Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire (PG-13) Kris Koenig’s documentary examines the hidden agenda of the gun control movement. (Opens Thursday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Fill the Void (PG) Rama Burshtein’s drama stars Hadas Yaron as an 18-year-old girl in Tel Aviv whose sister’s sudden death forces her to choose between defying her family and doing her duty as an Orthodox Jew by marrying her widowed brother-in-law (Yiftach Klein). Also with Irit Sheleg, Chayim Sharir, Razia Israeli, Hila Feldman, and Renana Raz. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Much Ado About Nothing (PG-13) Joss Whedon (The Avengers) directs this low-budget, modern-dress, black-and-white adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy about two ex-lovers (Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker) who engage in a war of wits while falling back in love. Also with Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Tom Lenk, and Nathan Fillion. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Pandora’s Promise (NR) Robert Stone (Earth Days) directs this documentary arguing the case for nuclear power. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
World War Z (PG-13) Brad Pitt stars as a U.N. epidemiologist who must find a way to stop a worldwide zombie pandemic. Also with Mireille Enos, Daniela Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Moritz Bleibtreu, Lucy Russell, Konstantin Khabensky, and Matthew Fox. (Opens Friday)
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
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.
The East (R) As good a thriller as there is in theaters right now, this second collaboration by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice) stars Marling as a private intelligence firm operative who infiltrates a group of violent ecoterrorists. In many ways, this is an ordinary spy thriller, but the fact that the main character is a woman has ripple effects throughout the story, especially in her attraction to the group’s leader (Alexander Skarsgård) and her conflicted relationship with her boss (Patricia Clarkson). The smart, layered script gives Batmanglij the chance to execute some terrific set pieces, and the star is a compelling physical presence. Marling and Batmanglij both look destined for bigger things. Also with Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Jason Ritter, and Julia Ormond.
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.
Frances Ha (R) Finally, a Noah Baumbach movie with a likable main character! Greta Gerwig stars in and co-writes this black-and-white dramedy as a 27-year-old modern dancer in New York who goes into a tailspin after her career stalls and her best friend and roommate (Mickey Sumner, in an impressive screen debut) leaves to move in with her boyfriend. The episodic script and Baumbach’s flitting direction do great with the herky-jerky rhythms of Frances’ life as she scrounges for extra cash and new places to live, wallows in self-pity, takes an ill-advised weekend trip to Paris, randomly lashes out at people, and tries to do right by her friend while moving on with her life. This funny and heartwarming film is the best-ever showcase for Gerwig’s infectious joy. Also with Adam Driver, Michael Esper, Michael Zegen, Patrick Heusinger, Charlotte d’Amboise, and Grace Gummer.
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
The Internship (PG-13) Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson re-team eight years after Wedding Crashers, and like most comebacks, this one falls short of the glory days. They play ace salesmen who are fired from their jobs and take internships at Google with a chance to land a permanent job with the tech giant. The rapport between the lead actors remains smooth, but the material just isn’t there, with too many scenes devolving into so much babbling. The romance between Wilson and a poorly served Rose Byrne comes out soggy, and the older guys are portrayed as so out-of-touch that they don’t understand their younger fellow interns’ references to Harry Potter and the X-Men. It’s time for these comic actors to start looking outside their familiar circle for new collaborators. Also with Aasif Mandvi, Max Minghella, Josh Brener, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael, Jessica Szohr, Rob Riggle, Josh Gad, B.J. Novak, and an uncredited Will Ferrell.
Iron Man 3 (PG-13) An excellent finish to the series. Suffering crippling anxiety attacks, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) must deal with a terrorist bomber (Ben Kingsley) who leaves him without power for his suit. New director/co-writer Shane Black likes staging low-fi action sequences that force Tony to rely on his unaided wits and limbs. The banter between Tony and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) may be a bit worn, but robbing Tony of his armor re-establishes the character’s humanity in his love for his girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his best friend (Jon Favreau). We wouldn’t mind seeing this Tony every couple of summers. Also with Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Ty Simpkins, and an uncredited Mark Ruffalo. — Steve Steward
Man of Steel (PG-13) Zack Snyder doesn’t succeed in making Superman interesting, but he does succeed in making this familiar story feel rough, strange, and new. Henry Cavill plays the refugee from the planet Krypton who gradually discovers his superpowers while hiding them from the world. Snyder’s nonsequential storytelling invigorates this movie for the first hour or so, but he does a poor job of introducing the characters. The destruction visited on Metropolis is cohesively managed, but because he hasn’t set up what the city is like, the climax has no resonance. The movie opens some promising avenues for the future (and it’s way better than Superman Returns), but it still leaves lots of room for improvement. Also with Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Ayelet Zurer, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, and Laurence Fishburne.
Mud (R) Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) juxtaposes childhood against cold, hard reality in his second film. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland play 14-year-old boys who discover a mysterious drifter (Matthew McConaughey) living on an island in the Mississippi River. Nichols evokes a world filled with stunted men who refuse to adapt to change, couching this story as a drama whose slow pace suggests the river’s quiet, inexorable movement. The movie shines brightest when the characters finally come to grips with the hidden truths about themselves. Also with Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Joe Don Baker, and Sam Shepard. — Steve Steward
Now You See Me (PG-13) A much better movie about magicians than The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Of all directors, Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans) pulls off this neat little bit of sleight-of-hand starring Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, and Woody Harrelson as four stage magicians who execute a series of Robin Hood-like robberies of scummy rich people while being chased by a hapless FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo). Not everything here hangs together, but the actors are well-cast in their roles. Both they and the filmmaker seem to be having fun, and you may very well share in that sentiment. Also with Morgan Freeman, Mélanie Laurent, Michael Kelly, Common, and Michael Caine.
The Purge (R) This horror flick tries to get into social commentary. Big mistake. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey play parents in a dystopian near-future America who hunker down in their mansion to survive an annual 12-hour period when all crime is legal. Writer-director James DeMonaco tries to use the setup to satirize America’s class attitudes and love of gun violence. (Not surprisingly, poor people are the primary victims of the annual Purge.) Yet it’s way too ham-handed and crude in its treatment of these ideas. Nor is the movie effective in any way as a thriller. There is honor in being a cheap B picture but none in being a pretentious cheap B picture. Also with Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, and Arija Bareikis.
Star Trek Into Darkness (PG-13) It’s like The Wrath of Khan, except when it’s not. J.J. Abrams’ second adventure has Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) leading the crew of the Enterprise on a manhunt for a terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) with a mysterious history. The interplay between the crew members remains well oiled, and Cumberbatch kicks all kinds of ass as the bad guy. Abrams executes complicated action set pieces (like a scene with two spacesuited crew members shooting through space toward an enemy ship) with his customary flair, but even more impressive is how he manages to give longtime Trek fans what they want while still making his story new for a generation of newcomers. Despite some ragged plotting, this blockbuster is a worthy second episode in the series. Also with Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, and Leonard Nimoy.
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.
Stories We Tell (PG-13) Sarah Polley’s documentary about her family and the conflicting stories her mother told her about her parentage.