POLISSE

Prediction: this French movie shot in semi-documentary style about a
Special Victims unit of the Paris police specializing in sexual crimes
against children will get more than just art-house buzz when it’s
released in May. Ably employing a large cast with at least ten major
characters (one of whom she plays herself), director and co-writer
MaĆ®wenn gives us a grittier, more highly strung “Hill Street Blues”,
with a special emphasis on the destructive ways high-pressure, lives-
at-stake jobs can wear down even the hardest-bitten cop. It also
suggests, by way of a shocker at the very end, that child abuse
victims may sometimes turn out to be more resilient than the adults
who pledge their lives (and sanity) to stopping predators. There are
two enormously powerful set pieces. One, involving child separation,
rivals the haunting scene when Haley Joel Osment is abandoned in A.I.
Only here it’s a tiny baby. You’ll have a tough time watching it. The
other is a knock-down, drag-out verbal fight between two officers that
leads to tragedy. You will not be able to get enough of that one. —
Jeff Schultz

THE THREE STOOGES

You will laugh in spite of yourself, then you’ll start to get
depressed, then you’ll laugh a couple more times, and ultimately
you’ll wonder why this movie was ever made. This is not a biopic; it
is simply a transfer from the “classic”, roughly 30’s-through-50’s
shorts to a recast, contemporary feature-length version that wants
nothing more than to evoke everything fans of the Stooges like about
the originals. But what’s the point, when those originals are almost
by definition the ones you go to when you want to see Moe, Larry, and
Curly. That said, Will Sasso’s whoop-whoops and barks and growls (and
physical resemblance) are standout. But Sean Hayes is a bit too
serious as Larry: he takes the character down a notch, even as he
nails the New York accent. And as Moe, Chris Diamantopoulos never
seems angry enough, or maybe even old enough. (Actually, he looks like
Fox-11 reporter Phil Shuman in a Moe Howard wig.) As for the
supporting cast, I wish I could report that Larry David as a cranky
nun was as sublime as that sounds, but the performance is a dud. Jane
Lynch is actively bad, and Sofia Vergara mails it in. Two of the
better moments come after the movie ends: the director Farrellys’
don’t-try-this-at-home violence disclaimer and a music video of the
R&B song “It’s a Shame”, sung by the Stooges. — Jeff Schultz

JUSTIFIED, Season 3 Finale

This outstanding series just keeps getting better. Even the average episodes are better than just about everything else on TV. SLAUGHTERHOUSE is a perfect example of how great this series is. After a season of densely layered plotting and head scratching behavior from Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, where’s your Emmy nomination?) it all works out amid kidnappings, pills, dismemberments and gunfire. Every scene bristles with anticipation and drama. Raylan’s homespun tales and professional confidence are balanced by the mess of his personal life. This season comes to a head in the search for whoever shot a Kentucky state police officer. Everyone knows who did it (or do they). And the final scene tears at your heart for Raylan’s past and future. Last year Margo Martindale won a best supporting actress Emmy for her portrayal of hillbilly crime matriarch Mags Bennett. There are about four actors who should at least get nominations. Olyphant is perfect (ask Elmore Leonard about that, he’ll tell you). Neal McDonough and Mykelti Williamson are fantastic villains, but no one is better than Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder. If you haven’t ever watched this series, you are missing some of the best writing in television. One of my favorite scenes in JUSTIFIED’s three year run was in season 2. Raylan confronts local crime boss Wynn Duffy in his motorhome. Raylan punches him to the ground, then threatens to shoot him at a later date by tossing a bullet on his chest and saying, “the next one’s gonna come faster.” A brilliant scene, brilliantly acted. Can’t wait for season 4. — Alan Yudman

GIRLS

Not being a “girl”, maybe I just don’t understand the special brand of humor and angst on display here, but GIRLS was beyond dull. I figured I’d give it a try based on the twin facts that it is produced by Judd Apatow and is broadcast on HBO. Consider my TiVO now available in this Sunday time slot. The lead character Hannah (played by co-producer, creator, director and writer Leah Dunham) is completely unlikeable. Her parents have cut off her financial support and I can’t blame them. She is an intern at a business that we never learn anything about. She’s unpaid. She’s whiny. She’s insecure. Please, someone help her. She lives with a friend who is attractive and dating a guy who is in love with her, but she is ambivalent about him. Nope, don’t like her either. I could go on about the other wastes of space on the screen, but my brain hurts just thinking about this. GIRLS, I have one thing to say… GROW UP AND GET A LIFE!! — Alan Yudman

