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Movie Stars

Movie capsules: Short reviews of what’s in theaters

Gru (left), the Minions, and Dr. Nefario (right) in “Despicable Me 2.”

Universal Pictures

Gru (left), the Minions, and Dr. Nefario (right) in “Despicable Me 2.”

New releases

Despicable Me 2 The animators might have done well to call their movie something else, given the lack of despicability Steve Carell’s reformed baddie displays. The scope of the ’toon espionage-adventure goings-on is surprisingly limited, mostly confining Gru and his secret agent soulmate (Kristen Wiig) to a mall, of all places. But the filmmakers so clearly love working on these characters — Gru’s yellow, mutant-elf Minions in particular — their creative joy is infectious. The sequel might not be all that warped, but it’s plenty funny nevertheless. (98 min., PG) (Tom Russo)

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain Despite an overlong, awkward prologue that makes him seem more insecure than self-deprecating, the hyperactive fireplug Kevin Hart demonstrates some moments of comic genius in this documentary of his sold-out 2012 Madison Square Garden stand-up show. At other times, though, you wish he’d just take a deep breath and not try to explain so much. (75 min., R) (Peter Keough)

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½ The Lone Ranger Ugh. Gore Verbinski’s bloated, overlong, boring western comedy casts Armie Hammer as a bumbling tenderfoot of a Lone Ranger. As Tonto, Johnny Depp shoots off whimsical one-liners in Injun-speak; He’s Jack Sparrow on downers in red-face. The movie features the usual bigger-than-big action “ride” scenes, but save your money for Six Flags. (149 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Previously released

20 Feet From Stardom Possibly the happiest time you’ll have at the movies this year. Morgan Neville’s lovely documentary “20 Feet From Stardom” 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)

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)

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 Skarsgard and Ellen Page. Are they freedom fighters or confused kids? The film’s ambiguities seem only partly intentional. (116 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Epic This fantastical great-outdoors adventure from the “Ice Age” animators is pretty and agreeable, but would need to engage us far more powerfully for that hyperbolic title to fit. The story adapts a William Joyce picture book, but “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” furnishes the more prevalent narrative cues as teen-with-problems Amanda Seyfried winds up magically miniaturized. She finds herself in a veritable enchanted forest filled with “Leaf Men” micro-soldiers guarding against Christoph Waltz’s decay-spreading villain. (102 min., PG) (Tom Russo)

Fast & Furious 6 In another all-hands-on-deck installment, retired racer-robbers Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and crew get a call for help from frenemy Dwayne Johnson, who’s tangling with new bad guy Luke Evans. There’s a significant incentive: Diesel’s lovergirl, fourth-episode casualty Michelle Rodriguez, is mysteriously back among the living and hanging with Evans. The cast shows an easy chemistry and the star-crossed love story also works, in its steroidally melodramatic way. (130 min., PG-13) (Tom Russo)

½ Fill the Void The Hasidic community has often been stereotyped in films, but in Rama Burshtein’s outstanding debut it comes alive in vivid detail, providing the setting for this subtly told story about a young woman’s dilemma following the death of her sister in childbirth. Outstanding performances help transcend preconceptions in this exploration of the universal themes of love, loyalty, and loss. In Hebrew, with subtitles. (90 min., PG) (Peter Keough)

Frances Ha The new film from Noah Baumbach (“Greenberg”) is a comedy about youthful haplessness trying to find its hap. It’s also the director’s love letter to star Greta Gerwig, playing an adorable NYC ditherer trying to get on with life. You may feel an intervention is more in order. Lovely B&W camerawork, though. (86 min., R) (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 Great White Shark This documentary arrives at the New England Aquarium just in time for beach-going, shark-fearing season. Following teams of researchers around the globe, this 3-D IMAX nature short attempts to balance consciousness-raising with spectacle. We learn plenty about the great white’s ways and moves. But the amped-up danger, overdramatic soundtrack, and exploitative great white eye-candy footage exploit the very fears the movie is trying to dispel. (40 min., unrated) (Ethan Gilsdorf)

The Heat If you’re going to make a dopey, foul-mouthed, 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)

The Internship Vince Vaughn and Own Wilson play two unemployed appliance salesmen who fast-talk their way into a summer internship program at Google. The movie’s obvious, predictable, dopey, sentimental — and entertaining enough until you realize you’re watching one long commercial for an Internet company. (119 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, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley. 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 (more or less) 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, both in fine farcical fettle. (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, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, and crazy-eyed Michael Shannon as General Zod. (143 min., PG-13) (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)

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. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof are wonderful as sparring lovers Beatrice and Benedick. (107 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ Mud Matthew McConaughey gratifyingly continues to explore his wayward mid-career path in this haunting but over-ambitious and overlong drama from talented writer-director Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”). The star plays a mysterious fugitive who changes the lives of two young boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, both excellent) in rural Arkansas. Sam Shepard and Reese Witherspoon costar. (130 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ Nicky’s Family Interviews, reenactments, and archival and stock footage that recount the story of Nicholas Winton, a young British stockbroker in 1939 who nearly single-handedly rescued 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia and found homes for them in Great Britain. Winton’s inspiring story deserves widespread attention but this inconsistent film isn’t the best representation of it. Still, the interviews with survivors and 103-year-old Winton himself are compelling. In English, German, and Hebrew, with subtitles. (96 min., unrated) (Loren King)

Now You See Me Take four master illusionists. Have them pull off some spectacular heists. Even better, have them incorporate the heists in their act. Throw in an appealing cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Mélanie Laurent). Sounds promising, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the resulting film is noisy, empty, and slickly ridiculous. (116 min., PG-13) (Mark Feeney)

½ Penguins 3D Naturalist David Attenborough and the makers of this new IMAX documentary face a challenge in trying to set their film apart from “March of the Penguins,” etc. Their strategy is to let their narrative flow mostly, well, naturally, and not sculpt story lines. The birds the movie follows are just three of the visually staggering 6 million penguins packed onto a remote island in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The 3-D imagery is particularly effective in giving a sense of just how teeming this “Penguin City” is. (40 min., unrated) (Tom Russo)

Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself Ten years after his death, the celebrated participatory journalist (“Paper Lion”), bon vivant, and editor of the literary quarterly Paris Review remains as interesting as ever — and a terrific documentary subject. With all his semi-comic attempts at being an NFL quarterback or NHL goalie, who knew that he had such a talent for an equally rarefied occupation: movie star? (86 min., unrated) (Mark Feeney)

½ The Purge What might have been a promising concept falls flat as the film resorts to a pastiche of hackneyed thriller motifs. Sometime in the future unemployment and crime have been eradicated by means of an annual “Purge” during which crime is unpunished. Writer/director James DeMonaco could have made some points about class and violence but chooses instead to demonstrate his ineptitude at duplicating genre clichés. (84 min., R) (Peter Keough)

½ Sign Painters The title tells you exactly what this documentary’s about. What it doesn’t tell you is that it’s fresh and articulate, passionate and unexpected. Thirty or so practitioners discuss their craft, and we get to see their wares. One of them, Phil Vandervaart, says of the profession, “It’s meant to convey information and be attractive.” That describes the movie, too. (80 min., unrated) (Mark Feeney)

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 putting a sleekly brutish new spin on an old “Trek” villain. (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)

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 What Maisie Knew A tough, often intensely moving modern-dress adaptation of the Henry James novel, told entirely from the point of view of a 6-year-old Manhattan girl (the remarkable Onate Aprile) as she watches her mother and father (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) fight over her. Joanna Vanderham and Alexander Skarsgard costar as better parents than the ones Maisie’s stuck with. (98 min., R) (Ty Burr)

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)

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 reviews at www.boston.com/movies.
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