Archives for: 2012

12/18/12

The Odd Life of Timothy Green 2012
Directed by Peter Hedges
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner

To purge their grief at failing to conceive, Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim (Joel Edgerton, Animal Kingdom) write down all the attributes they wish for in a child, put them in a box, and bury them in the garden. That night, a boy smeared with dirt, with leaves sprouting from his legs, appears in their house and says his name is Timothy. Thus begins a fable that's sort of about uniqueness and conformity, as Timothy's magical nature proceeds to hearten the lives of everyone he encounters--including a young girl with her own secret, the stern woman who owns their town's pencil factory (Dianne Wiest), and Jim's gruff, emotionally distant dad (David Morse, The Green Mile). What the movie is really about is Cindy and Jim learning to be better parents by working through their own childhood issues (Cindy always felt overshadowed by her sister; Jim felt abandoned by his father). But even that is half-baked; almost all problems are solved by simple exposure to Timothy's irrepressible sunny nature, not by anyone actually doing anything. Timothy himself, despite the sweetness of young actor CJ Adams, never becomes a genuine character and not a plot device. Still, the actors are charming, the movie's visual gloss is very pretty, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green somehow maintains just enough awareness of life's difficulties to keep from being unbearably cloying. --Bret Fetzer


Lawless 2012
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf

Director John Hillcoat and writer-musician Nick Cave made a brutal, brilliant splash with The Proposition, a revisionist Outback Western that quickly tore away any lingering notions of frontier romanticism. Lawless, the duo's take on another turbulent period of history--namely, the bloodiest years of America's Prohibition--eases up on the unrelenting grimness a bit, but the hard edges still shine through. Adapted from the historical novel The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, Cave's script follows three Virginia brothers determined to continue their family's legacy of providing quality moonshine to their faithful customers (including members of local law enforcement) during the Great Depression. While the youngest brother (Shia LaBeouf) attempts to gain the business of a feared local mobster (Gary Oldman), the three find themselves under assault from a ruthless federal agent (Guy Pearce) with a sadistic agenda of his own. Hillcoat, working with cinematographer Benoît Delhomme, delivers a fantastically realized period piece, one where the folksy, lived-in atmosphere is randomly dispelled by moments of shockingly raw savagery. Unfortunately, the attention to detail doesn't quite extend itself to LaBeouf's character, whose motivations and actions feel strangely half-baked throughout. Still, even if the main storyline occasionally falters, the film offers plenty to recommend itself, including Cave's ominously cheery score, small but vivid turns by Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, and the gloriously weird Pearce, who starts his performance somewhere in the outer stratosphere and just keeps heading upwards. The main draw of Lawless, however, ultimately comes from Tom Hardy, who goes all out and then some as the enforcer and reluctant father figure of the family. Clad in incongruously mellow cardigans and mumbling like a cartoon sailor man, he's a Terminator for the ages. When it comes to his performance, White Lightning hardly covers it. --Andrew Wright


Men in Black 3 2012
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Will Smith, James Brolin

In Men in BlackT 3, Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are back... in time. J has seen some inexplicable things in his 15 years with the Men in Black, but nothing, not even aliens, perplexes him as much as his wry, reticent partner. But when K's life and the fate of the planet are put at stake, Agent J will have to travel back in time to put things right. J discovers that there are secrets to the universe that K never told him -- secrets that will reveal themselves as he teams up with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind. (Sony Pictures)


Hope Springs 20012
Directed by David Frankel
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones

Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) are a devoted couple, but decades of marriage have left Kay wanting to spice things up and reconnect with her husband. When she hears of a renowned couple's specialist (Steve Carell) in the small town of Great Hope Springs, she attempts to persuade her skeptical husband, a steadfast man of routine, to get on a plane for a week of marriage therapy. Just convincing the stubborn Arnold to go on the retreat is hard enough - the real challenge for both of them comes as they try to re-ignite the spark that caused them to fall for each other in the first place. (Amazon)


12/05/12

The Watch 2012
Directed by Akiva Schaffer
Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill

Four everyday suburban guys come together as an excuse to escape their humdrum lives one night a week. But when they accidentally discover that their town has become overrun with aliens posing as ordinary suburbanites, they have no choice but to save their neighborhood -- and the world -- from total extermination. -- (C) 20th Century Fox



The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises 2012
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway

It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act. But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane. -- (C) Warner Bros.



