Now Playing: Movie Capsules

Capsule descriptions and starred mini-reviews by John Beifuss.

OPENING Friday

Gangster Squad (R, 113 min.) Mobsters vs. police detectives in a period crime saga with Sean Penn as Mafia honcho Mickey Cohen.

CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic, Paradiso, Stage Cinema, Studio on the Square.

A Haunted House (R, 86 min.) In the tradition of "Scary Movie," a "Paranormal Activity" spoof.

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

The Impossible (PG-13, 114 min.) See review on Page 16.

Ridgeway Four.

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu (Not rated, 155 min.) An Indian "Tollywood" musical, in the Telugu language, from the Tollygunge-based film industry of West Bengal. (The more familiar Hindi-language Bollywood films originate in Mumbai, formerly Bombay.)

Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Zero Dark Thirty (R, 157 min.) See review on Page 14.

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

SPECIAL MOVIES

The British Arrow Awards (Not rated, 72 min.) See story on Page 12.

Preview screenings at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Tickets: $30, or $25 for museum members; includes admission to 7:30-9:30 p.m. "Mod Party." Regular screenings at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets: $8, or $6 for museum members. Visit brooksmuseum.org.

The Metropolitan Opera: Aida (Not rated, 240 min.) An encore presentation of a recent New York production of Verdi's masterpiece, set in ancient Egypt.

6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Paradiso. Tickets: $20. Visit malco.com.

Nicholas Sparks' Safe Haven (Not rated, 165 min.) A live-via-satellite conversation with the best-selling author and actors Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough, stars of the upcoming film version of Sparks' "Safe Haven." Includes behind-the-scenes footage and other preview peeks at the movie.

7 p.m. Thursday, Paradiso. Tickets: $12.50. Visit malco.com.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (R, 100 min.) The monthly screening of the ultimate audience-participation sci-fi rock-and-roll cult classic musical.

11:30 p.m. Friday, Evergreen Theatre, 1711 Poplar. Admission: $10. Visit rockyhorrormemphis.

Searching for Sugar Man (PG-13, 86 min.) Oscar-nominated documentary chronicles the unlikely rediscovery of the 1970s Mexican-American folk-rock-singer-songwriter known as Rodriguez, who disappeared after releasing two topical albums with such intriguingly titled songs as "Crucify Your Mind" and "The Establishment Blues."

7 p.m. Thursday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Tickets: $8, or $6 for museum members. Visit brooksmuseum.org.

To the Arctic: Narrated by Meryl Streep, this journey to the top of the world follows a polar bear family as it adapts to its changing environment. Runs through March 8. Tickets $8.25; $7.50 senior citizens, and $6.50 for ages 3-12.

IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 901-636-2362 for show times, tickets and reservations.

NOW SHOWING

Alex Cross (PG-13, 102 min.) H½ Tyler Perry.

Bartlett 10.

Argo (R, 120 min.) HHH Inspired by the unlikely true story of the secret rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran in 1980 (while 52 of their less-fortunate colleagues were held hostage by militants in the American embassy), this is an entertaining and intelligent suspense film.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away (Not rated, 91 min.) Andrew Adamson, director of "Shrek" and "Narnia" movies, helmed this 3D fantasy about a pair of lovers lost in the "dreamlike worlds" of the circus art-acrobatics performance company.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8 (in 3-D).

Cloud Atlas (R, 172 min.) HH½ "Matrix" masterminds Andy and Lana Wachowski join "Run Lola Run" auteur Tom Tykwer to direct a centuries-spanning epic of interconnectivity, adapted from the novel by David Mitchell. The all-star cast includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Susan Sarandon, among many others, cast as multiple characters and tricked out in a variety of elaborate — and sometimes risible — disguises. (Berry, for example, is both a 1970s San Francisco investigative reporter and a wizened male Asian surgeon of the future, while Hanks is a 1930s cockney hotel manager and a scar-faced primitive warrior of the post-apocalyse). Almost three hours long and independently financed at a cost of more than $100 million, the movie is something of a folly, but it moves swiftly and looks great, and its six intercut stories -- one involves the genetically engineered "fabricant" class of 22nd-century Neo Seoul; another deals with 19th-century slavery -- are interesting and entertaining. Unfortunately, it delivers not inspiration but a mixed message: Like the Wachowskis' previous films (yes, even "Speed Racer"), it's about people fighting to free themselves from oppressive and conspiratorial systems of control; yet the script's supposedly uplifting hooey about fate and destiny suggests we're really just pawns of time, anyway.

Bartlett 10.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (PG, 94 min.) HH½ With episodes involving a country club, a camping trip and an amusement-park ride called the "Cranium Shaker," this third "Wimpy" comedy in as many years affirms the simple sitcom pleasures of an amusing and reliable franchise. Bartlett 10.

