In the annals of great fantasy film franchises, “Twilight” pales in comparison to “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings,” and so it’s perhaps no surprise that the series’ finale, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2,” can’t compete with its peers’ epic sendoffs. Still, this entry, which concerns the final showdown between our heroes (Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner) and the legion of vampire watchdogs led by Aro (Michael Sheen), shows such commitment to its soap-opera plotting that the movie has a likable melodramatic flair to it. “Part 2” isn’t much of an actor’s showcase—most everyone here has been better in something else—but Pattinson’s calm magnetism makes his Edward a coolly heroic figure. He also has great chemistry with Stewart, leaving Lautner mostly forced to hang around the edges, which will surely be bad news for all those on Team Jacob.
The comedy-drama “Silver Linings Playbook” proves to be a great platform for its two stars, which is surprising, as you wouldn’t necessarily immediately think either of them would be ideally suited to these particular roles. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a man recently let out of a mental institution who becomes acquainted with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a horny widow coping with the death of her husband. Both characters are fragile in their own way, but director David O. Russell, working from Matthew Quick’s novel, fills the film with an unexpected comic energy that never forgets the pain coursing through Pat and Tiffany, making this one of the nerviest onscreen romances in quite some time. As the deluded, intense, but well-meaning Pat, Cooper displays a quietly anxious quality that’s new for him, while Lawrence exudes a confident, adult sexiness that wasn’t present in “Winter’s Bone” or “The Hunger Games.” The movie’s hairpin unpredictability doesn’t always serve the storytelling, but this unlikely pair always keeps you invested in how this “Playbook” will play out.
Love’s thorniness is also a central focus in “Anna Karenina,” director Joe Wright’s visually clever adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 19th-century novel, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard. The film, which concerns the budding affair between the married Anna (Keira Knightley) and the dashing officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has been staged with flamboyant theatricality: Most of the locations are housed within the same large, aged theater. While initially the worry might be that Wright’s approach will end up a tiresome gimmick, the inspired staging succeeds in suggesting the claustrophobia of the era’s rigid class structure and the interconnection of the book’s myriad characters. Knightley makes for a passionate, girlish Anna, while Taylor-Johnson recalls the impossibly gallant and smoldering leading men of a bygone era.
It’s been impossible to ignore the Catholic Church’s child-abuse crisis in recent years, and documentarian Alex Gibney’s “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” is a damning portrait of the emotional damage done by pedophilic priests and the Catholic leadership that sought to cover up their crimes. A somber companion piece to another fine documentary on the subject, Amy Berg’s “Deliver Us From Evil,” Gibney’s film introduces us to several adults who as children attended St. John’s School for the Deaf in Wisconsin, where they were raped by Father Lawrence Murphy, who took advantage of his position of power to intimidate his victims and divert suspicion from those around him. These victims’ testimony—which is delivered in sign language to the camera and “translated” through offscreen narration by Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, and others—lays out a clear picture of how evil can fester in the seemingly safest places, but Gibney also does a strong job of connecting these heinous acts to a systemic moral blindness within the church.
The coming-of-age comedy “Funeral Kings” also examines Catholicism, albeit from a far more lighthearted perspective. Devilish teen altar boys Andy (Dylan Hartigan) and Charlie (Alex Maizus) are on a constant search for booze and girls, neither of which comes to them easily, but their lives get a little more interesting after an older classmate asks Andy to keep an eye on a heavy, locked trunk for him, insisting that Andy not look inside. “Funeral Kings” is ostensibly about what happens when Andy and Charlie ignore that request, but this pseudo “Superbad” never rises above a dull likability, following the boys on their episodic pursuits without enough real subversion to make the shenanigans memorable.