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Movie stars: capsule reviews

Kerry hayes/Columbia Pictures/sony via AP

Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum in “The Vow.’’

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★ ½ Journey 2: The Mysterious Island There isn’t much here to like: an enormous electric eel that powers a sunken ship, Dwayne Johnson sitting on a log next to Michael Caine and breaking into song, closing credits. Even by the unambitious standards of some children’s movies and many that star Michael Caine, this one has a difficult time making a case for itself as anything other than an adventure in baby-sitting. With Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Hutcherson, and an embarrassing Luis Guzmán. (94 min., PG) (Wesley Morris)

★★ ½ The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012: Animated/The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012: Live Action Two programs featuring this year’s Academy Award-nominated short films. More of a mixed bag than usual, but worth seeing for the animated “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’’ and the live-action “Pentecost.’’ Some films subtitled. (79 min./107 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

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★★★ ½ The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012: Documentaries Four of the five Academy-nominated short docs. This year’s crop spans the globe from Japan to Pakistan to the American South, and each film shows average people coming to terms with almost unimaginable events and struggling to reclaim their dignity. Some films subtitled. (130 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

★★ Safe House Denzel Washington plays one of those misunderstood CIA operatives who’s “gone rogue.’’ But even before he’s tortured for information, Washington’s pulse never rises. His calm is absurd. Yet it’s exactly what’s needed in a by-the-numbers chase-’em-down and shoot-’em-up movie with lots of intentionally sea-sickening camerawork: confidence. With Ryan Reynolds as the young agent responsible for bringing him in. (115 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

★★ ½ The Vow Young marrieds Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams hit a rough patch when she wakes from a coma with amnesia. It’s the rare chick flick that’s about brain trauma in addition to causing it, and it’s quite watchable date-night cheese - the kind of movie you can simultaneously snort at and enjoy. With Sam Neill and Jessica Lange. (104 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

★★ W.E. Madonna’s second film as director is a double drama. One story is about Wallis Simpson (a very good Andrea Riseborough) and the romance that led to the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII (James D’Arcy). The other is about the modern-day sufferings of a Park Avenue housewife (Abbie Cornish). The period scenes are good, the rest is not. As a moviemaker, Madonna is best when she’s not trying so hard. (119 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Short bites on what’s in theaters.

★★ ½ The 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)

★★★ Albert Nobbs As the title character, a woman passing as a male butler at an upper-crust hotel, Glenn Close skulks through Edwardian-era Dublin like a eunuch on a stealth mission. Rodrigo Garcia’s drama is cautious to the point of stodginess. Close (who co-wrote the script) gives a fascinating performance, even if Janet McTeer steals the film. (113 min., R) (Ty Burr)

The Weinstein Company via AP

Oscar nominee Jean Dujardin in “The Artist.’’

★★★★ 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 seen 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)

★★★Big Miracle If this movie is to be believed, the most riveting and important story of the late 1980s was three migrating California gray whales stranded beneath miles of ice far above the Arctic Circle. Luckily the film needs only to entertain, and that it does thoroughly, with minimal preaching. Praise be. Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski star - along with those animatronic whales, of course. (103 min., PG) (Janice Page)

★★★ ½ Carnage Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage’’ isn’t a great play and this is hardly Roman Polanski’s finest hour, but the schematic tale of two upscale couples descending into savagery as they discuss a fight between their young sons is good, stinging fun, and the performances are wonderful. John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and the peerless Jodie Foster star. (79 min., R) (Ty Burr)

★★ ½Chronicle A found-footage superhero movie about three high schoolers who videotape the aftermath of their encounter with a glowing space-rock. Pieces of this are brilliant, but the filmmakers can’t decide whether they’re making fun of the genre or just going overboard with it. Paging John Hughes or Gus Van Sant. (84 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

★★ ½ Contraband Mark Wahlberg, money, guns, grime, shipping containers, violence, and several plot holes: It’s a better time than you’d think. With Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons, and Kate Beckinsale. (109 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

★★★ Crazy Horse The legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman prowls the Paris nude-revue nightclub of the title, watching the ways human beings manufacture the art of desire. His fly-on-the-wall approach yields insights into process from everybody but the dancers themselves. In French, with subtitles. (134 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

★★★ 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 (“Sideways,’’ “About Schmidt’’) that’s also a movingly rich pleasure about compromise and connection. With Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller as the hero’s daughters. (115 min., R) (Ty Burr)

François Duhamel/Warner Brothers Pictures

Thomas Horn in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.’’

