Movie DopeMovies

Movie Dope

• THE ARTIST (PG-13) Films today do not come as precious or charming as Michel Hazanavicius’ silent, Golden Globe winning Oscar frontrunner. A silent film that is all about talking, The Artist of title refers to matinee idol George Valentin (Golden Globe winner Jean Dujardin, who absolutely must be a silent film star Hazanivicius recently thawed from ice), who finds it difficult to transition from silent films to talkies, unlike rising star Peppy Miller (Golden Globe nominee Berenice Bejo). But Miller has a crush on Valentin that predates her stardom, and will do everything she can to help the despondent one-time star. Like an unearthed gem, a long-lost silent relic, The Artist is at once wholly familiar yet completely foreign. It’s a foreign language film without a language. Naturally, being silent, the score by Ludovic Bource plays as important a role as the actors. (It’ll be a pity if the Vertigo controversy harms its award potential.) It is truly lovely, complementing every scene without overpowering any of the actors’ apropos mugging. If Roberto Benigni can win an Oscar, Dujardin should be a lock. Props to Uggie the dog as well. Who knew a trifling eccentricity would wind up 2011’s most daring film?

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (G) 1991. Disney rereleases the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar using the fancy new 3D technology that is all the rage right now. Based on the classic fairy tale, Belle falls in love with Beast (voiced by Ice Castles’ heartthrob Robby Benson), who just so happens to be a cursed prince. The terrific voice cast includes Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers and Angela Lansbury. Winner of two Academy Awards (Best Score and Best Original Song).

CARNAGE (R) Go ahead and hashtag Roman Polanski’s new film “First World Problems.†Two New York couples, Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Golden Globe nominee Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) and Nancy and Alan Cowan (Golden Globe nominee Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz), hold an anti-productive summit after a playground fight between their sons. Yasmina Reza and Polanski update Reza’s play for the big screen, and the four main actors have a ball yakking (in more ways than one) about their marital and parental woes. Polanski does nothing extraordinary because he doesn’t have to. Carnage’s success rests largely on its actors’ shoulders, and the quartet makes the antics of these largely unlikable adults uncomfortably hilarious. I’m not sure how the Hollywood Foreign Press decided only the ladies were worthy of nominations, as the men easily prove they’re equals. Everyone should be thanking QT for bringing Waltz to their attention; the Oscar winner is Hollywood’s best addition in the past few years. When will the severely undervalued Reilly, the only major player in this picture without an Oscar, finally receive the credit he truly deserves? Carnage isn’t a great film, but it’s the best 2012 has yet to offer.

CONTRABAND (R) How much cooler would this flick have been had it recounted the tale of Bill and Lance, two lonely, shirtless soldiers blasting their way to the Alien’s lair to the sounds of Cinemechanica? Much, much cooler. Alas, Contraband is merely a standard, occasionally thrilling heist flick starring the “always reliable for this sort of action” Mark Wahlberg. As Chris Farraday, a former master smuggler gone legit, Wahlberg calmly muscles his way from New Orleans to Panama in order to get his brother-in-law (X-Men: First Class’s Caleb Landry Jones) out of trouble with a small time crook (Giovanni Ribisi). If Chris fails, his pretty wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two little boys may pay the price. Director Baltasar Kormakur knows the territory; he should, seeing as he starred in the Icelandic original, Reykjavik-Rotterdam. The pace of this smuggling master class rarely flags, but the plot’s machinations are fueled by too much stupidity for good escapist fun. Frankly, these people are too depressing to be much fun. I still like Ben Foster, who excels as Chris’ best bud; here’s hoping he doesn’t get stuck as Jason Statham or Marky Mark’s action sidekick.

THE DEVIL INSIDE (R) After a strong opening sequence depicting the police investigation of and fake local news stories about a 1989 triple murder, The Devil Inside becomes just another found footage horror flick, this one insinuating itself to be the documentation of a young woman, Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), seeking the truth about her mother’s tragic exorcism. Two priests, Ben and David (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth), assist Isabella in freeing her mother, but again, the results lead to a tragedy, all captured on film by documentarian/cameraman, Michael (Ionut Grama). This popular, easy-to-fake horror subgenre has seen worse entries (last year’s snooze-fest Apollo 18), but The Last Exorcism was a more successful faux-mentary Exorcist. The film generates a few scares, and the fake people are more likable than most found footage protags. Still, The Devil Inside has absolutely nothing new to add to the horror conversation and should be quickly exorcised from memory.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY 1944. Ciné is heating up the cold winter nights with a Classic Film Noir Series featuring Hollywood classics screened from increasingly precious 35mm prints. Based on a story by James M. Cain, a housewife (Barbara Stanwayck) plots her husband’s murder with an insurance salesman to collect the life insurance payout, resulting in one of the first of the film noir genre.

