Movie Capsules: Now showing

Elle Fanning (left)  and Joel Courtney star in 'Super 8,' a Steven Spielberg-produced homage to the science fiction of the 'E.T.' era.

Paramount Pictures

Elle Fanning (left) and Joel Courtney star in "Super 8," a Steven Spielberg-produced homage to the science fiction of the 'E.T.' era.

Capsule descriptions by The Commercial Appeal movie writer John Beifuss.

OPENING TODAY

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (R, 89 min.) See review.

Ridgeway Four.

Cowboys & Aliens (PG-13, 118 min.) Can Daniel Craig's six guns and Harrison Ford's scowl stop invaders from outer space? See review.

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

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (PG-13, 118 min.) See review.

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

The Smurfs (PG, 103 min.) See review.

CinePlanet 16 (in 3-D), Collierville Towne 16 (in 3-D), Cordova Cinema (in 3-D), DeSoto Cinema 16 (in 3-D), Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema (in 3-D), Majestic, Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Paradiso (in 3-D), Raleigh Springs Cinema, Stage Cinema, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

SPECIAL MOVIES

Beauty Shop (R, 105 min.) After a "Memphis Film Fest" detour, the Orpheum returns to its regularly scheduled "Summer Classic Movie Series" lineup with this 2005 you-go-girl comedy of empowerment with Queen Latifah.

7:15 p.m. Thursday, the Orpheum, 203 S. Main. Admission: $7 per adult, $5 per senior or child (12 and under). Call 525-3000 or visit orpheum-memphis.com.

Belvedere (Not rated, 90 min.) The "Global Lens" series offers a 2010 comedy/tragedy from Bosnia and Herzegovina, set in a Muslim refugee camp populated by old men, widows and young people more interested in reality TV than in learning about the "ethnic cleansing" of the recent past.

2 p.m. Friday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Admission: $7 or $5 for museum members; free for Indie Memphis members. Visit brooksmuseum.org.

The Concert for Bangladesh (G, 103 min.) The 1972 benefit-concert documentary featuring George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell and others.

Dusk Friday (8:33 p.m.), the Levitt Shell, Overton Park. Admission: free. Visit indiememphis.com.

The Globe Theatre Presents... Henry IV, Part 1 (Not rated, 180 min.) A recent production of Shakespeare's famous historical play, filmed live onstage at London's Globe Theatre.

6:30 p.m. Monday, Paradiso. Tickets: $15. Visit malco.com.

Hubble: Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, this new IMAX film explores the legacy of the Hubble Space Telescope and its impact on our understanding of the universe. Runs through Nov. 11. Tickets $8.25, $7.50 senior citizens, $6.50 children ages 3-12; children under 3 free.

IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call (901) 320-6362 for show times, tickets and reservations.

Legends of Flight: Experience aerial innovation at the dawn of a new era in flight transportation; an insider's view of how a modern aircraft is built. Through Nov. 11. Tickets $8.25, $7.50 senior citizens, $6.50 children ages 3-12; children under 3 free.

IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call (901) 320-6362 for show times, tickets and reservations.

Shoot the Piano Player (Not rated, 80 min.) Inspired by a pulp crime novel by David Goodis, Francois Truffaut's 1960 film is a cunning and playful French New Wave homage to American gangster cinema, with Charles Aznavour as a dive-bar ivory-tickler caught in a noirish web of intrigue.

2 p.m. Sunday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Admission: $8, or $6 for museum and Indie Memphis members. Visit brooksmuseum.org.

The Ultimate Wave Tahiti: Viewers will learn how waves influence and shape our planet while they ride alongside champion surfer Kelly Slater as he challenges Tahiti's toughest wave. Runs through March 2, 2012. Tickets $8.25, $7.50 senior citizens, $6.50 children ages 3-12; children under 3 free.

IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call (901) 320-6362 for show times, tickets and reservations.

Walk the Line (PG-13, 136 min.) The 2005 mostly made-in-Memphis biopic, with Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon as June Carter.

7:15 p.m. Friday, the Orpheum, 203 S. Main. Admission: $7 per adult, $5 per senior or child (12 and under). Call 525-3000 or visit orpheum-memphis.com.

The White Meadows (Not rated, 93 min.) This may be the most fascinating entry in this year's "Global Lens" series: a beautifully shot 2009 fable from Iran, about a boatman who travels the brackish waters and rocky islands of a salt lake to collect the tears of the inhabitants; he encounters an artist buried up to his head on the beach, a beautiful virgin who is sacrificed to the sea, a stoning victim and other ill-fated figures.

2 p.m. Saturday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Admission: $7 or $5 for museum members; free for Indie Memphis members. Visit brooksmuseum.org.

NOW SHOWING

Bad Teacher (R, 89 min.) Would "Bridesmaids" have worked if audiences had been asked to sympathize with a meaner version of Rose Byrne and root against Kristen Wiig? In essence, that's the premise of this miscalculated, loosely plotted, needlessly crude and occasionally funny film, with Cameron Diaz perfectly cast as a sexy, pot-smoking, booze-swilling, gold-digging and disinterested-in-education seventh-grade teacher whose rival at her new school is the enthusiastically nerdy and dedicated Amy Squirrel, beautifully played by Lucy Punch (the cockney sexpot of Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"). Self-centered characters can be amusing, but Diaz's teacher is so shallow (she's saving money for breast implants) she's just not likable, unlike her gym-teacher suitor (Jason Segel) and dolphin-obsessed principal (John Michael Higgins). Playing against his pop-idol image in glasses and a bowtie, Justin Timberlake adds little to the film. Directed by Jake Kasdan, who's done much better ("Dewey Cox," "The Zero Effect"), as have scripters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg ("The Office," "Year One").

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

Bridesmaids (R, 125 min.) Advertised as a sort of female response to "The Hangover," this frequently hilarious film is as much a coronation as a wedding celebration, with current "Saturday Night Live" MVP Kristen Wiig emerging as a successor to Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett as the new queen of knockabout comedy. Directed by Paul Feig ("Freaks and Geeks") and produced by Judd Apatow (who apparently is responsible for a soon-to-be-infamous food-poisoning sequence and other male-friendly gross-out moments), the movie -- despite its wonderful ensemble cast and generous plural title -- is Wiig's show all the way, with the actress cast as an unlucky-in-love Milwaukee failure facing her role as maid of honor in the marriage of her lifelong best friend (Maya Rudolph) with a mix of pride, dread and jealousy; the latter emotion is compounded when she meets a bridesmaid (Rose Byrne) who seems to be using her beauty, poise and prestige Chicago address to insinuate herself into the bride's life as a new best friend. This rivalry is wonderfully played and convincingly written by Wiig and her longtime comedy collaborator, Annie Mumolo.

Bartlett 10, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Buck (PG, 88 min.) Directed with fannish appreciation by first-time filmmaker Cindy Meehla, this documentary examines the uncanny talent and remarkable career of Dan Brannaman, a horse trainer whose sensitivity and apparent empathy with animals made him one of the primary inspirations of "The Horse Whisperer" (both the best-selling novel and the Robert Redford film). "Rather than helping people with horse problems, I'm helping horses with people problems," says Brannaman, nicknamed "Buck," who sounds rather sheepish when he admits to sometimes watching "The Oprah Winfrey Show." In fact, Brannaman's affection for the Queen of Daytime isn't surprising: With its fringe show-business context, celebrity connections and therapeutic usefulness, the cowboy's inspirational journey from abused child "professional trick roper" to liberated animal-loving adult seems made to order for Winfrey's television couch.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Captain America: The First Avenger (PG-13, 124 min.) Journeyman director Joe Johnston (whose "The Rocketeer" was a similar exercise in World War II-era superhero nostalgia) delivers the squarest Marvel Comics adaptation of the current cycle, and its the film's pulp sense of adventure and the characters' old-fashioned decorum (even brawling commando "Dum Dum" Dugan doesn't curse) that makes it so satisfying. Chris Evans stars as 4F weakling Steve Rogers, who is transformed into a star-spangled "super soldier" by the U.S. government; he soon finds himself battling a nefarious would-be world-conqueror, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), leader of a rogue Nazi terrorist unit, HYDRA. As its subtitle indicates, the movie to some extent is a feature-length promotion for the upcoming superhero all-star epic, "The Avengers"; nevertheless, it's a more appealing stand-alone comic-book adaptation than most. With Tommy Lee Jones, who adds needed grit as a tough Army colonel, and Hayley Atwell, who provides 1940s-style WAC glamor (and romantic possibilities) as a science officer.

