The Bad Kids (NR) The directing team of Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (Lost in La Mancha) direct this documentary about schoolteachers in the Mojave Desert who use unusual methods to teach their students. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Book of Love (PG-13) Jason Sudeikis stars in this dramedy as a widowed architect who helps a homeless teenager (Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams) to build a boat to sail across the Atlantic. Also with Jessica Biel, Paul Reiser, Orlando Jones, Bryan Batt, and Mary Steenburgen. (Opens Friday)
The Bye Bye Man (PG-13) This horror film stars Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, and Cressida Bonas as college students who unwittingly unleash a supernatural evil that compels people to do bad things. Also with Doug Jones, Michael Trucco, Jenna Kanell, Leigh Whannell, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Faye Dunaway. (Opens Friday)
Elle (R) This movie starts with a rape, as Isabelle Huppert’s video-game developer is sexually assaulted in her own Parisian home by a masked assailant. She spends much of Paul Verhoeven’s thriller trying to ascertain the identity of her attacker. The director of Total Recall and Basic Instinct can’t help but indulge in sensationalism from time to time with this material, but mostly he spends his time taking us through the multifaceted characters in her life and draws a picture of a protagonist who’s trying to overcome her own perfectionistic and self-destructive impulses that lead her to not turn in the rapist immediately after finding out who he is, among other things. Also with Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Judith Magre, Christian Berkel, Jonas Bloquet, and Lucas Prisor.
Goodnight Brooklyn — The Story of Death by Audio (NR) Matthew Conboy’s documentary about an underground music club in Brooklyn forced to close by the neighborhood’s increasing gentrification. Opns Friday in Dallas)
Monster Trucks (PG) Lucas Till stars in this partially animated comedy as a teenager who accidentally builds a monster truck with a real monster inside. Also with Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Holt McCallany, Frank Whaley, Amy Ryan, Rob Lowe, and Danny Glover. (Opens Friday)
OK Jaanu (NR) This Indian musical romance is about an aspiring video game designer (Aditya Roy Kapur) and an architecture student (Shraddha Kapoor) whose relationship is threatened by their career goals. Also with Naseeruddin Shah and Leela Samson. (Opens Friday)
100 Streets (NR) Jim O’Hanlon’s drama tells the interlocking stories of three ordinary people (Gemma Arterton, Idris Elba, and Ryan Gage) in the same neighborhood in London. Also with Tom Cullen, Franz Drameh, and Charlie Creed-Miles. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Patriots Day (R) Peter Berg’s latest ripped-from-the-headlines movie is this dramatization of the Boston Marathon bombing. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Jimmy O. Yang, Michael Beach, Alex Wolff, Khandi Alexander, and John Goodman. (Opens Friday)
Sleepless (R) Jamie Foxx stars in this thriller as a police officer who searches for his kidnapped son. Also with Gabrielle Union, T.I., Dermot Mulroney, David Harbour, Scoot McNairy, and Michelle Monaghan. (Opens Friday)
20th Century Women (R) The latest autobiographical film by Mike Mills (Beginners) is this drama about a 14-year-old boy (Lucas Jade Zumann) growing up in southern California in the late 1970s while being raised by his single mom (Annette Bening) and two friends (Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning). Also with Billy Crudup, Alison Elliott, Thea Gill, Waleed Zuaiter, and Alia Shawkat. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
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.
Assassin’s Creed (PG-13) Complete gobbledygook. Michael Fassbender stars in this adaptation of the popular video game series as a Texas Death Row prisoner whose ancestry dates back to a killer from a brotherhood of assassins during the Spanish Inquisition, so an evil corporation kidnaps him to recover his memories so they can retrieve a doohickey that will let them take over the world. The action sequences are filmed in Seville and feature some of the same high-flying, wall-crawling action that has earned the games their following. However, basic storytelling goes out the window and too much of the film is a bunch of people in suits standing around in a lab droning about free will. Save your cash for the next game in the series. Also with Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Dénis Menochet, Callum Turner, Essie Davis, and Charlotte Rampling.
Collateral Beauty (PG-13) Instead of a Magical Negro stereotype, this movie gives us Magical White People, without any visible benefits. An ad agency head (Will Smith) loses his daughter to disease and starts writing angry letters to Time, Love, and Death, so his friends (Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, and Michael Peña) hire three actors (Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, and Helen Mirren) — or are they? — to impersonate those spirits and bring him back. Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) ladles some extra syrup on this thing, but it’s the supernatural angle that sends this magical-realist drama to another level of badness. Also Ann Dowd and Naomie Harris.
Dangal (NR) One of the best wrestling movies ever is this Indian biopic starring Aamir Khan (PK) as Mahavir Singh Phogat, the national wrestling champion who dared to train his daughters (Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra) in the sport despite widespread disapproval from society. Western viewers may find the musical training montages to be a bit much, but the movie wears its 161-minute running time and its traditional Indian values lightly as it takes us through the finer points of wrestling technique and the frustrations of a country with a sclerotic sports bureaucracy. The matches themselves, especially the climactic ones at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, give you all the pleasures of a top-drawer sports flick. Also with Sakshi Tanwar, Zaira Wassim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Aparshakti Khurana, Ritwik Sahore, Girish Kulkarni, and Badrul Islam.
