Now Playing: Movie Capsules

Capsule descriptions and starred mini-reviews by John Beifuss.

OPENING Friday

The Call (R, 94 min.) See review on Page 12.

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

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (PG-13, 101 min.) Steve Carell and Jim Carrey are rival magicians.

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

SPECIAL MOVIES

Beauty Is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story (Not rated, 88 min.) See story on Page 14.

2 p.m. Sunday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Tickets: $15, or $12 for museum members. Visit brooksmuseum.org.

The Metropolitan Opera: Francesa da Rimini (Not rated, 240 min.) Presented live via satellite from New York, a production of Riccardo Zandonai’s early 20th-century musical melodrama of political and romantic intrigue.

11 a.m. Saturday, Paradiso. Tickets: $20. Visit malco.com.

The Metropolitan Opera: Parsifal (Not rated, 345 min.) A repeat of a recent production of Wagner’s masterpiece about a knight’s quest for the Holy Grail.

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

The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Part 3 (Not rated, 180 min.) Irish critic-filmmaker-narrator Mark Cousins continues his epic chronological documentary survey of cinema with a tour of the 1960s and ‘70s, with looks at Bergman, Fellini, Kubrick, “Chinatown,” “Taxi Driver,” “Killer of Sheep” and much more.

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

Titans of the Ice Age: Narrated by Christopher Plummer, this IMAX feature film transports you to the otherworldly frozen landscapes of the northern hemisphere 10,000 years before modern civilization. Runs through June 21. 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

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, with a commitment to quality and what might be called self-consciously purposeful content that is typical of the producing team of George Clooney and Grant Heslov (“The Ides of March,” “Good Night, and Good Luck”). Increasingly confident director Ben Affleck stars as real-life CIA “exfiltration” specialist Tony Mendez, who concocts a rescue plan that requires the Americans to pose as science-fiction movie producers scouting locations in the Middle East; his collaborators include a smart-aleck veteran movie producer (Alan Arkin) and Oscar-winner John Chambers (John Goodman), the makeup artist for “Planet of the Apes.” Affleck unnecessarily pumps up the action and sentiment in the final act and its coda, but the chaotic opening in Iran is gripping, and the in-jokes and movie references of the Hollywood scenes are witty and amusing. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2012.

Forest Hill 8, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Beautiful Creatures (PG-13, 123 min.) Memphis’ Molly Mickler Smith is among the producers of this Southern supernatural hot teen/old witch saga, adapted from the popular Young Adult novel.

Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Dark Skies (PG-13, 95 min.) Suburbanites Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton try to save their children from an apparent extraterrestrial menace.

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

Dead Man Down (R, 118 min.) Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace and Terrence Howard star in a New York crime drama that is the first English-language from Niels Arden Oplev, director of the original Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

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

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.

Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey (Not rated, 113 min.) HH½ As inspirational as the song lyric ensconced within its title, director Ramona S. Diaz’s amiable documentary tells the “fairy tale or “dream” story of Arnel Pineda, a once homeless Filipino bar-band singer plucked from Manila obscurity to be the new lead singer of mega-classic rock band Journey after guitarist Neil Schon discovered Pineda’s performance videos on YouTube. No doubt owing its theatrical run to the mainstream embrace and ubiquity of Journey’s anthems of yearning and encouragement on everything from “Glee” to “The Sopranos,” the movie, to its credit, is smirk-free, but Diaz fails to craft the material into much more than an infomercial, even when Pineda worries that the requirement to provide Journey’s “legacy sound” may not allow him to express “my real self.”

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Emperor (PG-13, 106 min.) Tommy Lee Jones is Gen. Douglas MacArthur in this drama set in Japan after the end of World War II.

Ridgeway Four.

Escape from Planet Earth (PG, 95 min.) Alien astronaut Scotch Supernova (voiced by Brendan Fraser) lands on a notoriously dangerous planet in this computer-animated film from the producers of “Hoodwinked!”

