Now in theaters
Ratings based on four-star system.
‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’
Hugh Jackman’s mutant Wolverine goes to war in a prologue for this “X-Men” prequel where the immortal mutant and his brother (Liev Schreiber) fight in all the big ones, from the Civil War to Vietnam. The battles set a predictable tone from which director Gavin Hood rarely deviates. Hood presents one duel after another, with a brief respite for sappy romance so Wolverine can get really mad and hellbent on vengeance over his dead girlfriend (Lynn Collins). Wolverine fights his brother, he fights other mutants, then he fights his brother some more on his way to becoming the amnesiac, metal-clawed freak of nature Jackman played in the “X-Men” trilogy. For all the action, there’s never much real sense of adventure or risk. Unlike the upcoming “Star Trek” prequel, which truly casts the starship Enterprise crew into an uncharted future, “Wolverine” is a setup for stories fans already have seen. We know Wolverine’s going to take his lumps but come out OK (though minus his memories) by the time the credits roll.
“Julia” requires an enormous amount of its star, and of its audience. Tilda Swinton gives a brash and unflinching performance as a lonely, self-destructive alcoholic who makes some questionable choices, to say the least. And in doing so, she and French writer-director Erick Zonca ask that we go along and stick by her side, every treacherous step of the way. It’s tough to do. There’s not much to root for or even vaguely like in Swinton’s Julia Harris, a blowzy drunk who can be fun and flirty but who invariably wakes up the next morning with cotton mouth and a pounding headache. If you’ve ever indulged with such reckless abandon — even a couple of times in college — you may find yourself sympathizing on some level. Regardless, you’re riveted, and not just for the train-wreck factor. Versatile as ever, Swinton pulls you in and keeps you wondering what false move she’ll make next. Julia gets recruited into an insane scheme by Elena (Kate del Castillo), a jittery Mexican woman she meets at one of the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings she reluctantly and sporadically attends. Elena offers to pay Julia $50,000 to kidnap her 8-year-old son, Tom (Aidan Gould), from the care of his wealthy industrialist grandfather. But being unstable herself and not nearly as smart as she thinks she is, Julia tries to upend the plan with one of her own. Zonca takes Julia, and “Julia,” to places you’d never expect — some of them believable, some not so much, but at least they’re never boring.
‘Love n’ Dancing’
The most astounding move doesn’t occur on the dance floor. Rather, it’s the fact that this movie is appearing in theaters at all, and not going straight to cable where it belongs. Everything about it cries out “made-for-TV,” from the flat, glossy lighting to the stilted dialogue to the one-dimensional characters. Would-be moments of drama quickly turn melodramatic, but are just as quickly solved, and the supposedly comic scenes are just plain corny. Even the pacing feels like something you’d see on television, complete with transitional shots between scenes of the Philadelphia skyline or the outside of the dance academy. None of this should come as any huge surprise, since director Robert Iscove is a television veteran, but you’d think he’d alter his approach for the big screen (among his previous films are “She’s All That” and “From Justin to Kelly”). The script, though, comes from Tom Malloy, who also stars as a dancer and motivational speaker. In real life, Malloy is — wait for it — a dancer and motivational speaker. So “Love n’ Dancing” is essentially an infomercial for himself. Malloy plays Jake Mitchell, a former World West Coast Swing champion. Amy Smart plays Jessica, the bland English teacher who becomes his student, then his partner, on and off the dance floor. There’s only one place a movie like this can go: the big dance-off! Billy Zane, Caroline Rhea and Rachel Dratch co-star.
