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Movie stars: capsule reviews

Focus Features via AP

Aasha Davis (left) and Adepero Oduye in director Dee Rees’s “Pariah.’’

New releases

★★★ ½Hell and Back Again With some documentaries, you can feel the filmmakers hit a wall. Danfung Dennis doesn’t appear to have a limit. He’s made a combat film essentially about a wounded Marine and his flashback to Afghanistan. It’s as if Dennis has seen (or knows we’ve seen) some of these movies and understands that the flavorlessness of even the most well-meant, clearly articulated filmmaking can leave you undisturbed and indifferent to what you’re being told and shown. This is an ingenious artistic disturbance. (88 min., unrated) (Wesley Morris)

★★ In the Land of Blood and Honey An agonized romantic drama set during the Bosnian War and a credible narrative feature filmmaking debut for writer-director Angelina Jolie. Like the filmmaker’s public persona, the movie’s both strong and headstrong, invested in grit and glamour with a hazy understanding of the line separating the two. Zana Marjanovic and Goran Kostic star. In Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, with subtitles. (127 min., R) (Ty Burr)

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★★★Pariah Dee Rees’s first film is a coming-of-age and coming-out drama centered on a 17-year-old Brooklyn lesbian (Adepero Oduye). It’s a movie that feels in all its vividness, specificity, and honesty - and in its amateurish screenwriting, too - like something found from the early- to mid-1990s when American independent moviemaking encouraged far more conversations than it currently does about the sexuality of young, brown girls. (88 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

★★ Paul Goodman Changed My Life An attempt to reclaim a lost counterculture mentor - a thinker-writer-activist who helped make possible the New Left of the 1960s before he was outrun by it. As documentaries go, it’s an able introduction that doesn’t make its subject as relevant to our current discontents as it could. (89 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

Previously released

★★ ½The Adventures of Tintin Director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson bring the intrepid boy reporter of Hergé’s classic comic books into the digital new millennium with mixed results. The film’s a visual marvel that’s cold to the touch, with a chase-rinse-repeat story line that grows tiresome and motion-captured characters that lack the warmth of human beings. (107 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked Young children may enjoy the third film in the series, bland as it is. Alvin and the other five singing chipmunks join their guardian Dave (Jason Lee) for a luxury cruise and end up stranded on an (almost) uninhabited tropical island where they learn to be more self-reliant. David Cross is also on hand, wearing a giant pelican suit, but even that’s not enough to make this fun for grown-ups over age 9. (85 min., G) (Joel Brown)

★★★ Arthur Christmas Santa’s Christmas Eve run is imagined as a perfect, paramilitarized operation in a 3-D animated feature from Aardman, the outfit behind “Wallace & Gromit.’’ But when a little girl’s gift is overlooked, Santa’s geeky son Arthur (James McAvoy) is distraught, and races to make things right. The journey can drag a little after the dizzying opener, but the film’s holiday spirit is infectious. (97 min., PG) (Tom Russo)

★★★★ The Artist Michael Hazanavicius’s silent, black-and-white love letter to classic movies isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough to make just about anyone who sees it ridiculously happy - and that includes children and grown-ups who’ve never come across a silent film. Jean Dujardin plays the charming Hollywood ham whose career goes south with the arrival of the talkies; Bérénice Bejo is his love interest. A crowd-pleaser and a joy. (100 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

★★★ ½A Dangerous Method The insinuation in David Cronenberg’s sex drama is strong, the acting stronger. Adapted by Christopher Hampton from his play, the film focuses on the professional and emotional bond between the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), his mistress and assistant Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). With Cronenberg, devilishly, the sex proves more curative than the talking. (94 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

The Darkest Hour Four young Americans meet up at a bar in Moscow just in time for an alien invasion. Sean and Ben (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella) have just been ripped off in an Internet business deal when they meet Natalie and Ann (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor). When all hell breaks loose, they hide in a storage room, emerging days later into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. They find themselves fighting for survival in a yawn-inducing genre exercise. (89 min., PG-13) (Joel Brown)

★★★ ½The Descendants With his wife in a coma, a prosperous Hawaii lawyer (George Clooney) has to cope with all the parts of his life he didn’t know. A somewhat minor work from director Alexander Payne that’s also a movingly rich pleasure about compromise and connection. With Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller. (115 min., R) (Ty Burr)

