Bernie (PG-13) Based on a real-life murder case, Richard Linklater’s film stars Jack Black as a small-town Texas mortician who kills a wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine) for her money and then tries to keep up the pretense that she’s still alive. Also with Matthew McConaughey, Tommy G. Kendrick, Rick Dial, Richard Robichaux, and Amparo García. (Opens Friday at Rave Ridgmar)
Boy (NR) Taika Waititi (Eagle vs. Shark) writes, directs, and co-stars in this comedy as a bungling New Zealand criminal who reunites with his abandoned 11-year-old son (James Rolleston) while trying to locate a buried bag of money. Also with Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Moerangi Tihore, Cherilee Martin, Haze Reweti, and RickyLee Waipuka-Russell. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Darling Companion (PG-13) The latest film by Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill) stars Diane Keaton as a woman who overreacts after her husband (Kevin Kline) loses their dog. Also with Richard Jenkins, Dianne Wiest, Elisabeth Moss, Ayelet Zurer, Mark Duplass, Lindsay Sloane, and Sam Shepard. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Nesting (PG-13) John Chuldenko’s comedy stars Todd Grinnell and Ali Hillis as a well-off couple in their 30s who try to rekindle their relationship by breaking into and squatting in the apartment they shared in their 20s. Also with Kevin Linehan, Erin Chambers, Erin Gray, John Gerbin, and Wes Armstrong. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Road (R) Not to be confused with the Cormac McCarthy novel or the movie version thereof, this Filipino horror flick is about three teens who drive onto a side road through the jungle that seems to have no end. Their experience is supposed to lead us through the stories of a troubled hero cop (TJ Trinidad) and serial murders stretching back 12 years, but director/co-writer Yam Laranas takes forever to get to the point. Divided into three sections, the movie finds its groove only in the last third, telling the story of a boy who grows up with a horrific set of parents. That piece of storytelling isn’t enough to redeem the rest of the movie, but it marks Laranas as a talent to watch. Also with Carmina Villarroel, Rhian Ramos, Barbie Fortaleza, Lexi Fernandez, Derick Monasterio, Alden Richards, Louise de los Reyes, and Renz Valerio. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Avengers (PG-13) A payoff worth waiting four years and sitting through five movies for. Marvel Comics superheroes Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, and Thor (Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth) team up with two new assassins (Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner) to battle a fallen Norse god (Tom Hiddleston) with plans to invade the Earth. Writer-director Joss Whedon manages to give everyone enough to do, fill in intriguing character details, and pull off a couple of mind-bogglingly complex action sequences without any strain and without making the movie feel overstuffed. A few bobbles along the way notwithstanding, this surpasses all the other Marvel films while somehow making them all seem worthier in retrospect. Also with Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Alexis Denisof, Jerzy Skolimowski, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Harry Dean Stanton, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
A Beautiful Soul (R) Deitrick Haddon stars in this drama as an R&B music star who re-evaluates his life while trapped in a spiritual limbo state after he and his entourage are attacked. Also with Lesley-Ann Brandt, Harry Lennix, Robert Ri’chard, Barry Floyd, Trevor Jackson, Golden Brooks, and Vanessa Bell Calloway.
Bully (PG-13) Lee Hirsch’s documentary is admirable in its attempt to change the culture. Too bad it’s not that good. The film follows three kids in various parts of rural America who are being bullied at school, plus two sets of parents whose young sons killed themselves because of bullying. The movie shows us a string of school officials who seem to go out of their way to look weak and ineffectual, but it misses the complexities of bullying, leaves nagging questions, and is often just sloppy. By neatly dividing the world into bullies and victims, the movie glosses over how easily victims can become perpetrators, and vice versa. The movie wants to be weigh in on an issue of the moment, but a great number of recent fiction films have addressed the subject in fuller and richer terms.
The Cabin in the Woods (R) The funniest slasher movie ever. Five heavily stereotyped college kids (Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, and Jesse Williams) spend a weekend at a cabin, not knowing that they’re being remotely observed by three scientists (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Amy Acker) in a military-style bunker, manipulating events at the cabin to make sure the characters are killed. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s snappy script will leave you helpless with laughter, but they’ve got more on the agenda than just gags or sending up slasher-movie conventions. The twisty plot conceals existential and theological implications that are downright Pirandellian. It’s about nine different kinds of awesome. Also with Brian White, Tom Lenk, Jodelle Ferland, and Sigourney Weaver.
Chimpanzee (G) Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield’s kid-friendly documentary tries to humanize its simian subjects when it would have been better off treating them as chimps. The story hinges on a three-year-old orphaned chimp who’s adopted by an alpha male. The movie is beautifully shot, but the baby is bad at everything (which makes him hard to sympathize with), and the pack of rival chimps are cast uncomfortably as the villains. A less cutesy approach would have done a world of good. Narrated by Tim Allen. — Steve Steward
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.
The Five-Year Engagement (R) This fairly by-the-numbers Judd Apatow-produced comedy turns out to be good for some laughs. Jason Segel and Emily Blunt play a normal couple whose planned marriage keeps being put off thanks to accidents and diverging career paths. A supporting cast full of newcomers to Apatow’s stable gives this a jolt, and the script (by Segel and director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller) is pretty good at treating the strains of a long-term relationship. Also with Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, David Paymer, Mimi Kennedy, Chris Parnell, Rhys Ifans, Kevin Hart, and Mindy Kaling. — Zack Shlacter
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.
Lockout (PG-13) Guy Pearce’s slouchy, disinterested attitude is the only point of interest in this otherwise rote sci-fi thriller. Playing every scene like he’s just been rudely awakened from a nap, Pearce portrays a wrongly convicted spy in 2079 who’s offered his freedom in exchange for freeing the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace), who’s trapped on a maximum-security prison in outer space that has been taken over by its violent inmates. Pearce spends the movie wisecracking and acting like he couldn’t care less about his mission’s success. Is his performance appallingly unprofessional or a brilliant distraction from the crappy special effects and writing? I can’t decide. Also with Peter Stormare, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Lennie James, and Jacky Ido.
The Lucky One (PG-13) Just like all the other Nicholas Sparks adaptations, only worse. Zac Efron portrays a psychologically traumatized Marine veteran who seeks out a woman in a photograph that he credits with saving his life and finds her a divorced mom (Taylor Schilling) in Louisiana living in fear of her drunken abusive ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson). Efron is tragically miscast as a damaged case, but his charisma still outshines almost everyone else in this personality-free cast. Scott Hicks contributes torpid direction, and all the complicated issues in the story are reduced to pablum, with a heavy infusion of syrup. This isn’t to be confused with The Lucky Ones, a 2008 comedy that’s also about war veterans on leave, which happens to be a much better movie. Also with Riley Thomas Stewart, Adam LeFevre, and Blythe Danner.
Mirror Mirror (PG) This comic take on the Snow White fable stars Lily Collins as the princess who’s exiled to a forest by a wicked queen (Julia Roberts). The script is deliberately silly without being funny, and the only thing that saves the early going from banality is director Tarsem Singh (Immortals, The Cell) and his flamboyant visual style. His approach doesn’t fit the jokey material, but his sets and costumes are a joy to look at. Collins only looks authoritative at the end, when she leads a Bollywood dance number, a bit of foolery that comes off well and helps make this into a pleasant minor diversion. Also with Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli, Danny Woodburn, Martin Klebba, Joe Gnoffo, Sebastian Saraceno, Ronald Lee Clark, Michael Lerner, Mare Winningham, and Sean Bean.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (G) Aardman Animation’s big-screen version of Gideon Defoe’s novels is a total smash. Hugh Grant provides the voice of a 19th-century pirate captain looking to win a pirate-of-the-year award while Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant) tries to get the captain’s parrot, who is actually the world’s last remaining dodo. The action moves at a brisk clip, and Aardman’s soft and fuzzy treatment fits the material exceptionally well. The wry wit and smart silliness on display helps it all go down smoothly. Additional voices by Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, Brendan Gleeson, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed, and Anton Yelchin. — Anthony Mariani
The Raven (R) This thriller posits what would happen if Edgar Allan Poe himself (John Cusack) had to play detective to stop a serial killer inspired by the writer’s own macabre stories. However, like a bad copycat, the movie can’t compare to Poe’s original works. From the first murder on, the movie fails to thrill or scare and feels like any generic serial killer flick with a half-assed dash of Poe painted on. The handsome and charismatic Cusack is a poor fit for the infamously tortured Poe, and Alice Eve feels unnecessarily shoehorned in as Poe’s fictionalized and endangered fiancée. Luke Evans, as the police officer in charge of the investigation, is the one engaging presence in the movie, which considering its subject matter is a damning sign. You’re better off staying at home and cracking open a good book instead. Also with Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jimmy Yuill, Pam Ferris, and Michael Kelly. — C.W.
Safe (R) By now, Jason Statham fans won’t think to ask why he’s playing an ex-NYPD cop with an English accent, but they might think to ask some other questions of his latest thriller, in which he has to protect a Chinese girl (Catherine Chan) in possession of a secret that half the criminal underworld is willing to kill for. Writer-director Boaz Yakin takes some care with the plotting as the hero plays Chinese gangsters, Russian gangsters, and crooked cops off one another, but the action is so over-the-top and uninventive that the work goes all for naught. Also with Robert John Burke, James Hong, Anson Mount, Reggie Lee, Sándor Técsy, Joseph Sikora, and Chris Sarandon.
Think Like a Man (PG-13) The overqualified actors are the best reason to see this ensemble comedy based on Steve Harvey’s dating advice book, in which various characters follow Harvey’s advice. The advice isn’t original, and everything gets squashed into the mold of a conventional romantic comedy, but it’s worth it to see the cast. The diminutive Kevin Hart reliably scores laughs in even the most unpromising circumstances, while Romany Malco brings fascinating stuff to the cliché role of a player trying to settle down. Michael Ealy and Taraji P. Henson strike all manner of sparks off each other. Seeing these good-looking, wildly talented, suavely charming actors at work, you wish they had better material to work with. Also with Meagan Good, Jerry Ferrara, Regina Hall, Gabrielle Union, Terrence J, Gary Owen, Jenifer Lewis, Gary Owen, La La Anthony, Wendy Williams, Sherri Shepherd, Chris Brown, and Steve Harvey.
The Three Stooges (PG) This bizarre exercise tries to copy the Stooges’ old movies in every respect, with Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso giving dutiful impressions of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard, respectively. Director/co-writers the Farrelly brothers have the Stooges trying to save the orphanage where they grew up and getting sucked into a murder-for-hire plot. The slapstick is uninspired, and the overqualified supporting cast doesn’t add much, except for the brilliant stroke of Larry David as a crabby nun. The movie gains points for being precisely what it appears to be, but it doesn’t amount to all that much in the end. Also with Jennifer Hudson, Jane Lynch, Sofía Vergara, Craig Bierko, Stephen Collins, Kirby Hayborne, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Kate Upton.
Titanic (PG-13) James Cameron’s $200-million epic offers impressively lavish production values, a satisfying taste of period flavor, and — once the great ship starts taking on water — some genuinely awesome displays of terror, destruction, and special-effects wizardry. What the movie doesn’t offer, however, is a compelling story. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet simply aren’t substantial enough as the romantic leads. And it doesn’t help at all that Cameron, who directed his own screenplay, gives his actors great wads of cliché-heavy dialogue that fall from their mouths and onto the floor with a singular lack of grace. — Joe Leydon
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.
Wrath of the Titans (PG-13) This sequel to the 2010 hit Clash of the Titans is just as joyless, charmless, and flavorless as the original. Sam Worthington reprises his role as Perseus, who’s forced to journey to the underworld to rescue his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) from the clutches of Hades (Ralph Fiennes), Ares (Édgar Ramírez), and Cronos (a big CGI volcanic cloud). There’s an all-too-brief cameo by the always-entertaining Bill Nighy as a half-mad Hephaestus, but the rest of this movie is a long, hard slog of unfunny jokes, unthrilling action sequences, and special-effects that aren’t special. Also with Rosamund Pike, Toby Kebbell, Sinéad Cusack, John Bell, and Danny Huston.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG-13) Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel, this film directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) is about a group of British seniors who decide to retire to a restored hotel in India. Starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton, and Dev Patel.
Damsels in Distress (PG-13) The first new film in 14 years by Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco) stars Greta Gerwig, Megalyn Echikunwoke, and Carrie MacLemore as three college girls who seek to change the culture of their previously all-male school through a program of good hygiene and tap dancing. Also with Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Ryan Metcalf, Jermaine Crawford, Taylor Nichols, Carolyn Farina, Alia Shawkat, and Aubrey Plaza.
Headhunters (R) Based on a mystery novel by Jo Nesbø, this Norwegian thriller stars Aksel Hennie as a corporate headhunter who gets into lethal trouble pursuing his sidelight in burgling the homes of his wealthy clients. Also with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Julie Ølgaard, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, and Reidar Sørensen.
A Little Bit of Heaven (PG-13) Kate Hudson stars in this dramedy as a woman who falls in love with her doctor (Gael García Bernal) while being treated for terminal cancer. Also with Kathy Bates, Peter Dinklage, Rosemarie DeWitt, Lucy Punch, Romany Malco, Treat Williams, Steven Weber, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Marley (PG-13) Not a sequel to Marley & Me, this documentary by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void) profiles the life and music of Bob Marley.
Monsieur Lazhar (PG-13) Philippe Falardeau’s Oscar-nominated dramedy stars Mohamed Fellag as an Algerian immigrant who’s hired to replace a popular Montreal schoolteacher who killed himself in his classroom. Also with Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Vincent Millard, Seddik Benslimane, and Danielle Proulx.
Sound of My Voice (R) Brit Marling co-writes and stars in Zat Batmanglij’s thriller as a religious cult leader who places an investigative journalist (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend (Nicole Vicius) under her spell. Also with Davenia McFadden, Kandice Stroh, Richard Wharton, Christy Meyers, and James Urbaniak.