‘Impossible,’ ‘Django’ and ‘Misérables’ make Christmas merry in theaters

Among the 10 – yes, 10 as in T-E-N – new movies that I reviewed during the Dec. 20, 2012, edition of “Breakthrough Thinking: The Magazine,” the one that I recommend rushing out to see this weekend is “The Impossible.” Then, make a Christmas Day double feature your new holiday tradition this year by seeing “Django Unchained” and “Les Misérables.” With these three motion pictures, your Christmas is guaranteed to be merry!

‘Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D’

Two young people journey through the dreamlike worlds of Cirque du Soleil to find each other. (NR – 97 minutes)

James Cameron really ought to focus on his follow-ups to “Avatar” and stop wasting his time and talent serving as executive producer for 3D spectacles like “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D.” Director Andrew Adamson’s new motion picture that brings several pieces of the popular entertainment company’s shows to the big screen features a few mesmerizing moments, such as those from “Love” set to Beatles songs. However, watching said shows in a movie theater does not compare to seeing them in real life. After all, having grown accustomed to Hollywood’s special effects, one cannot fully appreciate the performers’ risky routines. (Grade: D)

‘Django Unchained’

Jamie Foxx plays a slave-turned-bounty hunter who, with the help of his mentor (Christoph Waltz), sets out to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). (R – 165 minutes)

“Django Unchained” is really raw, extremely edgy and entertaining in an all-encompassing kind of way. But then, honestly, did anyone truly expect anything less from writer/director Quentin Tarantino? The constantly groundbreaking filmmaker’s latest motion picture – which is best described as a grindhouse western – is a bloody blast (literally) from beginning to end, featuring audacious action and lionhearted laughs at each and every turn. Moreover, it includes some of the year’s positively finest performances – especially from actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz who essentially switch characters and succeed in playing against type with sincerely spectacular results. (Grade: A)

‘The Guilt Trip’

Seth Rogen plays an inventor who is guilted into bringing his mother (Barbra Steisand) along on a roadtrip as he tries to sell his invention. Across 3,000 miles, he is constantly aggravated by her antics. But over time he comes to realize that their lives have more in common than he originally thought. (PG-13 – 95 minutes)

“The Guilt Trip” takes its viewers on an enjoyable little journey but it only occasionally hits on sincere sentiments with which mothers or their sons can relate. Most moments in the movie feel forced, suggesting that screenwriter Dan Fogelman was satisfied with creating a broad, all-encompassing comedy that merely skims the surface of its subject than the kind that digs deeper and therefore has more meaning. However, that and star Barbra Steisand’s nails-on-a-chalkboard performance aside, director Anne Fletcher’s flick has enough laughs and heart to afford each member of the audience both a fun time and a renewed appreciation for their own well-meaning mom. (Grade: C)

‘Hyde Park on Hudson’*

Bill Murray plays President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, in June 1939, hosts the King and Queen of England only to find that international affairs must be juggled with the complexities of his domestic establishment – as wife, mother and mistresses all conspire to make the royal weekend an unforgettable one. (R – 95 minutes)

There is just something that feels a bit off about “Hyde Park on Hudson.” The new biographical dramedy about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s romantic life from director Roger Michell and screenwriter Richard Nelson is simply not substantial enough to be even remotely important yet it is not nearly colorful or lively enough to be entertaining, either. Instead, it sits squarely in the mundane and monotonous middle, coming across as some sort of vapid soap opera. Save for a charming performance from star Bill Murray whose story sadly takes a backseat to costar Laura Linney’s character, there really is nothing to see here. (Grade: D)

*Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5.

‘The Impossible’*

Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play parents who, with their three sons, are relaxing around a pool during a winter vacation in Thailand when a terrifying roar rises up from the center of the earth and a huge wall of black water races toward them. (PG-13 – 107 minutes)

“The Impossible” is one of the most emotionally electrifying cinematic experiences of 2012. Director Juan Antonio Bayona has crafted a motion picture that is extremely difficult to witness yet, strangely, rewards those who brave the uncomfortable waters with a renewed sense of spirituality and a heightened hope that the tides can turn even in the seemingly grimmest of circumstances. Whether it is dragging you around like a rag-doll to demonstrate the intense torment of this true tragedy or sending you to the edge of your seat in response to narrowly missed encounters, this movie will deeply and permanently affect you. (Grade: A)

*Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5.