The Expendables 2

The Expendables 2 2012
Directed by Simon West
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren

The Expendables are back and this time it's personal... Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren),Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) -- with newest members Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie (Yu Nan) aboard -- are reunited when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) enlists the Expendables to take on a seemingly simple job. The task looks like an easy paycheck for Barney and his band of old-school mercenaries. But when things go wrong and one of their own is viciously killed, the Expendables are compelled to seek revenge in hostile territory where the odds are stacked against them. -- (C) Lionsgate


11/16/12

Savages 2012
Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring: Blake Lively, Trevor Donovan

A frenzied ground bloom flower of a novel, Don Winslow's Savages is an ultra-black amorality tale that's saved from nihilism by some unexpectedly lovely character notes and the sheer rocketing force of the prose. This cinematic adaptation (directed by Oliver Stone, who knows a thing or two about raising a ruckus himself) captures much of the propulsive energy of its source material but can't quite get a handle on the human element. Kicking off with a grisly demonstration of how not to handle power tools, the story follows lifelong friends Ben (Aaron Johnson), Chon (Taylor Kitsch), and O (Blake Lively), who benevolently run a top-tier marijuana enterprise in Southern California under the protection of a crooked cop (John Travolta). Once the quality of their product attracts the Mexican cartel, however, the not-so-heroic trio find themselves forced to confront the dirtier aspects of their business. Stone, in his first film since 2010's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, keeps his more excessive tendencies in check for much of the running time, with his trademark kinetic style serving to support rather than overwhelm the already-lurid plot. Unfortunately, the film's gonzo pace gives little space to illuminate the complicated relationship among the main characters, which gave the novel its tragic backbeat and, perhaps more importantly, kept them a moral notch or two higher than their opposition. Here, no matter how game the leading performers are, their lack of substance makes them quickly pale next to Salma Hayek's weirdly sympathetic drug lord, Travolta's gleeful weasel of a policeman, and the magnificently bedraggled Benicio Del Toro, as a henchman with an agenda of his own. Viewers in the mood for a guilty rush should find Savages more than satisfying, but don't be surprised if your eyes keep sliding over to the bad guys. --Andrew Wright


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 2012
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper

As a boy, Abraham Lincoln helplessly witnesses his mother's death at the hands of a vampire. As a young man he is taught how to fight and kill the evil creatures and when he becomes President, Abe contemplates his revenge. When vampires from the South begin to turn the Civil War into a bloody massacre, Abe must take up his old hunting ways once again. (20th Century Fox)


The Amazing Spider-Man 2012
Directed by Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone

The Amazing Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker (Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents' disappearance - leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), his father's former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors' alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero. -- (C) Sony


10/01/12

The Avengers 2012
Directed by Josh Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth

Marvel makes cinematic history as it unites the super hero team-up of a lifetime. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans) assemble together for the very first time ever in this epic, action-packed blockbuster alongside Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Director Joss Whedon creates an unprecedented universe that has become a global phenomenon. Packed with spectacular visual effects, and exclusive bonus features, including Marvel's first-ever gag reel, never-before-seen Marvel short, and an interactive second screen experience, Marvel's The Avengers will blow your mind! (Walt Disney Video)


09/17/12

Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Top 10

John Nettles presents some of his favorite episodes

As seen on A&E and the Biography Channel

WHAT EVIL LURKS BEYOND THE WELL-TRIMMED HEDGES OF MIDSOMER…

And what secrets lurk behind the scenes of the blockbuster British mystery series. John Nettles, who stars as the unflappable Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, presents his 10 favorite mysteries from the program’s first six series. The affable Nettles introduces the cases with witty and revealing anecdotes about the show’s production as he relates why each holds a special place in his heart.

