House of Pleasures (NR) Bertrand Bonello’s film set at a Parisian brothel in decline at the beginning of the 20th century. Starring Hafsia Herzi, Céline Sallette, Jasmine Trinca, Adele Haenel, Alice Barnole, Iliana Zabeth, and Noémie Lvovsky. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Beneath the Darkness (R) Tony Oller and Aimee Teagarden star in this horror film as small-town Texas teens who suspect their local mortician (Dennis Quaid) of being a serial killer. Also with Stephen Lunsford, Devon Werkheiser, and Brett Cullen. (Opens Friday)
The Devil Inside (R) Fernanda Andrade stars in this horror film as a woman who recruits two exorcists (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth) to cure her demonically possessed mother (Suzan Crowley). Also with Ionut Grama, Bonnie Morgan, and Brian Johnson. (Opens Friday)
Pariah (R) Dee Rees’ drama stars Adepero Oduye as an African-American teen trying to reconcile her homosexuality with her traditional upbringing. Also with Pernell Walker, Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell, Aasha Davis, Sahra Mellesse, and Kim Sykes. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Adventures of Tintin (PG) Hergé’s comic series about an intrepid, globe-trotting reporter finds a kindred spirit in Steven Spielberg, who turns it into a fun animated movie. Jamie Bell provides the voice of the reporter, whose purchase of a model ship leads him on a search for a hidden treasure with a drunken sea captain (voiced by Andy Serkis). Spielberg’s flair for staging chase scenes is enhanced by the medium, the script is sharp and funny, and the animation by Weta Digital finds a happy middle ground between Hergé’s cartoonish art and a 3D digitized representation. Everyone gets into the spirit of this free-spirited adventure. Additional voices by Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Daniel Mays, Gad Elmaleh, Cary Elwes, and Toby Jones.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (G) The latest installment finds Alvin, Simon, and Theodore and their female counterparts Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor lost on a deserted island, after a mishap with a kite whisks them away from the vacation cruise they’ve taken with Dave (Jason Lee). The furry pop stars fend for themselves against the islands mild perils, including a crazy treasure hunter (Jenny Slate) who lives with a collection of sports balls with faces drawn on them. Dave and villainous former record exec Ian (David Cross) hop on a hang glider in pursuit and wash ashore, too. Overall, the hijinks aren’t terribly funny, but the occasional references to Lost (along with a Mark Mothersbaugh score that frequently makes appropriately dissonant nods to the show) are amusing for the grownups. Kids raised on a diet of candy and KISS FM will probably like most of it. Voices by Justin Long, Michael Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Christina Applegate, Anna Faris, and Amy Poehler. –– Steve Steward
Arthur Christmas (PG) This overstuffed but fairly clever British animated film is about Santa Claus’ younger son (voiced by James McAvoy) who commandeers the old man’s sleigh on early Christmas morning — along with his retired Santa grandpa (voiced by Bill Nighy) and a stowaway elf (voiced by Ashley Jensen) — after Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) and Arthur’s heir-apparent older brother (voiced by Hugh Laurie) miss delivery of one girl’s present. The nice early bits about Santa’s high-tech operation staffed by ninja elves and some unexpectedly complicated dynamics in Santa’s family eventually give way to an overdose of Christmas cheer, but it goes reasonably well until then. Additional voices by Imelda Staunton, Marc Wootton, Ramona Marquez, Michael Palin, Robbie Coltrane, Joan Cusack, Rhys Darby, Jane Horrocks, Andy Serkis, Dominic West, Eva Longoria, and Laura Linney.
The Darkest Hour (PG-13) An interesting cast and premise lift this alien-invasion flick above banality, but only just. This sci-fi flick follows two young American entrepreneurs (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella) who are stranded in Moscow when the Earth is invaded by invisible extraterrestrials who can vaporize humans at close range. Director Chris Gorak (Right at Your Door) doesn’t contribute much to make this frightening, but the aliens’ powers and weaknesses are better-thought-out than in most such films. The actors (including Olivia Thirlby as an American tourist) almost make up for their thin characters. Also with Veronika Ozerova, Dato Bakhtadze, Joel Kinnaman, and Rachael Taylor.
The Descendants (R) Alexander Payne’s films are about unremarkable people, which makes the star wattage of George Clooney an odd fit with this story (based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel) about a wealthy Hawaii lawyer trying to raise two daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller) after his wife is rendered comatose by a boating accident. The movie (an opening night selection at the recent Lone Star Film Festival) just misses masterpiece status, but there’s still much to like. The writing is sharp, the landscapes are beautiful, and even the small roles are brilliantly acted. Woodley is a real find, and Clooney is terrific even though he’s miscast. The film never achieves the exquisite balance of comedy and pathos that it’s going for, but it’s very good. Also with Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, and Robert Forster.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (R) The best film version of Stieg Larsson’s novel that we were likely to get. David Fincher’s thriller stars Daniel Craig as a disgraced Swedish journalist who becomes a serial killer’s target while investigating a decades-old disappearance. Rooney Mara portrays the series’ vengeful dark angel, Lisbeth Salander, and while she’s a disturbingly disengaged, wraithlike presence, she doesn’t bring the feral edge that Noomi Rapace brought to the role in the Swedish film version. Still, Fincher brings his typically meticulous and professional treatment to the material, covering a great deal of ground without derailing the momentum of this swift 158-minute film. If the filmmakers never transcend the book’s limitations, they do leave us primed for Salander’s further adventures. Also with Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, and Robin Wright.
Happy Feet Two (PG) Because 6-year-old kids can’t resist the sight of cute animated penguins singing and dancing to Justin Timberlake songs. This sequel to the 2005 hit is even weirder and messier than the original, with Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), his young son Eric (voiced by Ava Acres), and two other penguin chicks forced to save the rest of the colony after they’re stranded by shifting ice shelves. The best thing here is a subplot about two krill (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) who seek life beyond their school. The voice actors bring energy, but their efforts are lost among the general clutter, which includes a colony of Adelie penguins who worship a puffin (voiced by Hank Azaria) who has convinced them that he’s a penguin who can fly, a promising idea that goes nowhere. Save your money (and the 3D surcharge) for the other family films now out. Additional voices by Robin Williams, Alecia “Pink” Moore, Hugo Weaving, Common, Richard Carter, Anthony LaPaglia, and Sofia Vergara.
Hugo (PG) Martin Scorsese’s children’s fable brings out the primitive, elemental magic of filmmaking. Based on Brian Selznick’s remarkable illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this movie stars Asa Butterfield as a 13-year-old orphaned boy who winds the clocks in a 1930s Paris train station when he and a girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) discover that her embittered adoptive father (Ben Kingsley) is Georges Méliès, a genius of early film who’s now a neglected toy shop owner. Scorsese uses the 3D technology with unprecedented subtlety, giving depth and complexity even to throwaway shots of desk clutter. The story runs into a few wrong notes and dead spots in the early going, but the splendid segments depicting Méliès’ creations of his fantasy films are enough to give even the most jaded moviegoers a new appreciation for the power of cinema. Also with Sacha Baron Cohen, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emily Mortimer, Ray Winstone, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Christopher Lee, and Jude Law.
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, Stephen McHattie, Isabel Lucas, and John Hurt. –– S.S.
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 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, Rohan Chand, and Dana Carvey. — S.S.
Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (PG-13) Arguably the best of the M:I movies since the first one, this fourth installment stars Tom Cruise as a secret agent who’s forced to go rogue with two colleagues (Paula Patton and Simon Pegg) and a State Department analyst (Jeremy Renner) after they’re framed for a terrorist bombing in Moscow. Director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) makes his live-action debut with some splashy action set pieces, especially a sequence with Cruise dangling off the side of the Burj Khalifa tower. This action flick isn’t deep, but it’s a tasty bit of escapism. Also with Léa Seydoux, Michael Nyqvist, Anil Kapoor, Vladimir Mashkov, Josh Holloway, and uncredited cameos by Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames, and Michelle Monaghan.
The Muppets (PG) It’s good to have Kermit and his gang back. Much like the movies that Jim Henson’s creations made during their late ’70s-early ’80s heyday, this newest big-screen adventure features leisurely pacing, musical numbers, smartly self-referential jokes, celebrity cameos, and a big show to top everything off. Co-writer Jason Segel stars as a man who takes his girlfriend (Amy Adams) and his Muppet brother to L.A., where they must foil an evil oil baron (Chris Cooper) by rounding up Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the others to put on a show to save the Muppets’ old studio. The movie gets off to a ragged start, but Bret McKenzie’s songs are often uproarious (especially the power ballad “Man or Muppet”), and the show at the end is vintage Muppet zaniness. The movie brings the Muppets’ spirit into a new era intact. Also with Rashida Jones, Jim Parsons, Zach Galifianakis, Alan Arkin, Sarah Silverman, Kristen Schaal, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Neil Patrick Harris, Selena Gomez, James Carville, Rico Rodriguez, Judd Hirsch, Dave Grohl, Ken Jeong, Leslie Feist, Mickey Rooney, and an uncredited Jack Black.
My Week With Marilyn (R) Michelle Williams’ performance as Marilyn Monroe is the main reason to see this diverting but largely empty exercise in nostalgia. Simon Curtis’ drama takes place on the set of the 1956 film The Prince and the Showgirl, with Monroe’s skittish behavior driving everyone nuts, including director Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). The script is based on two memoirs by Colin Clark, who shows up in the film as a boring third assistant director (played by Eddie Redmayne) in whom Marilyn confides. Williams locates Marilyn’s crippling shyness and self-destructiveness without indulging in any histrionics. Yet we don’t learn anything about Marilyn that we didn’t already know. This movie isn’t about anything. Also with Judi Dench, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Dominic West, Zoë Wanamaker, Julia Ormond, Derek Jacobi, and Emma Watson.
