Chappie (PG-13) The latest film by Neill Blomkamp (Distrtict 9) is about a police robot (Sharlto Copley) in a futuristic society who’s stolen and reprogrammed to think for himself. Also with Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, and Sigourney Weaver. (Opens Friday)
Buzzard (NR) Joshua Burge stars in this comedy as a slacker and scam artist who flees his hometown to hide in Detroit. Also with Joel Potrykus, Teri Ann Nelson, Jason Roth, and Joe Anderson. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island (NR) In this sequel to Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Widow, Kim Myung-min reprises his role as an investigator in feudal Korea, trying to crack a ring of silver bullion counterfeiters. Also with Lee Yeon-hee, Oh Dal-su, Lee Chae-un, Hwang Chae-won, Woo Hyeon, and Hwang Jung-min. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (NR) Ronit Elkabetz stars in, co-writes, and co-directs this drama as an Israeli woman who struggles to obtain a divorce from her husband (Simon Abkarian). Also with Menashe Noy, Sasson Gabai, Gabi Amrani, Dalia Beger, Shmil Ben Ari, and David Ohayon. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (R) Sam Worthington stars in this thriller based on the true story of the gang of kidnappers who abducted beer tycoon Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins). Also with Jim Sturgess, Ryan Kwanten, Rob Fuller, Jemima West, and David Dencik. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Return to the Hiding Place (PG-13) John Rhys-Davies stars in this thriller about a group of young Dutch people trying to save the lives of Jews under Nazi occupation. Also with Mimi Sagadin, Craig Robert Young, David Thomas Jenkins, Rachel Spencer Hewitt, Stass Klassen, and Joanie Stewart. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Unfinished Business (R) Vince Vaughn stars in this comedy as an American small-business owner whose trip to Germany to close a big deal goes terribly awry. Also with Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, Sienna Miller, June Diane Raphael, Nick Frost, and James Marsden. (Opens Friday)
A La Mala (PG-13) Aislinn Derbez plays a struggling Mexican actress who finds a new career hiring herself out to married women to test their husbands’ fidelity. Also with Mauricio Ochmann, Papile Aurora, Luis Arrieta, Daniela Schmidt, and Juan Diego Covarrubias.
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 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 DUFF (PG-13) This teen comedy barely scrapes by on the charm of Mae Whitman as a high-school senior who vows to upend the social order at her school after discovering that her proximity to hotter friends has earned her a nickname that stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” even though she’s neither ugly nor fat. The romance between her and a football-playing childhood friend (Robbie Amell) fails to come off because the guy’s too dumb, and while the movie never gathers much momentum, it occasionally comes up with inspiration, like the principal (Romany Malco) who intervenes on our heroine’s behalf and only makes things worse for her. Whitman’s intelligence and some decent support from the adult actors make this watchable. Also with Bella Thorne, Skylar Samuels, Bianca Santos, Nick Eversman, Ken Jeong, and Allison Janney.
Fifty Shades of Grey (R) Not as terrible as you might fear (or hope for) but still well short of being much good. The movie version of E.L. James’ wildly popular novel stars Dakota Johnson as a grad student who falls into a relationship with a young billionaire (Jamie Dornan) with a taste for S&M. This adaptation has a sense of humor that the book does not, but the actors have no chemistry, and Dornan fails to capture the weirdness and intensity that’s supposed to be in his character. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson tries to inject character developments in the endless, repetitive sex scenes, but they don’t take. Secretary was a much better film about BDSM sex. Also with Luke Grimes, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Victor Rasuk, Callum Keith Rennie, Rita Ora, and Marcia Gay Harden.