Django Unchained (R, 165 min.) HHH Part bloody buddy picture, part revenge thriller, part action-comedy and entirely a racial provocation, Quentin Tarantino's latest would-be masterpiece mashup reaches beyond the writer-director's beloved Spaghetti Westerns and "blaxploitation" movies all the way back to D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) for inspiration. Griffith's film, which celebrated the "heroism" of the Ku Klux Klan even as it helped give birth to the modern motion picture, was "like history writ with lightning," in a remark widely attributed to Woodrow Wilson. "Django Unchained" is history — film and otherwise — writ with bursting squibs of blood and the calligraphy of makeup-effects scars on whipped slaves' backs and a compulsive use of the N-word that detractors may liken to Tourette's syndrome. Like Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," this "Django" (the character name originated in a 1966 Western) is a retroactive wish-fulfillment revenge fantasy on the grandest of scales, imagining the righteous pre-Civil War massacre of a plantation of slave-owners and their sympathizers by an armed ex-slave; the movie thus offers a cinematic reparation, if you will, to atone for the infamy of Griffith's film and the many subsequent screen whitewashes of the Old South.

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

End of Watch (R, 109 min.) HHH A sort of pulp-cinema Joseph Wambaugh, writer-director David Ayer ("Training Day," "Harsh Times," "Street Kings") returns with another vivid and gritty inner-city slice-of-life police drama; the gimmick this time is that much of the often-violent action and profane dialogue is presented as documentary footage shot by a South Central patrol officer (Jake Gyllenhaal) for a film class. Bartlett 10.

Flight (R, 139 min.) HHH Returning to live action after a decade of disappointing experimentation with performance-capture animation, director Robert Zemeckis provides Denzel Washington with one of the more complex roles of the actor's career as an airline pilot whose skill and heroism are matched by his alcoholism and drug addiction. The fine supporting cast includes Kelly Reilly as a junkie (think Robin Wright in "Forrest Gump"), Don Cheadle as a pilots union lawyer and John Goodman as a scene-stealing Dr. Feelgood.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

The Guilt Trip (PG-13, 95 min.) Seth Rogen (son) and Barbra Streisand (mother) take a cross-country comedy road trip.

CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Paradiso, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Here Comes the Boom (PG, 105 min.) H½ Kevin James. More pabulum for moviegoers who can't be bothered to chew even the softest food for thought, courtesy of Happy Madison Productions, the Gerber of motion picture companies.

Bartlett 10.

Hitchcock (PG-13, 98 min.) HHH Pitched somewhere between the larky "My Week with Marilyn" and the wry "Ed Wood," and aimed — despite its many cinephiliac-flattering in-jokes — more at the senior crowd that made "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" a hit than at those cinéastes who believe "Marnie" is a masterpiece, this more or less comic dramatization of the personal and professional crises faced by the aging "Master of Suspense" (Anthony Hopkins) while working on his most "tasteless" and déclassé production, 1960s "Psycho," is thoroughly entertaining: It ought to be subtitled "Dial M for Marriage," because the "Psycho"-therapy storyline is essentially a framework for the depiction of Hitchcock's longtime relationship with his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville (a wonderful Helen Mirren), frustrated by her husband's blond obsession and pursuing a possible romance with a dapper screenwriter (Danny Huston). Despite the disturbing presence of real-life Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) as a sort of gruesome muse, the film is essentially a reassuring movie-themed nostalgia piece in psychoanalytic drag, with Scarlett Johansson as famous shower victim Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as the out-of-favor Vera Miles and James D'Arcy as closeted Anthony Perkins.

Forest Hill 8.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (PG-13, 170 min.) HHH Nine years after the conclusion of his box-office-conquering, Oscar-grabbing "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth (i.e., the landscapes and green screens of New Zealand) to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's earlier novel, "The Hobbit," a simpler children's adventure that the producer-director has transformed into another epic trilogy, as well as a "prequel."

CinePlanet 16 (in 3-D), Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema (in 3-D), Majestic, Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Paradiso (in 3-D HFR and 2-D), Stage Cinema.

Hotel Transylvania (PG, 91 min.) HH½

Bartlett 10.

Hyde Park on Hudson (R, 94 min.) HH½ "The Day the King Ate a Hot Dog" might be a more informative title for this wispy historical trifle, which reaches its dramatic, even mustardy climax at a supposedly momentous 1939 picnic hosted by President Frankline Delano Roosevelt (BIll Murray) for the stuttering King of England, George VI (Samuel West), and his wife, the Queen Consort, Elizabeth (Olivia Colman). Evoking rather than impersonating the four-term president who led America through the Great Depression and the Second World War, Murray presents FDR as a wily seducer whose show of fatherly proves as irresistible to the insecure new king as the roguish twinkle in his eyes is to the ladies of his informal harem. Unfortunately, director Roger Michell and writer Richard Nelson make the confounding decision to frame the story as the remembrance of voice-over narrator Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), FDR's "fifth or sixth cousin," whose affair with the president was discovered after her death in 1991. As presented here, Margaret is a mousy, dim and essentially irrelevant presence, except in servicing her cousin.

Ridgeway Four.

Ice Age: Continental Drift (PG, 94 min.) HH The climate change of cliché has melted most of the charm and novelty from this computer-animated comedy-adventure series.

Bartlett 10.

Jack Reacher (PG-13, 130 min.) HHH The tough-guy star of 17 novels in 15 years, author Lee Child's 6-foot-5, 250-pound military police officer turned crime-solving drifter morphs into smallish if fit Tom Cruise to make his movie debut.

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

Les Misérables (PG-13, 157 min.) HH Inspired by Victor Hugo's very serious 1862 novel of history, romance and moral philosophy, the musical "Les Misérables" has been a global phenomenon since the 1980s, generating a rabid and influential fan base that helped make America safe again for show tunes (as demonstrated by such living-room sing-a-long successes as "American Idol" and "Glee"). Contrary to its genre categorization, however, this epic film version from director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") is not particularly musical nor even tuneful. Anne Hathaway's show-stopping, single-take, solo version of "I Dreamed a Dream" provides the only moment of transcendence. .

CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Paradiso, Ridgeway Four, Stage Cinema, Studio on the Square.

Life of Pi (PG, 127 min.) HHH We're all in the same boat. Like its source novel, director Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's 2001 best-seller is captivating as long as it sticks to literalizing this notion of man's relationship to nature and the animal kingdom; it's less persuasive when it insists that its inspirational message may cause its audience to "believe in God." Suraj Sharma stars as 16-year-old Pi, a zookeeper's son shipwrecked in a lifeboat in the Pacific with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger with the incongruous name of "Richard Parker."

Palace Cinema, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Lincoln (R, 150 min.) HHHH Returning to the themes of race, bondage and liberation that marked not just "Amistad" and "Schindler's List" but also "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," director Steven Spielberg delivers his most actor-centric and word-heavy film, and the result is as much a tour de force as was "Jurassic Park."

Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Studio on the Square. Opens Wednesday at the CinePlanet 16 and Hollywood 20 Cinema, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Looper (R, 119 min.) HHHH Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Bartlett 10.

Monsters, Inc. (G, 92 min.) The Pixar classic is reissued in 3D.

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

Parental Guidance (PG, 104 min.) A domestic comedy with Bette Midler and Billy Crystal as nosy parents.

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.

Pitch Perfect (PG-13, 112 min.) HH½ Too-cool-for-school freshman Anna Kendrick learns to love college when she joins a wacky female a cappella singing group in this spry B-film aimed at Generation Glee.

Bartlett 10.

Promised Land (R, 106 min.) HH Stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote and produced this theoretically Capraesque but unfortunately inert drama, created to call attention to the controversial practice of "fracking," an environmentally destructive (according to many) method of harvesting natural gas from subterranean rock. Damon plays a hotshot corporate energy salesman tasked with leasing property rights from the farmers of rural Pennsylvania; Krasinski is the live-wire environmentalist who shows up to impede the salesman's seduction of the landowners as well as his woo-pitching with a local schoolteacher (Rosemarie DeWitt). Director Gus Van Sant ensures the film is very well made, with pleasing locations (green hills, furrowed crops, proud silos) and sympathetic performances, but he's stymied by a dull story that hiccups to life only for an implausible plot twist. The result is like a well-meaning sermon from a progressive but unexciting minister: You may agree with the message, but you understand why some people prefer fire and brimstone.

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

Rise of the Guardians (PG, 97 min.) HH½ Hollywood 20 Cinema, Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Summer Quartet Drive-In, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Silver Linings Playbook (R, 122 min.) HHH½ "Screwball" is a slang term for "crazy," and perhaps this is what inspired David O. Russell to literalize as well as updates the screwball comedy genre in this charming and surprisingly affecting film.Cordova Cinema, Ridgeway Four.

Sinister (R, 98 min.) HHH A desperatetrue-crime writer (Ethan Hawke) moves his unwitting family into a "murder house" that may be haunted by more than bad vibes.Bartlett 10.

Skyfall (PG-13, 143 min.) HHH½ Collierville Towne 16, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Taken 2 (PG-13, 91 min.) H Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Texas Chainsaw 3D (R, 92 min.) HH Dropping the "Massacre" but adding stereoscopic technology (what better use of 3D than to thrust a buzzing chainsaw in your face?), the seventh film in the grisly series opens with clips from Tobe Hooper's franchise-launching 1974 masterpiece, then jumps to the present, pretending the interim movies didn't exist while rewriting the history of the first. (A key difference: This time, all the young people -- even the hitchhiker -- are hot.) Alexandra Daddario stars as a minimally clothed young woman who travels to Texas with a vanload of ill-fated friends to take possession of a newly inherited mansion; she also acquires a heritage of dark secrets and a homicidal cousin, Leatherface (Dan Yeagar). Director John Luessenhop delivers some legitimate jolts as well as much gruesomeness, but a bogus ending and the convoluted morality of a script that attempts to transform the vengeful Leatherface into a sympathetic if psychotic antihero hamstrings his efforts as surely as the skin-masked killer slices the ankles of corrupt Mayor Hartman (Paul Rae).

CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic (non 3-D), Palace Cinema, Paradiso, Stage Cinema, Summer Quartet Drive-In (non 3-D).

This Is 40 (R, 133 min.) HHH A portrait of a marriage in trouble if not exactly in crisis, the new film from writer-director Judd Apatow is a semi-successful if occasionally overly crude and sentimental return to form for the creator of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Palace Cinema, Paradiso, Stage Cinema.

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