The Details (R) Jacob Aaron Estes (Mean Creek) writes and directs this black comedy about an unscrupulous doctor (Tobey Maguire) whose marriage and career are destroyed when a family of raccoons invades his backyard. Also with Elizabeth Banks, Kerry Washington, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, and Laura Linney. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Amber Alert (NR) Kerry Bellessa’s horror film about a group of friends who come across and follow a car that has been described in an Amber Alert as having been involved in a crime. Starring Jasen Wade, Summer Bellessa, and Chris Hill. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Man With the Iron Fists (R) The filmmaking debut of rap star RZA is this martial arts film that stars the rapper himself as a blacksmith in feudal China whose village is in the crosshairs of various villains seeking a legendary treasure. Also with Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Jamie Chung, Dave Bautista, Cung Le, Zhu Zhu, Byron Mann, Daniel Wu, Eli Roth, and Pam Grier. (Opens Friday)
The Other Son (PG-13) Lorraine Levy’s French-language dramedy is about a young Israeli (Jules Sitruk) and a young Palestinian (Mehdi Dehbi) who discover that they were switched at birth. Also with Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbé, Areen Omari, Khalifa Natour, and Mahmoud Shalabi. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Sessions (R) Ben Lewin writes and directs this drama about a 36-year-old man (John Hawkes) in an iron lung who contacts a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity. Also with William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Adam Arkin, Robin Weigert, Rusty Schwimmer, and Rhea Perlman. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Sister (NR) Ursula Meier’s drama is about a young Swiss boy (Kacey Mottet Klein) who supports his sister (Léa Seydoux) by stealing from guests at a ski resort. Also with Martin Compston, Jean-François Stévenin, Yann Trégouët, and Gillian Anderson. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Smashed (R) James Ponsoldt’s drama stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an alcoholic who tries to get sober while her husband (Aaron Paul) keeps drinking. Also with Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Kyle Gallner, Bree Turner, and Mary Kay Place. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Alex Cross (PG-13) The 12th novel in James Patterson’s series becomes this poorly made thriller that stars Tyler Perry as a Detroit homicide cop whose pursuit of a psychopathic-yet-still-boring hit man (Matthew Fox) costs him people he cares about. Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) proves to be completely lost when it comes to filming a story that actually tries to engage human emotions, and he’s not much better with the uninventive, credibility-straining action sequences. The rotten dialogue doesn’t help him, either. Too bad; Perry’s creditable performance deserved a better vehicle. Also with Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols, John C. McGinley, Carmen Ejogo, Yara Shahidi, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jean Reno.
Argo (R) Ben Affleck stars in and directs this expertly crafted, personality-light thriller. He portrays a real-life CIA exfiltration specialist who in 1980 spirited six Americans who had escaped from the U.S. embassy out of Iran by having them pose as a film crew for a nonexistent movie. The director superbly handles the latter half of the film when it comes to slowly tightening the grip of suspense. However, Chris Terrio’s script barely sketches in the characters, and Affleck’s performance in the lead role as a sad sack with a rocky marriage is undistinguished. The scenes that take place in Hollywood feel lifted from another film, but it’s the only part of the movie that lets the actors (notably Alan Arkin and John Goodman as movie-industry types) have fun. Also with Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Sheila Vand, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver, Kyle Chandler, Bob Gunton, Richard Kind, and an uncredited Philip Baker Hall.
Atlas Shrugged: Part II (PG-13) A whole new director, screenwriter, and cast take over this sequel to last year’s non-hit, and while the result flows considerably better than the original, its tendentious philosophizing (taken from Ayn Rand’s novel) will still wear you out. Samantha Mathis now plays the railroad executive trying to make her way in a nightmare future America where CEOs actually have to give some of their money to the government. Jason Beghe plays the mining company executive who helps her battle this evil state of affairs. In contrast to the original, this movie has a few action sequences and even some isolated stabs at humor. Even so, its joyless fidelity to Rand’s novel will make you greet it with a shrug of your own. Also with Esai Morales, Patrick Fabian, Kim Rhodes, Richard T. Jones, Diedrich Bader, John Rubinstein, Robert Picardo, Paul McCrane, and D.B. Sweeney.
Chasing Mavericks (PG) This movie nakedly wants to inspire us, so it’s sad to see it fail so badly. Jonny Weston stars as a 15-year-old surfer in 1994 who enlists a surfing legend who lives nearby (Gerard Butler) to help him surf the 40-foot waves at a little-known surf break near his home in Santa Cruz. Directors Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson (the former taking over after health issues sidelined the latter) keep the movie from dragging but fail to communicate the joy of surfing or give us much detail about the sport. The lead actors are boring, too. The story is based on a real-life surfer, who undoubtedly deserved a better movie than this. Also with Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer, Taylor Handley, and Leven Rambin.