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

Gangster Squad (R, 113 min.) HH The bravura opening scene finds Sean Penn imitating and quoting Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” preparatory to literally ripping a rival in half beneath the Hollywoodland sign; unfortunately, that’s the highlight of this movie-mad and garish gangster saga, which becomes increasingly, absurdly cartoonish rather than satisfyingly noirish.

Bartlett 10.

A Good Day to Die Hard (R, 97 min.) HH “Do you know what I hate about the Americans? Everything.” The fifth “Die Hard” movie offers no evidence to dispute this Russian villain’s opinion, as arrogant, reckless New York police detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) does more damage to the former Soviet republic than a hailstorm of meteorites. Coming to the aid of his estranged CIA spy son (Jai Courtney), McClane destroys property, punches out innocents, tosses out names like “Nijinsky” and “Solzhenitsyn” as if they were insults and otherwise demonstrates that the Second Amendment is the only constitutional principle he respects.

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

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (R, 88 min.) HH½ Played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, the title kid trespassers turned almost witch snacks turned adult avengers-for-hire kick much hag butt in this bloody and frenetic fairy-tale/comic book/video game blend, which marks the English-language directorial debut of Norway’s Tommy Wirkola (“Dead Snow”). With stylish steampunk production design, coherent stunt choreography and bravura special makeup effects (Edward the troll impresses), this is superior to many recent supernatural action thrillers; on the other hand, the dumbing-down of the genre is depressing: In the 1960s and ’70s, violent witch movies (such as “Witchfinder General”) offered anti-establishment critiques of fascist witch-hunt intolerance; in 2013, a violent witch movie asks the audience to cheer the torture of suspects and affirm the slaughter of “the other” as escapist entertainment.

Palace Cinema (in 3-D), Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8 (in 3-D).

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

Hollywood 20 Cinema.

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.”

Bartlett 10.

Identity Thief (R, 111 min.) HH In supporting roles in “Bridesmaids” and other comedies, Melissa McCarthy has been a ruthless and unapologetic scene-stealer, so it’s appropriate that her first feature-film star vehicle casts her as a professional pilferer, pursued by drug dealers, a skip tracer (Robert Patrick) and the insecure Everyman (Jason Bateman) she befriends during a zany cross-country road trip. Conceptually, at least, this is an ideal vehicle for the heavyset, robust and graceful McCarthy: The title role plays to her strength as an enthusiastic improviser, spinning outlandish falsehoods on the fly. Unfortunately, director Seth Gordon weighs the film down with too many characters, too much sentiment and too much time-wasting side material and phony-baloney “motivation,” when the only thing he needed to do was plant his camera on a tripod, get out of the way and let McCarthy do her thing.

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

The Impossible (PG-13, 114 min.) HH½ Inspired by the true story of a vacationing family that survived the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed some 230,000 people and displaced 1.7 million more when it smashed against much of Southeast Asia on Dec. 26, 2004.

Ridgeway Four.

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. A less robotic lead might have helped, but writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has delivered an efficient action-crime film, with Reacher as the sort of fearless, unstoppable, ultracompetent reluctant hero once played on the B-movie circuit by Chuck Norris.

Bartlett 10.

Jack the Giant Slayer (PG-13, 115 min.) HHH Ignore the unconscionable $200 million budget (how many thousands could have been saved by eliminating the CG giant booger scene?) and you may enjoy this comic book/fairy tale adventure about a plucky farm boy (Nicholas Hoult) and a pretty princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) carried by a fast-growing, tendrilous beanstalk to a land of man-eating giants in the clouds. The first half of the film is reminiscent of the early parts of “King Kong” and “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,” as the characters push into a mysterious and increasingly menacing new world; the final act gives way to overabundant but excitingly choreographed action (credit veteran “X-Men” director Bryan Singer for ensuring the chaos is coherent). The movie is perhaps too violent for children, but worse is its irresponsible stereotyping: Many of the primitive, savage, “ugly” giants are vaguely ethnic (some have kinky African hair), while the attractive and “normal” humans are entirely European.

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), Summer Quartet Drive-In.

The Last Exorcism Part II (PG-13, 93 min.) Young Nell (Ashley Bell) is subjected to more devilish high jinks.

