Blue Jasmine (R) One of the greatest performances of Cate Blanchett’s career enlivens Woody Allen’s weak rewriting of A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanchett plays a Wall Street trophy wife who moves in with her sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco after losing all her money in the wake of her husband’s imprisonment and suicide. The working-class characters here don’t ring true (a function of Allen being a celebrity for 40 years), and Louis C.K. is wasted in a straightforward role. However, this pales next to the furious energy brought by Blanchett, who dominates every scene by popping pills, drinking too much, and ignoring the sources of her problems. She draws a compelling portrait of a woman driven insane by her belief that she was destined for a better life. Also with Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alden Ehrenreich, and Andrew Dice Clay. (Opens Friday)
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (NR) David Lowery’s drama stars Casey Affleck as a 1970s Texas bank robber who escapes from prison to reunite with his wife (Rooney Mara) and see his daughter for the first time. Also with Ben Foster, Nate Parker, Charles Baker, Rami Malek, Jacklynn Smith, Kennadie Smith, and Keith Carradine. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (NR) Erik Sharkey’s documentary profile of movie poster artist Drew Struzan. Also with Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Guillermo Del Toro, Michael J. Fox, Frank Darabont, Leonard Maltin, Steve Guttenberg, and George Lucas. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Hannah Arendt (NR) Margarethe von Trotta (Rosenstrasse) directs this biopic that stars Barbara Sukowa as the philosopher and political theorist. Also with Axel Milberg, Julia Jentsch, Ulrich Noethen, Michael Degen, Klaus Pohl, Victoria Trauttmansdorff, Nicholas Woodesen, and Janet McTeer. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
In a World … (R) Lake Bell writes, directs, and stars in her own comedy as a voice coach who tries to break into the male-dominated world of voiceover announcers. Also with Rob Corddry, Fred Melamed, Nick Offerman, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Alexandra Holden, Ken Marino, Tig Notaro, Michaela Watkins, Eva Longoria, and Geena Davis. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (PG-13) It falls apart at the end, but this is a mostly adept if uninspiring adaptation of the first novel in Cassandra Clare’s best-selling fantasy-adventure series. Lily Collins stars as a 16-year-old Brooklynite who discovers that she can see demons and the people who hunt them because she herself is descended from the latter. Director Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid) and screenwriter Jessica Paquette fix the novel’s more unfortunate story developments and do a much better job of incorporating humor, aided greatly by the dry wit of pale-skinned Jamie Campbell Bower as the lead demon hunter. The narrative zips along until the clotted ending, where the filmmakers try to soft-pedal the stomach punch of a climactic revelation. Still, the lovely and lively Collins makes this watchable and gives the series hope for longevity. Also with Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Jemima West, Jared Harris, Aidan Turner, Kevin Durand, Godfrey Gao, CCH Pounder, Lena Headey, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. (Opens Friday)
Savannah (PG-13) Annette Haywood-Carter’s adaptation of John Eugene Cay Jr.’s novel Ward Allen: Savannah Market River Hunter stars Jim Caviezel as a man who goes rafting down the Mississippi River in the early 20th century with a freed slave (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Also with Jaimie Alexander, Sam Shepard, Bradley Whitford, Jack McBrayer, Tracey Walter, and Hal Holbrook. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Terror Live (NR) Kim Byung-woo’s thriller stars Ha Jung-woo as a disgraced former Korean TV news anchor who cuts a deal with a terrorist bomber to get a career-redeeming exclusive. Also with Lee Geung-yeong, Jeon Hye-jin, Lee David, Choi Jin-ho, and Kim So-jin. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Conjuring (PG-13) James Wan’s latest horror flick isn’t perfect, but it’ll turn your hair white. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star as a pair of real-life paranormal investigators who investigate a fictional New England haunted house. There’s nothing new here, and the movie gets less compelling as Wan starts to reveal its secrets. Yet he does know how to ratchet up tension, his long shots give the movie a dreamy quality, and there’s a hair-raising sequence with the family’s daughter (Joey King) peering under her bed. For sheer spooky value, this is tough to beat. Also with Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, and Mackenzie Foy. — Steve Steward
Despicable Me 2 (PG) Like the original, this animated movie’s most creative touches can be found at its margins. The former supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is sent undercover into the local shopping mall to foil the latest plot to take over the world. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud have gotten very good at inventing and crafting gags, especially regarding Gru’s army of yellow minions, but they throw too many subplots into what should be a neat spy thriller for kids. If only these visually talented filmmakers could find a good story, they’d really be onto something. Additional voices by Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Steve Coogan, Moises Arias, Nasim Pedrad, Kristen Schaal, Ken Jeong, and Russell Brand.