DRIVE (R) Drive slides through the alleys and side streets of its criminal Los Angeles with the precision, skill and style of its nameless Driver (Ryan Gosling). Stuntman by day, getaway man for hire by night, the driver slides his leather driving gloves on and gets his bumpers bloody when a cute neighbor (Carey Mulligan) with a little tyke runs afoul of some local toughs. Gosling must hail from an alien world filled with cool because he’s certainly more so than any other actor working today (besides maybe George Clooney…maybe). His near silent Driver says all he needs to with a single look that says whatever the recipient needs to hear. Director Nicholas Winding Refn (The Pusher trilogy, Bronson, Valhalla Rising) creates an L.A. that would make a younger Michael Mann jealous, were it lit a little more bluely.


This adaptation of the Jonathan Safran Foer novel could have devolved into Stage 4 Pay It Forward-level emotional manipulation. Instead, the 9/11 tearjerker, directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader), only reaches Stage 2. Young Oskar Schell (“Jeopardyâ€â€™s Kids Week Champion Thomas Horn, making a striking acting debut) tries to make sense of his father’s death on 9/11. His dad, Thomas (Tom Hanks, in quite possibly his most saintly role to date), used to send Oskar on city-wide expeditions to help the boy conquer his social inhibitions. The final quest requires Oskar to traipse around NYC in search of a lock to fit a mysterious key. Of course, the journey to solving this mystery is more important than the solution itself. Impressive performances from the young Horn and the older Max von Sydow keep the film from drowning in its own sorrows. Appearances from Viola Davis, John Goodman and Jeffrey Wright are welcome, but Sandra Bullock merely gets her tears on as Oskar’s grief-ridden mom. Everything should be fine so long as audiences simply expect the good movie Extremely Loud is, as opposed to the awards bait it fails to be.

THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS (NR) 1950. The Kress Film Series continues with this dramatization of a dozen vignettes from the life of St. Francis and the religious order he founded, directed by Roberto Rossellini. Perhaps best known as lover of Ingrid Bergman and father of Isabella Rossellini, the Italian neorealist directed Rome, Open City and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing for 1946’s Paisan. The Flowers for St. Francis screenplay was cowritten by Rossellini collaborator, the legendary Federico Fellini.

FOOTLOOSE (PG-13) Let’s go ahead and dispel any thoughts that the Kevin Bacon starrer is somehow above being remade. What Hustle & Flow filmmaker Craig Brewer has done in remaking the seminal ’80s flick is impressive. Brewer relocates the dance banning town of Bomont from Oklahoma to Georgia, adding another film to Brewer’s resume of intriguing cinematic stories about the New South. Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald, looking like he transferred from Rydell High) migrates south to live with his aunt and uncle (Kim Dickens and scene-stealing Ray McKinnon, an Adel native and Oscar winner). There he runs afoul of Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), who instituted the dancing ban after his son died in a car accident, and woos Moore’s beautiful, troubled daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough, “Dancing with the Starsâ€). Brewer’s movie has a nice rhythm and does the South more justice than any other major Hollywood release.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (R) Stieg Larsson may have created Lisbeth Salander, but David Fincher and the bold Rooney Mara have made her a big-screen icon. (No offense to Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth, but Mara’s movie is loads better.) Fincher dangerously retains Larsson’s wicked, violent, European sexuality for Hollywood’s adaptation of the first book in the Millennium Trilogy. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) enlists the help of the titular tattooed (and multiply pierced) girl, a ward of the state who might be a psychopath but is certainly a genius, to solve a decades old murder. Readers of the novel will marvel at how smartly screenwriter Steven Zaillian jettisons the novel’s clunky points to streamline the central mystery (who killed Harriet Vanger?) and posit a new one (who is Lisbeth Salander?). Top-notch performances, red slashes of humor and Fincher’s masterful control of style (the stunning opening credits imply some twisted mix of Bond and bondage) propel the film with a badass energy, fed by Academy Award winning composers, Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose. Much like The Silence of the Lambs, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo weds the ghettoized thrills of genre with a larger cinematic ambition. Pop literary filmmaking gets no better than this.

THE GREY (R) January is ending; it must be time for another Liam Neeson actioner. The formerly acclaimed actor has almost completed his transformation into an English Denzel Washington, whose filmography is filling up with inconsequential paychecks jobs. At least Joe Carnahan (Narc, The A-Team) is writing and directing this tale of an Alaskan drilling team struggling to defeat a pack of wolves hunting them after their plane crashes in the wilderness. With Dermot Mulroney and James Badge Dale (“The Pacificâ€).

HAPPY FEET 2 (PG) Mad Max creator George Miller may not be able to get a new entry in his post-apocalyptic Outback franchise off the ground, but he was able to continue his singing-dancing penguin series. Sadly, I was underwhelmed by the first film, so I have little interest in a 3D sequel about tap-dancing penguin Mumble (v. Elijah Wood). Now a father, Mumble must help his son, Erik, find his place in the Emperor Penguin world while facing a new threat with his friends and family. Featuring the voices of Robin Williams, Pink and other famous folks.

HAYWIRE (R) The narrative goes a little haywire, leaving the impression that an expositional scene or two are missing, but the athletic, graceful action choreography skillfully executed by MMA fighter and former American Gladiator Gina Carano and captured on camera by the always surprising Steven Soderbergh knocks out all its current action competitors. Black ops agent Mallory Kane (Carano) is burned by the head of the private agency for which she works, a skeezy guy named Kenneth (well-played by Ewan McGregor). Mallory must clear her name, but who can she trust? Her dad (Bill Paxton)? One of several other government employees (Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas)? C-Tatez (Channing Tatum)? The action’s cool, the visuals even cooler (think the euro-class of The American but more muscle) and Carano’s hot (and surprisingly up to the dramatic task). That audiences are giving Haywire a rare D+ CinemaScore is baffling. These same audiences bestowed A-’s on both Contraband and the latest Underworld, two action movies that together do not equal the filmmaking or star power of Haywire. When Soderbergh doesn’t connect with audiences (see the Clooney-led Solaris), he REALLY doesn’t connect with audiences. (Note: I dug Solaris too.)

• THE IRON LADY (PG-13) As a fan of all things British, The Iron Lady should have been more appealing to me, but the clumsy construction by director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) and writer Abi Morgan sink it. Meryl Streep may not be a revelation (she cannot be; the highest level of acting is expected of her), but her Golden Globe winning and sure to be Oscar nominated portrayal of Margaret Thatcher goes beyond mere impression. Too bad the film wastes far too much of its sub-two-hour running time on the later years framework. Any time Streep’s ancient Maggie (the makeup is good) appeared to harangue a hallucination of her late husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent, classy as ever), was a time to check out. And these flash-forwards happen a lot, sometimes for mere seconds, ripping us from the more interesting tale of Thatcher becoming the first female Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom. The Iron Lady’s BAFTA nomination for Best Original Screenplay is utterly baffling. As a BBC television production, The Iron Lady might satisfy, but as big screen, awards bait biopic, it falls woefully short. Maggie would certainly not have approved.

JACK AND JILL (PG) Adam Sandler must have thought the fake movies from Funny People had real potential to have signed on for this pitiful comedy where he plays both Jack Sadelstein and his twin sister, Jill. They key to the entire one-joke movie is that Sandler makes an ugly woman. Jill’s homeliness and her lack of self-awareness propel one lame gag after another. Sandler’s usual pals (Allen Covert, Nick Swardson) and celebrity cameos pepper the cast. Al Pacino’s appearance is the least likely and most unfortunate as he plays himself as a desperate man smitten with Jill. Regrettably, the flick also features more than a handful of casually stereotypical racial humor, though everything, even the lazy plotting and joke writing, is executed with the amiability that typifies its star. However, geniality is no excuse for Sandler fans to continue his string of unsubtle, unoriginal comedy hits.

