Aloft (R) Jennifer Connelly stars in this drama as a woman who encounters the son (Cillian Murphy) whom she abandoned 20 years before. Also with Mélanie Laurent, Oona Chaplin, Ian Tracey, Peter McRobbie, and William Shimell. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (NR) Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker’s documentary profile of the man who has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Live From New York! (NR) Bao Nguyen’s documentary goes behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (PG-13) This adaptation of Jesse Andrews’ novel stars Thomas Mann as a high-school student who befriends a classmate (Olivia Cooke) who’s suffering from leukemia. Also with RJ Cyler, Jon Bernthal, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, and Hugh Jackman. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Phantom Halo (R) Pick a plotline and stick with it! This drama is the feature debut of Antonia Bogdanovich, the daughter of Peter Bogdanovich, and she appears to have inherited her dad’s worst tendencies as a filmmaker. Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Luke Kleintank play the sons of a divorced, alcoholic, gambling-addict dad (Sebastian Roché) who run various scams to keep the family financially afloat. The younger one recites Shakespeare in public while the older one turns to counterfeiting when he’s not pickpocketing or teaching a women’s self-defense class. Bogdanovich adapts this from a short film she made, and she can’t seem to decide whether this is a thriller or a coming-of-age drama. Either way, it’s maddeningly inconsistent. Also with Rebecca Romijn, Clare Grant, Susan Park, Tobin Bell, and Gbenga Akinnagbe. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Aloha (PG-13) Cameron Crowe’s artistic decline continues apace, and he takes down a fine bunch of actors with him in this sodden romance. Bradley Cooper plays a disgraced defense contractor who lands in Hawaii with an old employer (Bill Murray), an ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), and an Air Force pilot (Emma Stone) who might represent a new start. Crowe goes round and round with Hawaiian religious mysticism and just refuses to get to any sort of point. Stone comes closest to emerging from this with some kind of credit, but this is the work of an overindulged hack, not the guy who made Say Anything… and Jerry Maguire. Also with John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Bill Camp, Danielle Rose Russell, Jaeden Lieberher, and Alec Baldwin.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (PG-13) Joss Whedon’s sequel is a worthy follow-up to his 2012 mega-smash, but he seems to be getting off the carousel at the right time. The superheroes must band together once more after Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) creates a superintelligent software program (voiced by James Spader, whose pissy menace is perfect) that tries to wipe out humanity. Just about everything is a little less sharp here, from the action sequences to the romance between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) to Whedon’s trademark one-liners. Still, Chris Hemsworth flexes his comic muscles as Thor, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) reveals new depths to his character, and a demonic Elizabeth Olsen is a promising addition. The new, more diverse team of Avengers in place at the end leaves the series in good shape for the future. Also with Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Cobie Smulders, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Paul Bettany, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Linda Cardellini, Claudia Kim, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, Samuel L. Jackson, and an uncredited Josh Brolin.
Beyond the Mask (PG) Andrew Cheney stars in this historical thriller as an 18th-century British mercenary betrayed by the crown who vows to help the American colonies gain their independence. Also with Kara Killmer, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, Steve Blackwood, Thomas Mahard, and John Rhys-Davies.
Entourage (R) This continuation of the HBO TV show made me want to go home and wash the stink of rich-white-guy entitlement off me. Adrian Grenier returns as the movie star who turns to directing his own Hollywood blockbuster vehicle while his buddies (Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, and Jerry Ferrara) party endlessly in Tinseltown. The acting is indistinct and the jokes aren’t funny, but the real problem is that these guys are wastes of space and don’t even know it, having done nothing to earn their awesome, hard-partying lives. At least This Is the End realized that its Hollywood bros needed some justification for existence. This movie just embodies the vapid celebrity culture it’s trying to satirize. Now I know why people hate the TV show. Also with Emmanuelle Chriqui, Billy Bob Thornton, Haley Joel Osment, Perrey Reeves, Rex Lee, Debi Mazar, Rhys Coiro, Constance Zimmer, Ronda Rousey, Emily Ratajkowski, Judy Greer, Richard Schiff, Piers Morgan, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Russell Wilson, Gary Busey, Bob Saget, Jon Favreau, Greg Louganis, Andrew Dice Clay, Pharrell Williams, Mike Tyson, David Spade, Warren Buffett, Armie Hammer, Common, Ed O’Neill, Kelsey Grammer, Liam Neeson, Jessica Alba, and Mark Wahlberg.
