These are Roger Ebert's mini-reviews (unless otherwise noted) of some of the movies currently playing in the Quad-Cities area:|
"21 Jump Street" (R, 109 minutes). Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play Schmidt and Jenko, who were opposites in high school and now, a few years later, find themselves partners in a police undercover program that enrolls them in ... high school. They don't look young enough, but so what? The movie cheerfully ignores the dramatic focus of the 1980s Fox series and becomes a mashup of screwball comedy, action and the "Odd Couple" formula. Better than you might expect. Rating: 3 stars.
"Casa de mi Padre" (R, 84 minutes). Will Ferrell speaks and sings in Spanish, in a spoof of Telemundo horse operas. Why? Because he can, I guess. With Gael Garcia Bernal as a local drug lord, Diego Luna as Ferrell's brother, Pedro Armendariz Jr. as their father, and Genesis Rodriguez as the lovely senorita who comes between the boys. Rating: 2 stars.
"John Carter" (PG-13, 132 minutes). A Civil War veteran (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself transported to Mars, where he lands in the middle of a planetary war between two humanlike cities, with the local four-armed race of Tharks in the middle. Lots and lots of action, a terrific heroine in Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), an intriguing alien design and well-done special effects. Director Andrew Stanton lacks the kind of tightly written script he had in "Finding Nemo," and as science fiction this is a couple of notches down from his "WALL-E," but the movie is competent weekend action. Rating: 2-1/2 stars.
"Silent House" (R, 85 minutes). Another one of those "scream at the screen" movies, in which you want to shout out advice to a character. In this case, a nubile young woman is trapped inside an apparently haunted house for most of the time, and what you want to shout is, "Get out of the damn house!" Stars Elizabeth Olsen, who delivers an effective performance as a young woman who must be terrified in close-up and medium shots during the entire film. The "explanation" is, shall we say, a wee bit concocted? Rating: 2 stars.
"A Thousand Words" (PG-13, 91 minutes). Eddie Murphy struggles with an inane screenplay about a man who learns that after every word he speaks, a leaf falls off the bodhi tree in his backyard. When the last leaf falls, he dies. The movie never quite explains why this is so. It also never convinced me it should have been made. Rating: 1-1/2 stars.
"Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" (PG, 101 minutes). In this animated film, a 12-year-old boy searching for the key to winning over his dream girl must confront a mysterious grumpy creature who is protective of his homeland. With the voices of Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift. Written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. Directed by Chris Renaud. Also in 3-D. Rating: 3-1/2 stars. (Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers)
"Project X" (R, 93 minutes). Three ordinary high-school seniors attempt to make a name for themselves by throwing an unforgettable party, which spirals way out of control. This Todd ("Hangover") Phillips production, directed by Nima Nourizadeh, produces its share of explosive laughs, mostly of the "Oh my God" variety, but it's a wearying romp. More politically incorrect than hateful, even if it is just shy of "Girls Gone Wild" in its sexism. With Kirby Bliss Blanton, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Oliver Cooper and Alexis Knapp. Rating: 2 stars (Roger Moore)
"Gone" (PG-13, 95 minutes). When you're making a movie and running for your life, you need to look like it.In "Gone," Amanda Seyfried plays a manic, paranoid survivor of a serial killer who is sure that her sister (Emily Wickersham) has been kidnapped by the same guy, and not for one second do you believe it. There's nothing in her performance or the film that conveys urgency. With Wes Bentley. Rating: 1-1/2 stars. (Roger Moore)
"Act of Valor" (R, 101 minutes). Actual Navy SEALs are used in a fictional war thriller involving the freeing of a kidnapped CIA agent and a field operation to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S. through tunnels from Mexico. The action footage is nonstop and effective. The characters are not seen in any depth. The SEALs seem real, all right, but are required to do little character acting. The film opens and closes with strong appeals to patriotism, but in between, it's a Friday-night special for teenage action fans. Rating: 2-1/2 stars.
