Armored (PG-13) Nimród Antal (Vacancy) directs this thriller about an armored truck security guard (Columbus Short) who sabotages his co-workers’ plan to steal $42 million. Also with Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Skeet Ulrich, Amaury Nolasco, Milo Ventimiglia, and Fred Ward. (Opens Friday)
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (R) Werner Herzog’s remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film stars Nicolas Cage as a drug-addicted cop trying to solve the murders of five Senegalese immigrants in post-Katrina New Orleans. Also with Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Michael Shannon, Jennifer Coolidge, Brad Dourif, Shawn Hatosy, Denzel Whitaker, Shea Whigham, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Irma P. Hall, and Xzibit. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Brothers (R) Jim Sheridan’s remake of Susanne Bier’s 2005 Danish film stars Tobey Maguire as an American soldier who’s mistakenly reported killed in Iraq, profoundly affecting his wife (Natalie Portman) and brother (Jake Gyllenhaal). Also with Sam Shepard, Clifton Collins Jr., Mare Winningham, Ethan Suplee, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, and Carey Mulligan. (Opens Friday)
Inglourious Basterds (R) Quentin Tarantino’s World War II flick is about a German movie star (Diane Kruger) who teams with an American lieutenant (Brad Pitt) and his band of corpse-scalping Jewish soldiers to kill Hitler at a movie premiere in Paris. Pitt chews on his accent with tremendous gusto, but the show is completely stolen by Christoph Waltz as a multilingual SS colonel who can break people down without raising his voice or dropping his genial, courteous demeanor. The presence of this great Tarantino villain redeems the unconvincing romantic subplot, and the movie boasts some stunning set pieces in an underground bar and in the theater at the end. Irresponsible and overlong, the movie nevertheless succeeds in scraping the thick coating of solemnity off the genre and making World War II movies fun again. Also with Mélanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Til Schweiger, Daniel Brühl, Gedeon Burkhard, Jacky Ido, B.J. Novak, August Diehl, Martin Wuttke, Julie Dreyfus, and Mike Myers. (Re-opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Maid (NR) Sebastián Silva’s dark comedy stars Catalina Saavedra as an overworked Chilean housemaid who snaps after her upper-class employers try to hire additional domestic help. Also with Mariana Loyola, Claudia Celedón, Alejandro Goic, Andrea García-Huidobro, and Mercedes Villanueva. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Strip (PG-13) Jameel Khan’s comedy stars Dave Foley as the manager of a low-rent electronics store whose employees are thrown into chaos when one announces his impending marriage. Also with Rodney Scott, Billy Aaron Brown, Federico Dordei, Jenny Wade, Becky Wahlstrom, and Noureen DeWulf. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Transylmania (R) What a terrible title! Apropos of nothing, this spoof of vampire movies is about a bunch of American students on exchange in Romania. Starring Patrick Cavanaugh, James DeBello, Tony Denman, Paul H. Kim, Jennifer Lyons, Oren Skoog, Musetta Vander, and David Steinberg. (Opens Friday)
Up in the Air (R) George Clooney stars in this dramedy as a well-traveled corporate executive who fires workers for a living. Also with Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Melanie Lynskey, Danny McBride, Sam Elliott, J.K. Simmons, and Zach Galifianakis. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Yes Men Fix the World (NR) Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano’s agitprop comedy documentary follows the filmmakers as they pretend to be businessmen to expose corporate malfeasance and sloppy journalism. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Astro Boy (PG) What should be a breezy, enjoyable family adventure instead becomes a series of toothless gags and lackluster visuals in this yawn-worthy animated film about a scientist (voiced by Nicolas Cage) who engineers a robot boy (voiced by Freddie Highmore) to replace his lost son. Both the characters onscreen and the filmmakers seem strangely blasé about Astro Boy’s superpowers, and the plot – based on Osamu Tezuka’s legendary manga comic – is weepy stuff about how robots have feelings, too. Your watch will be the only piece of technology that’ll interest you as you sit through this. Additional voices by Kristen Bell, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Moises Arias, Bill Nighy, Eugene Levy, Samuel L. Jackson, and Charlize Theron. — Steve Steward
The Blind Side (PG-13) A Hollywood movie where most of the heroes are dyed-in-the-wool Southern Republicans, though that’s the only non-cliché worth mentioning in this otherwise rote football drama based on the true story of Michael Oher, the homeless African-American teen taken in by a rich white family in Memphis and turned into an NFL-caliber left tackle. Sandra Bullock nicely underplays the role of family matriarch, which could easily have been overdone. Newcomer Quinton Aaron, though, isn’t up to scratch as Oher, and writer-director John Lee Hancock leaves out too many details from Michael Lewis’ book, turning an amazing story into a bland Hollywood product, without any of the uplift that he’s aiming for. Also with Tim McGraw, Lily Collins, Jae Head, Ray McKinnon, Kim Dickens, and Kathy Bates.
