Oscar forecast: Some history could be made

When the Academy Awards are presented on Feb. 24, it is possible that the number of people who have won three or more acting Oscars could increase from five to eight. This year’s group of nominees is loaded with veterans of the Oscar show. Of the 20 stars up for Oscars, only 4 are first-time nominees; the other 16 have a combined 54 nominations and 13 Oscars between them.

Four nominees — Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Robert DeNiro and Sally Field — have a shot of joining the exclusive club of those with either three or four Oscars: Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, Katharine Hepburn (with an unprecedented four), Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

The Academy selected nine Best Picture nominees, one short of the maximum 10 allowed in this category. Per usual, most can be eliminated as serious contenders for the Oscar. “Amour,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables” and “Silver Linings Playbook” likely may pick up an Oscar or two, but the leaders of the pack appear to be “Life of Pi,” which probably will grab technical awards for its stunning visual accomplishments; “Lincoln,” a historical film loaded with top performances; “Zero Dark Thirty,” a well-received film but one that has been marred by controversy over its depictions of torture; and “Argo,” arguably the most widely praised movie that has emerged as a serious dark horse after its wins at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild presentations. “Argo” has nudged its way past “Les Miserables” as a film that could challenge for the top prize in a race that involves three movies centered around true historical events. In the end, “Lincoln” is going to be the favored movie, but a surprise could lurk here, especially in light of the Best Director nomination snubs on Ben Affleck for “Argo” and Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” as the Academy tries to make up for those oversights.

BEST ACTOR

The momentum clearly has swung in favor of Daniel Day-Lewis winning his third Oscar for his mesmerizing performance as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” This president has been portrayed in so many movies and plays he has become legendary. Day-Lewis has managed to make even despicable people seem in some ways sympathetic, as he did with his previous Oscar-winning performance in “There Will Be Blood” and his nominated work in “Gangs of New York.” So it is no surprise he added some new layers to Lincoln that cut through the often mythical portrayals of the man. There had been vague references over the years to Lincoln having a bawdy sense of humor. In “Lincoln” we see it.

Bradley Cooper, known more for his appearances in action flicks and raunchy comedies, went serious in 2012 with “The Words” and his nominated work in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Cooper was able to weave together a performance of a man plagued by  emotional and mental issues without going over the top, but he was helped greatly by a superb cast that includes three other nominated performances.

Hugh Jackman, another first-time nominee, has proven he can handle physical roles, but in “Les Miserables,” he got beaten down and dirty, but also sang passionately in the role. It was beautiful work but not likely to overcome Day-Lewis and “Lincoln.” Joaquin Phoenix, meanwhile, really sank into his role in “The Master,” but his Freddie Quell, a boozed up, emotionally immature man trying to cope in a post-World War II America, is a character that is simply annoying. As good as he is in the role, the character garners little sympathy. The same can be said for Denzel Washington, a six-time nominee, with his work as the alcoholic airline pilot so deeply into denial about his condition he is willing to risk his life and that of dozens of others each time he flies a jet. Unsavory characters do sometimes lead to Oscar-winning work, but not going up against a universally recognized real hero.

BEST ACTRESS

This is truly a tossup, with Jessica Chastain, as the tenacious CIA agent in pursuit of Osama bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty,” and Jennifer Lawrence as the emotionally volatile yet firmly grounded young woman who falls for an unstable man in “Silver Linings Playbook” each winning awards in other venues for their roles. Lawrence’s win at the Screen Actors Guild festivities makes her a slight favorite here. The dark horse would be Emmanuelle Riva, a surprise nominee for the little-seen “Amour.” Young Quvenzhane Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and Naomi Watts, who endured brutally physical demands as a tsunami survivor in “The Impossible,” are probably lost in the shuffle.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Wow. Talk about a list of proven actors here. These five guys, ranging in ages from 45 to 78, have amassed 21 nominations between them and all have  at least one Oscar. This category also is a tossup, as Christophe Waltz, as the dentist-turned-bounty-hunter in “Django Unchained,” and Tommy Lee Jones as the impassioned Thaddeus Stevens, instrumental in getting slavery abolished via a constitutional amendment, have already won awards for their work in these movies. Jones could collect his second Oscar if this turns out to be a “Lincoln” night, but Waltz, playing a unique German-born character in a Western, also could win just for the making an unlikely person so very real. Meanwhile, Robert DeNiro as the deluded father who believes sharing a fanaticism for the Philadelphia Eagles can mend a faltering relationship with his son in “Silver Linings Playbook,” and Alan Arkin, as the Hollywood-wise producer who pulls off a phony movie production to serve as cover for rescuing hostages in Iran in “Argo,” each had magic moments in their films. And do not count out Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master,” who really had almost as much screen time in the movie as Phoenix, playing a charismatic cult-like leader using what was in the 1950s controversial exercises to battle emotional issues, who develops a strange attachment to a drifting, drunken Navy veteran.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Sally Field could make history. If she wins the Oscar here for her portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln in “Lincoln,” offering a deviation from the usual views of this First Lady as a frail, disturbed woman, she could be the first person ever to win three Oscars with just three nominations. She belongs to a select group of 2-for-2s in the Oscar fraternity: Helen Hayes, Luise Rainer, Kevin Spacey and Hilary Swank. Field presents Mary as a much stronger woman than the accepted depictions of Lincoln’s wife. It is a surprise, and a delight. However, it looks like Anne Hathaway may stand in the way of Field’s historical moment. Hathaway’s work as the tragic woman who has to resort to  prostitution to support her child amid the unrest and squalor of 19th-century France has gained favor mostly because of her heart-rending singing of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Also, when an exceptionally attractive actor or actress is willing to get dirty and sacrifice beauty for a role, it can lead to honors later. Amy Adams as the real force behind The Cause in “The Master” and Jacki Weaver, sweet and loyal as the wife and mother trying to hold together a fragile family in “Silver Linings Playbook,” did incredible work in movies loaded with top performances. The gutsiest work in this category, however, belonged to Helen Hunt as the sex surrogate in “The Sessions” who despite her professional posturing finds herself loving the client she is serving, a man who needs an iron lung to survive but wishes to have just one sexual experience. Hunt had to bare all in this role and engage in very intimate physical contact. It had to be difficult.

BEST DIRECTOR

Real intrigue here, with Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow falling short of nominations. At this point Steven Spielberg has to be the favorite for “Lincoln,” although David O. Russell could pull off an upset here for “Silver Linings Playbook.” The other nominees are Michael Haneke for “Amour,” Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and Ang Lee for “Life of Pi.”

SOME OSCAR TIDBITS

Daniel Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington, current Best Actor nominees and two-time Oscar winners, won their first statuettes in the same year. In 1990, Day-Lewis was named Best Actor for “My Left Foot,” while Washington that night took home the Best Supporting Actor award for “Glory.”

Alan Arkin, a four-time nominee who won his first Oscar in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine,” went 38 years between nominations. He was nominated in 1969 for Best Actor for “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” then not again until “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Robert DeNiro also had a nomination drought end. His “Silver Linings Playbook” nod is his seventh overall, but first since “Cape Fear” in 1992.

And Sally Field’s nomination is her first since “Places in the Heart” in 1985.

This is Tommy Lee Jones’ second nomination from a movie named after a president. He was nominated in 1992 for Best Supporting Actor for “JFK.”

Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who were nominated for their roles in “Doubt” in 2009, are now nominees for roles in “The Master.”

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” follows siblings who evolve from candy lovers to exterminators

First there was “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” and now there is “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” What’s next? “Yogi Bear and Boo Boo: Werewolf Slayers”?

While “Abraham Lincoln” took itself seriously, “Hansel & Gretel” winks at the audience throughout with its twist on an old tale. Propped up by the pairing of Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in the starring roles — two performers who look like they can tangle with witches — this jolly romp is both silly and violent, a nice mix in a film that speeds by in 88 minutes.

As children, Hansel & Gretel are uprooted from their quiet home one night when their father takes them into the woods and tells them to stay there. But after a while, when their father does not return, they wander away and find the candy-structured cottage, built to lure them with its sweet offerings into the lair of a witch.

The resourceful children do manage to gain the upper hand and destroy the witch. Now certain they have been abandoned, the siblings work out their post-traumatic stress issues by becoming witch hunters. Over the opening credits are shown several clippings from ye olde newspapers describing the exploits of these two as they become legends of the countryside.

Years later their services are required in a little country hamlet where several children have disappeared, likely abducted by witches, who tend to do such things. The town, in the grips of hysterical reactions led by the Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare) are on the verge of burning an alleged witch, Mina (Pihla Viitala), when H&G show up and stop the lynching. Despite Berringer’s protests, H&G are contracted by the town mayor to find the missing children and bring them back — and maybe put an end to the witches responsible for the kidnappings.

Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (“Kill Buljo: The Movie”), “S&G: WH” unabashedly dives into absurdity. H&G are armed with some rapid-firing weaponry that are way too modern for the times. They even have a groupie, Ben (Thomas Mann), who keeps a scrapbook of H&G clippings and a poster-like sketching of Gretel on the wall of his home.

Famke Janssen gets to strut around as Muriel, the lead witch who is orchestrating the child abductions in preparation for an upcoming Blood Moon ceremony and to lure H&G into the fray, as they can be entrapped to play a vital role in the ceremony that will make witches invincible.

H&G suffer their fair share of bruises and blood-drawing injuries in their pursuits, and as usual have unlikely allies, like a troll named, no kidding, Edward (Derek Mears).

“H&G: WH” has an explosive and gory final confrontation, and along the way, H&G learn the truth about their parents and develop a revised philosophy regarding their witch adversaries. Also, they have expanded their payroll, poised for more adventures should Wirkola get the green light for additional “H&G” movies.

In “Parker,” once again we root for a criminal who is not a total bad guy

Maybe it started with Robin Hood — the idea that a thief can be redeemable if he/she has some sense of charity, like robbing the rich to give to the poor, or kindly standards such as stealing but not injuring or killing anyone in the process. This is a character that continually crops up in the world of fictional stories.

In “Parker,” Jason Statham, who has played this scene before, takes on the title role as the good-guy thief, based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake. Directed by Taylor Hackford, in only his second film since “Ray” in 2004, “Parker” is a familiar story of a man who breaks the law but within his own sense of ethics. Although he runs afoul of the law, he is more at peril within his own fraternity of fellow criminals rather than the police.

Hackford and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (“Hitchcock”) set up the character with an elaborate detailing of a robbery of the gate receipts at the Ohio State Fair. Disguised as a priest, Parker calmly leads the heist and is reassuring of the people that no harm will come to them. He even talks a panicked security guard down from an anxiety attack.

The job is pulled off, but a goof-up by one of his accomplices, August (Michah Hauptman), does result in some injuries to people. So Parker is stewing anyway as the five-man theft team flees. When Melander (Michael Chiklis) proposes that Parker join him and the three other guys in using the take from this robbery as a stake for an even bigger jewelry heist, Parker declines. Things get nasty and Parker ends up jumping out of the moving vehicle. Too injured to flee, he is shot by August and left for dead.

However, good Samaritans find him and get him to the hospital. Beat up but alive, Parker now has a new agenda — to gain revenge on Melander and his buddies. While on the mend, he reunites with girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth) and her father Hurley (Nick Nolte), who has some vague connection to organized crime. Hurley tries to talk Parker out of his plans — he even has managed to secure Parker’s take in the state fair robbery and offers it to the thief. But this is not about the money, Parker says. This is about a professional code among thieves and avenging his betrayal.

Parker’s tracking down of the Melander gang takes him to West Palm Beach, where posing as a wealthy Texan he pretends to be house-hunting and hooks up with struggling real estate broker Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez). Rodgers, recently divorced and having to assume some of her ex-husband’s debt, is forced to live with her mother Ascension (Patti LuPone) and is desperate to get a fat commission. But she finds something amiss about the stoic Parker and digs into his background, which comes up basically non-existent. Still, she tries to sell herself as being helpful to Parker, who reluctantly accepts her offer — especially when she helps pinpoint where the jewelry robbery may take place.

Statham gets to use his natural likeability here and of course lays the pain on a few people who get in his way. But he also takes his lumps. He is indeed, within his own set of rules, a decent guy, fending off Leslie’s advances in his faithfulness to Claire.

“Parker” unfolds as a predictable caper, and Hackford challenges credibility in scenes where Parker, as he maintains surveillance of Melander and gang, is never detected despite Melander knowing they likely are being stalked and apparently is on high alert.

Yes, Leslie will become a pawn in the final showdown, but we all know that “bad” bad guys will be going down. The only mystery will be how and when. Then later, Parker will add some good will to ease the ambiguity of his chosen professional and code of behavior.

Key February birthdays:

Sadly, Conrad Bain passed away Jan. 14, just a few weeks before his Feb. 4 90th birthday.

50: William Baldwin 2/23, Travis Tritt 2/9

60: Michael Bolton 2/26, Christine Ebersole 2/21, Joanna Kerns, 2/12 Mary Steenburgen, 2/8

70: Blythe Danner 2/3, Fabian 2/6, Joe Pesci, 2/9

80: Kim Novak 2/13

In “Mama,” things get scary when a custody fight enters the supernatural realm

“Mama” is unique in a couple of ways. First, it is a little horror movie that stars a current Academy Award nominee, and second, it grew from a three-minute short. And by the way, it opened with a healthy $28 million at the box office, also unusual for a horror flick.

