Kill Your Darlings (R) Daniel Radcliffe stars in this biopic as a teenaged Allen Ginsberg, who falls in love with a fellow Columbia student (Dane DeHaan) and is swept up in a murder case. Also with Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Elizabeth Olsen. (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.
All Is Lost (PG-13) There’s a remorseless sort of purity to J.C. Chandor’s drama about a lone, unnamed sailor (Robert Redford) who fights to stay alive after his 40-foot yacht threatens to sink in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Chandor proves his range as a filmmaker after his debut film Margin Call, constructing some bravura technical passages when the boat capsizes and then rights itself in a storm. Redford does yeoman work, too, clambering about the boat with impressive levels of physical fitness and capturing the loneliness that has driven this man onto open water. Yet the movie may be a little too pure for its own good; Chandor insists so heavily on withholding his hero’s backstory that we wind up knowing what happens to him without knowing who he is. I admire this movie greatly. I just don’t like it.
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.
Diana (PG-13) Naomi Watts stars in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s biography of Princess Diana, as the former royal turns toward human rights activism. Also with Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Cas Anvar, Art Malik, and Juliet Stevenson.
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.
Free Birds (PG) Why did they even bother? This animated movie is about a turkey named Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) who’s recruited into a mission by a brawny turkey named Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson) to travel back in time and remove turkeys from the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621. That’s the plot of the last 60 minutes; the first half-hour is just so much filler, with Reggie trying to get his stupid fellow turkeys to realize that they’re about to be dinner. Both the turkeys and the humans hunting them are a dull lot, and there isn’t a single memorable joke in the entire film, despite the comic talent brought to bear here. The movie is just silly. Reserve your money and rent Chicken Run on DVD instead. Additional voices by Amy Poehler, George Takei, Colm Meaney, Dan Fogler, Jimmy Hayward, and Keith David.
Gravity (PG-13) The greatest 3D movie ever made. Alfonso Cuarón’s unremittingly intense space thriller stars Sandra Bullock as a novice astronaut who is caught outside the shuttle in a high-velocity storm of space debris and stranded in the blackness of space. The film is essentially a series of long takes, and Cuarón’s shooting of them in a simulated zero-gravity environment is an astounding technical feat. Yet the long takes also give us no chance to catch our breath; they turn this brief 90-minute film into a singularly harrowing experience, with our heroine narrowly escaping death from completely unforeseen yet logical dangers. Bullock rides over the script’s infelicities and gives this film a human center, helping to turn this movie into an exhilarating and emotionally draining ride. Also with George Clooney.
Last Vegas (PG-13) This mostly pleasant comedy stars Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline as three seniors who gather in Vegas to throw a bachelor party for their buddy (Michael Douglas) before his wedding. The movie runs on the easy rapport among the four veteran actors, plus a great-looking Mary Steenburgen as a lounge singer who tags along on the guys’ misadventures. Some of the plotlines are wearisomely predictable (like Kline’s character being given a free pass by his wife to cheat while he’s in Vegas), but at least no one dies or has so much as a health scare and both Kline and Morgan Freeman score big laughs (check the scene when Freeman gets drunk on Red Bull vodkas). Also with Jerry Ferrara, Romany Malco, Roger Bart, Michael Ealy, Bre Blair, Joanna Gleason, and 50 Cent.
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.
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.
Seasons of Gray (PG-13) The first feature put out by Rick Santorum’s EchoLight Studios is this modest drama with much to be modest about. A modern-day update of the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, this stars Andrew Cheney as a man who’s forced off his family ranch by his brothers, starts his life fresh in Dallas, and is framed for a crime that he’s innocent of. The hero’s fortunes zigzag wildly, but somehow that never translates to any energy in the hands of director Paul Stehlik and his screenwriter and wife Sarah Stehlik. The movie’s message of Christian forgiveness winds up buried in the featurelessness of the drama. Also with Akron Watson, Megan Parker, Jonathan Brooks, Mark Walters, Spencer Harlan, Sean Brison, Al Garrett, Roderick Lang, Marcus Estell, and Kirk Sisco.
Thor: The Dark World (PG-13) A bit of a bore, I’m afraid. Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as the Norse god who has to save the entire universe from being cast into darkness by a bunch of elves. Natalie Portman is dead weight in the romantic plotline, and the only dramatic juice in this movie comes from the machinations between Thor and his disgraced brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), whom he frees from prison to help defeat the elves. Director Alan Taylor (TV’s Game of Thrones) conjures up a few clever bits, but mostly this superhero saga is lumbering and graceless. Also with 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.
12 Years a Slave (R) Even more significant than Schindler’s List. Steve McQueen’s epic tells the story of Solomon Northup, a real-life free black New Yorker who was abducted in 1841 and forced to work as a slave on a Louisiana plantation. McQueen directs this with his typical austerity and rigor and pulls off an extraordinarily powerful long take in which Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is strung up from a tree branch and suspended on his tiptoes while the other slaves go about their work, afraid to offer help. Screenwriter John Ridley draws a vivid, panoramic view of all the twisted human specimens that the slave economy produces, and McQueen and his actors flesh them out beautifully, with a terrifying Michael Fassbender as a sadistic slavemaster and Ejiofor giving the performance of his career. This wrenching film is crucial to understanding America’s heritage. Also with Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Michael K. Williams, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Adepero Oduye, Garret Dillahunt, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, and Quvenzhané Wallis.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (NC-17) The controversial top-prize winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is Abdellatif Kechiche’s film about a 15-year-old French girl (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who has a torrid affair with an older woman (Léa Seydoux). Also with Salim Kechiouche, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, and Alma Jodorowsky.