Dallas Buyers Club (R) Matthew McConaughey stars in Jean-Marc Vallée’s biography of Ronald Woodroof, an electrician who starts an extralegal drug market for AIDS patients after being diagnosed with the disease in 1985. Also with Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts, Michael O’Neill, and Griffin Dunne. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
About Time (R) Richard Curtis used to be funny before he started telling us the meaning of life. Domhnall Gleeson (gawky and charming in his first lead role) stars in this science-fiction comedy as a young man who discovers that the men in his family can travel through time within the confines of their lives. Curtis (Love Actually) gets some good mileage out of the premise when the hero uses his gift to get himself out of awkward social situations. But then he falls in love with an American girl (Rachel McAdams) — it’s always an American girl in Curtis’ films — and the movie turns to mush. The movie winds up telling us to live each day as if it’s our last. Seriously, that’s the big insight. This premise was put to much better use in Groundhog Day. Also with Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Richard Cordery, Joshua McGuire, Margot Robbie, and Tom Hollander. (Opens Friday)
Great Expectations (PG-13) Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) directs this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel, starring Jeremy Irvine as an orphan boy who becomes a gentleman in 19th-century London. Also with Holliday Grainger, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Sally Hawkins, Ewen Bremner, Jason Flemyng, David Walliams, and Ralph Fiennes. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Thor: The Dark World (PG-13) Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as the Norse god-turned-superhero, who must save both the Earth and his home realm of Asgard from destruction. Also with Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, Alice Krige, Chris O’Dowd, and uncredited cameos by Benicio del Toro and Chris Evans. (Opens Friday)
Bad Grandpa (R) Total waste of time if you have an hour and a half to waste. A womanizing 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) finds himself playing the role of “daddy” after his crack-loving daughter (Georgina Cates) unexpectedly unloads his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) on him. Desperate to return to his single glory days (his wife mercifully passes away in the opening scene), Grandpa decides to return the boy to his estranged, pot-smoking dad. An awkward road trip ensues as he shamelessly attempts to sleep with any female he comes in contact with, often employing the unwitting kid in his ploys. The two somehow bond over the course of the movie despite any substantive interaction. Bad Grandpa expands a popular MTV Jackass character into a feature length film. The only problem is that it doesn’t expand anything else in the process. Beware: humorous moments occur about as frequently as gas stations on Route 66. Also with Spike Jonze. — Edward Brown
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.
Carrie (R) The second big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is highly flawed, but if you take it on its own merits (no easy feat), you’ll find it a much more thoughtful horror flick than most. Chloë Grace Moretz (good, but lacking Sissy Spacek’s freaked-out intensity) plays the bullied high-school girl who discovers she can move things with her mind. Director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) has no flair for the supernatural, but she does well in casting this thing: Julianne Moore is the scariest thing here as Carrie’s crazy religious mother, especially when she turns her mania on herself. The female perspective and layered characters make this an interesting patch on the 1976 film. Also with Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Ansel Elgort, Alex Russell, Zoë Belkin, Barry Shabaka Henley, and Judy Greer.
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.
The Counselor (R) “The truth has no temperature.” Cormac McCarthy makes his screenwriting debut with this thriller, and it’s like he set out to parody his own worst writing. Michael Fassbender plays an El Paso lawyer who turns to high-level drug trafficking as a way out of financial difficulties. Director Ridley Scott drenches everything in sex, drugs, and blood to distract us from the script’s lack of meaningful insight into the U.S.-Mexico drug trade. McCarthy’s self-indulgent dialogue drowns all the actors except for Javier Bardem as a flamboyant, spiky-haired drug kingpin and Brad Pitt as a sleazy, cautious middleman. Very little actually happens in this movie. The atmospherics aren’t worth your time. Also with Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Édgar Ramírez, Toby Kebbell, Goran Visnjic, Natalie Dormer, Rubén Blades, and an uncredited John Leguizamo.
Ender’s Game (PG-13) After 28 years of fruitless attempts, Orson Scott Card’s classic science-fiction novel is turned into this terrific-looking but rushed and choppy film starring Asa Butterfield (with the right mix of passion and chill) as a future kid whose prowess at strategy games may save Earth from being wiped out by a hostile alien race. Writer-director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) fumbles the early going, with Ender’s home life and his relations with the other kids in combat training all given the sketchiest of treatment. He does much better with the massive combat sequences, as well as Ender’s dreams (animated by computers as if they’re cut scenes from a video game) and a remarkable late encounter between Ender and the alien queen. Also with Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha, Moises Arias, Nonso Anozie, and Ben Kingsley.
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 Fifth Estate (R) Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Julian Assange is the best thing about this film that details the rise and fall of WikiLeaks. The British actor never begs for the audience’s sympathy and dives right into the character’s galvanizing sense of morality and alienating ideological zeal, creating a repellent yet fascinating portrait of a man who’s a hero precisely because he’s a creep whose repressive childhood has taught him to assume the worst about human nature. Director Bill Condon doesn’t do much other than come up with a tinny visual metaphor for WikiLeaks as an open-plan office with Julian at all the desks, but the complexity that Cumberbatch gives to this monstrous hero of our time is the actor’s great achievement, and the film’s. Also with Daniel Brühl, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie, Alicia Vikander, Moritz Bleibtreu, Carice van Houten, Alexander Siddig, Peter Capaldi, and David Thewlis.