The Belko Experiment (R) This horror film by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) is about 80 white-collar workers who are locked in their office tower and forced to murder one another. Starring John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Melonie Diaz, John C. McGinley, Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, David Dastmalchian, Adriana Arjona, Abraham Benrubi, and Gregg Henry. (Opens Friday)
Donald Cried (NR) It’s not about the president. Kris Avedisian co-stars in his own comedy about a man (Jesse Wakeman) who returns to his hometown for his grandmother’s funeral and becomes caught up in his past. Also with Ted Arcidi, Patrick Languzzi, Shawn Contois, Donny Fite, and Kate Fitzgerald. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Kiki (NR) Sara Jordenö’s documentary is about a group of LGBT teens trying to create a safe space in New York. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Badrinath Ki Dulhania (NR) This Indian musical stars Varun Dhawan as an obnoxious bro who becomes woke after he falls in love with a girl (Alia Bhatt) who’s determined to make her own way in the world before she gets married. Heaven knows that Indian society could use this message every bit as much as ours. This movie could have been oppressively message-y, but director Shashank Khaitan makes it all go down smoothly, his two leads have an easy rapport with each other, and the supporting cast brings great energy, especially Sahil Vaid as a best friend with a get-rich-and-married-quick scheme involving a matchmaking website. The musical numbers are lively, too. Also with Gauhar Khan, Shweta Prasad, Girish Karnad, Ritu Raj Singh, and Anuparna Kumar.
Before I Fall (PG-13) Zoey Deutch is better than this teen flick that she’s headlining. She portrays a popular girl in high school who gets into a car accident and has to relive the same day Groundhog Day-style until she is kind to everyone and gets her clique of friends to stop bullying the suicidal social outcast (Elena Kampouris) in their class. Deutch is quite good, especially when her Sisyphean predicament gets to her and she spends one day snapping at random people with a thousand-yard stare on her face. However, director Ry Russo-Young bogs down in the movie’s preachy message, taken from the preachier Lauren Oliver novel that it’s adapted from. A lighter touch would have served this movie better. Where’s the scene we always get in these movies where the main character tries to prove to someone else that she’s stuck in a time loop by predicting the future? Also with Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Medalion Rahimi, Cynthy Wu, Kian Lawley, Erica Tremblay, Liv Hewson, Diego Boneta, and Jennifer Beals.
A Dog’s Purpose (PG) Don’t boycott this movie because a dog was mistreated on the set, boycott it because it sucks. Based on W. Bruce Cameron’s novel, this softer-than-soft-boiled drama has Josh Gad providing the voiceover for a dog who gets reincarnated through several lifetimes and owners. All the drama is predictable in the extreme, and director Lasse Hallström bathes everything in a golden glow of dog love and nostalgia. The irony is that some years ago, Hallström did a much better movie on the subject called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. This shoddy piece of work is quite a comedown for a director who was nominated for an Oscar in this century. Spend a couple of hours watching puppy videos on YouTube instead. Starring Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa, John Ortiz, Luke Kirby, Logan Miller, Juliet Rylance, Peggy Lipton, and Dennis Quaid.
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.
Fifty Shades Darker (R) Let’s see, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) is still a creep, there’s still no chemistry between Dornan and Dakota Johnson, the sex scenes are still interminable, the back-and-forth negotiation about relationship boundaries is still even more so, and none of this is in any way dramatically effective yet. So, everything’s pretty much the same from Fifty Shades of Grey. Like the book it’s based on, this is soft-core porn, and it’s not even any good as that. Also with Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Marcia Gay Harden, and Kim Basinger.
Fist Fight (R) Oh, great, here’s 91 minutes of Charlie Day stuttering and dithering and bugging out his eyes. Somebody shoot me. Day stars in this depressing comedy as a milquetoasty English teacher who gets challenged to a bare-knuckle brawl by an enraged former fellow teacher (Ice Cube) on the last day of school. Day is sheer torture to be around as he spends an entire day trying to get out of the fight, but almost as painful is this movie’s depiction of the other teachers as slackers, psychopaths, drug addicts, and idiots. This movie will make you want to punch something, all right. Also with Christina Hendricks, Jillian Bell, Kumail Nanjiani, Dean Norris, Joanna Garcia Swisher, Dennis Haysbert, and Tracy Morgan.
