Film Capsules

In theaters this week

Apollo 18 (PG-13) — Want to know why we never went back to the moon? This movie uses found footage of what really happened to the last three astronauts who went there in 1974. Apollo 18 piles on atmosphere and increasingly loud second-rate scary scenes. And after almost 90 minutes of cheap thrills you see coming from a mile away, the Alien-meets-Blair Witch Project mockumentary disappears from the screen and from memory. (Enrique Lopetegui)

Contagion (PG-13) — Steven Soderbergh's star-studded thriller about a deadly global flu epidemic is compelling but uneven. "Patient Zero" (Gwyneth Paltrow) is an executive who returns from Hong Kong with a virus that kills her and her young son, leaving her husband (Matt Damon) to deal with the ghastly aftermath. As the plague spreads, worldwide panic ensues, giving way to a post-apocalyptic landscape of mass graves, burning, and looting. A deep mistrust of modern communications is woven through this frightening cautionary tale, the real villain of which is globalization. (Pamela Zoslov)

The Debt (R) — The Debt bounces between eras, with two sets of actors telling the story of a trio of spies on a mission to bring a notorious Nazi butcher to justice in 1965. But something went wrong, and justice ended up being served on the streets of Berlin. Or was it? There's some action here, but The Debt isn't about explosions, gunfights, and car chases, which you would expect from a movie starring Helen Mirren. (Michael Gallucci)

Dolphin Tale (PG) — Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) isn't a bad kid, but he's extremely introverted, with no real friends, and failing summer school. On his way to class one morning, he finds a beached dolphin. A rescue crew carts away the creature, and Sawyer — who feels a connection — befriends the dolphin as she recovers in an animal hospital. Based on a true story, this touching film is as much about the dolphin's recovery as it is about unbreakable spirit. (Ben Gifford)

Drive (R) — Ryan Gosling's nameless character spends his nights chauffeuring criminals from their heists and his days stunt-driving for movies in L.A. He doesn't say much or do much when he's not steering a car, but somehow he manages to fall for his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother whose man is in prison. When the man returns home and finds out he owes money, he turns to Gosling for help. Then things get bad. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn spices up this seemingly one-note movie about cars with gory head-stomping scenes, mobsters, and Gosling's muscles, which more than make up for it. (Courtney Kerrigan)

Fright Night (R) — Vampire movies are rarely laughing matters, but Fright Night adds just enough humor to its gore. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin), a high-school senior living in Las Vegas, has cool friends, a hot girlfriend, and a new neighbor, who just happens to be a vampire. Charley is suspicious at first, but when a friend goes missing, he cautiously begins spying on the possibly undead Jerry (Colin Farrell). Fright Night doesn't exactly revolutionize the genre, but Farrell nails his bloodsucker's sexual allure. (Ben Gifford)

I Don't Know How She Does It (PG-13) — Doug McGrath's amiable time-killer — a retro-feeling romantic comedy that could have been made back in the mid-'60s with Natalie Wood — 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. If Parker seems a tad, er, mature for her role as a frazzled wife/mother/investment banker trying to have it all, the former Carrie Bradshaw's ace comic timing and intrinsic warmth more than compensate for any unsightly crow's feet. (Milan Paurich)

The Help (PG-13) — Adapted from a bestselling book, The Help tells the story of three women whose unlikely friendship captures the plight of black maids in 1960s Mississippi. Drenched in soft southern sunlight, the movie weaves together the lives of both the black and white women of one community in a way that's heartbreaking and uplifting. Credit is due to the stellar cast, which includes the busy Emma Stone, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, and Viola Davis. (Lydia Munnell)

Our Idiot Brother (R) — Paul Rudd stars as a long-haired, bearded, earthy do-gooder who seems to inadvertently step on every land mine along life's terrain. The movie is studded with likable stars, including Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, and Elizabeth Banks as Rudd's put-upon sisters. Still, Our Idiot Brother is heavy on situational ephemera, light on narrative thrust. (Justin Strout)

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. Brad Pitt plays Beane, who steals Yale-bred economics whiz Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, superbly subtle) from the Indians to help draft a bargain-basement championship team. The emphasis is not on exciting on-field action but on the frustrations of dealing, trading, and cutting. (Zoslov)

Straw Dogs (R) — Rod Lurie's wholly unnecessary remake of Sam Peckinpah's 1971 film strips away the literary themes and wallows in redneck stereotypes. Peckinpah's artfully choreographed violence, controversial in 1971, is transformed for post-Saw audiences into standard horror-movie shock. Here, a screenwriter(James Marsden) and his actress wife (Kate Bosworth) retreat to the most odious southern backwater this side of Deliverance. Where Peckinpah explored the conflict between science and religion and the irrelevancy of intellectualism in a primitive world, Lurie tritely centers on the divide between liberals and God-and-guns southern rustics. (Zoslov)

Warrior (PG-13) — Teacher Brendan Conlon resorts to fighting in makeshift parking-lot rings for extra cash to support his family. He's haunted by his formerly drunk father and his brother, a hulking war vet who returns home after a long, unexplained absence. Soon, Tommy and Brendan are training separately for an MMA event. It all culminates in a climactic championship fight that works just as well as Rocky Balboa's 15-rounder. (Strout)

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