The Tree of Life (PG-13) Terrence Malick’s drama is about a present-day man (Sean Penn) contemplating the loss of his innocence growing up in the 1950s. Also with Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, and Fiona Shaw. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Midnight in Paris (PG-13) Woody Allen’s magical-realist drama stars Owen Wilson as an American writer who has a fantastical time-traveling experience in Paris. Also with Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Léa Seydoux, Gad Elmaleh, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, and Carla Bruni. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Beaver (PG-13) Mel Gibson stars in this drama as a severely depressed man who restores himself to functionality by talking to the world through a beaver hand puppet. The puppet helps inject some lightness and humor into a potentially grim subject, and the script resists the urge to pretend that the beaver is some sort of permanent cure. Yet the supporting characters are undercooked, and director Jodie Foster (who also co-stars as the guy’s supportive wife) seems to wish away all the issues. Given the violence with which Walter breaks up with the beaver (which includes what must be the most surreal fight scene Mel Gibson has been involved in), the movie’s ending is grossly inappropriate. This film is just too thin. Also with Jennifer Lawrence, Anton Yelchin, Riley Thomas Stewart, and Cherry Jones.
Bridesmaids (R) A treasure. Kristen Wiig co-writes and stars in this comedy as a woman enduring a rough time when her best friend (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged. This is not a romance, nor is this a female version of The Hangover, despite a few uproariously raunchy set pieces. It’s one of the best movies ever about female friendship, and it would still work even if you took the jokes out, though why would you want to? Wiig gives a compelling performance as someone self-destructing as a richer, more glamorous, condescending new friend (Rose Byrne) seems to be stealing away her old pal. An intelligent and moving film, as well as a hilarious one. The supporting cast is stellar, but watch for Melissa McCarthy, stealing laughs everywhere as a foul-mouthed, intense, deadly serious bridesmaid. Also with Chris O’Dowd, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Matt Lucas, Rebel Wilson, Michael Hitchcock, Ben Falcone, Terry Crews, an uncredited Jon Hamm, and the late Jill Clayburgh.
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.
Everything Must Go (R) The recipient of a surprise screening at last year’s Lone Star Film Festival, this drama stars Will Ferrell as an alcoholic, recently unemployed man who keeps his possessions out on his front lawn after his wife locks him and them out of the house. Writer/director Dan Rush adapts from Raymond Carver’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance?” He does a nice job with the tone of the piece and Ferrell plays the character’s alcoholism straight up to remarkable effect, but the drama is generally undercooked and doesn’t build to enough of an arc to make the whole thing memorable. Also with Rebecca Hall, Michael Peña, Stephen Root, Glenn Howerton, Christopher Jordan Wallace, and Laura Dern.
Fast Five (PG-13) This fifth installment of the Fast and the Furious series takes place in Brazil, where our band of outlaws (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster) lie low, though their idea of lying low seems to involve huge car chases and shootouts with both a Brazilian slumlord (Joaquim de Almeida) and a DEA agent (Dwayne Johnson). The attempts at humor are regrettable, and the movie gets soggy trying to portray the outlaws as some sort of family. But the climactic chase scene with two muscle cars towing a giant steel vault is nicely done. Also with Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Matt Schulze, Gal Gadot, and Elsa Pataky.
The Hangover Part II (R) The sequel gleefully plays the same notes that made the original such a hit. The same buddies (Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms) reunite for another pre-wedding bash, this time in Thailand, and they wake up the next morning with no memory of what happened the previous night. They have to track down the whereabouts of a 16-year-old Stanford freshman (Mason Lee) left in their care. A capuchin monkey is involved. So is the fey Asian gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). The movie loses steam just as it comes to a head but picks back up in the big reveal at the very end. Also with Justin Bartha, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Tambor, Jamie Chung, Sasha Barrese, Gillian Vigman, and Mike Tyson. — Steve Steward
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.
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
Jumping the Broom (PG-13) Better than anything Tyler Perry has ever done. The marriage between a wealthy bride (Paula Patton) and a working-class groom (Laz Alonso) on Martha’s Vineyard is the occasion for this comedy that takes the tension between two markedly different African-American families and goes in some new directions with it. The material doesn’t always work and the leads are flavorless, but TV director Salim Akil avoids dead spots and manages to make the movie’s points without turning preachy. The supporting cast also is lively. It’s no comic masterpiece, but its solid construction and generosity of spirit make it pleasant enough. Also with Loretta Devine, Angela Bassett, Meagan Good, Mike Epps, Tasha Smith, DeRay Davis, Romeo Miller, Valarie Pettiford, Gary Dourdan, Julie Bowen, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and T.D. Jakes.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (PG) All the things that made the 2008 original film a hit are in evidence in this sequel that involves Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black) trying to stop a villainous peacock (voiced by Gary Oldman) who wants to take over China. The stunning martial-arts set pieces are fluidly choreographed without being hyperactive, and the 3-D rendition of China is majestic and gorgeous, with its sweeping mountainscapes and rippling pools. The stellar supporting cast is once again underused, but this is still the next step in a series that may turn out to be a classic. Additional voices by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, Victor Garber, Dustin Hoffman, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. — Steve Steward
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.
Madea’s Big Happy Family (PG-13) When a woman (Loretta Devine) finds out her cancer has returned, she gathers her children (Shannon Kane, Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, and Natalie Desselle) together for a nice evening to share the news. But family problems and long-buried secrets only push the family members apart, which looks like a fine job for family matriarch Madea (Tyler Perry). The normal trappings of a Tyler Perry movie are all here: over-expository dialogue, stagey direction, jarring tonal shifts, and heaps of melodrama. Still, the actors give it their all, there are a few funny lines, and it’s not necessarily painful to sit through. Also with Cassi Davis, Tamela J. Mann, David Mann, and Isaiah Mustafa. — Cole Williams
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (PG-13) By now, you can practically predict when Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) will grab a rope and sail through the air. This fourth film in the series listlessly hits the same tired notes as Captain Jack searches for the Fountain of Youth. Ian McShane’s measured menace as Blackbeard is entertaining to watch, but he and everyone else are swallowed up by the distinctly non-magical effects. Oddly enough, the movie is inspired by Tim Powers’ 1987 fantasy novel On Stranger Tides. Also with Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Anton Lesser, Roger Allam, Judi Dench, and Keith Richards. — Steve Steward
Priest (PG-13) Slightly better than terrible. Paul Bettany plays a member of an obsolete caste of warrior clerics who takes up arms again after vampires abduct his niece (Lily Collins). Based on a Korean graphic novel, this movie paints an interesting picture of a dystopian world governed by a fascist theocracy battling against animalistic vampires that act like bees in a hive. Yet the movie has no resonance, thanks mostly to the rotten acting, especially by Maggie Q as a fellow priestess and Cam Gigandet as a local sheriff. The film is showing in both 2D and 3D. It’s definitely not worth the 3D surcharge. Also with Karl Urban, Brad Dourif, Stephen Moyer, and Christopher Plummer.
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.
Something Borrowed (PG-13) Like the Emily Giffin novel that it’s based on, this movie starts with its main character (Ginnifer Goodwin) sleeping with her best friend’s fiancé and not feeling terribly guilty about it. That’s an interesting place for a romantic comedy to start, but this one goes nowhere. The heroine is such a doormat that we can’t sympathize with her, and though the best friend (Kate Hudson) is a narcissistic attention hog, she’s not hateable enough to make us think she deserves the betrayal. The fiancé (Colin Egglesfield) is pretty weak, too. Backstory and character motivation are removed or tampered with, and John Krasinski struggles manfully with a supporting role that makes no sense at all. You may not know who to root for, but you’ll know this is bad. Also with Steve Howey, Ashley Williams, Geoff Pierson, and Jill Eikenberry.
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.
Thor (PG-13) Not as good as the Iron Man films but better than The Incredible Hulk and a worthy entry into the Avengers series. Chris Hemsworth stars as a Norse god whose arrogance and hotheadedness get him cast out of Asgard onto Earth, where he falls for an astronomer (Natalie Portman) who believes his stories about another realm. The romance is flat, the human storylines are botched, and Portman looks lost. The Oedipal drama in Asgard is much better handled, with Tom Hiddleston as a scheming Loki and Anthony Hopkins (who seems rejuvenated by the presence of director Kenneth Branagh) as Odin. Branagh’s comic touch remains as subtle as Thor’s hammer, but his zest for the material carries the movie over its rough patches. Also with Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Colm Feore, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Josh Dallas, Rene Russo, and uncredited cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Renner.
Water for Elephants (PG-13) Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel becomes this intelligent but emotionally distant period drama starring Robert Pattinson as an orphaned veterinary student who joins a traveling circus in 1931 and falls dangerously for the star performer (Reese Witherspoon), who’s married to the circus’ cruel, capricious owner and ringmaster (Christoph Waltz). Director Francis Lawrence keeps this from dragging, and Waltz gives a terrific performance as a self-loathing, self-destructive dictator. Still, the chemistry between the romantic leads is all wet, and the movie never attains the grandeur and power that it aspires to. Also with Paul Schneider, Jim Norton, Mark Povinelli, and Hal Holbrook.
L’Amour Fou (NR) Not the 1969 Jacques Rivette film by the same name but Pierre Thorreton’s documentary portrait of fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his life partner Pierre Bergé.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (NR) Werner Herzog’s latest documentary looks at the oldest drawn pictures of humans in the Chauvet caves of southern France.
Cost of a Soul (R) Sean Kirkpatrick’s thriller stars Chris Kerson and Will Blagrove as two Iraq veterans returning home to their corrupt, crime-ridden neighborhood. Also with Mark Borkowski, Judy Jerome, Maddie Morris Jones, Gregg Almquist, Nakia Dillard, and Daveed Ramsey.
The First Grader (PG-13) Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) directs this drama about a real-life 84-year-old Kenyan (Oliver Litondo) who demands a chance to learn to read under his country’s new public education system. Also with Naomie Harris, Sam Feuer, Tony Kgoroge, Nick Reding, Vusi Kunene, and Lwanda Jawar.
Forks Over Knives (PG) Lee Fulkerson’s documentary proposes the eradication of most diseases by eliminating processed or animal-based foods from one’s diet.
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.
Incendies (R) A nominee for the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play stars Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette as Canadian twins who travel to the Middle East in search of their family history. Also with Lubna Azabal, Rémy Girard, Mohamed Majd, Baya Belal, Allen Altman, and Abdelghafour Elaaziz.
True Legend (R) Legendary fight choreographer Yuen Wo-ping directs this martial-arts film about a fighter (Man Cheuk Chiu) who comes out of retirement and masters drunken boxing to take revenge on his adoptive brother (Andy On). Also with Michelle Yeoh, Jay Chou, Feng Xiaogang, Zhou Xun, Leung Ka-Yan, and the late David Carradine.