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Movies: ‘Earth to Echo’ reviewed, and other new, recent films

"E.T." wannabe: "Earth to Echo."

OPENING

BEGIN AGAIN

★★★

Rated R for language

Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine

Writer/director John Carney’s follow-up to his near-perfect 2006 indie musical romance “Once” is basically an attempt to lay down the template and have another go with movie stars this time around, and a plusher budget. Ruffalo plays a one-time star producer whose career and personal life are on the skids but sees salvation in his discovery of singer-songwriter Knightley — leading to a guerrilla-style recording of an album in various New York locations. Their relationship is a bit trumped-up, but the musical vibe is quite nice.

EARTH TO ECHO

★★

Rated PG for some action and peril, mild language

Stars: Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt

This flashy but uninspired revamp of ’80s sci-fi adventures for kids (particularly “E.T.”) was shot found-footage style, as if on camcorders, smart phones and the like, making it frequently confusing in addition to thoroughly artificial. Sensing a government conspiracy after their parents are ordered to vacate their homes, three boys (Halm, Astro and Hartwig) ride out into the Nevada desert and befriend a tiny, crash-landed alien. Unfortunately, debut director Dave Green places much more value on the way “Earth to Echo” looks than making the over-familiar story and two-dimensional characters credible.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

Not reviewed

Rated R for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language

Stars: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn

A New York police officer (Bana) partners with an unconventional priest (Ramirez) to investigate a series of disturbing and inexplicable crimes. Scott Derrickson (“Deliver Us from Evil”) wrote and directed the thriller.

LIFE ITSELF

★★★ 1/2

Rated R for brief sexual images/nudity and language

Stars: Roger Ebert, Martin Scorsese, Chazz Ebert, Werner Herzog, A.O. Scott

More than just a tribute to the career of the world’s most famous and influential film critic, this often-revelatory documentary is also an intimate portrait of a life well lived — right up to the very last moment. In most ways, “Life Itself” conforms to the standard format of biographical documentary, covering Ebert’s life and career with archival photos and reminiscences. But it ultimately goes much deeper when Ebert learns, mid-film, that he’s losing his long battle with thyroid cancer — and decides to continue regardless.

SNOWPIERCER

Rated R for violence, language and drug content

Stars: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Jamie Bell

On a high-speed train circling the globe after an apocalyptic new Ice Age, the poor and oppressed survivors of mankind attempt to overthrow their wealthy masters in the first-class section. South Korea’s Joon-ho Bong (“The Host”) directed the sci-fi adventure.

TAMMY

Not reviewed

Rated R for language including sexual references

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh

After losing her job and learning her husband has cheated on her, a woman (McCarthy) hits the road with her hard-drinking, foul-mouthed grandmother (Sarandon). Actor Ben Falcone co-wrote (with his wife McCarthy) and directed the comedy.

STILL PLAYING

THEY CAME TOGETHER

Not reviewed

Rated R for language and sexual content

Stars: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders

A corporate candy company exec and a the owner of an indie candy shop (Rudd and Poehler) hate each other at first sight — and then, strangely, begin to have a change of heart. David Wain (“Role Models”) co-wrote and directed the romcom parody.

THIRD PERSON

★ ★ 1/2

Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity

Stars: Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, Mila Kunis, James Franco

Three love-equals-boatloads-of-pain stories run parallel and occasionally overlap in this overlong, occasionally confusing drama in the style of writer/director Paul Haggis’s Oscar-winning “Crash.” Failed romantic love is the primary focus as lovers and former lovers torment each other in Paris (Neeson and Wilde), Rome (Brody and Moran Atias), and New York (Franco and Kunis). But Haggis also reserves failed parental love and a common plot thread about an endangered child for an emotional gut punch worthy of his “Million Dollar Baby.”

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

★ ★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, John Goodman

In a way, you can’t fault director Michael Bay anymore for the incoherence of the “Transformers” movies, since he threw rational plotlines out the window a couple of installments back — and 2011’s “Dark of the Moon” grossed a billion dollars. It’s still sort of a mystery, though, why people keep lining up for what amounts to an all-spectacle-all-the-time cinematic assault on the senses. “Age of Extinction” continues to make little or no sense as Mark Wahlberg replaces Shia LeBeouf as the series’ flesh-and-blood hero, joining the good-guy Autobots in a global conflict with the fate of the planet at stake. But it also features more running, screaming, wanton destruction, shape-shifting racecar robots, epic explosions and overall pandemonium than ever before.

YVES SAINT LAURENT

Not reviewed

Rated R for sexual content and drug use

Stars: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Nikolai Kinski

The life of the famed French fashion designer (Niney), beginning with the start of his relationship with lover/business partner Pierre Berge (Gallienne). Jalil Lespert (“Headwinds”) directed the bio-drama.

JERSEY BOYS

★ ★ 1/2

Rated R for language throughout

Stars: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken

Slick, professional, but oddly emotionally uninvolving, Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of this long-running Broadway musical works hard to inject some dramatic weight into the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons despite a glut of showbiz clichés.

It doesn’t work, unfortunately, but at least we get a video jukebox of the group’s greatest hits. Even there, though, “Jersey Boys” mostly seems to be going through the motions. And Walken is a bonus as a local mafia don who takes a benevolent interest in the group’s career.

THE ROVER

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Rated R for language and some bloody violence

Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy

Australian writer/director David Michod’s follow-up to his savage 2010 crime family drama “Animal Kingdom” is a post-apocalyptic revenge saga with more than a touch of Cormac McCarthy existential despair. Not a whole lot of fun, in other words, but weirdly compelling. Ten years after an unnamed worldwide collapse, a gang of thieves make the mistake of stealing the car of a grim loner (Pearce, terrific), who tracks them relentlessly through the Outback with a wounded, half-witted former member of the gang (former “Twilight” star Pattinson) as an initially reluctant guide.

THINK LIKE A MAN TOO

★★

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content including references, partial nudity, language and drug material

Stars: Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, Regina Hall, Michael Ealy, Romany Malco

As the almost neurotically self-aware sequel “22 Jump Street” recently pointed out, follow-up movies are almost always worse than the original. And that’s even more of a problem when the original was only so-so. Here, the half dozen or so couples from 2012’s “Think Like a Man” travel to Las Vegas when one of them decides to tie the knot Why? Presumably for a raunchy cross between “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” as the men and women split up for to see who can throw the wildest pre-nup party. The results are surprisingly bland, though, even when they all end up in jail. Still, we get to see Hart dressed up like Bam-Bam from “The Flintstones” at a male strip club, and that’s something.

THE GRAND SEDUCTION

★ ★ ★

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and drug references

Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban

You can’t give “Grand Seduction” points for originality (you’ve seen bits of it before in “Lone Hero,” “Waking Ned Devine” and TV’s “Northern Exposure,” among others), or even for being entirely dramatically convincing. Fortunately, though, it features a terrific performance from Gleeson (“Mad-Eye” Moody in the “Harry Potter” movies) that makes up for those shortcomings. Realizing the future of his tiny Canadian fishing village depends on convincing a big-city doctor (Kitsch) to move there, he involves the entire town in a con job to convince him that bleak, isolated Tickle Head is “the finest place on Earth he could call home.”

22 JUMP STREET

★ ★ ★

Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens

The self-referential meta-humor about its status as a repetitive, cash-in sequel gets wearisome after awhile, but this follow-up to the unexpectedly smart action comedy “21 Jump Street” still works. Mainly because it also has lots of random craziness waiting to leap out at you. Like a face-raping octopus inside a crate. After busting a high-school drug ring in the original, unlikely sidekicks Jenko and Schmidt (Tatum and Hill, still terrific together) go undercover to do the whole thing over again, as they frequently remind us, as college students.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

★ ★ ★

Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor

Stars: Jay Baruchel, Kristen Wiig, America Ferrera, Kit Harington

The 3D animation is dazzling, but also a tad overwhelming, and the action may be a bit too brutal for smaller kids, but this ante-upping mega-sequel still soars, mainly because it’s still basically the story of a boy and his dragon. Five years after saving his Viking village in the 2010 original, the beefed-up Viking lad Hiccup (Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless set out to explore the world — and come into conflict with a dark dragon master intent on enslaving it.

OBVIOUS CHILD

★ ★ ★

Rated R for some thematic elements, violence and language

Stars: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman

Not entirely a romantic comedy, a coming-of-age story or an issue-driven message movie, the unplanned-pregnancy-centered “Obvious Child” draws elements from all three with mixed results — a little funny, a little touching, very mired in hipster self-absorption. Struggling comic Donna Stern (“Saturday Night Live” alum Slate) discovers she’s pregnant and decides on an abortion, but can’t figure out what to do about the hopelessly unhip potential dad (Lacy) who keeps showing up.

THE SIGNAL

★ ★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, violence and language

Stars: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Laurence Fishburne

It’s pretty clear from the beginning that “The Signal” is one of those movies that’s working its way toward a Mind-Blowing Twist Ending. It’s just a shame that the big reveal, when it finally comes, makes everything that happened previously seem basically pointless. Thwaites (much better here than as the irrelevant Prince Charming in “Maleficent”) is an MIT computer whiz matching wits with government agent Fishburne in a secret underground lab after encountering something very, very alien in the desert. Aggressively baffling sci-fi craziness ensues.

SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON

Not reviewed

Rated R for language, some sexual references, nudity and drug use

Stars: Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone

A portrait of the legendary Hollywood manager and entrepreneur. Mike Myers directed the documentary.

EDGE OF TOMORROW

★ ★ ★

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson

This smart, funny, wildly inventive sci-fi time-twister is a major score for the mildly self-mocking star and a return to fine form for director Doug Liman (“Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) and co-screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”). After being killed moments into a disastrous battle with invading aliens, smarmy army PR guy Cruise discovers he’s reliving the battle over and over and over again (a la “Groundhog Day”) with the fate of mankind riding on him — and the film’s true action hero, a female super soldier (Blunt, terrific).

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

★ ★ ★

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern

“The only thing worse than biting it from cancer is having a kid bite it from cancer,” observes the teenage protagonist of “The Fault in Our Stars,” though it’s worth bearing in mind that it clearly doesn’t hurt in terms of selling books. Or movie tickets. This satisfactorily heart-rending adaptation of John Green’s young-adult mega-seller features Woodley (quite good, as she was in last year’s somewhat weepie “The Spectacular Now”) as a brainy, literate, snarkily inclined 16-year-old girl in remission from terminal cancer, who meets grinning, cockily charming Gus (Elgort) at a support group and embarks on a doomed romance.

WORDS AND PICTURES

★ ★

Rated PG-13 for sexual material including nine sketches, language and some mature thematic material

Stars: Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Bruce Davison

There are moments in “Words and Pictures” that suggest it could have worked well as the sort of thing it looks like from a distance: an old-fashioned, Tracy and Hepburn-style, romantic-comedy battle of the sexes. Unfortunately, it’s far more interested in mining personal tragedy as icy art-teacher Binoche faces off against burned-out, alcoholic English teacher Owen about which of their arts is “better.” One surprising compensation: Binoche created her own paintings for the film and they’re really quite good.

MALEFICENT

★ ★

Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley

It’s disappointing to learn that in Disney’s new, visually impressive but dramatically bankrupt rethink of the evil sorceress from “Sleeping Beauty,” she’s really not so bad after all. Not even a witch when you get right down to it. Just a fairy gone wrong. Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg makes “Maleficent” look great, but that’s about all, despite a fabulous performance from Jolie when she’s allowed to be bad, though that’s not nearly long enough.

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST

★ ★ ★

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material

Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman

It’s not “Blazing Saddles” or even “Evil Roy Slade,” but Seth MacFarlane’s rude and raunchy old-west comedy is more clever than you might expect, now and then, and it’s even funny at its stupidest thanks to an exceedingly game supporting cast. MacFarlane himself is oddly bland and hipster-inexpressive in his in-person acting debut (after playing the voice of the titular foul-mouthed teddy bear in his mega-hit “Ted”) as a sheep farmer in the high-mortality-rate town of Old Stump, where he falls for the wife (Theron) of the territory’s baddest outlaw (Neeson).

BLENDED

★ ★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content

Stars: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore

The mere fact that it isn’t “Grownups 3” is reason enough to view the latest Adam Sandler comedy as an improvement, but it also helps that Drew Barrymore is part of the mix. Barrymore has a way of bringing out the best in Sandler. She did it in 1998’s “The Wedding Singer” and 10 years ago in “50 First Dates.” And she does it here as a single mom with two boys forced to share a family vacation with widower Sandler and his three girls. Still, every time “Blended” starts to achieve a little sophistication it quickly devolves to dumb default mode.

THE IMMIGRANT

Not reviewed

Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language

Stars: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner

After immigrating to America in the 1920s, a woman (Cotillard) falls victim to a charming pimp (Phoenix) before falling in love with a stage magician (Renner). James Gray co-wrote and directed the drama.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

★ ★ ★

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence

The superhero action is as mega-spectacular as you might expect and quite nicely handled by director Bryan Singer, returning to the franchise after 10 years. But the greatest entertainment comes from the 1970s setting, where Wolverine (Jackman) has traveled to prevent an assassination that messes up the future for man and mutant alike — think lava lamps, water beds and hairstyles that make Wolverine look right at home. As a bonus, there’s also a satisfying emotional component as the aging professor Xavier (Stewart) helps his younger self (James McAvoy) make some difficult choices.

CHEF

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Rated R for language, including some suggestive references

Stars: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman

After hit-and-miss results in big budget land, (hits including “Elf” and the first two “Iron Man” movies, misses such as “Cowboys and Aliens” and “Zathura”), writer/director Jon Favreau returns to his roots with this small-scale, artistically nourishing charmer. And you can almost sense his relief to be making a movie entirely devoid of special effects. Favreau also stars as an upscale LA chef who takes advantage of career disaster to start over with a food truck — rediscovering what he loved about cooking in the first place. And reconnecting with the people he loves.

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