Recent movie reviews

Tao Okamoto and Hugh Jackman star in “Wolverine.’’
Tao Okamoto and Hugh Jackman star in “Wolverine.’’
James Fisher

New releases

½ Blackfish It sounds like a summer blockbuster adapted from the pages of a Peter Benchley novel: A crazed serial killer whale is stalking theme park performers, trainers, and even one hapless after-hours visitor. But “Blackfish” is no trumped-up horror story fueled by Hollywood brand names and special effects. In this riveting documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, all of the creatures are real, and all seem entitled to the serious chip on their shoulders. SeaWorld’s infamous bull orca, Tilikum, stars as himself. (83 min., PG-13) (Janice Page)

Computer Chess Set in an anonymous hotel sometime around the dawn of the 1980s, Andrew Bujalski’s film — shot on blurry period videotape — follows a group of computer wonks as they pit chess-playing algorithms against each other. Rather than make a grand statement, Bujalski aims for the wayward poetry of connection — human, electronic, erotic. (92 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

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½ Fruitvale Station An American tragedy: The final day on earth of Oscar Grant (a terrific Michael B. Jordan), shot in the back in 2009 by a San Francisco transit officer. Writer-director Ryan Coogler focuses on the smaller struggles, satisfactions, and injustices of a young man’s life. One of the most necessary films of the year. With Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz. (85 min., R) (Ty Burr)

The To Do List A smutty, sloppy, revolutionary teen sex comedy where the girls get to play nasty and the boys stand around looking terrified. Aubrey Plaza plays a high school valedictorian who makes a neatly printed list of every sexual activity she’s never tried and vows to cross them off before college. Writer-director Maggie Carey laughs our culture’s virgin/whore complex to pieces. (104 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Wolverine Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) dispatch Wolverine to Japan to grapple with a sinister criminal element and his own virtual immortality. The loose adaptation of an essential 1980s comics story line is an effective way of dramatizing and accentuating the hero’s dual nature as a berserker given to timely displays of honor and loyalty. The final act is muddled, but Jackman spends enough time compellingly playing stranger in a strange land that you’ll put up with it. A fight sequence aboard a bullet train is a stunner. (126 min., PG-13) (Tom Russo)

Previously released

20 Feet From Stardom Possibly the happiest time you’ll have at the movies this year. Morgan Neville’s lovely documentary “20 Feet From Stardom” celebrates the backup singers, those women whose voices are all over classic rock and ’60s pop but whose names never made it to the liner notes. The vocal performances alone can make you weep with joy. (90 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Before Midnight The third installment in director Richard Linklater’s saga of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is richer, riskier, and more bleakly perceptive about what it takes for love to endure (or not) over the long haul. Like Michael Apted’s “Up” documentaries, this series offers a touching and humbling time-lapse study of human nature. (108 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Despicable Me 2 The animators might have done well to call their movie something else, given the lack of despicability Steve Carell’s reformed baddie displays. The scope of the ’toon espionage-adventure goings-on is surprisingly limited, mostly confining Gru and his secret agent soulmate (Kristen Wiig) to a mall, of all places. But the filmmakers so clearly love working on these characters – Gru’s yellow, mutant-elf Minions in particular – their creative joy is infectious. The sequel might not be all that warped, but it’s plenty funny nevertheless. (98 min., PG) (Tom Russo)

The Heat If you’re going to make a dopey, foul-mouthed, predictable lady-buddy-cop movie, you might as well make it funny. And until it overstays its welcome in the final half hour, “The Heat” is shamefully funny. Prissy Sandra Bullock and slobby Melissa McCarthy have genuine chemistry, and director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) makes nice use of Boston locations and action-comedy clichés. (117 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain Despite an overlong, awkward prologue that makes him seem more insecure than self-deprecating, the hyperactive fireplug Kevin Hart demonstrates some moments of comic genius in this documentary of his sold-out 2012 Madison Square Garden stand-up show. At other times, though, you wish he’d just take a deep breath and not try to explain so much. (75 min., R) (Peter Keough)

½ The Lone Ranger Ugh. Gore Verbinski’s bloated, overlong, boring western comedy casts Armie Hammer as a bumbling tenderfoot of a Lone Ranger. As Tonto, Johnny Depp shoots off whimsical one-liners in Injun-speak; He’s Jack Sparrow on downers in red-face. The movie features the usual bigger-than-big action “ride” scenes, but save your money for Six Flags. (149 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

½ Pacific Rim Hands down, the blockbuster event of the summer — a titanic sci-fi action fantasy that has been invested, against all expectations, with a heart, a brain, and something approximating a soul. Guillermo del Toro’s robots-vs.-monsters slugfest wants to be the biggest “Godzilla” movie ever and a rousing tale of human solidarity and a straight-up summer hoot. It achieves all three with spellbinding confidence. (131 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

This Is the End A cheerfully crass meta-comedy in which the Apocalypse comes to Hollywood and takes most of the A-list with it. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and others play comic versions of themselves. The opening scenes are inspired, but then the world ends and the movie still has an hour and a half to go. (106 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Unfinished Song This might have been another trite tale of codgers acting cute if not for the performances of two great actors. Vanessa Redgrave brings vivacity and depth to the role of a cancer victim who wants to sing in the choir; Terence Stamp is cranky and majestic as her naysaying mate. When things get manipulative and formulaic, those two elevate the sentiment to genuine emotion. (96 min., PG-13) (Peter Keough)

World War Z The surprise of this absorbing, frightening apocalyptic drama is that what sounds ridiculous on paper — Brad Pitt as a globe-trotting UN employee fighting legions of the undead — turns out to be a gripper on the screen. It’s the rare zombie flick that’s mostly about the frail pleasures of being alive. (117 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)