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movie stars

Movie capsules: Short reviews of what’s in theaters

Ami Ayalon (center) in “The Gatekeepers.”

Warner Bros. Pictures

Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson in “Jack the Giant Slayer.’’

New releases

The Gatekeepers In Dror Moreh’s stunning documentary — one of this year’s Oscar nominees in the category — a handful of grizzled old men talk openly about their experiences running Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. It plays a little like “Zero Dark Thirty” as directed by Errol Morris. In Hebrew, with sub­titles. (95 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Jack the Giant Slayer In director Bryan Singer’s clever 3-D version of the folk tale, Nicholas Hoult (“Warm Bodies”) is earnest, leather-hoodied Jack, who heads up the beanstalk with Ewan McGregor’s knight to rescue a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) imperiled by power-hungry Stanley Tucci — and giants, of course. Less is more might have improved the motion-capture creatures, but their initial reveal is fairly stunning stuff, and the stratospheric beanstalk is a show-stealing effects element. (114 min., PG-13) (Tom Russo)

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Let My People Go! A sendup of Jewish and gay culture and identity, which isn’t exactly novel. Nebbish French immigrant Reuben (Nicolas Maury) works as a mailman in Finland, where he lives in domestic bliss with his lover Teemu (Jarkko Niemi). A farcical misunderstanding sends Reuben back to Paris and his crazy, caricatured family. Despite some laughs, it’s so broad and predictable that it reaffirms more stereotypes than it upends. In French, with subtitles. (87 min., unrated) (Loren King)

Phantom Writer-director Todd Robinson generates some engrossing tension with a crazy-provocative premise, speculating that a vanished Soviet Cold War submarine was the test vessel for a cloaking device, and that the episode nearly triggered World War III. But the plot is dragged down by a script filled with awkward exposition and blunt audience cues. Ed Harris is the service-weary submarine commander in charge; David Duchovny is an enigmatic tagalong clearly up to something. (97 min., R) (Tom Russo)

½ A Place at the Table Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush’s documentary about hunger and related issues in America is earnest and worthy and scattered. It’s also surprisingly slick (among the activists interviewed is Jeff Bridges). The visuals are bright, the graphics cutesy, the folk score tinkly. It’s by T-Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars. (84 min., PG) (Mark Feeney)

½ Rubberneck Alex Karpovsky, best known as Ray in HBO’s “Girls,” co-writes, directs, and stars in a creepy little number about a shy Cambridge lab tech obsessed with a co-worker (Jaime Ray Newman). Half suspense drama and half brooding character study, the film has a low-budget feel and a strong dash of local flavor. (84 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

Stoker An uncredited psychosexual remake of Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt,” with Mia Wasikowska as a young woman whose charming, evil Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) comes to visit. Korean cult director Park Chan-wook makes his Hollywood debut, and the movie’s stunningly shot and deeply creepy before the script Explains Everything at the end. With Nicole Kidman. (98 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Previously released

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)

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)

½ Beautiful Creatures A teenage boy (Alden Ehernreich) discovers his new girlfriend (Alice Englert) is a witch. Adapted from the first of four “Caster Chronicles” novels, but it may play better if you’re not a convert. As “Twilight” knock-offs go, this has its pleasures, mischievous banter and two happy hams named Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson among them. (124 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

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 an audacious Samuel L. Jackson. (165 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Escape From Planet Earth This 3-D animated feature casts Rob Corddry as extraterrestrial tech nerd Gary Supernova, a safety-minded worrier who mans the mission control board for the spacefaring exploits of his hotshot brother, Buzz Light- um, Scorch (Brendan Fraser). When Scorch is captured on our world, Gary has to head out into the field to save him. Colorful as the aliens-among-us comedy is to look at, Corddry is handed a role that’s beige as can be. (89 min., PG) (Tom Russo)

½ A Good Day to Die Hard It took 25 years and five films, but the “Die Hard” series has finally devolved into joyless sludge. John McClane (Bruce Willis) travels to Moscow to rescue his son (Jai Courtney) and gets caught up in Kremlin mayhem. The movie has two problems: It’s terribly directed and it makes no sense. (97 min., R) (Ty Burr)

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)

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)

½ John Dies at the End A loopy slacker horror farce that wants to play with your head — and time, and space, and paranoid conspiracy theories — so badly that it doesn’t care about making sense. Which doesn’t stop it from being a pretty good bad time, preferably when seen after midnight. Directed by Don Coscarelli from David Wong’s cult novel. (99 min., R) (Ty Burr)

½ The Last Reef 3D: Cities Beneath the Sea Another nature doc where exotic creatures squiggle and swim in front of your face, daring you to grasp at them. But this film wants to do more than impress with its underwater photography and 3-D effects. It’s a cautionary tale about the fragility of the reefs and the risks posed by development and rising temperatures. The visuals are great, but the message needs more urgency. (40 min., unrated) (Loren King)

½ Les Misérables What’s great about the first half of Tom Hooper’s gigantic film of the musical is the balance it strikes between the misérable and the 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)

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: “I’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 Safe Haven Nicholas Sparks’s latest passably ambles along in generic-melodrama mode before finally insulting audience intelligence one time too many. Julianne Hough (“Rock of Ages”) plays a domestic-violence fugitive trying to start over in a sleepy coastal town, where she catches the eye of widowed dad Josh Duhamel. Some three-hankie stuff, but a backstory kisses dramatic adequacy goodbye, and the movie heaps on a final flourish that’s stunningly ludicrous. (115 min., PG-13) (Tom Russo)

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)

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 new 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 hilariously blond villain, Javier Bardem. (145 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

½ Snitch Dwayne Johnson plays a father who cooks up a plan to reduce his son’s imminent drug sentence by helping the feds make mitigating arrests. Nobody is going to confuse this with “Les Misérables,” but “Snitch” gets a decent amount of drama (and action, of course) out of the argument that there’s paying for a crime, and then there’s overpaying. With Susan Sarandon as the prosecutor on the case. (112 min., PG-13) (Tom Russo)

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)

Wreck-It Ralph A video arcade villain (voiced by John C. Reilly) has an existential crisis and busts out into other games in an attempt to become a hero. Bright, fast, reasonably funny, and depressingly formulaic, it’s more fodder to keep your kids tethered to their home entertainment centers. Cranky old critic says: Send them out to play instead. (93 min., PG) (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 reviews at www.boston.com/movies.

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