Don Jon (R) Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his writing and directing debut with this raunchy sex comedy. He stars as a Jersey bartender who admits to deriving more sexual satisfaction from porn than from actual women. As a filmmaker, Gordon-Levitt isn’t quite there yet; the jointures in his script are too easy to see, and some of the scenes (especially with Scarlett Johansson as his highly traditional new girlfriend) needed to be dialed back. Still, the movie is punchy, quick on its feet, and frequently funny, and Julianne Moore gives a great performance as an older woman who teaches Jon about the real meaning of sex. What could have been a rickety construct becomes the movie’s most compelling figure. Watch for a terrific running gag with Brie Larson as Jon’s sister, who is forever texting someone. Also with Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke, Meagan Good, Cuba Gooding Jr., Channing Tatum, and Anne Hathaway.
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.
Generation Iron (PG-13) Vlad Yudin’s entertaining documentary follows seven bodybuilders as they prepare to compete in the 2012 Mr. Olympia competition. The bodybuilders are a personable and somewhat bitchy group of guys, and the movie builds to an ultimate clash between challenger Kai Greene (a sensitive orphaned New Yorker who paints in his spare time) and champion Phil Heath (sharp, handsome, telegenic, and more than a bit of a dick, though he makes that work for him). Yudin doesn’t shy away from the sport’s less savory aspects, though he could have included more on the sport’s background and what motivates these men to increase the size of their muscles beyond all proportion. This is fascinating even if you have no interest in bodybuilding.
Insidious: Chapter 2 (PG-13) The second part of James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s 2011 haunted house/demon possession/astral traveling hit combines so-so scares and wooden acting into a set of diminishing returns, but there’s still a certain amount of fun to be had here. Patrick Wilson’s trip to the netherworld of the dead gives the sequel an entertaining fantasy element that strays from the story’s hair-raising ambitions and almost into family-friendly territory. Curiously, that element is what makes the flick worth watching, besides the fact that it picks up where its predecessor left off. If you liked the first one, you might as well find out what happens next. Also with Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Leigh Whannell, Lin Shaye, and Angus Sampson. –– Steve Steward
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.
Metallica: Through the Never (R) The heavy-metal rock legends sound as good as ever in Nimród Antal’s concert film. Playing most of their iconic hits and some newer material, the band is tight, with their power undiminished. The impressive stagecraft includes white crosses rising from the floor for “Master of Puppets” and a 40-foot statue of Lady Justice being assembled onstage and then crumbling during “… And Justice for All.” The music is interspersed with a story about a roadie (Dane DeHaan) surviving a street riot and battling the undead to pick up a mysterious package for the band. What it all means or what it’s doing here, I have no clue. This movie is best experienced in a theater where the sound is cranked up so that you can feel Lars Ulrich’s drumming in your ribcage.
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.
Prisoners (R) The pieces fit together just a little too neatly in this war-on-terror allegory that stars Hugh Jackman as a dad who reacts to the disappearance of his daughter and another girl by kidnapping and torturing the neighborhood’s creepy mentally retarded guy (Paul Dano), convinced that he knows where the girls are. Director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) is scrupulous about the ethical questions raised, and the cast is very good, including Jake Gyllenhaal as seemingly the only cop in this mid-sized Pennsylvania city. Yet there isn’t enough background on the Jackman character, and Villeneuve can’t quite disguise the whiff of exploitation about this project. Also with Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Soul, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons, David Dastmalchian, Wayne Duvall, and Len Cariou.
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.
Rush (R) Ron Howard’s blazing film dramatizes the real-life 1970s Formula One rivalry between the flamboyant, hard-living, thrill-seeking Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and the brusque, sour-faced, businesslike Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). The two actors do terrific work as enemies who gradually gain respect for each other, with Hemsworth showing the burning ambition behind Hunt’s playboy façade and Brühl making Lauda’s humorless arrogance into something entertaining. The movie features crackling dialogue by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and a uniquely thrilling scene at the Italian Grand Prix when fans swarm the track to hail Lauda’s courage in coming back from crippling injuries. This intelligent piece of adult fare just happens to be an exhilarating sports movie, too. Also with Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino, David Calder, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Alistair Petrie, and Natalie Dormer.
The Spy (NR) Like a Korean version of True Lies, but even less subtle. Seol Kyeong-gu stars in this comic thriller as a South Korean secret agent who must foil a plot to start a nuclear war on the peninsula. A significant stretch of the movie takes place in Thailand, with Chinese, American, Japanese, and North Korean agents all pursuing their own agendas and wreaking havoc. These give the movie a cosmopolitan feel, but it can’t make up for the agent being caught between an airheaded wife (Moon So-ri) who neither knows nor cares about his work and callous colleagues and bosses who don’t care about his marriage. You wind up not caring about any of the characters, especially since the movie’s attempts to balance spy intrigue with domestic farce come off like oil and water. Also with Daniel Henney, Ko Chang-seok, Han Ye-ri, Ra Mi-ran, Jeong In-gi, Dean Dawson, and Elijah Tapia.
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.
Alone Yet Not Alone (PG-13) Ray Bengston and George Escobar’s drama about two German sisters who survive hardships while settling in America during the French and Indian war. Starring Kelly Greyson, Natalie Racoosin, Clay Walker, Jenn Gotzon, Ozzie Torres, Tony Wade, Robert Pierce, and Joanie Stewart.
Inequality for All (PG) Jacob Kornbluth’s documentary follows former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he raises awareness of America’s growing economic gap.
On the Job (NR) Erik Matti directs this Filipino thriller based on real life about a group of prisoners who work as hit men for the rich and powerful while on a work-release program. Starring Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson, Joel Torre, Joey Marquez, Angel Aquino, Michael de Mesa, and William Martinez.
The Secret Lives of Dorks (PG-13) Gaelan Connell (Bandslam) stars in this comedy as a high-school comic-book geek who gets into a complicated romantic situation with a cheerleader (Riley Voelkel) and a football star (Beau Mirchoff). Also with Vanessa Marano, Seymour Cassel, William Katt, Kay Lenz, Mike Ditka, Jennifer Tilly, and Jim Belushi.