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"ZERO DARK THIRTY" (R)
JESSICA CHASTAIN, JASON CLARKE, JOEL EDGERTON, CHRIS PRATT, KYLE CHANDLER, JENNIFER EHLE, MARK STRONG
Despite dragging a bit in the first hour, this tale of one woman's 12-year search for Osama bin Laden is a powerful film that works.
That's mainly because Jessica Chastain imbues CIA operative Maya with a dogged determination and a devotion to her job that stems from the 9/11 attacks.
Much has been made of the torture scenes, where it seems a few critical pieces of intel were gleaned.
It is, therefore, a bit odd to see that the real breaks portrayed in the film come from years and years of poring over intelligence and interviews rather than waterboarding.
At times, the path feels a bit confusing and hard to follow--as it probably was in real life.
Things understandably pick up when the trail gets hotter and leaders have to decide whether to mount a raid.
Chastain is perfect for the role, both emotionally compelling and tough as nails in her unbending pursuit. Jason Clarke delivers as well, as the agent who tortures enemies in scenes that are hard to watch.
Since they are not really necessary in the framework of the film, including them seemed a bit odd.
Rated R for strong violence including brutal, disturbing images, and for language. 157 min.
"GANGSTER SQUAD" (R)
SEAN PENN, RYAN GOSLING, EMMA STONE, JOSH BROLIN
Some who saw preview clips of this tale of a secret, take-no-prisoners L.A. police squad dismissed it as more of a fashion show than a real film.
And while there is quite a strong fashion component--the men, women and sets are dressed to the nines to imitate the 1940s--it's not a bad cops-and-robbers tale.
Not a great one, either, but one where Josh Brolin and Sean Penn make for an interesting, good vs. evil pairing and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone deliver a diverting touch of romance.
Rated R for strong violence and language. 110 min. [MC, PV, RA]
"A HAUNTED HOUSE" (R)
MARLON WAYANS, ESSENCE ATKINS, CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER
There was great potential for a parody making fun of the "Paranormal Activity" films.
There still is. Marlon Wayans and company simply couldn't deliver more than a few really funny segments and jokes.
The rest of the time (thankfully, this mistake is only 86 minutes long), the movie trades in tired, lowest-common-denominator humor.
Wayans is nowhere near as funny as he thinks he is, a fact his crude riffing only confirms.
Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and some drug use. 86 min. [MC, PV, RA]