Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (R) Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) directs this fantasy starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as grown-up versions of the fairy-tale siblings, who now travel the world exterminating witches. Also with Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Pihla Viitala, Rainer Bock, Joanna Kulig, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, and Zoe Bell. (Opens Friday)
Beware of Mr. Baker (NR) Jay Bulger’s documentary profile of drummer Ginger Baker. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Movie 43 (R) This anthology gross-out comedy by 12 different directors features groups of people searching for the most banned movie in the world. Starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Seth MacFarlane, Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Common, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Emma Stone, Kieran Culkin, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Jack McBrayer, Uma Thurman, Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Kristen Bell, Leslie Bibb, Bobby Cannavale, John Hodgman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gerard Butler, Seann William Scott, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard, Josh Duhamel, and Elizabeth Banks. (Opens Friday)
Parker (R) Taylor Hackford adapts Donald Westlake’s novel about a betrayed thief (Jason Statham) who seeks revenge on the former cohorts who sold him out. Also with Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., Bobby Cannavale, Patti LuPone, and Nick Nolte. (Opens Friday)
West of Memphis (R) This documentary by Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil) examines the failure of justice in the West Memphis Three murder case. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
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.
Broken City (R) This distinctly forgettable thriller stars Mark Wahlberg as an ex-cop-turned-private eye who’s hired by the mayor of New York (Russell Crowe), seemingly to investigate his unfaithful wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) but really to set up the assassination of a political rival. Uncoupled from his twin brother Albert for the first time, director Allen Hughes has a taste for the grubby city politics in this movie’s script, but he can’t paper over the many holes in the plot. For such a handsomely appointed film with a talented cast, this comes to very little. Also with Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Michael Beach, Kyle Chandler, James Ransone, and Griffin Dunne.
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.
The Impossible (PG-13) A movie that leaves very little for a critic to do. Based on the story of a real-life Spanish family, the film stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as British parents of three boys who are separated from one another in Thailand during the tsunami of 2004. Director Juan Antonio Bayona (Orphanage) does a fine job staging the disaster, and there’s a terrific performance by Tom Holland as the oldest of the boys. Elsewhere, the movie functions as a fine if unsubtle tale of survival against steep odds. Also with Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast.
Jack Reacher (PG-13) Tom Cruise stars in this surprisingly potboilerish thriller as a former military policeman who investigates when an Army sniper is accused of shooting five people dead along the Pittsburgh riverfront. Adapted from Lee Child’s novel One Shot, the movie has a couple of good car chases, some tasty stuff on the police procedural front, and a creepy turn from German filmmaker Werner Herzog as the chief bad guy. Yet writer-director Christopher McQuarrie paces this movie indifferently, and the hero (who’s supposed to be hypercompetent in Child’s novels) is curiously dull-witted at various points. It all makes for a rather average time. Also with Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Alexia Fast, and Robert Duvall.
The Last Stand (R) Arnold Schwarzenegger looks past it in this thriller as a small-town sheriff who must stop an escaped Mexican drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) from making it across the border. Neither the material nor the role of a former LAPD cop who has seen too much violence suits a star who comes from a less reflective generation of action heroes. This still could have been a nice thriller, but Korean director Kim Ji-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird) seems tentative in the action sequences, and the other characters include a highly inept set of feds and a boring romantic couple. All in all, this is just another hack thriller. Also with Forest Whitaker, Peter Stormare, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzmán, Genesis Rodriguez, and Harry Dean Stanton.
Life of Pi (PG) Yann Martel’s supposedly unfilmable novel has been most decisively filmed by Ang Lee, and like all of Lee’s masterpieces, it’s completely different from the others. Suraj Sharma plays a shipwrecked 16-year-old Indian boy who is marooned on the open sea for several months with an adult Bengal tiger. Purely as a piece of spectacle, this movie is just glorious, whether Lee is taking in the visual splendors of India or the unlikely events on the water. (Pay the 3D upcharge for this movie.) Yet he doesn’t shortchange his actors, whether that’s the newcomer Sharma or the great Irrfan Khan as the grown-up Pi who narrates his story. This emotionally draining adventure is wondrous, terrifying, and a classic of its kind. Also with Adil Hussain, Tabu, Ayush Tandon, Rafe Spall, and Gérard Depardieu.
