This week brings out some big guns. Star ratings are by Seattle Times movie reviewers, freelancers or wire services. For full reviews, search the movie title at seattletimes.com. Release dates are subject to change.
“Zero Dark Thirty” (R): From the very first scenes, director Kathryn Bigelow demonstrates why she is such a formidable filmmaker, as adept with human emotion as she is with visceral, pulse-quickening action.
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Starting with an opening sequence that consists of a blank screen and an audio track of the anguished 911 calls of people caught in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Bigelow cuts unceremoniously to a squalid prison two years later, where a CIA official is torturing a detainee. This harrowing scene embroiled Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal in a political firestorm; they were accused of distorting the role torture played in locating Osama bin Laden. But during this sequence, Bigelow establishes her command presence as a filmmaker.
Anyone who appreciates movies at their most engrossing, taut and well-crafted will be rewarded.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (PG-13): The first of director Peter Jackson’s trilogy may well please the franchise’s most devoted fans, who will no doubt savor the chance to traipse through J.R.R. Tolkien’s imaginative landscape. But Jackson also spends a great deal of time on back stories and explanation, which results in lots of windy, expository speeches and character introductions but not much by way of genuine emotional involvement or dynamism.
“Rust and Bone” (R): Director Jacques Audiard’s gritty romantic drama deals with a drifter (Matthias Schoenearts) and whale trainer (Marion Cotillard), whose fierce independence is tested by tragedy. In French, with English subtitles.
“Les Misérables” (PG-13): There’s plenty to cheer about, including some astonishing breakout performances. Eddie Redmayne delivers by far the most moving and memorable performance as the young firebrand Marius, who, along with his fellow students, is caught up in France’s political upheavals in the 19th century. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, “Les Misérables” juxtaposes Marius’ fight for political justice with the more personal struggle of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Russell Crowe plays Valjean’s nemesis, Javert, the vengeful police inspector. But the centerpiece of a movie composed entirely of centerpieces belongs to Anne Hathaway, as the tragic heroine Fantine. Her Oscar-winning rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is a melodramatic tour de force.
“This Is 40” (R): Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann bring a laid-back chemistry and prickly energy to writer-director Judd Apatow’s amiably angsty comedy about a married couple facing midlife. If only the film itself were half as charming. Overlong, unnecessarily sex-obsessed and nasty at times, “This Is 40” feels haphazard and unfinished.
The Washington Post. Some material compiled by Lori Taki Uno: firstname.lastname@example.org.