Jack the Giant Slayer

Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor | PG-13 |

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FANTASY

"Once upon a time" is a fine start, but what follows tends to feature depraved villains, brutal henchmen and the constant threat of death. Oh, and how's this for charming: You're not even eligible to date royalty unless you're the officially designated fairest in the land, and how many of those can there be? No, the only good that comes from fairy tales is that they're fun-which is why it's a shame that this Jack is such a dull boy.

The film tries a new twist on the old story: After trading his horse for beans, Jack (Hoult) loses one of the legumes, creating a stalk that sends his house, with Princess Isabelle (Tomlinson) in it, into giant territory. It's then that the film turns into a high-altitude Hobbit, taking itself too seriously as Jack and king's guard Elmont (McGregor) seek the princess while behemoths munch on human heads in 3-D. (The violence is stark, though bloodless.) I admit I did laugh at a rare stab at humor, when a giant chef makes pigs-in-a-blanket with whole pigs. In a land blind to wit and whimsy, the sight gag is king.

It's frustrating because McGregor and Hoult are so naturally amusing. (Check out Hoult in the zombie rom-com Warm Bodies and see what I mean.) With a bit more zing, Jack could've been another Ever After or even The Princess Bride. As it is, it's a grim fairy tale, indeed.

Stoker

Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode | R |

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THRILLER

In prim frocks and saddle shoes, India Stoker (Wasikowska) is honors-level quirky. But when her father dies and her uncle Charles (Goode) moves into the family mansion, things get really weird. Courtly and creepy, he draws both India and her dotty mother, Evelyn (Kidman), into his sinister web. The script, from Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, leans heavily on Hitchcock. But Wasikowska shines in a movie that mixes a coming-of-age yarn with horror and black comedy.

The Sweeney

Ray Winstone, Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell | R |

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ACTION

The Sweeney feels like a TV cop drama because it was one: It's the third movie spawned by the 1970s British series about a rowdy police unit. Winstone stars as Jack Regan, a cop who uses his badge as a blunt object (when he doesn't have a bat). The guy is a creep, Dirty Harry with backup, visiting glorious mayhem on London thanks to gutless boss Haskins (Homeland's Lewis, in too small a role). Regan's private dramas are a snooze, but the chases are silly fun.

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