Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language — all concerning teens
Stars: Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser
A teenager (Hudgens) on the run from her drug-addict mother (Dawson) tries to convince her successful father (Fraser) to take her in. Ron Krauss (“Amexica”) wrote and directed the drama.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense fantasy action and violence throughout
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto
Frankenstein’s monster (Eckhart), who has been on the run for centuries, finds himself in the middle of a war between two immortal clans. Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra”) co-wrote and directed the action fantasy.
Rated R for language and some bloody images
Stars: Zach Gilford, Allison Miller, Robert Belushi
College tuition, ‘tween-age snottiness, endless re-runs of “Barney & Friends”—there’s plenty of reason to be terrified of parenthood without dragging the devil into it. Nonetheless, evil baby movies (with or without Satan as the baby daddy) have been a horror staple since “Rosemary’s Baby.” So it’s only natural that someone would get around to doing a found-footage variation on the theme. Natural, understandable, but still a labor-intensive chore to sit through. Zach and Samantha (Gilford of TV’s Friday Night Lights” and Miller) are newlyweds who decide to record everything for the sake of their little bundle of joy. Amazingly dull diabolical craziness ensues.
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
Rated R for some sexual content
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas
Though told from the point of view of Charles Dickens’ longtime secret mistress, and concerned primarily with their passionate (yet socially impossible) love affair, the main attraction of “The Invisible Woman” is a rare portrait of Dickens the man, whose works are much better known than his personal life. Director Fiennes gives the biographical portrait a handsome, leisurely paced, sensitively acted production in the Merchant Ivory/Masterpiece Theater tradition in addition to a convincing portrait of Dickens, the dedicated family man, swept up in an undeniable passion while trying to complete Great Expectations. Jones is similarly impressive as the much younger Nelly Ternan, model of Victorian propriety who angrily resists her amorous feelings until resistance proves futile.
THE LEGEND OF HERCULES
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense combat action and violence, and for some sensuality
Stars: Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Scott Adkins
You have to give “The Legend of Hercules” credit for delivering pretty much exactly what you’d expect in terms of good, dumb, mythological fun. Though a little less dumb and a little more fun would have been better. Veteran action/adventure director Renny Harlin goes through the motions, serving up plenty of ancient Greek melodrama, bulging muscles and sword-and-sandal clichés — with a thick layer of fairly cheesy CGI effects troweled on for pseudo-excitement. And Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen in “The Twilight Saga”) is bland but beefy as Hercules, who has lots of complicated family issues to sort out before getting busy becoming legendary.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language
Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley
It’s interesting how easy it is to accept Russians as the bad guys again, as they are in this intermittently entertaining espionage thriller, after such a recent steady diet of evil terrorists and Mexican drug lords. Of course, it would seem strange if novelist Tom Clancy’s cold-war hero Jack Ryan were pitted against a nefarious threat that didn’t emanate from Moscow, but it still takes a bit of a conceptual back flip to make that happen. Pine does fine as the new Ryan in this origin story/reboot, trying to prevent a nasty-tempered Russian billionaire (Branagh, who also directed), from destroying the U.S. economy. The espionage stuff is over-elaborate and unconvincing, and the action is increasingly absurd and frenetic, but the real problem is Ryan’s drippy romance with his annoying fiancée (Knightley).
THE NUT JOB
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Stars: Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser
After being banished from a city park, a curmudgeonly squirrel (Arnett) decides to heist the contents of a nut store. Peter Lepeniotis (“Gotta Catch Santa Claus”) directed the animated comedy.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language
Stars: Kevin Hart, Tika Sumpter, Ice Cube, John Leguizamo
Considering that there’s nothing fresh or new about this by-the-numbers action-buddy-cop comedy, it’s not bad, really — assuming you find the idea of a manic Kevin Hart bouncing perpetually off a pathologically glowering Ice Cube amusing. Some of the credit for that goes to director Tim Story, who’s proved he can handle action with a couple of “Fantastic Four” movies, but always had a nice knack for comedy as well, especially in the 2002 charmer “Barbershop” (also starring Cube). But most of it can be chalked up to plain, old-fashioned chemistry as tough-cop Cube forces video-game addict Hart, a wannabe cop who also wants to marry Cube’s sister, to ride with him one day on the street. And makes the experience as miserable and dangerous as possible.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES
Rated R for pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use
Stars: Molly Ephraim, Andrew Jacobs, Crystal Santos
Apparently bored with tormenting middle-class white folks in suburban L.A., the “Paranormal” Satan-spawn have established a new base for their evil activities (and set their sites on a fresh new audience) in the predominantly Latino community of Oxnard. “The Marked Ones” concerns recent high-school grad Jesse (Jacobs), and his comic-relief buddy Hector (Jorge Diaz) who record EVERYTHING on their new video camera — including Jesse’s demonic possession. Writer-director Christopher Landon, who also scripted “Paranormal” two through four, has given this semi-reboot more of a sexual charge than its predecessors, a handful of decent shocks and a surprisingly action-packed finale. No matter how creepy things get, though, there’s near zero suspense because the found-footage gimmick comes with a built-in emotionally distancing effect. Maybe it’s time to turn the freaking camera off already?
Rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster
As a celebration of courage while battling against impossible odds, “Lone Survivor” certainly gets the job done in a bare bones kind of way. It would have been a much greater tribute, though, if we learned more about the men it celebrates. Based on a memoir by Navy SEAL Marcus Lutrell, this is the story of a disastrous 2005 mission in Afghanistan during which Lutrell and the other three other SEALs (Wahlberg, Kitsch, Hirsch and Foster) were attacked behind enemy lines by Taliban fighters. Director Peter Berg (“Battleship”) knows action, and the half-hour firefight that’s the centerpiece of “Survivor” is an adrenaline-pumper. But a little less combat and a little more characterization might have had greater dramatic impact.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief strong language
Stars: Berenice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa, Tahar Rahim, Pauline Burlet
Subtle, complex and remarkably real — painfully real at times — Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning “A Separation” shows just how emotionally disastrous a marriage gone wrong can be. There are many complications and more than one guilty secret in store when estranged Iranian husband Ahmad (Mosaffa) returns to Paris at the request of his wife Marie (Bejo, of “The Artist”) to finalize their divorce and Farhadi very, very slowly suggests why they parted. Ultimately, though, we’re expected to fill in the details on our own.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Rated R for language including sexual references, and for drug material
Stars: Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard, Margo Martindale
There’s not much hope for any family reunion occasioned by a suicide, but the prospects are particularly bleak for the aggressively unhappy Weston clan — featuring three generations of Oklahoma women who can barely stand the sight of each other. It’s a real family-trauma horror show, but the amazing thing is how much scathing humor the get-together generates in this all-star adaptation of Chicago playwright Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, without sacrificing an iota of dramatic oomph. Streep gives a predictably powerhouse performance as the cancer-stricken, pain pill-addicted, dragon-lady matriarch Vi, who turns abuse into an art form.
Rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Wiig
A remarkable thing about this extraordinary film from director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation”) is how perfectly natural it begins to seem that a man (Phoenix) could fall deeply in love with the voice of his computer’s operating system (Johansson). And vice-versa. Jonze’s subtle, brilliantly detailed story (which ruminates about the nature of existence and the definition of true love while it explores our increasing obsession with virtual reality) drags a bit toward the end, but it’s never less than fascinating. You may never look at a movie romance in quite the same way ever again.
Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language
Stars: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin
This high-concept contrivance that pits retirement-age Rocky against Raging Bull in the ring, is actually a lot of fun, thanks to the willingness of its two stars to take a few shots at themselves as well as each other. De Niro and Stallone are aging boxers The Kid and The Razor (a colossal jerk à la “Raging Bull” and a big sweet lug à la “Rocky”), who get another shot at a grudge match that failed to happen 30 years earlier. Arkin is a major plus (as usual) as The Razor’s even older trainer.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
Rated PG for some crude language, action violence
Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn
This visually spectacular update of the James Thurber classic is something to see, for sure, even if it doesn’t provide a whole lot to think about beyond its promotional tagline “Stop dreaming; start living.” Altering the spirit of Thurber’s 1939 story, like the 1947 Danny Kaye version, the plot turns the imaginary heroics of its hero into the real thing. Director/star Stiller’s “Walter Mitty” is a meek Life magazine photo archivist searching for a missing negative from danger-loving photojournalist Penn to impress the girl of his daydreams. But it’s the daydreams, given epic dimensions via fantastically imaginative CGI effects, that provide the most satisfaction.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language, and some violence
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie
Having celebrated art and artists in his previous movie, “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese turns his attention in “The Wolf of Wall Street” to the creative criminal and the hustling, hand-over-fist money-grabbing that makes Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” pale in terms of pure, unadulterated greed. DiCaprio is impressive as stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who rocketed to spectacular wealth in the 1990s before going to prison for securities fraud and money laundering — and had a lot of despicable, uncomfortably infectious fun doing it.
Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence
Everyone’s conning everyone else in “American Hustle” (with varying degrees of ruthlessness), yet no one’s really competent to handle the increasingly out-of-control high-stakes scam they’re involved in. Which is what makes director David O. Russell’s follow-up to “Silver Linings Playbook” simultaneously harrowing, hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s, “Hustle” features Bale as a low-level New York con man forced, along with his former-stripper partner/paramour (Adams), to help a loose-cannon FBI agent (Cooper) entrap and bribe federal legislators.
