A Bad Idea Gone Wrong (NR) Filmed in Fort Worth, Jason Headley’s comedy is about two novice criminals (Matt Jones and Will Rogers) who try to rob a rich person’s house. Also with Eleanore Pienta, Jonny Mars, and Sam Eidson. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Breadwinner (PG-13) This Irish animated film is about an Afghan girl (voiced by Saara Chaudry) who disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family. Additional voices by Laara Sadiq, Shaista Latif, Ali Badshah, Noorin Gulamgaus, and Kawa Ada. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Kepler’s Dream (NR) This film stars Isabella Blake-Thomas as an 11-year-old girl who tries to discover why her family is fractured the way it is. Also with Kelly Lynch, Kelly Hu, Holland Taylor, and Sean Patrick Flanery. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Love Beats Rhymes (R) Azealia Banks stars in this drama as an aspiring rapper who enrolls in a poetry class. Also with Jill Scott, Lucien Laviscount, Hana Mae Lee, Lorraine Toussaint, John David Washington, Method Man, and Common. (Opens Friday)
The Swindlers (NR) This highly entertaining caper flick stars Hyun Bin as a novice Korean con artist who swindles other thieves and crooked politicians on his way to gaining ultimate revenge on a billionaire (Heo Sung-tae) who ran a Ponzi scheme and is now hiding out in Thailand. While hunting down the shadowy billionaire, we get some satisfying business with the antihero teaming up with a bent prosecutor (Yoo Ji-tae) and a gang of jewel thieves running little cons within the bigger con. All the double crosses and hidden motives will keep you guessing and following the action sequences. Also with Bae Seong-woo, Park Sung-woong, Nana, Ahn Se-ha, and Jung Jin-young,
Tad the Lost Explorer and the Kingdom of Midas (PG) This Spanish-language animated film is about an intrepid explorer (voiced by Óscar Barbarán) caught up in a search for King Midas’ necklace. Additional voices by Michelle Jenner, Adriana Ugarte, Luis Posada, and MIguel Ángel Jenner. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Tom of Finland (NR) This Finnish biography stars Pekka Strang as a war veteran who returns home from World War II and counters his country’s persecution of gay men through his art. Also with Lauri Tilkanen, Jessica Grabowsky, Taisto Oksanen, Seumas Sargent, Jakob Oftebro, and Niklas Hogner. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
24 Hours to Live (NR) Ethan Hawke stars in this thriller as a hit man given a second chance at life. Also with Paul Anderson, Nathalie Boltt, Liam Cunningham, Xu Qing, and Rutger Hauer. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
American Made (R) The latest Tom Cruise movie is slickly entertaining without ever quite feeling like there’s anything at stake. He portrays Barry Seal, the real-life Louisiana pilot who started running guns for the CIA and drugs for Pablo Escobar while working as an informant for the DEA in the 1980s. Director Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) does all this up with his customary verve and energy, and Cruise is far better cast as a shifty antihero than as an action hero at this point. This thing could have used better performances from the supporting cast, but it won’t make you feel like it wasted your time. Also with Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones, Lola Kirke, Jayma Mays, Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejia, Robert Farrior, Benito Martinez, and Mickey Sumner.
A Bad Moms Christmas (R) The comic inventiveness of Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn is still fresh here, which is good, because this sequel following 16 months on the original’s heels has pretty much the same plot, with the moms rebelling against all the work they’re expected to do for the holidays. The thesis is laid out baldly and the different plotlines all follow the same track at the same time, but we do get Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon as the moms’ moms. Hines gives a creeptastic performance as a mother whose clinginess hits stalker levels, and Hahn gets the funniest set piece as a spa worker waxing the genitals of a gigantically endowed male stripper (Justin Hartley). Kenny G cameos as himself and says, “It’s not a flute, bitch.” All in all, these moms make a fine holiday guest. Also with Peter Gallagher, Jesse Hernandez, Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony, Ariana Greenblatt, Wanda Sykes, and Christina Applegate.
Coco (PG) Pixar finds new life in its first musical. This Mexican-set animated film is about a 12-year-old boy (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) who becomes trapped in the land of the dead on Día de los Muertos and has to get a blessing from a great musician ancestor (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) to return to the world of the living. Like 2014’s The Book of Life, this movie depicts the afterlife as a lit-up version of Mexico City, with the houses stacked on the steep sides of the surrounding mountains, but this film expands on the earlier work with some breathtaking visuals, including a bridge to the afterlife that’s a giant structure made of glowing marigold petals. The adult actors, not known as singers, make a good fist of the music, but Gonzalez steals away the show with his renditions of “The World Es Mi Familia” and “Proud Corazón.” Immersed in the culture of Mexico, this is a unique Pixar triumph. Additional voices by Gael García Bernal, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Alanna Ubach, Cheech Marin, Edward James Olmos, Gabriel Iglesias, and John Ratzenberger.
Daddy’s Home 2 (PG-13) Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg return for the sequel to the 2015 comedy as a stepfather and biological father who prepare for a Christmas with their own fathers (John Lithgow and Mel Gibson). Also with Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, and John Cena.
The Foreigner (R) Though this is set in the U.K., it plays more like a Hong Kong thriller. Jackie Chan stars as a half-Vietnamese businessman in London whose teenage daughter (Katie Leung) is killed in a terrorist bombing and targets a Northern Ireland deputy minister (Pierce Brosnan) with IRA ties. Chan looks old and slow by design here, and the movie shows his character relying more on tactics and technical expertise than straight-up fighting skills as he makes bombs, sets wilderness traps, and demonstrates other talents that were clearly wasted running a Chinese restaurant. Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) does reasonably well sorting through the different subplots here and making this watchable. Also with Charlie Murphy, Rory Fleck Byrne, Orla Brady, Rufus Jones, Dermot Crowley, Ray Fearon, Niall McNamee, Lia Williams, and Michael McElhatton.
It (R) A horror movie that’s everything you’d want, except scary. Based on Stephen King’s novel, this movie is about a group of kids in Maine (where else?) in the 1980s who band together against the scary clown (Bill Skarsgård) who has been murdering kids in their small town for decades. Argentinian director Andrés Muschietti (Mama) pulls off some sequences with great flair and gets some terrific performances from Jaeden Lieberher as the ringleader with a speech impediment and Sophia Lillis as the lone girl in the group. He also elicits commendable cinematography by Chung Chung-hoon and music by Benjamin Wallfisch, and the comic relief here is actually funny. Still, the clown’s antics don’t crawl under your skin like they should, and the whole affair lapses into regrettable sentimentality near the end. Also with Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Rae Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Finn Wolfhard.
Justice League (PG-13) Joss Whedon got brought in for rewrites and reshoots on this superhero omnibus film, which bears an all-too-close and unflattering resemblance to his The Avengers. Batman and Wonder Woman (Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot) team up and recruit some new superheroes to battle an impending alien invasion by a frightfully dull supervillain named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). Whedon injects a welcome sense of humor that particularly benefits Ezra Miller as an endearingly gawky The Flash, but it jars with the somber seriousness of director Zack Snyder. Characters are given unrewarding subplots and an A-list supporting cast gets wasted in a way that Marvel films would never stand for. Without a radical rethink, DC Comics’ movies are doomed to be second-best. Also with Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, and an uncredited Billy Crudup.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (R) Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is back from the dead, which seems to encapsulate everything that’s wrong with this sequel. Taron Egerton returns as the British secret agent who must team up with his American colleagues after a drug lord (Julianne Moore) kills most of his fellow Kingsmen. Director Matthew Vaughn has lost none of his flair for an action sequence, Egerton holds the center effortlessly, and Moore is a delight playing the supervillain as a demure Betty Crocker housewife with a 1950s fetish and legitimate points about the War on Drugs. Yet these too often get lost amid the movie’s myriad plotlines. This overstuffed, overlong affair shamefully wastes Jeff Bridges and Channing Tatum as American agents. The parts where Eggsy tries to get the amnesiac Harry to remember his old self are the weakest, and the movie would have been better off letting Harry stay dead. Also with Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Hanna Alström, Pedro Pascal, Edward Holcroft, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Sophie Cookson, Poppy Delevingne, Michael Gambon, and Elton John.
