300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE
Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language
Stars: Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro, Sullivan Stapleton
After the sacrifice of 300 Spartan warriors at Thermopylae, the Greeks face a massive attack by the Persian god-king Xerxes (Santoro) and Artemisia (Green), the vengeful commander of his navy. Noam Murrow (“Smart People”) directed this sequel to the 2006 action hit.
Rated PG for thematic material and smoking
Stars: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
In Mumbai, an older man (Kahn) begins a note-writing relationship with a young housewife (Kaur) when a lunchbox intended for her husband goes to him instead. Ritesh Batra makes his writing/directing debut with the romantic drama.
MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN
Rated PG for some mild action
Stars: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann
After a mishap involving his WABAC time machine, the canine genius/inventor Mr. Peabody (Burrell) and his adopted son Sherman (Charles) travel back in time to restore order. Rob Minkof (“Stuart Little,” “The Lion King”) directed the animated family adventure.
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.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references
Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy
This cheesy trans-Atlantic aero-thriller goes nowhere fast — 500 mph fast — but at least it’s reasonably good dumb fun for roughly two-thirds of the ride. Since narrative engine failure eventually leaves you stranded somewhere high above the ocean without a parachute, though, you might want to think twice about getting on board. Neeson, still making 60-something men look good as an action hero, plays an alcoholic, flight phobic federal air marshal trying to prevent a politically motivated psycho from killing a passenger every 20 minutes or blowing up the plane or both. It’s strange to think of this one playing as an in-flight movie.
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.
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
The problem with “3 Days to Kill” isn’t that it’s unbelievable. It’s that it takes the unbelievable to weirdly disturbing and sentimental extremes. Costner stars as a terminally-ill CIA super-agent trying to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter (Steinfeld) while secretly (having promised the girl’s mom that he’s retired) wiping out a small army of bad guys. And indulging in a little light-hearted torture for laughs. On the plus side, the spectacular action is expertly staged by director McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Costner is good at the weary, laconic macho thing. And he’s pretty funny about the way everything’s getting on his last nerve. It’s more than a little weird, though, when he teaches his daughter to slow-dance by dimming the lights and putting on Bread’s “Make it with You.” Eww.
Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content
Stars: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland
Part disaster movie, part gladiator epic, part heart-throbbing romance and all cheese. The explosively overheated “Pompeii” practically begs for ridicule, yet it’s surprising entertaining in a disastrous sort of way. Just lower your expectations, turn off your brain and let Mount Vesuvius take care of anything that annoys you. Super-bad gladiator The Celt (Harrington of “Game of Thrones”) falls for rich girl Cassia (Emily Browning), just in time to protect her from the lustfully evil Roman senator Corvus (Sutherland). Not in time to avoid the spectacularly recreated eruption, though, with an earthquake and a tsunami thrown in as a bonus.
THE WIND RISES
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 fighter 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.
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.”
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.