Capsule reviews of 'The Avengers,' other new films

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" — In theory, seeing Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy share the screen should be a delight. In reality, this seriocomic romp merely has its moments, but more often feels heavy-handed, sappy and overlong. Sure, it'll seem warm and crowd-pleasing but probably only to crowds of a certain age, who may relate to these characters who find themselves in flux in their twilight. Handsome as the film is from John Madden, who directed Dench to her supporting-actress Oscar for "Shakespeare in Love," it too often spells out too much, and features painfully literal symbolism like a bird taking flight at just the right time. Still, Dench does some of the loveliest work of her lengthy and esteemed career here as Evelyn, who's recently widowed after 40 years of marriage and struggling to establish an identity on her own. She's one of several elderly Brits who travel to a resort in Jaipur, India, that advertises itself as an elegant destination for retirees. In truth, the place is empty and falling apart, despite the best efforts of the enthusiastic, young manager who inherited the hotel from his father (Dev Patel of "Slumdog Millionaire") to turn it into a palace. Each character experiences an obligatory moment of truth in this colorful, bustling city, but the plot machinations in the script from Ol Parker, based on the novel "These Foolish Things" by Deborah Moggach, feel rather creaky. PG-13 for sexual content and language. 122 minutes. Two stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"First Position" — This is a welcome antidote to tawdry reality shows like "Dance Moms" and breathless competitions like "So You Think You Can Dance." Director Bess Kargman's documentary follows a half-dozen aspiring professional ballet dancers at the Youth America Grand Prix, a competition for performers ages 9-19 where prizes, scholarships and contracts with prestigious companies await. Structurally similar to the documentaries "Spellbound" (about the National Spelling Bee) and "Waiting for 'Superman'" (about public-school students hoping for chances at a better education), "First Position" reveals the home lives of these youngsters as they prepare and lets us get to know their families, all of whom have made huge sacrifices to foster their children's dreams. They come from varied backgrounds but they're all inspiring in their focus and discipline, as well as their willingness to embrace a childhood that is far from ordinary. Kargman's tasteful, intimate approach features all of the theatricality of the art form with none of the backstage drama; "The Turning Point," this is not. Her film actually may be a little too understated, a little too safe. But Kargman is both a former ballet dancer herself as well as a journalist, so she knows not only what's important but also how to stay out of the way and let the story tell itself in her filmmaking debut. Little girls (and some boys) will love "First Position": It's an ideal film for kids to see with their families. Unrated but contains nothing more offensive than some mangled toenails. 94 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Marvel's The Avengers" — The hype has been building for years and it couldn't possibly be more deafening at this point. After a series of summer blockbusters that individually introduced Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, all these characters come together alongside several other friends and foes. And with director and co-writer Joss Whedon, they couldn't be in better hands. He's pulled off the tricky feat of juggling a large ensemble cast and giving everyone a chance to shine, of balancing splashy set pieces with substantive ideology. Stuff gets blowed up real good in beautifully detailed 3-D, but the film as a whole is never a mess from a narrative perspective. Whedon keeps a tight rein on some potentially unwieldy material, and the result is a film that simultaneously should please purists (one of which he is) as well as those who aren't necessarily comic-book aficionados. He also stays true to the characters while establishing a tone that's very much his own. As he did with the recent horror hit "The Cabin in the Woods," which he co-wrote and produced, Whedon has come up with a script that's cheeky and breezy, full of witty banter and sly pop-culture shout-outs as well as self-referential humor, one that moves with an infectious energy that (almost) makes you lose track of its two-and-a-half-hour running time. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., assembles a dream team of superheroes to retrieve the Tesseract, the cosmic blue cube that gives its bearer unlimited power, when the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston) descends from Asgard and steals it. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are among those on the case — once they stop fighting each other, that is. PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout and a mild drug reference. 143 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Mother's Day" — Inspired by the 1980 Troma slasher flick of the same name, this is notable for a chilling lead performance from Rebecca De Mornay and not much else. The home-invasion thriller from director Darren Lynn Bousman (who made the second, third and fourth "Saw" movies as well as one of the worst films I've ever seen in my life, "Repo! The Genetic Opera") takes us through all the obligatory steps of the genre: Bad guys enter, assert their dominance and pick people off one by one. The hostages make futile attempts to attack or escape but their actions aren't as important as the structure itself, which serves as a crucible of human nature. That would be all well and good if the characters here were vaguely intriguing. They're not even cliched types — they're just sort of bland, and eventually they're bloody. That makes De Mornay's quietly commanding, creepy turn stand out even more. She stars as Mother, who steps in to clean things up when her idiot bank-robber sons (Patrick Flueger, Warren Kole and Matt O'Leary) botch a job and then try to hide in what they believe is their childhood home. Turns out Mother got foreclosed on, and the place now belongs to Beth (Jaime King) and Daniel (Frank Grillo), who were in the middle of a housewarming party. Gnarly, sadistic torture ensues. R for strong brutal bloody violence and torture, pervasive language and some sexual content. 112 minutes. Two stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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