OPENING THIS WEEK
Director Clint Eastwood reteams with "Invictus" star Matt Damon for this psychological drama focusing on three very different people: a blue-collar American with a special connection to the afterlife, a French journalist who has a near-death experience and a London schoolboy desperate to connect with his dead brother. At multiple locations. (129 min.) PG-13; mature thematic elements, including disturbing disaster and accident images, brief profanity.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2
After experiencing a series of break-ins, a family sets up security cameras around their home — which reveal that the events unfolding around them are far more sinister than mere break-ins — in this follow-up to last year’s horror hit. Katie Featherston reprises her starring role; director Tod Williams ("The Door in the Floor") takes over from producer Oren Peli. At multiple locations; in IMAX at select locations. (91 min.) R; profanity, brief violent material.
Working together for the first time since 2001’s "The Score," Robert De Niro and Edward Norton headline this thriller about a convicted arsonist (Norton) who tries to manipulate his parole officer (De Niro) into recommending his release — with more than a little help from his sexpot wife (Milla Jovovich). Norton’s "Painted Veil" director, John Curran, calls the shots. At multiple locations. (105 min.) R; violence, sexual situations, nudity, profanity.
WAITING FOR ‘SUPERMAN’
Oscar-winning "Inconvenient Truth" director Davis Guggenheim tackles another daunting topic — our troubled public schools — in this documentary focusing on the children victimized by them, and education reformers trying to improve a broken system. At Village Square. (102 min.) PG; thematic material, mild profanity, incidental smoking.
YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER
ALREADY IN THEATERS
Movies are rated on a letter-grade scale, from A to F. Opinions by R-J movie critic Carol Cling (C.C.) are indicated by initials. Other opinions are from wire service critics.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
(C-) Two wolves at opposite ends of their pack’s social order (voiced by Justin Long and Hayden Panetierre), transferred to an Idaho park, must work together to find their way home to Canada in this animated adventure that boasts advanced 3-D — you’ve never seen dog drool this real — but a script that’s a let-down in the humor and heart department. A howl, but not in a good way. (88 min.) PG; rude humor, mild action.
(C) Thinking inside the box: In 2006 Iraq, a kidnapped American trucker (Ryan Reynolds, in a tour-de-force role) is trapped inside a wooden coffin buried somewhere in the desert, hoping his cell phone battery — and oxygen — hold out until rescue. A tightly structured, not always tautly executed, study of extreme claustrophobia, this potentially intriguing cinematic exercise can’t sustain enough momentum to maintain its grip on our collective nerves. (95 min.) R; profanity, some violent content. (C.C.)
(D+) A social worker (Renee Zellweger) fights to save a girl ("Twilight Saga: Eclipse’s" Jodelle Ferland) from her abusive parents, only to discover that the situation is more dangerous than she ever expected, in a long-delayed chiller featuring Bradley Cooper and Ian McShane. This ineffective horror movie, full of cheap jolts and ho-hum effects, is Zellweger’s first horror movie in 16 years; the scariest thing about it is how far the Oscar-winning actress’ career has deteriorated. (109 min.) R; violence and terror, disturbing images.
(B+) Hooked: Filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost follow Ariel’s brother Nev, a New York photographer, and Abby, an 8-year-old Michigan girl who contacted Nev via Facebook, requesting permission to make a painting from one of his photographs. The result is a movie that moves from comedy to romance to places beyond that we shouldn’t mention. Is it true? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Either way, "Catfish" remains well worth catching. (94 min.) PG-13; some sexual references.
(B) Assisted by a legion of jabbering, goggle-eyed Minions, the villainous Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) plots to outwit a nerdy rival (voiced by Jason Segal) by committing the world’s most dastardly crime — until a trio of adorable orphan girls changes his focus from bad to dad. This cheeky computer-animated tale combines deftly detailed animation, impish slapstick humor and expert use of 3-D, entertaining kids and their parents with equal flair. (95 min.) PG; rude humor, mild action. (C.C.)
(C) M. Night Shyamalan indulges his preachy, messianic side as creator and producer (but not screenwriter or director) of this quasi-religious supernatural thriller, a tidy tale about Satan himself picking off folks (Geoffrey Arend, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Jenny O’Hara, Logan Marshall-Green) trapped in an elevator in a Philadelphia high-rise while cops and security guards (Chris Messina, Jacob Vargas, Matt Craven) look on in horror via closed-circuit TV. The sort of story Rod Serling would have taken for a "Twilight Zone" spin back in the day, "Devil" delivers chills in a compact, efficient package. (80 min.) PG-13; violence and disturbing images, thematic material, profanity, sexual references.
(B) A sarcastic, witty teen ("Zombieland’s" winning Emma Stone) uses her high school’s rumor mill to enhance her bad-girl reputation when word gets around that she’s no longer a virgin. This smart, sassy teen comedy (featuring Amanda Bynes, "Hellcats’ Aly Michalka and "Gossip Girl’s" Penn Badgley) hearkens back to those golden ’80s days of John Hughes — right down to scene-stealing adult performances from the likes of Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci and Lisa Kudrow. (93 min.) PG-13; mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, profanity, drug material. (C.C.)
EAT PRAY LOVE
(C) When she discovers that she’s not as happily married as she thought, a writer (a decorative, if hardly deep, Julia Roberts) embarks on an international quest to find herself. Along the way, she finds a few others — including scene-stealers Javier Bardem and Richard Jenkins — in a slick adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir from writer-director Ryan Murphy ("Glee"). A picturesque but far from profound, this asks us to accompany a privileged protagonist who’s too wrapped up in herself to appreciate her blessings — or make us feel her pain. (133 min.) PG-13; brief profanity, sexual references, male rear nudity. (C.C.)
(D+) Mucho macho: Veteran tough guys Sylvester Stallone (who also co-writes and directs), Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren (alias Sly’s "Rocky IV" opponent Ivan Drago), Randy Couture and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin flex their muscles as mercenaries heading South American way on a mission to overthrow a corrupt general (David Zayas) and a rogue CIA agent (Eric Roberts). An exercise in nostalgia for a bygone era, "The Expendables" is willfully out of date, like an aged hair band that can’t pack away the spandex. (103 min.) R; strong action and bloody violence, profanity.
(B) Seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis attempt to repair the Hubble space telescope — resulting in more glorious images from the farthest reaches of space — in an IMAX 3D documentary that’s about as close as most of us ever will get to a trip into space. Director Toni Myers ("Under the Sea 3D," "Deep Sea 3D") splits the film between the repair mission and digital simulations of the cosmos built from Hubble’s raw data, resulting in a truly dazzling star trek. (40 min.) G; all ages.
I WANT YOUR MONEY
(C) Equal parts hagiography and hatchet job, outspoken talking-heads commentary and animated political cartoon, this agitprop documentary from filmmaker Ray Griggs (who hosts and narrates) salutes capitalism and "this great country that we call America," offering a pointed counterpoint to the output of "Hollywood liberals (who) criticize the very system they profit from." Griggs rounds up several conservative politicians, economists and commentators who decry President Obama’s policies, but at least they avoid the furious tone common to talk-radio hosts and other right-wing proselytizers. (92 min.) PG; thematic elements, brief profanity, smoking.
(B) Pretzel logic: "Dark Knight" writer-director Christopher Nolan’s intriguingly twisty sci-fi thriller focuses on a team of dream raiders, led by heartbreak-haunted Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who must test their expertise when they’re hired to plant an idea in the mind of a dying industrialist’s heir (Cillian Murphy). Slyly witty Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whip-smart Ellen Page and femme fatale Marion Cotillard provide invaluable support, but it’s Nolan’s mind-bending visions — from dazzling dreamscapes to knockout action sequences — that dominate this three-dimensional puzzle of a movie. (148 min.) PG-13; violence, action. (C.C.)
IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY
(C+) Kind of an OK movie: A clinically depressed teen ("United States of Tara’s" bland Keir Gilchrist) checks himself into a psychiatric ward and gets a new view of life from his fellow patients — played by, among others, winsome Emma Roberts and a dialed-down Zach Galifianakis, whose sensitive performance is by far the best reason to see this middling comedy-drama. Usually insightful filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden ("Sugar," "Half Nelson") have good intentions, but their approach is far too tidy for the kind of emotional anguish they’re addressing. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" it’s not. (101 min.) PG-13; mature themes, sexual content, drug material, profanity. (C.C.)
(C) Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O and the rest of the "Jackass" gang are comin’ at you with a third big-screen round of in-your-face mayhem — even more in-your-face than ever before, thanks to the magic of 3-D. But more often than not, this third installment (directed, as always, by Jeff Tremaine) doesn’t take advantage of its visual potential; a lot of what goes on here is typical let’s-see-what-happens silliness, but very little occurs in "Jackass 3D" that wouldn’t have sufficed in 2-D. (94 min.) R; male nudity, extremely crude and dangerous stunts throughout, profanity.