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.
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.
Fences (PG-13) Director Denzel Washington does only a workmanlike job adapting August Wilson’s play to the big screen, but fortunately, he gets career-best performances from star Denzel Washington and others. He portrays a Pittsburgh garbageman in the 1950s whose determination to hold on to what he’s made for himself blows apart his family. The qualities that have made Washington such a great movie star here make his character tragic: the handsome face, the athlete’s body, the verbal dexterity that lets him turn Wilson’s urban slang into fiery poetry all clue us into a man who would have had a bigger life if not for his skin color and the time of his birth. He’s complemented by a terrific supporting cast, especially Viola Davis, whose frustrations explode in a scene that’ll have you ducking down in your seat. Also with Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Saniyya Sidney, and Mykelti Williamson.
Hidden Figures (PG-13) Chalk up another incredible real-life story that gets reduced to a drearily conventional movie. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe portray three African-American mathematicians and scientists who worked at NASA in the 1960s, helping launch John Glenn into space. The movie is adapted from a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, whose father worked at the agency alongside those women. Director Ted Melfi (St. Vincent) seems at ease with the special-effects shots of rockets flying in space, but his script (co-written with Allison Schroeder) is all too boilerplate, including the romantic subplot involving Mahershala Ali as a National Guard colonel. The movie gets the small moments right but falls down in the big moments. The predictability of it all wastes some terrific actors here. Also with Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, Olek Krupa, and Kirsten Dunst.
Jackie (R) Good, but also overrated. Natalie Portman stars in this biography of Jacqueline Kennedy that pushes her husband (Casper Phillipson) to the periphery as it concentrates on her before, during, and after the president’s assassination. Director Pablo Larraín structures this unusually, giving it a free-associative, fantastical feel that distinguishes it from more conventional Hollywood biopics. Like the director’s Chilean films, this one focuses on how we project the image to the world that we need to, as Jackie keeps an eye on the public’s expectations of her even while dealing with her grief as she plans her husband’s funeral. However, Portman can’t help but show off how hard she’s working, and her distant presence makes this movie’s impact intellectual rather than emotional. Also with Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Richard E. Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Grant, Max Casella, and John Hurt.
La La Land (PG-13) Who needs antidepressants when there’s this movie? In the hands of writer-director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), this love story about an aspiring Hollywood actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) becomes a musical throwback to the likes of Singin’ in the Rain. Chazelle, choreographer Mandy Moore, and songwriters Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul make unabashedly romantic and technically astonishing set pieces out of numbers like “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd,” but Chazelle knows when to get out of his stars’ way, too. Gosling’s trademark cool is essential, but Stone makes the film deeply moving in her first great role in a great movie. This is enough to blow the doors off the multiplex. Also with John Legend, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothe, Finn Wittrock, Tom Everett Scott, Rosemarie DeWitt, and J.K. Simmons.
Lion (PG-13) An amazing real-life story gets a by-the-numbers treatment in this biopic. Dev Patel portrays Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family as a small boy in India and adopted by an Australian family, but then started an obsessive search for his birth relatives when he grew up. Sunny Pawar is a tremendous kid actor as the young Saroo, and cinematographer Greig Fraser creates some stunningly beautiful visuals like an early shot of young Saroo surrounded by butterflies in a valley. Patel is good, too, but director Garth Davis hammers home the emotional beats so relentlessly that the film wears out its welcome well before the end. Also with Rooney Mara, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, David Wenham, and Nicole Kidman.
Manchester by the Sea (R) Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me) is fully back in form with this crusher of a drama about a miserable Massachusetts janitor (Casey Affleck) who unexpectedly finds himself appointed legal guardian to his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) after the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler). This movie doesn’t reveal until halfway through what made the protagonist so morose, but Lonergan is savvy enough to counter the heavy stuff with comedy and lively small talk. Affleck and Michelle Williams as his ex-wife give tremendous performances, while the supporting cast is consistently good. Lonergan’s emphasis on the bonds of family helps end this movie on a much-needed hopeful note. Also with C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, Ben O’Brien, Tate Donovan, Heather Burns, Gretchen Mol, and Matthew Broderick.
Moana (PG) Not the most innovative Disney musical we’ve seen, but more than likable enough. Set on a Pacific island in the past, this is about a teenage girl (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) who defies her tribe’s orders and sails out into the wider ocean to find the trickster demi-god Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) and restore the balance to the waters. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid) stick so closely to the Disney template that you can predict where the song about the heroine’s deepest desires will land. Still, the 16-year-old Cravalho is funny and a fine singer, Johnson may just have the role of his career as the full-of-himself deity, and the songs are by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. This one’s for all the Polynesians. Additional voices by Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, and Jemaine Clement.
A Monster Calls (PG) This adaptation of Patrick Ness’ illustrated novel is derivative but still moving thanks largely to the efforts of its cast. Lewis MacDougall stars as a 13-year-old English boy who copes with his mother (Felicity Jones) dying by conjuring forth a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) from the yew tree in the local churchyard. Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) borrows heavily from Pan’s Labyrinth and doesn’t have Guillermo Del Toro’s eye for beauty, but he makes the monster properly scary, seems at home with the special effects shots, and adds watercolor-like splotches to the animated interludes that mimic the style of Jim Kay’s drawings for the book. MacDougall’s angry and uncute performance is supplemented by terrific turns by Jones and Sigourney Weaver as a flinty grandmother. They help the movie’s insights into grief feel hard-won. Also with James Melville, Toby Kebbell, and Geraldine Chaplin.
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.
Office Christmas Party (R) A lot of funny actors get packed into this office, and yet this party is much less fun than you’d think. T.J. Miller plays a branch manager of a data storage company who’s threatened with a shutdown by his CEO sister (Jennifer Aniston), so he has to team up with his best employees (Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn) to land a big-fish client (Courtney B. Vance) by throwing a lavish Christmas party. When the client accidentally gets a massive dose of cocaine, it lets the buttoned-up Vance play against type, but it’s still a stale piece of tomfoolery just like too much of the rest of this comedy. Everybody else is stuck in familiar grooves and seems to have been funnier in other movies. Also with Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Randall Park, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, Matt Walsh, Ben Falcone, Sam Richardson, Adrian Martinez, and Abbey Lee.
Passengers (PG-13) All the star charisma here can’t save a film that’s confused about what it’s supposed to be. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt play two passengers who are awakened too soon on a spaceship carrying them to a distant planet, doomed to grow old and die before they reach their destination. These two actors make as personable a pair as you’d want to spend two hours or a lifetime on spaceship with, but the romance between them is soft-boiled stuff filled with boring platitudes about how no one wants to be alone. The movie works rather better as a space thriller, but this 120-minute movie could have easily lost 30 minutes, as well as its terminally silly final shot. Also with Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Julee Cerda, and Andy Garcia.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PG-13) Conceptually flawed from the start. Set before the events of the 1977 Star Wars, this prequel stars Felicity Jones as a small-time criminal who joins the Rebels to rescue her father (Mads Mikkelsen) from the Empire’s clutches and find the fatal flaw in the Death Star. The movie lacks the visual and verbal wit of previous entries (save for the deadpan droid voiced by Alan Tudyk), the extended climax has too many moving parts for director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), and we can guess these characters’ ultimate fate without even seeing the thing. Even the reappearance of Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) doesn’t accomplish much. Some nice efforts by the cast get wasted. Also with Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whitaker.
Sing (PG) An uninspired mashup of Zootopia and Pitch Perfect. This animated film is about a koala (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) who decides to save the theater that he owns by staging a singing contest for the animals who live in his city. Writer-director Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow) spreads his script too thin by flitting among so many different characters, storylines, and songs that we can’t get a purchase on what’s going on. The koala isn’t interesting enough to hold the center, and the montage of failed auditioners is a golden comic opportunity that the movie speeds over. The final round features some nice musical performances by voice actors like Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, and Seth MacFarlane, but they come too late to save this. Additional voices by Taron Egerton, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz, Nick Kroll, Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah, Leslie Jones, Nick Offerman, Rhea Perlman, Laraine Newman, Jennifer Saunders, and Jennifer Hudson.
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.
Underworld: Blood Wars (R) Kate Beckinsale returns from the dead with more superpowers and the ends of her hair dyed white. Other than that, I can’t think why they bothered with this fifth installment of the vampires vs. werewolves series that was never very good to begin with. Once again, we get caught up in the interminable politics of the vampire and werewolf worlds, which leads to endless scenes with actors standing around declaiming huge chunks of bad dialogue while we wait for the next disappointing swordfight or gun battle. The Divergent series’ Theo James comes onboard as a tough male sidekick, which amounts to subtraction by addition. This series is drained. Also with Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Bradley James, Daisy Head, Clementine Nicholson, and Charles Dance.
Why Him? (R) James Franco slightly raises his natural James Francosity to portray an eccentric tech mogul with lots of tattoos and no boundaries, whose potential father-in-law (Bryan Cranston) is horrified when his daughter (Zoey Deutch) wants to marry this guy. This setup is too good not to raise a few hearty laughs, but the base material is weak, and these talented comic actors don’t rescue it often enough. Director/co-writer John Hamburg (I Love You, Man) is yet another comic filmmaker from the School of Apatow, and he’s one of the low achievers in that school. Save this for a weekday evening at home when you’re in dire need of a laugh. Also with Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Devine, Casey Wilson, Andrew Rannells, and Kaley Cuoco.
Arsenal (R) This thriller stars Johnathon Schaech as a man who must rescue his brother (Adrian Grenier) from the mob. Also with John Cusack, Lydia Hull, Heather Johansen, Carrie Jo Hubrich, and Nicolas Cage.