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.
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.
Mama (PG-13) This horror flick with a lot of wasted promise stars Jessica Chastain 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. The girls claim that a ghostly entity they call “Mama” has been taking care of them, and she follows them when they move into a new house. Chastain is unrecognizable here as a heavily tattooed Goth-punk musician. She and the girls do good work, and the movie has an interesting story about a woman who doesn’t want children being suddenly saddled with two special-needs kids. Yet Argentinian filmmaker Andrés “Andy” Muschietti squanders this with bombast and rote scare techniques. Too bad; this could have really been something. Also with Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, and Jane Moffatt.
Les Misérables (PG-13) The best big-screen version of the bombastic Broadway musical that we were ever likely to get. Tom Hooper records the actors singing live on the set, and his approach yields mostly good results from Hugh Jackman as an anguished Jean Valjean, Samantha Barks outsinging her more famous castmates as Éponine, and Anne Hathaway going hellbent for leather as Fantine. Hooper can’t do much with Russell Crowe’s wobbly baritone (which seems to be emanating from inside a half-crushed beer can), nor can he do anything with the music bogging the show down in the second half as the boring characters of Marius and Cosette (Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried) take center stage. Still, the cast’s singing and some un-stagey direction save the movie. Also with Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Tveit, Daniel Huttlestone, Isabelle Allen, and Colm Wilkinson.
Monsters, Inc. (G) The 3D re-release of Pixar’s 2001 animated spectacular wittily imagines the monsters who emerge from closets to scare little kids at night as employees of a utility company that powers the monsters’ world. When a 3-year-old girl accidentally wanders into that world from her closet, the company’s top scarer “Sulley” (voiced by John Goodman) and his assistant Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) have to get her back to her bedroom without tipping off the firm’s management. The vocal casting isn’t exactly creative, and the movie runs into trouble at the end; little kids’ irrational fears are bigger than the explanation this movie gives us. Yet the writing and visual gags are sharp, and the movie has a dazzling climactic chase through a warehouse of closet doors. Best of all, Pixar’s movies still work the way kids’ imaginations do, as well as looking good. Additional voices by Steve Buscemi, Mary Gibbs, James Coburn, John Ratzenberger, Bob Peterson, Frank Oz, Bonnie Hunt, and Jennifer Tilly.
Parental Guidance (PG) Billy Crystal and Bette Midler headline this painfully unfunny comedy as a grandparents who travel from Fresno to Atlanta to look after their three grandchildren at the request of their helicopter mom of a daughter (Marisa Tomei). Prepare yourself for a steady stream of pee and poop jokes and jokes about old people who don’t know what Twitter is. Truly nothing works here. Forget parental guidance: Take my guidance and stay away. Also with Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Jennifer Crystal Foley, Rhoda Griffis, and Gedde Watanabe.
Rise of the Guardians (PG) Above-average animated film is about Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) as he is recruited into a superhero league with Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny (voiced by Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, and Hugh Jackman) to protect the world’s children against the Boogeyman (voiced by Jude Law). Adapted from William Joyce’s novel, this bogs down in sentimentality near the end, but it has some nice jokes and a nifty voice cast, especially Jackman (using his native Australian accent) as a hypermacho rabbit who’s overly sensitive about his cuddly species. Additional voice by Dakota Goyo.