‘Rudo y Cursi’
Enormously hackneyed in concept yet surprisingly enjoyable in execution, thanks to some amusing, surreal details and the genuine camaraderie of Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal. You think you know where it’s going, this story about the rise and fall of a couple of aspiring soccer players (who happen to be competitive brothers, another familiar theme). But the naturalism of writer-director Carlos Cuaron’s approach is too compelling, as is, conversely, the liveliness of co-stars Luna and Garcia Bernal, longtime friends reunited for the first time since 2001’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Cuaron, who co-wrote that movie, makes his feature debut here; it’s also the first film from brother Alfonso Cuaron and fellow Mexican directors Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro through their new company, Cha Cha Cha. So it’s all very comfortable and chummy. Alfonso Cuaron has said that the relationship between the main characters isn’t necessarily a reflection of his own childhood with his younger brother, but Carlos Cuaron has a clear affection for the way these guys tease, torment and ultimately stick by each other. Beto (Luna) and Tato (Garcia Bernal) work on a banana plantation and spend their free time playing soccer on the neighborhood team in Jalisco. They barely make enough money to get by, but both of their lives change when traveling talent scout Batuta (Guillermo Francella) notices their skills on the field and offers to take them under his wing.
2 1/2 stars
J.J. Abrams’ hugely anticipated summer extravaganza boldly goes to the past within the distant future of the “Star Trek” universe, years ahead of the TV series and the myriad movies and spin-offs it spawned. And in doing so, he and his longtime collaborators, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, change everything you know — or obsess about, if you’re into this kind of thing — about the kitschy pop-culture phenomenon. It’s a daring and exciting approach that’s sure to tickle and provoke purists, while at the same time probably cause neophytes to feel a bit lost. A major plot twist pops up about halfway through the film (along with Leonard Nimoy), one that doesn’t exactly work and from which the film never completely recovers, and from there the adventures feel a bit repetitive. Having said that, Abrams clearly aimed to appeal to the broadest possible moviegoing audience with this dazzling visual spectacle while also leaving plenty of Easter eggs for the hardcore fans to find. It’s an absolutely gorgeous film with impeccable production design — the lighting is wondrous, almost heavenly — and lovely, tiny details frequently emerge from within the larger, grander images. Abrams certainly puts on a good show — between “Lost” and the 2006 “Mission: Impossible” sequel he directed, there’s no question the man knows how to stage an action sequence — and the opening gets things off to a thrilling start. He efficiently and satisfyingly presents the back stories of the men who will become Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the half-Vulcan, half-human Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and puts them on a collision course with each other, which ups the excitement level early. John Cho, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana and Eric Bana co-star.
This documentary focuses on one of the most fundamental functions of human existence: the process of working the earth to grow healthy fruits and vegetables. But it also digs deeper to reveal more complicated truths about community, identity and self-worth, as well as greed, deception and racism. Director-producer Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s film, which was nominated for an Academy Award this year for best documentary feature (“Man on Wire” ended up winning), follows three years in the life of a 14-acre garden in South Central Los Angeles, the same neighborhood that was burned and eviscerated during the 1992 Rodney King riots. From that scorched earth sprang this urban community garden — the largest of its kind in the United States. It was created to help pacify and rejuvenate the area, but it did more than that. By providing a place for regular people to grow their own corn, papayas, bananas — you name it — the garden gave not just food but hope and life. And it’s the bond the farmers forged by working side by side that strengthens them once they learn they’re going to be shut down and evicted in early 2004. Kennedy is clearly on the side of the little guys here, allowing individual farmers to express themselves eloquently and passionately in English and Spanish while making city leaders and other community activists seem evasive and defensive by comparison.
‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’
You will be shocked — shocked! — to learn that Matthew McConaughey plays an arrogant womanizer who coasts on his looks and charm but eventually realizes that love does matter after all. Call it laziness, call it finding your niche. You’ve seen McConaughey in this kind of role before, usually with Kate Hudson as his co-star. (Jennifer Garner stands in as the voice of reason this time.) You’ve also seen “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” before, in countless variations of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” But you won’t see Dickens credited anywhere here, even though the plot finds McConaughey, as playboy photographer Connor Mead, reluctantly revisiting the myriad women he’s wronged with the ghosts of girlfriends past, present and future as his guides. Oh, no — this is a wholly creative enterprise. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who also were behind the overbearing “Four Christmases,” wrote the screenplay; Mark Waters, who’s enjoyed better material with the Tina Fey-scripted “Mean Girls” and the 2003 remake of “Freaky Friday,” directs. You can count the jokes that work on one hand; the rest is pratfalls and predictability. Connor is forced to attend the wedding of his younger brother Paul (Breckin Meyer). While there, the ghost of his Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), an old-school player, warns him not to waste his life without love. As he endures a litany of exes — all of whom are depicted as malleable sluts — he eventually realizes he misses childhood friend Jenny (Garner), the one who got away.
‘The Limits of Control’
1 1/2 stars
Paint drying. Photosynthesis. Rush-hour traffic on the 405 freeway. All these activities would be more entertaining to watch — and probably speedier — than this lethargic crime drama. Writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s latest contains so many of the themes and aesthetic choices that have permeated his previous movies, it almost plays like a parody: the meandering protagonist, the self-serious philosophizing, the cryptic dialogue, the excruciating pace. Individually, his films (like “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,” ‘’Coffee and Cigarettes” and especially “Broken Flowers”) often have their moments. But taken together and presented as repetitively as Jarmusch does here, all these signature details make “The Limits of Control” seem insufferably pretentious. The “story,” for lack of a better word, follows a quietly intimidating criminal (Jarmusch favorite Isaach De Bankole) as he travels through Spain on an assignment. His daily routine consists of getting out of bed fully dressed after remaining wide awake all night, performing tai chi, drinking espresso delivered in two individual cups, then waiting until a contact approaches him. Each person begins the conversation by asking him, in Spanish, “You don’t speak Spanish, do you?” Each gives him the same kind of matchbox containing a small piece of paper, which contains a code, which he reads before stuffing it in his mouth and swallowing it down with the aforementioned espresso. Tilda Swinton, Gael Garcia Bernal, John Hurt and a perpetually naked Paz de la Huerta are among his partners in crime.
3 1/2 stars
It’s fundamental, cycle-of-life stuff that happens all day, every day, year-round, worldwide. Seasons change. Animals give birth and die. They migrate to find food. Some are hunters, some are hunted. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly — sunrise, sunset. But all these basic, familiar occurrences are photographed and edited with such striking scope, clarity and ingenuity in the documentary “Earth,” you’ll feel as if you’re learning about them for the first time. And for the children who are the targets of much of this material, “Earth” offers colorful entertainment with, thankfully, a not-too-heavy-handed message about the perils of climate change. The debut from the Disneynature label, directed by Brits Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, follows three species of mothers and babies over a year — polar bears in the Arctic, elephants in Africa’s Kalahari Desert and humpback whales near the Equator — with a variety of wondrous creatures mixed in between. Narrator James Earl Jones provides the necessary gravitas to accompany these majestic images, and the score composed by George Fenton and performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is appropriately sweeping and grand. Many of the aerial shots — of sand dunes and waterfalls, of caribou traveling across the tundra or birds taking flight against a bold sunset — will take your breath away. Yet the more intimate images will make you wonder, how’d they do that?
Channing Tatum has the proper presence as a bruiser rising to stardom in New York City’s underground fighting circuit, yet he, Terrence Howard and their cast mates are stuck in a dull, cliche-sodden drama during the many moments when someone’s fist isn’t connecting with someone else’s jaw. Director Dito Montiel’s followup to his debut, “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” has a tired old premise as an underdog (Tatum) finds a wise but down-and-out mentor (Howard) to take him to the big time and a nice new girlfriend (Zulay Henao) to lend him emotional support. Yo, Rocky! The forgettable script drowns in boring dialogue, including incoherent monosyllabic scenes where Tatum and Howard seem to engage in a mumbling duel. But you don’t go to see a movie called “Fighting” for the patter. You go for the fisticuffs, and Montiel delivers with some nasty bare-knuckle rows that should satisfy fans’ bloodlust. But while Tatum has an impressive physique, he’s so clearly outclassed by the skilled boxers and martial-arts experts he goes up against that his success creates a serious credibility gap for the movie.
1 1/2 stars
Inspiring, relevant and real, the story of Nathaniel Ayers — a schizophrenic but wildly talented Juilliard-trained cellist living on the streets of downtown L.A. — captivated Los Angeles Times readers in 2005. The fact that columnist Steve Lopez didn’t just ignore him like most people would — that he not only spoke to Ayers but befriended and wrote movingly about him — added to the unexpected humanity of the tale. “The Soloist” takes all those innately engaging details and turns them into what is essentially a made-for-Lifetime movie, albeit one populated by Oscar winners and nominees. Robert Downey Jr. stars as Lopez, with Jamie Foxx playing opposite him as Ayers. Wunderkind Brit Joe Wright (“Pride & Prejudice,” ‘’Atonement”) is the director, working from a script by Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”). On paper, you can see how this project had major promise (and it was initially was scheduled to come out at the height of prestige-movie season last year, only to be bumped to pre-summer). In execution, it’s an awkward mix of gritty city visuals and mawkish sentiments in which even actors the caliber of Downey, Foxx and Catherine Keener seem to have had difficulty finding nuance.
He wants your heart, he wants to eat your children. But Mike Tyson also has a sensitive side, one he candidly reveals in James Toback’s documentary. Actually, calling it a documentary suggests many voices and sources contributing to paint an objective, balanced picture of the larger-than-life former fighter. You won’t see that here. Instead, you get wall-to-wall Tyson and nothing else — an extended monologue, a stream-of-consciousness couch confessional — which makes for riveting viewing. (Toback does include footage of young Tyson as a baby-faced contender, as well as the infamous child-eating comment directed at Lennox Lewis and, of course, that little love nibble on Evander Holyfield’s ear.) We already knew he was a born showman and a volatile force, but “Tyson” also reveals him as a natural storyteller and an athlete surprisingly capable of eloquent introspection. He still gets choked up many years later recalling the death of his beloved trainer and mentor, Cus D’Amato. But he also describes Desiree Washington — the woman whose rape accusation landed him in prison for three years — as “that wretched swine of a woman.” Will the real Mike Tyson please stand up? Apparently he’s all these people and more and he’s not afraid to show them to you — and that mix of unpredictability and vulnerability make Tyson, and “Tyson,” thrilling viewing.
This is one of those movies that requires you to suspend all disbelief and assume that someone who looks like Zac Efron could, in 20 years, turn into someone who looks like Matthew Perry. Can’t do it, you say? Well, that detail is just about as implausible as the film’s premise itself: Mike O’Donnell (Perry), a miserable father of two on the brink of divorce, gets a chance to relive his high-school days and improve his future by becoming 17 in the present day, all thanks to the magical powers of a mystical janitor. It’s always some odd figure on the fringe who brings about this kind of fantastic transformation, isn’t it? Well yes, there are a lot of elements of “17 Again” that feel awfully familiar. Director Burr Steers, a long way from his darkly comic, coming-of-age debut “Igby Goes Down,” takes you places you’ve been before in more charming movies like “Big,” ‘’13 Going on 30,” ‘’Freaky Friday,” ‘’Never Been Kissed” and even “Back to the Future.” (Jason Filardi wrote the script.) But rather than changing his decision to abandon his dreams of basketball stardom and marry the high-school girlfriend he knocked up, Mike realizes his true purpose is to reconnect with his wife (played as an adult by Leslie Mann) and teenage kids (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight). Efron maintains the dreamy presence that made the tweens scream in the “High School Musical” series, and he gets a couple of amusing scenes as a grown-up delivering uptight diatribes in a boy’s body, but he still seems too pretty and lightweight to be a persuasive leading man capable of carrying a film.
— Associated Press