alex (Josh Duhamel), fall in love. Naturally, her past catches up with her. I get a distinctive, sappy Sleeping with the Enemy vibe from the trailer. Multiple Oscar nominee Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog and The Cider House Rules) directs. With David Lyons and Cobie Smulders.
• SIDE EFFECTS (R) Acclaimed filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has intimated that Side Effects is his final film, which is a shame. The Academy Award winning director would be going out at the top of his game, but with a movie that feels more good than great. However, Side Effects, written by Soderbergh’s writing collaborator on The Informant! and Contagion, is hard to talk about without spoiling any of the many entertaining twists. Here’s the most spoiler-free plot synopsis I could devise. Emily Taylor’s (Rooney Mara, Lisbeth Salander in the English-language The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) struggles with depression after her financier husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison lead her into the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). But the drug prescribed by Dr. Banks has deadly side effects for Emily. Soderbergh precisely dissects this medical mystery, in which everyone’s motives are suspect. Law charms but to what end? Is Catherine Zeta-Jones’ fellow shrink everything she seems to be? And what about Emily herself? A lot of the film’s suspenseful fun comes from unraveling the mystery. While not Soderbergh’s best, Side Effects heats up a cold February theater better than this winter’s mostly frozen flick-sticks.
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.
STREET SOLDIERS (NR) 1991. Bad Movie Night returns to showcase more of the worst movies ever. In Street Soldiers, two rival street gangs (don’t start imagining West Side Story), the Tigers and the JPs, are at war. Recently released from prison, JP leader Priest (Jeff Rector) learns his high school girlfriend is now hooking up with a Tiger. Fortunately, before the big showdown, the Tigers learn kung fu. Do yourself a favor and enjoy the worst that Ciné has to offer. (Ciné)
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.
THE WHALE (NR) 2011. The Animal Voices Film Festival, sponsored by Speak Out for Species (S.O.S.), continues with The Whale. Narrated by Ryan Reynolds (who produced with then-wife Scarlett Johannson), Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit’s documentary about a young killer whale, Luna, that attempts to befriend people off the coast of Vancouver Island. The discussion will be held by Sara Beresford, director of the EcoFocus Film Festival (thanks to UGA’s Odum School of Ecology). Winner of the Newport Beach Film Festival’s Achievement Award for Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking – Environmental. (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.