THE TOP TEN
How It All Began: The Killings at Badger's Drift (1998)
Favorite Story Line: Blue Herrings (2003)
Favorite Leading Lady: A Worm in the Bud (2002)
Best Location: Dark Autumn (1998)
Funniest Moments: Dead Man's Eleven (1999)
Most Intriguing Crime: Death of a Hollow Man (1998)
Most Difficult to Film: Electric Vendetta (1998)
Most Dramatic Episode: Murder on St. Malley’s Day (2004)
Most Bizarre Episode: Talent for Life (2003)
Favorite Episode: Strangler’s Wood (1998)


09/10/12

The Lucky One 2011
Directed by Scott Hicks
Starring: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling

Import Blu-Ray/Region All pressing. Based on Nicholas Sparks' bestseller The Lucky One, Zac Efron stars alongside Taylor Schilling and Blythe Danner in this romantic drama directed by Academy Awardr-nominated writer/director Scott Hicks. U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Efron) returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive-a photograph he found of a woman he doesn't even know. Learning her name is Beth (Schilling) and where she lives, he shows up at her door, and ends up taking a job at her family-run local kennel. Despite her initial mistrust and the complications in her life, a romance develops between them, giving Logan hope that Beth could be much more than his good luck charm.(Amazon)


Darling Companion 2011
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline

In Darling Companion, Beth (Diane Keaton) saves a bedraggled lost dog from the side of the freeway on a wintry day in Denver. Struggling with her distracted, self-involved husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) and an empty nest at home, Beth forms a special bond with the rescued animal. When Joseph loses the dog after their daughter's (Elisabeth Moss) wedding at their vacation home in the Rockies, Beth, distraught and angry with Joseph, enlists the help of the few remaining guests (Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass) and a mysterious woman (Ayelet Zurer) in a frantic search.

A Beginner's Guide to Endings 2010
Directed by Jonathan Sobol
Starring: Harvey Keitel, J.K. Simmons

Duke White (Harvey Keitel) hasn't been an ideal father to his five boys. An inveterate gambler who never experienced a windfall he couldn't blow within twenty-four hours, he has come to the end of his rope, literally. Years ago, he signed up his three eldest sons for unsafe drug tests that turned out to have dire consequences: the boys' life expectancy have been substantially reduced. Upon receiving the news after their father's funeral, the sons return to their family home in Niagara Falls, where they respond to their eminent demises in different yet equally hilarious ways.(Amazon)


Think Like a Man 2012
Directed by Tim Story
Starring: Gabrielle Union, Michael Ealy

Fans of Steve Harvey's wildly popular relationship self-help book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man--and even people unfamiliar with the book but interested in love, lust, and related topics--will enjoy the fictionalized film based on it, Think Like a Man. Harvey's book's tenets involve letting a woman's softer side show more, and understanding that men have different sexual needs. The book has been polarizing, but Think Like a Man, the film, gives women more of an even playing field, and handles the topics with a lighter touch. The stars are uniformly excellent and believable, including Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Michael Ealy, Chris Brown, and Kevin Hart. They help make up four couples in which the women have decided to take the advice in Harvey's book and use the recommendations to get their men on track. When the men discover this, they in turn try to turn the tables on their women. While one wishes so much manipulation weren't necessary in personal relationships, both Harvey's advice and Think Like a Man's softer point of view have merit. The struggles of the couples are believable, and the viewer secretly hopes there will at least be a few happy endings (it's not a spoiler to say there are). Crisply directed by Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four), Think Like a Man is a funny, moving chick flick that will appeal to guys too. --A.T. Hurley


A Separation 2011
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Peyman Noadie, Leila Hatami

Through the difficulties of one couple, director Asghar Farhadi illustrates the schism between the classes in contemporary Iran. The spiral of complications begins when Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) separate, because she wants to give 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) a better life abroad and he wants to stay in Tehran to care for his father, who has Alzheimer's disease. Though Termeh would prefer to live with Simin, she remains with Nader in hopes to encourage reconciliation. After Simin moves back in with her mother, Nader hires housekeeper Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who quits when she finds out she has to assist his father with intimate matters, which doesn't square with her religion, so she arranges for her husband to take her place, but he's struggling with his creditors again. Out of desperation, Razieh returns, but then she loses track of the old man, gets into a fight with Nader, and ends up in the hospital. Nader insists he didn't know she was pregnant and had nothing to do with her fall, but the case proceeds to court, one of three trials in the film. The middle-class couple appears to have all the power, except the ensuing web of lies and omissions leaves everyone at some kind of a loss. A Separation isn't, in other words, a happy story, but Farhadi spins out the various twists and turns in an expertly directed, beautifully acted manner, fulfilling the promise of his earlier domestic dramas, like Fireworks Wednesday. --Kathleen C. Fennessy (Persian/Farsi dialogue with English/French subtitles)


