Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

• “The Education of Charlie Banks” — The surprisingly sensitive directing debut of Fred Durst, the lead singer of Limp Bizkit, whose hits include the oh-so-catchy “Break Stuff.”


Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

• “The Education of Charlie Banks” — The surprisingly sensitive directing debut of Fred Durst, the lead singer of Limp Bizkit, whose hits include the oh-so-catchy “Break Stuff.” Having directed music videos for his band and others, Durst displays a calm, sure hand here, an understated style with fluid tracking shots and long takes that allow the actors’ performances to speak for themselves. He gets solid work from up-and-comers Jesse Eisenberg, Eva Amurri, Chris Marquette and Jason Ritter, which helps uphold the film when the script from Peter Elkoff bangs us over the head with its obvious themes. Eisenberg stars as Charlie Banks, whose early 1970s adolescence and college years have been defined by the neighborhood bully, Mick Leary (Ritter). Cut to about 1980, and Charlie and his childhood best friend, Danny (Marquette), are students at a prestigious university. Out of the blue, Mick shows up and crashes in their dorm room, having maintained a friendship with the worshipful Danny. Mick’s arrival shakes up their collegiate idyll, which consists of long afternoons at the pub, smoking and drinking with the rich kids who’ve befriended Charlie and Danny. While Charlie is rightly fearful of Mick’s volatility, the others find him charming and novel, like an exotic pet. Mick’s unpredictability provides a constant source of suspense, and Durst keeps us guessing about his intentions. But all that intriguing ambiguity goes to waste when the dialogue and the classroom topics too literally reflect the characters’ lives. R for pervasive language, some violence, sexual content, and drug and alcohol use. 101 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

• “Hunger” — Is this trying to enlighten us about man’s inhumanity to man, or merely startle us? With a mix of visuals that are harrowing and strangely beautiful — sometimes simultaneously — it’s hard to tell exactly what writer-director Steve McQueen’s aim is with his feature debut. In telling the story of Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands, who died in a Northern Ireland prison after a 66-day hunger strike in 1981, McQueen approaches his subject with vividly stomach-churning detail. But he’s also an experimental film and video artist who’s won Britain’s Turner Prize, so it’s not surprising to see him offer some striking imagery — some of it delicate, poetic and metaphorical. While much of the film unfolds in wordless violence, the highlight is a conversation between Sands (the confident and gutsy Michael Fassbender) and the Roman Catholic priest who’s become his confidant (Liam Cunningham), in which he announces his hunger strike and explains his philosophy. The scene, most of which plays out in one long take, makes you feel as if you’re watching enthralling theater, and you’ll hold your breath wondering how long it can go on. But eventually, Sands must die — and part three revels in watching him wither silently. Food is brought to him in the infirmary and he doesn’t even bother looking at it. McQueen is just as certain in his depiction of Sands as a Christ figure; he presents Sands as more of an idea, a martyr, than a fully fleshed-out person. Not rated but contains graphic violence, nudity and shocking imagery. 96 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

• “Monsters vs. Aliens” — Classic creatures from the 1950s get a high-tech makeover, with a healthy amount of attitude, in this 3-D animated adventure. The Blob, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Fly — they’re are all here, led by The 50-Foot Woman, who’s now 49 feet, 11 inches as voiced by the diminutive Reese Witherspoon. (Animation, by the way, is a great fit for her, and for both the crispness and sweetness in her voice.) Far from being menacing, they’re optimistic misfits who just want to be loved and understood. Rather than destroying each other, they’re loyal friends who’ve been trapped together as government test subjects, only to be unleashed on the world when an alien invasion requires their unique powers. It’s an enormously clever concept — no pun intended — with a choice voice cast. Who else but Seth Rogen could play a lovable blue blob named B.O.B., who always has a smile on his gelatinous face? Will Arnett essentially revives his hilariously cocky-but-clueless “Arrested Development” character, Gob Bluth II, as the half-fish, half-ape Missing Link, and Hugh Laurie lends his rich voice to the British mad scientist Dr. Cockroach.

Directors Rob Letterman (“Shark Tale”) and Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2”), working from a script from about a half-dozen people, maintain a high energy throughout, although the explosive climax feels bombastic and repetitive. While bright and colorful, the three-dimensional effects in these situations never really inspire a sense of awe. Rather, they provide a tangible sense of depth but fall short of completely immersing you. PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language. 94 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic