Better Than Something: Jay Reatard (NR) Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz’ documentary profile of the punk musician. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Detachment (NR) The first fiction film in 14 years by Tony Kaye (American History X) stars Adrien Brody as a public school substitute teacher forced to come to terms with his transient life during a three-week teaching assignment. Also with Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Marcia Gay Harden, Tim Blake Nelson, William Peterson, Sami Gayle, Betty Kaye, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Blythe Danner, Bryan Cranston, and James Caan. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Footnote (PG) Joseph Cedar’s film stars Shlomo Bar-Aba and Lior Ashkenazi as father and son Talmudic professors at a Jerusalem university whose difficult relationship comes to a head when the father is awarded the Israel Prize for his work. Also with Alma Zack, Yuval Scharf, Edna Blilious, Aliza Rosen, and Micah Lewensohn. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Le Havre (NR) The latest comedy by Aki Kaurismäki (Leningrad Cowboys Go America) stars André Wilms as an aged French shoeshine man who takes in an illegal immigrant Gabonese boy (Blondin Miguel) trying to reunite with his mother. Also with Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Quoc Dung Nguyen, Roberto “Little Bob” Piazza, and Jean-Pierre Léaud. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Mirror Mirror (PG) Tarsem Singh (Immortals, The Cell) directs this comic take on the Snow White fable, with Lily Collins as the exiled princess and Julia Roberts as the wicked queen. Also with Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli, Danny Woodburn, Michael Lerner, Mare Winningham, and Sean Bean. (Opens Friday)
This Is Not a Film (NR) Made in defiance of a government ban on him making films, and smuggled out of Iran inside a cake, this documentary by Jafar Panahi (Offside, The White Balloon) chronicles his life under house arrest in Tehran. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Wrath of the Titans (PG-13) The sequel to 2010’s Clash of the Titans stars Sam Worthington as Perseus, who must venture into the underworld to rescue his father Zeus (Liam Neeson). Also with Ralph Fiennes, Édgar Ramírez, Rosamund Pike, Toby Kebbell, Sinéad Cusack, Danny Huston, and Bill Nighy. (Opens Friday)
Act of Valor (R) The makers of a film about the Navy SEALs, starring Navy SEALs, have two things on their side: unparalleled realism and an audience curious about the elite force that took down Osama bin Laden last year. Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh (both former stuntmen) do little, however, to elevate their work into meaningful art or even entertainment. The film follows the SEALs as they rescue an undercover CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez) and thwart an international Chechen-jihadi terror plot that culminates in a battle south of the border with a Mexican drug cartel. (There are Filipinos and a self-interested Russian Jew for good measure.) However convoluted the network of villains, the thriller itself is rather simplistic and the acting stilted. Taking for granted the heroism of these men, the film is more an exercise in badass action sequences and military propaganda than in conveying any deeper political or emotional purpose. Also with Jason Cottle, Nestor Serrano, Alex Veadov, and Emilio Rivera. — Zack Shlacter
Casa de mi Padre (R) Will Ferrell enters the baroque phase of his career with this Spanish-language comedy. He plays the son of a Mexican cattle rancher (the late Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) who must take up arms to protect his family and his father’s house from a drug kingpin (Gael García Bernal). The movie parodies old-style Mexican films, with bargain-basement production values and deliberately bad Spanish dialogue. Some of the jokes hit home, and the musical interludes are tasty (check the ranchera song “Yo No Sé”), but the movie never finds a consistent groove, and some of the higher-profile cast members don’t look comfortable sending up the material. Ferrell is still casting about for fresh comic ideas, but this movie doesn’t have much to recommend it outside its novelty value. Also with Diego Luna, Genesis Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Adrian Martinez, Manuel Urrego, Nick Offerman, and Molly Shannon.
