21 AND OVER (R) One’s reaction to pejoratively describing 21 and Over as The Hangover Jr. should determine one’s level of interest in this flick. If a viewer disregarded The Hangover Part II for its lack of originality, then said viewer should stay away from 21 and Over. At least the second Hangover still had some jokes to tell. 21 and Over lacks any jokes, instead relying on an escalating series of scenarios scored to music one would hear while watching MTV’s current crop of programs. Two pals, played by the appealing duo of Miles Teller (Footloose) and Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect), take a third friend, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), out to celebrate his 21st birthday. But Jeff Chang cannot celebrate too hard, as he has an important med school meeting the next morning. So what does Jeff Chang do? Gets wasted. The rest of the movie involves Miller and Casey meeting hot chicks and d-bags while trying to get Jeff Chang home before his evil father (Francois Chau of “Lost”) finds them. 21 and Over mixes a plot left over from the transitional Weekend at Bernie’s period, with the raunchy, we can do anything gags of today. The resulting concoction doesn't go down well.
THE ABCS OF DEATH (NR) This 26-chapter anthology film boasts 26 different directors, each assigned a letter of the alphabet to tell a distinct story about death. The film’s biggest names include Angela Bettis (“E is for Exterminate”), Ti West (“M is for Miscarriage”), A Horrible Way to Die’s Adam Wingard (“Q is for Quack”), Kill List’s Ben Wheatley (“U is for Unearthed”) and Frontier(s)’s Xavier Gens (“X is for XXL”). This horror flick should make a great bookend to accompany V/H/S.
AMOUR (PG-13) Be he telling the story of possibly killer German kids, sociopathic young men in tennis whites or a couple terrorized by surveillance videos, Michael Haneke is a wonderfully, terribly transgressive filmmaker. Amour—winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar, Best Picture nominee and winner of the Palme d’Or—is filled with so much love, so much tenderness and so much sadness. Still deeply in love, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Academy Award nominee Emmanuelle Riva) are enjoying their twilight years until debilitating illness strikes Anne. Their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), offers criticisms but no assistance, leaving loving Georges to cope with caring for his wife. The intensity of Amour should come with a warning label. Tears will flow; hearts will ache. Viewers will transfer their own love and fears for themselves and their significant other, their parents or their grandparents onto Georges and Anne. Both Trintignant and Riva excel in difficult roles. Riva’s Oscar nomination should not surprise; she spends most of the film portraying a disability. However, Haneke never allows Amour to wax sentimental. The Austrian does not truck with sappy greeting card sentiment. Amour will break your heart, and you’ll be glad it did. (Ciné)
ARGO (R) Ben Affleck’s career revival continues with Argo, earning Best Writing and Best Picture Award from the Academy, as well as a Golden Globe. Revealing the once classified story of how the CIA rescued six American hostages in the midst of the Iranian Revolution, Argo is both an intriguing modern history lesson and a compelling, old-fashioned Hollywood thriller. 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 winner Chris Terrio) and acting.
ATHENS SLINGSHOT SHORT FILMS (NR) Movies in the festival include Than by Danny Winkler and Emilia Loseva, Transit Zone by Santiago Parres, Awakening by Will Copps and selections from Petites Planetes by Vincent Moon. See story on p. 15. (Ciné)
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (PG-13) The latest YA adaptation to battle through the Twilight comparisons, Beautiful Creatures, based off the first book of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Caster Chronicles probably owes more to HBO’s vampire hit, “True Blood.” Set in the South Carolina hamlet of Gatlin, Beautiful Creatures excels at lurid overwroughtness, from the romantic professions to the accents to the acting, and that is meant as a compliment. High school junior Ethan Wate (the unexpectedly magnetic Alden Ehrenreich) falls in love with new girl, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert). Unfortunately, Lena’s upcoming sweet 16 brings with it a family curse because she hails from a race of magic users known as Casters. The rest of the small-minded Christian town merely thinks Lena and her uncle (Jeremy Irons) worship the devil; how parochial of them. Irons and Emma Thompson have a veritable feast, overwhelming many of their costars, especially the usually standout Margo Martindale, who might have been more appropriately cast in Thompson’s role. Somehow, Ehrenreich holds his own, despite the self-satisfyingly pithy dialogue from writer-director Richard LaGravenese. Its events start to drag as they draw to a climactic close, but as far as soap operatic fantasies go, Beautiful Creatures is a success.
BEYOND THE HILL (NR) 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days director Cristian Mungiu finally follows up that tremendous first film. (Mungiu also directed a segment of Tales from the Golden Age.) Two women, Alina (Cristina Flutur) and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) have been friends and lovers since their days in an orphanage. When Alina returns from Germany, she discovers Voichita is joining a convent. The Palme d’Or nominee picked up two awards at Cannes-Best Actress (Flutur and Stratan) and Best Screenplay.
