Trumbo (R) Bryan Cranston stars in this biography of the Oscar-winning screenwriter who defied the anti-Communist Hollywood blacklist in the 1950s. Also with Louis C.K., Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Roger Bart, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dean O’Gorman, David James Elliott, Stephen Root, John Goodman, and Helen Mirren. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Altered Minds (NR) Ryan O’Nan stars in this drama as a man who accuses his dying adoptive father (Judd Hirsch) of conducting sadistic psychological experiments on him for the CIA. Also with C.S. Lee, Jaime Ray Newman, Caroline Lagerfelt, Joseph Lyle Taylor, and Dennis Flanagan. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (NR) Stanley Nelson’s documentary about the controversial civil-rights organization. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Brooklyn (PG-13) Saoirse Ronan stars in this drama about an Irish teenager who emigrates to America by herself in 1952. Also with Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Brid Brennan, Eva Birthistle, Nora-Jane Noone, Jessica Paré, and Jim Broadbent. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
By the Sea (R) Angelina Jolie directs and stars in this drama about a former dancer whose marriage to a writer (Brad Pitt) threatens to unravel when they vacation in southern France. Also with Mélanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud, Niels Arestrup, and Richard Bohringer. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Criminal Activities (NR) Yet another Pulp Fiction wannabe, this one with John Travolta, no less. This faux-clever low-rent thriller stars Dan Stevens, Christopher Abbott, Michael Pitt, and Rob Brown as a bunch of idiot school chums who borrow money from Travolta’s mobster for an investment that turns bad, forcing them to kidnap someone to clear their debt. Director Jackie Earle Haley (who also co-stars as a mobster’s thug) does okay in his maiden effort, and Edi Gathegi brings some lightness and menace as the pissed-off kidnapping victim, but they can’t overcome the overwritten verbiage and gaping plot holes in the script. Also with Kenny Santiago Morero, Rex Baker, Morgan Wolk, and Travis Aaron Wade. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Hot Sugar’s Cold World (NR) Adam Bhala Lough’s documentary about the musician and his attempts to make music out of everyday sounds. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (PG-13) Jennifer Lawrence stars in the conclusion of the dystopian saga. Also with Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer, Michelle Forbes, Gwendoline Christie, Robert Knepper, April Grace, Paula Malcolmson, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. (Opens Friday)
Man Up (R) Lake Bell stars in this comedy as a woman who takes a stranger’s blind date (Simon Pegg) and finds true love. Also with Rory Kinnear, Olivia Williams, Ophelia Lovibond, Ken Stott, Harriet Walter, and Stephen Campbell Moore. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Night Before (R) Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie star in this comedy as three lifelong best friends seeking a last night out together on Christmas Eve. Also with Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Heléne Yorke, Tracy Morgan, Jason Mantzoukas, Jason Jones, Randall Park, Michael Shannon, Lorraine Touissant, James Franco, and Miley Cyrus. (Opens Friday)
10 Days in a Madhouse (R) Caroline Barry stars in this dramatization of 19th-century reporter Nelly Bly’s stay in an insane asylum to report on conditions there. Also with Christopher Lambert, Kelly LeBrock, Julia Chantrey, Alexandra Callas, and David Mitchum Brown. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Bridge of Spies (PG-13) This collaboration between Steven Spielberg and the Coen brothers left me unmoved somehow. Tom Hanks stars in this Cold War spy thriller as Jim Donovan, the real-life lawyer who first defends a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in court and then brokers a trade after the USSR shoots down U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). The parts of this movie don’t fit together, with the Powers material being uncompelling and Jim being set up as a firebrand who challenges the system only to suddenly become a pragmatist who works within the system. Despite a thrillerish last third that takes place in Communist East Berlin, Spielberg gets lost amid the bureaucratic details, much as he did with Lincoln. The best thing here is Rylance’s self-contained turn as an unflappable, tight-lipped agent who silently comes to appreciate his lawyer’s efforts. Also with Amy Ryan, Will Rogers, Jesse Plemons, Peter McRobbie, Sebastian Koch, Mikhail Gorevoy, Burghart Klaussner, Billy Magnussen, and Alan Alda.
Burnt (R) A crackling recipe turns into an unsatisfactory meal. Bradley Cooper portrays a starred Michelin chef who tries to restart his career in London after flaming out in Paris. John Wells directs this like it’s an episode of his TV show ER, which isn’t a bad idea on paper, but he keeps cutting away from the food (created by Marcus Wareing and Mario Batali) before we can get a good look at it. Cooper specializes in charismatic guys driven by their demons, and a deglammed Sienna Miller reminds us that she can act as a saucier with her own troubled past. Still, the filmmakers feel like they have to redeem their hero all the way, and that winds up watering down this dish. Also with Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy, Matthew Rhys, Alicia Vikander, Lily James, Riccardo Scamarcio, Sam Keeley, Uma Thurman, and Emma Thompson.
Crimson Peak (R) Guillermo Del Toro’s most gorgeous movie to date, which is saying a lot. This Gothic horror romance stars Mia Wasikowska as an American heiress who marries a shady English baronet (Tom Hiddleston) and moves in with him and his icy sister (Jessica Chastain) at their remote, crumbling estate. The movie doesn’t work so well as a horror movie, and sharp viewers might guess at the baronet’s dark family secret. Yet Del Toro’s opulent steampunk Victorian aesthetic is never less than absorbing, and cinematographer Dan Laustsen photographs in supersaturated colors, especially during the climactic sequence where a mix of snow and red clay make the entire landscape look like it’s bleeding. The trump card is Chastain, who makes a harrowing villain, both pitiable and terrifying as she comes unglued. Also with Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Bruce Gray, and Doug Jones.
Goosebumps (PG) A lot of effort comes to very little in this movie based on R.L. Stine’s horror books for children that stars Jack Black as R.L. Stine, who has to team up with the teenage boy who moves in next door (Dylan Minnette) when the monsters in his books all come to life. Black overplays Stine, who’s funnily conceived as a fussy misanthrope who’s obsessed with Stephen King’s book sales. The supporting cast contributes the odd funny ad-lib, but they can’t overcome the flaccid direction of Rob Letterman (Gulliver’s Travels) and scares that have been watered down for the kiddie crowd. The real R.L. Stine has a cameo here as a schoolteacher named Mr. Black. Also with Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, Halston Sage, and Amy Ryan.
Hotel Transylvania 2 (PG) Adam Sandler and crew return for this animated sequel, and the novelty has largely worn off. He voices Dracula, who frets over whether his mixed-blood grandson will turn out a vampire before he turns 5 and tries to ensure that this happens while his daughter and son-in-law (voiced by Selena Gomez and Andy Samberg) are in California. The animators come up with a few gags that raise a laugh, but the thing overall is dispensable. I shudder to think how tired this setup will be when Hotel Transylvania 3 rolls around. Additional voices by Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Molly Shannon, Fran Drescher, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Dana Carvey, Chris Kattan, Jon Lovitz, and Mel Brooks.
The Intern (PG-13) This instantly forgettable comedy returns to the land of Nancy Meyers, where the punchlines never land as smartly as they should, no one under 30 knows anything worth knowing, and everyone does everything in attractive rooms that give no sign of ever having been inhabited by people before. Robert De Niro plays a 70-year-old retiree who takes an entry-level job working for the founder of a thriving online fashion startup (Anne Hathaway) and winds up teaching her how to relax once in a while and be okay with her success. De Niro does fine understated work here, but Meyers’ material doesn’t repay his efforts onscreen or your efforts watching it. Also with Adam DeVine, Anders Holm, Andrew Rannells, Nat Wolff, Christine Scherer, Linda Lavin, and Rene Russo.
The Last Witch Hunter (PG-13) A misfire. Vin Diesel plays an immortal slayer of evil magic practitioners who tries to prevent the resurrection of the witch queen who has supposedly been killed. The star slips more easily than you’d think into this supernatural milieu and Rose Leslie makes an intriguing sidekick as a witch who battles her own kind. Unfortunately, the story emerges as so much gobbledygook and director Breck Eisner (Sahara) piles on the special effects in a futile attempt to disguise the fact that there’s nothing scary here. This is a brooding, bombastic bore. Also with Elijah Wood, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Julie Engelbrecht, Isaach de Bankolé, Rena Owen, and Michael Caine.
Love the Coopers (PG-13) Every year there’s a horrible Christmas movie, and this year’s just came early! John Goodman and Diane Keaton play a longtime married couple who decide to hide their impending divorce from their extended family when they pay a visit for the holidays. None of the characters here seem capable of making a mature adult decision, and we’re supposed to find them all lovable because of it. Two Oscar winners and three more nominees are packed into this cast, but only Alan Arkin manages to fend off the cutesiness here, and only for a while. This is the directing debut of screenwriter Jessie Nelson (Stepmom), and while we need more women directors, we need fewer films like this Love Actually wannabe. Also with Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, Ed Helms, Alex Borstein, Jake Lacy, Timothée Chalamet, Blake Baumgartner, and June Squibb.
The Martian (PG-13) Very solid. Matt Damon stars in this science-fiction crowd-pleaser as an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars alone after his fellow crew members think he’s dead. While much of this movie (adapted from a novel by Andy Weir) focuses on his solitary efforts to keep himself alive and contact NASA, just as much is focused on the people back on Earth working to bring him home, which allows for many heroes instead of one. The weak character development largely wastes the talents of a deluxe supporting cast, but Damon is convincing as both a brilliant scientist and a guy who cracks jokes to deal with his predicament, and the movie has enough comic relief so that its 140 minutes pass smoothly. For director Ridley Scott, this is a badly needed jolt back to life and a heartening late-career triumph. Also with Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Aksel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, Sean Bean, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Eddy Ko, Chen Shu, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (PG-13) James Dashner’s dystopian YA novel would have been better if it had been adapted into a video game instead of a movie. If you were controlling the hero, you’d probably make smarter decisions than him, and a pixelated version of him would show more personality than the relentlessly uninteresting Dylan O’Brien. This sequel to last year’s hit continues the adventures of the teens who survived the maze. Director Wes Ball engineers a nice sequence when O’Brien and Rosa Salazar (a ghostly new presence here) flee the zombies up a half-toppled skyscraper, but this still comes off as a half-assed Hunger Games rip-off. Also with Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor, and Patricia Clarkson.
Miss You Already (PG-13) Drew Barrymore stars in this dramedy as an American expat in London who starts a family just as her best friend (Toni Collette) is found to be gravely ill. Also with Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Tyson Ritter, Mem Ferda, Noah Huntley, and Jacqueline Bisset.
My All American (PG) I’ve seen Brian’s Song, and you, sir, are no Brian’s Song. This football weeper partially filmed at Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Stadium stars Finn Wittrock as Freddie Steinmark, a safety who played one stellar season at UT in the 1970s, helping them to a national championship before dying of bone cancer. Both Freddie and Coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart) are presented as plaster saints, and everything is so sanded over that nothing remotely dramatic has a chance of happening. This sleep-inducing flick is recommended only for die-hard UT football fans. Also with Robin Tunney, Sarah Bolger, Richard Kohnke, Michael Reilly Burke, Marco Perella, Juston Street, and Todd Allen.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (R) The series is now as played out as the VHS video format. The same thing happens in this fifth installment as happened in the other four: Idiots move into a haunted new house, ghosts get angry and kill everybody. The 3D format doesn’t fit this found-footage film, and it’s just the latest desperate ploy from filmmakers trying to hold your attention for one more chapter. Don’t fall for it. Starring Chris J. Murray, Brit Shaw, Ivy George, Dan Gill, Chloe Csengery, and Olivia Taylor Dudley.
The Peanuts Movie (PG) Better than it should have been, and essentially faithful to Charles M. Schulz’ vision. This computer-animated 3D adaptation of the beloved comic strip has Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schapp) trying to impress the little red-haired girl (voiced by Francesca Capaldi) after she moves into the neighborhood. The film smartly doesn’t try to update the strip to contemporary times, and this 3D rendering makes the characters look recognizably like their 2D forebears while allowing Snoopy’s aerial battles against the Red Baron pop into relief. If you’re lucky enough to be a kid who hasn’t been exposed to Peanuts or the parent of such a kid, you’re in for a treat. Additional voices by Alexander Garfin, Hadley Belle Miller, Venus Schultheis, Rebecca Bloom, Mariel Sheets, Noah Johnston, Kristin Chenoweth, and the late Bill Melendez.
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (NR) Salman Khan stars in this Indian film as a king and a commoner who look exactly alike and decide to switch jobs for a while. Also with Sonam Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Arman Kohli, Deepak Dobriyal, and Anupam Kher.
Sicario (R) This sweaty, intense action thriller stars Emily Blunt as an FBI agent who volunteers for a task force to take down a Mexican drug cartel, only to find things getting murky real fast. The script’s cynicism about the War on Drugs is cheap and the periodic cutaways to a Mexican cop (Maximiliano Hernández) caught up in the carnage fail to humanize the collateral damage. Still, this is a better movie about the border relations than most, with French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve conjuring up hard-hitting action sequences and Blunt layering her toughness with amusement and gathering outrage at the moral compromises involved. The uneasy thrills here are the movie’s proudest achievement. Also with Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, and Julio Cedillo.
Spectre (PG-13) This feels like a satisfying end for Daniel Craig’s run as James Bond. The British agent here battles a secret international terrorist organization that links all the Bond baddies dating back to Casino Royale. Christoph Waltz, who would seem born to play a Bond villain, is rather underwhelming here, but director Sam Mendes dials up even better action set pieces than he managed in Skyfall (including a spectacular opening in Mexico City) and the story manages to bring this damaged and emotionally remote Bond to a point where he finds something that’s worth walking away from the spy trade for. Also with Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Andrew Scott, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Rory Kinnear, Stephanie Sigman, Jesper Christensen, and Judi Dench.
Steve Jobs (R) Aaron Sorkin writes another tale of a brilliant, megalomaniacal white guy who knows what’s best for everybody. The late tech guru’s life fits him perfectly. Michael Fassbender stars as the Apple co-founder, and the movie is broken into three acts as Jobs prepares for the launches of three different products in his career. It takes all of director Danny Boyle’s talent to keep this from feeling stagey, and the torrent of verbiage can be draining to listen to. Yet Fassbender plays well with the plethora of terrific actors around him and captures the contradictions in this insecure, high-handed, egalitarian man with intimidating ease. Also with Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sarah Snook, Perla Haney-Jardine, Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Katherine Waterston.
Suffragette (PG-13) What should be a great story comes out a mess. Carey Mulligan stars as an English laundry worker who gets swept up in the women’s suffrage movement in 1912. The movie doesn’t try to sanitize the movement’s use of guerrilla tactics and property damage to promote its cause, but the villains here are cardboard and the story shifts focus from its heroine so arbitrarily that you wonder why she was chosen to be the main character. Director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) seems defeated by the wide net that this movie casts. Also with Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Romola Garai, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Natalie Press, and Meryl Streep.
The 33 (PG-13) Antonio Banderas stars in this film based on the story of the Chilean miners who spent more than two months in 2010 underground after being trapped by a cave-in. Director Patricia Riggen (Under the Same Moon) does a good job of staging the cave-in itself, but everything else here strictly boilerplate. Despite the use of authentic locations in the Chilean desert, this feels like too many other Hollywood disaster movies. Also with Juliette Binoche, Rodrigo Santoro, Lou Diamond Phillips, Tenoch Huerta, Jacob Vargas, Kate del Castillo, Cote de Pablo, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin, and Adriana Barraza.
Woodlawn (PG) Jesus Christ and Alabama football conquer racism. Hooray! Seriously, though, this comforting lie is what this Christian drama is selling. Based on the real-life story of a 1970s high-school football team, this stars Nic Bishop and Sean Astin as a head coach and local preacher who turn to the Lord as a cure for the racial strife that threatens to tear apart their community after the team is forced to integrate. Everything just comes too easily here, from the wins on the field to the religious conversions off it. For all the movie’s intended uplift, I stayed firmly on the ground. Also with Caleb Castille, C. Thomas Howell, Brando Eaton, Nick Bishop, Virginia Williams, Sherri Shepherd, and Jon Voight.
Heist (R) Robert De Niro stars in this thriller as a man whose attempt to rob a casino goes awry. Also with Dave Bautista, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Gina Carano, Kate Bosworth, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, D.B. Sweeney, and Morris Chestnut.
Kilo Two Bravo (R) David Elliot, Mark Stanley, and Benjamin O’Mahony star in this thriller about real-life British soldiers who get trapped in a minefield while battling the Taliban. Also with Scott Kyle, Brian Parry, Liam Ainsworth, Andy Gibbins, and John Doughty.
Room (R) Based on Emma Donoghue’s novel, this film stars Jacob Tremblay as a 5-year-old boy who has spent his entire life in a gardening shed with his imprisoned mother (Brie Larson), not knowing that there’s a world outside. Also with Sean Bridgers, Cas Anvar, Tom McCamus, William H. Macy, and Joan Allen.