Capsule descriptions and starred mini-reviews by The Commercial Appeal movie writer John Beifuss.
My Week with Marilyn (R, 101 min.) Michelle Williams portrays Hollywood's tragic blond bombshell.
Sneak Preview Saturday
We Bought a Zoo (PG, 124 min.) Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson take over a failing California menagerie.
CinePlanet 16, Cordova Cinema.
Ballet in Cinema: The Sleeping Beauty (Not rated, 185 min.) Filmed in Moscow, Tchaikovsky's masterpiece is performed by the Bolshoi Ballet.
2 p.m. Sunday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Tickets: $15, or $12 for museum members. Visit brooksmuseum.org.
The Bolshoi Ballet Presents: Esmeralda (Not rated, 205 min.) A filmed stage performance of Pugni's famous ballet, inspired by Victor Hugo's tale of Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the gypsy dancer, Esmeralda.
6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Paradiso. Tickets: $15 adults, $10 children. Visit malco.com.
The Light Thief (Not rated, 80 min.) The "Global Lens" international film series continues with a 2010 film from Kyrgyzstan about a village electrician ironically caught in a corrupt web of darkness.
6 p.m. Wednesday, Meeting Room C, Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar. Admission is free; children under 17 admitted with parent or guardian. Call 415-2726.
Miracle on 34th Street (Not rated, 96 min.) The 1947 Christmas classic inaugurates a series of dinner-and-a-movie holiday events at the restaurant.
7:30 p.m. Sunday, Majestic Grille, 145 S. Main. Special "Christmas dishes" available along with regular menu. Call 522-8555.
Soul of Sand (Not rated, 80 min.) A tyrannical landlord, a pair of lovers from different castes and a masked killer are among the elements of this intriguing arthouse-meets- grindhouse 2010 film from India, part of the "Global Lens" series.
6 p.m. Thursday, Meeting Room C, Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar. Admission is free; children under 17 admitted with parent or guardian. Call 415-2726.
Tav Falco Films: The avant-garde musician/artist and former Memphian hosts a screening of six of his short films, produced from 1971 to 1996.
7 p.m. Thursday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Tickets: $8, or $6 for museum 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.
Abduction (PG-13, 106 min.) Taylor Lautner's on the run, and John Singleton's directing.
Anonymous (PG-13, 130 min.) With this indigestible pottage of royal conspiracy, backstage intrigue and computer-generated 16th-century cityscapes, director Roland Emmerich does to Elizabethan history and Shakespearean scholarship what his previous movies, "The Day After Tomorrow" and the "Godzilla" remake, did to the sciences of climate change and herpetology. Inspired by the classist theory that Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (nicely played by Rhys Ifans), actually penned the plays attributed to Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), the film not only depicts the Bard as a drunken oaf but Queen Elizabeth (Joely Richardson in flashback, Vanessa Redgrave in the "present") as a love-addled ditherer. What's most distressing about the movie, however, isn't its plodding incoherence or wild-eyed credulousness but its misplaced priority: It suggests that what's most interesting about this writer we call Shakespeare is not the genius of his words but the puzzle of his identity. That's not just a bad judgment call but an indictment of a culture that often seems more devoted to scandal than to art. Yes, the play's the thing, and this one's a crock.
Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.
Arthur Christmas (PG, 100 min.) Opened Wednesday. 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), Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Paradiso (in 3-D), Stage Cinema (in 3-D), Summer Quartet Drive-In.
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 it's this old-school pulp sense of adventure and the characters' old-fashioned decorum (even brawling commando "Dum Dum" Dugan doesn't curse) that makes the film so satisfying.
Colombiana (PG-13, 108 min.) Catlike Zoe Saldana is Cataleya (named for an orchid), a vengeful Bogota orphan turned cold-blooded unstoppable killer in the latest saga of female kick-assery from the action-movie assembly line of producer/co-writer Luc Besson ("The Professional," "Nikita").
Bartlett 10, Majestic.
Contagion (PG-13, 106 min.) A plague threatens the Earth and an all-star cast -- Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and many more -- in director Steven Soderbergh's creepy cautionary tale about a modern world in which the "viral" menaces include Internet rumors as well as deadly diseases.
Courageous (PG-13, 130 min.) The faith values of four police officers are challenged in the latest Christian-themed film from Sherwood Pictures ("Fireproof") and distributor Affirm Films (the Memphis-made "The Grace Card").
CinePlanet 16, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.
The Descendants (R, 115 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review on Page 15.
Dream House (PG-13, 110 min.) New homeowners Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz learn they need to replace the word "dream" with "haunted."
Footloose (PG-13, 113 min.) Although this music-filled remake of the 1984 hit about a small town that has outlawed public dancing in the wake of a fatal teen car crash is extraordinarily faithful to its somewhat cornball source, writer-director Craig Brewer has made the "Don't Knock the Rock" premise relevant for a post-9/11 generation still struggling with its response to shocking trauma and injury: This time, the adults are not motivated so much by priggishness as by their genuine concern for their children, and the film becomes an examination of the dilemma faced by those in authority when they attempt to honor the dead and protect the living by inhibiting the rights and freedoms of those in their care.
CinePlanet 16, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.
Happy Feet Two (PG, 103 min.) More flightless fun from the adorable penguin stars of 2005's Oscar-winning Best Animated Feature. With Memphis kid rapper Lil P-Nut supplying the voice of a cute half-pint penguin.
CinePlanet 16 (in 3-D), Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema (in 3-D), DeSoto Cinema 16 (in 3-D), Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic, Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Paradiso (in 3-D), Raleigh Springs Cinema, Stage Cinema, Summer Quartet Drive-In.
The Help (PG-13, 137 min.) This adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's phenomenally successful best-seller about "colored" maids and their white employers in early 1960s Jackson, Miss., is not only superior to the novel but it may be the most surprising movie of the year: a wide-release studio film about race relations that adopts a liberation rather than plantation mentality by suggesting that nothing good can come of a system in which one race controls the destiny of another. It's also one of the funnier movies of the year, with more than a dozen indelible, distinctive characters, played by relative newcomers (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain) and Oscar-validated veterans (Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson). The ensemble is so delightful, it recalls the 1930s heyday of Hollywood women's pictures, such as "Stage Door"; the comedy is the movie's saving grace, and it prevents "The Help" from becoming pretentious or sanctimonious.
Bartlett 10, Palace Cinema.
Hugo (PG, 127 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review.
Collierville Towne 16 (in 3-D), Cordova Cinema (in 3-D), DeSoto Cinema 16 (in 3-D), Cordova Cinema (in 3-D), DeSoto Cinema 16 (in 3-D), Paradiso (in 3-D).
Immortals (R, 110 min.) The most unpretentious -- or should that be ridiculous? -- film yet from style-drunk director Tarsem Singh ("The Cell," "The Fall") is also his most enjoyable, a Cuisinart-blended shot of Greek mythology and ultraviolent 3D digital effects that chokes the viewer with unrelenting and impractical decor and design. (The gods of Olympus dress like extras from a silent Soviet science-fiction movie.) Mickey Rourke is evil King Hyperion; the next screen Superman, Henry Cavill, is heroic Theseus; Freida Pinto is a virgin oracle; and old-timer John Hurt and hunky Luke Evans are different aspects of Zeus.
CinePlanet 16 (in 3-D), Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema (in 3-D), DeSoto Cinema 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema (in 3-D), Majestic, Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Paradiso (in 3-D), Stage Cinema, Studio on the Square.
In Time (PG-13, 110 min.) Justin Timberlake is on the run in a future society where the wealthy can become immortal.
Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic, Paradiso.
Jack and Jill (PG, 91 min.) Not since Max Baer donned ringlets and petticoats to portray Jethrine Bodine on "The Beverly Hillbillies" has a drag act been as ghastly as the one perpetrated by Adam Sandler in this alternately tasteless and schmaltzy comedy about a privileged Hollywood adman (Sandler) who ultimately learns to love his obnoxious, awkward sister (also Sandler, wearing a long black wig, so he resembles a Bronx Cher worthy of a Bronx cheer). Chewing the scenery the way an escaped pit bull chews the mailman's carotid, Al Pacino adds life to the project by playing himself; he becomes not just smitten with the female Sandler but -- even more distressingly -- ensnared by the movie's shameless hucksterism, dancing and rapping in a faux commercial for an actual fast-food franchise. The biggest surprise is the cameo by Johnny Depp, who attends a Lakers game with Pacino; in other words, the news just got worse for NBA fans: If you want to see some pro ball this season, you might have to go see "Jack and Jill." Directed by longtime Sandler crony Dennis Dugan.