★★★ Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close The 11-year-old protagonist (Thomas Horn) of Stephen Daldry’s movie is a handful. Mostly for an audience tasked with watching him whirl across every inch of New York’s five boroughs. The film’s whimsy and cuteness should exasperate, but there’s poignant urgency at its center, much of it courtesy of Horn and Max von Sydow, who plays his elderly sidekick. With Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Viola Davis. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel. (129 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

★★★ 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)

★★ The Grey It’s cheap the way this movie wants to be both a Liam Neeson “Quit Taking My Stuff’’ movie and an existential thriller about survival. We’ve come to see Neeson danse-macabre with wolves. Instead, we get a lot of scenes of men being sad because they have no idea where they are and there are no women to have sex with. Those moments aren’t bad, but they’re not enough, either. (117 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

★★★ Haywire The new Steven Soderbergh film puts at its center the martial-arts star Gina Carano as a covert operative. The movie is playful, but its naturalness is also cold and no-frills. Soderbergh wants to get close to how these chases and fistfights might happen in everyday life. So it’s less a thriller than a kind of documentary. With Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, and Michael Douglas. (106 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

★★ The Iron Lady The best way to appreciate the high-ludicrousness of Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher might be to watch this thin, conventionally structured movie with the sound down. It’s good acting. It’s great kabuki. The movie, meanwhile, lacks the gumption to damn Thatcher solely on the terms of her decade-long prime ministership. Unfairly, too much of it gawks at her while she’s doddering and deluded in old age. (105 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

★ ½ Man on a Ledge People cheer the plot twists in this lousy movie about a fugitive (Sam Worthington) threatening to jump off a building. None of the actors have anything to do. You could cast this movie with potato chips and still get cheers when one of the bad guys is cuffed. With potato chips, you understand. With Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, and Ed Harris. (102 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

★★★ Pina Wim Wenders’s ode to the work of the late German modern-dance choreographer Pina Bausch is a parting gift from one creative force to another. Soberly ecstatic, it’s also the latest proof (with Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo’’ and Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams’’) that 3-D can serve as midwife to art and exhilaration. In lots of languages, with subtitles. (100 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

★★ Red Tails George Lucas produced this action movie about Tuskegee Airmen stationed in Italy during World War II. This is a story people have been waiting decades to see, so it’s no fun feeling responsible to go to a movie that isn’t very good. It means well, but it’s too basic to be rousing or even heartening. Directed by Anthony Hemingway. With Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Tristan Wilds, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Terrence Howard. (125 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

★★★★ A Separation A superb work of realism by Asghar Farhadi about a youngish middle-class Iranian woman (Leila Hatami) who leaves her husband (Peyman Moaadi), putting his sick father and their studious and astute 11-year-old daughter (Sarina Farhadi) in the uncertain middle. The request for a divorce sets in motion a chain of small domestic events whose dismaying implications accrue. In Farsi, with English subtitles. (123 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

★★Underworld Awakening Vampires and werewolves are back at each other’s throats in a sequel overly eager to assert that monster mashes aren’t about “Twilight’’ melodrama. Kate Beckinsale wriggles back into her catsuit as Selene, thawed after a human purge of vampires and Lycans that left her in cryo-freeze. India Eisley is the young girl who now shares a psychic link with her, and special abilities. (88 min., R) (Tom Russo)

★★The Woman in Black How frustrating to be Daniel Radcliffe. One movie after Harry Potter vanquished Voldemort, and it’s like he’s anticipating having to do it again. Here he is in this blah ghost story searching a dreary house for the source of off-screen sound effects. Radcliffe has an exuberant side, and some of us are getting desperate to see it. (95 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

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