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"Backtrack" opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills

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Backtrack (R) Adrien Brody stars in this supernatural thriller as a psychiatrist who discovers that all the patients he’s been seeing are ghosts. Also with Sam Neill, Robin McLeavy, Bruce Spence, Jenni Baird, Chloe Bayliss, and George Shevtsov. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Eddie the Eagle (PG-13) Cheery and inoffensive, this sports bio stars Taron Egerton as Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the British ski jumper who became a cult hero at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Longtime actor Dexter Fletcher jumps into the director’s chair and does an acceptable job with this, though Egerton (from Kingsman: The Secret Service) sees the show stolen from him by Hugh Jackman as the alcoholic American former jumper who agrees to coach Eddie, mostly so that he doesn’t get killed. The scene where he breaks into the Norwegian’s training facility and expresses his disdain for all their fancy equipment is a marvelously inventive use of props. His energy puts the hop in this film. Also with Jo Hartley, Mark Benton, Tim McInnerny, Edvin Endre, Rune Temte, Christopher Walken, and an uncredited Jim Broadbent. (Opens Friday)

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Gods of Egypt (PG-13) White actors fill all the major roles in this movie about the ancient Egyptian deities, and it’s totally not weird at all! Starring Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Abbey Lee, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman, Courtney Eaton, Rufus Sewell, and Geoffrey Rush. (Opens Friday)

The Last Man on the Moon (NR) Mark Craig’s documentary profiles Eugene Cernan, the last American astronaut to set foot on the Moon. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Triple 9 (R) This thriller is about a ring of crooked cops who conspire to kill a fellow police officer (Casey Affleck) as part of a daring armed robbery. Also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul, Anthony Mackie, Teresa Palmer, Woody Harrelson, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins Jr., Gal Gadot, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Kate Winslet. (Opens Friday)

A War (R) Nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this Danish movie stars Pilou Asbæk as a soldier stationed in Afghanistan who tries to survive so he can return to his family in Denmark. Also with Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim, Søren Malling, Charlotte Munck, Alex Høgh Andersen, Jakob Frølund, and Dulfi al-Jabouri. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

 

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Anomalisa (R) This stop-motion animated movie is remarkable, even if its depressive brilliance remains a closed book to you. David Thewlis portrays a British expat and corporate consultant who travels to Cincinnati in 2005 for a presentation. Adapted by Charlie Kaufman from his own stage play, the movie’s great inspired touch is having everyone in the main character’s life have the same face and voice (Tom Noonan’s) except for the woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) he falls in love with. Some comic nightmare business doesn’t work, and the main character is a drag, but Leigh gives affecting luminescence to a damaged, lonely woman and the film features the most realistic sex scene in all of 2015’s movies. Whatever its flaws, this is unique.

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.

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.

Busco novio para mi mujer (PG-13) Arath de la Torre stars in this Mexican comedy as a man who’s so tired of his wife (Sandra Echevarría) that he looks for another man to seduce her. Also with Jesús Ochoa and Alejandro Cuétara.

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.

The Choice (PG-13) This Nicholas Sparks adaptation begins with the hero telling us that the meaning of life is all about decisions, and it all goes downhill from there. Benjamin Walker stars as a North Carolina veterinarian who falls hard for his uptight medical-student next-door neighbor (Teresa Palmer), only for their eternal love to take a tragic turn. Director Ross Katz (Adult Beginners) tries to inject some humor into the typical Sparksian molasses and somehow only makes things worse, as his actors seem to have downed 12 cups of espresso before every take. The filmmakers surround the hero with puppies and kittens at every turn to try to make him adorable, and the final plot twist is unforgivably cheap even by Sparks’ standards. Pick something else. Also with Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Welling, and Tom Wilkinson.

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.

