Movie Capsules: Now showing

Friendly (sort of) blood-drinker  John C. Reilly rises from the crypt in ''Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant.''

David Lee/Universal Pictures

Friendly (sort of) blood-drinker John C. Reilly rises from the crypt in ''Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant.''

Capsule descriptions and mini-reviews are by The Commercial Appeal movie writer John Beifuss.

OPENING TODAY

A Serious Man (R, 105 min.) See review on Page 16.

Ridgeway Four.

SPECIAL MOVIES

Bite Me — Films You Can Sink Your Teeth Into: Glasses will be provided for a free outdoor "Shell-O-Ween" screening of the 1922 horror masterpiece "Nosferatu" (aka "Orlok the Vampire"), remastered for 3D. Also, an episode of "Dr.Shroud."

8 p.m. Saturday, Levitt Park Shell. Visit onlocationmemphis.com.

A Bill Plympton Master Class: The famed animator comes to Memphis. See story on Page 22.

7 p.m. Tuesday, Memphis College of Art. Admission: free. Visit indiememphis.com.

Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk: The latest IMAX documentary follows two environmentalists on a daring rafting ride down the Colorado River. Narrated by Robert Redford; music by Dave Matthews Band. Runs through Nov. 13. Tickets $8, $7.25 senior citizens, $6.25 children ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. Call for show times.

IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 320-6362 for tickets and reservations.

Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs: Follow researchers and explorers as they piece together archaeological and genetic clues of Egyptian mummies. The IMAX film plays through Nov. 13. Tickets: $8, $7.25 senior citizens, $6.25 children ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. Call for show times.

Crew Training International IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 320-6362 for reservations and tickets.

Halloween (R, 101 min) Director John Carpenter's 1978 slasher classic.

10 p.m. and midnight, today and Saturday, CinePlanet 16 (U.S. 51 at Tenn. 206, Atoka). Tickets: $9.50. Call 876-FILM.

Hoxie: The First Stand (Not rated, 56 min) Memphis filmmaker David Appleby will screen and discuss his documentary examining the little-known 1955 voluntary desegregation of public schools in Hoxie, Ark.

7 p.m. Monday, Beth Sholom Synagogue, 6675 Humprheys Blvd. Admission: free. Visit bsholom.org or call 683-3591.

Idiots and Angels (Not rated, 78 min.) Screening with filmmaker Bill Plympton. See story here.

7:30 p.m. Monday, Studio on the Square. Admission: $5, or free for Indie Memphis members and Memphis College of Art students. Visit indiememphis.com.

La Strada (Not rated, 108 min.) Anthony Quinn is a circus performer who buys a free-spirited young woman (Guilietta Masina) in the film that helped establish Fellini's fame in America.

1 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Admission: $7, or $5 for Brooks or Indie Memphis members. Visit brooksmuseum.org or call 544-6208.

Rethink Afghanistan (Not rated, 81 min.) Pax Christi Memphis sponsors the local debut of the new documentary from director Robert Greenwald ("Outfoxed"), which examines the cost and purpose of the ongoing U.S. military mission in the Central Asian Islamic nation that, historically, has been an empire-buster.

7 p.m. Tuesday, Church of the Holy Spirit, 2300 Hickory Crest Drive. Admission: free. Visit rethinkafghanistan.com.

Under the Sea: This new IMAX adventure transports you to some of the most exotic and isolated undersea locations on Earth, including South Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Coral Triangle islands of Papua, New Guinea, and Indonesia. Runs through March 5, 2010. Tickets: $8, $7.25 senior citizens, $6.25 children ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. Call for show times.

Crew Training International IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 320-6362 for reservations and tickets.

NOW SHOWING

Aliens in the Attic (PG, 86 min.) A "brainiac," a sock monkey-clutching little girl, videogame-loving twins, a cool cousin and a pouty teenager (Disney Channel starlet Ashley Tisdale) save their vacation home (and the Earth) from pint-sized outer-space invaders in this amiable, kid-oriented, slapstick action-comedy from director John Schultz. The major annoyances: The broad, sitcom-style personalities of the aliens, and the clichéd conception of Tisdale's boy-obsessed fashion plate, who should annoy any self-respecting teenage girl in the audience.

Bartlett 10.

All About Steve (PG-13, 99 min.) Sandra Bullock plays an eccentric crossword-puzzler (really) who stalks a CNN cameraman (Bradley Cooper).

Palace Cinema.

Amelia (PG, 110 min.) If good intentions could counteract the force of gravity, director Mira Nair's biopic would soar. Unfortunately, this handsome but somewhat leaden production burns a lot of fuel as it repeatedly buzzes its theme: That Amelia Earhart, the pioneering "aviatrix" of the 1920s and '30s, was not just a hero of the air but one of the original feminists -- an iconoclast in jodhpurs and a necktie whose addiction to the "freedom" of flight was representative of progressive womankind's yearning for independence from the drag of money-driven, male-dominated, conventional society. The role must have seemed irresistible to Hilary Swank, already rewarded with two Best Actress Oscars for playing women who infiltrate the worlds of men.

Studio on the Square, Paradiso.

Astro Boy (PG, 94 min.) Because this computer-generated feature from director David Bowers and Imagi Animation Studios is faithful in some respects to its key Japanese sources, the 1950s comic book and 1960s TV cartoon created by the so-called "God of Manga," Osamu Tezuka, it may creep some people out -- parents more than children, no doubt. The title hero (voiced here by Freddie Highmore) is, in fact, a robotic replica of a dead child; kids will love identifying with his superstrength and flying ability, but his weird origin contributes to the film's schizophrenic tone, as rousing action set pieces alternate with grim ecological and anti-military messages (a robotic weapon of mass destruction is dubbed "The Peacemaker").

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, CinePlanet 16.

The Boys Are Back (PG-13, 100 min.) A sportswriter (Clive Owen) in Australia becomes a single parent to two rambunctious boys in this inspirational and inspired-by-a-true-story film from director Scott Hicks ("Shine").

Ridgeway Four.

Capitalism: A Love Story (R, 127 min.) A summation of themes found in Michael Moore's five previous feature documentaries, this typically entertaining, typically stunt-heavy film (Moore wraps Wall Street banks in yellow crime-scene tape) is effective when it exposes the immoral, even "evil" excesses of an economic system that prizes profit above public welfare; it's less persuasive when it waxes nostalgic about the golden factory era of the less-greedy mid-20th century (no black people are asked if they'd like to return to the 1950s, when Moore's beloved Flint, Mich., was thriving). At its best, the film offers strong evidence that the corporations that dominate America have little interest in the well-being of its citizens, as when Moore reveals documents in which companies almost literally gloat that the U.S. has become a "plutocracy" with a growing disparity between the rich and the poor; these same memos also bemoan the fact that poor people still are allowed to vote.

Ridgeway Four.

Friendly (sort of) blood-drinker  John C. Reilly rises from the crypt in ''Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant.''

David Lee/Universal Pictures

Friendly (sort of) blood-drinker John C. Reilly rises from the crypt in ''Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant.''

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (PG-13, 109 min.) The first of Darren Shan's Young Adult vampire novels comes to the screen in a fun, energetic adventure with plenty of inoffensive ghoulish touches that should please kid and adult horror buffs alike. Chris Massoglia and Josh Hutcherson are teenage best friends whose arachnophilia and adolescent rebelliousness, respectively, lure them into the ancient rivalry between a traveling carnival of Tod Browning/Ray Bradbury oddities (including non-murderous vampire John C. Reilly) and a corps of evil bloodsuckers known as "the vampinese." After the sequel-squelching failure of "The Golden Compass," however, you'd think director Paul Weitz would know better than to end a movie with a lot of loose ends.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, CinePlanet 16.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (PG, 90 min.) Part Jerry Bruckheimer, part Betty Crocker, this Sony Pictures Animation feature begins as a jokey, slapstick, computer-generated cartoon for kids and expands into a clever and even thrilling disaster-movie spoof that should delight fans of all ages -- it's "Apocalypse Chow," with super-sized extra toppings of everything. Borrowing the title and premise and little else from a 1978 children's picture book by Judi and Ron Barrett, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have a field day imagining the blizzards of ice cream, the tornados of spaghetti and the Vesuvial fountains of nacho cheese cooked up a nerdy young inventor (voiced by Bill Hader) who seeds the clouds with foodstuff; "What if we've bitten off more than we can chew?" someone asks, in a foodie update of the famous warning against meddling in things man was not meant to know that was heard in "The Invisible Man" and almost every other vintage science-fiction film. "Cloudy" could be interpreted as a commentary on the potential perils of genetically engineered "Frankenfood," but it doesn't sweat the message. If it lacks the grandeur of "Wall-E," it's also utterly unpretentious; unlike the Pixar films, it's an unheralded surprise.

Stage Cinema (in 3-D), Majestic, Collierville Towne 16 (in 3-D), DeSoto Cinema 16 (in 3-D), Cordova Cinema (in 3-D), Paradiso (in 3-D), Hollywood 20 Cinema (in 3-D), CinePlanet 16 (in 3-D).

Couples Retreat (PG-13, 114 min.) Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell and Jon Favreau are among the husbands and wives who engage in embarrassing hijinks during a tropical vacation.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

District 9 (R, 113 min.) This gory, galvanizing science-fiction thriller from producer Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings") and South African novice feature director Neil Blomkamp delivers an unfortunate mixed message through the "alien apartheid" metaphor of its clever but confused premise, as human-sized outer-space crustaceans (disparaged as "prawns") are segregated into crime-ridden slums after their spaceship breaks down over Johannesburg. Presented "documentary" style, like some sort of monster mash-up of "The Office" and "Alien Nation," the movie is technically impressive; also admirable is newcomer Sharlto Copley's tour-de-force performance as a bureaucrat who comes to sympathize with the aliens. But it's troubling that almost all the black African characters in this parable of racism are thugs, gangsters and even cannibals, with none of the dignity of the "prawns"; a young white suburbanite might emerge from a screening thinking that aliens are cool, but, y'know, black folks are really scary.

Bartlett 10, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Fame (PG, 107 min.) An update of the 1980 musical about a New York performing arts high school.

Collierville Towne 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

The Final Destination (R, 81 min.) Forget such fusty sources as Poe, Stoker and Shelley: this fourth "Final Destination" film demonstrates that the only inspiration needed for a hit horror franchise is one of those cornball "Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life" posters, as yet another clique of attractive teenagers learns that life is just a short circuit, a spilled hair gel or a cracked swimming pool drain cover away from extinguishment. James Cameron and the folks at Pixar may disagree, but this is what 3D was made for: To make audiences scream and duck as Death hurls lethal objects from the screen.

Bartlett 10, Palace Cinema.

Gamer (R, 95 min.) The latest example of grand mal seizure cinema (thanks, New York Times) from directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor mashes "Rollerball," "Death Race" and "The Condemned" into a "futuristic vomitorium" (no thanks, New York Times) of a neoexploitation film in which humans control other humans in mass-scale, multiplayer online gaming environments, with real weapons, real blood and real killing. Like "Crank" and "Crank: High Voltage," the previous Neveldine/Taylor spazz-outs, "Gamer" is an absurdly exaggerated, outlandishly crass and alternately inventive and appalling depiction of a man (Eric Bana) violently fighting to liberate himself from the forces that seek to control him; the theme is intriguing, but the filmmakers -- who began "Crank" with a tape labeled "(Forget) You" and ended the sequel by having Jason Statham give the audience the finger -- again show weird contempt for their fan base, equating it with the leering masturbators and smart-aleck adolescents who are the new film's game players.

Bartlett 10.

G-Force (PG, 88 min.) Have you ever wondered what a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced talking-animal movie would be like? Me, neither. But here's the answer: The Disney/Bruckheimer collaboration "G-Force," in which the car chases, explosions, transforming robot battles and "Mission: Impossible" suspense sequences are as intense as in an "adult" movie, except instead of Tom Cruise and Will Smith, the heroes are members of an elite squad of commando guinea pigs and insects, plus one star-nosed mole (nerdily voiced by Nicolas Cage). I would have been happier if the "black" guinea pig (Tracy Morgan) didn't get all the stereotypical comic-relief lines ("Pimp my ride," "That was off the huh-zook"), and if the female guinea pig (Penélope Cruz) wasn't obsessed with romantic mind games. Even so, longtime special effects supervisor-turned-debuting director Hoyt Yeatman has delivered a fairly amusing spoof of James Bond/comic-book superteam conventions. With Memphis' Chris Ellis as "the director of the FBI."

