Film Capsules

In theaters this week

Damsels in DistressFourteen years after The Last Days of Disco, writer-director Whit Stillman doesn't miss a beat, filling his long-awaited new movie with self-indulgent, rapid-fire dialogue and pseudo-intellectual mental masturbation. Damsels in Distress' characters are as fake as the fictitious school they attend. The boys are either pretentious assholes or stupid; the girls are as troubled as the people they counsel at their suicide-prevention center. There's no real plot; it's more like a character study centered on witty dialogue. Stillman is like a self-taught jazz drummer with amazing technique that doesn't serve any purpose, but you'll stay with him with your mouth open, watching in amazement as he expertly keeps your attention while a bunch of frat idiots talk their asses off about nothing. (Enrique Lopetegui) Rated PG-13.

The Avengers (PG-13) — There's a really good chance that the summer's most anticipated movie will also be one of its best. Part of that has to do with the all-star team assembled here: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), all imported from their own (mostly) hit movies. But part of it also has to do with director, co-writer, and geek god Joss Whedon. Armed with a great story (Thor's evil brother Loki plans to wipe out the planet), a game cast, and total reverence for the source material, Whedon stages nearly every scene like it's a Big Moment. (Michael Gallucci)

Bully (PG-13) — This straight-from-the-headlines look at bullying in U.S. schools will either make you bounce around options for surgical sterility or rage against the politically correct culture that's taken hold in public schools, a why-can't-everyone-get-along attitude the movie suggests is actually giving bad kids a hall pass to harass more timid members of the herd. Bully never flinches, kindling tremendous sympathy for the kids who seem systemically stuck under a boot heel. (Kyle Swenson)

The Cabin in the Woods (R) — If its geek pedigree isn't enough to tip you off that this isn't your typical slasher movie, it should become clear within the first few minutes that co-writers Drew Goddard (who also directs) and Joss Whedon have something else in mind for their pre-apocalyptic twist on The Evil Dead. The setup is familiar: Five college kids spend a weekend at an old summer house tucked deep in redneck country, doing everything you'd expect them to. They find a diary with an old Latin inscription in the creepy basement, and you know what happens next — or do you? (Gallucci)

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (PG) — The latest movie by Aardman — the British animation studio responsible for Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run — is another stop-motion bit of whimsy that puts more effort into its finicky craft than its mediocre story. A group of 19th-century pirates support their inept captain (voiced by Hugh Grant), who calls himself the Pirate Captain and covets the Pirate of the Year Award, despite stiff competition from far more qualified buccaneers, including two played by Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven. Like in most Aardman productions, the jokes and sight gags come quick, but few last longer than the time they're onscreen. (Gallucci)

The Raid: Redemption (R) — Young police officer Rama is a badass, a good man, and husband to a pregnant wife. He and his fellow SWAT officers have been tasked with taking down malignant crime lord Tama, who has turned a rundown apartment tower into his fortress. Once the raid goes down and the building is alerted to the cops' presence, director Gareth Evans goes nuts. When two dudes beating the crap out of each other atop a table covered with cocaine residue is a grace note in your symphony of ass-kicking, you have arrived at a new level of over-the-top. (Lee Gardner)

The Raven (R) — There are moments in director James McTeigue's The Raven — his attempt to enlist Edgar Allan Poe as a detective in 19th-century Baltimore to help police solve a string of murders in which the crime scenes pay homage to Poe's stories — where the whole production comes undone. The movie takes advantage of the mysterious circumstances of Poe's final days by bizarrely cobbling together a narrative that places him right in the public's eye. The broke, alcoholic, and newly engaged Poe (John Cusack with zero regard for believability or style) offers almost no insight. The Raven feels rushed, poorly structured, and determined to disappoint. And in that quest, it succeeds. (Justin Strout)

21 Jump Street

(R) — Based on the late-'80s TV show that launched Johnny Depp's career, this reload centers around newbie cops Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, police academy pals assigned to go undercover to find out who's supplying kids with a synthetic drug. The movie clicks not so much because of its two leads, but thanks to its great supporting talent, including Ice Cube and Rob Riggle. The finale unravels on prom night, picking up speed after a cameo that almost justifies the price of admission. (Kyle Swenson)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (R) — It's every parent's worst nightmare and something Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) knows from the start: There's something wrong with her son. And early on we know it too, because a teenage Kevin went on a shooting spree at his school, killing several classmates. Eva is trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life from the outset, distancing herself from the tragedy of her past and barely disguising how fragile she's become. Swinton doesn't say much — she doesn't have to. Her tear-stained eyes and anguished face carry all her emotions. In a career filled with terrific, subtle performances, this is one of her best. (Gallucci)

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