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. (Re-opens Friday)
Bad Kids Go to Hell (R) Adapted from a graphic novel, this horror film is about six wealthy prep-school kids who start to suffer deadly accidents during a detention period. Starring Ali Faulkner, Marc Donato, Augie Duke, Cameron Deane Stewart, Amanda Alch, Roger Edwards, and Judd Nelson. (Opens Friday)
The Flat (NR) Arnon Goldfinger’s documentary is about his own quest for the truth after discovering a trove of Nazi propaganda in his deceased Israeli grandmother’s closet. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Lay the Favorite (R) Rebecca Hall stars in Stephen Frears’ adaptation of the memoir of Beth Raymer, a Las Vegas cocktail waitress who became a professional gambler. Also with Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, Joshua Jackson, Laura Prepon, Frank Grillo, John Carroll Lynch, and Corbin Bernsen. (Opens Friday at Cinemark Movies 8)
A Werewolf Boy (NR) Jo Sung-hee’s surreal romantic spy thriller is about a Korean teenager (Park Bo-young) who befriends a feral boy (Song Joong-ki) whom she discovers in her landlord’s stable. Also with Jang Young-nam, Kim Hyang-gi, Li Young-lan, and Yoo Yeong-seok. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Anna Karenina (R) Joe Wright turns Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece into a shallow, gimmicky movie that stars Keira Knightley as the married 19th-century Russian princess who torches her social status and her family by having an affair with a young count (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Wright gives Tom Stoppard’s skillful script a highly stylized treatment, with scenes playing out on theater sets and choreographed movements that make you think the characters will burst into song. The stage devices succeed at making this period costume drama look different from all the others, but they neither shed light on Tolstoy’s novel nor amplify the story’s emotions nor create a sense of an oppressive society where everyone’s public actions are under scrutiny. Clever though this is, it doesn’t accomplish anything a more conventional movie wouldn’t have. Also with Jude Law, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Domhnall Gleeson, Olivia Williams, Alicia Vikander, Ruth Wilson, and Emily Watson.
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.
The Collection (R) I mentally checked out of this slasher flick about 10 minutes in, when the masked serial killer (Randall Archer) slices up a bunch of people on a dance club floor with a giant combine descending from the ceiling. Nothing that happens in the rest of this wearisome movie counteracts the ridiculousness of that early development. Emma Fitzpatrick plays a woman who falls into the killer’s clutches after freeing a man (Josh Stewart) who’s being held captive. The man is then blackmailed into springing her. The movie is a sequel to the 2009 film The Collector, something the world surely wasn’t clamoring for. Also with Navi Rawat, Johanna Braddy, Daniel Sharman, Lee Tergesen, Andre Royo, and Christopher McDonald.
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
Killing Them Softly (R) Andrew Dominik’s crime thriller is pretty good, when it’s not bashing America. Based on George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, this movie is set in 2008 and stars Brad Pitt as a sharp hit man who’s brought in to take care of three idiots (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and Vincent Curatola) who have robbed a mob-protected card game in Boston. The director does well to find the life in the scenes with the criminals conducting business and hanging out, and there’s a particularly strong scene with Pitt cornering one of the criminals in a bar. Still, the New Zealand-born Dominik runs into trouble trying to tie the criminal plot to his vision of America as a place of rapacious amoral greed. Nothing wrong with being cynical about America, but Dominik’s cynicism is cheap. Go somewhere else for a sophisticated critique of American capitalism. Also with Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Trevor Long, Max Casella, Slaine, Sam Shepard, and Richard Jenkins.