Bad Santa 2 (R) Billy Bob Thornton returns for this sequel to the 2003 comedy, as the drunken ex-convict Santa reunites with his old partner in crime (Tony Cox). Also with Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly, Ryan Hansen, and Mike Starr. (Opens Wednesday)
The Eagle Huntress (PG) Otto Bell’s documentary about an 11-year-old Mongolian girl seeking to be the first female eagle hunter in her family. (Opens Wednesday in Dallas)
Elle (R) Isabelle Huppert stars in Paul Verhoeven’s French thriller as a woman seeking the identity of the masked man who raped her in her home. Also with Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Christian Berkel, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz, Lucas Prisor, and Vimala Pons. (Opens Wednesday in Dallas)
Kill Command (NR) This science-fiction thriller is set in a near future in which people use killer robots to fight their wars. Starring Vanessa Kirby, David Ajala, Bentley Kalu, Mike Noble, Tom McKay, Kelly Gough, and Thure Lindhardt. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Manchester by the Sea (R) The latest film by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me) stars Casey Affleck as a man who suddenly finds himself appointed legal guardian to his orphaned teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges). Also with Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Heather Burns, Anna Baryshnikov, Tate Donovan, and Matthew Broderick. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Rules Don’t Apply (PG-13) Warren Beatty directs and stars in this comedy as reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who becomes a matchmaker for his personal driver (Alden Ehrenreich) and an aspiring actress (Lily Collins). Also with Haley Bennett, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Paul Sorvino, Hart Bochner, Megan Hilty, Paul Schneider, Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Oliver Platt, and Annette Bening. (Opens Wednesday)
The Accountant (R) Terrifically entertaining, until it disintegrates in the final third. Ben Affleck stars in this thriller as an accountant whose high-functioning autism makes him a genius in his field, and whose elite martial-arts and weapons skills help him survive working for terrorists and crime lords. He also needs the latter to protect a low-level accountant (Anna Kendrick) who stumbles onto malfeasance at her high-end tech firm. Kendrick gives some warmth and charm to this potboiler, but she’s shunted largely out of the picture in the final third, which becomes overstuffed with backstory and an unbelievable coincidence that resolves things. It all defeats this enviable cast and director Gavin O’Connor. Also with J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert C. Treveiler, Jean Smart, John Lithgow, and Jeffrey Tambor.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (NR) Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan star in this Indian film about a long-running love triangle. Also with Fawad Khan, Raj Awasti, Lisa Haydon, and Shah Rukh Khan.
Almost Christmas (PG-13) A cast full of capable comic actors makes this warmed-over holiday dish palatable. Danny Glover stars as the recently widowed patriarch of an Alabama family who invites his five kids, their significant others and kids, and his sister-in-law (Mo’Nique) for a Christmas weekend and tries to keep them from killing each other. The script by writer-director David E. Talbert (Baggage Claim) may be full of predictable situations and gags, but solid ad-lib contributions from Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union, J.B. Smoove, Jessie T. Usher, and John Michael Higgins keep you off-balance, and keep the comedy from drowning in homilies about family and helping the less fortunate. It’s an inoffensive time. Also with Kimberly Elise, Romany Malco, Omar Epps, Nicole Ari Parker, D.C. Young Fly, Keri Hilson, and Gladys Knight. (Opens Friday)
Arrival (PG-13) Amy Adams saves the world and this science-fiction epic. She plays a linguistics professor who’s brought in by the government when the aliens land, to try to communicate with them. Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) adapts this from Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” and does well by the nonlinear source material, as the heroine starts having flash-forwards of her life to come. Unfortunately, the script’s attempts to inject some conventional dramatic tension through human-alien hostilities fall flat, and Villeneuve offers chilly virtuosity where a more emotional approach might have suited the material. He’s bailed out by the great Adams, displaying loneliness, vulnerability, decency, courage, and much-needed warmth at the center of this. Also with Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma, and Forest Whitaker.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (R) A misfire. Ang Lee’s movie about the Iraq War stars Joe Alwyn as the title character, who after a televised firefight is brought back to America for a triumphant promotional tour, culminating in a halftime show at a Thanksgiving football game in Dallas. Based on Ben Fountain’s novel, the movie is cynical about pop culture’s relationship to the military and tries to find something tragic in the disconnect between soldiers and civilians who can’t possibly understand what they’ve been through. Unfortunately, Lee and writer Jean-Christophe Castelli have neither Fountain’s gift for a surprising phrase nor his aptitude for painting American life in garish, satirical colors. Billy himself comes off as a cipher in the hands of British newcomer Alwyn. Some good performances can’t make this into the meditation on war that it wants to be. Also with Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Tucker, Makenzie Leigh, Arturo Castro, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Mason Lee, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Beau Knapp, Barney Harris, and Steve Martin.
