Summaries and mini-reviews of movies playing now, from e3 magazine:
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED. A group of talking chipmunks and their human companions get shipwrecked on a remote island. With Jason Lee, David Cross, Jenny Slate and the voice of Justin Long. Written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. Directed by Mike Mitchell. (Los Angeles Times). 87 minutes. Rated G. SAV.
CAESAR MUST DIE. "Cesare Deve Morire" is original title. A documentary festival hit, this story of prisoners performing Shakespeare behind prison walls is engrossing, fascinating and very powerful! (http://www.normaltheater.com). Subtitled. 76 minutes. Rated PG-13. NOR.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). (Starts Friday). While "Jaws" showed that Steven Spielberg was a fine director, this movie served notice that he had something to say about what it is to be human. This sci-fi classic, which revolves around one man's (a fine Richard Dreyfuss) attempt to prove that aliens exist after having a close-up encounter with a UFO, is an exciting, at times frightening and ultimately moving experience. Captivating from the first frame on, as the director masterfully lets the mystery at its center slowly unfold, this is a film that gets better with each viewing. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 137 minutes. Rated PG. ART.
DESPICABLE ME 2. (Opens Tuesday). "Despicable Me 2," starring Steve Carell as Gru, is back with more outrageous characters including the minions and the girls. Rated PG. SAV.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES. (Starts Monday). The adaptation of the second book in Jeff Kinney's series finds Greg (Zachary Gordon) suffering more indignities at middle school as well at the hands of his cruel older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), who's forced to bond with him by their mother (Rachel Harris). This film holds no surprises but will please fans of the book. Harmless fun but instantly forgettable. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 96 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.
DIRTY WARS. (Opens Friday). This sobering documentary concerns the efforts of investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill to uncover the truth behind a covert military operation that is seemingly conducting secret missions outside its initial purview. At times compelling, the movie plays out like a modern film noir with Scahill in the Phillip Marlowe role, uncovering one piece of information after another as he becomes deeply immersed in a conspiracy far bigger than himself. His involvement proves to be a distraction at times, but it does not negate the power of his findings. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 90 minutes. Not rated. ART.
FROM UP ON POPPY HILL. From the highly celebrated Studio Ghibli ("Spirited Away," "Ponyo") comes this gorgeous and moving coming-of-age story from Goro Miyazaki. Set in Yokohama in 1963, this lovingly hand-drawn film centers on Umi and Shun and the budding romance that develops as they join forces to save their high school's ramshackle clubhouse from demolition. The top-grossing Japanese film of 2011 and winner of the Japan Academy Prize for animation. (http://www.thecuart.com). 91 minutes. Rated PG. ART.
THE HEAT. (Opens Friday). An uptight FBI agent and a foul-mouthed Boston cop join forces to bring down a ruthless drug lord. With Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Written by Katie Dippold. Directed by Paul Feig. (Los Angeles Times). 112 minutes. Rated R. AMC, SAV.
THE INTERNSHIP. Surprisingly charming and sporting a timely message, this comedy finds two middle-age buddies (Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) desperately trying to score positions at Google after being terminated from their sales jobs. Needless to say, they're strangers in a strange land of technology and computer-speak, and the humor mined from the obvious generation gap provides the film with its biggest laughs. But the movie's message — that a human touch is still vital in this age of runaway technology — is delivered sincerely and should be taken to heart. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 119 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
THE LONE RANGER. (Opens Tuesday) Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice. Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Stars Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer and William Fichtner. (Internet Movie Database). 149 minutes. Rated PG-13. ONA, SAV.
THE MAGIC FLUTE. (Starts Saturday). Mozart's classic opera "The Magic Flute" is breathtakingly transformed in a spectacular new film version conceived and directed by Kenneth Branagh, with a newly adapted libretto by Stephen Fry. With musical director James Conlon conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the film showcases opera stars Rene Pape, Tom Randle, Lyubov Petrova, Silvia Moi, Joseph Kaiser and Amy Carson in a romantic adventure story of humanity and fellowship, weaving drama with comedy. (http://www.thecuart.com). 134 minutes. Not rated. ART.
