Waiting for “Superman” (PG) The latest documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) details the failings of the American public education system. (Opens Friday)
I Spit on Your Grave (NR) Sarah Butler stars in this remake of the 1978 slasher flick as a rape victim who takes revenge on her attackers. Also with Chad Lindberg, Daniel Franzese, and Tracey Walter. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
My Soul to Take (R) Wes Craven’s latest slasher flick stars Max Thieriot as one of seven teenagers born on the death date of a serial murderer who seems to have come back from the dead to kill them. Also with Emily Meade, Frank Grillo, Denzel Whitaker, Zena Grey, Nick Lashaway, Jessica Hecht, Dennis Boutsikaris, Raúl Esparza, and Shareeka Epps. (Opens Friday)
Secretariat (PG) Diane Lane stars in this Disneyfied sports flick as Penny Chenery Tweedy, the Denver housewife who saved her father’s horse-breeding farm from financial ruin when her horse won the 1973 Triple Crown. Randall Wallace directs this film in the foursquare house style. John Malkovich steals a few laughs as Secretariat’s flamboyant French-Canadian trainer, but the movie is mostly instantly forgettable. On the other hand, Penny’s speeches about how a woman can do anything are downright annoying. These bursts of female-empowerment rhetoric are unconvincing and hectoring, and it doesn’t help that Lane is off her game here. Spend your money betting on the horses instead of this movie. Also with Dylan Walsh, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, Dylan Baker, Kevin Connolly, Margo Martindale, Amanda Michalka, Nelsan Ellis, Otto Thorwarth, and Fred Dalton Thompson. (Opens Friday)
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (R) Woody Allen’s British farce stars Anthony Hopkins as a man who suddenly leaves his wife (Gemma Jones) while their daughter (Naomi Watts) ponders an extramarital affair of her own. Also with Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Lucy Punch, Ewen Bremner, Anna Friel, Pauline Collins, and Freida Pinto.
Alpha and Omega (PG) This undistinguished animated film is about a female wolfpack leader-in-waiting (voiced by Hayden Panettiere) and a slacker male wolf from the same pack (voiced by Justin Long) who have to help each other get back home after they’re captured by the park service and relocated to another park far away. There’s nothing terrible about this (except possibly the musical howling sequences). Yet even with a fairly good chase sequence with angry bears, there’s nothing worth going out of one’s way for. Additional voices by Danny Glover, Larry Miller, Vicki Lewis, Eric Price, Chris Carmack, Christina Ricci, and the late Dennis Hopper.
Case 39 (R) Filmed way back in 2006, this supernatural thriller finally receives its much-delayed release now, and it wasn’t worth waiting for. Renée Zellweger stars as a social worker who rescues a 10-year-old girl (Jodelle Ferland) from her murderous parents and adopts her, only to discover that the girl is a demon who can persuade people to kill others or themselves. The movie starts off well enough but then turns extremely silly during a scene in which somebody dies from an attack by imaginary hornets. Ferland’s amateurish performance and the fake scares contribute to the overall fraudulence of this piece of junk. Also with Bradley Cooper, Callum Keith Rennie, Adrian Lester, Cynthia Stevenson, Kerry O’Malley, and Ian McShane.
Catfish (PG-13) Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman film this documentary about Schulman’s brother Nev, a 24-year-old photographer who starts corresponding via Facebook with an eight-year-old art prodigy and her 19-year-old model half-sister, only to find that the sisters may not be who they say they are. As the filmmakers start off on their quest to find out just who these people are, they raise some questions (without providing too many answers) about what constitutes a relationship in our current internet age. There’s still some doubt as to whether part or all of this film was staged, but it’s one hell of a story either way.
Chain Letter (R) Nikki Reed stars in this horror film as one of several people targeted for murder after she refuses to forward a chain letter. Also with Keith David, Brad Dourif, Betsy Russell, Clifton Powell, and Bai Ling.
Despicable Me (PG) Slight but agreeable animated film features Steve Carell voicing a wannabe supervillain named Gru who adopts three unwanted girls from an orphanage (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher, and Dana Gaier) to help him gain access to a rival villain and ultimately steal the moon from the sky. The girls help Gru get in touch with his feelings, and it’s thankfully not anywhere near as mushy as it could have been. Gru’s chattering yellow minions are a terrific comic creation, but there’s not enough good material to go around for them and a great supporting voice cast. The closing credit sequence uses 3-D better than any other recent film. Additional voices by Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Danny McBride, Jack McBrayer, Mindy Kaling, and Julie Andrews.
Devil (PG-13) This creaky parable about sin and forgiveness is dressed up as a supernatural thriller about a Philadelphia homicide cop (Chris Messina) who watches via a security camera as five passengers trapped in a skyscraper’s elevator (Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’Hara, and Bokeem Woodbine) are mysteriously killed off one at a time by an unseen force. One of the passengers turns out to be a demon — if not Satan him/herself — whose methods are revealed by an insulting stereotype of a religious Latino security guard (Jacob Vargas). Forget the elevator car, it’s the theology in this movie that’s really confining. Also with Matt Craven, Joshua Peace, Joe Cobden, and Caroline Dhavernas.
Easy A (PG-13) Emma Stone’s easy aptitude for charm and comedy carries this comedy. She portrays a virginal high-school student who lies to her fellow students about having sex, initially to impress her best friend (Aly Michalka), then to keep her gay friend (Dan Byrd) from being harassed, and finally to change her own wallflower reputation. The high-powered supporting cast is lively, the script goes to some surprising places, and director Will Gluck’s comic timing is pretty well on. However, it’s the spunky, sparky, sarcastically knowing Stone and her infectious sense of fun that carry this show. Watch for the musical number at a pep rally. Also with Penn Badgley, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Amanda Bynes, Malcolm McDowell, Cam Gigandet, Fred Armisen, Lisa Kudrow, and Thomas Haden Church.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (PG) Zack Snyder goes into animation with this adaptation of Kathryn Lasky’s novels about a barn owl (voiced by Jim Sturgess) who goes on an adventure that leads him straight into a war between good and evil owls. The film looks spectacular, with fine visual detail even in the midst of frenzied action sequences, and the largely Australian voice cast tears through their roles. Yet the movie loses steam in its final third, with the hero practically winning the climactic battle singlehanded and an ill-advised song by Owl City killing the movie’s serious, operatic mood. For family entertainment, there’s much worse around. Additional voices by Emily Barclay, Ryan Kwanten, Geoffrey Rush, Joel Edgerton, Anthony LaPaglia, Sam Neill, Barry Otto, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Essie Davis, Deborra-lee Furness, Miriam Margolyes, Hugo Weaving, Abbie Cornish, and Helen Mirren.
Let Me In (R) Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) directs this amazingly faithful adaptation of the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In, with Kodi Smit-McPhee as the bullied 12-year-old kid who falls in love with a seemingly-his-age vampire (Chloë Grace Moretz) who just moved into his apartment complex. Reeves moves the setting to 1980s America but otherwise retains the original’s sinister, insinuating mood, the most fragile thing about it. Cinematographer Greig Fraser does some gorgeous work with the lighting, and the two lead actors give the central romance an innocence that makes all the bloodshed around them seem more menacing by comparison. It may be only a copy, but it’s a really good one. Also with Richard Jenkins, Dylan Minnette, Sasha Barrese, Cara Buono, Ritchie Coster, and Elias Koteas.
Resident Evil: Afterlife (R) If you’ve seen any zombie movies at all, this one doesn’t show you anything new. Paul W.S. Anderson re-teams with Milla Jovovich, who leads a group of prisoners out of a zombified L.A. to a zombie-free paradise. The filmmakers waste the premise of Alice clones left over from the last installment in favor of a suspenseless setup and uninventive throwing-things-at-the-3D-camera action. It all turns out extremely mediocre. Save your money for the video games. Also with Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Sienna Guillory, Boris Kodjoe, and Wentworth Miller.
The Social Network (PG-13) David Fincher’s ridiculously entertaining account of the birth of Facebook stars Jesse Eisenberg as co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Eisenberg is a marvel, drawing a portrait of a lethally smart troll fueled entirely by resentment. No less impressive are the actors portraying two characters who battle each other for influence over Zuckerberg: Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg’s Harvard pal and Justin Timberlake as a smooth-talking interloper. Veteran screenwriter Aaron Sorkin packs this movie with funny, quotable lines, and Fincher edits the thing for the right combination of smoothness, energy, and pace. There aren’t any thunderbolts of enlightenment about Facebook or the nature of success, but this old-fashioned piece of fun hits all the right notes. Also with Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara, Josh Pence, Joseph Mazzello, Brenda Song, Wallace Langham, Douglas Urbanski, and Rashida Jones.
Takers (PG-13) Hey, look! This heist movie features a couple of real-life criminals in the cast! Idris Elba plays the ringleader of a group of bank and armored car robbers who are roped into doing a huge job for a former colleague (T.I.) who just got out of prison. There’s too much attention paid to the personal lives of the criminals and the pursuing cops, but the action sequences are pretty slick, including a foot chase with Chris Brown doing some parkour leaps and a shootout in adjoining hotel rooms. They make this into a serviceable genre picture. Also with Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Hayden Christensen, Michael Ealy, Jay Hernandez, Johnathon Schaech, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Nick Turturro, Steve Harris, and Zoe Saldana.
The Town (R) Ben Affleck might be a major filmmaker-in-waiting. He directs, co-writes, and stars in this crime thriller as the brains behind a gang of Boston bank robbers who tries to get out after falling for a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) who was taken hostage on a previous job. Adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves, this taut, streamlined film improves on its source considerably. The role calls for Affleck to project self-loathing and disappointment, which he does quite well. He skillfully incorporates comic relief into the script and pays as much attention to character development and his fellow actors’ performances as he does to the action set pieces, which he directs with flair and assurance. This is Michael Mann territory, and Affleck looks completely at home in it. Also with Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Slaine, Owen Burke, Titus Welliver, Pete Postlethwaite, and Chris Cooper.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13) Why didn’t they call this Gordon Gekko Returns or The Revenge of Gordon Gekko? Michael Douglas returns in Oliver Stone’s sequel as the former financier, now an ex-con and author seeking a reconciliation with his grown daughter (Carey Mulligan) via her fiancé (Shia LaBeouf), an investment banker who wants Gordon’s advice on high finance. The plot is undercut by cheap theatrics, sentimentality, and a scheme by Gordon more transparently crooked than a Nigerian prince’s e-mail. Still, LaBeouf easily embodies the contradictions in his character, and it’s fascinating watching the new Gordon scrap after he’s brought down to our level. Watch for a fierce performance by 94-year-old Eli Wallach as an aged banker. Also with Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon, Austin Pendleton, John Bedford Lloyd, Frank Langella, and Charlie Sheen.
You Again (PG) Well, what do you want now? Probably not this horrendous, offensive, degrading comedy starring Kristen Bell as a successful publicist who flips out when she discovers that her brother’s new fiancée (Odette Yustman) is the same girl who used to torment her in high school. The mean-girl bullying in her family turns out to go back several generations, which explains why the women in this film all act like screeching psychotics incapable of rational thought. The issues seem to come from a real place, but the cast is too good for the third-rate script. The exception is Yustman, whose whiny non-acting fits the material just fine. Also with Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Betty White, James Wolk, Victor Garber, Kristin Chenoweth, Billy Unger, Kyle Bornheimer, Patrick Duffy, Cloris Leachman, and an uncredited Dwayne Johnson.
Buried (R) Ryan Reynolds stars in this thriller as a man who finds himself buried alive in a coffin. Also with Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis, José Luis García Pérez, and Erik Palladino.
Jack Goes Boating (R) Philip Seymour Hoffman directs and stars in this adaptation of Robert Glaudini’s play about a limo driver who goes on a blind date that has repercussions in the lives of three other people. Also with Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Thomas McCarthy, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and Lola Glaudini.
Lovely, Still (PG) Martin Landau stars in this romantic comedy as an old man finding love for the first time. Also with Ellen Burstyn, Adam Scott, and Elizabeth Banks.
Mao’s Last Dancer (PG) Bruce Beresford’s adaptation of Li Cunxin’s autobiography tells the story of the poor Chinese villager-turned-ballet star (Cao Chi) who defected to the United States in the 1970s after falling in love with an American woman. Also with Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Amanda Schull, Guo Chengwu, Huang Wen Bin, and Joan Chen.
Never Let Me Go (R) Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) adapts Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel about an English schoolgirl (Carey Mulligan) who realizes that she and her fellow students are clones who have been farmed to donate their vital organs to the world’s population. Also with Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, Sally Hawkins, Nathalie Richard, and Charlotte Rampling.