Song of the Sea (PG) Nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, this Irish film by Tomm Moore (The Book of Kells) is about a selkie (voiced by Lucy O’Connell) who determines to return her fellow fairy creatures to the sea. Additional voices by Brendan Gleeson, David Rawle, Lisa Gallagher, and Fionnula Flanagan. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
C’est Si Bon (NR) Jung Woo stars in this Korean comedy as an aspiring singer from the countryside who’s caught up in Seoul’s music scene. Also with Jin Gu, Jo Bok-rae, Kang Ha-neul, and Han Hyo-joo. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Citizenfour (R) Nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary, Laura Poitras’ film was made while she was in contact with Edward Snowden. Much of the movie takes place in the Hong Kong hotel room where the engaging and understandably paranoid former NSA software contractor was holed up before and during his massive leak exposing American spying on its citizens and foreign leaders. The film doesn’t work all that well in terms of delineating the importance of Snowden’s leak, nor does it draw that interesting a portrait of the man behind it. Still, you do get a sense of what it’s like to be in the room drawing out a guy who’s sitting on a mountain of damaging information, and it is fascinating to see him start a firestorm that engulfs the entire Western world. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Fifty Shades of Grey (R) E.L. James’ wildly popular novel gets turned into a film starring Dakota Johnson as a literature student who meets a troubled billionaire (Jamie Dornan) with particular sexual tastes. Also with Luke Grimes, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Victor Rasuk, Callum Keith Rennie, Rita Ora, and Marcia Gay Harden. (Opens Friday)
Guten Tag, Ramón (PG-13) Kristyan Ferrer stars in this comedy as a Mexican migrant worker who befriends an old woman (Ingeborg Schöner) when he’s stranded in Germany. Also with Adriana Barraza, Arcelia Ramírez, Rüdiger Evers, Hector Kotsifakis, and Jorge Ramírez Suárez. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Old Fashioned (PG-13) Rik Swartzwelder stars in his own romantic comedy as a man who tries to pursue a 19th century-style courtship with a woman (Elizabeth Roberts) who drifts into his rural Ohio town. Also with LeJon Woods, Tyler Hollinger, Nini Hadjis, Maryanne Nagel, and Dorothy Silver. (Opens Friday)
Somewhere Only We Know (NR) Xu Jinglei directs and co-stars in her romance about a Chinese woman (Wang Likun) who travels to the Czech Republic to escape a broken love affair. Also with Kris Wu, Zhang Chao, Re Yizha, and Gordon Alexander. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
American Sniper (R) Overrated. Bradley Cooper stars in Clint Eastwood’s biography of Chris Kyle, a sniper who recorded 160 confirmed kills in four tours in Iraq. Cooper is magnificent playing Chris when he gets home and tries to come to terms with his war experience, and everything the movie does to treat PTSD feels honest and true. The same can’t be said for the rest of the movie, which ignores both the context of the Iraq war and the false claims that Kyle made in his autobiography. Instead of addressing these, Eastwood and screenwriter include a lot of low-grade soap opera between Chris and his wife (Sienna Miller). This could have been a great war movie, but it’s undermined by the egregiousness of its omissions. Also with Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Kyle Gallner, Keir O’Donnell, and Navid Negahban.
Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (R) A hell of a ride. Michael Keaton stars in this theatrical satire as a washed-up Hollywood action star who risks the last of his fortune to mount a Broadway play that will get him taken seriously as an actor. This is easily the best work by director/co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu, who finally gets in touch with his sense of humor and stops trying to tell us about the state of the world in favor of telling us a story about a somewhat deluded showbiz guy. The long takes and cleverly disguised cuts create a hurtling sense of momentum that replicates its main character’s disintegrating sense of self. It also keeps the actors on their toes, with Keaton, Edward Norton (as a Method diva of a fellow actor), and Emma Stone (as the hero’s drug-addicted daughter) all delivering career-best performances. The movie’s ideas are undercooked, but at least González Iñárritu has discovered a sense of joy to go with his technical gifts. Also with Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Shamos, and Amy Ryan.
Black Sea (R) Some conscientious direction and terrific performances can’t turn this submarine thriller into a good movie, I’m afraid. Jude Law stars as a Scottish sub captain who takes an under-the-table job salvaging Nazi gold from off the coast of Russia. Director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) tries to generate some suspense from the tension between the English-speaking and Russian-speaking crew members, and both Law and Ben Mendelsohn (as a mutinous Australian diver) do good work. Still, none of it can keep an air of boredom from seeping into this rote exercise. Also with Scoot McNairy, Tobias Menzies, Grigory Dobrygin, Konstantin Khabensky, Jodie Whittaker, and David Threlfall.
Black or White (PG-13) An unsubtle title for an unsubtle movie. Kevin Costner stars as a widowed grandfather who’s drawn into a custody battle over his mixed-race granddaughter (Jillian Estell) with the girl’s grandmother (Octavia Spencer). These are delicate issues that the movie is dealing with, and writer-director Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger) bungles every single one of them, as various characters spell out each other’s shortcomings with unfailing accuracy — he drinks too much, she has too much faith in her no-account son (André Holland) — while maintaining blind spots on their own. The little girl is one of those precocious movie kids, too. The film fails every time it tries to be serious and every time it tries to be funny. Other than that, it’s a great success. Also with Anthony Mackie, Jennifer Ehle, Bill Burr, Mpho Koaho, Paula Newsome, and Gillian Jacobs.
The Boy Next Door (R) If you cheat on your cheating husband with a hot 20-year-old high-school student, you deserve to be violently murdered. This is the message of this shoddily made and sexually retrograde thriller starring Jennifer Lopez as a woman who has a disastrous affair with the kid living next door (Ryan Guzman). The boy turns into a monster as soon as they have sex, which takes all the suspense right out of this exercise. There’s an outrageous gaffe early on, when he presents her with a “first edition” of The Iliad. Given that Homer wrote it in the 8th century B.C., the book is in remarkably good shape. Also with John Corbett, Bailey Chase, Hill Harper, and Kristin Chenoweth.
Foxcatcher (R) Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) turns the bizarre 1989 murder of Olympic champion wrestler Dave Schultz by billionaire John du Pont into this starchy critique of American masculinity. Startlingly transformed by gray hair and discolored teeth, Steve Carell plays du Pont while Channing Tatum plays Dave’s brother Mark Schultz, who’s the first to get roped in by the rich man with a shiny, state-of-the-art gym on his estate. Riffing on his pet theme of male inarticulateness, Miller makes this movie spin on the dynamic between John, driven by homosexual urges he can’t acknowledge, and Mark, who dimly recognizes how he’s being used. The movie evokes a poisonous brew of machismo, patriotism, and worship of material success that feels particularly American. Also with Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, Brett Rice, and Vanessa Redgrave.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (PG-13) Not bad, necessarily, but all it made me feel was, “Oof, that’s over.” The last chapter involves the slaying of the dragon, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) going insane with greed, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) trying to avert an all-out slaughter over the dragon’s treasure hoard. This is the most action-packed of the installments, and the fight sequences are performed ably by the actors here. Still, none of the characters’ relationships rings true, and the villains remain one-dimensional. J.R.R. Tolkien’s book gained focus from being brief, but Peter Jackson has blown this up into a 474-minute saga because that’s all he knows how to do now. Also with Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Stephen Fry, Manu Bennett, Billy Connolly, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, and Ian Holm.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (PG-13) The latest installment does a perfectly fine job of setting us up for the series’ end. Newly installed as the face of the anti-government rebellion, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) leverages her position to get the rebels to rescue Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the other captured former Hunger Games winners. Director Francis Lawrence botches the climactic scene and runs into trouble with pacing early on, but the filmmakers keep adding telling details to Suzanne Collins’ novels that deepen our understanding of her fantasy world, and Julianne Moore is a nice addition as the rebels’ leader. Bring on the big finale. Also with Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer, Mahershala Ali, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Imitation Game (PG-13) Like The Social Network with British accents and Nazis, this biography of Alan Turing posits its hero as a computer genius who’s driven by memories of lost love. Brooding like Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing, who was persecuted by the British government for his homosexuality. His awkwardness and self-contained fury are the best reasons to see this movie. The rest of it isn’t nearly as substantive, despite Keira Knightley’s strong turn as Turing’s fiancée who knows about his orientation. Also with Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Mark Strong, and Charles Dance.