"Wanderlust" (R, 98 minutes). In any Judd Apatow production, "the funniest line wins" -- only in this story about uptight New Yorkers who drop out on a Georgia commune, they're not funny. "Wanderlust," starring Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Malin Akerman, Justin Theroux and Alan Alda, is random, tedious and tone-deaf, a feeble recycling of every hippie-commune cliche you've ever heard. Co-writers David Wain and Ken Marino bring nudity and crudity, but Wain (who also directed) has nothing funny to say, and Marino can't find a laugh in front of or behind the camera. Rating: 1-1/2 stars. (Roger Moore)
"The Secret World of Arrietty" (G, 94 minutes): A 14-year-old girl, part of a secret race of tiny people who live in a world hidden from humans, strikes up a friendship with a human boy, unwittingly putting her family in danger. Slow, stately, gentle and meditative, "Arrietty" nevertheless is a marvel of image and color, its old-fashioned pen-and-ink frames vividly bringing to life the world of children's author Mary Norton's "The Borrowers." With the voices of Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett and Will Arnett. Written by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Rating: 3 stars. (David Germaine, Associated Press)
"This Means War" (PG-13, 97 minutes). As stupid action comedies go, this one scales the heights of inanity. Reese Witherspoon plays a Los Angeles cutie who meets two men (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) through an online dating service, and it turns out they're best buddies who both work for the CIA. Engaged in a romantic struggle for her charms, they use high-tech electronic surveillance equipment to spy on her most private moments -- including her dates with both of them -- which they sometimes watch together. How creepy is that? The plot gimmick might work in a stupid teenage comedy, but the average age of the actors in this movie is 33.33. That's old enough for their agents to know better. Rating: 1-1/2 stars.
"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (PG, 94 minutes). Transcendently goofy, a boy's own adventure tale, with young Josh Hutcherson and his stepdad (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) rescuing his grandfather (Michael Caine) from a lost island in the South Pacific, after teaming up with a helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman) and his sultry daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). With elephants as small as dogs, lizards the size of dinosaurs, bees so big you can ride them bareback, an exploding volcano, the lost city of Atlantis, Captain Nemo's submarine Nautilus, and the Rock performing "It's a Wonderful World" with a ukulele. It's even in 3-D. I'm exhausted just describing it. Fun in the 1950s Disney adventure-movie way. Rating: 2-1/2 stars.
"Safe House" (R, 115 minutes): A rogue CIA operative (Denzel Washington) who has been on the run for a decade forms an unlikely partnership with a frustrated rookie agent (Ryan Reynolds). If Washington's Tobin Frost isn't "Training Day" over-the-top evil, he's still a formidable character. Well cast, well acted, and brilliantly shot and edited, it's a thoroughly entertaining peek into spycraft and the spies who practice it. With Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson; written by David Guggenheim, directed by Daniel Espinosa. Rating: 3 stars. (Roger Moore)
"The Vow" (PG-13, 89 minutes). Rachel McAdams wakes up in the hospital after a serious car accident with no memory of the past five years of her life and discovers she's married to Channing Tatum, lives in a spacious loft and has a successful career as a Chicago artist. That wouldn't suck, right? Nevertheless, she must reject this existence because the plot requires conflict. Michael Sucsy's old-fashioned amnesia tale would seem to be manufactured for melodrama, but it's based on a true story. McAdams is likable, Tatum shows acting depth, but the movie is a series of precise if obvious moments and emotional cues we must endure en route to the inevitable reconciliation. With Sam Neill and Jessica Lange. Rating: 1-1/2 stars. (Christy Lemire, Associated Press)
"The Artist" (PG, 100 minutes). A brand-new silent comedy that's a charming crowd-pleaser, and has swept up many year-end awards on its march toward the Oscars. Jean Dujardin stars as a 1927 silent star who is thrown out of work with the rise of talkies, but not forgotten by the little dancer (Berenice Bejo) he was kind to when he was big and she was a nobody. The film is made with warmth, wit, big laughs, unabashed melodrama. A silent movie for people who think they don't like silent movies. Rating: 4 stars.
