St. Vincent (PG-13) Bill Murray stars in this comedy as a misanthropic war veteran who agrees to babysit an 11-year-old boy (Jaeden Lieberher) who moves in next door. Also with Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Lenny Venito, Nate Corddry, Ann Dowd, and Terrence Howard. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Art and Craft (NR) Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, and Mark Becker’s documentary profiles Mark Landis, a Mississippi art forger who spent 30 years donating his works to museums. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Best of Me (PG-13) Possibly the worst movie ever adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel and definitely the silliest. The story follows the doomed love affair between two teenagers (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato) in a small Louisiana town in the 1990s, then picks up between their older selves (James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan) when they reunite in the present day. The female leads do some creditable work, but the villains are cardboard elitist snobs and white-trash reverse snobs, and the plot developments that keep the lovers apart are just ridiculous. The icky sentimentality here will send you running to the nearest screening of Gone Girl. Also with Sean Bridgers, Caroline Hebert, Caroline Goodall, Clarke Peters, Robby Rasmussen, Sebastian Arcelus, and Gerald McRaney. (Opens Friday)
Men, Women & Children (R) Jeez, when did Jason Reitman turn into such a joyless scold? Adapted from Chad Kultgen’s novel, his latest movie is an endless litany of parents in Austin screwing up their kids, including one mom (Judy Greer) who hypersexualizes her daughter by pushing her into a modeling career, another one (Jennifer Garner) who fanatically denies her daughter any online privacy, and one couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) who look elsewhere for sexual gratification. The romantic subplot between Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever is worth rooting for because their characters suck less than anybody else, but the suburban alienation in this movie is cheap, cheap stuff. Also with J.K. Simmons, Dean Norris, Dennis Haysbert, Olivia Crocicchia, Elena Kampouris, Shane Lynch, Travis Tope, and Will Peltz. Narrated by Emma Thompson. (Opens Friday)
Young Ones (R) Jake Paltrow writes and directs this post-apocalyptic Western about a boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who tries to protect his family’s land from being taken over by his sister’s grasping boyfriend (Nicholas Hoult). Also with Michael Shannon, Elle Fanning, and Aimee Mullins. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Addicted (R) Some of the worst acting and unsexiest sex scenes of the year are in this would-be erotic thriller that stars Sharon Leal as a wife and mother who’s drawn into a series of torrid extramarital affairs that jeopardize everything she holds dear, because what fun would the movie be if the affairs didn’t endanger everything? Actually, this movie isn’t fun, with its rickety plot (based on Zane’s novel) and clumsy attempts to handle anything psychological. The film’s only accomplishments are unintentional humor and beating 50 Shades of Grey to the screen. Also with Boris Kodjoe, William Levy, John Newberg, Tasha Smith, Kat Graham, and Tyson Beckford.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (PG) Judith Viorst’s children’s book about a whiny, self-centered brat of a kid becomes a movie in which his entire family is made up of whiny, self-centered brats. Ed Oxenbould is the titular Alexander, who feels neglected on his 12th birthday and curses his parents and three siblings into having a day’s worth of rotten luck. Miguel Arteta has been a good director (Cedar Rapids, The Good Girl), but his comic touch deserts him utterly here amid the movie’s Disneyfied slapstick gags and jokes that draw nothing but dead air. A career lowlight for pretty much everyone involved. Also with Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Sidney Fullmer, Donald Glover, Burn Gorman, Megan Mullally, Jennifer Coolidge, and an uncredited Dick Van Dyke.
Annabelle (R) The creepy doll from last year’s The Conjuring gets a spinoff/origin story. Newlyweds Mia and John (Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton) are living peacefully waiting for their baby to be born when their neighbors are murdered and they themselves are attacked by their neighbor’s cultist daughter, Annabelle Higgins (Tree O’Toole). After the girl is killed, her spirit possesses a doll purchased for John by Mia, and soon after the birth of their daughter, terrifying things begin to plague the family. Though the movie builds suspense well, avoids some clichés (the husband, for once, is not a disbelieving idiot), and has a few decent scares, it feels too derivative of atmospheric ’60s and ’70s horror films, often taking too long to go nowhere. The scariest thing about it may be its certainly unintended resemblance to A Haunted House 2. Also with Tony Amendola, Brian Howe, Kerry O’Malley, and Alfre Woodard. –– Cole Williams
The Boxtrolls (PG) Not as dark or deep as Coraline or ParaNorman, but this stop-motion animated movie continues the winning streak for the studio responsible for all three films. Based loosely on Alan Snow’s Here Be Monsters!, the movie centers on a boy named Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright) who must find a way to make peace between the underground-dwelling creatures who raised him and the humans hunting them down. Neither Eggs nor the boxtrolls are particularly interesting, but writers Irena Brignull and Adam Pava bring sophisticated wit to this kids’ movie, and the animators match them with some inventive action sequences and a great, disgusting gag about the villain (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and his lactose intolerance. This is excellent light family entertainment. Additional voices by Elle Fanning, Jared Harris, Toni Collette, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg.
Dolphin Tale 2 (PG) If you or your kids are having trouble sleeping, here’s a nice cure. Nathan Gamble returns for this sequel to the 2011 film as a kid growing up near a water park that needs to find a companion for its amputee dolphin or risk being shut down. Nothing that happens here comes as any sort of surprise, and the jokes will have trouble making a 2-year-old laugh. Save your money for a trip to the aquarium. Also with Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Harry Connick Jr., Charles Martin Smith, and Kris Kristofferson.
Dracula Untold (PG-13) Chalk up yet another big-budget horror flick that throws expensive CGI effects on the screen instead of actually trying to scare us. I mean, does that ever work? Luke Evans plays the 15th-century Transylvanian count who turns himself into a vampire to fight off Turkish invaders. Supposedly the movie returns to the roots of the real-life inspiration for Dracula, Vlad Tepes, but the real guy was far nastier than the patriotic tragic hero we see here. In any event, this movie deserves to be forgotten along with all the other Dracula stories that have been told and told again. Also with Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Art Parkinson, Paul Kaye, Diarmaid Murtagh, and Charles Dance.
The Equalizer (R) Denzel Washington re-teams with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua for this reboot of the 1980s TV series that plays a bit too much like other Denzel thrillers of late. He plays a former CIA hitman suffering from OCD and insomnia who pisses off the Russian mob when he takes retribution on a pimp who brutally beats an underage prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz). The early scenes between Washington and Moretz are well-played, so it’s a shame when she leaves the movie. (Where does she go?) Fuqua tries for elegance and brutal efficiency in depicting the hero’s killings (accomplished, as in the TV show, without a gun), but those qualities aren’t in this director. This isn’t really bad. It’s just stuff we’ve seen before. Also with Marton Csokas, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, David Meunier, Johnny Skourtis, Alex Veadov, Bill Pullman, and Melissa Leo.
Gone Girl (R) This movie tastes like death, and I mean that in a good way. David Fincher’s complex, black-as-the-grave murder mystery stars Ben Affleck as a man who becomes the publicly demonized prime suspect when his wife (Rosamund Pike) disappears. Gillian Flynn adapts this from her own bestselling novel and writes like a seasoned veteran, while Fincher expertly tightens the screws. Supporting actors (Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, and Carrie Coon especially) give tasty performances, and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide a fearsomely detached score. Both Fincher’s nihilism and Affleck’s talent for playing flawed, self-loathing guys receive a great showcase in this movie that flatly dismisses the illusions peddled by romantic movies. Also with Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Fugit, David Clennon, Lisa Banes, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Boyd Holbrook, Lola Kirke, Scoot McNairy, and Sela Ward.
The Good Lie (PG-13) This drama about the Sudanese genocide has its heart in the right place, but where is its brain? Arnold Oceng, Emmanuel Jal, and Ger Duany play three African refugees who resettle in Kansas City in 2001. The movie never explains why it’s left to their employment counselor (Reese Witherspoon) to help them acclimate to a strange new country. The big canvas seems to defeat director Philippe Falardeau, whose storytelling is so poor that bureaucratic rules are explained to be insurmountable in one scene, then solved in the very next one. It’s good that the movie isn’t about a heroic white woman rescuing the refugees, but the Africans are still reduced to one character trait apiece. Oceng manages to convey a sense of maturation all the same. He deserved a better vehicle than this. Also with Corey Stoll, Kuoth Wiel, Peterdeng Mongok, Femi Oguns, and Sarah Baker.
Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13) The funniest Marvel Comics movie so far. Chris Pratt stars as an intergalactic thief who has to team up with a green-skinned assassin (Zoë Saldana), a revenge-minded alien (Dave Bautista), an insanely angry talking raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and his walking tree sidekick (voiced by Vin Diesel) to stop a blue-skinned overlord (Lee Pace) from doing bad things to the universe. The five main characters make a terrific comedy team, with Pratt anchoring the proceedings well and the raccoon stealing lots of scenes. Director/co-writer James Gunn (Slither) festoons the soundtrack with splendidly cheesy 1970s and ’80s rock anthems. Most superhero movies treat their characters with earnest reverence, and Gunn gleefully throws a pie in the face of it all. Also with Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Ophelia Lovibond, Wyatt Oleff, Benicio del Toro, and Glenn Close.
The Judge (R) So close to being good, it’s infuriating. Robert Downey Jr. stars as a soulless big-city corporate lawyer who returns to his small home town in Indiana for his mother’s funeral and winds up staying to defend his estranged, retired-judge father (Robert Duvall) from a murder charge. The drama is entirely predictable, with the son’s old flame (Vera Farmiga) still good-looking and single, and every courtroom scene set at Dramatic Lighting O’Clock. The lead actors and a heavyweight supporting cast do some good work, but they can’t overcome the inappropriate humor that makes this movie feel like a long, bad sitcom. Also with Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Ken Howard, Emma Tremblay, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Denis O’Hare, and Leighton Meester. — Cole Williams
Kill the Messenger (R) In recounting a real-life journalism scandal from the mid-1990s, this movie can’t find a way to make it relevant for today. Jeremy Renner stars as San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, who stumbles across evidence of CIA involvement in drug trafficking to fund the Nicaraguan Contra movement. Renner is technically keen as always, but he misses a note of paranoia or dissolution that would explain how he’s left vulnerable when the mass media start to pick apart his story. As a result, this tragedy about a journalist destroyed by his biggest scoop never resonates, and it’s not clear what the movie has to say to us in the age of Edward Snowden. Also with Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Paz Vega, Robert Patrick, Yul Vasquez, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Sheen, and Andy Garcia.