The Birth of a Nation (R) If not for the rape charges against him, I’d be calling this a confident debut by a first-time director. Nate Parker is that man, also writing and starring in this biopic about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831. From a largely incomplete historical narrative, Parker has crafted a lean, muscular narrative, full of inspired touches even if he occasionally goes overboard with the dramatic touches. His vehicle also plays to his own strengths as an actor, allowing him to flash his brilliant smile and project warmth and tenderness toward a fellow slave (Aja Naomi King). However, whatever statement this movie has to make about present-day race relations is obscured by the events outside the film. Someday we’ll be able to separate those out, but not now. Also with Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Mark Boone Junior, Gabrielle Union, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Roger Guenveur Smith, and Jackie Earle Haley.
Bleed for This (R) Miles Teller stars in this biography of boxing champion Vinny Pazienza. Also with Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds, and Ted Levine.
Boo! A Madea Halloween (PG-13) We don’t need Tyler Perry the filmmaker anymore. Maybe we never did, but ten years ago he filled a niche, however badly, for an audience that was underserved. Now, African-American crowds have films about themselves that feature intelligence, subtlety, and craftsmanship. In his latest outing, Perry plays the old lady who gets stuck taking care of her teenage granddaughter (Diamond White) during one Halloween when the girl just wants to go to a frat party. Set piece after set piece falls flat, and the whole thing devolves into the usual Perry Sunday-sermon preachiness. Perry is much easier to take as an actor when he’s out of the old-age makeup playing the girl’s father. If he devoted himself to acting full time, that would be better for all of us. Also with Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely, Yousef Erakat, Andre Hall, Tyga, and Bella Thorne.
Deepwater Horizon (PG-13) Peter Berg’s film valuably reconstructs the 2010 environmental disaster, but that doesn’t feel like enough. Mark Wahlberg portrays an electronics technician on the ill-fated drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s undeniably fascinating to see the work that goes on an oil rig, and Berg uses the power of cinema to depict what kind of fiery hell the Deepwater Horizon became when it exploded. He makes it clear that BP’s cost-cutting and anxiety to get back on schedule were chiefly responsible for the wreckage and loss of life, but his concerns seem to end with the workers getting to safety. He wants to make this into a heroic story about the individuals on the rig, but it feels like he’s ignoring a big part of the story so he can take something positive away. Watch the documentary The Great Invisible for some hard truths this movie won’t touch. Also with Kurt Russell, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Ethan Suplee, Kate Hudson, and John Malkovich.
Desierto (R) Not as timely as it seems. Jonás Cuarón makes his directorial debut (after co-writing Gravity with his dad Alfonso Cuarón) with this thriller starring Gael García Bernal as one of a group of Mexican immigrants who are preyed on by a racist with a rifle (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) after they illegally cross the U.S. border. The filmmakers aren’t trafficking in subtlety here; the migrants barely exist as characters and the bad guy is a Confederate flag-waving caricature. Cuarón shows some skill in some of the set pieces, including the climactic one on a butte, but he strains too hard for the monumentality of classic Westerns as he films the desert landscape. He sucks all the fun out of this setup, where somebody like Robert Rodriguez would have reveled in the trashiness. This is too high-minded to work as “Mexploitation,” and too weak to work as anything else. Also with Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Cataño, Marco Pérez, Oscar Flores, and David Lorenzo.