"Big Miracle" (PG, 107 minutes). Three gray whales — a mother, father and baby -- found themselves trapped within the quickly forming Arctic ice near Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States, in 1988. The effort to free them brought together a disparate alliance of environmental activists, oil executives, journalists, native people, and even the Soviets toward the end of the Cold War, and it fascinated viewers worldwide. John Krasinski plays Adam, the local TV reporter who breaks the story. He gets some help from an adorable little native boy (Ahmaogak Sweeney). who looks up to him as a big brother. as well as from his idealistic ex-girlfriend, Greenpeace leader Rachel (Drew Barrymore). But soon everyone's invading this small, remote town for a piece of the action. A rousing, feel-good, family-friendly animal adventure based on a true story. Ted Danson and Kristen Bell are among the ensemble cast. Rating: 2-1/2 stars. (Christy Lemire, Associated Press)
"Chronicle" (PG-13, 83 minutes). Three high-school students find a hole in the middle of a gloomy, grassy field, climb down, encounter a strange, crystalline object, and find themselves with such superpowers as telekinesis. But this isn't a typical sci-fi movie; as acted by Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan, the characters have a surprising realism as their powers take on new dimensions and one of them begins to act out his inner rage. An uncommonly original and entertaining film by talents in their early and mid-20s; the directing debut of Josh Trank, with an accomplished screenplay by Max Landis. Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
"The Woman in Black" (PG-13, 95 minutes). A stylish and creepy ghost story set in a crumbling mansion in the north of England that is haunted by the spirit of a woman who mourns her lost child. A young attorney (Daniel Radcliffe) journeys there to search through her moldering papers, and because he needs the work, he refuses to be frightened away by the shrieks and shadows within the decrepit walls. In his first film since the Harry Potter series ended, Radcliffe still seems schoolboyish, but the stars of the film are the production design and cacophonous sound effects. Scary, sorta. Nice to look at. Rating: 3 stars.
"The Grey" (R, 117 minutes). An unrelenting demonstration that wolves have no opinion. When they attack, it's not personal. Stranded in the far north after a plane crash, a small group of oil-company workers try to walk to safety and are tracked by a large group of ravenous wolves. Liam Neeson plays a wolf hunter who takes charge. This movie is not merely effective; the way I felt in my gut, it was all too effective. Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (PG-13, 129 minutes). The story of an 11-year-old boy named Oskar (Thomas Horn), whose father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), was killed in 9/11. Finding a key labeled "Black" that was left behind by his dad, the boy is determined to visit everyone named Black in New York City. Perhaps it will unlock a previous secret. Good acting here by young Horn, Hanks, Sandra Bullock as Oskar's mom, and Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright as the first of the Blacks. But the idea of a small boy walking all over New York is preposterous, and the story is too contrived to provide consolation after such a tragedy. Rating: 2-1/2 stars.
"Beauty and the Beast" (G, 84 minutes). Belle sets off to rescue her father from the castle of the Beast, a handsome young prince transformed into a hideous monster as punishment for being cruel. So he will remain until he finds someone to love him. Belle sets that life-saving romance into motion. As good as any Disney animated feature ever made. Wonderful musical numbers, and a stellar voice cast that includes Robby Benson, Paige O'Hara, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers and Richard White. Rating: 4 stars.
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" (G, 87 minutes). Puns like the title would be unforgivable coming from a human. From high-pitched rodents, they prompt calls for an exterminator. The third in the noxiously contemporary series of new Chipmunks films, "Chipwrecked" is full of the cheapest kind of pop-culture references as Dave Seville (Jason Lee) takes the "boy's" on a cruise to attend the International Music Awards. Aimed at a slightly younger demographic than the prior movies, and perhaps this shallow stuff is enough to delight youngsters. But I doubt it. With Jason Lee as Dave Seville. Rating: 1-1/2 stars. (Jake Coyle, Associated Press)
On their way to video:
"Creature" (R, 90 minutes). A former Navy SEAL (Mehcad Brooks), his girlfriend (Serinda Swan) and their friends, on a road trip to New Orleans, take a side trip deep into the bayou to see the birthplace of Lockjaw, a legendary half-man, half-alligator creature. The inevitable follows: sex, bug bites, toplessness, and desperate flight from a thing that goes "Growwwwwl!" in the night. Directed by Fred M. Andrews; also starring Daniel Bernhardt and Sid Haig. Rating: 1/2 star. (Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel)"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (PG-13, 154 minutes). A visually ugly film with an incoherent plot, wooden characters and inane dialogue. One of the more unpleasant experiences I've had at the movies. More of a plot than previous "Transformers," as mankind discovers the Arc of the robots on the dark side of the moon, and the Autobots and Decepticons move their battle for the universe to the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive in Chicago. Rating: 1 star.
"Paranormal Activity 3" (R, 85 minutes). A prequel set in 1988, involving the two sisters who were seen in earlier episodes as adults. Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden) share a two-level home with their mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner), and her boyfriend, Dennis (Chris Smith). More long, tedious shots of little or nothing happening, punctuated by gotcha! moments. If you like popcorn during a movie, this one is like eating the cardboard box. Rating: 1 star.
