Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds (NR) Ha Jung-woo stars in this Korean fantasy film as a fireman who dies in the line of duty and is guided through the afterlife towards reincarnation. Also with Cha Tae-hyun, Ju Ji-hun, Kim Hyang-gi, Lee Jung-jae, Do Kyung-soo, Ma Dong-seok, Kim Ha-neul, and Oh Dal-su. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Day of the Dead: Bloodline (R) A group of survivors in an underground bunker seek a cure in a world overrun by zombies. Starring Sophie Skelton, Johnathon Schaech, Jeff Gum, Marcus Vanco, Mark Rhino Smith, Lillian Blankenship, Shari Watson, and Rachel O’Meara. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Hostiles (R) This Western by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) stars Christian Bale as a Native American-hating Army officer who’s forced to escort an aged Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) back to his native land to die. Also with Rosamund Pike, Timothée Chalamet, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Scott Shepherd, David Midthunder, Bill Camp, Stephen Lang, and Q’orianka Kilcher. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Insidious: The Last Key (PG-13) Lin Shaye reprises her role as a parapsychologist forced to confront a haunting in her own family’s house. Also with Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, and Josh Stewart. (Opens Friday)
Namiya (NR) Based on Keigo Higashino’s novel Miracles of the Namiya General Store, this Chinese film stars Jackie Chan as a businessman who sees his grocery store become a time portal. Also with Dong Zijian, Wang Junkai, Karry Wang, Dilraba, Lee Hong-Chi, Hao Lei, Chen Duling, Qin Hao, and Pan Binlong. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Post (PG-13) Steven Spielberg’s historical drama is about Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) as they work to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Also with Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie, Matthew Rhys, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, and Bruce Greenwood. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Stratton (R) Dominic West stars in this thriller as a British Special Boat Service commando tracking a terrorist cell. Also with Austin Stowell, Gemma Chan, Connie Nielsen, Thomas Kretschmann, Tom Felton, Tyler Hoechlin, and Derek Jacobi. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
All the Money in the World (R) They successfully excised Kevin Spacey from this movie, but it has issues well beyond recasting his part. This drama about the real-life 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) stars Michelle Williams as the teenager’s mother, who must team up with an ex-CIA spy in Getty’s employ (Mark Wahlberg) to recover him after the boy’s billionaire grandfather (now played by Plummer’s real-life grandfather, Christopher Plummer) announces he won’t pay the ransom. It’s a tribute to the actors that you’d never guess so many scenes were reshot under a tight schedule, but director Ridley Scott indulges in puzzling flashbacks as well as portentous asides about the nature of extreme wealth, and just takes forever to get to the point. Also with Romain Duris, Marco Leonardi, Andrew Buchan, and Timothy Hutton.
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.
Darkest Hour (PG-13) Faint praise: This is the best movie about Winston Churchill ever made. I’m afraid this World War II drama doesn’t deserve any more than that. Gary Oldman plays the British politician, a brilliant failure until he’s handed the prime minister’s office at a time when other people don’t want the job. He then has to decide whether to have Britain fight on alone against the Nazis or salvage an army trapped at Dunkirk by suing for peace. Oldman is being widely touted for the Oscar here, and while his depiction of Churchill’s grave self-doubts is good enough, he isn’t surprising in any way. Neither is the typically dull direction by Joe Wright (Atonement), and there’s a fabricated scene with Churchill on a train that’s so fake it would take down a much better movie than this. Also with Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane, Samuel West, David Bamber, and David Strathairn.
The Disaster Artist (R) James Franco finds the role he was born to play in Tommy Wiseau, the real-life director and star of the legendarily bad 2003 film The Room, in this daffy, loving account of the making of that camp classic. Dave Franco portrays Greg Sestero, a painfully inhibited actor who befriends Tommy, moves with him to L.A., co-stars in The Room, and bears witness to Tommy’s madness on set. The actors portraying the cast members of The Room (including Ari Graynor, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, and Jacki Weaver) clearly have a blast re-enacting the original movie’s nonsensical scenes, but this film turns on the unlikely friendship between Tommy and Greg. Dave makes an excellent straight man to his brother, who duplicates Wiseau’s indecipherable accent and mannerisms and also projects the torment of a man puzzled by the world’s inability to understand him. It all makes for a charming buddy comedy that will appeal even to people who’ve never heard of The Room. Also with Alison Brie, Seth Rogen, Paul Scheer, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress, Charlyne Yi, Randall Park, Zoey Deutch, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, and uncredited cameos by Judd Apatow, Zach Braff, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bryan Cranston, and Greg Sestero.
