C.O.G. (R) Kyle Patrick Alvarez adapts David Sedaris’ short story about a young writer (Jonathan Groff) who has his romantic notions about life picked apart when he goes to work on an apple farm in Oregon. Also with Troian Bellisario, Dale Dickey, Corey Stoll, Casey Wilson, Denis O’Hare, and Dean Stockwell. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Battle of the Year (PG-13) Josh Holloway stars in this dance movie as a coach who assembles a team to win an international hip-hop dance competition. Also with Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, Caity Lotz, Ivan “Flipz” Velez, Jon “Do Knock” Cruz, Anis Cheurfa, and Chris Brown. (Opens Friday)
Generation Iron (PG-13) Vlad Yudin’s documentary follows seven bodybuilders competing in the Mr. Olympia competition. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Jewtopia (NR) Bryan Fogel’s adaptation of his own stage play stars Ivan Sergei as a gentile man who pretends to be Jewish so he can date the woman of his dreams (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Also with Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Joel David Moore, Peter Stormare, Wendie Malick, Christine Lakin, Bree Turner, Lin Shaye, Jon Lovitz, Rita Wilson, Camryn Manheim, Tom Arnold, and Nicollette Sheridan. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Salinger (PG-13) A companion piece to a simultaneously published biography, Shane Salerno’s documentary explores the private life of the reclusive author. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Trials of Muhammad Ali (NR) Bill Siegel’s documentary about the boxing champion’s battle to overturn his prison sentence for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Wizard of Oz (G) Commemorating the 75th anniversary of this film’s release, this 3D re-release of Victor Fleming’s musical fantasy stars Judy Garland as a girl from Kansas transported into a magical land. Also with Ray Bolger, Jack Haley Jr., Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, and Frank Morgan. (Opens Friday)
Austenland (PG-13) This satire goes in for all the obvious jokes and misses its chance to be better. Keri Russell plays a Pride & Prejudice-obsessed American who visits a Jane Austen theme park in Britain to find love. Working from a novel by Shannon Hale, director/co-writer Jerusha Hess fails to satirize the Jane Austen industrial complex or explain the appeal of the cult of Jane. Instead, she stages slapstick gags and inflates the characters to cartoonish dimensions. Russell’s way too levelheaded to play a woman who has wooden blocks in her bedroom that read “Darcy Rocks,” and the movie gives the airheaded heroine a happy ending because she buys into the whole fantasy of love in Regency England. The real Jane Austen would have torn this movie to pieces. Also with JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, Georgia King, James Callis, Ricky Whittle, and Jane Seymour.
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.
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.
The Family (R) Confusing. Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star in Luc Besson’s comic thriller as a Mafia boss and his wife who are relocated to the south of France along with their teenage children (Dianna Agron and John D’Leo) by the American federal witness protection program. Besson has been on this turf before (La Femme Nikita), but he can’t seem to decide whether this is an action thriller, a high-school drama, a fish-out-of-water comedy, or a movie about a murderous mob boss writing his memoirs out of boredom. As a result, none of these characters make any sense, and Besson rides the “rude French people” stereotype into the ground whenever he runs out of ideas. There was probably a viable movie in here somewhere. Also with Jimmy Palumbo, Domenick Lombardozzi, Stan Carp, Jon Freda, Vincent Pastore, Dominic Chianese, and Tommy Lee Jones.
Flu (NR) The rankest sentimentality and cheap patriotism turn a potentially good killer virus movie into something malignant. When a speeded-up version of bird flu is brought into South Korea by an illegal immigrant from Thailand, a rescue worker (Jang Hyuk) and an epidemiologist (Ae Soo) have to stop the pandemic before it spreads beyond the suburb of Bundang. Even though the plague affects 500,000 people, the same five or six characters keep cropping up, tied together by unbelievable coincidences and the search for the doctor’s unbearably cute daughter (Park Min-ha) who becomes infected and holds the key to the cure. This is like the Korean version of Olympus Has Fallen. We didn’t need that. Also with Yoo Hae-jin, Ma Dong-seok, Lee Hee-joon, Cha In-Pyo, and Andrew William Brand.
Getaway (PG-13) As soon as an impeccably made-up Selena Gomez popped up as a hoodie-wearing carjacker waving a gun in Ethan Hawke’s face, I said to myself, “Naaaah!” She’s not even the most implausible element in this abysmally bad thriller that stars Hawke as a former race car driver who’s forced to commit a series of crimes in Sofia, Bulgaria, after his wife is kidnapped. The movie is structured as one long car chase, allowing for some impressive stunt driving on display here. The driver repeatedly barrels through crowded public spaces without hitting a single pedestrian, and the plot is full of holes big enough to drive the hero’s armored car through. Get away from this movie. Also with Rebecca Budig and Jon Voight.
The Grandmaster (PG-13) Wong Kar-Wai’s kung fu movie is surprisingly similar to his romantic films like Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. Tony Leung stars as Ip Man, the real-life kung fu master who lived through turbulent times and wound up teaching Bruce Lee. The impetus for the plot comes not from Ip Man’s fights, but from his unrequited love for another master’s daughter (Zhang Ziyi). The movie turns Ip Man into a typical Wong romantic hero, stoically pining away for a love that can never be. If you’re expecting a slam-bang action thriller, you may be frustrated by Wong’s hazy longueurs, but everything is gorgeously photographed and the fights offer up some treats, most notably a deadly confrontation at a snowy train station that plays like a kung fu version of Doctor Zhivago. Also with Wang Qingxiang, Zhang Jin, Song Hye-kyo, Zhao Benshan, Cung Le, and Chang Chen.
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.
In a World … (R) I like the idea of this movie better than the movie itself. Lake Bell writes, directs, and stars in this comedy as a struggling L.A. vocal coach who tries to break into the male-dominated field of voiceover announcers for movie trailers and commercials, a field in which her big self-centered baby of a father (Fred Melamed) happens to be a legend. Some scenes and bits of business are very funny, and the movie usefully points out that sexism in Hollywood goes beyond what we see on the screen. Still, Bell is an indifferent presence as a lead actress, and the movie isn’t consistently funny. I’m still interested to see what Bell does next as a filmmaker. Also with Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, Michaela Watkins, Alexandra Holden, Tig Notaro, Jason O’Mara, Nick Offerman, Eva Longoria, Geena Davis, and an uncredited Cameron Diaz.
Insidious: Chapter 2 (PG-13) Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne return for this sequel to the 2010 horror hit as parents who find their family still haunted by spirits from another world. Also with Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, and Lin Shaye. (Opens Friday)
Instructions Not Included (PG-13) Eugenio Derbez is a terrific comic actor, but his work as the director and co-writer of this soppy Spanish-language comedy yields much less happy results. He stars as an Acapulco playboy who’s forced to settle down after his American hookup (Jessica Lindsey) literally abandons their baby on his doorstep. The movie comes up with some sly satire on the movie business after our hero gets a job as a Hollywood stuntman, but when the child’s mother re-enters the picture and tries to claim custody of the now-7-year-old girl (Loreto Peralta), the proceedings become intolerably weepy. Derbez gives a fine performance despite his own self-inflicted script; he needs to stay in front of the camera. Also with Daniel Raymont, Alessandra Rosaldo, Sammy Pérez, Agustín Bernal, and Hugo Stiglitz.
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 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.
One Direction: This Is Us (PG) Too bad director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) doesn’t just fill this documentary with enough of the British boy band’s songs to make his ears bleed. Instead, this is a teen-pop documentary that’s pretty much indistinguishable from all the others. Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson are depicted as a bunch of fun-loving lads who miss their mums when they’re on tour. There’s a funny interlude with a neuroscientist explaining why teenage girls go insane over the band, and some bits when the band members go undercover and mingle with their fans while wearing silly disguises. There are also neat little 3D effects during the concert footage, though they’re not enough to justify paying the 3D upcharge. No one mentions Taylor Swift here, if you’re wondering.
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.
Riddick (R) Not as good as Pitch Black but better than The Chronicles of Riddick. Vin Diesel and writer-director David Twohy return for this third adventure of the escaped convict who can see in the dark, who’s marooned on a hostile world and calls down a bunch of bounty hunters to get him off the planet. Diesel does reasonably well with the first third of the movie, which is almost wholly without dialogue. I do wish the filmmakers hadn’t given Riddick a cute dog (albeit a giant striped, alien, man-eating dog) as a sidekick, but the unpretentious action and Riddick’s dealings with the two competing teams of bounty hunters make this an agreeable way to kill a couple of hours. Also with Katee Sackhoff, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Gerard Funk, Keri Hilson, and Karl Urban.
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.
The Spectacular Now (R) Like many of the best teen movies, this one hurts real bad. Miles Teller plays a high-school senior and budding alcoholic who’s forced to ponder a course correction in his life after he falls for a scholastic achiever (Shailene Woodley). Director James Ponsoldt (Smashed) knows his drunks, but he’s even better at handling his actors. Thanks to Teller and Woodley, you believe that this mismatched pair of people would work as a couple, and any of Teller interacts terrifically with his other castmates. The scene where he locates his dad (Kyle Chandler) is a great, slow-rolling disaster. You could just watch these actors all day. Also with Brie Larson, Masam Holden, Dayo Okeniyi, Bob Odenkirk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
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.
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.
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 World’s End (R) The summer’s best comedy, addiction drama, action thriller, and movie about the apocalypse, all rolled into one. Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz) returns with this story about a middle-aged alcoholic (Simon Pegg) who guilt-trips his former pals (including a magnificent Nick Frost) into completing a never-finished pub crawl through their rural English hometown. When they discover that the townsfolk have been replaced by murderous lookalike alien robots, it sets up some truly epic, tightly choreographed bar fights performed largely by the actors. The movie reveals some breathtaking ideas as the lads face down the alien intelligence (voiced by Bill Nighy) responsible for the invasion, but you should go for the sparkling dialogue and beautifully set up gags. This is the crowning comic masterpiece in Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy.” Also with Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, David Bradley, Michael Smiley, Darren Boyd, Rafe Spall, Alice Lowe, Thomas Law, and an uncredited Pierce Brosnan.
Mademoiselle C (NR) Fabien Constant’s documentary follows former French Vogue editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld as she prepares to move to New York and launch her own fashion magazine. Also with Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, and Donatella Versace.
Museum Hours (NR) Jem Cohen’s film stars Bobby Sommer as an Austrian art museum security guard who befriends a mysterious Canadian visitor (Mary Margaret O’Hara).
The Patience Stone (R) Atiq Rahimi adapts his own novel about a Middle Eastern woman (Golshifteh Farahani) who reveals her deepest secrets to her husband, a paralyzed former jihadi (Hamidreza Javdan). Also with Hassina Burgan.
Populaire (R) Romain Duris stars in this French comedy as a boss in 1958 who resolves to turn his new secretary (Déborah François) into the world’s fastest typist. Also with Bérénice Bejo, Shaun Benson, Mélanie Bernier, Nicolas Bedos, and Miou-Miou.
Short Term 12 (R) Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now, 21 Jump Street) stars in this drama as a counselor at a foster care facility who’s forced to confront her own issues while handling one child’s case. Also with John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek, Diana Maria Riva, and Melora Walters.