CinePlanet 16 (in 3-D), Collierville Towne 16 (in 3-D), Cordova Cinema (in 3-D), DeSoto Cinema 16 (in 3-D), Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema (in 3-D), Majestic, Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Paradiso (in 3-D), Raleigh Springs Cinema, Stage Cinema (in 3-D), Studio on the Square.

Cars 2 (G, 112 min.) Directed by Pixar/Disney Animation head John Lasseter, this inevitable sequel to 2006's "Cars" is the first Pixar film that seems unnecessary -- more marketplace contrivance than passion project. It's enjoyable on its own meager terms, but it puts the brakes on Pixar's 15-year record of innovation and excellence. Set once again in a weird world that suggests (to me, at least) that all flesh-and-blood life was extinguished in some sort of rise-of-the-machines apocalypse ("Cars" is like the "Planet of the Apes" of cartoon car movies), this globetrotting James Bond spoof demotes race star Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) to supporting-player status to showcase the snaggle-toothed hayseed humor of the rusty but lovable tow truck, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), who is mistaken for a genius spy by secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his data analyst, Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), whose vaguely risqué name is a funny car-centric variant on such famous Bond girl monikers as Holly Goodhead. The digital animation is as brilliant as expected, but the film fumbles its "green" alternative-fuel message, and it's surprisingly violent: Villains command "Kill him!" -- twice. Is this a phrase parents want their children repeating?

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

Friends with Benefits (R, 110 min.) Justin Timberlake (as a Los Angeles Web designer) and Mila Kunis (a New York "headhunter") are an appealing couple, but director Will Gluck's romantic comedy about a pair of supposed pals who inevitably fall in love while trying to maintain an emotion-free sexual relationship is as bipolar as most romcoms of the post-Apatow era, alternating moments of sweetness and poignancy (Richard Jenkins is Timberlake's Alzheimer's-afflicted dad) with queasy and protracted sex comedy, "frank" talk and endless references seemingly inspired by Timberlake's breakout "Saturday Night Live" hit, "D--- in a Box." (Woody Harrelson is unbearable as a gay sports editor who describes his tastes as "strickly dickly.") When Kunis tries to convince Timberlake to move to Manhattan by plopping him in the middle of a Times Square "flash mob" that is dancing to a hip-hop remix of "New York, New York," you're surprised he doesn't run back to California on foot, screaming. Worse, the movie repeatedly renders bogus pop-culture judgments, as if its derision of John Mayer and endorsement of Death Cab for Cutie somehow make it "hip."

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

Green Lantern (PG-13, 114 min.) Director Martin Campbell ("The Mask of Zorro") delivers one of the goofier, less pretentious and more agreeably kid-friendly superhero action movies of the current cycle -- a film that seems charged not by the title hero's "power ring" but by the smiley hunkiness of star Ryan Reynolds, who is better known for his washboard abs and romantic resumé than his acting credits. Reynolds is cocky, courageous test pilot Hal Jordan, chosen -- as first revealed in the DC Comics series that began in 1959 -- to be a member of an intergalactic police force known as the "Green Lantern Corps," organized by the all-wise and all-wizened "Guardians of the Universe," a blue-faced race that inhabits the planet Yoda, er, Oa. The film squanders its rich source material; its digital effects, landscapes and supporting aliens are unconvincing and cartoonish; and it ruins one of the coolest costume designs in comic-book history by "enhancing" it with green-glowing highlights and musculature-like striations. Still, the movie's fun to watch, as Green Lantern battles both an evil-infected xenobiologist (a very amusing Peter Sarsgaard), who mutates into a sort of nerd Elephant Man, and a huge, amorphous, smoke-tendriled outer-space entity known as the Parallax, which feeds off "the yellow power of fear" and resembles the type of Rasta party wig a frat boy might wear to a Muck Sticky concert.