The brother-sister team of Andres Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti made the short film, which received a boost when Guillermo del Toro saw it and decided to be executive producer for the feature-length production. The multifaceted del Toro, who has been a driving force behind such projects as “Kung Fu Panda,” “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” knows a few things about scary things — you’ll see stories by him in the horror section of the bookstores. He has said he believes mothers can be one of the scariest characters in horror stories, noting that Alfred Hitchcock did very well exploring in his movies horrible mothers and the consequences.

With del Toro aboard, the Muschietti siblings’ little film has grown into a creepy tale that has the effective chilling elements, including children in peril and people whose lives are thrown into dangerous disarray. Andres directed the movie and shared writing credit with Barbara — who also served as producer — and Neil Cross, creator and writer of the award-winning crime drama television series “Luther.”

The best break for “Mama,” however, was getting Jessica Chastain, nominated for Best Actress for “Zero Dark Thirty,” for the key role of Annabel. Chastain’s Annabel adds texture to the story by playing a young woman not only knocked away from her comfort zone but soon facing deadly ramifications.

“Mama” begins with a prelude in which a man at a Wall Street firm, Jeffrey, in the midst of a financial and psychological meltdown, kills a few people, including his estranged wife. He then scoops up his young daughters, 3-year-old Victoria and year-old Lilly, and flees. But on an icy road he loses control of his car, which plunges down a hill. But all three survive the crash and struggle on, finding an abandoned and secluded house — that’s always bad news. Jeffrey’s attempt to close down his tragic life via a murder-suicide is dashed by some unseen force. The little girls, abandoned, soon learn there is someone — or something — else in the house to at least keep them fed.

Five years pass. While authorities have given up on finding Jeffrey and the girls, Jeffrey’s brother Lucas (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones”), assisted by a couple of grizzled old hunters, continues to search. One day the old guys come across the house and find the girls, now 8 and 5, alive but primitive.

Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel are basically starving artists. He draws pictures and she plays guitar in a punk rock band. But he is intent on raising the girls, if they can be rehabilitated back into a normal life.

Trying to block the custody is Jean (Jane Moffat), sister of the girls’ slain mother. Although she clearly would be the better option for the orphaned girls, Lucas has an ally in Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), who would like the girls to stay local, rather than be relocated with Jean across the continent, so he can continue to study them. Dreyfuss even arranges for Lucas and Annabelle to set up residence in a nice big house, rent-free.

While Victoria (Megan Charpentier) has managed to retain some vocabulary, Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) knows only one word, “mama,” skitters around crab-like on all fours, likes to hide in empty boxes and prefers to sleep on the floor under Victoria’s bed.

Soon strange things are happening. The girls talk to and draw on the walls. Moths are fluttering around, coming from holes in the dissolving wall. Lucas has a frightening encounter that lands him in the hospital.

Annabel finds herself in an unfamiliar role as a mother. Chastain, who has adopted the chameleon capability of Cate Blanchett to look different in each role she takes, bears little resemblance to her appearance as the CIA agent Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Normally a redhead, Chastain dyed her hair black and cut it short to become Annabel, who also adorns tattoos. Annabel not only has to shed her self-absorption as she cares for Victoria and Lilly, she also finds herself alone in trying to figure out what’s going on. In Chastain’s expert hands, Annabel transforms from a living-by-the-minute, mostly irresponsible person to a determined care-giver.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dreyfuss in his research discovers some disturbing history related to the abandoned house where the girls survived for five years. The usual skeptic when it comes to supernatural issues, he soon is challenged to change his thinking. But he also fails to realize that when people of academic standing start poking around in these ghostly matters, they set themselves up for an abrupt demise.

Since it is obvious some sort of entity has attached itself to Victoria and Lilly, “Mama” relies on the usual creepy tactics of flickering lights, doors opening and closing by themselves, shadows and figures appearing behind oblivious people, and the unraveling of the mystery of just what the entity is, to sustain the story. There are not a lot of gotcha scary moments, but the eeriness is palpable throughout. And with Chastain bringing some depth to what could have been a stereotypical characterization, “Mama” offers the chills, mystery and emotional punch necessary for a functional scary flick. Also, young Isabelle Nelisse was amazing, managing to make a 5-year-old child not only innocent and vulnerable but also an alarming channel for an angry/jealous spirit’s malevolence.