Deadpool (R) The humor in this hyperself-aware superhero movie is incredibly obvious, but it’s still explosively funny. Ryan Reynolds stars as an ex-soldier and low-rent mercenary whose attempts to find a cure for his terminal cancer leave him a horribly scarred but borderline unkillable vigilante. You may find all the meta jokes too much as the movie riffs on Reynolds’ acting career and the X-Men series that this is a tangential part of. Still, the star’s physicality and snotty sense of humor make him perfect as a compulsive wisecracker, and the movie doesn’t lose sight of Deadpool’s desire to fix his looks and reunite with his fiancée (Morena Baccarin). The fight sequences are also either properly brutal or hilariously slapstick, as when Deadpool tries to fight Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and just hurts himself hitting the metal giant. The filthy laughs in this superhero movie are energizing. Also with Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Karan Soni, and Leslie Uggams.

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.

Hail, Caesar! (PG-13) The best Coen brothers’ movie of this century, and certainly their gayest. Josh Brolin stars as a 1951 fixer for a Hollywood studio who has to solve the kidnapping of an A-list star (George Clooney) from the set of a Biblical epic. The Coens’ pastiche of 1950s movies is infectiously winning, and their film feels most like itself when it bursts into song and dance, as during a homoerotic tap-dance number starring Channing Tatum. Amid all the famous people in the cast, Alden Ehrenreich steals the show as a cowboy actor who gets miscast in a sophisticated, highbrow romantic drama. It’s nice to see the Coens leave their nihilism behind and have some fun. Also with Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Veronica Osorio, Clancy Brown, David Krumholtz, Alison Pill, Christopher Lambert, Fisher Stevens, Alex Karpovsky, and Frances McDormand.

How to Be Single (R) Rebel Wilson’s comic ad-libs are the only thing livening up this generic comedy about four unattached women trying to navigate the dating scene in New York City. She’s so much fun, it’s hard to fathom why the filmmakers make Dakota Johnson the main focus here, as a paralegal who goes on at excruciating length about how she doesn’t know who she is yet. Neither the movie’s complement of funny men nor the presence of Alison Brie as a woman trying to date by algorithm make much of an impression, so it’s up to Wilson to squeeze a few meager but genuine laughs out of her character as a single gal who loves her freedom unabashedly. Also with Leslie Mann, Damon Wayans Jr., Anders Holm, Jake Lacy, Jason Mantzoukas, Nicholas Braun, and Colin Jost.

Ip Man 3 (PG-13) The third chapter in the biography of the legendary kung fu master finds him (Donnie Yen) in Hong Kong in the 1950s trying to keep gangsters and crooked land developers from pushing out honest, hard-working folk. The movie goes softer on the xenophobia than the first two installments, but Yen can’t handle the dramatics when Ip Man loses his wife (Lynn Hung) to cancer. The martial-arts action isn’t up to the preceding films, though at least Yen gets to square off with an American gangster (Mike Tyson) and a popping final showdown with a would-be Wing Chun usurper (Zhang Jin). The action sequences don’t quite make up for the dramatic failures here. Also with Patrick Tam, Kent Cheng, Karena Ng, Leung Ka-Yan, and Chan Kwok-Kwan.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG) Better than Kung Fu Panda 2. Jack Black reprises his role as the roly-poly animated panda who must battle another villain (voiced by J.K. Simmons) while figuring out where he fits after his long-lost biological father (voiced by Bryan Cranston) turns up. The latter is handled deftly and with a gratifying lack of syrup, and the movie comes up with some neat slapstick as the hero tries to train his fellow pandas in kung fu. Sadly, the villain is boring and the martial-arts action isn’t as inspired as it was in the original. Still, it’s a nice little treat for Chinese New Year. Additional voices by Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Wayne Knight, Jean-Claude van Damme, and Kate Hudson.

The Lady in the Van (PG-13) Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings star in this movie based on Alan Bennett’s memoir about the homeless woman who lived in his driveway for several months. Also with Jim Broadbent, Roger Allam, Richard Griffiths, Dominic Cooper, Frances de la Tour, Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore, and James Corden.

