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This Week at the Movies

'Zero Dark Thirty' and 'Amour' are among the year's best, while 'Not Fade Away' and 'This is 40' are pretty good and 'On the Road' is stylish, but flawed.

Kathryn Bigelow follows up her Academy Award-winning “The Hurt Locker” with a provocative and completely engrossing chronicle of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, “Zero Dark Thirty.”

In the picture’s early scenes, agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) is arriving at a CIA “black site,” where a prisoner with Al Qaeda connections is being questioned and, occasionally, tortured by fellow agent Dan (Jason Clarke).

“This is going to take a while,” he tells her. Little does she know.

Bigelow’s film opens to a black screen with the sound of 9/11 calls streaming in and culminates with a raid by Navy SEALS on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

But it’s the decade between – full of false leads, interrogations and much obsessing over details – that provide the meat of the movie.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a riveting procedural that is less a political statement than it is the detailing of a complex process. In chasing a fanatic, Maya becomes one herself.

Much has been made of the film’s depiction of water boarding and other methods of torture. Some have argued that the picture makes apologies for torture, while others have said they believe it condones it. I believe it does neither, but rather portrays these so-called coercive interrogation methods as part of a process.

If there is any indication in the film on where Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal stand on the “issues,” it is written on Maya’s face in the closing scene of the picture.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is complex, executed with great skill and endlessly fascinating. It could very well be the most significant film on the War on Terror.

Michael Haneke’s Palm d’Or winning “Amour” has a simpler narrative, but is no less intense, giving new meaning to the adage that “old age is not for sissies.”

The film stars French cinema legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as an aging Parisian couple. One day, Anne (Riva) blanks out at the breakfast table, prompting Georges (Trintignant) to take her to the doctor, who tells the couple that Anne’s health is on the decline.

The rest of Haneke’s film details Georges’s attempts to make his wife’s final months as comfortable as possible. But as her health worsens, their relationship – as well as their patience and dignity - is tested.

Their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), wants to be proactive and believes that Anne should not be simply left to waste away, while Georges recognizes that nothing is left to be done other than allow nature to take its course.

In one of the film’s key scenes, a pigeon flies into the house, becomes trapped and its fate – much like Anne’s - is left to Georges’ mercy.

Haneke, one of Europe’s best filmmakers, is the twisted genius behind such austere masterpieces as “Cache” and “The White Ribbon,” another Cannes winner.

“Amour” is his most humane film to date and a somber reminder about that which awaits us all.

Director Judd Apatow’s “This is 40” is the director’s most personal film to date. This may stem from the fact that his leading lady, Leslie Mann, is his wife and the film’s two children are his own.

The picture is a chronicle of a couple – Paul Rudd and Mann – who are approaching age 40, but not so gracefully. Rudd is a record producer whose niche company is struggling, while Mann dreads the effects of time on her figure.

Apatow became a major force in Hollywood after his “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” were surprise hits. But his films – “Funny People” and, now, “This is 40” – have become increasingly longer – at least, for comedies – and messier.

This is only partially a criticism as “This is 40” is a mostly likeable, often funny and always well-performed ensemble comedy that also includes welcome appearances from Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy and Jason Segel.

If there’s any drawback to the material it is that the lead couple’s problems – their daughter is too obsessed with her iPhone, iPad, etc. and Rudd is having difficulty getting traction on the Graham Parsons record he produced – are relatively small in the scheme of things.

The film has some solid laughs – many of which are courtesy of Brooks – but there’s only so much drama that can be drawn from this story.

Two new films – David Chase’s “Not Fade Away” and Walter Salles’s “On the Road” - about youthful rebellion were released this week, but only one of them connects.

Chase, who created “The Sopranos,” has created an uneven, but frequently involving 1960s rock ‘n’ roll tale with “Not Fade Away.”

The picture tells the tale of a mid-60s band made up of New Jersey youths who struggle to get their act together as the decade unfolds. John Magaro makes a compelling lead as the band’s drummer and, then, lead singer, while James Gandolfini provides some nice supporting work as his father.

While the film’s various themes never quite gel as smoothly as they should, “Not Fade Away” is filled with a number of stellar sequences and performances.

Unfortunately, Salles’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s classic “On the Road” is gorgeously shot, but short on substance.

While Kerouac’s 1957 tome inspired generations of writers, the film version is merely another tale of boys being boys and behaving badly.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is playing at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, while “Amour” is screening at the Film Forum.

“This is 40” is playing at AMC Loews Fresh Meadows 7.

“Not Fade Away” is playing at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 and “On the Road” is at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

 “Not Fade Away” opens at Kew Gardens Cinemas on Dec. 28, while “Amour” will play at that theater on Jan. 25.

Michael Feiner December 24, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Zero Dark Thirty is on my must see list. Tomorrow I will be seeing Les Miz.
Harriet Brown December 24, 2012 at 08:29 PM
I wonder why no one mentioned The Hobbit, which I LOVED. If you are a Lord of the Rings person, you really need to see The Hobbit.
Nathan Duke December 25, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Hi Harriet: I reviewed "The Hobbit" last week. Michael: I'm also see "Les Miserables" and Django Unchained" in the next day or so before I do my best of the year list.

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