Read the best movie reviews for the latest films showing in N Hollywood movie theatres including: Regency Theatre North Hollywood, Century 8, and Laemmle NoHo 7.
Perhaps you’re sitting home right now, wondering which February release not to see…or you might be consulting the list of Oscar nominees to determine which you should see before Oscar night. Then again, you may just want to catch up on some nice things you (and Oscar) might have missed.
In Allen Hughes’ modern-day noir throwback Broken City, Mark Wahlberg has big problems: he’s a troubled former NYC cop (after a controversial, incendiary shooting years earlier put him in the crosshairs of ambitious police commissioner Geoffrey Wright and seemingly sympathetic mayor Russell Crowe) ekeing out a living as a private eye.
Kathryn Bigelow’s gripping Zero Dark Thirty portrays the search for Osama Bin Laden in the aftermath of 9/11, through the eyes of a determined, young, lone-wolf CIA officer (Jessica Chastain)-- and the movie pulls no punches.
When I first learned that Quentin Tarantino’s next project (after the grand Inglorious Basterds) was going to be the spaghetti western homage Django Unchained, I’ll admit I was a trifle concerned; for every classic A Fistful of Dollars, there are at least twenty messy spaghetti-o rip-offs with titles like Eat My Lead and Die, Zartana!
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln gets off to a shaky start; after (what is for Spielberg) a rather perfunctory Civil War battle scene, various Union soldiers, black and white, talk to a seated, pensive President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) about the war, injustice, equality, and the speech they’ve all taken to heart, …you know, The Gettysburg Address.
Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond, Skyfall, kicks off with a terrific pre-credit action sequence that culminates in a ferocious hand to hand battle on top of a speeding train (is there any other kind) and ends with our hero being taken for dead--I won’t spill the salient details, except to say that the circumstances lead Mr. Bond to feeling a little embittered—and--spoiler alert--reduced to drinking a bottle of Heineken in a wretched room (rest assured, Bond fans, he does not enter a swanky establishment to order one). This opening sequence, paired with a memorable title song from Adelle, and you have one of the best beginnings in the Bond canon.
In Robert Zemeckis’ absorbing but overlong Flight, Denzel Washington’s “Whip” Whitaker consumes so many alcoholic beverages it’s a wonder it hasn’t resulted in a nationwide liquor shortage.
Ben Affleck’s Argo is an intelligent, reasonably compelling depiction of an intelligence operation that remained pretty secret for years.
Riam Johnson’s riveting sci-fi/noir Looper combines time travel and future urban angst as it tells an intricately plotted tale weaving strands of organized crime, loyalty, telekinesis, mother love, and mortality.
John Hillcoat’s Lawless purports to tell the story of the resilient Bondurant brothers who sold moonshine in Virginia during the 1930s and allegedly achieved some degree of legendary stature…at least in the eyes of Matt Bondurant, the relative who wrote the book (The Wettest County in the World) on which the film (written by Nick Cave) is based.
The Expendables 2 is an action-packed, testosterone-filled sequel to the 2010 Sylvester Stallone-driven (writer, director, star, set caterer—I may be mistaken on that last part) commando adventure. This time out Stallone shares the writing credit with Richard Wenk and relinquishes the directorial reins to Simon West. The result is the rare sequel that is actually an improvement on the original. Whereas the first film was laden with expository, brooding scenes meant to establish the team’s camaraderie and air of fatalism, the sequel is more focused and tighter paced yet with a looser feel, courtesy of some macho, quasi-mocking banter. In addition, the action scenes are consistently exciting and exhilarating without being excessive and exhausting. The plot is pretty negligible…the bad guys led by Jean-Claude Van Damme want to steal a lot of plutonium, enslaving a small town-and killing an expendable Expendable (Liam Hemsworth with death written all over his face—you’ll know the minute he mentions the girl waiting at home) in the process. This galvanizes these altruistic mercenaries (they only kill for a good cause) led by Stallone and Jason Statham into doing what they do best: locking and loading to wipe out these evildoers and possibly the save the world as we know it. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger are back, but this time they ‘re not just picking up a check—these action icons are picking up automatic weapons and blowing away the bad guys; in addition, the script abounds with references to their past triumphs that enables everyone to be in on the joke-and enjoy themselves while doing it. At the screening I attended, the biggest audience response was reserved for Chuck Norris, playing a renowned lone wolf of a mercenary. Perhaps the big screen wants him back…
Dax Shepard wrote and co-directed (with David Palmer) Hit & Run, a hit or miss chase comedy that is noteworthy for not wasting the lovely and talented Kristen Bell, as well as giving Bradley Cooper a chance to shine as a vengeful bad guy with jail issues. Shepard is Charlie Bronson, so named after he entered the witness protection program. His idyllic, anonymous existence in New Mexico (with live-in girlfriend Kristin Bell and skittish agent/caretaker Tom Arnold) is jeopardized when he decides to drive her to L.A.---thus incurring her ex-boyfriend’s wrath, which leads the ex to contact Shepard’s nemesis, a dread-locked Bradley Cooper. Much fleeing, chasing and stunt driving ensue. The car chase scenes themselves are probably the lesser part of the movie; they’re not bad but you’ve seen them before-and better. However, the writing gives the performers plenty of opportunities to show off their wares; Tom Arnold, while initially a little too cartoonish as the would-be protective agent, nevertheless gets to display flashes of likability and warmth; Bradley Cooper is like an actor reborn as the animal-loving, gun-toting robber with more than a few axes to grind. Kristen Bell finally has a lead role that gives her a chance to show many of her formidable skills, including her comic timing, intelligence and ability to project strength and vulnerability (previous films of hers generally focused on one aspect, much to the films’ detriment). Shepard (Bell’s real-life fiancé) and Bell convince and have genuine chemistry as a couple, so that their exchanges between the chases aren’t just filler, but portray the insecurities and suspicions that can befall even a seemingly happy couple. Hit & Run is a hit—whenever the tires aren’t screeching.