“Broken City” is yet another yarn about corruption in high places

Boasting a loaded cast, “Broken City” is a slick, polished but utterly predictable story that joins the ranks of movies that put politicians in an unflattering light. Here we have Russell Crowe portraying New York mayor Nick Hostetler, a man who has become so powerful and full of himself he believes he can pull any strings he needs to get what he wants. But then he tangles with a former detective named Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg).

Years earlier, Taggert was involved in a shooting that appears to have been an execution of a young man who beat a rape charge on a technicality. Although not enough evidence can be obtained to charge Taggert, he is let go from the NYPD. Now he is trying to make a living as a private investigator, a struggling enterprise as he never accepts fees upfront but later has trouble collecting money from his clients.

So when Hostetler calls him in and offers him a job, he accepts. Hostetler, in a tight battle for re-election with an up-and-coming politician named Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), wants Taggert to get some photo evidence that Hostetler’s wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is having an affair.

Aided by his loyal assistant, Katy (a scene-stealing Alona Tal), Taggert gets the evidence but is stunned to see that Cathleen’s secret meetings are with Valliant’s campaign manager Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler). Reluctant to turn the evidence over to Hostetler, especially after Cathleen confronts him and says he does not know the whole story, Taggert nevertheless is forced to give the photos to Hostetler. I paid for these, Hostetler reminds Taggert.

Within days there is a high-profile murder and Taggert realizes he has been an instrument in Hostetler’s dishonorable manipulations. So the ex-detective begins snooping, and there are no surprises here, as he discovers a major land deal Hostetler has brokered, much to his own financial advantage, the details of which the mayor would prefer to be kept secret. Trouble is, when Taggert confronts Hostetler, the mayor informs Taggert he is in possession of incriminating evidence on the former cop’s controversial shooting.

So the issue is whether Taggert will do the right thing and redeem himself, or allow Hostetler to continue his dirty reign. Any guesses as to what he does?

“Broken City” moves along at a brisk pace but does get derailed with a subplot involving Taggert and his struggling actress girlfriend, Natalie (Natalie Martinez), whose big break, starring in an independent film, features an explicit love scene that Taggert just cannot handle. Taggert, who had been on the wagon for seven years, falls off in one of those standard scenes of a person renewing his/her drunken habits, making a scene — a messy, ugly meltdown.

“Broken City” still is solid entertainment. Although Zeta-Jones is underused, Crowe is marvelous as the cocky, strutting mayor, a man who thinks he is above the rules. Wahlberg continues with his niche as a basically nice but flawed guy wrestling with a conscience but decent at the core.

In Search Of search is over …

Remember the documentary series, “In Search Of,” hosted by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy? Well fans of the series can rejoice. All 145 episodes of the series that ran from 1977 to 1982 have been compiled in a box set of DVDs for $130. It can be found at amazon.com.

“Gangster Squad’: Doing what’s necessary to neutralize a mobster in an era of rampant corruption

If Jack Webb were alive today, it would be interesting to see his reaction to movies that have come out in the last couple of decades, like “L.A. Confidential,” “The Black Dahlia” and “Training Day,” that portray the Los Angeles Police Department in less than flattering ways. These movies are not the gentle productions like Webb’s “Dragnet” and “Adam-12″ that presented L.A. police officers and detectives as hard-working, diligent and honest men.

Well, he might have had trouble at first reconciling the uncompromising men that make up “Gangster Squad,” but he might have warmed up to them later.

“Gangster Squad,” based upon a book by Paul Lieberman, adapted for the screen by Will Beall and directed by Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”), is a Western, but based in L.A. in the late 1940s. It’s a simple good guys vs. bad guys story that looks very film noir but explodes with violence that can be over the top.

It also boasts an impressive cast, featuring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte and Sean Penn.

In the late 1940s, Mickey Cohen (Penn, hamming it up) owns just about every illegal but thriving enterprise in the City of Angels, plus a substantial investment in the right people within the law enforcement/justice empire — essentially giving him endless access to rake in the big bucks.

Chief Parker (Nolte), fed up with the futility of having his honest cops arresting Cohen employees only to have them sprung by bought-and-paid-for judges, decides it is time to get serious. So he recruits Sgt. John O’Mara (Brolin), a super tough WWII veteran who does not hesitate to mix it up with the criminal elements, getting bloodied in the process — but you should see other guys. Parker does not hold back. He tells O’Mara to do whatever is necessary to bring down Cohen’s operations — even if the actions are illegal.

O’Mara, aided by his wife Connie (Mireille Enos) — a welcome deviation from the usual weepy cop’s wife seen in movies — selects a few officers who might fit the bill of this group that will be doing things not by the book.

