The Playroom (NR) This Dallas-filmed drama stars John Hawkes and Molly Parker as alcoholic parents who carry on a night of drinking in their home while their children tell stories in the attic. Also with Olivia Harris, Jonathon McClendon, Ian Veteto, Jonathan Brooks, Lydia Mackay, Alexandra Doke, and Cody Linley. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Berlin File (NR) Ryoo Seung-wan’s thriller stars Ha Jung-woo as a North Korean spy betrayed by his government and forced to run for his life through the streets of Berlin. Also with Gianna Jun, Ryoo Seung-beom, Han Suk-kyu, Lee Kyeong-yeong, Bae Jung-nam, Werner Daehn, Numan Açar, and John Keogh. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Escape From Planet Earth (PG) This animated film is about an alien astronaut (voiced by Brendan Fraser) who must conduct a rescue mission on our planet. Additional voices by Rob Corddry, Ricky Gervais, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara, and Sarah Jessica Parker. (Opens Thursday)
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (R) Charlie Sheen stars in Roman Coppola’s fantasy film as a successful graphic designer whose life falls apart after his girlfriend breaks up with him. Also with Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Katheryn Winnick, Patricia Arquette, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Dermot Mulroney, and Aubrey Plaza. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
A Good Day to Die Hard (R) Bruce Willis stars in the series’ fifth movie as an NYPD cop who must team up with his CIA agent son (Jai Courtney) to fight the Russian mob. Also with Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Yuliya Snigir, Radivoje Bukvic, Sergei Kolesnikov, Amaury Nolasco, and Cole Hauser. (Opens Thursday)
Amour (PG-13) A surprise and deserving nominee for the Oscar for Best Picture, Michael Haneke’s masterpiece stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as a retired Parisian music professor who must care for his wife (Emmanuelle Riva) after she suffers a debilitating stroke. Instead of indulging in his usual distancing techniques, Haneke films this in a mostly straightforward fashion, observing the woman’s deterioration with a gimlet eye and portraying her disease’s relentless progress. The leads turn in great performances, with the 85-year-old Riva portraying her character from robust health to near death and registering the blows to her dignity along the way. The story proceeds with cold logic, yet the movie itself isn’t cold, celebrating the love this married couple has for each other and the life that they’re bursting with. This reckoning with aging and mortality is deeply moving. Also with Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, and Isabelle Huppert.
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.
Bullet to the Head (R) You’ll want one of those yourself if you buy a ticket to this incredibly stupid thriller starring a giant block of concrete shaped like Sylvester Stallone as a New Orleans hit man who teams up with a D.C. homicide cop (Sung Kang) to take down the business mogul who double-crossed him and the crooked cops protecting him. Based on a French graphic novel, the movie features good guys engaging in unfunny racially tinged banter while operating with total disregard for the law or common sense. Stallone isn’t the only one who looks past his sell-by date — director Walter Hill (48 Hrs., The Warriors) stages the shootouts without an ounce of vitality or creativity. This is one of Stallone’s dumbest thrillers ever, and that’s saying quite a bit. Also with Sarah Shahi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jason Momoa, Jon Seda, Holt McCallany, Brian Van Holt, Weronika Rosati, and Christian Slater.
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.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (R) Eesh. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton portray grown-up versions of the fairy tale children, who now travel across Europe exterminating witches. Norwegian director/co-writer Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) injects a few amusing touches such as Hansel being a diabetic, but the setup’s comic potential is overwhelmed by cheesy action sequences and penny-ante attempts at portraying the siblings as damaged adults. Renner is so woefully unsuited to the task he’s given here that it’s downright painful to watch him try to be funny. Also with Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann, Joanna Kulig, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, and Zoe Bell.
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.
Identity Thief (R) Just about everything in this comedy is spectacularly miscalculated. Jason Bateman plays a responsible, repressed milquetoast-y finance guy in Denver who travels to Florida to capture the con artist (Melissa McCarthy) who has stolen his identity. The list of this movie’s failures is long: the depiction of the con artist as an overweight, oversexed caricature; the subsequent attempt to turn her back into a real person; the movie’s left turn into an action flick when one of her victims turns out to be a crime lord who sends his thugs (Tip “T.I.” Harris and Genesis Rodriguez) after her. Bateman and McCarthy struggle valiantly to mine laughs from the material, but it’s all for little effect. Also with Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, Morris Chestnut, John Cho, Robert Patrick, Ben Falcone, and Eric Stonestreet.
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.
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.