In theaters this week

Film Capsules 

In theaters this week

Puss in Boots (PG)

Shrek may have closed the book on his final chapter last year, but his furry friends are still around to keep the lucrative franchise alive. The first spinoff stars the swashbuckling cat (voiced by Antonio Banderas), who's on a quest for some magic beans and to redeem himself for some mistakes he's made. Along the way, he pounces on the usual visual gags, fairy-tale mashups, and pop-culture references that kept the Shrek series going for four movies. Puss finally gets a backstory and his own sidekicks, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). But like the last couple of the big green ogre's adventures, Puss in Boots runs out of ideas before it's half over. But until that happens, things are kinda fun, with Galifianakis' scrambled eggman the most rounded, er, oval character of the bunch. — Michael Gallucci

Anonymous (PG-13) — The latest salvo in the war between the Stratfordians (who believe William Shakespeare was the author of his plays) and the Oxfordians (who claim they were written by Edward de Vere) comes from the unlikely hand of Roland Emmerich, best known for action movies like Independence Day. The script posits that de Vere (Rhys Ifans), a literary genius and onetime lover of Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave), was compelled by his position as the Earl of Oxford to conceal his writing behind a front: a dodgy, functionally illiterate actor, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall). There are some merits to this often laughable drama, but the story descends into a fever dream of botched history. (Pamela Zoslov)

The Big Year (PG) — "Only Americans can turn birding into a competition," remarks a British birdwatcher in this uncommonly gentle comedy about the compulsive quest of three men to win a contest to spot the most bird species in one year. Brad (Jack Black), a software engineer who can recognize any bird by its song, teams up with Stu (Steve Martin), a wealthy CEO and fellow obsessive, to topple the reigning champ: the cocky, underhanded Kenny Bostwick (Owen Wilson). The humor is a bit too larkish, but the story gracefully weaves the men's migrations with their personal lives. (Zoslov)

Footloose (PG-13) — Leaving aside the question of whether there was a burning need to remake the 27-year-old dance hit, this faithful reboot is pretty solid tweener and nostalgist bait. Newcomer Kenny Wormald acquits himself nicely in the old Kevin Bacon role of big-city rebel-without-a-clue Ren MacCormack. After being forcibly relocated to fictitious Bomont, Tennessee, good-bad-boy Ren shakes things up by crushing on the local pastor's daughter and crusading to overturn a WTF? law that bans loud music and teen dancing. The movie never gets too synthetic or sanitized, but it's still a tad less edgy than the original. (Milan Paurich)

Johnny English Reborn (PG) — The 2003 spy spoof Johnny English, starring Mr. Bean's Rowan Atkinson as a woefully inept but occasionally resourceful intelligence agent, was not a mad box-office success, so the need for a sequel is kind of baffling. This time, the spy is recalled to London to prevent the assassination of the Chinese premier by a cabal of turncoat spies. Paired with a smart black rookie he loftily underestimates ("It'll be good to have someone to carry the bags") and armed with an array of ridiculous gadgets, English bumbles his way into cracking the case. Reborn's comedy is subtle, self-effacing, and never over-the-top, even when English is beating up elderly women he mistakes for a Chinese assassin who masquerades as a maid, cook, and caddy. (Zoslov)

Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness (NR) — Sholem Aleichem was not the first to write popular fiction in Yiddish, but he was the most successful (his Tevye the Dairyman stories inspired Fiddler on the Roof). This earnest documentary does what it can to dramatize the life of the prolific author. Although it can't fully convey the tone and cadence of Aleichem's prose, it expresses the enduring humanity of his writing. (Zoslov)

The Thing (R) — Set just before the events of the 1982 classic with the same title, this prequel tells the story of the Norwegian research base that stumbled on the frozen alien remains. It seems like the discovery of the century until they realize the damn thing is still alive. Even worse: It's hostile and can take on the form of its prey. Despite the many similarities with John Carpenter's original movie, this new Thing isn't nearly as suspenseful. The filmmakers try to retain the original's subtle paranoia while pleasing modern audiences hungry for gory spectacle. This Thing gets tedious in no time, but fans will love the way it directly leads into the 1982 movie. (Ben Gifford)

Real Steel (PG-13) — Its metaphors are shallow and its plot is predictable, but Real Steel is still fun in a fighting-robots-movie kinda way. In the near future, robot boxing has replaced human boxing. Fans wanted more carnage, as former fighter Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) points out. Still, Charlie's wallet takes a beating, until he and his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) find salvation in a junk robot named Atom. The movie's robots may be steel, but the humans are cardboard. At least the fights are solid: Atom is as underdog as they come, making it impossible not to root for him. And the father-son bonding eventually grows on you, landing a surprising blow to the heartstrings. (Gifford)

Restless (PG-13) — Gus Van Sant's latest is just as relentlessly whimsical and calculated as it sounds: A morose loner named Enoch, who likes to attend funerals and converse with his imaginary WWII kamikaze pilot ghost friend, meets a quirky, terminally ill girl (The Kids Are All Right's Mia Wasikowska). But the big surprise is just how dreadfully acted, written, and directed this clunker truly is. When Enoch is nearly outed as a tourist at a stranger's funeral, he's saved by Wasikowska's Annabel, and a budding romance is born. But not one scene pops off the screen. (Justin Strout)

Margin Call (R) — The 2008 financial collapse was so large in scale that it begged for Hollywood's blustery myth-making. Margin Call, thankfully, resists the urge to go big, as it depicts the very moment when the owner of a fictional securities firm (played by the perfectly snaky Jeremy Irons) realizes the error of his firm's ways too late. Stanley Tucci plays a risk-management worker who, on the day he's downsized, passes on personal research to a rising underling (Zachary Quinto) who indicates the firm's path leads to a total meltdown — not only of the company, but possibly of a large portion of the global economy. Margin Call's goal is to reassure the audience that this isn't about the evils of bankers or traders as a whole; they're pawns in a larger game — one controlled by shockingly few people. (Justin Strout)

Weekend (NR) — Weekend is a bit like a gay Before Sunrise set in London, but more emotionally and intellectually challenging if not as conventionally romantic. Reserved Russell (Tom Cullen) lives alone in a small highrise flat, where he brings chatty Glen (Chris New) after picking him up at a club. What both assumed is a one-night stand becomes something else the next morning, when Glen pulls out a recorder to interview Russell about life, love, and everything in between. What's modestly revelatory about writer and director Andrew Haigh's movie is how comfortable it is with being mundane, a candid snapshot of that moment when two people realize their feelings for each other run deeper than desire. (Bret McCabe)

Moneyball (PG-13) — This low-key, somewhat downbeat movie, based on Michael Lewis' book about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's pioneering effort to build a winning team using statistical analysis, is an engrossing if overlong view of the back-office deals and clashing ideals of America's pastime. The emphasis is not on exciting on-field action, but on the frustrations of dealing, trading, and cutting. (Pamela Zoslov)

I Don't Know How She Does It (PG-13) — Doug McGrath's retro-feeling romantic comedy could have been made back in the mid-'60s with Natalie Wood. It leans a bit too heavily on Sarah Jessica Parker's Sex and the City persona, but likable performances and a breezy 90-minute run time make this more painless than you'd think. (Milan Paurich)

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