THE HUNGER GAMES

Let me start by saying I would watch Jennifer Lawrence reciting the phone book in a coffee shop. Yes, she’s a beautiful young woman, but I am just as enthralled by her acting chops. Anyone who has seen WINTER’S BONE knows what I mean. So, that is the only reason I even considered going to see THE HUNGER GAMES. These young adult novels hold no interest for me. Twilight? Harry Potter? MEH! But the draw of Lawrence made me go, and I am glad I did. To say this movie has been an enormous hit is a massive understatement. Lionsgate can now afford to pay Matthew Weiner and the MAD MEN cast whatever they want (both this film and that show are owned by this studio). HUNGER GAMES gets going fairly slowly. It takes a while to learn about this post-apocolyptic culture and this bizarre need to kill off 23 young people every year. But once Katniss and Peeta get on that bullet train, the movie takes off. Some scenes drag on too long (yes, we get that Katniss is upset by the death of a fellow competitor, the prolonged weeping and flowers were just overdone). But even that scene is telling for Katniss. She has avoided killing anyone, but when her friend is attacked she doesn’t hesitate to pull her bow with deadly accuracy. The production design and direction are above average and the script is good enough. It’s fantastic performances from Lawrence, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci that floored me. I am hungering for the sequel. — Alan Yudman

An hour into the years most overhyped movie, I thought it was actually very good. A cool setup in a dark world where these violent games are the focal point of an entire society. Brutal, relentless, and unflinching. Then the games began and the air slowly comes out of the whole thing. There are times where a PG 13 movie doesn’t need violence and can still be effective. This isn’t one of those times. By the time the obligatory love story is thrown in and characters you didn’t think will die don’t (those that do may as well be wearing red shirts a la Star Trek), the only people suffering are those who didn’t read the book. My wife told me several details that weren’t in the movie that would have made it a lot better. For whatever reason, Gary Ross didn’t feel the need to include them in his TWO AND A HALF HOUR MOVIE! Can’t say there was no time. Congratulations Gary, you’ve turned solid source material into another Twilight franchise. Great if you’re the one cashing the checks I guess.
Stormy Curry

A studio tentpole with a massive built-in audience who loved the
books; but what’s it got for the rest of us, who come to the
(familiar, derivative) material cold? Two words: Jennifer Lawrence,
ably jumping the Great Divide between indie fame (WINTER’S BONE) and
blockbuster stardom. 21 in beauty, but older in grit and will, she is,
in a sense, the Alpha Male of the movie, co-star Josh Hutcherson
taking the sensitive, gentler half of the relationship (and doing fine
with it). The set-up pulls you in; the first hour is the best part.
But once the Games begin, a sense of place is lost: the lengthy middle
plays out in an undifferentiated forest that might as well have been
the setting for a well-shot low-budget flick. And then the end comes
rather abruptly. Although it resolves the story, it doesn’t seem quite
enough to wrap up the first installment of a POTTER/RINGS/STAR WARS-
caliber trilogy. (The sequels may answer that qualm.) Also worth
mention: Woody Harrelson, having a ball as the kids’ mentor, and
Stanley Tucci in a role similar to The Real Don Steele’s turn as the
announcer in the first DEATH RACE 2000. Tucci is pretty much a
national treasure. — Jeff Schultz

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

Not what I was expecting and not really what I wanted. This proves
again that the movies you’re most excited about are the ones that
usually disappoint. It’s a bait-and-switch; you go to see a horror
movie which does, in fact, start out as a teens-in-dangerous-isolation
slasher flick — but then it turns into a strange mashup of THE TRUMAN
SHOW-style social satire (and more than a passing relation to THE
HUNGER GAMES) along with mytho-religio claptrap that reeks of CRYSTAL
SKULL ludicrousness. The reason for all that’s going on — a surprise
revealed early on — belongs in the Hall of Preposterous Premises, and
as it is further explained throughout becomes even more ridiculous.
There’s a laughable moment when a certain actress shows up near the
end to fully reveal the mystery. Maybe the joke’s intentional (there’s
comedy throughout), but by then the movie has long overstayed its
welcome — despite the presence of a cast that includes the reliable
Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford in major parts. There is one
redeeming sequence; it lasts about ten minutes when all the evils and
nightmares of the world are released in one building. If the rest had
been that good, WOODS would have been a winner. Instead, this CABIN is
barely worth a summer rental. — Jeff Schultz

ATM

Waiting for your receipt at a REAL machine is probably more exciting and unpredictable than the movie. The premise is full of potential (3 people trapped in an atm with a killer outside) but the execution is lazy and pointless. And the “twist” ending isn’t even an ending. Bad acting, no suspense, and long pointless scenes lead to being ripped off by this ATM. Just awful.
Stormy Curry

INTRUDERS

The promise of a new horror movie from Juan Carlos Fresnadillo — he
made the possibly superior sequel 28 WEEKS LATER — goes unfulfilled
in this bilingual, dual plotline bore. The international financing,
the international cast, the lone star familiar to American audiences
(and a Brit at that, Clive Owen) — it has all the excitement of a
business deal. The twin stories play out in different countries but
come together at the end in some kind of an it’s-all-in-his-head-isn’t-
it? psychodramatic way that I didn’t fully understand, because my mind
kept drifting off in the long slogs between (phony) scares. 15-year-
old Ella Purnell is an actress to watch, but that’s about it. — Jeff
Schultz