The Death of Stalin (R) Armando Iannucci (TV’s Veep) writes and directs this comedy about the chaos that engulfs the Soviet Union after the dictator’s death in 1953. Starring Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Paddy Considine, Olga Kurylenko, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, and Adrian McLoughlin. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Flower (R) Zoey Deutch stars in this comedy as a teenager who targets a suspected child molester (Adam Scott) in her neighborhood for retaliation. Also with Kathryn Hahn, Dylan Gelula, Eric Edelstein, Joey Morgan, and Tim Heidecker. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Foxtrot (R) Satmuel Maoz’ black comedy stars Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler as parents of a son (Yonaton Shiray) who is killed while manning a post in a deserted part of Israel. Also with Shira Haas, Yehuda Almagor, and Aryeh Cherner. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Getting Grace (PG-13) Daniel Roebuck directs, co-writes, and co-stars in this comedy as a funeral home director who’s approached by a terminally ill girl (Madelyn Dundon) for advice on what happens to people’s bodies after death. Also with Marsha Dietlein, Dana Ashbrook, and Duane Whitaker. (Opens Friday at Regal Fossil Creek)
I Kill Giants (NR) Based on Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura’s graphic novel, this film stars Madison Wolfe as a girl who retreats into a fantasy world of giants and monsters. Also with Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Rory Jackson, and Jennifer Ehle. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Midnight Sun (PG-13) The actors carry off this teen soap opera, which stars Bella Thorne as a girl who suffers from a rare allergy to sunlight, wants to be a musician, and falls for a boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger) in her neighborhood. A remake of a Japanese movie from 2006, this thing is cast effectively, with Thorne proving an adept comic bumbler and Schwarzenegger (the son of Arnold) sliding into the heartthrob role without much effort. Rob Riggle contributes a nice dramatic turn as her dad, and Quinn Shephard brings some spark as her best friend. The film threatens to lose some steam at the end as the main character’s health worsens, but it does manage to come to a satisfying conclusion. Also with Ken Tremblett, Nicholas Coombe, and Jenn Griffin. (Opens Friday)
My Perfect You (NR) This Filipino romantic comedy is about a meeting between a man fleeing his life (Gerald Anderson) and a hostel owner (Pia Wurtzbach). Also with Tonton Gutierrez, Dimples Romana, Janus del Prado, Wilma Doesnt, and RJ Ledesma. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Pacific Rim: Uprising (PG-13) The sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 monster movie comes with a new director and a new generation of warriors to fight the kaiju. Starring John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Adria Arjona, Tian Jing, Burn Gorman, Rinko Kikuchi, and Charlie Day. (Opens Friday)
Paul, Apostle of Christ (PG-13) This Biblical film stars Jim Caviezel as Luke, who sneaks into Rome to visit the imprisoned apostle Paul (James Faulkner). Also with Olivier Martinez, Joanne Whalley, and John Lynch. (Opens Friday)
Sherlock Gnomes (PG) The sequel to the 2011 animated film Gnomes features Gnomeo and Juliet (voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) recruiting a gnome detective (voiced by Johnny Depp) to investigate the disappearance of the other garden ornaments. Additional voices by Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Mary J. Blige, Stephen Merchant, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Ozzy Osbourne. (Opens Friday)
Shifting Gears (NR) R. Keith Harris stars in this comedy as a man who starts a family business to get closer to his family, only to place their financial solvency in danger. Also with Brooke Langton, C. Thomas Howell, John Ratzenberger, M.C. Gainey, and M. Emmet Walsh. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Annihilation (R) This flawed but fascinating science-fiction film stars Natalie Portman as part of an all-female team of scientists who venture into an environmental disaster zone where genetics and the laws of physics change at a dizzying rate. Writer-director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) turns this into a brilliant remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, with the lush vegetation and the women venturing through a dangerous and mysterious zone seeking some cosmic redemption. Garland does great with the fast-mutating plant and animal life, and he conjures up a terrifying scene with the scientists being hunted by a giant bear-wolf-boar that cries like a human. It’s a shame that he botches the ending. Portman’s brittle intensity seems quite at home in this setting. Also with Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Sonoya Mizuno, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong, and Oscar Isaac.
