Friday December 7, 2012

A LATE QUARTET (R). Director Yaron Zilberman, a chamber music fan, uses the intimate collaboration required of a string quartet to examine the way in which lives become dangerously entangled over time. The nature of a quartet creates a closed and at times claustophoic universe that often works in the filmmaker’s favor. But at times, it seems to constrain the exceptional acting ensemble -- Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken and Mark Ivanir -- asked to play such a diverse and dissonant range of emotional values. (Sharkey, Los Angeles Times -- 11/26). 1:45.

ANNA KARENINA (R). Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson star in a baldly conceptual response to Leo Tolstoy’s novel, with a heavily theatrical framework placed around the narrative of girl meets boy, followed by girl meets train. Much of this "Anna Karenina" takes place inside a 19th century Russian playhouse, on the stage itself, in the wings, up in the fly loft above the stage, in the auditorium itself. The notion is to examine Tolstoy’s theatrically extravagant characters so that they all appear to be starring in separate and gradually intersecting operas. You may fall under the intended spell. Or you may voice an opinion very much like Taylor-Johnson’s Vronsky, who tells Anna early on: "I’m getting out of this operetta and going home.


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" HH (Phillips, Chicago Tribune -- 12/3). 2:10.

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS (PG-13). In this drama set in Tehran in 1958, an Iranian violinist loses his will to survive after his harpy of a wife breaks his beloved instrument. He takes to his bed for days, waiting for death to arrive, as flashbacks reveal the details of his past.

END OF WATCH (R). Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are cops minding the mean streets of Los Angeles. Shot in YouTube style, as if compiled from a mixture of "Cops"-style surveillance footage shot on "dash-cams" inside the patrol car; video shot by Gyllenhaal’s character; and surreptitious chest-level video, "End of Watch" is a full load of self-conscious faux realism that focuses on two decent cops crisscrossing paths with an encroaching drug cartel and its street soldiers.HH (Phillips, Chicago Tribune -- 9/21). 1:49.

FLIGHT (R). Director Robert Zemeckis’ first live-action movie since 2000’s "Cast Away" stars Denzel Washington as an airline pilot whose alcoholism and drug abuse are revealed after he becomes a hero for saving the lives of his passengers during a disastrous flight. Neither a simple story of heroism, nor one of a fallen hero. Things are more complex than that -- and it is its complexities that make this film all the more rewarding an experience. HHH (Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer -- 11/3). 2:15.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY (R). Brad Pitt’s an enforcer tracking three hoods who robbed a mob-protected card game in this talk talk, bang bang adaptation of George V. Higgins’ novel, "Cogan’s Trade." A procession of shoot-ups then beat-downs filmed with fetish. If you’re into seeing people die stylishly messy, this is the movie for you. With James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins. (Persall, Tampa Bay Times -- 11/30). 1:37.

LAY THE FAVORITE (R). An impulsive, gushing, mercurial young woman (Rebecca Hall) starts off director Steven Frears’ latest movie as a private dancer and, when that gets scary, decides to become a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas.

LIFE OF PI (PG). Ang Lee combines a lifetime of storytelling finesse with arguably the most artful use of 3-D technology yet seen to bring to life novelist Yann Martel’s saga of an Indian youth lost at sea with a ravenous Bengal tiger aboard his small lifeboat. A gorgeous, ruminative film that is soulfully, provocatively entertaining. HHH1/2 (Germain, Associated Press -- 11/21). 2:06.

LINCOLN (PG-13). Steven Spielberg directs, Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the 16th president in this epic drama about Lincoln’s determined effort to pass the 13th Amendment, ending slavery, while also trying to bring the Civil War to a close. An exceptionally good film, elevated by Day-Lewis’ super-human star turn, and by the energy and invention its director displays in telling a story that doesn’t rely on action and special effects. HHH (Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer -- 11/17). 2:29.

RED DAWN (PG-13). A bunch of defiant Washington teens jump in a pickup truck, crash through some barricades, and make for a cabin in the woods, where they plot a guerrilla campaign against U.S.-invading North Korean Captain Cho (a villainous Will Yun Lee) and his tanks and armored vehicles. This reboot of the 1984 original -- directed by Dan Bradley, a stunt coordinator and second unit director (action! action! action!) -- is hobbled by a laughably bad script and a uniformly uncharismatic cast. H (Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer -- 11/22). 1:33.

