- 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 (Jamie 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. R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity.
- 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. Jack Reacher is a former military investigator who's become a bit of a mythic figure since he's gone off the grid. When the deadly shooting occurs at the film's start, authorities believe they've quickly found their man: a sniper who's ex-Army himself. He reveals nothing during his interrogation but manages to scribble the words "Get Jack Reacher" on a notepad before winding up in a coma. But when Reacher arrives and reluctantly agrees to help the defense attorney (Rosamund Pike) investigate, he finds the case isn't nearly as simple as it seems. PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material.
On the Road
- Walter Salles' adaptation of Jack Kerouac's famous novel was made with noble intentions, finely-crafted filmmaking and handsome casting, but, alas, it does not burn, burn, burn. This first ever big-screen adaptation of the Beat classic doesn't pulse with the electric, mad rush of Kerouac's feverish phenomenon. Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") approached the book with reverence and deep research, and perhaps that's the problem -- that its spirit got suffocated by respectfulness and affected acting. If anything has made "On the Road" so beloved, it's not its artful composition, but its yearning: the urgent passion of its characters to break free of themselves and post-war America. As our Dean Moriarty, Kerouac's stand-in for Neal Cassady, Garrett Hedlund ("Tron") gives his all in an ultimately failed attempt to find Moriarty's wild magnetism within him. As the center of the book and the film -- the Gatsby to our narrator Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) -- he's crucial to "On the Road" working. The women, afterthoughts in the book, have more fire. Salles has focused particularly on the carnality of Kerouac's tale, and it threatens to overtake the film. As Moriarty's first wife, Marylou, Kristen Stewart has a slinky sensuality that briefly dominates the movie. But her character is never developed beyond her sexy bohemia. In a few scenes as Moriarty's heartbroken second wife, Kirsten Dunst makes the strongest impression. Elisabeth Moss, also as one left behind, excels, shouting: "They dumped me in Tucson! In Tucson!" Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard and Amy Adams all make cameos, mostly suggesting the prestige of the project. R for strong sexual content, drug use and language.
West of Memphis
- The Hobbit" director Peter Jackson reveals the results of his own unexpected journey in this magnificent documentary, which chronicles how an unwavering band of filmmakers, artists and other dissenters challenged the judicial system and won. The case of the West Memphis Three -- Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, imprisoned as teens in the 1993 murders of three Cub Scouts -- has become widely known through the activism of A-list actors and musicians who took up the cause, along with three "Paradise Lost" documentaries that called the convictions into question. After seeing that first "Paradise Lost" film in 2005, Jackson and wife Fran Walsh stepped in, financing their own investigation and enlisting director Amy Berg (the Academy Award-nominated "Deliver Us from Evil") to chronicle the convoluted case and the new findings that were uncovered. This is nonfiction filmmaking at its best, a film with a fierce point of view yet one that doesn't pretend to have all the answers or a monopoly on truth. It tells a great story, one that surprises, appalls, riles and gratifies, even as it leaves at least as many questions as it resolves. The film has a triumphant conclusion -- freedom for Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley after 18 years in prison. But the ending vexes even as it satisfies. The abiding image is that of the other West Memphis Three, little boys who died horribly, for whom justice has not been served. R for disturbing violent content and some language.
-- ASSOCIATED PRESS