Also new this week From our wire services
The Rum Diary
(Drama, R, 120 minutes). "The Rum Diary" is based on Hunter S. Thompson's heavily autobiographical novel by the same name, which he wrote as a 22-year-old in the early 1960s after a stint as a newspaper reporter in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Dedicated to Thompson, who died in 2005, it is essentially a portrait of the Duke as a young journalist. The stand-in for Thompson, the young novelist-reporter Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), is trying to find his way and his writing voice: It's the birth of Gonzo. You might expect a tribute such as this to be sycophantic, but director Bruce Robinson keeps a realistic tone.
Info for Parents: Rated R for language, brief drug use and sexuality.
(Thriller, PG-13, 115 minutes). Writer-director Andrew Niccol ("Gattaca," "Lord of War") returns with a sci-fi tale that is not - repeat, not - a remake of "Logan's Run." Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy and Vincent Kartheiser are some of the inhabitants of this alternate universe where everyone stops aging at 25. The catch? You only get to live one more year - unless you're rich enough to buy yourself immortality.
Rating: Not yet reviewed.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and brief strong language.
OK for all ages
The Lion King 3D
(Animated, G, 87 minutes). The Disney animated classic about the lion cub Simba returns, only this time it's in your face.
Rating: Not reviewed.
Info for Parents: Rated G for general audiences.
OK for 10 and older
The Big Year
(Comedy, PG, 99 minutes). You'd have to really love birding as much as the guys here do to enjoy this strained buddy comedy to its fullest potential. Except for some lovely scenery and a few lively interactions between the three stars - Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black - "The Big Year" feels like one long, cross-country schlep. And in the pursuit of what? The title of spotting the most bird species in North America during a calendar year, something extremely specific that will probably only interest a few people in the audience. Yes, of course, the journey is the destination and whatnot. And the competition itself is merely a device, a metaphor for the drive these three men have to prove their worth at this particular moment in their lives. If that weren't obvious to us already, the voiceover-heavy script spells out everything they're thinking or regretting or learning from this magical experience. David Frankel's film, based on the non-fiction book by Mark Obmascik, begins in sufficiently lively fashion in establishing its premise, as you might expect from the director of "The Devil Wears Prada." But it quickly grows repetitive as Martin (as a retiring corporate CEO), Wilson (as a contractor and the reigning champ) and Black (as a divorced, cubicle-dwelling newbie) go to extremes to chase each other around and race against the clock. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad bird.
Info for Parents: Rated PG for language and some sensuality.
(Drama, PG, 113 minutes). Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr. are among the stars of this family-friendly tale about a boy who befriends a dolphin that lost its tail in a crab trap.
Rating: Not reviewed.
Info for Parents: Rated PG for some mild thematic element.
Johnny English Reborn
(Comedy, PG, 101 minutes). You probably weren't clamoring for a sequel to the 2003 British spy parody "Johnny English," which was far more successful overseas than it was in the United States. Still, here it is, again starring Rowan Atkinson. As the secret agent of the title, Johnny thinks he's as suave and resourceful as James Bond. Mostly, though, he bumbles his way from one situation to the next with the help of all the obligatory weapons and gadgets. Johnny is back at the agency, MI7, after a few years away with a bit of a stigma attached to him. Seems he massively messed up an assignment in Mozambique, and his new boss, Pegasus (Gillian Anderson), lets him know she won't tolerate those kinds of mistakes from him again. For his next job, Johnny must find out who is behind a plot to assassinate the Chinese premier. And even though he's been training in the remote mountains of Tibet all this time (in an admittedly amusing montage), Johnny still isn't quite up for the challenge. Director Oliver Parker's film relies on a lot of the same tired, repetitive spy spoofs as the "Austin Powers" movies, much of the same false confidence in the face of absurd danger. That any of this works, ever, is a testament to Atkinson's skills as a comedian. You can sense him slumming and straining but he's so gifted physically, he makes some pretty idiotic material more enjoyable than it should be. Rosamund Pike and Dominic West co-star.
Info for Parents: Rated PG for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and sexual content.
(Comedy, PG, 86 minutes). The little blue trolls with the mushroom homes and the most aggravating theme song in musical history invade Manhattan in a bright, broad live-action, computer-animated comedy. It may not be the family film least insulting to its audience's intelligence this season, but "The Smurfs" has brains, heart and style, which will endear it to adults as well as young viewers. Through one of those handy portals that conveniently appear whenever mythical characters need to land in Nowadays U.S.A., Papa Smurf and half a dozen of his blue brood wind up in Central Park. Hot on their trail are eeeeevil wizard Gargamel and his cat, Azrael. Hank Azaria is a figure of cackling, scheming Dickensian villainy as the dastardly sorcerer.
Info for Parents: Rated PG for some mild rude humor and action.
(Thriller, PG-13, 103 minutes). The calm is what's so startling here, the cool precision with which Steven Soderbergh depicts a deadly virus that spreads throughout the world, quickly claiming millions of victims. There's no great panic in his tone, no hysteria. Characters become increasingly confused and frustrated, they struggle to survive and then die in a matter-of-fact way. Even the eventual instances of looting and rioting that crop up feel like blips of intensity, understandable reactions to an incomprehensible situation. Working from a script by Scott Z. Burns, who also wrote his 2009 comedy "The Informant!," Soderbergh takes us from suburban living rooms to labs at the Centers for Disease Control to remote Asian villages with equally clear-eyed realism. The attention to detail - and to the infinite ways germs can spread that we probably don't want to think about - provide the sensation that this sort of outbreak really could happen right now. Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and Marion Cotillard are among the stellar ensemble cast, but Jennifer Ehle nearly steals the whole movie from them as a CDC doctor racing to find a cure.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for disturbing content and some language.
(Thriller, PG-13, 106 minutes): Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz star as a couple who discover their beautiful new home was the site of a horrific murder. Naomi Watts co-stars as the meddling neighbor who knows what really went down.
Rating: Not reviewed.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language.
(Drama, PG-13, 125 minutes). Remaking "Footloose" is a little like trying to build a better leg warmer. The dated kitsch was always part of the appeal of the 1984 original, as was the winning cast of Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer and Chris Penn. In this remake by Craig Brewer ("Hustle & Flow"), we get a better, more colorful film, but less chemistry in the cast. Kenny Wormald, a former backup dancer for Justin Timberlake, slides into Bacon's dance shoes as Ren MacCormack, the big-city out-of-towner who disrupts life in a Georgia small town. He soon sets his sights on Ariel (Julianne Hough), the daughter of the town preacher (Dennis Quaid), who, after a tragedy, led the town in outlawing dancing. Brewer reprises much of the original "Footloose," scene for scene, sometimes shot for shot. But he also expands the film's world, fleshing out back stories and adding a little humor. Wormald and Hough are both handsome and good on the dance floor, but they come across more like teen stars in training than representations of real youth angst. These kids may have better technique, but they don't have the moves. Miles Teller, as the hayseed sidekick, and Ray McKinnon, as Ren's uncle, are the film's best additions.
Info for Parents: Rated PG for PG-13 some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
(Action, PG-13, 130 minutes). If last year's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" marked the beginning of the end with a gripping feeling of doom and gloom, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" wraps things up once and for all on a note of melancholy. Oh, it's dramatic, to be sure: gorgeous, somber and startling as the young wizard faces his destiny and fights the evil Lord Voldemort. But the end of this staggeringly successful movie franchise, an epic fantasy saga spanning eight films during the past decade, provides a necessary emotional catharsis for Harry and for us. Even those who aren't ardent Potterphiles might find themselves getting unexpectedly choked up a couple of times. This is the place where all the narrative and emotional threads must converge and tie up at last. While "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" offers long-promised answers, it also dares to pose some eternal questions, and it'll stay with you after the final chapter has closed.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for some sequence of intense action violence and frightening images.
