"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" — This grief-drenched Sept. 11 drama is incredibly mawkish and extremely annoying, even infuriating. Featuring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, the film exists in some contrived alternate reality through which director Stephen Daldry, adapting Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, fabricates the perfect cleansing ritual for a Sept. 11 Manhattan family in mourning. Perfect for them, that is, not for a movie audience. This story is not a catharsis. It's a cheat that has nothing to do with overcoming sorrow in the real world, where Sept. 11 happened. Hanks plays a dad killed in the World Trade Center attack, leaving behind a troubled young son (Thomas Horn) who sets out to unravel the secret of a mysterious key that his father left behind. The boy's journey is supposed to be a healing one for him and the people around him (among them Bullock, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright). The film's a class act for performances and production, providing a lovely travelogue through the nooks and crannies of New York and grim images of the burning towers. And as everyone works through their pain, it all sounds so sweet and life-affirming. Yet it feels so extremely soppy and incredibly phony. PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language. 129 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"In the Land of Blood and Honey" — The heavy-handed touch of Angelina Jolie's directorial debut is evident from the start, when a bomb explodes in a nightclub before our main characters, out on a date, have even shared a word. Throughout the film, Jolie puts politics ahead of story and character, blatantly imposing a message — an altruistic message, but a message nonetheless — on the film. And the result is a movie whose narrative feels like a fictionalized United Nations presentation. Certainly, Jolie's bluntness is justifiable. The film, in Bosnian with subtitles, is about the Bosnian War of the early 1990s and the atrocities of genocide that came with it, conducted by the Bosnian Serb Army in an ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims. "In the Land of Blood and Honey" exists as a caution to international inaction, to highlight the horror that transpired in the years before NATO airstrikes and international pressure brought an end to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Much of it is horrifying to watch. What Jolie depicts on camera (random murder, abysmal rape) is scarcely any less ugly than what transpires just off-screen (mass murder, a slaughtered baby). In the midst of this is the story of a hesitant, uncertain love between a Bosnian Muslim artist, Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), and a Serbian police officer turned military captain, Danijel (Goran Kostic). R for war violence and atrocities including rape, sexuality nudity and language. 127 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer
"War Horse" — Just in time for family friendly holiday feel-goodery is Steven Spielberg's sweeping, historical epic. The story began life as a children's book by Michael Morpurgo, then made its way to the London and New York stages to great acclaim featuring inventive puppetry, and now arrives in theaters with all the grandeur a master filmmaker can conjure. "War Horse" features a strong cast and the sort of impeccable production values you would expect — that trademark Spielbergian lighting, the work of his longtime collaborator, Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. And yet it's overlong, painfully earnest and sometimes even hokey. Clearly, Spielberg intended "War Horse" as a throwback, an homage to good, old-fashioned, heart-rending storytelling, full of recognizable types and uplifting themes. Yet the dialogue is so frequently on-the-nose and repetitive, it might just make you cringe. Yes, the horse is remarkable — of course he is — that's why they made a movie about him. That should have been obvious to us through the action alone, yet the script feels the need to remind us repeatedly that he's "remarkable." The majestic Joey comes into the lives of a struggling British family just before World War I. The father (Peter Mullan) buys him at auction, even though he knows he cannot afford him; the mother (Emily Watson) insists he return him and get the family's money back. But plucky teenager Albert (good-looking newcomer Jeremy Irvine) begs to keep him and promises to train him. PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence. 146 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"We Bought a Zoo" — This is about a family that buys a zoo. It's as high-concept as you can get, and it's equally straightforward in wearing its heart on its sleeve. We know to expect this because "We Bought a Zoo" comes from Cameron Crowe, the writer-director of "Say Anything ...," "Jerry Maguire," "Almost Famous" and, more recently, the 2005 flop "Elizabethtown." We know there will be some poignantly phrased life lessons in store for this family as they struggle to reconnect after the mother's death. The whole exercise could have been agonizingly mawkish, and/or filled with cheap, lazy animal-poop jokes. And yet, it's not. It's actually surprisingly charming and more emotionally understated than the material would suggest, and a lot of that has to do with Matt Damon's performance. He is an actor incapable of faking it, so he brings great authenticity and gravitas to the role of Benjamin Mee, a widower and father of two. Six months after his wife died of cancer, Benjamin is struggling to move on. He's having trouble dedicating himself to his career as a Los Angeles newspaper columnist and finds himself squabbling with his troublemaking teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford). Benjamin thinks a change of scenery might help, so he quits his job and moves the family to a rustic, rambling house on 18 acres outside the city. Seems perfect — except for the fact that the land includes an animal park that has fallen into disrepair. Scarlett Johansson co-stars as the hottest zookeeper on the planet. PG for language and some thematic elements. 123 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic