Movie Capsules: What's Showing

Chiwetel Ejiofor is Solomon Northup, an educated free black man from Saratoga, N.Y., whose 1853 memoir of kidnapping and enslavement inspired the film “12 Years A Slave.”

Photo by Jaap Buitendijk, Jaap Buitendijk/ Fox Searchlight

Chiwetel Ejiofor is Solomon Northup, an educated free black man from Saratoga, N.Y., whose 1853 memoir of kidnapping and enslavement inspired the film “12 Years A Slave.”

Descriptions and starred mini-reviews by John Beifuss.

SPECIAL MOVIES

Rifftrax Live: ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’: “Mystery Science Theater 3000” stars Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett provide live-via-satellite commentary for this special presentation of the infamously awful 1964 kiddie Christmas turkey.

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

Santa vs. the Snowman and The Light Before Christmas: Two Imax films, through Dec. 31 (closed Christmas). Tickets: $8.25; $7.50 senior citizens, and $6.50 for ages 3-12. memphismuseums.org

Imax Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 901-636-2362 for showtimes, tickets and reservations.

NOW SHOWING

About Time (R, 123 min.) A young man (Domhnall Gleeson) tries to use his newly discovered time-traveling ability to get the perfect girlfriend (Rachel McAdams).

Forest Hill 8.

All Is Lost (PG-13, 106 min.) HHH½ Writer-director J.C. Chandor’s existential survival story might be an Earthbound, naturalistic complement to “Gravity,” as a lone yachstman — played by craggy Robert Redford, and identified in the end credits only as “Our Man” — struggles to keep his head above water, literally, after a stray cargo container collides with his sailboat in the Indian Ocean. The movie pares its man-vs.-the elements, man-vs.-himself theme to the barest bones, yet it’s timely as well as timeless, as Chandor acknowledges the coldness of the corporate as well as natural environment: It’s no coincidence that the man is first disabled and later ignored by symbols of globalization.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

The Best Man Holiday (R, 124 min.) Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Nia Long and the other cast members of “The Best Man” reunite for a 15-years-later sequel.

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

Black Nativity (PG, 93 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review at GoMemphis.com.

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

The Book Thief (PG-13, 131 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review on Page 16.

Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Ridgeway Cinema Grill, Stage Cinema.

Captain Phillips (PG-13, 134 min.) HHH Like “Zero Dark Thirty,” this is a fact-based suspense film that ends in a confrontation between the highly trained, disciplined and lethal juggernaut of the U.S. military and several terrorist-criminals who become suddenly, sickeningly aware that they are in the wrong place at the wrong time; unlike Osama bin Laden, however, the Somali pirates here are unsophisticated small-timers, and a certain poignancy attaches itself to the certainty of their pathetic if deserved fates and to their hopeless situation, emblematic of the inequality that was the impetus for their crimes (even off the coast of their African homeland, they are corks in the wake of the American behemoth). Shot and edited with the stylized documentary “realism” that is the signature and sometimes the crutch of director Paul Greengrass, the movie casts cinema’s emblem of Everyman integrity,Tom Hanks, as its title captain, skipper of the Maersk Alabama, the massive and sluggish corporate cargo ship that was hijacked in 2009 by a ragtag band of so-called pirates in a tiny, nimble skiff (the brigand leader is played by an award-worthy Barkhad Abdi); for most of the movie, the captain is a captive, and as helpless as his captors prove to be.If the story lacks the escapist action viewers expect from their thrillers, it doesn’t deny the audience an emotional catharsis: Hanks has never been better than he is near the end of the film, when Phillips’ state of incoherent shock becomes perhaps the only sane reaction to an insane world.

Forest Hill 8, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8

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Carrie (R, 100 min.) HHH Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror movie is a masterpiece; if Kimberly Peirce’s remake is less cinematically exhilarating, it’s nonetheless a worthy if belated companion to the director’s compassionate “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999) and a purposeful revamp of Stephen King’s prescient novel, updated for an era of cyberbullying, home schooling, high-school mass murder and America’s so-called culture wars (De Palma referenced Norman Bates, the new movie name-drops Tim Tebow).

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

The Christmas Candle (PG, 91 min.) An inspirational drama with Susan Boyle in the cast, from Rick Santorum’s new production company.

Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (PG, 95 min.) HHH½ The “ecosystem of living food” that inhabits this digitally animated sequel to 2009’s “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” contains many types of adorable and hostile eatables, but the movie itself is pure eye candy — so imaginative and amusing that it makes not only most live-action fantasy films but most computer-animated features look conventional and timid.

CinePlanet 16, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Dallas Buyers Club (R, 117 min.) HHH The typically robust Matthew McConaughey looks ghastly, almost skeletal here: The bones of his face seem to be pushing through their skin, held back only by the weight of a thick black mustache and the cowboy hat perched on the actor’s shaggy head. McConaughey’s unhealthy skinniness is, of course, the point: This is the more or less true story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic, coke-snorting, hard-partying “white trash” ladies’ man who became a champion of affordable, easy access to health care for AIDS patients after he tested positive for HIV in 1985. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée from a script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, the movie works wonderfully as a 1970s-style portrait of a charming if not entirely likable outsider-lowlife who mocks “Tinkerbells” even as he takes their money and washes down illegally obtained doses of AZT with a slug of Dos Equis and a chaser of coke; it’s less successful as an “issue” drama that hectors the Food and Drug Administration for being a “pusher” for Big Pharma, an accusation addressed in part through a dull subplot involving a sincere and pretty doctor (Jennifer Garner). With able support from Jared Leto as Woodroof’s business partner, a flamboyant drag queen and Marc Bolan fan named Rayon.

Ridgeway Cinema Grill

Delivery Man (PG-13, 103 min.) Sperm donor Vince Vaughn discovers he’s the father of 533 children.

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

Despicable Me 2 (PG, 98 min.) HH The beautiful digital animation is state of the art but the story and comedy are utter cliché as reformed supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), now essentially a suburban father to his three adorable apoted daughters, is recruited to join the Anti-Villain League by secret agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), who has romance as well as espionage on her mind. Gru’s chattering yellow henchmen, the Minions, steal the show, as they did in the original 2010 film, also directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud.

Bartlett 10.

Ender’s Game (PG-13, 114 min.) HHH The idea that young people are exploited as “cannon fodder” for old men’s wars gets a futuristic twist in this adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s classic 1985 science-fiction novel about a young boy (Asa Butterfield) whose “tactical genius” makes him the standout in a class of children and teenagers recruited for a high-tech Earth-vs-aliens space war that is fought, essentially, like a video game. Abetted by his crack production-design and special-effects teams, director Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) nicely conjures a sort of Hogwarts-in-space atmosphere. as Ender and his classmates are trained to do battle against an ant-like race: “The purpose of this war is to prevent all future wars,” says a stern commander (Harrison Ford), offering a justification for mass murder that apparently will never go out of date. The movie’s message represents a welcome change from the usual might-makes-right muscle-flexing that motivates most so-called blockbusters. With Suraj Partha of Memphis in a supporting role as Ender’s classmate, Alai.

Collierville Towne 16, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

The Family (R, 111 min.) A mafia clan led by Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer is relocated to France in this action-comedy from director Luc Besson.

Bartlett 10.

Free Birds (PG, 91 min.) Turkeys team up to escape the Thanksgiving ax.

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

Frozen (PG, 108 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review on Page 17.

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.

Gravity (PG-13, 91 min.) HHH½ Director Alfonso Cuarón’s first feature since his unforgettable “Children of Men” (2006) is a less fanciful science-fiction story of survival and an absolute marvel of movie technology; it’s also perhaps the first film worth seeing in 3D since “Avatar” and “Hugo.” The only person on-screen for the most of the movie, Sandra Bullock is cast as a novice astronaut stranded in orbit when disaster strikes a routine mission; Cuarón (working from a script initiated by his son, Jonás Cuarón) keeps the tension at white-knuckle levels, evoking the paradoxically claustrophobic emptiness of space as the astronaut faces dangers intimate (asphyxiation) and existential (the void). Unfortunately, the movie brings us back to Earth with a thud with the triumphal choral overkill of its final-act scoring and especially with the Bullock character’s sentimental back story, which suggests her literal rescue is less important (and should be of less interest to the viewer) than her emotional/spiritual rebirth. Jack London didn’t think readers needed to know about his protagonist’s family life when he wrote his similarly intense and lonely “To Build a Fire”; he believed the simple face of his hero’s humanity was enough for us care about the character’s fate.