"The Devil Inside" (R, 87 minutes). In a pseudo-documentary that ignores its own format, a young woman journeys to Rome with a film crew to visit her mother, incarcerated in a hospital for the criminally insane after she killed three priests during an American exorcism 20 years earlier. Actress Fernanda Andrade barely registers an emotion as she watches bodies contort into pretzels and climb walls and fling themselves across rooms. Mom (Suzan Crowley) is very creepy, and there are some gripping images, but the ending is such a cheat, you'll be fighting the urge to boo the closing credits. Rating: 1 star. (Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel)
"The Darkest Hour" (PG-13, 89 minutes): Earth is under attack by evil aliens trying to conquer our planet. Five young people find themselves stranded in Moscow, fighting to survive in the wake of the devastating attack. Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella lead the human resistance in a 3-D thriller full of special effects and the classic beauty of Russia. Not reviewed. (MovieWeb.com)
"Arthur Christmas" (PG, 97 minutes). A snowflake-light tale told with warmth, energy and goofy humor from Aardman, the British animation outfit behind "Chicken Run" and the "Wallace and Gromit" cartoons. A single gift falls through the cracks of Santa's vast, high-tech delivery enterprise, so his big-hearted but bumbling younger son, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), races to deliver it. The delightful, drolly funny voice cast includes Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton and Ashley Jensen. There's some padding, and the manic banter comes a bit too fast, but the visual gags will carry youngsters along, while there are plenty of clever wisecracks for their parents. Rating: 3 stars. (David Germain, Associated Press)
"Man on a Ledge" (PG-13, 102 minutes). Sam Worthington stars as an ex-cop who escapes from prison, climbs onto the 52nd-floor ledge outside a hotel room, draws a big crowd, and acts as a distraction while a diamond heist takes place across the street. Just a shade implausible, eh? Rating: 2 stars.
"The Iron Lady" (PG-13, 105 minutes). Meryl Streep is flawless in a biopic about British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her rise to power from humble origins as "the grocer's daughter from Grantham." Director Phyllida Lloyd and writer Abi Morgan seem to have little clear idea of what they think about her, or what they want to say. She's all dressed up with nowhere to go. Rating: 2 stars.
"Joyful Noise" (PG-13, 117 minutes). An ungainly assembly of parts that don't fit, co-starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as longtime rivals in the same gospel choir in a poor rural town in Georgia. Subplots involve the star-crossed romance of Dolly's grandson and the Queen's daughter; a troubled boy with Asperger's syndrome; two unexpected deaths, and the finals in the national gospel music competition. Hardly any spiritual content; succeeds in finding a little something to disappoint everyone, no matter what they were expecting. Rating: 1-1/2 stars.
"New Year's Eve" (PG-13, 118 minutes). How is it possible to assemble more than two dozen stars in a movie and find nothing interesting for any of them to do? What sins did poor Hilary Swank commit that after winning two Oscars, she has to play the role of the woman in charge of the New Year's Eve ball in Times Square? And if you don't think there's dialogue about getting her ball to drop, you're barking up the wrong movie. Also with Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Jon Bon Jovi, Ashton Kutcher, Ludacris, Zac Efron, Sarah Jessica Parker, Abigail Breslin, Lea Michele, Michelle Pfeiffer, and lots more. Rating: 1 star.