They include Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), a beat cop tired of all the drugs infested within the black community; Officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), a throwback to the old lawmen who drew guns from holsters; Officer Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) a first-generation electronics nerd; and Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena), who although not recruited but as a tag-along of Kennard eventually wins over O’Mara.

Meanwhile, O’Mara also tries to secure the services of Det. Jerry Wooters (Gosling), a gifted detective who is just going through the motions and is not interested in O’Mara’s plans, until a tragedy that hits home inspires him to join the squad.

As sometimes happens, the squad blunders early in the game, with O’Mara and Harris being jailed in Burbank, where the entire police department seems to be on the Cohen payroll. The squad pulls off a breakout in a comically nearly-goofed up operation.

But eventually the squad starts making an impact on Cohen’s interests, and the gangster king, as portrayed by Penn, fumes, with veins bulging, and blows up.  The Cohen in this movie is a caricature of the totally evil, greedy bad guy. If you work for Cohen and make a mistake, you do not get a write-up — you get dead.

As usual in these intense match-ups of good vs. evil, the ante is increased. Nice people will die along with the not-so-nice. Gosling’s Wooters falls in love with one of Cohen’s ladies, an “etiquette” adviser named Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), ratcheting up the risks not only for the cop but for the lady. This romance also sets up one of those silly, cliched exchanges — Wooters: “Don’t go”; Grace: “Don’t let me.”

Brolin delivers the right dose of stoicism for O’Mara, a former soldier now fighting a war in his own city. He sets aside any conflicts he may have regarding the tactics of his squad despite butting heads with a couple of the men, Wooters and Keeler specifically, who are the voices of conscience.

“Gangster Squad” is not meant to be a deep study in characterization, nor an analysis of the pros and cons of the ends justify the means. It is a fast-paced, action-packed shoot-’em-up, with a few blow-’em-up scenarios thrown in — and all with the glamorous backdrop of Los Angeles.

“Texas Chainsaw 3D” appears to be rearming for more horror

“Texas Chainsaw 3D” is not a remake. It unfolds rather as a sequel and could have been named “Texas Chainsaw: The Next Generation.”

We may be giving away too much here, if that is possible. But face it, most horror movies are predictable. As they play out, it is easy to forecast who is going to meet a messy end, who will survive and that ultimately a silly, highly unlikely twist will there be at the end to open the door for sequels.

“Texas Chainsaw 3D” begins with a montage from the original Tobe Hooper-directed movie of 1974, a gory rehashing of the slaughter, culminating with Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) barely escaping the mincemeat-making chainsaw Leatherface is wielding.

The movie then presents a chapter of what happened in that rural Texas area after Sally manages to jump into the pickup truck and be sped away.

Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry) has arrived at the Sawyer farmhouse, where family members are hunkering down, armed and ready to defend their turf. Hooper is trying to talk them into turning Leatherface, actually named Jedediah (Jed), over to him so he can take the alleged murderer into custody. But the negotiations break down when truckloads of the typical Southern brand of vigilantes arrive with tons of weaponry and an “eye for an eye” attitude.

Within minutes the Sawyer family, which includes Gunnar Hansen, who played the original Leatherface now in the role of a Sawyer family patriarch, has been massacred and the farmhouse torched. Ah, but anyone who saw “Frankenstein” should know that does not necessarily mean the bad guy is eradicated.

One of the vigilantes, searching around the smoking ruins, finds a survivor, a baby girl, that he secrets away and gives to his wife, presenting her a child she wants but could not have because of her biological issues. The vigilantes gather around for a big photo that runs in the paper, branding them as heroes.

The film flashes forward to current day (specifically around Halloween 2012) and Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) is introduced. She has all the traits of the horror movie heroine — attractive, sweet, hard-working. She and her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz) are planning a road trip to New Orleans with Ryan’s buddy Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez) and Heather’s flirtatious, back-stabbing friend Nikki (Tania Raymonde, whose early credits included a recurring role in “Malcolm in Middle”). These three already seem to have SOON TO BE DEAD stamped unto their foreheads.

Before the trip begins, Heather receives a letter stating she has inherited property from a recently deceased grandmother. This comes as a surprise to Heather, who was under the impression her grandparents had long passed away. She goes to her parents for an explanation, and they hardly appear to be Ward and June Cleaver. In fact her father coldly admits that if he had to do it all over again, he would not have adopted Heather.

