Dark stories, both real and invented, dominate the weekend’s new movies.
The big studio entry is “Prisoners,” which starts when two little girls disappear one Thanksgiving. A police manhunt turns up a suspect (Paul Dano), but when the lead detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) can’t make a case and must let the guy go, the father of one of the girls (Hugh Jackman) takes the law into her own hands. French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”), making his English-language debut, creates a brooding tone and draws strong performances from a cast that includes Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis. The genre shifts, from moral drama to psycho-killer thriller, get a little rough — particularly in the wild finale.
The best movie of the week, and possibly the year, is “The Act of Killing,” a documentary unlike any you’ve ever seen. Director Joshua Oppenheimer meets leaders of Indonesian death-squads, responsible for the slaughter of a million or more people in the anti-Communist purges in the 1960s. He asks them to re-enact their killings for the camera, which they do in the style of Hollywood musicals and gangster pictures. The process is surreal and the results, particularly when one of the killers starts empathizing with his long-dead victims, is shattering.
“Short Term 12” is a finely wrought low-budget drama, set in a group home for at-risk teens — focusing on the kids’ problems and those of the adult staffers who supervise them. Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton (whose “I Am Not a Hipster” debuted at Sundance ‘12) worked in such a place, so he nails the day-to-day details. He also is blessed with a charming, emotional performance by Brie Larson (“The Spectacular Now”) as the head staffer.
“Thanks for Sharing” is a predictable comedy-drama that follows three sex addicts — played by Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Josh Gad — through their recovery meetings and their relationships. Director/co-writer Stuart Blumberg can’t settle on a consistent tone, and the story arc mimics many other (and better) addiction movies.
“Salinger” is the controversial documentary that tells of the reclusive author J.D. Salinger, and his tangled personal life. Due to scheduling issues, The Cricket was unable to see the film.
“Battle of the Year” follows a B-boy dance troupe through training, under a tough basketball coach (Josh Holloway), as they endeavor to bring back an international dance trophy to the United States. It was not screened for critics.
Lastly, a 3-D rendering of “The Wizard of Oz” is opening at IMAX theaters for a one-week run. Don’t let those flying monkeys grab you!