(Drama, PG-13, 146 minutes). A class act like this is rare enough in Hollywood. Coming at the tail end of summer blockbuster season, it's almost unheard of. It's the sort of film that studios typically save for the holiday prestige season in November or December, when Academy Awards voters start thinking ahead to the films they want to anoint. Come awards time, many of them likely will be thinking of "The Help," whose remarkable ensemble of women offers enough great performances to practically fill the actress categories at the Oscars. From its roots as a collaboration between lifelong friends Kathryn Stockett, who wrote the best-selling novel, and Tate Taylor, the film's writer-director, through the pitch-perfect casting of Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and their co-stars, "The Help" simply seems to be blessed. It's hard to imagine a better movie coming out of the screen adaptation of Stockett's tale of friendship and common cause among black maids and an aspiring white writer in Jackson, Miss., in 1963.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for thematic material.
I Don't Know How She Does It
(Comedy, PG-13, 91 minutes). When you're a wife and working mother, there's this inescapable, self-imposed pressure to do everything right all the time. The idea of having it all - a great job and a loving family, a toned body and a sane mind - is as appealing as it is elusive. Douglas McGrath's comedy, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, gets that dynamic, that incessant juggling act, and the ways in which we self-flagellate in trying to perfect it. This is not exactly a new concept but it's increasingly prevalent, and McGrath finds just the right tone in depicting that. Sometimes. Too often, though, he smothers those nuggets of insight with a jaunty, sitcommy tone, with gags that are telegraphed from a mile away and music that works awfully hard to cue our emotional responses. It doesn't help that Sarah Jessica Parker, as the film's star, chimes in early and often with voiceovers that sound exactly like the kinds of observations she used to make as Carrie on "Sex and the City," the role with which she will be eternally, intrinsically tied. Here, she stars as Kate Reddy, a mother of two with her architect husband (Greg Kinnear). She struggles to balance her home life with her demanding job as an investment manager, which gets more time-consuming when she takes on a big project with the firm's head honcho (Pierce Brosnan).
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for sexual references throughout.
Midnight in Paris
(Comedy, PG-13, 94 minutes). Woody Allen has found the right time and the right place with this, his lightest, funniest and most-satisfying movie in a long time. Shooting a full film in France for the first time, writer-director Allen has crafted a pastry-light romantic fantasy with virtually no dramatic pretensions, unlike the comic dramas and even outright tragedy that has dominated his work for the last eight years or so. Allen presents a wide-eyed-with-wonder view of the City of Light that nicely complements his story of an American writer (Owen Wilson) who pines for the 1920s Paris of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. All things seem possible here, so when the impossible starts to happen, it's easy to slip into the clever conceit Allen uses to test his protagonist's devotion to a nostalgic dream of days past. "Midnight in Paris" bears similarities to 1985's "The Purple Rose of Cairo" and 1990's "Alice," in which Allen used magical elements similar to those he employs here. The new movie has little of the heft or pathos of those earlier ones, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Rachel McAdams co-stars as Wilson's fiancee, with Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and a scene-stealing Alison Pill among the strong, well-cast supporting players.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking.
(Drama, PG-13, 126 minutes). You don't have to know about VORP to enjoy the story of how a bunch of stat geeks changed the way baseball teams assess and acquire players. Sure, it helps if you're a fan of the sport and if you've read Michael Lewis' breezy and engaging best-seller "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game." Sabermetrics - the process of applying statistical formulas, rather than on-field appearance and general makeup, to determine a player's worth - wouldn't seem like an inherently cinematic topic. But Lewis made lesser-known guys like Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford leap off the page. And the cajoling patter from Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager who pioneered this experimental philosophy, would seem tailor-made for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who co-wrote the script along with fellow veteran scribe Steven Zaillian. Still, what's most pleasing about Bennett Miller's film doesn't really have to do with baseball. As Beane, Brad Pitt is at his charismatic best - a little weary, a little weathered, but that complexity only makes him more appealing. Jonah Hill is at his best here, too, as Beane's sidekick: the perfect foil for such a force of nature. He and Pitt bounce off each other beautifully. But what's wrong here has nothing to do with baseball, either. "Moneyball" never feels like it's building toward anything, even if you know how the A's 2002 season unfolded.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for some strong language.
