WHAT’S NEW IN THEATERS THIS WEEK
THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE
This documentary takes an emotionally charged subject — the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of five black and Hispanic teenage boys for the rape of a white, female jogger — and makes its case in a straightforward, detached manner. It is thoughtful, educational and understated, perhaps to a fault — tonally, the trademark work of veteran documentarian Ken Burns, who directs, writes and produces this time with daughter Sarah Burns, who wrote a book about the crime, and her husband, David McMahon. It efficiently depicts, but doesn't get caught up in, the hysteria of the place and time: a racially and socioeconomically divided New York City in April 1989, when it was rotting with crack cocaine, AIDS and violent crime but also gleaming with the conspicuous consumption of the era. The late-night attack on jogger Trisha Meili — then a 28-year-old Wall Street investment banker who's now an author and motivational speaker — became a symbol of this chasm and everything that seemed wrong with society. And the five young men from Harlem who happened to be running around Central Park that night — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise (previously spelled Kharey Wise), and Yusef Salaam — became all-too easy scapegoats. "The Central Park Five" aims to clear their names publicly, once and for all, in a way that much of the press did not when a judge vacated the young men's convictions in 2002. Not rated but contains language and graphic, violent details. 119 minutes. Three stars out of four.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY
Writer-director Andrew Dominik's film is an incredibly stylish genre exercise set in the world of mobsters, junkies and lowlifes, but it's also trying incredibly hard to be About Something. Not content merely to be profane, abrasive and occasionally, darkly amusing, it also wants to be relevant. And so Dominik has taken the 1974 crime novel "Cogan's Trade" by George V. Higgins and set it in the days before the 2008 presidential election, just as the U.S. economy is in the midst of catastrophic collapse. Every television and radio is tuned to then-candidate Barack Obama or President George W. Bush addressing the nation — even in bars and thugs' cars — with the volume cranked way up, commenting all too obviously on the film's action. As if we couldn't decipher for ourselves that organized crime functions as its own form of capitalism, "Killing Them Softly" turns on the mini-implosion that occurs when a couple of idiots rob a mob-protected card game. Scoot McNairy plays the jittery ex-con Frankie; his inept partner is a heroin addict played by Ben Mendelsohn. Both are aggressively grungy. The corporate types at the top of the syndicate want to restore order, so they ask Jackie Cogan, an enforcer played by Brad Pitt (star of Dominik's haunting, poetic "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"), to investigate the heist and punish the perpetrators. This is one of those effortless Pitt performances that exemplify how beautifully he manages to be both a serious actor and a superstar. The film's best scenes are the ones he shares with James Gandolfini as a brazen but insecure hit man. R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language and some drug use. 97 minutes. Two stars out of four.
WHAT'S IN THEATERS THIS WEEK
The man who made "Psycho" was no lightweight, though he kind of comes off that way in this portrait of Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife and collaborator, Alma, the film puts a featherlight yet entertaining touch on the behind-the-scenes struggle to make the mother of all slasher films. As Alma says at one point, even "Psycho," after all, was just a movie. With Jessica Biel, Danny Huston and Toni Collette. PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material. 98 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
LIFE OF PI
Author Yann Martel's tale of a shipwrecked youth cast adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger is one of those lyrical, internalized novels that should have no business working on the screen. Quite possibly, it wouldn't have worked if anyone but Ang Lee had adapted it. Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," ''Brokeback Mountain") has crafted one of the finest entries in his eclectic resume with this gorgeous, ruminative film that is soulfully, provocatively entertaining. The computer-animated tiger is remarkably lifelike, seamlessly blended into the live action. And as in Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," Lee's 3-D images are tantalizing and immersive, pulling viewers deeper into Pi's world so that the illusion of depth becomes essential to the story. PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril. 126 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
The army invading the United States in this ill-advised remake of the campy 1984 original was changed in post-production from Chinese to North Korean. With a few snips here, a few re-dubs there, the filmmakers re-edited and re-shot, fearful of offending China and its increasingly important moviegoing market. The original, of course, was made at the height of Cold War paranoia and imagined a parachuting Soviet Union on American soil, with the likes of Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen (yes, truly the greatest generation) waging guerrilla warfare. Again, in director Dan Bradley's remake, America turns to its high school football players in its darkest time of need. PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language. 93 minutes. One star out of four.
RUST AND BONE
Merely the premise sounds uncomfortably maudlin: A wayward single father and part-time fighter falls into an unexpected romance with a beautiful whale trainer who's just lost both her legs below the knee in a freak accident. Both must undergo drastic transformations that render them as vulnerable as newborn babies. R for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language. In French with English subtitles. 120 minutes. Three stars out of four.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
From mental illness and adultery to football obsession and competitive dance, David O. Russell's comic drama follows a wily and winding path that consistently defies expectations. He's pulled off a tricky feat here, finding just the right tone in crafting a romantic comedy whose sweethearts suffer from bipolar disorder and depression. R for language and some sexual content/nudity. 122 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
All the world's a stage, very literally, in Joe Wright's wildly theatrical adaptation of "Anna Karenina." If you thought the director's five-and-a-half-minute tracking shot in "Atonement" was show-offy, you ain't seen nothing yet. Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love") have taken Leo Tolstoy's literary behemoth about love, betrayal and death among the elite in imperial Russia and boldly set it almost entirely within a decaying theater.But wondrous as all this artifice is, it's also a huge distraction. R for some sexuality and violence. 130 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN - PART 2
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. Now, Bill Condon (who also directed last year's "Breaking Dawn — Part 1") finally lets his freak flag fly. PG-13 for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity. 115 minutes. Three stars out of four.
For anyone who cringed just a little while watching the trailer and worried that this might be a near-parody of a Steven Spielberg film, with its heartfelt proclamations, sentimental tones and inspiring John Williams score, fret not. The movie itself is actually a lot more reserved than that — more a wonky, nuts-and-bolts lesson about the way political machinery operates than a sweeping historical epic that tries to encapsulate the entirety of the revered 16th president's life. That was a smart move on the part of Spielberg and Pulitzer prize-winning screenwriter Tony Kushner. PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language. 150 minutes. Three stars out of four.
To borrow a line from Depeche Mode, death is everywhere. James Bond's mortality has never been in such prominent focus, but the demise of the entire British spy game as we know it seems imminent, as well. Still, this 23rd entry in the enduring James Bond franchise is no downer. Far from it: 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. So many of the elements you want to see in a Bond film exist here: the car, the tuxedo, the martini, the exotic locations filled with gorgeous women. PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. 143 minutes. Four stars out of four.