Movie Reviews

Tommy Lee Jones re-interprets MacArthur in 'Emperor'

Tommy Lee Jones re-interprets MacArthur in Emperor

Omitting "the" before "Emperor" is a clever ambiguity on director Peter Webber's part. Military historical films from "Lincoln" and "Argo" to "Zero Dark Thirty" are the rage these days, and Mr. Webber's movie -- on the first days after Japan's surrender in World War II -- is no slouch. The title seems an obvious reference to Hirohito.

But it could equally describe Gen. Douglas MacArthur -- the supreme commander of occupying forces and de facto ruler -- whose powers were every bit as imperial as the defeated Japanese monarch's.

First order of business for MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones, below) is rounding up the major war criminals and deciding whether Japan's emperor is one of them: Did Hirohito himself order, or at least approve, the attack on Pearl Harbor? What to do now with this weird dude dubbed a "deity" by his devastated people -- depose, pardon or hang him? Momentous long- and short-range implications included possibly igniting a revolt. Read more... about Tommy Lee Jones re-interprets MacArthur in 'Emperor'

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'Amour,' a moving love story about life and death, deserves all of its Oscar attention

Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges and Emmanuelle Riva as Anne in Amour.

It's not the death, it's the dying that's so hard -- and constitutes the ultimate test of love.

That is the somber subject of Austrian director Michael Haneke's profoundly moving "Amour," and the challenge faced by its octogenarian protagonists.

Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are affluent, cultivated Parisian music teachers, married for half a century. At the outset, they're attending a concert, afterward discussing the "incredible semiquavers in the presto."

But next morning, something is wrong. Anne won't answer her husband at breakfast. "Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?" Georges asks. She is taken to the hospital, then returns home -- paralyzed on one side. Stricken in more ways than one, she begs him not to hospitalize her again. He promises and takes sole charge of her care thereafter. Read more... about 'Amour,' a moving love story about life and death, deserves all of its Oscar attention

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4.5

Fine 'Quartet' sings of travails of aging

Kerry Brown, Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins fin

Seems there's a mini-glut of movie quartets these days. A "late" one of the Beethoven string type just opened here a fortnight ago. Now, on its heels, comes the vocal variety -- even later in the lives of its members.

"Quartet" is Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, at the tender age of 75. It takes place at Beecham House, a home -- a very posh, stately home/former estate -- for retired musicians in idyllic rural England. There, septuagenarian opera singers Reggie (Tom Courtenay), Wilfrid (Billy Connolly) and Cecily (Pauline Collins) are busily engaged in rehearsals for the big annual fundraising concert on Giuseppe Verdi's birthday. Read more... about Fine 'Quartet' sings of travails of aging

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Stars have silly fun in 'Stand Up Guys'

Fisher Stevens, left, directs Al Pacino on the set of "Stand Up Guys"

The "Stand Up Guys" at hand consist of a trio, not a quartet. They and their film might better have been called "Grumpy Old Crooks."

Chief among them is Al Pacino as Val, just concluding a 28-year vacation in the penitentiary for taking a rap and refusing to rat on his criminal associates. Now, upon release, he is met and taken home by old pal Doc (Christopher Walken), his diametric opposite comrade-in-crooked-arms, a soft-spoken man who paints landscapes, watches cable TV and otherwise enjoys a calm, cool daily routine. Read more... about Stars have silly fun in 'Stand Up Guys'

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'Late Quartet': Powerful performances fuel Beethoven's string theory

Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener are half of `A Late Quartet'

Breaking up is so very hard to do, says the song. The only thing harder is staying together, says "A Late Quartet," Yaron Zilberman's beautiful chamber film about the making of chamber music and its creators.

The foursome in focus is the Fugue, an internationally acclaimed string quartet preparing a triumphant 25th anniversary tour with its signature performance of Beethoven's Op. 131 string quartet. Read more... about 'Late Quartet': Powerful performances fuel Beethoven's string theory

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'Gangster Squad' plot full of bullet holes

From left, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick and Anthony M

Some movies are inspired by real past events. "Gangster Squad" is uninspired by them, or anything else, but its level of ultra-violence has a certain dark, trashy fascination and curiosity value in light of real current events.

In this campy yarn of 1949, Los Angeles crime lord Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is just a rival or two away from taking full control of the town's drug and vice operations. With most city cops on his payroll, the LAPD has largely given up trying to referee the Mob's bloody turf wars, but they're spilling over to the citizenry.

Looks like a job for Honest John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), the sullen sergeant summoned to recruit a secret squad of urban-guerrilla warriors who can be trusted to shut down mighty Mick's enterprise. Read more... about 'Gangster Squad' plot full of bullet holes

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Movie review: 'Loneliest Planet' a tedious trek through an emotional badlands

Loneliest Planet a tedious trek through an emotional badlands

How do you forgive someone who can't or won't ask to be forgiven?

That's the key issue in life and in "The Loneliest Planet," an exotic tale of accidental betrayal, set in the strange wilderness of Georgia's Caucasus Mountains.

It's not Jimmy Carter's Georgia. But it's constantly on the mind of Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg), a wildly in love young American couple who go there for a backpacking adventure the summer before their wedding. Read more... about Movie review: 'Loneliest Planet' a tedious trek through an emotional badlands

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Streisand gets lost on this 'Guilt Trip'

Seth Rogen, left, and Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip, opening in theaters to

People who love Barbra are not the luckiest people in the world, when it comes to her recent choice of film scripts.

In "The Guilt Trip," just her third movie of the millennium, La Streisand elects to play Joyce, the widowed mother of Andy, played by Seth Rogen. He is lumpy, grumpy and nerdy -- not quite seven but several emotional dwarfs rolled into one son.

Andy, a brilliant chemist and inventor, is embarking on a cross-country road trip to find distributors for his miraculous new organic-cleaning fluid. But first, he makes a quick dutiful stop to say 'bye to mom in New Jersey. Read more... about Streisand gets lost on this 'Guilt Trip'

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'Holy Motors': A film buff's delirious delight

Denis Lavant chomps cemetery flowers in "Holy Motors"

Talk about an identity crisis. The cinematic store could be called ID's R Us in "Holy Motors," a mindblowing explosion of imagination and virtuosic technique from French auteur Leos Carax.

You never know where Mr. Carax will take you -- or exactly why -- but this is a dream of a movie, literally: It opens with its hero waking up and stepping surreally through a wall of his bedroom into a movie theater. That's just the first of many stops during a day in the life of Oscar (Denis Lavant). Read more... about 'Holy Motors': A film buff's delirious delight

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The latest 'Anna Karenina' bizarre yet beautiful

Jude Law as Count Alexei Karenin lives by the rules, but Keira Knightley as his

"All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

It's the opening, and most quoted, line of "Anna Karenina." Families don't get much unhappier or more nervous, in general, than the Karenins.

Me, I get nervous when filmmakers announce the "reimagining" of a classic. (I can't help thinking of Woody Allen's "Mourning Becomes Electra on Ice!") But that's what director Joe Wright and dramatist Tom Stoppard audaciously set out to do here, for better or worse -- and it's for both. Read more... about The latest 'Anna Karenina' bizarre yet beautiful

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