Bartlett 10.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (PG-13, 120 min.) The cartoon inspired by the Hasbro "action figures" inspired this chuckleheaded but coherently staged action movie that overcomes the burden of its reported $170-million budget to be surprisingly fun. With its massive sets, lack of "Transformers"-style bathroom humor, comic-book heroes ("Heavy Duty" and "Snake-Eyes," to name two), male and female eye candy (when Rachel Nichols suits up for action, you notice that large breasts have been premolded onto her body armor), ninja duels and scenery-chewing villains (the juiciest is a mad doctor with a horribly burned face), the film harks back to the pulpy spirit of "Doc Savage" adventures and Roger Moore-era James Bond movies. The result is director Stephen Sommers' first likable film since "The Mummy" in 1999.

Bartlett 10, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Good Hair (PG-13, 95 min.) Unlike most documentaries with a message, director Jeff Stilson's amusing examination of African-American hair culture invites moviegoers to a conversation, not a lecture. The film warns against what host Chris Rock calls "the creamy crack" (hair relaxer); chides working women for spending thousands of dollars on weaves; and charges that "hands off the hair" mandates have decreased intimacy between black men and black women. Then it lets its target audience off the hook by concluding that, hey, it's not what's on the skull but what's inside it that counts; so if you want to spend the rent money on a knitted net of human hair culled from a temple floor after a Hindu shaving ritual in India, spend away, ladies, spend away. One wishes for less accomodation from the typically truth-telling Rock, but the film's generosity may be its secret weapon in the slow battle to raise the consciousness of those who think straight European hair is more attractive than "nappy" African hair.

Ridgeway Four, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Raleigh Spring Cinema, Cordova Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Halloween (R, 110 min.) For better or worse, writer-director Rob Zombie makes "Halloween" his own, favoring bludgeoning brutality and spirit-crushing ugliness over the supple camera work, beautifully framed compositions and clever editing that made John Carpenter's original a surprise slasher masterpiece. The second half of the film more or less replays the babysitter-stalking premise of the 1978 film, but the first half re-imagines the origins of silent killer Michael Myers: He's no longer an almost supernatural bogeyman but the depressing and all-too-familiar product of an ultra-dysfunctional white-trash home. Zombie's morally dubious earlier films treated their psycho protagonists as fun-loving albeit homicidal anti-heroes, but there's nothing jokey or campy about his approach to the hulking Myers (played by ex-pro wrestler Tyler Mane), whose long hair and fascination with masks suggest he may be a worst-case-scenario incarnation of Zombie himself. He's a scary, tragically irredeemable monster. The cast includes Malcolm McDowell in the old Donald Pleasence role, along with such cult movie favorites as Sid Haig, Sybil Danning and Clint Howard.

Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Halloween II (R, 101 min.) Brutal and redundant but not without a certain ugly integrity, this gruesome sequel allows director Rob Zombie to continue to explore his idea that murderous maniac Michael Myers is not the near-supernatural bogeyman of the original John Carpenter film but a pathetic and tragically irredeemable product of childhood abuse who suffers from multiple personality disorder: In the film's only interesting twist, Myers is accompanied on his rampages by his childhood self and his dead mother, an angel in white played by Sheri Moon Zombie.

Majestic, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

The Hangover (R, 100 min.) Or: Dude, Where's My Bachelor? Sometimes tasteless, frequently hilarious, this "Superbad" with grown-ups (the dentist played by Ed Helms even resembles an adult "McLovin") chronicles several hours of irresponsible, occasionally criminal male conduct, as three best buds (Helms, Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha) and a tagalong demented future brother-in-law (Zach Galifianakis) road-trip to Vegas for an overnight bachelor party; director Todd Phillips ("Old School") cuts from the pals' Jägermeister toast to the painful morning after in a destroyed hotel suite, where the evidence of debauchery includes a live chicken, a missing tooth, loss of memory, an Elvis jumpsuit, Mike Tyson's Bengal tiger, an unidentified baby and the absence of the bachelor himself. The talented cast and the mystery structure of the plot keep the film fresh and funny; but as the title suggests, you might regret your good time the next day, as you contemplate the at best ambivalent, at worst hostile relationship to women that motivates the narrative.

