Mama (PG-13) Jessica Chastain stars in this horror flick as a woman whose husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) takes in his two feral nieces (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) after they’re discovered living alone in the woods. Also with Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, and Jane Moffatt. (Opens Friday)
Amour (PG-13) A surprise nominee for the Oscar for Best Picture, Michael Haneke’s film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as an octogenarian who must care for his wife (Emmanuelle Riva) after she suffers a stroke. Also with Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, and Isabelle Huppert. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Broken City (R) Mark Wahlberg stars in this thriller as an ex-cop who seeks revenge after being set up for a crime by a corrupt mayor (Russell Crowe). Also with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Michael Beach, Kyle Chandler, James Ransone, and Griffin Dunne. (Opens Friday)
LUV (R) Sheldon Candis’ autobiographical drama stars Common as an ex-convict who spends a day with an 11-year-old nephew (Michael Rainey Jr.) who idolizes him. Also with Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Meagan Good, Lonette McKee, and Charles S. Dutton. (Opens Friday at AMC Parks at Arlington)
Wreck-It Ralph (PG) Derivative and yet likable. This Disney animated comedy is about a 1980s video game villain (voiced by John C. Reilly) who gets sick of his job and jumps into other games to become a hero. The movie will be required viewing for gamers of a certain age, thanks to cameo appearances by iconic video game characters and a universe where characters from the different games freely intermingle after the arcade closes. Yet the movie is more than just nostalgia, as evidenced by a fraught plotline when Ralph befriends a little girl created by a programming glitch (voiced by Sarah Silverman) in a girly kart racing game and tries to help her compete in the race. With its funny voice cast and animation inspired by the looks of various video games, this is well worth your quarters. Additional voices by Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Adam Carrolla, Horatio Sanz, Ed O’Neill, and Dennis Haysbert. (Re-opens Friday)
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.
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away (PG) On the one hand, the performances in this movie would be so much more impressive if you were seeing them live. On the other, movie tickets cost much less than any Cirque du Soleil performance. Writer-director Andrew Adamson (Shrek) provides a narrative about a girl (Erica Linz) who pursues an aerialist (Igor Zaripov), but he would have been better off abandoning the story for the circus acts. Several of the acts are set to late Beatles songs, which seems appropriate. It’s all very pretty, if unmoving. Also with Lutz Halbhubner.
Django Unchained (R) Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti Western/revenge thriller is surprisingly good at confronting the evils of slavery. Jamie Foxx plays a freed slave who helps a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) kill his targets in exchange for rescuing his wife (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of a Mississippi slaveowner (Leonardo DiCaprio). The film may just be Tarantino’s funniest to date, aided by a hugely entertaining Waltz. Yet Tarantino does not stint on the brutality visited upon slaves, and paints a couple of unforgettable villains produced by the slave economy, played by DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. The shootouts, the in-jokes, and the triumphant ending are here to make the movie’s portrayal of slavery bearable, but they do more than that. They make the movie great fun. Also with Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Laura Cayouette, Ato Essandoh, Sammi Rotibi, James Russo, Bruce Dern, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, and Franco Nero.
Gangster Squad (PG-13) A key sequence was re-shot after the real-life Colorado movie theater massacre last summer, but the filmmakers should have re-shot much larger portions of the movie while they were at it. Josh Brolin plays an L.A. cop in 1949 who’s secretly tapped to wage guerrilla war against gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). The movie heavily whitewashes the LAPD’s sordid history of racism and storm-trooper tactics, perhaps because director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) is so busy trying to turn this into a retro-cool piece about cops in fedoras mowing down bad guys with tommy guns. The actors are reduced to playing cartoon versions of cops and robbers, and all the one-liners feel prefabricated. Fleischer does well with the isolated bits of slapstick here — he should stick to comedy. Also with Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi, Mireille Enos, and Nick Nolte.
The Guilt Trip (PG-13) Seth Rogen’s willingness to engage Barbra Streisand is what makes this comedy. Rogen portrays an organic chemist who takes his mother along on a cross-country trip while he pitches his cleaning product to retailers. Dan Fogelman’s workmanlike script is goosed by the ad-libbing between co-stars, with Streisand looking rejuvenated by the presence of a comic actor who’s willing to push back against her as he depicts a son chafing under the eccentricities of his Jewish mother. At a breezy 95 minutes, this movie pulls gently into its final destination before it wears out its welcome. Also with Brett Cullen, Yvonne Strahovski, Colin Hanks, Nora Dunn, Miriam Margolyes, Kathy Najimy, Adam Scott, and Ari Graynor.
A Haunted House (R) This movie tries to be both a parody of found-footage horror films and a comedy about relationship jitters, which would be a neat idea if the jokes were actually funny. Yeah, they’re not. Marlon Wayans co-writes the script and stars as a man who starts to experience paranormal crap after his girlfriend (Essence Atkins) moves in with him. The film’s riffs on the Paranormal Activity series, et al. aren’t inventive, but it’s the incessant, smirking jokes about gay sex, interracial sex, and emasculating women that make this movie depressing. Also with David Koechner, Dave Sheridan, Alanna Ubach, Andrew Daley, Marlene Forte, Affion Crockett, Nick Swardson, and Cedric the Entertainer.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (PG-13) Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel is shot at 48 frames per second, which gives the images clarity and sharpness you’ve never seen on a movie screen and allows camera movement with astonishing fluidity. The great joke is that the story and characters are so poorly handled, the movie won’t look like anything special when you watch it on your TV in six months. Martin Freeman makes an underwhelming Bilbo, and a few nicely executed action sequences can’t make up for Jackson’s cringe-inducing sense of comedy and pacing so flabby that it takes 50 minutes before Bilbo actually leaves his house to help his dwarf comrades defeat the dragon. Other filmmakers have made more powerful epic fantasy-adventures since Jackson; the game has passed him by. Also with Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Barry Humphries, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian Holm, and Elijah Wood.