Black Panther (PG-13) Not just a movie about a black superhero, but a superhero movie whose blackness is central to all its accomplishments. Chadwick Boseman stars as the king of a fictitious African nation that is secretly the richest and most technologically advanced in the world, though he faces a challenge in an African-American (Michael B. Jordan) who thinks the country has failed oppressed black people around the world. Purely from a design standpoint, this is miraculous to look at, as the architecture, production design, and costumes all reflect an Afrofuturism that we haven’t seen on such a scale. In addition, the movie has more and higher-quality female representation than all of Marvel’s other superhero movies combined, as well as the best villain, a sumptuous cast, a soundtrack curated by Kendrick Lamar, and thoughtful ideas about what a powerful country owes the rest of the world. Simply by shifting from a white male point of view, this opens up the superhero genre in radical and exhilarating new directions. Also with Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Winston Duke, John Kani, Sterling K. Brown, Denzel Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and an uncredited Sebastian Stan.
La Boda de Valentina (R) I can think of better Valentine’s Day presents than this overstuffed Mexican farce about a woman (Marimar Vega) who’s forced to hide her American fiancé (Ryan Carnes) and pretend she’s still married to her Mexican ex (Omar Chaparro) for the benefit of her scandal-ridden, politically ambitious family. The filmmakers miss some prime chances to comment on Mexican politics and celebrity culture as well as American attitudes about Mexico. Instead, they introduce plot complication after plot complication until you’re too worn out to follow along or laugh. Neither the comic material nor the cast pulls their weight, either. Also with Kate Vernon, Tony Dalton, Jesús Zavala, Christian Tappán, Álvaro Carcaño, and Sabine Moussier.
Death Wish (R) A faithful remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson vehicle, which means it’s bad. Bruce Willis takes up the mantel as a rich, white surgeon who can’t believe that his family is the victim of a violent crime, so he buys a gun and goes out to hunt down the bad guys in Chicago’s low-rent district. I would call this movie fascist, but it hates cops, too, so perhaps libertarian anarchist is more the label it deserves. Whatever it is, this is the sort of movie that an AR-15-carrying NRA member would love, and nobody else. Also with Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, Beau Knapp, Kimberly Elise, Len Cariou, and Vincent D’Onofrio.
Fifty Shades Freed (R) Everyone else is making sex-related jokes about how bad this movie is, but I can’t even get it up for that. Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) is now married to Christian (Jamie Dornan), which only sets off her violent stalker (Eric Johnson) on a spree of computer hacking, kidnapping, blackmail, and assault. Christian gets way more screen time, which means he’s much creepier than the stalker, and yet also somehow less interesting. And for all the hot naked bodies on display here, no visuals are as pornographic as the plush interiors of Christian’s houses, cars, and planes. At least this series has taken its last lash, and I have, too. Also with Kim Basinger, Arielle Kebbel, Marcia Gay Harden, Tyler Hoechlin, Max Martini, Luke Grimes, Callum Keith Rennie, and Bruce Altman.
Game Night (R) An amusing patch on David Fincher’s The Game. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a hypercompetitive married couple famous for their neighborhood game nights until his richer, cooler older brother (Kyle Chandler) comes to town and holds his own game night where he tells everyone he’ll stage his own kidnapping and invites them to solve it. The trouble is, real kidnappers get hold of him while his guests think the game is still going on. Co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Vacation) execute a nifty one-take chase sequence involving a Fabergé egg, but this soars on its comic acting. McAdams, in particular, has never been funnier, and Jesse Plemons contributes a scene-stealing turn as a creepy neighbor who never smiles or takes off his police uniform. Also with Lamorne Morris, Sharon Horgan, Chelsea Peretti, Billy Magnussen, Kylie Bunbury, Michael C. Hall, and Danny Huston.