Elysium (R) Neill Blomkamp’s first Hollywood effort loses the weirdness and the African point of view that made District 9 such a hit, giving this science-fiction movie a disconcerting resemblance to last year’s Total Recall remake. Matt Damon stars as a mid-22nd-century factory worker who’s poisoned in an accident and must break into a space station reserved exclusively for the wealthy to save his life. Despite his ambitions, Blomkamp doesn’t comment meaningfully on income inequality, mishandles the story’s time element, fails to generate any emotional gravity here. He does come up with some inventive visual touches, but overall he seems tentative working with this kind of budget and talent. Hope this is just a case of first-time jitters. Also with Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, Wagner Moura, Faran Tahir, and Diego Luna.
Fruitvale Station (R) A finely wrought piece of work that slowly gathers momentum until it achieves shattering force. Michael B. Jordan stars in this drama that reconstructs the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III, who was shot to death by police in 2009 while handcuffed and lying face-down on a train platform. First-time feature filmmaker Ryan Coogler takes a calm and measured tone, focusing on the mundane details of Oscar’s life and filming his story with a no-frills approach. Jordan gives a star-making performance as a man who’s weary of living like a thug and trying to make a better life for his family. He and Coogler make Oscar’s ordinariness deeply moving, and the film powerfully brings home the terrible waste of a young man’s life. Also with Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Kevin Durand, Ahna O’Reilly, Ariana Neal, and Chad Michael Murray.
Grown Ups 2 (PG-13) Slightly better organized than the original, but then that’s like saying that tornado wreckage is better organized than hurricane wreckage. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, and David Spade return for this sequel — was Rob Schneider busy? — to trade more lame jokes about getting older, having kids, and keeping their marriages spicy. A whole lot of talented performers get dragged into this, but everyone involved is still half-assing it. Also with Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Nick Swardson, Steve Buscemi, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Jon Lovitz, Shaquille O’Neal, Oliver Hudson, Allen Covert, Steve Austin, Milo Ventimiglia, Cheri Oteri, Ellen Cleghorne, Melanie Hutsell, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Shaffer, Taran Killam, Paul Brittain, and uncredited cameos by Will Forte and Taylor Lautner.
The Heat (R) The chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy sustains this action-comedy through its many wobbly bits. They play an uptight FBI agent and a foul-mouthed Boston cop, respectively, who have to team up to take down a drug lord. Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) has a lot of trouble switching between the comedy set pieces and the detective plot (which makes no sense anyway), but McCarthy’s toughness and brassy shtick has a salutary effect on Bullock, who responds in kind with a spunk we haven’t seen from her in a while. Get these two a sequel or at least a better vehicle. Also with Demián Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Dan Bakkedahl, Tom Wilson, Taran Killam, Michael McDonald, Kaitlin Olson, Tony Hale, Joey McIntyre, Spoken Reasons, Nate Corddry, and Jane Curtin.
Jobs (PG-13) Like being trapped in a room and yelled at by a brilliant, short-tempered, egomaniacal control freak. Ashton Kutcher stars in this biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. The comic chemistry between Kutcher and Josh Gad (as co-founder Steve Wozniak) carries things for a while, but the movie’s so bent on canonizing Jobs’ entrepreneurial spirit that basic storytelling elements are crowded out. Instead, director Joshua Michael Stern and writer Mark Whiteley subject us to the same scene over and over of Steve exhorting his employees to be awesome and summarily firing anyone who can’t. This movie wants to be a tribute to a great innovator, but it fails to think different. Also with Dermot Mulroney, Lukas Haas, Matthew Modine, J.K. Simmons, Ron Eldard, Ahna O’Reilly, Victor Rasuk, John Getz, Kevin Dunn, Masi Oka, Lesley Ann Warren, and James Woods.