Cloud Atlas (R) David Mitchell’s supposedly unfilmable novel is turned into this huge, ambitious movie that somehow works even though there’s a few thousand reasons why it shouldn’t. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and a bunch of other actors star in six separate plotlines spanning the globe and some five centuries. The intercutting should make for a disjointed viewing experience, yet somehow directors Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) make the plotlines comment on and strengthen one another, giving us one of the more unlikely creative resurgences we’ve seen recently. In its message about the interconnectedness of all things and the miraculousness of human consciousness, this is more convincing than The Tree of Life. Also with Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Bae Doo-na, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Keith David, Zhou Xun, David Gyasi, Hugh Grant, and Susan Sarandon.
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.
Frankenweenie (PG) Tim Burton returns to form with this animated remake of his 1984 live-action short film. Charlie Tahan voices a scientifically gifted middle school kid who uses an electrical storm to bring his beloved dog back to life after the animal is run over by a car. The animation firm of Mackinnon & Saunders provides some nice puppetry, and screenwriter John August makes some inspired additions to the original, like a provocative subplot involving a science teacher (voiced by Martin Landau). The climax shows Burton at his morbidly funny best. All in all, this is good enough to come off as an honest piece of entertainment instead of wheel-spinning pastiche. Additional voices by Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, James Hiroyuki Liao, Conchata Ferrell, and Martin Short.
Fun Size (PG-13) A blown opportunity. TV show creator Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl, The O.C.) crosses over to movies with this Halloween-themed comedy about a high-school girl (Victoria Justice) who loses track of her little brother (Jackson Nicoll) while taking him trick-or-treating. The movie has some scattered laughs and the story is ingeniously constructed, but the script simply isn’t funny, and the cast is bland. Justice (from TV’s Victorious) has striking brown eyes, but she does nothing interesting with her role. What could have been a nice antidote to the usual crop of October horror flicks becomes just another failed comedy. Also with Thomas Mann, Jane Levy, Osric Chau, Thomas McDonell, Thomas Middleditch, Ana Gasteyer, Kerri Kenney, and Chelsea Handler.
Here Comes the Boom (PG-13) Ow! I saw it coming, but I still couldn’t get out of the way. Kevin James stars in and co-writes this comedy about a burned-out high-school teacher and former collegiate wrestler who rediscovers his passion when he turns himself into an MMA fighter to raise money to prevent a music teacher who inspires him (Henry Winkler) from losing his job. James remains charming, but the script is so lacking in comic inspiration that at one point the characters get into a food fight to get laughs. The movie’s better than Won’t Back Down, but nowhere near as good as The Warrior. Also with Salma Hayek, Bas Rutten, Gary Valentine, Charice, Jackie Flynn, Mookie Barker, Nikki Tyler-Flynn, and Greg Germann. (Opens Friday)
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 mere 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.
Looper (R) In his first big-budget Hollywood effort, Rian Johnson lays down a marker. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in this science-fiction thriller as a contract killer in 2044 who disposes of people sent back in time by his mobster bosses in the future. When his aged future self (Bruce Willis) is zapped back to him, it kicks off a complicated plot that’s laid out remarkably well. Johnson’s liberal, expert use of comic relief punctuates the air of gathering dread that he builds up. Even better, the movie doesn’t lose focus in the second half, when the action slows down as the hero hides out at a farm owned by a single mom (Emily Blunt). Johnson’s attempts at emotional catharsis are the tiniest bit off, but that scarcely matters given the scene where an assassin (Garret Dillahunt) dispatched to the farm meets a wholly unexpected end. Like the rest of the movie, it’s breathtaking in its horror and ingenuity. Also with Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Pierce Gagnon, Summer Qing, Tracie Thoms, Frank Brennan, and Piper Perabo.
Paranormal Activity 4 (R) The series finally runs out of gas. The story picks up five years after the events of the second movie, with a teenage girl in Nevada (Kathryn Newton) recording the mysterious events around her after a new neighbor (Katie Featherston) and her son (Brady Allen) move in across the street. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman remain from the third installment, and they make creative use of an Xbox Kinect to detect invisible spirits. Yet the scares here are ham-fisted and obvious in ways that they weren’t in the last three films, and the characters are stupid in ways that are convenient for the plot. This series needs to come to a point and end. Also with Matt Shively, Stephen Dunham, Alexondra Lee, Brian Boland, Aiden Lovekamp, and Sprague Grayden.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (PG-13) Stephen Chbosky turns his beloved 1999 teen novel into a movie, and it’s well worth the 13-year wait. Logan Lerman portrays a kid navigating his freshman year of high school after a stint in a mental institution. The film is exceptionally well-cast, with Lerman doing magnificent work as a mentally fragile kid and Ezra Miller and Emma Watson forming a killer duo as a pair of senior stepsiblings who respond to the kid’s shyness and take him in. The sharpness of Chbosky’s comic dialogue keeps the movie’s pathos from overwhelming everything else, and as a director he captures the exhilarating feeling of teenage years to create some great lyrical moments, like Watson standing up in her pickup truck while it’s driven through a tunnel. This is one of the great teen movies of the last decade. Also with Mae Whitman, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Johnny Simmons, Nina Dobrev, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd, and Joan Cusack.
