Basmati Blues (PG) Either I got hit in the head before I watched this, or the filmmakers did before they made it, and I don’t think it was me. Brie Larson stars in this Indian musical as an American agricultural scientist who falls in love with an educated rice farmer (Utkarsh Ambudkar) while delivering a new strain of rice to India. Dan Baron is the first-time director here, and dear Lord, does he not have the knack for imitating the stylings of real Bollywood extravaganzas. Nor does this come close to succeeding as an American-style musical, because the songs are so terrible, and both the plot and the transitions into musical numbers are so clumsily handled. Larson is a fine singer, but she can’t make up for the lack of material or chemistry with her leading man. When Westerners meddle in Indian matters, it typically doesn’t end well, and so it proves here. Also with Scott Bakula, Saahil Sehgal, Lakshmi Manchu, Tyne Daly, and Donald Sutheårland. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
La Boda de Valentina (R) This Mexican comedy stars Marimar Vega as a woman whose politically powerful Mexican family forces her to pretend she’s still married to her ex (Omar Chaparro), even while her American boyfriend (Ryan Carnes) proposes to her. Also with Kate Vernon, Tony Dalton, Jesús Zavala, Christian Tappán, and Sabine Moussier. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Entanglement (NR) Thomas Middleditch stars in this romantic comedy as a suicidal man who falls in love with a woman who was almost adopted as his sister (Jess Weixler). Also with Johannah Newmarch, Nicole LaPlaca, Diana Bang, Randal Edwards, and Marilyn Norry. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The 15:17 to Paris (PG-13) Clint Eastwood’s dramatization of the attempted terrorist attack on board a French high-speed train, starring the three Americans (Alex Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler) who thwarted the real-life attack. Also with Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Thomas Lennon, Tony Hale, and Jaleel White. (Opens Friday)
Fifty Shades Freed (R) The last installment of the S&M trilogy features Christian Grey and his new wife (Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson) having their marriage threatened by her violent ex (Eric Hale). Also with Kim Basinger, Arielle Kebbel, Marcia Gay Harden, Tyler Hoechlin, Max Martini, Luke Grimes, Callum Keith Rennie, and Bruce Altman. (Opens Friday)
Gayatri (NR) Mohan Babu and Shriya Saran star in this Indian musical romantic comedy. Also with Vishnu Manchu, Brahmanandam, Anasuya Bharatiwaj, and Ali. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Pad Man (PG-13) Akshay Kumar stars in this biography of a women’s-rights activist who fought to provide cheap sanitary pads to the menstruating women of India. Also with Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor, Sudhir Pandey, Maya Alagh, and Amitabh Bachchan. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Peter Rabbit (PG) A fresh layer of fertilizer on Beatrix Potter’s grave. Her charming children’s book has been turned into a graceless, thuddingly unimaginative contemporary movie, in which a CGI rabbit (voiced by James Corden) takes up arms against Farmer McGregor’s nephew (Domhnall Gleeson), who moves into his late uncle’s house and is hellbent on killing all the cuddly bunny rabbits. Director/co-writer Will Gluck’s idea of kid humor is to have the bad guy step on a bunch of rakes in his bedroom, and he turns Peter into a reckless jerk who’s willing to risk his fellow rabbits’ lives over a personal vendetta. A few stray lines hit home, but not nearly enough to justify the waste of a sumptuous cast. Somebody stop Gluck before he gets to The Wind in the Willows. Also with Rose Byrne, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Sam Neill. Additional voices by Elizabeth Debicki, Sia, Bryan Brown, Rachel Ward, David Wenham, Daisy Ridley, and Margot Robbie. (Opens Friday)
Bilal: A New Breed of Hero (PG-13) A Saudi animated film! In English! This movie tells the story of Bilal Ibn Rabah (voiced by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the 7th-century black African slave who becomes the first Muslim muezzin and a mighty warrior and takes over the city of Mecca for the cause of Islam, though neither the religion nor the prophet Mohammed are named here. The story emphasizes Islam’s stances in favor of racial equality and against slavery (though the latter is more complicated than the movie makes out), and it’s all worth telling. The trouble is that the quality of the animation itself is poor, especially when it comes to the human characters, and the script too often results to teary theatrics. I’ve seen worse animated films from Christians, but I’ve also seen better Muslim films from India and the Iranian diaspora. Additional voices by Ian McShane, China Anne McClain, Cynthia Kaye McWIlliams, Michael Gross, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Jon Curry, Mick Wingert, Dave B. Mitchell, and Jacob Latimore.
Call Me by Your Name (R) Intoxicatingly beautiful. Luca Guadagnino’s superb adaptation of André Aciman’s novel is both a triumph of mood and more than that. Timothée Chalamet stars as a 17-year-old boy spending a summer in northern Italy with his Franco-American parents and an archeology graduate student (Armie Hammer) who turns out to be the love of his life. The Sicilian director (A Bigger Splash) finds great poetry in the surfaces here: the countryside outside Bergamo, Hammer’s naked body, the sun-kissed village that makes you want to sit at a table in the piazza with a limoncello and today’s Corriere della Sera. The mood of languid eroticism and endless summer afternoons is well captured, but the movie doesn’t reach greatness until the boys’ love affair comes to a piercing end. The way this film deals with fleeting desires and how they shape our lives makes it a masterpiece. Also with Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, and Victoire du Bois.
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 Commuter (PG-13) Another thriller where the bad guys know everything about the hero and can see and hear everything he’s doing. Liam Neeson plays a cop-turned-downsized insurance salesman who’s offered a bunch of money to identify someone on his daily commuter train who has stolen something. Director Jaume Collet-Serra comes up with one good fight sequence (shot in what looks like a single take), but he can’t elevate this junk to anything higher like he did with The Shallows. Not only is the basic premise stupid, but the hero doesn’t even make smart decisions in the situation. This isn’t a movie, it’s just a late-night collegiate philosophical discussion in movie form. Also with Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Andy Nyman, Killian Scott, Shazad Latif, Clara Lago, Ella-Rae Smith, Florence Pugh, Roland Møller, Elizabeth McGovern, and Sam Neill.
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.
Den of Thieves (R) Writer and first-time director Christian Gudegast came up with a fantastic twist for the end of this heist movie. Too bad he forgot to write everything that would make that twist make sense. Gerard Butler plays a loose-cannon detective for the L.A. County sheriff’s office squeezing a hapless bartender (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) who’s tied into a gang of high-end armed robbers who are planning to steal from the Federal Reserve Building. Gudegast could have made this into a nifty 90-minute film, but instead he pads it out to 140 minutes with boring bits of characterization on the major players, like he’s Michael Mann or something. Also, cops who put unarmed black guys in chokeholds to get information aren’t nearly as endearing as they used to be. Also with Pablo Schreiber, Meadow Williams, Dawn Olivieri, Evan Jones, Jordan Bridges, Brian Van Holt, Maurice Compte, and 50 Cent.
Dunkirk (PG-13) Not a masterpiece, but it gets the job done. Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic tells the story of British civilians rescuing more than 300,000 soldiers from the French beach where they were trapped by the Nazis. Nolan tells the story in three overlapping timelines, from the viewpoints of an RAF pilot (Tom Hardy), a private (Fionn Whitehead), a boat owner (Mark Rylance), and others. Nolan probably should have gone with a more straightforward approach; the temporal dislocation doesn’t increase the chaos of the battle or the story’s forward drive. Luckily, this movie does much better at the small-picture level, conveying the analog nature of aerial combat back then and the private’s series of brushes with death as he tries to flee. This movie may not have the emotional impact that it’s looking for, but it succeeds thanks to Nolan’s assiduous application of his craft. Also with Cillian Murphy, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan, Tom Nolan, Harry Styles, and Kenneth Branagh.
Forever My Girl (PG) This dish of bland Louisiana gumbo stars Alex Roe as a country music superstar who returns to his hometown and discovers that he has an 8-year-old daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) by his high-school sweetheart (Jessica Rothe). British leading man Roe (The 5th Wave, Rings) is a far better singer than he is an actor, so it’s puzzling why writer-director Bethany Ashton Wolf doesn’t focus on the music rather than the antics of that unbearably precocious girl or the cliche-ridden dramatics of the famous dude finding his way back to God and his first love. The songs by Jackson Odell and Brett Boyett aren’t half bad, especially the tear-in-my-beer ballad “Smokin’ and Cryin’”. Also with John Benjamin Hickey, Tyler Riggs, Peter Cambor, and Gillian Vigman.
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 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.
