Chéri (R) Dangerous Liaisons director Stephen Frears, writer Christopher Hampton, and star Michelle Pfeiffer reunite for this drama about a retired Parisian courtesan in the 1900s who falls in love with a rival’s son (Rupert Friend). Also with Kathy Bates, Felicity Jones, Harriet Walter, Toby Kebbell, Anita Pallenberg, and Iben Hjejle. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Departures (PG-13) The winner of last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Yôjirô Takita’s drama stars Masahiro Motoki as an unemployed Japanese cellist who takes a job at a funeral home. Also with Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kimiko Yo, and Takashi Sasano. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
My Sister’s Keeper (PG-13) In adapting Jodi Picoult’s novel, director/co-writer Nick Cassavetes goes back to the formula that served him well for The Notebook, only it doesn’t serve him so well here. Abigail Breslin stars as an 11-year-old girl who sues her parents for the rights to her own body after a lifetime of providing spare parts for her leukemia-suffering older sister (Sofia Vassilieva). The movie starts out pretty well, with some sharp exchanges between Breslin, Alec Baldwin as her lawyer, and Cameron Diaz as her mom, who serves as opposing counsel in the case. However, Cassavetes forgets to vary the tone, the movie seriously loses its way in the middle, and the book’s ending is radically changed to bring the movie in line with other overly tasteful Hollywood weepers. Also with Jason Patric, Evan Ellingson, Thomas Dekker, Heather Wahlquist, David Thornton, Emily Deschanel, and Joan Cusack. (Opens Friday)
Whatever Works (PG-13) Woody Allen’s latest film stars Larry David as a pessimistic old man who befriends a Southern runaway (Evan Rachel Wood). Also with Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Evan Welch, Olek Krupa, Jessica Hecht, Samantha Bee, and Michael McKean. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Angels & Demons (PG-13) Better than The Da Vinci Code, at least. Tom Hanks returns with a more sensible haircut for this sequel as a Harvard professor who’s called in by the Vatican to use the clues in a set of Bernini sculptures to solve the kidnappings of four cardinals on the eve of a new pope’s election. There’s still too much expositional dialogue, especially at the beginning. Once that’s out of the way, director Ron Howard turns this into a functional action thriller. The story’s religious trappings are so much nonsense, but this is acceptable, if slightly stale, popcorn fare. As a sympathetic priest, Ewan McGregor steals away the acting honors despite his unsteady Irish accent. Also with Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Thure Lindhardt, and Armin Mueller-Stahl.
Drag Me to Hell (PG-13) Spider-Man director Sam Raimi returns to his outrageous horror roots with this scary and funny B-movie. Alison Lohman stars as Christine, a mousy woman who, in an effort to assert herself at her banking job, ends up foreclosing on an old gypsy woman, who curses Christine with an evil spirit that torments you for three days before … well, see the title? Despite a PG-13 rating and the passage of 17 years since his last horror movie (cult classic Army of Darkness), Raimi hasn’t lost his ability to get audiences to shriek and laugh. The movie drags near the end but generally keeps the scares coming, a welcome effort in a mostly scare-free summer. Also with Justin Long, Loma Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, and Adriana Barraza. – Cole Williams
Easy Virtue (PG-13) Bless her heart, Jessica Biel is trying to prove that she can actually act. She’s the biggest problem with this otherwise sturdy period farce based on Noël Coward’s play about a wealthy English family whose son (Ben Barnes) surprises them by marrying an American widow who works as a race car driver. Director Stephan Elliott preserves much of Coward’s meringue-like dialogue but revamps the rest of the play considerably, adding intriguing notes of class resentment and turning up the scandal in the heroine’s past. Too bad the leading lady isn’t funny, though she and Barnes do well singing Coward’s songs on the soundtrack. The shame is that if you replaced Biel with Amy Adams, this would be one of the year’s best movies. Also with Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Kimberley Nixon, Charlotte Riley, and Kris Marshall.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (PG-13) Matthew McConaughey stars in this pretty bad comedy as a skirt-chaser who’s visited by three ghosts to show him the error of his ways on the eve of his brother’s wedding. The movie’s inspired by A Christmas Carol, though Charles Dickens never pandered to his female readers by pretending that Ebenezer Scrooge could transform into the man of their dreams. The filmmakers pull no punches setting up the main character as a real bastard, but McConaughey’s performance is too similar to what he does in other movies. Worse, the film tells you that inside even the most cynical player, there’s a bruised romantic who needs to be told that it’s OK to feel. Selling a fantasy like that takes more finesse than this movie has. Also with Jennifer Garner, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Daniel Sunjata, Emma Stone, Noureen DeWulf, and Michael Douglas.
The Hangover (R) It has some hazy spots, but it’s also funny enough to make your head hurt. Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms play three friends who accompany a groom-to-be (Justin Bartha) on a bachelor’s fling in Las Vegas. The prologue takes entirely too long, but the laughs eventually kick in when the friends awake with no memory of the night before and the groom MIA. Director Todd Phillips (Old School) returns to R-rated territory and retains his sense of comic timing, injecting bursts of violence and surrealism that keep us from getting too comfortable. The cast is a tad off, but the laughs scored by random jokes (like the song about the tiger and Mike Tyson’s cameo as himself) make up for it. Also with Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Rachael Harris, Mike Epps, Rob Riggle, Cleo King, Bryan Callen, Matt Walsh, and Jeffrey Tambor.
Imagine That (PG-13) Eddie Murphy continues his reign of mediocrity with this uninspiring if harmless family comedy, playing financial executive Evan Danielson, whose career is in the pits until his daughter Olivia’s imaginary friends start providing spot-on financial advice. Cue: predictable story of workaholic dad learning true worth of family. Murphy’s mugging is unfunny, though there are flashes that remind you how good he can – or used to – be. As his faux-Native American adviser who spouts goofy New Age aphorisms, Thomas Haden Church provides most of the real laughs here. The film is mildly amusing and does have a heart (albeit a worn one), and it will probably work best as a rainy-day rental/babysitter. Also with Yara Shahidi, Nicole Ari Parker, Ronny Cox, Vanessa Williams, DeRay Davis, and Richard Schiff. – C.W.
Land of the Lost (PG-13) Hiss! Will Ferrell stars in this staggeringly ill-conceived big-screen version of the 1970s TV show as a scientist who finds a portal into an alternate dimension filled with dinosaurs and other strange creatures. Ferrell’s bumbling lummox personality is a bad fit with a movie that’s supposed to be a wondrous fantasy, and hack director Brad Silberling (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) helps neither the star nor the material. The film lurches uneasily from one pole to another and never finds a groove as a comedy or an adventure. The whole experience goes down like too much cotton candy, and the Sleestaks aren’t even scary. Also with Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone, John Boylan, and Matt Lauer.
My Girlfriend Is an Agent (NR) Shin Tae-ra’s comedy stars Kim Ha-neul as a Korean government spy whose boyfriend (Kang Ji-hwan) has no idea of her true identity. Also with Ryoo Seung-yong and Kang Shin-il.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG) Mediocrity reigns in this sequel starring Ben Stiller as a security guard-turned-infomercial guru who teams up with Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) to prevent an Egyptian pharaoh (Hank Azaria) from raising an undead army to unleash upon the world. The film’s too scattered to work as a thriller, the comic material isn’t good enough for the actors, and the special effects are thrown at you until your senses overload. As summer movies go, this is pretty weak. Also with Robin Williams, Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Bill Hader, Alain Chabat, Jon Bernthal, Patrick Gallagher, Mizuo Peck, Jay Baruchel, Mindy Kaling, Craig Robinson, and uncredited cameos by Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, and Jonah Hill. Voices by Eugene Levy, Brad Garrett, and Jonas Brothers.
The Proposal (PG-13) Sandra Bullock stars in this romantic comedy as a high-powered Canadian-born book editor who avoids deportation from the United States by blackmailing her put-upon personal assistant (Ryan Reynolds) into agreeing to a sham marriage. The film gets off to a good start, with Bullock relishing the chance to play a cold person forced to pretend to be warm and sweet, and Reynolds getting some rewarding stuff about his difficult relationship with his family. Still, after the couple visits his relatives in Alaska, the slapstick grows labored and the heroine’s romantic dilemma doesn’t provide enough suspense. Despite the two leads’ best efforts, the film dies about halfway through. Also with Craig T. Nelson, Mary Steenburgen, Denis O’Hare, Malin Akerman, Oscar Nuñez, and Aasif Mandvi.
Star Trek (PG-13) The funniest sci-fi blockbuster in recent memory, this relaunch of the fabled franchise tells the backstory of Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) as they make their way through Starfleet Academy and earn their stripes fighting a rogue Romulan warrior (Eric Bana). The antic, high-energy Pine and the deadpan Quinto make an effective hot-and-cold comedy team, and the supporting cast contributes mightily to the laughs, especially Simon Pegg as Scotty. The film includes tons of in-jokes for the fanbase, but non-fans will find plenty to enjoy as well, not least the extended action sequence when Kirk and Sulu (John Cho) parachute onto a Romulan drilling platform and tangle with the guards. For a big-ticket event movie, this film’s lightness is refreshing. Also with Zoë Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Clifton Collins Jr., Ben Cross, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison, Rachel Nichols, Tyler Perry, Winona Ryder, and Leonard Nimoy.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (R) Tony Scott’s remake of Joseph Sargent’s 1974 thriller stars Denzel Washington as a New York City transit cop who tangles with an armed former Wall Street wizard (a miscast John Travolta) who takes a train full of hostages and holds them for ransom. Director Tony Scott manages to bring some emotional heft to this slick thriller, which features long, tense pauses in its real-time setup. Scott’s frequent leading man Washington invests the role with gravity and restraint. Watch for the melee triggered by a rat. Also with James Gandolfini, John Turturro, Luis Guzmán, Michael Rispoli, John Benjamin Hickey, Victor Gojcaj, Gbenga Akinnagbe, and Aunjanue Ellis.
Terminator Salvation (PG-13) After 25 years, we finally find out what John Connor does in the future war against the machines that’s so great. Meh. Christian Bale portrays the grown Connor, while Sam Worthington plays a convicted killer who mysteriously comes back to life and helps Connor’s war effort in unexpected ways. Director McG (the Charlie’s Angels movies) cloaks the visuals in shades of brown and gray, and executes a few lengthy tracking shots that’ll delight any film-school formalist. Too bad he can’t begin to handle the emotional content of this movie, such as it is, and never generates any sense of fear and awe of the killer robots. What should be a dark and terrifying film comes out grim and soulless. Also with Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jadagrace, Common, Michael Ironside, Jane Alexander, and Helena Bonham Carter.
Up (PG) The latest Pixar animated film features an absurd yet somehow logical plot about a 78-year-old retired balloon vendor (voiced by Ed Asner) who attaches enough balloons to his house to sail away to South America, accompanied by an 8-year-old kid (voiced by Jordan Nagai) who’s marooned on his porch. The best part of the film is a deeply moving wordless montage early on, depicting the early married life of its elderly hero. The rest of the movie is a Pixar adventure that’s more lightweight than usual, though no less enjoyable for that. The warmth and simplicity at the heart of this fable are enough to win you over. The film doesn’t even need 3-D to work. Additional voices by Christopher Plummer, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, and John Ratzenberger.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (PG-13) What happens when you take the most badass mutant superhero out of the X-Men soap opera and give him his own feature? A rather tepid movie, unfortunately. The film follows Logan (Hugh Jackman) from sickly boy in the Canadian north in the early 1800s until the 1980s, when he joins a mutant special forces team headed by Col. Stryker (Danny Huston), accompanied by his increasingly vicious half-brother, Victor Creed, a.k.a. Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). The two leads are perfect for their roles, but neither actor really gets the chance to cut loose. Despite a few decent action scenes, the story plods along without a sense of urgency. Focusing on Logan’s work with Stryker instead of his enmity with Sabretooth turns out to be a big mistake. Beloved characters like Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) and Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) are trotted out and then not given the treatment they deserve. Too many extraneous characters and shoddy special effects don’t help either. An unfortunate misfire. Also with Lynn Collins, will.i.am, Kevin Durand, and Dominic Monaghan. – C.W.
Year One (PG-13) On their way to Sodom to free their enslaved tribe and meet their would-be mates (Juno Temple and June Diane Raphael), two cavemen played by Jack Black and Michael Cera wander through Old Testament times, running into Biblical personages such as Cain and Abel (David Cross and an un-credited Paul Rudd) and Abraham (Hank Azaria) and running into trouble at every turn. There are a few inspired pokes at religious zealotry, but the film is mostly a sophomoric comedy full of the oldest dick and fart jokes. The cast doesn’t help, either. There’s little buddy-chemistry between Black and Cera, and neither is as funny as he can be. You know a movie sucks when the outtakes at the end are the funniest part. Also with Oliver Platt, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Olivia Wilde, Vinnie Jones, Xander Berkeley, Horatio Sanz, Kyle Gass, and Bill Hader. – C.W.
Enlighten Up! (NR) Kate Churchill’s documentary about her own disastrous plan to turn her skeptical friend (Nick Rosen) into a yoga practitioner.
Every Little Step (PG-13) Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern’s documentary profiles the dancers trying out for the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. Also with Marvin Hamlisch, Charlotte D’Amboise, Jacques D’Amboise, and Donna McKechnie.
Food, Inc. (PG) Robert Kenner’s documentary exposé of contemporary corporate food practices.
Lemon Tree (NR) Eran Riklis’ drama about a Palestinian widow (Hiam Abbass) who sues the Israeli defense minister (Doron Tavory) after he moves in next door to her and orders her to cut down her lemon orchard. Also with Ali Suliman, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Tarik Kopty, Amos Lavi, and Amnon Wolf.
The Merry Gentleman (R) Michael Keaton stars in his directorial debut as a suicidal hit man who befriends a woman fleeing an abusive relationship (Kelly Macdonald). Also with Bobby Cannavale, Tom Bastounes, Darlene Hunt, Guy van Swearingen, and William Dick.
Valentino: The Last Emperor (NR) Not to be confused with Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, this is Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary portrait of the Italian fashion designer. Also with Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Diane von Fürstenburg, Anna Wintour, Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, André Leon Talley, Claudia Schiffer, and Gwyneth Paltrow.