Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 27, 2014 Edition

Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 27, 2014 Edition
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Silver Screen: Confidence Man: The Hugh DeNeal Story Is Stranger than Fiction
Silver Screen: 127 Hours ****
Silver Screen: 21 Jump Street ***
Silver Screen: A Good Day to Die Hard *
Silver Screen: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas ***
Silver Screen: About Last Night ***1/2
Silver Screen: Admission ***1/2
Silver Screen: After Earth *
Silver Screen: All Is Lost ****
Silver Screen: American Hustle ****1/2
Silver Screen: American Reunion **1/2
Silver Screen: Argo **1/2
Silver Screen: August: Osage County ****
Silver Screen: Bad Teacher ***
Silver Screen: Battle: Los Angeles **
Silver Screen: Battleship *
Silver Screen: Beautiful Creatures *1/2
Silver Screen: Before Midnight ****1/2
Silver Screen: Bernie ****
Silver Screen: Black Swan ****
Silver Screen: Blue Jasmine ****1/2
Silver Screen: Blue Valentine ****
Silver Screen: Brave ***
Silver Screen: Breaking Dawn Part I *1/2
Silver Screen: Bridesmaids ****
Silver Screen: Broken City ***
Silver Screen: Bully **
Silver Screen: Captain America **
Silver Screen: Captain Phillips ****
Silver Screen: Carrie **
Silver Screen: Cars II *1/2
Silver Screen: Case Thirty-nine *
Silver Screen: Cedar Rapids ****
Silver Screen: Charlie Saint Cloud **
Silver Screen: Chernobyl Diaries *
Silver Screen: Chronicle ****
Silver Screen: Cloud Atlas ***
Silver Screen: Contagion ****1/2
Silver Screen: Contraband *
Silver Screen: Cowboys & Aliens ***
Silver Screen: Crazy, Stupid, Love **
Silver Screen: Dallas Buyers Club ****
Silver Screen: Dark Shadows *1/2
Silver Screen: Dark Skies **1/2
Silver Screen: David Wong’s John Dies at the End: A Local Author Sees His Novel Hit the Big Screen
Silver Screen: Dead Man Down 1/2*
Silver Screen: Delivery Man ***
Silver Screen: Despicable Me **1/2
Silver Screen: Despicable Me II ***1/2
Silver Screen: Devil ***
Silver Screen: Dinner for Schmucks *1/2
Silver Screen: Director Rusty Nails Presents... Dead On: The Life and Cinema of George A. Romero
Silver Screen: Django Unchained ****1/2
Silver Screen: Don Jon *
Silver Screen: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark **
Silver Screen: Dream House *1/2
Silver Screen: Dredd 3D *1/2
Silver Screen: Drive ****1/2
Silver Screen: Drive Angry 3D **1/2
Silver Screen: Due Date ***1/2
Silver Screen: Easy A ***1/2
Silver Screen: Eat Pray Love ***
Silver Screen: Elysium **
Silver Screen: End of Watch ****
Silver Screen: Ender’s Game ***
Silver Screen: Escape Plan ***
Silver Screen: Evil Dead ***
Silver Screen: Fast and Furious VI **
Silver Screen: Fast Five **1/2
Silver Screen: Faster **1/2
Silver Screen: Fifty/Fifty ****
Silver Screen: Final Destination V **
Silver Screen: Flight ****
Silver Screen: Forty-two ***1/2
Silver Screen: Frances Ha ****1/2
Silver Screen: Friends with Benefits **
Silver Screen: Fright Night ***
Silver Screen: Fruitvale Station ****
Silver Screen: G.I. Joe: Retaliation *
Silver Screen: Gangster Squad *1/2
Silver Screen: Get Him to the Greek ***
Silver Screen: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 1/2*
Silver Screen: Going the Distance ***
Silver Screen: Gone **1/2
Silver Screen: Gravity ****1/2
Silver Screen: Gravity ****1/2
Silver Screen: Green Lantern *1/2
Silver Screen: Grown Ups *
Silver Screen: Grown Ups II zero stars
Silver Screen: Hall Pass *1/2
Silver Screen: Hanna ****
Silver Screen: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II ****
Silver Screen: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I ***
Silver Screen: Haywire ***1/2
Silver Screen: Her ***1/2
Silver Screen: Hereafter *
Silver Screen: Hit and Run ***
Silver Screen: Homefront *1/2
Silver Screen: Hope Springs ***1/2
Silver Screen: Horrible Bosses **1/2
Silver Screen: House at the End of the Street *
Silver Screen: How Do You Know ***
Silver Screen: I Am Number Four *
Silver Screen: Identity Thief ***
Silver Screen: In Time **1/2
Silver Screen: Inception ****1/2
Silver Screen: Inside Llewyn Davis *****
Silver Screen: Insidious ***1/2
Silver Screen: Insidious: Chapter Two ***
Silver Screen: Iron Man III **1/2
Silver Screen: J. Edgar **
Silver Screen: Jack and Jill 1/2*
Silver Screen: Jack Reacher ***
Silver Screen: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ***
Silver Screen: Jackass 3D **1/2
Silver Screen: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa *1/2
Silver Screen: Jeff, Who Lives at Home ***1/2
Silver Screen: Jobs **
Silver Screen: Jonah Hex *
Silver Screen: Josh Hyde’s Postcards and Love Letters
Silver Screen: Just Go with It *
Silver Screen: Kick-Ass II zero stars
Silver Screen: Killer Elite **
Silver Screen: Killer Elite **
Silver Screen: Killing Them Softly **1/2
Silver Screen: Knight and Day *1/2
Silver Screen: Kung Fu Panda II ***
Silver Screen: Larry Crowne *1/2
Silver Screen: Lawless ****
Silver Screen: Let Me In ***
Silver Screen: Life as We Know It *1/2
Silver Screen: Life of Pi **1/2
Silver Screen: Limitless ***
Silver Screen: Lincoln ****
Silver Screen: Lockout **
Silver Screen: Lone Survivor ***
Silver Screen: Looper ****
Silver Screen: Love and Other Drugs *1/2
Silver Screen: Machete **
Silver Screen: Machete Kills **1/2
Silver Screen: Mama **1/2
Silver Screen: Man of Steel *
Silver Screen: Megamind ***1/2
Silver Screen: Men in Black III *1/2
Silver Screen: Midnight in Paris ****
Silver Screen: Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol ****
Silver Screen: Moneyball ***1/2
Silver Screen: Monsters University ***
Silver Screen: Moonrise Kingdom ****1/2
Silver Screen: Movie Forty-three zero stars
Silver Screen: My Soul to Take 3D 1/2*
Silver Screen: Nebraska ****1/2
Silver Screen: New Year’s Eve *
Silver Screen: No Strings Attached ***
Silver Screen: Now You See Me 1/2*
Silver Screen: Oblivion ***1/2
Silver Screen: Olympus Has Fallen zero stars
Silver Screen: One Day **
Silver Screen: Our Idiot Brother ***
Silver Screen: Out of the Furnace *
Silver Screen: Oz the Great and Powerful **
Silver Screen: Pacific Rim ****
Silver Screen: Pain and Gain ***
Silver Screen: Paranormal Activity II ***1/2
Silver Screen: Paranormal Activity III ***1/2
Silver Screen: Paranormal Activity IV *
Silver Screen: ParaNorman ***1/2
Silver Screen: Parker ***1/2
Silver Screen: Paul ***1/2
Silver Screen: Piranha 3D ***1/2
Silver Screen: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides *1/2
Silver Screen: Playing for Keeps 1/2*
Silver Screen: Predators ***
Silver Screen: Premium Rush ***
Silver Screen: Priest 1/2*
Silver Screen: Prisoners ****
Silver Screen: Project X 1/2*
Silver Screen: Prometheus ***1/2
Silver Screen: Real Steel *
Silver Screen: Red ***
Silver Screen: Red Dawn *
Silver Screen: Red Tails **
Silver Screen: Resident Evil: Retribution *
Silver Screen: Riddick ***
Silver Screen: Ride Along **1/2
Silver Screen: Ride Along **1/2
Silver Screen: Rise of the Planet of the Apes ****
Silver Screen: RoboCop ***
Silver Screen: Runner Runner *1/2
Silver Screen: Rush ****
Silver Screen: Safe ***
Silver Screen: Safe Haven *1/2
Silver Screen: Safe House ***
Silver Screen: Salt ***
Silver Screen: Savages ***1/2
Silver Screen: Saw VII 3D Zero Stars
Silver Screen: Scott Pilgrim versus the World ***1/2
Silver Screen: Scream IV *
Silver Screen: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World **1/2
Silver Screen: Seven Psychopaths ***1/2
Silver Screen: Sex and the City II 1/2*
Silver Screen: Shaft and Coffy: Novotny Lawrence Discusses the Blaxploitation Movement
Silver Screen: Shark Night 3D 1/2* -- Apollo 18 **
Silver Screen: Side Effects ****1/2
Silver Screen: Silent House **1/2
Silver Screen: Silver Linings Playbook ***1/2
Silver Screen: Sinister ***1/2
Silver Screen: Skyfall ****
Silver Screen: Skyline *
Silver Screen: Snitch ***
Silver Screen: Snow White and the Huntsman **1/2
Silver Screen: Soldiers Speak Out: Carbondale Oscar Winner Barb Trent’s Latest Film
Silver Screen: Something Borrowed *
Silver Screen: Source Code ****1/2
Silver Screen: Splice ****
Silver Screen: Star Trek into Darkness ****
Silver Screen: Straw Dogs *1/2
Silver Screen: Straw Dogs *1/2
Silver Screen: Super Eight ****
Silver Screen: Taken II **
Silver Screen: Takers *1/2
Silver Screen: Ted ***1/2
Silver Screen: That Awkward Moment 1/2*
Silver Screen: That's My Boy *
Silver Screen: The A-Team **1/2
Silver Screen: The Academy Honors... The Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale
Silver Screen: The Adjustment Bureau *1/2
Silver Screen: The Amazing Spider-Man **1/2
Silver Screen: The American ****
Silver Screen: The Artist ****
Silver Screen: The Audubon Trilogy: Fugitive Narratives and the Drama of the Natural World
Silver Screen: The Avengers ****
Silver Screen: The Big Muddy Film Festival
Silver Screen: The Big Wedding *
Silver Screen: The Big Year *1/2
Silver Screen: The Book Thief **
Silver Screen: The Bourne Legacy ***
Silver Screen: The Boys and Girls Club Night at the Oscars
Silver Screen: The Butler ****
Silver Screen: The Call **1/2
Silver Screen: The Campaign ***
Silver Screen: The Company You Keep *1/2
Silver Screen: The Conjuring ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Counselor ****
Silver Screen: The Dark Knight Rises ***
Silver Screen: The Debt ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Descendants ****1/2
Silver Screen: The Dictator ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Dilemma *1/2
Silver Screen: The Expendables **1/2
Silver Screen: The Expendables II *1/2
Silver Screen: The Fifth Estate 1/2*
Silver Screen: The Fighter ****
Silver Screen: The Five-Year Engagement ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo *
Silver Screen: The Great Gatsby ****
Silver Screen: The Green Hornet **1/2
Silver Screen: The Guilt Trip ***
Silver Screen: The Hangover Part II **1/2
Silver Screen: The Hangover Part III *1/2
Silver Screen: The Heat **1/2
Silver Screen: The Host 1/2*
Silver Screen: The Hunger Games ***
Silver Screen: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Ides of March ****
Silver Screen: The Internship **1/2
Silver Screen: The Karate Kid ***
Silver Screen: The Karate Kid ***
Silver Screen: The King's Speech ****
Silver Screen: The Last Airbender *
Silver Screen: The Last Exorcism ***
Silver Screen: The Last Stand ***
Silver Screen: The Lego Movie ***
Silver Screen: The Lincoln Lawyer ***
Silver Screen: The Lone Ranger ***
Silver Screen: The Lucky One *1/2
Silver Screen: The Man with the Iron Fists **1/2
Silver Screen: The Master ****1/2
Silver Screen: The Mechanic **1/2
Silver Screen: The Monuments Men ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Next Three Days ***
Silver Screen: The Other Guys ***
Silver Screen: The Perks of Being a Wallflower ****
Silver Screen: The Place Beyond the Pines ****1/2
Silver Screen: The Possession *
Silver Screen: The Purge *
Silver Screen: The Raven *
Silver Screen: The Rite *
Silver Screen: The Roommate *1/2
Silver Screen: The Rum Diary ***
Silver Screen: The Score Card , February 24, 2011 Edition
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Silver Screen: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ****
Silver Screen: The Sitter ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Social Network ****1/2
Silver Screen: The Sorcerer's Apprentice **
Silver Screen: The Spectacular Now ****
Silver Screen: The Thing **1/2
Silver Screen: The Three Stooges ***
Silver Screen: The Tourist **
Silver Screen: The Town ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Tree of Life *****
Silver Screen: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse *1/2
Silver Screen: The Vow **
Silver Screen: The Watch **
Silver Screen: The Way Way Back ****
Silver Screen: The Wolf of Wall Street ****
Silver Screen: The Wolverine *1/2
Silver Screen: The Woman in Black **
Silver Screen: The Words 1/2*
Silver Screen: The World’s End ****
Silver Screen: Thirty Minutes or Less ***1/2
Silver Screen: This Is Forty ****
Silver Screen: This Is The End ***1/2
Silver Screen: Thor ***
Silver Screen: Thor: The Dark World *
Silver Screen: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ***1/2
Silver Screen: To Rome with Love ***1/2
Silver Screen: Total Recall **1/2
Silver Screen: Tower Heist ***
Silver Screen: Toy Story III ****
Silver Screen: Transformers: Dark of the Moon *1/2
Silver Screen: True Grit ****1/2
Silver Screen: Twelve Years a Slave ****1/2
Silver Screen: Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II *
Silver Screen: Two Guns ***
Silver Screen: Unknown ***
Silver Screen: Unstoppable **
Silver Screen: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps ****
Silver Screen: Wanderlust ***1/2
Silver Screen: War Horse **
Silver Screen: Water for Elephants ***
Silver Screen: We Bought a Zoo ****
Silver Screen: White House Down ***
Silver Screen: Winter's Tale 1/2*
Silver Screen: World War Z **
Silver Screen: Wrath of the Titans 1/2*
Silver Screen: Wreck-it Ralph ***1/2
Silver Screen: X-Men: First Class ***
Silver Screen: Your Highness ***1/2
Silver Screen: You’re Next **1/2
Silver Screen: Zero Dark Thirty ****1/2
Silver Screen: Zookeeper *