BROKEN CITY (R) Is anyone else feeling like if you’ve seen one political-crime thriller, you’ve seen them all? (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?
CAESAR MUST DIE (NR) A group of prison inmates in Italy perform Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Winner of the Golden Bear award and several Davids. (Ciné)
DARK SKIES (PG-13) I am far from a fan of director Scott Stewart’s first two movies, the dual Paul Bettany special effects-acles Legion and Priest. Working with a Paranormal Activity and Insidious producer, Stewart crafts a decent haunted house movie that substitutes ETs for ghosts or demons. The Barretts, led by Josh Hamilton (The House of Yes) and Keri Russell (having a nice renaissance on FX’s intriguing, '80s-set, Soviet spies among us drama, “The Americans”), live an idyllic suburban life with their two boys, Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett). Sure, they are struggling financially like everyone else in the Great Recession, but they get by until strange happenings like lost time and freak bird suicides begin plaguing them. An alien expert (J.K. Simmons in an unfairly small role) explains that they have been chosen by the Grays; he prepares them for the worst: abduction. The chills are small but occasionally satisfying in a more old-fashioned, The Haunting sort of way. Most frightening might be the utter hopelessness, so ably conveyed by Russell and Hamilton, as the dangerous reality of their situation settles in. The competition is weak, but Dark Skies is 2013’s best scary movie yet.
DEAD MAN DOWN (R) Colin Farrell stars as Victor, a criminal tough tasked by Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) to punish crime lord Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard), who scarred her. Check out the trailer, and you’ll realize the reunion of original Lisbeth Salander with her Dragon Tattoo director, Niels Arden Oplev, is the most exciting thing about this upcoming crime thriller. The more interesting than usual supporting cast includes Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert, Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham and Armand Assante.
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 in this Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay. Slave Django (Jamie Foxx) is freed by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winner and 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. (Ciné)
DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’: EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY (NR) One of the 80s' biggest bands, Journey, has been through a few lead singers since the iconic voice, hair and nose of Steve Perry left. The story of how Filipino Arnel Pineda came to front this great classic rock band is a real life rock and roll fairy tale. Pineda sounds incredibly like Perry in his prime, but I’d still prefer a reunion tour with Perry to a doc about Arnel. Nominated for the Audience Award for Best Documentary Features at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH (PG) One can pretty much expect the small animation houses to release one of these harmless, uninspired kiddie flicks every month. Did your kid love Monster vs Aliens? Then they’re bound to momentarily enjoy Escape from Planet Earth while you catch a quick nap or check out the Oscar nominee playing next door. Nobody expects cartoons like Escape from Planet Earth to compete with Pixar’s animated features for awards; they’re made to replace babysitters and entertain kids for 90 minutes. A space adventurer, Scorch Supernova (v. Brendan Fraser), is captured on Earth by the villainous General Shanker (v. William Shatner, who provides some of the movie’s most entertaining voice work). Shanker is making a fortune off his alien captives’ technological innovations. His latest prisoner is Scorch’s brainy brother, Gary (v. Rob Corddry, an odd vocal choice considering his comic persona is certainly not built around his intelligence). Now the Supernova bros must work together to get back home. The animation is as shiny as the story is recycled. Other cartoons have hurt worse, but anything that wastes the genius of Ricky Gervais should be eyed with a bit of extra skepticism.
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.
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.
• JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (PG-13) Another reteaming of director Bryan Singer with his Public Access/Usual Suspects/Apt Pupil/Valkryie scripter, Academy Award winner Christopher McQuarrie, should be more exciting, intriguing and lasting than Jack the Giant Slayer. While far from a bad fantasy film, this retooled telling of the classic children’s stories, Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk, does little to fire the imagination once the credits roll. We all know the story. Young Jack (Marcus Hoult, whose romzom Warm Bodies showed loads more creativity) gets some magic beans, from which a giant beanstalk grows. At the top of the leafy, green ladder is a land of giants, who have a taste for human flesh. Of course, this new telling has to involve a love interest, headstrong Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who Jack sets out to rescue. The mostly British cast is top-notch—Ian McShane as the king, Ewan McGregor as the king’s number one guardsman, Bill Nighy as the voice of the lead giant—and Stanley Tucci’s always a swell villain. Jack the Giant Slayer will kill a winter afternoon pleasantly enough (and better than last summer’s fairy re-tale Snow White and the Huntsman), but the special effects-acle lacks any lasting magic.
