The Last Ride (PG-13) Henry Thomas stars in this drama as country music legend Hank Williams, who in 1952 hires a local teenager (Jesse James) to drive him to his last concerts. Also with Fred Dalton Thompson, Kaley Cuoco, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ray McKinnon, and the late Rick Dial. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Alps (NR) The latest film by Giorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) is about a group of Greeks who start a business to help bereaved people deal with their grief by impersonating their deceased loved ones. Starring Stavros Psyllakis, Aris Servetalis, Johnny Vekris, Ariane Labed, and Aggeliki Papoulia. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Apparition (PG-13) Ashley Greene stars in this horror film about a group of college students whose attempts to conjure a spirit of the dead go awry. Also with Sebastian Stan, Julianna Guill, and Tom Felton. (Opens Friday)
A Cat in Paris (PG) Nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature last year, Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol’s English-dubbed film is about a cat who must rescue a 7-year-old girl (voiced by Lauren Weintraub) from falling into the clutches of gangsters in 1938. Additional voices by Marcia Gay Harden, Matthew Modine, Steve Blum, JB Blanc, and Anjelica Huston. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Hermano (NR) This Venezuelan drama stars Eliú Armas and Fernando Moreno as teenage brothers who must choose between their future as soccer players and taking revenge for a murder in their family. Also with Beto Benites, Gonzalo Cubero, Marcela Girón, and Alí Rondon. (Opens Friday at Cine de Fort Worth)
Premium Rush (PG-13) Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a New York City bike messenger whose life is jeopardized when a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) wants a package that he’s delivering. Also with Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Aasif Mandvi, and Aaron Tveit. (Opens Friday)
R2B: Return to Base (NR) Pop music star Rain headlines this South Korean thriller about a combat pilot who must lead his unit to rescue a fallen comrade behind North Korean lines. Also with Yu Jun-sang, Shin Se-kyeong, Lee Ha-na, Kim Sung-su, Lee Jong-seok, and Oh Dal-su. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
360 (R) The latest film by Fernando Meirelles (City of God) is this tale of interlocking romances around the world, inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. Starring Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Ben Foster, Moritz Bleibtreu, Jamel Debbouze, Lucia Siposová, Gabriela Marcinkova, Johannes Krisch, and Anthony Hopkins. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Thunderstruck (PG) NBA star Kevin Durant portrays himself in this comedy about a klutzy 16-year-old Oklahoma City Thunder fan (Taylor Gary) who magically gains the athletic talents of his basketball idol. Also with Jim Belushi, Brandon T. Jackson, William Ragsdale, and Tristin Mays. (Opens Friday)
2 Days in New York (R) Julie Delpy’s follow-up to her film 2 Days in Paris stars her and Chris Rock as a married couple whose lives are unsettled by a visit from her French relatives. Also with Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Daniel Brühl, Kate Burton, Dylan Baker, and an uncredited Vincent Gallo. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
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 Awakening (R) This period horror flick begins promisingly before collapsing into a pile of nonsense. Rebecca Hall stars as a scientific debunker of supernatural hoaxes in 1921 England. When a schoolmaster (Dominic West) calls her in to investigate a ghost terrorizing the boys in his boarding school, she finds something she can’t debunk. Hall is an alert presence, her character is given an intriguing, troubled past, and a Swahili nickname gets put to effective use. However, first-time director/co-writer Nick Murphy resorts too easily to hack horror clichés and introduces new character developments before we’ve had time to absorb the old ones. Despite some resonant details, there’s little in this movie that we haven’t seen elsewhere. Also with Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Shaun Dooley, and Joseph Mawle.
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.
The Bourne Legacy (PG-13) New director Tony Gilroy and star Jeremy Renner take over the series and turn this installment into a deeply average spy thriller. Renner portrays another agent from the same program as Bourne who teams up with a virologist (Rachel Weisz) so he can get more of the magic pills that make him a superspy. Seriously, that’s the plot. The climactic foot and motorcycle chase through the streets of Manila is well-managed, but elsewhere Gilroy mangles the spy jargon and action sequences into incoherence. Renner is too expressive for what he’s given to do here; surely he has enough money by now to take a break from doing franchise pictures. Also with Edward Norton, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy, Oscar Isaac, Corey Stoll, Zeljko Ivanek, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Albert Finney.
The Campaign (R) Will Ferrell stars in this comedy as an unprincipled, skirt-chasing Democratic Congressman from North Carolina who’s challenged for re-election by an effeminate, pea-brained Republican (Zach Galifianakis) at the behest of two sinister billionaire brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) looking to line their pockets. The movie’s jabs at focus groups, negative ads, and politicians who wrap themselves in Jesus and the flag don’t land accurately. Still, Galifianakis is more than a capable match for Ferrell and takes his wholesome character to a nicely weird place. We get memorable set pieces, too, like a congressional chief of staff (Jason Sudeikis) acting out the Lord’s Prayer in charades. The political satire doesn’t cut, but the movie is funny. Also with Dylan McDermott, Sarah Baker, Katherine LaNasa, Karen Maruyama, Jack McBrayer, and Brian Cox.
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.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (PG) Not as good as Moonrise Kingdom but more likely to appeal to the little ones. The third film in the series is an episodic account of summer vacation as experienced by Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), whose chief goals are to stay on his father’s good side, play video games, and win the heart of classmate Holly Hills (Peyton List). Needless to say, hijinks ensue, but things eventually work out, if not quite as Greg had imagined (and minus the video games). Steve Zahn turns in a decent but understated performance as the dad, while Rachael Harris goes under-utilized as the mother. The film won’t be especially enjoyable for adults, but it’s not terribly grating either, except for its random stereotype of a South Asian student, whose accent serves as an awkward punchline. Also with Robert Capron, Devon Bostick, Grayson Russell, Laine McNeil, and Karan Brar. — Zack Shlachter
The Expendables 2 (R) Even more aged action movie stars join Sylvester Stallone in this marginally better sequel to his 2010 hit. This time, Stallone takes his crew to Eastern Europe to thwart a warlord (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who has enslaved the locals so he can steal Soviet plutonium reserves. The script is too heavy on in-jokes, the action sequences are routine, and the picture looks crappy. On the other hand, there are some funny bits about Dolph Lundgren’s real-life background as a chemist, a well-managed cameo by Chuck Norris, and the sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis riding to the rescue in a SmartCar. Just like the original, this is pretty much what it appears to be. Also with Jason Statham, Yu Nan, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Charisma Carpenter, and Jet Li.
Hope Springs (PG-13) Too few movies address intimacy issues among longtime married couples; I’m glad this one does. Meryl Streep plays an Omaha housewife who tries to rejuvenate her sexless, emotionally barren marriage by dragging her husband of 31 years (Tommy Lee Jones) to Maine for a week of intensive couples therapy with a marriage counselor and self-help author (Steve Carell). The scenes with the therapist are the weak point; Carell’s Carell-ness is tamped down, and Streep and Jones are uncharacteristically flat. The leads are much better by themselves, excelling in two realistically awkward sex scenes and capturing the vibe of a couple who have run out of things to talk about. Hollywood — or, really, anybody else — should try this subject matter more often. Also with Jean Smart, Brett Rice, Mimi Rogers, and Elisabeth Shue.
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.
Killer Joe (NC-17) Matthew McConaughey gives one of the year’s scariest performances as a gentlemanly, sociopathic, sexually violent Dallas cop who moonlights as a killer for hire in William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play. Emile Hirsch stars as a small-time drug dealer who hires Joe to murder his mom for her insurance money and pimps out his willing sister (Juno Temple) in exchange for advance payment. Friedkin and Letts make hash out of the murder plot, but Temple’s angelic-demonic baby doll and McConaughey’s orderly, well-spoken, depraved killer will burn themselves into your memory. All those bland romantic comedies that McConaughey starred in in the past look different now. Also with Gina Gershon, Marc Macaulay, and Thomas Haden Church.
Magic Mike (R) Even if you have minimal interest in watching hot guys take their clothes off, Steven Soderbergh’s drama is still an enjoyable yarn. Channing Tatum portrays a stripper who introduces a teenager (Alex Pettyfer) to the business and falls for his protégé’s protective sister (Cody Horn). Tatum is much better as a goofy but sexy Everydude than as anything else. The story falls apart somewhat in the second half with some contrived stuff about drug dealers. Still, the comic vignettes about stripping are funny, and the tale of a slab of beefcake who tries to prove he’s more than that is a decent hook. Also with Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Gabriel Iglesias, Riley Keough, Olivia Munn, and Matthew McConaughey.
Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13) This luminescent children’s fable from Wes Anderson is about 12-year-old kids in love (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who run off together to live in the woods, launching a massive childhunt on the New England island where they live. The director’s scrupulously composed visuals keeps things from becoming too syrupy. The kids take their wilderness adventure matter-of-factly, but their deeper emotions come out in oblique ways, such as a great montage with the openings of their letters to each other over the hellish moments of their lives. Anderson’s style is at its most scrupulous and typically Anderson, but it’s secondary to the delicate love story he crafts about two children carving out a space in the world where they can be themselves. The paradise they create is bewitching. Also with Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel.
Nitro Circus: The Movie (PG-13) Travis Pastrana and his buddies perform stunts on motorcycles, cars, speedboats, monster trucks, and other vehicles.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green (PG) When two parents who can’t have children (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) deal with their heartache by describing the child they want on paper and burying the paper in the backyard, a little boy (CJ Adams) springs fully formed from the ground. Timothy is supposed to be a catalyst for all sorts of good things, but writer-director Peter Hedges doesn’t handle the boy’s existence with much imagination. The movie takes flight only near the end, as it conveys its theme about the miraculous nature of every human soul. Its excellence is fleeting, but that seems in keeping with the theme that life itself is fleeting. On balance, this is no better than an average film, but it reaches exalted territory in a few patches. Also with Odeya Rush, Dianne Wiest, Rosemarie DeWitt, M. Emmet Walsh, David Morse, Ron Livingston, James Rebhorn, Common, and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
ParaNorman (PG) This is how I like my kids’ movies — intelligent, funny, and disturbing enough to keep you up at night. The animation studio behind Coraline brings us this stop-motion film about a bullied morbid 11-year-old New England boy (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who can talk to ghosts and must use his power to prevent a witch’s curse from destroying his town. The movie strikes a fine balance between comedy and horror, and the voice actors are cast against type in a movie where none of the characters is who he or she appears to be. The movie comes to grips with the complexities of bullying, and when the witch (voiced by Jodelle Ferland) finally appears to Norman, she takes a form far more terrifying than an old woman with a pointy hat could ever be. This virtuoso piece of work is the best animated movie so far this year. Stay after the end credits for a speeded-up montage of the Norman figurine being assembled. Additional voices by Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jeff Garlin, Leslie Mann, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, and John Goodman.
Sparkle (PG-13) This big, messy, ambitious remake of the 1976 film musical stars Jordin Sparks as a songwriter and backup singer who becomes a Motown music star with her two sisters (Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter) before success tears the group apart. The original film’s songs by Curtis Mayfield are as strong as ever, and some of the domestic scenes are exceptionally well-written. However, American Idol winner Sparks’ acting is too weak to hold the movie together, and she looks like a star only during the last two numbers, which include the R. Kelly-penned “One Wing.” Director Salim Akil (Jumping the Broom) leads this epic up lots of blind alleys, some of them more interesting than others. Also with Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Omari Hardwick, Curtis Armstrong, Michael Beach, Cee-Lo Green, and the late Whitney Houston.
Step Up Revolution (PG-13) Terrible, but the dance numbers are cooler than ever in this fourth film in the series. Lead actors Ryan Guzman and Kathryn McCormick are painfully bad, and the plot is something out of a 1980s breakdancing movie. None of that matters, though, when there’s a flash mob performance on Ocean Drive that features low-rider cars and ballerinas in glowing tutus under a blacklight. McCormick comes alive in the dance portions, especially in a number staged in the dining room of a fancy restaurant. From a pure dance perspective, this is the strongest in the series. Also with Peter Gallagher, Misha Gabriel, Cleopatra Coleman, Stephen Boss, Michael Langebeck, Mia Michaels, Mari Koda, and Adam Sevani.
To Rome With Love (PG-13) Even more ragged than Woody Allen’s usual efforts, this Italian lark still has a few things to recommend it. Allen’s logy farce ruins the plot with Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi as newlyweds who become separated in Rome. Some good gags and gorgeous singing come from a plot in which Allen portrays an opera director who discovers an unrecognized opera talent in his future in-law (real-life opera star Fabio Armiliato). Roberto Benigni stars in the most surreal plot, as an ordinary man who suddenly becomes famous for no reason. Overall, this tossed-off exercise captures the feel of sitting in a piazza and breezily observing the foibles of passersby. Also with Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Penélope Cruz, Greta Gerwig, Alison Pill, Judy Davis, Antonio Albanese, Lino Guanciale, Flavio Parenti, Ornella Muti, and Alec Baldwin.
Total Recall (PG-13) The remake of the 1990 thriller is turned into a space thriller that’s so generic and anonymous that you wonder why the filmmakers even bothered. Colin Farrell portrays a factory worker on a dystopian future Earth who learns that he was once a leader of the resistance against the evil dictator (Bryan Cranston) who rules the world. Director Len Wiseman gives us the same vision of the future that we saw in Blade Runner and a thousand bad knock-offs since. His real-life wife Kate Beckinsale plays the villain well enough, but the movie is so soulless that its only clear reason for existing is to cash in on our attachment to the original. You’ll leave here wanting to implant a better memory in your head. Also with Jessica Biel, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, Will Yun Lee, and Bill Nighy.
2016: Obama’s America (NR) Dinesh D’Souza’s right-wing documentary anticipates where America will be in four years if the president is re-elected.
The Watch (R) Um, yeah, so this exists. This comedy is about three frustrated white dudes (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill) and one mysterious Indian-British guy (Richard Ayoade) who confront an alien invasion centered around the small Ohio town where they live. This shaggy affair has one badly thought out plot twist and a few small chuckles, most of them emanating from British TV star Ayoade. Still, given how much comic talent goes into this thing (the script is co-authored by Evan Ross and Seth Rogen), this should have been more than just mildly funny. Also with Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte, Erin Moriarty, Doug Jones, R. Lee Ermey, Nicholas Braun, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg.
Celeste and Jesse Forever (R) Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star in this comedy as a couple who try to remain friends while they go through their divorce. Also with Elijah Wood, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Emma Roberts, Will McCormack, and Chris Pine.
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.
The Imposter (R) Bart Layton’s documentary about a 16-year-old French boy who convinced a grieving family in Texas that he was their son who had been missing for three years.
Queen of Versailles (PG) Lauren Greenfield’s documentary follows Florida real estate mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie as they prepare to build the largest mansion in America, only to see David’s fortune greatly reduced during the 2008 financial meltdown.
Searching for Sugar Man (PG-13) Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary about two South Africans and their present-day search for a mysterious 1970s American anti-apartheid rock singer known only as Rodriguez.