Left Behind (PG-13) Astonishing how little this remake seems to have improved upon the 2002 film version of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ novel. Nicolas Cage stars this time as an airline pilot who struggles to cope with what has happened when the Rapture takes away his co-pilot and half his passengers. The special effects are amateurish, as are many of the performances — Cassi Thomson is downright gruesome as the pilot’s daughter. If I want a movie about the Rapture, I’ll stick with This Is the End. Also with Lea Thompson, Chad Michael Murray, Nicky Whelan, Martin Klebba, Quinton Aaron, William Ragsdale, Lolo Jones, and Jordin Sparks.
The Maze Runner (PG-13) The shadow of The Hunger Games looms heavily over this dystopian science-fiction thriller starring Dylan O’Brien as a boy who awakens without his memory in a community full of similarly amnesiac boys trapped in the center of a giant maze. The film’s look is derivative, and the acting is mostly anonymous, aside from the beauteous Kaya Scodelario as a girl who mysteriously shows up late in the proceedings. Still, the central mystery (taken from the James Dashner novel this is based on) is well handled, and the plot’s twists and turns are employed dexterously to reveal enough information to keep up the intrigue. Other YA novels have been turned into far worse movies. Also with Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Jacob Latimore, and Patricia Clarkson.
Meet the Mormons (PG) They’re just like you and me! Or at least that’s the impression this determinedly bland and upbeat documentary wants to leave. Blair Treu’s film crosses the globe to follow six racially diverse subjects who share the Mormon faith. They all come across as fine, upstanding people, and 92-year-old airplane pilot Gale Halvorsen has a way with words as he describes what it’s like to fly. Still, the portraits are skin-deep, with no one addressing why they’re drawn to their faith, let alone the aspects of Mormonism that continue to be so controversial. A documentary aiming to present Mormonism to the larger population is going to have to dig deeper.
The Skeleton Twins (R) Saturday Night Live alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader give excellent, low-key performances as estranged siblings struggling to cope with a family legacy of depression and suicide. Director/co-writer Craig Johnson knows that the subject threatens to be too gloomy, so he gives these comic actors opportunities like a big dance number set to “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” For all that, the two leads are even better in the movie’s big dramatic explosions near the end. Their performances convey the love that drives these two damaged people to try to prop each other up, and that makes this dramedy into something deeply moving. Also with Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason, and Luke Wilson.
This Is Where I Leave You (R) Unsatisfying. Jason Bateman plays a guy who’s forced to spend seven days with his mother (Jane Fonda), siblings (Tina Fey, Adam Driver, and Corey Stoll), and various assorted spouses and significant others after his father dies. The movie is based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel, and director Shawn Levy (from the Night at the Museum movies) seems to quail before the funnier, grosser edges of the material. The insights are reduced to greeting-card platitudes, and Fey seems ill at ease as a regret-ridden mom, while Bateman is rehashing the shtick he did on TV’s Arrested Development. The only actor who really brings his best is Driver as the uninhibited youngest sibling. This movie’s grown-up impulses get in the way of its comedy. Also with Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, Ben Schwartz, and Dax Shepard.
A Walk Among the Tombstones (R) This movie’s different from all the Liam Neeson thrillers: It’s actually good, thanks to a witty script by writer-director Scott Frank and some tasty supporting performances. Neeson plays an ex-cop-turned-sleazy freelance fixer who’s hired by a drug trafficker (Dan Stevens) to track down a pair of psychopaths who kidnap and murder the wives and daughters of drug lords. The star partners well with Brian “Astro” Bradley as a street kid who’s also a computer genius, and there’s a nice creepy turn from Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as a groundskeeper. Adapted from Lawrence Block’s novel, this makes for a pleasingly layered pulp thriller. Also with David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook, Sebastian Roché, Mark Consuelos, and Adam David Thompson.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (R) This sequel to the 2009 Norwegian horror film stars Vegar Hoel as a man who returns to fight the Nazi zombies after surviving an initial attack. Also with Ørjan Gamst, Stig Frode Henriksen, Hallvard Holmen, Ingrid Haas, Jocelyn DeBoer, and Martin Starr.
The Houses October Built (NR) Bobby Roe directs and co-stars in this horror film about a group of fans of commercial haunted-houses who run across the real thing. Also with Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Jeff Larsen, and Mikey Roe.
Pride (R) Matthew Warchus’ drama tells the true story of a group of London gays and lesbians who raise money to support a Welsh community of striking coal miners in 1984. Starring George MacKay, Dominic West, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Ben Schnetzer, Jessie Cave, and Paddy Considine.