‘THE IMPOSSIBLE’

4 stars

(Drama, PG-13, 114 minutes, playing at Carmike Cinema 12) The tsunami that devastated the Pacific Basin in the winter of 2004 remains one of the worst natural disasters in history. We were in Europe when it struck, and we sat mesmerized, watching the news on TV -- again and again, that towering wall of water looming from the sea, tossing trucks, buses and its helpless victims aside. Surely this was a blow from hell. In this terrifying triumph of special effects, Juan Antonio Bayona's film becomes a powerful story of a family's cohesive strength. With Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland. One of the best films of 2012. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

‘BROOKLYN CASTLE’

3.5 stars

(Documentary, PG, 101 minutes, playing at Darkside Cinema) An inspiring documentary covering two years in the history of a chess team from a poverty-level junior high school that (after the film completed production) became the first middle school team to win the U.S. Chess Federation's national high school championship. We meet inspiring teachers, we see the shadow of threatened budget cuts, and one team member approaches her dream of becoming the first female African-American grandmaster in U.S. history. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

‘ZERO DARK THIRTY’

3 stars

(Thriller, R, 157 minutes, playing at Carmike Cinema 12 and Regal Albany 7 Cinemas) Two hours of watching a loner female CIA strategist who knows she is right -- and the payoff that she is. Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, who was right all along, providing the film with a timely heroine. Lots of murky action in the big capture and death, but lacking the split-second timing and relentless action of director Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker." These characters are less compelling, and the outcome less meaningful. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

‘GANGSTER SQUAD’

3 stars

(Action, R, 110 minutes, playing at Regal Ninth Street 4 Cinemas and Regal Albany 7 Cinemas) “Gangster Squad” is a gang-war drama built on Western conventions, a rootin’ tootin’, Camel-smokin’, whiskey swillin’ shoot-’em-up about a lawless period in L.A.’s history when a small cadre of cops (Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling), working outside the law, took on Mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) in a fight for “the soul of Los Angeles.” (Roger Moore,McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

‘THE LONELIEST PLANET’

2 stars

(Drama, not rated, 113 minutes, playing at Darkside Cinema) A couple who will get married soon takes a backpacking hike over the trails of the Caucasus Mountains in the eastern European republic of Georgia. Not a dangerous adventure, more of a long slog, with director Julia Loktev pulling back for long shots and watching them plodding for long periods. Their local guide has a vaguely ominous way. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg and Bidzina Gujabidze. We're given no particular reason at the outset to care about these people, our interest doesn't grow along the way, and the film grows tiresome. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

‘PROMISED LAND’

3 stars

(Drama, R, 106 minutes, playing at Carmike Cinema 12) Matt Damon plays Steve Butler, a stand-up, shoot-straight kind of guy who's a wizard at getting small-town homeowners to sign on the dotted line, allowing the energy corporation that he works for to drill on their property. When Butler and co-worker Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) show up in another city full of folks weary of recession and rough times, they're at first welcomed like Santa Claus. But a local high school science teacher (Hal Holbrook) begins raising questions about the safety of fracking and a mysterious newcomer, environmentalist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), throws up roadblocks at every turn, whipping up a tidal wave of resistance as a result. (Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

‘PARENTAL GUIDANCE’

2 stars

(Comedy, PG, 105 minutes, playing at Regal Ninth Street 4 Cinemas and Regal Albany 7 Cinemas) Billy Crystal and Bette Midler portray the less-popular “other grandparents” to the three children of their only daughter, played by Marisa Tomei. Tomei and her husbang (Tom Everett Scott) reluctantly call upon Midler and Crystal to watch their kids so the younger couple can take a trip away together. The children's highly regimented lifestyles immediately begin to fall apart upon the arrival of their new temp caretakers. (Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times)

‘LES MISERABLES’

2.5 stars

(Musical drama, PG-13. 158 minutes playing at Regal Ninth Street 4 Cinemas and Kuhn Cinema) Tom Hooper’s extravaganza, big-screen telling of the beloved musical “Les Miserables’’ is as relentlessly driven as the ruthless Inspector Javert himself. It simply will not let up until you’ve Felt Something — powerfully and repeatedly — until you’ve touched the grime and smelled the squalor and cried a few tears of your own. (Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic)

’DJANGO UNCHAINED’

2 stars

(Drama, R, running time 165 minutes, playing at Regal Albany 7 Cinemas) In Quentin 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 offering little more than cold, nasty revenge and barrels of squishing, squirting blood. (Guy Germain, AP movie writer)

‘THIS IS 40’

2.5 stars

(Comedy, R, 134 minutes, playing at Carmike Cinema 12 and Regal Albany 7 Cinemas) “This Is 40” is a sequel of sorts to “Knocked Up,” focusing on married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann). It’s five years later and Pete and Debbie, both of whom have their 40th birthdays approaching, are in the midst of a mid-life crisis. The small indie record label Pete owns is struggling, Debbie’s clothing store seems to be doing only marginally better (and one of the employees is a thief), they’ve got two headstrong daughters to raise (played by Apatow’s real-life daughters), and the fire that once provided the heat to their marriage has been reduced to a flickering flame. (Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