Silver Linings Playbook (R) Bradley Cooper stars in this volatile, terribly funny comedy as a bipolar former schoolteacher and die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan who leaves a mental institution to move back in with his parents. Adapting a novel by Matthew Quick, writer-director David O. Russell (The Fighter, Three Kings) captures the rage and instability inside his characters by filming ordinary domestic scenes with a whirling fury. His approach spreads to his actors, including Robert De Niro, bringing more energy than he’s brought in 20 years to the role of the hero’s combative dad, and Jennifer Lawrence, deploying her fierceness for comic effect as a cop’s widow with her own mentally troubled history. This is Russell’s warmest and most likable film, a tribute to the unconditional love that binds you to your family and your football team. Also with Jacki Weaver, Julia Stiles, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Paul Herman, Dash Mihok, and Chris Tucker.
Texas Chainsaw 3D (R) Alexandra Daddario stars in this latest adventure with a chainsaw-wielding killer. Also with Dan Yeager, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde, Shawn Sipos, Thom Barry, Richard Riehle, Bill Moseley, and Gunnar Hansen.
This Is 40 (R) Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their supporting roles from Knocked Up, with Judd Apatow presiding. It turns out those characters can’t carry their own movie. The movie takes place during the week that both halves of this married couple turn 40. Rudd and Mann are brilliant comic actors, and funny bits turn up from Melissa McCarthy as a combative mom and Megan Fox (yes, you read that right) as a hot employee. However, the director often loses control of the tone, with too many scenes devolving into shouting or weepiness. We’re never truly invested in whether this couple’s marriage survives the crises of mid-life. This is Apatow’s weakest directing effort yet. Also with Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Jason Segel, Annie Mumolo, Robert Smigel, Charlyne Yi, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Chris O’Dowd, and Lena Dunham.
The Tower (NR) This Korean patch on The Towering Inferno (with a liberal dash of Die Hard thrown in) is about a building manager (Kim Sang-kyung) and a fire chief (Sul Kyung-gu) who must evacuate tenants and partygoers from a 100-story luxury apartment high-rise that catches fire during a Christmas party. The special effects involving fire and a collapsing building are rendered brilliantly, but the story beats are wearisomely predictable, especially the ones involving the manager’s young daughter (Cho Min-ah) who’s trapped in the blaze. The cardboard characters keep this disaster flick from being resonant in any way. Also with Son Ye-jin, Kim In-kwon, Do Ji-han, Park Cheol-min, Song Jae-ho, Lee Ju-sil, Kim Sung-oh, Lee Han-wi, Jeong In-gi, Cha In-pyo, and Ahn Sung-ki.
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.
Zero Dark Thirty (PG-13) Pro-torture without meaning to be, which is actually worse than being purposefully pro-torture. Jessica Chastain portrays a brilliant but obsessive CIA analyst who spends 10 years tracking down Osama bin Laden, and she doesn’t quite manage to integrate this difficult and fundamentally unknowable character. Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) lays out the detective work well enough and expectedly delivers some great action set pieces, including a slow-burning meeting with an informant midway through and the operation at the end. Still, she’s fatally fuzzy about the role of torture in obtaining the information that takes down the terrorist mastermind, and pays scant attention to its repercussions. It’s one thing to take in a morally complex situation and let the audience draw its own conclusions. This movie is just unclear. Also with Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton, Édgar Ramírez, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Reda Kateb, Fares Fares, Homayoun Ershadi, Harold Perrineau, Stephen Dillane, Mark Duplass, and James Gandolfini.
Hyde Park on Hudson (R) Roger Michell directs this adaptation of Richard Nelson’s play about a woman (Laura Linney) who has a prime viewing spot as her distant cousin President Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) welcomes King George VI of England (Samuel West) to his mother’s house in upstate New York. Also with Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson, Martin McDougall, and Olivia Williams.
Rust and Bone (R) Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) adapts Craig Davidson’s short stories into this French-language romance between a Belgian MMA fighter (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a killer whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses her legs. Also with Armand Verdure, Céline Sallette, Corinne Masiero, Bouli Lanners, and Mourad Frarema.