Rated PG-13 for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking
Stars: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Though it’s buoyed to a certain extent by a heavyweight cast, “The Butler” is a superficial effort at best, showing none of the oomph of director Lee Daniels’ Oscar-nominated debut with “Precious.” The idea, basically, is to illustrate the painful progress of racial equality from the civil rights era to Obama. There’s a limit, though, to how much Cecil (Whitaker) can overhear while carrying a serving tray into the Oval Office and attempts to draw historic connections to his personal life (his son first joins the Freedom Riders, then the Black Panthers) are pretty desperately contrived.
Rated PG-13 for some drug content and brief strong language
Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Dermot Mulroney, Lesley Ann Warren
The ascent of Steve Jobs (Kutcher) is traced from college dropout to co-founder of Apple computers. Joshua Michael Stern (“Swing Vote”) wrote and directed the biopic.
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mitz-Plasse
The teenage costumed crime fighter (Johnson) returns with the far-more capable Hit Girl (Moretz) and additional, value-added cohorts including Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) to administer more vigilante-style justice. Jeff Wadlow (“Never Back Down”) directed the comic-book action.
IN A WORLD
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Stars: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetrius Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins
As movies about Hollywood go, “In a World” does have the advantage of illuminating a seldom-seen, seldom-considered corner of the industry, which apparently has its share of swollen egos and self-importance. Writer-director Bell is the main attraction as Carol, a struggling vocal coach trying to break into the big-bucks world of movie-trailer voiceover despite resistance, and even competition, from her old-school sexist dad (Melamed) on the verge of retirement from his voiceover career. Bell’s low-key comic takes on the situation are pretty much on the money, as is her handling of the awkwardly developing romance between Carol and a secretly admiring audio-engineer buddy (Martin).
Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout
Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharto Copley, Diego Luna
Neill Blomkamp’s big-budget followup to his Best Picture-nominated Apartheid allegory “District 9” also mixes lots of gritty sci-fi action and heavy social commentary, but with less emotional oomph. The thinly-veiled messages about illegal immigration and universal healthcare are secondary to the main business at hand. Namely, the urgent need of dystopian future factory worker Max (Damon in reluctant action-hero mode) to break into Elysium, an orbiting Valhalla of the super rich, to cure a lethal dose of radiation. Motivations don’t come much more basic and believable than that. But things get a bit more iffy when the writer-director tries to up the dramatic ante by mingling Max’s personal battle with a revolutionary power struggle, especially since the outcome of the latter is based on a disappointingly flimsy premise.
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, drug use and some domestic violence
Stars: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Chris Noth, Sharon Stone
The brief yet enduringly infamous career of the world’s first porn star gets superficial treatment in this so-so biopic that attempts to counterbalance hardcore exploitation with uplifting personal triumph and fails to convince at both extremes. Seyfried offers an effectively sympathetic performance as the “Deep Throat” star, who was reportedly forced into pornography (and prostitution) by her sleazoid hustler husband (Sarsgaard) before eventually escaping his clutches, writing a book about her Ordeal and becoming a happily re-married anti-porn crusader. Unfortunately, “Lovelace” is less than truthful about some of the grimmer details about the story of Linda Lovelace, no doubt realizing that full disclosure would have made it harder for audiences to walk away feeling uplifted and untroubled.
PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS
RatedPG for fantasy action violence, some scary images and mild language
Stars: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith
The modern-day, half-mortal, teenage son of Poseidon (Logan Legman, looking appropriately half-embarrassed) gets suckered into another insanely dangerous quest—this time to the Bermuda Triangle in search of the Golden Fleece. Unfortunately, insanely dangerous barely translates to even mild excitement in this tepid second adaptation from the best-selling, mythology-raiding young-adult novel series. The big action set -pieces fizzle for the most part. And that’s not good for a fantasy adventure movie. Especially when the fantasy component is frequently undercut by sub-standard special effects. T
RatedPG for some mild action and rude humor
Stars: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Val Kilmer
Disney intended this low-flying “Cars” knockoff to be released direct to DVD (produced by the same sequels unit that turned out “The Lion King 1 ½,” “Bambi II,” “Cinderella III,” etc.) and it certainly plays that way. Mildly enjoyable, but second rate in all particulars, “Planes” is the story of Dusty Clodhopper (Cook), a small-town crop duster who gets the chance to live his dream of competing against the world’s fastest propeller-driven racers in an around-the-world rally. You can pretty much imagine most of what’s going to happen, from Dust’s crash-course training in high-speed flying with a crusty old mentor plane, to the dirty tricks employed by obnoxious champion racer, to the photo-finish finale. It’s the sort of thing you can snooze through with no loss, in other words, if you wind up taking a tyke to see this one at a multiplex. But you’re hereby advised to wait until this one winds up where it belongs after a month or two, pop it into a player and find something better to do for 92 minutes.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW
Rated R for alcohol use, language and some sexuality
Stars: Myles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler
It’s a rare pleasure to see a genre film that bothers — dares, actually — to run deeper than expected, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see this intelligent, emotionally complex teen romance pop up so soon after last year’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Teller (“Rabbit Hole,” “21 & Over”) and Woodley (“The Descendants”) make the most of breakout roles as popular, irresponsible Sutter and shy, serious Aimee, high-school seniors on opposite sides of the social spectrum, who become involved in an unlikely romance. All the predictable lessons about young love ensue, but director James Ponsoldt (“Smashed,” “Off the Black”) adds considerable emotional ballast by making it clear that Sutter is getting a running jump on alcoholism — and keeping us guessing about whether Aimee will save him or he will drag her down.
WE’RE THE MILLERS
Rated: R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity
Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms
Despite its transgressive trappings, this excruciatingly awful comedy has been designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience by defaulting to family values straight out of a ’50s sitcom. The utter bogusness of that strategy makes the whole thing fundamentally artificial and unfunny. “Saturday Night Live” alum Sudeikis stars as David, an aging, friendly neighborhood pot dealer who’s forced to smuggle a large shipment of weed out of Mexico to settle a debt with his sleazy boss (Helms). So he decides to hire a stripper and an abandoned teenager from his apartment building (Aniston and Poulter) and a homeless runaway girl (Roberts) to pose as his wholesome American family and drive the dope across the border in an RV. Nothing ever really clicks, though, because while the film tries to set up the faux Millers as the opposite of a loving family, it’s obvious that’s what they’re going to wind up being. Whether it’s the slightest bit believable or not.
Rated PG for some rude humor and action
Stars: Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, Jayma Mays, Brendan Gleeson, Katy Perry
You probably already know how the you feel about the prospect of spending 105 minutes in the company of Smurfs and how that might compare, favorably or unfavorably, to being poked in the eye repeatedly with a sharp stick. So let’s just say this: “The Smurfs 2” probably isn’t any worse than you might expect. On the other hand, it’s almost certainly not any better. Harris returns as uptight nice guy Patrick, whose life is invaded once again by the little blue mushroom dwellers, this time on a mission to rescue distressed damsel Smurfette (Perry) from the clutches of the evil (yet goofy) wizard Gargamel (Azaria). There’s been a change of locale to Paris this time, for no good reason, but it’s still the same old smurfy stew of sentiment and slapstick.
Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Denzel Washington, Bill Paxton
The number of firearms in the title is the only bit of understatement on view in this enjoyably over-the-top action extravaganza. There’s so much going on and it all comes at you at such a rapid-fire pace that it’s almost overwhelming at times; but that’s part of the fun. While attempting to take down Mexican drug lord Papi (Edward James Olmos), undercover DEA agent Bobby (Washington) and Naval Intelligence agent Stig (Wahlberg) try to bust each other as well after breaking into a bank to steal $3-million of Papi’s money. The plan changes, though, when they find $40-million more than expected and have to contend with each other, Mexican gangster, crooked superiors and another interested party that even puts the fear into Papi. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (“Contraband”) has an entertaining knack for action that’s helped along here by Washington and Wahlberg’s natural, seemingly effortless chemistry.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins
Woody Allen’s most serious—and painful—film in years has one thing going for it at least: a powerhouse performance by Cate Blanchett in the title role—though she’s working with very familiar material. Her Jasmine, a formerly wealthy Manhattan socialite rapidly losing touch with reality while forced to live with her working-class sister (Hawkins), is a less sympathetic variation on Blanche Dubois. Just as “Blue Jasmine” is a thinly disguised reworking of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” with little to add that’s new or improved. Most of the plot developments of the Tennessee Williams classic are present and accounted for, but less so. The characters are sketchy, the dialogue is prosaic and the tragedy, when it comes, is accompanied by the unpleasant feeling that Jasmine, unlike Blanche, has gotten what’s coming to her.
THE TO DO LIST
Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language — all involving teens
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Rachel Bilson
It’s nice to see a movie acknowledge that girls can have the same questing spirit as boys when it comes to seeking carnal knowledge and that their misadventures along the way can be every bit as comically mortifying. Even if the quest is being undertaken strictly for educational purposes. Aubrey Plaza of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” is hilariously gung-ho as Brandy, a brainy, uptight Midwestern high-school valedictorian circa 1993, who decides to take a self-designed crash course in human sexuality before heading to college. Writer/director Maggie Carey (making her feature debut after assorted sitcoms and Web comedies) goes to impressive lengths to make sure “The To Do List” is at least as raunchy as your average male-oriented teen horndog comedy. For the most part, though, this is a smart, witty, frequently funny film that has a surprisingly sweet quality despite its salaciousness. It even has a moral emphasizing the value of friendship and the comparative insignificance of sex for the sake of sex that could almost be described as wholesome. Almost.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee
A major improvement over 2009’s disappointing “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” this nicely crafted follow-up by director James Mangold is atmospheric, exciting, amusing and even a bit tragic at times. In his sixth appearance in 13 years as the mutton-chopped, retractable-clawed, immortal soldier Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine), Jackman kicks the melancholy glowering up a notch to suggest a truly tormented soul. Part of the appeal of this installment in the Wolverine saga is that it’s more of a traditional Japanese action film than a superhero movie, with Logan battling ninjas, yakuza and etc. after being summoned by the dying patriarch of a powerful Japanese family, whose life he saved during the explosion of the atom bomb at Nagasaki — detailed in a spectacular opening sequence. “Woverine” has a complicated and not entirely logical plot that also has trouble figuring out when to end, one action crescendo stacked on top of another until weariness sets in before the overlong, overblown, ultimate mega-finale. It’s satisfying, nonetheless, because it’s more about character than carnage, proving for the first time that there’s more to this guy than an anger problem and a crazy set of sideburns.
Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor
Hard-core horror fans will no doubt find it ho-hum, but “The Conjuring” scores points for just saying no to gore (for the most part) and relying instead on old-fashioned chills and suspense. Wilson and Farmiga star as real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (whose cases included the Amityville Horror haunting), trying to save a family from demon trouble. (Glencoe native Taylor is the mom.) The dialogue is a little clunky at times and the performances are sometimes a bit awkward, but it all builds to an effectively freaky climax despite its surprisingly wholesome vibe and explicitly religious moral.
Rated PG for some mild action and thematic elements
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Maya Rudolph, Ken Jeong
This pleasant and even occasionally poignant little comedy about a snail with the need for speed should go down easy for kids of all ages. But its mix of revved-up action, snappy comedy and heart-tugging emotion is particularly well-suited for younger ones. Theo (Reynolds) dreams of being a racer in the Indianapolis 500 and gets his chance after a freak accident involving a nitrous oxide supercharger makes him lightning fast, though he’s slowed down somewhat by his cautious, naysaying brother Chet (Giamatti). “Turbo” works nicely because debut director David Soren keeps the scale of the action modest and focuses on character relationships rather than going for overblown spectacle and slapstick. Or resorting to jokes about slime.
Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer
Based on the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a San Francisco rapid-transit policeman in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009, “Fruitvale” won top honors at the Sundance Film Festival and a major award at Cannes, for good reason. The intimacy of debut writer/director Ryan Coogler’s approach to the film and the no-frills, believably real quality of the performances drive the senselessness of Grant’s killing home with visceral impact. “Fruitvale” opens with actual cell-phone footage showing Grant handcuffed face-down on the platform before being shot in the back, then flashes back to retrace his final day. This is a breakout role for Jordan (“The Wire,” “Friday Night Lights”) as Grant, effectively balancing the darker aspects of his life as an ex-convict attempting to go straight with his loving nature and his devotion to family. But the real power of “Fruitvale Station” lies in the fact that it is simply recreating a true, shocking injustice. It’s not easy to watch and shouldn’t be forgotten.
GIRL MOST LIKELY
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Matt Dillon, Annette Bening
Feigned or not, there’s simply nothing funny about attempted suicide. So, the fact that Kristin Wiig’s character in “Girl Most Likely” propels herself into a supposedly comic nightmare by faking an overdose of sleeping pills does a nice job of illustrating how badly the balance is off in this surprisingly dismal comedy-drama. The “Bridesmaids” star plays failed playwright Imogene, who loses her rich boyfriend and her magazine job in New York, tries to win sympathy by threatening to kill herself and winds up instead being forced to live in with her estranged mother (Benign) in her much-loathed hometown of Ocean City, NJ. Screenwriter Michelle Morgan (“Middle of Nowhere”) has built a lot of quirky comic elements into “Girl Most Likely,” including a house full of whacky eccentrics who welcome Imogene home. But the decision of directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (“American Splendor,” “The Nanny Diaries”) to nullify those elements with a general atmosphere of misery and bitterness cuts down on the laugh quotient considerably. And it doesn’t help that snobbish, superior, judgmental Imogene is basically kind of a creep.
Rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker and Helen Mirren
Retirement suits some people better than others, but it apparently doesn’t suit superannuated government assassins at all. That’s a good thing, as it turns out, because this insanely action-packed, frequently funny follow-up to the 2010 hit about golden-years super-spies and contract killers (Willis, Malkovich, and Mirren minus Morgan Freeman this time) is even more entertaining than the original.
Rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeff Bridges
Being dead turns out to be kind of a lively experience for Ryan Reynolds in this big, bombastic, wannabe-blockbuster action comedy about supernatural super-cops trying to save the world from afterlife aggravation on a grand scale. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more moribund for the rest of us. After being murdered by his partner (Bacon in full-on sleaze mode), mostly honest cop Reynolds, who’s nervous about Judgment Day and pining for his beloved wife, is assigned to the Rest in Peace Department, tracking down runaway hell-bound souls hiding on Earth with a new partner who’s not much of an improvement—ornery Old West sheriff Roy (Bridges). “R.I.P.D.” isn’t terrible, really, just carelessly thrown together and shamelessly derivative, borrowing from “Men in Black,” “Ghostbusters” and even the 1990 romance “Ghost.” Even the always-welcome presence of Bridges (doing a semi-reprise of his Rooster Cogburn from “True Grit”) isn’t enough to make it as much fun as it might appear to be.
GROWN UPS 2
One half star
Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive content, language and some male rear nudity
Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, David Spade
The original 2010 worldwide hit wasn’t exactly Noel Coward, but at least it had a story. Instead of getting back together in their old hometown on the occasion of their beloved old basketball coach’s death, this time high-school buddies Sandler, James, Rock and Spade are simply there — with not much of anything to do. The almost aggressively unfunny “Grown Ups 2” bounces around randomly as the guys work out mild married-with-kids issues while taking care of the real business at hand: making with the how-low-can-you-go sex and potty jokes. As a bonus you get a big ’80s party and a brawl with a bunch of obnoxious frat boys led by former “Twilight”-er Taylor Lautner, who calls Sandler and company “Thicky Thick and the Flabby Bunch.” And that’s pretty much the comic high point.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief
Stars: Ron Perlman, Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Charlie Day
It takes a while to find its big, robotic footing, but as soon as “Pacific Rim” shifts into full-tilt action mode, roughly halfway through, it delivers all the super-colossal robo-a-monstro mayhem any adrenaline junkie could ask for. It’s just a shame, especially coming from master of the fantastic Guillermo del Toro (“Hell Boy,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”), that the human element is nowhere near as satisfying. This is a mega-budgeted reworking of the classic Japanese kaiju monster-movies of the 1960s (“Godzilla,” “Rodan,” “Mothra,” etc.) It’s mankind facing off against giant lizardy invaders with equally gigantic robots operated by human pilots. The increasingly spectacular combat scenes look great. Even though the whole thing seems to have been targeted, intellectually and emotionally, at pre-teen boys, it’s way better than the last couple of “Transformers” movies.
DESPICABLE ME 2
Rated PG for rude humor and mild action
Stars:Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong
The formerly despicable super-villain Dr. Gru (Carell) returns as a good guy in this tepid sequel to the surprise 2010 mega-hit. Not that it really matters, since he’s been completely upstaged by his cheerily demented little yellow minions. Gru is now devoted to raising his cute little adopted daughters and getting into the “tasty jams and jellies” business — until he’s recruited by the MI6-like Anti-Villain League to help track down another super-baddie who’s stolen a monster-making serum. There’s also a little on-the-job romance as Gru falls for his over-eager partner Agent Lucy Wilde (Wiig), but most of the giggles come courtesy of the minions.
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence
Stars:Melissa McCarthy, Sandra Bullock, Marlon Wayons, Michael Rapaport
Never mind the standard-issue buddy-cop format, set aside the ho-hum bringing-down-a-vicious-drug-dealer plot and don’t sweat the numerous civil-rights violations. “The Heat” is all about comedy and when you look at it that way, it’s close to brilliant. Scruffy, loose-cannon cop Mullins (McCarthy) and smug, by-the-book FBI agent Ashburn (Bullock) do the clash-and-bond thing strictly according to formula. But the combination of their natural chemistry, a witty script by “Parks and Recreation” writer Katie Dippold and smart direction by Paul Feig makes this something special. Best of all, female stereotypes are kept to a minimum, with no shrieking, no giggling and little concern about romance.