"Jack the Giant Slayer" — A big-budget, 3-D retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk legend may seem like the unlikeliest pairing yet of director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie, but this ends up being smart, thrilling and a whole lot of fun. Singer and McQuarrie's collaborations include, most famously, the twisty crime mystery "The Usual Suspects" and the Hitler assassination drama "Valkyrie," featuring an eye patch-wearing Tom Cruise. They've sort of been all over the place together over the past couple decades — why not reinterpret a classic fairy tale? "Jack the Giant Slayer" is cheeky without being cutesy. While the look is medieval, the vibe seems more current, but it's not so anachronistic as to be subversive along the lines of a "Shrek," for example. It actually ends up being pleasingly old-fashioned. Shot in 3-D — rather than one of those muddled 2-D re-dos — the film looks crisp and clean, much more so than the trailers and ads might suggest. The action sequences are cut in an unobtrusive way as to allow the intricacy of what's happening on screen to shine through. And once it bursts forth from the ground, the beanstalk itself is magnificent. There aren't many surprises here, though; if you know the story, you know what happens. Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci and Bill Nighy star. PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. 117 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Stoker" — A spider crawls up the leg of 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) early in Park Chan-wook's English-language debut, and she regards it passively, intrigued. There's a creepy intruder in the Stokers' handsome, isolated estate, but it's India's Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who arrives following the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a mysterious car accident. An homage to Joseph Cotton's Uncle Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt," he's dashing, cultured and oozing melodramatic evil. He settles in at the house and a lurid triangle forms between him, India and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). A heavy Gothic atmosphere with bloody eruptions takes hold, and Park pushes the film to intoxicating macabre outlandishness. India's transition into womanhood comes via incestuous desires and buried corpses. In the first Hollywood movie from the celebrated South Korean filmmaker of stylistic, hyper-violent revenge tales like "Oldboy" and "Lady Vengeance," there isn't even a slight dip in his brilliant, colorful compositions (with his usual cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung), his flesh tearing, or his extreme warping of genre. The film, from the screenplay by actor Wentworth Miller, adds up to something largely because of Wasikowska's deft, coming-of-age performance. The movie is an exquisitely made grotesque that crawls up your leg. R for disturbing violent and sexual content. Running time: 98 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer