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 at AMC Parks at Arlington)
The Forest (PG-13) Natalie Dormer stars in this horror movie as an American tourist who becomes trapped in a supernatural Japanese forest while searching for her missing sister. Also with Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Noriko Sakura, Yûho Yamashita, and Taylor Kinney. (Opens Friday)
The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale (NR) Choi Min-sik stars in this historical adventure film as a tiger hunter taking part in the last sanctioned tiger hunt in Japanese-occupied Korea. Also with Jeong Min-sik, Lee Eun-woo, Ra Mi-ran, Kim Sang-ho, and Ren Ôsugi. (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) A Bollywood movie that might be more digestible to Western audiences, this stars Ranveer Singh as a real-life 18th-century war hero who scandalizes Brahmin society by taking a Muslim warrior (Deepika Padukone) as his wife even while he’s married to a Brahmin (Priyanka Chopra). Padukone proves to be as nimble swinging a sword as she is with a dance sequence, and the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali doesn’t let the romantic parts slow the movie down too much. (He also composes the movie’s songs.) Not a bad place to start if you’ve never seen a proper Indian musical extravaganza before. Also with Mahesh Manjrekar, Aditya Pancholi, Milind Soman, Ayush Tandon, and Tanvi Azmi. Narrated by Irrfan Khan.
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)
The Big Short (R) Manages to be a fun movie about a subject that isn’t fun, the 2008 housing crash and recession. The film tracks the crisis through the viewpoints of several characters, including an eccentric money manager (Christian Bale), a perpetually angry hedge-fund guy (Steve Carell), and a smarmy investment banker (Ryan Gosling). Director Adam McKay (Anchorman) interpolates a number of interludes using celebrities like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to explain complicated financial concepts in layman’s terms. He’s less good at depicting the financial pain that the downturn caused, but he illuminates the stupidity and incestuous relationships among the major players in a way that the popcorn crowd can grasp. Also with Marisa Tomei, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, Tracy Letts, Karen Gillan, Max Greenfield, Billy Magnussen, Melissa Leo, and Brad Pitt.
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.
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.
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.
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 Hateful Eight (R) Lesser Quentin Tarantino but still a lot of fun. Kurt Russell stars in this Western as a bounty hunter who’s stranded with his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by a snowstorm in a remote store filled with killers. Tarantino’s too much in love with his own nasty dialogue in the first third of this epic, but the plot machinery that kicks in during the second half is quite clever. We also get tasty performances from a gleefully unhinged Leigh as well as Walton Goggins as a racist sheriff who’s smart enough to know when someone’s trying to play on his prejudices. The three-hour running time does include an intermission so you can stretch out. Also with Samuel L. Jackson, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, and Channing Tatum.
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.
Joy (PG-13) Another great showcase for Jennifer Lawrence. She stars in this biopic as Joy Mangano, the New Jersey divorced mom who became wealthy as the inventor of household products. Writer-director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) winds up throwing all sorts of stuff at the wall, some of which is downright inscrutable. His actors repeatedly bail him out, with Bradley Cooper doing a bravura whispered scene as the head of the QVC network. Lawrence is fantastic once again, whether she’s in a Dallas hotel room facing down a competitor who might kill her business or her, or standing backstage and letting an unexpected triumph wash over her. This movie collapses without her. Also with Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini, Édgar Ramírez, Elisabeth Röhm, Virginia Madsen, Dascha Polanco, and Diane Ladd.
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.
Mr. Six (NR) The sentimental touches in this Chinese thriller almost waste a terrific performance by Feng Xiaogang as a retired gangster who’s forced to slip back into his old life after his son (Li Yifeng) runs afoul of a new gang. Director Guan Hu takes too long to get down to his story, laying it on thick with the reasons for us to feel sorry for this old man battling his own failing health to see his son free and clear. Feng doesn’t need such gilding — we’re on his side the moment we see him stoically stands up to a bunch of young punks or lead a charge by his now-aged friends against the gangsters backed by the new money. Also with Wu Yifan, Xu Qing, Liu Hua, Liang Jing, and Zhang Hanyu.
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.
Point Break (PG-13) In remaking the 1991 thriller, they took out the homoeroticism and pretty much everything else that might be fun. Luke Bracey stars as the FBI agent sent undercover to infiltrate a ring of extreme athletes who commit high-end robberies to fund their exploits. Director Ericson Core (Invincible) used to be a cinematographer on Hollywood action-thrillers, and the photography here is beautiful as it takes in the stunt performers doing all manner of stunts. Still, not for one second do we believe in the story or the agent’s attachment to the ringleader (Édgar Ramírez). Snowboarding and wingsuit flying never looked this dull. Also with Teresa Palmer, Ray Winstone, Matias Varela, Clemens Schick, Tobias Santelmann, and Delroy Lindo.
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.
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.
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.
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.