Chronicle (PG-13) Truly something we haven’t seen before: a vérité superhero flick. Josh Trank’s film stars Dane DeHaan as a high-school nerd who films his life to protect himself from his abusive dad but instead winds up documenting how he, his cousin (Alex Russell), and the BMOC (Michael B. Jordan) develop the power to move things with their minds. The cheap video look and the pricey special effects make this sci-fi story credible, give rise to some funny bits, and compensate for the last third of the film, when the movie’s storytelling turns too smooth. This may just be the same old superhero flick in a new wrapper, but the wrapper sure is eye-catching. Also with Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, and Anna Wood.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (PG) This travesty of the much-loved book turns a crepuscular, unsettling cautionary tale into a cheerful, upbeat kiddie flick that loses its message. Like other big-screen Dr. Seuss adaptations, this one is padded out with extra story about a boy (voiced by Zac Efron) and the girl he has a crush on (voiced by Taylor Swift) trying to reverse the environmental damage done by the Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms). The violent slapstick gags in the background are the best thing here, but the movie is all over the place, lurching from social satire to action picture to musical (with some unmemorable, tacked-on numbers) without ever settling into a groove. This is nowhere near as painful to sit through as The Cat in the Hat, but you’ll find much better family entertainment in a lot of other places. Additional voices by Danny DeVito, Rob Riggle, Nasim Pedrad, Jenny Slate, and Betty White.
Friends With Kids (R) Though half the cast of Bridesmaids is in this comedy, it has a sharp, intellectual New York sensibility of its own, and it’s almost as good. Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt play single platonic friends who observe their college pals’ curdled marriages and decide to have a child together without getting romantically involved. Westfeldt also makes her directing debut here, and she is a filmmaker to be reckoned with, leavening her urbane wit with a few scatological jokes, polishing her narrative to a high finish, and directing a superb, finely tuned ensemble of actors. (Scott is particularly good in the male lead.) It’s disappointing that she can’t think of a creative resolution to the complex issues in this unorthodox setup. Instead of a subversive comic masterpiece, this is just a funny, well-made movie. Also with Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Lee Bryant, Bryan D’Arcy James, Edward Burns, and Megan Fox.
Good Deeds (PG-13) Multi-hyphenated artist/hack Tyler Perry returns with a drama about a successful yet unfulfilled businessman finally pushed to follow his heart. As his father’s successor in a job he doesn’t particularly like, and as a crutch to his unstable brother, Wesley Deeds (Perry) is so accustomed to doing what’s expected of him that even his fiancée (Gabrielle Union) finds him boringly predictable. Unfortunately, Deeds’ mission to make his life more unpredictable — falling in love with his office’s night janitor (Thandie Newton), a straight-talking single mother on the verge of losing everything — is about as formulaic as it gets. And just in case you miss the characters’ emotional subtext, the dialogue gets awkwardly literal in places. While the film thankfully isn’t manipulative with this material, Perry’s latest effort suffers a trite plot and one-dimensional protagonists that pander to, instead of resonating with, the audience. Also with Eddie Cibrian, Brian J. White, Phylicia Rashad, Beverly Johnson, Jamie Kennedy, and Rebecca Romijn. — Z.S.
The Hunger Games (PG-13) Gary Ross’ adaptation doesn’t accomplish nearly all the things that Suzanne Collins’ brilliant novels do, but it is a pretty good sci-fi action thriller. Jennifer Lawrence plays the teenage heroine in a future dystopian society who reluctantly volunteers to take part in a televised fight to the death with 23 other teens. The ruling city’s gaudy luxury in the middle section doesn’t come off, and the script loses many of the novel’s richer aspects, especially the commentary on reality TV. Yet the sun-dappled, indie-film look of the outer sections gives the movie a distinctive feel, and Ross turns the screws of suspense expertly. Lawrence’s dexterous and deeply felt performance keeps the movie on track. It’s not the most imaginative version, but it’s smart and reasonably well-made. Also with Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Liam Hemsworth, Amandla Stenberg, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Willow Shields, and Donald Sutherland.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (R) This quietly miraculous comedy stars Jason Segel as a jobless slacker who spends a life-changing afternoon with his marginally more functional older brother (Ed Helms), who suspects that his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him. Writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair) know their way around guys flailing helplessly for direction, and Segel does a memorable job as a pothead who thinks he can divine a mysterious cosmic order. There’s also a piquant subplot with the brothers’ widowed mom (Susan Sarandon) receiving IMs at work from a secret admirer. The ending that brings all the characters together may strike some as too neat, but the way Jeff finds a direction in life is near-mystical in its power. Also with Rae Dawn Chong, Steve Zissis, Evan Ross, Matt Malloy, and Katie Aselton.
John Carter (PG-13) The 100-year-old novel that influenced everything from Star Wars to Avatar finally comes to the big screen from WALL-E director Andrew Stanton. A Civil War veteran (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself transported to Mars, falls in love with a princess (Lynn Collins), befriends a four-armed green Martian (a Gollum-style motion-captured Willem Dafoe), and fights a dictator (Dominic West). Despite a slow middle and a too long run time, a game cast, passionate direction, and exciting action scenes help create the kind of pure concentrated fun that makes a trip to the theater worthwhile. Also with Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, James Purefoy, Polly Walker, Daryl Sabara, and Bryan Cranston. — Cole Williams
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (PG) When it comes to the 3D effects, this is miles better than the 2008 original. As far as the story goes, it’s still crap. The only holdover left from the original, Josh Hutcherson, stars as a teenager who receives a radio transmission from a lost island and goes off with his stepdad (Dwayne Johnson) to find the place. This chintzy amusement park ride of a film is so obsessed with special effects that the characters make no sense. No wonder the actors all look lost. The lack of magic here is depressing. Also with Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzmán, and Michael Caine.
October Baby (PG-13) What should be the stuff of painful drama instead becomes painfully boring to sit through. Newcomer Rachel Hendrix (pretty but not wildly talented) plays a college freshman who discovers all at once that she’s adopted and that her current health problems are related to her birth mother having tried to abort her. Director/co-writers Andrew and Jon Erwin try to dig into their main character’s feelings of betrayal, but their messages about forgiveness only manage to reduce this dramatically loaded situation to so much uninspiring inspirational porridge. Also with Jason Burkey, Jennifer Price, Carl Maguire, John Schneider, and Jasmine Guy.
Project X (R) Exactly two things distinguish this “wild teenage party” movie from all the others. One: Director Nima Nourizadeh films this in a vérité style, which doesn’t accomplish anything that a conventional treatment wouldn’t have. The other is more significant: The sheer scale of destruction in the last 15 minutes or so indeed dwarfs anything in any similar film. That’s notable, but the overall effect of this movie is wearying rather than liberating or frightening. It certainly isn’t funny. A movie about an out-of-control party should be more fun than this. Starring Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Brady Hender, Nick Nervies, Alexis Knapp, and Miles Teller.
Safe House (R) This effective anti-recruitment video for the CIA would have you believe that a) the agency’s bosses are willing to kill their underlings and colleagues and sell out their country to protect themselves and b) in South Africa, you can shoot up public places and kill civilians and cops without any consequences. Ryan Reynolds plays an agent in charge of a safe house in Cape Town who’s called upon to protect a notorious traitor (Denzel Washington) after the house is attacked. Daniel Espinosa’s direction is appropriately grimy, but he worsens the ham-handed and predictable turns in the script. The result is really loud and dull. Also with Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Rubén Blades, Robert Patrick, Nora Arnezeder, Fares Fares, Liam Cunningham, Joel Kinnaman, and Sam Shepard.
Silent House (R) A long, dark hallway to a dead end. This horror flick is a remake of an Uruguayan film called La Casa Muda, and it goes well for the first half or so before it runs out of shifting lights and sudden weird sound effects. Elizabeth Olsen plays a young woman helping her dad (Adam Trese) clean up a lakeside family vacation home. Olsen is great at calibrating her character’s increasing sense of terror, but the directing team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) can’t transcend their self-imposed technical limitations, and the big twist is arbitrary and exploitative. Even fans of subtle, arty horror are likely to hit a wall with this. Also with Eric Sheffer Stevens and Julia Taylor Ross. — Jimmy Fowler
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (PG) The first in a planned series of three Star Wars prequels is abundantly stuffed with visual splendors, exciting action sequences, and state-of-the-art special effects. Obviously, George Lucas has tried to give his loyal audience maximum bang for their box-office bucks. As a storyteller, however, he has grown rusty. During long stretches of The Phantom Menace, he permits the pace to slacken while key scenes dawdle aimlessly, then end abruptly. The continuity is spotty, the acting is wildly uneven, and integration of live actors with computer-generated co-stars isn’t always totally convincing. By turns simplistic and confusing, the movie trips over itself while trying to cover too many bases and plays too obviously like an opening chapter rather than a self-contained narrative. — Joe Leydon
This Means War (PG-13) There are no grown-ups in this wet firecracker of a comic thriller that stars Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as CIA agents and best buds who discover that they’re dating the same woman (Reese Witherspoon) and try to sabotage each other’s dates with her without telling her that they know each other. The immature behavior would be tolerable if the actors were fun to be around, but only the loose-limbed Pine delivers on that score. Witherspoon, meanwhile, is reduced to playing a collection of neurotic single-gal clichés. McG directs it all like a birthday party clown trying to amp up some bored kids by asking them, “Isn’t this fun?” The filmmakers should have gone Spy Kids on us and cast 13-year-olds in these roles. Then these characters’ antics would make sense. Also with Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, Rosemary Harris, Natassia Malthe, Laura Vandervoort, and Angela Bassett.
A Thousand Words (PG-13) Eddie Murphy stars as a compulsive liar of a literary agent who falls under a curse that leaves him with 1,000 words left to speak before he dies. Also with Kerry Washington, Cliff Curtis, Clark Duke, Allison Janney, Jack McBrayer, and Ruby Dee.
21 Jump Street (R) They finally found something Channing Tatum is good at: silly slapstick comedy. He and Jonah Hill make a well-matched comedy team in this big-screen present-day update of the 1980s TV show as two rookie cops who go undercover as high-school students to break up a drug ring. The indifferent characterizations give the film a slightly impersonal feel, but writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) deliver enough funny gags to offset that. If you’re looking for a movie that blends laughs with action and thrills, this is your best bet right now. Also with Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, DeRay Davis, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper, Nick Offerman, Caroline Aaron, Joe Chrest, Dakota Johnson, Jake M. Johnson, Holly Robinson Peete, and an uncredited Johnny Depp.
The Vow (PG-13) It’s like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, except that it sucks. Channing Tatum plays a man who must woo his wife (Rachel McAdams) again after she loses her memory in a car accident. What follows is a relentlessly prettified story where he fights for her against her snobby rich parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) who see a chance to get her to give up her artistic career and go back to law school. It all plays out exactly as you’d think, and McAdams’ overacting makes it annoying. When Channing Tatum is the best thing in your movie, that’s not good. Also with Wendy Crewson, Jessica McNamee, and Scott Speedman.
Wanderlust (R) Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star in this fitfully enjoyable comedy as two downsized New York professionals who try living at a Georgia commune. Director/co-writer David Wain tries to do for hippies what he did for LARPers in his last comedy, Role Models, only this time he doesn’t strike the right balance of satire and respect. He’s smart to recognize that petty power games go on even at such communities, but the mendacity and hypocrisy are too neatly embodied in the commune’s spiritual leader (Justin Theroux). The rampant ad-libbing from the cast results in some very funny lines, and some sequences that go on way too long. It’s all charming in a minor sort of way. Also with Alan Alda, Malin Akerman, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Kathryn Hahn, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Michaela Watkins, Jessica St. Clair, Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, Lauren Ambrose, and Linda Lavin.
Delicacy (NR) Audrey Tautou stars in this drama as a French widow hesitating about the romantic interest of a Swedish co-worker (François Damiens). Also with Bruno Todeschini, Mélanie Bernier, Joséphine de Meaux, Pio Marmaï, and Monique Chamette.
In Darkness (R) Nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this drama by Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa) stars Robert Wieckiewicz as a real-life Polish career criminal who hid 14 Jews from the Nazis in the city of Lvov during World War II. Also with Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Herbert Knaup, Marcin Bosak, and Maria Schrader.
A Separation (PG-13) An Oscar nominee for both Best Foreign Film and Best Original Screenplay, Asghar Farhadi’s drama stars Peyman Moadi and Leila Hatami as an Iranian married couple whose attempts to resolve their differences result in tragedy. Also with Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Kimia Hosseini, and Babak Karimi.
Undefeated (PG-13) The winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s film profiles a poor inner-city Memphis high-school football team looking to win its first playoff game in 110 years.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (R) Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar) adapts Lionel Shriver’s novel about a New York mother (Tilda Swinton) coping with the aftermath of her son (Ezra Miller) committing a mass murder at his school. Also with John C. Reilly, Ashley Gerasimovich, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan.