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Catch up on the hottest movies out during winter break

In Hollywood, Christmas is the time when studios put all their chips on the table and bet big on movies. The supposed end of the world proved no different. What was strange, albeit good, was the lack of Christmas movies out this Christmas. There was a broad choice of movies out this season, all hoping to earn as much revenue and as many ticket sales as possible. In this back-to-campus movie roundup, there are three Oscar hopefuls, two comedies (one funny, one boring) and one disappointment.

 

“Django Unchained”

4 1/2 stars

Oscar-nominated film "Django Unchained" is Quentin Tatantino's newest film. (MCT Campus)
Oscar-nominated film “Django Unchained” is Quentin Tatantino’s newest film. (MCT Campus)

 

With every movie he makes, it seems that Quentin Tarantino tries harder and harder to push each and every one of his viewers’ buttons. That’s not to say that Tarantino is trying to be inconsiderate of his audience, however; he just doesn’t care what anyone thinks. After giving a bloody alternative to the death of Hitler with 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds,” Tarantino now brings a love letter to the spaghetti westerns he adored when he was young with “Django Unchained,” which is somewhat like “Basterds” in that it’s very violent, somewhat historically accurate and very good.

Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave released by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter who needs Django’s help. He needs Django to help identify and kill the men who caught and sold him and his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). In exchange for Django’s help, King will take Django to free his wife from slave trader Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his head slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

Seeing DiCaprio, Waltz, Foxx and Jackson stare each other down and try to outwit one another is a real treat. Combine that with a great score and awesome action, and you’ve got a tribute to spaghetti western movies that Tarantino always wanted to make. If you are uncomfortable with excess blood, violence and gratuitous use of the n-word, then “Django” is not something you will appreciate. If you can get past that, then you will see this as a pure Tarantino gem: bloody, bracing and brilliant.

 

Silver Linings Playbook”

3 1/2 stars

 

If you think Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are just box-office draws, think again. “Silver Linings Playbook” is proof that Lawrence and Cooper have serious acting chops. Cooper plays recently released mental patient Pat, committed after beating the man his wife cheated on him with to near-death. He returns to a calming mother (Jacki Weaver) and a worrisome father (Robert De Niro), who try to help him move on from his wife who left him. He then meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a bipolar widow who needs Pat to help her win a dance competition.

Cooper is good as a positive but testy character that just wants to find happiness his own way. He and De Niro are great together as die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans, but they are distant as father and son. The film, based off of a Matthew Quick novel and directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter”), belongs to Lawrence. Already an Oscar nominee, Lawrence shows her bite and wit as the stern Tiffany. She shows that even the most distant people need to connect and find hope in life. “Silver Linings Playbook” is about finding something to connect with that keeps you going. Cooper and Lawrence have such great onscreen chemistry, you would think they shared a room together.

 

“This Is 40”

4 stars

In a recent interview on “60 Minutes”, director/writer/producer Judd Apatow admits that he does not really know any jokes. So why is he behind some of the funniest movies in the past decade (“Anchorman,” “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”)?  It is because his stories, as miserable and embarrassing as they might be, are honest, heartfelt and relatable. His newest film, “This Is 40,” is drawing attention by being labeled as “the sort-of sequel to ‘Knocked Up,’” but it is not a cash-grabbing sequel. Apatow gives us a tale of middle-aged struggle from parenting in the digital age to the stresses of marriage and family.

Five years after the events of “Knocked Up,” passive-aggressive Pete (Paul Rudd) and positive until it hurts Debbie (Leslie Mann, the director’s real life wife) are turning 40 amid financial difficulties, work problems, conflicts with fathers (Albert Brooks and John Lithgow) and parenting their unique daughters (Maude and Iris Apatow, the director’s daughters). Rudd is great as he watches his patience be tested and his musical hopes (and his soul) crushed. Mann is the movie’s MVP as the family’s fighter. She will dig her claws into anyone (including a young boy at her daughter’s school). Apatow stacks up a great supporting cast, but Mann and Rudd are the stars of this very personal, very heartfelt comedy that pokes at the flaws of marriage and family until there are bruises.

 

“The Hobbit”

2 1/2 stars

The newest holiday getaway seems to be Middle Earth with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” It is the first in the 3-part prequel to “The Lord Of The Rings” franchise. Here, director Peter Jackson brings the journey of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to life. Bilbo, a sheltered but comfortable hobbit in the Shire, is approached by Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) to lead him and a group of dwarves into the Lonely Mountains to reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug. On this journey, Bilbo leaves behind his fear of the outside world and finds courage, adventure and a mysterious piece of gold jewelry guarded by a disturbed creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis). As one would expect from Peter Jackson, the visuals of “The Hobbit” take your breath away. The elven world of Rivendell is still beautiful and the mines in the mountains are still dark and cavernous. However, Jackson takes a more digital approach to his filmmaking, which takes away a sense of authenticity from the film. The viewer knows it’s fake, but it seems much more artificial. You can also predict much of where the film is going. “The Hobbit” is great to look at and it is exciting that the beginning of such a great story is being told right, but one can’t help leaving with the feeling of wanting more.

 

“The Guilt Trip”

2 stars

 

If “The Guilt Trip” were an episode of “Friends,” it would really be called “The One Where Seth Rogen Lost A Bet.” Rogen, one of the most popular and relevant stars of today, teams up with Barbra Streisand, one of the most popular and relevant stars in the 1970s, to create a great film to watch if you have older female relatives in town. You watch it once, see its heart, and forget it until you see it again in the discount bin at Best Buy. Rogen is Andy, a California science geek who just invented a new cleaning product. He plans to pitch it to various big name stores across the country and see who’ll buy it. Before he leaves, he visits his mother (Streisand), living alone and uninterested in seeing any other man besides her son. In hopes of getting her out into the real world, Andy decides to bring his overbearing mother along with him. For eight days, he is stuck with a book on tape about a man becoming a woman, revisiting his remarried ex-girlfriend and navigating in a car that is two inches bigger than a Fiat all at the request of his mother.

Rogen plays the awkward character he always does, and Streisand is the high-spirited mother. You want to brush her off, but her charm is something you have to smile at. “The Guilt Trip” is briefly heartwarming but is nothing special. It’s just filler, and 10 years from now, we will try to remember why it was released.

 

“Les Misérables”

3 1/2 stars

If there is one thing you need to enjoy “Les Misérables,” it is tolerance. The feature film adaptation of the 1985 musical, which is based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, is 158 minutes long. In that time, there seemed to be about 40 words spoken in the entire film. This means that 99 percent of the film is sung, and the content is not exactly the happiest thing in theatres. If you can tolerate that for more than two and half hours, you might just see why this is one of the most treasured pieces of literature and musical theatre in history and how big of an achievement this movie turned out to be.

The tale of Jean Valjean (a raw, gritty Hugh Jackman) and his road to redemption is very over-the-top, which is what most Broadway shows are like anyway. But “Les Mis” knows that there has to be excess, or all of the film’s best features will not get across to the viewer. From Anne Hathaway’s Oscar nominated performance (tears will come when she sings “I Dreamed A Dream”) to the striking sets of student revolution-era France, Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) banks on his stars to thrust their hearts (and vocal chords) out onto the screen. If you find too much drama annoying or a turn-off, you are better off without “Les Mis.”

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