‘Jack Reacher’

Tom Cruise plays a homicide investigator who digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims. (PG-13 – 130 minutes)

“Jack Reacher” is smart, suspenseful and surprising. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s new crime drama based on Lee Child’s novel “One Shot” is as intelligent as it is intense – which is a remarkably rare combination. Granted, some of its sense of humor seems slightly out of place and star Tom Cruise comes off as somewhat of a superhero (then again, name one movie in which he does not), yet the flick is so slick that you simply cannot help but be entertained and engaged as you watch the puzzle pieces come together in an un questionably clever fashion. (Grade: B)

‘Les Misérables’

Hugh Jackman plays ex-prisoner, hunted for decades by a ruthless policeman (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. When he agrees to care for a factory worker (Anne Hathaway) young daughter (Amanda Seyfried), their lives change forever. (PG-13 – 157 minutes)

“Les Misérables” is a sweeping cinematic spectacle that, despite its distinctly depressing themes, leaves viewers feeling rejuvenated, uplifted and ready to take on the world. Director Tom Hooper has created a massive movie musical – make that an enormous entertainment extravaganza – that is unlike anything else you have ever seen on the big screen. And somehow, be it the grandeur of it all or the plethora of passionate performances that draw you deep into the drama, the fact that this story plays out entirely through song is a curiously camouflaged quality as the audience becomes absolutely absorbed by this fantastic film. (Grade: A)

‘Rust and Bone’*

Matthias Schoenaerts plays a father who, having been put in charge of his young son, leaves Belgium to live with his sister and her husband in Antibes. His bond with a killer whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) grows deeper after she suffers a horrible accident. (R – 118 minutes)

“Rust and Bone” appears to have everything going for it – a pair of greatly gifted actors in Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard, a dramatically devastating plot point on which it can hang its hat and some CGI to make it all that much more believable. However, writer/director Jacques Audiard’s French import injects so much misery into its two characters’ lives that the film is on the fringe of farce – especially given the impossibly favorable outcomes of certain scary scenes and its unwarrantedly happy ending. Audiard should have focused solely on Cotillard’s character’s struggle to emotionally overcome the loss of her legs. (Grade: D)

*Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5.

‘Save the Date’*

Lizzy Caplan plays a woman who begins to confront her shortcomings after she rejects her boyfriend’s (Geoffrey Arend) hasty proposal and soon finds herself in a rebound romance. Meanwhile, her sister (Alison Brie) is immersed in the details of her wedding. (R – 98 minutes)

On the downside, writer/director Michael Mohan’s new dramedy “Save the Date” is an utterly unfocused flick with a collection of characters that lack the color required to carry even a 30-minute sitcom much less a feature-length film. However, on the upside, you can safely free up a 2-hour block in your appointment book. Having said that, It is still an unfortunate shame that the motion picture is not better considering its two tremendously talented leading ladies – Lizzy Caplan and “Community’s” Alison Brie – of whom the project is undeserving. Even they cannot make a movie this generic engrossing. (Grade: D)

*Playing exclusively at Phoenix FilmBar.

‘This is 40’

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann plays a man and wife who, upon turning 40 years old, must figure out how to forgive, forget and enjoy the rest of their lives – before they kill each other. (R – 134 minutes)

Anyone who is nearing a milestone age – whether it be 30, 40 or what have you – will relate to the simple theme of growing older (and all of the things that come with it) in “This is 40.” Writer/director Judd Apatow deals with that theme in such as way that is both brutally honest and comfortably compassionate, which has become the filmmaker’s forte. However, his new spinoff of “Knocked Up” feels much more closer in tone to “Funny People” than “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” aiming for drama over comedy. Moreover, the film features too much bickering and not enough narrative. (Grade: C)

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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