Amreeka (PG-13) Cherien Dabis’ dramedy stars Nisreen Faour as a single Palestinian mother trying to restart her life in a small town in Illinois. Also with Melkar Muallem, Hiam Abbass, Jenna Kawar, Selena Haddad, Yussuf Abu-Walar, Joseph Ziegler, Daniel Boiteau, and Alia Shawkat. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Fame (PG) Baby, look at me and tell me what you see. Naturi Naughton stars in this update of the 1980 film set in a performing arts high school in New York City. Also with Kay Panabaker, Asher Book, Paul McGill, Kherington Payne, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Megan Mullally, Charles S. Dutton, Bebe Neuwirth, Kelsey Grammer, and Debbie Allen. (Opens Friday)
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (R) Based on Tucker Max’s memoir, this comedy stars Matt Czuchry as a man who tries to make up with his best friend (Geoff Stults) after jeopardizing his wedding. Also with Keri Lynn Pratt, Jesse Bradford, Marika Dominczyk, Meagen Fay, Edward Hibbert, and Traci Lords. (Opens Friday at AMC Parks in Arlington)
The Other Man (NR) Liam Neeson stars in this drama based on Bernhard Schlink’s short story about a man tracking down his wife’s adulterous lover (Antonio Banderas). Also with Laura Linney, Amanda Drew, Laurence Richardson, and Romola Garai. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Pandorum (R) Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster star in this sci-fi thriller as two space travelers awakened from a hypersleep without their memories and with everyone else on board their ship turned into murderous creatures. Also with Antje Traue, Cam Gigandet, Cung Le, André Hennicke, and Norman Reedus. (Opens Friday)
Paris (R) The latest film by Cédric Klapisch (L’Auberge Espagnole) stars Romain Duris as a professional dancer who watches passersby from his window while awaiting a life-saving heart transplant. Also with Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Albert Dupontel, François Cluzet, Gilles Lellouche, Zinedine Soualem, and Mélanie Laurent. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Play the Game (PG-13) Marc Fienberg’s comedy stars Paul Campbell as a young man who tries to negotiate his own romance while teaching his grandfather (Andy Griffith) ways to bed women. Also with Doris Roberts, Marla Sokoloff, Liz Sheridan, Rance Howard, and Clint Howard. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Surrogates (PG-13) Bruce Willis stars in this thriller as a detective trying to solve a string of murders in a future in which people interact with one another through surrogate robots. Also with Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, Jack Noseworthy, James Cromwell, and Ving Rhames. (Opens Friday)
All About Steve (PG-13) Extensively horrible romantic comedy stars Sandra Bullock as a crossword puzzle creator who starts stalking a TV news cameraman (Bradley Cooper) after a single blind date with him. We’re supposed to find her lovably eccentric, but she comes off like someone with a personality disorder, thanks to a contorted script and the worst performance of Bullock’s career. As if the relationship stuff isn’t bad enough, the story then veers into some sour and preachy satire of cynical TV journalists, and Kim Barker’s script somehow contrives to miss this huge target. This makes The Proposal look like a towering cinematic masterpiece by comparison. Also with Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Katy Mixon, Howard Hesseman, Beth Grant, and Keith David.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (PG) Judi and Ron Barrett’s whimsical kids’ book is rendered unrecognizable in this squarely conventional though not unenjoyable animated film about a young inventor (voiced by Bill Hader) who rejuvenates his small town by making food fall from the sky. The movie has a completely different drawing style from the book’s and a good message for kids: It’s bad to eat whatever you want. Still, this would be a dull and ordinary fantasy adventure if the filmmakers didn’t have so much fun inventing whole landscapes out of food – the gentle snowfall of ice cream is a genuinely beautiful moment. The food jokes sneaking in the corners of the frame keep this thing moving. Additional voices by Anna Faris, Mr. T, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Will Forte, Benjamin Bratt, Lauren Graham, and Neil Patrick Harris.
