Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2012, 11:18 am

Movie mini-reviews for Dec. 28, 2012

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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:
"Jack Reacher" (PG-13, 130 mintues). The idea of watching a movie in which a sniper methodically manufactures his own bullets, practices weekly at a gun range, then waits quietly in an empty parking garage before shooting five people dead may not sound like the most appealing form of entertainment during these tragic days. Nevertheless, it's important to assess "Jack Reacher" on its own terms, for what it is and what it isn't. Besides being caught in some unfortunate timing, it's also clever, well-crafted and darkly humorous, and it features one of those effortless bad-ass performances from Tom Cruise that remind us that he is indeed a movie star, first and foremost. OK, so maybe Cruise doesn't exactly resemble the Reacher of British novelist Lee Child's books: a 6-foot-5, 250-pound, blond behemoth. If you haven't read them, you probably won't care. Even if you have read them, Christopher McQuarrie's film -- the first he's directed and written since 2000's "The Way of the Gun" -- moves so fluidly and with such confidence, it'll suck you in from the start. -- Christy Lemire, AP

"This Is 40" (R, 133 minutes). Every inch a Judd Apatow movie, from the pop culture references and potty mouths to the blunt body humor and escapist drug use. And like all of Apatow's movies, it's a good 20 minutes too long. But within that affectionately messy sprawl lies a maturation, an effort to convey something deeper, more personal and more substantive. That goes beyond the casting of his real-life wife, Leslie Mann, as half the couple in question, and the Apatow children, Maude and Iris, as the family's daughters in this sort-of-sequel to the 2007 hit "Knocked Up.". As writer and director, Apatow seems more interested in finding painful nuggets of truth than easy laughs. Much of the banter between longtime Los Angeles marrieds Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) can be very funny, but frequently it's raw and painful as they have the kind of conversations about kids, finances and sex that might make many people in the audience feel an uncomfortable shiver of recognition. The film takes place during the three-week period when Pete and Debbie are both turning 40 (although Debbie likes to pretend she's still 38). Birthday parties, fights about money, school confrontations, bratty kid flare-ups and awkward attempts at reconciling with parents are among the many events that occur during this vulnerable time of transition.-- Christy Lemire, AP
"The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey" (PG-13, 166 minutes). Not the worst film of the year, but "The Hobbit" may be the most disappointing. Given the scope and grandeur of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" epics, we enter the theater justifiably expecting his new Tolkien adventure to thrill our socks off. Instead, you endure this monstrously overproduced misfire with the numb apathy of a prisoner slowly throwing a ball against a cell wall.It's a husk with the superficial features of a "Rings" movie but none of the energy and heart and wit — an unexpected journey, indeed. Rating: 1 1/2 stars --MCT "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
"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
"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

"Silver Linings Playbook" (R, 122 minutes). This is how smart Jennifer Lawrence is at her job: She realizes that the troubled young woman she plays in "Silver Linings Playbook" is a great role. It's a supporting role in the novel upon which the movie is based.Her plan? To so fiercely bring this character to life that the filmmaker is forced to make the part larger and put her front and center. Thankfully, writer-director David O. Russell is smart enough to know that more Lawrence makes any movie better.The move may result in her winning an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role, and the movie is not even about her character. Rating: 3 stars. -- Michael Smith, Tulsa World
"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.
"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.