“nerds” and “fanboys” are responsible for the supremacy of the superhero at the multiplex. Clearly, these thrilling yet comforting modern myths of peril and rescue and gods and champions appeal to all types of moviegoers, most of whom won’t lose sleep wondering about the arguable immaturity of a culture that dreams of salvation via guardian angels. Connolly), and so on — as they are terrorized by some traditional horror-movie ghouls and some mysterious behind-the-scenes white guys in ties (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford). The film is never very scary, and some fans may not cotton to its gleeful over-the-top celebration of genre history; but I found it exhilarating, like one of those special-issue comic-book splash panels in which the artist tries to squeeze in as many superheroes as possible. And it’s as much a story of selfish/resentful adult exploitation of youth as “The Hunger Games.” resentful, psychologically damaged high-school loser as on an inherently decent Peter Parker type. Presented, for the most part, as home-video footage shot by the lead character (Dane Dehaan), the movie is utterly gripping, although it flags a bit during its final act, which favors (beautifully shot and edited) action spectacle over intense character interaction. Contraband (R, 110 min.) ★★✩★✩ ❚ Ex-smuggler turned family man Mark Wahlberg is pulled back into crime to repay a debt owed by his loser brother-in-law in this serviceable but unremarkable remake of the 2008 Icelandic thriller, “Reykjavík-rotterdam.” With its dim lighting and handheld camerawork, the “realistic” visual approach of director Baltasar Kormákur (an actor in the earlier film) is arguably bogus, but it pays dividends as the narrative becomes increasingly grim. With Kate Beckinsale, cashing a paycheck as Wahlberg’s wife, and Giovanni Ribisi, chewing the scenery through a Castro beard as a scuzzball drug dealer. Dark Shadows (PG-13, 113 min.) ★★★✩ Unlike Angelique the witch (Eva Green), who proves to be as cold and hollow as a porcelain doll despite her robust Barbie dimensions, the new film from director Tim Burton has real heart, in addition to the director’s trademark macabre wit and obsessive creepy/funny design. Uninterested in carving a straight horror-romance from the “soapernatural” source material, Burton has transformed “Dark Shadows,” the weekday Gothic soap opera that aired from 1966-71 on ABC-TV, into an affectionate spoof and another of his “eccentric outsider” collaborations with Johnny Depp, who dons Nosferatu nails and comically ghoulish greasepaint to portray Barnabas Collins, the romantic vampire whose lovesick bloodlust provided the template for “True Blood” and “Twilight.” Released after 200 years in his coffin, Barnabas emerges in 1972 (“Superfly” functions briefly as his theme song) to restore his family’s pride as well as his ancestral Maine mansion, Collinwood, occupied by — among others — a frustrated matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer), an alcoholic psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) and a surly teenager (Chloë Grace Moretz); the latter dances languidly to Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” during the movie’s wonderful first act, which has something of the trippy vibe of “Performance” (1972) and other vintage films in which odd characters inhabit dreamlike reveries. Barnabas describes Collinwood as “the perfect marriage of European elegance and American enterprise,” and it’s easy to imagine that Burton and Depp embraced this line as a mission statement: The film joins New World irreverence, fish-out-of-water comedy and Hollywood state-of-the-art effects to the Old World tradition of the vampire, as found in legend, literature and the films of Britain’s Hammer studios. Unfortunately, the mechanics of the plot are uninteresting (dueling canneries, anyone?), and the “action-packed” finale is tedious. The script is credited to Seth Grahame-smith, the novelist known for such monster mashups as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.” The Deep Blue Sea (R, 98 min.) ★★★✩ Adapted from a play by Terence Rattigan, the sixth film in 25 years from director Terence Davies, “master chronicler of postwar England” (according to the publicists at Music Box Films), examines the consequences of choosing sexual passion and emotional turmoil over “guarded enthusiasm” and physical and economic comfort. Rachel Weisz stars as Hester (who shares a name as well as a sin with fiction’s most famous adulterer, Hester Prynne), who leaves her loving and rich but dull graybeard of a husband (Simon Russell Beale) for a physically intact but emotionally
The Dictator (R, 83 min.) Sacha Baron Cohen: comical despot. incomplete former Royal Air Force pilot (Tom Hiddleston) who longs for the dangers of the Battle of Britain, when he was distracted by the “excitement and fear” of combat, and not “tangled up in other people’s emotions.” Weisz offers a master class in the discipline of acting: In one lengthy shot, the tears well in her eyes, slowly, almost imperceptibly; they glisten but never fall. Meanwhile, Davies’ compositions are luminous and painterly, and their design is not just stunning but cunning, as when a breath of cigarette smoke comes to brilliant, cumulous life when Weisz blows it into an otherwise invisible but purposefully placed shaft of light. Segel and Emily Blunt, and the writers are Segel and director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), who previously collaborated on “The Muppets.” Good Deeds (PG-13, 111 min.) Tyler Perry doffs the drag to portray Wesley Deeds, a complacent businessman jolted by his feelings for a working-class single mother (Thandie Newton). The Hunger Games (PG-13, 142 min.) ★★★✩ Like her young heroine, Katniss Everdeen, author Suzanne Collins is a sure shot: Her “Hunger Games” trilogy launched an arrow deep into the pulsing heart of a teenage audience eager for its affirmation of youth empowerment and its confirmation of adult conspiracy. Already a box-office sensation, the movie — inspired as much by reality television as by dystopian science fiction — may not be as powerful as the novel, but it treats its target audience and source material with respect. Sturdy Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss, a resident of the Appalachian-like District 12 who volunteers to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a competition organized by the decadent one-percenters who rule futuristic Panem (as in “panem et circenses,” Latin for “bread and circuses”); the contest requires a boy and girl, ages 12 to 18, from each of the nation’s 12 districts to take part in a televised fight to the death. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (PG, 94 min.) ★★★✩✩ ❚ Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Lockout (PG-13, 95 min.) “Escape from New York” in orbit, as convict Guy Pearce infiltrates a high-tech outer-space prison to rescue the president’s daughter. The Lucky One (PG-13, 101 min.) A Nicholas Sparks adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel asks: Can a Marine (Zac Efron) find love working at a kennel run by a young North Carolina woman (Taylor Schilling)? Does a bear do his business in the woods? as highwaymen who rob the rich on telescopic stilts that hide their nonthreatening height. The Pirates! Band of Misfits (PG, 88 min.) ★★★✩ Adapted from a book series by Gideon Defoe, the latest stop-motion feature from Aardman Animations (the producers of “Wallace & Gromit”) is typically droll and charming, and will probably appeal more to fans of Monty Python and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” than to young kids, who won’t understand the Charles Darwin references or appreciate the dense compositions, as filled with gags as a page in a classic-era Mad magazine. Hugh Grand lends his voice to the incompetent yet somehow lovable lead character identified only as “the Pirate Captain,” who’s on a quest to win the “Pirate of the Year” award from such favorites as Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven); the finale pits the Captain against Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton). Directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt. The Raven (R, 111 min.) ★★✩✩ John Cusack is miscast as an apparently well-fed Edgar Allan Poe, recruited by the Baltimore police for his “unwholesome expertise” when a killer begins re-creating murder scenes from the author’s horror stories. The concept (which nods to 1935’s “The Raven,” with Bela Lugosi) holds gruesome promise, but this highly fictionalized (duh) version of the last few days of Poe’s life in 1849 is directed (by James Mcteigue, of “V for Vendetta”) with no mystery or imagination, and with so much digital “correction” that even the simplest scenes look phony. It’s tempting but pointless to wonder what Dario Argento or Brian De Palma might have done in their primes with this implausible, lurid whodunit. Safe (R, 95 min.) A cage fighter (Jason Statham) becomes the protector of a genius little girl. The Secret World of Arrietty (G, 95 min.) ★★★✩★ ❚ The latest exquisitely hand-drawn animated film from Japan’s Studio Ghibli (“Spirited Away”) is another wonder, as heartbreaking for its devotion to craft, artistry and intelligent storytelling (for viewers of all ages) as for its themes of inevitable exile and impossible love. Based on Mary Norton’s classic 1952 children’s novel, “The Borrowers,” the film depicts the struggles of a family of miniature people who live under the floorboards of a “normal”-sized human house; when an adolescent girl Borrower, Arriety (voiced by Bridgit Mendler in this English-language version), strikes up a wary friendship with a human teenage boy (David Henrie), their relationship threatens the Borrowers’ existence. Think Like a Man (PG-13, 122 min.) Inspired by Steve Harvey with Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Hart and Gabrielle Union. A Thousand Words (PG-13, 91 min.) Eddie Murphy. The Three Stooges (PG, 92 min.) ★★✩✩ Knucklehead impersonators Sean Hayes (Larry), Will Sasso (Curly) and Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe) are impressive, but this episodic, years-in-development, supposed labor of love from the Farrelly Brothers is a blandly shot disappointment that sentimentalizes the trio for kids (at one point, the Stooges are referred to as “BFF’S forever”) but lacks the knowing references that might have amused diehard adult fans. Unlike Moe’s slaps and eye pokes, the attempts to update the slapstick miss as often as they hit: Sparks fly humorously when Moe scrapes a buzzing chainsaw rather than the traditional handsaw across Curly’s scalp, but there’s more yuck than nyuk-nyuk-nyuk in a nursery scene in which the Stooges use urine-spraying infants as human water pistols. A subplot that lands Moe on “Jersey Shore” will date faster than the Tojo references in “The Yoke’s on Me” (1944), and the use of Talking Heads and Allman Brothers music to score several bits of Stoogery is distracting and inexplicable.
(PG-13, 197 min.) 21 Jump Street (R, 110 min.) ★★★✩✩ ❚ Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum. Undefeated (PG-13, 115 min.) ★★★★✩ ❚ A fly-on-the-wall chronicle of almost a year in the life of the playoff-bound Manassas High School football team, this year’s Oscar-winner for Best Documentary Feature finds the warmth, vulnerability and, yes, love that is sometimes hard for outsiders to see beneath the rough, prickly and damaged exterior of the impoverished North Memphis neighborhood where much of the action takes place. The Vow (PG-13, 104 min.) ★★★✩✩ ❚ Cut yet huggable meathead Leo (Channing Tatum, implausibly cast as an indie recording studio owner and Sun Records aficionado) must win back the “once in a lifetime love” of his James Patterson fan-turned-bohemian sculptor wife, Paige (dewy Rachel Mcadams), after she emerges from a car-crash coma with no recollection of the couple’s life together in director Michael Sucsy’s absurd albeit fact-inspired romance. Beautifully lensed by Rogier Stoffers, the film is almost awe-inspiring in its determination to ensure that every element in each attractively composed frame has some sort of significance or informational value (Look, this cool guy is wearing a funny top hat with a purple tie to Leo and Paige’s wedding! So they must be cool, too!), and in its unabashed embrace of a love so all-encompassing that Paige even treasures Leo’s flatulence (seriously — she rolls up the car window so the smell won’t escape). Laughable yet effective, the film is lifted by the novelty of its lead character’s decency: The solid Tatum plays a genuinely honorable man. Wrath of the Titans (PG-13, 99 min.) ★★✩✩ Sam Worthingon.