WHAT’S NEW IN THEATERS THIS WEEK
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. Talky and intimate but also surprisingly funny, "Lincoln" focuses on the final four months of Abraham Lincoln's life as he fought for the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, and sought to unite a nation torn apart by the Civil War. This tumultuous period provides a crucible to display everything Lincoln was made of, both his folksiness and fortitude. Totally unsurprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis inhabits the role fully. He disappears into it with small details and grand gestures, from his carriage to the cadence of his speech, and the Academy should probably just give him the best-actor Oscar now and get it over with. Although "Lincoln" itself often feels too conservative, stagey and safe, Day-Lewis' performances is full of so many clever choices that he keeps it compelling. Of course, the film has all the top-notch technical hallmarks we've come to expect from Spielberg: It's handsomely staged and impeccable in its production design. But this is a movie that's easier to admire than love; it's impressive but not exactly moving. Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, John Hawkes and David Strathairn are among the supporting cast that might be too crammed with gifted character actors. 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. Adele's smoky, smoldering theme song over the titles harkens to the classic 007 tales of the 1960s, even as the film's central threat of cyberterrorism, perpetrated by an elusive figure who's seemingly everywhere and can't be pinned down, couldn't be more relevant. In the hands of director Sam Mendes, it almost feels like a reinvention of the series. With Mendes collaborating once again with the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, it's definitely the most gorgeous. 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. PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. 143 minutes. Four stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
Dr. Jeff Lang (Tobey Maguire) lives in a charming suburban home with his beautiful wife, Nealy (Elizabeth Banks), and their adorable, 2-year-old son. When we first see him, he's driving home in his Toyota Prius — which has a campaign sticker for President Obama on it, naturally — with a large, lovely plant from Trader Joe's in the backseat. Jeff has just resodded the backyard and the place looks terrific — until one morning when he wakes up and finds that raccoons have gutted the grass overnight. R for language, sexual content, some drug use and brief violence. 101 minutes. Two stars out of four.
If it weren't so exceptionally crafted and acted, this tale of self-destruction and redemption might feel like the sort of feel-good fare you'd see on the Lifetime Movie Network, or even a 12-step-program promotion. Instead, Robert Zemeckis' first live-action film since 2000's "Cast Away" is thrilling, engrossing and even darkly funny at times, anchored by a tremendous performance from Denzel Washington.R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence. 135 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Maybe if you're 20 years old and high in your dorm room with your friends, the platitudes presented here might seem profound. Anyone else in his or her right mind should recognize it for what it is: a bloated, pseudo-intellectual, self-indulgent slog through some notions that are really rather facile. Ooh, we're all interconnected and our souls keep meeting up with each other over the centuries, regardless of race, gender or geography. We're individual drops of water but we're all part of the same ocean. That is deep, man. Perhaps it all worked better on the page. "Cloud Atlas" comes from the best-selling novel of the same name by David Mitchell that, in theory, might have seemed unfilmable, encompassing six stories over a span of 500 years and including some primitive dialogue in a far-away future. Sibling directors Lana and Andy Wachowski — who actually have come up with some original, provocative ideas of their own in the "Matrix" movies (well, at least the first one) — working with "Run Lola Run" director Tom Tykwer, have chopped up the various narratives and intercut between them out of order. R for violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use. 172 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
James Patterson titled his 12th Alex Cross crime novel simply "Cross." The filmmakers who adapted it expanded the title to "Alex Cross." They might as well have gone for broke and called it "Tyler Perry's Madea's Stab at Expanding Her-His Hollywood Marketability as James Patterson's Alex Cross." Perry's name will draw his fans in. Patterson's name will draw his fans in.
Artfully constructed but hollow at its core, "Nobody Walks" makes it impossible to stop watching while simultaneously making it impossible to care about what's happening. It's a frustrating little paradox. This languid slice of Los Angeles life features an appealing cast of actors playing characters who are all surface and impulse — someone is constantly coming onto someone else — but their actions seem to carry low stakes.
Given that it's based on the true story of a man with polio who spends most of his time in an iron lung, this is not as painfully heavy-handed as it might sound. And given that it's about this man's nervous attempts to lose his virginity at age 38, it's also not as obnoxiously wacky as it might sound.
A movie about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis probably doesn't sound like it would be a laugh riot — or should be — but that's just one of the many ways in which this is a glorious, gripping surprise. Directing his third feature, Ben Affleck has come up with a seamless blend of detailed international drama and breathtaking suspense, with just the right amount of dry humor to provide context and levity. He shows a deft handling of tone, especially in making difficult transitions between scenes in Tehran, Washington and Hollywood, but also gives one of his strongest performances yet in front of the camera as the film's star. It's exciting to see the confidence with which Affleck expands his ambition and scope as a filmmaker. "Argo" reveals his further mastery of pacing and storytelling, even as he juggles complicated set pieces, various locations and a cast featuring 120 speaking parts. Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin are among the excellent supporting cast. R for language and some violent images. 120 minutes. Four stars out of four.
HERE COMES THE BOOM
This comedy starring Kevin James as a tubby science teacher who becomes a mixed martial arts sensation is every bit as ridiculous as it looks. That's not such a bad thing for the movie, whose makers embrace the fact that they're essentially doing a live-action cartoon. Co-writer James and director Frank Coraci assemble a likable gang of oddballs that make it kind of work. PG for bouts of MMA sports violence, some rude humor and language. 104 minutes. Two stars out of four.
In his second movie, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh has mangled together a comic, self-aware revenge flick that's half Guy Ritchie, half Charlie Kaufman. It's manic and messy, and McDonagh — whose previous film was the delightfully grim, more centered "In Bruges" — doesn't yet have the visual command for a sprawling, madcap tale as this. But it's also filled with deranged wit and unpredictable genre deconstruction that make it, if not quite a success, a fascinating mutt of a movie. Colin Farrell plays Marty, a hard-drinking screenwriter in Los Angeles and a clear stand-in for McDonagh. He has his movie title — "Seven Psychopaths" — but little else. He gets sucked into the hijinks of his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), whose dog-napping scheme turns bloody when Billy and his friend Hans (Christopher Walken) swipe the Shih Tzu of a pooch-loving gangster (Woody Harrelson). The cast, which also includes a bunny-cradling Tom Waits, is great, but Rockwell — enthusiastic and deranged — is exceptional.. R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and some drug use. 110 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
The title refers not so much to the nearly perpetual state of inebriation that a young husband and wife put themselves in but rather to the way the wife finds her existence truly shattered when she tries to get sober. Staying at least slightly drunk all the time is easy, as Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character knows well. It's a blissfully ignorant existence, one big party. But once you stop drinking, the reality you've shoved aside returns with a vengeance. Winstead ("Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," ''Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") gets to show the full range of her abilities in her heaviest dramatic role yet as a first-grade teacher who finds her marriage and her work in jeopardy when she tries to stop drinking. Aaron Paul of "Breaking Bad" does the best he can with an underwritten role as her hard-partying husband. R for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use. 85 minutes. Two stars out of four.