05/30/12

Red Tails 2012
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard

Academy Awardr Winner Cuba Gooding Jr.* and Academy Awardr Nominee Terrence Howard** lead a powerful ensemble cast in this high-flying epic inspired by the real-life adventures of the first African-American combat unit to serve in World War II. Italy, 1944. As the war takes its toll on Allied forces in Europe, a squadron of black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen are finally given the chance to prove themselves in the sky...even as they battle discrimination on the ground. Featuring jaw-dropping aerial action and thrilling special effects, Red Tails is a breathtaking tribute to the unsung heroes who rose above extraordinary challenges and ultimately soared into history. (Lucas Film)


We Need to Talk About Kevin 2011
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly

A suspenseful and gripping psychological thriller, Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin explores the fractious relationship between a mother and her evil son. Tilda Swinton, in a bracing, tour-de-force performance, plays the mother, Eva, as she contends for 15 years with the increasing malevolence of her first-born child, Kevin (Ezra Miller). Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, We Need To Talk About Kevin explores nature vs. nurture on a whole new level as Eva's own culpability is measured against Kevin's innate evilness. Ramsay's masterful storytelling simultaneously combines a provocative moral ambiguity with a satisfying and compelling narrative, which builds to a chilling, unforgettable climax. (Oscillocope Pictures)


This Means War 2012
Directed by McG
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine

Spy flick meets romantic comedy in this surprisingly entertaining film about two CIA agents who find themselves in competition for the affections of the same beautiful woman. Agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are accustomed to using whatever means necessary to complete a mission--and that mentality has a tendency to bleed over into their personal lives. The two agents are also close friends, so when they discover they're both dating Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), they enter into a gentleman's agreement that stipulates they not interfere with one other, allow Lauren to choose the best man for her, and walk away from Lauren if seeing her begins to affect the men's friendship. The agreement quickly degenerates into a pissing contest of epic proportions thanks to the men's competitive natures and the arsenal of government resources at their disposal. Oblivious to the rivalry and the high-tech circus going on around her, Lauren desperately tries to figure out which of the two men is right for her. Her married friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) offers plenty of advice, assuring Lauren that just because she's dating two guys at the same time, "You're not going to hell, but if you are, I'll be there to pick you up." What makes this film so good is its perfect blend of high-action spy caper, laugh-aloud humor, and romance--all skillfully delivered by a talented cast. --Tami Horiuchi


Chronicle 2012
Directed by Josh Trank
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly

If you should come upon a glowing, possibly extraterrestrial object buried in a hole, go ahead and touch the thing--you might just get superpowers. Or so it goes for the three high-school buds in Chronicle, an inventive excursion into the teenage sci-fi world. Once affected by the power, the guys exercise the joys of telekinesis: shuffling cars around in parking lots, moving objects in grocery stores, that kind of thing. Oh yeah--they can fly, too: and here director Josh Trank takes wing, in the movie's giddiest sequence, as the trio zips around the clouds in a glorious wish-fulfillment. It goes without saying that there will be a shadow side to this gift, and that's where Chronicle, for all its early cleverness, begins to stumble. Broody misfit Andrew (Dane DeHaan), destined to be voted Least Likely to Handle Superpowers Well by his graduating class, is documenting all this with his video camera, which is driving him even crazier (the movie's in "found footage" style, so everything we see is from a camcorder or security camera, an approach that gets trippy when Andrew realizes he can levitate his camera without having to hold it). Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (son of John) seem to lose inspiration when the last act rolls around, so the movie settles for weightless battles around the Space Needle and a smattering of mass destruction. Still, let's give Chronicle credit for an offbeat angle, and a handful of memorable scenes. --Robert Horton


04/11/12

Search for One-Eye Jimmy 2012
Directed by Sam Henry Kass
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Samuel L. Jackson

Described as "'Mean Streets' meets the Marx Brothers," this quirky tale tells of a film student who returns to his old Brooklyn neighborhood to make a documentary and learns that Jimmy, a local character, is missing. The would-be auteur traces the ongoing search through interviews with the area's colorful residents. Jennifer Beals, Steve Buscemi, Samuel L. Jackson, Holt McCallany, and John Turturro star.(Lorber Films)


03/26/12

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy 2012
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kathy Burke

