“The Amazing Spider-Man” 2 stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, 2 hours, 16 minutes
: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen
What it’s about: Teenager Peter Parker develops super powers after a mutated spider bites him. As Peter awkwardly woos classmate Gwen Stacy (Stone) and argues with his Uncle Ben (Sheen), a scientist (Ifans) develops a serum he hopes will regrow his missing arm, but it turns him into a giant lizard.
: Instead of simply recasting Tobey Maguire and carrying on with the series, the producers decided to reboot the character a la “Batman Begins” and retell Spidey’s origin, even though the first Sam Raimi movie is only 10 years old. The results are a revisionist origin tale that fundamentally alters the superhero’s nature, making him edgier and more petulant, apparently to appeal to the “Twilight” crowd. The grim and gritty tone is more suitable for a Batman movie, and director Mark Webb’s glacial pacing (the origin requires a full 90 minutes) makes this an awfully boring superhero movie. This is certainly a different take on Spider-Man and Peter Parker, but I’d rather watch the Raimi films again, even the third one. – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald
“Brave” 4 stars
PG for some scary action and rude humor, 1 hour, 33 minutes
: Voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane
What it’s about: In ancient Scotland, Princess Merida (Macdonald) defies tradition and refuses to consent to an arranged marriage. After an angry argument with her mother (Thompson), Merida meets a witch and makes a wish. When she sees the unexpected results of the wish, Merida immediately regrets it and desperately tries to break the witch’s spell.
: Pixar raises its standards again with its first fairy tale featuring its first female lead. It doesn’t quite hit the dizzying heights of “Wall-E,” but it is the studio’s boldest vision since, with its most shrewdly focused story. The Scottish scenery is gorgeous, and Princess Merida is a beguiling heroine with fiery hair to match her temper. Her skill with a bow and arrow would make Katniss Everdeen quiver. Exciting, funny and a little scary, this is top-notch entertainment. – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald
“The Dark Knight Rises” 3½ stars
PG-13 for language, some sensuality and intense sequences of violence and action, 2 hours, 44 minutes
: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard
: Batman hasn’t been seen in Gotham City for eight years, and Bruce Wayne (Bale) has become a recluse. A cat burglar (Hathaway) piques Wayne’s interest, but the arrival of the masked terrorist Bane (Hardy) convinces the hero to don the cowl and cape once more. But Bane will test Batman like he’s never been tested.
: Christopher Nolan caps off his epic Batman trilogy with its best entry. The scope is grander than the record-breaking “Dark Knight,” while the morality isn’t as conflicted and Nolan’s storytelling is more confident. The script focuses strongly on Bruce Wayne’s persona, destroying it utterly so he is forced to rebuild it. The story is long (nearly three hours) and complicated, but never boring or confusing. The acting is superb across the line. The personal dramas of all major characters, not just Batman’s, are compelling, and the action sequences will make your jaw drop. See it in IMAX for the greatest impact. – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” 3 stars
PG for some rude humor, 1 hour, 34 minutes.
: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron and Devon Bostick
: School is out and Greg is ready for the days of summer, when all his plans go wrong. What on earth is he going to do all summer?
: The “Wimpy” kid residing in each of us should find ample heart, hearty laughs and heaping helpings of wholesome humiliation in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” the third chapter in what has become a winning, family-friendly film franchise. – Sean O’Connell, The Washington Post
“Ice Age: Contintental Drift” 2 stars
PG for mild rude humor and action/peril, 1 hour, 27 minutes
: (voices of) Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo
: Manny, Diego, and Sid embark upon another adventure after their continent is set adrift. Using an iceberg as a ship, they encounter sea creatures and battle pirates as they explore a new world.
: In the crowded arena of kiddie blockbusters, the “Ice Age” movies are among the more slapstick. When they are any good, the motley crew of critters is silly and stupid and going splat. “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” like the previous films, begins with Scrat inadvertently causing a cataclysmic event. In this case, his fall into the Earth’s core spurs the formation of the continents. It’s this kind of thing that makes the “Ice Age” universe pleasant: The history of the world is shaped not by things like asteroids or political leaders, but by pratfalls and peanuts. But such moments of dialogue-free mania are only brief respites in “Continental Drift,” which is otherwise overstuffed with loud action scenes and the yammer of celebrity voices. – Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
“Katy Perry: Part of Me” 3 stars
PG for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking, 1 hour, 47 minutes
: Katy Perry, Shannon Woodward and Rachael Markarian
: A documentary that chronicles Katy Perry’s life on and off-stage.