Downsizing (R) Alexander Payne’s most frustrating film takes place in a near future when middle-class people have the option of shrinking themselves down to five inches tall so that they can live like rich people in their miniaturized state. Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor come up with myriad interesting ideas from this (satirizing economic inequality, consumerism, the refugee crisis, and mid-life crisis stories), but they keep bouncing from one thought to another without ever following through. Matt Damon stars as a Nebraska native who goes through the process, but he’s trapped in what turns out to be yet another story where the white guy learns that there’s injustice in the world and decides to help benighted people of color out of it. This movie winds up looking smaller than any of its characters. Also with Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Jason Sudeikis, James Van Der Beek, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Margo Martindale, Niecy Nash, Rolf Lassgård, Ingjerd Egeberg, Udo Kier, and Kristen Wiig.
Father Figures (R) Why did they bother with this? Why did Owen Wilson and Ed Helms bother showing up for this limp comedy about two brothers who go on a road trip to find their biological father, when they contribute nothing of note to the proceedings? Why did a supporting cast full of Oscar winners and nominees think this would be a good idea? Why did the filmmakers wind this up with such a wet firecracker of a revelation for the ending? Why did I bother showing up to the theater to watch this? Also with Glenn Close, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, Terry Bradshaw, Ving Rhames, Katt Williams, Katie Aselton, and June Squibb.
Ferdinand (PG) Munro Leaf’s children’s book deserved better than this flavorless animated film about a massive Spanish bull (voiced by John Cena) who doesn’t want to fight but, because of mistaken identity, gets thrown in with other bulls destined for the ring. The animal characters are cute, but the script can’t make Ferdinand’s pacifism into something funny or dramatically meaningful. The jokes don’t work, either, and Cena (who can be terribly funny when he’s allowed to cut loose) is hamstrung by the PG rating. Your kids will find this watchable, but you won’t find it any more than that. Additional voices by Bobby Cannavale, Lily Day, Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, David Tennant, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, Raúl Esparza, Juanes, and Peyton Manning.
The Greatest Showman (PG) Much like its subject, a thoroughgoing fraud. Hugh Jackman stars in this musical biography of P.T. Barnum as he founds a circus in Manhattan. The film relentlessly whitewashes Barnum, presenting him as an enlightened soul who puts performers of color on stage and wants to transport his audiences to a better world for a while. In reality, the historical Barnum was a crook who paraded his racial “grotesques” for white audiences to gawk at. Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land) don’t come up with a single good song, and first-time director Michael Gracey strains mightily but can’t get any of these musical numbers to take flight. It’s a particularly bad time to glorify a big-talking con artist willing to racially exploit his performers for his customers’ money. Also with Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seeley, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Rebecca Ferguson.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (PG-13) For better and worse, this feels like it was made in 1993. The sequel to the 24-year-old adventure film finds that the titular board game has morphed into a video game, which is then found in the present day by four bored teenagers who promptly get transformed into their game avatars (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan) and sucked into the game’s world. The action sequences are fair and the movie only becomes unwatchable once it stops for these characters to work out their high-school issues. The little kids will be reasonably diverted for a couple of hours, but the main audience for this figures to be their parents nostalgic for the ’90s. Now when do we get the remake of Zathura? Also with Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Rhys Darby, Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, and an uncredited Colin Hanks.
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.
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 Liquidator (NR) A fantastic premise gets marred by its execution in this Chinese cop thriller about a disgraced detective (Deng Chao) tracking a Jigsaw-like serial killer (Ethan Juan) who targets people who have been shamed on the internet and devises elaborate, gruesome, extremely public deaths for them. Writer-director Xu Jizhou does well by the procedural elements but can’t resist shoehorning in sentimental interludes designed to humanize the bastard of a protagonist. Juan does make an effectively scary villain, and there’s a deliciously clever late plot twist that allows the detective to smoke out the killer. Still, this story could be profitably remade in Japan or South Korea or here to really tease out the implications of the story. Also with Cecilia Liu, Karena Lam, Guo Jingfei, and Vicky Chen.
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.
Pitch Perfect 3 (PG-13) I’d much rather see this series continue with a new group of singers than see it end. This third installment gets credit for realizing that the current group is exhausted and needs to move on with their lives, but I wish it hadn’t done that via a cheesy action-thriller plot involving Fat Amy’s shady business mogul dad (John Lithgow). The subplot with the group trying to impress DJ Khaled (who portrays himself) on a USO tour doesn’t yield anything good, either. Rebel Wilson breaks out some martial-arts moves we didn’t know she had, Ruby Rose shows off her singing voice as a rival rocker, and Anna Kendrick’s voice goes nuclear on her send-off song “Freedom ’90.” Still, the series needs new blood and perhaps a rethink. Also with Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Chrissie Fit, John Michael Higgins, and Elizabeth Banks.
The Shape of Water (R) Not one of Guillermo Del Toro’s best, this science-fiction fable nevertheless deserves to be on the same shelf. Sally Hawkins stars as a mute but not deaf janitor who falls in love with an Amazon River god (Doug Jones) being held captive at the secret government facility where she works. This film is set in America but feels oddly French thanks to Del Toro’s whimsical mood and Alexandre Desplat’s music. There’s an interspecies sex scene here and, even more exotically, a dance number, and the film is as besotted with old movies as it is with fairy tale romances. The exceptionally plain-faced Hawkins more than merits a showcase like this, and she vibrates with grace and loneliness that’s lit up by unexpected love. This tender love story suffers from a one-dimensional villain (Michael Shannon, who’s very scary anyway), but you’d be churlish not to recognize this film’s immense craft and surpassing beauty. Also with Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nick Searcy, David Hewlett, Nigel Bennett, Morgan Kelly, and Richard Jenkins.
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.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (PG-13) Rian Johnson (Looper) picks up the saga with Finn (John Boyega) teaming up with a mechanic (Kelly Marie Tran) on a stealth mission to keep the Resistance alive while Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to coax an embittered Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) back to the fight. As screenwriter, Johnson stuffs this thing with plot developments and can’t always manage them all gracefully as the director. However, there are salutary touches everywhere, including deeper characterization of the conflicted villain (Adam Driver), some welcome dopey humor, and a purple-haired Laura Dern displaying a different and extremely feminine style of leadership without losing anything in authority. There’s also some neat extraterrestrial flora and fauna and a climactic battle sequence on a salt planet that manages to be beautiful as well as dramatic. It’s enough to keep even the non-fans on board for the ninth chapter. Also with Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Benicio Del Toro, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, Justin Theroux, Billie Lourd, and the late Carrie Fisher.
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.
Tiger Zinda Hai (NR) Pretty much everything you’d expect from an Indian action-thriller: exotic foreign locations, characters narrowly escaping death every 10 minutes, handsome men striding purposefully toward the camera holding machine guns while explosions go off behind them. Salman Khan reprises his role from Ek tha Tiger as an Indian secret agent who faked his own death along with a rival Pakistani agent (Katrina Kaif) so they could start a family together. They’re called out of retirement when Muslim terrorists storm a hospital in Iraq and take a bunch of Indian and Pakistani nurses as hostages. Also with Anupriya Goenka, Paresh Rawal, Sajjad Delafrooz, Angad Bedi, and Zachary Coffin.
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.
Youth (NR) This Chinese epic sure looks smart, but look closer. The story takes place among the performing artists with a military troupe in the late 1970s, as their lives, loves, betrayals, and heartbreaks play out against the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution and the Sino-Vietnamese War. Director Feng Xiaogang (I Am Not Madame Bovary) has a great touch with both the dance performances and the combat sequences in the war, but the story by screenwriter Yan Geling is treacly and overly suffused with nostalgia for the time in which she grew up. The dance performances, at least, keep this watchable. Starring Huang Xuan, Miao Miao, Zhong Chuxi, Yang Caiyu, Li Xiaofeng, Wang Tianchen, Wang Keru, and Suiyuan.
Call Me by Your Name (R) Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age romance stars Timothée Chalamet as a 17-year-old boy who falls for an older man (Armie Hammer) during a summer in Italy in the 1980s. Also with Michael Stuhlbarg, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, and Amira Casar.
I, Tonya (R) This biography of infamous Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding stars Margot Robbie. Also with Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson, Mckenna Grace, Bojana Novakovic, Paul Walter Hauser, and Caitlin Carver.
The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (NR) Yuen Wo-ping directs this Chinese martial-arts film about a group of misfit fighters who battle space aliens. Starring Dong Chengpeng, Ni Ni, Aarif Lee, Zhou Dongyu, and Wu Bai.