Hostiles (R) A well-intentioned chore to sit through. This revisionist Western set in 1893 is about an Indian-hating U.S. Cavalry officer (Christian Bale) who’s forced to escort an old, infirm Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) back to his ancestral homeland to die. The small band of tightly knit characters making this dangerous journey would seem to be the occasion for some sharply etched character work, but we scarcely get to know either the officer’s soldiers or the chief and his family. The main characters (including Rosamund Pike as a widow whose family was massacred by Comanche) are scarcely more distinct themselves, and writer-director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) doesn’t include enough action in this 134-minute saga to paper over the cracks. This movie wants to make virtues out of its austerity and slow pace, but all it does is put you to sleep. Also with Timothée Chalamet, Rory Cochrane, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, Jonathan Majors, Jesse Plemons, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tanaya Beatty, Peter Mullan, Ryan Bingham, Ben Foster, Scott Wilson, and Stephen Lang.
I, Tonya (R) The best figure-skating movie ever made features a hellacious performance by Margot Robbie as disgraced Olympian Tonya Harding. Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers play Harding’s story of lifelong abuse from her mother (Allison Janney) and husband (Sebastian Stan) for grotesque comic opera and lean into the unreliability of this narrative based on interviews with the real-life principals; Tonya fires a shotgun at her husband’s head, then turns to the camera and says, “This is bullshit! I never did this!” Robbie will likely get an Oscar nomination for the intense physical work she put into this performance, but she gets the soul of this battered woman who’s determined to hold her head up after she’s been reviled around the world. No movie before this has ever captured the allure and theatrical glamour of the sport. This is the closest we’ve ever had to a female version of Raging Bull. Also with Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bojana Novakovic, Caitlin Carver, Mckenna Grace, and Bobby Cannavale.
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.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (PG) This Japanese anime film is based on Mary Stewart’s novel The Little Broomstick, and you can readily see the book’s influence on J.K. Rowling in this movie that seeks to be the animated Harry Potter film that never was. The story is about an English girl (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) who discovers a magical flower in the forest and is promptly whisked away to a school that trains witches and wizards, where she’s welcomed as a natural. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) truly shines in the middle section, when we’re introduced to the splendors of the enchanted academy. The whole thing winds up rather ordinarily, but the film has some sights to show you. Additional voices by Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, Ewen Bremner, Morwenna Banks, and Louis Ashbourne Serkis.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure (PG-13) The cure is worse than the disease in this movie’s case. The trilogy comes to an excruciatingly boring 142-minute end, as Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) leads a rescue effort for a captured friend (Ki Hong Lee) which might lead the human race to an antidote to the zombie plague. The lethargic action sequences give way to conversations that are mere exchanges of plot points. It’s really incredible that through three films, not one of these characters has developed an identifiable character trait. Well before the end, you’ll be rooting for the plague, since the infected are so much more fun to hang out with than this group of people. Also with Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Rosa Salazar, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Walton Goggins, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Giancarlo Esposito, and Patricia Clarkson.
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.
Paddington 2 (PG) There are creative visual touches and clever gags in this sequel, though there’s still too much plot that’s too lumpily handled by director Paul King. The CGI bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has adjusted to life in London with the Browns, but when he tries to buy a rare book as a gift for his aunt (voiced by Imelda Staunton), he winds up getting blamed for its theft and thrown in prison. Paddington does make the prison kitchen into one of London’s favorite patisseries, and Hugh Grant steals all his scenes as an insane actor trying to use the book to recapture his former stardom. If only the rest of this high-powered cast had made as good use of their roles, this might have been superior family entertainment. Also with Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor, Eileen Atkins, Tom Conti, Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, and Joanna Lumley.
Padmaavat (NR) This Indian film comes shrouded in controversy, with threats of decapitation against director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and lead actress Deepika Padukone and a ruling from India’s supreme court declaring the film to be not defamatory. The story takes place in 13th-century India, where a queen of the Mewar region (Padukone) is lusted after by the murderous, rapacious sultan of Delhi (Ranveer Singh), who wages a bloody war just to possess her. The Muslim villain and his homoerotic attraction to a slave (Jim Sarbh) is the reason why the film wasn’t shown in four Indian states for fear of rioting. Bhansali does it all up in his trademark opulent, operatic style, though he can’t squeeze any emotion out of the queen’s ultimate self-immolation to avoid being raped. You may be surprised when the bad guy is shot with arrows in the middle of his big musical number. All in all, this thing is just okay. Also with Shahid Kapoor, Anupriya Goenka, Aditi Rao Hydari, Manjit Singh, Raza Murad, and Padmavati Rao.