Get Out (R) An early candidate for one of the best movies of 2017, this darkly funny horror film stars Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) as a young African-American man who travels with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her parents, only to find that black people never seem to leave the family’s gated community. In his directing debut, comedian Jordan Peele scores direct hits on white liberal racism in the Northeastern enclave where the movie’s set, and he knows how to scare us through the accretion of creepy detail. He’s aided by terrific performances from his cast, and fans of TV’s Girls will definitely see Williams in a new light. Horror movies haven’t historically been a haven for black filmmakers. Here’s one good enough to start a tradition. Also with Keith Stanfield, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Lil Rel Howery, Betty Gabriel, Marcus Henderson, Erika Alexander, and Stephen Root.
The Great Wall (PG-13) In the end, Matt Damon is just window dressing designed to get white people to see this mediocre Chinese creature feature set in medieval times. He plays a European mercenary who winds up fighting for China in a battle against an army of giant flesh-eating lizard monsters who attack the Great Wall. Damon may be the main character here, but he’s mainly there to be outsmarted, outfought, and outphilosophized by the Asian warriors around him. Maybe that’s why he looks so bored with all of this; it’s hard to remember the last time he gave such a bad performance. Director Zhang Yimou (Hero) continues to decline artistically, seeming uncomfortable with the CGI monsters. Also with Andy Lau, Jing Tian, Zhang Hanyu, Han Lu, Kenny Lin, Eddie Peng, Pedro Pascal, and Willem Dafoe.
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 orbit. 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.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (R) Just as stupid as the original, this sequel returns Keanu Reeves as a hit man who now has to fight off all the assassins in New York after an Italian mob boss (Riccardo Scamarcio) forces him out of retirement and then betrays him. Contract killers fire shots at each other and miss in crowded places all over New York, and yet somehow no bystanders are hit and the police are somewhere offscreen for the entire movie. There’s a nicely down-and-dirty street brawl between Wick and another killer (Common), but Reeves is too reliant here on the jujitsu move where he grabs people’s arms and flips them over, and while Ruby Rose is a nice addition as a deaf assassin, she’s not given enough to do. Like the original, this will look better excerpted on YouTube. Also with Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Claudia Gerini, Bridget Moynahan, Peter Stormare, Peter Serafinowicz, Thomas Sadoski, Lance Reddick, and Laurence Fishburne.
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.
The Lego Batman Movie (PG) Sing it with me: “Darkness! No parents!” The narcissistic poseur Batman from The Lego Movie (voiced by Will Arnett) here gets his own spinoff, where he’s left at a loose end after the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) turns himself into the authorities and leaves Gotham City with no more crime. The ratio of gags that score to filler isn’t quite as high as it was in the first Lego movie, but there are still more than a few great things here, including the gayest Robin ever (voiced by Michael Cera), the Joker recruiting a team of supervillains from other fantasy-adventure sagas, some expert jokes about the absurdities of the Batman universe, and a neat exploration of the superhero’s essential loneliness. This is way better than any of the recent live-action DC Comics movies. Additional voices by Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O’Brien, Hector Elizondo, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams, Riki Lindhome, Kate Micucci, Zoë Kravitz, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Mariah Carey, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill.
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.
Logan (R) Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine is 1) a Western, 2) a Latino film, and 3) way better than I expected. In a near-future dystopia, the once-fearsome superhero is now a gray-haired alcoholic who heals much slower and has to transport his long-lost daughter (Dafne Keen), a Mexican girl with his claws and raging temper, to safety. The R rating allows for much more brutal action sequences and pricklier banter between Logan and Prof. Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a gibbering old man who regains his lucidity when he finds another mutant to take care of. Westerns seem to fire the imagination of director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma), and he puts in all sorts of clever touches around the edges of this thing as well as a thematically apt reference to Shane. The excellent supporting cast provides a great setting for Jackman to shine in his last turn as this memorably flawed hero. Also with Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq LaSalle, Elise Neal, Quincy Fouse, and Richard E. Grant.
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.
Rock Dog (PG) Very little of import happens in this animated comedy about a guitar-strumming dog (voiced by Luke Wilson) who wants to be a rock star when he has a fateful encounter with a British-accented rock-star cat (voiced by Eddie Izzard) who’s having trouble with the mob. This thing is too dull to be truly terrible, but the least you’d expect are some nice songs. Songs are forthcoming, performed by singers who are different from the actors, but those are every bit as forgettable as the rest of the movie. This is the cinematic equivalent of elevator music. Additional voices by J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Sam Elliott, and Matt Dillon.
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.
The Shack (PG-13) Sam Worthington continues to be a wretched actor at the center of this Christian drama as a man from a tortured background who’s coping with the aftermath of his daughter’s abduction and murder by receiving a visit from God (Octavia Spencer), taking the form of a kindly childhood neighbor. Time stops during the meeting, and so does the movie’s plot as we get more than two hours of calming salve for all of the main character’s many psychic wounds. Spencer is a properly God-like presence, but director Stuart Hazeldine can’t convey God’s grace in anything but the cheesiest terms, and his wooden lead actor keeps losing the handle on his American accent. It’s a pretty bad time all around. Also with Radha Mitchell, Alice Braga, Megan Charpentier, Amélie Eve, Avraham Aviv Alush, Sumire, Graham Greene, and Tim McGraw.
Split (PG-13) Some of the worst and a lot of the best of M. Night Shyamalan are on display in his latest thriller. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) stars as one of three teenage girls who are kidnapped by a man with multiple personalities (James McAvoy) and imprisoned for mysterious purposes. The supernatural twist ending is way crazier than the villain, but Shyamalan executes slow-burn dread as well as ever and induces shivers during the interpolated flashbacks to the heroine’s childhood. The performances make gripping stuff out of scenes where the heroine tries to figure out which of the villain’s personalities she’s talking to and get some of them to help her and her friends. The comic bits mostly work, too. Shyamalan’s tales seem to creep us out best on a small scale. Also with Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Sebastian Arcelus, Brad William Henke, Neal Huff, Betty Buckley, and an uncredited Bruce Willis.
Table 19 (PG-13) Anna Kendrick and a supporting cast of mismatched parts conspire to lift this modestly enjoyable comedy. Kendrick plays a woman who goes to her best friend’s wedding despite withdrawing as the maid of honor after being dumped by the best man. She’s exiled to a far table with a battling married couple (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), a convicted felon (Stephen Merchant), a pot-smoking old lady (June Squibb), and a virginal teen (Tony Revolori). The hijinks that these not-really-wanted wedding guests get up to is reasonably entertaining, and so is Kendrick’s turn as a woman who’s trying and failing to keep it together. However, director Jeffrey Blitz loses serious steam in the back half when things turn serious and everybody’s issues get plumbed. This would have been better if it had been directed by the screenwriters, Jay and Mark Duplass. Also with Wyatt Russell, Amanda Crew, Maria Thayer, Thomas Cocquerel, and Margo Martindale.
A United Kingdom (PG-13) This movie popped up on a few British film critics’ top 10 lists last year, when it was released in that country. I figure homerism had more to do with it than the actual content of this dramatization of how Botswana earned its independence from the U.K. after Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) fell in love with and married a white Englishwoman named Ruth WIlliams (Rosamund Pike) in 1947, sparking an international incident. This is a great story about how an interracial romance wound up changing the map of Africa, but in the hands of director Amma Asante (Belle), the love affair blows up out of nowhere and the white British officials emerge as pantomime villains as they try to break up the couple and keep the country under heel. Oyelowo does some good work as a monarch trying to juggle political rivalries with his love life, but he can’t elevate this high-minded but overly thin affair. Also with Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Terry Pheto, Arnold Oceng, Jack Lowden, Vusi Kunene, and Jessica Oyelowo.
Brimstone (R) Dakota Fanning stars in this Western as a young woman being stalked by her community’s violent new preacher (Guy Pearce). Also with Kit Harington, Paul Anderson, Adrian Sparks, Emilia Jones, Ivy George, Carla Juri, and Carice van Houten.
Kedi (NR) The title is the Turkish word for “cat.” Ceyda Torun’s documentary interviews ordinary people in Istanbul about their relationship with the city’s stray cats.
Land of Mine (R) Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, Martin Zandvliet’s post-World War II drama stars Roland Møller as a Danish sergeant who oversees a group of German P.O.W.’s who are forced to work as minesweepers on a Danish beach. Also with Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Oskar Bökelsmann, Mads Riisom, Laura Bro, and Zoe Zandvliet.
The Last Word (R) Shirley MacLaine stars in this dramedy as an elderly control freak who hires a young journalist (Amanda Seyfried) to write her obituary in advance. Also with Ann’Jewel Lee, Thomas Sadoski, Philip Baker Hall, Gedde Watanabe, Tom Everett Scott, Yvette Freeman, Steven Culp, Todd Louiso, and Anne Heche.