Lady Bird (PG) Saoirse Ronan blows through this teen flick with gale force as a fiercely independent Catholic school girl who nicknames herself “Lady Bird.” In her solo filmmaking debut, Greta Gerwig creates a great character and observes well the details of Catholic school and the pressures of growing up in a financially strapped family. The film probably could have used a somewhat stronger story, as the difficult relationship between Lady Bird and her well-intentioned but mystified mom (Laurie Metcalf) doesn’t come to enough of a point. Still, it’s worth it just to see Ronan react to a breakup by tearfully singing along to “Crash Into Me,” or running down the street after her first kiss and screaming with joy. This may not be among the greatest teen films, but Ronan makes it enthralling at all times. Also with Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Tracy Letts, Odeya Rush, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Lois Smith.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (PG) Dan Stevens overacts rather badly in this biography of Charles Dickens and the manic few weeks he spent writing A Christmas Carol. As the author writes, the characters in the story come to life in front of him, and the main reason to see this is Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge. Other than that, this movie is a bald-faced attempt to be a Victorian version of Shakespeare in Love, carried out without half the wit and with a forced air of “we’re having fun now” giving way to hopeless cliches about writers. This movie deserves to be boiled in its own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through its heart. Also with Morfydd Clark, Justin Edwards, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Bill Paterson, Donald Sumpter, Ely Solan, and Ian McNeice.
Marshall (PG-13) The best legal thriller this year stars Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall in a story taken from the future Supreme Court justice’s early career, when he defended a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) against a rape charge by his employer (Kate Hudson). Of all the square biopics that he’s headlined, this one is the best showcase for Boseman. Even though the story robs him of the chance for florid courtroom theatrics, the star projects his subject’s quiet, relentless determination nevertheless. The direction by Reginald Hudlin (House Party) is old-fashioned but mostly solid, and Boseman is supported by nice turns from Josh Gad as a white lawyer whose internal crusader for racial justice is awakened and Dan Stevens as an entitled prosecutor. Also with James Cromwell, Keesha Sharp, Roger Guenveur Smith, John Magaro, Ahna O’Reilly, and Jussie Smollett.
Murder on the Orient Express (PG-13) Kenneth Branagh’s star-studded adaptation of Agatha Christie’s mystery novel starts like gangbusters before fading. The director portrays the great detective, trying to solve the murder of a passenger (Johnny Depp) in a luxury train that’s stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Branagh dexterously plays the detective’s borderline anal retentiveness and love of dainty French pastries for comedy, but the movie still misses the fussy, unshowy Poirot from Christie’s novels, and it botches the ending, too. Still, the director comes up with some good flourishes, Michael Green’s script neatly turns around some of the book’s offensive racial stereotyping, and the acting honors get stolen away by Michelle Pfeiffer as a randy American widow hiding some iron determination underneath. Also with Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr., Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton, Sergei Polunin, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Josh Gad, Olivia Colman, Marwan Kenzari, Derek Jacobi, and Penélope Cruz.
My Little Pony: The Movie (PG) The voice talent in the cast of this musical animated movie might lead you to believe that this might be good. Don’t be fooled, though, because this is every bit as slapdash and dumb as you’d expect a movie based on a beloved line of toys to be. When a fallen unicorn (voiced by Emily Blunt) invades the ponies’ homeland and takes it over for an overlord (voiced by Liev Schreiber), the kingdom’s remaining princess (voiced by Tara Strong) has to lead a small party to save the kingdom. If you’re new to the whole Pony universe, you’ll be hopelessly lost as to which pony is which. Even if you’re not, the songs by Daniel Ingram and Michael Vogel evaporate instantly from your mind while they’re being sung. For all the time that’s been put into this, it feels like a cynical cash-in, and not a terribly smart one at that. Additional voices by Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, Taye Diggs, Uzo Aduba, Kristin Chenoweth, Michael Peña, Zoe Saldana, and Sia.
Novitiate (R) Margaret Qualley stars in this drama as a young woman who resolves on becoming a Catholic nun during the social and doctrinal upheaval of the early 1960s. Also with Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron, Liana Liberato, Morgan Saylor, Maddie Hasson, Ashley Bell, and Denis O’Hare.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (PG-13) Denzel Washington does tremendous work as a broke small-time criminal defense lawyer and civil-rights activist on the autism spectrum who is tempted to sell out all the ideals he once fought for. Too bad this preachy, rickety vehicle is worthy of neither the character nor the performance. Tony Gilroy (Nightcrawler) sticks this fascinating, maladjusted, brilliant personage in the middle of a dull, boilerplate legal thriller about an attorney facing a Faustian bargain. The thing isn’t terrible, but you can’t help thinking that Gilroy’s brother Dan did this same story much better in Michael Clayton. Also with Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Amanda Warren, Lynda Gravatt, Tony Plana, DeRon Horton, Amari Cheatom, and Esperanza Spalding.
The Star (PG) A lot of starry names have been gathered together for this utterly toothless animated film about a donkey (voiced by Steven Yeun) in Biblical times who has to act so that Joseph and Mary (voiced by Zachary Levi and Gina Rodriguez) can celebrate the first Christmas. Directing his first feature film, Timothy Reckart fails on simple animation tasks like giving the characters weight and dimension, and the jokes and dialogue in the script are distractingly modern. Needless to say, moments of wonder like the annunciation fall painfully flat. What a waste of a good cast. Additional voices by Oprah Winfrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Tyler Perry, Tracy Morgan, Ving Rhames, Patricia Heaton, Kris Kristofferson, Anthony Anderson, Gabriel Iglesias, Aidy Bryant, Keegan-Michael Key, Mariah Carey, and Christopher Plummer.
Thor: Ragnarok (PG-13) A grand comic showcase for Oceania’s funniest filmmaker. Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) takes over the Marvel comics series and concocts a story that strands Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on an alien planet, enslaved as a gladiator, and needing to get back to Asgard to prevent the destruction of his world by his disowned elder sister (Cate Blanchett). Hemsworth carries this comedy exceptionally well, playing well of his plethora of supporting actors and no longer having to serve as a fish out of water on Earth. Waititi’s playful mood loosens up the entire cast and turns the alien planet into a funny dystopia, and the director also shows up as an alien warrior whose fearsome appearance belies his bashful temperament. The least interesting of Marvel’s series explodes joyously to life with this shaggy and enormously likable film. Also with Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Rachel House, Zachary Levi, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Hemsworth, Sam Neill, and an uncredited Matt Damon.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (R) The great movie that Martin McDonagh seemed to have in him the whole time. The acclaimed playwright has often written about small towns in his native Ireland, but in his third film, he puts that talent to use drawing an American small town that’s ripped apart when a murder victim’s mother (Frances McDormand, giving a master class in slow-burning rage) rents out three billboards to criticize the police department and the dying police chief (Woody Harrelson). McDonagh provides well for a large ensemble cast and turns the screws of escalating violence quite well, especially in regards to a racist cop (Sam Rockwell) who earns a half-measure of redemption in an unlikely yet plausible way. The most piercing thing is the three suicide notes that the chief leaves behind, which reach a heartbreaking pitch of eloquence. Also with Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Zeljko Ivanek, Clarke Peters, Samara Weaving, John Hawkes, and Peter Dinklage.
Victoria and Abdul (PG-13) Stephen Frears’ drama details the real-life friendship between an elderly Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and a young Indian clerk (Ali Fazal). Also with Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, and Michael Gambon.
Wonder (PG) R.J. Palacio’s children’s book gets a soft-boiled movie adaptation starring Jacob Tremblay (Room) as a boy with a deformed face who must cope with going to middle school with a general population of kids. The movie is told from both the boy’s perspective and those of his overshadowed older sister (Izabela Vidovic) and a fellow student (Noah Jupe). Director/co-writer Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) puts in a nifty sequence when two of the boys bond over their love of Minecraft, but he and his fellow writers can’t resist softening up any character who might seem in any way unsympathetic, and none of the cast (including Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as the protagonist’s parents) seems to bring their best. This isn’t as good as Wonderstruck, or Wonder Woman, for that matter. Also with Mandy Patinkin, Millie Davis, Bryce Gheisar, Daveed Diggs, and Sonia Braga.
Last Flag Flying (R) Richard Linklater’s newest film is this adaptation of Darryl Ponicsan’s novel about three Vietnam War veterans (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne) who take a road trip to bury one of their sons, a Marine killed in the Iraq invasion. Also with J. Quinton Johnson, Deanna Reed-Foster, Yul Vazquez, Graham Wolfe, and Cicely Tyson.