The Hateful Eight (R) Quentin Tarantino’s latest Western stars Kurt Russell as a bounty hunter transporting a captured outlaw (Jennifer Jason Leigh) when a snowstorm traps them at a store filled with killers. Also with Samuel L. Jackson, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, James Parks, and Channing Tatum. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Beauty and the Bestie (NR) This Filipino action-comedy stars Vice Ganda and Coco Martin as two estranged best friends who get sucked into a spy plot. Also with James Reid, Nadine Lustre, Marco Masa, Alonzo Muhlach, Karla Estrada, and Lassy Marquez. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Carol (R) Based on a novel by Fort Worth’s Patricia Highsmith, this romance is about an aspiring photographer (Rooney Mara) who falls in love with an older woman (Cate Blanchett) in the 1950s. Also with Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith, and Carrie Brownstein. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Concussion (PG-13) A gloomy procession march. Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the real-life forensic pathologist who first named the degenerative brain disease found in deceased football players caused by repeated blows to the head. Writer-director Peter Landesman is a print journalist with little flair for the medium of cinema. He glosses over a number of complications in the story and can’t think of anything for Will Smith to do except look through microscopes and make concerned faces. Smith tries, but he can’t bring this plaster saint to life. In the face of an important issue, this movie turns into a brooding, speechifying bore. Also with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks, David Morse, Arliss Howard, Eddie Marsan, Paul Reiser, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Mike O’Malley, Luke Wilson, and Alec Baldwin. (Opens Friday)
Daddy’s Home (PG-13) A rather uninspired outing for Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Ferrell is a milquetoasty stepdad who’s struggling for acceptance from his wife’s kids when their alpha-male biological dad (Wahlberg) re-enters the picture. A few clever gags dot this thing, one with Ferrell getting drunk at an NBA game and trying to hit a halfcourt shot. Still, the material isn’t there, and director Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2) can’t find a rhythm here. The whole thing passes over without making all that much of an impression. Also with Linda Cardellini, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Cannavale, and John Cena. (Opens Friday)
Mr. Six (NR) Feng Xiaogang stars in this Chinese thriller as a former crime boss who’s dragged back into his old life when his son is kidnapped. Also with Li Yifeng, Wu Yifan, Xu Qing, and Zhang Hanyu. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Point Break (PG-13) This remake of the 1991 thriller stars Luke Bracey as an FBI agent who infiltrates a ring of extreme athletes/corporate burglars. Also with Édgar Ramírez, Teresa Palmer, Ray Winstone, Matias Varela, Clemens Schick, Tobias Santelmann, and Delroy Lindo. (Opens Friday)
Yellow Day (PG) Drew Seeley stars in this Christian drama as a young man who draws strength from those around him at a camp for special-needs kids. Also with Lindsey Shaw, Ashley Boettcher, Akeem Smith, Meagan Holder, and Rose Abdoo. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Sisters (R) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler may be crushing it in real life, but they continue to underwhelm as a comedy team in movies. They portray middle-aged siblings who decide to throw one last party at their parents’ house before it’s sold. The stars are too good at ad-libbing not to hit the mark on a few stray jokes, but casting Fey as the wild sister and Poehler as the straightedge proves to be the wrong move, and director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) can’t build up any momentum. These two need better help coming from behind the camera. 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.
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.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (PG-13) J.J. Abrams carries George Lucas’ legacy forward better than Lucas could have ever done. Picking up the saga some decades later, this seventh installment sees the disappearance of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) bring together an ace pilot (Oscar Isaac), a defecting stormtrooper (John Boyega), and a local scavenger (Daisy Ridley) together on a desert planet. Abrams slips into Lucas’ narrative rhythms, restores the breezy sense of fun that made the first trilogy such hits, and writes far better dialogue than Lucas. No wonder Harrison Ford seems energized reprising his role as Han Solo. The younger cast members are up for this, and the plentiful callbacks for older fans don’t get in the way of the story’s forward movement. The Force is with J.J. Abrams. Also with Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Simon Pegg, Greg Grunberg, and Max von Sydow.
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.
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.