- The man who made "Psycho" was no lightweight, though he kind of comes off that way in this portrait of Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife and collaborator, Alma, the film puts a featherlight yet entertaining touch on the behind-the-scenes struggle to make the mother of all slasher films. Hitchcock's very dark side gets superficial treatment as the film offers the cinematic equivalent of psychobabble to explore the director's notorious gluttony, sexual repression and idolization of his leading ladies. Though shallow, the film has a playful quality that often makes it good fun, its spirit of whimsy a wink that director Sacha Gervasi and his team know they're riffing on Hitchcock's merrily macabre persona and not examining the man with any great depth or insight.
Life of Pi
- Author Yann Martel's tale of a shipwrecked youth cast adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger is one of those lyrical, internalized novels that should have no business working on the screen. Quite possibly, it wouldn't have worked if anyone but Ang Lee had adapted it. Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," ''Brokeback Mountain") has crafted one of the finest entries in his eclectic resume with this gorgeous, ruminative film that is soulfully, provocatively entertaining. The filmmaker combines a lifetime of storytelling finesse with arguably the most artful use of digital 3-D technology yet seen to bring Martel's story to life. It's a delicate narrative with visceral impact, told with an innovative style that's beguiling to watch and a philosophical voice that compassionately explores how and why we tell stories.
- The army invading the United States in this ill-advised remake of the campy 1984 original was changed in post-production from Chinese to North Korean. With a few snips here, a few re-dubs there, the filmmakers re-edited and re-shot, fearful of offending China and its increasingly important moviegoing market. The original, of course, was made at the height of Cold War paranoia and imagined a parachuting Soviet Union on American soil, with the likes of Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen (yes, truly the greatest generation) waging guerrilla warfare. Again, in director Dan Bradley's remake, America turns to its high school football players in its darkest time of need. Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Adrianne Palicki are part of the gang who dub themselves the Wolverines. With the help of a returning Iraq veteran played by Chris Hemsworth, they mount an insurrection on the controlling North Koreans. The implausibility is dizzying all around. Real wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq go hardly mentioned, replaced by a game of toy soldiers with make-believe foes. PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language.
Rust and Bone
- Merely the premise sounds uncomfortably maudlin: A wayward single father and part-time fighter falls into an unexpected romance with a beautiful whale trainer who's just lost both her legs below the knee in a freak accident. Both must undergo drastic transformations that render them as vulnerable as newborn babies. Both are literally and metaphorically broken and must help each other heal. But it's the stripped-down way director and co-writer Jacques Audiard tells this story that, for the most part, makes it more compelling than the feel-good plot suggests. With intimate camerawork that explores the lonely corners of his characters' lives and a prevalent naturalism, Audiard avoids trite, sentimental uplift. At its center, "Rust and Bone" features two vivid performances that allow their actors to strip away all traces of vanity. A strikingly de-glammed Marion Cotillard stars as Stephanie, a trainer at Marineland in Antibes in the south of France. One night she goes dancing at a club, gets into a confrontation and leaves disheveled and bloodied. Her escort home is the club's bouncer, Ali (up-and-coming Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts), who's recently arrived in town with Sam (Armand Verdure), the 5-year-old, towheaded son he barely knows. After Stephanie's accident, she and Ali embark on a tricky, friends-avec-benefits relationship. R for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language. In French with English subtitles.
Silver Linings Playbook
- From mental illness and adultery to football obsession and competitive dance, David O. Russell's comic drama follows a wily and winding path that consistently defies expectations. He's pulled off a tricky feat here, finding just the right tone in crafting a romantic comedy whose sweethearts suffer from bipolar disorder and depression. He never condescends to his characters; "Silver Linings Playbook" isn't mawkish, nor is it wacky and crass in the opposite extreme. Serving as both writer and director in adapting Matthew Quick's novel, Russell has developed affectionately fleshed-out characters in a deeply steeped sense of place: working-class Philadelphia. They feature personality quirks that vaguely recall his 2004 comedy "I (Heart) Huckabees," but rather than seeming weird for weird's sake, these are more complicated figures, which ultimately makes their journeys more meaningful. The Russell film this actually resembles most is probably his recent Oscar-winner "The Fighter" in terms of its realism, but with an off-kilter optimism that's ultimately winning. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence both give inspired performances that allow them to play against type as the unlikely couple at the center of this romance: a high-school teacher who just left a mental institution after a breakdown and a young woman recently widowed after the death of her police-officer husband. R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
-- THE ASSOCIATED PRESS