He Never Died (R) Henry Rollins stars in this horror-comedy as a depressive man who can’t be killed. Also with Booboo Stewart, Steven Ogg, Kate Greenhouse, and Jordan Todosey. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (PG) The fourth adventure by the singing chipmunks, voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Jesse McCartney. Additional voices by Anna Faris, Christina Applegate, and Kaley Cuoco. Also with Jason Lee, Bella Thorne, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and Tony Hale. (Opens Friday)
Anguish (NR) Ryan Simpkins stars in this horror film as a mentally ill girl who may be demonically possessed. Also with Annika Marks, Karina Logue, Cliff Chamberlain, and Ryan O’Nan. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Bajirao Mastani (NR) Ranveer Singh stars in this biography of the 18th-century Indian general. Also with Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Mahesh Manjrekar, and Tanvi Azmi. (Opens Friday)
The Danish Girl (R) Eddie Redmayne stars in this biography of Einar Wegener a.k.a. Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. Also with Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch, and Ben Whishaw. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Dilwale (NR) Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol star in this Indian action-romantic comedy. Also with Kriti Sanon, Varun Dhawan, Vinod Khanna, Sanjay Mishra, and Boman Irani. (Opens Friday at Rave North East Mall)
Sisters (R) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler star in this comedy as two adult siblings who decide to throw one last party at their parents’ house before it’s sold. Also with Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, John Cena, John Leguizamo, Bobby Moynihan, Brian D’Arcy James, Heather Matarazzo, Rachel Dratch, Samantha Bee, and Kate McKinnon. (Opens Friday)
Surprise (NR) Yi Xiaoxing’s comedy stars Yang Zishan, Chen Bolin, Ma Tianyu, Liu Xunzimo, and Mike Pirath Nitipaisankul. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Youth (R) Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel star in this comedy as two best friends vacationing together at an Alpine resort. Also with Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, and Jane Fonda. (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.
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.
In the Heart of the Sea (PG-13) Mediocre. Chris Hemsworth stars in Ron Howard’s dramatization of the real-life 1822 incident when a group of Nantucket whalers were stranded at sea for 90 days. Howard does a good job depicting the gory reality of harvesting whales, as well as the whale attack that sinks the men’s ship. Unfortunately, the character development is fairly nonexistent and the framing story with Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviewing an aged survivor (Brendan Gleeson) is leaden and intrusive. After Life of Pi, this tale of survival at sea looks fairly trite. Also with Cillian Murphy, Charlotte Riley, Benjamin Walker, Frank Dillane, Jordi Mollà, Donald Sumpter, and Michelle Fairley.
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.
Legend (R) Casting Tom Hardy as polar-opposite twins who are criminal overlords must have made it seem like the movie would make itself. It didn’t. Hardy plays Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the real-life brothers who ran London’s organized crime scene in the 1960s. Hardy does well to differentiate the smooth-talking heterosexual Reg with the gay psychopath Ron, but writer-director Brian Helgeland wanders hither and yon with the story, touching on all sorts of peripheral details without shedding any real light. The romance between Reg and his wife (Emily Browning) and Ron’s attempts to come between them are supposed to anchor the movie, but this doesn’t come close to the gangland romantic tragedy that Helgeland wants to make. Also with Christopher Eccleston, David Thewlis, Taron Egerton, Sam Spruell, Tara Fitzgerald, John Sessions, Duffy, Chazz Palminteri, and an uncredited Paul Bettany.
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.
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.
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.
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.