The Mermaid (R) The funniest environmental parable you’ll see all year is this ineffably weird Chinese film directed by Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle). Shu Qi stars as a mermaid who tries to save her fellow sea creatures from a billionaire real-estate baron (Deng Chao) who wants to build in the one sea cove where the mermaids still live. Chow infuses this with his trademark humor, like a slapstick set piece where the heroine tries to assassinate the builder in his office and only winds up hurting herself. Deng makes the putative villain hilariously insecure, too. However, this co-exists with a bloody climax that’s reminiscent of The Cove. Somehow, this profoundly silly movie with a serious message never loses its balance. This just became the biggest box-office hit in Chinese history. Also with Zhang Yuqi, Tsui Hark, Show Luo, Lin Yun, Tin Kai Man, Li Shangzheng, Ivan Kotik, and Kris Wu.

Race (PG-13) The brilliant double meaning in the title is, alas, the only piece of real cleverness in this boilerplate inspirational sports biopic that stars Stephan James as sprinter Jesse Owens during his training for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Despite James’ best efforts, Owens emerges as considerably less interesting than his coach (Jason Sudeikis), an alcohol-pickled former athlete denied his own shot at the Olympics, or the tangled politics behind whether to participate in Hitler’s Games. Meanwhile, director Stephen Hopkins misses all the texture that made white America embrace a black athlete. This is watchable, but it could have been so much more. Also with Eli Goree, Shanice Banton, Carice van Houten, David Kross, Jeremy Irons, and William Hurt.

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.

Risen (PG-13) It’s like an extremely dull episode of CSI set in Biblical Jerusalem. Joseph Fiennes portrays a Roman military tribune who oversees the execution of Jesus Christ and then has to take charge of the investigation when his body disappears from the tomb. Director Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld) leaches out all the excitement in the story, while cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore makes everything in sun-drenched Jerusalem look so gray that it hurts my eyes. The actors seem like they’re muffled by linen, too. The proximity of Hail, Caesar! doesn’t do this movie any favors; you’ll inevitably be reminded of George Clooney emoting in his movie-within-his-much-better-movie. Also with Tom Felton, Peter Firth, María Botto, Antonio Gil, and Cliff Curtis.

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.

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.

The Witch (R) Where other horror movies just traffic in trappings of Satan worship, this one feels like the first genuinely Satanic movie ever. Superb newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy stars as a teenage girl in 1631 New England who sees supernatural bad things happen to her family after they’re banished from civilization. Her parents and younger siblings may blame their misfortunes on witches, but we can recognize the domestic pressures that are causing this family to fracture. The actions that people take when they’re unhinged by fear are more terrifying than some child-snatching old crone in the woods. First-time director Robert Eggers eschews the old horror-movie tricks for psychological terror, and composer Mark Korven generates scares all by himself with his antique-flavored score. It has the feel of a campfire story, and you’ll get permanent chills when our heroine tries to conjure the Devil. Also with Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, and Wahab Chaudhry.

Zoolander 2 (R) Depressing, partly because the guys are older, but mostly because this movie is bad. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson reprise their roles as the male models who return to the fashion world to help an Interpol agent (Penélope Cruz) solve the murders of a bunch of pop stars. The fake 1990s fashion ad cleverly pokes at the decade’s pretensions and recalls the original movie’s absurdity, but mostly this sequel is about random cameos (by everyone from Skrillex to Neil deGrasse Tyson) and transphobic gags at the expense of an eyebrow-less supermodel (Benedict Cumberbatch). These models should have stayed retired. Also with Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Cyrus Arnold, Fred Armisen, Kyle Mooney, Justin Theroux, Christine Taylor, Billy Zane, Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, and Kiefer Sutherland.

 

Dallas Exclusives

Theeb (NR) Nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this Jordanian movie stars Jacir Eid al-Hwietat as a Bedouin boy who must guide a British army officer (Jack Fox) through the desert to a secret meeting during World War I. Also with Hussein Salameh al-Sweilhiyeen and Hussein Mutlag al-Maraiyeh.

Where to Invade Next (R) Michael Moore’s latest documentary has him invading other countries looking for answers to America’s social problems.

 

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