Alpha and Omega (PG) — Humphrey (voiced by Justin Long) and Kate (Hayden Panettiere) are buddies in their wolf pack until Kate goes off to alpha training to become a future pack leader in this animated movie. Humphrey is an omega; his pack role is merely comic relief. The two classes traditionally never mix, but when Humphrey and Kate find themselves relocated from their Canada home to a park in Idaho, Humphrey shows he can be more than a joke as he helps Kate get home to fulfill her responsibility of marrying a rival pack's male alpha. Instead of facing conflict head-on and giving young audiences something real, Alpha and Omega sidesteps all its trials, creating a thin veil of suspense that is always quickly and conveniently wrapped up. And rather than letting the movie be what it is — something for little ones to laugh at — the writers inject random jabs at adult humor that are truly awful. This doesn't mean straight-up silliness doesn't have a place in a kids flick. But the trick is to use it with purpose and balance it with something devastating or terrifying, guaranteeing audience members big and small an intensely emotional and beautiful ride. Alpha and Omega fails pretty much across the board. (Laura Dattaro)
Conviction (R) — Director's Tony Goldwyn's film is based on the true story of the brutal 1980 murder of a woman in a small Massachusetts town. Police arrested Kenny Waters, who lived next door to the victim, and convicted him based on an ex-girlfriend's testimony. Determined to prove his innocence, Waters' sister Betty Anne put herself through law school so she could win her brother's freedom. Hilary Swank takes Betty Anne's gritty New England determination between her teeth and doesn't let go until her beloved brother (played by Sam Rockwell) is free. Goldwyn and screenwriter Pamela Gray construct a narrative that elegantly blends present-day action with flashbacks to the siblings' hardscrabble rural childhood. The movie compresses many of the details of Betty Anne's 18-year struggle but portrays its emotional toll in nicely elliptical ways. As the story shifts from the Waters' background and into the legal realm, it occasionally betrays the TV origins of its director and screenwriter, striking an occasional promotional chord. But Conviction is held aloft by superlative acting. It's an inspiring story about hard-won justice and a call to awareness about the human cost of a flawed justice system. (Pamela Zoslov)
Due Date (R) — Director Todd Phillips' follow-up to last year's hit The Hangover doesn't offer much in the way of a premise: Soon-to-be-dad Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) misses his flight home and catches a ride with aspiring actor Ethan (Zach Galifianakis), and the mismatched pair embarks on a two-day road trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Like The Hangover, and Phillips' other new-school comedy classic Old School, it all comes down to the actors at the center of it all. The Hangover made Galifianakis a star, and in Due Date he plays pretty much the same character — the super-annoying guy who means well, this time with a bad perm and pink Lilith Fair shirt. (He's also misguided in his vocation: "Two and a Half Men is the reason I wanted to become an actor," he tells Peter. "Especially the second season.") The key to the movie is the interplay between Downey and Galifianakis, and they have an easy rapport. The characters they meet along the way — played by Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, and Danny McBride — add to the fun, but it's the scenes the two stars play together that keep the otherwise generic story moving. Downey is especially good, showing more reserve than he did in his flashy (and overrated) turns in the Iron Man movies. Of course, Peter and Ethan learn something about themselves. But Due Date isn't about the destination. It's about the wild and funny trip. (Michael Gallucci)
Easy A (PG-13) — In this comedy based on The Scarlet Letter, straitlaced Olive (Emma Stone) acquires her "filthy skank" reputation by accident: She invents an imaginary boyfriend and fake-confesses to her best friend that she lost her virginity to him. It's overheard by the school's Jesus-freak-in-chief, and soon rumors of Olive's loose ways spread like a text-message virus and she's approached by all manner of nerds, fat boys, and outcasts who want help acquiring a studly reputation. Suddenly awash in gifts and condemnation, virginal Olive decides to embrace her inner Hester Prynne. In real life, high school girls kill themselves over such scorn; in Easy A, Olive cuts up her conservative wardrobe and starts wearing sexy improvised bustiers (each adorned with a huge red letter "A"), strutting down school hallways and turning heads. These rather outlandish plot points are made tolerable by witty writing and a winning performance by Stone, whose sultry voice and oversized eyes make her an eminently appealing heroine. (Zoslov)
For Colored Girls (R) — Tyler Perry's latest boils down to a marriage of two very different traditions: the downtown feminism of Ntozage Shange's influential 1975 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf and the Chitlin' Circuit box-office bait of the playwright, movie director, and cross-dressing actor, whose best-known role is the saucy and amply padded Madea. Shange's play features a blend of poetry, music, and drama performed by women identified only by the colors they wear. Through poetic monologues, they explore issues like domestic abuse, love, rape, abortion, and spirituality. The movie adaptation packs plenty of star wattage (Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, and Phylicia Rashad), but it's uneven as it shifts from sisterhood to soap opera. If the abusive males in The Color Purple and Precious weren't repellent enough, consider the depraved lineup in For Colored Girls, which includes cheaters, abusers, rapists, husbands who give their wives HIV, and fathers who murder their children. While the same stories were told retrospectively in the play, acting them out onscreen makes them more vulgar than poetic. (Zoslov)
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (R) — The movie adaptation of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series steadily loses steam as it goes along, but wrapping up a trilogy inside of one calendar year is refreshingly satisfying. Socially maladjusted punk hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) barely escapes the trilogy's middle installment and wakes up in a hospital accused of attempted murder. Crusading investigative journalist Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) wants to prove her innocence. And some shadowy powerful old white dudes are making behind-the-scenes plans to take both of them out. Yes, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest gets all kinds of government conspiracy theories, but a really solid mash-up of seriously paranoid episodes of The X-Files and good courtroom drama looks fresh when it takes place in Sweden and the stunning Mirja Turestedt plays an unflappable constitutional cop. (Bret McCabe)
Hereafter (PG-13) — Clint Eastwood has been on a roll since 2003, when Mystic River once and for all replaced movies like Blood Work and Space Cowboys on his directing schedule. His latest dips into the metaphysical world of the afterlife for the first time, and the outcome is kinda boring. It starts with a bang — actually, it's a tsunami that rips through Indonesia, where French TV journalist Marie (Cécile De France) has a near-death experience. It's a stunning scene, one filled with terror, dread, and grief. But Hereafter soon settles into a more meditative groove half a world away, where San Francisco factory worker — and former professional psychic — George (Matt Damon) is reluctantly giving a reading to a widower who wants to connect with his wife. Meanwhile, a young British boy (Frankie McLaren) mourns his twin brother, who was recently killed in an accident. Eventually these three people and their stories converge, but it's a long and occasionally plodding journey to their destination. Along the way, all of them wrestle with mortality, some more furiously than others. It's a subtle movie — Eastwood's most subtle outing as a director — but it's also slow and somewhat tedious. And its views on the afterlife are less thought-provoking than impassively straightforward. It's a typically resolute move from the steadfast Eastwood, but the movie deserves a little more probing for such a weighty subject. Hereafter isn't a bad film, but it is a cluttered and soggy one. The real world doesn't stand a chance. (Michael Gallucci)
Howl (NR) — First off: James Franco is way too pretty to play beat writer Allen Ginsberg. But he manages to inhabit Ginsberg's idiosyncratic skin, adopting the incantatory nasal style he used when reading his poetry and the thoughtful intelligence of his interview responses, where sentences feel to rush forth just to get to the next pause. Writer-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman wisely let Franco's loving performance carry the majority of Howl, a modest biopic that focuses primarily on Ginsberg's life up to the titular poem and the 1957 obscenity trial that sprung in its wake. The movie feels a little tender-footed and not entirely confident, but that tone complements Ginsberg and the Beats' cultural significance. It's a snapshot of a man right before his life and work enter the public domain, which makes Franco's performance so integral. It's a subtle, tactful display of acting. Howl won't teach Beat fans anything they don't already know, but Franco's interpretation of Ginsberg offers a curious window into an artist deep in the creative act of distilling his life history into his art's story. (McCabe)
Inside Job (PG-13) — If you're not mad enough yet, Charles Ferguson can fix that. The writer, director, and producer of this 90-minute documentary lays out the causes of the financial meltdown and so-called Great Recession in a clear and compelling way, taking the viewer from Reagan deregulation through the bubble's aftermath, all with 20-20 hindsight. Nicely shot and briskly edited, with barely a sliver of humor in any frame, Inside Job supplies 100 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of pure anger, and it aims all its guns at the right (and familiar) targets, as well as some you may have overlooked. It calls for reform of the system, but after detailing the bulletproof wealth-transfer machine whose bailout has already cost U.S. taxpayers trillions, Ferguson leaves his viewers in despair. Only the needy require happy endings, and dumb hope, as we've seen, is not a useful philosophy. But we still wish the movie would give us something more motivational than raw cynicism and rage. (Edward Ericson Jr.)