District 9 (R) Maybe not the best sci-fi movie of the year, but certainly the most remarkable. This South African film is built on the premise of a million space aliens being stranded and eventually ghettoized in the city of Johannesburg. Sharlto Copley stars as a bureaucrat who becomes a fugitive after an infection starts to change his body into an alien’s. Director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp smoothly integrates human actors with computer-generated aliens and faux documentary techniques with straightforward narrative to tell this story, and the imaginative action sequences are Hollywood-quality. The apartheid allegory isn’t terribly subtle, but the movie is still an impressive piece of work with a distinctive South African flavor. Also with Jason Cope, Vanessa Haywood, Mandla Gaduka, Louis Minnaar, Nathalie Boltt, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, and Kenneth Nkosi.
Extract (R) The latest comedy by Mike Judge (Office Space) stars Jason Bateman as a flavor extract plant owner whose life is complicated by his attempts to have an extramarital affair with a temp worker (Mila Kunis) who’s actually a con artist on the lam. The movie fails as a workplace comedy, with only KISS rocker Gene Simmons distinguishing himself as a lowlife personal-injury lawyer. Fortunately, that’s only half the film; the other half offers better stuff about the main character’s sexless marriage and his dealings with his bartending friend (Ben Affleck) who’s a fount of bad ideas. Buoyed by the gags, the movie turns out to be modestly enjoyable. Also with Kristen Wiig, Clifton Collins Jr., Dustin Milligan, Beth Grant, David Koechner, and J.K. Simmons.
The Final Destination (R) Death grinds up cardboard characters in this boring and insulting fourquel. Bobby Campo’s Main Character (because, let’s face it, their names are inconsequential) foresees his and his friends’ death in a racecar accident. After avoiding it, they are reclaimed one by one by the Grim Reaper. Calling the characters one-dimensional is an insult to physics, the kills are predictable, and the 3D will only help you notice the bad CGI. Gorehounds may appreciate the violence, but this movie blows so hard I feel like I owe it 50 bucks. Also with Shantel VanSanten, Nick Zano, Haley Webb, Krista Allen, and Mykelti Williamson. — Cole Williams
Gamer (R) Gerard Butler stars in this futuristic sci-fi thriller as a wrongly convicted murderer who’s forced to submit to the control of a famous teenage gamer (Logan Lerman) to kill other prisoners as part of a shoot-em-up multiplayer video game. There’s a seed of an interesting satire in this story, but the filmmaking team of Neveldine/Taylor (the Crank movies) has nothing funny to say about the gaming or celebrity cultures. The only joke that works is the musical number near the end when the bad guy (Michael C. Hall from TV’s Dexter) uses the gaming technology to make his henchmen snap their fingers and dance around him to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Also with Amber Valletta, Alison Lohman, Terry Crews, Aaron Yoo, Zoë Bell, Milo Ventimiglia, Keith David, Ludacris, and Kyra Sedgwick.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (PG-13) Not abysmal, just sloppy, stupid, and hyper like too many other Hollywood movies of this type. Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans portray two U.S. soldiers who encounter and look to join a secret multinational anti-terrorism organization. There’s too many plotlines and too much action going on in too many places for us to even get a chance to taste this thing, the wisecracks are limp, and the script’s attempts to engage us in the characters’ emotions go all wrong. The movie needed to be longer to at least gain some breathing space. If you’re looking for whiz-bang action, check out District 9 instead. Also with Sienna Miller, Rachel Nichols, Dennis Quaid, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Eccleston, Ray Park, Saïd Taghmaoui, Arnold Vosloo, Lee Byung-hun, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jonathan Pryce, and an uncredited Brendan Fraser.
Haeundae (NR) For Korean audiences and Americans who think Hollywood disaster flicks are too subtly characterized, this film stars Seol Yeong-ju as a drunken ex-fisherman and Ha Ji-won as his girlfriend who are caught up in large-scale death when a tsunami wipes out the city of Busan. (The title is the name of a prosperous beachfront neighborhood in the city.) The movie establishes a tone of broad slapstick in the first half that jars with the rest of the film, though there is one nice montage of people enjoying a fireworks display. The tsunami takes up the last third of the film, and it is impressively rendered with the help of some Hollywood-provided CGI. The fine actors here can’t redeem the maudlin stories, though. This is a technical achievement more than anything else. Also with Park Joong-hoon, Eom Jeong-hwa, Lee Min-gi, Kang Ye-won, and Song Jae-ho.
Halloween II (R) Rob Zombie’s follow-up to his 2007 reboot of the series is overlong, self-indulgent, derivative, and, worst of all, dull. Scout Taylor-Compton plays Laurie Strode, who finds Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) back from the dead on the anniversary of his attacks. There’s a few touches of actual beauty when Michael sees the spirit of his dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) as an angel on a white horse. The rest of it is so much rote slasher-flick business, a disappointing effort from a talented filmmaker. Also with Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Daniel Roebuck, Mary Birdsong, Brea Grant, Howard Hesseman, and Margot Kidder.
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.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (PG) A significant improvement on its predecessor, the sixth Potter movie re-establishes the atmosphere of Hogwarts as a shadowy place full of nooks and crannies that let people eavesdrop on others’ conversations. The movie’s air of paranoia goes well with its espionage plot involving the boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) cozying up to the new professor (Jim Broadbent) in an attempt to discover the secret to defeating Voldemort. Director David Yates gives breadth to the romantic subplots, but he’s even better when he’s conjuring up scary set pieces like the one in a sea cave. Any movie that works equally well as spy thriller, love story, and horror flick is pretty remarkable. Also with Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Wright, Jessie Cave, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, David Thewlis, Natalia Tena, Freddie Stroma, Warwick Davis, and Hero Fiennes-Tiffin.
I Can Do Bad All By Myself (PG-13) More sluggish than usual Tyler Perry effort stars Taraji P. Henson (overacting rather badly) as an alcoholic nightclub singer who’s suddenly forced to take in her sister’s three children. The message is wearisomely predictable – take care of your babies, go to church, get away from freeloading men who beat you, and find a hard-working man who doesn’t – and it’s all delivered in the most uninvolving way. The film has more musical numbers than most Perry movies, but the only ones that make an impression are the ones featuring powerhouse Marvin Winans as a pastor. Also with Adam Rodriguez, Brian White, Hope Olaidé Wilson, Frederick Siglar, Kwesi Boakye, Mary J. Blige, and Gladys Knight.
The Informant! (R) Wacky-but-true story stars Matt Damon as the Archer Daniels Midland executive who alerted the FBI to his company’s illegal business practices and then proceeded to almost wreck the investigation with his own lies and criminal misdeeds. Director Steven Soderbergh plays the corporate shenanigans for high comedy, and Damon (sporting glasses, a bad hairpiece, 30 extra pounds, and a wussy mustache) provides the gleeful spark in a cast full of comedians. The script ruthlessly dissects the character of a compulsive liar by letting us in on the guy’s deepest thoughts, which turn out to be quite shallow. As is often the case, the most ridiculous parts of this movie are the ones that really happened. Also with Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey, Joel McHale, Tony Hale, Tom Papa, Ann Cusack, Patton Oswalt, Clancy Brown, Tom Smothers, and Dick Smothers.
Inglourious Basterds (R) Quentin Tarantino’s World War II flick is about a German movie star (Diane Kruger) who teams with an American lieutenant (Brad Pitt) and his band of corpse-scalping Jewish soldiers to kill Hitler at a movie premiere in Paris. Pitt chews on his accent with tremendous gusto, but the show is completely stolen by Christoph Waltz as a multilingual SS colonel who can break people down without raising his voice or dropping his genial, courteous demeanor. The presence of this great Tarantino villain redeems the unconvincing romantic subplot, and the movie boasts some stunning set pieces in an underground bar and in the theater at the end. Irresponsible and overlong, the movie nevertheless succeeds in scraping the thick coating of solemnity off the genre and making World War II movies fun again. Also with Mélanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Til Schweiger, Daniel Brühl, Gedeon Burkhard, Jacky Ido, B.J. Novak, August Diehl, Martin Wuttke, Julie Dreyfus, and Mike Myers.
Jennifer’s Body (R) The funniest horror movie since Shaun of the Dead. Amanda Seyfried stars as a virginal high-school girl who discovers that her promiscuous best friend (Megan Fox) has been turned into a flesh-eating succubus. Diablo Cody’s script doesn’t always track, but the film bristles with comic invention, especially when the bad guys are revealed as a bunch of pretentious emo rock musicians. The film is filled with keen observations about small-town life, pop-culture references that make this an unusually hip horror movie, and some difficult Heathers-like satire. The brittle, dewy-eyed Seyfried anchors the movie, tapping into a rage that you didn’t see from her in Mamma Mia! The female flavor of this massively sick and twisted dark comedy makes it stand out from anything else in the theaters. Also with Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, Sal Cortez, Ryan Levine, Chris Pratt, Kyle Gallner, J.K. Simmons, and Amy Sedaris.
Julie & Julia (PG-13) Nora Ephron is the perfect choice to film this story that chronicles both Julia Child (Meryl Streep) as she lives in Paris after World War II and Julie Powell (Amy Adams) as she works through a personal crisis by cooking and blogging her way through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Adams is low-key and grounded, and looks fetching in a pixie haircut and baggy wardrobe. It’s Streep, though, who gives the film its comic energy with her sweeping grande dame turn. The food is presented in glossy fashion, but the movie’s emphasis on the process of food preparation helps it convey the satisfaction of manual labor that makes cooking such a rewarding experience. Also with Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jane Lynch, Deborah Rush, and Frances Sternhagen.
Love Happens (PG-13) A mopey Aaron Eckhart is no fun at all, and neither is this sodden drama that’s being sold as a bright comedy. The star portrays a widowed self-help guru who can’t face his own grief until he meets a florist (Jennifer Aniston) at one of his seminars. The humorous interludes are merely cutesy and annoying, but the movie turns appalling and grotesque in the last half hour, when the guy breaks down in front of an audience of VIPs and is somehow rewarded for it. This is tearjerking filmmaking near its worst. Also with Dan Fogler, Judy Greer, John Carroll Lynch, Joe Anderson, Frances Conroy, and Martin Sheen.
9 (PG-13) Astounding visuals hold this flimsy animated film together, but only briefly. The setup is pretty cool: The title character (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a ragdoll brought to life in a postapocalyptic world to help take down the machines that destroyed humanity. Unfortunately, 9 and his fellow dolls don’t reveal too many facets of personality through their spare dialogue, and the stellar voice actors don’t add much, either. The evil robots and the desolate cityscape give you lots to watch, but after about 20 minutes, you’re left to consider the movie’s considerable failings. Additional voices by John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Crispin Glover, Fred Tatasciore, and Christopher Plummer.
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.
The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry (PG) Gavin McLeod stars as an elderly man who mentors three 12-year-old friends (Jansen Panettiere, Frankie Ryan Manriquez, and Allen Isaacson) in the ways of a Christian lifestyle. Also with Taylor Boggan, Bailey Garno, Mary Jean Bentley, and Robert Guillaume.
Shorts (PG) On a scale of Robert Rodriguez kids’ movies, this isn’t as good as Spy Kids, but it’s definitely better than The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl. Jimmy Bennett stars as a 12-year-old kid who narrates a series of short films having to do with a space rock that grants people’s wishes. The movie has its share of dead spots, and its cartoonish tone can wear on you when the jokes aren’t firing. However, Rodriguez comes up with all sorts of ingenious ways for the rock’s wish-granting to go awry, and the jokes come stuffed in the corners of the frame (nice running gag with two siblings engaged in a movie-long staring contest). It’s enough to make this movie enjoyable in fits and starts. Also with Jake Short, Trevor Gagnon, Devon Gearhart, Jolie Vanier, Kat Dennings, William H. Macy, Jon Cryer, James Spader, and Leslie Mann.
Sorority Row (R) Badly made, badly acted remake of the 1983 slasher flick The House on Sorority Row is about a group of sorority girls who are stalked by a masked killer after a prank results in the accidental death of one of their own (Audrina Partridge). The action is pretty much nonexistent until the last half-hour, when the filmmakers try to get creative – and fail – with the various deaths. Up until then, the characters are recalcitrant bitches, and the guys are all prospective date rapists. We’re supposed to root for them to die, but they’re just unpleasant to be around until then. Also with Briana Evigan, Rumer Willis, Leah Pipes, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman, Matt Lanter, Julian Morris, Matt O’Leary, Carolina D’Amore, and Carrie Fisher.
