Mark Jenkins

Stuffed with references to classic crime flicks, American Animals is British writer-director Bart Layton's clever and assured bid to rival Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino. The film is highly self-conscious, but no more so than its real-life antiheroes, a quartet of Kentucky college kids who study The Killing and Reservoir Dogs to plan a heist that turns out to be poorly scripted.

Among Isabelle Huppert's many impressively vehement roles are several murderers, a mother who seduces her son, and the abortionist who was the last woman France ever sent to the guillotine. So the first joke of the intriguing but bewilderingly scattered Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde) is director Serge Bozon's casting of the anything-goes actress as a shy, awkward schoolteacher.

When the 60-ish heroine of the moderately charming Finding Your Feet decides on a change of locale, she doesn't travel to anyplace as warm and colorful as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Yet viewers may think of that dramedy anyway, even though the expatriate merely takes refuge with her older sister in a cluttered apartment in a grungy London public-housing complex. The place is less than alluring, but enchantment is sure to arrive later.

If Beatrix Potter were reborn as dean of students at Lake District U., the latest version of Peter Rabbit would represent her worst nightmare. This frat-bunny comedy is a part-CGI Animal House that revels in theft, gluttony, vandalism, and absurdly destructive pranks. All that's missing is the scene where Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-Tail filch the wrong kind of mushrooms from Mr. McGregor's garden and hop into a bad trip.

In 1823, the publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (aka "The Night Before Christmas") put into circulation holiday lore that retailers, advertisers, and other true believers have been rejiggering ever since. So it's a tad presumptuous to call Charles Dickens, whose A Christmas Carol was published 20 years later, The Man Who Invented Christmas.

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