Film Capsules

In theaters this week

The Muppets (PG)

The Muppets is slavishly devoted to the old guard's property and reputation, and it's enormously ambitious. Star and co-writer Jason Segel brings the rapturously joyful felt creatures to life via bouncy, catchy musical numbers, big colorful costumes, and a swirling miasma of pop-culture references and Hollywood cameos — just like old times. But under newcomer James Bobin's clunky direction, the movie feels cheap and strangely small-screen. The plot centers on a Texas oil baron (Chris Cooper) who plans to tear down the old Muppet Studios and drill for oil. A bit of the old magic eventually comes roaring back when the original Muppets gather for a telethon. But the film's meta-silliness often plays like a comedic bailout. The true villain here, however, isn't Cooper's rapping capitalist; it's the guy sitting in the director's chair. — Justin Strout J. Edgar (R) — Director Clint Eastwood's stirring biopic looks at long-running FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (played with spot-on self-satisfaction by Leonardo DiCaprio), a deeply conflicted egomaniac whose personal agendas often broke the laws he had sworn to uphold. The movie crisscrosses eras and historical highlights from Hoover's life, but it isn't flashy — that's not Eastwood's style. It is supremely well-made, directed with insight and reverence and skepticism for Hoover and his story. The attention to detail and pinch of nostalgia make J. Edgar one of Eastwood's most old-fashioned movies and one of his best. (Michael Gallucci)

Like Crazy (PG-13) — Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and newcomer Felicity Jones play Jacob and Anna, two attractive college kids who meet cute during class and immediately fall in love. They relate to one another in intimate, clipped conversations that were mostly improvised by the actors, and Jacob, an American furniture-design major, builds Anna, a British journalism student, a wooden chair to prove his devotion. Eventually, it's time for Anna to return home for the summer and renew her student visa. When their reunion moment comes, there's a snag: Anna's visa has been revoked. While the performances are fine, director Drake Doremus seems to fear the places Blue Valentine went. These are awful ties that bind long-distance relationships. Like Crazy is disappointingly incurious about them. (Strout)

Martha Marcy May Marlene (R) — With its minimalist texture and deeply felt direction, Martha Marcy May Marlene is easy to love and impossible not to admire. That's also true of the film's breakout star, Elizabeth Olsen (sister of Mary Kate and Ashley), whose title character goes by any number of alliterative names for a variety of reasons. Martha is who she was born as and how her older sister Lucy refers to her when Martha, who has just escaped from years of seclusion in a cult, rings her up asking for help. Once in the relative safety of Lucy's sprawling vacation home, we learn via flashback that she was renamed Marcy May. The movie is a mighty achievement on the surface, but it has major structural problems, and an utterly baffling, abrupt ending answers nothing and only compounds the coldness. (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 (a 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. Margin Call's goal is to reassure us that this isn't about the evils of bankers or traders as a whole; they're pawns in a larger game. (Strout)

My Week With Marilyn (R) — Michelle Williams is luminous as Marilyn Monroe in writer Colin Clark's autobiographical remembrance of the time he talked his way onto the set of The Prince and the Showgirl and ended up assisting Laurence Olivier on set and aiding Monroe everywhere. Williams' Marilyn is an untouchable goddess who keeps Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) under her thumb, Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) at her mercy, and every man who lays eyes on her at full attention. But because the movie is based on the memoirs of a glorified personal assistant, it's scant on inside-baseball verisimilitude, opting instead for boxed-in broad comedy. The only plot to speak of concerns Monroe's inability to perform the most basic functions of an actress and Olivier's inability to tell her what to do. (Strout)

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. But like the last couple of the big green ogre's adventures, Puss in Boots runs out of ideas before it's half over. (Gallucci)

The Rum Diary (R) — This zesty adaptation, with Hunter S. Thompson protégé Johnny Depp as journalist Paul Kemp, is the best Thompson piece to hit the screen. Kemp, a hard-drinking but idealistic newspaperman, lands at a failing San Juan daily bent on exploiting Puerto Rico's riches, eccentric boozy colleagues, and an unattainable beauty. The picaresque plot is secondary to the impeccable design and cinematography, ebullient acting, and the witty script. (Pamela Zoslov)

Take Shelter (R) — Curtis (Michael Shannon) has nightmares of a storm so unrelentingly fierce that it sends the family dog into a bloodthirsty frenzy and birds into swarming black armies. The dreams become so intense that he begins preparing for the apocalypse, worrying his co-workers and straining his relationship with wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain). Shannon gives one of the year's best performances as a man stuck in the center of a psychological torrent. Produced by Clevelander Tyler Davidson and shot in Lorain County, Take Shelter won't always connect with your heart, but it will mess with your head. (Gallucci)

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