Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN, PART II"
Proclaiming this final segment as the best of the "Twilight" saga is damning with faint praise. Birthed in Stephanie Meyer's young-adult fiction, the tormented duo -- brooding, chivalrous Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and awkward, uncertain Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who have courted on-and-off screen celebrity love -- are now parents of a half-vampire/half-human daughter.
Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg's hokey dialogue remains ludicrous, as Edward caresses his newly transitioned, now full-fledged vampire wife, murmuring, "We're the same temperature," adding, "You're a lot stronger now; it's your turn not to break me."
Their daughter Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) is healthy and growing fast, accompanied constantly by the protective werewolf, rugged Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who imprinted on her at birth, claiming the infant as his soulmate, and has nicknamed her Nessie. "Nessie?" Bella says indignantly. "You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness monster?"
Prickly pleasantries aside, there's trouble ahead for the Cullen clan (Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone) as the contemptuous Volturi (Maggie Grace, Dakota Fanning, Cameron Bright, Jamie Campbell Bower, Christopher Heyerdahl), led by devious Aro (Martin Sheen), travel from Italy to the snowy Pacific Northwest to examine the half-immortal child and decide if a punishable crime of miscegenation has been committed. To bolster their ranks, the Cullens recruit undead comrades from around the world, including a revenge-seeking Transylvanian duo (Guri Weinberg, Noel Fisher) and an outspoken bohemian (Lee Pace).
Director Bill Condon, who shot this concurrently with "Part I" in 2010-11, steeps the audience in outrageously campy, CG vampirism, literally and figuratively. Supernaturally formidable, butt-kicking Bella gets bloodthirsty, while her police chief dad, Charlie (Billy Burke), and his Native American wife are the only humans left. And expect some stunningly effective, climactic surprises to be dished out during the ferocious showdown fantasy.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II" spawns a syrupy, suspenseful, surreal 6. Since the four previous films have grossed more than $1 billion domestically and more than $2.5 billion worldwide, fangs for the memories.
"LIFE OF PI"
Adapting Yann Martel's acclaimed novel for the screen was a daunting challenge, one that Oscar-winning director Ang Lee tackled with inspired imagination. This exquisitely enchanting, emotionally engaging, spiritual fantasy begins and ends in Montreal, where a writer (Rafe Spall) is interviewing middle-aged Picine Militor Patel (Irrfan Khan), who relates the incredible adventure of his life as a thoughtful meditation on God.
Named after a Parisian swimming pool, curious Picine, known as Pi, grew up as Hindu/Catholic in Pondicherry, a former French colony in southern India, where his father (Adil Hussain) ran a zoo. Forced by economic stress, the family plans to move their menagerie to Canada. But when their Japanese cargo ship sinks in a terrifying storm, teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma) is stranded on a lifeboat with a wounded zebra, an orange orangutan, a manic hyena and a ferocious Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker. For 227 days, he manages to survive, adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, courageously coping with grief, faith and that ravenous tiger.
Working from a sensitive, lyrical screenplay by David Magee ("Finding Neverland"), who effectively adapts the symbolic, Robinson Crusoe-like, coming-of-age fable, Ang Lee filmed in India and Taiwan, where a huge water tank was constructed in the central city of Taichung. His primary problem was coping with the animals on a churning sea and he credits cutting-edge 3-D technology for achieving the vividly striking, visually stunning effects he wanted -- with David Gropman's elegant production design and Mychael Danna's evocative score.
Known for his versatility, Ang Lee's credits include "Brokeback Mountain," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Ice Storm," "Hulk" and "Sense and Sensibility." Here, Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda capture with impeccable craftsmanship, Pi's engaging encounters with Richard Parker, flying fish, luminous sea creatures and a surreal, carnivorous island populated by meerkats.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Life of Pi" is an awesome, astounding 10. It's not only one of the best pictures of the year but also must be seen in 3-D on as big a screen as possible.
"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK"
This quirky, off-beat, romantic dramedy explores dysfunctional relationships between unstable, psychologically damaged people.
After spending eight months in a state institution on a plea bargain after violently attacking his wife's lover in the shower, Pat Solatano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) is a recently released mental patient. He's lost everything -- his wife, his teaching job and his house -- but not hope. And he has a genial, new, group therapy-friend Danny (Chris Tucker), who enjoys escaping from confinement.
Determined to control his anger and remain positive about reconciling with his wife, bipolar Pat moves in with his parents: his superstitious, OCD, Philadelphia Eagles-loving, bookmaking father, Pat. Sr. (Robert De Niro), and sweetly concerned, conciliatory housewife-mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver).
When Pat's anxiety-riddled buddy, Ronnie (John Ortiz), and his controlling wife, Veronica (Julia Stiles), invite him to their home for dinner, he meets Veronica's recently widowed, deeply depressed, younger sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who lives in the same suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. Sullen, smart-mouthed, sexually charged Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his estranged wife Nikki (Brea Bee) if, in return, he'll be her partner in a local ballroom-dancing competition. That endeavor requires long hours of rehearsal, which Pat's therapist, Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), thinks might be good for him.
Based on Matthew Quick's 2008 novel, writer/director David O. Russell -- whose credits include "The Fighter," "Spanking the Monkey" and "Flirting With Disaster" -- plumbs the poignant complexity of pathos and farcical humor in his vulnerable characters, evoking indelible performances from his deftly chosen ensemble. Having built a fan following in broad comedies like "The Hangover" and its sequels, Cooper expands his range, delivering strength and subtlety.
Acclaimed for her feisty turn in "Winter's Bone," scoring as Raven/Mystique in "X-Men: First Class" and embodying the action heroine in "Hunger Games," Lawrence is firmly in Oscar contention again, along with De Niro and Weaver ("Animal Kingdom") in supporting roles.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Silver Linings Playbook" is an unlikely, engaging 8, a cheerfully enjoyable crowd pleaser.