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    Movie Stars

    Short reviews of what’s in theaters

    Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”
    Gemma LaMana/Paramount Pictures via AP
    Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”

    New releases

    American Hustle The title is perfect for this exuberant con job of a movie: a sloppy, miscast, hammed up, overlong, overloud story that still sends you out of the theater on a bouncy little cloud of rapture. Director David O. Russell and stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence address the 1980s Abscam scandal, sort of. (138 min., R) (Ty Burr)

    ½ Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Of course it’s a disappointment — how could it not be? — but this sloppy, strained sequel to the 2004 idiot masterpiece occasionally breaks through to realms of blissful comic Dada. Will Ferrell is back as blowhard newsman Ron Burgundy, but it’s Steve Carell’s Brick Tamland who’s the holy moron of this franchise. (119 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    ½ Inside Llewyn Davis A transporting cinematic experience with a churl at its center. The Coen brothers re-create the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s with a mixture of poetry and sweet jaundice, and Oscar Isaac is excellent as the brilliant creep of the title. The music almost saves him, and it definitely saves the movie. (105 min., R) (Ty Burr)


    ½ Walking With Dinosaurs This feature narrative extension of the BBC documentary franchise may be well-intentioned, but it spills over with flat cutesy humor, making a slog out of an experience that should be filled with wonder. Justin Long voices a runty Pachyrhinosaurus (think Triceratops) who’s destined for big things — and who banters with avian pal John Leguizamo throughout, rather than letting the story’s exotic sights and sounds do the talking. (87 min., PG) (Tom Russo)

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    ½ White Reindeer A bland, suburbanite real estate agent learns something about the holiday spirit when her husband is murdered just a few weeks before Christmas. Her disillusionment leads her down a path of degradation that ranges from shoplifting to group sex. Zach Clark’s laid-back direction and Anna Margaret Hollyman’s performance almost overcome the lapses into crudeness and puerility. (82 min., unrated) (Peter Keough)

    Previously released

    12 Years a Slave It isn’t the story of an American tragedy. It’s the story of the American tragedy — this country’s original sin. The true saga of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free-born black man kidnapped from New York state in 1841 and sold into slavery in Louisiana, the movie’s to slavery what “Schindler’s List” was to the Holocaust: a mass-appeal reckoning. Directed by Steve McQueen (“Shame”). (133 min., R) (Ty Burr)

    All Is Lost Two hours of Robert Redford on a boat in the Indian Ocean, and the boat’s sinking — what sounds like a recipe for boredom is, in the hands of its star and writer-director J.C. Chandor, a nearly perfect thing: An economic, elegant Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook that ever so subtly backs into Zen. See it on a big screen, please. (106 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    ½ At Berkeley Once again Frederick Wiseman takes on a powerful institution, in this case the academic bastion of the University of California, Berkeley, and with unobtrusively pointed observations, shows how an ongoing crisis in public funding threatens its educational ideals. A meticulous portrait of a particular instance of a general problem that subtly comments on the current state of education — and democracy. (244 min., unrated) (Peter Keough)


    Blue Is the Warmest Color This year’s Cannes winner, Abdellatif Kechiche’s epic coming of age drama has remarkable performances (by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux), “scandalous” lesbian sex scenes, rapturous cinematography, and a partial blindness to its own voyeuristic tendencies. In French, with subtitles. (179 min., NC-17) (Ty Burr)

    The Book Thief This adaptation of Markus Zusak’s 2005 bestseller is unobjectionable, sentimental, and not a little dull. A tale of World War II Germany as seen through the eyes of a young girl (Sophie Nélisse), it re-creates the novel’s events while keeping them generic enough for everyone to agree on. Geoffrey Rush, as the heroine’s adoptive father, is the best thing here. (135 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    ½ Captain Phillips An extraordinarily gripping movie based on events that took place on the container ship Maersk Alabama in April 2009. Director Paul Greengrass creates an aura of urgency so powerful that we temporarily forget what we know and hold our breaths for two-plus hours of tightening suspense. Tom Hanks and the magnetic Barkhad Abdi star. In English and Somali, with subtitles. (134 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    Dallas Buyers Club The story of Ron Woodroof, an HIV-infected Texas cracker who became a hero of the alternative-medicine underground. Matthew McConaughey’s newfound ambitions have found their focus at last: The hero’s mischievousness and growing rage — and Jared Leto’s striking performance as Woodroof’s drag-queen business partner — get the movie past its air of sincere calculation. With Jennifer Garner. (117 min., R) (Ty Burr)

    ½ Delivery Man A kinder, gentler Vince Vaughn in a pleasantly ramshackle comedy several rungs below the star’s usual fare in both budget and high-concept assault tactics. French-Canadian director Ken Scott remakes his own 2011 film “Starbuck,” about a kind-hearted schmoe who learns he has 533 grown children, sired from sperm he donated two decades earlier. It’s schmaltzy but sweet. (104 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)


    Enough Said A lovely, melancholy comedy of mid-life errors and eros that, among other things, showcases the late James Gandolfini in a performance of immense tenderness and charm. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, appealingly vulnerable, plays a single mom who doesn’t trust her good luck, and writer-director Nicole Holofcener (“Friends With Money”) delivers her most confident character comedy to date. (93 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    Frozen Disney animators prove that “Tangled” wasn’t a fluke with their similar-skewing loose riff on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” Kristen Bell injects peppy personality into the story (and, yes, sings) as princess of a kingdom plunged into eternal winter by the frost powers of her misunderstood sister. Josh Gad (“1600 Penn”) is hilarious as a snowman who dreams of how wonderful summer must be. (108 min., PG) (Tom Russo)

    ½ Gravity The prodigiously gifted director Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men”) maroons Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in outer space. The movie’s an astonishingly detailed, visually painstaking state-of-the-art production that advances what the cinema can show us — even as the human story at its center feels a little thin after a while. Some screenings are in 3-D IMAX; they’re worth it. (90 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    The Great Beauty Paolo Sorrentino tries so hard to emulate Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” in this long, free-floating portrait of a celebrity journalist facing his 65th birthday that it can be painful to watch. Though at times visually engaging, with striking images backed by evocative music, the film never recovers from having a protagonist who is a boor. In Italian, with subtitles. (142 min., unrated) (Peter Keough)

    ½ Great White Shark This documentary arrived 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 Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Second verse, same as the first, a little bit shorter and a little less worse. The heroes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy saga find their footing in this second franchise installment, and so does Peter Jackson’s epic telling of their tale. The movie still lumbers, but it has shape, forward momentum, and excellent B-movie giant spiders. (161 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    ½ Homefront There’s a lot of talk in this Louisiana-set Jason Statham vehicle about old-fashioned country feuds and how downright nasty they can get. That’s as sturdy an action tease as the prospect of seeing the entertainingly one-note Statham tossed together with chronically versatile James Franco — in a movie scripted by Sylvester Stallone, no less. So why do they self-defeatingly try fancying up their recipe with muddled developments, rather than just sticking with the meat-and-potatoes stuff? (100 min., R) (Tom Russo)

    ½ The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Unexpectedly improving on its predecessor, this sequel is an engrossing and powerfully bleak futuristic epic, directed with real urgency and a skilled eye by Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”). At its best, it’s a blockbuster that bites the culture that made it. With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, and Jena Malone. (146 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    Journey to the South Pacific Beautiful images of the flora and fauna of South Pacific coral reefs fall prey to a trite and condescending story about a boy from an Indonesian village taken for a jaunt on an educational vessel. Many scenes on the big IMAX screen are stunning, but the stereotypical narrative does not help the heavy-handed lessons about saving the environment go down any easier. (40 min., G) (Peter Keough)

    ½ Nebraska The latest from Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”) is a desolate, often powerfully moving comedy-drama about fathers, sons, life’s highways, and missed off-ramps. Bruce Dern plays an ornery old coot on a road trip to claim a sweepstakes prize and Will Forte, unexpectedly good, is the grown son trying to get him there. (115 min., R) (Ty Burr)

    ½ Out of the Furnace A twitchily well-acted melodrama of burnt-out lives, family ties, and backwoods revenge, Scott Cooper’s film offers a bleak vision of America’s rural economic woes before flattening out into a routine thriller about good men doing bad things. Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, and a scary Woody Harrelson lead the strong cast. (116 min., R) (Ty Burr)

    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)

    ½ Philomena A tearjerker of rare honesty and craft, based on the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), who in her 70s decided she wanted to find the illegitimate son the Catholic Church took from her and sold in 1950s Ireland. Steve Coogan plays the posh journalist who helps her and Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) directs, keeping sentimentality at bay at every turn. (96 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    The Punk Singer An affectionately spiky documentary about the life and provocations of Kathleen Hanna, lead singer for Bikini Kill and icon of Riot Grrrl feminism. Among other things, director Sini Anderson wonders where the energy of that 1990s moment has gone. Take your daughters to this movie, then ask them. Talking heads include ex-Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz (Hanna’s husband), Carrie Brownstein, and Joan Jett. (82 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

    Thor: The Dark World Pure superhero boilerplate — a holding maneuver until the next “Avengers” movie shows up. Chris Hemsworth returns as the Norse god Thor and Natalie Portman as his perky scientist love interest, but the story line is both incomprehensible and dull and the special effects work feels labored. For Marvel fan-boys only; others may question whether this is even a movie. (120 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    ½ Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas Tyler Perry isn’t trying very hard with this holiday film, which despite an intriguing premise gets mired in tasteless jokes and an inept narrative. Visiting family in the Deep South, Madea must rely on her humor and common sense to deal with family problems and social issues — and with Larry the Cable Guy, which is more than even she can handle. (105 min., PG-13) (Peter Keough)

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