Super (NR) James Gunn’s black comedy stars Rainn Wilson as an ordinary man who sets out to fight crime as a masked superhero. Also with Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker, Linda Cardellini, and Nathan Fillion. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
African Cats (G) Disney’s latest Earth Day documentary follows the lives of a lion and a cheetah. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. (Opens Friday)
American: The Bill Hicks Story (NR) Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas’ portrait of the stand-up comic. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
I Am (NR) Tom Shadyac (Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty) directs this documentary about what’s wrong with the world and how to improve it. Also with Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Lynne McTaggart, John Francis, Coleman Barks, and Marc Ian Barasch. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Madea’s Big Happy Family (PG-13) Tyler Perry stars in his own comedy as a matriarch who steps in when his niece (Loretta Devine) develops health problems. Also with Cassi Davis, Tamela J. Mann, David Mann, Shannon Kane, Isaiah Mustafa, and Bow Wow. (Opens Friday)
Poetry (NR) The latest film by Lee Chang-dong (Oasis, Secret Sunshine) stars Yun Jeong-hye as an aging Korean woman who enrolls in a poetry class to deal with the onset of Alzheimer’s and her grandson (David Lee) being accused of rape. Also with Kim Hee-ra, Ahn Nae-sang, Park Myeong-sin, and Kim Yong-taek. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Water for Elephants (PG-13) Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Sara Gruen’s novel stars Robert Pattinson as an orphaned veterinary student who joins a traveling circus in the 1930s. Also with Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Paul Schneider, James Frain, Tim Guinee, John Aylward, and Hal Holbrook. (Opens Friday)
Arthur (PG-13) As much fun as flat champagne, this remake of the 1981 comedy stars Russell Brand as a spoiled drunken British playboy in New York who must either stay wealthy by marrying a socialite he hates (Jennifer Garner) or give up his fortune for a tour guide he truly loves (Greta Gerwig). Brand’s ad-libbing yields a few funny lines, but he doesn’t have the charming guilelessness that Dudley Moore brought to the original. The lack of charisma makes a fatal hole in the center of this comedy. Just as the tour guide can do better than Arthur, the female talent here can do better than Arthur. Also with Helen Mirren, Luis Guzmán, Geraldine James, John Hodgman, and Nick Nolte.
Atlas Shrugged: Part I (PG-13) No matter what you think of Ayn Rand’s “I make the world better by turning myself into a superwealthy robot” philosophy, this airless, soulless, joyless, humorless adaptation of one part of her longest novel is a rickety train ride. In a near future when oil prices have made rail travel indispensable, a railroad executive (Taylor Schilling) tries to keep her conglomerate from being taken down by corrupt government officials and cowardly labor unions. In dramatic terms, what this translates to is a bunch of people in boardrooms droning on and on. The bad acting doesn’t help, nor do the low production values. Who is John Galt? Who the hell cares? Also with Grant Bowler, Michael O’Keefe, Matthew Marsden, Edi Gathegi, Graham Beckel, Patrick Fischler, Jsu Garcia, Michael Lerner, and Jon Polito.
Battle: Los Angeles (PG-13) A marine platoon led by Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) gets stuck in an infested Los Angeles during an alien invasion. Although filled with clumsy dialogue and clichés (untested lieutenants come unglued on cue), this is an exciting movie giving a street-level view of what an alien invasion might look like. The film moves fast, the action scenes are tense and energetic, and the cast is likable even if the characters aren’t exactly deep. Eckhart especially deserves praise for carrying the movie and saving more than a few melodramatic moments. Even though it runs a little long, this is still a gritty, nerve-wracking, and fun sci-fi action movie. Also with Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Peña, Lucas Till, James Hiroyuki Liao, and Ne-Yo. — Cole Williams
The Conspirator (PG-13) Robert Redford’s commentary on civil liberties disguised as a period legal drama is much easier to take than it should be. James McAvoy portrays the real-life lawyer who takes on the case of boardinghouse owner Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) after she’s accused of helping her son and his friend, John Wilkes Booth, kill Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps because of the low budget, Redford can’t evoke a sense of the mass panic that’s behind the prosecution, so his movie never feels as big and important as it’s meant to. As the lawyer employs every trick to try to impede an unfair legal proceeding that’s bent on grinding up his client, McAvoy exhibits the tensile and cunning moral outrage that is the heart of this thing. Also with Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, Alexis Bledel, Norman Reedus, Colm Meaney, Jonathan Groff, James Badge Dale, Stephen Root, Johnny Simmons, and Danny Huston.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (PG) The hastily made sequel to last year’s original has Zachary Gordon reprising his role as the now-seventh-grader whose parents force him and his annoying rock musician older brother (Devon Bostick) to spend more time together. This second installment is marginally less irritating than the first, but it has even less juice, resorting to the same tired gags we’ve seen in millions of family movies. The plethora of fantasy sequences and extraneous material (like a parody of a 1970s horror film) makes it seem as if the filmmakers were eager to make some other movie entirely. You’ll feel eager to watch some other movie entirely. Also with Robert Capron, Peyton List, Grayson Russell, Karan Brar, Fran Kranz, Rachael Harris, and Steve Zahn.
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.
Hanna (PG-13) What’s this movie trying to say? Saoirse Ronan portrays a 16-year-old girl raised in seclusion by her dad (Eric Bana) to assassinate a sinister CIA section chief (Cate Blanchett with a Kentucky bourbon accent). The backstory emerges in dribs and drabs but never coalesces into a cracked fable about kids growing up. Director Joe Wright films this action thriller like one of the Bourne films, a distinctive approach that fails to evoke the fairy-tale atmosphere that he’s going for. The onscreen talent is personable — Ronan and Jessica Barden make a nifty comedy team in the frankly hilarious middle section, when Hanna hitches a ride with a bohemian British family and becomes best friends with their pop culture-obsessed daughter. It’s a delightful piece of randomness in a scattered story. Also with Tom Hollander, Sebastian Hülk, Mohamed Majd, Martin Wuttke, Olivia Williams, and Jason Flemyng.
Hop (PG) This stinks like a garden full of Easter eggs left out for a month. This film that mixes CGI animation with live action starts with a nice premise: A rabbit (voiced by Russell Brand) who’s about to be crowned as Easter Bunny decides he doesn’t want the job and runs off to Hollywood to become a rock drummer. Yet the creative team behind the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies — that should tell you all you need to know right there — treats this with a bunch of lame punchlines and pop culture references. The human performances (especially James Marsden as a slacker guy who freaks out when a bunny talks to him) don’t help, and a promising subplot about an uprising of Easter chicks goes to waste. Hop ain’t hip. Additional voices by Hugh Laurie and Hank Azaria. Also with Kaley Cuoco, Elizabeth Perkins, Gary Cole, Chelsea Handler, and David Hasselhoff.
Insidious (PG-13) The director and screenwriter of the original Saw try to take on the limitations of a PG-13-rated horror flick and come up with a few good scares. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play the parents of a boy (Ty Simpkins) who falls into a coma after a household accident. The couple finds strange things happening around their home even after they do the smart thing and move into a different house. The movie does great in the first half, when the sinister stuff is only suggested, but loses steam in the second half, when the horrors become more explicit. Still, the good points outweigh the bad, and if this is short of a classic haunted-house flick, it’s still a worthy addition to the genre. Also with Andrew Astor, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Barbara Hershey. — Cole Williams
Jane Eyre (PG) The first movie version of Charlotte Brontë’s story that feels like Jane Eyre and not “Jane Eyre.” Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) directs this version with intelligence, astringency, and speed without undue haste. The early section of the film covering Jane’s life up to the point when she becomes governess at Thornfield is excellently done. Yet the movie never seems to give in to its emotions, despite a properly awkward and forceful turn by Mia Wasikowska in the title role. Shock value and grand romantic passion seem beyond the director, but this sharply executed adaptation still gives Brontë fans reasons to line up. Also with Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Holliday Grainger, Tamzin Merchant, Imogen Poots, Jayne Wisener, Valentina Cervi, Sally Hawkins, and Simon McBurney.
The King’s Speech (PG-13) This is so stupid. It’s the same as the R-rated version, only with the word “fuck” removed.
Limitless (PG-13) Bradley Cooper stars in this clever sci-fi thriller about a struggling writer who finds a magic pill that boosts his brainpower to genius levels but has nasty side effects. Screenwriter Leslie Dixon and director Neil Burger adapt this from Alan Glynn’s The Dark Fields, pulling surprises and coming up with a better ending. The movie works best as a dark comedy, with a slapsticky shootout at the end and the hero taking extreme measures to ingest the last of his pills. It’s also a great showcase for the star, who gets to be both a confident charmer and an arrogant douchebag. The premise would collapse if not for the intelligence glinting in Cooper’s icy blue eyes. Also with Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Johnny Whitworth, Tomas Arana, Robert John Burke, Ned Eisenberg, and Patricia Kalember.
The Lincoln Lawyer (R) Matthew McConaughey is back in his sweet spot as a smooth-talking, morally shifty L.A. attorney who works out of his chauffeured luxury car in this throwback legal thriller based on Michael Connelly’s novel. The story revolves around the lawyer defending a wealthy client accused of sexual assault (Ryan Philippe), only to discover that the guy is guilty of far worse. The dense, knotty plot takes in a huge array of characters played by actors who relish their material. McConaughey comfortably holds the center, and first-time writer-director Brad Furman does a superb job laying out all the plot twists. Also with Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Laurence Mason, Michael Peña, Bob Gunton, Frances Fisher, Margarita Levieva, Pell James, Shea Whigham, Katherine Moennig, Michael Paré, Trace Adkins, and Bryan Cranston.
Paul (R) Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) headline this enormously charming comedy as two British sci-fi geeks who meet an actual space alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) while on a road trip through the American desert. Some of the American stereotypes land on the unfortunate side, and the romance between Pegg and a trailer park owner (Kristen Wiig) doesn’t add much. Yet the chemistry among the three main characters is peerless, and the sci-fi culture references fly almost as fast as the funny lines. (“Are you gonna probe us?” “Why does everyone always assume that? How much can I learn from an ass?”) It’s a good time for geeks and non-geeks. Also with Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, John Carroll Lynch, Jeffrey Tambor, David Koechner, Blythe Danner, Jane Lynch, and Sigourney Weaver. Additional voice by Steven Spielberg. — Cole Williams
Rango (PG) Gloriously strange animated Western is about a diffident but highly imaginative chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) who becomes sheriff of a town filled with desert creatures. The resulting plot, unusually complicated for a kids’ movie, is gleefully ripped off from Chinatown, but the main glory of this film is its extravagant weirdness, including a reference to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a mariachi band made up of gloomy-looking owls, and an army of redneck moles and gophers flying on the backs of bats and firing Gatlings at a javelina-pulled carriage driven by lizards. Asian filmmakers have done some odd things with Westerns lately, but this experimental movie is every bit as delirious. Additional voices by Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Vincent Kartheiser, and Timothy Olyphant.
Rio (G) Casting Jesse Eisenberg as the voice of a neurotically squawking parrot is a great idea. Too bad the inspiration in this animated family film largely stops there. Eisenberg is the voice of Blu, a sheltered and critically endangered macaw who’s brought to Brazil to mate with the last female of his species (voiced by Anne Hathaway) when the two birds are kidnapped by exotic pet smugglers. Director Carlos Saldanha (from the Ice Age movies) relishes the chance to set a movie in his homeland and makes the most of the Brazilian scenery, but the voice work is slack, the characters are dull, and the movie seems unsure as to whether it’s a musical. The result is disjointed and bland. Additional voices by George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Carlos Ponce, Tracy Morgan, Jane Lynch, Wanda Sykes, Gracinha Leporace, Sérgio Mendes, and Bebel Gilberto.
Scream 4 (R) What should be the death knell for a series that was never as funny, clever, or scary as it seemed to think. Neve Campbell is back as Sidney Prescott, now a self-help author whose return to her hometown sparks yet another series of murders for her, the local sheriff (David Arquette), and his ex-reporter wife (Courteney Cox) to solve. Both the murders and the layers of metafiction have devolved into tedious repetition, and the only new element is the unattractive bitterness from director Wes Craven toward a generation of dumb kids who’d rather watch the Paranormal Activity movies. We don’t scream for Scream 4. Also with Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Marley Shelton, Erik Knudsen, Nico Tortorella, Marielle Jaffe, Aimee Teagarden, Brittany Robertson, Alison Brie, Shenae Grimes, Lucy Hale, Mary McDonnell, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, and Heather Graham.
Soul Surfer (PG) You wouldn’t think the story of a girl surfer who had a shark bite her arm off would make for a dull movie, yet here it is. AnnaSophia Robb stars in this biography of Bethany Hamilton, the 13-year-old Hawaii native who lost her left arm in 2003 and overcame her misfortune to become a professional surfer. Director/co-writer Sean McNamara wraps the story in cozy platitudes and tries to immerse us in the world of surfing but only succeeds in confusing movie fans who don’t know the jargon. The special effects are low-grade, the inconvenient emotions in the story are all dealt with too neatly, and the actors are muffled, even the ones who really should be better. (Not among the latter: Carrie Underwood in a regrettable turn as a youth minister.) Even the surfing sequences don’t provide any spark. Also with Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Ross Thomas, Jeremy Sumpter, Lorraine Nicholson, Sonya Balmores, Kevin Sorbo, and Craig T. Nelson.
Source Code (PG-13) An ordinary-looking Hollywood sci-fi thriller that gives way to some spectacular vistas. Jake Gyllenhaal portrays a soldier who takes part in a military science experiment, trying to find the perpetrator of a recent terrorist bombing by repeatedly reliving the last eight minutes in one of the victims’ lives. Like a video game hero, every time he dies, he goes back to the last save point and pursues a different course of action to try to alter the outcome. Director Duncan Jones (Moon) takes full advantage of his first big-budget outing with bigger stars and glossy visuals, yet the movie retains an intimate feel with its small cast of characters. Even after the terror plot is resolved, the script still saves up its biggest emotional punch and the most mind-blowing implications of its plot for the very end. This is what great science fiction is supposed to do. Also with Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Cas Anvar, and Russell Peters.
Sucker Punch (PG-13) Zack Snyder’s crazed, Moulin Rouge!-inspired fantasia stars Emily Browning as an orphaned girl committed to a mental institution by her abusive, murderous stepfather. She imagines herself and four other inmates (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung) as dancers in a sleazy nightclub, then as soldiers carrying out missions in a fantasy world. This trashy, incoherent exploitation flick pays lip service to feminism (cartoonish male villains) while pandering to male fantasy (little schoolgirl outfits). Yet the visuals and the soundtrack are awesome, and it’s fun watching some of Hollywood’s least badass actresses look credible as they slice and shoot their way through medieval orcs, giant samurai, killer robots, World War I zombies, and a fire-breathing dragon. There’s also a musical number over the end credits. As an empowerment fable, this is a fraud. As a stylishly surreal action thriller, it’s pretty hypnotic. Also with Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Scott Glenn, and Jon Hamm.
Win Win (R) The latest film by Tom McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent) shows off his delightfully low-key sense of humor, ability to handle actors, shallow characterizations, and overly tidy resolutions. Paul Giamatti plays a small-town New Jersey lawyer and high-school wrestling coach who finds himself coaching a troubled phenom (Alex Shaffer, whose experiences as a real-life high-school wrestling champion give weight to the wrestling scenes). The cast is sharp, especially Bobby Cannavale as an overly enthusiastic assistant coach. Yet the movie consistently trades in broad comedy for catharsis and emotional complexity, and even the complicating touches in the characters feel dictated by convention instead of natural. This slice-of-life comedy is pleasant but unsurprising and too smooth. Also with Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey, Margo Martindale, and Burt Young.
Your Highness (R) Mildly diverting in itself, massively disappointing in light of the talent that went into it. David Gordon Green follows up Pineapple Express with this comedy starring Danny McBride as a stoner medieval prince who must accompany his older brother (James Franco) on a quest to save his kidnapped princess bride (Zooey Deschanel). The cast is up for this, including Natalie Portman as an archer who’s tougher than either of the princes. Yet the script by McBride and Brent Best hangs too loose with too many tired jokes about weed, gayness, and penises, even if the joke about the minotaur’s penis is very funny indeed. There’s brilliantly juvenile, and then there’s just juvenile. This movie is the latter. Also with Rasmus Hardiker, Toby Jones, Charles Dance, Damian Lewis, John Fricker, and Justin Theroux.
Bill Cunningham New York (NR) Richard Press’ documentary profile of the New York Times fashion photographer who specializes in taking pictures of people on the street and how they dress.
Certified Copy (NR) The first non-Iranian film by Abbas Kiarostami (A Taste of Cherry) is about an English art writer (William Shimell) and a French gallery owner (Juliette Binoche) who have a strange romantic encounter in Italy. Also with Jean-Claude Carrière.
In a Better World (R) The winner of 2010’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Susanne Bier’s drama is about a Danish doctor (Mikael Persbrandt) doing humanitarian work in Africa and his 10-year-old son (Markus Rygaard) who’s being bullied at school back in Denmark. Also with Ulrich Thomsen, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Wil Johnson, Annette Støvelbæk, and Camilla Gottlieb.
Miral (PG-13) Julian Schnabel’s adaptation of Rula Jebreal’s novel stars Freida Pinto as a Palestinian girl who must choose between violent jihad and non-violent activism while growing up in Israel in the 1960s. Also with Hiam Abbass, Alexander Siddig, Omar Metwally, Makram Khoury, Stella Schnabel, Willem Dafoe, and Vanessa Redgrave.
Of Gods and Men (PG-13) Xavier Beauvois’ drama stars Lambert Wilson as the leader of a group of French Trappist monks debating whether to stay in an Algerian village in 1995 when Muslim extremists threaten to take over the country. Also with Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach, Jacques Herlin, Loïc Pichon, and Olivier Perrier.
Potiche (R) François Ozon’s farce stars Catherine Deneuve as a French housewife in 1977 who proves to be an unexpectedly forward-thinking leader when she takes over her cheating husband’s business. Also with Fabrice Luchini, Jérémie Renier, Judith Godrèche, Karin Viard, Sergi López, and Gérard Depardieu.