Jackass 3D (R) — It's been a decade since ringleader Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass crew introduced us to their decidedly bizarre world of backyard stunts and public pranks. Since then, they've turned their scatological humor into decent box-office business leading up to this third sequel. The film is more of the same (except, of course, this time around the vomit and other bodily projectiles can be seen streaming through the air in digital 3-D). The camera effects and slow-motion replays bring out the truly painful qualities of these ill-conceived stunts. Some examples: Steve-O takes a tee-ball to his testicles while wearing nothing more than a pair of tighty whities, two guys play tetherball with a beehive, and Knoxville and his buddies tie a guy's tooth to the back of a Lamborghini and successfully extract it by driving off. The film certainly has limited appeal. The guys laugh a little too much at their own jokes, and you can only see a dude get kicked in the balls so many times before the stunt starts to run thin. Still, these pranksters have an undeniable charm that exceeds their stupidity. Be sure to stick around for the credits to see all the stupid stuff that didn't make it into the finished film. (Jeff Niesel)
Life as We Know It (PG-13) — There aren't too many things less inspiring than a movie trailer where the biggest laugh comes from a shot of baby poop smeared on a woman's cheek. But trailers can be misleading. Life as We Know It, starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as a mismatched couple entrusted to care for their deceased friends' infant daughter, is a breezy and likable romantic comedy. It opens with a flashback of a disastrous blind date between statuesque Holly (Heigl) and Eric (Duhamel), who goes by his surname "Messer," arranged by friends who die shortly after in a car accident. The deceased couple leave cute redheaded baby Sophie to Holly and Messer, who loathe each other. Holly (a pastry-shop owner — the job given to every romantic-comedy heroine these days) and Messer (a womanizer who directs Atlanta Hawks TV broadcasts) move into their dead friends' house and forge an uneasy parenting alliance. Even a blind man can see where this is going. But there are pleasures along the way: easy chemistry between the leads, an amusing supporting cast (especially the couple's neighbors, who all lust after Messer), and some savory lines — the best of which comes from Messer's co-worker, who defines marriage as "Imagine a prison. And then don't change anything." (Zoslov)
Megamind (PG) — In the latest 3-D CGI extravaganza, Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell) and Metro Man (Brad Pitt) take sides on Earth after fleeing their own planets: Metro Man plays the hero, Megamind the villain. After tearing through Metro City during another one of their battles, Megamind finally wins. But his celebration doesn't last long. With no one to fight, Megamind grows bored and decides to shape a TV cameraman (Jonah Hill) into a new nemesis, who has no interest in playing the good guy. Megamind is faced with a crisis: Does he join forces with his evil creation? Or does he switch sides and become a superhero who saves the day? You probably already know the answer. Like the funny and smart Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Megamind keeps its story centered without cramming in too many throwaway scenes or juvenile jokes. Ferrell injects it with his usual mix of clueless confidence and undeserved arrogance. Still, Megamind can't resist playing by the rules much of the time. There's nothing groundbreaking here, and even the movie's best scenes are cribbed from other CGI hits. Megamind's greatest strength is corralling all of them into a movie that isn't all that super, but it is an occasionally funny good time. (Gallucci)
Morning Glory (PG-13) — Intermittently funny, Morning Glory admirably subverts convention by focusing on a woman's romance — not with a man, but with her career. Workaholic producer Becky (Rachel McAdams) loses her job in New Jersey and talks her way into a high-stress gig producing a failing New York morning show. She persuades irritable TV-news veteran Mike (Harrison Ford) to co-anchor the lightweight chat show with Colleen (Diane Keaton). The movie mines its laughs from Emmy-winning Mike's stony refusal to stoop to the level of morning TV, with its mindless celebrity news and cooking demonstrations. Playing Mike as David Brinkley by way of Clint Eastwood, Ford somewhat overdoes the crusty character, but at least Morning Glory has the good taste to avoid a May-December romance between him and McAdams. The movie is best when focusing on the high-wire act of live TV. Still, McAdams' scattered, arm-flailing demeanor is too airy to carry the comedy, and her character — who essentially succeeds by dumbing-down the show — is hardly an admirable symbol of professional integrity. (Zoslov)
My Soul to Take (R) — Wes Craven's latest shocker (in 3-D), about a vengeful serial killer.