: As a piece of pro-Perry propaganda, this entertaining and disarmingly poignant movie from directors and reality television vets Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz is a startling success. Although there are moments when the filmmakers’ fingerprints are nearly visible on the manipulated putty of an audience, the scenes aren’t enough to break the fruit-flavored spell. – Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post
“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” 1½ stars
PG for some mild action and rude humor, 1 hour, 25 minutes
: Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer
: After causing a fracas in Monte Carlo’s famed casino, the Central Park Zoo refugees are pursued by Europe’s most determined animal control officer (Frances McDormand). They hop aboard a circus train and pass themselves off as famous American performers.
: DreamWorks Animation has matured from its image as the class clown of computer animation, as opposed to Pixar’s image as class president, so kicking out another “Madagascar” sequel is a regression. The penguins and chimpanzees were always funny, but the four leads voiced by Stiller, Rock, Smith and Schwimmer have the charisma of wet socks. Most of the gags are mediocre, the plot barely exists, and the European locales are wasted. Too late, the filmmakers decide to spoof Cirque du Soleil, though this does set up an imaginative and psychedelic performance montage nearly worth seeing for itself. – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald
“Magic Mike” 3 stars
R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use, 1 hour, 50 minutes
: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer and Olivia Munn
: A male stripper teaches a younger performer how to party, pick up women and make easy money.
: Comparisons to “Boogie Nights,” both for the structure and the sexual subject matter, are inevitable. But a more apt point of comparison would be the original “Sex & the City” movie; it’ll have a similar appeal for straight women and gay men in equal measure. This is a movie that’s tailor-made for groups of friends to get together and giggle and ogle at the spectacle of it all. And it is a lot of fun – there’s no shame, we’re all friends here – but it’s also more substantial than you might expect, and more mundane. Yes, “Magic Mike” is a bit of a formulaic cautionary tale about the perils of having too much, too soon. Mike (Tatum) helps keep this fantasy world grounded in truth; a self-described entrepreneur, he strips – and works construction jobs, and details cars – all in the hopes of saving enough money to start his own custom furniture business. There’s nothing magical or even sexy about that: it’s just the cold, hard reality of our time. Come for the beefcake, stay for the economics lesson. – Christy Lemire, The Associated Press
“People Like Us” 2½ stars
PG-13 for language, some drug use and brief sexuality, 1 hour, 54 minutes
: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer
: While settling his recently deceased father’s estate, a salesman discovers he has a sister whom he never knew about, leading both siblings to re-examine their perceptions about family and life choices.
: “People Like Us” is that increasingly rare kind of film: an adult drama. The filmmakers seem so nervous about this prospect that they fill the movie with action-film editing and a camera that moves so restlessly through domestic life that you’d think it lost its keys. At one point, I was sure the dramatic opening of a door was going to reveal a Klingon, not complicated memories of a deceased parent. That’s not a coincidence: “People Like Us” is directed by Alex Kurtzman, who co-wrote the script with Roberto Orci (along with Jody Lambert). Kurtzman and Orci are the same duo that wrote the 2009 “Star Trek” reboot, as well as the blockbusters “Mission: Impossible III” and “Transformers,” and the TV series “Alias” and “Fringe.” If, in their knack for suspense, they imbue “People Like Us” with impatience, they also keep it entertaining, rendering a familiar, heart-rending melodrama as a gauzy and mostly pleasant diversion. – Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
“Total Recall” 3 stars
PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity and language, 1 hour, 58 minutes
: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biehl, Bryan Cranston
: In a dystopian 22nd century, a bored factory worker (Farrell) tries to buy an exciting false memory where he plays a secret agent. But it turns out he actually is a secret agent whose memory has been erased to protect his cover, and that his wife (Beckinsale) is a double-agent now trying to kill him.
: As directed by Len Wiseman (“Underworld”) this remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller works for a while as a more serious, more driven version of the science-fiction story inspired by Philip K. Dick. Farrell brings an everyman quality that Schwarzenegger never could. Even with the long and repetitive action sequences, this version acquits itself well enough, but it lacks the audacity and satire that director Paul Verhoeven gave the original. – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald
“Ruby Sparks” 2 stars
R for profanity, including some sexual references, and drug use, 1 hour, 54 minutes
: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan and Annette Bening
: A novelist struggling with writer’s block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.