★★★ The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo David Fincher disinfects the luridness of the first of Stieg Larsson’s fun-to-read Swedish bestsellers until overheated trash assumes the chilly, clammy precision of a Fincher production, which is to say that the violence is both terrible and extremely alluring. Fincher also clearly adores his brutal (and brutally funny) cyberpunk played by Rooney Mara, whose dead seriousness is a grim hoot. With Daniel Craig, Robin Wright, and Christopher Plummer. (152 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

★★★★Hugo An exhilarating tale of magic, machines, memories, and dreams. Martin Scorsese marshals the latest movie technology to create a love letter to the earliest movies of all. Yes, it’s a family film - and a great one - but the family Scorsese has really made this for is the 100-year-old tribe of watchers in the dark. With Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Sacha Baron Cohen. (127 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

★★★Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol This is the fourth and most navigable installment in 15 years, and Tom Cruise’s decision to keep making these ridiculous movies doesn’t feel desperate. It feels like exercise. For him. For us. For whoever on the set was responsible for saying, “Tom, that’s a union job.’’ The mission this time? Stop nuclear apocalypse. With Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg. The elegant direction is by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles’’). (133 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

★★★ ½The Muppets So often with remakes and movies based on a television show, there’s no point. The new Muppets musical-comedy is ingenious. Everything about it is satirical. But the show means something to the filmmakers. They’ve made an uncynical film about resurrecting the brand. It’s an embrace of the spirit of a bygone enthusiasm for show business that, like most Muppets, is fully felt. With Jason Segel, Amy Adams, and Chris Cooper. (98 min., PG) (Wesley Morris)

★★ ½My Week With Marilyn Michelle Williams is convincing and moving as Marilyn Monroe, circa 1957. The film itself is a stodgy period piece and self-defensive bit of grave-robbing on the part of memoirist Colin Clark (played as a young movie-set gofer by Eddie Redmayne), but Williams gets both Monroe’s insecurities and mystery. With Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier. (99 min., R) (Ty Burr)

New Year’s Eve Fun in the way that eating at a buffet is fun. It’s two hours of foods that have nothing to do with each other piled high on a plate because it was too cheap to resist. Hilary Swank, Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Sarah Jessica Parker, Halle Berry, Ashton Kutcher, and Robert De Niro all waiting for one year to drag into the next. (117 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

★★Shame Petty provocation from the Englishman Steve McQueen. It’s the tale of a white-collar guy (Michael Fassbender) who can’t seem to stop looking for and having sex. The movie is empty - what’s McQueen after, really? - especially after Carey Mulligan arrives as Fassbender’s sister. Still, there’s a misery in Fassbender that’s spellbinding. (96 min., NC-17) (Wesley Morris)

★★Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows It has its pleasures, chief among them Robert Downey Jr., but the light has gone from the star’s eyes and the thrill is gone from this franchise. Jared Harris plays the “Napoleon of crime,’’ professor James Moriarty, and the scenes between him and Holmes are the film’s sharpest. Jude Law and Noomi Rapace costar. (129 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

★★The Sitter “Adventures in Babysitting’’ airlifted into Judd Apatow’s neck of the woods. You get Jonah Hill, crass racial and sexual stereotypes, more drugs than a DEA evidence room, reckless child endangerment, language to drop a nun, and a very strange white boy crush on all things black and urban. Some laughs, too, but not enough. (81 min., R) (Ty Burr)

★★★ ½Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy The stillness of Gary Oldman as George Smiley is magnificent to behold. This adaptation of the 1973 John le Carre novel, about a British intelligence wonk (Oldman) trying to catch a traitor in his ranks, is a model of smart restraint and telling details - an engrossing movie for grown-ups. (127 min., R) (Ty Burr)

★★★ War Horse A boy (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse, separated and rejoined by World War I. Steven Spielberg’s “serious’’ movie of 2011 is a work of full-throated Hollywood classicism that looks back to the craftsmanship and sentimentality of John Ford and other studio era legends. It’s as impressive as coasting gets, but it’s coasting all the same. (146 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

★★ We Bought a Zoo Matt Damon plays a grieving single dad who takes over a ratty Southern California wild animal park. It’s a sweet-natured, terribly unthreatening drama about redemption and renewal, and it may matter more to the man who made it (director Cameron Crowe, stuck in a career slump) than the audiences who see it. With Scarlett Johansson. (124 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

★★★Young Adult Diablo Cody wrote this pungent, piquant movie about a sputtering young-adult novelist (Charlize Theron) who tries to win back an old, married boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). Cody’s aiming at adolescent archetypes and Theron plays the part in a bulletproof vest. With Patton Oswalt. Directed by Jason Reitman. (94 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

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