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is all sleek, stealthy elegance. High-ranking intelligence officer George Smiley (Gary Oldman) was forced out of service when a mission in Hungary went very wrong, but rumors of a Soviet mole hidden within the agency bring him back into play. If the theory of the former head, Control (John Hurt), is to be believed, the mole is at the very top, one of four senior officers, played by Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Firth, and David Dencik (of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). With the help of a lower-ranking agent with a few secrets of his own (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock) and a field agent who may be a source of disinformation (Tom Hardy, Inception), Smiley slowly draws out the clues he needs to lay a trap for the mole. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy moves gracefully, with brief but unhurried scenes that give a hint of information here, a dollop of implication there, until the larger picture (painted in a cinematic chiaroscuro of grays, blues, and browns) comes tantalizingly into focus. Don't expect Hitchcock-like suspense, though there are a few anxious sequences; this movie captures the blend of dread and bureaucracy that marks real-life intelligence work. Oldman plays Smiley as uncannily opaque and, on the surface, harmless--but his eyes hold a deep bitterness that can turn sorrowful or cruel. The masterful cast glides through the film, their subterfuges and machinations orchestrated like a dance by director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In). --Bret Fetzer


Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2011
Directed by David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara

This stylish, American adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel chronicles the unusual partnership of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and tattooed computer whiz Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Working together to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of a wealthy businessman's niece nearly 40 years earlier, they find themselves thrust into a dangerous web of secrecy and deception. With Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright; David Fincher directs.(Columbia Pictures)


03/07/12

Like Crazy 2011
Directed by Drake Doremus
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones


Like Crazy beautifully illustrates how your first real love is as thrilling and blissful as it is devastating. When a British college student (Felicity Jones) falls for her American classmate (Anton Yelchin), they embark on a passionate and life-changing journey only to be separated when she violates the terms of her visa. Like Crazy explores how a couple faces the real challenges of being together and of being apart. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for best Actress for Felicity Jones, Like Crazy depicts both the hopefulness and the heartbreak of love. (Paramount Pictures)


Footloose 2011
Directed by Craig Brewer
Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough

The struggle between innocence and rigid morality is revisited when city-boy Ren finds himself in an uptight town where dancing has been banned. Filled with contemporary music and iconic classics from the original, this fresh look on youth culture is sure to win fans of young and old.(Paramount Pictures)


Jack and Jill 2011
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes

Jack Sadelstein (Adam Sandler), a successful advertising executive in Los Angeles with a beautiful wife (Katie Holmes) and kids, who dreads one event each year: the holiday visit of his identical twin sister Jill (also Adam Sandler). Jill’s neediness and passive-aggressiveness are maddening to Jack, turning his normally tranquil life upside down. Things spin even more out of control for Jack when Jill decides to extend her visit and he doesn’t think that she’ll ever leave!(Sony Pictures)


J. Edgar 2011
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception, Blood Diamond) stars as J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years. Hoover was feared, admired, reviled and revered, a man who could distort the truth as easily as he upheld it. His methods were at once ruthless and heroic, with the admiration of the world his most coveted prize. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life. Oscar Winner Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven) directs an all-star cast including Naomi Watts (21 Grams), Armie Hammer (The Social Network) and Oscar Winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) as Hoover’s overprotective mother. (Warner Home Video)


02/22/12

Tower Heist 2011
Directed by Brett Ratner
Starring: Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick

At the center of Tower Heist is a gleaming Ferrari once owned by Steve McQueen, and that's what the movie is: a sleek machine, tooled for speed. Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) manages a super-high-tech high-rise in the middle of Manhattan, catering to every need of the tower's residents, including financier Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). When Shaw gets arrested by the FBI, Kovacs realizes that his staff's pensions, which he asked Shaw to invest, are lost, and when it looks like Shaw is going to get away with it, Kovacs pulls together a mismatched team (included Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe, and Eddie Murphy) to steal the secret stash of cash that the FBI suspects Shaw must have. Tower Heist successfully tweaks all the character clichés just enough so that they are a smooth blend of the familiar and the unexpected. The plot zips along with purring efficiency, alternating predictable turns with surprising ones just enough to keep the pattern-seeking parts of the viewer's brain hooked. The cast--which also includes Téa Leoni as the lead FBI agent--charms without overdoing it. In essence, director Brett Ratner (the guy behind X-Men: The Last Stand and the Rush Hour series) has honed all of his sloppier tendencies and crafted a skillful piece of mass entertainment. Afterward, the movie's plot holes and defiance of the laws of physics may irritate, but while it's unfolding, Tower Heist is a smooth ride. --Bret Fetzer


