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movie stars

Movie capsules: Short reviews of what’s in theaters

Rooney Mara in “Side Effects.”

Barry Wetcher/Open Road Films via AP

Rooney Mara in “Side Effects.”

New releases

½ 56 UP The latest installment of this groundbreaking documentary series represents a bit of a holding pattern. The 13 British men and women who have been filmed at seven-year-intervals since they were 7 are now in the space between middle age and old age, and they want us to know they’re not dead yet. Essential viewing nonetheless. (144 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

Identity Thief All the good will Melissa McCarthy earned from “Bridesmaids” is undone in an obnoxious comedy made worse by obnoxious sentimentality. She’s a credit-card-fraud artist, Jason Bateman is her uptight victim, and the two hit the road together. Unfunny, vulgar, predictable, it’s the generic equivalent of a Judd Apatow movie. (108 min., R) (Ty Burr)

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Side Effects A sleekly clever murder mystery that plays as many games with the audience as it does with its characters. Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum play a married couple, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jude Law play psychiatrists, somebody ends up dead. In the end, though, it’s just a genre exercise and evidence that director Steven Soderbergh is getting bored. (106 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Previously released

Amour A simple yet devastatingly profound story of an elderly French couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) during the long, squalid months of the wife’s decline. Writer-director Michael Haneke (“Caché”) observes his subject with an unadorned style that takes on aspects of the holy. The movie avoids melodrama; instead, it’s just extraordinarily intimate. In French, with subtitles. (127 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Broken City A cluttered, formulaic thriller, with Mark Wahlberg miscast as a conflicted detective caught in an election week conspiracy. The best thing here — i.e., the most enjoyably bad — is Russell Crowe as a greasy New York mayor. He’s Michael Bloomberg’s evil twin. With Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jeffrey Wright. (109 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Bullet to the Head Hardly a noted cutup, Sylvester Stallone is surprisingly funny playing an irascible New Orleans hit man paired with a cop (Sung Kang, “Fast Five”). It’s a trick Stallone pulls off by not trying too hard, and generally just looking annoyed to be here. If “Bullet” had anything else going for it, it might be a little more than just the grungy revenge flick of the week. (92 min., R) (Tom Russo)

½ Django Unchained In Quentin Tarantino’s clear-eyed and completely out of its mind exploitation western, Jamie Foxx plays a freed slave in 1853 on the way to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from a Mississippi plantation. Tarantino has never been more himself than he is here: grisly kitsch rigged for shock in a way that refuses to cheapen the atrocity of its subject. With Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson. (165 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Gangster Squad Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling head a secret crew of cops intent on bringing down crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). This is almost like every popular movie about crooks and cops made in the last four decades, but it’s never enough like its own movie. Director Ruben Fleischer gives it some flash and bang, but it inadequately substitutes for what you could be watching instead. (113 min., R ) (Wesley Morris)

½ The Guilt Trip Barbra Streisand as a noodgy mom and Seth Rogen as a stressed-out son in a tiny car driving across country. It’s silly, predictable, and surprisingly sweet — the sort of thing you can and probably should take your own mother to. The stars are believable as parent and child, but who’s the father, Fozzie Bear? (95 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

A Haunted House “Paranormal Activity” fans will recall that the phenomenon-spawning fright flick opened just over three years ago — meaning that the time for parodies was ripest about two years and 11 months ago. Yet here comes Marlon Wayans’s spoof, blithely looking to ride the found-footage wave regardless of whether it’s crested. Not that it would necessarily matter, if the comedy were sharp enough — but no such luck. (86 min., R) (Tom Russo)

½ The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Title notwithstanding, almost exactly as expected. More Middle-earth — the first third of Tolkien’s prequel story to “The Lord of the Rings” — Peter Jackson’s film has lots of sound and fury and not enough narrative momentum. Ian McKellan’s Gandalf and (joy) Andy Serkis’s Gollum return. The 48 fps digital version in theaters looks like high-end video. With Martin Freeman. In 3-D. (169 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ Hyde Park on Hudson A work of historical embroidery about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s possible affair with his sixth cousin, Margaret Suckley, this paints the 32d president as a creepy sexual predator and a heck of a guy. It’s as tone deaf as movies get. Bill Murray is quite good as FDR, but Laura Linney gives a defeated performance in an impossible role. (94 min., R) (Ty Burr)

