Rise of the Guardians (PG) This animated adaptation of William Joyce’s book features Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny (voiced by Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, and Hugh Jackman) rising up to protect the world from a villain (voiced by Jude Law). Additional voices by Dakota Goyo and Khamani Griffin. (Opens Wednesday)
Anna Karenina (R) Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) adapts Leo Tolstoy’s novel about a married 19th-century Russian noblewoman (Keira Knightley) who has an affair. Also with Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Olivia Williams, Domhnall Gleeson, and Emily Watson. (Opens Wednesday in Dallas)
Red Dawn (PG-13) Actually worse than most crappy remakes of 1980s movies, this more-than-casually racist thriller stars Chris Hemsworth as a Marine on leave when America’s coasts are invaded by a bunch of evil Asians. The villains were reportedly changed from Chinese to North Korean to avoid offending Chinese consumers. Geopolitically, this makes no sense, but that’s just one small cop-out as the Marine turns his kid brother (Josh Peck) and his brother’s high-school pals into a counterinsurgency. He must be good, as it takes all of 30 seconds of screen time to train those kids into killing machines. The movie panders to jingoism and nostalgia for the original at every turn, and even its action sequences are dull. Also with Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Will Yun Lee, Connor Cruise, Brett Cullen, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. (Opens Wednesday)
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.
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
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.
Lincoln (PG-13) Steven Spielberg’s take on our nation’s 16th president is an incredibly timely defense of moderation, pragmatism, and realpolitik. Too bad it’s so dry. Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln as he tries to pass the slavery-abolishing 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. Day-Lewis easily strikes the right balance between Lincoln’s fierce determination and political judgment. Spielberg wrings a fair amount of drama out of the legislative details and does full justice to the messiness of the lawmaking process. However, without more of Lincoln’s soaring rhetoric, the movie may very well leave you unmoved. Also with Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Gloria Reuben, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Oyelowo, Lukas Haas, Dane DeHaan, and Hal Holbrook.
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.
The Man With the Iron Fists (R) Hip-hop star and longtime martial-arts fan RZA directs his first movie, and it’s a mainline into his fecund imagination. That doesn’t make it good, though. The story is about a shipment of imperial gold that attracts all manner of unsavory types when it passes through a village. The setting is the China of RZA’s mind, a place of silk and jade and badasses spouting Buddhist philosophy. Yet the rudiments of filmmaking slip through his grasp, as the director shows no sense of tone or pace. He also miscasts himself as a stoic, troubled blacksmith. Music historians will analyze this as a key to RZA’s influences and obsessions, but as a movie, it’s flat. Also with Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Jamie Chung, Dave Bautista, Cung Le, Zhu Zhu, Byron Mann, Daniel Wu, and Pam Grier.