Rosewater (R) Jon Stewart makes his directing debut with this drama about real-life journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) and his ordeal in an Iranian prison while covering the pro-democracy uprising. Also with Shohreh Aghdashloo, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas, Haluk Bilginer, Claire Foy, and Golshifteh Farahani. (Opens Friday)
Dumb and Dumber To (PG-13) Twenty years after the original film, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reunite to find Harry’s long-lost daughter. Also with Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden, Rachel Melvin, Kathleen Turner, and Bill Murray. (Opens Friday)
Mea Culpa (R) Vincent Lindon stars in this French thriller as a disgraced ex-cop who must redeem himself when his family is placed in danger. Also with Gilles Lellouche, Nadine Labaki, Gilles Cohen, Max Baissette de Malglaive, Medi Sadoun, and Velibor Topic. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Saving Christmas (PG) Kirk Cameron stars in this Christian film as a man who helps his brother-in-law (Darren Doane) see the true meaning of the holidays. Also with Bridgette Ridenour, Raphi Henly, and Ben Kientz. (Opens Friday)
The Theory of Everything (PG-13) Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables) stars in this biography of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and his struggles with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Also with Felicity Jones, Tom Prior, Sophie Perry, Finlay Wright-Stephens, David Thewlis, Christian McKay, Simon McBurney, and Emily Watson. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Way He Looks (NR) Daniel Ribeiro’s film is about a blind Brazilian teenager (Ghilherme Lobo) who falls in love with a new boy in town (Fabio Audi). Also with Tess Amorim, Selma Egrei, Júlio Machado, Isabela Guasco, and Eucir de Souza. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Whiplash (R) A soft-headed melodrama that’s redeemed by its performances. Miles Teller plays an aspiring jazz drummer who gets into music school only to discover that the top professor (J.K. Simmons) is a classic bully who runs his band by humiliating his musicians. The movie is full of bromides about musical genius, and the romance with a movie theater employee (Melissa Benoist) is particularly badly handled. However, Simmons is fearsome as a man raging at the world’s embrace of mediocrity, and Teller does well in an atypically reserved, sensitive role. Writer-director Damien Chazelle takes a cubist approach to life at music school and crafts a climactic drum solo that will lift you out of your seat. Also with Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, and April Grace. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
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 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.
Big Hero 6 (PG) Disney’s beguiling latest animated film is about a 13-year-old genius inventor (voiced by Ryan Potter) who uses a giant, inflatable, healthcare-providing robot (voiced by Scott Adsit) to find out who’s responsible for the death of his older brother (voiced by Daniel Henney). The animators have great fun with the fat, huggable, slow-moving robot and the setting, a city that’s a mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo. The movie isn’t as deep as it would like to be, but it’s good fun. Additional voices by Jamie Chung, T.J. Miller, Genesis Rodriguez, Damon Wayans Jr., Alan Tudyk, Katie Lowes, James Cromwell, and Maya Rudolph.
Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (R) A hell of a ride. Michael Keaton stars in this theatrical satire as a washed-up Hollywood action star who risks the last of his fortune to mount a Broadway play that will get him taken seriously as an actor. This is easily the best work by director/co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu, who finally gets in touch with his sense of humor and stops trying to tell us about the state of the world in favor of telling us a story about a somewhat deluded showbiz guy. The long takes and cleverly disguised cuts create a hurtling sense of momentum that replicates its main character’s disintegrating sense of self. It also keeps the actors on their toes, with Keaton, Edward Norton (as a Method diva of a fellow actor), and Emma Stone (as the hero’s drug-addicted daughter) all delivering career-best performances. The movie’s ideas are undercooked, but at least González Iñárritu has discovered a sense of joy to go with his technical gifts. Also with Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Shamos, and Amy Ryan.
The Book of Life (PG) A Día de los Muertos movie! It has more going for it than just novelty value, too. The story revolves around a wager by gods over whether a Mexican mayor’s daughter (voiced by Zoë Saldana) will choose to marry a brave but self-absorbed soldier (voiced by Channing Tatum) or a musician who’s pressured into being a bullfighter (voiced by Diego Luna). Writer-director Jorge F. Gutierrez takes liberal inspiration from Mexican folk art in creating the movie’s stylized look, and his inventiveness bursts forth from every corner of the frame. Despite some plotlines that don’t build properly, the movie is beautiful, funny, and unique, and its exuberance fits the spirit of the holiday it celebrates. Additional voices by Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Ice Cube, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, Carlos Alazraqui, Ana de la Reguera, Eugenio Derbez, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Ricardo “El Mandril” Sanchez, Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias, and Plácido Domingo.
