Barney’s Version (R) Paul Giamatti stars in this adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s comic novel as a Canadian TV producer who gets into trouble looking for love. Also with Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Rosamund Pike, Rachelle Lefevre, Mark Addy, Scott Speedman, Saul Rubinek, Bruce Greenwood, Atom Egoyan, Denys Arcand, and David Cronenberg. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (PG-13) Martin Lawrence returns as an FBI agent who goes into hiding in drag with his stepson (Brandon T. Jackson) after the latter witnesses a murder. Also with Jessica Lucas, Michelle Ang, Portia Doubleday, Emily Rios, Henri Lubatti, Susan Walters, Sherri Shepherd, Ken Jeong, and an uncredited Faizon Love. (Opens Friday)
Brotherhood (R) Will Canon’s Arlington-filmed low-budget thriller stars Trevor Morgan as a college student who finds himself in the middle of a convenience store robbery as part of his fraternity initiation. Also with Jon Foster, Lou Taylor Pucci, Arlen Escarpeta, Jesse Steccato, and Jennifer Sipes. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Cedar Rapids (R) Ed Helms stars in this comedy as a small-town Wisconsin insurance agent who has a life-changing experience at a convention in Iowa. Also with John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock, Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, Rob Corddry, Mike O’Malley, Sigourney Weaver, and an uncredited Thomas Lennon. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Chaperone (PG-13) Paul Levesque, a.k.a. Triple H, stars in this comedy as a former criminal who hides out from his ex-colleagues as a school bus driver. Also with Kevin Corrigan, Annabeth Gish, Ariel Winter, José Zúñiga, Yeardley Smith, and Enrico Colantoni. (Opens Friday at Harkins Southlake)
Unknown (PG-13) Jaume Collet-Sera (Orphan) directs this thriller starring Liam Neeson as an American in Berlin who comes out of a four-day coma to find that everyone believes him to be someone else. Also with January Jones, Diane Kruger, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Sebastian Koch, and Frank Langella. (Opens Friday)
Black Swan (R) One of 2010’s best horror movies. Also possibly the best ballet film since 1948’s The Red Shoes. Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a high-strung, perfectionistic ballerina who suffers terrifying psychotic delusions as she prepares to dance the lead in Swan Lake. Darren Aronofsky’s film takes a realistic, detailed look at the work that goes into dancing at this level but also presents us with hallucinations that build an all-pervading sense of dread, especially with the wounds and deformities that Nina sees visited upon her body. Portman does much of the dancing herself, and her hyper-intense acting style has never looked more appropriate. The story indulges in drippy melodrama and shopworn ideas about artists, but the feverish, heavily coded terms make this movie ballet-like in its tragic power and beauty. Also with Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Sebastian Stan, and Winona Ryder.
The Company Men (PG-13) The acting is good but the direction is fatally slack in this low-key drama about three executives (Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones) who are downsized from the same Boston-based shipbuilding company and try to cope in different ways. Writer-director John Wells makes his feature film debut after years of writing TV drama (ER), and while his heart is in the right place regarding these characters, he doesn’t generate any real surprises or suspense from their situations. The movie’s not that funny either — Up in the Air was a much better film along the same lines. Also with Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Bello, Patricia Kalember, Eamonn Walker, Craig T. Nelson, and Kevin Costner.
The Dilemma (PG-13) Director Ron Howard seems caught in his own dilemma about whether to make this a serious adultery drama or a hip, lowbrow comedy. He partially succeeds at the former and totally whiffs on the latter. Vince Vaughn plays a guy who catches his best friend’s wife (Winona Ryder) cheating and wrestles with how to break the news to his high-strung buddy (Kevin James), who’s also his business partner working on a big project. The hero mishandles the situation in every possible way except a funny way, and Vaughn’s comic ad-libbing devolves here into mere babbling. This material would have been better off played straight. Also with Jennifer Connelly, Channing Tatum, Amy Morton, Rance Howard, and Queen Latifah.
The Eagle (PG-13) The best Channing Tatum movie so far. He stars in this adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth as a Roman centurion in 140 A.D. who vows to reclaim his family honor by venturing alone north of Hadrian’s Wall to steal back an eagle standard carried by his father’s legion when they were wiped out by the natives. Tatum still can’t act, but the filmmakers play up his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. Director Kevin Macdonald and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle capture some breathtaking visuals in the Scottish highlands. This is not a slam-bang action thriller but a contemplative, lyrical visual tone poem that’s unusual for a movie released by Hollywood for the popcorn crowd. Also with Jamie Bell, Denis O’Hare, Mark Strong, Douglas Henshall, Tahar Rahim, and Donald Sutherland.
The Fighter (R) Mark Wahlberg stars in this solid, well-crafted drama about the real-life welterweight boxing champion Irish Micky Ward, who returned from an injury-related hiatus in the late 1990s to win his first title. Wahlberg is strong in the lead, but the acting honors are stolen clean away by a live-wire, alarmingly thin Christian Bale as Micky’s crack-addicted half-brother who taught him how to box. David O. Russell (Three Kings) lays out the story without any of his customary frills and with an eye for the New England atmosphere. Fitting that a comeback story should be a comeback vehicle for its director. Also with Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O’Keefe, Jack McGee, and Frank Renzulli.
From Prada to Nada (PG-13) Amateur hour. This comedy tries a present-day Latin update of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, turning the Dashwood sisters into the Dominguez sisters, an uptight lawyer (Camilla Belle) and an irresponsible party girl (Alexa Vega) who are suddenly impoverished by their father’s death and have to move from Beverly Hills to the barrio in East L.A. It’s a nice idea, but the acting is terrible, director Angel Gracia has no sense of comic timing, and the script depends heavily on ethnic stereotypes being reversed in the most predictable ways — of course the scary-looking cholo turns out to be an artist who teaches kids how to paint. The film certainly comes to nada. Also with Wilmer Valderrama, Nicholas D’Agosto, April Bowlby, Kuno Becker, and Adriana Barraza.
Gnomeo & Juliet (PG) Way cleverer than you’d think. British animated film transplants Shakespeare’s tale into a story about feuding families of garden gnomes in neighboring houses, with James McAvoy and Emily Blunt providing the voices of the gnomes who fall in love. The jokes hit home more often than not, the script is packed with deft Shakespeare allusions, and the voice casting is nifty (Jason Statham as Tybalt, Patrick Stewart as Shakespeare, Hulk Hogan as a web site selling an insanely overpowered lawnmower). The soundtrack features Elton John songs performed by Sir Elton himself and Lady Gaga. Why wasn’t there a Lady Gaga gnome in the movie? Additional voices by Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Jim Cummings, Julie Walters, Stephen Merchant, Dolly Parton, and Ozzy Osbourne.
The Green Hornet (PG-13) This film has a tortured history, so it’s no surprise that it comes to the screen a bit confused, though it’s better than you’d expect. A slimmed-down Seth Rogen plays a newspaper heir who bands together with his late father’s kung fu-fighting, weapons-inventing auto mechanic Kato (Jay Chou) to become a duo of masked crime fighters. Rogen’s tossed-off ad libs are funny and Christoph Waltz has a ball as the chief bad guy who thinks he’s not hip enough. Still, the daddy issues in play are a drag, and the hero brings too little to the table — he’s an idiot, a klutz, and a douchebag. The sequel needs to be just about Kato. A better 3D transfer wouldn’t hurt, either. Also with Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson, David Harbour, Edward Furlong, Edward James Olmos, and an uncredited James Franco.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (PG-13) A movie that’s not meant to stand on its own and doesn’t. After Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) overthrows the government, Harry and his friends (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint) become fugitives, leaving school to destroy the cursed objects that contain Voldemort’s soul. Because this is only the first half of the seventh and last installment, this movie is all buildup and no payoff, with pacing issues we haven’t seen since the first two Harry Potter movies. There’s no emotional traction, and even the temporary breakup of Ron and Hermione doesn’t achieve much, though it leads to a nice bit with Harry cheering her up by dancing with her. This might well have worked better as the first half of a five-hour gigantic finale. Also with Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Guy Henry, Andy Linden, Brendan Gleeson, Clémence Poésy, David Thewlis, Evanna Lynch, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, and Bill Nighy.