Ex Machina (R) This science-fiction movie may not be as deep as it wants to be, but it’s a hell of a thing to look at. Domhnall Gleeson stars as a computer programmer who’s called to the mansion of his tech-mogul boss (Oscar Isaac) to evaluate the artificial intelligence on his new female robot (Alicia Vikander). Despite the flashy effects, first-time director Alex Garland (the screenwriter on Sunshine and 28 Days Later…) keeps the focus on the actors, and Vikander and Isaac both respond with tremendous performances. This movie can’t compete with the likes of Her and Under the Skin when it comes to questions of AI or how feminine identity gets constructed and controlled. Then again, Garland knows how to handle his actors, and his visual flair (check out the spectacular nature scenes shot in Norway) is undeniable. It’s an arresting piece of sci-fi. Also with Sonoya Mizuno.
Home (PG) A random collection of gags with no story holding them together. On an earth where the entire human race has been forcibly relocated to Australia by an invading race of cuddly aliens, one misfit alien (voiced by Jim Parsons) has to team up with an escaped girl (voiced by Rihanna) to save the planet from a warlike alien race. Despite Rihanna’s better-than-expected job at portraying a little girl (and the savory irony of Jennifer Lopez voicing the role of her mom), the movie relies too heavily on its fish-out-of-water premise and uninspired silliness to stick in the memory for any length of time. Additional voices by Steve Martin and Matt Jones.
Insidious: Chapter 3 (PG-13) The best film in the Insidious franchise so far, this prequel establishes the background of Lin Shaye’s spiritual medium character as she confronts the Man Who Can’t Breathe, an evil presence trying to absorb the soul of a teenage girl Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott). Most of the scares are jumpy moments spaced pretty far apart, so the film’s fright-factor mostly relies on atmosphere and the suggestion of unseen horror. Yet the pacing works, even with some clunky performances by Shaye and Dermot Mulroney as the girl’s dad. Like the previous movie, Insidious: Chapter 3 works more as a dark fantasy than a horror movie, but its cosmology and characters are worth revisiting if you’ve already crossed over as a fan. Also with Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell. — Steve Steward
Jurassic World (PG-13) The dinosaurs are fascinating and the people are boring, but then, why should this be any different from the 1993 original? In this fourth film, the dinosaurs are housed at a well-established theme park that turns to genetically engineering new dinosaurs to keep attracting customers, and it’s up to a raptor handler (Chris Pratt) and a scientist (Bryce Dallas Howard) with two so-cute-you’ll-barf nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) visiting the park to save everyone. Director/co-writer Colin Trevorrow is so busy shoehorning in references to Steven Spielberg’s original that he ignores how sexist this thing is. There’s no shame in Trevorrow’s inability to equal Spielberg’s flair, but the sense of wonder that pervaded his Safety Not Guaranteed is nowhere in evidence here. I was bored. Also with Irrfan Khan, Vincent D’Onofrio, Judy Greer, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, Lauren Lapkus, and B.D. Wong.
Love & Mercy (PG-13) Paul Dano and John Cusack star in this biography of Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson. Also with Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Kenny Wormald, Joanna Going, and Dee Wallace.
Mad Max: Fury Road (R) This long-delayed new installment of the Australian action saga isn’t that compelling as a feminist text, but as a car chase movie, it’s off the chain. Tom Hardy takes over Mel Gibson’s role as a broken man who’s rescued by a warrior (Charlize Theron) who’s trying to get a harem of wives free of the clutches of the warlord (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who owns them. Director George Miller’s visual ingenuity encompasses men balancing on 20-foot poles mounted on cars, 1970s chassis mounted atop tank treads and monster truck tires, and a concert stage on wheels with a speed-metal guitarist playing an instrument that shoots flames. Cinematographer John Seale and the backdrop of the Namib Desert combine to make this breathtakingly beautiful, as well as the best piece of pure action filmmaking since The Raid 2. Also with Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Nathan Jones, Megan Gale, and Riley Keough.
Pitch Perfect 2 (PG-13) Like Avengers: Age of Ultron, this is a sequel to a 2012 movie that falls short of its predecessor’s awesomeness but lays intriguing groundwork for an inevitable future sequel. Anna Kendrick returns as a college senior who must rally her disgraced singing group to win the world a cappella championships. Screenwriter Kay Cannon is better at writing snappy one-liners than she is at plot or character development, but co-star Elizabeth Banks (who steps into the director’s chair) duplicates the vibe from the first film well enough. The sequel also picks up in Keegan-Michael Key as an autocratic boss and Hailee Steinfeld as a freshman legacy being groomed as a future leader of the group, and Kendrick duets with Snoop Dogg (as himself) on Christmas carols. Also with Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Hana Mae Lee, Alexis Knapp, Skylar Astin, Adam Devine, Ester Dean, Katey Sagal, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Chrissie Fit, Flula Borg, John Michael Higgins, and Anna Camp.
Poltergeist (PG-13) The lingering dread and sociopolitical subtext from Tobe Hooper’s 1982 classic is gone from this remake, leaving a horror movie that will move your pulse but fail to nudge your soul. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt star as Illinois suburbanites who find their house built on a cemetery and haunted by invisible spirits. Director Gil Kenan and writer David Lindsay-Abaire try to tie the film to the present age, but the stuff on modern-day parenting falls flat, and the tech toys (smartphone, drone) only clutter things up. If you haven’t seen the original, this is fine. If you have, it’s useless. Also with Jared Harris, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, and Jane Adams. — S.S.
San Andreas (PG-13) The Big One hits the West Coast and kills millions of people just so The Rock can patch up his marriage. That’s the premise of this earthquake movie about an L.A. rescue pilot (Dwayne Johnson) who resolves to save his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and their college-age daughter in San Francisco (Alexandra Daddario) after a record tremor. The special effects are only fair. The writing is way worse, with the daughter saving a cute kid amid all the carnage. All the worst aspects of 1970s disaster-porn movies are brought back here. The scary thing is, Roland Emmerich could have done a better job with this material. Also with Paul Giamatti, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnston-Burt, Art Parkinson, Ioan Gruffudd, Will Yun Lee, and Kylie Minogue.
Spy (R) Melissa McCarthy finds the star vehicle she was looking for with this action-thriller spoof about a CIA analyst who goes into the field to catch an arms dealer (Rose Byrne) who finds out the identities of all the agency’s operatives. Instead of the expected “fat lady does spy stuff” gags, the movie is built on a far better joke — the heroine is a really good spy despite her lack of confidence and her size. Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) stages explosions and car chases in a fair imitation of a thriller director, and he gets laughs out of everyone in his supporting cast, especially Jason Statham, gleefully sending himself up as a manlier-than-thou agent. McCarthy’s work makes this the most likable of the summer’s action films. Also with Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Peter Serafinowicz, Bobby Cannavale, Morena Baccarin, Nargis Fakhri, Will Yun Lee, and an uncredited Allison Janney.
Tomorrowland (PG-13) A full-fledged disaster. Brad Bird’s deliberately retro fantasy-adventure saga stars Britt Robertson as a 16-year-old Florida girl who discovers a key to another dimension and a way to avert the apocalypse that will destroy humanity. Bird’s storytelling instincts completely desert him as he gets bogged down in interminable scenes and fails to evoke the sense of wonder that he did in his animated films like The Iron Giant and Ratatouille. The heroine is stripped of any defining personality traits, and the actors look lost — even George Clooney gives a one-note performance as an embittered recluse. Worst of all is the contemptuous, hectoring tone that creeps in here, as the movie blames us for losing hope and poisoning our minds with dystopian fantasies. It’s like the movie shouts in your face, “What’s wrong with you! Why aren’t you inspired?” Also with Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Robinson, Pierce Gagnon, Judy Greer, and Tim McGraw.
Heaven Knows What (R) Arielle Holmes stars in this film based on her own life as a heroin addict on the streets of New York City. Also with Caleb Landry Jones.
I’ll See You in My Dreams (PG-13) Blythe Danner stars in this comedy as a woman who moves on with her life after the death of her longtime husband. Also with Martin Starr, Sam Elliott, Malin Akerman, Mary Kay Place, Rhea Perlman, and June Squibb.
In the Name of My Daughter (R) Catherine Deneuve stars in this drama by André Techiné about a 1970s casino owner on the Riviera who sees her daughter (Adèle Haenel) fall for the wrong man. Also with Guillaume Canet, Judith Chemla, Mauro Conte, and Jean Corso.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared (R) Robert Gustafsson stars in this comedy as a Swedish man who celebrates his 100th birthday by escaping from his nursing home and getting into a series of misadventures. Also with Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skäringer, Jens Hultén, Bianca Cruzeiro, and Alan Ford.
When Marnie Was There (PG) Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arietty) directs this animated adaptation of Joan Robinson’s novel about a girl (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) who befriends a mysterious girl (voiced by Kiernan Shipka) in the countryside. Additional voices by John C. Reilly, Kathy Bates, Ellen Burstyn, Geena Davis, Raini Rodriguez, Vanessa Williams, and Catherine O’Hara.