Bartlett 10.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (PG, 153 min.) As the apparently physically mature "boy wizard" (Daniel Radcliffe) begins his sixth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, there's not a house elf nor comical ghost in sight, and the most impressive magical creature onscreen, a giant spider, is dead. Voldemort's at the gates, so the palette is grim and the mood is somber; but Harry and his best friends, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), remain stalwart and true -- to each other, to the vision of author J.K. Rowling, and to fans' expectations for what has been a truly remarkable movie series. Director David Yates (returning from "The Order of the Phoenix") fumbles what should be the emotionally devastating death of a major character, but he does wonderful work with the cast, including the teenagers (now as interested in "snogging" as Quidditch); Jim Broadbent, as the new potions professor, Horace Slughorn; and the many other British character actors, who intone their lines with the sincere and intense glee of cats sucking a songbird's bones.

Hollywood 20 Cinema.

I Can Do Bad All By Myself (PG-13, 113 min. ) Taraji P. Henson ("Hustle & Flow") meets Madea.

Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Paradiso, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

The Invention of Lying (PG-13, 105 min.) Star Ricky Gervais co-wrote and co-directed this comedy about the only man who knows how to fib in a world of truth-tellers.

Stage Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Jennifer's Body (R, 102 min.) Oscar-winning "Juno" scribe Diablo Cody penned this smartypants chiller with Megan Fox as a high-school hottie possessed by a boy-slaying demon after an encounter with a satanic indie-rock band; Amanda Seyfried is the long-suffering and somewhat nerdy best friend who suspects the truth. Tonally inconsistent and perverse, with a forced glibness and a reliance on pop-culture references that often fall flat (Jennifer's assailants break into a chorus of Tommy Tutone's "Jenny" as they stab her), the movie -- unlike most of its horror peers -- at least errs on the side of ambition and cleverness; its box-office failure suggests that male genre fans don't want to be asked to identify with the victims instead of the menace. Directed by Karyn Kusama ("Girlfight").

Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Law Abiding Citizen (R, 122 min.) Its title heavy with irony if light one hyphen, director F. Gary Gray's implausible and morally confused revenge thriller casts Gerard Butler as a grieving yet bloodthirsty antihero who might have been produced by gene-splicing the Charles Bronson of "Death Wish" with Jigsaw, the mastermind of the "Saw" franchise: His first victim, the murderer of his wife and child, is injected with paralyzing serum "from the liver of a Caribbean puffer fish," then dissected with a scalpel (for the eyelids), a circular saw (for the extremities) and an X-Acto knife (for the -- well, never mind). "It's gonna be biblical," promises the self-righteous Clyde about his vengeance, although moviegoers familiar with the Good Book may wonder how they missed the chapter in which the Philistines were smote with a booby-trapped cell phone. Jamie Foxx co-stars as a career-first assistant district attorney who represents the flawed justice system that the film half-heartedly defends.

Forest Hill 8, DeSoto Cinema 16, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, Studio on the Square, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Studio on the Square.

Love Happens (PG-13, 109 min.) Can Seattle florist Jennifer Aniston and self-help guru Aaron Eckhart find love? Probably.

Cordova Cinema, Palace Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

The King of Pop's fans can view what might have been in ''Michael Jackson's This Is It.''

Kevin Mazur

The King of Pop's fans can view what might have been in ''Michael Jackson's This Is It.''

Michael Jackson's This Is It (PG, 112 min.) Contrary to a cynic's expectations, this hastily assembled documentary suggests the late superstar's "comeback" concerts in London would have been a triumph; even better (for MJ fans), the film -- culled by director Kenny Ortega from March and June tour rehearsals in Los Angeles -- reveals a "King of Pop" whose talent was undiminished by whatever private demons contributed to his shocking death on June 25 at the age of 50. Many of the numbers are knockouts, for all their Vegas/ Disneyland/Cirque du Soleil/Cecil B. DeMille Kong-sized kitsch (during "Thriller," Jackson emerges from a giant mechanical black widow spider), and Jackson -- running the show with an iron if glitter glove -- appears healthy, enthusiastic and even likable.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Studio on the Square, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

More Than a Game (PG, 102 min.) A documentary about LeBron James.

Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG, 105 min.) As Amelia Earhart, Amy Adams adds plenty of welcome "moxie" (and a tight pair of aviator's britches) to an extraordinarily busy but simple-minded scenario that finds security guard-turned- infomercial magnate Ben Stiller traveling to Washington when his New York living-exhibit pals (Owen Wilson as a cowboy, Steve Coogan as a centurion, etc.) are relocated to the Smithsonian, where an evil pharaoh (Hank Azaria) with a Karloffian lisp plans to take over the world .

Bartlett 10.

9 (PG-13, 79 min.) Yet another nightmare postapocalyptic world is imagined with a wealth of technical brilliance and a dearth of thematic originality in this dark, computer-animated man-vs.-machine fable, which will seem redundant to fans of "Matrix" and "Terminator" movies and uninspired to those familiar with director Shane Acker's chief influences, the surreal stop-motion shorts of the Czech Republic's Jan Svankmajer and England's the Quay Brothers. The story follows several "stitchpunks"-- weirdly stylized sentient rag dolls (voiced by Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly and others) -- as they struggle to preserve the last vestiges of humanity: pieces of their inventor's soul, preserved within their cloth-and-copper bodies.

Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Paranormal Activity (R, 86 min.) With the help of the marketing geniuses at Paramount, director Oren Peli's spooky, creepy, genuinely dread-inducing film -- shot in one location in a week for about $15,000 -- has become an Internet and box-office phenomenon, and the most fan-hyped horror hit since the similarly camcorded and micro-budgeted "The Blair Witch Project." As in "Blair Witch," the movie is presented as a "found" work of art: a documentary constructed from the artless videos recorded by a young couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) who believe that a ghost may be haunting their split-level San Diego starter home, an Everyplace of 21st-century generic drabness, with sectional sofa, black pleather couch, big-screen TV and -- maybe -- one demon. An exercise in anticipation and anxiety with few visual shocks (the scariest moments involve creaking doors and literal bumps in the night), the movie requires the collaboration of the viewer, and an investment of imagination; it's a campfire ghost story, with the light flickering from the screen instead of from a pile of burning kindling. "Maybe we shouldn't have the camera?" Katie asks, raising the interesting if undeveloped notion that the plugged-in generation's endless self-regard and intentional surrender of privacy invites discontent, disruption and even disaster.

Stage Cinema, , Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, CinePlanet 16.

The Proposal (PG-13, 108 min.) Tailored to fit Sandra Bullock more snugly than the antique wedding gown altered for the star during the final act, this romantic comedy begins to fall apart at the seams after director Anne Fletcher ("27 Dresses") stops concentrating on her promising screwball premise -- hated New York book editor Bullock forces subordinate Ryan Reynolds into marrying her so she won't be deported back to Canada -- and becomes distracted by forced comic interludes involving a male stripper, morning arousal and Bullock's ghastly interpretation of Lil' Jon's "Get Low." As Bullock's future in-laws, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson and Betty White do their best; the movie also is elevated by its beautiful seaside locations (Massachusetts, subbing for Alaska).

Bartlett 10.

Saw VI (R, 93 min.) The buzz is back.

Forest Hill 8, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Studio on the Square, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Summer Quartet Drive-In, CinePlanet 16.

Secrets of Jonathan Sperry (PG, 96 min.) A Christian-themed film with a TV Land cast: Would you believe Capt. Stubing (Gavin MacLeod) and Benson (Robert Guillaume) are on the big screen?

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Collierville Towne 16.

Sorority Row (R, 101 min.) Coed cutups get cut up in this bloody party-hearty slasher throwback (marred by pretentious faux artsy photography), in which a prank gone wrong summons a vengeful killer in a hooded graduation gown who dispatches the hot but insufferable "crazy bitches" of Theta Pi with a "pimped-out" tire iron. The cast list tells the story: It includes such characters as "Bra-Clad Sister," "Slutty Sister" "Stoned Dude," "Wasted Guy" and (for fans of "The Man Show"?) "Trampoline Sister."

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

The Stepfather (PG-13, 102 min.) Dylan Walsh does his best, but trying to top Terry O'Quinn's witty performance in the original 1987 cult-classic version of "The Stepfather" would be like trying to replace Anthony Perkins in a "Psycho" sequel. The premise -- a kid suspects mom's new boyfriend is a family-slaying serial killer -- is sure-fire, but director Nelson McCormick substitues an Oedipus complex for sexual menace by replacing the teenage daughter heroine of the earlier film with a hunky military school bad boy (Penn Badgley), then compounds the mistake with a bad pop/rock soundtrack, a silly action climax and the last resort of desperate horror filmmakers, a fake cat scare.

Forest Hill 8, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Surrogates (PG-13, 89 min.) Science-fiction chillers of the past that warned about dehumanization -- "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," for example, or "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" -- posited an outside threat; now, in a 21st-century world of plastic surgery and online avatars, the danger comes from within: The dehumanization is voluntary, as seen in "Gamers" and this graphic-novel adaptation from efficient director Jonathan Mostow ("Terminator 3"). Bruce Willis stars as a police detective in the near future, when most people "live" through attractive robotic "surrogates" that enable them to experience virtual sex and violence from the safety of their homes; the premise is utterly implausible, but the movie is surprisingly sober.

Stage Cinema, Majestic, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

The Time Traveler's Wife (PG-13, 108 min.) Rachel McAdams learns it's hard to be married to a guy (Eric Bana) who involuntarily hops around in time.

Bartlett 10.

Toy Story 1 & 2: 3-D (G, 183 min.) The Pixar classics are back in a special double feature, remastered in 3-D.

Stage Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Horns make handy handlebars for young Max Records in  ''Where the Wild Things Are.''

Matt Nettheim/Warner Bros. Pictures

Horns make handy handlebars for young Max Records in ''Where the Wild Things Are.''

Where the Wild Things Are (PG, 94 min.) Destined to be a favorite of artists, folkies, hipsters, cultists, therapists, film theorists and depressives, if not necessarily children, this distinctive, perhaps unprecedented project uses its 1963 picture-book inspiration like some sort of combination medical instrument and painter's brush, to probe and illuminate the themes of loneliness, insecurity and problematic love embedded within the crosshatch patterns of original author Maurice Sendak's drawings of furry monsters, magical trees and cozy bedrooms. Directed with an extreme indie/artsy sensibility by Spike Jonze, the movie is not so much an adaptation as an expansion of the book; the faithfully recreated monsters (played by actors in large suits) are given the mundane names (Alexander, Judith) and kvetching personalities of the adults in the "real" life of sensitive, emotional young Max (beautifully played by Max Records), the boy in the dirty terrycloth wolf suit who runs away from home to become the self-proclaimed king of the "wild things." Like its source, the movie -- which eschews digital effects for a handcrafted, woodsy look, as if it were manufactured from twigs and spit, like a bird's nest -- ends on a note of hope and comfort; even so, the scariness and despair are hard to shake off.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Studio on the Square, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Whip It (PG-13, 111 min.) A triumph on every level for debuting director Drew Barrymore, this whip-smart coming-of-age fable of female empowerment provides Ellen Page with a worthy post-"Juno" star vehicle and moviegoers with a funny and moving film that compares favorably to "Sixteen Candles," "Valley Girl" and other astute but unpretentious artifacts from the last great heyday of teen cinema, when Barrymore was a child. Hip but not smart-aleck, the film is not afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve as an invisible accessory to the pads, helmet and embarrassing Barbie skates that propel its underage smalltown heroine from the Texas beauty pageant circuit to a new identity as "Babe Ruthless" in the bruise-and-brews culture of women's roller derby. "Put some skates on and be your own hero," advises team leader "Maggie Mayhem" (Kristen Wiig), and it's a measure of Barrymore's tasteful handling of a fine script by Shauna Cross (working from her own Young Adult novel) that the line is thrilling instead of corny.

Stage Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Zombieland (R, 88 min.) According to movie tradition, a bullet to the brain can drop a zombie; the typically less-lethal presence of Bill Murray, however, is all that is needed to stop "Zombieland" dead in its tracks. Director Ruben Fleischer's slapstick splatterfest begins on an up if bloody note, as brainy virgin Jesse Eisenberg (basically repeating his role from "Adventureland"), gunslinger Woody Harrelson and sisters Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin unite to bust undead caps as they travel through a post-plague America overrun by the ravenous living dead. But when Murray shows up as himself halfway through the film, for an interlude that must have seemed like cheeky fun on the page but is smug and winky on the screen, consistency is tossed aside for the sake of an elaborate in-joke with a cruel punchline that exposes the film as a hollow exercise in cheap laughs and sensationalism.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

© 2009 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.