PLAYING FOR KEEPS (PG-13). Gerard Butler plays a former soccer star trying to recharge his life and maintain a relationship with ayoung son who hardly knows him. Wth Jessica Biehl.

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (PG). Based on William Joyce’s "The Guardians of Childhood" books, about a team that includes The Easter Bunny, given an Aussie accent by Hugh Jackman here; "North," aka Santa, made all Slavic and silly by Alec Baldwin; The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the silent, roly-poly Sandman. They need the help of newcomer Jack Frost (Chris Pine) if they’re to have a prayer of stopping "Pitch," short for "Pitch Black," the night-terror voiced by Jude Law. He’s seeing to it that kids across the world are giving up their belief in magic and magical figures like themselves. And he’s giving them night terrors. "Rise of the Guardians" is harmless enough, and the lack of easy pop-culture jokes represents the post-"Shrek" direction of DreamWorks well enough. But this is the studio’s least entertaining film. For a company that banks on building franchises of kiddie cartoons, from "Shrek" to "Madagascar," these Guardians don’t rise to the occasion -- not by a long shot. H (Moore, McClatchy Trubune News Service -- 11/22). 1:37.

SKYFALL (PG-13). Simultaneously thrilling and meaty, this is easily one of the best entries ever in the 50-year, 23-film series, led once again by an actor who’s the best Bond yet in Daniel Craig. In the hands of director Sam Mendes, it almost feels like a reinvention of the series. This time, James Bond must try and protect his no-nonsense boss, M (the always intelligent and dignified Judi Dench), from what feels like a very personal attack, even as it seems that she may not necessarily be protecting him in return. Javier Bardem pretty much steals this entire movie away from a cast of esteemed and formidable actors as the villainous Silva, the former MI6 agent getting his revenge against this staid, old-fashioned organization in high-tech, ultra-efficient ways that make him seem unstoppable. HHHH (Lemire, Associated Press -- 11/9). 2:23.

THE COLLECTION (R). A serial killer in a black mask stages mass murders but also abducts individuals to add to his collection. This follow-up to "The Collector" never hits audiences in the stomach with any immediate sense of danger, and the dialogue and most of the performances feel entirely too campy for the movie to be taken seriously. Maybe that is the point, but I don’t think so. H1/2 (Odam, Austin American-Statesman -- 12/3). 1:22.

THE SESSIONS (R). A 38-year-old polio patient, the late poet and journalist Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), in an iron lung enlists a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt in a truly brave performance) so he can lose his virginity. Ultimately, this true-life drama is about a decent, disarming disabled man on a quest to lose his virginity; nothing more profound is afoot. It is story enough, moving enough. (Sharkey, Los Angeles Times -- 11/17). 1:35.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN -- PART 2 (PG-13). Finally -- finally! -- the "Twilight" franchise embraces its own innate absurdity with this gleefully over-the-top conclusion. This is by far the best film in the series. This does not necessarily mean it’s good. But as it reaches its prolonged and wildly violent crescendo, it’s at least entertaining in a totally nutso way. Bill Condon (who also directed last year’s "Breaking Dawn -- Part 1") finally lets his freak flag fly. His final "Twilight" movie dares to have a little fun. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) are now married vampires and parents to a newborn daughter, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy). With the help of the bloodsucking Cullen clan and vampires gathered from around the globe, they must band together with Edward’s former romantic rival Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and his werewolf buddies to protect the half-human, half-vampire spawn from the evil and suspicious Volturi. HHH (Lemire, Associated Press -- 11/16) 1:45.

WRECK-IT RALPH (PG). The villain (voiced by John C. Reilly) of an old-school 1980s arcade video game tires of always being the bad guy and starts to sneak into other video games to play the hero. The movie’s first half is its funniest. The second half is cleverly designed, high-fructose eye candy with typical Disney lessons in reaching for the stars, being who you are blah, blah, blah. HHH (Persall, Tampa Bay Times -- 11/2). 1:33.