Fury (R) Exhausting and not in a good way. Brad Pitt stars in this World War II movie as an American tank commander who tries to keep his crew alive in Germany during the war’s endgame. Writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch) comes up with a good combat sequence with the tank trying to win a one-on-one battle with a German Panzer boasting superior armor and firepower, but he also fills this movie with one-dimensional characters, stupid machismo, and gaseous sentiments about the brotherhood among soldiers. The movie wants to be serious and reverent, but it’s too undercooked to pull that off. Also with Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal, Scott Eastwood, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg, Brad Henke, Xavier Samuel, and Jason Isaacs.
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.
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.
Interstellar (PG-13) Wonderful, but also not so good. Matthew McConaughey plays a pilot who leads a small crew of astronauts outside the galaxy to save the human race from going extinct on Earth. It’s hard to blame Christopher Nolan for wanting to make something hopeful and optimistic the way his Batman movies were doom-laden and despairing, but the material about an astronaut separated from his daughter needed a refined understanding of domestic relations, and that’s just not what we go to Nolan for. He and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema do an amazing job of creating the different planets in outer space, and their visual virtuosity will root you to your chair, especially if you see this on IMAX with the sound cranked up. Still, a movie that’s supposed to be uplifting instead turns out stubbornly unmoving. Also with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi, Mackenzie Foy, William Devane, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, and Matt Damon.
John Wick (R) A movie that’s directed by a former stuntman and feels like it — the action sequences are enviably smooth, but everything else is crap. Keanu Reeves plays a retired hit man. A Russian mob boss’ idiot son (Alfie Allen) kills his dog, so our hero kills about 50 people in response. The writing is terrible and so are the Russian accents on Allen and Michael Nyqvist as his dad. You’re better off waiting a few months and watching the fight sequences when they’re excerpted on YouTube, because the sequences with John taking down a death squad at his house and fighting a contract killer (Adrianne Palicki) in his hotel room repay multiple views. Also with Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Omer Barnea, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, and Ian McShane.
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
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.
Nightcrawler (R) Jake Gyllenhaal has never been more horrifying or hilarious than in this black comedy thriller. He plays a psychopathic criminal who becomes a freelance video journalist to make money off his thirst to film fires, traffic accidents, and violent crimes in progress. The movie is a nice satire of the TV news business, but you’ll remember a slimmed-down, ponytailed, manically grinning Gyllenhaal spewing business-speak and self-help jargon as he becomes a new kind of monster: a parasitic journalist who uses his self-employed status to flout all kinds of ethics and laws so he can satisfy his bloodlust. The novelty of that gives this thriller an extra kick. Also with Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Ann Cusack, and Bill Paxton.
On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter (PG) Dana Brown’s documentary tracks the influence of the 1971 film On Any Sunday on the sport of motorcycle racing.
Ouija (PG-13) Olivia Cooke stars in this deeply moronic horror flick as a girl whose best friend (Shelley Hennig) appears to kill herself, so she tries to contact her friend’s spirit by using a Ouija board. “I don’t think we should do this,” somebody says. Well, duh! Does anything good ever happen when movie characters play with Ouija boards? Cooke is a promising talent with a pretty good American accent, but this movie’s just too stupid to be scary. Also with Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca Santos, Douglas Smith, Lin Shaye, and Matthew Settle.
St. Vincent (PG-13) This movie should be unbearable Hollywood-style melodrama, but it’s made into something rather enjoyable by the efforts of its actors. Bill Murray stars as a mean old man whose financial difficulties spur him to take a job watching over the 11-year-old boy next door (Jaeden Lieberher). The young Lieberher does more than hold his own amid a cast filled with Oscar nominees, while Melissa McCarthy turns in a gratifyingly understated performance as the boy’s mother and Naomi Watts does a tartly funny slapstick turn as a pregnant Russian stripper. Writer-director Theodore Melfi doesn’t come up with the best material, but he directs with a dry style that keeps this just on the right side of sentimentalism. Also with Chris O’Dowd, Kimberly Quinn, Lenny Venito, Nate Corddry, Ann Dowd, and Terrence Howard.
Elsa & Fred (PG-13) This romance stars Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine as a widower and a new neighbor who fall in love. Also with Marcia Gay Harden, Scott Bakula, Chris Noth, Erika Alexander, Wendell Pierce, James Brolin, and George Segal.
The Ouija Experiment 2: Theatre of Death (NR) Israel Luna’s sequel to his 2011 horror film is about a group of people trapped inside a theater by a spirit raised by a Ouija board. Starring Justin Armstrong, Swisyzinna, Nicole Holt, Jessica Willis, Sally Greenland, and Tom Zembrod.