Heather’s three friends agree to a side trip to Texas where she can sign the legal papers and see whatever property is now hers. So they load up in a minivan — naturally — and take off. Eventually they pick up a hitchhiker — naturally — named Daryl (Shaun Sipos) who seems too good to be true.

In Texas they come upon the property, at which there is a closed iron gate. Meeting them there is an attorney, Farnsworth (Richard Riehle), who turns over the legal papers, emphasizes to Heather she read the letter from her late grandmother Verna. He seems skittish and eager to get away.

Inside the gate, Heather and friends are astonished to find the young woman has inherited a mansion that really sticks out in these Texas rural lands. They decide to hang out at the place for a bit. Stupidly, they leave Daryl behind at the mansion while they go to town to get groceries.

Daryl seizes the opportunity to go through the mansion, collecting things to steal. He stumbles upon some hidden passageways that lead downstairs, which always tends to to be a walkway to doom. Guess what? Turns out the grandmother was harboring a secret, which Daryl inadvertently unleashes.

Now the slaughter and stupidity begin. The chainsaw fires up again. Blood flies. People die in hideous ways. Law enforcement stumbles around — in this case subordinated by a hothead mayor who overrides any police procedures.

Heather, now a sole survivor, is taken to the sheriff’s station. She meets a nice deputy, Carl (Scott Eastwood, looking very much like dad Clint in his “Rawhide” days). He hauls out a box containing the files on the Sawyer family. Then Carl and Sheriff Hooper, distracted by the mayor Burt Hartman (Paul Rae), who was the leader of the vigilante gang that murdered the Sawyers, stupidly leave the files for Heather to see, and she soon learns the truth of her past. And just like that, Heather stops being a victim and becomes a person enraged that her family had been massacred.

A lot of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” fans are nitpicking that the timeline for this new movie is way off. If the original massacre took place in the early 1970s, then Heather would not be in her 20s, but pushing 40. And characters like Sheriff Hooper and Burt Hartman do not look like they have aged nearly 40 years.

The “Texas Chainsaw 3D” screenplay was composed by a three-writer team — Adam Marcus, who penned the “Jason Goes to Hell” film of the “Friday the 13th” franchise — Debra Sullivan and Kirsten Elms. Marcus and Sullivan also have collaborated on the upcoming “I Walked with a Zombie.”

“Texas Chainsaw” does have its plot holes, and as in many 3D productions, this enhancement really is not necessary. Fortunately, there is not an overload of the buzzing saw being thrust out to the audience — as it is, once it has been done, the thrill is gone.

Also, some issues remain unresolved, particularly regarding deputy Carl. These might have been the result of screenplay flaws or sloppy editing, although this could be an attempt to build on possible sequels as the new adventures of Leatherface may be in the works. Hand to the people behind this movie, directed by John Luessenhop (“Takers”). For all its flaws, it does give horror fans the mayhem they come to see, and these film people managed to present Leatherface as a sympathetic character, which could offer a new dynamic in future films.

 

COMING UP:

Special screenings of “Face to Face,” directed by Michael Rymer, are set Jan. 9 and 10, offered by Film Festival Flix. The screenings will be Wednesday at Pasadena’s Laemmle Playhouse 7 and Thursday at North Hollywood’s Laemmle NoHo 7.
The film is set in Australia and the story centers around a fired construction worker who rams his vehicle repeatedly into the rear of his former employer’’s Jaguar, also
injuring the man. However, the worker will not be brought before a criminal court.
Instead, under a new program, all parties involved are brought together in a room where they confront each other “face to face,” as the title suggests, in a session in which a moderator trained in conflict resolution serves as mediator.

The film contains several surprises and also presents a case for using this type of resolution outside of the criminal justice system.

Director Michael Rymer is best known in the as producer and director of dozens of episodes of the television series ““Battlestar Galactica,”” along with feature releases ““Queen of the Damned”” and ““In Too Deep.” The screenplay is based upon a play by David Williamson (“Gallipoli” and “The Year of Living Dangerously”).

Preceding the Pasadena screening will be a 6 p.m. reception at nearby Monopole Wine Bar, 212 El Molino Ave., along with a post-screening reception at Big Wang’s Restaurant in North Hollywood. Tickets at $14 cover the evening’s activities and are available at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 box office (626-844-6500) or online at www.filmfestivalflix.com

The screening at NoHo 7, 5240 Lankershim Blvd., also will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday,
followed by a Q & A with Arianna Jeter of Arianna Jeter Mediation
Services. A post-screening reception also will be held at  Big Wang’s Restaurant, 5300 Lankershim Blvd. Tickets available at the box office, (310-478-3836) or www.filmfestivalflix.com

And mark your calendar:

The Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center again will serve as host for Monsterpalooza 2013, April 12-14. Although events have not yet been announced, some guests expected to be on hand include Eric Roberts, and three cast members from the original “Night of the Living Dead”: Judith O’Dea (Barbra), Judith Ridley (Judy) and Kaya Schon (the child-turned-zombie Karen Cooper).