02/01/12

The Thing 2011
Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton

It's not human. Yet. From the producers of Dawn of the Dead comes the chilling prelude to John Carpenter's cult classic film. When paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) travels to an isolated outpost in Antarctica for the expedition of a lifetime, she joins an international team that unearths a remarkable discovery. Their elation quickly turns to fear as they realize that their experiment has freed a mysterious being from its frozen prison. Paranoia spreads like an epidemic as a creature that can mimic anything it touches will pit human against human as it tries to survive and flourish in this spine-tingling thriller.(Universal Studios)


Dream House 2011
Directed by Jim Sheridan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz

Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) quit a high-profile job in Manhattan to relocate his wife, Libby (Oscar®-winner Rachel Weisz), and their two daughters to a quaint New England town. But as they settle into their new life, they discover their perfect home was once the murder scene of a mother and her children. When Will investigates, he's not sure if he's seeing ghosts or if the tragic events are somehow related to his past. The only clues come from his mysterious neighbor, Ann (Oscar®-nominee Naomi Watts), who helps him piece together this haunting puzzle. Full of twists and suspense, this psychological thriller will have you on the edge of your seat.(Universal Studios)


Abduction 2011
Directed by John Singleton
Starring: Taylor Lautner, Lily ColliTaylor Lautner explodes on-screen as a young man whose secret past is set to collide with a dangerous reality. After uncovering a deadly lie, Nathan (Lautner) is propelled on a lethal, no-holds barred mission to learn the truth. Aided by a devoted family friend (Sigourney Weaver), Nathan’s hunt for the facts pits him against ruthless assassins and questionable allies.(Lions Gate)


01/30/12

Contagion 2011
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Gweneth Paltrow, Jude Law

Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston, along with medical journalist Sanjay Gupta, explore the real science of global viruses and what they mean to the human race. The world is preparing for the next biological disaster...but is it too late? (Warner Bros.)


The Double 2011
Directed by Michael Brandt
Starring: Richard Gere, Topher Grace

A retired CIA operative is paired with a young FBI agent to unravel the mystery of a senator's murder, with all signs pointing to a Soviet assassin.


50/50 2011
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordan-Levine, Seth Rogen

Since actor-coproducer Seth Rogen helped to bring Superbad to life, 50/50 might also suggest a sex comedy, except Jonathan Levine's film is more like a drama with comedy sequences (some of which involve sex). In a switch from his Inception smoothie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a strait-laced 27-year-old who works in Seattle public radio with his hedonistic best friend, Rogen's Kyle. Back pain brings Adam to an oncologist who diagnoses cancer, prescribes chemotherapy, and recommends counseling, which leads him to Katie, a doctoral student (Anna Kendrick) who makes up in compassion what she lacks in experience. If Kyle takes the news with good humor, Adam's girlfriend, Rachael (Kendrick's Twilight costar Bryce Dallas Howard), puts on a strained smile, while his mother (Anjelica Huston) goes into freak-out mode. At the hospital, Adam also befriends two cancer patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) who share their foul-mouthed wisdom--along with marijuana-laced macaroons--but Rachael finally cracks, leaving Adam to fend for himself, except that he isn't as defenseless as he thought, which comes in handy when he finds out the chemo isn't working. Will Reiser, who wrote the script, drew from his own experience, and the results ring true, even if he's too hard on Rachael, who sincerely tries to be supportive. In his follow-up to The Wackness, which centered around a congenial dope dealer, Levine treats the other characters with more respect, and avoids the sentimentality that mars most movies about potentially fatal illnesses--plus, it's a lot funnier. --Kathleen C. Fennessy


The Whistleblower 2010
Directed by Larry Kondracki
Starring: Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn

A drama based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and outed the U.N. for covering up a sex scandal. (IMDb)


Drive 2011
Directed by Nocholas Wionding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Christina Hendricks

Ryan Gosling stars as a Hollywood stunt driver for movies by day and moonlights as a wheelman for criminals by night. Though a loner by nature, “Driver” can’t help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband. After a heist goes wrong, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). Soon he realizes the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash and is forced to shift gears and go on the offense.(Sony Pictures)