Doctor Strange (PG-13) Benedict Cumberbatch is more or less perfectly cast as the latest Marvel superhero, a brilliant bastard of a neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands, travels to Nepal to heal, and winds up discovering his role as a protector of the Earth from extraterrestrial threats. The English leading man is whip-smart, arrogant, and funny, and he centers the movie even when director/co-writer Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) gets lost in the weeds while delving into the spiritual aspect of the story. You sense that Derrickson always wanted to stage extended fight sequences in a world whose landscape is shifting like a kaleidoscope and rotating à la Inception. It’s enjoyable even when it doesn’t make sense. Also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Benjamin Bratt, and an uncredited Chris Hemsworth.
The Edge of Seventeen (R) Hailee Steinfeld gives one of the performances of the year as an awkward loner of a teen who goes into a spiral when her brother (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson). Writer and first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig nails the vibe of many scenes and does some terrific comic writing for our heroine and her sarcastic history teacher (Woody Harrelson), and the acting is good across the board. (Watch for newcomer Hayden Szeto as a perfectly uncool love interest.) Yet you can’t take your eyes off Steinfeld, who displays an impeccable sense of comic timing and plays the role with such energy and physicality that her character’s teenage hormones go spilling all over the screen. She makes the whole movie buzz. Also with Kyra Sedgwick, Alexander Calvert, and Eric Keenleyside.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PG-13) The Harry Potter saga goes to America for this prequel, and it’s an inauspicious beginning. Eddie Redmayne stars as a wizarding-world animal conservationist who travels to the States after being kicked out of Hogwarts. Writing directly for the screen for the first time, J.K. Rowling tries to squeeze an entire novel into the film. As a result, her themes about racism and terrorism come out muddled. We don’t spend enough time with the scary anti-magic religious zealots, and neither Redmayne’s absent-minded professor vibe nor Katherine Waterston as the U.S. magic official who keeps tabs on him are enough to center the movie. You realize how much the original series depended on its lead actors’ skill and charisma. Also with Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Alison Sudol, Carmen Ejogo, Dan Hedaya, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight, and Johnny Depp.
The Girl on the Train (R) Portraying a severely depressed alcoholic, Emily Blunt looks like she’s about to die and kinda wants to. That’s the main drawing card for this clumsy Americanized adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel about a woman who risks her own life when she starts investigating the disappearance of her ex-husband’s nanny (Haley Bennett). The supporting cast is enviable and the self-destructive glimmer in Blunt’s eyes is something you won’t soon forget, but director Tate Taylor (The Help) bungles the subplots and generates little suspense as his main character tries to recover her memories. A better director could have made this such trashy fun. Also with Justin Theroux, Rebecca Ferguson, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramírez, Laura Prepon, Lisa Kudrow, Darren Goldstein, and Allison Janney.
Hacksaw Ridge (R) This movie could have been great at 100 minutes. Too bad it runs 131. Mel Gibson’s biopic stars Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, a World War II soldier whose Christian beliefs made him a devoted pacifist but also spurred him to rescue 75 wounded American soldiers in one night on Okinawa. The depiction of Desmond’s early life in Virginia is as unsubtle as you’d expect from this director, and the subplot with Desmond meeting his future wife (Teresa Palmer) is so cutesy that it’s cringe-inducing. Gibson’s touch is so heavy-handed that war might be the only subject suited to him, and his rendition of the battle scenes and Desmond’s heroism is worthy of its subject. The film was shot in Australia, Gibson’s career troubles closing off Hollywood to him. Also with Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey, Luke Pegler, Ben Mingay, Richard Roxburgh, Sam Worthington, and Vince Vaughn.
Inferno (PG-13) Tom Hanks and Ron Howard reunite for a third visually beautiful and exquisitely dull outing adapted from a Dan Brown novel. The redoubtable Prof. Robert Langdon here battles head trauma and amnesia as he runs around Italy with an ER doctor (Felicity Jones) who has an improbable interest in Dante’s poetry, trying to dodge assassins and solve a riddle that will help them avert a global pandemic. Hanks remains an intelligent and conscientious presence at the center of this, but the character touches are no more than perfunctory and the puzzle-solving is uninspired and needlessly obscure. Also with Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu, Ida Darvish, and Ben Foster.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PG-13) I’m not sure any of the filmmakers appreciates the irony of calling a sequel Never Go Back. Tom Cruise returns in this proficient but forgettable adaptation of Lee Child’s novel as an ex-military officer who works to clear the name of his old unit’s current commander (Cobie Smulders) after she’s framed for espionage. This involves punching lots of people. Director Edward Zwick does an acceptable job with the action sequences, but he and his co-writers can’t give any shading to these characters, and the gambit with Jack protecting a moody teenager (Danika Yarosh) who might be his daughter is ill-conceived and -executed. For all this movie’s efforts, it doesn’t accomplish very much. Also with Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge, Holt McCallany, Madalyn Horcher, Jason Douglas, and Robert Knepper.
Life on the Line (R) John Travolta stars in this thriller as the leader of a crew of power-line workers who are caught in a deadly storm. Also with Kate Bosworth, Devon Sawa, Gil Bellows, Julie Benz, Ty Olsson, and Sharon Stone.
The Magnificent Seven (PG-13) Denzel Washington headlines this watchable-but-only-that, ethnically diverse remake of a remake as a warrant officer in the 1870s who’s hired by the people of a small town to protect them from the depredations of a land baron (Peter Sarsgaard). Washington and his co-stars (Chris Pratt as a hard-drinking gambler, Ethan Hawke as a shell-shocked war veteran) provide the magnetism, but director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) makes his usual hackwork out of the action. There are some remakes where you can simply plug actors of color into roles originally played by white people and get on with it, but a period Western demands something more. Oh, what Quentin Tarantino could have done with this! Also with Haley Bennett, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer, Cam Gigandet, and Vincent D’Onofrio.
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (PG) Based on James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts’ children’s novel, this stars Griffin Gluck as a kid who decides to break all his school’s rules to shake up the routine. Also with Lauren Graham, Efren Ramirez, Rob Riggle, Thomas Barbusca, Andrew Daly, and Adam Pally.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (PG-13) Ransom Riggs’ novel gets lost amid Tim Burton’s adaptation, which runs more than two hours and still feels terribly rushed. Asa Butterfield stars as a Florida kid who travels to a Welsh island and discovers a bubble of time where it’s always the same September day in 1943, and where a house for children with strange abilities is run by a benevolent witch (Eva Green). Butterfield is a cute and charmless presence at the center of this, and Burton’s in such a hurry to get to the grotesque stuff that he runs roughshod over any sense of wonder or world-building, not to mention a romantic subplot with an air elemental (Ella Purnell). Without a story to connect all its elements, Burton’s little more than a hack like Chris Columbus. Also with Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O’Dowd, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Kim Dickens, O-Lan Jones, Terence Stamp, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Moonlight (R) The great gay romance of African-American cinema. Barry Jenkins’ film tracks the life of its hero as a young boy growing up rough in Miami (Alex HIbbert), a high-school student (Ashton Sanders) falling in love for the first time, and a drug dealer (Trevante Rhodes) trying to heal all the scars from his past. The movie is stuffed with great performances from Rhodes, Sanders, Mahershala Ali as a kind drug dealer who acts as a father figure, Naomie Harris as a crack-addicted mother, and André Holland as an ex-lover who’s full of remorse. Jenkins’ control over this is absolute, as he knows when to be unfussy and when to be flamboyant, and makes the sun and waves of south Florida seem an integral part of these characters. The scene with the hero and his ex staring at each other while “Hello Stranger” plays in the background is as breathtaking as the rest of the movie. Also with Jharrel Jerome, Patrick Decile, and Janelle Monáe. (Opens Friday)
