At the movies. New film reviews

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Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund in “On the Road.” - PHOTO: Courtesy

“Amour”

Michael Haneke takes a subject you don’t often see in movies and probably don’t want to see – the slow, steady deterioration of an elderly woman – but handles it with grace.

The Austrian writer-director, who’s achieved a reputation for a certain mercilessness over the years through films such as “Cache” and “Funny Games,” displays a surprising and consistent humanity here. He draws unadorned but lovely performances from his veteran stars, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

Haneke focuses on the intimate moments of their changing lives, as the longtime married couple remains holed up in their comfortable Paris apartment, coping day to day, waiting for eventual death. This film will strike a chord with anyone who’s watched a loved one slip away. But Haneke’s aesthetic can feel too stripped-down, too one-note in its dignified monotony. He will hold a shot, as we know, and once again he avoids the use of a score, so all that’s left to focus on is the insular, dreary stillness of quiet descent. Certainly minimalism is preferable to melodrama in telling this kind of story, but Haneke takes this approach to such an extreme that it’s often hard to maintain emotional engagement.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, including a disturbing act, and for brief language. In French with English subtitles. 125 minutes.

– Christy Lemire, AP movie critic

“Django Unchained”

For his latest blood fest, Quentin Tarantino replays all of his earlier ones, especially his last flick “Inglourious Basterds.” In that 2009 tale of wickedly savage retribution, Allied Jewish soldiers rewrite World War II history by going on a killing spree of Nazis. In Tarantino’s new tale of wickedly savage retribution, a black man (Jamie Foxx) gets to rewrite Deep South history by becoming a bounty hunter on a killing spree of white slave owners and overseers just before the Civil War. Granted, there’s something gleefully satisfying in watching evil people get what they have coming. But the film is Tarantino at his most puerile and least inventive. The premise offers little more than cold, nasty revenge and barrels of squishing, squirting blood. The usual Tarantino genre mishmash – a dab of blaxploitation here, a dollop of Spaghetti Western there – is so familiar now that it’s tiresome, more so because the filmmaker continues to linger with chortling delight over every scene, letting conversations run on interminably and gunfights carry on to grotesque excess. Bodies bursting blood like exploding water balloons? Perversely fun the first five or six times, pretty dreary the 20th or 30th. Tarantino always gets good actors who deliver, though, and it’s the performances by Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson that make the film intermittently entertaining amid moments when the characters are either talking one another to death or just plain killing each other.

Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity. 165 minutes.

– David Germain, AP movie writer

“The Impossible”

Based on the true story of a family swept away by the deadly tsunami that pummeled Southeast Asia in 2004, director Juan Antonio Bayona’s drama is about as subtle as a wall of water. The depiction of the natural disaster itself is visceral and horrifying – impeccable from a production standpoint. And Naomi Watts gives a vivid, deeply committed performance as the wife and mother of three young boys who finds the strength to persevere despite desolation and debilitating injuries. But man, is this thing heavy-handed. Watts and Ewan McGregor play Maria and Henry, a happily married British couple spending Christmas at a luxury resort in Thailand with their three adorable sons. (The real-life family whose story inspired the film was Spanish.) During a quiet morning by the pool, the first massive wave comes ashore, scattering the family and thousands of strangers across the devastated landscape. “The Impossible” tracks their efforts to survive, reconnect, find medical care and get the hell out of town. The near-misses at an overcrowded hospital are just too agonizing to be true, and the uplifting score swells repeatedly in overpowering fashion to indicate how we should feel. Surely, the inherent drama of this story could have stood on its own two feet.

Rated PG-13 for intense, realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images, and brief nudity. 107 minutes.

– Christy Lemire, AP movie critic

“Not Fade Away”

“The Sopranos” boss David Chase’s somewhat autobiographical drama about a Jersey boy in a 1960s rock band would be called a promising first feature from some unknown filmmaker doing the rounds at Sundance. Coming from a Hollywood heavyweight who’s spent decades in the TV trenches, it’s a hopeful sign, or maybe just wishful thinking, that more of the quality that has fled film for television might somehow be channeled back to the big screen. Chase’s directing debut is a sweet, sad, smart and satisfying piece of nostalgia, at least partly inspired by his own youthful experiences as a drummer in a New Jersey band. Like “The Sopranos,” much of the drama arises out of generational conflict, in this case rebellious son Douglas (John Magaro) and his pragmatic, my-way-or-the-highway dad (“Sopranos” star James Gandolfini). Infected by music of the British invasion, chiefly the Rolling Stones, Douglas and some pals form a band that few will ever hear about. From there we get not the overdone tale of a group on the rise and struggling with the pitfalls of fame and success. Instead, we get the genuine and more illuminating story of all those losers who didn’t make it. Great 1960s period detail gives the film authenticity. Aided by “Sopranos” co-star and E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt, Chase assembles a killer soundtrack – the Stones, the Beatles and the Kinks to Bo Diddley, Robert Johnson and Elmore James.

Rated R for pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content. 112 minutes.

– David Germain, AP movie writer

“On the Road”

Walter Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s famous novel was made with noble intentions, finely-crafted filmmaking and handsome casting. But, alas, it does not burn, burn, burn. This first ever big-screen adaptation of the Beat classic doesn’t pulse with the electric, mad rush of Kerouac’s feverish phenomenon. Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) approached the book with reverence and deep research, and perhaps that’s the problem – that its spirit got suffocated by respectfulness and affected acting. If anything has made “On the Road” so beloved, it’s not its artful composition, but its yearning: the urgent passion of its characters to break free of themselves and post-war America. As our Dean Moriarty, Kerouac’s stand-in for Neal Cassady, Garrett Hedlund (“Tron”) gives his all in an ultimately failed attempt to find Moriarty’s wild magnetism. The women have more fire. As Moriarty’s first wife, Marylou, Kristen Stewart has a slinky sensuality. In a few scenes as Moriarty’s heartbroken second wife, Kirsten Dunst makes the strongest impression. Elisabeth Moss, also as one left behind, excels, shouting: “They dumped me in Tucson! In Tucson!” Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard and Amy Adams make cameos.

Rated R for strong sexual content, drug use and language. 123 minutes.

– Jake Coyle, AP entertainment writer