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American Sniper opens Thursday.
American Sniper opens Thursday.

OPENING:

American Sniper (R) Bradley Cooper stars in Clint Eastwood’s biography of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. Also with Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Brian Hallisay, Kyle Gallner, Keir O’Donnell, and Navid Negahban. (Opens Thursday in Dallas)

The Gambler (R) Mark Wahlberg stars in this remake of James Toback’s 1974 film about an English professor with a nasty gambling habit. There’s nothing really groundbreaking here, but William Monahan’s script offers up juicy nuggets of dialogue, and the cast (led by Wahlberg, slimmed down by about 60 pounds and looking at the end of his rope) is strong. Hollywood’s generic thrillers would be better if they were all made with the same care as this one. Also with Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alvin Ing, Emory Cohen, Anthony Kelley, Domenick Lombardozzi, Richard Schiff, Leland Orser, and George Kennedy. (Opens Thursday)

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (R) An Iranian vampire movie! Sheila Vand stars in this black-and-white horror film as a nameless girl who roams the nighttime streets of a mythical city looking for bad men to eat. Also with Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Rome Shadanloo, Milad Eghbali, and Dominic Rains. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The Imitation Game (PG-13) Benedict Cumberbatch stars in this biography of Alan Turing, the pioneering British computer genius who was persecuted for his homosexuality. Also with Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Mark Strong, and Charles Dance. (Opens Thursday in Dallas)

Unbroken (PG-13) Louis Zamperini lived an amazing life, Laura Hillenbrand wrote an amazing biography of him, and the Coen brothers adapted that book into a script. So how did this movie come out so boring? Jack O’Connell plays Zamperini, the former Olympic athlete whose plane went down over the Pacific in World War II and who survived months drifting at sea and then years being tortured in a Japanese prison camp. The British newcomer O’Connell gives the part a good whack, but director Angelina Jolie turns this into so much inspirational pabulum. On the strength of this unmoving epic, she really shouldn’t quit her day job. Also with Jai Courtney, Finn Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, and Alex Russell. (Opens Thursday)

 

NOW PLAYING:

Annie (PG) This misfiring new adaptation of the Broadway musical updates the story to the present day and stars Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) as the plucky foster kid who is adopted by a wealthy businessman (Jamie Foxx) who’s running for political office. The cast is full of funny actors and bits, and director/co-writer Will Gluck does well portioning out the laughs among his cast. The trouble is, nobody looks remotely comfortable bursting into song and dance, the music is so overproduced that you can barely hear the actors’ voices, and the numbers are staged without innovation. This could have succeeded as a comedy if it weren’t for those terrible musical numbers. Also with Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Zayas, Stephanie Kurtzuba, and Patricia Clarkson.

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

Exodus: Gods and Kings (PG-13) In contrast to Cecil B. DeMille’s cheesy 1956 film The Ten Commandments, Ridley Scott’s new adaptation of the Book of Exodus is tasteful, respectable, and dull. Christian Bale plays Moses as he discovers the truth about his Hebrew parentage and determines to free the Hebrew slaves from his best friend, the pharaoh of Egypt (Joel Edgerton). The luxuries of the pharaohs are rendered forgettably, the characters remain stick figures, and the magical bits like the burning bush and the plagues inspire no awe. Scott’s overwhelming seriousness squeezed all the fun out of his Robin Hood movie, and it does something similar here. Also with John Turturro, Maria Valverde, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Hiam Abbass, Isaac Andrews, Ewen Bremner, Indira Varma, Golshifteh Farahani, Ghassan Massoud, Dar Salim, Ben Kingsley, and Sigourney Weaver.

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.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (PG-13) Not bad, necessarily, but all it made me feel was, “Oof, that’s over.” The last chapter involves the slaying of the dragon, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) going insane with greed, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) trying to avert an all-out slaughter over the dragon’s treasure hoard. This is the most action-packed of the installments, and the fight sequences are performed ably by the actors here. Still, none of the characters’ relationships rings true, and the villains remain one-dimensional. J.R.R. Tolkien’s book gained focus from being brief, but Peter Jackson has blown this up into a 474-minute saga because that’s all he knows how to do now. Also with Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Stephen Fry, Manu Bennett, Billy Connolly, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, and Ian Holm.

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.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (PG) Ben Stiller returns for this third installment as a museum security guard who must travel the world to save the secret denizens of all the museums. Also with Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Rebel Wilson, Dan Stevens, Ben Kingsley, Rachael Harris, Mizuo Peck, Bill Cobbs, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and the late Robin 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.

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.

PK (NR) Aamir Khan stars in this comedy as an Indian man who upends people’s lives by asking them innocent questions. Also with Anushka Sharma, Sanjay Dutt, Sushant Singh Rajput, Ram Sethi, Saurabh Shukla, and Boman Irani.

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.

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.

Tierra de María (NR) Clara Cotelo stars in this Spanish drama as a figure skater who seeks a local sage’s help in curing her diabetes. Also with Juan Manuel Cotelo, Rubén Fraile, Carmen Losa, Elena Sánchez, and Lola Falana.

Top Five (R) Chris Rock directs, writes, and stars in his best movie ever as a recovering alcoholic and comedy star trying to get people to take him seriously as an actor while spending a day being followed by a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) writing a profile of him. Rock and Dawson pair nicely, and the script treats their characters’ personal problems with due seriousness. However, there’s also lots of funny business to pick from: the reporter taking revenge on her cheating boyfriend (Anders Holm), Jerry Seinfeld (as himself) making it rain at a strip club, and DMX (also as himself) singing a jailhouse rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” Rock takes a few shots at Tyler Perry, but the best one is making a movie far funnier than any of his. Also with Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Pharoah, Luis Guzmán, Romany Malco, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Sherri Shepherd, Ben Vereen, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Whoopi Goldberg, and Adam Sandler.

Wild (R) Maybe this movie’s biggest achievement is wiping Reese Witherspoon’s slate clean. She stars in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about pulling herself out of a downward spiral of drug use and promiscuous sex by hiking more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. The material neatly fits director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby, who deal with the highly cerebral source by cutting Cheryl’s hike with flashbacks and filling the soundtrack with fragments of remembered conversations, poems, songs, and other thoughts that bubble up inside Cheryl’s head amid the walk’s tedium. Just as the walk boiled Strayed down to her essence, it seems to scrape away all Witherspoon’s baggage from her junky earlier films and leave behind her salient qualities. Also with Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, W. Earl Brown, Mo McRae, Brian Van Holt, Kevin Rankin, Cliff de Young, and Gaby Hoffmann.

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES:

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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