CinePlanet 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic, Palace Cinema, Paradiso, Stage Cinema, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Les Misérables (PG-13, 157 min.) HH The cast includes Hugh Jackman as the heroic Jean Valjean, sentenced to 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread; Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert, obsessed with returning Valjean to prison; and the Falconetti-coiffed Anne Hathaway as a virtuous factory seamstress turned unwed mother and prostitute whose showstopping, single-take, solo version of “I Dreamed a Dream” provides the only moment of transcendence.

Bartlett 10, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Life of Pi (PG, 127 min.) HHH 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.” Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Director.

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.

Bartlett 10, Collierville Towne 16.

Mama (PG-13, 100 min.) HHH Jessica Chastain is the punk-rock girlfriend who becomes reluctant guardian to her injured boyfriend’s disturbed and essentially feral nieces (rescued after five years in the woods) in this dark modern fairy tale from writer-director Andrés Muschietti (expanding his 2008 short) and producer Guillermo del Toro (who has mined similar themes in past films).

DeSoto Cinema 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Oz the Great and Powerful (PG, 131 min.) HH½ Derived from the novels of L. Frank Baum but motivated by the popularity of MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz,” Disney’s would-be franchise-igniter — presented as an unofficial prequel to the 1939 movie — contains exciting witch battles, the memorably emotional introduction of a literally fragile character (a living china doll, voiced by Joey King) and the fun pop touches one expects from director Sam Raimi, including monster flowers that might have sprouted from “The Evil Dead” and a friendly flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) whose bellhop uniform is an homage to the nattily garbed scene-stealing capuchins of Three Stooges and Our Gang shorts. Unfortunately, the candy-colored, largely computer-created film cheapens the achievements of the feminist Baum and the memory of Judy Garland: It’s as much a man-flattering parable of androgen entitlement as one of those 1950s B-movies in which the presence of a hunky all-American astronaut disrupts the order of an extraterrestrial Amazon society. Deposited in Oz by a Kansas twister, the wizard (a smirky James Franco) is a fraudulent womanizer, yet the beautiful, powerful witch sisters — Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) -- accept him as a savior and are so smitten that Theodora turns literally Margaret Hamilton green with jealousy. The hackneyed message is about the importance of “belief,” but in what? The idea that even the most talented and impressive women should move aside if a man wants to be in charge?

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.

Parker (R, 118 min.) Jason Statham stars as the professional thief introduced in the 1960s in a series of novels by Donald E. Westlake (writing as Richard Stark).

Bartlett 10.

Parental Guidance (PG, 104 min.) Bette Midler and Billy Crystal are nosy parents.

Bartlett 10.

Quartet (PG-13, 98 min.) HH½ Shot at historic Hedsor House, a Georgian-style mansion near the River Thames, this comedy-drama aimed at “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” patrons takes place at “Beecham House,” a home for retired classical musicians and vocalists; the residents include flirty, roguish Wilf (Billy Connolly), dotty Cissy (Pauline Collins), subdued Reggie (Tom Courtenay, the only one of the leads who doesn’t try to ingratiate himself to the audience with cuteness and shtick), and newcomer Jean (Maggie Smith), a notorious diva who has given up singing if not the dispensing of droll retorts.

Ridgeway Four.

Rise of the Guardians (PG, 97 min.) HH½ Inspired by the “Guardians of Childhood” chapter books by William Joyce.

Bartlett 10.

Safe Haven (PG-13, 115 min.) A mystery woman (Julianne Hough) and a young widower (Josh Duhamel) find romance in the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Forest Hill 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Paradiso, Stage Cinema, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Side Effects (R, 106 min.) HH½ Director/editor/cinematographer Steven Soderbergh’s alleged final theatrical film is as smart and stylish as one would expect, but like his other recent artsy genre essays — “Haywire,” “Contagion” — its duller than its sources (in this case, “Bigger Than Life,” “Basic Instinct” and “Psycho”). Promoted as a pharma-thriller, the story (credited to Scott Z. Burns) proves more pulpy than topical as psychiatrist Jude Law is dragged into a murder case that involves an antidepressant-addled somnambulist (Rooney Mara), her regretful insider-trader husband (Channing Tatum) and an almost comically buttoned-down and bespectacled therapist (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Cordova Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Paradiso.

