'A Haunted House 2'

* ½

Starring Marlon Wayans, Jaime Pressly, 1 hour, 27 minutes (R)

This sequel is a scattershot, anything-goes affair that's unapologetically stupid. Proudly stupid. Aggressively stupid.

"A Haunted House 2" is writer/star Marlon Wayans' take on suburban ghost stories. Putting himself at the center of that usually lily-white genre gives him a target-rich environment for broad, politically incorrect satire.

"Abigail" and Marlon Wayans as "Malcolm" appear in "A Haunted House 2," from Open Road Films. (Open Road Films/MCT)
"Abigail" and Marlon Wayans as "Malcolm" appear in "A Haunted House 2," from Open Road Films. (Open Road Films/MCT) (Handout)

Once again, the road to settling down and building a relationship is strewn with supernatural stumbling blocks. Wayans repeatedly is hypnotized by a chalk-faced, creepy-eyed antique doll whose erotic magic sends him into a mating frenzy, typically when his new girlfriend (Jaime Pressly) or her kids approach the bedroom door. The star's gymnastic, flesh-baring humping and randy pillow talk is funny at first. It's not the kind of joke that improves with repetition, though. However, Wayans beats it to death.

To the limited degree that the film works, it's thanks to the all-in commitment of the cast. But the script is lazy, recycling countless genre cliches rather than inventing novel twists.

-- Colin Covert, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

'BEARS'

H * H

Narrated by John C. Reilly; 1 hour, 17 minutes (G)

Disneynature's "Bears" combines sweeping vistas and remarkably intimate wildlife photography to typically stirring effect as it documents a year in the life of a mother Alaskan brown bear and her two cubs.

Save for some particularly playful narration provided by John C. Reilly, the film adheres closely to the successful blueprint first laid out by 2007's "Earth," pitting a wildlife family unit against the not necessarily nurturing elements.

Co-directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, who previously teamed on "African Cats," the adventure takes place along the breathtaking Alaskan peninsula, where first-time mom Sky and her two tiny cubs, Amber and Scout, have emerged from hibernation and need to start addressing the food situation.

It's a familiar tale of one family's survival instinct, but it's hard not to cuddle up to a cute cub, and all that fearlessly up-close-and-personal footage, set extensively against that untouched Alaskan coastline, nevertheless makes for a compelling excursion.

-- Michael Rechtshaffen, Hollywood Reporter

'Watermark'

H H

In Mandarin, Bengali, Hindi, Spanish and English with subtitles; 1 hour, 32 minutes (NR)

The documentary "Watermark" is so stunning to behold that it seems like it belongs in a museum -- and really, that might be a better place for it. The artistry of this collaboration between director Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky makes far more of an impact than its argument.

Burtynsky is a master at capturing how humans and the natural world interact, and the results are photos, often aerial shots, that will make you do a double take and ponder our environmental devastation for days. He explores our relationship with water through the way we drink, dam, worship and rely on it, not to mention how we take it for granted. There are moments when the sight of water might elicit a visceral reaction, sometimes good, such as when carefree girls cartwheel and handspring along the beach, and sometimes bad, as when we travel to India where the sludge from leather factories floats downstream to a river where people bathe.

But with so much happening, the movie often feels unfocused and, worse, slow. It's as if the movie's many pieces are supposed to be like impressionistic brush strokes. When seen together, the result is pretty to look at. But it's not as meaningful as it should be.

-- Stephanie Merry, Washington Post.

'FINDING VIVIAN MAIER'

H * H

Co-directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel; 1 hour, 23 minutes (NR)

Forget the tree that fell in the forest with no one around to hear it. What if someone took more than 100,000 photographs over decades of shooting and absolutely no one was around to see them? And what if they turned out to be really, really good?

That's the stranger-than-fiction tale behind this gripping documentary that asks a pair of equally involving questions: Exactly who was this hidden master, and how did her work and her life finally come to light?

Her story became a media sensation in 2009, when a Chicago man named John Maloof posted a few hundred of the deceased photographer's images on Flickr and asked "What do I do with this stuff?" The response was thunderous, and the high quality of her personal story -- she had worked as a nanny and caregiver and had kept her artwork to herself -- proved irresistible and gave her the instant fame she had not seemed to want in her lifetime.

If there was something obsessive about Maier, she was matched stride for stride by her equally possessed discoverer, who appears on camera to tell his part of the story.

What we find out about Maier, revealed in self-portraits as a striking woman with a singular sense of self, is fascinating. Still, like many artists, she remains finally elusive, someone who was literally all about the work. We don't know a thing about what drove her or even whether she wanted her images to be seen. When one of the film's witnesses says, "She lived the life she wanted, a life without compromise," that seems as close to the truth as we are going to get.

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

'The Railway Man'

H * ½

Starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgard; 1 hour, 48 minutes (R)

It's easier to like "The Railway Man" than it is to love it. Despite solid performances and a handsome cinematic sheen burnishing the shocking, true-life tale of wartime torture and reconciliation, the film is less deeply affecting than merely admirable.

Based on a 1995 memoir by Englishman Eric Lomax -- who as a World War II soldier in the Far East was captured and brutalized by the Japanese army -- the film jumps back and forth between Lomax's shellshocked veteran circa 1980 (a nerdy-looking Firth) and his much younger wartime self.

The scenes in the Thai POW camp, where Lomax and his comrades are forced to build the same railroad featured in the fictional film "The Bridge on the River Kwai," are pretty gripping. That's largely because they're characterized by scenes of Lomax being tortured after confessing to building a contraband radio, and those scenes of abuse are harrowing. Lomax blames Japanese interpreter Takashi Nagase (Tanroh Ishida), a young man who is shown to be, at best, a complicit witness to Lomax's torment and, at worst, an active instigator.

Kidman's character exists mainly to galvanize her husband into finally addressing his demons. In this case, that means tracking down the middle-aged Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada). Once they confront each other, the film ought to kick into high payoff mode, delivering the emotional punch we've been conditioned to expect from similar films. Whether that payoff is one of vengeance or forgiveness doesn't really matter. What matters is that the emotional transaction be raw and honest. While, the climax feels true enough, it also comes across as slightly overdone, like a dish you know is good for you but has been overcooked.

-- Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post