Collierville Towne 16, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Grown Ups 2 (PG-13, 101 min.) HH Adam Sandler.

Bartlett 10.

Homefront (R, 102 min.) DEA agent Jason Statham vs. meth lord James Franco? I’m betting on Statham.

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

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (PG-13, 146 min.) HHH Young people often suspect the adult world is conspiring against them; what more potent affirmation of this idea could there be than in the portrayal of a future nation that requires citizens between the ages of 12 and 18 to hunt and kill each other for the entertainment of the establishment? That’s a partial explanation of the uncanny appeal of the “Hunger Games” trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, which, with this cliffhanger second film, continues to make a successful transition to the screen thanks to sympathetic directors (Francis Lawence, this time), witty production design and inspired casting. Jennifer Lawrence returns as sturdy Katniss Everdeen, the District 12 archer who here emerges as a symbol of “hope” and “defiance” for the oppressed citizens of Panem; her celebrity angers the president (Donald Sutherland), who sends her back to the “arena” (a tropical jungle). Like its predecessor, the movie is surprisingly slack when it turns to the literal action of the titular lethal contest, but it’s very powerful when the focus is on the often doomed characters and the bleak world they inhabit, which offers a critique of America’s current economic disparity alongside echoes of Nazi Germany and the Roman Empire. (At a lavish high fashion-meets-high fascism party in the decadent Capitol, guests are offered flavored emetics so they can vomit and eat more food -- this, in a nation where many of the citizens are starving, as the title of the games suggests.) Thus, the movie connects more truly to the 1970s tradition of protest science-fiction cinema (“Rollerball,” “THX-1138”) than to its contemporary competition for teenage hearts and minds (the “Twilight” series).

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.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (PG-13, 105 min.) Less than two months after the arrival of “The Conjuring,” director James Wan delivers another ghost story.

Bartlett 10.

Instructions Not Included (PG-13, 100 min.) Mexican TV superstar Eugenio Derbez directed and stars in this Spanish-language comedy-drama.

Bartlett 10.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (R, 92 min.) An 86-year-old curmudgeon (Johnny Knoxville) goes cross-country with his 8-year-old grandson (Jackson Nicoll).

CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Palace Cinema, Paradiso, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Kill Your Darlings (R, 104 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review on Page 16.

Studio on the Square.

Last Vegas (PG-13, 104 min.) A Geritol “Hangover,” with Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Michael Douglas.

CinePlanet 16, Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, DeSoto Cinema 16, Ridgeway Cinema Grill, Stage Cinema, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Monsters University (G, 118 min.) HHH½ A prequel to 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” The 14th Pixar feature film lacks the grandeur and ambition that characterize the company’s most impressive work but succeeds absolutely as a clever, beautifully rendered “Revenge of the Nerds” campus comedy and origin story for the friendship of high-energy walking eyeball Mike Wazowksi (voiced by Billy Crystal) and his shaggy bearlike friend, Sulley (John Goodman).

Bartlett 10.

Oldboy (R, 104 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review on Page 14.

Cordova Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Studio on the Square.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (PG, 106 min.) HH The second special effects-heavy adventure inspired by Rick Riordan’s fantasy book series about the teen son of Poseidon, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman).

Bartlett 10.

Philomena (PG-13, 95 min.) Opened Wednesday. See review at GoMemphis.com.

Cordova Cinema, Ridgeway Cinema Grill.

Ram-leela (Not rated, 155 min.) The story of Romeo and Juliet gets the Bollywood treatment.

Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Runner Runner (R, 91 min.) A college poker ace (Justin Timberlake) is recruited by a gambling tycoon (Ben Affleck).

Bartlett 10.

