The Counselor (R) Cormac McCarthy’s debut as a screenwriter is this Ridley Scott-directed thriller about a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who gets involved in drug-trafficking. Also with Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Édgar Ramírez, Toby Kebbell, Goran Visnjic, Natalie Dormer, Rubén Blades, and Brad Pitt. (Opens Friday)
Bad Grandpa (R) Johnny Knoxville goes incognito as an 86-year-old man who travels the country with his 8-year-old grandson (Jackson Nicoll) getting into trouble, in this performance piece from the makers of Jackass. Also with Spike Jonze. (Opens Friday)
Birth of the Living Dead (NR) Rob Kuhns’ documentary about the making of George A. Romero’s 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Wicker Man (R) 40th anniversary re-release of Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult horror film about a Scottish policeman (Edward Woodward) who’s sent to investigate a girl’s disappearance on a pagan-worshipping island. Also with Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Russell Waters, and Britt Ekland. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Baggage Claim (PG-13) Rampagingly mediocre comedy about a flight attendant (Paula Patton, too well-mannered for this doormat of a role) who becomes desperate to show up at her sister’s wedding with a man and enlists her fellow airline employees to help track down her exes over the holiday season. The funniest business comes from Adam Brody and R&B singer Jill Scott as the heroine’s best friends and fellow flight attendants, but a talented cast is wasted in cliché parts. David E. Talbert (adapting this movie from his own novel) also has no idea how to pace this thing or set up a gag. An airplane is probably the best place to watch this. Also with Derek Luke, Jenifer Lewis, Boris Kodjoe, Trey Songz, Taye Diggs, Lauren London, Affion Crockett, La La Anthony, Tia Mowry, and Djimon Hounsou.
Beyond the Farthest Star (PG-13) Todd Terry stars as a once-famous preacher who must choose between his family or a second chance at fame. Also with Renée O’Connor, Cherami Leigh, William McNamara, Andrew Sensenig, and Barry Corbin.
Captain Phillips (PG-13) Tom Hanks’ shining performance as the captain of a real-life cargo ship that’s hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009 is the best thing about this thriller. Director Paul Greengrass is an expert at turning real-life incidents into taut, socially conscious thrillers (Bloody Sunday, United 93), but his documentary-style techniques have become repetitive and impersonal. The film scrupulously observes the pirates at work as closely as it does the captain and his crew, which is laudable but not as enlightening as you’d hope. Hanks blends in seamlessly with the deglamorized setting, never indulging in actorly flourishes even as the standoff’s end leaves him an incoherent wreck. His willingness to recede into this character’s ordinariness shows another dimension to this actor’s greatness. Also with Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat Ali, Michael Chernus, David Warshofsky, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vazquez, and Catherine Keener.
Chinese Zodiac (PG-13) Jackie Chan stars in and directs this thriller as an archeologist searching for 12 bronze heads of Chinese zodiac animals looted from Beijing in the 19th century. Also with Shu Qi, Laura Weissbecker, Wang Qingxiang, Ken Lo, and Oliver Platt.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (PG) Much like the 2009 original, this animated sequel is imaginative and clever in terms of visuals and utterly forgettable in terms of story. Bill Hader returns as the wacky inventor who goes to work for a fascist Steve Jobs-type tech mogul (voiced by Will Forte) and has to prevent his old food invention from overrunning the world. The movie has funny gags in the background of the frame and a whole bestiary’s worth of animals made out of food that will enthrall the small kids. The bigger kids will notice that the human characters are boring and the attempts at satire off the mark. It’s all yummy, empty calories. Additional voices by Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Kristen Schaal, and Neil Patrick Harris.
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.
Enough Said (PG-13) This is a rare movie about middle-aged romance from a woman’s point of view, but even if you’re not interested in this subject, Nicole Holofcener’s comedy is still good enough to deserve to be seen. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a professional masseuse who discovers that her new boyfriend (James Gandolfini) used to be married to a former client (Catherine Keener). The plot mechanics are uncharacteristically clunky from the director of Please Give and Lovely & Amazing, but Holofcener’s dialogue and psychological insights are customarily sharp, and Louis-Dreyfus and the late Gandolfini make a thoroughly charming couple. Also with Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Tracey Fairaway, Tavi Gevinson, Eve Hewson, Amy Landecker, and Anjelah Johnson-Reyes.
Escape Plan (R) Not too bad, but Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger really should have done this 20 years ago. Stallone plays a prison security consultant who’s imprisoned in a secret facility by a sadistic warden (Jim Caviezel, signifying evil by brushing lint off his clothes) and seeks the help of a fellow inmate (Schwarzenegger) to escape. The only really memorable detail here is the prison guards wearing creepy black eyeless plastic masks. Director Mikael Håfström (1408) keeps things moving, and the action becomes unbelievable only during the big shootout at the end. Also with Faran Tahir, Sam Neill, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, 50 Cent, and Amy Ryan.
The Face Reader (NR) One of the world’s greatest actors, Song Kang-ho, gives another terrific performance as a 15th-century traitor’s son whose ability to tell a man’s character by looking at his face embroils him in a power struggle for the throne of what would become Korea. The burly Song easily accommodates the character’s bawdy sense of humor, his wily negotiation of the treacherous court politics, and his desperation to save his only son (Lee Jeong-seok). The movie’s dramatics grow too heavy only in the last half hour or so of this 138-minute epic. Still, this handsomely decked out period piece is well worth seeing just for its lead performance. Also with Lee Jeong-jae, Baek Yoon-sik, Jo Jeong-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Ko Chang-seok, and Kim Kang-hyeon.
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.