The Perks of Being a Wallflower (PG-13) Stephen Chbosky adapts his own best-selling novel about a Pittsburgh kid (Logan Lerman) who navigates through his freshman year of high school after a stay in a mental hospital. Also with Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Johnny Simmons, Nina Dobrev, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd, and Joan Cusack. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (PG-13) Lisa Immordino Vreeland directs this documentary about her husband’s grandmother, the Harper’s Bazaar editor and fashion mogul. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Hotel Transylvania (PG) One of the all-time top five Adam Sandler movies, this animated film has him voicing Dracula as an overprotective dad and hotel owner who operates a resort for his fellow monsters that protects them and his own hundred-plus-year-old daughter, a teenager in vampire years (voiced by Selena Gomez), from the world of humans. Everything he holds dear is threatened when a chilled-out American backpacker (voiced by Andy Samberg) finds his way through the hotel’s front door. The movie loses its way near the end, wandering into some soggy family melodrama, but Samberg gives the movie a shot of friendly energy, and director Genndy Tartakovsky finds all manner of funny details in life at the hotel. You can take your kids to this one without hating yourself too much. Extra points for a well-placed Twilight joke. Additional voices by Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Chris Parnell, and Cee-Lo Green. (Opens Friday)
Liberal Arts (NR) Josh Radnor (TV’s How I Met Your Mother) writes, directs, and stars in this comedy as a 35-year-old divorced guy who revisits his college and begins an affair with a student (Elizabeth Olsen). Also with Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Kate Burton, John Magaro, and Zac Efron. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Samsara (PG-13) Ron Fricke follows up his 1992 documentary Baraka with this non-narrative non-fiction film with footage from sacred sites, disaster zones, and natural wonders from all over the world. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Won’t Back Down (PG) Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal star as two mothers who try to reform their children’s failing school in the inner city. Also with Oscar Isaac, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Rosie Perez, Ving Rhames, Bill Nunn, Emily Alyn Lind, Dante Brown, and Holly Hunter. (Opens Friday)
Arbitrage (R) Richard Gere stars in this slow-rolling chiller as a billionaire hedge-fund manager who struggles to cover up his part in a fatal car accident that kills his mistress (Laetitia Casta). First-time director Nicholas Jarecki finds compelling crime drama in this story, as the billionaire tries not only to keep himself out of prison but also to protect his financial empire, which is built on marshmallow foundations. Jarecki’s inexperience shows in his handling of his actors, but he directs with admirable precision and makes good use out of the New York setting, where rich, poor, and in between are thrown together in close quarters. This smart, moody, morally ambiguous piece feels like a Sidney Lumet film. That’s high praise. Also with Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker, Stuart Margolin, Graydon Carter, Larry Pine, and Bruce Altman.
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.
Cartas a Elena (PG) Llorent Barajas’ film about a Mexican boy (José Eduardo) who takes over the job, usually performed by the mailman in his small town, of reading letters to illiterate villagers. Also with Jorge Galván, Javier López, Evangelina Sosa, and Catalina Odio.
The Cold Light of Day (PG-13) Henry Cavill gives a charmless performance headlining this incomprehensible action thriller about an American tourist whose family is kidnapped in Spain over information wanted by the CIA. Bruce Willis’ presence as the hero’s combative dad is misleading; his character is killed off early on. Belgian director Mabrouk El Mechri (JCVD) knows how to stage a car chase but can’t make any sense of a plot that involves Arab terrorists, Israeli vigilantes, a second family, and a CIA section chief turned traitor (Sigourney Weaver). Shrink into the darkness, away from The Cold Light of Day. Also with Verónica Echegui, Caroline Goodall, Rafi Gavron, Emma Hamilton, Joseph Mawle, Roschdy Zem, and Jackie Earle Haley.
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.
Dredd (R) Faint praise: This is better than the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie that also tried to bring John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s character to the big screen. Karl Urban takes over as the heavily armored judge, jury, and executioner who administers justice in a dystopian future society. He and a recruit in training (Olivia Thirlby, sadly miscast as a tough action heroine) are trapped in a 200-story apartment tower controlled by a drug lord (Lena Headey) and her murderous minions. It’s not unwatchable, and there are some surreally beautiful shots depicting the influence of a narcotic that slows down reality. You’d have to say, though, that The Raid: Redemption handled this whole premise better. Also with Wood Harris, Rakie Ayola, Deobia Oparei, Langley Kirkwood, and Domhnall Gleeson.
End of Watch (R) The chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña is the best thing in this buddy-cop thriller that thinks it’s more groundbreaking than it is. They portray L.A. beat cops who film themselves as they patrol the city’s meanest streets. Writer-director David Ayer adopts a found-footage look that’s little more than a gimmick, although it does encourage freer and more spontaneous performances from the actors. Gyllenhaal and Peña have an effortless rapport as best friends, and their relaxed banter in the squad car (about coffee, women, and the differences between the social lives of Anglos and Latinos) is even more compelling than the movie’s shootouts and chase scenes. Also with Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, David Harbour, Frank Grillo, Maurice Compte, Yahira Garcia, Cody Horn, and America Ferrera.
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.
Finding Nemo (G) Nine years after opening in theaters, Pixar’s film is re-released in 3D. This exhilarating, exhausting film is about a clownfish (voiced by Albert Brooks) who searches the ocean after his young son (voiced by Alexander Gould) is scooped up by a scuba diver. The movie’s delirious comic highs exist alongside ingenious action sequences that place the characters in constant jeopardy, and the hectic pace swirls it all together into one big, disorienting vortex. The cast, led by the inspired pairing of Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres as his bubble-brained sidekick, is skilled comically but plays the material as seriously as needed. This fable about the importance of letting kids grow up strays into dark territory, but it’s the brightest thing out there. Additional voices by Willem Dafoe, Allison Janney, Brad Garrett, Vicki Lewis, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Barry Humphries, Andrew Stanton, Elizabeth Perkins, Eric Bana, Bruce Spence, John Ratzenberger, and Geoffrey Rush.
Hellbound? (NR) Kevin Miller’s documentary examines the Christian idea of hell and its continuing hold on theology.
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.
House at the End of the Street (PG-13) It’s the old familiar story: girl meets boy, girl loves boy, girl discovers that boy is keeping his raving maniac sister who murdered his parents locked up in his basement. Jennifer Lawrence plays the new-girl-in-town here, and Max Thieriot is the ostracized boy whose sweet, sensitive nature beguiles the girl. Director Mark Tonderai does a fair job of balancing the romance of the earlier scenes and the action of the later scenes, but he can’t disguise the way the plot falls apart near the end. It’s only Lawrence’s presence that gives focus and depth to this otherwise rampagingly mediocre thriller. Also with Elisabeth Shue, Eva Link, Nolan Gerard Funk, Allie MacDonald, Jordan Hayes, and Gil Bellows.
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.
Last Ounce of Courage (PG) Boo hoo hoo! We’re Christians and the whole world hates us! That’s the message of this waterlogged, whiny-as-hell melodrama about a grandfather (Marshall Teague) and grandson (Hunter Gomez) who band together to help their small town celebrate the holidays. Apparently this movie takes place in some alternate reality where mean, fun-hating atheists — led by an African-American politician, what are the odds? — are trying to kill Christmas. No wonder Bill O’Reilly shows up in this thing. If the movie’s right-wing paranoia doesn’t put you off, the bad acting and writing will. Also with Jennifer O’Neill, Jenna Boyd, Rusty Joiner, Darrel Campbell, and Fred Williamson.
Lawless (R) Based on Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World, this Prohibition-era thriller stars Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke as three brothers in backwoods Virginia who go to war with a crooked Chicago deputy (Guy Pearce) who wants to take over their moonshine business. Director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave do justice to the extreme levels of violence here and prevent the momentum from flagging, but they mishandle some dull romantic subplots and stack the deck against a cardboard bad guy. Better stuff comes from the actors, especially Hardy, playing a laconic guy whose grunts express a whole rainbow of emotions. Also with Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Dane DeHaan, Bill Camp, Noah Taylor, and Gary Oldman.