Ouija: Origin of Evil (PG-13) The prequel to the 2014 supernatural thriller once again puts the popular fortune-telling board at the center of ghosts-on-people violence. Elizabeth Reaser stars as a widowed, fraudulent fortune teller who, along with her two daughters (Annalise Basso and Lulu Wilson), attempts to reach her late husband via a Ouija board. The board ignites the younger girl’s innate supernatural talents, which in turn open her up to possession by a vengeful spirit. Set in 1967, the film’s atmospheric, haunted-house dread is reminiscent of The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, and Wilson is arrestingly creepy even before she pulls the ol’ scary-child-skittering-across-a-ceiling move. The movie’s measured chills are effective until the last third when it loses control of its own mythology, but it is otherwise an entertaining fright flick and an improvement on the first film. Also with Doug Jones, Lin Shaye, and Henry Thomas. — Steve Steward
Shut In (PG-13) Naomi Watts stars in this horror film as a recently widowed child psychologist who has visions of a young patient (Jacob Tremblay) after he disappears in a snowstorm. Also with Charlie Heaton and Oliver Platt.
Sully (PG) In the hands of a lesser lead actor, Clint Eastwood’s dramatization of airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger and his heroic efforts to save the passengers on his US Airways flight in 2009 would likely crash. Instead, Tom Hanks has great chemistry with his sardonic co-pilot (Aaron Eckhart), and Eastwood films Sullenberger’s water landing effectively. That’s good, because the script is full of expositional dialogue given to an overqualified supporting cast, and it derails trying to give sketches of the passengers Sully saves. Despite some bumps, the crew lands this thing safely. Also with Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley, Jerry Ferrara, Holt McCallany, and Jamey Sheridan. — Steve Steward
Trolls (PG) This animated musical has wall-to-wall music and a voice cast filled with exceptional singers. How could it go wrong? Oh, just you watch, or better yet, don’t. Justin Timberlake is the voice of a perennially grumpy troll who’s at odds with his tribe of happy trolls. He has to work with the tribe’s princess (voiced by Anna Kendrick) to rescue their fellow trolls from a race of much larger beings who eat trolls because it’s the only way they can feel happiness. This garish mess wanders round and round without ever coming to a point because it’s so busy waiting for the next musical number. The songs are painfully obvious and overproduced and nobody in the cast distinguishes themselves, a fairly amazing accomplishment. Additional voices by Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, James Corden, Christine Baranski, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Gwen Stefani, Rhys Darby, Quvenzhané Wallis, John Cleese, and Jeffrey Tambor.
Aquarius (NR) Sonia Braga stars in this Brazilian drama by Kleber Mendonça Filho as a wealthy retiree who resists a land developer’s efforts to move her out of her apartment home. Also with Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carrão, Zoraide Coleto, Fernando Teixeira, and Barbara Colen.
Loving (PG-13) Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud) writes and directs this biopic of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), the Virginia couple whose fight to legalize interracial marriage went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Also with Marton Csokas, Will Dalton, Bill Camp, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass, and Michael Shannon.
A Man Called Ove (PG-13) Rolf Lassgård stars in this Swedish comedy as a grumpy, widowed retiree has to cope when an Iranian family moves into the condo next door. Also with Bahar Pars, Zozan Akgün, Tobias Almborg, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, and Börje Lundberg.
Nocturnal Animals (R) The latest film by Tom Ford (A Single Man) stars Amy Adams as an art gallery owner whose ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her the manuscript of a novel he’s written. Also with Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough, Armie Hammer, and Laura Linney.