Movie mini-reviews for Dec. 7, 2012


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Posted Online: Dec. 06, 2012, 1:10 pm
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These are Roger Ebert's mini-reviews (unless otherwise noted) of some of the movies currently playing in the Quad-Cities area: "Playing for Keeps" (PG-13, 105 minutes). Tells the story of George (Gerard Butler), a has-been soccer star whose career is foundering but who is a completely nice man with none of the character flaws that soccer stars have been known to possess. Moving to Virginia to be near his ex-wife (wonderful Jessica Biel) and young son (Noah Lomax, a natural), he finds himself a seduction target for all the trophy wives and divorced moms in the grandstands. Unreels pretty predictably. Rating: 2 stars
"The Collection" (R, 82 minutes). The only man ever to survive the wrath of a deranged killer who imprisons his victims in a booby-trapped abandoned hotel is forced to lead a group of mercenaries to rescue the killer's latest target. With Emma Fitzpatrick, Christopher McDonald and Josh Stewart. Written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, directed by Dunstan. -- Los Angeles Times

"Killing Them Softly" (R, 97 minutes). Set in a dreary and barren post-Katrina New Orleans, a cruel drama about organized crime with a cast much better than it deserves. After an ill-advised stickup of a high-stakes mob-organized poker game, a series of mob executions threatens to pretty much wipe out the local syndicate. OK. But no suspense, romance or humor? Only dry, weary dialogue, suffering and blood? Afraid so. Starring Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins. Rating: 2 stars

"Life of Pi" ( PG, 125 minutes). A miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery. Inspired by a worldwide best-seller that seemed unfilmable, it is a triumph over its difficulties. It is also a moving spiritual achievement, a movie whose title could have been shortened to "Life." The story involves the 227 days that its teenage hero (Suraj Sharma) spends drifting across the Pacific in the same lifeboat as a Bengal tiger. The movie quietly combines various religious traditions to enfold its story in the wonder of life. How remarkable that these two mammals, and the fish beneath them and birds above them, are all here. One of the year's best. Rating: 4 stars

"Red Dawn" ( PG-13, 93 minutes). Opens with a hard-fought high school football game before the next day in Spokane, Wash., is interrupted by the thud of bombs. The young gridiron stars of the Wolverines race outside to see enemy aircraft flying overhead in formation, dropping paratroopers from the skies. An alarming sight, but the movie reassures us that an invasion by communist North Korea can be vanquished by the members of the team and their girlfriends, using mostly automatic weapons stolen from the North Koreans themselves. They're all instinctive combat fighters, even a cheerleader. Light on dialogue, heavy on mindless action. Rating: 1 1/2 stars

"Rise of the Guardians" (PG, 97 minutes). Hyperactive 3-D animated fantasy regarding the plight of Jack Frost, who nobody seems able to see. Called upon in a crisis to help the Guardians (Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc.), he saves the day. Younger children like the breakneck action, magical ability to fly, and the young hero who has tired of being overlooked. Their parents and older siblings may find the 97-minute running time quite long enough. Rating: 3 stars

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" (PG-13, 115 minutes). Fifth and final installment of the "Twilight" series, beginning where the previous one ended, as Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) gives birth to little Renesmee, and is introduced by her husband, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), to her new life with vampire powers. In the process, Bella also has been miraculously transformed into a much more interesting character, physically superb and emotionally uninhibited. The birth of the infant leads to a sensational climax involving the Washington state vampires and the Volturi of Italy, self-appointed rulers of vampiredom. I suspect "Twilight's" audience, which takes these films very seriously indeed, will drink deeply of its blood. Rating: 2 1/2 stars "Lincoln" (PG-13, 149 minutes). Steven Spielberg's new film focuses on only a few months of Lincoln's life, including the passage of the 13th Amendment ending slavery, the surrender of the Confederacy and his assassination. Rarely has a film attended more carefully to the details of politics. Daniel Day-Lewis creates a Lincoln who is calmly self-confident, patient and willing to play politics in a realistic way. Not about an icon of history, but about a president who was scorned by some of his opponents as a hayseed from the backwoods. He understood them better than they did him. Sure to win many Academy Award nominations. Rating: 4 stars

"The Sessions" (R, 95 minutes). Mark (John Hawkes) is 38 years old and after contracting polio, he has spent most of those years in an iron lung. He believes his time is running out. He would like to experience sexual intercourse with a woman at least once before he dies. He contacts Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a sex surrogate who explains the ground rules to Mark: They will have six meetings, no more. They are not working together in order to fall in love, but to achieve a specific physical purpose. She is kind and tactful, and so is Mark's parish priest (William H. Macy), who guides him with compassion through this process. Astonishing performances, and not without humor. Rating: 3 1/2 stars
"Skyfall" (PG-13, 143 minutes). "Skyfall" triumphantly reinvents 007 in one of the best Bonds ever made. This is a full-blooded, joyous, intelligent celebration of a beloved cultural icon, with Daniel Craig taking full possession of a role he earlier played unconvincingly. The film at last provides a role worthy of Judi Dench, returning as M, who is one of the best actors of her generation. She is all but the co-star, with a lot of screen time, poignant dialogue, and a character who is far more complex and sympathetic than we expect. In this 50th year of the James Bond series, with the dismal "Quantum of Solace" (2008) still in our minds, I don't know what I expected in Bond No. 23, but certainly not an experience this invigorating. If you haven't seen a 007 for years, this is the time to jump back in. Rating: 4 stars
"Flight" (R, 138 minutes). After opening with one of the most terrifying flying scenes I've witnessed, in which an airplane is saved by being flown upside-down, Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" segues into a brave and tortured performance by Denzel Washington -- one of his very best. Not often does a movie character make such a harrowing personal journey that keeps us in deep sympathy all of the way. Washington plays a veteran commercial pilot who has built up a tolerance for quantities of alcohol and cocaine that would be lethal for most people. Rating: 4 stars.
"The Man With the Iron Fists" (R, 96 minutes). In a village in feudal China, warriors, assassins and a lone blacksmith clash over a fortune in gold. With Russell Crowe, Rza, Lucy Liu and Rick Yune. Written by RZA and Eli Roth, directed by RZA. -- Los Angeles Times

"Wreck-It Ralph" (PG, 101 minutes). The new Disney animated feature for families takes place inside several arcade-style video games, providing an excuse for the backgrounds, ground rules and characters to constantly reinvent themselves. Its hero is one of those clumsy, misunderstood big guys who dream only of being loved. Ralph (voice by John C. Reilly) spends every day knocking down an apartment building, which is constantly repaired by Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer). Lively, endlessly colorful nonstop action, also with Jane Lynch and Sarah Silverman. Rating: 3 stars.
"Cloud Atlas" (R, 172 minutes). One of the most ambitious films ever made. Over a period of centuries, six stories wend their way toward visionary truths. The same actors appear in different roles, playing characters of different races, genders and ages. Some are not even human, but fabricants. The acting and makeup were so effective that often I had no idea if I was looking at Tom Hanks, Halle Berry or Jim Broadbent. It's probably futile to try to extract a logical meaning from the film, written and directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski. Allow your imagination to play. Rating: 4 stars.

"Chasing Mavericks" (PG, 114 minutes). "Chasing Mavericks" is a surfer movie about the days when Northern California's treacherous and epic waves, known as the "Mavericks," were acknowledged as real, and the teenager — Jay Moriarity — who became famous there. It's a bit overlong, for the limited scope of the story and narrow vision of the characters. But it is still an entertaining dip into a world many talk about, but few have ever sampled first-hand. Rating: 2 1/2 stars. -- Roger Moore, MCT

"Fun Size" (PG-13, 90 minutes). It's funny how the beloved movies of one's less politically correct youth turn out to have a lot more edge to them once you show them to your own kids. "Back to the Future" has more sexuality than you remember, and little blasts of profanity. "Adventures in Babysitting," "Bad News Bears" and "Goonies," even more. "Fun Size" is in that tradition — at least in terms of the naughty stuff that tweens and teens will snicker over. Pity it isn't as much fun as its title implies. Rating: 2 stars. -- Roger Moore, MCT "Alex Cross" (PG-13, 102 minutes)."Alex Cross" (PG-13, 102 minutes). "Alex Cross" is an interesting exercise in back-engineering, a prequel that takes us back to the days before the psychologist/police profiler was the sage, solemn and inscrutable sleuth Morgan Freeman ably brought to the screen in two films over a decade ago. This Cross, played by Tyler Perry, is cocky, a bit trigger-happy, prone to revenge, a real "action hero." It's not an awful movie, but it isn't a very compelling one, either. Rating: 2 stars. -- Roger Moore, MCT

"Paranormal Activity 4" (R, 87 minutes). The arrival of new neighbors coincides with the advent of strange phenomena that are captured on video. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. No rating. -- MCT

"Argo" (R, 120 minutes). Ben Affleck directs and stars in the incredible true story of how, at the height of the Iranian hostage crisis, a CIA agent and a couple of Hollywood professionals dreamed up a cockamamie scheme to free six Americans who were not being held in the American Embassy but had found refuge with the Canadian Embassy. Kept top secret for 18 years, the operation created a fake sci-fi production named "Argo," convinced the Iranians it was real and used it to spirit the Americans out of the country. With lots of tension and also some humor from John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the Hollywood pros involved. Rating: 4 stars.

"Here Comes the Boom" (PG, 105 minutes. An apathetic biology teacher and erstwhile college wrestler moonlights as a mixed martial arts fighter to raise money for his flagging school. With Kevin James, Salma Hayek and Henry Winkler. Written by James and Allan Loeb. Directed by Frank Coraci. No rating. -- MCT

"Seven Psychopaths" (R, 109 minutes). Colin Farrell stars as a blocked Hollywood screenwriter who finds inspiration from a loony group of psychopaths, some in his life and some in his imagination. Christopher Walken excels as a professional dog-napper, Sam Rockwell is his partner and Woody Harrelson is a relentless gangster who comes looking for Bonny, his beloved Shih Tzu, which they hold as hostage. Inspired goofiness written and directed by Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges"). Rating: 3 1/2 stars.