Who:
What:
Where:
When:
Pictured: Non-Stop.
Bryan Miller

 

> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).

< leaving Carbondale this Friday.

Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.

About Last Night (R, ***1/2): This remake of the significantly bastardized adaptation of the David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago keeps some of the perversity, which feels a little tame by now, and shifts the action to Los Angeles with an African American cast. There are no racial politics at play here, though, just the familiar men-versus-women rom-com dynamic, but a decent script and director Steve Pink's generic but passably romantic aesthetic are buoyed by an especially talented, attractive cast. Kevin Hart is the movie's comic engine as Bernie, a fast-talking charmer whose girlfriend Joan (Regina Hall) sets up his best friend Danny (Michael Ealy) with her straightlaced roommate Debbie (Joy Bryant). The two hit it off, but their seemingly stable relationship might not be as tenable as the volatile union between their passionate but quick-tempered friends. Hart is hilarious and hyperkinetic as always, and Hall does an excellent job of keeping up with him— she's all eye rolls and attitude. Ealy and Bryant manage not to have every scene stolen by their powerful costars, thanks in part because they're astonishingly good looking. Ealy also makes for a fantastic straight man, grounding Hart but also deft with comic timing. Hollywood doesn't make straightforward romantic comedies for grownups like this too often anymore, but the strong cast makes an argument that maybe it should— as long as they're at least this good.

American Hustle (R, ****1/2): The opening disclaimer says it all: “Some of this actually happened.” Director and cowriter David O. Russell intertwines details about the real-life Abscam sting with his fictionalized ensemble of incredible characters for this hysterically funny and near perfectly executed tale of cops, crooks, mobsters, and one flimflam man’s ability to bilk them all. Christian Bale is fantastic as Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time scammer who hooks up with bunco babe Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) for bigger scores. When they’re busted by an ambitious FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), however, they’re forced to help the Feds hatch an elaborate plot to catch corrupt politicians. This may be a case of style over substance, but that style is substantial. The production design is incredible, from the sets to the costumes, plus it has a killer soundtrack and the year’s best ensemble cast, which includes Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Robert De Niro, and a never-better Jennifer Lawrence. Rarely are prestige movies this much fun, and even more rarely does a movie so thoroughly entertaining come with such a high pedigree.

< August: Osage County (R, ****): Beware, all who enter, Tracy Letts’s adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning stageplay, here directed by John Wells, is caustic, brutal stuff. But Letts’s tale about deep dysfunction in an Oklahoma family is shot through with the blackest of humor, and the barbed dialogue is sweet savagery. When the family patriarch (Sam Shepard) goes missing, hysterical pill-popping mother Violet (Meryl Streep, awesome, of course) calls for a reunion of her far-flung family, which includes her soon-to-be-divorced eldest daughter (Julia Roberts), the flighty middle child (Juliette Lewis), and the helpless family they bring in tow (including a sheepishly adulterous Ewan McGregor, slimy-slick Dermot Mulroney, and tempestuous Abigail Breslin). The convergence quickly turns sweaty and brutal, and the dredged-up family secrets are more reminiscent of Greek tragedy than the Tennessee Williams dramas that serve as Letts’s clear inspiration. Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, and Margo Martindale round out a stellar cast that plays with the sharp dialogue the way pro athletes might pass around a ball. It’s not for the faint of heart, but those with a penchant for acidic humor will revel in Letts’s language, which turns the malevolent into something oddly mellifluous.

The Lego Movie (PG, ***): Cowriters and -directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller inject a significant amount of cleverness into this crass, computer-animated cash-in about an ordinary Lego Joe (Chris Pratt) who discovers he’s the chosen one who must stop the evil President Business (Will Ferrell) from using a super-weapon that will glue the entire universe together. Lord and Miller’s stroke of semi-genius is to model the plot after the different ways kids play with Legos, some rigidly sticking to the instructions while others mix and match pieces into their own creations. This idea reaches full fruition in the movie’s big meta-gag, which plays like a kiddie-movie version of a Charlie Kaufman twist. For all their inventiveness and lip service to creativity, they’ve done little more than inject a bit of ingenuity into a corporate property cross-promoted to tie into other corporate properties, including Batman, Superman, Gandalf, and Han Solo. It’s a series of tiny commercials built into a one-hundred-minute-long Lego commercial. The filmmakers laud visionaries who build new and unexpected things, but all the pieces they’re playing with are not just familiar, they’re trademarked. In 2D and 3D.

Lone Survivor (R, ***): Director Peter Berg adapts Marcus Luttrell's book about his harrowing real-life experience caught behind enemy lines with a team of Navy SEALs. The title of Luttrell's book pretty much tells you what's going to happen: Star Mark Wahlberg is going to make it, but his buddies (including Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch) won't be so lucky. Knowing the ending doesn't alleviate the tension but rather enhances it and casts a foreboding shadow across the early scenes. The whole middle of the movie is a breathless, sharply staged firefight set in the mountains of Afghanistan. Berg is adept with action— a little too adept, as he adopts a first-person-shooter perspective that mimics a videogame aesthetic, turning this true-life tragedy into something like a particularly grim Call of Duty mission. Berg's tendency toward military fetishism and modern-day Rambo superheroics hampers the movie's credibility even as it evolves during its final act— complete with a fictional firefight to adhere to narrative convention— a little more thoughtful than the earlygoing leads viewers to expect. The result is a good movie about a battle instead of what could have been a great movie about the men who fought it.

The Monuments Men (PG-13, ***1/2): George Clooney’s relatively light but still rich drama is an old-fashioned war picture, clearly on the other side of the Maginot Line of Saving Private Ryan’s blood-and-bone visceral horrors. But despite having an Old Hollywood sheen, it’s not anachronistic, even if it does get a bit sentimental. Clooney’s Frank Stokes leads an international platoon of art historians and museum curators (including Bill Murray, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, and Bob Balaban) on a mission into Germany at the tail of end World War II to retrieve all the art stolen by Hitler before the Nazis destroy it. Clooney, who cowrote the script with partner Grant Heslov, based on the popular book by Robert Edsel, makes an impassioned case for the importance of art and cultural preservation, and he does it without coming off like a self-important blowhard. The incredible ensemble adds significant depth to the film, especially Murray and Balaban, whose scenes as rivals in the art world turned unlikely Army buddies are hilarious but also strikingly poignant. Structurally, the movie is a bit of a mess, as Clooney and Heslov struggle to find a clear narrative in the story. That results in more than a few tangents, including a long, mostly unnecessary stretch featuring Cate Blanchett as a French museum employee working for the resistance against the Nazis. But a little extra Cate Blanchett isn’t such a bad thing, and even if the film doesn’t always hold together, from scene to scene it’s a pleasure.

Nebraska (R, ****1/2): Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Election) directs this understated but tremendously affecting dramedy about an aging alcoholic (Bruce Dern) convinced a junk-mail scam is actually a million-dollar sweepstakes winner. Though he knows it to be a hoax, dedicated son David (Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte, in a fine dramatic turn) agrees to drive the old man from Montana to Nebraska to claim the prize. Along the way they reunite with relatives, and David learns the secret past his repressed parents kept from him all these years. Payne’s latest is meditatively paced and shot in black and white, but it’s no test of patience. The movie is propelled forward with gentle good humor that often belies subtle but significant insights. An excellent supporting cast that includes SIU alum Bob Odenkirk as David’s self-obsessed small-town news-anchor brother, June Squibb as their short-tempered mother, Stacy Keach as a boozy blowhard, and a host of honest-to-goodness Nebraska folk help make this one of 2013’s most unpretentiously artful, relatable, winning films.

Ride Along (PG-13, **1/2): Comedian Kevin Hart singlehandedly elevates this boilerplate cop comedy with a sweet premise squandered on clichés. A motormouthed security guard (Hart) tries to win the respect of his future brother-in-law (Ice Cube), a hard-nosed cop, by going on a ridealong with him as his partner for a day. All the two find is buddy-cop comedy clichés, from the ruddy faced captain shouting about Cube’s constant procedural violations to a MadLibs-generated conspiracy and a cartoon villain. The casting of that secret villain, an unseen kingpin named Omar, turns out to be the movie’s only pleasant surprise. Hart’s performance, however, is no surprise. He’s been very funny in some excellent movies, and very funny in some less-than-excellent ones. Here he turns a benignly bad movie into something passably entertaining through sheer force of will, mugging, riffing, and doing improv with the calculated fury of a plate spinner. It’s good for a laugh in the depths of winter, but the only thing that will be memorable about this also-ran is that it cemented Hart’s status as a real-deal movie star.

RoboCop (PG-13, ***): José Padilha’s remake of the 1987 Paul Verhoeven pseudo-classic at least distinguishes itself from the original rather than lazily retracing the same ground while sanitizing it to make it PG-13-safe. Padilha even makes a real character out of Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a cop laid low by assassins who’s retrofitted with a robot suit to dispense justice in near-future Detroit. This RoboCop isn’t a machine with traces of humanity but a man trapped inside a machine, although his individuality is tempered with drugs from his creators (Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton). Padilha stages some sharp action sequences as RoboCop tracks down first his killer and then the corrupt corporate masters who manipulate him, but the director is less concerned with conventional shoot-‘em-up excitement than he is in critiquing the marketeers and demographers who try to focus-group RoboCop into something acceptable to the masses. Trouble is, that’s exactly what Padilha’s movie is doing, whether he likes it or not, and ultimately it conforms to the template established by the boring and overrated Batman Begins, which has become the de facto model for big-money fantasy-franchise cash-ins.

Twelve Years a Slave (R, ****1/2): Director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of the memoir of Simon Northup, a free black man drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the mid-1800s, is as harrowing as it is essential. McQueen is a chronicler of suffering whose previous two movies have focused on physical deprivation. Here he turns that same interest on the visceral horrors of slavery, where we follow Simon (an excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor) from the dehumanization of the market to a pair of plantations, one run by a genteel, conflicted master (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the other by a sadistic drunk (Michael Fassbender), to examine their different forms of horror. A recurring theme is the wrenching contrast between the sublime countryside settings and the elegance of McQueen’s compositions with the destitution and misery of the circumstances. At times McQueen’s art-school framing and chilly aesthetic removes us from the drama of the material, but far more often it deepens the horror. A truly remarkable, unsettling film, featuring great performances all around from the aforementioned actors, as well as Paul Giamatti and Lupita Nyong’o.

< Winter's Tale (PG-13, 1/2*): It's rarely useful to compare a literary adaptation to its source material, but having read Mark Helperin's magical-realist take on the ninteenth-century history of New York City is almost essential in even understanding this borderline-incomprehensible mess, which strips away the novel's poetry and leaves only the hokum. A thief (Colin Farrell) who rides a magical white horse falls in love with a dying heiress (Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay) while he is pursued by a crime boss (Russell Crowe) who also happens to be a literal demon in the service of Lucifer (Will Smith, wearing an anachronistic Jimi Hendrix T-shirt). The action gets no less confusing when the movie jumps one-hundred years into the future to deal with the barely developed character of a newspaper reporter (Jennifer Connelly) whose daughter is dying of cancer. Mostly awful screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (Batman and Robin, Cinderella Man, Lost in Space), making his directorial debut, flattens out and simplifies the novel's delicate mysteries and replaces them with a simplistic teleology. Along with Crowe and Smith's agonizingly bad performances, the stiff dialogue, and the trite sentiments, it makes for a baffling and unpleasant viewing experience only occasionally justified by a fleeting bit of beauty.

The Wolf of Wall Street (R, ****): Martin Scorsese’s brash, loud, and long adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s memoir of his days of white-collar crime and druggy excess is a spiritual sequel to Goodfellas and Casino. The comparison to both of those movies reveals this film’s fatal flaw, which is that it refuses to examine the machinations of the antihero’s criminal enterprise. Star Leonardo DiCaprio, in voiceover, often literally tells the audience they wouldn’t be interested to know how he swindled thousands of people out of millions of dollars, but we came to see a movie with Wall Street in the title. It’s Casino without the casino. Still, there’s a lot to like here, both in memorably outlandish scenes of bad behavior (many of which involve a hilarious Jonah Hill), and the sheer improbability of Belfort’s truly astounding misadventures. Despite all the liberal hand-wringing about Scorsese’s failure to turn the thing into an activist condemnation of unregulated capitalism, the commentary is there if you’re willing to look for it, and think for one second more.

Also in or Coming to Local Theaters

Anchorman II: The Legend Continues (PG-13): Will Ferrell’s bumbling god of the newsdesk returns with his co-anchors (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner) to front for a new network in the era of twenty-four-hour news. Director Adam McKay returns along with enough celebrities to start some weird new religion.

Endless Love (PG-13): Rich girl Gabriella Wilde falls for a charming peasant boy to the dismay of her parents in this teen-romance drama.

Frozen (PG): Computer-animated, Disneyfied adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale about a girl (voiced by Kristen Bell) who makes a polar journey to convince her powerful sister to lift the Kingdom’s eternal winter. Also featuring the voices of Alan Tudyk and Josh Gad. In a singalong version, too.

Non-Stop (PG-13): Liam Neeson stars as an Air Marshal fighting to solve a mystery aboard his transatlantic flight before hijackers destroy it. Featuring Julianne Moore.

< The Nut Job (PG): Computer-animated kiddie comedy about an exiled squirrel who plans a heist on a nut store. Featuring the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Maya Rudolph, and racist puppeteer Jeff Dunham.

Philomena (PG-13): Steve Coogan (The Trip) stars as a snarky journalist who gets personally involved in a story as he helps a plucky older woman (Judi Dench) search for her long-lost son in this dramedy directed by Stephen Frears and cowritten by Coogan.

Pompeii (PG-13): Effects-heavy action hooey set against the historical backdrop of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which finds Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington fighting to rescue his girlfriend (Emily Browning) from an evil Roman senator (Kiefer Sutherland). From videogame-movie hack director Paul W.S. Anderson. In 2D and 3D.

> Son of God (PG-13): Trimmed-down version of the TV miniseries about the life of Jesus, based on the popular novel by God.

Three Days to Kill (PG-13): The fact that Luc Besson makes almost exclusively terrible action movies doesn’t stop him from writing half of them, including this one about a Secret Service agent (Kevin Costner) who agrees to take on a deadly assignment in exchange for an experimental drug that may save his life.

> Three-hundred: Rise of an Empire (R): Sequel to Zack Snyder's gaudy, jingoistic swords-and-shields action pic in which the Persian army, having killed Gerard Butler and 299 of his friends, faces off against another group of Greek soldiers. Lena Headey and Eva Green return.