Friday September 7, 2012

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (PG-13). The fictional tale of a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy and her struggle for survival in the southern Delta with her ailing father as a storm approaches. This damply poetic debut film explores the fertile and terrifying world of a child’s imagination which knows no sealed barrier cleaving reality from fantasy. The film is its own beast, and it’s a rare one. HHHH (Biancolli, Houston Chronicle -- 8/4). 1:33.

CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (R). Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg co-star as a young couple determined to remain friends after they have split up as a married couple. The film has a conventional fake-documentary look, but underneath it is an honest concern about how to treat people well and kindly after the end. Or to get to an ending, or a new beginning, in the first place. HHH (Phillips, Chicago Tribune -- 9/1). 1:29.

DARK HORSE (NR). A tubby 30-year-old underachiever living with his parents and working for his dad courts a mopey young woman who also lives at home in this new film from director Tod Solondz. With Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow, Donna Murphy.

HIT & RUN (R). A guy in witness protection -- a former getawy driver for a gang of bank robbers -- breaks his cover to drive his girlfriend back to his old stomping grounds, Los Angeles, where she has an interview for the job of her dreams and it’s not long before his old cronies are hot on his trail. A fun little car-chase move that’s quite infectious. With Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper. Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Arnold. HH1/2 (Germain, Associated Press -- 8/22). 1:39.

HOPE SPRINGS (PG-13). Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are a long-married couple trying to renew the spark with a counselor (Steve Carell). You’ve never seen Streep and Jones like this -- by turns silly, befuddled, awkward and confused -- and this comedy is all the richer for it. HHH (Moore, McClatchy Newspapers -- 8/8). 1:50.

INTOUCHABLES (R). Popular French film about a Senegalese thief who somehow gets hired to be the personal attendant for an extremely wealthy quadriplegic. Not bad, sometimes corny, sometimes labored. HH (LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle -- 8/31). 1:52.

LAWLESS (R). A tale of three bootlegging brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke) in rural 1920s Virginia. This drama makes vivid and real a Prohibition of earth tones, full of stone-faced monosyllabic people with dirty collars. The filmmakers detail a long-gone conflict from a long-lost era and end up showing how the dreams and longings that motivate Americans never really die. HHH (LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle -- 8/29). 1:55.

PARANORMAN (PG). This stop-action animated comedy centers on a boy who can speak with the dead and becomes the last hope of his cursed hometown after it’s overrun by zombies. The story feels familiar (and better suited to a Halloween-season release), and the movie seems to end a few too many times. But it’s a pleasure to listen to the motley crew of voice talent (particularly the foghorn-toned Elaine Stritch as a ghost grandma, and the perfectly slurred teenspeak of Anna Kendrick as Courtney) and watch the witty invention of the stop-motion animation. HHH (Macdonald, Seattle Times -- 8/18). 1:41.

PREMIUM RUSH (PG-13). A Manhattan bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is steered into a deadly chase when bad guys come looking for the delivery he’s carrying. Writer/director David Koepp mixes sharp dialog, a hip tone and top-flight actors to create a nail-biting, seat-squirming thriller. It’s an escapist blast. HHH (Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune -- 8/25). 1:31.

ROBOT & FRANK (PG-13). A crusty old retiree living on his own in upstate New York tries to adjust to sharing his loner life with a robot helper given to him by his adult son. More humorous than funny, more charming than truly entertaining, but can still be savored for its human assets. With Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon. HH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 8/31). 1:30.

RUBY SPARKS (R). Under the advice of his therapist, a young writer with an epic case of writer’s block and woman problems writes something not for publication about his dream date, who comes magically to olife. With Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan.

THE AVENGERS (PG-13). Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, the leather-clad assassin Black Widow, the lethal archer Hawkeye and the superheroes’ one-eyed wrangler, Nick Fury, bunch together in the service of defeating Thor’s malevolent brother, the god Loki, who hails from the interstellar world known as Asgard, and who yearns to conquer Earth with an all-powerful blue energy cube called the Tesseract. Essentially an extended action sequence interrupted by an extended soul search in the middle. Director Joss Whedon is both a wiseacre and a sincere devotee of Marvels’ durable, malleable ensemble of lugs and indestructibles. "The Avengers’ is both a culminator and a set-up for more, more, more. With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Stellan Skarsgard. HHH (Phillips, Chicago Tribune -- 5/4). 2:22.

THE BOURNE LEGACY (PG-13). The spirit of lethal operative Jason Bourne lives on, minus Matt Damon, with Jeremy Renner at the center of fallout from the first three action hits. The franchise has found a compelling new hero in Aaron Cross and a commanding performer in Renner. It’s possible Renner’s Cross, a former U.S.soldier presumed dead, has an even more haunting skill set than Bourne. Consider him and the new movie Bourne 2.0. With Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach. HHH1/2 (Kennedy, Denver Post -- 8/11). 2:05.

THE CAMPAIGN (R). This comedy pits Will Ferrell against Zach Galifianakis as two political rivals for whom no trick is too dirty as they compete for a North Carolina Congressional seat. Like its stars, the film seems to be two forces, in this case two movies, battling against one another, leaving its audience wondering which will win out. One is a genuinely funny political satire; the other is a typical low-rent comedy filled with poop jokes, raunch and little kids saying improbably dirty things. The first movie wins, but just barely. HH (Macdonald, Seattle Times -- 8/11). 1:37.THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (PG-13). A young Wall Street trader’s fishing vacation in Spain is upended when his family is kidnapped and he finds himself dealing with intelligence agents looking for an important briefcase. With Henry Cavill, Bruce Wllis, Sigourney Weaver.

THE CAMPAIGN (R). This comedy pits Will Ferrell against Zach Galifianakis as two political rivals for whom no trick is too dirty as they compete for a North Carolina Congressional seat. Like its stars, the film seems to be two forces, in this case two movies, battling against one another, leaving its audience wondering which will win out. One is a genuinely funny political satire; the other is a typical low-rent comedy filled with poop jokes, raunch and little kids saying improbably dirty things. The first movie wins, but just barely. HH (Macdonald, Seattle Times -- 8/11). 1:37.THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (PG-13). A young Wall Street trader’s fishing vacation in Spain is upended when his family is kidnapped and he finds himself dealing with intelligence agents looking for an important briefcase. With Henry Cavill, Bruce Wllis, Sigourney Weaver.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (PG-13). The masked vigilante Batman must save Gotham City from dangerous new threats, including the mysterious villain Bane. For about half its running time, it’s reasonably entertaining, but the other half -- inevitably the second half -- is something of a slog. The movie is self-important but with little ultimate importance, and sentimental without much in the way of human feeling. But it has its moments -- at 165 minutes it had better -- plus Anne Hathaway, enjoyable throughout as the movie’s nicely reimagined Catwoman. With Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard. HH (LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle -- 7/20). 2:45.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 (R). What passes for a plot has Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his muscle-bound merry men forced into a suicide mission to stop a crazy mercenary, Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), from stealing truck loads of nuclear material. You really don’t need to know more. Just like the original "Expendables," the worth of this film is measured in the amount of ammunition used, the number of bad guys eliminated and the total sum of equipment destroyed. What sneaks through all of the blood and guts is the kind of dry sense of humor that made action films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis so much fun. "Expendables 2" is like an all-star football game. There’s a degree of friendly competition, but it’s not as much about winning as the spectacle of so many iconic stars -- that also includes Chuck Norris, Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren -- being brought together. That’s where the film goes the biggest. HH 1/2 (Bentley, Fresno Bee -- 8/210. 1:43.

THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN (PG). A childless couple sets down on paper the qualities they would want in a perfect child and bury the list in their garden only to have the 10-year-old boy of their dreams mysteriously materialize and take his place in their home and lives. A very pretty movie to look at but beneath the pretty pictures is a stab at Capra-corn, the sort of magical story of simple, genuine people mastered by Frank Capra in such films as "It’s a Wonderful Life" and "Meet John Doe." Sadly, this is all corn and no Capra. With Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgertgon, CJ Adams. HH (Germain, Associated Press -- 8/15). 1:44.

THE POSSESSION (R). A well-behaved tween is quickly possessed when she finds and opens a locked box with strange Hebrew inscriptions. The effects are chilling enough, the build-up has its moments. But the film lacks impact, those horrific sucker touches that take you by surprise and raise the hairs on the back of your neck. With Kyra Sedgwick, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Natasha Calis. H (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers -- 9/1). 1:31.

THE WORDS (PG-13). A writer (Bradley Cooper) must face the music after plagiarizing a novel.

2016 OBAMA’S AMERICA (PG). Documentary offering a conservative view of what America could become if President Obama is elected to a second term.