(Action, PG-13, 127 minutes). A bad idea is a bad idea, even dressed up with all the computer effects and heavy-metal action that Hollywood can buy. And the idea of robots boxing is a bad one, creating some embarrassingly awful moments for Hugh Jackman as an ex-fighter scraping by in the near future as a promoter of brawling machines that have taken over the sport from human boxers. Then his 11-year-old son (Dakota Goyo) joins him on the road after the boy's mother dies. Then the kid stumbles on an outdated sparring robot in a junkyard. Then the squabbling father and son bond as their little 'bot becomes a sensation on the fight circuit and gets an underdog shot against the world champion. Jackman's generally out-acted by the robots, whose bouts are deafening and bruising, more like demolition derbies than sporting events. A horribly predictable mash-up of "Rocky," ''The Champ" and Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, "Real Steel" puts director Shawn Levy (the "Night at the Museum" movies) in contention with fellow robot handler Michael Bay for the title of worst blockbuster filmmaker in show business.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language.
(Drama, PG-13, 111 minutes). Cuts back and forth between a tragic story involving the Holocaust and a more trivial, feel-good story about a modern-day reporter. It's an awkward fit and diminishes the impact of the story set earlier. A modern-day writer (Kristin Scott Thomas) investigates the Nazi roundup of Jews in Paris, and discovers an unexpected personal connection. In French and English, with English subtitles.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing situations involving the Holocaust.
(Documentary, PG-13, 104 minutes). "Senna" focuses on the public image of the great racing driver and leaves us to ponder the mysteries. Ayrton Senna won the Formula One world championship three times, was cheated of it a fourth, was the beloved hero of his native Brazil, and died in a crash at 34 - when he was in the lead. The film implies that he was consumed, inflamed, devoured by the need to win. Perhaps no one, least of all Senna, can say why. A competent TV sports doc, the sort you'd expect to see on ESPN - not at first-run prices.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for fatal car crashes.
The Three Musketeers
(Adventure, PG-13, 111 minutes). Matthew MacFadyen, Luke Evans and Ray Stevenson are the titular trio, made a quartet by the addition of the hot-headed D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) and facing off against baddies played by Christoph Waltz and Orlando Bloom.
Rating: Not reviewed.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure action violence.
(Comedy, R, 100 minutes). It could have been agonizingly mawkish: The story of a young man with everything ahead of him who learns he has a rare form of spinal cancer, one that he only has a 50 percent chance of surviving. Instead, "50/50" is consistently, uproariously funny, written with humanity and insight and directed with just the right tone every time. Comedy writer Will Reiser crafted the script based on his own cancer diagnosis when he was in his early 20s. His words are filled with dark humor and a wry recognition of the gravity of this situation, but also with real tenderness. And director Jonathan Levine pulls us into this intimate world through an abiding naturalism. He's made a film about cancer that's effortlessly affecting. It helps that he has Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor of great range and subtlety, in the starring role as Adam. He goes through all the requisite stages of denial, frustration, fear and eventually acceptance, but he does so with such believable imperfection, he never feels like a saint or a martyr. But Adam has an ideal balance in his lifelong best friend and co-worker, played by Seth Rogen in the kind of garrulous and lovably crass role Rogen has built a career on. But Gordon-Levitt's most moving scenes are with the delightful Anna Kendrick as Adam's young, eager-beaver therapist.
Info for Parents: Rated R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use.
(Thriller, R, 113 minutes). Classy, solid and well-acted, this is a rare bit of meaty, intelligent filmmaking during the ordinarily dreary final days of summer. With a cast that includes Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and a tremendous Jessica Chastain, led by "Shakespeare in Love" director John Madden, it seems it would be hard to go wrong. Matthew Vaughn, the director of "Layer Cake" and "Kick-Ass," co-wrote the script. It's smart and tense but also frustrating; it almost feels too safe, too conservative and reserved in the way it hits its notes. Still, everything about it is so respectable, you may feel engrossed in the moment, yet forget about it soon afterward. Three former Mossad agents (Mirren, Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds) are being celebrated at the launch of a book detailing their most important mission. Flashbacks to 1965, when the characters are played by Chastain, Martin Csokas and Sam Worthington, reveal what really happened. As it jumps back and forth in time, "The Debt" explores the conflict between expectations and reality, intellect and emotions, truth and regret. The film's gray areas are so intriguing that you'll wish it didn't rely on a facile love triangle to create further tension.
Info for Parents: Rated R for some violence and language.
Ides of March
(Drama, R, 98 minutes). When powerful people amass their armies and go to battle in a tight political race, even the most fervent political junkies may find their faith tested, if not obliterated. It is an ugly, cynical business, full of ambitious people who will do whatever they must to survive. This is the not-so-shocking point of the latest film George Clooney has directed, based on the 2008 play "Farragut North." It's meaty and weighty and relevant, but it doesn't tell us much we didn't already know, or at least suspect, about the people we place our trust in come election time. And it features a major and distracting twist that undermines all the serious-mindedness that came before it. Clooney is such an excellent actor himself, though - here he plays a supporting role as a Pennsylvania governor seeking the Democratic presidential nomination - and he's such a smart, efficient director, he really knows how to get the best out of his cast. And it would seem difficult to go wrong with a cast like this. Philip Seymour Hoffman tears it up as the governor's gruff, no-nonsense campaign manager, a veteran who's seen it all and still continues to come back for more. Paul Giamatti is reliably smarmy as Hoffman's counterpart for the rival Democratic candidate, and watching these two acting heavyweights eyeball each other backstage at a debate provides an early, juicy thrill. But the real star is Ryan Gosling as Stephen Myers, a young, up-and-coming strategist and press secretary whose idealism is shattered.
Info for Parents: Rated R for pervasive language.
(Action, R, 116 minutes). Head butts would seem to hurt, right? That's clearly the point of them, but it would seem to be just as painful to be the butt-er as the butt-ee. This is probably the most primal method of attack on display here, but even the noisy intensity and frequency of the skull bashings - and pistol whippings and gut punches - don't register as anything beyond generic action-picture violence. The fact that director and co-writer Gary McKendry has shot all these brawls with the usual shaky cam and cut them in quick, choppy fashion only adds to how forgettable the film is. And you'd think that any movie starring Robert De Niro, Clive Owen and Jason Statham would be one you'd want to remember. "Killer Elite" allows them to show off some of the presence and personality that made these men major movie stars, but ultimately they're just cogs in a cliched revenge tale. Statham stars as Danny, the typical special-ops, killing-machine-for-hire Statham tends to play. He wants to retire, but gets drawn back in for that tried-and-true One Last Job when his mentor (De Niro) is kidnapped by an Omani sheik. Danny has to kill the men who killed the sheik's sons to ensure his release. Owen plays the enforcer for a shadowy British society who's on Danny's tail.
Info for Parents: Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity.
Paranormal Activity 3
(Horror, R, 84 minutes). "Paranormal Activity 3" manages a couple of hair-raising moments, a couple of legitimate jolts and some funny cheap ones. It was directed by the fellows who did that semi-legit documentary "Catfish," so it's more cinematic. Jump cuts and the occasional almost-movie-like arresting camera angle intrudes on the "found footage" this time - old VHS home movies from our pursued-by-demons sisters, Katie and Kristi, scenes from their childhood and their first brush with ghosts. But this "Paranormal" doesn't tamper with the formula that worked in the first two films. It lacks the "money" moments that those films delivered and ends with a finale that is downright conventional. "Paranormal" reveals itself for what it has become - the "Saw" of found video thrillers.
Info for Parents: Rated R for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use.
(Horror, R, 103 minutes). This prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 monster movie of the same name lives up to its generic title. It delivers a repetitive assault of gross creature effects and action done far better in Carpenter's version, the first two "Alien" films and a lot of other flicks about entities that feed on pitiful earthlings. The filmmakers deserve credit for trying something different, meticulously creating a back story that fits the earlier movie rather than doing the typical Hollywood remake. From first-time director Matthijs van Heijningen, the prequel explains how an alien entity frozen in the Antarctic ice got loose at a Norwegian research station, consuming and replicating the humans so that paranoid frenzy takes hold over who's real and who's not. But the new "Thing" kind of does what the alien does - digest the original movie and spit out a creepy copy. There's not much suspense, and the few scares are cheap jolts that could have come from any old monster movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton star.
Info for Parents: Rated R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images and language.