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, Summer Quartet Drive-In.
J. Edgar (R, 137 min.) Like the ultimately unknowable subject of this ambitious biopic, director Clint Eastwood has spent almost his entire adult being regarded as an icon of law enforcement and often violent justice, and he understands the tension between private life and public image. Convincingly potraying a paranoid septuagenarian as well as an enthusiastic young champion of scientific crime investigation, Leonardo DiCaprio is impressive as longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover; Naomi Watts is his loyal secretary, Helen Gandy, while Armie Hammer is FBI associate director Clyde Tolson, who may have been Hoover's lover. (Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, an Oscar-winner for "Milk," confront this issue without obsessing over it; even so, "Hoover" is, in part, an unusual love story.) Presented as Hoover's recollections of his career, the movie touches on such milestones as the Lindbergh kidnapping and the Kennedy assassination; the bleached, high-contrast cinematography by Tom Stern suggests the impenetrability of Hoover's shadow world, while the unreliability of Hoover's credibility as the narrator of his own story makes this yet another of Eastwood's confrontations with America's proud yet contradictory national history, as previously examined in such films as "Unforgiven" and "Flags of Our Fathers."
Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Paradiso, Studio on the Square, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.
Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain (R, 89 min.) A comedy concert and documentary.
Killer Elite (R, 116 min.) Veteran hitman Jason Statham's retirement is postponed when he's forced to carry out a series of assassinations for the evil sheik who kidnapped his professional mentor (Robert DeNiro); Clive Owen is the British military agent who tries to stop Statham with murders of his own.
Like Crazy (PG-13, 90 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review on Page 17.
Studio on the Square.
Margin Call (R, 107 min.) An impressive debut for writer-director J.C. Chandor, this modestly budgeted drama transforms a Manhattan investment bank tower into ground zero for the slow-motion big bang of the 2008 financial crisis, which moviegoers view through the calculating eyes of an inner circle of invested executives and analysts, played by such worthy Oscar-contenders as Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci and Zachary Quinto. As sleek and attractive as an obsidian serpent, the film has an insinuating, seductive style that ultimately romanticizes the traders it pretends only to humanize and critique. Chandor repeatedly shoots the characters against large windows that reveal the city skyline below, to make an ironic comment on their God-like perspective and inaccessibility, but the irony gives way to affirmation, and the consequences of the decisions made by these masterminds on the unseen groundlings below remain abstract.
Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.
Midnight in Paris (PG-13, 100 min.) Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard. 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.".
Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.
The Muppets (PG, 109 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review at GoMemphis.com.
CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Ciname 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic, Palace Cinema, Paradiso, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Stage Cinema, Summer Quartet Drive-In.
Paranormal Activity 3 (R, 84 min.) A prequel to a prequel, this third and least persuasive film in the low-budget faux found-footage fright franchise confounds the continuity of previous entries (according to the series' Internet fan base) and adds few new scares, although the 1988 setting means the supernatural antics supposedly are captured on VHS rather than digital video. Once again, a mundane California suburban home of carpeted staircases and showroom furniture is inhabited by some sort of invisible ghost or demon immune to bad interior design; this time, the vector for the haunting is a little girl (beautifully played by Jessica Tyler Brown), who identifies the poltergeist as "Toby." The very spooky scene in the trailer in which the two sisters play "Bloody Mary" in the bathroom is absent, even though it's scarier than anything that actually occurs in the film. Even so, this threepeat earned $53 million on its opening weekend -- a horror-movie record. Directed by "Catfish" collaborators Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost.
CinePlanet 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic, Palace Cinema, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.
Puss in Boots (PG, 90 min.) The scene-stealing swashbuckling "Shrek" feline (voiced by Antonio Banderas) gets his own movie.
Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema (in 3-D), Majestic, Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Paradiso, Stage Cinema, Summer Quartet Drive-In.
Real Steel (PG-13, 127 min.) Inspired as much by "Rocky" as by Rock'em Sock'em Robots, this canny crowd-pleaser is set in the year 2020, but it scavenges its buffed and retooled spare parts not just from the Mattel aisle at Toys "R" Us but from a vast and ancient junkyard, overflowing with all the shamelessly manipulative hokum and staged public violence of eras past.
Majestic, Summer Quartet Drive-In, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13, 105 min.) James Franco.
The Smurfs (PG, 103 min.)
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (PG, 89 min.) Writer-director-do-it-yourselfer Robert Rodriguez reboots his eight-years-dormant "Spy Kids" franchise, with surprisingly entertaining loosey-goosey results, despite the sadly inevitable surfeit of puke and poop jokes that accompany the introduction of an infant "Spy Baby." Now-adult former spy kids Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara return, but the stars are Mason Cook and Rowan Blanchard as a young brother and sister who help their spy mother (Jessica Alba) defeat the time-stealing Tick Tock (Jeremy Piven). The message for kids and parents: Don't miss spending time together, or it will vanish before you know it. The movie originally was released in both 3D and "4D," aka "Aroma-Scope": Viewers were given scratch-and-sniff cards, so they could follow their noses throughout the "scentsational" action. (Remember John Waters' "Polyester," in "Odorama"? Or 1960's "Scent of Mystery," in "Smell-O-Vision"?)
Take Shelter (R, 120 min.) Writer-director Jeff Nichols delivers a movie born from the atmospheric pressure of the uneasy national mood -- from the sense that danger is lurking around every corner, and disaster is imminent. Human storm front Michael Shannon -- a brooding, intense screen presence that occasionally thunders and explodes -- stars as a working-class husband in rural Ohio haunted by apocalyptic nightmares -- or premonitions? -- of deadly storms and oily rain. "I'm afraid something might be coming," he warns his wife (Jessica Chastain). "Something that's -- not right." With this film, the Little Rock-born Nichols (brother of Memphian Ben Nichols, of the rock band Lucero) not only fulfills the promise of his debut feature, "Shotgun Stories," but establishes himself as a major American director. The details are just right, especially in the story's sympathetic recognition of the economic pressures that threaten families with more regularity than any natural disaster; this may be the first movie I've ever seen in which the hero asks: "What's the co-pay?"
The Three Musketeers (PG-13, 111 min.) The producer of the "Resident Evil" series puts the 3D into D'Artagnan.
Tower Heist (PG-13, 104 min.) This snappy big-budget caper comedy from the much-reviled Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") casts Ben Stiller as the leader of a motley crew of "clock punchers" -- an elevator operator (Michael Peña), a maid (Gabourey Sidibe), a desk clerk (Casey Affleck) and so on -- who seek revenge on the "Wall Street kingpin" (Alan Alda) who stole their pension fund; Eddie Murphy is the cat burglar enlisted to help the "working stiffs" storm the kingpin's tower penthouse and heist $20 million in cash. Something of a throwback to the class-conscious wish-fulfillment comedies of the Depression, this is a more useful response to the financial crisis than "Margin Call": It's a pie in the face of the rich, not an apologia.
CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic, Palace Cinema, Paradiso, Stage Cinema, Summer Quartet Drive-In.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1 (PG-13, 118 min.) While certain political groups try to push through "Defense of Marriage" legislation and "personhood" amendments, moviegoers and readers vote by the millions in favor of a series that approves of marriage between human and non-human, and that suggests that a vampire or werewolf can be just as worthy of love as a "person." Yet this first chapter of the conclusion of the "Twilight" series also conveys a "pro-life" message, as virgin-no-longer Bella (Kristen Stewart) insists on carrying to term the bloodsucking, life-threatening half-vampire baby in her belly, the result of her bed-shredding honeymoon with hooded-eyed Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). The fourth film inspired by Stephenie Meyers' best-sellers and the first directed by Bill Condon ("Gods and Monsters," "Dreamgirls") is the dullest to date, spending its first hour on the wedding (with fetishistic attention to the lace of Bella's dress) and honeymoon, before introducing a bit of conflict via the werewolf clan of shirt-challenged Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who -- unlike Meyers and the series' swooning fans -- seems to understand the contradiction inherent in the insistence that coldblooded undeath is just another lifestyle choice.
CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic, Paradiso, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Stage Cinema, Studio on the Square, Summer Quartet Drive-In.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (R, 90 min.) Now, THIS is why they invented 3D.
Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Paradiso.