The Impossible A grueling, well-crafted true-life drama that takes one of the worst natural disasters in history — the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami — and reduces it to a really bad day at Club Med. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are excellent as vacationing Europeans in Thailand, as is Tom Holland as their eldest son. (114 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ Les Misérables What’s great about the first half of Tom Hooper’s film of the musical is the balance it strikes between misérable and miz. After 2½ hours, the movie becomes a bowl of trail mix — you’re picking out the nuts you don’t like and hoping the next bite doesn’t contain any craisins. With Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who are wonderful, and Russell Crowe, who’s not and it breaks your heart (and hurts your ears). (157 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

Life of Pi Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel is a marvel of contradictions: a movie about the magnificence of nature that’s largely computer-made, a two-character epic, a 3-D extravaganza that takes place inside a 20-foot lifeboat. The movie shouldn’t work at all, but it does. Keep kids under 10 at home, though. With Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan. (127 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

½ Lincoln In the weeks following his reelection, Abraham Lincoln (a remarkable Daniel Day-Lewis) fights to get the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed. A terrifically entertaining film that, against all odds, makes politics exciting again. Steven Spielberg is in top form, Tony Kushner’s script is full of crackling talk (and lots of it), and there are scene-stealing turns from Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, and James Spader. (149 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Mama Director Andy Muschietti’s supernatural thriller wonders what if abandoned kids were watched over by an angry ghost. Jessica Chastain does nuanced work as the rock chick put in charge of young sisters found after missing in the mountains for five years. The frustration, though, is how much the movie leans on made-ya-jump scares and contrived plot devices when its quieter chills are so potent. (106 min., PG-13) (Tom Russo)

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Animated and Live Action As advertised, the 10 films vying for Academy Awards in the animated and live action shorts categories. While there are few knockouts, it’s an impressive group, with “Paperman” the most charming of the animated shorts and “Henry” the most affecting of the live-action. (animated, 40 min.; live action, 96 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Documentaries Homeless teens, women with breast cancer, Rwandan children in dire need of heart surgery — in theory, this year’s nominated shorts promise compassion fatigue. In practice, they’re inspiring in the toughest, most moving ways. “Inocente” is the standout, but they’re all good. In English, Spanish, Rwandan, Italian, with subtitles. (Program A, 123 min.; Program B, 83 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

Parental Guidance You really can make a bad family movie less terrible. The people responsible for this bland exercise in sentimentality and rambunctiousness have done an honorable enough job, chiefly through casting. Bette Midler and Billy Crystal baby-sit for Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott, and their limits to humiliation are kind of a relief. It’s: “It’ll do anything for this movie, but I won’t do that.” (96 min., PG) (Wesley Morris)

½ Quartet From first-time director Dustin Hoffman, a sweet-tempered, rather fuddly drama about retired British opera singers, less slick than the vaguely similar “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and better for it. Maggie Smith gets to go glam as a famous soprano who has lost her gift; Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins provide support. A minor treat. (98 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ Silver Linings Playbook Bradley Cooper finally gets a role that gives his oily charm some vulnerability. He plays a mental patient living in Philadelphia with his parents, hung up on his estranged wife and spending time with an equally unstable woman (Jennifer Lawrence). The movie whizzes and stings. Its director is David O. Russell, who’s become Hollywood’s most instinctive maker of ensemble dramatic comedies. With a never-haler Robert De Niro as Cooper’s gambler dad. (122 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Skyfall The James Bond movie franchise turns 50 and continues with Daniel Craig in the title role. But to hear everybody in this tedious movie debate whether, after 23 movies, James is now too long in the tooth for glamorous spycraft, you would think the star of this movie is Methuselah. With Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, and, as the villain, Javier Bardem. (145 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

½ Stand Up Guys Al Pacino and Christopher Walken as a pair of aging criminals having a final night on the town. It’s not a bad idea: Let two acting lions just riff and to hell with a plot. Too bad Fisher Stevens’s tone-deaf direction and a creepily misogynistic script push the movie right over a cliff. With Alan Arkin. (100 min., R) (Ty Burr)

½ This Is 40 A “sort-of sequel” to 2007’s “Knocked Up” that focuses on that film’s supporting characters, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), as they grapple with a stalled marriage. Judd Apatow has made a contradiction in terms — a personal Hollywood comedy — that has good coarse laughs without ever coming to a point. (134 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Warm Bodies A zombie date flick that has its “Twilight” and makes fun of it too, thanks to a cheeky screenplay and tart direction by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”). Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer play a zombie lad and a living girl who fall for each other after the apocalypse. It’s silly, often funny, and surprisingly sweet. (97 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow’s brilliantly crafted ground-level procedural unfolds over a nine-year-period, from the early days of the war in Afghanistan to the midnight assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Jessica Chastain plays a CIA agent obsessed with the search; the early torture scenes make viewers confront their own response. (157 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Find an archive of movie reviews at www.boston.com/movies.

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