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.
Gringo (R) Selma’s David Oyelowo may not strike you as a comic actor, but he’s bracingly funny in this satisfyingly twisty crime farce as a Nigerian-American businessman who discovers that his soulless Big Pharma bosses (Charlize Theron and Joel Edgerton) are planning to screw him over, so he retaliates by staging his own kidnapping in Mexico, only to get caught up in a real kidnapping. Director Nash Edgerton (who’s Joel’s brother) doesn’t lose control of all the script’s myriad moving parts, and Oyelowo makes the hero into a doughty island of decency in a sea of venality, while also making him a total weenie. The whole thing is well done enough to recall the works of Elmore Leonard. Also with Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton, Melonie Diaz, Harry Treadaway, Yul Vazquez, Hernán Mendoza, Carlos Corona, Diego Cataño, Rodrigo Corea, Alan Ruck, Kenneth Choi, and Sharlto Copley.
I Can Only Imagine (PG) I’m torn on this one: Would a biography of a better Christian band have made a better movie, or would this still have been dull and thus unworthy of a better band? There’s a workable story in here about how MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard (J. Michael Finley) stood up to his abusive dad (Dennis Quaid) to become a successful musician, but newcomer Finley has the liveliness of a damp sponge in the role, and the scenes with him playing a teenage Bart do him no favors. This might have worked better as a jukebox stage musical that could have covered MercyMe’s changing sound over time. There is a good performance by Trace Adkins as the band’s manager. Also with Cloris Leachman, Madeline Carroll, Jake B. Miller, and Nicole DuPort.
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 got 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.
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.
Love, Simon (PG-13) It took too long for the big Hollywood studios to make a movie about a gay teenager, and it’s well that this one is as accomplished and likable as it is. Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) stars as a high-school student who has already figured out his homosexuality and is struggling with how to tell the world about it while falling in love via email with a mysterious fellow gay student who only identifies himself as “Bluegreen.” The snappy script’s pop-culture references are on point, and the comic business comes from many different places, including the depressing high-school theater scene that Simon’s a part of and a dad (Josh Duhamel) who’s tragically unhip but cool in other ways. This story has been done on TV before, but this is more than good enough to inspire better movies for teens. Also with Jennifer Garner, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Talitha Bateman, and Tony Hale.
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.
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.
Red Sparrow (R) Kinda refreshing to see a Hollywood movie hate on Russia again, even if it’s this overlong spy thriller. Jennifer Lawrence plays a Russian spy who’s been educated against her will at an academy teaching spies to use sex to get information out of people, so no wonder she wants to betray her country and work for the CIA. Director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Justin Haythe (adapting this from Jason Matthews’ novel) seem to want to get their heroine from a place where she has no agency to becoming her own person, but they have little idea how to do that. There are a couple of set pieces that strike a properly cold and unerotic tone, and Mary-Louise Parker contributes some looseness as an alcoholic gay American traitor, but this movie is a steel trap that takes entirely too long to close. Also with Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ciarán Hinds, Joely Richardson, Bill Camp, Thekla Reuten, Douglas Hodge, Sebastian Hülk, Charlotte Rampling, and Jeremy Irons.
7 Days in Entebbe (PG-13) A rather meh dramatization of the 1976 hijacking of Air France Flight 139 by German and Arab terrorists, who landed the plane in Uganda until Israeli soldiers launched a counterstrike to free the hostages. There’s too much story material here for Brazilian director José Padilha, who keeps switching among the Germans (Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike), Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi), and a modern dance performance that’s supposed to comment on the military operation somehow, and he never settles into a groove. Among an indistinct cast, Nonso Anozie (as a narcissistic Idi Amin) and Denis Ménochet (as a stalwart French flight engineer) stand out in particular, but the film never adds up to the grand statement about dealing with terrorism that it so wants to be. Also with Eddie Marsan, Ben Schnetzer, Angel Bonanni, Mark Ivanir, Michael Lewis, and Zina Zinchenko.