Palace Cinema, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

The Hangover Part II (R, 102 min.) Mistaking meanness for edge, borderline racism for irreverence and disregard for women as "boys will be boys" solidarity, this "Part II" is as horrifying as a "Saw" sequel, but with fewer laughs -- it may represent the ugliest portrait of a foreign land and culture since jailed American student Brad Davis was driven to bite off a stoolie's tongue in a hellhole Turkish prison in "Midnight Express." Director Tod Phillips basically repeats the ingenious formula of the first film, but ups the obnoxiousness: This time, the so-called "Wolfpack" (groom-to-be Ed Helms, smooth Bradley Cooper and weirdo man-child Zach Galifianakis) wakes up in Bangkok, again with no memory of the bachelor party-gone-bad the night before. Retracing their steps through a torture-porn slapstick Thailand that is so dirty, dangerous and disgusting that even its prostitutes are, in the film's view, monsters, the characters seem more like bullies than heroes, especially when they treat an ancient Buddhist monk like a comedy prop. Check it out, world: Americans overseas, running roughshod over the locals, wrecking the place, and returning home to laugh about it.

Bartlett 10.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (PG-13, 130 min.) Postpartum depression is a recognized disorder, but what about post-Potter depression? Could that be a legitimate threat to a generation of young people? We'll soon find out, as this eighth and final "Harry Potter" film marks the end of a remarkable saga that began in 1997 with the publication of J.K. Rowling's first novel; the faithful screen versions started four years later, to complement the books with an integrity of purpose, a respect for the rich source material and a level of quality that is unprecedented in the history of book-to-movie series adaptations. For all its fire-breathing dragons and cudgel-swinging giants, "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is more elegiac than rousing, as the messianic aspect of Harry's purpose-driven life comes to the fore, and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) -- "The Chosen One" -- learns that his death, his self-sacrifice, may be necessary to defeat evil/the devil/Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). It's not insignificant that the Dark Lord's familiar, Nagini, is a snake, or that a prop here is a "resurrection stone," or that the "horcruxes" literally contain pieces of a corrupted soul: This is very much an action-packed, adventure-laden rewrite of the Easter story, even if Rowling -- unlike C.S. Lewis -- is an entertainer first and a philosopher second. Unfortunately, in its rush to finish the story, this shortest of the "Potter" films -- which likely will be incomprehensible to the uninitiated -- is something of an anticlimax; it just doesn't have time to really showcase many of the series' now famous characters. This is one instance when cinematic self-indulgence and lollygagging would have been justified.

CinePlanet 16 (in 3-D), Collierville Towne 16 (in 3-D), Cordova Cinema (in 3-D), DeSoto Cinema 16 (in 3-D), Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema (in 3-D), Majestic, Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Paradiso (in 3-D), Stage Cinema (in 3-D), Studio on the Square, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Hop (PG, 95 min.) A young computer-animated rabbit (voiced by Russell Brand) who is destined to be the next Easter Bunny hops away from home to seek fame as a rock drummer in live-action Hollywood in this tiresome holiday-themed (but utterly secularized) "Alvin and the Chipmunks" retread from "Alvin" director Tim Hill. The bunny wears a Stax T-shirt and jams with the Blind Boys of Alabama, but he's a poseur: On his own, he drums along to soulless auto-tuned corporate pop-rock. He also poops jelly beans, which provides a nice metaphor: The film is slick and colorful, but it's formulaic crap.

Bartlett 10.

Horrible Bosses (R, 98 min.) Friends conspire to murder their awful bosses in this all-star black comedy with Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey.

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

Insidious (PG-13, 103 min.) For one loopy moment in this unpretentious we-just-want-to-scare-you horror movie, the trilly sound of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" wafts through a spook-plagued California home, and it seems as if the story's unfortunate family is being haunted by the ghosts of Tiny Tim and his ukulele. No such luck: In an inevitable letdown, the chief demon/poltergeist isn't a pasty-faced vibrato song stylist but what appears to be a cloven-hoofed Darth Maul. Even so, producer Oren Peli ("Paranormal Activity") and the "Saw" team of writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan have delivered an efficient chiller, which favors loud BUMPS in the night and other gore-free frights over explicit gross-outs. The story is pure "Poltergeist," as suburban couple Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne hire spiritualist Lin Shaye and her team of ghost-hunting techno-nerds to rescue their comatose young son from the threat of supernatural possession.

Bartlett 10, Majestic.

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (PG, 91 min.) Megan McDonald's popular book series for young readers comes to the screen.

Bartlett 10.

Jumping the Broom (PG-13, 113 min.) A "ghetto" Brooklyn family led by angry "Ebonics" mom Loretta Devine and a wealthy "bourgie" clan headed by French-proficient Angela Bassett clash on the latter's lush Martha Vineyard's estate when they meet for the first time for the weekend wedding of their beautiful offspring, Laz Alonso and Paula Patton. Directed by Salim Akil, the movie offers a pleasant sitcom-level mix of comedy, romance and soapy melodrama, plus low-key Bible-thumping (celebrity evangelist T.D. Jakes is a producer); it's buoyed by its pretty locations (Nova Scotia, not New England), the novelty of the African-American themes (missing, of course, from most romcoms) and a likable cast that includes Tasha Smith, ultra-hottie Meagan Good and the mandatory Mike Epps.

Bartlett 10, Majestic.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (PG, 90 min.) The dark storyline -- parents, are you ready to explain panda genocide? -- seems more appropriate for a classic Shaw Brothers martial-arts film than for a spoofy pastiche, but the stunning production design and superb digital animation make this action-comedy (with a surprising emphasis on action) worth seeing. The voice actors return, including Jack Black as the roly-poly panda "dragon warrior," Po, and Dustin Hoffman as his Yoda-esque red panda mentor; the newcomer is Gary Oldman as a villainous peacock whose unfurled fanlike tail is one of the film's most striking visual elements. Directed by longtime animator Jennifer Yuh Nelson.

Bartlett 10.

Larry Crowne (PG-13, 99 min.) Easy to watch if not always easy to swallow, this is the feel-good movie of the era of 9 percent unemployment, a modest fable of reassurance about an affable Southern California man (Tom Hanks) whose divorce and firing provide a springboard for personal liberation, physical makeover and, eventually, make-out sessions with Julia Roberts, who plays one of Larry's community college teachers. (His economics professor is a very welcome George Takei, of "Star Trek" fame.) A mysterious passion project for Hanks, who also directed and co-scripted (with Nia Vardalos, of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"), the film is hamstrung by Larry's genial passiveness: His self-improvement is almost entirely directed by a beautiful classmate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a free spirit on a motor scooter who essentially adopts Larry as if he were a puppy, inexplicably assuring him that "you are way cooler than you appear."

Collierville Towne 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Madea's Big Happy Family (PG-13, 105 min.) Tyler Perry doubles down on the comedy when his drag alter ego is joined by the rambunctious Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis).

Bartlett 10.

Midnight in Paris (PG-13, 100 min.) A chewy bonbon with a tasty time-travel center, the latest wistful dispatch from writer-director Woody Allen stars Owen Wilson as a Paris-besotted "Hollywood hack" screenwriter with great-novelist aspirations who is transported, as if by magic, to the "Jazz Age" of 1920s Paris, where he meets and befriends his idols (depicted as amusing caricatures), including Picasso, Hemingway and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), who tells him the purpose of making art is "to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence." Directed with the wan functionality that has become Allen's trademark, the movie operates to some extent as a self-critique of the filmmaker's obsessive love of the past ("Nostalgia is denial," one character says) and his fantasy romanticism ("There is nothing beautiful about walking in the rain," asserts the writer's humorless fiancée, played by Rachel McAdams); a late twist invests this notion with surprising power, which is somewhat dissipated by the soothing storybook ending.

Ridgeway Four, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Mr. Popper's Penguins (PG, 95 min.) Big-city businessman Jim Carrey inherits a gaggle of arctic waterfowl in this adaptation of a 1938 children's book.

CinePlanet 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic.

Monte Carlo (PG, 109 min.) Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy have a dream vacation.

Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Rio (G, 99 min.) Voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway.

Bartlett 10.

Soul Surfer (PG, 106 min.) AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid.

Bartlett 10.

Super 8 (PG-13, 112 min.) Producer Steven Spielberg and geek-beloved writer-director J.J. Abrams have delivered the season's best "summer movie" -- a popcorn blockbuster made with craft, care, enthusiasm, genuine affection for its characters and respect for its audience. It's entirely derivative, yet in this season of sequels and remakes and snark, it feels not just fresh but refreshing -- a tonic that restores one's appreciation for the commercial moviegoing experience. A science-fiction throwback times two set in 1979, the movie is an extended homage to the boys'-own-adventure "classic Spielberg" era of "E.T." and "The Goonies," but it also harks back to the monster movies of the 1950s, as a government train wreck loses something large and dangerous and (for most of the movie) unseen onto a small Ohio town, where a grieving middle-school kid (impressive newcomer Joel Courtney), his crush-worthy classmate (Elle Fanning) and their pals are making Super-8 monster home movies, just like the young Spielberg and Abrams did. Ultimately, the film is hurt by its lack of originality; the problematic characterization and muddled metaphoric significance of the alternately murderous and sympathetic/therapeutic monster; and the characteristically Spielbergian situational science of its science fiction: The powers and actions of the creature seem arbitrary, motivated more by the desire to generate a spectacular effect for a specific scene than by any sort of consistent internal logic.

Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Majestic, Stage Cinema.

Thor (PG-13, 114 min.) Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman.

Bartlett 10.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (PG-13, 157 min.) Out of context, the special effects sequences here -- the morphing metal, the robot carnage, the wanton urban destruction -- are scary, eyeball-stinging masterpieces: Dangerous visions of some sort of almost abstract machine-age Hal Needham-on-acid apocalypse, with talking Tonka trucks strewn across a Pop Art landscape, and J.G. Ballard calling for the Jaws of Life. Unfortunately, the rampaging Autobots and Decepticons of this third "Transformers" adventure reside within the nonsense structure of a film by Michael Bay, the master of fascist kitsch, who here -- to the movie's benefit -- discards his signature incoherent editing and shaky-camera close-ups to meet the technical and esthetic demands of the 3D format. Like its predecessors, this sequel embraces the militarization and mechanization of civilization even as it pays lip service to American notions of liberty and justice, as expressed not by a human character but by the towering Autobot, Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), who promises to defeat all challengers "in the name of freedom," with the help of returning young hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his new arm candy (stilted British supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who actually makes the viewer miss Megan Fox). With a cast that includes such hyena-jawed scenery-chewers as John Turturro, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand, much of the human "drama" is played for comedy, which kills time until the fairly amazing and lengthy siege of Chicago that occupies the final third of the film: Humans are vaporized, robots are decapitated, and the youngsters who are the series' biggest fans are encouraged to celebrate mayhem and brutality. For kids, this is like a PG-13 gateway drug to R-rated movie violence.

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

The Tree of Life (PG-13, 138 min.) Many moviegoers will reject this film's glacial pacing, its whispery voiceovers, its lengthy cosmic detour to the birth of the universe (the ultimate flashback!), its religious -- even Christian -- implications. But sympathetic viewers will find themselves stirred, moved and spellbound by a frequently confounding, arguably overreaching project that just might be a great work of art: a film that aspires to be as mysterious and powerful -- and as attuned to the miraculous -- as the Episcopal service attended by its central family, or the baby's birth that functions as its core event. The bulk of this fifth feature film in almost 40 years from writer-director Terrence Malick consists of an extraordinarily convincing and intimate if dreamlike portrait of a family in a leafy postwar Waco, Texas. The stern father (Brad Pitt) seems to represent "the way of nature"; the forgiving mother (Jessica Chastain) offers "the way of grace"; while the often angry pre-adolescent son (Hunter McCracken, a remarkable newcomer -- represented as an adult by Sean Penn) is torn between violence and empathy. From its backyard realism to its lengthy detours deep into both outer space (the "astrophysical realm," according to the end credits) and the primordial stew (the "microbial realm"), this is the rare film that asks the moviegoer to be a participant -- a collaborator -- in its meaning, rather than merely a spectator. The camera frequently follows the characters so closely that it becomes a ghostly companion; in essence, our point of view becomes that of an attendant spirit, eavesdropping as the characters ask such terrifying questions as, "Lord, why -- where are you?" and: "Who are we to you?"

Ridgeway Four.

Winnie the Pooh (G, 70 min.) Lovingly crafted to re-create the look of the Pooh cartoon shorts of the 1960s, this reboot (re-Poot?) represents Disney's latest attempt to introduce very young moviegoers to A.A. Milne's beloved "bear of little brains." The hyphens the author included in the character's name are inexplicably missing, but Pooh bear's rumbly tummy, honey addiction and all-around cuddliness are intact. To add a dollop of hipness to the whimsy, the familiar theme song is performed by actress/chanteuse Zooey Deschanel, an appropriately precious choice. Directed by Stephen Anderson and Don Hall, with episodes derived from the original Pooh books, the film is harmless, but unnecessary; it doesn't improve upon the early shorts, and it's certainly no substitute for reading Milne aloud with children. The prolonged end credits, which stretch the feature to just over an hour in length, include a revealing "Stuffed Animals by Disney Store" shout-out; it takes nothing away from the talent or sincerity of the animators to suggest the primary reason this movie was bankrolled was to keep the Pooh product line humming.

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

X-Men: First Class (PG-13, 132 min.) Say it loud, I'm mutant and I'm proud: As perhaps befits the early 1960s setting, this origin story from director Matthew Vaughn ("Kick-Ass") de-emphasizes the coming-out motif of the previous X-Men films to embed a racial metaphor (blue-skinned Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence, learns to accept her dark complexion and un-straight hair) within its Marvel Comics superheroics, "alternate history" science-fiction (the X-Men are part of the Cuban Missile Crisis) and James Bond-esque Cold War international intrigue (Kevin Bacon is Sebastian Shaw, a sort of mutant Blofeld; his companion is January Jones, whose signature hardness and coldness are put to good use -- she's Emma Frost, who can transform herself into living diamond). James McAvoy is the young Charles Xavier (not yet paralyzed or bald); cool Michael Fassbender is the Holocaust survivor who will become the antagonistic master of metal, Magneto. The supporting mutants -- the blue-furred Beast, the winged Angel Salvadore, the chest-beam-blasting Havok -- are goofy enough that their battles suggest Toho monster rallies, especially when Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) blows sonic energy rings, like the baby dinosaur in "Son of Godzilla."

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Zookeeper (PG, 101 min.) Rotund comic actor Kevin James moves on from "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" to become Griffin Keyes, "hippo whisperer" and creature caretaker at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo, where the animals reveal they can speak English, and with celebrity voices, at that. (Sylvester Stallone provides the lion's baritone; Cher is the lioness; producer Adam Sandler is the monkey, and so on). A zoo is a made-to-order location for family-friendly slapstick and outrageous situations (the best scenes involve a Nick Nolte-voiced gorilla, played by an actor in an impressive costume), but this typically dire Happy Madison Production (directed by longtime Sandler crony Frank Coraci) is so misconceived it spends more time on Griffin's love life than on his love of animals. The product placement is so egregious that an early scene finds the heroic Griffin pulling an empty, slime-covered drink can from the maw of a choking lioness; apparently, the promotion of brand identity has become so important that context is irrelevant, because the message conveyed by this scene states: "After its contents are consumed, what remains of our popular energy drink product is an ugly metal piece of litter that is potentially lethal to wildlife. Enjoy!"

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

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