"Tyler Perry's Good Deeds" (PG-13, 111 minutes). A successful businessman with a restless fiancee is jolted out of his routine after meeting a struggling single mother who works for the cleaning crew at his office building. Starring Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton, Brian White, Gabrielle Union and Rebecca Romijn; written and directed by Perry. Not released for reviewers. (Los Angeles Times)
"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" (PG-13, 95 minutes). Of all the bad horror / fantasy / sci-fi / action pictures Nicolas Cage has cranked out over the last decade, this is the Nic Cagiest. Motorcyclist Johnny Blaze, who sold his soul to the devil and transforms at night into a flaming avenger from hell, is out to save a boy Satan needs to fulfill a prophesy. Credit the directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor; for cranked-up action, these guys have no peers. Also starring Ciaran Hinds, Johnny Whitworth, Idris Elba, Violante Placido and Fergus Riordan. A goofy, gonzo thrill ride, so bad it's good. Rating: 2-1/2 stars. (Roger Moore)
"Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" (PG, 133 minutes): How quickly do we grow accustomed to wonders. This is an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking. The first story in the Star Wars chronology has to set up characters who become more interesting with the passage of time: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Yoda and R2-D2 and C-3PO. Anakin is only a fresh-faced kid in Episode I; soon he becomes Darth Vader. George Lucas and his collaborators have filled "The Phantom Menace" with wonderful visuals but a plot little more complex than in old science-fiction magazines. Yet within the rules he has established, Lucas tells a good story. With Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd. Written and directed by George Lucas. Re-released in 3-D. Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
"One for the Money" (PG-13; 106 minutes). Talk about smart women making stupid choices. A newly divorced, recently laid-off woman lands a job with a shady bail-bond business. Her first assignment: Track down the guy who dumped her in high school. Star Katherine Heigl also produced this adaptation of the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich, but she surrounds herself with nonthreatening, no-name actors who make no impression at all. With Jason O'Mara and Daniel Sunjata; directed by Julie Ann Robinson. Rating: 1 star. (Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel)
"Underworld Awakening" (R, 82 minutes). Pitiless, puerile, pointless and perfunctory -- and those are just the "P's." In this fourth installment of the series, the vampire warrior Selene returns to fight werewolves and humans who are hunting down a vampire-werewolf hybrid child. Kate Beckinsale can still wear the spandex, the leather bustier, the boots and the cape, but she should have kept them in the closet. With Michael Ealy, Theo James, Stephen Rea, India Eisley, and the great Charles Dance trying to deliver bad lines with a mouth full of fake teeth. Rating: 1 star. (Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel)
"Haywire" (R, 92 minutes). Gina Carano, a retired mixed martial arts fighter with amazing physical agility, stars as the employee of a shadowy "special contractor" that performs black ops for hire. Assigned to free a Chinese hostage in Barcelona, she finds herself at the center of a web of deceit, in a tale of betrayal so-starring Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it makes no apology for being a well-crafted genre thriller. Rating: 3 stars.
"Red Tails" (PG-13, 125 minutes). An air action movie inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, the famed black fighter pilots whose skill and heroism were demonstrated in crucial U.S. bombing runs over Germany. Produced by George Lucas, whose enthusiasm about aerial dogfights is much on display. Well made, entertaining, but lacks the emotion and social message of the well-known HBO film from 1995. More adventure than message. Rating: 2-1/2 stars.
"Contraband" (R, 110 minutes). Stars Mark Wahlberg in a plot involving the smuggling of a vast quantity of counterfeit $100 bills from Panama City to New Orleans, while meanwhile his wife (Kate Beckinsale) is threatened by a crime kingpin (Giovanni Ribisi) who has the kind of snaky voice that makes you wanna smack him up alongside the head. Lots of plot elements off the spare-parts shelf. Rating: 2 stars.
"War Horse" (PG, 146 minutes). Steven Spielberg's epic follows the fortunes of a handsome horse named Joey as it begins life on a farm in Devon and then finds itself embroiled on both sides of World War I. Young Jeremy Irvine stars as the farm boy who is Joey's first and last master, and there are strong performances by Peter Mullan and Emily Watson as his parents. Battle sequences of extraordinary effect; consequences that are deeply moving, but perhaps too sentimental, especially in an ending that depends on surely impossible coincidence. Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
"We Bought a Zoo" (PG, 124 minutes). Matt Damon plays a newspaperman whose wife dies. He's having trouble raising two kids and decides to move the family to a farm that includes a private zoo. Here the staff, led by Scarlett Johansson, teach him about animals and also something about life. But the animals aren't used in a very exciting way, and the plot is mechanical. A disappointment from director Cameron Crowe ("Almost Famous"). Rating: 2-1/2 stars.
"Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" (PG-13, 132 minutes). One of Tom Cruise's finest action flicks, although he himself is stone-faced as ever. But this is director Brad Bird's first live-action picture after animated triumphs like "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille." Bird applies the anything-can-happen limitlessness of cartoons and just goes for it, creating thrilling, dizzying, amazing action sequences. Cruise and his team (Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg) are blamed for bombing the Kremlin, so they go rogue trying to clear their names and stop a madman (Michael Nyqvist) from starting a nuclear war. The best of the "Mission: Impossible" movies. Rating: 3 stars. (David Germain, Associated Press)
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (PG-13, 129 minutes). Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are Holmes and Watson, teaming again with director Guy Ritchie in a sequel to their 2009 hit. Holmes' archenemy, professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), figures heavily in an anarchist plot to bring war to Europe. It's much more of an action picture than work in the Sherlockian tradition, but it's great fun. With Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Rating: 3-1/2 stars. (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
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