: Kazan wrote the screenplay for this alternately fizzy and cerebral romantic comedy in which she also stars, and just happens to offer a showcase for some bravura acting on her part. “Ruby Sparks” is at its best when it puts viewers in the highly charged emotional petri dish of the relationship between Calvin and Ruby, who understandably begins to chafe at the author’s attempts to write her into his own, self-valorizing script. And Kazan manages to mount a clever critique of the very dream girl image she embodies, taking it to its most absurd extreme in a biting, be-careful-what-you-wish-for climax. If “Ruby Sparks” ultimately loses its nerve, perhaps that’s Kazan’s sop to audiences she thinks won’t be interested in dealing with the tougher implications of what they’ve just seen. Because for a while there, “Ruby Sparks” is a tough little movie. – Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
“Savages” 2½ stars
R for strong, brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and profanity throughout, 2 hours, 10 minutes
: Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively
Pot growers Ben and Chon face off against the Mexican drug cartel who kidnapped their shared girlfriend.
: For filmgoers who can remember as far back as 2005, “Savages” could be described as the movie “Domino” tried so frenetically to be. With a filmmaker who’s both a storyteller and a stylist at the helm, material that in the earlier film fell victim to fatal incoherence here makes sense – albeit depraved, lightweight sense. The perversities, predilections and pitiless viciousness that drive “Savages” aren’t for the faint of heart – and a provocative switcheroo in the third act certainly will draw mixed reactions – but those who partake of the cinematic substances on offer are likely to catch a strong, if immediately forgettable, buzz. – Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
“Step Up Revolution” 2 stars
PG-13 for some suggestive dancing and language, 1 hour, 37 minutes
: Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman and Cleopatra Coleman
Emily arrives in Miami with aspirations to become a professional dancer. She sparks with Sean, the leader of a dance crew whose neighborhood is threatened by Emily’s father’s development plans.
Verdict: Playwright and first-time screenwriter Amanda Brody plays it safe, leaving the pyrotechnics to the choreography team and sticking to the franchise’s proven dance-romance formula, which offers few surprises but delivers effectively. The attempt to add a modicum of social relevance to an essentially carefree entertainment vehicle by staging dance protests against the resort development is pretty much a nonstarter, particularly since there’s no indication that The Mob’s illegal assemblies are attracting the least law-enforcement attention. Abercrombie & Fitch model Guzman looks every bit the metrosexual romantic lead, but also makes a credible partner for “So You Think You Can Dance” star McCormick. Fortunately, neither is called upon to stretch too far in the acting department, and both are able to get by with good looks and flashy moves. Supporting cast-members are adequate if not outstanding, but it’s the choreographers, led by franchise vet Jamal Sims, who really put the shine on the production. By now, however, 3-D dance performances are routine for the genre, and with the exception of a few notable aerial tricks, “Revolution” doesn’t offer many stylistic innovations.– Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter
“Ted” 3 stars
R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug use, 1 hour, 45 minutes
: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane
: As the result of a childhood wish, John Bennett’s teddy bear, Ted, came to life and has been by John’s side ever since – a friendship that’s tested when Lori, John’s girlfriend of four years, wants more from their relationship.
: A teddy bear who smokes pot, parties with hookers, beds pop stars and spews profanity in a New England accent as thick as chowdah? Such a creature could only come from the blissfully twisted mind of “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, confidently making his feature directing debut with “Ted.” If you love his animated TV show, you’ll probably love this: In a lot of ways, “Ted” feels like a live-action, big-screen version of “Family Guy” with its pop-culture references and inappropriate racial humor, flashbacks and non sequiturs. Still, you chuck enough of this stuff at a wall and some of it will stick. Most of it does for most of the time, although some of the one-liners and gross-out gags do show signs of strain. “Ted” also happens to be sweeter than you might expect, despite the predictability of its formula, with a climax that will warm the heart of anyone with New England ties. – Christy Lemire, The Associated Press
“The Watch” 1 star
R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images, 1 hour, 38 minutes
Who’s in it: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade
: Suburbanite Stiller forms a run of the mill neighborhood watch with Vaughn, Hill and Ayoade. To their surprise, they wind up fighting aliens hiding out in the local Costco.
Verdict: Director Akiva Shaffer barely cares about the “ordinary guys fighting aliens” premise and instead allows his four stars to wallow in endless, vulgar conversations about the male reproductive system. At some point, even Beavis and Butt-Head would stop chuckling and say, “Dudes, find some new material.” The alien invasion story is lame, a science fiction parody from filmmakers who don’t care about science fiction. Wretchedly unfunny, and a waste of four otherwise talented comic actors. – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald