Drunkboat (R) Bob Meyer’s coming-of-age drama stars Jacob Zachar as a teenager who tries to buy a boat from a con man (John Goodman) with the help of his alcoholic uncle (John Malkovich). Also with Dana Delany and Skipp Sudduth. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Obama Effect (PG-13) Charles S. Dutton co-writes, directs, and stars in this drama as an insurance salesman inspired to make changes in his life by working on the Illinois senator’s presidential election campaign in 2008. Also with Katt Williams, Vanessa Bell Calloway, John Diehl, Glynn Turman, and Meagan Good. (Opens Friday)
Take This Waltz (R) Michelle Williams stars in Sarah Polley’s drama as a happily married woman who falls in love with a handsome artist (Luke Kirby) who lives across the street. Also with Seth Rogen, Jennifer Podemski, and Sarah Silverman. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R) The year’s best movie title goes to this appropriately strange but rushed and unmoving thriller adapted from Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, in which our nation’s 16th president (Benjamin Walker) is inspired to take up politics by his lust for killing vampires. A newcomer from the stage, Walker is a terrifically unself-conscious Lincoln, and director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) stages a few gonzo action sequences like the one in which Lincoln and a vampire fight while leaping on the backs of stampeding horses. Yet Grahame-Smith is glib enough to equate the evils of slavery with the evils of vampires, and Bekmambetov seems unsure whether to treat this as historical burlesque or with a straight face. Whole sections of the movie seem to be missing, and the inconsistent tone dulls the impact. Also with Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Marton Csokas, Jimmi Simpson, Rufus Sewell, and an uncredited Alan Tudyk.
The Amazing Spider-Man (PG-13) The series goes back to its origins with this well-made blockbuster that’s neither transcendent nor in any way terrible. Andrew Garfield takes over the role of Peter Parker, whose search for the fate of his murdered parents intensifies when he’s bitten by that radioactive spider. The various plot strains are brought together gracefully by new director Marc Webb and his writers. The biggest difference between this movie and its predecessors is Garfield, who turns in a refreshingly uncomplicated performance as a scruffy kid bursting with emotions. This is a supremely competent and effective movie rather than a great one, and it makes an intriguing starting point for a new series. Also with Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Irrfan Khan, C. Thomas Howell, Embeth Davidtz, and Campbell Scott.
The Avengers (PG-13) A payoff worth waiting four years and sitting through five movies for. Marvel Comics superheroes Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, and Thor (Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth) team up with two new assassins (Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner) to battle a fallen Norse god (Tom Hiddleston) with plans to invade the Earth. Writer-director Joss Whedon manages to give everyone enough to do, fill in intriguing character details, and pull off a couple of mind-bogglingly complex action sequences without any strain and without making the movie feel overstuffed. A few bobbles along the way notwithstanding, this surpasses all the other Marvel films while somehow making them all seem worthier in retrospect. Also with Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Alexis Denisof, Jerzy Skolimowski, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Harry Dean Stanton, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Bernie (PG-13) Jack Black’s quietly mesmerizing performance as a gentle, gay, God-fearing, emotionally needy East Texas man anchors this drama based on a real life murder case. He portrays a mortician involved with a wealthy old widow (Shirley MacLaine) who becomes so mean and possessive of him that he snaps. So great is Black, you wish director/co-writer Richard Linklater would stop distracting you with fake interview footage of townspeople (portrayed by actors) testifying to Bernie’s character. Still, the movie draws an absorbing portrait of a man whose niceness and burning desire for friends proves to be both his downfall and his salvation. Watch for the diner customer giving a hilarious explanation of Texas’ cultural geography. Also with Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux, Merrilee McCommas, Brandon Smith, Matthew Greer, and the late Rick Dial.
Brave (PG) Pixar’s first real disappointment. Set in medieval Scotland, the story is about a tomboy princess (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) whose clashes with her mum (voiced by Emma Thompson) lead her to buy a magic spell that will change her fate. The heroine is basically a petulant teenager who isn’t nearly as moving a figure as previous Pixar characters, and the relationship with her mother is poorly sketched. The characters are conveniently unintelligent, and the plot developments can be seen coming yards away. Even much of the humor falls flat after the spell takes effect. The movie still looks good, but this marks a descent into mediocrity for the proud studio. Additional voices by Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Peigi Barker, and John Ratzenberger.
Katy Perry: Part of Me (PG) The best of the recent 3D concert films, and it’s not because of the music. It’s because Katy Perry is an interesting person and because the documentary catches her at an interesting time. Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz’ film includes footage of the pop music star during her pre-teen Christian rock years and her early career as a coffeehouse busker. It also follows her yearlong worldwide 2011 concert tour, during which her marriage to Russell Brand breaks up. We could use more insight about that, but we do get a few startlingly candid moments like Perry backstage before a concert, crying and clutching her wedding ring. Elsewhere, the kooky joy that she brings to her performances and her relationship with her fans (“Thank you so much for believing in my weirdness!”) makes her a sympathetic presence at the center of this.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (PG) This noisy and inconsequential third installment has our animal heroes (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer) becoming stranded in Europe, pursued by a fanatical Monaco animal control officer (voiced by Frances McDormand), and forced to take refuge amid a multinational troupe of circus animals. The movie doesn’t have any dead spots, and the plot isn’t as scattered as Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa’s, but the jokes are largely forgettable and the new characters don’t add much, aside from McDormand singing a credible “Non, je ne regrette rien.” It’s all professionally made, but it’s empty. Additional voices by Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Paz Vega, and Jessica Chastain.
Madea’s Witness Protection (PG-13) If you need an introduction to Tyler Perry’s universe, this is as good as any. Which isn’t to say that it’s a good movie. Eugene Levy plays a clueless corporate executive who is forced, along with his wife (Denise Richards), mother (Doris Roberts), and kids to go into the witness protection program after he testifies to his company running a Ponzi scheme and laundering money for the mob. Where does the federal prosecutor (Perry) decide to hide them? Why, at his Aunt Madea’s house, of course! As usual, Perry writes and directs in the broadest strokes imaginable, and while a few lines earn some chuckles, most of the humor flops. The film is mired in unfunny black and white stereotypes, and Perry’s theater-based direction drags the talents of Levy and Roberts down to the level of a bad church play. Even a wooden actress like Denise Richards has performed better. Also with Romeo, Danielle Campbell, John Amos, Marla Gibbs, and Tom Arnold. — Steve Steward