Jane Got a Gun (R) Natalie Portman stars in this long-delayed Western as a woman trying to protect her husband (Noah Emmerich) from a vicious gang. Also with Joel Edgerton, Rodrigo Santoro, Boyd Holbrook, and Ewan McGregor. (Opens Friday)
Everything About Her (NR) Vilma Santos stars in this drama as a Filipino movie star who must reassess her relationships when she becomes seriously ill. Also with Xian Lim, Angel Locsin, Michael De Mesa, Noni Buencamino, and Khalil Ramos. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Fifty Shades of Black (R) Kali Hawk and Marlon Wayans star in this parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. Also with Jane Seymour, Mike Epps, Affion Crockett, and Fred Willard. (Opens Friday)
45 Years (R) Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay star in this drama about a longtime married couple who receive life-changing news shortly before their anniversary. Also with Geraldine James and Dolly Wells. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Greater (PG) Christopher Severio stars in this biography of Brandon Burlsworth, a walk-on who made college football history at the University of Arkansas. Also with Neal McDonough, Leslie Easterbrook, Michael Parks, Nick Searcy, Quinton Aaron, and M.C. Gainey. (Opens Friday)
Lazer Team (R) Burnie Burns, Michael Jones, Gavin Free, and Alan Ritchson star in this comedy as four idiots who must save the Earth after stumbling across a UFO crash site. Also with Colton Dunn, Allie DeBerry, Gus Sorola, and Joel Heyman. (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.
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.
The Boy (PG-13) Much less than it promises. This horror movie stars Lauren Cohan as an American nanny who’s hired by an elderly British couple (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) to take care of the life-size porcelain doll that they treat as their son. Left alone with the doll, the nanny starts to hear strange noises when she fails to follow the couple’s instructions about feeding and dressing it. From this setup, director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) fails to generate anything scary, and when the movie finally reveals its cards, the results are truly laughable. The kid’s name is Brahms — you’d think the filmmakers would find something inventive to do with the music by the composer of the same name. Also with Rupert Evans, James Russell, and Ben Robson.
Caged No More (PG-13) Loretta Devine stars in this thriller as a grandmother searching for her two granddaughters who’ve been kidnapped by sex traffickers. Also with Kevin Sorbo, Cynthia Gibb, Debra Wilson, Christos Vasilopoulos, Alan Powell, Madison de la Garza, Dallas Lovato, and Cassidy Gifford.
Carol (R) The best movie of 2015. Based on a novel by Fort Worth’s Patricia Highsmith, this stars Rooney Mara as an aspiring photographer in 1952 who’s lightning-struck when she meets a wealthy New Jersey housewife (Cate Blanchett). People in this movie can’t call a lesbian relationship what it is, and this makes every gesture and line pregnant with meaning. Blanchett bringing a velvety touch to a woman who puts up an elegant façade because she has to and Mara making something deeply moving out of the younger woman’s confusion in the face of desires she can’t understand. Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) directs this scrupulously and constantly adopts the women’s point of view to subvert the conventions of 1950s cinema. Through the surface chill, the characters’ courage and determination burns through. Also with Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith, and Carrie Brownstein.
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.
Dirty Grandpa (R) Unclean! Unclean! Zac Efron stars in this putrid comedy as a preppy douche who’s forced to drive his recently widowed grandfather (Robert De Niro) to Florida for spring break. I’m not sure what’s more grotesque: Efron as a henpecked corporate straight-arrow, De Niro as an oversexed party animal, or the relentless parade of unfunny sexist and homophobic jokes that run by with depressing regularity. Despite the presence of some nice comic actors, this is a disgrace to everyone involved. Also with Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Mantzoukas, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney, and Danny Glover.
The 5th Wave (PG-13) The latest YA apocalyptic thriller stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a teenager trying to save her younger brother (Zackary Arthur) after an alien invasion wipes out most of the world’s population. This might have been okay if the filmmakers had stuck with their heroine, but instead the story (based on Rick Yancey’s novel) splits up into too many tangents, the coincidences pile up near the end, and Moretz is miscast as a girl who has become inured to horror and death. The failure here is fairly comprehensive. Also with Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Liev Schreiber, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Tony Revolori, Maika Monroe, and Maria Bello.
The Forest (PG-13) An intriguing premise and lead actress are completely wasted in this woefully uncreative horror movie that stars Natalie Dormer as an American who travels to Japan after her twin sister disappears in a real-life forest near Mt. Fuji where people sometimes go to kill themselves. Director Jason Zada can’t conjure any scares from either the forest or the angry spirits said to be dwelling within, and Dormer flails around as both the troubled twin and the determined heroine. The movie is padded out with lots of closeups of the wildlife — if lichens and snails scare you, you’re welcome to this movie. Also with Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Ibuki Kaneda, and Eoin Macken.
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.
Norm of the North (PG) This instantly forgettable animated film is about a talking polar bear (voiced by Rob Schneider) who tries to save his habitat by hitching a ride to New York City and preventing a real estate mogul (voiced by Ken Jeong) from building condos at the North Pole. The filmmakers can’t find laughs in New Yorkers thinking that Norm is a Method actor in a costume instead of an actual bear, and the three indestructible lemmings who accompany Norm on his journey are pale knockoffs of the minions in the Despicable Me movies. The whole thing is carried off with a lack of wit that’s not unusual for an animated film released in January. Additional voices by Heather Graham, Colm Meaney, Loretta Devine, Michael McElhatton, Maya Kay, Gabriel Iglesias, and Bill Nighy.
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.
The Revenant (R) It looks amazing, but looks can be deceiving. Leonardo DiCaprio stars in this Western based on the real-life story of a fur trapper in 1823 who gets mauled by a bear and left for dead by a colleague (Tom Hardy, upstaging the star as a murderous malcontent) before walking 200 miles through the wilderness in the dead of winter to get revenge. Cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki photographs the natural setting so that it makes a menacing backdrop, and director Alejandro González Iñárritu does great with the action sequences, especially the bear attack. Still, this can’t avoid the curdling self-importance that infects all of Iñárritu’s films. He seems to think he’s bringing these movies down from a mountaintop on stone tablets. This is a terrific 120-minute Western stuck in the body of a 150-minute epic. Also with Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Duane Howard, and Lukas Haas.
Ride Along 2 (PG-13) A movie that gives not one but two major roles to Asian-American actors, even if one of them is playing a Latina. That’s pretty much the only mark of distinction for this lame sequel that features Ice Cube and Kevin Hart as Atlanta cops and soon-to-be brothers-in-law who travel to Miami to help a narcotics detective (Olivia Munn) and a computer hacker (Ken Jeong) take down a drug lord (Benjamin Bratt). The crime plot actually isn’t bad, but the movie stubbornly refuses to raise a laugh despite the frantic efforts of Hart and Jeong. Also with Tika Sumpter, Bruce McGill, Michael Rose, Nadine Velazquez, Sherri Shepherd, and Tyrese Gibson.
Room (R) Brie Larson dominates the year’s best prison movie as a woman who tells her 5-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay) that the 120 square-foot room that they live in is the whole world, when actually she’s been imprisoned there for his whole life by a rapist. Like the Emma Donoghue novel that this is based on, this does a wondrous job of telling the story from the boy’s point of view, and director Lenny Abrahamson eschews flourishes in the room’s cramped space while capturing the slow flow of time in captivity. Tremblay holds up well in a demanding role, but it’s Larson who brings great warmth and kindness to the showy part of a mother who’s always on the verge of snapping both before and after she gets free. Despite their extraordinary circumstances, these characters are remarkably similar to other mothers and sons in their devotion to each other. Also with Sean Bridgers, Cas Anvar, Tom McCamus, William H. Macy, and Joan Allen.
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.
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.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (R) Michael Bay tries to make Zero Dark Thirty. It doesn’t work. His account of six private security contractors who try to fight back during the 2012 attack on the temporary diplomatic facility in Libya degenerates into a squalid exercise in white guys mowing down faceless hordes of Arabs. The action sequences aren’t that good, the movie expends no thoughts on America’s role in the Middle East (or much of anything else), anyone who doesn’t carry a gun is worthless here, and the patriotic sentimentality that Bay wraps these American characters in is like a dollop of rancid whipped cream on top of this foul concoction. Starring John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, Toby Stephens, Max Martini, James Badge Dale, David Denman, David Costabile, Dominic Fumusa, Matt Letscher, and Peyman Moaadi.
Exposed (R) Keanu Reeves stars in this thriller as a cop who investigates his partner’s death. Also with Ana de Armas, Christopher McDonald, Gabe Vargas, Ariel Pacheco, Laura Gómez, Denia Brache, Michael Rispoli, Big Daddy Kane, and Mira Sorvino.
Mojave (R) After playing at last year’s Lone Star Film Festival, William Monahan’s thriller stars Garrett Hedlund as a suicidal movie star who journeys into the California desert and finds a homicidal drifter (Oscar Isaac) who might be his alter ego. Also with Walton Goggins, Dania Ramirez, Fran Kranz, and Mark Wahlberg.
Monster Hunt (NR) This film set in medieval China is about a monster-human hybrid who tries to make its way through the world while being hunted by both monsters and humans. Starring Bai Baihe, Jing Boran, Jiang Wu, Elaine Jin, Wallace Chung, Eric Tsang, and Tang Wei.
Son of Saul (R) Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, László Nemes’ film is about a Hungarian Jew (Géza Röhrig) who tries to give a boy a proper burial while working in a Nazi concentration camp helping to exterminate other Jews. Also with Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Jerzy Walczak, Sándor Zsótér, Marcin Czarnik, Kamil Dobrowolski, and Mihály Kormos.