The Grand Budapest Hotel (R) Wes Anderson’s latest film stars Ralph Fiennes as a legendary concierge at a European resort hotel shortly before the onset of World War II. Also with Tony Revolori, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Mathieu Amalric, F. Murray Abraham, Léa Seydoux, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Willem Dafoe, and Jude Law. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Art of the Steal (R) Kurt Russell stars in this thriller as a motorcycle daredevil who conspires to steal one of the world’s most valuable books. Also with Matt Dillon, Katheryn Winnick, Jay Baruchel, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Terence Stamp. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Bethlehem (NR) Yuval Adler’s thriller stars Tsahi Halevi as an Israeli Secret Service officer who forms a conflicted relationship with a teenage Palestinian informant (Shadi Mar’i). Also with Hitham Omari, Michal Shtamler, Tarik Kopty, George Iskandar, and Hisham Sulimani. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Single Moms Club (PG-13) Tyler Perry’s latest film stars Nia Long, Amy Smart, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Zulay Henao, and Cocoa Brown as the founders of a support group for unmarried mothers. Also with Tyler Perry, Eddie Cibrian, Terry Crews, Ryan Eggold, and William Levy. (Opens Friday)
Veronica Mars (PG-13) Marshmallows rejoice! The Kickstarter-funded movie version of the cult TV show stars Kristen Bell as the former teenage private eye who’s brought back to her hometown to clear her ex-boyfriend (Jason Dohring) of a murder charge. Also with Krysten Ritter, Ryan Hansen, Francis Capra III, Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino, Chris Lowell, Ken Marino, Daran Norris, Jerry O’Connell, Julie Gonzalo, Kyle Secor, Max Greenfield, and Enrico Colantoni. (Opens Friday)
About Last Night (R) This remake of the similarly titled 1986 comedy rings surprisingly little improvement on the mediocre original. While one couple (Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant) recovering from painful previous relationships try to work out their newfound attraction to each other, their respective best friends (Kevin Hart and Regina Hall) engage in a weird, dysfunctional romance of their own. The lead couple is blandly written and played, and the entire movie would be downright dreary if it weren’t for Hart, who strikes all manner of comic sparks off both Ealy and Hall and once again squeezes laughs out of unpromising material. Somebody get Hart a vehicle worthy of his talents. Also with Christopher McDonald, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Lo Truglio, Bryan Callen, and Paula Patton.
American Hustle (R) David O. Russell’s chaotic, marvelously entertaining caper film lurches and veers out of control and features some of the best acting you’ll see all year. Christian Bale and Amy Adams portray 1970s con artists who are busted by a smarmy, fast-talking FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) and forced to help him catch other crooks. Cooper slips easily into his character’s growing megalomania, and Jennifer Lawrence is a comic whirlwind as Bale’s volatile, angry wife, but Adams comes off the best here, lighting up the movie with her sexuality. Russell captures the desperation of these people struggling to get ahead or get out of trouble, and underneath the luscious surfaces and ridiculously awesome costumes, he gives the movie an edge of fear and paranoia. Also with Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Röhm, Paul Herman, Saïd Taghmaoui, and an uncredited Robert De Niro.
Anchorman 2: Supersize R-Rated Edition (R) When some comedy movies come out on DVD, the disc has a “line-o-rama” extra that shows the unused jokes ad-libbed by the actors. I have to say, making an entire new movie out of the unused jokes is a more satisfying idea, especially with a cast as stuffed with brilliant comedians as this one. Sadly, the love song to Dobie the shark is gone, but it is replaced by a big dance number, during which Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) appears to confuse homosexuality with being Spider-Man. Also with Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig, Dylan Baker, Meagan Good, Josh Lawson, James Marsden, Fred Willard, Greg Kinnear, and uncredited cameos by Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Will Smith, Liam Neeson, Kirsten Dunst, Marion Cotillard, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kanye West, Drake, Vince Vaughn, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey.
August: Osage County (R) A slapdash but effective showpiece for its actors, this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ much-acclaimed stage play stars Meryl Streep as a dying Oklahoma matriarch who gathers her family together after her husband (Sam Shepard) disappears, though she’s more interested in verbally abusing everyone who comes within reach. Hailing from a TV background, director John Wells fulfills the stereotype of a visually unimaginative TV director, doing reasonably well with individual scenes but failing to string them together. The best performances come from the supporting players as they orient themselves around a Streep in full dragon-lady mode. Julia Roberts smartly underplays as the eldest daughter, while Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, and Julianne Nicholson all distinguish themselves. Also with Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Misty Upham, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Endless Love (PG-13) Almost none of the principal actors are Americans in this American-set romance, a fact which is far more interesting than anything that happens in this soft-boiled and soft-headed remake of the 1981 movie. Alex Pettyfer plays a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who falls for a sheltered rich girl (Gabriella Wilde) with an overprotective dad (Bruce Greenwood). The largely British cast isn’t nearly incisive enough to cut through the soppy script by director Shana Feste (Country Strong), which ticks off a string of romantic clichés without doing anything inventive with them. At least this remake has better music on the soundtrack. Also with Joely Richardson, Rhys Wakefield, Emma Rigby, Anna Enger, Dayo Okeniyi, and Robert Patrick.
Frozen (PG) The best Disney musical in quite some time. Kristen Bell provides the voice of Anna, the orphaned younger daughter of the rulers of a fictitious Nordic kingdom who goes into the wilderness to persuade her older sister (voiced by Idina Menzel) to save their land from a curse of eternal winter. The songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez bring freshness and wit to the songs, and Bell not only finds the comedy in the socially awkward heroine but also unleashes her glorious soprano on “The First Time in Forever.” The animators put the Ice Age movies to shame by doing endlessly inventive things with the ice and snow in the setting, and the script manages to create a heroine who’s interested in more than just finding a handsome prince. Additional voices by Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Livvy Stubenrauch, Alan Tudyk, and Ciarán Hinds.
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.
Her (R) Spike Jonze’s greatest film yet stars Joaquin Phoenix as a near-future divorced guy who falls in love with his smartphone’s operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), who’s equipped with an artificial intelligence personality that evolves from her experiences. What could have been a glib satire on our dependence on technology instead becomes a surpassingly beautiful and serious-minded (though still quite funny) disquisition on the transformative powers of love and how people change during the course of a relationship. It’s anchored by tremendous performances by Phoenix, bringing sweetness and humor that we haven’t seen from him, and Johansson, who makes the OS’s insecurities palpable despite not appearing on the screen. The movie’s DIY feel gives this vision of the near future great texture, and its loneliness make it haunting. Also with Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Portia Doubleday, and Matt Letscher. Additional voices by Spike Jonze, Brian Cox, Bill Hader, and Kristen Wiig.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (PG-13) Everything that was ragged about the first movie has been smoothed over in this sequel containing the future adventures of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as she has to fight to survive a special edition of the Hunger Games. Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to the lead actress) takes over the series and devotes time to the action before the Games and does a better job of integrating the special effects into the story, while the writers include more layers for the supporting characters and more material from Suzanne Collins’ novel. The movie is missing a spark of greatness from the filmmakers, but Jennifer Lawrence picks up the slack, playing the shell-shocked heroine like her life depended on it. If the series can gather strength the way she’s doing, it’ll be formidable indeed. Also with Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Lynn Cohen, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.