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (R) Remember all those third-rate Pulp Fiction-wannabe movies that came out in the mid-1990s? Yeah, Troy Duffy is still making them. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus reprise their roles in this sequel to the 1999 cult thriller as Irish brothers and hit men who return to Boston to clear their names after they’re implicated in a murder. The dialogue, acting, and editing are uniformly awful, and the movie’s filled with unpleasant gay jokes. The humorous interludes fall flat, while the serious moments frequently prove to be unintentionally funny, a truly awe-inspiring achievement in bad moviemaking. Also with Billy Connolly, Julie Benz, Clifton Collins Jr., Judd Nelson, Peter Fonda, and an uncredited Willem Dafoe.
A Christmas Carol (PG) After so many different versions of Charles Dickens’ story, what does Robert Zemeckis’ latest animated version have to add? Not much, although Jim Carrey makes a much better Scrooge than you’d think, and the ghost of Jacob Marley (voiced by Gary Oldman) is rendered in truly horrifying fashion. The motion-capture animation (better than it was in The Polar Express and Beowulf) still distances you from the emotions in the story, and the straightforward retelling underscores the flimsiness of Dickens’ original material. Technically accomplished as this is, it’s hard to warm up to. Additional voices by Robin Wright, Bob Hoskins, Daryl Sabara, Cary Elwes, Lesley Manville, Fionnula Flanagan, and Colin Firth.
Couples Retreat (PG-13) A depressing comedy, because it ends with four couples together but leaves you feeling that two or three of them would have been better off apart. Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau co-write and co-star as part of a party of eight roped by their married friends (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) into taking part in a retreat where they work on their issues at an island resort. Much stale business ensues about New Age therapy, midlife crises, seven-year itches, and overworked professionals. Vaughn and Favreau have better chemistry with each other than any of the actors who play couples do, but the Swingers guys can’t save this mirthless exercise. Also with Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman, Faizon Love, Kali Hawk, Tasha Smith, Peter Serafinowicz, Carlos Ponce, Jean Reno, John Michael Higgins, and Ken Jeong.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (PG) Wes Anderson returns to form with this beguiling stop-motion animation film expanded from Roald Dahl’s children’s book about a fox (voiced by George Clooney) who gets his family into trouble by stealing poultry and produce from some vengeful farmers. The animal characters display many of the comic neuroses typical of Anderson’s live-action films, and the filmmaker’s quirky hipster sensibility proves to be bracing in the context of a kids’ movie. The puppets move with a nonrealistic sinuous grace, and the best part of this movie is when the animals simply dance for joy at gaining access to bountiful stores of food. It’ll make you feel like dancing yourself. Additional voices by Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Anderson, Wally Wolodarsky, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody.
The Fourth Kind (PG-13) Purportedly based on a true story that no one can verify, this sci-fi/horror flick stars Milla Jovovich as a psychiatrist who uncovers harrowing similar tales among her sleep-research subjects about being abducted by aliens. The film is augmented by videotaped footage of the “real” sessions alongside re-enactments of those sessions. The fake documentary stuff is far more effective than the wretched dramatics. You wonder why writer-director Olatunde Osunsami didn’t do the whole movie like a fake documentary. The film occasionally attains the skin-crawling power that it’s aiming for but not often enough. Also with Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Enzo Cilenti, and Corey Johnson.
Law Abiding Citizen (R) Gerard Butler’s acting is getting worse and worse. He hams his way amateurishly through this sadistic thriller as a government spymaster who turns his fury on the justice system – one assistant D.A. in particular (Jamie Foxx) – after a plea bargain sets his family’s killers free. The bad guy’s hypercompetency isn’t fully explained by the big revelation near the end, and F. Gary Gray directs this like the latest installment of Saw when he should be keeping things light and witty. His lugubrious manner just exposes the rottenness at the heart of this exercise and lets the bad taste build up. Also with Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, Leslie Bibb, Regina Hall, Michael Irby, Emerald-Angel Young, Annie Corley, and Viola Davis.