Kick-Ass 2 (R) As much as this sequel to the 2010 film has going for it, it should be more fun than it is. Kick-Ass and Hit Girl (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz) must don their superhero capes again when their old nemesis (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tries to avenge his dad. The sequel delivers clarity on some issues raised by the original, the action sequences are well-executed by new director Jeff Wadlow (Cry_Wolf), and the lead performances are strong. Yet the multiple storylines never coalesce, and the original’s gleeful anarchic wit is gone, despite Jim Carrey coming on board as a combat fatigues-wearing, born-again Christian who creates a league of costumed superheroes. This movie may be too grown-up for its own good. Also with Clark Duke, Morris Chestnut, Donald Faison, Lindy Booth, Augustus Prew, Garrett M. Brown, Claudia Lee, Matt Steinberg, Steven Mackintosh, Monica Dolan, Lyndsy Fonseca, Yancy Butler, Iain Glen, and John Leguizamo.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (PG-13) Ragged and uneven, this historical epic still has enough to recommend it. Based loosely on the story of a real-life White House butler, this movie stars Forest Whitaker as a cotton farmer’s son who attends on seven consecutive U.S. presidents during turbulent racial times. Daniels’ talent is volatile as usual; he makes weird casting choices with the presidents, holds the viewer’s hand too much, and indulges into soapiness and melodrama concerning the butler’s family life. Yet the supporting characters (especially the main character’s fellow domestic workers) are funny and fully realized, and we see both why the butler refuses to make waves and why his son (David Oyelowo) regards him as a sellout. The complicated accommodation that the butler and his son eventually come to gives the movie its emotional heft. Also with Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Minka Kelly, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, Elijah Kelley, Yaya Alafia, Nelsan Ellis, Colman Domingo, Alex Pettyfer, and Vanessa Redgrave.
The Lone Ranger (PG-13) The summer’s most fascinating bad movie revives the characters as an unbalanced Comanche warrior (Johnny Depp) and a lawyer-turned-masked lawman (Armie Hammer) who team up to bring down an outlaw (William Fichtner) in post-Civil War Texas. The movie wants to be a rip-snorting Western adventure yarn while also acknowledging the genocide of Native Americans upon which our nation’s prosperity was founded. Unfortunately, director Gore Verbinski isn’t nearly up to the task. He gets the tone all wrong, with the serious material jarring with the director’s penchant for silly gags and acid-trippy interludes. Despite some Buster Keaton-like hijinks in the finale, the movie spills its ideas willy-nilly. Also with Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Saginaw Grant, Stephen Root, and Barry Pepper.
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.
Monsters University (PG) The best Pixar movie since Toy Story 3 and one of the better movies about college ever made. Billy Crystal and John Goodman reunite for this prequel that follows Mike and Sulley through their freshman year at college, as they take an instant dislike to each other, run afoul of a hardass dean (voiced by Helen Mirren), and have to win a school-wide scaring challenge to get back in their major program. The comedy is gratifyingly back on point here, especially when Mike and Sulley are forced to join a rinky-dink frat full of outcasts. However, the story also takes some surprising twists that give further layers to these familiar characters. It’s so good to have the Pixar of old back. Additional voices by Steve Buscemi, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Tyler Labine, Aubrey Plaza, Bobby Moynihan, Julia Sweeney, Bonnie Hunt, John Krasinski, Bill Hader, Beth Behrs, and John Ratzenberger.
Paranoia (PG-13) This corporate thriller wants to be a cross between Michael Clayton and The Social Network, but it winds up as a cross between Ambien and Lunesta. Liam Hemsworth plays a financially struggling computer programmer who gets blackmailed by his tech-mogul employer (a cockney-accented Gary Oldman) into spying on a more successful rival mogul (a shaven-headed Harrison Ford). Hemsworth is too puppyish to portray a striver who puts his ethics aside to chase riches and recognition. Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) fails to generate any tension from the moguls’ using their technology to spy on everyone, and directs this thing so sluggishly that you wonder whether he’s aware that this is supposed to be a thriller. Also with Amber Heard, Julian McMahon, Lucas Till, Josh Holloway, Embeth Davidtz, and Richard Dreyfuss.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (PG) With this sequel to the 2010 movie, the series (based on Rick Riordan’s novels) makes a run at the title of lamest fantasy-adventure movie franchise currently running. Logan Lerman returns as the son of Poseidon who must save the mythical creatures by finding the Golden Fleece. Thor Freudenthal (the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies) takes over the direction from Chris Columbus, and he proves to have just as little flair for the supernatural. You’ll feel especially sorry for all the actors playing centaurs and fauns, though seriously, everyone on screen here deserves a measure of pity. Also with Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith, Leven Rambin, Brandon T. Jackson, Jake Abel, Anthony Head, Stanley Tucci, and Nathan Fillion.
