"Jack the Giant Slayer" -- A big-budget, 3-D retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk legend may seem like the unlikeliest pairing yet of director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie, but this ends up being smart, thrilling and a whole lot of fun. Singer and McQuarrie's collaborations include, most famously, the twisty crime mystery "The Usual Suspects" and the Hitler assassination drama "Valkyrie," featuring an eye patch-wearing Tom Cruise. They've sort of been all over the place together over the past couple decades -- why not reinterpret a classic fairy tale? "Jack the Giant Slayer" is cheeky without being cutesy. While the look is medieval, the vibe seems more current, but it's not so anachronistic as to be subversive along the lines of a "Shrek," for example. It actually ends up being pleasingly old-fashioned. Shot in 3-D -- rather than one of those muddled 2-D re-dos -- the film looks crisp and clean, much more so than the trailers and ads might suggest. The action sequences are cut in an unobtrusive way as to allow the intricacy of what's happening on screen to shine through. And once it bursts forth from the ground, the beanstalk itself is magnificent. There aren't many surprises here, though; if you know the story, you know what happens. Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci and Bill Nighy star. PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. 117 minutes.
"Stoker" -- A spider crawls up the leg of 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) early in Park Chan-wook's English-language debut, and she regards it passively, intrigued. There's a creepy intruder in the Stokers' handsome, isolated estate, but it's India's Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who arrives following the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a mysterious car accident. An homage to Joseph Cotton's Uncle Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt," he's dashing, cultured and oozing melodramatic evil. He settles in at the house and a lurid triangle forms between him, India and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). A heavy Gothic atmosphere with bloody eruptions takes hold, and Park pushes the film to intoxicating macabre outlandishness. India's transition into womanhood comes via incestuous desires and buried corpses. In the first Hollywood movie from the celebrated South Korean filmmaker of stylistic, hyper-violent revenge tales like "Oldboy" and "Lady Vengeance," there isn't even a slight dip in his brilliant, colorful compositions (with his usual cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung), his flesh tearing, or his extreme warping of genre. The film, from the screenplay by actor Wentworth Miller, adds up to something largely because of Wasikowska's deft, coming-of-age performance. The movie is an exquisitely made grotesque that crawls up your leg. R for disturbing violent and sexual content. Running time: 98 minutes.
"Beautiful Creatures" -- The genders have been reversed but the supernatural, star-crossed teen angst remains firmly intact in this drama that clearly aims to pick up where the "Twilight" franchise left off. Writer-director Richard LaGravenese's film, based on the first novel in the young adult series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, oozes Southern Gothic eccentricity and some amusing if inconsistent touches of camp. But a strong cast of likable and, yes, beautiful actors can only do so much with the formula in which they're forced to work. And, like the "Twilight" movies, the special effects are all too often distractingly cheesy. The setup breathes some new life into such familiar material, though, as co-stars Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert feel like actual awkward teens enjoying the fraught thrills of first love. Once the plot machinations start grinding in the second half, though, "Beautiful Creatures" as a whole grinds to a halt. Spells and scenery-chewing can be a hoot; watching other people sitting around scouring ancient tomes for clues, not so much. Ehrenreich plays a restless teen in small-town South Carolina who's smitten by Englert's mysterious new girl. Turns out she's a witch -- and she's probably doomed -- but could true love with a mortal save her? Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum and Viola Davis co-star. PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material. 123 minutes.
"A Good Day to Die Hard" -- It's supposed to be a parody of itself, right? That's the only way to explain this ridiculously over-the-top, repetitively numbing fifth film in the "Die Hard" franchise. John McClane used to be a cowboy. Now, he's a cartoon character -- specifically, Wile E. Coyote, given how many times he should be seriously injured and/or killed in this movie. The most he suffers is a scratch here and there, and then he's ready to pop back up again with a bemused twinkle in his eye and a wry quip. Part of the charm of this career-defining Bruce Willis' character was the regular-guy, Reagan-era resourcefulness he represented; now, he's weirdly superhuman. But as charismatic as Willis ordinarily is, even he can't fool us into thinking he's enjoying himself this time. "A Good Day to Die Hard" is pointless and joyless, a barrage of noise and chaos, an onslaught of destruction without the slightest mention of consequence. Director John Moore mistakes shaky-cam and dizzying zooms for artistic finesse in his action sequences. But the most obnoxious element of all may be the father-son feel-goodery that occurs in the midst of all this madness. You see, Willis' unstoppable New York cop has traveled to Moscow to track down his bitter, estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), whom he believes to be in criminal trouble. Jack is actually a spy working undercover to protect a government whistleblower (Sebastian Koch), and dad has arrived just in time to ruin his mission. Now they must work together -- and bond. R for violence and language. 97 minutes.
"Identity Thief" -- It seems ironic that the title is "Identity Thief" when its co-stars have such a firm grasp on their well-established screen personae. Melissa McCarthy is the brash wild card with an off-kilter sense of humor and an underlying, slightly dangerous streak. Jason Bateman is the initially bemused but increasingly frustrated straight man whose deadpan quips seem to be the only things that keep him sane. These two opposites are stuck on a cross-country road trip together but no one's really going anywhere. Optimally, with a better script, that wouldn't be such a bad thing. Instead, "Identity Thief" strands these two ordinarily enjoyable comics in the middle of nowhere with no help for miles. "Midnight Run," it is not. It's actually not even "Due Date," which felt similarly strained. It's not just that director Seth Gordon ("Horrible Bosses") and screenwriter Craig Mazin (the reheated "Hangover Part II") confuse meanness for hilarity. There's that, including a weirdly uncomfortable thread of homophobia and/or emasculation. More fundamentally, though, the premise is just flawed. Bateman's mild-mannered accounts processor, Sandy Patterson, discovers that a con artist (McCarthy) has stolen his identity and racked up thousands of dollars in charges. They all come from the same place -- Winter Park, Fla. -- and they started weeks ago. But Sandy lives in Denver. Isn't this suspicious? R for sexual content and language. 107 minutes.
"Side Effects" -- If this is indeed Steven Soderbergh's final film, as he's said it will be after toying with the notion of retirement for a couple of years now, then intriguingly it feels like he's coming full circle in some ways to the film that put him on the map: the trailblazing, 1989 indie "sex, lies and videotape." Both are lurid genre exercises, laid bare. Both focus on the intertwined lives of four central figures, including a scene in which one of the men interviews one of the women on video, hoping to unearth a hidden truth. Both movies are about danger, secrets and manipulation, filled with characters who aren't what they initially seem, all of which Soderbergh depicts with his typically cool detachment. Twists and double crosses occur and schemes are revealed as layer upon layer of Scott Z. Burns' clever script gets peeled away. Yet Soderbergh approaches such dramatic events with the same chilly tone that has marked so much of his work, even as the developments grow more than a little implausible. Rooney Mara is chilling as a troubled Manhattan woman who starts taking a new drug at the urging of her psychiatrist (Jude Law). Bad things happen. Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones co-star. R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language. 106 minutes.