Amelia (PG) Hilary Swank stars in Mira Nair’s biography of the aviatrix Amelia Earhart. Also with Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson, Mia Wasikowska, and Cherry Jones. (Opens Friday)
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (PG-13) Chris Massoglia stars in this adaptation of Darren Shan’s novel as a 16-year-old who goes on the road with a carnival so he can become a vampire. Also with John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Jessica Carlson, Patrick Fugit, Orlando Jones, Frankie Faison, Ken Watanabe, Willem Dafoe, Jane Krakowski, and Salma Hayek. (Opens Friday)
The Damned United (R) Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) stars in this dramatization of the 44-day reign of error when Brian Clough took over as head coach of the English soccer team Leeds United in 1973. Also with Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall, Tom Hooper, Andy Harries, Grainne Marmion, and Jim Broadbent. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Saw VI (R) Please God, let him die. Tobin Bell returns one more time as a game-playing serial killer. Also with Costas Mandylor, Shawnee Smith, Mark Rolston, Betsy Russell, Samantha Lemole, and Peter Outerbridge. (Opens Friday)
Trucker (R) Michelle Monaghan (Eagle Eye, Made of Honor) stars in this drama as a truck driver who’s forced to take care of the 11-year-old son (Jimmy Bennett) whom she abandoned years before. Also with Nathan Fillion, Benjamin Bratt, Mika Boorem, Johnny Simmons, and Joey Lauren Adams. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 hardworking 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.
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.
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.
Law Abiding Citizen (R) Gerard Butler’s acting is getting worse and worse. He hams his way amateurishly through this sadistic thriller as a government spymaster who turns his fury on the justice system – one assistant D.A. in particular (Jamie Foxx) – after a plea bargain sets his family’s killers free. The bad guy’s hypercompetency isn’t fully explained by the big revelation near the end, and F. Gary Gray directs this like the latest installment of Saw when he should be keeping things light and witty. His lugubrious manner just exposes the rottenness at the heart of this exercise and lets the bad taste build up. Also with Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, Leslie Bibb, Regina Hall, Michael Irby, Emerald-Angel Young, Annie Corley, and Viola Davis.
New York, I Love You (R) This sequel to Paris, je t’aime is an anthology of 10 short films set in New York City, directed by filmmakers from around the world. They vary in quality, as you might expect. Yvan Attal’s comic vignette (starring Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q) has a great twist, and Brett Ratner contributes a surprisingly winsome film about a rejected high-school kid (Anton Yelchin) who has a dream prom date with a paraplegic girl (Olivia Thirlby). The best is Shekhar Kapur’s crisply elegant drama about a suicidal opera singer (Julie Christie) and a hotel porter with a spinal deformity (Shia LaBeouf). The stylistic range of these pieces isn’t as wide as you’d hope, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. Also with Natalie Portman, Christina Ricci, Bradley Cooper, Chris Cooper, Robin Wright Penn, Drea de Matteo, Andy Garcia, James Caan, Blake Lively, Orlando Bloom, Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson, John Hurt, Jacinda Barrett, Burt Young, Irrfan Khan, Eva Amurri, Justin Bartha, Shu Qi, Eli Wallach, and Cloris Leachman.
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.
Paranormal Activity (R) Oren Peli’s horror film stars Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat as a suburban couple who attempt to document a demonic spirit in their new house. Also with Michael Bayouth.
The Stepfather (PG-13) Penn Badgley stars in this dull remake of the 1987 thriller as a troubled kid who comes home from boarding school and finds his mother (Sela Ward) newly engaged to a man (Dylan Walsh) who might well be a killer. The good news is that the bad guy is made to be clever; the bad news is that everybody else is made to be extremely stupid, which effectively kills any suspense here. The performances by a cast full of TV actors are indifferent, but given the film’s unforgivably slapdash treatment of its characters, maybe that’s understandable. Also with Amber Heard, Jon Tenney, Paige Turco, Jessalyn Gilsig, and Sherry Stringfield.
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.
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.
Where the Wild Things Are (PG) Spike Jonze and scriptwriter Dave Eggers strip down Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book to its emotional essence and then gracefully expand it into a series of adventures about a kid (Max Records) discovering that he’s not the center of the universe. Sendak’s mythical beasts are rendered beautifully by Jim Henson’s workshop and given extraordinary expressive range, and the fake-documentary filmmaking style gives the movie an unnerving tinge of reality. The result is a sweet, bleak fantasy full of blunt truths about families that traces a goofy, scary, and poignant arc. Also with Catherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo. Voices by James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano, Lauren Ambrose, and Chris Cooper.
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 is 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.
The Baader Meinhof Complex (R) Uli Edel’s film dramatizes the left-wing group whose terrorist bombings rocked West Germany in the 1970s. Starring Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck, Johanna Wokalek, Nadja Uhl, Jan Josef Liefers, Stipe Erceg, Bernd Stegemann, and Alexandra Maria Lara.
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.
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 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.
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg (NR) This documentary by Aviva Kempner (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg) focuses on Gertrude Berg, the creator and star of a groundbreaking radio/TV show in the 1950s, The Goldbergs.