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Film clips: Quick reviews of movies opening, still in theaters

Boarded: Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips."
Boarded: Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips."

OPENING THIS WEEK

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

★★★★

Rated: PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use

Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman

The captain of the US-flagged MV Maersk (Hanks) contends with Somali pirates during the first hijacking of a US cargo ship in two hundred years. Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy,” “United 91,” “Green Zone”) directed the fact-based drama. 

MACHETE KILLS

Not reviewed

Rated: R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content

Stars: Danny Trejo, Alexa Vega, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen

The U.S. government hires renegade Federali officer Machete (Trejo) to track down an arms dealer planning to launch a weapon into space. Robert Rodriguez (“Machete,” “Planet Terror”) directed the action thriller.

NICKY’S FAMILY

Not reviewed

Rated: No MPAA rating

Stars: Nicholas Winton, The Dalai Lama, Ben Abeles

The story of how Englishman Nicholas Winton, now 104 years old, organized the rescue of 669 Czech and Slovak children before the beginning of World War II. Matej Minac (“The Power of Good”) directed the documentary, now in an exclusive engagement at the Wilmette Theatre.

ROMEO AND JULIET

Not reviewed

Rated: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements

Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Giamatti, Douglas Booth

When the son and daughter (Booth and Steinfeld of “True Grit”) of two feuding families meet, forbidden love ensues. Carlo Carlei (“Fluke”) directed the adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragic romance, with a screenplay by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”).

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE

★★★

Rated: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language

Stars: Bill Sage, Julia Garner, Ambyr Childers

Meat is most definitely murder in this nicely textured, occasionally quite creepy, but very, very slow-moving horror outing. Might as well throw unappetizing in there as an adjective as well. Things are unraveling quickly for the Parkers, who have lost their mom in a freak accident just as their annual Lamb’s Day religious observance is rolling around, meaning her two daughters (Garner and Childers) will have to assume her rather unusual kitchen duties. If their ominous dad (Sage), a strict believer in God, family and cannibalism has anything to say about it. Much more moody and atmospheric than horrific, right up until the must-be-seen-to-be-believed finale. 

STILL IN THEATERS

GRAVITY

★★★ ½

Rated: PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language

Stars: George Clooney, Sandra Bullock,

Chances are good that you’ve never seen a film set in outer space as immersive and involving as this extremely suspenseful survival drama from writer/director Alfonso Cuaron (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Y Tu Mamá Tambien”). Cutting-edge special effects create a sense of casual hyper-realism, immediacy and intimacy that makes it seem we’re right there, all alone with mission-commander Kowalski (Clooney) and space newbie Dr. Stone (Bullock, in a career-best performance) after they’re stranded outside their ship by a sudden disaster. And that’s an intensely uncomfortable place to be. The pair’s one hope is to make their way, with dwindling oxygen and jet-pack fuel, to the International Space Station, where they might possibly find a way home—if they live through the ingenious obstacles Cuaron places in their way. If “Gravity” has a flaw worth mentioning, it’s the sentimental back-story Cuaron comes up with for Stone, climaxed by an unnecessarily mawkish climactic scene, goosed along by magic realism. That’s far outweighed, though, by the most powerful moments in this film, which are profoundly eloquent in a way that requires no dialogue. It’s a must-see, even if you had to travel into space to do it.

HAUTE CUISINE

★★ ½

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language

Stars: Catherine Frot, Arthur Dupont, Jean d’Ormesson

If the dramatic content in this soufflé-light French biopic was as compelling as its menu highlights, it would be something savory indeed. Sadly, that’s not quite the case, though drool-worthy cameos by salmon-stuffed cabbage, truffles on toast, Sainte-Honore cake, etc., and a solid, stick-to-your-ribs lead performance by Catherine Frot (“The Page Turner”) manage to make it reasonably satisfying. Frot plays Hortense Laborie, a fictionalized version of the regional French cook who became French president Mitterand’s personal chef — and the first woman to do that job in the history of the Elysee palace. Very little happens the brief time she’s there, unfortunately, aside from clashes with bureaucratic bean counters and a sexist main-kitchen chef, forcing writer/director Christian Vincent (“Quatre Étoiles”) to set a good deal of the story in Laborie’s next job — a scientific base in the Antarctic. And nothing much is going on there either.