Pitch Perfect (PG-13) A total blast. Anna Kendrick stars in this musical comedy as a college freshman who joins an all-female a cappella singing group at her school and sets about dethroning the national champions, an obnoxious all-male group that’s also at her school. Kay Cannon’s script is full of quotable lines, and the punchlines come from all corners, including Hana Mae Lee as a chorister who can’t speak above a whisper and Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as a pair of cranky TV commentators. Kendrick’s singing makes up for her sluggish performance, as she leads the group in a rousing cover of “No Diggity” and does a YouTube-inspired solo on “Cups (You’re Gonna Miss Me),” while Rebel Wilson steals all manner of laughs and takes lead on “Turn the Beat Around.” It’s all enough to send you out of the theater singing. Also with Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean, Joe Lo Truglio, Donald Faison, Har Mar Superstar, John Benjamin Hickey, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
Seven Psychopaths (R) The second blood-soaked comedy by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) doesn’t come to much, but its characters are fun to be around for a couple of hours. Colin Farrell plays an alcoholic Irish screenwriter in Hollywood whose actor buddy (Sam Rockwell) drags him into a bloody caper after they kidnap a dog belonging to a vicious mob boss (Woody Harrelson). The action slows down radically in the second half as the main characters hide out in the desert, but McDonagh’s discursive writing style yields comic treasures (Gandhi’s “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” gets deconstructed here) that are well-delivered, especially by Rockwell and Christopher Walken as his partner in crime. Also with Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Tom Waits, Linda Bright Clay, Long Nguyen, Christina Marzano, Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Harry Dean Stanton, and Gabourey Sidibe.
Silent Hill: Revelation (R) Based on what was a pretty scary series of video games, this drearily uninventive sequel to the 2006 film stars Adelaide Clemens as a girl who must enter a horrific ghost town in another dimension to find her disappeared father (Sean Bean) and uncover the secrets to her childhood. Some of the faceless creatures she encounters are nicely conceived, but writer-director Michael J. Bassett doesn’t film them in any distinctive way. Australian newcomer Clemens may look like Carey Mulligan, but her American accent comes out all mushmouthed. Play the video games if you want a scare. Also with Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Malcolm McDowell, Martin Donovan, Deborah Kara Unger, and an uncredited Radha Mitchell.
Sinister (R) Silly plot contrivances and gloomy atmosphere blunt the scares in Scott Derrickson’s horror film. Ethan Hawke plays a true-crime novelist whose lust for his lost fame leads him to move his family into a house where a series of murders took place. The writer’s personal demons are fairly compelling, but the movie stumbles once it introduces a soul-eating Babylonian deity who gets to people by appearing in home videos that they watch. Despite that, the film makes for a watchable horror flick. Also with Vincent D’Onofrio, Juliet Rylance, Michael Hall D’Addario, James Ransone, Clare Daley, and Fred Dalton Thompson. — Steve Steward
Taken 2 (PG-13) Liam Neeson kills more of them dirty, swarthy, godless foreigners in this sequel that’s even more paranoid, xenophobic, and all-encompassingly stupid than the 2010 original. This time, Neeson’s retired CIA agent and his family are vacationing in Istanbul — you’d think that family would avoid international travel for a while — when they’re targeted by the relatives of the men killed in the first movie. The agent makes all manner of mistakes that would result in death in the real world, but that’s OK, because the gangsters he’s up against are idiots who let the hero make a lengthy cell phone call while they have him at gunpoint and forget to check to see if he has another phone stashed in his sock. Even the racist, overprotective dads to whom this movie is pitched will be offended by this. Also with Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, D.B. Sweeney, and Rade Serbedzija.
The Thieves (NR) In Choi Dong-hoon’s convoluted caper film, a bunch of Korean high-end robbers with names like Popeye, Pepsi, Zampano, and Chewing Gum team up with a group of Chinese gangsters to steal a $30 million diamond from a hotel casino in Macao. What ensues are a lot of silly disguises, professional and romantic betrayals between and within both groups, an insane shootout among robbers rappelling down the side of an apartment building, and scenes played out in five different languages. It’s all frenetic, confusing, and highly entertaining in spots. Starring Lee Jung-jae, Gianna Jun, Oh Dal-su, Kim Yun-seok, Simon Yam, Kim Hae-suk, Kim Hye-su, Kim Soo-hyun, Angelica Lee, Derek Tsang, Ki Gug-seo, and Shin Ha-kyun.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (PG-13) Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary profile of her grandmother-in-law and the influential fashion magazine editor.
Pusher (R) Luis Prieto’s English-language remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Danish thriller stars Richard Coyle as a small-time London drug dealer who disastrously tries to move up the food chain. Also with Bronson Webb, Agyness Deyn, Mem Ferda, Daisy Lewis, and Zlatko Buric.
Tai Chi Zero (NR) Stephen Fung directs this steampunk martial-arts film about a student of tai chi (Yuan Xiaochao) who leads a group of Chinese villagers against a British railroad company that wants to destroy the village. Also with Tony Leung Ka Fai, Angelababy, Daniel Wu, Jade Xu, Eddie Peng, and Shu Qi.