Before Midnight (R) The movie that This Is 40 should have been. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunite for this sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset as the now-married lovers who run into marital trouble while vacationing in the Greek isles with their twin daughters. She wants to take a more substantive French government job, while his concern for his son from a previous marriage pulls him back toward America, and when the vitriol between them starts flying, man, you had better duck. There’s a whole lot of bitterness and unattractive behavior on display, and director Richard Linklater and his collaborators resolve it a bit too easily. Still, the writing is sharp and occasionally spellbindingly poetic, the stars’ chemistry continues unabated, and the movie offers up some great wisdom. I’ll be interested to see where these characters are in 2022. Also with Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Walter Lassally, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Panos Koronis, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Yiannis Papadopoulos, and Ariane Labed. (Opens Friday)
Frances Ha (R) Greta Gerwig stars in and co-writes this dramedy directed by Noah Baumbach as a modern dancer who tries to cope when her best friend and roommate (Mickey Sumner) announces that she’s moving in with her boyfriend. Also with Adam Driver, Michael Esper, Charlotte d’Amboise, and Grace Gummer. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
This Is the End (R) Uproarious. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride all portray themselves as self-absorbed weenies who hole up in Franco’s Hollywood mansion when the apocalypse as described in the Book of Revelation starts to happen. While trying to survive, the boys rag on one another’s career missteps and film a no-budget sequel to Pineapple Express, but they’re all strongly characterized enough that you’ll laugh a lot even if you don’t know who the stars are. Co-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg toggle nicely between the indoor hijinks and the effects-heavy depiction of the end of days. Also parodying themselves are Emma Watson as a crazed, ax-swinging survivalist and Michael Cera as a disgusting sexist cokehead who meets a satisfyingly hideous death. It’s a bracing return to form for Rogen and company. Also with Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna, Martin Starr, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, Channing Tatum, and an uncredited Jason Segel. (Opens Wednesday)
After Earth (PG-13) Slight but tolerable, this only stinks if you go in expecting a good movie. Will Smith and Jaden Smith star as a human warrior and his son who crash-land on a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s now covered in jungle and filled with predators. With the father immobilized, the son has to negotiate hostile terrain to bring back their spaceship’s homing beacon. The movie has terrible dialogue, but it moves along with a video game’s single-minded pace, as the boy fights off dangerously evolved creatures against gorgeous backdrops. If director M. Night Shyamalan wants to take up B movies, this is a way to do it. Also with Sophie Okonedo, David Denman, Glenn Morshower, and Zoë Kravitz. — Steve Steward
Epic (PG) This animated movie’s renderings of forest greenery are simply glorious. Too bad it trips over pesky minor elements like story and character. Adapted from William Joyce’s The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, this movie is about a teenage girl (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) who’s magically shrunken down to a couple of inches tall and introduced to a world of tiny people and talking animals protecting the forest. The movie is overloaded with expositional dialogue and characters who are poorly introduced. You can’t even figure out why the bad guys are trying to reduce the forest to rot. A witless script wastes an enviable voice cast, and any sense of wonder here is broken every time somebody starts to speak. Additional voices by Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Jason Sudeikis, Pitbull, Steven Tyler, and Beyoncé Knowles.
Fast & Furious 6 (PG-13) The latest and most enjoyable in the series has Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, and the rest of the gang convening in London to stop a British baddie (Luke Evans) who has the resurrected-from-the-dead Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in his clutches and working for him. Director Justin Lin gives up the pretense that any of this is to be taken seriously and orchestrates two impressive large-scale action sequences: the climax on a military airbase and a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Rodriguez and Gina Carano that’s intercut with a slapstickier fight between Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, and Joe Taslim. The comedy is still cringe-inducing and the dialogue is still bad enough to kill plants and small animals, yet there’s still some gas left in the tank. Also with Jordana Brewster, Gal Gadot, Elsa Pataky, Clara Paget, Kim Kold, and Ludacris.
42 (PG-13) A museum piece, not a movie. This biography of Jackie Robinson focuses on the three years leading up to the baseball star’s tumultuous 1947 season, when he integrated his sport as a player for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Writer-director Brian Helgeland tries to create scope by taking us through dead-end subplots with poorly characterized supporting roles. This is forgivable; less so is Helgeland’s failure to give us a sense of how widespread racism was among fans, the press, and executives. The racial slurs that Robinson (Chadwick Boseman, doing what he can with a plaster saint of a role) encounters seem to come mostly from a few troublemakers. Had Helgeland been more willing to court controversy, this might have been the great American story that it promised to be. Also with Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Merriman, Lucas Black, Andre Holland, Alan Tudyk, Hamish Linklater, T.R. Knight, and John C. McGinley.
The Great Gatsby (PG-13) Ridiculous. And also pretty cool. Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) adapts F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel into a piece of spectacle that overloads your senses. Leonardo DiCaprio (looser and more romantic than he’s been since Titanic) portrays Gatsby, while Carey Mulligan pulls off the near-miraculous feat of making Daisy interesting. Their performances help make this version of Gatsby feel more alive than more realistic versions, as does Luhrmann’s gleefully anachronistic soundtrack and his scrupulously composed, frenetically edited scenes of revelry. The movie flattens out the novel’s themes and waters down its critique of capitalism, but Luhrmann manages to make this classic into very much his own opulent, tragic creation. Also with Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Clarke, Callan McAuliffe, and Amitabh Bachchan.
The Hangover Part III (R) This crew should have put down the bottle after the first hangover. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis reunite after their buddy (Justin Bartha) is kidnapped by a crime lord (John Goodman). The anarchic glee of the first movie (and the second, if you’re feeling generous) has now soured into going through the motions, and you don’t care about tying up the few loose ends from the earlier installments. Goodman can’t inject his line readings with any menace, and the Asian kingpin Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) has devolved into a huge hassle. Even the gap-filling photo reel over the end credits isn’t funny this time out. Good riddance to this series. Also with Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Epps, Sasha Barrese, Jamie Chung, Gillian Vigman, Sondra Currie, Melissa McCarthy, and Heather Graham. — Steve Steward