‘JACK REACHER’

2.5 stars

(Action-thriller, PG-13, 130 minutes, playing at Carmike Cinema 12 and Regal Albany 7 Cinemas) Based on Lee Child’s novel “One Shot,” “Jack Reacher” is about an Iraq War sniper accused of mowing down a crowd of people in Pittsburgh. Reacher (Tom Cruise), as is his way, just shows up, “summoned” because of a connection with this sniper who snapped, first in Iraq and now, apparently, in Pittsburgh. He offers not to help, but to “bury this guy.” (Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

‘THE HOBBIT’

2.5 stars

(Action-adventure, PG-13, 169 minutes playing at Carmike Cinema 12 and Regal Albany 7 Cinemas) A hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), leaves the comforts of hearth and home to join with a band of dwarves, other denizens of the fantastical Middle Earth, to save their land from the clutches of evil — all under the watchful eye of the good wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). At first, Bilbo seems an unlikely choice as one of the Middle Earth supergroup put together to defeat the dragon Smaug and restore the stout-hearted dwarves to their rightful ancestral home. But Bilbo, much like his nephew Frodo years later in “The Lord of the Rings,” ends up proving his worth, finding bravery deep in the heart of fear. (Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

‘CHASING ICE’

3 stars

(Documentary, PG-13, 76 minutes, playing at Darkside Cinema) Heart-stopping in its coverage of the brave and risky attempt by a scientist named James Balog and his team of researchers on the Extreme Ice Survey, where “extreme” refers to their efforts almost more than to the ice. During repeated expeditions to Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana, the team took stop-motion cameras and anchored them in place. We see glaciers retreating from ice mountains to expose the rock they rest on. One glacier loses the height in ice of the Empire State Building. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

‘THE SESSIONS’

3.5 stars

(Drama, R, 95 minutes, playing at Darkside Cinema) Mark (John Hawkes) is 38 years old and after contracting polio, he has spent most of those years in an iron lung. He believes his time is running out. He would like to experience sexual intercourse with a woman at least once before he dies. He contacts Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a sex surrogate who explains the ground rules to Mark: They will have six meetings, no more. They are not working together in order to fall in love, but to achieve a specific physical purpose. She is kind and tactful, and so is Mark’s parish priest (William H. Macy), who guides him with compassion through this process. Astonishing performances, and not without humor. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

‘LIFE OF PI’

4 stars

(Fantasy, PG, 125 minutes, playing at Carmike Cinema) A miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery. Inspired by a worldwide best-seller that seemed unfilmable, it is a triumph over its difficulties. It is also a moving spiritual achievement, a movie whose title could have been shortened to “Life.” The story involves the 227 days that its teenage hero (Suraj Sharma) spends drifting across the Pacific in the same lifeboat as a Bengal tiger. The movie quietly combines various religious traditions to enfold its story in the wonder of life. How remarkable that these two mammals, and the fish beneath them and birds above them, are all here. One of the year’s best. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

‘RISE OF THE GUARDIANS’

3 stars

(Animated adventure, PG, 97 minutes, playing at Rio Theatre) Hyperactive 3D animated fantasy regarding the plight of Jack Frost, who nobody seems able to see. Called upon in a crisis to help the Guardians (Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc.), he saves the day. Younger children like the breakneck action, magical ability to fly, and the young hero who has tired of being overlooked. Their parents and older siblings may find the 97-minute running time quite long enough. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

‘LINCOLN’

4 stars

(Drama, PG-13, 149 minutes, playing at Carmike Cinema 12) Steven Spielberg’s new film focuses on only a few months of Lincoln’s life, including the passage of the 13th Amendment ending slavery, the surrender of the Confederacy and his assassination. Rarely has a film attended more carefully to the details of politics. Daniel Day-Lewis creates a Lincoln who is calmly self-confident, patient and willing to play politics in a realistic way. Not about an icon of history, but about a president who was scorned by some of his opponents as a hayseed from the backwoods. He understood them better than they did him. Sure to win many Academy Award nominations. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

‘SKYFALL’

4 stars

(Action, PG-13, 143 minutes, playing at the Pix Theatre) “Skyfall” triumphantly reinvents 007 in one of the best Bonds ever made. This is a full-blooded, joyous, intelligent celebration of a beloved cultural icon, with Daniel Craig taking full possession of a role he earlier played unconvincingly. The film at last provides a role worthy of Judi Dench, returning as M, who is one of the best actors of her generation. She is all but the co-star, with a lot of screen time, poignant dialogue, and a character who is far more complex and sympathetic than we expect. In this 50th year of the James Bond series, with the dismal “Quantum of Solace” (2008) still in our minds, I don’t know what I expected in Bond No. 23, but certainly not an experience this invigorating. If you haven’t seen a 007 for years, this is the time to jump back in. (Roger Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)

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