A guide to movies now in theaters
“Broken City” 2 stars
Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence, 1 hour, 49 minutes
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright
PLOT: During a tight election, New York City’s mayor (Crowe) hires an ex-cop turned private eye (Wahlberg) to investigate his wife (Zeta-Jones) for infidelity. Once he completes his assignment, Wahlberg discovers the corrupt mayor has set him up.
VERDICT: Although set in present-day New York, this is a throwback to the classic hard-boiled detective stories of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett. The look of the film is competent, and the performances are strong. Unfortunately, director Allen Hughes (making his first feature without his brother Albert) and writer Brian Tucker just take the detective genre’s clichés and put them in modern dress. A complicated plot is e! xpected, but the script has enough double crosses and hidden motives to push it past riveting to absurd. – Jeffrey Westhoff, The Northwest Herald
“Django Unchained” 2 stars
Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity, 2 hours, 35 minutes
STARRING: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Walz, Leonardo DiCaprio
PLOT: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
VERDICT: For his latest blood fest, Quentin Tarantino largely replays all of his other blood fests, specifically his last flick, “Inglourious Basterds.” In that 2009 tale of wickedly savage retribution, Allied Jewish soldiers get to rewrite World War II history by going on a killing spree of Nazis. In Tarantino’s new tale of wickedly savage retribution, a black man (Foxx) gets to rewrite Deep South history by becoming a bounty hunter on a killing spree of white slave owners and overseers just before the Civil War. Granted, there’s something gleefully satisfying in watching evil people get what they have coming. But the film is Tarantino at his most puerile and least inventive, the premise offering little more than cold, nasty revenge and barrels of squishing, squirting blood. The usual Tarantino genre mishmash – a dab of blaxploitation here, a dollop of Spaghetti Western there – is so familiar now that it’s tiresome, more so because the filmmaker continues to linger with chortling delight over every scene, letting conversations run on interminably and gunfights carry on to grotesque excess. Bodies bursting blood like exploding water balloons? Perversely fun the first five or six times, pretty dreary the 20th or 30th. Tarantino always gets good actors who deliver, though, and it’s the performances by Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson that make the film intermittently entertaining amid moments when the characters are either talking one another to death or just plain killing each other. – David Germain, The Associated Press
“Gangster Squad” 1½ stars
Rated R for strong violence and language, 1 hour, 53 minutes
STARRING: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
PLOT: A chronicle of the LAPD’s fight to keep East Coast Mafia types out of Los Angeles in the 1940s and ’50s.
VERDICT: “Gangster Squad,” a pulpy, violent tale of cops and mobsters in 1949 Los Angeles, rides an uncomfortable line between outlandishness and outright parody, and it’s difficult to tell which is director Ruben Fleischer’s intention. Which is a problem. While the film wallows in period detail and has some sporadic moments of amusing banter, it’s mostly flashy, empty and cacophonous, and it woefully wastes a strong cast led by Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in barely developed, one-note roles. At its center is a performance from Sean Penn as mob king Mickey Cohen. With his mashed-up boxer’s mug, thick Brooklyn accent and volatile bursts of anger, he’s as cartoony as a Dick Tracy villain. – Christy Lemire, The Associated Press
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” 3 stars
PG-13 for frightening images and extended sequences of intense fantasy action and violence, 2 hours, 49 minutes
STARRING: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis
PLOT: The hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) joins Gandalf the wizard (McKellen) and a company of 13 dwarves in a quest to reclaim the dwarves’ homeland from an invading dragon. They encounter monstrous obstacles in the first leg of their journey.
VERDICT: From the opening frames we are back in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, and it’s a comfortable place to be. So comfortable, it is easy to overlook many of the film’s flaws. The idea that Jackson would turn J.R.R. Tolkien’s slim children’s novel into a three-film epic is nuts, but the first of these films is entertaining enough, even when the padding shows in a narrative nearly three hours long. Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum (Andy Serkis) is a showstopper. Avoid seeing the 3-D version shown at 48 frames per second, because it makes an expensive movie look as cheap as a 1970s BBC production. – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald
“The Last Stand” 3 stars
R for strong, bloody violence throughout and language, 1 hour, 47 minutes
STARRING: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville
PLOT: The leader of a drug cartel busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff and his inexperienced staff.
VERDICT: ”The Last Stand” is the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie you didn’t even realize you wanted to see. This is the action superstar’s first leading role in a decade, having left acting to serve as the governor of California and whatnot, and while it may not have occurred to you to miss him during that time, it’s still surprisingly good to see him on the big screen again. He is not exactly pushing himself here. Korean director Kim Jee-woon’s American filmmaking debut turns out to be an extremely Schwarzeneggerish Schwarzenegger film, full of big, violent set pieces and broad comedy. He may look a little creaky (and facially freaky) these days, but Arnold proves he’s still game for the mayhem as he fires off rounds and tosses off one-liners, and the movie at least has the decency to acknowledge that it knows that you know that he’s old. – Christy Lemire, The Associated Press
“Les Misérables” 2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements, 2 hours, 37 minutes
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfreid
PLOT: Years after ex-prisoner Jean Valjean (Jackman) breaks his parole to become a virtuous man, fanatical policeman Javert (Crowe) continues to hunt him. While avoiding Javert, Valjean helps a dying prostitute (Hathaway) and, years later, her daughter (Seyfried).
VERDICT: Director Tom Hooper’s interpretation of the blockbuster stage show is a musical in close-up. With his actors singing their roles “live,” Hooper can push his camera’s right into their faces. This is riveting for the first hour, then becomes repetitive. Jackman, Crowe and Hathaway are electrifying. This film was made for fans of the stage show. Others who don’t know the story going in will be lucky if they know it going out. – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald
“Lincoln” 3 stars
Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language, 2 hours, 30 minutes
STARRING: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
PLOT: As the Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own Cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
VERDICT: For anyone who cringed just a little while watching the trailer for “Lincoln” and worried it 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 screenwriter Tony Kushner, a Pulitzer prize-winner for the play “Angels in America” who also wrote the script for Spielberg’s “Munich.” It’s talky and intimate but also surprisingly funny. – Christy Lemire, The Associated Press
“Mama” 3 stars
PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements, 1 hour, 40 minutes
STARRING: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Megan Charpentier
PLOT: Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years ... but how alone were they?
VERDICT: A playful, elegantly made little horror film, “Mama” teasingly sustains a game of hide-and-seek as it tantalizes the audience with fleeting apparitions of the title character while maintaining interest in two deeply disturbed little orphan girls. “Mama” represents a throwback and a modest delight for people who like a good scare but prefer not to be terrorized or grossed out. With fine special effects and a good sense of creating a mood and pacing the jolts, Andy Muschietti shows a reassuringly confident hand for a first-time director, pulling off some fine visual coups through smart camera placement and cutting, and not taking the whole thing so seriously that it becomes overwrought. – Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
“Parker” 1½ stars
R for strong violence, language throughout and brief sexual content/nudity, 1 hour, 58 minutes
STARRING: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez
PLOT: A thief with a unique code of professional ethics is double-crossed by his crew and left for dead. Assuming a new disguise and forming an unlikely alliance with a woman on the inside, he looks to hijack the score of the crew’s latest heist.
VERDICT: This plays like the bloodiest promotional video ever made for Palm Beach tourism. Stabbings, explosions and furniture-smashing brawls occur at some of the ritziest locations within the sun-splashed, pastel-soaked slab of Florida opulence. This is the same character Statham always plays: quietly cool, dryly British, powerfully lethal. Director Taylor Hackford’s rather perfunctory action film is actually more compelling before it even gets to Palm Beach, as Parker makes his way from Ohio to Texas to New Orleans before reaching his final destination. Lopez co-stars as the struggling Palm Beach real estate agent who learns too much and wants a piece of the action, but playing weak and girlish isn’t exactly her strong suit. – Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
“Zero Dark Thirty” 3½ stars
Rated R for language and strong violence including brutal disturbing images, 2 hours, 37 minutes
STARRING: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, James Gandolfini
PLOT: A CIA officer (Chastain) leads an eight-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, which climaxes with a daring nighttime raid in Pakistan.
VERDICT: Much like her Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker,” director Kathryn Bigelow’s account of the CIA’s search for Osama bin Laden is compelling filmmaking that can be difficult to watch at times, as it should be. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (who also wrote “Hurt Locker”) have been criticized for glamorizing torture. While they do not glamorize it (the torture scenes are horrifying), they should have been more critical of it rather than present it as a necessary evil. That said, this still is a hypnotic procedural that chronicles nearly a decade of frustrations and setbacks before the Navy Seal’s celebrated raid on bin Laden’s compound. Chastain is dynamite as the flinty professional who remains focused on her mission even as her superiors begin to give up. Even though we know the outcome, the story is charged with suspense. – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald