The Descendants (R) George Clooney stars in Alexander Payne’s adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel about a wealthy Hawaii lawyer trying to raise his daughters in the aftermath of a boating accident that left his wife comatose. Also with Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, and Robert Forster. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Dragonslayer (NR) Not to be confused with the 1981 medieval epic of the same name, Tristan Patterson’s documentary profiles Josh “Skreech” Sandoval, a Southern California skateboarding legend facing the next chapter of his life. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Empire of Silver (NR) Christina Yao’s drama stars Aaron Kwok as a Chinese man in 1899 who must decide whether to take over his father’s banking business or strike out on his own path. Also with Tielin Zhang, Hao Lei, Ding Zhicheng, and Jennifer Tilly. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Like Crazy (PG-13) Drake Doremus’ roundly overrated romance stars Anton Yelchin as an American college student who tries to keep his relationship with his British girlfriend (Felicity Jones) going after she’s barred from re-entering the U.S. The movie focuses so much on mood instead of plot that it turns out weirdly forgettable, and while the story is reportedly based on the filmmaker’s own life, he doesn’t tell us anything about long-distance relationships that we don’t already know. Jones brings asperity and sweetness to her role, and Doremus occasionally captures the mood perfectly (the final shot), but not enough to raise this movie above the ranks of other earnest indie dramas. Also with Jennifer Lawrence, Charlie Bewley, Oliver Muirhead, Finola Hughes, Alex Kingston, and Chris Messina.
The Other F Word (NR) Andrea Blaugrund Nevins’ documentary profiles various punk-rock guitarists as they enter middle age and become fathers. Starring Mark Hoppus, Tim McIlrath, Jim Lindberg, Art Alexakis, Mark Mothersbaugh, and Flea. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part I (PG-13) New director Bill Condon takes over the series, as Edward and Bella (Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart) face unexpected complications over her pregnancy. Also with Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Peter Facinelli, Jackson Rathbone, Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Mía Maestro, Maggie Grace, MyAnna Buring, Jamie Campbell Bower, Anna Kendrick, and Michael Sheen. (Opens Friday)
Anonymous (PG-13) Total crap as history, but surprisingly watchable. Roland Emmerich’s attempt to credit Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans) as the real author of Shakespeare’s plays, ensnaring him in even more cracked history that involves Ben Jonson, the Earl of Essex’s rebellion, Christopher Marlowe’s murder, multiple hidden illegitimate children borne by Queen Elizabeth I, and possibly an alien invasion of 17th-century England. Emmerich does keep this thing moving reasonably well and gets some nice performances from his actors, especially David Thewlis as a ruthless royal advisor. This is better than any of the disaster-porn movies that Emmerich is known for. Faint praise, that. Also with Vanessa Redgrave, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, Edward Hogg, Jamie Campbell Bower, Joely Richardson, Sam Reid, Paolo de Vita, Xavier Samuel, Trystan Gravelle, Mark Rylance, and Derek Jacobi.
Courageous (PG-13) Alex Kendrick appears to be regressing creatively in his latest Christian drama. In addition to directing and co-writing, he stars as a deputy sheriff who vows to become a better father after his young daughter is killed in an accident. Every scene in this male weeper seems to end with a guy putting a fatherly hand on someone’s shoulder and dispensing a homily on how a man should behave. The acting is terrible too. A few well-executed action sequences can’t counteract the stifling preachiness of this exercise. Also with Ken Bevel, Ben Davies, Kevin Downes, Robert Amaya, Angelita Nelson, T.C. Stallings, Rusty Martin, Taylor Hutcherson, and Renée Jewell.
Dolphin Tale (PG) The true story of a dolphin who lost its tail to a crab trap and the boy who saved its life becomes this sleep-inducing kids’ movie. The dolphin in question (named Winter) portrays herself and Nathan Gamble portrays the boy who finds her beached in Florida and convinces the financially struggling water park that’s sheltering her to take a chance. The material has potential, but director Charles Martin Smith (Air Bud) dials up the cute animal shtick and drowns out all complexity and anything else that might make this an interesting story. The pelican steals a few scenes, though. Do not pay the 3D surcharge for this movie. In fact, just save your money and go to an aquarium. Also with Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Michael Roark, Frances Sternhagen, and Kris Kristofferson.
Dream House (PG-13) Daniel Craig stars in this slick but forgettable supernatural thriller that might well work better if you haven’t seen the movie’s spoiler-tastic trailer. He portrays a writer who moves into a new house with his wife (Rachel Weisz) and young daughters (Taylor and Claire Geare), only to encounter hostile neighbors and supernatural phenomena, both related to the house’s previous occupants, who were murdered. David Loucka’s script is ingenious enough and the movie looks good, but director Jim Sheridan (In America, In the Name of the Father) has no flair for horror. Too bad. This could have been a terrific scary movie with even a modestly talented producer who fit the genre. Also with Naomi Watts, Marton Csokas, Elias Koteas, Rachel G. Fox, and Jane Alexander.
50/50 (R) This comedy about surviving cancer isn’t as ground-breaking as it thinks it is, but it does have its moments. Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays a 27-year-old Seattleite who’s diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer that has a 50 percent chance of killing him. Will Reiser’s script is based on his own life experience, but it doesn’t go much deeper than other narratives we’ve seen before about disease. Thankfully, the movie is funny, largely thanks to Seth Rogen as the main character’s best friend, a weed-smoking layabout who’s forced to assume a few adult responsibilities. There’s a great scene near the end, too, when the patient finally calls his even-younger therapist (Anna Kendrick) and lets her hear how scared he is. This may only be a disease-of-the-week movie, but it’s rather good. Also with Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Serge Houde, Matt Frewer, and Philip Baker Hall.
Footloose (PG-13) Better than the original. This remake of the 1984 hit movie stars Kenny Wormald as the dance-loving big-city teen who finds himself in a small Southern town that bans public dancing. Director/co-writer Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) fits the assignment perfectly, bringing his feel for the local atmosphere and his ear for music while also making small but noticeable improvements on the original’s script. Newcomer Wormald can’t match Kevin Bacon’s charisma (then again, who could?), but he is a better dancer, and he matches up well with Julianne Hough as the preacher’s rebellious daughter. Rejiggered for a new era, this is a terrific piece of entertainment. Also with Dennis Quaid, Miles Teller, Ziah Colon, Ray McKinnon, Kim Dickens, Patrick John Flueger, Ser’Darius Blain, and Andie Macdowell.
The Ides of March (PG-13) Like the other movies George Clooney has directed, this political thriller is stylish, literate, well-acted, and icy cold to the touch. Ryan Gosling portrays a campaign strategist whose errors in judgment lead him to information that could destroy a presidential candidate (played by Clooney himself). Based on Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, the film has some sharp writing and a deluxe cast that pays dividends (especially Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood). Yet the movie fails both as a broad critique of American politics and as a human tragedy. It’s still a neat little story about a clever guy maneuvering out of a tight spot of his own making. It should have been more. Also with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Michael Mantell, Gregory Itzin, and Jennifer Ehle.
Immortals (R) Once again, video director Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall) astonishes the eyes with fantastic digital backdrops and kinetic, stylized fight choreography while numbing the brain with dull characters and a simple plot that somehow manages to trip over its own feet. In this loose interpretation of Greek mythology, Mickey Rourke stars as the villainous, deicidal King Hyperion, who seeks a mythical bow that will give him the power to unleash the legendary Titans from their prison inside Mount Tartarus. Hyperion’s army of fearsome, masked marauders is opposed by Theseus (Henry Cavill), the peasant leader of the Hellenic resistance. The film is front-loaded with hasty exposition and scenes that are pretty much smashed together, which unfortunately obscures a subtext on the power of faith — albeit faith in Zeus and Athena and stuff. Tarsem sucks as a storyteller, but the scope of the guy’s imagination is breathtaking; the sweep of set pieces such as a village cut into a sheer cliff or the magnitude of a giant fortress’ wall are amazing, like Holy Mountain with 100 times the budget mixed with the metopes of the Parthenon come to life. Also with Frieda Pinto, Stephen Dorff, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz, Stephen McHattie, Isabel Lucas, and John Hurt. –– Steve Steward
In Time (PG-13) This truly odd sci-fi thriller takes place in a dystopian society where time is used as currency, poor people die at 25, and rich people live indefinitely without aging. Justin Timberlake plays a working-class rebel who falls afoul of the law when a rich man who wants to die (Mark Bomer) gives him a century, which leads to him kidnapping an heiress (Amanda Seyfried) in order to redistribute time to the poor. Director Andrew Niccol renders this parallel reality in antiseptic surfaces and harsh light, and instructs his actors to play like they’re mummified. The result is a mishmash of wayward satire and logy action thriller. For a movie built around a crime spree, this feels curiously low-energy. Also with Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Galecki, Yaya DaCosta, and Olivia Wilde.
J. Edgar (R) Clint Eastwood turns the fascinating life of J. Edgar Hoover into a slog. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the FBI director from youth to old age, as he turns the bureau into the modern crime-fighting unit that we know but also uses it to spy on his personal enemies. Dustin Lance Black’s script is always intelligent, but director Eastwood can’t resist turning this into a historical pageant, pitching all the scenes at the same low temperature and failing to give a sense of why Hoover inspired such awe and fear. The only time the movie explodes into life is during a violent lovers’ quarrel between Edgar and Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, stealing the movie). The rawness of that scene only accentuates how dull the rest of the movie is. Also with Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Jeffrey Donovan, Dermot Mulroney, Stephen Root, Lea Thompson, Jessica Hecht, Ken Howard, Christopher Shyer, Denis O’Hare, and Judi Dench.
Jack and Jill (PG) Adam Sandler probably gets his buddies together every couple of months and asks, “Anyone need work? You cool on money, David Spade? Or do we need to make a movie?” While helping his buddies/SNL also-rans pay their rents is admirable, he could at least stop making such terrible movies. This one might be Sandler’s worst, as he plays the titular Jack as well as Jack’s twin, the shrewish, mannish, needy, fat-assed, fortysomething, parrot-owning Jill. Jack is an ad exec whose awesome L.A. life is totally upended by an extended holiday visit by his much-loathed sibling. Of course this movie is filled with cameos by Happy Madison regulars Allen Covert, Norm MacDonald, Tim Meadows, and probationary Sandler Friend Nick Swardson, not to mention Johnny Depp, playing himself, and Al Pacino, also playing himself, whose part is the plot point driving the second half of the movie. If you care, Jack has to get Al to be in a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial, and when Pacino becomes obsessed with Jill, Jack scrambles around trying to hook them up to make the deal happen. Jill, perhaps wisely, finds Pacino repulsive, falling instead for Jack’s gardener, Felipe (Eugenio Derbez), who in turn provides a gateway for Sandler to make Mexican minstrelsy so atrocious even Speedy Gonzalez would say, “That’s fucked up, ese.” Also with Katie Holmes, Elodie Tougne, Rohand Chand, and Dana Carvey. — S.S.
Moneyball (PG-13) Based on Michael Lewis’ book, this drama tells how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his assistant (Jonah Hill) built a winning baseball team on a budget by upending the sport’s conventional wisdom and acquiring underrated players. Pitt and Hill are starkly different comic actors, and the chemistry between them never quite takes, even though they do fine work on their own. Writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin turn the story into some good comedy, but repetitive scenes keep this from achieving the streamlined momentum of The Social Network, the movie this so badly wants to be. Still, the ending is near magical, with Billy finding value in sports and life beyond the wins and losses. Also with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Arliss Howard, Reed Thompson, Brent Jennings, Kerris Dorsey, and Robin Wright.
Paranormal Activity 3 (PG-13) The premise remains the same: vérité horror flick about a family filming themselves as they’re terrorized by a poltergeist haunting their improbably large house. By all rights this should be tired by now, and yet the directing team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish) keeps it all fresh. This prequel set in 1988 stars Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown as the two young sisters whose parents (Christopher Nicholas Smith and Lauren Bittner) are the unlucky first to discover the malign force that only their younger girl can see. The mix of special and practical effects makes for a third movie that offers different scares from its predecessors. Also with Dustin Ingram, Sprague Grayden, and Katie Featherston.
Puss in Boots (PG) Five years too late. The feline adventurer voiced by Antonio Banderas is a funny character, but he was introduced to us in Shrek 2 back in 2004, which is why this spinoff feels so stale. In this tale, Puss must team up with his ex-best friend Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) and a beguiling pickpocket (voiced by Salma Hayek) to steal some magic beans that’ll lead them to a golden-egg-laying goose. The movie gets off to a nice start, and the animators clearly have fun animating the ungainly Humpty. Yet an extended flashback sequence derails the film’s momentum, and the relationship between Puss and Humpty never carries the weight that it’s supposed to. Additional voices by Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie, and Guillermo Del Toro.
Real Steel (PG-13) For a movie with such a silly premise, this is far more entertaining than it should be. Hugh Jackman stars in this drama set in the near future as a down-on-his-luck owner of giant boxing robots, who enjoys an unlikely run of success after unexpectedly having to take charge of his unacknowledged 11-year-old son (Dakota Goyo). The rock-em-sock-em robot action falls apart at the end, but the thing is carried off with an unusual amount of conviction, and Jackman in particular looks revitalized. Watch for a cameo by screenwriter John Gatins as a tattooed mohawked lowlife fight organizer. Also with Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Olga Fonda, Rick Yune, Hope Davis, and James Rebhorn.
The Rum Diary (R) Based on a Hunter S. Thompson novel written early but published late in his career, this film stars Johnny Depp as a hard-drinking journalist who lands in Puerto Rico in 1960 and finds his voice during a series of encounters with corrupt officials. This long-shelved film has a nifty cast and some nicely staged hijinks, but director Bruce Robinson (Withnail & I) only succeeds in raising dry chuckles. Except for a few scattered instances (like the reporter’s first hit of LSD), this thing raises never evokes the psychedelic madness of Thompson’s world-view. Agreeable though this is, it’s still Thompson denatured. Also with Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco, and Richard Jenkins.
Tower Heist (PG-13) Brett Ratner’s plush comic thriller wants badly to be awesome but enjoys only a few isolated moments of awesomeness. When a Bernard Madoff-like financier (Alan Alda) is placed under house arrest in his deluxe Manhattan apartment tower, the building’s manager (Ben Stiller) recruits a small-time neighborhood thug (Eddie Murphy) to help the building employees steal back the money that the financier conned them out of. The premise is clever, but the hole-filled plot shifts all the weight onto the comedy. Some of the jokes land but not enough of them. Even though the street-hustler role rejuvenates Murphy, his partnership with Stiller and the chemistry among the cast as a whole doesn’t yield much. The movie’s a modest little diversion, but it should have been much more. Also with Gabourey Sidibe, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Michael Peña, Téa Leoni, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zeljko Ivanek, Jessica Szohr, Heavy D, and Judd Hirsch.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (R) Our favorite Asian stoner pals (John Cho and Kal Penn) are back in top form, having to find a new tree on Christmas Eve after Kumar accidentally burns down Harold’s tree. Along the way, they sling in-jokes at each other, become claymation figures, run from Russian mobsters, almost kill Santa Claus (Richard Riehle), pick up a waffle-making robot that falls in love with Kumar, acknowledge that they’re getting older, and take part in a fabulous dance number with Neil Patrick Harris. With better use of the 3D than you find in most Hollywood blockbusters, this is great surreal fun. Also with Paula Garcés, Danny Trejo, Danneel Harris, Thomas Lennon, Amir Blumenfeld, Bobby Lee, Elias Koteas, RZA, Jordan Hinson, Patton Oswalt, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and David Krumholtz.
Into the Abyss (PG-13) The latest documentary by Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) focuses on the odd details surrounding the impending execution of a triple-murderer in Texas.
Margin Call (R) J.C. Chandor’s drama set at a brokerage firm trying to cope with the early days of the 2008 financial crisis. Starring Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley, Mary McDonnell, Aasif Mandvi, Simon Baker, and Jeremy Irons.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (R) Elizabeth Olsen stars in Sean Durkin’s psychological thriller as a mentally unstable young woman who struggles to re-integrate with her family after fleeing a religious cult. Also with John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy, Sarah Paulson, Brady Corbet, and Julia Garner.
Mozart’s Sister (NR) René Féret’s French-language historical drama stars Marie Féret as Maria Anna Mozart, who in 1762 finds her musical career being overshadowed by that of her younger brother Wolfgang (David Moreau). Also with Marc Barbé, Delphine Chuillot, Clovis Fouin, Lisa Féret, Adèle Leprêtre, and Valentine Duval.
The Skin I Live In (R) Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film stars Antonio Banderas as an insane plastic surgeon who uses a captive patient (Elena Anaya) as a human guinea pig for his new artificial skin. Also with Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo, Eduard Fernández, and José Luis Gómez.
Take Shelter (R) Michael Shannon stars in Jeff Nichols’ thriller as a possibly delusional man trying to shield his family from what he believes is the looming apocalypse. Also with Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, and Robert Longstreet.