The Men Who Stare at Goats (R) This amusing war film stars Ewan McGregor as an American reporter in Iraq who meets an ex-soldier (George Clooney) claiming to have gained psychic superpowers – and to have once killed a goat with his thoughts – after being trained by a secret U.S. military unit. First-time director Grant Heslov gets tripped up by the flashback-laden structure of the script (based on a book by Jon Ronson). However, Heslov nicely manages the tone, mixing the seriousness of the characters’ predicament with the absurdity of the former soldier’s unreliable recollections. It all adds up to an entertaining shaggy-dog story, though the scene with one soldier on acid shooting up an Army base is an unfortunate coincidence. Also with Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang, Robert Patrick, Waleed Zuaiter, and Stephen Root.
Ninja Assassin (R) An animated musical about talking dogs who want to perform on American Idol – wait, no, it’s a thriller about a ninja (Korean pop star Rain) who turns against his clan after they kill the girl he loves. Director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) stages some acceptable action sequences, but you have to wade through some heavy-handed dramatics, wretched acting, and laughable attempts at Eastern philosophy to get to them. A real ninja would have edited this film with a lighter touch. Also with Naomie Harris, Randall Duk Kim, Shô Kosugi, Rick Yune, Sung Kang, Stephen Marcus, and Ben Miles.
Old Dogs (PG) Let’s see, um, “These old dogs need to learn some new tricks!” No, that’s wrong. “Like an old dog, this movie should be put down.” How about, “This movie stinks so bad, it should be called Wet Dogs.” Wait, I’ve got it: “Gaaah!” Yes, that’s the right reaction to this idiotic, overacted, borderline racist, soul-killingly terrible comedy starring John Travolta and Robin Williams as business partners who are informed of the existence of the latter’s seven-year-old twins (Conner Rayburn and Ella Bleu Travolta) after their mother (Kelly Preston) shows up to dump the kids in their laps for two weeks. The slapstick bits here are carried off joylessly, uninventively, and with relentless contempt for any scrap of intelligence you might have. Also with Seth Green, Matt Dillon, Lori Loughlin, Amy Sedaris, Rita Wilson, Ann-Margret, and the late Bernie Mac.
Paranormal Activity (R) I shook off this vérité horror flick when I first saw it and then found I had trouble sleeping later that same night. Oren Peli’s instant cult film is a fake documentary about a day trader (Micah Sloat) who buys a video camera to record the demonic happenings that his new live-in girlfriend (Katie Featherston) claims are going on around her. The script goes through too many contortions to keep the characters inside their house and filming, but Peli stages some spooky stuff when the couple are sleeping at night with the camera running, making excellent use of a low-frequency rumble on the soundtrack to indicate the demon’s presence. The film was reportedly made for $11,000. The results are dazzling. Also with Mark Fredrichs.
Pirate Radio (R) Richard Curtis’ fatally innocuous British comedy stars Tom Sturridge as a young man who’s sent to an outlaw rock ‘n’ roll station broadcasting from a ship off the British coast in 1966. Curtis adopts a much less glossy visual approach than he did in Love Actually, but there’s a lot of fuzzy nostalgia weighing down this boat. Subplots are introduced, forgotten, and then resolved too easily, and too many characters are floating around here. The acting and writing, traditional strengths of Curtis productions, are subpar. For a movie that aims to celebrate the rebellious spirit of rock, this is way too tame. Also with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Rhys Darby, Tom Brooke, Chris O’Dowd, Katherine Parkinson, Gemma Arterton, Talulah Riley, January Jones, Jack Davenport, Kenneth Branagh, and Emma Thompson.
Planet 51 (PG) For once the Earthlings aren’t plundering an alien planet and running roughshod over the natives. In this animated film, a buffoonish lone astronaut (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) lands on a planet of green-skinned creatures that hunt him down because they’re paranoid and not terribly bright. Sadly, that’s the only subversive note in this weak, derivative piece in which the aliens speak English and live in a place like 1950s America, for reasons that are never explained. There are much better options out there for family entertainment. Additional voices by Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Seann William Scott, Gary Oldman, and John Cleese.
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (R) Not as good as the hype, but there’s enough truth to the hype to make this film worth checking out. Gabourey Sidibe portrays a fat, illiterate 16-year-old schoolgirl in Harlem who’s been repeatedly raped by her now-absent father and abused physically by her mother (Mo’Nique). Director Lee Daniels embraces the filth and squalor of the setting but also plays off it with some skillful fantasy sequences that Precious uses to cope. The film is obvious, skirts a bevy of economic and practical issues, and gives Precious her deliverance too easily. Yet it also has a terrific performance by Mo’Nique as a monster with understandable motives, and it’s willing to challenge the audience with its depiction of poverty rather than gently washing over it. Also with Paula Patton, Sherri Shepherd, Stephanie Andujar, Chyna Layne, Amina Robinson, Angelic Zambrana, Lenny Kravitz, and Mariah Carey.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (PG-13) They changed directors for the sequel, yet the flaws from the original remain: This vampire film is still poorly paced and edited, the special effects are still subpar, and the romanticism here is still absurd rather than sublime. Kristen Stewart returns as a high-school girl who falls in with a Native American boy (Taylor Lautner) and his clan of werewolves after her vampire boyfriend (Robert Pattinson) leaves her. The new film is intentionally funnier, several of the supporting actors click into their roles (Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Anna Kendrick), and Michael Sheen adds a nice dainty performance as a vampire overlord. The improvement is noticeable, but it’s not enough to make this into a good movie. Also with Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, Chaske Spencer, Rachelle Lefevre, and Dakota Fanning.
2012 (PG-13) Unintentionally funny, this latest piece of disaster porn by Roland Emmerich stars John Cusack as a hack sci-fi writer trying to move his family to a safe place when earthquakes and tsunamis kill off more than 99.99 percent of the Earth’s population. The filmmakers barely try to come up with a scientific explanation; they’d much rather show L.A. dropping into the ocean and St. Peter’s Basilica crushing a bunch of worshippers in Rome. The thing is, you can see all this in the film’s trailer and TV spots without having to sit through 157 minutes’ worth of weepy melodrama. With disaster flicks like these, the apocalypse can’t come soon enough. Also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Tom McCarthy, Liam James, Morgan Lily, Zlatko Buric, Beatrice Rosen, Chin Han, Osric Chau, Blu Mankuma, George Segal, Woody Harrelson, and Danny Glover.
Where the Wild Things Are (PG) Spike Jonze and scriptwriter Dave Eggers strip down Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book to its emotional essence and then gracefully expand it into a series of adventures about a kid (Max Records) discovering that he’s not the center of the universe. Sendak’s mythical beasts are rendered beautifully by Jim Henson’s workshop and given extraordinary expressive range, and the fake-documentary filmmaking style gives the movie an unnerving tinge of reality. The result is a sweet, bleak fantasy full of blunt truths about families that traces a goofy, scary, and poignant arc. Also with Catherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo. Voices by James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano, Lauren Ambrose, and Chris Cooper.
Zombieland (R) Terrifically funny postapocalyptic movie stars Jesse Eisenberg as a paranoid shut-in who teams up with a redneck (Woody Harrelson) and two sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) to survive after most of the world’s population is turned into zombies. Director Ruben Fleischer and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick manufacture tons of gags centered on rules to live by in a zombie world and creative ways to kill zombies. Encouragingly, the jokes don’t stop during the movie’s few zombie-free stretches, and the actors know how to play this tricky material. (Eisenberg’s beta-male neuroses are much more amusing in this context than in The Squid and the Whale.) A fiercely original and funny debut for these brilliant comic filmmakers. Also with Mike White, Amber Heard, and Bill Murray.
Red Cliff (R) John Woo directs his first Chinese film in 17 years, with this period epic about a third-century naval battle. Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Vicki Zhao, Lin Chiling, and Shidou Nakamura.
The Road (R) John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel stars Viggo Mortensen as a man trying to protect his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they travel through a postapocalyptic world. Also with Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Garret Dillahunt, and Robert Duvall.
A Serious Man (R) The Coen brothers’ latest film stars Michael Stuhlbarg as a physics professor in 1960s Minnesota whose life suddenly falls apart. Also with Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff, Adam Arkin, Jessica McManus, Peter Breitmayer, David Kang, Amy Landecker, George Wyner, Michael Lerner, and Fyvush Finkel.