Beasts of the Southern Wild (PG-13) The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and multiple prizes at Cannes, Benh Zeitlin’s fantasy stars Quvenzhané Wallis as a six-year-old girl in the Mississippi delta who leaves her home to search for her mother. Also with Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, and Amber Henry. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Katy Perry: Part of Me (PG) This concert film follows the pop music star during her tour last year. (Opens Thursday)
Savages (R) Oliver Stone’s thriller stars Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch as drug-dealing brothers who leap into action after the girlfriend whom they share (Blake Lively) is kidnapped by Mexican drug lords. Also with Salma Hayek, Demián Bichir, Benicio Del Toro, Joaquín Cosio, Shea Whigham, Emile Hirsch, and John Travolta. (Opens Friday)
To Rome With Love (PG-13) Woody Allen co-stars in his own comedy about a group of Americans who have romantic misadventures in Italy. Also with Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Penélope Cruz, Greta Gerwig, Alison Pill, Judy Davis, Ornella Muti, Roberto Benigni, and Alec Baldwin. (Opens Friday)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R) The year’s best movie title goes to this appropriately strange but rushed and unmoving thriller adapted from Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, in which our nation’s 16th president (Benjamin Walker) is inspired to take up politics by his lust for killing vampires. A newcomer from the stage, Walker is a terrifically unself-conscious Lincoln, and director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) stages a few gonzo action sequences like the one in which Lincoln and a vampire fight while leaping on the backs of stampeding horses. Yet Grahame-Smith is glib enough to equate the evils of slavery with the evils of vampires, and Bekmambetov seems unsure whether to treat this as historical burlesque or with a straight face. Whole sections of the movie seem to be missing, and the inconsistent tone dulls the impact. Also with Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Marton Csokas, Jimmi Simpson, Rufus Sewell, and an uncredited Alan Tudyk.
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.
Bernie (PG-13) Jack Black’s quietly mesmerizing performance as a gentle, gay, God-fearing, emotionally needy East Texas man anchors this drama based on a real life murder case. He portrays a mortician involved with a wealthy old widow (Shirley MacLaine) who becomes so mean and possessive of him that he snaps. So great is Black, you wish director/co-writer Richard Linklater would stop distracting you with fake interview footage of townspeople (portrayed by actors) testifying to Bernie’s character. Still, the movie draws an absorbing portrait of a man whose niceness and burning desire for friends proves to be both his downfall and his salvation. Watch for the diner customer giving a hilarious explanation of Texas’ cultural geography. Also with Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux, Merrilee McCommas, Brandon Smith, Matthew Greer, and the late Rick Dial.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG-13) A gasp-inducing lineup of veteran British actors makes some watchable moments but doesn’t elevate this slight comedy to anything more. Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel, the movie concerns seven British seniors who retire to the city of Jaipur, India to a faded old hotel repurposed as an old-age home for British seniors by a young entrepreneur (Dev Patel). Judi Dench underplays nicely as a widow on her own for the first time in her life, while Tom Wilkinson demonstrates similarly easy mastery as a man harboring a long-held shameful secret. Yet director John Madden doesn’t go much deeper into the Indian setting than a travelogue, and the plotlines’ resolutions pile up near the end. For all its talent, this movie comes out like bland, over-processed curry. Also with Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Tena Desae, Lillete Dubey, Seema Azmi, Vishnu Sharma, and Diana Hardcastle.
Brave (PG) Pixar’s first real disappointment. Set in medieval Scotland, the story is about a tomboy princess (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) whose clashes with her mum (voiced by Emma Thompson) lead her to buy a magic spell that will change her fate. The heroine is basically a petulant teenager who isn’t nearly as moving a figure as previous Pixar characters, and the relationship with her mother is poorly sketched. The characters are conveniently unintelligent, and the plot developments can be seen coming yards away. Even much of the humor falls flat after the spell takes effect. The movie still looks good, but this marks a descent into mediocrity for the proud studio. Additional voices by Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Peigi Barker, and John Ratzenberger.
Lola Versus (R) Greta Gerwig’s charm is the only redeeming feature in this wearisomely repetitive comedy about a young woman who goes into a tailspin after her fiancé (Joel Kinnaman) suddenly ditches her. The titular Lola copes by getting wasted, having bad sex with random guys, awkwardly running into her ex, and listening to gentle pep talks from her loved ones until she mysteriously finds some sort of closure. The script by director Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones (who also plays Lola’s best friend) is full of punchlines that miss. Unless you’re a diehard Gerwig fan, skip this one. Also with Hamish Linklater, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jay Pharoah, Cheyenne Jackson, Bill Pullman, and Debra Winger.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (PG) This noisy and inconsequential third installment has our animal heroes (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer) becoming stranded in Europe, pursued by a fanatical Monaco animal control officer (voiced by Frances McDormand), and forced to take refuge amid a multinational troupe of circus animals. The movie doesn’t have any dead spots, and the plot isn’t as scattered as Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa’s, but the jokes are largely forgettable and the new characters don’t add much, aside from McDormand singing a credible “Non, je ne regrette rien.” It’s all professionally made, but it’s empty. Additional voices by Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Paz Vega, and Jessica Chastain.
Madea’s Witness Protection (PG-13) If you need an introduction to Tyler Perry’s universe, this is as good as any. Which isn’t to say that it’s a good movie. Eugene Levy plays a clueless corporate executive who is forced, along with his wife (Denise Richards), mother (Doris Roberts), and kids to go into the witness protection program after he testifies to his company running a Ponzi scheme and laundering money for the mob. Where does the federal prosecutor (Perry) decide to hide them? Why, at his Aunt Madea’s house, of course! As usual, Perry writes and directs in the broadest strokes imaginable, and while a few lines earn some chuckles, most of the humor flops. The film is mired in unfunny black and white stereotypes, and Perry’s theater-based direction drags the talents of Levy and Roberts down to the level of a bad church play. Even a wooden actress like Denise Richards has performed better. Also with Romeo, Danielle Campbell, John Amos, Marla Gibbs, and Tom Arnold. — Steve Steward
Men in Black III (PG-13) The fizz that made the 1997 original so much fun is completely gone in this third installment, which has Agent J (Will Smith) trying to save Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) by traveling back in time to the 1960s to prevent an evil alien (Jemaine Clement) from assassinating the young K (Josh Brolin). A few scattered jokes hit, and there’s a nice supporting performance by Michael Stuhlbarg as a sweet-natured alien who sees all possible versions of the future at once. Yet director Barry Sonnenfeld’s slime-joke aesthetic is long stale, and Smith can’t duplicate the comic chemistry with Brolin (doing a pretty good Jones impression). The tired hijinks here make 1997 seem like a very long time ago. Also with Emma Thompson, Mike Colter, Alice Eve, David Rasche, and Bill Hader.
Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13) This luminescent children’s fable from Wes Anderson is about 12-year-old kids in love (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who run off together to live in the woods, launching a massive childhunt on the New England island where they live. The director’s scrupulously composed visuals keeps things from becoming too syrupy. The kids take their wilderness adventure matter-of-factly, but their deeper emotions come out in oblique ways, such as a great montage with the openings of their letters to each other over the hellish moments of their lives. Anderson’s style is at its most scrupulous and typically Anderson, but it’s secondary to the delicate love story he crafts about two children carving out a space in the world where they can be themselves. The paradise they create is bewitching. Also with Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel.