"Only God Forgives" — At one point in this cartoonishly dark revenge saga starring Ryan Gosling, a man is terrorized by having sharp chopstick-like blades rammed through both arms, then both legs. And the torture session's just getting going. By this point, alas, you've so thoroughly given up any hope of caring about these miserable characters that you're thinking less about what this poor guy is feeling, and more about what you're feeling, sitting there in your seat. As in, what time is it? As in, I'm thirsty. As in, I wonder what would feel worse, watching some more of this or actually being stabbed by sharp chopstick-like blades? There's a word for this feeling: boredom. And that's the biggest surprise and disappointment of this film by Nicolas Winding Refn, though some may take issue with the stylized violence, which also involves limbs being sliced off (albeit very quickly), and a scene involving a hand stuck into a bloody womb. On the plus side, Refn has created an evocative underworld in Bangkok — lonely, dark and tinged in a seductive neon red. But the movie's real saving grace can be summed up in three words: Kristin Scott Thomas. You may know her as regal and graceful and British (or sometimes French), but here, she is American, garish, profane, and very, very nasty. It's delicious to see this wonderful actress sink her teeth into something so off-type. And it's a shame that Gosling, a terrific actor, doesn't get to do more here. Mostly we just look at him as he, in turn, looks somewhere else, silently and stoically. He's nice to look at. But still. At the end, you'll be thinking of Thomas, whose exit is as splashy as her entrance. R for "strong bloody violence including grisly images, sexual content and language." 89 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
—Jocelyn Noveck, AP National Writer
"The Conjuring" — As sympathetic, methodical ghostbusters Lorraine and Ed Warren, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson make this old-fashioned haunted-house horror film something more than your average fright fest. In 1971, they come to the Perrons' swampy, musty Rhode Island farmhouse — newly purchased from the bank — to investigate the demonic spirit that has begun terrorizing the couple (Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor) and their five daughters. Lorraine is clairvoyant, and Ed is a Vatican-sanctioned demonologist. They're best known as the married, devoutly Catholic paranormal pros whose work with the Lutz family served as the basis for "Amityville Horror." The film is built in the '70s-style mold of "Amityville" and, if one is kind, "The Exorcist." Does it live up to it? More than most horror films, certainly. But as effectively crafted as it is, it's lacking the raw, haunting power of the models it falls shy of. "The Exorcist" is a high standard, though: "The Conjuring" is an unusually sturdy piece of haunted-house genre filmmaking. The director is James Wan, who's best known as one of the founding practitioners of that odious type of horror film called "torture porn" ("Saw"). Here he goes classical. Though it comes across as a self-conscious stab at more traditional, floorboard-creaking horror, Wan has succeeded in patiently building suspense (of which there is plenty) not out of bloodiness, but those old standbys of slamming doors and flashes in the mirror. R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror. Running time: 112 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer
"Fruitvale Station" — Ryan Coogler's directorial debut is more than the dramatization of an obituary. It's about empathy. In recounting (and slightly fictionalizing) the final day of 22-year-old Oscar Grant's life, Coogler has made a film that piles small daily gestures — and one final, heartbreakingly tragic one — into an inspiring reminder about basic human decency. In a star-making performance, Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar, the San Francisco Bay Area ex-convict and former drug dealer who, famously, was fatally shot by a transit police officer early on New Year's morning, 2009. The moment is glimpsed in raw cellphone footage at the movie's start, before shifting back to the morning before and the start of Oscar's last day. It's a typical day of fraught improvisation for Oscar, a young black man trying his best in circumstances stacked against him. He struggles to balance his past, his unemployment and his family: girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), four-year-old daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) and mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer). Jordan ("Friday Night Lights") puts the film on his shoulders in an unqualified display of leading-man charisma. It's a naturalistic, hoodie-clad performance, with "bruh" warmly peppered throughout his speech. The fullness of Jordan's Oscar is as staggering as his end is appalling. R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use. 90 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
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