It should come as no surprise that every character in a movie with a title like this is either rotten to the core, or a liar, or a schemer, or the bearer of seriously damaging secrets. What is surprising is that these characters never feel like real people, despite a series of twists that should, in theory, reveal hidden, unexpected facets of their personalities and despite being played by big-name stars including Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones. They’re all still conniving, only with varying alliances and targets. At the center of these dizzying double crosses is Wahlberg as Billy Taggart, a former New York police detective who got kicked off the force after a questionable shooting. Seven years later, Billy is barely getting by as a Brooklyn private eye. Then one day, the mayor (Crowe), who’d always been on Billy’s side, hires Billy to investigate whether his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair. He’s up for re-election in a week and doesn’t want to lose to a young, well-financed challenger (Barry Pepper) over revelations that he’s being cuckolded. But Billy’s digging leads to further revelations involving the mayor’s rival, the rival’s campaign manager (Kyle Chandler), the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright) and some wealthy, well-connected land developers. Everything is simultaneously too complicated and overly spelled out. Director Allen Hughes’ film is a forgettable piece of pulp. (R, 108 minutes)
– Christy Lemire, Associated Press
The Arnold Schwarzenegger movie you didn’t even realize you wanted to see. This is the action superstar’s first leading role in a decade, having left acting to serve as the governor of California and whatnot, and while it may not have occurred to you to miss him during that time, it’s still surprisingly good to see him on the big screen again. He is not exactly pushing himself here. Korean director Kim Jee-woon’s American filmmaking debut turns out to be an extremely Schwarzeneggerish Schwarzenegger film, full of big, violent set pieces and broad comedy. He may look a little creaky (and facially freaky) these days, but Arnold proves he’s still game for the mayhem as he fires off rounds and tosses off one-liners, and the movie at least has the decency to acknowledge that it knows that you know that he’s old. The script also feels a bit old — ‘‘The Last Stand’’ is essentially an amped-up version of ‘‘Rio Bravo,’’ with some ‘‘Jackass’’-style hijinks courtesy of Johnny Knoxville himself. A Mexican drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) daringly escapes federal custody and heads for a quiet Arizona border town where Schwarzenegger, as the sheriff, rounds up a posse of misfits to stop him. But Kim keeps things moving briskly and the members of the strong supporting cast (Peter Stormare, Luis Guzman, Forest Whitaker) don’t seem to mind that they’re playing flimsy types. Everyone’s just here for a mindless good time. (R, 107 minutes)
— Wire reports
"Mama" breaks a lot of horror movie rules, right off the proverbial bat.
It gives us a long back-story opening, and brings up much more back story as the tale progresses.
It over-explains. It reveals its supernatural menace, not just in glimpses, but full on, and early on. There’s never any doubt that this might be all in somebody’s head.
But "Mama" is a reminder that the best chills don’t involve chainsaws, blood and guts. Horror is a product of empathy — in this case, fearing for the safety of small children and the reluctant twenty-something rock musician (Jessica Chastain) stuck with caring for them.
A prologue tells us of a tragedy. A distraught father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) flees financial scandal by shooting people, grabbing his children and fleeing into the snowy mountains of Virginia. They crash, he drags the innocent little girls to a remote cabin, and just as he is about to finish his horror something happens to him.
Cut to five years later, and searchers finally find the girls. They’re feral, non-verbal, skittering around on all fours like rats. Their artist Uncle Lucas (also Coster-Waldau) is ready to take them in. His bass-playing girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain) is not.
Horror is all about the short-circuit that the screen’s technical manipulations — music, editing — cause in our brain, so this isn’t high art. But "Mama" is easily the most moving, most chilling ghost story since "Insidious," an emotional tale efficiently, and affectingly told. (PG-13, 100 minutes)
— Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence do a lot of running in "Silver Linings Playbook." They crash into each other on leafy suburban Philadelphia streets, out for their morning laps, their evening laps, huffing, puffing, jostling, fighting.
They’re trying to shed weight, these two. Not physical weight (although Cooper’s character complains his meds are making him fat), but the burdens they’re carrying around in their heads. Pat Solitano (Cooper, in an amazingly fierce, funny performance) and his uninvited tagalong, Tiffany (Lawrence), are damaged goods.
A head-spinning wonder of a movie about love, pain, reinvention, rehabilitation and the totemic power of a National Football League franchise, "Silver Linings Playbook" opened the Philadelphia Film Festival last month. It is, without doubt, a transcendent endeavor, from its exhilaratingly smart screenplay — director David O. Russell’s adaptation of the novel by Matthew Quick — to the unexpected and moving turns of its two leads. And from everybody else (Robert De Niro! Jacki Weaver! Chris Tucker! Anupam Kher!) in its remarkable cast.
It’s comic, it’s tragic, it dives into a world wholly recognizable, and it springs from a great Hollywood tradition: the storm-tossed romance. Boy meets girl, boy and girl are separated by momentous conflict, boy and girl overcome obstacles to get together and live happily ever after . . . or do they?
(R, 122 minutes)
— Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Everyone knows how "Zero Dark Thirty" ends: with the killing of Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani compound by SEAL Team Six.
But it’s how it begins — with the hauntingly effective use of the voices of the 9-11 victims and then a pummeling abuse of a prisoner at a clandestine CIA "black site" — that has inflamed the passions of both conservatives and liberals. Yet, as a viewer, it’s like being shoved down a dark tunnel into a shadowy world of intrigue, suspicion and horror. That world comes brutally alive in Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, a harrowing adventure behind the headlines that is at once a riveting procedural and, at the same time, a bracing political statement on the moral ambiguities of our war on terror.
Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA analyst who is single-mindedly on the trail of Osama bin Laden, even when her boss, Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), wants her not to spend so much time on it. Maya is introduced to the world of "enhanced interrogation" through another agent, Dan (Jason Clarke), who lets her watch while he assaults and humiliates Ammar (Reda Kateb). At first, she seems uncomfortable, as if she might put a stop to it, but ultimately it only seems to harden her heart and resolve.
But it’s going to take a lot more than jailhouse savagery to get Bin Laden. It’s going to take gumshoe detective skills and that means everything else in Maya’s life — which we’re given few clues about — is pushed aside. (The person upon whom Maya is based is reportedly still an active CIA agent.)
It’s the slow piecing together of evidence — along with the increasing urgency fueled by events such as the London bus bombing in 2005 and Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing in 2008 — that gives Maya the impetus to keep going.
Chastain, playing a very different character from the one people know her from in "The Help," possesses a palpable toughness, even if she isn’t physically overwhelming. There are a couple of moments that ring false (even if they did really happen), as when she uses a smart-mouth profanity in front of CIA director Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini).
But those moments are overwhelmed by a performance that feels just right.
She’s helped along by Jason Clarke, an Australian actor who may now zoom to star status after years of yeoman work in everything from the TV series "Brotherhood" to the action movie "Death Race."
Then there’s the planning and the execution of the raid itself, the back half of the film, where you feel as if you’re just one pair of night-vision-goggles away from the two SEAL Team members we get to know best, Patrick (Joel Edgerton) and Justin (Chris Pratt). As she displayed in "The Hurt Locker," Bigelow is an expert at capturing the claustrophobia of combat.
Yet, after the deed is done, it doesn’t feel quite celebratory for Maya. She seems to realize that the aftershock of war for her, and by extension all of us, will be around for a long time.
As written by Mark Boaz and envisioned by Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty" is no simple, action-hero victory dance around Bin Laden’s body. It’s a powerful, philosophically troubling look at recent events strained through the prism of Bigelow’s gripping artistic vision. Simply put, "Zero Dark Thirty" is the best film of 2012. (R, 160 minutes)
— Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
‘‘Gangster Squad,’’ a pulpy, violent tale of cops and mobsters in 1949 Los Angeles, rides an uncomfortable line between outlandishness and outright parody, and it’s difficult to tell which is director Ruben Fleischer’s intention.
While the film wallows in period detail and has some sporadic moments of amusing banter, it’s mostly flashy, empty and cacophonous, and it woefully wastes a strong cast led by Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in barely developed, one-note roles.
At its center is a performance from Sean Penn as mob king Mickey Cohen, in which he doesn’t just chew up the scenery, he rolls it around in his mouth like a handful of marbles, then spits it back out again and blows it to bits with a Tommy gun for good measure. With his mashed-up boxer’s mug, thick Brooklyn accent and volatile bursts of anger, he’s as cartoony as a Dick Tracy villain. While ‘‘Gangster Squad’’ certainly has its intended moments of humor, the laughs Penn’s performance prompts might not have been part of the plan. Or maybe they were — who knows?
The gruff and grizzled police chief (Nick Nolte) realizes the only way to conquer Cohen is to fight by his rules — that is, by no rules at all. So he asks Sgt. John O’Mara (Brolin), a principled, heroic war veteran, to put together a band of outsiders to destroy his empire without serving warrants or making arrests.
‘‘Gangster Squad’’ is brutal, with a barrage of gunfire that becomes deafening and, ultimately, boring. The sheer volume of these gun battles, often depicted in stylized slo-mo or with quick blasts of light, undermines the significance of who’s going down and what’s at stake.
In the end, who lives and who dies doesn’t really matter. It’s all just noise disguised as entertainment. (R, 115 minutes)
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
Les Miserables, (PG-13, 150 mins.)
Parental Guidance, (PG, 105 min.)
This is 40 (R, 133 minutes)