Jay Roach’s funny but uneven political spoof The Campaign pits morally lax incumbent North Carolina congressman Will Ferrell against insecure, uptight tour guide Zach Galifianakis. Before you can say “no contest,” Galifianakis, with some seriously shady financial backing, not to mention a shark of a campaign manager (Dylan McDermott), manages to give the previously unopposed Ferrell a run for his money, as the two candidates descend to the kind of overzealous one-upmanship (including a novel use of a sex video) that gives politics a bad name. While the movie makes some passing references to the current economic situation and the power of the media, much of what occurs is a little too silly, with a corresponding lack of insight, to make this a genuine political satire. Despite this lack of artistic ambition, The Campaign is pretty funny, with a few hilarious sequences including a dinner in which Galifianakis learns more than he wanted about family secrets, and a scene involving the overly eager candidates and a baby. There is solid support form Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow as Galifianakis’ rapacious backers, Jason Sudeikis as Ferrell’s campaign manager, and Dylan McDermott as Galifianakis’ campaign manager from Hell-almost literally. As for the candidates: I've rarely found Galifianakis funny in the past, yet here he manages to be likable and appealing, even when he engages in some down and dirty dealings. Ferrell’s incumbent also manages to retain his likability, even when indulging in the must outrageous, childish behavior. Amidst all the shenanigans, there is a quiet scene where Ferrell and Galifianakis share some bourbon and reflections. It is not a particularly funny scene (nor was it intended to be), but it manages to convey some of the characters’ decency, so that what happens at the end of the contest is not totally unexpected or unfounded.
The sunny trailers for David Frankel’s Hope Springs might lead you to believe this may be a cheerful comedy about post mid-life crisis, but it’s much more serious than that. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones’ lengthy marriage has fallen into a malaise of hasty morning goodbyes, unrelieved small talk (if any) at dinner, separate bedrooms, and nothing in the way of intimacy. While Jones is seemingly content with how things are, Streep has decided (over Jones’ objections) that they will travel to a small town in Maine (called-you got it-Hope Springs) for some intensive couples therapy with compassionate counselor Steve Carell. There is some humor here- in the befuddled, cantankerous Jones’ reactions to small town life, as well as Streep’s sojourn in a tavern (under the watchful eye of bartender Elizabeth Shue—somebody get that actress more work). However, the wrenching power of the movie is in the portrayals of Streep and Jones. They are entirely convincing as a couple whose relationship is more like that of roommates than of soulmates. One can see Streep’s insecurity as she wonders if she is still attractive to Jones, as well as Jones’ fear that he is no longer the man he was-or that Streep deserves. The most intense scenes are in the therapist’s office as they lay bare, under Carell’s gentle prodding, all the disappointments and regrets-as well as the happy memories that caused them to find each other in the first place. The movie shows is how easy it is for two people to fall into marital monotony, to forego meaningful communication in favor of impersonal distance. Where the movie occasionally falls down is in not trusting the actors’ abiltities and instead adding some music to needlessly underscore the emotional moments. In spite of this shortcoming, the exquisite artistry of Streep and Jones should manage to move the hardened heart.
The Watch has received its share of scathing reviews and, if truth be told—they’re well-deserved. This so-called comedy about a neighborhood watch that encounters aliens (I hope I’m spoiling everything) fails on practically every conceivable level.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is, to my mind, an improvement over its overly busy, overrated predecessor. However, while this is intended to be mainly a movie review, it is difficult to ignore the striking parallels to real life, some intended—some regretfully unintended…