Also new this week From our wire services
(Comedy, R, minutes). Having played sweet, good girls for too long, Cameron Diaz (at left with Justin Timberlake) gets in touch with her bad self as the world's worst schoolteacher, an alcoholic, drug-using party animal who tries to seduce a wealthy new substitute (Timberlake).
Rating: Not yet reviewed.
Info for Parents: Rated R for some drug use, nudity, sexual content and language.
(Drama, R, 130 minutes). After her death, a twin brother and sister are given letters from their mother to be delivered to the father they never knew and the brother they didn't know they had. This process of discovery leads from modern Montreal to a country not unlike Lebanon, and opens a door into the country's tortured history. In flashbacks involving the life of the mother (Lubna Azabal), we learn of terrible choices forced by sectarian hatred. Denis Villeneuve's work was a 2011 Oscar nominee for best foreign film. In French and Arabic, with English
Info for Parents: Rated R for some strong violence and language.
The Double Hour
(Thriller, not rated, 95 minutes). Ex-cop Guido (Filippo Timi) doesn't have much luck on the dating scene. That changes when he meets Slovenian immigrant Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport), a high-end hotel chambermaid. But a romantic getaway in the country takes a dark turn when Sonia's past surfaces, and everything in her life begins to change. In Italian, with English subtitles.
Rating: Not yet reviewed.
Info for Parents: This film is not rated.
OK for all ages
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
(Documentary, G, 90 minutes). He's 68 years old and narrates his documentaries in an unmistakably raspy whisper, his heavy German accent adding an air of mystery to everything he's describing. And yet Werner Herzog has such obvious enthusiasm for the discoveries here, it's as if you're listening to a giddy little kid who learned the coolest thing at school today and cannot wait to tell you all about it. That's just one of the many fascinating contradictions that mark Herzog's latest film - about a French cave containing spectacular prehistoric artwork closed off to the outside world more than 20,000 years ago when a rock face collapsed. Once scientists found it and began investigating inside, they saw vivid and pristine images of horses, bears, rhinos and other creatures they estimate are more than 30,000 years old - almost twice as old as previous finds. Researchers call it one of the most important cultural finds ever, and not only did Herzog gain unprecedented access, he also shot it all in 3-D. Now, we're not always a fan of the technology, but not only is it not gimmicky, it actually enhances the viewing experience - making these images seem more tactile and immediate. "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" immerses us in a space that's at once enormous and darkly cramped, full of shimmering crystal formations and scattered cave bear skulls. The film does grow a bit repetitive, though, and could have been a half-hour shorter.
Info for Parents: Rated G for general audiences.
OK for 10 and older
Judy Moody & The Not
(Family, PG, 91minutes). Here's the kindest thing we can say: The kids sure do work awfully hard. They throw themselves headlong into pratfalls and vomit gags with equal elan. If only the material were worthy of such dedication. Director John Schultz's adaptation of the popular children's book series by Megan McDonald is a shrill, shallow cacophony of individual antics without much
narrative momentum. Little kids - we're talking really little kids - might find it a pleasant diversion, with all that perky noise and incessant motion. For everyone else, it'll be death. Australian newcomer Jordana Beatty stars as the title character, a young girl in idyllic suburbia who's psyched to share the summer with her closest friends. But then, one by one, they get dragged away to more exotic destinations. So she's left with her younger brother, Stink (Parris Mosteller), and their Aunt Opal (Heather Graham), whom they've never met. But hey, what do you know? Aunt Opal is one of those wacky aunts, the kind who like to do art projects in the middle of the living room and make elaborate feasts that destroy the kitchen. The kind you only see in movies.
Info for Parents: Rated PG for some mild rude humor and language.
Kung Fu Panda 2
(Animated, PG, 90 minutes). The freshness and novelty that made the original film such a kick back in 2008 has been, well, kicked to bits in this sequel. The story line feels overstuffed with plotlines and characters. Parents should be aware of some violent, frightening imagery that may be too much for the littlest kids. The 3-D is generally unobtrusive but doesn't really add anything, either. In 'Kung Fu Panda 2,' the portly Po (voiced by Jack Black) has gone from underdog dreaming of kung-fu greatness to the Dragon Warrior himself. He must protect the Valley of Peace with the help of The Furious Five, the various animal species who fight alongside him and happen to come with celebrity voices. He begins to wonder about his past just as a megalomaniacal peacock named Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) is hell-bent on dominating the future. These two story lines run parallel to each other and eventually collide, but never truly jell.
Info for Parents: Rated PG for sequences of martial-arts action and mild violence.
OK for 10 and older
Mr. Popper's Penguins
(Comedy, PG, 95 minutes). One assumes when Hollywood gets its hands on a charming children's book like Richard and Florence Atwater's 1938 classic, bad things ensue. But director Mark Waters ("Mean Girls," "Freaky Friday") has turned in something with its own charm. Yes, it's a saccharine family film with predictable story lines and glossy studio veneer. But thanks largely to Jim Carrey's deft, funny performance, enough wit slides in between the cracks to rescue "Penguins" from the kiddie schmaltz it seemed destined to be. Tom Popper (Carrey) has been transferred from the country to the Big Apple. He's a shark of a real-estate developer, and his commitment to work has lost him his wife (Carla Gugino). He sees his kids (Madeline Carroll, Maxwell Perry Cotton) on the weekends. But when his father bequeaths him a penguin and five more follow, the tuxedoed ones - and you saw this coming - turn his life upside down. Slapstick and flatulence jokes follow, but Carrey continuously inserts clever lines and rubbery faces. Waters mixes it well, avoiding too much cheesy humor, and the film maintains a light breeze despite its wintery environs. With Angela Lansbury as the owner of Tavern on the Green.
Info for Parents: Rated PG for mild rude humor and some language.
The Art of Getting By
(Romantic Comedy, PG-13, 84 minutes). The title nicely sums up this trifling teen tale of first love, which artfully dodges any pretense of substance or authenticity, trying to scrape by on the charms of its almost intolerably cute cast. There's an ease and playfulness that carries along writer-director Gavin Wiesen's debut film for a while. Yet, the indie production plays out as blandly and predictably as a Hollywood teen romance - the characters artificial, the story hollow. As a troubled youth on the verge of throwing his life away before it's begun, Freddie Highmore behaves weirdly even-keeled, his rebelliousness cloaked in a Zenlike calm, like a heavily sedated cousin of "Catcher in the Rye" hero Holden Caulfield. As the object of his affection, Emma Roberts is similarly one-dimensional in the opposite direction, a whirlwind whose pretty perkiness feels phony and soon grows tiresome. Still, they make for an adorable couple, and Wiesen milks a few enjoyable moments out of his lead actors and some of the supporting cast, particularly Elizabeth Reaser as Roberts' amorous mom.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, including sexual content, language, teen drinking and partying.
(Action, PG-13, 105 minutes). Remember when big, summer blockbusters were fun? That notion apparently eluded the makers of "Green Lantern," a joyless amalgamation of expository dialogue and special effects that aren't especially special. Even Ryan Reynolds, with his sparkling charisma and chiseled body,
cannot make this thing interesting. Then again, he doesn't have much to work with. He's essentially called upon to make some flippant comments to reflect how shallow and self-absorbed his character is, then once he gets his superhero makeover, he flies around in a skintight green suit and zaps stuff with his ring. The script, credited to four screenwriters and inspired by the DC Comics series, does little to flesh him out beyond some cliched daddy issues and a fear of death that prompts him to run from commitment. Reynolds' Hal Jordan is a brash, cocky test pilot, and "Green Lantern" plays like "Top Gun" with magical jewelry. When a spaceship crash-lands one day, the alien inside bequeaths his ring - and membership in an intergalactic peacekeeping force known as the Green Lantern Corps - to the reluctant Hal. As the corps' first human, he's somehow the only one who can stop an evil force in the universe known as the Parallax. Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard and Tim Robbins co-star.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence.
Jumping the Broom
(Romantic comedy, PG-13, 108 minutes). This is what it might look like if Nancy Meyers directed a Tyler Perry movie. It's got all the glossy production values of a Meyers film like "Something's Gotta Give" or "It's Complicated": expensive clothes, expansive houses and an elegant setting. And the ensemble cast, featuring Paula Patton, Laz Alonso and Meagan Good, offers plenty of eye candy. But it also has all the lowbrow humor and high melodrama of a Perry movie, the broad characters and earnest religious fervor, and the same jarring tonal shifts between those two extremes. The first feature from director Salim Akil, a veteran of the TV series "Girlfriends," presents the culture clashes that occur between two black families - one old-moneyed, the other blue-collared - when they're about to be united through marriage. Patton plays Sabrina Watson, a New York corporate lawyer who meets a cute Wall Street up-and-comer, Alonso's Jason Taylor, when she hits him with her car. Instantly they're smitten and, in no time, they're engaged. But plot contrivances keep their respective families from meeting until the day before the wedding. Angela Bassett as Sabrina's cultured mother and Loretta Devine as Alonso's mom, a Brooklyn postal worker, are two formidable actresses who deserve stronger material.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.
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.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
(Action, PG-13, 137 minutes). The fourth film in the ridiculously successful Disney franchise is the shortest in the series, but it still feels overlong and overstuffed: needlessly convoluted yet, at the same time, phoned-in. And the fact that this one's in 3-D does nothing to liven up the action. Those three-dimensional digital effects mainly consist of various swords and snakes and such being flung at our faces. Boo! Did you jump? That's not to say this summer behemoth doesn't have its thrilling moments. Rob Marshall ("Chicago," "Nine") takes over for Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three "Pirates" movies, and his knack for choreography comes shining through in individual set pieces. It's everything in between that makes this such a repetitive bore. Johnny Depp's performance as the randy Capt. Jack Sparrow, which seemed like such a free, goofy, inspired bit of work when the first film came out back in 2003, now feels so dialed-down and obvious, it's as if he could do it in his sleep. As for the plot - not that it matters, really - this time it follows a search for the fabled Fountain of Youth. Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane co-star.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images, sensuality and innuendo.
(Thriller, PG-13, 112 minutes). This is the rarest of things this time of year: a summer blockbuster that's completely earnest and irony-free, not filled with cheeky pop-culture references or cheesy product placement. The effects, while spectacular, also happen to be germane to the plot, and they have an intimate, tactile quality, rather than seeming too glossy or removed from reality. So all you're left with is ... story. And strong performances. And well-developed characters. And a believable emotional arc. And genuine thrills. And that's apropos, given it's a love letter to the man who skillfully wove together all those elements in inventing the modern blockbuster. J.J. Abrams has crafted a loving, meticulously detailed homage to Steven Spielberg, who's one of the film's producers - specifically, the director's work from the late 1970s and early '80s - but it never feels like a rip-off, and it certainly never lapses into parody. As writer and director, Abrams effectively conveys a mood - a mixture of innocence, fear and ultimately hope - Spielberg managed to create again and again. He also captures a familiar sense of childhood loneliness - a need to escape and belong - and the adventures that can spring from that yearning. And the kids at the center of this small-town, sci-fi thriller (Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths and Elle Fanning), many of whom had never appeared in a feature film before, are total naturals and bounce off each other with effortless, goofy humor.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use.
X-Men: First Class
(Action, PG-13, 130 minutes). The prequel to the "X-Men" trilogy is one of the best Marvel Comics adaptations, packed with action, humor, retro 1960s style that's both campy and sexy and a revisionist history lesson that puts the super-powered mutants at the center of the Cuban missile crisis. Bryan Singer, who directed the superior first two "X-Men" flicks, returns as a producer and idea man, and Matthew Vaughn, another filmmaker adept at blending smarts and action ("Stardust," ''Kick-Ass"), was wisely recruited as director and co-writer. The young cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender is no match for Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and the rest of the grand ensemble Singer enlisted for the first "X-Men" in 2000. Yet McAvoy's playful energy and unshakable nobility and Fassbender's slow-burning wrath and unflinching pragmatism nicely prefigure Stewart's august Professor X and McKellen's dogmatic Magneto. Kevin Bacon's a blast as a mutant bad guy aiming to start a nuclear war. With January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Hoult. 130 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language.
The Hangover Part II
(Comedy, R, 101 minutes). It's hard to imagine a worse attempt at cashing in a second time. Seriously, it feels like the script was pieced together with the help of Mad Libs, with only slightly different and raunchier details replacing those that helped the original "Hangover" from 2009 become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time. But so much of the allure of that first film was the novelty of the premise, the unpredictability of the adventures, and the sense that we, too, were wandering in a daze, helping solve the mystery of the debauched night before. Giving the people what they want is one thing. Making nearly the exact same movie a second time, but shifting the setting to Thailand, is just ... what, lazy? Arrogant? Maybe a combination of the two. That's essentially what director Todd Phillips has done. This time, Ed Helms' mild-mannered dentist, Stu, is the one getting married at a resort in Thailand, his fiancee's family's home country. Although he insists he doesn't want a bachelor party, he, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) still manage to wake up in a stupor in a squalid Bangkok hotel.
Info for Parents: Rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images.
(Comedy, R, 106 minutes). After making just two movies - "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor" - writer-director Tom McCarthy already had established himself as a filmmaker with a real knack for creating beautifully fleshed-out characters, full of humor and believable flaws. He continues to impress here, and once again amasses an excellent cast; a longtime supporting player himself, McCarthy always brings out the best in his character actors. Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a small-town New Jersey attorney who agrees to take on the guardianship of an elderly client (Burt Young) who's starting to suffer from dementia. Mike thinks he's got a good little deal going: Instead of caring for the old man on a daily basis, he sticks him in a nursing home and pockets the $1508 stipend every month. It's a win-win, he figures. His wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), and two young daughters could use the money, and the client gets better care this way. What Mike doesn't count on is the arrival of Kyle (Alex Shaffer in his film debut), the client's wayward grandson. Mike just happens to be a part-time high school wrestling coach, and Kyle just happens to be a part-time high school wrestler. Whaddya know? Another win-win. But you can imagine the unraveling happening before it even starts. Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor co-star.
Info for Parents: Rated R for language.