JOYFUL NOISE (PG-13) You can almost hear the studio executive wheels turning for this godly “Glee†knockoff. A church choir from Small Town, GA heads to a national competition with new director, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah), squaring off against G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), the widow of the recently deceased former director (briefly and poorly played by Kris Kristofferson). Plenty of other minor melodramas—Vi’s 16-year-old daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) falls for G.G.’s rebellious grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan); another choir member finds love…twice; while others face financial hardships due to the current economic downturn—engulf the group as they prepare some new numbers in order to win the national crown. The charismatic leads do their best to engage, Latifah with her genteel gruffness and Dolly wholly through nuggets of colloquial country “wisdom.†Her dialogue distinctly differs from everyone else; it’s like a “Hee Haw†version of Shakespearean English (minus the timeless poeticism). Nothing in this movie is as strong as its rousing musical performances; too bad the entire, just shy of two-hour running time isn’t set to music. 

KISS ME DEADLY 1955. Ciné is heating up the cold winter nights with a Classic Film Noir Series featuring Hollywood classics screened from increasingly precious 35mm prints. Last week was Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe; this week, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer is on the case in Kiss Me Deadly, the second in Ciné’s series. Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is pulled into a deadly, potentially lucrative case after picking up a hitchhiker, who winds up dead. Directed by Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen).

LE HAVRE (NR) Four-time Palme d’Or nominee Aki Kaurismaki (Drifting Clouds, The Man Without a Past and Lights in the Dusk) wrote and directed this comedic drama of an African boy (Blondin Miguel) and the aging shoe shiner (Andre Wilms) who takes him into his home in the port city of Le Havre. This Palme d’Or nominee won Cannes’ FIPRESCI Prize and was nominated for four European Film Awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenwriter).

MAN ON A LEDGE (PG-13) Don’t confuse this crime thriller with the tremendous documentary Man on Wire. Sam Worthington stars as Nick Cassidy, a suicidal ex-con needing to be talked down by police psychologist Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks). Oh, by the way, the biggest diamond heist, like, ever is going on at the same time. Coincidence? This flick, whose trailers are woefully underwhelming, is director Asger Leth’s first fiction feature. The cast (Worthington, Banks, Jamie Bell, Edward Burns, Kyra Sedgwick, Anthony Mackie, William Sadler and Ed Harris) is good, though.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE—GHOST PROTOCOL (PG-13) Mission: Impossible is that rare franchise that has actually gotten better with each new installment and in inverse proportion to its megastar’s popularity. Tom Cruise had few peers in 1996 when the weak, original M:I opened; now he’s more often a punchline, albeit a badass punchline who does many of his own death-defying stunts, like climbing the outside of the world’s tallest building. What sets the Mission: Impossible franchise apart from any other existing action series is its star-producer’s knack for finding the best, new behind the camera talent. First-time live-action feature director Brad Bird is known to be an animation auteur (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), and he apparently doesn’t realize action of the live variety has limitations. Now he’s the guy who can still make a Tom Cruise stunt spectacular stand out like it’s the late ’90s. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his new team (the gorgeous Paula Patton, stalwart Jeremy Renner and A-1 comic relief Simon Pegg) must clear IMF’s name after a bombing decimates the Kremlin. From Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, the action doesn’t let up from scene one. A fun, funny, thrilling total summer package, M:i—GP will have you wondering why June’s so cold.

THE MUPPETS (PG) Cowriter-star Jason Segel’s reboot of Jim Henson’s lovable puppets is built with his obvious love and understanding of what made their 1979 film debut so special. Gary (Segel), his puppet brother Walter, and Gary’s longtime girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), travel to L.A., where they discover a plot to destroy the Muppet Theater by oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Together, they help Kermit reunite the old gang—Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, et al.—to put on a telethon in order to raise the money needed to buy back the property. Self-referential with a joke ratio that favors adults two-to-one (a Muppet staple), some terrific songs by one-half of Flight of the Conchords, and a bevy of celebrity cameos, this film revives the Muppets as you remember them.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (R) Movies like My Week with Marilyn can be a great deal of fun. Watching a sound modern actor impersonate a legendary figure of stage and screen, like Golden Globe nominees Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh do as Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, respectively, satisfies a primal nostalgia center of the brain. On the other hand, these movies can often come off a bare step up from Made-for-TV, if even that far. Mostly thanks to Williams, My Week with Marilyn achieves a nice cruising altitude above television, which should perhaps surprise seeing as director Simon Curtis’ previous efforts almost all aired on the BBC. In the film adaptation of Colin Clark’s memoir of his week as the luckiest 23-year-old in the world when Marilyn Monroe leaned on him during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl with Olivier, Williams certainly earns a shot at a third Oscar nom with her spot-on Marilyn; Branagh plays Olivier as a delightful prig while Dame Judi Dench out-Denchs them all. It might not be a candidate for best picture honors, but the impressional performances in this biographical drama enchant as the film enlightens modern viewers about a considerably minor point in film history. 

