Dark Skies (PG-13) This horror film by Scott Stewart (Priest, Legion) is about a suburban family who suspect they’re being targeted by alien abductors. Starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, Rich Hutchman, Myndy Crist, and J.K. Simmons. (Opens Friday)
Bless Me, Ultima (PG-13) Once one of America’s most promising filmmakers, Carl Franklin continues to regress artistically with this lifeless adaptation of Rudolfo Anaya’s novel about a young Latino boy named Antonio (Luke Ganalon) who learns about life from his grandmother (Miriam Colón) while growing up in post-World War II New Mexico. The tiny Colón is a powerful presence as a wise but ostracized healer. Yet Franklin fails to evoke the material’s supernatural aspects or bring life to either little Antonio’s attempts to fit in with his classmates or the deadly vendetta held against the family by a powerful land baron (Castulo Guerra). The movie never finds a rhythm or an identity. Also with Benito Martinez, Dolores Heredia, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Joaquín Cosio. (Opens Friday)
Doctor Bello (PG-13) A Nigerian movie! Tony Abulu’s drama stars Isaiah Washington as a troubled doctor who turns to a Nigerian healer (Jimmy Jean-Louis) to help him save a young boy. Also with Vivica A. Fox, Evan Brinkman, Genevieve Nnaji, Victor Browne, Stephanie Okereke, and Bern Cohen. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
56 Up (NR) The latest installment in Michael Apted’s documentary series checks in on his 14 British subjects, asking about the last seven years of their lives. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Snitch (PG-13) Dwayne Johnson stars in this thriller as a father who agrees to infiltrate a drug gang to help reduce his son’s prison sentence. (Rafi Gavron). Also with Barry Pepper, Benjamin Bratt, Melina Kanakaredes, Harold Perrineau, David Harbour, Jon Bernthal, Michael K. Williams, and Susan Sarandon. (Opens Friday)
Amour (PG-13) A surprise and deserving nominee for the Oscar for Best Picture, Michael Haneke’s masterpiece stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as a retired Parisian music professor who must care for his wife (Emmanuelle Riva) after she suffers a debilitating stroke. Instead of indulging in his usual distancing techniques, Haneke films this in a mostly straightforward fashion, observing the woman’s deterioration with a gimlet eye and portraying her disease’s relentless progress. The leads turn in great performances, with the 85-year-old Riva portraying her character from robust health to near death and registering the blows to her dignity along the way. The story proceeds with cold logic, yet the movie itself isn’t cold, celebrating the love this married couple has for each other and the life that they’re bursting with. This reckoning with aging and mortality is deeply moving. Also with Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, and Isabelle Huppert.
Argo (R) Ben Affleck stars in and directs this expertly crafted, personality-light thriller. He portrays a real-life CIA exfiltration specialist who in 1980 spirited six Americans who had escaped from the U.S. embassy out of Iran by having them pose as a film crew for a nonexistent movie. The director superbly handles the latter half of the film when it comes to slowly tightening the grip of suspense. However, Chris Terrio’s script barely sketches in the characters, and Affleck’s performance in the lead role as a sad sack with a rocky marriage is undistinguished. The scenes that take place in Hollywood feel lifted from another film, but it’s the only part of the movie that lets the actors (notably Alan Arkin and John Goodman as movie-industry types) have fun. Also with Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Sheila Vand, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver, Kyle Chandler, Bob Gunton, Richard Kind, and an uncredited Philip Baker Hall.
Beautiful Creatures (PG-13) Adapted freely from the first in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s popular series of teen fantasy novels, this movie has considerable upside and downside. Alden Ehrenreich stars as a high-school jock in a small South Carolina town who falls for the social-outcast new girl in town (Alice Englert) only to discover that she and her family are witches caught up in an epic struggle between good and evil. Appealing newcomer Ehrenreich plays a thoughtful jock quite well, and writer-director Richard LaGravenese makes the first half of this movie very funny. Unfortunately, he has no sense of the supernatural and mishandles the time element badly. The most interesting character is swallowed up by the fantasy world instead of serving as a guide, and the movie takes a nosedive in the second half. Too bad, but its first half is promising. Also with Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale, Zoey Deutch, Kyle Gallner, and Emma Thompson.
The Berlin File (NR) About half the dialogue is in English in this excellent German-filmed South Korean spy thriller starring Ha Jung-woo as a North Korean agent attached to his country’s embassy in Berlin. When he and his pregnant wife (Gianna Jun) are double-crossed, they must flee from their own countrymen and myriad others trying to kill them. Writer-director Ryoo Seung-wan botches some of the action sequences but engineers a convincing, complicated plot involving Mossad agents, CIA guys, Arab terrorists, Russian arms dealers, and one especially implacable South Korean Communist-hunter (Han Suk-kyu). Ha and Han make good action-movie adversaries, which bodes well for the sequel that this movie’s downbeat ending sets up. Also with Ryoo Seung-beom, Lee Kyeong-yeong, Bae Jung-nam, Werner Daehn, Numan Açar, and John Keogh.
Bullet to the Head (R) You’ll want one of those yourself if you buy a ticket to this incredibly stupid thriller starring a giant block of concrete shaped like Sylvester Stallone as a New Orleans hit man who teams up with a D.C. homicide cop (Sung Kang) to take down the business mogul who double-crossed him and the crooked cops protecting him. Based on a French graphic novel, the movie features good guys engaging in unfunny racially tinged banter while operating with total disregard for the law or common sense. Stallone isn’t the only one who looks past his sell-by date — director Walter Hill (48 Hrs., The Warriors) stages the shootouts without an ounce of vitality or creativity. This is one of Stallone’s dumbest thrillers ever, and that’s saying quite a bit. Also with Sarah Shahi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jason Momoa, Jon Seda, Holt McCallany, Brian Van Holt, Weronika Rosati, and Christian Slater.
Django Unchained (R) Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti Western/revenge thriller is surprisingly good at confronting the evils of slavery. Jamie Foxx plays a freed slave who helps a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) kill his targets in exchange for rescuing his wife (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of a Mississippi slaveowner (Leonardo DiCaprio). The film may just be Tarantino’s funniest to date, aided by a hugely entertaining Waltz. Yet Tarantino does not stint on the brutality visited upon slaves, and paints a couple of unforgettable villains produced by the slave economy, played by DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. The shootouts, the in-jokes, and the triumphant ending are here to make the movie’s portrayal of slavery bearable, but they do more than that. They make the movie great fun. Also with Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Laura Cayouette, Ato Essandoh, Sammi Rotibi, James Russo, Bruce Dern, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, and Franco Nero.
Escape From Planet Earth (PG) This terrible animated film set among a race of blue aliens is about a hypercautious engineer (voiced by Rob Corddry) who must rescue his reckless, lunkheaded astronaut brother (voiced by Brendan Fraser) after the astronaut travels to Earth and gets captured by an overzealous general (voiced by William Shatner). The animation is visually uninteresting, the characters are downright unlikable, and the jokes are lame pop culture riffs. If you pay the 3D upcharge, you’ll really hate yourself. Additional voices by Sarah Jessica Parker, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Craig Robinson, George Lopez, Jane Lynch, Steve Zahn, Chris Parnell, Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara, and Ricky Gervais.
A Good Day to Die Hard (R) Bruce Willis stars in the series’ fifth movie as an NYPD cop who must team up with his CIA agent son (Jai Courtney) to fight the Russian mob. Also with Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Yuliya Snigir, Radivoje Bukvic, Sergei Kolesnikov, Amaury Nolasco, and Cole Hauser.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (R) Eesh. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton portray grown-up versions of the fairy tale children, who now travel across Europe exterminating witches. Norwegian director/co-writer Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) injects a few amusing touches such as Hansel being a diabetic, but the setup’s comic potential is overwhelmed by cheesy action sequences and penny-ante attempts at portraying the siblings as damaged adults. Renner is so woefully unsuited to the task he’s given here that it’s downright painful to watch him try to be funny. Also with Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann, Joanna Kulig, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, and Zoe Bell.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (PG-13) Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel is shot at 48 frames per second, which gives the images clarity and sharpness you’ve never seen on a movie screen and allows camera movement with astonishing fluidity. The great joke is that the story and characters are so poorly handled, the movie won’t look like anything special when you watch it on your TV in six months. Martin Freeman makes an underwhelming Bilbo, and a few nicely executed action sequences can’t make up for Jackson’s cringe-inducing sense of comedy and pacing so flabby that it takes 50 minutes before Bilbo actually leaves his house to help his dwarf comrades defeat the dragon. Other filmmakers have made more powerful epic fantasy-adventures since Jackson; the game has passed him by. Also with Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Barry Humphries, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian Holm, and Elijah Wood.