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Movies: ‘The Wind Rises’ reviewed with other new, recent films

OPENING FRIDAY

KIDS FOR CASH

Rated PG-13 for some thematic material and language

Stars: Mark Ciavarella, Amanda Lorah, Michael Canahan

After the school shootings at Columbine, a local judge’s zero-tolerance approach to imprisoning juvenile offenders leads to scandal and tragedy. Producer Robert May (“The Fog of War”) makes his directorial debut with the documentary.

NON-STOP

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references

Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy

An air marshal (Neeson) attempts to foil a hijacking attempt during a trans-Atlantic flight. Jaume Collet-Serra (“Orphan”) directed the action thriller.

OMAR

Rated: No MPAA rating

Stars: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Iyad Hoorani

A young Palestinian man involved in the conflict with Israel becomes an informant after the killing of an Israeli soldier. Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now”) directed the Best Foreign Film nominee.

SON OF GOD

Rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of the Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence

Stars: Diogo Morgado, Greg Hicks, Roma Downey, Amber Rose Revah

The story of Jesus (Morgado) from his birth to the resurrection. Christopher Spence (“The Bible”) directed the drama.

STILL PLAYING

3 DAYS TO KILL

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language

Stars: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld

A Secret Service agent (Costner) hoping to retire and reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter (Steinfeld) must first complete one last dangerous mission — and look after her while her mother is out of town. McG (“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”) directed the thriller.

POMPEII

Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content

Stars: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland

A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him.

THE WIND RISES

★★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and smoking

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Elijah Wood

See it for the way it captures the “beautiful dream” of flight. Flying machines and flying in general have always been a specialty of Japanese animation great Hayao Miyazaki and that’s very much the case in “The Wind Rises.” This highly fictionalized life story of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of Japan’s WWII fighting plane the Zero (a major departure from Miyazaki’s fantasy-based previous films) isn’t entirely successful, but its many dreams and visions of flight are still sublime. And it still casts the magically beautiful Miyazaki spell.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

Rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use

Stars: Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant

Two couples struggle to make the transition from casual affairs to relationships. Steve Pink (“Hot Tub Time Machine,” “High Fidelity”) directed this remake of the 1986 romantic comedy.

ENDLESS LOVE

★★

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief partial nudity, some language and teen partying

Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson

A triple dose of true romance and tortured melodrama for tween-age girls, the hyper-emotional “Endless Love” is likely to seem truly endless for just about anyone else. Wilde as sweet, beautiful, filthy rich Jade and Pettyfer as sensitive, hunky, wrong-side-of-the-tracks David are star-crossed teen lovers thwarted by Jade’s disapproving dad (Greenwood). Who has apparently forgotten that didn’t work out well in “Romeo and Juliet.”

ROBOCOP

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material

Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish

This ambitious remake of Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent, darkly satirical original isn’t as successful as it might have been, mainly because director José Padilha tries to inject more philosophy and drama into the proceedings than the lean, mean original concept can handle. Kinnaman (of AMC’s “The Killing”) stars as the not-quite murdered detective who’s brought back to life as a cyborg crime-fighting machine. There are nice, surreal visual touches and action scenes are a blast, but trying to deepen the drama defeats the original prime directive: mete out righteous payback as violently and spectacularly as possible.

WINTER’S TALE

Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality

Stars: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, William Hurt

While robbing a house, a burglar (Farrell) falls in love with a young woman (Findlay) who dies in his arms. Learning he has the gift of reincarnation, he determines to bring her back to life. Akiva Goldsman (“The Da Vinci Code”) wrote and directed the romance.

THE LEGO MOVIE

Rated PG for mild action and rude humor

Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

An ordinary Lego minifigure (Pratt), mistakenly believed to be the great Master Builder, is recruited to join a mission to prevent an evil tyrant from gluing the universe together. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) directed the animated comedy.

THE MONUMENTS MEN

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett

Most unexpectedly, for the director of “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “The Ides of March,” this art-centric, old-school World War II drama is a bit of a snooze. Director/writer/star Clooney has assembled a terrific cast to play his middle-aged intellectual commando squad, attempting to recover stolen art treasures near the end of World War II, but there’s too much story to tell, spread over too much territory, in too little time. For a more compelling overview of the subject, see the excellent 2006 documentary “The Rape of Europa.”