THE LAST EXORCISM
(B) An evangelical preacher (Patrick Fabian) who’s been performing exorcisms for 25 years, knowing all the while that they’re a sham, agrees to let a camera crew expose his tricks as he "performs" one last exorcism on a rural teen (Ashley Bell, extraordinary) — until his final close encounter with demonic possession turns terrifyingly real. This faux documentary is one of the scariest movies to come along in awhile, until it falls apart in its last five minutes. (87 min.) PG-13; disturbing violent content and terror, sexual references, thematic material.
LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE
(C+) Director Zack Snyder ("300," "Watchmen") switches from live-action to animation with this adventure (based on the first three books in a 15-volume series by children’s author Kathryn Lasky) about a kidnapped owlet (voiced by Jim Sturgess) caught up in an epic battle between the noble Guardian owls and the evil Pure Ones. A derivative script and sequences too scary for little kids undermine the classy vocal cast (Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving and Anthony LaPaglia lend their voices) and stunning visuals (especially spectacular landscapes and thrilling flying sequences) that look even more stunning in 3-D and IMAX 3D. (90 min.) PG; scary action.
LET ME IN
(B) A bullied boy ("The Road’s" Kodi Smit-McPhee) befriends a young vampire girl ("Kick-Ass’ " Chloe Moretz), living in secrecy with her enigmatic guardian (Richard Jenkins), in this English-language revamp of 2008’s acclaimed Swedish vampire tale "Let the Right One In." Director Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield") amps up the explicit violence, unnecessarily, but otherwise retains the original’s intensity, stillness and strange sweetness, as two lonely misfits strengthen each other, despite the sad realization that their friendship can’t possibly last. (115 min.) R; strong bloody horror violence, profanity, brief sexual situations.
LIFE AS WE KNOW IT
(C) Play it again: Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel play mismatched singles forced together when their mutual best friends die in an accident — and name them guardians of their baby daughter, leading to antics with diapers, anxious speeches over kitchen sinks and (Spoiler Alert!) gradual heartwarming toward each other and their makeshift family. Heigl and Duhamel have good looks and good chemistry; they’re pleasant to watch, which is more than we can say for this overly familiar comedy, which offers nothing to distinguish itself from the many other similarly plotted movies and sitcoms we’ve seen before. (113 min.) PG-13; sexual material, profanity, drug content.
(C+) In the first movie (so far) spawned by those hilarious "Grindhouse" trailers, Danny Trejo plays the Texas-based title character, a former Mexican cop on a vengeful rampage against drug dealers, brutal politicians and other assorted baddies. Co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis (who edited "Planet Terror," Rodriguez’s half of "Grindhouse") maintain a fair amount of the wicked humor and every bit of the savage bloodshed promised in the make-believe trailer, but (like most of Rodriguez’s’ movies), this one’s never as fun — or funny — as he thinks it is. (105 min.) R; strong bloody violence, profanity, sexual content, nudity.
MAO’S LAST DANCER
(C+) A Chinese peasant boy trains at the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy, goes to the U.S. on a cultural exchange — and defects to the U.S. during a cultural exchange when he falls in love with an American — in a fact-based drama featuring Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan and Joan Chen. Director Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy," "Tender Mercies") overplays the movie’s hokey script at every turn, pirouette and plie; this tale of artistic aspirations and international politics comes packed with more corn than an Iowa silo. (117 min.) PG; brief violent image, sexual references, profanity, incidental smoking.
MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE
(B+) After exploring the rise of French gangster Jacques Mesrine (charismatic Vincent Cassel) in "Killer Instinct," this second chapter of the fact-based saga follows the title character through the 1970s, when his determination to play the part of notorious bank robber and prison escapee leads to his downfall. Both Cassel and director Jean-Francois Richet won French Academy Awards for their work in a gangbusters drama grounded in gritty, meaty realism. In French with English subtitles. (133 min.) R; bloody brutal violence, sexuality, pervasive profanity.
MY SOUL TO TAKE
(D) A serial killer returns to his hometown to stalk seven children born the night he supposedly died in the latest — and far from greatest — chiller from writer-director Wes Craven ("Scream," "Nightmare on Elm Street"). It’s a dumb, derivative teen slasher movie (pointlessly rendered in 3-D) would be uninspiring coming from any writer-director, let alone one with several genre classics under his belt. (106 min.) R; strong bloody violence, sexual references, pervasive profanity.
(C+) A control-freak Desert Storm veteran (Cordell Moore) finds himself embroiled in a series of troubled romantic relationships that ultimately lead to betrayal — and murder. A movie that almost begs the audience to talk back to the screen as a series of beautiful young women (Essence Atkins, Denise Boutte) place themselves in jeopardy at the strong hands of the trigger-tempered protagonist, this won’t win any Oscars (or even BET Awards), but sympathetic audiences will get a kick out of its plot twists, unabashed dramatics and villainy. (109 min.) R; profanity, sexual content, brief violence.
NEVER LET ME GO
(B+) "Remains of the Day" author Kazuo Ishiguru’s acclaimed novel inspires this compelling drama, from "One Hour Photo" director Mark Romanek, about three devoted boarding school classmates (Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan of "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" and Andrew Garfield of "The Social Network") who discover their haunting shared destiny. Philosophically provocative and achingly sad, this manages to touch the mind and the heart at once — and with equal measure (104 min.) R; sexual situations, nudity.
(B) John Lennon’s pre-Beatles Liverpool youth (from school run-ins to his discovery of rock ‘n’ roll) inspires a poignant biopic that would be absorbing even if its title character hadn’t grown up to be one-quarter of the Fab Four. "Kick-Ass’ " Aaron Johnson looks nothing like Lennon, but expertly captures his confusion, pain — and pain-in-the-butt rebelliousness. But the real standouts here are Anne-Marie Duff ("The Last Station") as his troubled mother Julia and Kristin Scott Thomas as his stern Aunt Mimi, who raised him. (97 min.) R; profanity, sexuality, smoking. (C.C.)
THE OTHER GUYS
(B-) Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg make an amusingly arresting team as mismatched New York City detectives — one a by-the-book desk jockey, the other a street guy itching for action — who labor in the shadow of flashy supercop colleagues (Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson) until they stumble onto Wall Street chicanery. Not the bust-a-gut buddy-cop spoof it wants to be — it careens between action and comedy too much for that — but even when spinning its wheels, its intermittent goofiness makes it easy enough to go along for the ride. (107 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content, profanity, violence, drug material. (C.C.)
(C+) When a mysterious hit squad tries to take out a former CIA black-ops agent (Bruce Willis), he rounds up a few "Retired, Extremely Dangerous" colleagues (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren) to find out why in yet another comic-book adaptation where the accent’s on run-and-gun fun. Its top-chop cast (which also include Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfuss and Brian Cox), seems to be having a collective blast, but "Red" keeps interrupting them for cartoony action sequences we’ve seen a zillion times before. If only "Red" gave them more to play (with) than lethal weaponry. (110 min.) PG-13; intense action violence, brief profanity. (C.C.)
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE
(D) With the world ravaged by a viral infection that transforms its victims into the Undead, Alice (Milla Jovovich, more decently clothed this time around) continues her quest to find survivors and lead them to safety — and her battle with the Umbrella Corp. Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller co-star for director Paul W.S. Anderson (Jovovich’s husband), a serious contender for worst filmmaker in the biz, in the fourth installment of the "Resident Evil" franchise — the first to go 3-D. Which, alas, doesn’t help improve this witless workout full of morphing zombies, phoned-in performances and trite dialogue. (90 min.) R; strong violence, profanity.
(C+) Who is Salt? Who cares? When a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy, CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie, in a role originally written for Tom Cruise) goes on the run. This hyperkinetic thriller shows off Jolie’s action chops — and those of director Philip Noyce ("Clear and Present Danger"), who delivers a muscular, gritty and propulsive action tale that’s also utterly ludicrous and lacking the slighted shred of humanity. As a result, "Salt" makes the supposedly engrossing ridiculously predictable, stranding such stalwart actors as Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the process. (100 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence and action. (C.C.)
(B-) Get a horse: In the early ’70s, feisty housewife Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane) literally bets her family’s deep-in-debt horse farm on the success of a rangy red thoroughbred who turns out to be the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. Both Secretariat and Tweedy deserve better than this illustrated lecture, full of important Life Lessons in which Penny and her wonder horse show everyone what being a champion is all about. Yet "Secretariat’s" thrilling racing sequences capture both the beauty and the pulse-pounding suspense of the title character’s awe-inspiring feats. (116 min.) PG; brief mild profanity. (C.C.)
