This Must Be the Place (NR) Sean Penn stars in this dramedy by Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo) about a retired rock star who returns to his native America to track down the Nazi officer who humiliated his late father decades ago at Auschwitz. Also with Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Eve Hewson, Kerry Condon, Joyce Van Patten, Shea Whigham, Harry Dean Stanton, and David Byrne. (Opens Friday in Dallas.
Café de Flore (NR) Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria) writes and directs this drama about a 1960s Parisian mother (Vanessa Paradis) raising a son afflicted with Down syndrome (Marin Gerrier) and a present-day DJ (Kevin Parent) whose mentally unstable wife (Hélène Florent) starts to stalk him after he leaves her. Also with Evelyne Brochu, Alice Dubois, Evelyne de la Chenelière, Michel Dumont, and Linda Smith. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
A Late Quartet (R) This drama centers on a renowned classical string quartet whose members are thrown into upheaval after the group’s founder (Christopher Walken) is diagnosed as terminally ill. Also with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, Imogen Poots, Madhur Jaffrey, Wallace Shawn, and Anne Sofie von Otter. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Little Birds (R) Juno Temple and Kay Panabaker star in this dramaa about teenage best friends who follow two guys from their small California town to live in L.A. Also with Leslie Mann, Kate Bosworth, Kyle Gallner, and Neal McDonough. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
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.
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.
Flight (R) After more than a decade making animated films, Robert Zemeckis gets back into the swing of live-action with this drama about an airline pilot (Denzel Washington) who saves his passengers’ lives when his plane falls apart in midair but then goes from hero to villain once his alcoholism and drug use become known. Washington is enthralling as a damaged chronic liar for whom a plane crash is the least of his problems. The religious symbolism is a teeny bit overdone and the movie drags in spots, but this is a skilled, grown-up film anchored by a stellar performance, and it fills the big screen. Also with Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Garcelle Beauvais, James Badge Dale, and Melissa Leo. — Cole Williams
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.