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Movies: ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ reviewed with other new, recent films

(From left) Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch in "Lone Survivor."
(From left) Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch in "Lone Survivor."

OPENING FRIDAY

DEVIL’S DUE

Rated R for language and some bloody images

Stars: Zack Gilford, Allison Miller, Robert Belushi

A newlywed couple discover they are soon to become the parents of a bouncing baby devil. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (“V/H/S”) directed the horror.

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.

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

Not yet rated

Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley

A young CIA analyst (Pine) discovers a Russian plot to destroy the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack. Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”) directed the espionage drama, based on the character created by Tom Clancy.

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.

RIDE ALONG

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language

Stars: Kevin Hart, Tika Sumpter, Ice Cube, John Leguizamo

To prove himself worthy to marry the sister of a tough cop (Cube), a fast-talking security guard (Hart) agrees to accompany him on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta. Tim Story (“Think Like a Man”) directed the action comedy.

STILL PLAYING

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

After being betrayed by his royal stepfather (Adkins) and sold into slavery, the legendary hero (Lutz) must fight his way back to his kingdom. Renny Harlin (“Die Hard 2”) directed the fantasy adventure.

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.

THE PAST

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

★★★ 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.

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. More a spin-off than a sequel (though fans will spot a few familiar frightful faces), “The Marked Ones” concerns recent high-school grad Jesse (Jacobs), who’s goofing off for the summer with his comic-relief buddy Hector (Diaz) and recording EVERYTHING on their new video camera — including his gradual demonic possession courtesy of the evil witch lady living (briefly) downstairs. 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?

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.

GRUDGE MATCH

★★★

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

★★★ 1/2

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

★★★ 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.

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

★ 1/2

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.

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.

THE BOOK THIEF

★★1/2

Rated: PG-13 for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material

Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse, Roger Allam

A Child’s Garden of the Holocaust? Not quite. Yet, this low-impact adaptation of the mega-selling young-adult novel “The Book Thief” takes such a kid-safe approach to the terrible events it dramatizes seem strangely rosy and cozy. Newcomer Nélisse is quite good as young Liesel, embraced by adoptive parents (Rush and Watson, supplying much-needed emotional ballast) in World War II Germany, and soon involved in hiding a young Jewish refugee (Ben Schnetzer). As soft-spoken, philosophical Death (Allam), doing double duty as narrator, looks on with approval. Awful events are featured, but it’s hard to get worked up about them because, even in the worst extreme, everything is managed in a way that’s perfectly peaceful and pleasant.

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