Marwencol (R) The opening night selection at last year’s Lone Star International Film Festival, Jeff Malmberg’s documentary profiles Mark Hogancamp, a brain-damaged man who becomes famous as an artist by building a 1/6 scale model of a Belgian World War II village in his backyard. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Nora’s Will (NR) Mariana Chenillo’s drama stars Fernando Luján as a Mexican Jew who discovers some stunning revelations in the will of his ex-wife (Silvia Mariscal) after her suicide. Also with Angelina Peláez, Cecilia Suárez, Ari Brickman, Verónica Langer, Max Kerlow, and Martin LaSalle. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Take Me Home Tonight (R) Topher Grace stars in this comedy set in 1988 as a young, directionless post-graduate whose life changes during a party thrown by the girl he couldn’t get in high school (Teresa Palmer). Also with Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Chris Pratt, Michael Biehn, Lucy Punch, Michelle Trachtenberg, Demetri Martin, Bob Odenkirk, and Michael Ian Black. (Opens Friday)
Barney’s Version (R) Paul Giamatti is fantastic in this rushed, cartoonish adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s comic novel. The film covers three decades or so in the life of a cranky, hard-drinking Jewish Canadian TV producer as he slogs through work, marries three different women, plays a role in his junkie friend’s death, bonds with his loving dad (Dustin Hoffman), and roots for the Montreal Canadiens. Too much of the nuance goes missing in the drive to get in as much of Richler’s book as possible, but this is yet another curmudgeonly role that Giamatti plays in uncompromising, memorable fashion. Also with Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, Mark Addy, Scott Speedman, Saul Rubinek, Bruce Greenwood, Atom Egoyan, Denys Arcand, and David Cronenberg.
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (PG-13) Martin Lawrence comes back for his third outing as Big Momma because, um, he didn’t have anything better to do? After his college-age son (Brandon T. Jackson) witnesses a murder, the two of them hide out in drag at a women’s fine arts school where a key piece of evidence is hidden. Director John Whitesell expends a curious amount of energy trying to make this work as a thriller (no go) and displays no flair for the tedious, predictable comedy set pieces. There is, I am sad to report, a school cafeteria musical number. This series ran out of ideas two movies ago. Also with Jessica Lucas, Michelle Ang, Portia Doubleday, Emily Rios, Henri Lubatti, Susan Walters, Sherri Shepherd, Ken Jeong, and an uncredited Faizon Love.
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.
Drive Angry 3D (R) Unapologetically trashy grindhouse thriller shot expressly in 3D stars Nicolas Cage as a damned soul who has escaped from hell to take down the Satan-worshipping cult that killed his daughter (Arianne Martin) and is now planning to sacrifice his baby granddaughter to bring about the apocalypse. The material is played with way more zest than it deserves by Amber Heard (as an improbably ass-kicking waitress who travels with the hero) and William Fichtner (as Satan’s accountant, who pursues the guy to bring him back to hell), and Patrick Lussier films the car chases with a reasonable amount of skill. The movie may not be worth the 3D surcharge, but it knows what it is at heart and doesn’t overextend itself. Also with Billy Burke, David Morse, Christa Campbell, Charlotte Ross, and Pruitt Taylor Vince.
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.
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 Grace Card (PG-13) Michael Joiner stars in this Christian-themed drama as a policeman who questions his faith in God after his son’s death in an accident. Also with Mike Higgenbottom, Cindy Hodge, Joy Parmer Moore, Dawntoya Thomason, and Louis Gossett Jr.
Hall Pass (R) Really sad for all the wrong reasons. The Farrelly Brothers’ latest comedy stars Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as two sexually frustrated married guys whose annoying, put-upon wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) release them from their marriage vows for one week as a form of couples’ therapy. The joke is that the guys are so uncool and immature that they can’t live out their horndog fantasies because they make women flee in terror. That joke grows awfully thin when repeated over 105 minutes, and the movie’s ultimate affirmation of conventional morality is soggy in the extreme. The bitterness here makes the filmmakers come off like their heroes, middle-aged guys who once had game but now find themselves way behind the curve. Also with Nicky Whelan, Stephen Merchant, Tyler Hoechlin, Alexandra Daddario, Andrew Wilson, Joy Behar, J.B. Smoove, Vanessa Angel, Alyssa Milano, and Richard Jenkins.
I Am Number Four (PG-13) Based on Pittacus Lore’s novel, the latest movie adaptation of a young-adult publishing phenomenon stars Alex Pettyfer as one of nine superpowered refugees from a decimated alien planet who’s now hiding amid Earth’s population (at a high school in a small Ohio town) from his civilization’s destroyers. The screenwriters don’t do enough to flesh out the mythology and backstory of this alternate universe, and the high-school drama doesn’t resonate, perhaps due to Pettyfer’s generally wooden performance. Still, director D.J. Caruso tightens up the action on screen and doesn’t treat the romantic scenes as throwaway nuisances. Teresa Palmer gives the movie a huge late boost as Number Six; she makes you wish the movie had been about the ultra-cool Six instead of the dull Four. Also with Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Jake Abel, Kevin Durand, and Timothy Olyphant.
Inside Job (PG-13) Charles Ferguson’s documentary details the 2008 financial meltdown in clarifying and enraging terms. With the help of some vivid graphics and a series of interviews with heavy hitters (including Nouriel Roubini, George Soros, Barney Frank, Eliot Spitzer, and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong), the movie lays out how deregulation created an economic system with a staggering lack of accountability. It’s no surprise that the financial sector corrupted the government, but the movie also exposes how it has bought off economists at top-ranking universities to defend deregulation and the status quo. Michael Moore covered much of this territory in his Capitalism: A Love Story, but this is the stronger and more rigorous film.
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 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.
Unknown (PG-13) Liam Neeson stars in this good-looking, totally unbelievable thriller as an American biotech professor in Berlin who goes into a four-day coma after a car accident. Upon waking, he finds that his wife (January Jones) claims not to recognize him and an impostor (Aidan Quinn) claims to be him. You can figure out the big plot twist just from the preceding description; you don’t even need to watch the trailer or read the Didier van Cauwelaert novel that the film’s based on. Bruno Ganz gets a magnificent death scene as a Stasi agent-turned-PI who realizes the bad guys are closing in on him. Other than that, the acting and the writing are too indistinct to make this movie any good. Also with Diane Kruger, Olivier Schneider, Sebastian Koch, Stipe Erceg, Rainer Bock, and Frank Langella.