JACK REACHER (PG-13) The episodic exploits of Lee Child’s popular literary character, a former Military Policeman turned drifter, would make a better television series than movie franchise, but star Tom Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (an Academy Award winner for his Usual Suspects script) pull off the big screen feat as entertainingly as possible. In this adaptation of Child’s One Shot, Cruise’s Reacher investigates the murder of five random people, allegedly committed by a sniper he knew in Iraq. Naturally, the plot gets thicker as Reacher stirs it. Jack Reacher might have been better with a little more Dirty Harry/Don Siegel/70s vigilante edge, but it will make audiences forget they don’t care for star-reliant, big budget action movies like they used to. As written by McQuarrie, Reacher is as well-equipped to verbally decimate an enemy as he is to physically dominate him, a trait which helps viewers forget the albeit exquisitely molded Cruise (remember, he’s 50) does not quite match Reacher’s burly 6-foot 5-inch, 210 to 250 pound physique. Jack Reacher accomplishes its mission—divert an audience’s attention for an enjoyably solid two-plus hours—as efficiently and capably as its title character.
• THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (PG-13) Found footage flicks like The Last Exorcism and sub-genre granddaddy of them all, The Blair Witch Project, are hard and mostly unnecessary to sequelize. Yet here is the rather dumbly titled, The Last Exorcism Part II. (Should the first one be retitled, Not Quite the Last Exorcism?) Poor Nell Sweeter (Ashley Bell) escapes the unexplained cult in the woods and begins a new life in a New Orleans home for wayward girls. She gets a job as a motel maid; she meets a boy (Spencer Treat Clark, the little kid from Unbreakable). She’s also still possessed or being pursued by the demon, Abalam. The movie never seems quite sure which it is. Anything interesting about the mysterious narrative of the first film is long gone. The sequel complicates the mythology more than it explains anything, and the movie does so boringly, lacking almost any scares, after a strong opening sequence. Shameless self-promoter Eli Roth, who serves as a producer, described the movie as really scary on a recent talk show appearance. If he finds this really scary, maybe it’s a good thing he hasn’t directed a horror movie since 2007.
LES MISERABLES (PG-13) 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 nominee 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 nominee 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 nearly a lock, though 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 entire 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!
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HANK GREENBERG (NR) 1998. The University of Georgia’s George Foster Peabody Awards and Peabody Awards Collection presents three Peabody Award winning baseball documentaries. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg recalls the career of major league baseball’s first major Jewish superstar. This Peabody Award winner also picked up prizes from film festivals in Chicago, Columbus, Florida, the Hamptons, Kansas City, Las Vegas, New York and Washington; the National Board of Review named the film its Best Documentary in 2000. (UGA Russell Library)
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (PG) Hopefully, Sam Raimi will have more success helming a prequel to The Wizard of Oz than Tim Burton had with his Alice in Wonderland sequel. (Granted, Burton’s not crying about Alice’s box office.) James Franco stars as Oscar Diggs, the small time magician that becomes Dorothy’s famed wizard. First, he must decide whether or not to become a good man or a great man. With Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Zach Braff.
• QUARTET (PG-13) In his directorial debut, Dustin Hoffman fashions a delightful trifle filled with deliciously British performances from Maggie Smith (who was nominated for a Golden Globe), Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon and more. At Beecham House, a home for retired musicians, plans are afoot for a gala to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Drama arrives in the form of aging diva, Jean Horton, who is also the ex-wife of another resident (Courtenay). Smith is her usually grand self (and as her actual age, not older, for once!). It’s wonderful to see Courtenay (twice an Academy Award nominee for 1982’s The Dresser and 1965’s Doctor Zhivago) and Collins (herself an Oscar nominee for 1989’s Shirley Valentine) as featured players. Renowned scene stealer Connolly is up to his old tricks as aged horndog, Wilf. Hoffman unfussily directs Oscar winner Ronald Harwood’s play with an actor’s generosity for his actors. The characters and performances drive this entertaining little film, with a complimentary emphasis on little. Anyone who enjoyed their stay at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel should also enjoy the performances of Quartet.
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (PG) Author William Joyce’s very cool idea is brought to the big screen by first-time animated feature director Peter Ramsey and fantastical executive producer Guillermo del Toro. Holiday legends North (aka Santa, who is voiced very Russianly by Alec Baldwin), Bunny (v. Hugh Jackman) and Tooth (v. Isla Fisher) are joined by Jack Frost (v. Chris Pine) as they do battle with the evil Pitch (v. Jude Law). Imagining massive audiences of children falling hard for this potential animated franchise is not hard. The computer-generated animation is engaging (though one must wonder what thought process led to such an unappealingly birdlike appearance for the Tooth Fairy), and the narrative is action-packed. Adults will be intermittently bored by the pedestrian plotting and obvious obstacles placed in front of the legendary heroes. Hopefully, a sequel will take increased advantage of the extraordinary concept rather than relying so much upon tired cartoon storytelling.
RUSSIAN NINJA (R) 1989. Former spy and current fashion photographer Mark Robinson must infiltrate a shadowy Euro-crime syndicate, rescue a kidnapped boyfriend and outsmart a KGB-affiliated ninja. Part of Ciné's Bad Movie Night. (Ciné)
SAFE HAVEN (PG-13) One thing I enjoy about reviewing movies is having a readymade excuse for watching sappy romances like Safe Haven. I’ve been curious as to what the big mystery is since the first trailer; plus, Julianne Hough is really attractive. Unfortunately, the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, set in another North Carolina paradise, is one solved mystery away from just being one couple’s two hour how we met story. Pretty, young Katie is on the run from a constantly drunk, really sweaty cop (“Revolution” star David Lyons). Lucky for her, a hot widower, Alex (Josh Duhamel), with two cute kids is ready to love again. Wondering how this romance is ultimately different from Sleeping with the Enemy? Then prepare for the laughable, Shyamalan-esque, climactic twist. Still, Safe Haven is competently, if unexcitingly, made by Academy Award nominee Lasse Hallstrom, but The Notebook need not worry. Its legacy as the gold standard for this sort of Sparks-ian cinematic page turner is under no threat.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (R) David O. Russell’s dram-rom-com and multiple Academy Award nominee 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 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.
SNITCH (PG-13) The new actioner from The Rock, né Dwayne Johnson, is a lot more serious than you’d expect a movie from a former stuntman, director Ric Roman Waugh. (Knowing cowriter Justin Haythe wrote Revolutionary Road should mitigate some of the surprise at Snitch’s serious side.) Construction bigwig John Matthews (Johnson) will do anything to lessen his son Jason’s jail time after a drug arrest. Matthews convinces one of his ex-con employees, Daniel (Jon Bernthal, late of “The Walking Dead”), to introduce him to a drug dealer, Malik (Michael K. Williams, aka Omar Little aka Chalky White), in order to cut a deal with federal prosecutor Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), who could use a big bust to boost her congressional campaign. Refreshingly, Johnson spends most of the movie in desperate dad mode as opposed to real life action figure. Appearances be damned, Snitch is no '80s action rehash; the movie’s got too much gravitas for Ah-nuld, even in his prime. All these kind assessments get smashed by the ridiculous 18-wheeler chase with the drug cartel that concludes the picture. Oh, well. The first hour and a half’s better than expected.
THE TAIWAN OYSTER (NR) Don't expect Hangover 2 hijinks in UGA alums Mark and Mitchell Jarrett's SXSW hit and feature debut. Two ex-pats, Simon (Billy Harvey) and Darin (Jeff Palmiotti), road-trip across eastern Taiwan to bury deceased fellow countryman Jed (Will Mounger). Nikita (Leonora Moore), a sympathetic clerk, helps the duo steal Jed's body and accompanies them on the quest to find the perfect burial site. The trailer suggests an impressive looking, independent road movie.
TERRAFERMA (NR) 2011. The fifth annual Cinecitta series, sponsored by the Department of Romance Languages, continues with Terraferma. In Respiro filmmaker Emanuele Crialese’s latest movie, a group of immigrants complicate the lives of a Sicilian family. This film was nominated for three Davids, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress, and was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, where the film also won the Pasinetti Award for Best Film, the Special Jury Prize and the UNICEF Award. (UGA MLC, Room 148)
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN—PART 2 (PG-13) The Twilight Saga has consistently improved as filmmakers have changed and the series has… um… matured? Bella (Kristen Stewart) is now a vampire; she and her husband, Edward (Robert Pattinson), have a new baby, Renesmee, whose existence threatens the vampire world’s ruling family, the Volturi (led by Michael Sheen). Now the Cullens, the Quileute wolves (including Taylor Lautner’s Jacob) and several blood-sucking pals must make a stand against the invading Italian vamps. Stephenie Meyer’s phenomenon concludes as satisfactorily as one would expect, though Breaking Dawn—Part 1 exceeds its follow-up, mostly thanks to the former’s more horrific plot. Part 2’s concluding battle merely proves Meyer’s non-monsters aren’t really vampires; they are romantic superheroes. The terrible CGI work—the needlessly computer-generated baby Renesmee vies for the worst special effect of 1992—shows the lack of serious craftsmanship with which this material has been handled.
V.H.S.: LOCAL VIDEOGRAPHERS HELLA-BIG SHOW (NR) The Society of Greater Things presents a showcase for local aspiring and professional filmmakers once a month.
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.
WHEN IT WAS A GAME (NR) 1991. The University of Georgia’s George Foster Peabody Awards and Peabody Awards Collection presents three Peabody Award winning baseball documentaries. This 1991 Peabody winner from HBO Sports looks back at major league baseball from 1934 to 1957 through the 8mm and 16mm films shot by players and fans. Players include Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Ty Cobb, Dizzy Dean, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and many, many more. (UGA Russell Library)
WRECK-IT RALPH (PG) 2012 was a good year for animation that included Academy Award winner 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.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (R) 2012 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 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.