VAMPIRE ACADEMY

★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for violence, bloody images, sexual content and language

Stars: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Joely Richardson, Gabriel Byrne

“Vampire Academy” might serve as a sleazy, but serviceable diversion for ’tween-age girls obsessing in advance about high school, and it gets points for focusing almost exclusively on the friendship of the young female protagonists. It’s just a shame it’s such a poorly slapped-together mess. Deutch plays the feisty, tough-talking Rose, the half-human guardian of her bff Lissa (Fry) who also happens to be a princess of the Moroi, a human-friendly race of vampires. A traditionally evil breed of vampire is out to kill them, but they’re more worried about fellow students devoted to the usual extra-curricular activities: bullying, popularity-mongering, malicious gossip, slut-shaming and so forth.

LABOR DAY

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality

Stars: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith

Part Lifetime Channel-romance and part home-invasion thriller, “Labor Day” makes a case for true love tending to turn up when you least suspect it — and being more than a little crazy. How crazy are we talking? How about a single mom (Winslet) falling for the escaped convict (Brolin) who has taken her prisoner and accepting him as a replacement husband and father over the course of a Labor Day weekend? A trifle bizarre, no? Even more so considering that “Labor Day” comes from Oscar-nominated writer/director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “Juno,” “Young Adult”).

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT

★★

Rated R for sexual content and language throughout

Stars: Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller

A formulaic bro-mantic comedy, “That Awkward Moment” spends most of its time tracking developments in several unlikely and unconvincing romances. Take away the 20-something variations on potty humor (with a side helping of sex-toy sight gags), and there isn’t much comedy to speak of. Efron and Teller pay a couple of Manhattan hookup hounds who convince their old college buddy Jordan, who’s just been dumped by his wife, to re-join the pack, sealing the deal with solemn vows to never, ever fall in love. With a woman, that is.

GIMME SHELTER

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 sort of updated “The Cross and the Switchblade” for unwed teen mothers, “Gimme Shelter” mines the plight of an abused, runaway girl for faux gritty melodrama before saving the day with its Christian, pro-life message. And does it in a way that’s so appallingly bogus it almost deserves points for sheer nerve. After a screeching scene with drug-addicted mom (Dawson) in their crackhouse lobby, tatted, tough-talking, pregnant 16-year-old Apple (former “High School Musical” princess Hudgens) hops in a cab and heads for the suburban estate of the father she never met (Brendan Fraser). Who turns out to be a Wall Street type who’s only willing to help if she will agree to an abortion. The easy inspirational lesson “Gimme Shelter” applies to a serious and complicated issue (a kindly priest sends Apple to a loving home for unwed mothers) is hard enough to take, but the worst thing about it is the way it smacks of Hollywood slumming. You can almost sense Dawson and Hudgens thinking “Oscar moment” in their more histrionic scenes.

I, FRANKENSTEIN

★★

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense fantasy action and violence throughout

Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto

After countless screen incarnations, Frankenstein’s monster finally gets to be cool in the brooding, over-serious, spectacularly action-packed world of “I, Frankenstein.” But it’s not necessarily an improvement. Two hundred years after burying his creator, Frankenstein’s moody, sulking monster (Eckhart, believe it or not) becomes an unwilling combatant in a centuries-old war between angelic Gargoyles and an army of demons. But at least he gets to rock a trench coat, a hoodie and tight-cut jeans while using assorted spiritually-empowered martial arts weapons to kick demon boo-tay. All of which might be more fun if “I, Frankenstein” wasn’t so tediously humorless about the situation.

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

★★ 1/2

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 backflip to make that happen. Pine does fine as the new Ryan in this origin story/reboot, trying to prevent a nasty-tempered Russian billionaire (Kenneth 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 INVISIBLE WOMAN

★★★ 1/2

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.

RIDE ALONG

★★ 1/2

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.

LONE SURVIVOR

★★ 1/2

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.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

★★★ 1/2

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.

HER

★★★★

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.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

★★★ 1/2

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.

AMERICAN HUSTLE

★★★ 1/2

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.

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.

FROZEN

★★★

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.

PHILOMENA

★★★ 1/2

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.

NEBRASKA

★★★ 1/2

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.

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