Just Go With It (PG-13) A mighty clash between two types of bad movie: the Adam Sandler comedy and the Jennifer Aniston romance. The Sandler comedy wins. The audience loses. The two actors star in this remake of the 1969 film Cactus Flower as a plastic surgeon and his assistant, whom he talks into posing as his ex-wife for the benefit of his new girlfriend (Brooklyn Decker). Truly nothing works, not the web of deception that could be picked apart by a small child, not the chemistry between Sandler and either of his female co-stars, not Sandler’s womanizing character somehow failing to notice his assistant’s hotness, not the “did that actually happen?” cameo by Nicole Kidman, and certainly not any of the jokes. The whole thing is severely painful. Also with Nick Swardson, Bailee Madison, Kevin Nealon, Rachel Dratch, Allen Covert, Minka Kelly, and Dave Matthews.
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (G) Presumably the sequel will be called Never Say Never Again and feature Bieber in a tuxedo, shooting bad guys with paintballs and drinking chocolate milk out of martini glasses. (Get on this, FunnyOrDie.com! and give me royalties!) This 3D concert film is taken from the teen pop star’s 2010 show at Madison Square Garden. The movie doesn’t feature enough actual concert footage, and it ill-advisedly tries to build suspense out of the singer’s troubles with his vocal cords. On the other hand, there’s some interesting stuff on the role of YouTube and Twitter in his rise to stardom, and the footage from Bieber’s preteen years shows a kid with a preternatural facility for the drums and guitar. It’s disconcerting to see Bieber duet with Miley Cyrus, who looks fully twice his age. (That is to say, she looks 24.) Also with Usher, Boyz II Men, Sean Kingston, Jaden Smith, and Ludacris.
The King’s Speech (R) Colin Firth gives one of 2010’s great performances as King George VI of England, who must overcome a speech impediment when he unexpectedly must assume the throne. Director Tom Hooper does up the stagey material in sturdy fashion; the choppiness in the second half is due to David Seidler’s script. The best thing here is the acting: Geoffrey Rush (reining himself in for once) plays the Australian speech therapist whose unusual methods yield results, and who becomes the king’s friend. The long therapy sessions between Firth and Rush are impeccably played, and Firth is an inspiring figure as a scared man thrust into a job he never wanted who struggles and finally rises to the occasion. Also with Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi, and Claire Bloom.
The Mechanic (R) An above-average Jason Statham action flick until it falls apart at the end. Here he plays a hit man — who only kills drug dealers, terrorists, and arms dealers, so we know he’s a good hit man — who takes in his late mentor’s screwed-up son (Ben Foster) as an apprentice. The overtones of guilt and the hit man’s meticulous silent-but-lethal approach to his job are good to have on hand, but in the end this thing devolves into yet another dumb picture with explosions and shootouts that go against everything the main character supposedly stands for. Also with Tony Goldwyn, Jeff Chase, Mini Anden, Mark Nutter, and Donald Sutherland.
Mooz-lum (PG-13) This Muslim-themed religious drama is similar to many Christian-themed movies and just as unimaginative and badly made. Evan Ross stars as an angry African-American college student trying to rebel against his strict Muslim upbringing. Half the movie takes place in the days leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, while the other half deals in flashbacks about the hero being bullied by his father (Roger Guenveur Smith) and beaten by a schoolteacher. The structure of this movie doesn’t work, the family melodrama is overheated, and the messages of religious tolerance are delivered with a very heavy hand. Also with Nia Long, Summer Bishil, Kunal Sharma, Dorian Missick, and Danny Glover.
127 Hours (R) James Franco gives an impressive performance as Aron Ralston, the real-life Colorado engineer who in 2003 became trapped in Utah’s Blue John Canyon and eventually freed himself by amputating his right arm, which was pinned by a fallen boulder. Director/co-writer Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) stages flashbacks and hallucinations that keep the movie from being stuck in one location, and the scenery in Utah is shot with an unearthly beauty. This helps us through the unflinching depiction of Ralston’s amputation. This movie tries to tease some philosophical meaning out of Ralston’s accident, but it’s not a deep movie by any means. It’s just a nice survival yarn with a charismatic star turn. Also with Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clémence Poésy, Lizzy Caplan, Kate Burton, and Treat Williams.
The Rite (PG-13) Anthony Hopkins chews the scenery like it’s made out of fine applewood-smoked bacon in this exorcism thriller. He portrays a loose-cannon Welsh priest living in Rome assigned to tutor a young American seminary student (Colin O’Donoghue) who’s skeptical about demonic possession. The movie fails on just about every level, as a character study, as an inquiry into skepticism and faith, as a procedural, as a straight-up horror flick. Hopkins is good in the early scenes as an easily distractible old guy who takes a cell phone call in the middle of an exorcism, but when his character becomes possessed himself, his performance topples into comic self-parody. Also with Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, Marta Gastini, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, and Rutger Hauer.
The Roommate (PG-13) This generation’s Single White Female — a schlocky and semi-effective thriller about a girl and her stalker. Minka Kelly plays a college student whose new roommate (Leighton Meester) goes from friendly to clingy to murderous and psychotically obsessed with her. The two lead actresses bear an astonishing resemblance to each other, but the film weirdly doesn’t seem to notice this until very late in the proceedings. The writing is sloppy, but the thing rattles along well enough. Meester is nice unhinged, but I’d still take Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh over these two. Also with Cam Gigandet, Aly Michalka, Danneel Harris, Tomas Arana, Billy Zane, Nina Dobrev, Matt Lanter, and Frances Fisher.
Sanctum (R) Some isolated moments of visual splendor fail to spark this unprepossessing thriller about a group of mostly Australian divers who become trapped in a rapidly flooding underground network of caves in Papua New Guinea. Among the explorers are a teenager (Rhys Wakefield) and his hard-ass, emotionally closed-off dad (Richard Roxburgh), the leader of the expedition. The bonding between them is supposed to be the movie’s emotional core, but the script is too stupid to make that work. The underwater caves are pretty. That’s about it. Also with Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Christopher Baker, Dan Wyllie, and Allison Cratchley.
Tangled (PG) Presumably this title is because there’s already a musical called Hair. Disney’s fractured animated take on the Rapunzel story has the Grimm brothers’ heroine (voiced by Mandy Moore) as the lost child of a royal couple, kidnapped and raised by an old sorceress (voiced with great gusto by Donna Murphy) who keeps her adoptive daughter in her tower by telling her that the world is an evil place. The movie bites off more than it can chew trying to be both a musical and an action-thriller, with Rapunzel exploring the world and getting into hijinks with a handsome thief (voiced by Zachary Levi). The weak songs don’t help, either. Still, the notes of psychological complexity in Rapunzel’s relationship with her smothering drama queen of a mother is enough to keep this thing watchable. Additional voices by Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor, Richard Kiel, and Brad Garrett.
True Grit (PG-13) The Coen brothers forget about their philosophy and get on with the story in this second film version of Charles Portis’ novel about a 14-year-old Arkansas farm girl (Hailee Steinfeld) who hires a U.S. marshal (Jeff Bridges, less lovable and more truthful than John Wayne) to track down her father’s killer in Oklahoma in 1878. The material suits the Coens extraordinarily well. The writing jibes with Portis’ flowery dialogue, the film’s wintry and barren landscapes fit the story, and the Coens’ ruthless unsentimentality turns the novel into a sinuous and potent exercise in storytelling. The film doesn’t make any radical changes from the 1969 film, but its small improvements are everywhere in evidence. This may be only a genre picture, but it’s honest and pure. Also with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Dakin Matthews, Domhnall Gleeson, Paul Rae, and Barry Pepper.