Act of Valor
United States Navy SEAL teams are many things: tough, focused, and cool under pressure. What they would freely admit they are not are Hollywood actors. Perhaps that's why co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh appear in a brief prologue not so much to disclose their employment by the U.S. Navy, but to couch their decision to utilize actual Navy SEALs in the filming of this glossy, flag-waving bit of nonsense in vérité terms. They know this isn't a "Hollywood" film as much as we do; it's a propaganda film. The soldiers and the movie hop around the globe, from Ukraine to Cambodia to Mexico, with each new mission bringing a new set of challenges, all of which equal roughly the same thing: Shoot everyone in the head. Some battle sequences are elegantly choreographed, but by the time a foreshadowed death is memorialized in an endless military funeral sequence, the whole endeavor starts to feel more like a hot-box pummeling than a rallying cry. (Justin Strout)
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. But then talking pictures begin to revolutionize the industry, and George brushes them off, setting in motion his slow but steady downfall. The story is straight out of A Star Is Born, but the inspiration comes from 100 years of cinema. (Michael Gallucci)
Chronicle (PG-13) — Three archetypal teens stumble upon a big glowing rock in an underground cave. Soon they develop the ability to move objects with their minds. But then trouble brews after one of them cracks under pressure. Chronicle is shot found-footage style, but director Josh Trank drives it to the max. Instead of being glued to a single camera, perspective is passed around constantly. The jarring shifts and switch-ups make for some of the most exciting scenes you'll see this season. (Kyle Swenson)
A Dangerous Method (R) — The relationship between Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) and her doctor Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) will cycle through many stages and, according to David Cronenberg's version of this real-life story, shape both the relationship between Jung and his idol/soon-to-be-mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and the development of psychological theory itself. (Lee Gardner)
Haywire (R) — There are plenty of dramatically realistic fight scenes in Steven Soderbergh's star-packed, globe-crossing action flick. MMA-fighter-turned-actress Gina Carano plays a beautiful operative on a mission for revenge after her security firm double-crosses her. But the plot is transparent and predictable. At times, Haywire recalls the slick aesthetics of Soderbergh's Ocean's movies, but with none of the cerebral payoffs. (Vince Grzegorek)
Safe House (R) — Denzel Washington plays Tobin Frost, a former CIA agent accused of trading secrets. Ryan Reynolds is a baby-faced CIA newbie who whiles away the time at a rarely used safe house in South Africa, pining for a tougher assignment. Then Tobin is brought in for questioning, followed by gunshots, fights, and assassins. It's an action-packed ride, but it would be nice if it slowed down for a minute. (Grzegorek)
A Separation (PG-13) — Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are at a crossroads in their marriage. Simin wants to move their 11-year-old daughter to a country where there are more opportunities for women, but Nader wants to stay in Tehran to take care of his father. Their breakup isn't always the focal point of A Separation, but it's constantly there, hanging over everything that happens. Writer and director Asghar Farhadi doesn't take sides. Nader and Simin have their reasons. They're both right. And they're both wrong. The film is matter-of-fact — occasionally devastating, sometimes infuriating, and always real. (Gallucci)
This Means War (PG-13) — When Reese Witherspoon's Lauren finds herself dating a smooth-talking CIA agent (Chris Pine) as well as his partner-in-espionage (Tom Hardy), she naturally recognizes their respective appeal and elegantly dissects it: One has "tiny hands" and the other is "British." Yes, This Means War is that dumb. Worse: It thinks you are too. (Strout).
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