Coco Before Chanel (PG-13) Audrey Tautou stars in this biography of the French fashion giant, written and directed by Anne Fontaine (The Girl From Monaco). Also with Alessandro Nivola, Emmanuelle Devos, Benoît Poelvoorde, Marie Gillain, and Régis Royer. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Couples Retreat (PG-13) Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau co-write and co-star in this comedy about four couples going to an island retreat to work on their issues. Also with Kristin Davis, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman, Faizon Love, Tasha Smith, Jean Reno, John Michael Higgins, and Ken Jeong. (Opens Friday)
Free Style (PG) Wholly unoriginal and instantly forgettable drama stars the High School Musical series’ Corbin Bleu as a young man trying to make a future as a professional motocross racer while fulfilling his obligations to his family. Every sports-movie cliché is trotted out here, and the bland performances match the writing in the script. Non-fans won’t learn anything about motocross, and director William Dear (Harry and the Hendersons) can’t even put any energy or innovation into the filming of the racing sequences. A total waste of screen time and any time you spend traveling to the theater. Also with Sandra Echevarría, Madison Pettis, Matt Bellefleur, Tegan Moss, and Penelope Ann Miller. (Opens Friday)
From Mexico With Love (PG-13) Kuno Becker stars as a self-destructive migrant worker in Texas who takes up professional boxing. Also with Bruce McGill, Danay Garcia, Stephen Lang, Angélica Aragón, and Steven Bauer. (Opens Friday)
A Serious Man (R) The Coen brothers’ latest film stars Michael Stuhlbarg as a physics professor in 1960s Minnesota whose life suddenly falls apart. Also with Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff, Adam Arkin, Jessica McManus, Peter Breitmayer, David Kang, Amy Landecker, George Wyner, Michael Lerner, and Fyvush Finkel. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Walt & El Grupo (PG) Theodore Thomas’ documentary about Walt Disney’s 1941 tour of South America on a diplomatic mission/artist’s retreat. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
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.
Bright Star (PG) Jane Campion’s admirable but frustrating historical romance stars Ben Whishaw as the poet John Keats and Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne, the woman he fell in love with shortly before his death. The film looks breathtaking between Campion’s meticulous visual compositions and the flamboyant dresses that Fanny sews for herself. Cornish is magnificent, radiating confidence, but her character’s pigeonholed into a plot that doesn’t allow her control of her own fate. Everything looks primed for an operatic doomed romance, yet Campion refuses to take the plunge and maintains a determined distance from everything. These lovers are as frozen in place as the ones on Keats’ Grecian urn. Also with Paul Schneider, Edie Martin, Thomas Sangster, Samuel Barnett, and Kerry Fox.
Capitalism: A Love Story (R) There’s very little love in this Michael Moore essay film that’s subpar for Moore but still fascinating. He uncovers some appalling instances of corporate greed, but he never quite illustrates his central thesis that capitalism is broken beyond repair. His target is too big, his treatment of the suffering poor is cheap and exploitive, and his comic touch deserts him here. His film still hits a groove in the second half when he narrows his focus to the recent housing and financial crisis, detailing the toxic grip that Big Business has on government regulators and using the stories of workers retaking control of their workplaces to build to an uplifting end. The movie taps into the anger that many working Americans feel at a system that doesn’t seem to care about them, and as such, it’s a valuable snapshot of our national mood.
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.
Fame (PG) This update of the 1980 film is still set in a performing arts high school in New York City, though the students and teachers are all new. Some of the performers show some intriguing musical talent (Naturi Naughton as a classical pianist who wants to sing R&B/hip-hop and Kherington Payne as a modern dance student), and first-time director Kevin Tancharoen does a fair job with the numbers. Fatally, though, none of the kids is given interesting storylines or personalities. Bringing back the TV show version of Fame would probably have been a better move than bringing back the movie. Also with Kay Panabaker, Asher Book, Walter Perez, Collins Pennie, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Paul Iacono, Paul McGill, Megan Mullally, Charles S. Dutton, Bebe Neuwirth, Kelsey Grammer, and Debbie Allen.
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.
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.
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (R) Rancid and occasionally rancidly funny comedy stars Matt Czuchry as a self-absorbed misogynistic piece-of-crap law student named Tucker Max who has to make up with his best friend (Geoff Stults) after taking the guy to a strip club for his bachelor party and then abandoning him to a night in hell. The film is co-written by Tucker Max based on his own memoir, and he and director Bob Gosse (Niagara, Niagara) pull no punches in depicting Tucker’s extensive warts, because they’re setting him up for a monumental comeuppance that’s almost worth sitting through the rest of this movie for. Also with Keri Lynn Pratt, Jesse Bradford, Marika Dominczyk, Meagen Fay, Edward Hibbert, and Traci Lords.
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.
The Invention of Lying (PG-13) Wow, this premise sucks. Ricky Gervais stars in this comedy (which he also co-writes and co-directs) as the only man who’s capable of lying in a world where everyone always tells the truth. Gervais remains a funny guy, and he’s surprisingly affecting in the middle section when he invents the concept of religion to comfort his dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan). However, the movie’s depiction of an entirely truthful world is too depressing to raise too many laughs, and the last third bogs down in the hero’s attempts to woo a beautiful woman (Jennifer Garner). A sumptuous supporting cast is wasted in this dreary exercise. Also with Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Nate Corddry, Martin Starr, Christopher Guest, Jason Bateman, Edward Norton, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
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.
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.
Pandorum (R) Thirty years after Alien came out, they’re still ripping it off. Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster portray two space travelers who awake from a hypersleep with no memory of their identities and with most of the other people on board replaced by murderous, pasty, hairless creatures straight out of The Descent. The movie is talky and philosophical where it should be scaring you, and everything is bathed in the same blue light that you’ve seen in hundreds of other sci-fi movies. Also with Antje Traue, Cam Gigandet, Cung Le, André Hennicke, and Norman Reedus.
Surrogates (PG-13) Bruce Willis stars in this undistinguished potboiler as an FBI agent trying to solve a string of murders in a future world in which everyone stays at home and sends robotic metal surrogates to do all their living for them. Director Jonathan Mostow does a good job of filling the screen with pretty, blank-expressioned extras and makes some nice use of the surrogates’ imperviousness to pain or grievous injury. In the end, however, the movie’s heavy-handed message sinks whatever entertainment value there is in this thing. Also with Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Francis Ginty, Jack Noseworthy, James Cromwell, and Ving Rhames.
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.
Toy Story (PG) 3-D re-release of Pixar’s 1995 animated film about a toy cowboy (voiced by Tom Hanks) threatened when his owner gets a new spaceman toy (voiced by Tim Allen). Additional voices by Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, and R. Lee Ermey.
Toy Story 2 (PG) 3-D re-release of Pixar’s 1999 animated film with the continuing adventures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen). Additional voices by Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickels, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Jodi Benson, and Wayne Knight.
Whip It (PG-13) A ragged but charming directorial debut by Drew Barrymore, this lo-fi indie-style comedy stars Ellen Page as a small-town Texas girl who finds her calling when she joins a roller derby league in Austin. The director is hamstrung by a thoroughly conventional script (adapted by Shauna Cross from her own novel Derby Girl), and sometimes she doesn’t know when to get on with the action. However, Barrymore draws excellent performances from a cool supporting cast (in which she has a small role) and displays good command of atmosphere and tone, turning this into a much more lyrical film than you’d expect. Let’s see what she can do with better material. Also with Kristen Wiig, Marcia Gay Harden, Andrew Wilson, Alia Shawkat, Eve, Ari Graynor, Daniel Stern, Landon Pigg, Juliette Lewis, and Jimmy Fallon.
Zombieland (R) Terrifically funny postapocalyptic movie stars Jesse Eisenberg as a paranoid shut-in who teams up with a redneck (Woody Harrelson) and two sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) to survive after most of the world’s population has been turned into zombies. Director Ruben Fleischer and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick manufacture tons of gags centered on rules to live by in a zombie world and creative ways to kill zombies. Encouragingly, the jokes don’t stop during the movie’s few zombie-free stretches, and the actors know how to play this tricky material. (Eisenberg’s beta-male neuroses are much more amusing in this context than in The Squid and the Whale.) A fiercely original and funny debut for these brilliant comic filmmakers. Also with Mike White, Amber Heard, and Bill Murray.
It Might Get Loud (PG) Documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) about a musical summit between Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page.
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.
The September Issue (PG-13) R.J. Cutler’s documentary follows Anna Wintour as she prepares to publish the September 2008 issue of Vogue.
A Woman in Berlin (NR) Max Färberböck (Aimée & Jaguar) adapts an anonymous memoir of a woman (Nina Hoss) trying to survive the Soviet invasion of Berlin in the last days of World War II. Also with Yevgeny Sidikhin, Irm Hermann, Rüdiger Vogler, Ulrike Krumbiegel, Rolf Kanies, and Juliane Köhler.