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    Short reviews of what’s in theaters

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    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)

    ½ 2013 Sundance Shorts Most collections of shorts have at least a couple of clinkers, but there isn’t a bad example to be found in this octet from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Highlights range from Michael Almereyda’s subtly affecting documentary “Skinningrove” to Julia Pott’s animated enigma “The Event.” Like lyric poetry and artful short stories, they turn brevity into a virtue. In English and Finnish, with subtitles. (93 min., unrated) (Peter Keough)

    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)


    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)

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    August: Osage County
    A black comedy of prairie family dysfunction, stolidly adapted from Tracy Letts’s 2007 play. At its center, in one of her most flamboyant yet gimmicky performances, is Meryl Streep as cancerous, poisonous matriarch Viola Weston. A fine guilty pleasure rather than a great movie, with a cast that includes Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, and (thankfully) Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale. (121 min., R) (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)

    ½ Devil’s Due From “V/H/S” alumni Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, another feeble, found-footage horror movie. Fans of “Rosemary’s Baby” might be outraged by this lazy rip-off, translated into one of cinema’s laziest genres, but other than that, the only emotional response is mild boredom and concern about the safety of the demonized couple’s affable golden retriever. (89 min., R) (Peter Keough)


    ½ Faust Russian auteur Alexander Sokurov takes on the German legend about the philosopher whose hubristic quest for knowledge and power tempts him into a poorly thought out deal with the devil. With its scatological humor and archly blasphemous discussions it might be Sokurov’s closest stab at a madcap romp, but it still ventures into dark places where few filmmakers dare to go. In German, with subtitles. (134 min., unrated) (Peter

    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 The Genius of Marian Of all the documentaries on Alzheimer’s disease, Banker White’s film about his mother Pam might be the most tragically ironic. Shortly after Pam started writing a book about her mother, Marian, an artist whose career was cut short by the disease, Pam herself was diagnosed with it. The book wasn’t finished, but this film honors both women with its poetic poignancy. (84 min., unrated) (Peter Keough)

    Grudge Match Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro play rival fighters — hardly an exact reprise of Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta, but even faintly suggesting this fantasy bout has novelty value. It’s also a matchup that comes about three decades late. The filmmakers get this, and actively acknowledge it. But that presents a big task: projecting freshness when so much is self-deprecatingly made of how creaky this all is. (113 min., PG-13) (Tom Russo)

    Her Joaquin Phoenix plays a nice, lonely guy who falls in love with his computer’s operating system, which speaks in the voice of Scarlett Johansson. What could have been a horror movie, a farce, or a disaster is a profoundly touching meditation on what it means to be human and where our machines may be taking us. Written and directed by Spike Jonze. With Amy Adams. (120 min., R) (Ty Burr)


    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)

    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)

    The Invisible Woman Ralph Fiennes’s second film as director is nominally about Charles Dickens (Fiennes), but it’s really about Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), the young mistress Dickens hid from Victorian society until she began to vanish from her own life. A master class in acting and a quietly ravishing experience on a big screen. With Kristin Scott Thomas. (111 min., R) (Ty Burr)

    ½ Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit The late Tom Clancy’s super-CIA-guy hero makes his fifth movie appearance — the first not based on a Clancy novel. This series reboot is an origins story, with Chris Pine as Jack just starting out. Kenneth Branagh, who directed, plays a Russian oligarch seeking to bring America to its proverbial knees. Keira Knightley is the future Mrs. Ryan, with a first-rate Kevin Costner as Jack’s handler. (106 min., PG-13) (Mark Feeney)

    The Legend of Hercules The campy Italian 1950s movies starring Steve Reeves better served Hercules than does Renny Harlin’s tackily produced, tedious version featuring bad acting, crappy CGI, numbing clichés, and doltish dialogue, with action scenes that look like outtakes from “The Matrix.” A cut-rate epic affirming the immortal truth that if you believe in yourself, anything is possible. Except, in this case, a good movie. (93 min., PG-13) (Peter

    ½ Lone Survivor Writer-director Peter Berg viscerally re-creates two days in June 2005, when Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and three fellow Navy SEALs (Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster) fought a small Taliban army in the mountains of Afghanistan. The movie’s in the tradition of soldiers’ stories that find hard, simple truths in notions of sacrifice and courage. The problem is that the wars we fight now aren’t as simple, and the best recent movies about them aren’t either. (121 min., R) (Ty Burr)

    Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Cinema as civic statuary, a classic Great Man biopic weighed down by solemnity, duty, and an aversion to artistic risk. The movie is extremely well produced, it features two excellent lead performances — by Idris Elba, as Mandela, and Naomie Harris, as his fractious wife, Winnie — and it is dull. (139 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    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 The Nut Job Animated park critters Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, and Brendan Fraser angle to get their paws on a nut shop’s stash. You think of the twisty ingenuity that heist movies are so great at showcasing, and then you think about the ways that animation could really unfetter the scheming, and you hope for some fun. Disappointingly, this one just spins its wheels like rodents in a Habitrail. (85 min., PG) (Tom Russo)

    ½ Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones This fifth in the series further diminishes the promise of the 2007 original, replacing mystery and suspense with predictability and misogyny. The wicked coven that caused the trouble in the other films now addles the life of teenage Jesse, marked by the cult for evil purposes since birth. He’s mad as hell, probably because his pal Hector keeps shooting him with his video camera. (84 min., R) (Peter Keough)

    ½ The Past The new film from Iran’s Asghar Farhadi isn’t on a level with his Oscar-winning “A Separation,” but it’s taut, quiet, democratic, and observant — a fine meal made with rare and subtle ingredients. Bérénice Bejo (“The Artist”) is the standout in a superb ensemble cast. In French, with subtitles. (130 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

    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)

    ½ Ride Along Motor-mouthed Kevin Hart plays a security guard and combat-video-game obsessive with imminent plans to marry his live-in girlfriend, and big dreams of becoming a real policeman. Neither idea sits well with his prospective brother-in-law (Ice Cube), a truculent detective who offers him a dubious chance to prove his manhood by riding shotgun with him for a day. Hart’s yammering might not ignite every movie he does, but it sure gives this one a boost. (100 min., PG-13) (Tom Russo)

    The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Ben Stiller updates James Thurber's 1939 short story and creates a trenchant if uneven parable about the fate of the imagination in the digital age. He plays the title character, “negative assets manager” at a moribund Life magazine, who fills up a routine existence with heroic fantasies — which are surpassed by real adventures when he’s challenged to vindicate his life. (114 min., PG)
    (Peter Keough)

    ½ The Square What does a revolution feel like from the inside? Jehane Noujaim's electrifying, often heartbreaking documentary takes us into Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the uprisings of the Arab Spring and the months of chaos and betrayal that followed. An impassioned work of documentary impressionism and a story that’s hardly over. In English and Arabic, with subtitles. (103 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

    ½ The Wolf of Wall Street One of the funniest yet most depressing movies of Martin Scorsese’s long career — a celebration and evisceration of male savagery, financial division. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a wily, loose-limbed comic performance as Jordan Belfort, go-go hustler of the 1990s. But, at three hours, the parade of creepy macho excess threatens to turn smug. With Jonah Hill. (180 min., R) (Ty Burr)

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