Ruby Sparks (R) Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) direct this comedy about a struggling novelist (Paul Dano) who magically conjures a girl (Zoe Kazan) to life after creating her as a character in his new book. Also with Chris Messina, Steve Coogan, Deborah Ann Woll, Alia Shawkat, Toni Trucks, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, and Elliott Gould. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (R) Alison Klayman’s documentary follows the Chinese artist before and after his recent arrest, imprisonment, and torture by his country’s government. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (PG) Zachary Gordon stars in the third film in the series as a kid who pretends to have a series of glamorous jobs to while away a boring summer. Also with Robert Capron, Devon Bostick, Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris, Peyton List, Grayson Russell, Karan Brar, and Laine McNeil. (Opens Friday)
Farewell, My Queen (R) Benoît Jacquot (The School of Flesh) adapts Chantal Thomas’ novel about a girl (Léa Seydoux) who’s brought in to read to Queen Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) in the days shortly before the French Revolution. Also with Virginie Ledoyen, Xavier Beauvois, Noémie Lvovsky, Michel Robin, and Julie-Marie Parmentier. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Graduate (NR) 45th-anniversary reissue of Mike Nichols’ comedy about a recent college grad (Dustin Hoffman) who has an affair with his father’s business partner’s wife (Anne Bancroft) before falling for her daughter (Katharine Ross). Also with William Daniels, Murray Hamilton, Elizabeth Wilson, Alice Ghostley, Norman Fell, and Buck Henry. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Killer Joe (NC-17) William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play stars Emile Hirsch as a young drug dealer who hires a hit man (Matthew McConaughey) to help him pay off a debt. Also with Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, and Thomas Haden Church. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Runaway Slave (PG) Pritchett Cotten’s right-wing documentary argues that welfare has reduced African-Americans to dependence on the state. Also with Glenn Beck, Herman Cain, Thomas Sowell, Allen West, and the late Andrew Breitbart. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
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.
The Dark Knight Rises (PG-13) A clever tying up of loose ends. Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film finds Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) coming out of retirement to battle an uprising led by a populist demagogue (Tom Hardy) with concealed motives. The steady, low drumbeat of suspense is familiar from other Nolan films but not so much is the note of delicacy and grace provided by Anne Hathaway as a cat burglar, nor the emotional beats that come as Bruce, his butler Alfred (Michael Caine), and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) are all forced to confront the lies they’ve told and the compromises they’ve made. The movie resolves plotlines that go all the way back to Batman Begins. If that’s not enough, Nolan’s action sequences are improved here, with greater clarity. It’s a hell of a way for the trilogy to go out. Also with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gorman, Cillian Murphy, and Liam Neeson.
Deranged (NR) Park Jeong-woo’s Korean thriller depicts a mysterious epidemic that causes people to go insane from thirst and drown themselves, seen through the eyes of a medical supplies salesman (Kim Myeong-min) and his beat cop brother (Kim Dong-hwan). The excessive sentimentality wrecks the end of the movie, especially the material with the salesman’s infected family. Yet the big crowd scenes capture the sense of a society on the brink of collapse, and the scenes with dozens of people rushing to water (like the lemmings of myth) are brutally effective. Also with Moon Jung-hee, Lee Ha-nui, Eom Ji-song, Yeom Hyun-seo, Lee Hyeong-cheol, and Jeong Gook-hwan.
Ice Age: Continental Drift (PG) The well is long dry for this fourth installment, as Manny the mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano) gets separated from his family and once again relies on the help of his buddies (voiced by John Leguizamo and Denis Leary) to reunite with them. The domestic drama fails to generate any emotional heat or make us invest in the main characters, and the addition of a villainous orangutan pirate (voiced by Peter Dinklage) and some hefty vocal talent in the cast accomplishes nothing. The wordless four-minute Simpsons short that accompanies the feature is a better piece of filmmaking than this. Additional voices by Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer, Wanda Sykes, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Josh Gad, Aziz Ansari, Nick Frost, Rebel Wilson, Alan Tudyk, Joy Behar, Patrick Stewart, Heather Morris, Nicki Minaj, and Drake.