01/11/12

Dreamer 2006
Directed by John Gatins
Starring: Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning

The title is a mouthful, but Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story hits the winner's circle as a warm and inspiring family film. Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) is a Kentucky horse trainer who watches in horror as a championship filly breaks its leg during a practice run. Ordinarily that means curtains, but today Ben's daughter, Cale (Dakota Fanning), is at the track, and Ben impulsively buys the horse and loses his job in one fell swoop. The rehabilitation process is almost too much for a farm that's already struggling to survive in a modern economy, but the horse turns out to be a much-needed salve to the nearly broken family, including Ben's wife (Elisabeth Shue) and father (Kris Kristofferson). The cast is excellent, especially Fanning (who at age 11 has become a major star and was branded by Entertainment Weekly as the most powerful actress in Hollywood), and the film is well-paced by director-writer John Gatins and beautifully shot by cinematographer Fred Murphy. Surely the ultimate fate of the horse and the family won't surprise anyone, but young girls who love horses often don't need a surprise ending. They need a reason to cheer, and Dreamer delivers all the way. (Ages 6 and older: moments of horse peril) --David Horiuchi


01/10/12

Blackthorn 2011
Directed by Mateo Gil
Starring: Sam Sherpard, Eduardo Noriega

It's been said that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in a standoff with the Bolivian military in 1908. In BLACKTHORN, Cassidy (Sam Shepard) survived and is quietly living out his years under the name James Blackthorn in a secluded Bolivian village. Tired of his long exile from the U.S. and hoping to see his family again before he dies, Cassidy sets out on the long journey home. But when an unexpected encounter with an ambitious young criminal (Eduardo Noriega) derails his plans, he is thrust into one last adventure, the likes of which he hasn't experienced since his glory days with the Sundance Kid.(Magnolia Home Entertainment)


Devil's Double 2011
Directed by Lee Tamahori
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier

Based on a gripping, unbelievable true story of money, power and opulent decadence, Lionsgate’s THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE takes a white- knuckle ride deep into the lawless playground of excess and violence known as Baghdad, 1987. Summoned from the frontline to Saddam Hussein's palace, Iraqi army lieutenant Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) is thrust into the highest echelons of the "royal family" when he’s ordered to become the ‘fiday’ – or body double – to Saddam's son, the notorious "Black Prince" Uday Hussein (also Dominic Cooper), a reckless, sadistic party-boy with a rabid hunger for sex and brutality. With his and his family’s lives at stake, Latif must surrender his former self forever as he learns to walk, talk and act like Uday. But nothing could have prepared him for the horror of the Black Prince’s psychotic, drug-addled life of fast cars, easy women and impulsive violence. With one wrong move costing him his life, Latif forges an intimate bond with Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), Uday's seductive mistress who’s haunted by her own secrets. But as war looms with Kuwait and Uday’s depraved gangster regime threatens to destroy them all, Latif realizes that escape from the devil’s den will only come at the highest possible cost.(Lions Gate)


I Don't Know How She Does It 2011
Directed by Douglas McGrath
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan

The archetypal single gal from Sex and the City dives into family life in I Don't Know How She Does It. Kate Reddy, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, could easily be Carrie Bradshaw's alternate life: a rising finance analyst, Kate feels guilty for short-changing her husband (Greg Kinnear) and two children. When she gets the opportunity to work with a high-powered exec (Pierce Brosnan), the already tense family relationship gets stretched to the breaking point and Kate has to make some hard choices. I Don't Know How She Does It is pure formula, but executed well. The entire cast (also including Christina Hendricks as a single-mom best friend, Kelsey Grammer as an overbearing boss, Seth Meyers as a sniping rival, and a scene-stealing Olivia Munn as Kate's assistant) play their parts with skill, while Parker's rapport with Kinnear is particularly warm and persuasive. Moreover, you have to admire the sheer chutzpah of hammering home political points about double standards in the workplace and then delivering a fairy-tale ending. Men have realized the importance of family over work in dozens upon dozens of cookie-cutter heartwarming flicks; apparently it's time that women got the opportunity to do the same. No doubt this signifies some important cultural shift; college theses are waiting to be written about it. --Bret Fetzer


Rise of the Planet of the Apes 2011
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring:John Lithglow, Brian Cox

A galaxy's worth of nihilism buried under a '70s Velveeta topping, the Planet of the Apes series stands today as a dark marvel of pop cinema, a group of wildly variable films that combine to form a giant inescapable kiss-off to the human race. (That said message was able to withstand such distractions as ever-cheapening makeup and Charlton Heston loudly pounding sand makes its achievements even more impressive, really.) Boasting a keen awareness of its predecessors' particular charms and a gem of a central CGI performance by Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes makes for a rather miraculous summer movie: a big-budget special effects extravaganza that also delivers a killer backhand. Sort of redoing 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the film follows the events set in motion when a bereaved scientist (James Franco) attempts to create a cure for Alzheimer's, resulting in a supernaturally intelligent chimp named Caesar. The old bit about science tampering in God's domain quickly applies. Director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist) displays an admirable sense of pacing, deftly levying the escalating action scenes with small character moments from the likes of John Lithgow and Brian Cox. That said, the film belongs to Caesar, whose path from wide-eyed innocent to reluctant revolutionary generates the ironic pulp empathy that gave the original series such a kick. Watching the climactic confrontation on the Golden Gate Bridge, it's distressingly easy to figure out which side to root for. Chuck Heston would no doubt grit his teeth in approval. Note: Those skeptical that this revamp could wholly retain the original's doomy backbeat would do well to stick around during the end credits. --Andrew Wright


Midnight in Paris 2011
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Kathy Bates

Paris is a city that lends itself to daydreaming, to walking the streets and imagining all sorts of magic, a quality that Woody Allen understands perfectly. Midnight in Paris is Allen's charming reverie about just that quality, with a screenwriter hero named Gil (Owen Wilson) who strolls the lanes of Paris with his head in the clouds and walks right into his own best fantasy. Gil is there with his materialistic fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her unpleasant parents, taking a break from his financially rewarding but spiritually unfulfilling Hollywood career--and he can't stop thinking that all he wants to do is quit the movies, move to Paris, and write that novel he's been meaning to finish. You know, be like his heroes in the bohemian Paris of the 1920s. Sure enough, a midnight encounter draws him into the jazzy world of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Picasso and Dali, and an intense Ernest Hemingway, who promises to bring Gil's manuscript to Gertrude Stein for review. Gil wakes up every morning back in the real world, but returning to his enchanted Paris proves fairly easy. In the execution of this marvelous fantasia, Allen pursues the idea that people of every generation have always romanticized a previous age as golden (this is in fact explained to us by Michael Sheen's pedantic art expert), but he also honors Gil's need to find out certain truths for himself. The movie's on the side of gentle fantasy, and it has some literary/cinematic in-jokes that call back to the kind of goofy humor Allen created in Love and Death.The film is guilty of the slackness that Allen's latter-day directing has sometimes shown, and the underwritten roles for McAdams and Marion Cotillard are better acted than written. But the city glows with Allen's romantic sense of it, and Owen Wilson has just the right nice-guy melancholy to put the idea over. A worthy entry in the Cinema of the Daydream. --Robert Horton


Cowboys & Aliens 2011
Directed by John Favreau
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford

Cowboys & Aliens fuses rip-snortin' horse opera with some whiz-bang sci-fi, melding dry and austere badlands with slimy, mucusy aliens. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig, of James Bond fame) wakes up in the midst of sagebrush with a mysterious gadget around his wrist and no idea who he is--but he sure does remember how to take care of the bounty hunters who want to bring him in. His path soon crosses with a ruthless cattle baron named Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, of Indiana Jones fame), who's not too happy with Lonergan, who got Dolarhyde's son in trouble. But their fracas becomes beside the point when spaceships descend and start lassoing people like cattle. The humans, including a mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde, Tron), a Native American tribe, and some snaggletoothed outlaws, band together to fight off this invasion from another world. The first two-thirds of Cowboys & Aliens is peppy fun, with its tongue-in-cheek Wild West-ness and colorful supporting cast (including Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano, and Walton Goggins) and fairly understated CGI. The last third, with the obligatory assault on the alien vessel and a mess of clichés and inconsistencies, deflates a bit, which isn't surprising given that six screenwriters were involved. Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) does what he can to keep things lively. Fortunately, the good spirits of the first two-thirds will carry most viewers through to the end. --Bret Fetzer






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