When you need just the gist

Film Capsules 

When you need just the gist

Black Swan (R) — Nina (Natalie Portman) has finally scored her big break with the New York City Ballet, landing the lead role in Swan Lake. But a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), goes deeper and darker, threatening Nina's star-making turn. As Nina's paranoia increases, her obsessions take on a life of their own, and she becomes less reliable as the movie's protagonist. Director Darren Aronofsky's most psychologically unhinged film is one of the most twisted thrillers of the decade. (Michael Gallucci)

Blue Valentine (NC-17) — This portrait of a relationship's beginning and end has a gift for realizing and capturing the unvarnished slivers of everyday life. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams possess the subtle intelligence and controlled bravery to realize the two lead characters as utterly fallible human beings. The movie cuts between a day in the life of Cindy and Dean today (a time during which all their problems come to a head) and their head-over-heels courtship six years earlier. It's meant to contrast love at the beginning and end, but the juxtaposition actually illuminates the fact that people grow and change over time, and not always at the same pace or in the same direction. (Bret McCabe)

Country Strong (PG-13) — It might be unfair to judge Country Strong against other movies, because while it looks like a movie, it's actually a collection of clichés so tired they wouldn't surprise a second grader. There's the damaged country legend on a comeback tour (Gwyneth Paltrow, woefully miscast and completely unbelievable as a wrecked, fading star); her distant husband/manager (Tim McGraw, who completely wastes his country cred); the guitar-slinging young buck caught between them; and the Taylor Swiftian country-pop princess nipping at Paltrow's career. Not a single one of them is worth rooting for. (Chuck Kerr)

Casino Jack (R) — Casino Jack is inspired by the true story of Washington, D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to corruption, tax evasion, and defrauding American Indian tribes and casinos. With Kevin Spacey's glib slickness making Abramoff charmingly snarky, the movie tries to play the mid-2000s lobbying scandal as entertaining satire. It aims for a huckster vibe, where the crime Abramoff commits isn't the wholesale swindling of people; it's that he got caught. Spacey has a field day playing Abramoff. Still, the movie's tone feels a little bipolar. What starts off as a rather comic morality tale becomes full-on ridiculous. (McCabe)

The Dilemma (PG-13) — Ron Howard's latest, starring Vince Vaughn as a guy who finds out his best friend's wife is cheating.

The Fighter (R) — This biopic about junior welterweight boxing champion "Irish" Mickey Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) brings the genre into the 21st century. Stylistically, it recalls The Wrestler, with raw, unglamorous cinematography that gloriously captures the blue-collar upbringing of Mickey's working-class Massachusetts. Mickey's unreliable trainer is his older brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a local legend who has since descended into crack addiction and crime. Mickey's promise is squandered by his chaotic family; ultimately, he must choose between loyalty and a shot at a championship. (Pamela Zoslov)

The Green Hornet (PG-13) — Sure, the 2011 version of The Green Hornet is about fighting evil, walking away from explosions, and having cool one-liners. But the real drama is the conflict going on between Seth Rogen's playboy hero and Jay Chou's deadly serious sidekick Kato. Any bad guys that get taken down aren't so much defeated as they are ground up between this pair's egos. These heroes are real, but there's still some fantasy going on here. Chou channels a bit of Bruce Lee (who starred in the '60s TV show), and Rogen channels Rogen. The movie is also funny. Very funny at times. (Stephen Graham Jones)

The King's Speech (R) — A seemingly blah subject — a royal highness' speech impediment — results in one of the best-acted movies of the year. The future King George VI of England (an excellent Colin Firth) stumbles and stammers whenever he's asked to speak in public. His loyal, persistent, and tough wife (Helena Bonham Carter, also excellent) finds Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, terrific too), a speech therapist who guarantees he can cure George's stammer. They spar furiously at their first meeting, but you just know their relationship will turn all warm and fuzzy on the way to George's recovery. (Gallucci)

Little Fockers (PG-13) — Dustin Hoffman initially refused to appear in this third — and, if there's a God, last — installment of the illustrious comedy series that began a decade ago. He eventually agreed to shoot a few scenes, but consider yourself warned about this depressing exercise in vulgarity, which boasts enemas, farts, spurting blood, projectile vomit, and a syringe stabbing an old man's erection. (Pamela Zoslov)

Rabbit Hole (PG-13) — Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie, a late-thirtysomething couple living a seemingly ordinary yupscale existence in a New York City bedroom community. But tell-tale signs indicate that something is amiss. Turns out they're still reeling from the accidental death of their toddler son eight months earlier. David Lindsay-Abaire adapted his play for the movie and intelligently opens it up for the new demands, while director John Cameron Mitchell elicits empathetic performances from his lead actors without pushing either into the sort of teary bathos the material would seem to encourage. (Paurich)

Season of the Witch (PG) — If you haven't seen Gladiator, 300, and at least one of the Lord of the Rings movies, you might have a shot at not letting this movie crush your spirit. It's not even bad enough to goof on; it's just very not good. Christopher Lee plays a big shot in the church who extorts our Crusade-deserting heroes Behmen and Feslon (Nicolas Cage) into transporting a witch (Claire Foy) to some other castle so she can be given a fair trial before they burn her. There are zombie-demon monks, witches, books, wolves that have to turn into worse-looking wolves before they attack, and some great supporting actors all speaking in different accents. But this isn't their fault. It's just a bad movie. (Joe MacLeod)

Tiny Furniture (NR) — Tiny Furniture may be the most adorable movie ever made about people who can't be bothered to recognize your existence. It's a fairly typical liberal-arts-graduate-returning-home-after-college-to-figure-things-out movie. Only home is a gorgeous, two-story Tribeca flat where mom and sister (director Lena Dunham's real-life mother and sister) live the privileged life of, well, people who live in a gorgeous, two-story Tribeca flat. Dunham merely sorts things out, feeling like a visitor in the apartment — and city — where she grew up. Dunham captures this life with an insider's beguiling eye. If Tiny Furniture feels a little coy, remember that it is a post-collegiate finding-myself flick. (McCabe)

TRON: Legacy (PG) — Like last-year's CGI 3D holiday spectacle Avatar, you need to see TRON on the big screen. Unlike Avatar, you don't need to see TRON at all. A sequel to 1982's then-state-of-the-art geekfest about a guy trapped in a computer, Legacy picks up 28 years later. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges, reprising his original role) has been missing for 20 years, presumably lost somewhere in the grid — the computer world he created. It's just a blur trapped in a noisy mess of cool techy toys. (Gallucci)

True Grit (PG-13) — This redo by the Coen brothers seems a bit detached. Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) kills 14-year-old Mattie Ross' (a terrific Hailee Steinfeld) dad for no other reason than he's a mean bastard. So Mattie tracks down fat, drunk, and one-eyed U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and hires him to bring Chaney to justice. (Gallucci)

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