Nowhere Boy (R) — Biopic about John Lennon's childhood.
Paranormal Activity 2 (R) — This quickie follow-up to last year's surprise hit is sort of a sequel/prequel/software patch to indie director Oren Peli's camera-POV chiller. But you don't have to know the first movie to follow Paranormal Activity 2, even though it centers on relatives of the original's demon-bedeviled couple. A fast-food magnate wires his house for security cams after the birth of his child and a vandalistic poltergeist attack is mistaken for a break-in. Suspense develops via various lenses and monitors, as Mom and her stepdaughter begin to sense weird sounds, slamming doors, and bad vibes around the new baby. The series' debt to The Blair Witch Project is even stronger here, but with Peli bumped for more mainstream filmmakers, the acting and storytelling rise way above the first movie's cast yelling "What the fuck?" every time something weird happened. Best of all, there are some genuine shriek-outta-your-seat moments in Paranormal Activity 2 to jumpstart your Halloween. (Charles Cassady Jr.)
Red (PG-13) — You've seen Red's setup dozens of times before: A group of retired CIA operatives are being hunted by their former bosses because they know too much about something that happened a long time ago. So they go on the run, using the tricks and weapons of their trade to stay alive. But you've rarely seen a cast like this in this sort of movie: Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, plus Oscar nominee John Malkovich, all headed by Bruce Willis. The well-pedigreed crew brings a sense of oh-what-the-hell fun to the film, which is based on a comic book series that you probably never heard of. Still, despite some stylish set pieces from director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler's Wife), Red doesn't stray too far from action-movie convention. The kick here is the game cast (especially Malkovich's batshit-crazy loner), winking at and tweaking their screen images. The witty one-liners, the big-ass explosions, Willis' love-hate relationship with Mary-Louise Parker — it's all standard stuff. Helen Mirren in a cocktail dress wielding a ginormous gun? Kinda awesome. (Gallucci)
Saw 3-D (R) — Torture porn in your lap.
Secretariat (PG) — True story about the Triple Crown-winning racehorse.
Skyline (PG-13) — Extraterrestrials invade Earth. Starring a bunch of people you never heard of.
The Social Network (PG-13) — David Fincher's latest movie, and one of his best, is firmly rooted in reality, even though almost all of the characters live in a fantasy world of their own making. The true story is based on the rise of Facebook — in particular, the struggle between creator Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and the people around him who want a piece of the action. Harvard sophomore Zuckerberg is a smart guy, but he's also a smartass. A computer prank — which nets 22,000 hits in a mere few hours — lands Zuckerberg in trouble with Harvard administrators. More important, it leads to work on a social-network site that eventually becomes Facebook. Computer geeks. Code. Guys sitting in deposition hearings. None of this should make for a riveting movie, but The Social Network is one of the most exciting films you'll see this year. By the time Justin Timberlake, as Napster founder Sean Parker, enters the picture, you'll be hooked on Eisenberg's great performance, the thrilling narrative, and the movie's nonstop momentum. It's almost as addictive as Facebook. (Gallucci)
Stone (R) — Edward Norton plays a guy named Stone. He's nobody special; just another convict trying to get paroled. Robert De Niro is Jack Mabry, a total depressive drag of a man who lives in some sorta weird soul-numbing purgatory with his long-suffering and completely damaged wife. Mabry is a guy who sits behind a desk at the prison and does the interviews and paperwork involved in deciding the fate of prospective parolees, who all talk about how they have changed and are well on the way to being rehabilitated — except for Stone, who's mostly just a pragmatist and deploys Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), his sex-bomb wife, to help his case with the authorities. Stone ultimately isn't so much about being a movie as it is about the acting. De Niro displays difficulty at not being De Niro, with that gummy grimace he does that everybody makes fun of. But Norton does a fine job and works well against De Niro's awkward pencil-pusher, tweaking his voice into a completely artificial delivery — a lilting, annoying, direct, sometimes confident and menacing voice, which beyond hair and makeup transforms him into a focused, motivated man who just wants to get out of jail free. (Joe MacLeod)
