Haywire There are plenty of dramatically realistic fight scenes in Steven Soderbergh's new star-packed, globe-crossing action flick. Perhaps best among them is a hand-to-hand bout between an M16 spook and MMA-fighter-turned-actress Gina Carano, who plays Mallory Kane, a stunningly beautiful and skilled operative on a single-woman mission for revenge after her private-security firm double-crosses her. But the plot is transparent and predictable. Even as her mission and life are flipped inside out, Mallory remains composed in her spree of vengeance against a range of high-level (if never fully fleshed-out) players, including Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, and Ewan McGregor. At times, Haywire recalls the slick, pretty, and bouncy aesthetics of Soderbergh's Ocean's movies, but with none of the cerebral payoffs. The director's take on the spy-action movie, laced with homages to Hitchcock and others, is carried along by Carano's pows, bams, and whams. If Haywire seems to move along briskly between the bouts and blows, it's mostly because there's nothing substantial there. Rated R. (Vince Grzegorek)
Albert Nobbs (R) — Having posed as a man since his teens, Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) has gotten good at it. His fellow hotel workers, the toadying proprietress, and the well-heeled guests accept him as a somewhat fey and sexless little old gent. Then Albert meets another woman passing as a man (Janet McTeer), who is not only more confident and outgoing in her butch drag, but has married another woman. Albert is thunderstruck at the idea, the loneliness of his secret life suddenly exposed. Having saved his tips for a nest egg to start his own shop, he adds a wife to his dream future and sets his sights on impish young hotel maid Helen (Mia Wasikowska). Albert Nobbs is a bit of a mess, but it's often an appealing one. (Lee Gardner)
The Artist (PG-13) — You won't find a lovelier valentine to the movies than Michel Hazanavicius' black-and-white and near-silent tribute to the silent screen. In 1927 Hollywood, matinee idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is on top of the movie world. He even has the clout to give unknown dancer Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) a spot in one of his films. But then talking pictures begin to revolutionize the industry, and George brushes them off, setting in motion his slow but steady downfall just as Peppy's star ascends. The story is straight out of A Star Is Born, but the inspiration comes from 100 years of cinema. The Artist pulls back the curtain on moviemaking, but it also immerses itself in the magic of movies themselves, hitting all the right emotions without ever breaking from its purpose of entertaining you. (Michael Gallucci)
Carnage (R) — There are a number of pleasures to be found in Roman Polanski's Carnage, which should be no surprise given the cast: Christophe Waltz, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, and Jodie Foster. Waltz and Winslet's 11-year-old son thwacked Reilly and Foster's 11-year-old in the mouth with a stick during a playground spat, and the action opens on a typewritten agreement of blame and wrong signed by both parties. As the small talk over coffee and cobbler goes on, passive-aggressive feints go out and smug defenses go up. As passions rise, recriminations fly, and the scotch comes out. Carnage works well enough as hit-and-run satire of polite middle-class veneer, yuppie smugness, and general pretensions to maturity. But as an overall film, it fails. There's no turn toward lesson-learned drama, thankfully, but no narrative engine ever cranks up either. (Gardner)
The Iron Lady (PG-13) — Meryl Streep's performance drives this biopic of Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister who's been a conservative pinup queen for 30 years. The movie opens late in Thatcher's life, when bad health has left her under virtual house arrest and she's relentlessly pursued by walking, talking hallucinations of her late, lovable-goof husband (Jim Broadbent). The movie follows Thatcher as she jumps from one memory to the next. The pace starts slow, but once Streep steps in, the screen starts running with historical mayhem. (Kyle Swenson)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (R) — Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson stages this story of a Cold War-era spy with quiet thrills and dense suspense. There's a mole in the British agency, and it's likely one of the spies in the inner circle. Called out of retirement, George Smiley (expertly played by Gary Oldman) sifts through notes, snoops around apartments, and assembles the tiny pieces that may lead back to one of his colleagues. Like any spy story worth its double- and triple-crosses, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy gets confusing. But once things settle into place, the movie begins to take shape. It doesn't stray too far from other Cold War dramas that leave some room for a little gray between the black and the white. But it's smarter than most of them. (Gallucci)
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