PARKLAND

★★ ½

Rated: PG-13 for bloody sequences of ER trauma procedures, some violent images and language, and smoking throughout

Stars: Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton

Fifty years after the traumatic event, the assassination of JFK is still capable of touching a raw nerve — even in a dramatization as flat-footed as this one. A drama focusing on collateral details the first few days after the shooting shouldn’t necessarily be dull and uninvolving but this one is — with the exception of a few revelations that would have been just as interesting in a documentary. “Parkland” begins well, with journalist turned filmmaker Peter Landesman capturing the shock and confusion of those first few moments, especially in the ER where Kennedy is operated on by a dismayed surgical resident (Efron).

RUNNER RUNNER

Not reviewed

Rated: R for language and some sexual content

Stars: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton

A college student (Timberlake) gets mixed up with the crooked operator of an on-line poker site (Affleck). Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) directed the thriller.

BAGGAGE CLAIM

★★

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some language

Stars: Paula Patton, Taye Diggs, Jill Scott

Sometimes you have to go really, really, really far out of your way just to discover that what you were looking for was right across the hall. That’s the blatantly telegraphed moral of this mildly diverting, but entirely predictable strictly-by-the-numbers romcom about a desperate flight attendant (Patton) sky-stalking ex-boyfriends in the hope one will have transformed into perfect husband material—her little sister’s upcoming wedding making her feel like an old maid at 30. Though it’s painfully obvious to anyone watching that she’s bound to wind up with lifelong best-buddy and major dreamboat William Wright (Luke)—her across-the-hall neighbor. After all, the guy’s name is Mr. Wright. Adapted from his own novel by writer/director David E. Talbert (“First Sunday”), a successful theatrical writer/director/producer in the Tyler Perry vein.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2

Not reviewed

Rated PG for mild rude humor

Stars: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Will Forte, Andy Samberg

The young inventor who made it rain meatballs in the 2009 original (Hader) returns to his hometown when he learns his food machine is now producing menacing food-animal hybrids. Cody Cameron (“Open Season 3”) and Kris Pearn co-directed the animated family comedy.

DON JON

★★★

Rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore

A young New Jersey lady’s man finds that unrealistic expectations from pornography (Gordon-Levitt) are standing in the way of happiness with his true love (Johansson). Gordon-Levitt also wrote and directed the comedy-drama.

RUSH

★★ ½

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde

Director Ron Howard’s great strength has always been his ability to orchestrate emotions while telling involving stories, but he’s stripped those narrative gears somewhat with this disappointing racetrack saga. The legendary rivalry between 1970s Formula 1 racers James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Brühl) was tailor-made for the movies, concluding as it did with a neck-and-neck showdown for the world championship. Yet there’s a strange quality of emotional detachment to “Rush,” combined with occasional confusion as the story jumps back and forth over time from race to nearly identical race, that prevents it from crossing the finish line in the expected blaze of glory. It doesn’t help that both of the main characters are hard to warm to, despite strong performances. All in all, Howard’s previous pedal-to-the-metal movie, his 1977 debut with “Grand Theft Auto,” was a lot more fun.

PRISONERS

★★★ ½

Rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard

This grim, unnervingly suspenseful thriller wastes no time getting to its central moral dilemma. After his little girl is abducted and the initial suspect (Paul Dano as a vacant-eyed young man with the IQ of a 10-year-old) is released by police for lack of evidence, an enraged father (Jackman in a career-best performance) kidnaps him, takes him to an abandoned house and subjects him to tortures straight out of Abu Ghraib. Director Denis Villeneuve (Oscar nominated for 2010’s “Incendies”) delivers a complex and well-executed mystery that works equally well as a character study of the increasingly conflicted father (a devout Christian) and of the misleadingly mild-mannered detective assigned to the case (Gyllenhaal, also excellent), who has rage issues of his own. Most of all, though, “Prisoners” is intent on raising some of the same questions posed by “Zero Dark Thirty” about whether or not extreme means are justified by a crucially important end.

SALINGER

★★ ½

Rated PG-13 for disturbing war images, thematic elements and smoking

Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, John Cusack, Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal

The life of Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger certainly makes a fascinating story, but it’s only partially revealed by this superficial and ultimately disappointing documentary. In a sense, screenwriter Shane Salerno (“Savages,” “Shaft”), who spent 10 years writing and directing this film, was beaten before he started. There’s very little film footage of the author, who withdrew from public life long, long ago. Also, Salinger’s two grown children refused to participate and his estate refused permission to use any of the author’s writings. As a result, Salerno is forced to tell a story based on hearsay, drawing on comments from people at best one step removed from Salinger’s private world. Worse, he’s forced to rely on cheesy dramatic re-creations such as a Salinger look-alike typing furiously on an empty stage. “Salinger” does present big news with the revelation that the author has arranged for the posthumous publication of five new books beginning in 2015, though the only proof Salerno offers is verification by two unnamed sources.

WADJDA

★★★★

Rated PG for thematic elements, brief mild language and smoking

Stars: Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdullrahman Al Gohani

There’s a lot more going on in this first feature film from Saudi Arabia, where movie theaters are still banned, than the deceptively simple story of a girl who’s willing to do just about anything to buy her first bicycle. Even if that were all there was to it, though, “Wadjda” would still be a must-see. Female writer/director Haifaa Al-Mansour finds a sneakily innocuous way to address the severe constraints placed on women in Saudi society with the story of 10-year-old Wadjda (Mohammed), a rebellious spirit who wears high-top sneakers under her abaya. She dreams of buying a beautiful green bike so she can race her friend Abdullah (Al Gohani), despite girls being strongly discouraged, if not quite forbidden, to ride them. It’s possible to discern grim undertones in this generally light and upbeat film, because while Wadjda pursues her vision of freedom, the restricting conventions of society are closing in on her. Yet the film’s young star, whose mischievous performance is a pure delight, conveys the impression that, come what may, Wadjda will be just fine.

BATTLE OF THE YEAR

★★

Rated PG-13 for language and some rude behavior

Stars: Josh Holloway, Josh Peck, Caity Lotz

If back-flipping, hand-walking, head-spinning, corkscrew-twisting, generally gravity-defying dance sequences are what you’re looking for, you could do worse than “Battle of the Year.” It’s just a shame that the actual on-screen dance content is so meager compared to the amount of time spent rehashing almost every conceivable underdog-sports-movie cliché. An attempt by director Brandon Lee to fictionalize his 2007 documentary “Planet B-Boy” (modestly referred to at one point in this film as “the Bible of hip-hop”), “Battle of the Year” is the story of an alcoholic former championship basketball coach (Holloway) seeking redemption assembling a crew of the country’s best, and most egotistical, b-boy dancers and turning them into a dream team just in time for the titular international hip-hop dance contest—which the USA has failed to win for 15 years. With inspirational messages along the way such as “There is no I in team.” 

THANKS FOR SHARING

★★ ½

Rated R for language and some strong sexual content

Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad

With sex addiction emerging as a topic recently in edgier films like “Shame” and “Choke,” it’s no surprise to see it show up in a comparatively safe, mainstream, dramedy like this directorial debut for screenwriter Stuart Blumberg (“The Kids are All Right”). “Thanks for Sharing” is fairly conventional stuff, with its characters following neat little arcs of crisis, disaster and redemption — though their issues are a bit more scandalous than usual. This must be the first major movie in which a character reaches a crucial turning point after being caught trying to film up his boss’s skirt with a shoe camera. Ruffalo nervously initiates his first post-sobriety relationship with Paltrow, Robbins contends with his past in the form of a former-junkie prodigal son (Patrick Fugit), and newbie Gad finds the best way to leave his past as a subway groper behind is to help addict (pop singer Pink in her movie debut) with her problems. Then it’s talk, talk, talk, for the most part, as they face their assorted demons.

RIDDICK

★★★

Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity

Stars: Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine

Fans of lean, mean, testosterone-steeped sci-fi action are likely to find “Riddick” a blast — even though it offers few surprises. “This ain’t nothing new” is one of the first statements uttered by the inter-planetary anti-hero (Diesel, back for his third installment in the series), when he finds he’s once again stranded and forced to fight for his life on an unnamed desert planet inhabited only by carrion birds, hyena-wolf hybrids and amphibious scorpion-serpent monsters. In other words, just his kind of hangout. Writer/director David Twohy throws in enough entertaining touches, as Riddick whittles down two teams of mercenaries hoping to collect the price on his head — and a fair amount of unexpected humor. In a movie like this, it never hurts to mix a little gratuitous comedy in with the gratuitous nudity and gore.

THE FAMILY

Not reviewed

Rated R for violence, language and brief sexuality

Stars: Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer

A mafia boss (De Niro) who has testified against the mob is relocated with his family to a sleepy town in France under the protection of a CIA agent (Jones). Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “The Professional”) directed the crime comedy.

INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2

Not reviewed

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of terror and violence

Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey

The evil spirits who attempted to posses a comatose young boy in the 2010 original continue to plague the Lambert family. James Wan (“The Conjuring,” “Saw”) directed the horror.

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