Embrace of the Serpent (NR) Nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this Colombian drama is about an Amazon River shaman (Antonio Bolívar) who works with two European scientists (Jan Bijvoet and Brionne Davis) to search for a sacred healing plant. Also with Nilbio Torres, Yauenkü Migue, Nicolás Cancino, and Luigi Sciamanna. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Hyena Road (R) Rossif Sutherland stars in this Canadian war film as a soldier whose love life and combat duties get tangled up in Afghanistan. Also with Paul Gross, Allan Hawco, Christine Horne, Neamat Arghandabi, and Clark Johnson. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Knight of Cups (R) The latest film by Terrence Malick stars Christian Bale as a Hollywood screenwriter who goes on a lengthy bender in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Also with Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Brian Dennehy, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Isabel Lucas, Wes Bentley, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Cherry Jones. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Only Yesterday (PG) This anime film by Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies) is about a young Tokyo office worker (voiced by Daisy Ridley) who reminisces about her childhood. Additional voices by Dev Patel, Tara Strong, Hope Levy, Ava Acres, and Alison Fernandez. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Perfect Match (R) This romantic comedy stars Terrence Jenkins as a player whose attempt at a casual hookup with a mysterious woman (Cassie Ventura) turns into something more. Also with Paula Patton, Donald Faison, Kali Hawk, Lauren London, Dascha Polanco, Joe Pantoliano, and Brandy Norwood. (Opens Friday)
10 Cloverfield Lane (PG-13) John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr. star in this quasi-sequel to Cloverfield as three survivors trapped in an underground bunker during an apocalyptic event. Also with Mat Vairo and Bradley Cooper. (Opens Friday)
The Young Messiah (PG-13) This Christian film follows the travails of Jesus Christ at age 7 (Adam Greaves-Neal). Also with Sean Bean, Christian McKay, David Bradley, Isabelle Adriani, Sara Lazzaro, and Jane Lapotaire. (Opens Friday)
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.
The Boy and the Beast (PG-13) A decent anime film that wants a little too much to be Spirited Away, this is about an abandoned Tokyo boy (voiced by Aoi Miyazaki) who runs away from his guardians and stumbles into a magical world of warrior beasts, where he’s apprenticed to a similarly angry wolf-man (voiced by Kôji Yakusho) who wants to rule the realm. Director Mamoru Hosoda doesn’t reach the heights of his Summer Wars, but there’s a nice symmetry between the grown-up boy (voiced by Shôta Sometani) teaching his mentor to discipline himself and learning how to function in the human world. Additional voices by Suzu Hirose, Rirî Furankî, Mamoru Miyano, Sumire Morohoshi, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Masahiko Tsugawa, and Keishi Nagatsuka.
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.
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.
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.
Gods of Egypt (PG-13) White actors fill all the major roles in this movie about the ancient Egyptian deities, but it’s consoling to note that no actors of color could have possibly salvaged this disaster. When the god Set (Gerard Butler) stages a coup and rules over Egypt as a dictator, it’s up to his nephew Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and a common street thief (Brenton Thwaites) to restore the former to his rightful place on the throne. The action sequences are lame, the attempts at comedy are lamer, and the juxtaposition of humans alongside gods who are twice their height is so dopey that you have to see it to disbelieve it. These gods deserve to die out. Also with Courtney Eaton, Abbey Lee, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman, Bryan Brown, Rufus Sewell, and Geoffrey Rush.
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.
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.
London Has Fallen (R) And yet I’m the one who can’t get up. Gerard Butler reprises his role as a Secret Service agent who has to protect the President (Aaron Eckhart) during a terrorist attack in Europe. This sequel is somehow even more racist and lunkheaded than its predecessor, with Eckhart once again failing to be a remotely convincing president and Butler killing off an anonymous horde of Middle Eastern guys while making ill-timed wisecracks about how awesome America is. Iranian director Babak Najafi pulls off one nice sequence in a single take with Mike and a bunch of SAS soldiers fighting their way down a terrorist-controlled street, but it’s not worth sitting through all the xenophobia and bad acting for. Also with Morgan Freeman, Charlotte Riley, Alon Aboutboul, Walid Zouaiter, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Patrick Kennedy, Radha Mitchell, and Angela Bassett.
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.
The Other Side of the Door (R) Instead of voodoo or Santeria that’s used as exotic foreign juju, this horror movie uses Hinduism instead. Not a good look. Sarah Wayne Callies stars as an American woman in India who loses her young son to a car accident. She’s told how she can contact his spirit one last time through the door of temple, but is warned not to open the door. Of course, if she listens, then there’s no movie. Underneath all the Indian trappings and locations (which could have been used much more creatively), this is really just the same tired old horror flick that comes out in new iterations every month, replete with the same old jump scares. Also with Jeremy Sisto, Sofia Rosinsky, Suchitra Pillai, and Javier Botet.
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.
Spotlight (R) Unflashy but superb, this wide-ranging ensemble piece that won the Oscar for Best Picture stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian D’Arcy James as the four Boston Globe reporters who break the 2002 story about the Catholic Church covering up for pedophile priests. This is a bigger movie than director 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 Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Neal Huff, Jamey Sheridan, Len Cariou, Paul Guilfoyle, and Billy Crudup.
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.
Triple 9 (R) How do so many great actors team up to make something so dull? Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as an ex-military crook who heads up a gang of dirty Atlanta cops who conceive the idea of killing a fellow cop (Casey Affleck) as a distraction while they pull off an impossible heist from the Department of Homeland Security. Woody Harrelson turns up as a redneck cop with buck teeth, and weirder still is Kate Winslet, howlingly miscast as a Russian mob boss. Director John Hillcoat (Lawless) handles action sequences and an array of double-crosses, but he can’t raise this thing more than a couple of degrees above room temperature. Also with Aaron Paul, Anthony Mackie, Teresa Palmer, Clifton Collins Jr., Gal Gadot, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Norman Reedus.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (R) Tina Fey stars in this mildly engaging film (loosely based on a real-life journalist’s memoir) as a TV news writer who travels to Afghanistan in 2003 to provide coverage for her network. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) and writer Robert Carlock (TV’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) strike precisely the right tone here: The movie is funny chronicling its heroine’s life and the foul-mouthed camaraderie among the foreign journalists, but the backdrop of suffering is always hovering near. Christopher Abbott does well as an Afghan street guide and fixer, but did this part really have to go to a white actor? This amounts to a breezy character study of unserious people driven to do a serious job. Also with Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Nicholas Braun, Sheila Vand, Evan Jonigkeit, Cherry Jones, Alfred Molina, Josh Charles, and Billy Bob Thornton.
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.
Zootopia (PG) A Disney animated movie about a cuddly bunny rabbit that’s so relevant to our current political situation, it’ll give you chills. In a world where predators and prey co-exist peacefully in an urban environment, Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is the first rabbit on the big city’s police force, an affirmative-action hire who tries to distinguish herself by teaming up with a fox con artist (voiced by Jason Bateman) to crack a string of animal disappearances. This is no canned morality tale, but a layered look at how prejudice seeps into everyone’s thinking, including Judy’s. Amid some delightful gags (including a DMV staffed by sloths that must have been fun to animate) and atmosphere that evokes film noir thrillers, there’s a powerfully slippery parable about discrimination and the politics of fear. Additional voices by Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk, Tommy Chong, Kristen Bell, Shakira, Octavia Spencer, and J.K. Simmons.
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.