Acts of Violence (R) This action-thriller stars Ashton Holmes as an ex-military man who teams up with a detective (Bruce Willis) after his fiancée is kidnapped by sex traffickers. Also with Cole Hauser, Shawn Ashmore, Melissa Bolona, Sean Brosnan, Mike Epps, and Sophia Bush. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Ballad of Lefty Brown (R) Bill Pullman stars in this Western as a gunslinger who seeks revenge when his friend (Peter Fonda) is murdered. Also with Joe Anderson, Diego Josef, Jim Caviezel, and Kathy Baker. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Commuter (PG-13) Liam Neeson stars in this thriller as a train passenger forced to participate in criminal acts during his trip home. Also with Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Florence Pugh, Roland Møller, and Sam Neill. (Opens Friday)
Agnyaathavaasi (NR) Kawan Palyan stars in this Indian thriller as a corporate heir who works undercover for his family’s firm to solve his father’s murder. Also with Keerthi Suresh, Anu Emmanuel, Boman Irani, Aadhi Pinisetty, Kushboo, Venkatesh, and Anirudh Ravichander.
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.
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.
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.
Insidious: The Last Key (PG-13) I think I’ve had it with all these PG-13-rated horror franchises with mythologies that are even more involved than the Star Wars saga. The knotty story arcs are just cover for the fact that these films don’t have anything to offer other than the same old jump scares. Lin Shaye plays the parapsychologist from the earlier movies, who has to go back to her own childhood home to exorcise the same evil spirits that she saw growing up. This leads to some family soap opera that’s way more watery than lathery. It’s almost enough to make you wish for a 77th movie with Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees slashing up almost naked teenagers. Also with Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, and Bruce Davison.
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.
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.
Molly’s Game (R) Almost exactly what you’d expect from Aaron Sorkin’s directing debut: torrents of dialogue, wisecracks, references to science and high culture, not a whole lot happening. The only difference from Sorkin’s other scripts is that this is about a woman, specifically Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), the real-life skiing champion who converted herself into the runner of extralegal high-stakes poker games in L.A. and New York that were frequented by movie stars, royalty, and Russian mobsters. For a movie about someone who turns to drugs so she can manage the raging male egos at her poker table, this thing feels curiously low-energy, because Sorkin has little visual flair as a director. Everything here seems to be on auto-pilot, even Chastain’s performance. Terrific writer though Sorkin is, this only shows that he needs someone else behind the camera. Also with Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong, Brian d’Arcy James, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, J.C. MacKenzie, Samantha Isler, Justin Kirk, and Kevin Costner.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.