Rush (R, 123 min.) HHHThirty-six years after making his directorial debut with “Grand Theft Auto,” Ron Howard again puts the pedal to the metal with one of his better films, a rubber-burning Formula One saga that is less a paean to the power of the internal combustion engine than a portrait of two strong personalities in conflict (as one expects from the work of screenwriter Peter Morgan, whose credits include “Frost/Nixon”). The clash here is between real-life 1970s racing rivals James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, golden and godlike even without his Thor armor), a reckless jet-setting ladies’ man, and conceited and disciplined Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), an analytical Austrian with the warmth of Mr. Spock and the front teeth of Nosferatu (hence, his nickname of “The Rat”); the tracks that challenge these men contain plenty of hairpin curves, but the most exciting twist is the way the story reverses expectations, eventually making both Hunt and Lauda as sympathetic as they are, yes, driven.

Bartlett 10.

Smurfs 2 (PG, 105 min.) HH “It’s in my face!” complained a young girl new to 3D at the Memphis preview for this film; child, we feel your pain.

Bartlett 10.

Thor: The Dark World (PG-13, 112 min.) HH½ Although the “Nine Realms” of existence (including Earth and Asgard) are threatened with subjugation by an evil “Dark Elf” (Christopher Eccleston), the stakes somehow seem low in this enjoyable but inconsequential addition to the Marvel Comics movie universe, which recycles much of the imagery and welcome tongue-in-cheek humor of its predecessors, “Thor” and “The Avengers.” Chris Hemsworth continues to make an impressive Norse God of Thunder, but again he’s overshadowed not just by his awesome magic hammer but by his sly co-star, Tom Hiddleston, as Thor’s trickster brother, Loki. Although the film was directed by cable veteran Alan Taylor, already familiar with fantasy Medievalism from his work on “Game of Thrones,” the story suggests a network TV episode on a blockbuster budget, especially as the Earth action remains focused on the familiar comic and romantic byplay of supporting actors Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgaard and Kat Dennings.

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, Stage Cinema, Studio on the Square, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

12 Years a Slave (R, 133 min.) HHHH Director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley deliver not only the most powerful and remarkable movie yet produced about our national shame, but also the rare film about history and race that does not seek to absolve, comfort or flatter the mass audience it aspires to reach. Look how far we’ve come and how enlightened we are now is the happy implied message of most films with civil rights themes, however harrowing their roads to redemption, but “12 Years a Slave” offers rebuke, not reassurance. Its unspoken message is: Why haven’t we seen this story on-screen before? The whipping post, the hanging tree, the cane field — these are landmarks in the nightmare landscape of the “plantation class” in the 19th century, as experienced by Solomon Northup (portrayed with fierce dignity by Chiwetel Ejiofor), the educated free black man from Saratoga, N.Y., whose 1853 memoir of kidnapping and enslavement inspired the film. Unlike McQueen’s previous films, “Hunger” and “Shame,” this slave narrative does not present pain, suffering and humiliation as a sort of passion play. — an avenue to transcendence, even sainthood; no catharsis is found in the violence presented here as the inevitable addiction of a slave economy that treated people of a certain race as if they were commodities or a form of livestock — brutes, and thus deserving of brutality. (In the scariest scene, playing children and passing workers ignore the strangling Northup, as if the sight of violence against a black man had lost its novelty.) “A man does what he wishes with his property,” says one “master” (Michael Fassbender), a line that reveals the film is not just a history lesson but an accusation against the labor-exploiting profiteers of today.

DeSoto Cinema 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Majestic, Palace Cinema, Paradiso.

Two Guns (R, 109 min.) HHH Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg become reluctant allies.

Bartlett 10.

We’re the Millers (R, 110 min.) HH½ The surprise box-office smash of 2013 (so far, it has grossed more than seven times its $37 million budget), this lazily agreeable, harmlessly vulgar comedy casts Jason Sudeikis as a loser pot dealer who enlists a cynical stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a steetwise runaway (Emma Roberts) and a virginal teen “dork” (Will Poulter) to form a fake tourist family to help him avoid suspicion as he smuggles a load of marijuana across the Mexican border. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, the film soft-pedals its trite if inevitable everybody-needs-a-family message in favor of nice character turns by an eager supporting cast (Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman are a pair of memorable squares) and an apparent mandate to show off Aniston’s admirable post-40 physique (an impromptu striptease in an auto body shop seems motivated more by the star’s vanity than by the needs of the story).

Bartlett 10.

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