Planes (PG) For Pixar lite, this isn’t half bad. Spinning off from Pixar’s Cars series, this Disney film is about a crop-dusting plane (voiced by Dane Cook) with a fear of heights who nevertheless dreams of competing in a race around the world against celebrity racers. Cook is a weak vocal presence in the lead role, and the animation doesn’t have the layering and detail that Pixar movies have. Still, the movie is free of pretension and doesn’t drag, and there’s a funny bit with a Mexican competitor (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui) singing a slow, mariachi version of “Love Machine.” Additional voices by Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Priyanka Chopra, John Cleese, Roger Craig Smith, Cedric the Entertainer, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, Sinbad, and John Ratzenberger.
Red 2 (PG-13) Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and most of the rest of the gang reunite for this much sillier and more scattered sequel to the 2011 hit. The spy plot emerges as completely incomprehensible, but Parker is a more active participant in the action, which almost makes up for her character turning into a jealous bitch queen in the presence of her boyfriend’s ex (an orange-looking Catherine Zeta-Jones). Elsewhere, we get Lee Byung-hun as a Korean hit man fighting off a roomful of Russian cops while handcuffed to a refrigerator and a brief scene between Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins that’ll be catnip for Hannibal Lecter fans. Yet these and the movie’s other best stretches are just isolated bits in search of a story. Also with John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, and an uncredited Titus Welliver.
R.I.P.D. (PG-13) If it walks like a Men in Black rip-off and quacks like a Men in Black rip-off, well …. Ryan Reynolds stars in this crappy-looking science-fiction comedy as a murdered Boston cop who winds up in purgatory serving in a supernatural police force protecting the living from the undead. The whole conceit is handled without a trace of wit or imagination, director Robert Schwentke (Red) seems to have given up halfway through, and Jeff Bridges (as a 19th-century Western sheriff who becomes the cop’s partner) seems to have cobbled his performance together from True Grit outtakes. Move along, there’s nothing to see here. Also with Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller, Mike O’Malley, and Kevin Bacon.
The Smurfs 2 (PG) The sequel to the crappy, inexplicably popular kids’ movie from 2011 offers more of the same. This one turns the blue creatures loose in Paris, where Gargamel (Hank Azaria) tries to woo Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) over to the dark side. The Paris Opera House looks good, but the hijinks, bad puns on the word “Smurf,” and worse special effects are intercut with so much weepy family melodrama among the Smurfs and the humans. Perry can’t act, and Neil Patrick Harris is turned into a bland new father with daddy issues. Using Harris in this way is the surest of many signs that these filmmakers don’t know what they’re doing. Also with Jayma Mays and Brendan Gleeson. Additional voices by Christina Ricci, Jonathan Winters, Anton Yelchin, George Lopez, John Oliver, Fred Armisen, Kenan Thompson, Paul Reubens, Shaquille O’Neal, Jeff Foxworthy, B.J. Novak, Jimmy Kimmel, and Alan Cumming.
Turbo (PG) The pieces of this animated comedy don’t fit together. Ryan Reynolds voices the character of a garden snail who dreams of becoming a race car driver and, through a series of random occurrences, develops the ability to move at 220 mph and gets a chance to compete in the Indy 500. Somewhere in the middle of that he gets looked after by a couple of taco stand-running brothers (Michael Peña and Luis Guzmán), and while they don’t belong in the movie, they’re still the most thoughtfully conceived characters here. Additional voices by Paul Giamatti, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph, Kurtwood Smith, Ben Schwartz, Snoop Dogg, and Samuel L. Jackson.
2 Guns (R) The comic chemistry between Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg saves this cynical, nihilistic thriller about a DEA agent and a naval intelligence officer who go undercover with a Mexican drug cartel and wind up ensnared in a twisty plot involving crooked law enforcement and a sadistic CIA officer (Bill Paxton with a bolo tie and a Texas accent). The real reason to see this movie is to see Washington’s laid-back quipster and Wahlberg’s stupid-smart motormouth playing off each other. These guys make a neat comedy team, and director Baltasar Kormákur is smart enough to get out of their way. Also with Paula Patton, James Marsden, Fred Ward, Robert John Burke, and Edward James Olmos.
The Way, Way Back (PG-13) This agreeable comedy is the directing debut of writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants), who also appear on screen. Liam James plays a 14-year-old boy who spends a hellish summer with his mom’s awful new boyfriend (Steve Carell) and gets away by hanging out at the water park with the slacker manager (Sam Rockwell). The eternally underappreciated Rockwell gives his role gentle resilience, while AnnaSophia Robb provides the movie with a welcome shot of acid that distracts us from the weak supporting characters and the protagonist coming off like a stick in the mud for too much of the movie. It’s flawed, but it’s charming and funny, rarer qualities at the multiplex than they should be. Also with Toni Collette, Amanda Peet, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Robert Capron, Zoe Levin, River Alexander, and Maya Rudolph.
We’re the Millers (R) The actors are better than the material in this agreeable B-level comedy. Jason Sudeikis plays a small-time drug dealer who recruits a stripper (Jennifer Aniston) and two teenagers (Will Poulter and Emma Roberts) to portray his wife and kids as he smuggles several thousand pounds of marijuana from Mexico. The farce is little more than by-the-numbers, but Sudeikis proves he can carry a movie, Aniston matches him in the ad-libs department, Poulter gets a glorious freestyle rap number, and Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn are killer as a vacationing married couple with a wild side. If only more substandard comedies could be redeemed like this. Also with Ed Helms, Matthew Willig, Tomer Sisley, Molly Quinn, Luis Guzmán, Ken Marino, and Thomas Lennon.
The Wolverine (PG-13) The superhero’s transformation into a mopey, emo, lovesick bore is complete in this latest installment of the saga. Hugh Jackman returns as the former soldier who’s summoned to Japan and offered a chance to lose his immortality. A raft of promising ideas buoys the early going here, with Wolverine getting ensnared in a dying tech mogul’s family dysfunction and taking part in a creatively staged fight on top of the Bullet Train. Still, a flavorless romance and confusion over how vulnerable the Wolverine has become conspire to stop the movie dead about an hour in, and it never regains its momentum. Bring back the old Wolverine! He was fun. Also with Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Ken Yamamura, Brian Tee, Will Yun Lee, Famke Janssen, and uncredited cameos by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.
World War Z (PG-13) Given this movie’s troubled production history, it’s somewhat miraculous that it comes out as well as it does. Brad Pitt stars in this extremely loose adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel as a U.N. investigator who has to fly all over the globe to figure out how to stop a worldwide zombie pandemic. Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) and the writers imagine the plague as a fast-acting bug that takes 12 seconds to turn people into a seething wave of ex-humanity that swarms like insects. The small-scale ending doesn’t jive with everything else, but it’s remarkable in its own way. Like its zombie threat, this movie is stupid, but it moves quickly. Also with Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena, Ludi Boeken, David Morse, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Moritz Bleibtreu, and Matthew Fox.
Blackfish (PG-13) Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary exposes inhumane practices by sea parks that keep killer whales.
A Hijacking (R) Tobias Lindholm directs this thriller about a Danish cargo ship that’s hijacked by Somali pirates. Starring Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Dar Salim, Roland Møller, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, Abdihakin Asgar, Amalie Ihle Ahlstrup, and Keith Pearson.
The Spectacular Now (R) James Ponsoldt (Smashed) directs this drama about a hard-partying high-school senior (Miles Teller) who has a life-changing romance with a studious girl in his class (Shailene Woodley). Also with Brie Larson, Masam Holden, Dayo Okeniyi, Bob Odenkirk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
20 Feet From Stardom (PG-13) Morgan Neville’s documentary profiles five women (Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer, and Tatá Vega) who have spent their careers as backup singers in the music industry. Also with Chris Botti, Sheryl Crow, Mick Jagger, Gloria Jones, Darlene Love, Bette Midler, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Stevie Wonder.