Tickets are $20 each day, or $50 for a three-day pass. www.monsterpalooza.com

Birthdays in January

A special salute to Jean Stapleton from “All in the Family” and Larry Storch from “F Troop,” as both turn 90 in January, Stapleton on 1/19 and Storch on 1/8. Also turning 90, on 1/26, is Anne Jeffreys, who is still active, set to be in “Le Grand Jete,” now in pre-production.

Other special birthdays in January:

30: Kate Bosworth 1/2

40: Portia DeRossi 1/31

50: Dave Foley 1/4, Steven Soderbergh 1/14

60: Desi Arnaz Jr. 1/19, Pat Benatar 1/10, Jim Jarmusch 1/22, Lucinda Williams 1/26

70: Richard Moll 1/13

“Django Unchained” offers more Tarantino brand of blood and snappy dialogue

Having presented his unique twists on organized crime, stunt driving and World War II, Quentin Tarantino is back with a blood-drenched exploration of the times just before the Civil War. All the Tarantino trademarks are there: unconventional characters, long scenes of snappy dialogue and explosive violence. He makes you flinch but he also entertains.

Only Tarantino could come up with a lead character like Dr. King Schultz, a dentist turned bounty hunter who has come to America from Germany. Having introduced Christophe Waltz, a seasoned German performer, to U.S. audiences via the actor’s stunning Oscar-winning performance in “Inglourious Basterds,” Tarantino again collaborates with Waltz in fleshing out Dr. Schultz. In some ways, Schultz is like Col. Hans Landa from “Basterds,” — cunning, genial but also ruthless.

Much like the Landa scene that opens “Basterds,” Waltz and Tarantino have the Schultz character come to life bit by bit. He is first seen rumbling up in a tacky wagon with a tooth sculpture attached to the roof of the cart on a spring, a pre-Civil War bobblehead concept. Respectful and business-like, Schultz approaches a pair of slave traders leading five chained slaves. Schultz is in search of a slave named Django, and sure enough, this man is among the five captives. Schultz offers to buy Django but of course is met with hostility. So he calmly and violently resolves the conflict, claims Django (Jamie Foxx) and moves on.

Schultz has sought Django because he heard the former slave might be able to help him identify three fugitive brothers the bounty hunter is pursuing. Schultz proposes a deal: help him track down and finger the three criminals in exchange for money, a horse and freedom. Django accepts, as he has another pressing issue — finding and reuniting with his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who had been sold to some other slave owner.

When Django proves just as ruthless in dealing with the three fugitives brothers, Schultz offers a new deal of a bounty hunter partnership during the winter months, then come spring Schultz would accompany Django to Mississippi as he searches for Broomhilda.

This effort leads them to the Candieland plantation, run by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), where Broomhilda is being held. Schultz and Django settle on a strategy of posing as mandingo fight promoters in search of slaves to engage in this brutal sport, and set up a business meeting with Candie to negotiate a purchase but also to connect with Broomhilda.

It’s nice to see Foxx and Waltz, two Oscar winners, playing off each other with an easy, mutually respectful chemistry. When they hook up with DiCaprio’s Candie, it is an awesome experience of seeing three proven performers working with superb dialogue. DiCaprio epitomizes the Southern slave owner, polite and proper with white people, condescending at best and brutal at worst with the slaves.

“Django” is uncompromising in its portrayal of the treatment of slaves and can make viewers squirm. Later, revenge is sweet, guiltily so.

As in all Tarantino films, it’s the little things that make the movie memorable. Humorous interludes are included like a Ku Klux Klan-like raid led by Big Daddy (Don Johnson) and Bag Head No. 2 (Jonah Hill) that crumbles because their badly cut eye holes in their hoods (or bags, as they call them) seriously hinder their vision.

“Django” is presented in a more linear arc than previous Tarantino films, and of course Tarantino himself makes an appearance that literally ends explosively.

Tarantino does employ his signature tools of long, talky scenes and sometimes cartoonish but explicit violence, setting himself up for criticism of being repetitious. However, seeing different actors get a shot at being a Tarantino-created character is always a new and rewarding experience.