After Auschwitz (NR) Jon Kean’s documentary focuses on the experience of survivors after their liberation. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Escape of Prisoner 614 (PG-13) Ron Perlman and Martin Starr headline this comedy about two incompetent sheriff’s deputies who capture an escaped prisoner (George Sample III) they believe to be wrongly convicted. Also with Jake McDorman, Sondra James, and Ralph Cashen. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Itzhak (NR) Alison Chernick’s documentary about the life and career of violinist Itzhak Perlman. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Kings (R) The first English-language film by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (Mustang) stars Daniel Craig and Halle Berry as two residents of South Central Los Angeles shortly before the L.A. riots of 1992. Also with Lamar Johnson, Kaalan Walker, Reece Cody, and Rachel Hilson. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Love After Love (NR) Andie MacDowell stars in this drama as a woman who loses her husband after a long illness. Also with Chris O’Dowd, James Adomian, Francesca Faridany, Juliet Rylance, and Dree Hemingway. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Maya the Bee: The Honey Games (NR) The sequel to the 2014 animated film is about a bee (voiced by Coco Jack Gillies) forced to take part in a competition to save her hive. Additional voices by Richard Roxburgh, Benson Jack Anthony, Justine Clarke, and Marney McQueen. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Modern Life Is Rubbish (NR) This British comedy stars Josh Whitehouse and Freya Mavor as a long-term music-loving couple whose relationship is reaching a breaking point. Also with Tom Riley, Jessie Cave, Tallulah Haddon, Steven Mackintosh, and Ian Hart. (Opens Friday at Studio Grill Lincoln Square)
The Rider (R) Cast entirely with non-professional actors, Chloé Zhao’s Western stars Brady Jandreau as a former rodeo cowboy who must look for another vocation after suffering a life-threatening head injury. Also with Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, and Cat Clifford. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Acrimony (R) Tyler Perry tries to make a psychological thriller, and it turns out funnier than any of his comedies. Taraji P. Henson stars as a woman who becomes fabulously wealthy even though she violently lashes out at her husband (Lyriq Bent) every time he so much as looks at another woman. The actress playing the teenage version of her character (Ajiona Alexus) looks nothing like Henson. There are comic highlights galore here, from the main character addressing every other woman in the movie as “bitch” and somehow not only surviving being pushed off a yacht into the open sea, but swimming back onto the boat. Perry’s trying to sympathize with the crazy woman at the heart of so many of his other movies, but if you want to see a fair treatment of borderline personality disorder that’s intentionally funny, watch TV’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Also with Crystle Stewart, Jazmyne Simon, Ptosha Storey, Danielle Nicolet, and Nelson Estevez.
Beirut (PG-13) This sluggish political thriller stars Jon Hamm as an alcoholic, burned-out diplomat who’s brought into war-torn Lebanon in 1982 to negotiate the release of his kidnapped former friend (Mark Pellegrino) who works for the CIA, only to discover that both the Americans and the Israelis are happy to let the hostage die for shady reasons. There’s a neat script by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), but Brad Anderson’s direction is lacking in distinction, and Hamm only comes to life when his character snaps to and turns back into the ace negotiator that he once was. Better casting and more flair behind the camera could have turned this into something special. Also with Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Idir Chender, Kate Fleetwood, Leila Bekhti, Douglas Hodge, Jonny Coyne, and Larry Pine.
Bharat Ane Nenu (NR) Mahesh Babu stars in this Indian drama as a graduate of a Western college who returns home and decides to fight government corruption by running for office. Also with Kiara Advani, Prakash Raj, Yashpal Sharma, Sarath Kumar, Rama Prabha, Devaraj, Aamani, Sithara, and Posani Krishna Murali.
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.
Blockers (R) The movie that Neighbors 2 was trying to be. This raunchy sex comedy stars John Cena and Leslie Mann as parents who freak the hell out when they discover that their teenage daughters have a pact to lose their virginities on prom night and resolve to stop them, while Ike Barinholtz is a fellow parent whose daughter is in on the pact who tags along on the quest trying to convince the others that they’re acting like crazy people. Thankfully, director Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect 3) is with that guy and projects a healthy attitude towards the girls’ sexuality while getting terribly funny performances out of her leads and Geraldine Viswanathan, who’s the funniest of the girls here. Watch for Gary Cole and Gina Gershon as a married couple playing weird sex games with each other. Also with Kathryn Newton, Gideon Adlon, Miles Robbins, Graham Phillips, Colton Dunn, and Ramona Young.
Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare (PG-13) The famed horror studio chooses one of its worst films to start putting its name in the title. Lucy Hale stars as a teenager who travels to Mexico on spring break and stumbles into a game of truth or dare in which supernatural forces kill everybody who refuses to do either of those things. Casual racism aside, this movie feels like it went from pitch meeting to final cut in three days, so little does the story respect its own internal logic, and so shoddy are the production values and the quality of the acting. When you dip into the same barrel over and over, you’re bound to scrape bottom. The scraping sound is deafening here. Also with Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Landon Liboiron, Nolan Gerard Funk, and Hayden Szeto.
Chappaquiddick (PG-13) This dramatization of the 1969 car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) suffers from listless storytelling and an even lower-energy performance by Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy. The ensuing cover-up engineered by handlers sent in by old Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern) has all the excitement leached out of it by director John Curran. There’s certainly a point to making a drama about cowards who cover up a politician’s flaws in the service of some greater cause, but that point will get lost when your movie puts people to sleep. I expected better from Clarke, but he might be one of those actors who’s better in supporting roles than as the lead. Also with Ed Helms, Olivia Thirlby, Andria Blackman, Clancy Brown, Taylor Nichols, and Jim Gaffigan.
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.
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 Feel Pretty (PG-13) It may be disappointingly light on subversive material, but this comedy is still pretty funny. Amy Schumer plays a woman with body-image issues who hits her head in exercise class and wakes up thinking that she’s a supermodel. This movie tells us nothing that other body-positive comedies (going back to the 1996 The Nutty Professor) haven’t already told us, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that Schumer has done sharper-edged work on her own TV show. Yet the laughs come from numerous sources in the movie, and Schumer shows her strengths with both verbal and physical humor, especially in an early and painful mishap with her bike at SoulCycle. Michelle Williams gives a baby-voiced performance that needs to be seen as a cosmetics company heiress, CEO, and modeling face. It’s worth it just to hear her mispronounce “Kohl’s.” Also with Rory Scovel, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps, Tom Hopper, Adrian Martinez, Sasheer Zamata, Emily Ratajkowski, Naomi Campbell, and Lauren Hutton.
Isle of Dogs (PG-13) The best movie about what it is to love a dog. Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated film is set on a future Japanese island where the dogs have been exiled from human society out of fear of disease. Some of the story’s parallels with our own political situation are easy to spot, but Anderson’s sense of humor is often on a smaller scale, such as having Tilda Swinton’s voice emanate from a pug who’s revered for being able to foretell the future. Anderson treats the Japanese setting as an aesthetic, much as he has done in the past and with more sensitivity than he did in The Darjeeling Limited. Bryan Cranston gives perhaps his greatest film performance as a hard-bitten stray dog whose hatred of humans melts away under the attention of a 12-year-old boy (voiced by Koyu Rankin) who comes to the island to look for his own dog. Additional voices by Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Frances McDormand, Liev Schreiber, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Akira Ito, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Greta Gerwig, and Scarlett Johansson.
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.
The Miracle Season (PG) The best volleyball movie ever made, which unfortunately doesn’t say very much. This tells the true story about a high-school volleyball team in Iowa that has to defend their state title after their star player (Danika Yarosh) is killed in a road accident. Helen Hunt cuts an authoritative figure as the team’s coach who can only think to push the team harder in the wake of its grief, but the rest of the acting is nondescript and director Sean McNamara (Bratz) can’t give the volleyball sequences the excitement that they deserve. There isn’t a single emotional beat here that feels like it wasn’t taken from a thousand other sports dramas just like it. Also with Erin Moriarty, Tiera Skovbye, Jason Gray-Stanford, Rebecca Staab, Nesta Cooper, and William Hurt.
October (NR) This is grittier than most Bollywood exports and has fewer musical numbers, but that’s about the strongest selling point of this coming-of-age romance. Varun Dhawar stars as a trainee at a posh Delhi hotel who mysteriously gives up his future to carry on a vigil for a fellow employee (Banita Sandhu) who is in a coma following an accidental fall from the third floor. The whole affair is serious and lacking in the histrionics that mar other Indian films, but it doesn’t give us a great deal of dramatic material to chew on in recompense. Also with Gitanjali Rao, Sahil Vedoliyaa, and Ashish Ghosh.