The Strangers: Prey at Night (R) The sequel to the 2008 horror film starts out promisingly enough before falling apart. Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson are the parents of two teenagers (Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman), and they all stay at an uncle’s trailer home by a lake, where the rest of the community has either gone for the season or been killed by the same masked killers from the original. Or maybe different ones, I don’t know. The director of the original, Bryan Bertino, is still on board as the screenwriter here and provides some interesting family dynamics, but new director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) turns the whole thing into slasher-movie hash, ruining the mystique that surrounded the killers and the subtlety with which they went after the last cast.
Thoroughbreds (R) I suspect this might be a better teenage girl movie than Lady Bird. This highly enjoyable, inky black comedy stars Anya Taylor-Joy as an Andover student who tutors a childhood friend (Olivia Cooke) who recently mutilated her prized horse, because a psychopathic friend might be just the thing to take out her abusive stepdad (Paul Sparks). This was originally written as a stage play, which you can see in the long exchanges of dialogue. First-time filmmaker Cory Finley uses sound and music expertly to make the posh Connecticut setting into something oppressive, and there’s a feverish chemistry between the two lead actresses. It’s so much fun seeing Cooke and Taylor-Joy volley lines at each other and see which of them can be creepier. The late Anton Yelchin gives his last performance as a skeezy, overmatched drug dealer and leaves us with yet another reason to be sad for his death. It would be good to see this on the stage, where it’d be a female spin on Equus. Also with Francie Swift.
Tomb Raider (PG-13) In sick shape, Alicia Vikander is exactly the right actress to play Lara Croft. The trouble is, they forgot to make a movie around her. The British heiress and adventuress from the video games gets her latest incarnation, searching for her long-lost father (Dominic West) on a deserted island off Japan. Norwegian director Roar Uthaug (The Wave) re-creates some famous sequences from previous iterations of the game, but everything lands with a thud whenever the characters stop to deliver huge chunks of expositional dialogue. As the villain of the piece, Walton Goggins gives a dull performance, which I didn’t think was possible. Proper casting is half the battle won, but this movie only won half the battle. Also with Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, and an uncredited Nick Frost.
A Wrinkle in Time (PG) I hate to pronounce this a failure, especially since black women so seldom get to make ambitious science-fiction extravaganzas like this one, but this is a failure. Ava DuVernay adapts Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved children’s novel, with Storm Reid as the 13-year-old heroine who’s guided by three benevolent spirits (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling) to find her father (Chris Pine) millions of light-years away. Once the action leaves Earth, the movie takes off, as DuVernay and her production team create wondrous worlds full of Day-Glo foliage, creepy suburban neighborhoods, and forests that spring up instantaneously. However, the movie’s focus on defeating the darkness in the universe plays as naive in our modern context, and the narrative flow tends to stutter at the simplest of human interactions, despite a few successes on that front. For all its cool special-effects, this plays like a secular sermon disguised as a film. Also with Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, André Holland, Michael Peña, and Zach Galifianakis.
The Leisure Seeker (R) Based on Michael Zadoorian’s novel, this dramedy stars Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland as an elderly couple going on a road trip in an old RV. Also with Janel Moloney, Dana Ivey, Christian McKay, and the late Dick Gregory.
November (R) This Estonian magical realist black comedy is set in a pagan village full of people who steal to survive attacks by werewolves, demons, and the plague. Starring Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik, Arvo Kukumägi, Taavi Eelmaa, Heino Kalm, Meelis Rämmeld, Dieter Laser, and Jette Loona Hermanis.
Oh Lucy! (NR) In this comedy, Shinobu Terajima portrays both a Japanese office worker and her American lookalike, who meet each other at an English class in Tokyo. Also with Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami, Kôji Yakusho, Shioli Kutsuna, Reiko Aylesworth, and Megan Mullally.