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGENDCONTINUES
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence
Stars: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate
San Diego’s top TV newsman (Ferrell) moves to New York in the ’80s join the first 24-hour news channel. Adam McKay (“Talledega Nights”) returns to direct the sequel to his 2004 hit.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Stars: Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett
Though it’s moderately bad news that the padding is more obvious in the second installment of director Peter Jackson’s nine-hour adaptation of Tolkien’s 300-page book, there’s good news as well. The best is that “Desolation of Smaug” is every bit as spectacular as the high points of part one — and even the peak moments of Jackson’s purely wonderful “Lord of the Rings.” Some might question whether it was necessary for Jackson and company to invent a tormented love triangle between a dwarf heartthrob (Aidan Turner), a female elf warrior (Evangeline Lilly) and the elf archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom, who’s been recruited from “LOTR”), but never mind. Things heat up nicely when the titular fire-breathing dragon finally gets into the act.
SAVING MR. BANKS
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images
Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti
Walt Disney (Hanks) attempts to convince the extremely reluctant author P.L. Travers (Thompson) to let him make a movie adaptation of “Mary Poppins.” John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) directed the drama.
TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS
Rated PG-13 for sexual references, crude humor and language
Stars: Tyler Perry, Chad Michael Murray, Tika Sumpter, Larry the Cable Guy
Thank goodness Tyler Perry’s eighth Madea movie has arrived in time to save Christmas and overcome racism and teach us how to say no to bullies for the holidays. If only it were just a little bit funnier and perhaps a little less random and slapdash while it’s at it. “A Madea Christmas” sets up numerous sub-plots, but eventually it settle down to a sort of reverse-racism take on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Madea refereeing as an intolerant mom (Horsford) gradually figures out that her daughter (Sumpter) is married to a white guy. The biggest disappointment is that Perry has toned down the outrages of his hulking granny-lady Madea, whose sassy rampages generally provide the only entertainment value in these movies.
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS 3D
Rated PG for creature action and peril, and mild rude humor
Stars: Charlie Rowe, Karl Urban, Justin Long, Angourie Rice
This film’s technique of superimposing CGI dinosaurs onto real-world natural settings was first put to use for educational purposes in the 2001 BBC TV series of the same title. And it’s debatable whether or not it distracts from the fantasy in this fictional story about a runt-of-the-litter pachyrhinosaurus (Long) who has to overcome “Bambi”-like parental trauma and a bullying older brother to achieve his destiny. It’s likely the kids this is meant for won’t mind much, though. Dinosaurs are dinosaurs, after all — always cool. And “Walking with Dinosaurs 3D” is packed with classic children’s-movie themes including sibling rivalry, friendship, family loyalty, young love and the difficulties of growing up. There are plenty of poop jokes too.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson
It takes a long, long time to work up its appetite for excitement, but “Catching Fire” ultimately does hit the spot with a big second helping of teenage, dystopian-future, gladiatorial combat. A heartless spectacle we get to enjoy while tsk-tsking at the terrible cruelty of it, too. After surviving in the original “Hunger Games” with her love-struck friend Peeta (Hutcherson), the feisty archer Katniss (the Oscar-validated Lawrence) is forced to participate in another fight to the death when she becomes a symbol of revolution.
Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor
Stars: Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel
“Frozen” certainly has the traditional fairy-tale spirit, as defined by Walt Disney, that is: princesses, magic and even true love’s kiss. It’s all bound up with an agreeably up-to-date attitude about female empowerment that doesn’t sacrifice girly-girl fantasy. Unfortunately, Disney’s 53rd animated feature also comes with mostly vapid Broadway-ready show tunes. Comic actress Bell plays the feisty princess Anna, who adventures into the wilderness to bring back her sister Queen Elsa (Menzel of “Glee”), who has accidentally winterized their kingdom with her icy magical powers.
Rated PG-13 for some language
Stars: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench
It’s hard to think of an odder couple than the aloof, atheistic journalist and the chattily devout, grandmotherly, long-suffering lady who gradually warm to each other in the marvelous “Philomena.” Directed by Stephen Frears (“The Queen”),“Philomena” tells the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench in another brilliant performance), searching for the child taken from her in the 1950s by nuns in a home for unwed mothers and essentially sold to rich American adoptive parents. But its true subject is the relationship between Philomena and unemployed BBC newsman Martin Sixsmith (Coogan, also very good) who reluctantly helps her, with their surprising, rewarding and often very funny discussions about love, sex, religion and life in general.
Rated: R for some language
Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
Somber, poignant “Nebraska” has a lot to say about misspent lives, disconnected fathers and sons — and love in spite of everything. After receiving a magazine-subscription come-on declaring he has won a million dollars, infirm, near-senile old boozehound Woody (Dern, who won the Best Actor prize at Cannes) is determined to dodder all the way to Lincoln, Neb., to pick up his prize. So his sad-faced, soft-hearted younger son (Forte) decides to drive him, hoping to get a little closer in the time he has left. If you’re expecting this to be a setup for old wounds to be healed, forget it. The script is far too prickly for that, and director Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”) understands that Woody wouldn’t care about that sort of thing anyway.