"Sinister" (R, 110 minutes). After discovering a box of mysterious old home movies at his family's new home, a true-crime novelist unleashes an evil supernatural presence. With Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio and James Ransone. Written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. Directed by Derrickson. No rating. -- MCT

"Frankenweenie" (Animated comedy, PG, 87 minutes). Young Victor Frankenstein loves his dog, Sparky, and when the mutt runs into traffic and is blindsided, Victor takes inspiration from a science class and re-animates his pet using lightning bolts. Tim Burton's stop-action b&w comedy takes its inspiration from "The Bride of Frankenstein" and other horror movies, and the character of Mr. Rzykruski, the science teacher, is certainly modeled on Vincent Price. With the voices of Martin Landau, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Charlie Tahan and Winona Ryder. Rating: 3 stars.

"Taken 2" (Action, PG-13, 91 minutes). They say the family that's kidnapped together, stays together, and Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen are back in a pumped-up sequel to "Taken" (2008). This time the whole family is kidnapped by the vengeance-minded Krasniqi (Rade Sherbedgia), whose son was killed by Neeson in the earlier film (after the son attempted to turn the girl into a sex slave, to be sure). First-rate chases tear through (and up) Istanbul, and Neeson does some amazing, lifesaving mental calculations. Rating: 3 stars.

"Looper" (R, 119 minutes). A smart and tricky sci-fi story that sidesteps the paradoxes of time travel by embracing them. The movie takes place in 2044 and 2074. Although time travel is declared illegal once it has been discovered, a crime syndicate cheats and uses it as a method for disposing of its enemies. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, the triggerman in 2044. Bruce Willis plays Old Joe, sent back from the future. Emily Blunt lives on the Kansas farm where they coincide in time. "Looper" weaves between past and present in a way that gives writer-director Rian Johnson and his actors opportunities to create a surprisingly involving narrative. Rating: 3 1/2 stars.

"Pitch Perfect" (PG-13, 112 minutes). A 20-something song-and-dance movie built around rival a cappella groups. Anna Kendrick stars as Beca, who dreams of trying her luck in LA, but makes a deal with her dad to try one year of college. She's recruited by an a cappella group also including Brittany Snow, Anna Camp and the scene-stealer Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. Lots of music, a little routine young romance and, of course, the national finals at the end. Rating: 2 stars.

"Hotel Transylvania" (PG, 91 minutes). "Hotel Transylvania" is a good-looking, laugh-starved animated farce that puts Dracula (Adam Sandler) in charge of a hotel for monsters — "Human-free since 1895" — and makes him an overprotective single father with a teenage daughter (Selena Gomez). Sandler's Dracula voice isn't awful. Nor is it distinct or funny, and he is given precious little funny to say. This "Hotel" was never going to earn a 4-star rating. But maybe under different management ... Rating: 1 1/2 stars. -- Roger Moore, MCT

"House at the End of the Street" (PG-13, 101 minutes). A recent divorcee and her daughter move into a dream house in an upscale town, only to find their new home hides dark secrets. With Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Thieriot and Gil Bellows. Written by David Loucka. Directed by Mark Tonderai. No rating. -- MCT

"Ted" (R, 106 minutes). The funniest movie character so far this year is a stuffed teddy bear. And the best comedy screenplay so far is "Ted," the saga of the bear's friendship with a 35-year-old man-child. Mark Wahlberg stars as the teddy's best friend, Mila Kunis is his long-suffering girlfriend, and director Seth McFarlane ("The Family Guy") does Ted's potty-mouthed Beantown accent. The movie doesn't run out of steam. McFarlane seems unwilling to stop after the first payoff of a scene and keeps embellishing. (Definitely not for kids. Trust me on this.) Rating: 3 1/2 stars.





 












 



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  Today is Tuesday, July 29, the 210th day of 2014. There are 155 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: Col. H.F. Sickless informs us that there will be new organization of troops in this state under the call for more men.
1889 -- 125 years ago: James Normoyle arrived home after graduating from West Point with honors in the class of 1889. He was to report to Fort Brady, Mich., as second lieutenant in the 23rd Infantry.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Austria Hungary declared war on Serbia. Germany and Austria refused an invitation of Sir Edward Grey to join Great Britain at a mediation conference.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Dr. William Mayo, the last of the three famous Mayo brother surgeons, died at the age of 78.
1964 -- 50 years ago: One of the biggest horse shows of the season was held yesterday at Hillandale Arena on Knoxville Road under the sponsorship of the Illowa Horsemen's Club.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Davenport is like a gigantic carnival this weekend with the Bix Arts Fest taking over 12 square blocks of the downtown area. A festive atmosphere prevailed Friday as thousands of people turned out to sample what the Arts Fest has to offer.








(More History)