In the Heart of the Sea (PG-13) Chris Hemsworth stars in Ron Howard’s thriller based on the real 1820s incident about a group of Nantucket whalers stranded at sea for 90 days after their ship was sunk by a whale. Also with Cillian Murphy, Charlotte Riley, Brendan Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Frank Dillane, Jordi Mollà, Donald Sumpter, Michelle Fairley, and Ben Whishaw. (Opens Friday)
Bikes vs Cars (NR) Fredrik Gertten’s documentary about the effect of bicycles on urban life. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Don Verdean (PG-13) Sam Rockwell star in this comedy by Jared and Jerusha Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) about a Biblical archeologist who fabricates artifacts to inspire the faithful. Also with Amy Ryan, Jemaine Clement, Danny McBride, Will Forte, Steve Park, and Leslie Bibb. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The House That Jack Built (NR) E.J. Bonilla stars in this drama as a Latino man who moves his large family into a small apartment in the Bronx and hides his marijuana business from them. Also with Melissa Fumero, Leo Minaya, Flor de Liz Perez, Rosal Colon, Javier Muñoz, Desmin Borges, Judith Delgado, and Saundra Santiago. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Macbeth (R) Michael Fassbender stars in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy about the Scottish lord who’s a slave to his ambition. Also with Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Jack Reynor, Sean Harris, Elizabeth Debicki, Seylan Baxter, Lynn Kennedy, Kayla Fallon, and David Thewlis. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Mediterranea (NR) Alassane Sy and Koudous Seihoun star as two African refugees trying to make the dangerous journey to Italy. Also with Pio Amato, Paolo Sciarretta, Bilal Fall, Sinka Bourehima, and Mary Elizabeth Innocence. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
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.
Brooklyn (PG-13) Hopelessly old-fashioned, but sometimes that’s the way to go. Saoirse Ronan plays a young Irishwoman who emigrates from her village to New York City in 1952 for work. Based on Colm Tóibín’s novel, this doesn’t feature anything traumatic or even all that out of the ordinary happening to the heroine, and yet Ronan (acting in her own accent for once) gives a finely calibrated performance that seems to pick up the slightest changes in the weather or her mood. Director John Crowley is back to his best on his own turf and cinematographer Yves Bélanger photographs the proceedings in deep colors that make even an empty lot in Long Island look like paradise. This lyrical work brings its story about finding home in a strange land to a gentle close. Also with Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Brid Brennan, Eva Birthistle, Nora-Jane Noone, Jessica Paré, and Jim Broadbent.
Chi-Raq (R) Spike Lee’s anti-violence satire works a lot better than it really should. Based on the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata, this stars Teyonah Parris as a woman living in the Chicago projects who inspires all the other women to withhold sex from their men to stop the city’s gang violence. Lee loses focus quite a bit, and the script is written in rhyming couplets that are occasionally forced, though some of them land with force. (“When they kill white babies and things don’t change, / You know black lives are way out of range.”) The film does have its moments of great power, like a hippie priest (John Cusack) delivering a fiery eulogy for a murdered child, and Parris is a commanding presence at the center. It’s enough to keep Lee abreast of the times. Also with Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, D.B. Sweeney, Dave Chappelle, Steve Harris, Harry Lennix, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Creed (PG-13) Michael B. Jordan will make you believe in this sequel to the Rocky films. He plays the orphaned son of Apollo Creed who seeks training from his dad’s nemesis and friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in Philadelphia. Director/co-writer Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) sticks to the template of boxing movies, and his plot developments are strictly predictable. However, the big fight in the middle is filmed in a single take and will make you wonder how the filmmakers did that. Coogler captures the blood and sweat of the ring, and Jordan vibrates with his character’s anger, abandonment issues, and will to win. The future of this series looks in capable hands. Also with Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Gabe Rosado, and Graham MacTavish.
The Good Dinosaur (PG) All visuals, no story. Set in a world where dinosaurs didn’t go extinct, Pixar’s latest film is about a young apatosaurus (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) who gets separated from his family and has to make his own way back with the help of a human boy (voiced by Jack Bright). The animation looks fantastic rendering flash floods and a dinosaur stampede, but the cutesy characters are something you’d find in a Disney movie from the 1960s, and the only flash of real wit is when the hero meets an anxiety-ridden dinosaur (voiced by the director, Peter Sohn) who enlists furry woodland creatures as his guardians. An unimpressive outing from the studio. Additional voices by Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, and John Ratzenberger.
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 Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (PG-13) This last installment of the dystopian saga is pretty ramshackle, but Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen makes sure you follow it to the end. She and the rebels launch a final attack on the Capitol and the dictator of Panem (Donald Sutherland). The narrative too often stops dead here for tedious discussions about Katniss’ feelings, but this final installment puts lots of tough women around Katniss, and Lawrence continues to excel in this role. This series would have fallen apart without her sharp edges and soft center. Also with Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer, Michelle Forbes, Gwendoline Christie, Elden Henson, Patina Miller, Paula Malcolmson, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Krampus (PG-13) Aside from an opening montage that features a convincing vision of Black Friday retail hell, there’s little wit in this horror film by Michael Dougherty (who did the cult Halloween film Trick ‘r Treat). Emjay Anthony portrays a disenchanted 10-year-old boy who accidentally calls down the wrath of Santa Claus’ demonic alter ego down on his dysfunctional extended family while they’re snowed in. Chef’s Anthony plays the hell out of his part, but his efforts aren’t enough to overcome Dougherty’s pedestrian direction or raise this above other Christmas horror movies. Also with Toni Collette, Adam Scott, David Koechner, Conchata Ferrell, Krista Stadler, and Allison Tolman.
The Letters (PG) Juliet Stevenson stars in this biography of Mother Teresa. Also with Rutger Hauer, Priya Darshini, Kevin Heffernan, and Max von Sydow.
Life (R) Last month we had Love, now we have Life. Robert Pattinson stars in Anton Corbijn’s drama as a 1950s magazine photographer who’s sent to photograph James Dean (Dane DeHaan). Also with Peter Lucas, Lauren Gallagher, Alessandra Mastronardi, Kristian Bruun, and Joel Edgerton.
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.
The Night Before (R) This uneven but at times awesome comedy stars Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie as three lifelong friends who decide to find the ultimate Christmas party to end their longstanding tradition of partying endlessly on every Christmas Eve. Rogen gets some huge laughs reacting to various drugs and has a hilarious meltdown over his anxiety over having a baby. Importantly, when the jokes fall flat, Gordon-Levitt provides the emotional ballast as a damaged case who needs the partying to go on. The comic talent in the rest of the cast ensures that things don’t stay dead for too long. 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.
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.
A Second Chance (NR) Cathy Garcia Molina’s sequel to One More Chance stars John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo as a married couple whose relationship is threatened by alcoholism. Also with Billy Crawford, Arci Muñoz, Al Tantay, Dimples Romana, Janus Del Prado, and James Blanco.
Secret in Their Eyes (R) This Hollywood remake of the Oscar-winning Argentinian thriller loses quite a bit in the translation. Julia Roberts stars as a state investigator whose daughter is raped and murdered, while Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman play the ex-FBI agent and D.A. who try to track down the killer 13 years after they’re forced to let him go. Writer-director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) is good at writing workplace banter, but he’s much less effective when it comes to directing an action sequence, and he needlessly messes with the ending. Ejiofor and Kidman have some good chemistry, but their unrequited romance feels like a distraction. At any rate, none of the actors seems to have brought their best. Where the original was chilling and tragic, this is just gloomy. Also with Dean Norris, Joe Cole, Zoe Graham, Michael Kelly, and Alfred Molina.
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.
Spotlight (R) Unflashy but superb. This wide-ranging ensemble piece stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian D’Arcy James as the four Boston Globe reporter who break the 2002 story about the Catholic Church covering up for pedophile priests. This is a bigger movie than Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) has ever attempted, and he gives it the unstoppable momentum of a boulder bounding down a steep hill. The characterizations of the principals could have been sharper and the movie ends too abruptly, but the details of journalism work and the politics of Boston make for gripping viewing. The simple heroism of these reporters who do their jobs shines brightly amid the darkness. Also with Live Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Neal Huff, Jamey Sheridan, Paul Guilfoyle, and Len Cariou.
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.
Trumbo (R) It turns out the director of Meet the Fockers isn’t the best guy for this biopic starring Bryan Cranston as the Hollywood screenwriter who defied the anti-Communist blacklist in the 1950s. Cranston has a grand old time playing Dalton Trumbo as an owlish trickster, Louis C.K. is a more than capable foil as a fellow writer and blacklist victim, and Helen Mirren does a blazing turn as a thoroughly despicable villain in Red-baiting gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Still, director Jay Roach stumbles all too often and prevents this glitzy tragicomedy from building up momentum. Also with Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Roger Bart, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dean O’Gorman, David James Elliott, Stephen Root, and John Goodman.
Victor Frankenstein (PG-13) James McAvoy stars in this retelling of Mary Shelley’s story, seen from the point of view of his assistant (Daniel Radcliffe). Also with Jessica Brown Findlay, Daniel Mays, Andrew Scott, and Charles Dance.
The Assassin (NR) The first martial-arts film by Hou Hsiao-hsien (Flowers of Shanghai) stars Shu Qi as a 7th-century Chinese woman who must kill the man she loves (Chang Chen) for political reasons. Also with Zhou Yun, Ethan Juan, Hsieh Hsin-Ying, Sheu Fang-Yi, and Satoshi Tsumabuki.
A Royal Night Out (PG-13) Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley star as Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, who slip the royal guards and mingle with the people on V-E Day in 1945. Also with Emily Watson, Rupert Everett, Mark Hadfield, Jack Gordon, Ruth Sheen, and Roger Allam.