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Top Five opens Friday.
Top Five opens Friday.

OPENING:

Top Five (R) Chris Rock writes, directs, and stars in this comedy as a comedian trying to become a serious actor while his fiancée (Gabrielle Union) wants to make their wedding the subject of a reality TV show. Also with Kevin Hart, Rosario Dawson, Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, Romany Malco, J.B. Smoove, Leslie Jones, Sherri Shepherd, Ben Vereen, Jerry Seinfeld, and Adam Sandler. (Opens Friday)

Expelled (PG-13) Cameron Dallas stars in this comedy as a high-school prankster who tries to hide from his parents the fact that he has been expelled from school. Also with Marcus Johns, Lia Marie Johnson, Matt Shively, Andrea Russett, and Emilio Palame. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

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Jingle Bell Rocks! (NR) Mitchell Kezin’s documentary about collectors of alternative Christmas music. Starring Wayne Coyne, Reverend Run DMC, Roberto “El Vez” López, The Mighty Sparrow, and Doctor Demento. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

 

NOW PLAYING:

Beyond the Lights (PG-13) This music-industry drama manages to be entertaining without degenerating into forced melodrama. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) stars as a pop music star under the thumb of her domineering momager (Minnie Driver) who falls for a cop (Nate Parker) after he talks her down from a suicide attempt. The story is strictly boilerplate and the movie has problems with pacing, but the characters are well-drawn. Parker makes a potentially saintly character into something human, and Mbatha-Raw makes her character’s evolution something powerful. Be sure to stay for Mbatha-Raw’s karaoke rendition of “Blackbird.” Also with Danny Glover, Richard Colson Baker, Darryl Stephens, Elaine Tan, Isaac Keys, India Jean-Jacques, and Aisha Hinds. –– Cole Williams

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.

Dumb and Dumber To (PG-13) Listen, this film is not called Funny and Funnier. It’s called Dumb and Dumber, so if you go to it and don’t laugh at all, it’s your own fault, because the title warned you. And, really, unless you’re an 11-year-old boy, you probably won’t laugh, and even if you were 11 when the original, franchise-birthing hit was brand new (circa 20 years ago), its sequel will likely tarnish your memories. Nostalgia is probably the only reason for seeing this movie anyway, because its story is only mildly amusing (Harry [Jeff Daniels] needs a kidney, discovers a grown-up daughter he didn’t know he had who is presumably a match, Lloyd [Jim Carrey] wants to have sex with her, annoying gross-outs ensue), and it’s stuffed with jokes that aren’t very funny at all. However, the blind kid with the dead parrot makes a reappearance, Harry has a cat named Butthole, and Harry and Lloyd visit the parents of a dead friend named Pee Stain. Also with Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden, Lori Danielson, Kathleen Turner, and Bill Murray. –– Steve Steward

Dying of the Light (R) Nicolas Cage stars in this thriller by Paul Schrader (American Gigolo) as a CIA agent determined to track down his torturer from a years-ago mission. Also with Anton Yelchin, Alexander Karim, Aymen Hamdouchi, Claudius Peters, and Irène Jacob.

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.

Hector and the Search for Happiness (R) Dear Lord, this is terrible. Simon Pegg stars in this wildly misguided comedy as a London psychiatrist who travels the globe researching what makes people happy. The hero acts like an entitled, self-satisfied, blundering idiot tourist the whole way through, even when he’s thrown into an African prison and tortured. Director Peter Chelsom is so tone-deaf that he keeps pushing for laughs during that development, and his insights into happiness are reducible to T-shirt slogans. The ancient joke where a foreigner pronounces “happiness” as “a penis” is trotted out, too. I’d rather spend 114 minutes listening to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” on a loop than sit through this again. Also with Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgård, Zhao Ming, Togo Igawa, Jean Reno, and Christopher Plummer.

The Homesman (R) Whatever quality it was that gave Tommy Lee Jones’ directing debut The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada its eccentric energy and life, it has deserted him in his second directorial effort. Based on Glendon Swarthout’s novel, this 1840s-set Western stars Hilary Swank as a Nebraska spinster who enlists a lowlife claim jumper (Jones) to help transport three madwomen to a church in Iowa that will take care of them. Jones tries to make this into a feminist parable, with himself cutting a buffoonish figure as a male protector who needs saving as often as he saves the women. However, a puzzling plot development late in the film comes out of nowhere and burns up any feminist cred this might have. The movie never strikes the right balance between tragedy and comedy, and a great cast is wasted. Also with Mamie Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, Tim Blake Nelson, David Dencik, William Fichtner, James Spader, John Lithgow, Hailee Steinfeld, and Meryl Streep.

Horrible Bosses 2 (R) A loud, thickheaded farce so bad it’ll make you want to hammer nails into your head. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis return for this sequel, playing three friends whose new business is sabotaged by father-and-son retail moguls (Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine). Unfortunately, the bad guys here are nowhere near as brilliantly nasty as the bosses in the first movie, and the heroes have been made so stupid that you wonder how they’re able to put their clothes on facing the right direction. At one point, the main characters compare themselves to the heroines of 9 to 5. These dudes only wish. Also with Jennifer Aniston, Jonathan Banks, Keegan-Michael Key, Lindsay Sloane, Jamie Foxx, and Kevin Spacey.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (PG-13) The latest installment does a perfectly fine job of setting us up for the series’ end. Newly installed as the face of the anti-government rebellion, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) leverages her position to get the rebels to rescue Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the other captured former Hunger Games winners. Director Francis Lawrence botches the climactic scene and runs into trouble with pacing early on, but the filmmakers keep adding telling details to Suzanne Collins’ novels that deepen our understanding of her fantasy world, and Julianne Moore is a nice addition as the rebels’ leader. Bring on the big finale. Also with Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer, Mahershala Ali, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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

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.

The One I Wrote for You (NR) Cheyenne Jackson stars in this drama as a frustrated musician who decides to win a reality TV contest at all costs. Also with Kevin Pollak, Christine Woods, Avi Lake, Rafael de la Fuente, and Christopher Lloyd.

Panic 5 Bravo (R) Kuno Becker stars in this thriller as an Arizona paramedic who becomes trapped in his ambulance after illegally responding to a distress call from Mexico. Also with Papile Aurora, Dan Rozvar, Raúl Méndez, and John Henry Richardson.

Penguins of Madagascar (PG) Some of the best jokes in the animated Madagascar series came from the penguins (voices by Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, and Conrad Vernon), but they can’t carry their own movie. Here the birds find themselves battling a mad-scientist octopus (voiced by John Malkovich) who wants to turn all the cute animals of the world into hideously deformed creatures. Despite scattered jokes that hit home, the movie never takes off to stand on its own. The movie scores a few extra points for casting Werner Herzog as an overwrought documentarian making a film about penguins, but it’s not enough to make up the difference. Additional voices by Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong, Annet Mahendru, Peter Stormare, and Andy Richter.

The Pyramid (R) This horror flick is about an archeology team that’s hunted down by a spirit while exploring a pyramid. Starring Ashley Hinshaw, James Buckley, Amir K, Christa Nicola, and Denis O’Hare.

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.

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.

The Theory of Everything (PG-13) A failure, despite two terrific performances. Eddie Redmayne stars in this biography of Stephen Hawking, as he meets his future wife Jane (Felicity Jones) when they’re still attending Cambridge, then finds her indispensable after he’s diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Director James Marsh is a brilliant documentarian (Man on Wire) who seems to lose his storytelling instincts in fiction. Though he tries to make Jane as fascinating as Stephen, the script renders her as yet another self-sacrificing supportive wife. Redmayne does a superb job of depicting Stephen’s physical deterioration, and Jones is even better as a frustrated, overshadowed spouse. Still, this movie’s imagination is way short of its subject’s. Also with Charlie Cox, David Thewlis, Christian McKay, Simon McBurney, and Emily Watson.

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

The Babadook (NR) Jennifer Kent’s horror film stars Essie Davis as an Australian widowed mother who’s haunted by an evil spirit springing from the pages of a children’s book found by her son (Noah Wiseman). Also with Daniel Henshall.

Diplomacy (NR) Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) directs this drama about the real-life efforts of Swedish consul general Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier) to limit the bloodshed in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II. Also with Niels Arestrup, Burghart Klaussner, Robert Stadlober, Jean-Marc Roulot, and Charlie Nelson.

Foxcatcher (R) Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) directs this dramatization of the relationship between wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and billionaire John DuPont (Steve Carell) that ended in murder. Also with Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, Brett Rice, and Vanessa Redgrave.

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