ONE FOR THE MONEY (PG-13) Janet Evanovich’s popular Stephanie Plum comes to the big screen. Newly divorced and unemployed, Plum (Katherine Heigl) takes a gig at her cousin’s bail bond business. Her first assignment just happens to be a local cop and former flame (Jason O’Mara of “Terra Novaâ€). Will it be the start of a franchise for star Heigl, or more proof the public is over “Grey’s Anatomyâ€â€™s former It Girl? Director Julie Anne Robinson and most of the cast are prime-time players at best.

WAL-MART: THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICES 2005. Directed by Robert Greenwald, the documentary uses statistics and interviews to explain negative aspects of Wal-Mart’s impact on local, national and international economies and employee rights.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE (PG) 1987. Rob Reiner’s finest film after This is Spinal Tap, Bride benefits most from an acidic yet heartwarming script by Hollywood legend William Goldman, who adapted from his own novel. Westley (Cary Elwes) risks life and limb to rescue his love Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) from the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Assisted by humongous Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and vengeful Inigo Montoya (an unmusical Mandy Patinkin), Westley must outwit a Sicilian (Wallace Shawn), survive the Dread Pirate Roberts, and escape from the Pit of Despair. A charming, droll love story, The Princess Bride is truly a fairy tale for all ages as well as for the ages.

PUSS IN BOOTS (PG) Shrek’s fairy tale may have moved on to happily ever after, but Puss in Boots (v. Antonio Banderas) is still itching for a fight. His spinoff reveals the swordfighting antics that led up to Puss meeting up with Shrek and company. Naturally, this flick was once slated for a direct-to-DVD release; will the cat be able to match the ogre’s blockbuster results? Director Chris Miller previously helmed Shrek the Third. Featuring the voices of Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis and more.

• RED TAILS (PG-13) Red Tails, a pet project of Star Wars creator George Lucas, succeeds everywhere it should and fails nowhere that should surprise anyone. The valor of the Tuskegee Airmen is every bit as worthy of patriotic, big screen fanfare as the flyers of Pearl Harbor and the WWI-era Lafayette Escadrille in Flyboys, and their movie is every bit the equal of dramatic lightweight and action heavyweight. These three aviation-centered war movies are near interchangeable, besides their single major hooks (Pearl Harbor, World War I and African-American pilots). A crew of attractive young black men (including Nate Parker, David Oleyowo, Tristan Wilds and Ne-Yo) are led into combat by stalwart veterans Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard and must battle racism on the ground and in the air. (The Luftwaffe knew they were dogfighting with black men.) The dialogue is tin-eared as previous Lucas films (the prequels come to mind) and does not benefit the actors at all. Still, exciting, jingoistic fervor can sometimes wear down any foe, even an enemy script. By Red Tails end, it’s near impossible to root against these great American underdogs.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (PG-13) Much like its 2009 predecessor, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a perfectly forgettable crowdpleaser. Robert Downey, Jr. revisits his hyper-bordering-on-manic, streetfighting master sleuth, this time tasked with defeating his literary arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (the appropriate Jared Harris of AMC’s “Mad Menâ€). Assisted as always by Dr. John Watson (Jude Law, again a game companion to Downey), Holmes is also joined by his brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry), Watson’s new wife (Kelly Reilly) and a gypsy fortune teller (Noomi Rapace, best known as the original Lisbeth Salander). Director Guy Ritchie coats everything in his usual super-stylish action sheen, lending the movie a surfeit of style, minus that pesky substance that might give the flick the little literary weight that could make this a classic reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. No ticket buyers should leave disappointed, unless they expect an entertainment satiation more enduring than the original.

