The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete (R) The director of Soul Food and Men of Honor, George Tillman Jr. goes all in for indie realism to very good effect in this absorbing drama about a 14-year-old Brooklyn boy named Mister (Skylan Brooks) who’s forced to fend for himself and care for a smaller boy (Ethan Dizon) after the arrest of his heroin-addicted prostitute mother (Jennifer Hudson, doing surprisingly well cast against type). Tillman expertly manages the stop-and-start rhythms of the piece, gets nice performances out of his young lead actors, and drafts a high-powered supporting cast to portray the denizens of the housing project where most of the film takes place. The balance between the boys’ hard struggle for survival with their still-forming sense of the world makes this a laudable and resilient piece of work. Also with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Julito McCullum, Kenneth Maharaj, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Mackie, and Jordin Sparks. (Opens Friday)
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.
Machete Kills (R) This sequel has a few huge laughs, but for the most part, the Latin-inflected black humor that drove the Robert Rodriguez’ 2010 original is missing here. Danny Trejo reprises his role as the indestructible Mexican badass who is assigned by the president of the United States (Carlos Estevez, a.k.a. Charlie Sheen) to go south of the border to stop a mad scientist (Mel Gibson) from launching a weapon into space. Alas, the satire of the original has been replaced by sillier jokes, over-the-top action (not one but two deaths by helicopter rotor) and stunt casting that barely raises a laugh (like the master-of-disguise assassin who’s played variously by Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas). Until Rodriguez can reapply his wit to American culture’s relationship to Latinos, Machete should lay down his machete. Also with Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Alexa Vega, Vanessa Hudgens, William Sadler, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, Demián Bichir, and an uncredited Jessica Alba.
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.
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.
Pulling Strings (PG) A simple but touching comedy about a Mexican mariachi (Jaime Camil) who falls in love with a workaholic American diplomat (Laura Ramsey). After she rejects his visa application, he finds her lost laptop containing sensitive diplomatic info and uses the promise of finding the “lost” computer as a way to get his visa approved. After several days searching Mexico City, (big surprise) love ensues as well as some memorable music performances by Camil and his band. Despite the use of mariachi singers and flamboyant depictions of Hispanics, this film manages to capture subtle cultural nuances of life in Mexico using humor and relatable family depictions. Brush up on your Spanglish before going — half the film is in español. Also with Omar Chaparro, Tom Arnold, Roberto Sosa, Aurora Papile, Renata Ybarra, and Stockard Channing. –– Edward Brown
Romeo and Juliet (PG-13) You need tons of courage and/or gall to add your own scenes to Shakespeare, which is what screenwriter Julian Fellowes (TV’s Downton Abbey) has done in this adaptation of the classic. Unfortunately, his scenes are distracting even when they’re well-written, which isn’t always the case. In any event, the lack of chemistry between Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) in the title roles is enough to doom Carlo Carlei’s visually opulent but lifeless film. Neither the romance nor the swordfights engage one’s interest, and the only creditable performance comes from Paul Giamatti as a hard-headed Friar Laurence. See the Baz Luhrmann or even the Franco Zeffirelli version of R&J before you see this one. Also with Ed Westwick, Christian Cooke, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Damian Lewis, Natascha McElhone, Tomas Arana, Laura Morante, Lesley Manville, and Stellan Skarsgård.
Runner Runner (R) Justin Timberlake’s slick, unmemorable performance headlines this slick, unmemorable thriller about a Princeton math grad student who takes a job with a shady online poker mogul (Ben Affleck) in Costa Rica. Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders) know their stuff when it comes to gambling, but the story is boilerplate and Affleck seems to be the only actor having any fun. Timberlake flashes his charisma in a scene at a casino table when he goads an obnoxious dice shooter into crapping out, but that’s only once and only for a few minutes. Mostly, this movie’s a bore. Also with Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Oliver Cooper, Michael Esper, Christian George, Yul Vazquez, Sam Palladio, Bob Gunton, and John Heard.
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.
Tough As Iron (NR) Don’t believe the title. This is yet another Korean drama that’s all snarly attitude on the outside and gooey soft on the inside, except that this one’s worse than most. Yoo Ah-in stars as a Busan street fighter who’s trying to go straight when he gets sucked into working for the local mobster to pay the medical bills for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother (Kim Hae-seok). Director Ahn Kwon-taek drowns the domestic drama in weepy theatrics that completely overwhelm the part of the movie that’s supposed to be about the hero clearing his debt with the bad guys. All the tearjerking becomes unbearable. Also with Lee Si-yeon, Jeong Yu-mi, Kim Jeong-tae, Kim Seong-oh, Bae Seul-ki, and Kim Seo-kyeong.
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.
A.C.O.D. (R) Adam Scott stars in this comedy as a man who’s forced to deal with the fallout from his parents’ acrimonious divorce at the wedding of his younger brother (Clark Duke). Also with Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sarah Burns, Jane Lynch, and Jessica Alba.
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.
Parkland (PG-13) Peter Landesman writes and directs this drama set at Dallas’ Parkland Memorial Hospital in the immediate aftermath of president John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Starring Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, James Badge Dale, Tom Welling, Colin Hanks, Jackie Earle Haley, Ron Livingston, Rory Cochrane, Bitsie Tulloch, Gil Bellows, David Harbour, and Jacki Weaver.
Sweetwater (R) January Jones stars in Logan Miller’s thriller as a former prostitute who seeks vengeance on the religious cult that murdered her husband in 19th-century New Mexico. Also with Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Root, Noah Miller, Jason Aldean, and Amy Madigan.
Wadjda (PG) A Saudi film! Directed by a woman! Haifaa al-Mansour’s drama is about a 10-year-old girl (Waad Mohamed) who resolves to win her school’s Quran-reciting contest so she can buy a new bicycle. Also with Reem Abdullah, Abdulrahman al-Gohani, Sultan al-Assaf, Dana Abdullah, Rehab Ahmed, Rafa al-Sanea, and Sara al-Jaber.