Capsule reviews of new releases

The Associated Press Published:

"Big Miracle" -- If a movie is cheesy and knows it's cheesy -- if it embraces the soft, gooey texture and pungent aroma of its own fromage -- does that make it any more palatable as a meal? That is the question to ponder while watching this rousing, feel-good, family-friendly animal adventure which has the added benefit of being based on a true story. It's a weird hodgepodge, mixing the large cast and the melodrama of a 1970s disaster movie with the small-town quirkiness of "Northern Exposure," with just a touch of the big-haired ambition of "Broadcast News." At its center are three gray whales -- a mother, father and baby who found themselves trapped within the quickly forming Arctic ice near Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States, in 1988. The effort to free them in the open water brought together a disparate alliance of environmental activists, oil executives, journalists, native people and even the Soviets toward the end of the Cold War, and it fascinated viewers worldwide. John Krasinski plays Adam, the boyishly enthusiastic local TV reporter who breaks the story. He gets some help from an adorable little native boy (Ahmaogak Sweeney) who looks up to him as a big brother as well as from his idealistic ex-girlfriend, Greenpeace leader Rachel (Drew Barrymore). But soon everyone's invading this small, remote town for a piece of the action, which sets up all the fish-out-of-water scenarios you'd expect. Ted Danson and Kristen Bell are among the ensemble cast. PG for language. 107 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

-- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Chronicle" -- It owes a great debt to the found-footage conceit of "The Blair Witch Project," has some of the aesthetic and tonal touches of "Cloverfield" and probes the same sorts of philosophical notions about the burden of power that serve as the basis for the "X-Men" series. And yet, "Chronicle" still has enough energy and ingenuity to serve as thrilling entertainment all its own. First-time feature director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis (as in son-of-John) have come up with a clever way to tell a hand-held, point-of-view story without relying on the same old grainy, headache-inducing shaky-cam techniques: The camera can levitate. Because the three teenagers who take turns operating it have acquired the power of telekinesis. These are three recognizable high school types: nerdy loner Andrew (Dane DeHaan), popular athlete Steve (Michael B. Jordan) and Matt (Alex Russell), Andrew's cousin who falls somewhere in the middle of the social hierarchy. One night in the woods outside a party, they discover a hole in the ground and decide to explore it. Since Andrew chronicles everything with his video camera, he documents what they find: some sort of glowing cosmic thing which fascinates them, and also gives them the ability to move and manipulate things with their minds. Rather than embark on some important superhero adventure, they do what regular kids would do. They mess with people at Wal-Mart. The third act goes a little haywire, though, especially as the camera device collapses in favor of various points of view. PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking. 84 minutes. Three stars out of four.

-- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Kill List" -- This morphs subtly but devastatingly from an uncomfortable domestic drama to a brutally violent hit-man thriller to a what-the-hell-just-happened? exploration of a primal, paranoid nightmare. Or is what we're seeing real? Director and co-writer Ben Wheatley slyly gives nothing away, but rather has enough faith in his challenging material and in his audience to let us debate the meaning of the ending and fill in the blanks for ourselves. And his skillful cast of actors, who improvised much of the dialogue, absolutely sell it with an abiding naturalism, even as the film turns disturbing and outlandishly dark. "Kill List" begins as a slice of life within a modern British family, but from the start, Wheatley creates a sense of unease through camerawork that feels a little too intimate and jump cuts between disconnected moments. Jay (Neil Maskell) is an ex-soldier and unemployed assassin who's still reeling eight months after a job that went wrong in Kiev. He and his wife, Shel (the beautiful MyAnna Buring), argue about all the same things normal married couples argue about as they raise their 7-year-old son. By grounding the film in such a prosaic, relatable way early on as Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump do, it only makes the transition toward the extreme climax seem like even more of an impressive feat. Jay's partner, Gal (the fascinating Michael Smiley) comes to him with a new assignment that will get him back in business. Not rated but contains graphic violence, disturbing images, nudity, language and smoking. 95 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

-- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"The Woman in Black" -- Though it nearly suffocates under the mounting weight of its gothic kitsch -- an abandoned house, child ghosts, spooky dolls, oh my! -- James Watkins' thriller nevertheless summons ornately-crafted, old-fashioned suspense. In his first post-Potter film, Daniel Radcliffe stars as the struggling, widowed London lawyer Arthur Kipps. Still grieving the loss of his wife in childbirth, Kipps -- leaving his 4-year-old son behind -- is dispatched to a remote British village to put in order the estate of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. The town is thick with suspicion and foreboding. So well do the townspeople know the tragedy of lost children (their deaths always accompanied by a dark, mysterious character), that whimpering comes even from their parrots. Kipps is to sort a classically menacing Victorian mansion where apparitions and frightful reflections mount as he digs into the past. His lone village friend is Samuel Daily, played by the always excellent Ciaran Hinds. (Janet McTeer plays his loopy wife.) Adapted from Susan Hill's novel, it's the second release from the reconstituted Hammer Film Productions, which churned out lush gothics in the '60s and '70s. Watkins' film, nifty and taught, is a worthy enough heir to that tradition, even if its basic clich├ęs threaten to overwhelm it. As a wand-less detective, Radcliff comports himself well, playing Kipps with downcast desperation, conflicted between striving for the future of his son or grimly wallowing in the memory of his wife. PG-13 for thematic material and violence, disturbing images. 95 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

-- Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer