Darkest Hour (PG-13) This historical drama by Joe Wright (Atonement) stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, assuming the prime minister’s office at a time when Britain must decide whether to pursue war or peace with Nazi Germany. Also with Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Samuel West, and Hannah Steele. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Hollow in the Land (NR) Dianna Agron stars in this drama as a troubled woman searching for her missing brother. Also with Rachelle Lefevre, Shawn Ashmore, Jared Abrahamson, and Sarah Dugdale. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Just Getting Started (PG-13) The latest comedy by Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) stars Morgan Freeman as a retiree whose status as alpha-dog at his nursing home is threatened by a new arrival (Tommy Lee Jones). Also with René Russo, Joe Pantoliano, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Elizabeth Ashley, George Wallace, and the late Glenne Headly. (Opens Friday)
My Friend Dahmer (R) Marc Meyers adapts John Backderf’s memoir about knowing Jeffrey Dahmer when they were both in high school. Starring Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Vincent Kartheiser, Dallas Roberts, and Anne Heche. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
November Criminals (PG-13) Ansel Elgort stars in this thriller as a high-school troublemaker who investigates the murder of his classmate. Also with Chloë Grace Moretz, Danny Flaherty, Terry Kinney, Catherine Keener, and David Strathairn. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Pirates of Somalia (R) Based on a true story, this thriller stars Evan Peters as a novice journalist who, in 2008, seeks to embed himself with a group of Somali pirates. Also with Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith, Russell Posner, Coral Peña, and Barkhad Abdi. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Shape of Water (R) The latest fable by Guillermo Del Toro stars Sally Hawkins as a mute janitor in a secret government facility in the 1960s who falls in love with a captured merman (Doug Jones). Also with Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, and Richard Jenkins. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Wonder Wheel (PG-13) Woody Allen’s latest film stars Kate Winslet as a frustrated housewife in 1950s Coney Island who embarks on a disastrous affair. Also with Justin Timberlake, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Max Casella, and David Krumholtz. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.