Focus (R) Much-needed proof that Will Smith can still make a good movie. He stars in this caper comedy as a con artist who mentors a young woman (Margot Robbie), works a con with her in New Orleans, beds her, drops her unceremoniously, and then runs into her years later while working a job in Buenos Aires. The Argentinian setting of the second half gives this movie a different feel, and while the plotting by writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa) isn’t the best, the movie coasts on the chemistry between the rejuvenated Smith and a bright, lively Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street). Also with Rodrigo Santoro, BD Wong, Adrian Martinez, and Gerald McRaney. (Opens Friday)
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.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (R) Don’t go in here. You don’t know what you’ll catch. John Cusack smartly jumped ship and avoided this sequel featuring the original movie’s other heroes (Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, and Craig Robinson) jumping forward in time to solve a murder of one of their own. The original was deeply silly, but it had its terrifically funny moments. No such luck here, with sophomoric hijinks and female nudity running rampant here instead of decent jokes. The biggest laugh comes from Lisa Loeb in a cameo as an alternate-universe version of herself after one of the heroes steals “Stay (I Missed You)”. That’s not a good sign. Also with Adam Scott, Gillian Jacobs, Thomas Lennon, Bianca Haase, Collette Wolfe, and Chevy Chase.
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.
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.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (R) Puerile entertainment done with great skill and verve, though a bit more conscientiousness would have helped. Welsh newcomer Taron Egerton stars as a London street hooligan who gets recruited by his dead father’s friend (Colin Firth) into a secret international spy agency. Not associated with action-thrillers, Firth nevertheless makes a lean, efficient fighter in the movie’s plentiful hand-to-hand combat sequences, and the movie savvily casts him, Michael Caine as the agency’s head, and Samuel L. Jackson as a billionaire supervillain. Adapting Mark Millar’s comic book, director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn lets his twisted sense of humor come out to play, though he fumbles the tone of the piece at the end, and all the heroes are white while all the people of color are villains. For better and for worse, this is a throwback to the unserious spy thrillers of old. Also with Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michelle Womack, Jack Davenport, and Mark Hamill.
The Lazarus Effect (PG-13) A somewhat intriguing horror movie before things fall apart in the second half. Mark Duplass stars as the head of a medical research team who uses his experimental serum on his wife (Olivia Wilde) after she’s electrocuted and brings her back from the dead. The story is riddled with unaddressed plot developments and blind alleys, and the only time it even achieves creepiness is when the wife starts giving her husband’s pep talk to her while he’s still thinking it. The movie wastes a way overqualified cast and some nice work by Wilde as the woman who comes back from the other side altered. Also with Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, Amy Aquino, and Donald Glover.
McFarland, USA (PG) Kevin Costner stars in this story of Jim White, a football coach with anger issues who went to a heavily Latino high school in rural Southern California and turned it into a champion cross-country running team. The characters here are very much aware that the only white teacher at the school is named “White.” So is director Niki Caro (Whale Rider), who does much work to prevent this from being just another movie where the white guy comes in and saves everyone. Seeing this man incorporate himself into a new community and see what his new neighbors go through is what gives this sports movie its power. Also with Ramiro Rodriguez, Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Rafael Martinez, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero, Morgan Saylor, and Maria Bello.
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.
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.
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.
Still Alice (PG-13) Julianne Moore won a long-overdue Oscar for what is nevertheless one of her least effective performances. In this overly cozy drama, she plays a linguistics professor in New York struggling with her mental decline after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Filmmakers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland adapt this from Lisa Genova’s novel and don’t bring any sort of insight into the mechanics of living with mental decline at such an early age. Nor do they find much meaning in their heroine’s struggle to keep hold of her faculties. Moore’s reduced to an exercise in technique as she captures the stages of her character’s decline. This movie could have been more. Also with Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Shane McRae, Hunter Parrish, and Alec Baldwin.
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.
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.
Maps to the Stars (R) Julianne Moore stars in David Cronenberg’s satire as a faded Hollywood actress obsessed with staying young. Also with Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Sarah Gadon, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, John Cusack, and Carrie Fisher.
Red Army (PG) Gabe Polsky’s documentary about the great Soviet hockey teams of the 1970s and ’80s and the players’ struggle to play in the NHL. Starring Vyacheslav Fetisov, Anatoly Karpov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladislav Tretiak, Vladimir Pozner, and Scotty Bowman.
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.
What We Do in the Shadows (NR) Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi co-write, co-direct, and co-star in this mockumentary comedy as vampires who get on each other’s nerves when they’re forced to share an apartment. Also with Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, and Rhys Darby.