The Time Traveler’s Wife (PG-13) Not as good as The Lake House. This sleep-inducing weeper stars Rachel McAdams as a woman whose husband (Eric Bana) appears to her at odd times throughout her life because he travels through time without meaning to. Adapted from Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, the film fails to make anything meaningful out of the time-travel conceit, and director Robert Schwentke adopts a wearisome tone that never varies from its tasteful placidity. Unless you can time travel, you’ll never get the 105 minutes of your life back. Also with Ron Livingston, Arliss Howard, Jane McLean, Brooklyn Proulx, Hailey McCann, and Stephen Tobolowsky.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (PG-13) Michael Bay directs this sequel like a 15-year-old boy fumbling with a bra strap. The film actually doesn’t start out too badly, with Shia LaBeouf holding the center of a mysterious plot that revolves around more evil robots arriving on Earth. After one good action sequence early on, however, the plot stops dead, and the sequences become more incoherent. It’s a watchable summer blockbuster, but it could have been so much better. Also with Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Spencer Garrett, and Rainn Wilson. Voices by Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Frank Welker, Charles Adler, Tony Todd, Grey DeLisle, and Michael York.
The Ugly Truth (R) Some movie titles are self-fulfilling. Katherine Heigl stars in this depressing comedy as a local TV producer who’s forced to work with an insulting, misogynistic self-styled relationship guru (Gerard Butler, channeling both Dr. Phil and Jim Cramer) after he’s given a daytime show at her station. The filmmakers can’t make anything about the TV host ring true, not his antics, not his advice, not his popularity, and certainly not Butler’s shaky American accent. That’s bad enough, but the farce gets hopelessly twisted when the lonely and sexually frigid producer seeks his advice while dating a cute neighbor (Eric Winter). The gender politics here are capable of offending women and men, and the movie isn’t funny enough to make it worth sitting through. Also with John Michael Higgins, Cheryl Hines, Bree Turner, Nick Searcy, Bonnie Somerville, and Nate Corddry.
Whiteout (R) Not a film about correctional fluid, this reasonably effective thriller stars Kate Beckinsale as a U.S. Marshal trying to solve a string of murders around a research base in Antarctica before the sun sets for the winter. Based on Greg Rucka’s graphic novel (whose heroine isn’t nearly as pretty as Beckinsale), the film’s intelligence, focus on character, and innovative use of the unusual setting carries the movie over director Dominic Sena’s occasional bad patches. Also with Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Alex O’Loughlin, Shawn Doyle, and Tom Skerritt.
The Burning Plain (R) The feature directing debut of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Babel, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) stars Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron as two women living at different times in a hardscrabble New Mexico desert town. Also with Tessa Ia, Jennifer Lawrence, Joaquim de Almeida, Danny Pino, José María Yazpik, J.D. Pardo, and John Corbett.
In the Loop (NR) The movie version of the British TV show The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci’s political satire stars Peter Capaldi and Tom Hollander as a sharp-tongued British prime minister’s aide and a hapless cabinet minister as they travel to America on a diplomatic mission. Also with James Gandolfini, Gina McKee, Mimi Kennedy, Anna Chlumsky, David Rasche, Chris Addison, Enzo Cilenti, and Steve Coogan.
It Might Get Loud (PG) Documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) about a musical summit between Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page.
Lorna’s Silence (R) The latest gritty drama from the Dardenne brothers (L’Enfant, Rosetta) stars Arta Dobroshi as an Albanian immigrant who marries a heroin junkie (Jérémie Renier) to stay in Belgium legally. Also with Fabrizio Rongione, Alban Ukaj, Morgan Marinne, Anton Yakovlev, and Olivier Gourmet.
The September Issue (PG-13) R.J. Cutler’s documentary follows Anna Wintour as she prepares to publish the September 2008 issue of Vogue.
Séraphine (NR) Yolande Moreau stars in this biographical drama about a middle-aged French cleaning lady and the German art dealer (Ulrich Tukur) who discovered her talent for painting. Also with Anne Bennent, Geneviève Mnich, Nico Rogner, Adélaïde Leroux, and Serge Larivière.