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
(A-) Facebook’s contentious birth in a Harvard dorm, as inventive but socially inept Mark Zuckerberg (a memorably unsympathetic Jesse Eisenberg) comes up with a revolutionary way for others to connect online — alienating and/or betraying his own friends in the process. Andrew Garfield ("Never Let Me Go") and, of all people, Justin Timberlake anchor a standout supporting cast, while director David Fincher demonstrates his flair for fluid visual storytelling and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin delivers his trademark biting dialogue. Overall, a sharply observed study of how, and why, some people prefer virtual life to the real thing. (120 min.) PG-13; sexual content, drug and alcohol use, profanity. (C.C.)
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE
(C+) No "Treasure": Nicolas Cage reteams with "National Treasure" director Jon Turteltaub (and uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer) for a live-action adventure inspired by the animated "Fantasia" sequence featuring Mickey Mouse in the title role. This time around, the apprentice is everyday guy Jay Baruchel (the voice of "How to Train Your Dragon’s" Hiccup), who’s recruited by sorcerer Balthazar Blake (Cage) to assist him in his battle against dapper nemesis Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina,"Spider-Man 2’s" Doc Ock). Doesn’t exactly conjure bedazzling magic, but it’s a pleasant-enough mix of effects, action and comedy that should send parents and kids home happy. (121 min.) PG; violence, frightening scenes.
(C) Lifestyles of the rich and lawless: When smooth criminals (Idris Elba, Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker, Michael Ealy and Chris Brown) pull off a Los Angeles bank heist, a dogged detective (Matt Dillon) gives chase in a movie that recycles the usual cops-and-robbers claptrap to little effect. In great heist movies, the characters are as complex as the caper; in good heist movies, it’s usually one out of two. But "Takers" goes 0-for-2, emerging as a routine workout that’s not exactly redeemed by its attractive cast or rock-’em, sock-’em action sequences. (107 min.) PG-13; intense violence and action, sexual situations, partial nudity, profanity, drug references. (C.C.)
(B) In an arresting crime thriller co-written, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, two wild cards threaten the continuing success of a blue-collar Boston heist crew: a hard-charging FBI agent ("Mad Men’s" Jon Hamm) and the fact that the crew leader (Affleck) is falling for a witness (memorably vulnerable Rebecca Hall) who could put them all in jail. "Hurt Locker’s" electrifyingly intense Jeremy Renner winds up stealing the movie from actor Affleck, but it’s a mark of honor that director Affleck lets him get away with it. (125 min.) R; strong violence, pervasive profanity, sexual situations, drug use. (C.C.)
TOY STORY 3
(A) The Pixar dream team rides again with this more-than-equal second sequel, a delightful kids-of-all-ages animated adventure in which Andy heads off to college and his beloved toys — led by cowboy Woody and space ranger Buzz — find a new life at a deceptively sunny day-care center. Voiced by all-star returnees Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack (among others), plus such standout newcomers as Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton and Timothy Dalton, these cartoon characters have vastly more humor, personality, heart — and substance — than most of their live-action counterparts. (103 min.) G; all ages. (C.C.)
(D) What’s in a name? An all-too-accurate description of the movie when it’s "Vampires Suck," a scene-by-scene vamp of the Stephenie Meyer "Twilight" movies — with the odd "True Blood," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Gossip Girl," Kardashian and Lady Gaga gag tossed in — from the folks who brought you "Disaster Movie," "Date Movie," "Meet the Spartans" and a lot of other lame parodies. Even by the standards of these things, which rely on an onslaught of jokey references to float, "Suck" s(t)inks. (88 min.) R; crude sexual content, comic violence, profanity, teen partying.
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS
(B) Greed is still good: Michael Douglas reprises his Oscar-winning role of Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s timely sequel to 1987’s "Wall Street." But this time it’s a supporting role — Gekko’s just out of prison and trying to reconcile with his estranged daughter ("An Education’s" Carey Mulligan), who’s involved with a young Wall Street whiz (Shia LaBeouf) trying to negotiate shark-infested investment waters. Frank Langella and Josh Brolin (Stone’s "W." star) deliver sterling support as Wall Street titans old and new in an overstuffed tale that’s still surprisingly entertaining, despite its topical-depression subject matter. (133 min.) PG-13; brief profanity, thematic elements. (C.C.)
(C-) When bad movies happen to good people: Despite a top-chop cast led by Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristin Bell, this strained comedy — about two generations of high-school frenemies destined to clash at a family wedding — traps its talented cast members in a mechanical, predictable romp that arranges the inevitable complications like dominoes carefully designed to fall on cue. Not even the presence of Betty White, as hot-to-(fox)trot Grandma Bunny, can help. (105 min.) PG; brief profanity, rude behavior. (C.C.)