The Town (R) — Ben Affleck proves that Gone Baby Gone, his sensational 2007 directorial debut, wasn't a fluke with this equally impressive — if a tad more conventionally plotted — follow-up. Based on an acclaimed crime novel by Chuck Hogan, the film examines what happens when Beantown bank robber Doug MacRay (Affleck, very good here) falls for his former hostage (Rebecca Hall). (Conveniently, she doesn't recognize him from the heist because the thieves were all wearing masks.) With the FBI (led by a steely Jon Hamm of Mad Men) breathing down his neck and hotheaded criminal cohort Jem (The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner) itching to pull the trigger on any potential witnesses — including his buddy's new girlfriend — Doug's decision to go straight runs into some perilous roadblocks. Once again shooting on location in some of Boston's least-touristy working-class neighborhoods, Affleck brings a startling degree of verisimilitude and white-knuckle intensity to pulp-fiction material that might have seemed like just another standard-issue Hollywood cops-and-robbers flick in the hands of a lesser director. The performances — including an unrecognizable Blake Lively from Gossip Girl and Oscar winner Chris Cooper as Doug's convict dad — are beyond reproach. (Milan Paurich)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13) — This sequel to the 1987 hit pretty much plays like director Oliver Stone's strained attempt to personalize the stock market crash of 2008. It mostly centers on the relationship between Jacob (Shia LeBeouf) and Winnie (Carey Mulligan). But before they can marry, Jacob hopes to patch up the stressed relationship between Winnie and her father, the original Wall Street's Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who's just been released from prison and back in the public eye. Jacob, an up-and-coming broker, befriends Gordon, and they begin "trading" information: Jacob tells Gordon about Winnie, and Gordon offers Jacob advice on how to handle Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a slimy hedge-fund manager. Even though the acting is terrific throughout, the movie tries to do too many things, which doesn't leave much room for the great Douglas or any new insight on the catastrophic economic downturn that's still affecting the nation. (Niesel)
Waiting for 'Superman' (PG) — A documentary filmmaker puts public education on trial.
You Again (PG) — The notion, as stated by You Again's protagonist, that "who you are in high school determines who you are for the rest of your life" is hardly a new one. But it's seldom been as clumsily dramatized as it is in this woeful comedy about teen rivalries revived among several generations of a California family. We first meet Marni Olsen (Kristin Bell) in a video from her awkward '90s, with oversized glasses and acne, being bullied by a cabal of cheerleaders chanting Queen's "We Are the Champions" as they shove her out of the school. Marni has triumphed by becoming a pretty, successful PR exec. Traveling home for her brother's wedding, she learns that his fiancée is Joanna (Odette Yustman), Marni's erstwhile chief tormentor, who has wormed her way into the hearts of Marni's family. Through a series of mirthless mishaps, Marni is restored to her bad-skinned, bespectacled high-school self as she labors to stop the wedding. Joanna's glamorous Aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) sashays in, reigniting her own rivalry with Marni's mom (Jamie Lee Curtis). The pairing of Weaver and Curtis is the movie's big draw, but the witless script and feckless direction make it a rickety vehicle for these veteran actresses. Betty White, still riding the crest of renewed popularity, provides the sole laugh near the end of the movie. (Zoslov)
Unstoppable (PG-13) — Watching Tony Scott's movie makes you empathize with the audience back in 1896 that supposedly fled their seats after seeing a train barreling down the screen at them. There's something profoundly terrifying about the image of a speeding train — especially one, like in Unstoppable, that's unmanned and carrying combustible chemicals. Scott has been down this path before: His 2009 remake of the subway thriller The Taking of Pelham 123 also starred Denzel Washington as a train-rescuing hero. Given the hackneyed theme, Unstoppable is surprisingly effective. Washington plays a veteran engineer (facing forced retirement — of course) who teams up with (of course) a cocky young rookie, played by Chris Pine. They put aside their bickering to undertake a superhuman act of heroism. Both men get a perfunctory backstory, but the focus is almost entirely on the runaway train — a striking thing to watch and an appropriate metaphor for our reckless times. Action impresario Scott gets no love as a director, but he knows this much: What thrilled moviegoers more than a century ago still works today. (Pamela Zoslov)
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