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Movie reviews

One Direction band member Harry Styles poses with a gift from a fan while performing on NBC's "Today" show on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

One Direction band member Harry Styles poses with a gift from a fan while performing on NBC's "Today" show on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

RATINGS: 4 stars, excellent; 3 stars, good; 2 stars, fair; 1 star, poor

BLUE JASMINE 3 stars. Cate Blanchett storms her way through the title role of Woody Allen’s pastiche-y melodrama, about a fallen socialite seeking refuge in her sister’s San Francisco flat. Lifted in chunks from “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and offering wincing blue-collar-type caricatures, the film is nonetheless a wonder — thanks to its star. With Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins and Bobby Cannavale, looking on in awe. 1 hr. 38 PG-13 (adult themes) — Steven Rea

CLOSED CIRCUIT 3 stars — This movie stars Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall as a pair of sleek English defense attorneys who make those Old Bailey wigs look positively haute, opens with security-camera screens, first four, then eight, then 12, then 15, dispassionately recording street activity and anonymous passers-by in London’s Borough Market neighborhood. A truck appears on one of the screens. The music signals trouble. A bomb explodes. More than 100 people die. Yes, there are holes where better bits of plot wouldn’t have hurt. The satisfactions of the film are in seeing what a screen full of excellent players can do to steer you around the holes. Simpler and less nuanced than “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Closed Circuit” (drab title) keeps its head down and does its job like a reliable midlevel secret agent. R for language and brief violence. 1:36

THE CONJURING 3 stars — Husband-and-wife paranormal investigators are thrown for a loop by the most terrifying case they’ve ever dealt with in this unexpectedly fresh, alive and vibrant haunted house thriller. 1 hr. 52 R for profanity, violence, demonic horror, filicide. — Tirdad Derakhshani

DESPICABLE ME 2 21/2 stars — The Anti-Villain League recruits Gru when a powerful new criminal emerges in this animated family sequel. 1 hr. 38 PG for mild scares, rude humor, use of flatulence guns — Tirdad Derakhshani

ELYSIUM 3 stars — Matt Damon is a 22nd-century factory worker on a “diseased, polluted and vastly over-populated” Earth, trying to crash the gated community in the sky where the rich live in smug splendor. A rabble-rousing sci-fi allegory from the director of “District 9.” 1 hr. 49 R for intense action, violence, profanity, adult themes — Steven Rea

GETAWAY 11/2 stars — And thus does a summer that started with a silly car chase picture end with a sillier one. “Getaway” has some of the elements of a good gear grinder — a B-movie where a car takes a pivotal role in the cast. it’s got Ethan Hawke, doing enough of his own driving to pass muster with the likes of Ryan Gosling (“Drive”), Dax Shepard (“Hit and Run”), or Paul Walker (“Fast & Furious”). It’s got a cool car — a Shelby Super Snake version of the Ford Mustang. It has an unusual city setting — Sofia, Bulgaria. Yet, director Courtney Solomon (“An American Haunting”) is plainly out of his depth, and when the always reliable Hawke plays a character in the wrong key, that points back to a director who doesn’t have the stature or standing to “direct” him. Maybe they all took a gander at that random, ridiculous scenario and hoped that the car would be cool enough to bail them out. It isn’t. 1:28 PG-13 for intense action, violence and mayhem throughout, some rude gestures and language

THE GRANDMASTER — Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar Wai Wong has emerged with one of his best films to date. “The Grandmaster” is a sweeping epic that uses the life of Ip Man (played by Tony Leung), the kung fu master who trained Bruce Lee, to recount two tumultuous decades in China’s history. Packed with elaborate, eye-popping fight sequences choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping (“The Matrix,” “Kill Bill”), “The Grandmaster” is the most action-intensive film Wong has made. It is also among his most personal. The movie incorporates his recurring theme of romantic longing (Ip has an unspoken, unfulfilled love affair with Gong Er, another martial arts master played by Ziyi Zhang) into a recreation of Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 — an event that forever changed the country’s culture.

THE HEAT 21/2 stars — Sandra Bullock is the brains, Melissa McCarthy the mouth and the muscle in this mismatched-cop comedy founded on the proposition that the lower the humor, the louder the laughter. That’s true until this profanely funny comedy veers into a sinkhole of “Pulp Fiction” comic violence in its final third. 1 hr. 57 R for extreme profanity, violence, sexual candor, surgical humor, drugs — Carrie Rickey

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY — Pixar’s first prequel takes a look at how its “Monsters, Inc. stars, Mike and Sully (the voices of Billy Crystal and John Goodman), first met, in the ivied halls of a college campus where the multi-hued, multi-limbed, multi-eyeballed students learn how to be “scarers.” Cute, funny, but not on the top tier when it comes to originality. 1 hr. 50 G (mild scares) — Steven Rea

MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES. 2 stars — Start with a heaping helping of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Throw in some “Percy Jackson,” a dash of “Twilight,” a spoonful of “The Vampire Diaries” and a sprinkling of “Harry Potter,” and you end up with “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” the latest in a seemingly endless series of coming-of-age stories set against a fantasy/horror backdrop. This adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s first book in her popular series of young adult novels is wildly ambitious in scope and looks far better than its relatively modest budget of $60 million. It contains the requisite love triangle and there are moments of surprisingly effective horror (including a snarling Rottweiler that turns out to be something far more menacing). Only the ending, which leaves about five different plotlines dangling a la the carbonite Han Solo in “The Empire Strikes Back,” was truly irritating. PG

ONE DIRECTION: THIS IS US 2 stars — This film captures the five British lads hand-picked by Simon Cowell to go where NKOTB, Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync have gone before — up the charts and into arenas around the world. Caught at their peak, they come off as the clean-cut fulfillment of millions of teen and tweenage girl fantasies. It’s not that different from the Justin Bieber doc, or the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus concert films — sanitized, packaged — presenting these five British or Irish boys, ages 19-21, as paragons of pop virtue while others vouch for what “rebels” they are, and that they have “edge.” The tunes are catchy, and the boys have charm, a little wit about them, and some stage presence even if their shows have all the spontaneity of a McDonald’s menu. PG for mild language

PLANES 1 star — Dusty the cropduster pursues his crazy dream of racing elite aircraft around the globe. Dane Cook, Stacy Keach and Brad Garrett lend their voices to a dismal kids’ film that exists mostly as an excuse for a toy line. 1 hr. 32 PG — David Hiltbrand.

2 GUNS 21/2 stars — Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington team up in this slambang adaptation of the comic book about dueling undercover agents, dealing with a crazed Mexican drug lord and their own crooked bosses. The two stars riff, wrestle and crack wise like they genuinely enjoy each other’s company, but their chemistry experiment is tainted by pointlessly nasty violence. 1 hr. 49 R for violence, sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes — Steven Rea

THE WAY, WAY BACK 3 stars — Sly, richly modulated, emotionally engaging, and brutally honest, Oscar winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s brilliantly cast coming of age dramedy is about Duncan, a geeky, awkward, alienated 14-year-old boy forced to spend summer vacation with his single mom (Toni Collette) and her new beau, an obnoxious, overbearing car salesman (Steve Carell). Duncan comes out of his shell when he befriends a local water park manager played with manic glee by Sam Rockwell. 1 hr. 43 PG-13 for profanity, adult themes, mild sexuality, smoking — Tirdad Derakhshani

WE’RE THE MILLERS 21/2 stars — A pot dealer and a stripper — Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston — pose as an all-American, RV-driving couple, recruiting two misfit teens to play their kids so they can smuggle a huge shipment of marijuana across the Mexican border. Innocuously smutty, intermittently funny road comedy. R for profanity, nudity, drugs, violence, adult themes — Steven Rea

THE WOLVERINE 3 stars — Hugh Jackman stars in this dark and stormy — and ragingly fun — X-Men thriller, in which Logan, the brooding mutant with the retractable adamantian claws, finds himself is the thick of whooshing ninjas, tattooed yakuza and all the anime cool of 21st century Japan. 2 hrs. 06 PG-13 for violence, profanity, adult themes — Steven Rea

WORLD WAR Z 3 stars — Brad Pitt goes running around the world — and driving, and helicoptering, and bicycling and jet-planing — in a desperate attempt to find the cure for a zombie pandemic. A relentless horror thriller. First stop: Philly. 1 hr. 56 PG-13 for intense scares, zombie violence, adult themes — Steven Rea

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