THE SUPER NINJA (NR) 1984. Bad Movie Night continues celebrating the cinema’s worst offenders in 2012 with a terrible kung fu movie. New York cop John (Alexander Lou), a secretly trained ninja, seeks revenge on the men responsible for setting him up as a drug pusher. In his way are the Five Element Ninjas, a seemingly invincible clan of killers. All the tropes of kung fu(n) flicks–bad dubbing, over-the-top ninja duels, nonsensical narrative—converge in this awesomely bad movie.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (R) The machinations Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the new film from Let the Right One In’s Tomas Alfredson, may be a little too (you say dense, I say) murky for its own good. Despite the climactic presence of all the proper puzzle pieces, the filmmakers leave the viewer to believe there’s more to be worked out as a result of retired British spy George Smiley’s (an excellently restrained Gary Oldman) return to semi-active duty to uncover the identity of a mole amongst the highest echelons of MI6. The performances from an absolutely dynamite cast of Britons (Oldman, reigning Best Actor Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, “Sherlockâ€â€™s Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Stephen Graham and upcoming Batman villain Tom Hardy) keep one engaged even as the pregnant pauses and furtive glances overly cloud the already opaque espionage waters of literary spymaster John Le Carré. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may be too smart, tasking its audience to puzzle out a hundred piece central mystery like it were split into a thousand. The work’s rarely boring though.

TOWER HEIST (PG-13) With the help of a con (Eddie Murphy), a group of working stiffs (including Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Gabourey Sidibe and Michael Pena) plan a Danny Ocean-type heist on the high-rise home of the rich guy that took all of their money in a Ponzi scheme. This action comedy from oft-maligned Brett Ratner, who really missed his decade (imagine the ’80s buddy cop movies he could have made), also stars Tea Leoni, Alan Alda and Judd Hirsch.

• UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (R) I’ve never understood why the Underworld movies are so underwhelming. Vampires versus werewolves, Kate Beckinsale in skin-tight black leather, Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen all should add up to a crazy awesome movie. Instead, the three previous Underworlds make great cures for insomnia. They’re some of the most soporific action movies I’ve ever seen. Underworld: Awakening boasts a new directing team, a third dimension and the return of Beckinsale. It’s also the most fun I’ve had watching one of these flicks, though nothing about Awakening elevates it much past the Resident Evil/Paul W.S. Anderson plane. Still, fans of the franchise should enjoy another round of blue-lit ultraviolence. Nighy and Sheen are duly missed as well; Stephen Rea alone is not just compensation for their absence. The best critique I can level at Underworld: Awakening: at least I didn’t fall asleep this time. That’s a step forward, right?

WE BOUGHT A ZOO (PG) This movie just generates some odd feelings. A movie directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church sounds like a serious winner, but then there’s the title. A dad (Damon) moves his family to Southern California to renovate a struggling zoo. The Devil Wears Prada scripter Aline Brosh McKenna and Crowe relocate Benjamin Mee’s memoir from England to SoCal. Some say a similar move didn’t affect High Fidelity; I’m not one of those folks.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (R) If you have yet to read Lionel Shriver’s terrifying book, you are missing what can best be described as a Jack Ketchum horror novel of which Oprah would approve. Golden Globe nominee Tilda Swinton stars as the mother of Kevin (Ezra Miller), the perpetrator of a Columbine-type massacre. John C. Reilly plays the clueless father. Palme d’Or nominee Lynne Ramsey’s third film (Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar) is receiving sharp reviews, but it is not for everyone. I have been waiting for this one since Cannes.

YOUNG ADULT (R) As the ghost writer of a popular Sweet Valley High ripoff, high school hottie Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) escaped her tiny hometown of big box stores and chain restaurants to live a chic life in the “Mini-apple.†Now she returns to her old kingdom to get her former beau, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), back, despite his happy marriage and newborn daughter. Instead, she runs into Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate crippled by a vicious beating, who applies his wicked humor and insight to Mavis’s desperate plan. Young Adult may not be as perfectly balanced a comic drama as Jason Reitman’s last two Oscar nominees, but it is as well-cast. If Hollywood were a perfect place, this role would finally catapult Oswalt onto the A-list.