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Movie Stars

Movie capsules: Short reviews of what’s in theaters

Jamie Foxx as the President in “White House Down.”

Reiner Bajo/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Jamie Foxx as the President in “White House Down.”

New releases

20 Feet From Stardom Possibly the happiest time you’ll have at the movies this year. Morgan Neville’s lovely documentary celebrates the backup singers, those women whose voices are all over classic rock and ’60s pop but whose names never made it to the liner notes. The vocal performances alone can make you weep with joy. (90 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

The Heat If you’re going to make a dopey, foulmouthed, predictable lady-buddy-cop movie, you might as well make it funny. And until it overstays its welcome in the final half hour, “The Heat” is shamefully funny. Prissy Sandra Bullock and slobby Melissa McCarthy have genuine chemistry, and director Paul Feig (”Bridesmaids”) makes nice use of Boston locations and action-comedy clichés. (117 min., R) (Ty Burr)

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½ A Hijacking A coolly assured nail-biter from Denmark that takes a story familiar from the news — Somali pirates storming commercial vessels and holding their crews for ransom — and turns it into high-stakes human drama. The second feature from writer-director Tobias Lindholm showcases his gift for tightly focused stories told without an ounce of fat. In English, Danish, and Somali, with subtitles. (116 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Maniac Elijah Wood hangs up his hobbit feet to play the psychopathic serial killer in this self-conscious remake of the 1980 slasher classic by William Lustig. The gruesome violence against women still shocks, and Nora Arnezeder adds class as a photographer who befriends the killer, but reliance on a first-person point of view throughout results in detachment rather than suspense or sympathy. (89 min., unrated) (Peter Keough)

Unfinished Song This might have been another trite tale of codgers acting cute if not for the performances of two great actors. Vanessa Redgrave brings vivacity and depth to the role of a cancer victim who wants to sing in the choir; Terence Stamp is cranky and majestic as her naysaying mate. When things get manipulative and formulaic, those two elevate the sentiment to genuine emotion. (96 min., PG-13) (Peter Keough)

½ White House Down Not known for subtlety or sense, Roland Emmerich outdoes himself in this hilariously overheated action thriller about an assault on the White House by terrorists with an apocalyptic agenda. Jamie Foxx, as the president, and Channing Tatum, as the unlikely hero who protects him, are good sports, but Emmerich might be the only who isn’t laughing at this presumably unintentional comedy. (129 min., PG-13) (Peter Keough)

Previously released

Before Midnight The third installment in director Richard Linklater’s saga of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is richer, riskier, and more bleakly perceptive about what it takes for love to endure (or not) over the long haul. Like Michael Apted’s “Up” documentaries, this series offers a touching and humbling time-lapse study of human nature. (108 min., R) (Ty Burr)

½ The Bling Ring Based on a Vanity Fair article about a group of Los Angeles teens who robbed celebrity homes for clothes and thrills, Sofia Coppola’s film bears some resemblance to the recent “Spring Breakers” but without the go-for-broke craziness. It’s gorgeous, distanced, and monotonous, but Emma Watson is very good as the most soulless of the crew. (90 min., R) (Ty Burr)

½ The East A watchably confused eco-thriller that’s never sure who its heroes are. Brit Marling (who co-wrote with director Zal Batmanglij) plays an operative who infiltrates a band of idealistic monkey-wrenchers led by Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page. Are they freedom fighters or confused kids? The film’s ambiguities seem only partly intentional. (116 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ The Great Gatsby At its best — which, sadly, isn’t often enough — Baz Luhrmann’s version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is a scandal. It’s also, in event and emotion (if not period fidelity), the most faithful movie version of the book to date. The two are not unconnected. Leonardo DiCaprio gives us the full Gatsby and he’s magnificent, but overlength, over-romanticism, and a badly misused Tobey Maguire as Nick bring it low. In 3-D. (143 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ Iron Man 3 The weakest in the series, it suffers from confused plotting, flat-footed exposition, and more pure, noisy nonsense than even a comic-book movie should have to put up with. Yet whenever Robert Downey Jr. cuts through the claptrap, it’s still the most subversive Marvel franchise around. With Gwyneth Paltrow. In 3-D. (130 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

The Kings of Summer What if Henry Thoreau moved to Walden just to get away from his parents? That’s the conceit behind this stylish, funny teenage coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old kid (Nick Robinson) who builds his own house in the woods of suburbia. With Nick Offerman and Megan Mulally. (93 min., R) (Ty Burr)

½ Man of Steel Director Zack Snyder (”300”) has made a superhero blockbuster that carries the weight of its fraught times, but where’s the pop joy? As Superman, Henry Cavill is very good without quite convincing us he’s a star. With Amy Adams as Lois Lane, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El. (143 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ Monsters University Better than “Cars 2” but not by enough, and further evidence that Pixar’s Golden Age may be in the past. It’s a prequel, the story of how Mike (voiced once more by Billy Crystal) met Sulley (John Goodman) at college. Small children will have a blast, but it’s still closer to average than any Pixar movie should be. (110 min., G) (Ty Burr)

½ Much Ado About Nothing Just about the sloppiest Shakespeare ever put on the screen, Joss Whedon’s black-and-white house party may also be the most exhilarating — a profound, crowd-pleasing trifle that reminds you how close Shakespeare’s comedies verge on darkness before pirouetting back into the light. (107 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ Star Trek Into Darkness The new film just has to convince us that 2009’s “Star Trek” wasn’t a fluke. That it does so — expertly, exhilaratingly — is a mark of director J.J. Abrams’s uncanny ease with modern Hollywood formulas. With Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Benedict Cumberbatch. (132 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

This Is the End A cheerfully crass meta-comedy in which the Apocalypse comes to Hollywood and takes most of the A-list with it. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and others play comic versions of themselves. The opening scenes are inspired, but then thee world ends and the movie still has an hour and a half to go. (106 min., R) (Ty Burr)

World War Z The surprise of this absorbing, frightening apocalyptic drama is that what sounds ridiculous on paper — Brad Pitt as a globe-trotting UN employee fighting legions of the undead — turns out to be a gripper on the screen. It’s the rare zombie flick that’s mostly about the frail pleasures of being alive. (117 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

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