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Reviews for December 21st, 2012

Jack Reacher

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

      After a lone sniper shoots and kills five pedestrians from a distance, District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) interrogates James Barr (Joseph Sikora) because all of the evidence points toward him. James, in turn, requests him to bring Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) before he signs a confession. Why is Jack Reacher so special? He's a highly intelligent, reclusive, ex-military investigator who has a history with James. Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), James' defense attorney who also happens to be the DA's daughter, hires Jack even though he's convinced that James is guilty. The more that Jack Reacher investigates the sniper shooting, the more he realizes that James might not be guilty after all.

      To describe the plot of Jack Reacher any further would be to ruin its many clever surprises that makes logical sense even in hindsight. The nail-biting opening scene involving the sniper shooting includes a lot of small, seemingly insignificant details that become significant later on, so anyone who comes late to the film will be missing out a very important scene. Casting director Mindy Marin should be commended for hiring actors who fit perfectly in their roles, regardless of size, and add just the right amount of charisma, i.e. Rosamund Pike and Robert Duvall. The character of Jack Reacher makes for quite an interesting one because he's mysterious, reminiscent of Dirty Harry, and cares more about doing what's right even if it means risking his life and being chased by law enforcement.

      Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie blends action, suspense, thrills and comic relief with very satisfying results that never feel uneven. Fortunately, there's no corny romantic subplot between Jack and Helen to inflate the running time, although they almost have as much palpable chemistry as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint did in North by Northwest. It's very rare to come across a focused, effective suspense thriller that's old fashioned because it doesn't cater to the lowest common denominator or that uses excessive CGI. The action sequences are exhilarating without being mind-numbing and tedious like in most modern action thrillers. Also, the comic relief works well and incorporates some wit, i.e. when Jack Reacher Jack Reacher does have a plot that's often labyrinthine, yet easy-to-follow because McQuarrie makes sure to repeat key elements via flashbacks in case you might have forgotten them. If he weren't to repeat them, the film might have become too confusing and tiresome rather than exciting and thought-provoking. You may know whom the actual sniper is before the third act arrives, but what keeps you at the edge of your seat is trying to figure out how everyone is connected and what their true motives are.

      At a running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes, Jack Reacher is heart-stopping, smart, taut and electrifying. It's one of the finest suspense thrillers in years.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

This is 40

Directed by Judd Apatow

      Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her husband, Pete (Paul Rudd), live with their two kids, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), in a quiet suburban home. Both of them struggle to face their middle age head-on as they turn 40. He works as the owner of a small record label, but fails to make ends meet; she owns a boutique clothing store that has a mysterious $12,000 deficit. Pete's dad, Larry (Albert Brooks), has been borrowing money from his son because of his unsuccessful business selling curtains. Both Pete and Debbie clearly have serious financial problems that put everything at stake including their marriage. Concurrently, Sadie deals with her annoying younger sister, a boy from school who's mean to her on Facebook, and with the temporary punishment of not being able to use her computer or cell phone which her parents confiscate. John Lithgow shows up as Debbie's dad who hasn't seen his daughter for seven years, and Megan Fox plays a sexy saleswoman at Debbie's boutique.

      While it does have a few moments of mean-spirited, lowbrow humor that's often a trademark of Judd Apatow's comedies, This is 40 predominately offers what has been missing in his prior films and in many modern American comedies for that matter: genuine sweetness, maturity and razor-sharp wit that doesn't cater to the lower common denominator. The humor ranges from gross-out (which, thankfully, is at a minumum) to dark, irreverent humor and even ethnic humor, so there's something for everyone to laugh at. Each character has his or her own moments to shine with their comedic talents. Even the smaller characters, like Debbie's Asian saleswoman (Charlyne Yi), deliver hilarious one-liners that you might find yourself quoting for quite some time. None of those one-liners will be spoiled here, though, but do keep in mind that there are many funny scenes and surprises that are not spoiled in the film's trailer.

      Writer/director Judd Apatow blends the hysterically funny humor with just the right amount of pathos which makes for a roller-coaster ride of emotions. The fact that none of it feels uneven or dull is a testament to the wise, sensitive and crackerjack screenplay. One minute, you're laughing and the next you're attentively listening to Debbie and Pete deal with their many tragic woes. Comedy quite often comes from tragedy. Any truly great comedy, even a Charlie Chaplin film, is grounded in realism and tragedy, and This is 40 has plenty of that which makes it fundamentally relatable and emotionally involving. Pete and Debbie aren't one-dimensional, cardboard charicatures; they're complex, flawed characters and, most importantly, human beings. Apatow shows some maturity in how he delicately handles the solutions to their problems in the third act which could have easily gone over-the-top. Their struggles might not have easy solutions, but, what real-world problems do actually come with easy solutions?

      At a running time of 2 hours and 13 minutes, This is 40 is a sparkling romantic comedy brimming with razor-sharp wit and genuine poignancy. It's funnier and wiser than Knocked Up, Funny People and The 40 Year Old Virgin combined.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

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