Phantom Thread (R) A center of powdered glass coated in the finest chocolate. Paul Thomas Anderson’s film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a 1950s London couturier whose new wife (Vicky Krieps) comes to see him as a domestic tyrant who takes her for granted. Anderson sets up a beautiful trap in the opening scene in the dressmaker’s atelier, where the gorgeous fabrics, lush music, discreet camera movements, and Day-Lewis’ scrupulous performance lull you into a false sense of security. Instead, we’re treated to a portrait of a marriage that’s toxic in all sorts of ways, as the wife takes extreme and illegal measures to make sure she’s indispensable. Amid all the finery here, the noxious chemistry between the two stars gives the film its lethal energy. Also with Lesley Manville, Brian Gleeson, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, Harriet Sansom Harris, and Lujza Richter.
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 Post (PG-13) Steven Spielberg makes great entertainment out of a potentially ponderous story in this dramatization of the Washington Post’s struggle to publish the Pentagon Papers under executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher and owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep). Rather than try to make this into a thriller like All the President’s Men, Spielberg imitates the brightness and dizzying pace of 1930s newspaper comedies, dotting the cast with comic actors and making the movie play more like an ensemble piece rather than a vehicle for two big stars. Hanks gets the best speech here, but Streep has the better role as a woman steeped in the sexism of her era who asserts her leadership of the paper at a turbulent time. Spielberg weaves together all the different strands of this story with marvelous skill and finds heroes of democracy in the reporters of a barely solvent newspaper. Also with Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Jesse Plemons, Zach Woods, Carrie Coon, Stark Sands, and Alison Brie.
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.
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.
12 Strong (R) The real-life story of 12 Special Forces soldiers who helped Afghans take the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks deserved better than this dully competent film. Chris Hemsworth plays the captain who leaves a desk job to lead the men into combat. He does much to mitigate the script’s sentimental excesses, as does Michael Shannon as the unit’s warlord and Navid Negahban as the Afghan warlord whom the soldiers are embedded with. Still, director Nicolai Fuglsig makes all the film’s many, many combat sequences look and feel the same, without any imagination or suggestion of the hellfire that the troops are going through. A halfway decent video game could have done better. Also with Michael Peña, Elsa Pataky, William Fichtner, Austin Stowell, Geoff Stults, Rob Riggle, Trevante Rhodes, and Taylor Sheridan.
Winchester (PG-13) Guns don’t kill people, ghosts of people killed by guns do. That’s the bizarre and unique premise behind this period horror flick starring Helen Mirren as the real-life firearms heiress who actually built a huge house near San Jose in the late 19th century with weird architectural features, though that was probably from unrepaired earthquake damage rather than to trap ghosts of gunshot victims, as this movie suggests. The production department has a blast building staircases that lead nowhere and corridors with absurdly low ceilings. Still, neither this movie’s mild “guns are bad” rhetoric nor the presence of Mirren and other serious actors can disguise the fact that this is just another crappy genre exercise with boogeymen jumping from outside the frame. Potentially, there could be a great Get Out-style horror flick about America’s love of guns. This just deserves a bullet. Also with Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Angus Sampson, Eamon Farren, Laura Brent, and Tyler Coppin.
Bomb City (NR) Based on a real-life murder in Amarillo in 1997, this drama is about a hate crime against punk rockers by an athlete in a conservative Texas town. Starring Glenn Morshower, Dave Davis, Logan Huffman, Lorelei Linklater, Eddie Hassell, and Luke Shelton.
Braven (R) Jason Momoa stars in this action film as a logger trying to defend his family from drug runners. Also with Jill Wagner, Garret Dillahunt, and Stephen Lang.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (R) Annette Bening stars in this biography of Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame as she embarks on a late-life affair with much younger actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell). Also with Julie Walters, Stephen Graham, Frances Barber, Kenneth Cranham, Vanessa Redgrave, and Peter Turner.
In the Fade (R) This German thriller stars Diane Kruger as a woman who seeks revenge after her Turkish husband and their son are murdered in a neo-Nazi terrorist attack. Also with Numan Acar, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Krisch, Ulrich Brandhoff, Hanna Hilsdorf, Yannis Economides, and Ulrich Tukur.
Living Among Us (NR) Set in a world where vampires have recently gone public about their existence, this horror film is about a film crew that steps into danger to document the lives of vampires. Starring Andrew Keegan, Esmé Bianco, William Sadler, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Jordan Hinson, Jessica Morris, James Russo, and the late John Heard.