In this week’s new releases, Matthew McConaughey stars in “Dallas Buyers Club" as a man who discovers he has contracted HIV. Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner also deliver superb performances, and the film receives four stars. Elsewhere, inconsistencies in “Thor: The Dark World” leave one critic puzzled, and “Great Expectations,” inspired by Charles Dickens's 1861 novel, receives three and half stars.

(L to R): Jared Leto as Rayon and Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in Jean-Marc Vallée’s fact-based drama, "Dallas Buyers Club." (Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features)

Dallas Buyers Club” (R) “‘Dallas Buyers Club’ could have gone wrong in myriad ways, most of them having to do either with overkill or pompous self-seriousness. But Vallée, working with a lean, lively script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, neatly avoids excess, letting Woodroof’s terrific yarn stand on its own and getting out of the way of his extraordinary actors, who channel the story without condescension or manipulative cheats.” – Ann Hornaday

Thor: The Dark World” (PG-13) “To be fair, there’s stuff to like in ‘The Dark World.’ Loki, for example — whom Thor must reluctantly team with in his fight against the Dark Elves — is simply fabulous. Hiddleston steals the show here, making wickedness and treachery look a heck of a lot more fun than virtue.” – Michael O’Sullivan

1/2 “Great Expectations” (PG-13) “It goes without saying that the latest adaptation, stylishly directed by Mike Newell (‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’) and smartly written by David Nicholls (‘Starter for 10’), has the good sense not to mess too much with the source material. It’s a welcome and faithful addition to the canon, despite some tweaks (such as the absence of the third-tier villain Dolge Orlick, if you care.) It also helps that the new version is thrillingly told, compellingly acted and beautifully shot.” – Michael O’Sullivan

How I Live Now” (PG-13) “Macdonald (‘The Last King of Scotland,’ ‘State of Play’) does a passable job of evoking post-apocalyptic atmosphere in “How I Live Now,” although the film suffers from uneven tone — is it a teen romance or wartime adventure? — and, ultimately, a regrettable lack of focus.” – Ann Hornaday

The Motel Life” (R) “Hirsch and Dorff do a tremendous job playing the alcoholic caretaker and the hapless ne’er-do-well, respectively. Dorff looks the part of the gaunt and prematurely aged Jerry Lee, and he captures his character’s slow unraveling. Frank isn’t one to talk about his feelings, so when Hirsch is shown driving around aimlessly with an expressionless face and a single tear rolling down his cheek, the result is heartbreaking.” – Stephanie Merry

1/2 “Spinning Plates” (Unrated) “Organization is one of the film’s challenges. During the final scenes, voice-over from Achatz, in which he discusses having worked at his father’s diner as a child, seems to bring some unity to these disparate stories. Perhaps if the movie had started with such a tale, the documentary might have felt more tightly assembled.” – Stephanie Merry