New Year’s Eve (PG-13) Garry Marshall’s follow-up to Valentine’s Day is so sloppy and formulaic that it makes its predecessor look like a comedy masterpiece. The best plotline has a package courier (Zac Efron) helping a downtrodden clerical employee (Michelle Pfeiffer) fulfill her New Year’s resolutions, but the movie inflicts the comedically inert likes of Hilary Swank and Josh Duhamel on us, not to mention Sofia Vergara’s tired hoochie-mama shtick, and an unintentionally creepy plotline about two pregnant women racing to deliver the first baby of the new year. The outtakes over the closing credits are funnier than the rest of the movie. That should tell you all you need to know. Also with Robert De Niro, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Halle Berry, Katherine Heigl, Jessica Biel, Lea Michele, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Ludacris, Seth Meyers, Til Schweiger, Sarah Paulson, Cherry Jones, Carla Gugino, Cary Elwes, Alyssa Milano, Jim Belushi, Larry Miller, Sean O’Bryan, Hector Elizondo, Ryan Seacrest, John Lithgow, and Matthew Broderick.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (PG-13) The great detective returns, but he’s too busy dodging bullets to make much use of his detective skills, which is partly why this sequel is so disappointing. Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role, this time trying to prevent Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) from starting a world war. The comic chemistry between Downey’s Holmes and Jude Law’s Watson is still here, and director Guy Ritchie comes up with two engaging twists on the device from the original in which Holmes thinks through his fight sequences before they happen. Yet Holmes’ deductive reasoning powers are reduced to sleight of hand and a series of silly disguises. If you’re not going to show off Holmes’ brains, why bother with him at all? Also with Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly, Paul Anderson, Eddie Marsan, and Rachel McAdams.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part I (PG-13) The fourth film in this series has a fourth new director in Bill Condon, and the constant change of directors seems to be keeping these films from finding a consistent tone. After Edward Cullen and Bella Swan (Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart) get married, they’re both shocked to find that she’s pregnant and that the baby she’s giving birth to might not only be killing her but also might threaten the peace between the vampires and the werewolves. The plot twists are surprising if you haven’t read the books, but the director fails to generate any suspense or even block or edit scenes with any sense of rhythm. It looks like this series might end without producing a single good movie. 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.
War Horse (PG-13) Steven Spielberg’s uneven, overlong adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book was inspired by the recent stage version but in no way mimics it. Instead, Spielberg films this story (about a rambunctious horse that survives World War I after passing through the hands of various owners on both sides) in an earnest, unironically epic manner. The film sports good performances and one remarkable scene between a British soldier and a German soldier working together in no man’s land to free the horse from barbed wire. Yet these bits don’t come often enough to build up any momentum. Both Spielberg and other filmmakers have been to this territory before, and they’ve done it better. Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Niels Arestrup, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens, Toby Kebbell, Geoff Bell, David Kross, Rainer Bock, Robert Emms, Hinnerk Schönemann, and Eddie Marsan.
We Bought a Zoo (PG) By the standards of PG-rated movies about animals, this is sharply written and engages some unexpectedly thorny issues in a grown-up way. By the standards of Cameron Crowe movies, this falls flat. Adapted from Benjamin Mee’s memoir, this dramedy stars Matt Damon as a widowed journalist who moves his two kids into a house attached to a run-down zoo. The movie’s treatment of bereavement isn’t nearly as good as The Descendants’ and a couple of forceful scenes near the end (one involving Scarlett Johansson as a zookeeper arguing that an aged lion needs to be put down) only show what the rest of the movie is lacking. Crowe is still flailing for direction. Also with Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Angus Macfadyen, Patrick Fugit, John Michael Higgins, J.B. Smoove, Carla Gallo, Peter Riegert, Stephanie Szostak, and Elle Fanning.
Young Adult (R) This comedy won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you’ve overdosed on holiday cheer, the sour goodness here is just the tonic you need. Charlize Theron portrays a 37-year-old author named Mavis who returns to the tiny Minnesota hometown she loathes so she can steal her high-school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) away from his wife. Theron, director Jason Reitman, and screenwriter Diablo Cody all seem out to prove that they’ve been unfairly typecast, and they spur one another to greater heights as they relentlessly detail Mavis’ ferocious unpleasantness. It culminates in a sad, riveting scene when Mavis loses her grip at a gathering. The film’s critique of Mavis isn’t free of holes, but it does the difficult task of building a compelling and funny comedy around a messy and unlikable antiheroine. Also with Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, and Mary Beth Hurt.
The Artist (PG-13) Michel Hazanavicius’ silent film stars Jean Dujardin as a 1920s silent-movie star who resists the change to sound films. Also with Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell, and John Goodman.
A Dangerous Method (R) David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play about Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his sexual relationship with a disturbed Russian patient (Keira Knightley). Also with Viggo Mortensen, Sarah Gadon, and Vincent Cassel.