MAN OF STEEL. Zack Snyder delivers a Superman film lacking in wit and warmth, instead opting to bludgeon the audience with one overwrought action scene after another. There's little in the way of character development as the origin of the hero and his early life on Earth are covered in a cursory way, as Snyder is far more interested in spectacle than story. Henry Cavill in the title role is given little to do but stand around and be heroic, while Michael Shannon as General Zod proves to be a worthy adversary. Much of the action is done well; there's simply far too much of it. Only Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as the hero's fathers come close to making some sort of connection with the audience. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 143 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, SAV.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. Pixar offers its first prequel, and it proves to be a humorous exercise if not an overly moving one. The film tells us how best buddies Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) first met and how their friendship grew as both find themselves outcasts at Monsters University, which they attend in the hopes of learning how to be master scarers. The film is quite funny at times as the characters have to overcome various obstacles to prove themselves. It's a serviceable entertainment though it's lacking in the ability to tug at our heartstrings as the best Pixar films do. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 110 minutes. Rated G. 95 minutes. AMC, HAR, ONA, SAV.
NOW YOU SEE ME. Not nearly as clever as it wants you to believe, this heist film about a quartet of Robin Hood-like magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and David Franco) who create illusions to right past wrongs tries one of the oldest tricks in the book to make you believe you've had an entertaining time. Director Louis Leterrier keeps things moving so quickly he hopes the viewer won't realize that all of the pieces in the movie's plot simply don't fit together. Though fun at times, in the end you're likely to feel as though you've been fooled rather than amazed. With Mark Ruffalo as the cop on the magicians' trail, Michael Caine as their duplicitous benefactor and Morgan Freeman as the man out to debunk them. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 106 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003). (Saturday). The most successful movie ever based on an amusement park ride, this adventure was an international sensation, spawned a franchise that would reap billions at the box office and made Johnny Depp a bona fide star. Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) and blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) set out to rescue Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) who has been kidnapped by the nefarious pirate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Seems like a fairly simple task, but the pirate's crew has been cursed, which leads to many difficulties. The film is a visual knockout, and many of the action scenes are quite rousing. But its bloated running time ends up stealing some of the movie's thunder, a problem that would plague future installments in the series. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 143 minutes. Rated PG-13. VIR.
THE PURGE. Ethan Hawke stars in this thriller that takes place in the near future that finds the United States in a time of peace and prosperity, thanks to the implementation of the Purge, a single night set aside where citizens can commit any crime without fear of persecution. The film's logic fails to hold any water as it sets itself up as a social commentary, only to soon abandon that approach and become a siege drama in which one family must try to survive the night after its home has been invaded. Despite a strong ending, the movie ends up being a missed opportunity as it opts for bloodshed rather than trying to be an indictment of our times. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 85 minutes. Rated R. PRI, SAV.
STORIES WE TELL. (Opens Friday). Actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley's smart and revelatory investigation into the life of her mother, Diane, who died when Polley was 11. An extraordinary meditation on family, memory, truth, love, fidelity — at once intimate and personal, and universal. 4 stars (Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer). 108 minutes. Rated PG-13. ART.
THIS IS THE END. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel play themselves in this end-of-the-world comedy that sees the comics' true natures emerge as the Rapture ensues. Though overlong and crude, it's done with such self-deprecating humor that you can't help but get swept away by the ridiculous nature of the movie. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 107 minutes. Rated R. AMC, SAV.
WHITE HOUSE DOWN. (Opens Friday). Channing Tatum stars as a D.C. cop who ends up protecting the president (Jamie Foxx) when the White House is attacked while he's on a tour with his daughter. This is a ridiculous exercise in excess that succeeds in being an acceptable piece of popcorn entertainment due to the spectacle it contains and the humor that keeps things afloat during some rough patches. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 131 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, SAV.
WORLD WAR Z. Brad Pitt is a U.N. special ambassador who travels the globe in search of a cure for the zombie apocalypse that has ravaged the planet. The film is composed of nothing more than four extended action set pieces, all done well but each hindered by a spastic editing rhythm. While the special effects at times are laughable, the epic scope of the film saves it in the end, as does the star's sympathetic performance. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 116 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, HAR, SAV.