Friday December 14, 2012

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

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.

HITCHCOCK (PG-13). This drama shuttles between director Alfred Hitchcock's strained domestic life and his battles with studio execs and defenders of morality during the 1959 filming of "Psycho." With Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johanssen.

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.

PLAYING FOR KEEPS (PG-13). Gerard Butler plays a former soccer star trying to recharge his life and maintain a relationship with a young son who hardly knows him. Butler dials down the swagger and the charisma when the whole movie is utterly reliant on both. With Jessica Biel. H (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 12/8). 1:50.

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 FITZGERALD FAMILY CHRISTMAS (NR). Filmmaker Edward Burns produced, directed, wrote and plays the oldest sibling in a family abandoned two decades ago by dad Big Jim Fitzgerald (Ed Lauter). The wayward parent's desire to return home during the holidays is a shock for his grown children, each of whom is facing challenges, and provokes a torrent of bitterness from his wife (Anita Gillette). Review, this page

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (PG-13). "The Lord of the Rings" mastermind Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth for chapter one of his three-part prelude.

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.