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 update the screwball comedy genre in this charming and surprisingly affecting film.

Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Ridgeway Four, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Skyfall (PG-13, 143 min.) HHH½ Daniel Craig.

Bartlett 10.

Snitch (PG-13, 112 min.) HHH Contrary to the suggestion of its misleadingly bombastic trailer, this is not primarily an action movie but a slow-burning and legitimate neo-noir. It’s the type of dark but not despairing feature that might have starred Glenn Ford in the 1950s, although a thriller from six decades ago would not have been obliged to climax with an implausible — if, in this case, well-constructed — sequence of gear-grinding, metal-crunching, bullet-spraying destruction. Stuntman turned director Ric Roman Waugh’s camera setups are more functional than interesting, but there’s intelligence at work here, as well as restraint: This is the rare modern crime drama that takes place in a recognizable world, where the laws of physics as well as Murphy’s Law apply, and where violence, when it erupts, is a thing of consequence, not just spectacle.

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

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.”

Bartlett 10.

21 & Over (R, 93 min.) Bad-influence buddies transform a promising medical student’s 21st birthday celebration into a comedic bacchanal.

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

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 (PG-13, 116 min.) HHKristen Stewart.

Warm Bodies (PG-13, 97 min.) HHH A collector of vinyl record albums as well as an eater of brains, a cute teen emo zombie (Nicholas Hoult) becomes increasingly alive after he meets a beautiful young human survivor (Teresa Palmer) of the walking-dead apocalypse in this witty if sometimes over-obvious adaptation of a popular novel by Isaac Marion. (Filmmakers, please quit relying on pop songs for emotional and narrative grout.) Derided pre-release as a zomromcom “Twilight” wannabe, director Jonathan Levine’s movie in fact revivifies a tired, dare we say dead genre, returning it to its George Romero roots: The film works best as a sort of screwball social and cultural satire, with flashbacks to a predisaster America that reveal an essentially already zombified populace.

CinePlanet 16, Cordova Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

West of Memphis (R, 147 min.) HHH Produced by “Lord of the Rings” masterminds Peter Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, and directed by Amy Berg, this rather epic documentary is both a summation and a continuance of its predecessors, the three films produced over the past two decades for HBO by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, which ignited international outrage over the 1994 child-murder convictions of the “West Memphis Three” (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.) and in the process transformed “three kids who were bottom-of-the-barrel poor white trash” (Echols’ words) into worldwide causes célèbres, friends of Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder, and symbols of police persecution and judicial injustice. (Convicted as teenagers, the men were freed in 2011 after an unusual “Alford plea” deal that required them to officially plead guilty in court while allowing them to maintain their innocence.) With Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, listed as producers, the new movie is journalistic but lacks the pretense of so-called objectivity; it’s an advocacy project that starts from the assumption that the West Memphis Three were scapegoated and railroaded because they were easy targets, their mullet haircuts and Metallica T-shirts signifying that these were powerless, poorly educated young men who would be missed by nobody of importance — the justice system equivalent of the cannon fodder recruited from the same socioeconomic straits. In addition to being a history lesson and rebuke of the prosecution’s case, the movie is an attempt to shift suspicion to Terry Hobbs, stepfather of one of the victims; he’s certainly creepy, but he’s as much a victim of hearsay evidence here as Echols was at trial. (“He’s got a look of plumb evil,” Pam Hobbs says of her ex-husband.) The movie smartly ends with a shot of a billboard featuring the forever young and immaculate faces of a less familiar and too often neglected West Memphis three, murder victims Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore.

Studio on the Square.

Wreck-It Ralph (PG) HHH½ This arcade version of “Toy Story” imagines that when the lights are out and the players gone home, the avatars inside video games come to life.

Bartlett 10.

Zero Dark Thirty (R, 157 min.) HHH½ Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal follow their war-on-terror Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker” with a scrupulously researched chronicle of the decadelong hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Collierville Towne 16, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

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