Into the Woods (PG) Stephen Sondheim’s musical is unforgiving on inadequate performers, so it’s good that the singing actors come through splendidly here. James Corden and Emily Blunt play a baker and his wife who try to lift a witch’s curse by getting things from Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack. Director Rob Marshall can’t make the forest setting look enchanted and seems uneasy adapting a show without much dance. Still, Blunt is an unexpectedly fine singer, Meryl Streep is both powerful and achingly vulnerable as the witch, and Anna Kendrick does a crushing version of “No One Is Alone.” With even the tiny roles so well cast, it’s hard to complain. Also with Chris Pine, Mackenzie Mauzy, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Billy Magnussen, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Simon Russell Beale, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, and Johnny Depp.
Jupiter Ascending (PG-13) Like Guardians of the Galaxy with much worse jokes. Mila Kunis stars as a Chicago cleaning lady who discovers that she’s actually an alien princess being targeted in an intergalactic war, from which a disgraced flying former soldier (Channing Tatum) has to save her. The Wachowski siblings still have a great flair for eye-catching costumes and action set pieces (like the spaceship battle over the Chicago skyline), but their characters drone on about the workings of their societies without ever coming to a point. I’d say it’s time for the Wachowskis to do smaller, less ambitious movies, but that time was really about 10 years ago. Also with Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, James D’Arcy, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Bae Doo-na, Christina Cole, Kick Gurry, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Terry Gilliam.
The Loft (R) Erik van Looy’s first Hollywood movie is a remake of a thriller he made in his native Belgium, and it makes me want to see the original. Five married guys (James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Matthias Schoenaerts, Eric Stonestreet, and Karl Urban) rent a loft apartment so that they can cheat on their wives with impunity, but the fun comes to a screeching halt when a party girl winds up dead in the room. The guys aren’t nasty enough; if they were, it’d be more fun when they start turning on one another after realizing one of them must be responsible. Van Looy treats this with high seriousness; somehow I think the same filmmaker would have brought a looser approach in his homeland. Also with Isabel Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Rhona Mitra, Valerie Cruz, Kali Rocha, Margarita Levieva, Kristin Lehman, and Robert Wisdom.
Mortdecai (R) Playing like the fourth Austin Powers movie that no one was clamoring for, this weirdly mustache-obsessed caper comedy stars Johnny Depp as an eccentric English lord who’s asked by MI5 to recover a stolen Goya painting. His wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) does most of the actual crime-solving while Mortdecai bumbles around like Inspector Clouseau. The story is supposed to be set in the present day, but the fashions and décor suggest the mid-1960s. Director David Koepp has no feel for the sort of stylized comedy that’s demanded here, and Depp mugs relentlessly until any joy is sucked out of this. The songs over the closing credits by Miles Kane and Rose Elinor Douglas are the best thing here. The movie is adapted from Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novel entitled Don’t Point That Thing at Me. Also with Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Jonny Pasvolsky, Olivia Munn, Ulrich Thomsen, and Jeff Goldblum.
A Most Violent Year (R) Evoking the feeling of a man sinking in quicksand, this drama stars Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) as a corrupt businessman in 1981 New York during a make-or-break period in his heating-oil business. Filmmaker J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost) gives this austere, superbly controlled direction, especially in an action sequence when the hero chases down two thieves driving away in one of his stolen trucks. Accompanying the technical skill is Chandor’s customary attention to character and performances, with Isaac conveying the unslakable ambition and increasing desperation behind his smoothed-out exterior. He stakes his claim to be cinema’s next great Latino leading man. Also with Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Peter Gerety, Christopher Abbott, Jerry Adler, and Albert Brooks.
Paddington (PG) Michael Bond’s beloved children’s stories are adapted into this harmless live-action movie. The talking, marmalade-loving, unfailingly polite but accident-prone bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) makes his way from Peru to move in with a London family. The comic hijinks are entirely predictable except for a few throwaway lines, and watching a sterling cast go through them is like watching bodybuilders lift toothpicks. Still, director/co-writer Paul King makes a few pointed and entirely appropriate parallels between Paddington’s situation and those of other immigrants in the U.K. This movie probably means more if you’re British. Watch for Bond’s cameo as a loiterer in Paddington Station. Also with Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas, Samuel Joslin, and Madeleine Harris. Additional voices by Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon.
