“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” (PG-13): Teen audiences, especially those with a dash of sophistication in their comic tastes, will love the hilarious, flawed characters in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” They’re all outlandish, yet wonderfully human. And in a movie about magicians, the best trick is the way the film gets funnier as it goes along instead of flaming out.
We meet Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) first as a bullied, friendless tween (Mason Cook). His mom leaves his birthday gift on the kitchen table – a magic set, complete with instructional video by magician Rance Holloway (the great Alan Arkin). Burt is instantly hooked, and finds a fellow magic lover in young Anton (Luke Vanek), another bully magnet.
As 40-ish adults, Burt and Anton (now played by Steve Buscemi) are Vegas headliners but no longer friends. Burt has turned into a vain, sexist, womanizing louse. When a bizarre Web and street magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey, in a terrific villainous turn), who calls himself “The Brain Rapist,” steals their thunder, Burt and Anton try a stunt that ends disastrously. They split up. Burt tries to do the act alone, but gets fired.
Soon he’s doing card tricks at retirement homes, and it’s there that he meets the elderly Rance Holloway, who chides him for losing the joy in magic. This proves transformational. Eventually Burt, Anton, Rance and a gifted magician named Jane (Olivia Wilde) stage a comeback and triumph over Steve Gray.
The crazy stunts performed by Steve Gray involve bedding down on hot coals, holding his urine for days, drilling a hole into his skull, and seeming to crush a puppy (it’s not hurt). The script contains midrange profanity, including, briefly, the F-word and the B-word, plus a lot of sexual innuendo. Characters drink. One major trick involves the use of an illegal drug.
“Emperor” (PG-13): World War II must seem a very distant set of events to teens today. But for those who like history, “Emperor” does a bang-up job of making one corner of that era come vividly to life. It dramatizes what happened in 1945 when the war was over and the United States military occupied Japan.
Before helping to rebuild and democratize the bomb-shattered former empire, Supreme Allied Commander Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones, with appropriate swagger) and his staff will decide which Japanese officers and Cabinet ministers to prosecute for war crimes.
MacArthur assigns Gen. Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox, channeling a dash of Henry Fonda) to investigate whether the Emperor of Japan himself (Takataro Kataoka), worshipped by his people, should face trial and even execution. MacArthur and Fellers know that the occupation will go far better if they can find a reason to spare the emperor. Fellers is chosen to lead the investigation because he did research in Japan before the war and has knowledge of the culture.
The depiction of a bomb-ravaged Tokyo is highly evocative – a wasteland with starving inhabitants scavenging in the ruins. There is a brief flashback sequence of war violence with bayonet stabbings. Fellers also gets into a bar fight. Characters chain-smoke and drink a lot. The dialogue includes rare mild profanity.
“Oz The Great and Powerful” (PG): Kids 10 and older will be happy passengers on the lush fantasy train that is “Oz The Great and Powerful,” especially if they’re already fans of the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” and/or the “Oz” books by L. Frank Baum. Some of the scarier bits – mean flying apes, tiny snapping fairies, angry wicked witches hurling electrical charges – make the film a little much for under-10s. Just seeing it in 2-D instead of 3-D would tame some of that.
The flying apelike minions who work for the wicked witch are nasty-looking in closeup. Early in the film, the tornado is nightmarish.