The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure (G) This interactive animated kids’ movie is about three characters (voiced by Malerie Grady, Misty Miller, and Stephanie Renz) who try to find some new balloons in time for their friend’s surprise birthday party. Additional voices by Cary Elwes, Jaime Pressley, Christopher Lloyd, Chazz Palminteri, and Toni Braxton.
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.
The Possession (PG-13) Only the second Jewish exorcism movie I can recall, this one is better than 2009’s The Unborn, though that’s not saying much. Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as a divorced dad whose younger daughter (Natasha Calis) becomes possessed by a dybbuk after buying a mysterious lidless box with Hebrew inscriptions carved into the side. Norwegian director Ole Bornedal spends the first hour or so throwing moths in our face trying to scare us, and the domestic drama is crudely handled. Things improve near the end, when reggae singer Matisyahu comes on as a Hasidic exorcist who confronts the demon with his lovely singing voice. It’s a nice payoff, though better buildup would have served it better. Also with Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, Jay Brazeau, and Grant Show.
Premium Rush (PG-13) Because we haven’t had a movie with a good bicycle chase in a while. An overqualified Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a New York City bike messenger who must ride for his life when a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) with a gambling habit tries to hijack a package that he’s delivering that’s worth $50,000. Director/co-writer David Koepp does a fair job with this thriller until the end, when the proceedings get too waterlogged with melodrama. Before that, he executes some crisp chases, with the messenger picking his way through Manhattan’s crowded streets and sidewalks. Also with Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Wolé Parks, Henry O, Christopher Place, and Aasif Mandvi.
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.
The Tall Man (R) Jessica Biel stars in this thriller as a young mother who investigates a myth about an abductor of children after her own child is taken. Also with Jodelle Ferland, Stephen McHattie, Samantha Ferris, and William B. Davis.
Thunderstruck (PG) Basketball’s long-awaited adaptation of Freaky Friday. Starring real-life Oklahoma City Thunder baller Kevin Durant, Thunderstruck is no Space Jam. In fact, it’s not even Kazaam. This ad for NBA-approved Thunder gear follows a high-school dweeb, towel-boy Brian (Taylor Gray), who magically becomes endowed with Durant’s hardwood powers, reducing the star to a shooter of airballs and bricks who can no longer even dunk. Brian is well on the road to impressing hot new-girl Isabel (Tristin Mays) –– but then his ego inflates and messes things up. Meanwhile, Durant’s assistant (Brandon T. Jackson) has been scrambling to reclaim his boss’ talent in time to qualify for the playoffs, which are right before Brian’s team, dependent on his stolen abilities, plays in the state championship. Will the switch be made in time? More importantly, will anyone give a crap? Also with Jim Belushi, Laramie Doc Shaw, Robert Belushi, Spencer Daniels, and William Ragsdale. — Z.S.
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) This lumbering documentary is based on Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, in which the right-wing pundit argues that our current president is motivated by resentment at the white establishment that comes from his background growing up in colonial countries. The film’s cool, scholarly tone may win it a few converts, but it can’t cover up the gaping hole in D’Souza’s theory: If our president were secretly an Angry Black Man, wouldn’t we have seen him lose his temper by now? Every president is subjected to armchair psychoanalysis these days, but this movie’s diagnosis is too easily picked apart. The sprinkling of factual errors doesn’t help D’Souza’s argument, either.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Robot & Frank (PG-13) Frank Langella stars in this science-fiction film as an elderly former jewel thief who plots a heist with the robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) purchased by his children to take care of him. Also with James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Sisto, Ana Gasteyer, and Susan Sarandon.
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.
Sleepwalk With Me (NR) Mike Birbiglia co-directs and stars in this autobiographical film as a stand-up comedian who begins to sleepwalk while going through a personal crisis. Also with Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, Marc Maron, James Rebhorn, Kristen Schaal, Alex Karpovsky, David Wain, Ira Glass, and Loudon Wainwright III.
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.