Project Almanac (PG-13) Yet another teen movie that uses the found-footage style as a mere gimmick, though a more conventional treatment probably wouldn’t have helped this soppy sci-fi romance. Jonny Weston plays an engineering student who figures out how to build a time machine and unintentionally wreaks havoc on world events when he uses it to visit Lollapalooza and buy winning lottery tickets with his friends. The thing is made so indifferently, you wonder if anybody involved with the movie actually gave a crap. Also with Sofia Black-D’Elia, Amy Landecker, Virginia Gardner, Katie Garfield, Adam Evangelista, and Sam Lerner.
Selma (PG-13) This civil rights drama is a tad square and conventional, but is it ever so timely. Ava DuVernay’s film tracks the efforts of Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) and his fellow ministers to enshrine voting rights for African-Americans by demonstrating in Selma, Ala. The movie succeeds gloriously at its hardest task — making King come alive as a dramatic character — by focusing on the details of his life and by a grand performance from Oyelowo. DuVernay succeeds both at epic sequences like the re-creation of the “Bloody Sunday” march and at small, domestic scenes. She also pays tribute not just to King but to the movement around him, with its other leaders and philosophical differences. After a year when America has been roiled by racial issues, this movie is a rousing call to thought and action. Also with Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, André Holland, Colman Domingo, Common, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Tessa Thompson, Lorraine Touissant, Dylan Baker, Niecy Nash, Wendell Pierce, Stephan James, Trai Byers, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Roth, and Oprah Winfrey.
Seventh Son (PG-13) This embarrassing fantasy film stars Jeff Bridges as a medieval witch hunter who only takes seventh sons of seventh sons as his trainees. There’s some potentially fruitful stuff in the material adapted from Joseph Delaney’s novel The Spook’s Apprentice, as the newest apprentice (Ben Barnes) starts to realize that his mentor might not be all-wise and might have helped bring about the latest crisis, but Sergei Bodrov isn’t the director to find emotional subtlety in this or any other script. The costumes and scenery all look straight out of RenFaire, and the actors all look like they’d rather be somewhere else. The only exception is Julianne Moore as the witch queen who can turn into a dragon, proving that she can elevate even this piece of junk. Also with Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Antje Traue, Olivia Williams, Jason Scott Lee, and Djimon Hounsou.
Spare Parts (PG-13) Yet another inspirational teacher movie, this one stars George Lopez as the leader of a real-life group of Hispanic high-school students from Phoenix who entered a robotics competition and defeated teams from the country’s most prestigious colleges. The real-life story is pretty good, and while the movie isn’t unwatchable, Lopez’ humor is tamped down in a buttoned-up role-model type of character. Everything unrelated to the engineering competition, including the romantic subplots, is dull, dull stuff. A story like this deserved an odder, less conventional, more inspiring movie. Also with Marisa Tomei, José Julián, Carlos PenaVega, David Del Rio, J.R. Villarreal, Steven Michael Quezada, Alexa PenaVega, Esai Morales, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (PG) The last SpongeBob SquarePants movie back in 2004 tried to be an episode of the TV show writ large. Instead, this film embraces the big screen as a way of changing things up. As SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) and Plankton (voiced by Douglas Lawrence Osowski, who’s billed as Mr. Lawrence) journey to the surface to recover the recipe for Krabby Patties, the movie shifts visual registers to take in a traumatizing journey into SpongeBob’s brain; a conversation with a persnickety, universe-controlling dolphin (voiced by Matt Berry); and the heroes becoming 3D superheroes on the surface. The jokes are just stupid enough to raise a laugh, and it all keeps you from boredom even if you’re neither a small child nor stoned. Additional voices by Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Clancy Brown, Paul Tibbitt, Carolyn Lawrence, Riki Lindhome, and Kate Micucci. Also with Antonio Banderas.
Strange Magic (PG) “Strange” doesn’t begin to cover this wildly off-the-mark animated musical about a fairy princess (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) and a goblin king (voiced by Alan Cumming) battling over a love potion in an enchanted land. The story is punctuated by numbers in which the characters sing 1970s rock songs, for some reason. The songs don’t fit the story, the performances are undistinguished, and the animation is strictly second-rate. If you’re going to see this, take some serious psychotropic drugs before it starts. Additional voices by Kristin Chenoweth, Elijah Kelley, Alfred Molina, Maya Rudolph, Sam Palladio, Meredith Anne Bull, Marius de Vries, and Peter Stormare.
Taken 3 (PG-13) Everybody is an idiot in this movie. Yes, that includes indestructible hero Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and the supposed genius cop (Forest Whitaker) who pursues him after Bryan is framed for his wife’s murder. Once again, Bryan uses his particular set of skills to take revenge on a bunch of faceless tattooed bad guys — Russian, this time — and while the movie tries to make use of the villain’s knowledge that Bryan is a mindless killing machine who can be pointed in the wrong direction, the filmmakers here aren’t nearly clever enough to make something meaningful out of it. Oh, and Bryan’s hovering over his daughter (Maggie Grace) is starting to look downright creepy. Also with Dougray Scott, Leland Orser, David Warshofsky, Jon Gries, Don Harvey, Dylan Bruno, Sam Spruell, and Famke Janssen.
The Theory of Everything (PG-13) A failure, despite two terrific performances. Eddie Redmayne stars in this biography of Stephen Hawking, as he meets his future wife Jane (Felicity Jones) when they’re still attending Cambridge, then finds her indispensable after he’s diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Director James Marsh is a brilliant documentarian (Man on Wire) who seems to lose his storytelling instincts in fiction. Though he tries to make Jane as fascinating as Stephen, the script renders her as yet another self-sacrificing supportive wife. Redmayne does a superb job of depicting Stephen’s physical deterioration, and Jones is even better as a frustrated, overshadowed spouse. Still, this movie’s imagination is way short of its subject’s. Also with Charlie Cox, David Thewlis, Christian McKay, Simon McBurney, and Emily Watson.
Unbroken (PG-13) Louis Zamperini lived an amazing life, Laura Hillenbrand wrote an amazing biography of him, and the Coen brothers adapted that book into a script. So how did this movie come out so boring? Jack O’Connell plays Zamperini, the former Olympic athlete whose plane went down over the Pacific in World War II and who survived months drifting at sea and then years being tortured in a Japanese prison camp. The British newcomer O’Connell gives the part a good whack, but director Angelina Jolie turns this into so much inspirational pabulum. On the strength of this unmoving epic, she really shouldn’t quit her day job. Also with Jai Courtney, Finn Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, and Alex Russell.
The Wedding Ringer (R) Paging Adam Sandler. Kevin Hart stars in this comedy as a man who hires himself out as a best man to grooms who have no male friends to serve as one. Hart does a nifty dance routine with Josh Gad as a new client who needs seven groomsmen on short notice, but they can’t cover up the tedious predictability of the gags or the fact that all the women here are either psychotic or dispensable. Hart’s a funny guy, but I wish he would make better movies. Also with Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Jorge Garcia, Affion Crockett, Alan Ritchson, Corey Holcomb, Dan Gill, Colin Kane, Aaron Takahashi, Jenifer Lewis, Ken Howard, Olivia Thirlby, Nicky Whelan, Josh Peck, Mimi Rogers, Whitney Cummings, and Cloris Leachman.
Whiplash (R) A soft-headed melodrama that’s redeemed by its performances. Miles Teller plays an aspiring jazz drummer who gets into music school only to discover that the top professor (J.K. Simmons) is a classic bully who runs his band by humiliating his musicians. The movie is full of bromides about musical genius, and the romance with a movie theater employee (Melissa Benoist) is particularly badly handled. However, Simmons is fearsome as a man raging at the world’s embrace of mediocrity, and Teller does well in an atypically reserved, sensitive role. Writer-director Damien Chazelle takes a cubist approach to life at music school and crafts a climactic drum solo that will lift you out of your seat. Also with Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, and April Grace.
Leviathan (R) Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s drama stars Alexei Serebryakov as a Russian man who fights back when a corrupt mayor (Roman Madyanov) tries to take his house. Also with Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Anna Ukolova, Sergei Pokhodaev, and Alexei Rozin.
Love, Rosie (R) Sam Claflin and Lily Collins star in this romantic comedy as two lifelong best friends who commiserate over their own failed dates. Also with Tamsin Egerton, Suki Waterhouse, Art Parkinson, and Christian Cooke.
Mr. Turner (R) Timothy Spall stars in Mike Leigh’s biography of the 19th-century British painter J.M.W. Turner. Also with Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Karina Fernandez, Joshua McGuire, and Roger Ashton-Griffiths.