Pacific Rim: Uprising (PG-13) John Boyega’s star power carries this thing along for a while, until the monsters and robots start smashing each other into buildings again. The sequel takes place 10 years after the events of Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 movie, as the kaiju manage to infiltrate the rebuilding human world and build even bigger monsters. Boyega’s a petty outlaw who has to straighten himself out and team up with a mechanically inclined girl (Cailee Spaeny) to save the world again. Longtime TV writer Steven S. DeKnight takes up this sequel as his filmmaking debut, and doesn’t bring a fresh outlook on the mix even though he turns Charlie Day’s scientist into a villain. This movie is made for Chinese audiences more than it is for ours. Also with Scott Eastwood, Max Zhang, Adria Arjona, Tian Jing, Burn Gorman, Karan Brar, Wesley Wong, Lily Ji, Ivanna Sakhno, and Rinko Kikuchi.
Paul, Apostle of Christ (PG-13) Because this is bankrolled by Sony, this looks better than other Biblical epics. Unfortunately, that’s about all to recommend this Christian film that suffers from many of the same basic filmmaking flaws as its fellows. Jim Caviezel makes his return to the genre, this time portraying St. Luke, sneaking into Rome to visit its persecuted community of Christians and the apostle Paul (James Faulkner), who’s awaiting execution in prison. Once again, we get stilted dialogue, and director Andrew Hyatt can’t make anything interesting out of the lengthy conversations between Luke and Paul in that prison cell. As a Roman administrator, Olivier Martinez speaks barely intelligible English and is forced into an unflattering bowl cut. Also with Joanne Whalley and John Lynch.
A Quiet Place (PG-13) Other films need to be seen on the big screen, but this one needs to be heard on a theater’s speakers to get the full effect. John Krasinski directs, co-writes, and co-stars in this horror film as a parent (along with real-life wife Emily Blunt) who live in complete silence with their two children on their corn farm after the world’s population is decimated by aliens with sharp teeth and hypersensitive hearing. Were there more dialogue than just a few lines, the domestic drama here might drown in sentimentality like it did in Krasinski’s insufferable The Hollars. Instead, the lack of speech forces the director to be economical and keep the action flowing. Maybe this thing is a bit literal-minded, and the music could be better, but Krasinski manages some hellacious silent action sequences and turns this into a piece of entertainment that rattles along well. Also with Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe.
Rampage (PG-13) Dwayne Johnson reunites with his San Andreas director Brad Peyton, and the result makes San Andreas look like a Christopher Nolan movie. Yet another movie based on a video game, this stars Johnson as an animal trainer who sees biological samples from outer space turn his beloved rescue gorilla into a giant city-destroying beast. Everybody has massive chunks of dialogue to deliver and nobody is a shred of fun, not Johnson, not the CGI gorilla, not the corporate villains (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy), not Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a government agent with a huge belt buckle laying down orders to high-ranking officers in a thick Southern accent. I don’t mind so much if my movies are this stupid, but at the very least I expect them to entertain me. Also with Naomie Harris, Will Yun Lee, Breanne Hill, Marley Shelton, and Joe Manganiello.
Ready Player One (PG-13) Better than the book, I’ll say that. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 1980s geek explosion stars Tye Sheridan as a future teenager who has to team up with some gaming buddies to prevent a corporate behemoth from taking control of the virtual-reality cyberuniverse that most people escape into. This movie practically begs you to wind the DVD back and forth so you can catch all the 1980s references in the background, but for a film that wants to tell us to look up from our screens every once in a while, this makes virtual reality look way cooler than real life. Every fan of The Shining needs to see Spielberg’s extended homage to it in the middle of the film. Also with Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance.
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero (PG) This animated film about a dog is in theaters at the same time as Isle of Dogs, and it’s, uh, not as good. The story is based on the exploits of a real-life war dog that traveled along with an American infantry regiment in World War I and wound up saving the soldiers from mustard gas attacks and leading medics to the wounded. Unfortunately, director/co-writer Richard Lanni renders this true story in unbelievable terms and the computer animation turns this into yet another movie about a cute dog. There’s a cuddly turn by Gérard Depardieu as a French soldier who guides the dog and the soldier in charge of him (voiced by Logan Lerman) through the unfamiliar terrain, but that’s about all there is to recommend this. Additional voices by Helena Bonham Carter, Jordan Beck, Brian Cook, Jim Pharr, and Nicholas Rulon.
Sherlock Gnomes (PG) The sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet finds the titular couple (voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) moving to London and having to team up with Sherlock Gnomes and Watson (voiced by Johnny Depp and Chiwetel Ejiofor) when their fellow gnomes and kidnapped by a mysterious serial gnome thief. The cast’s energy is undimmed (especially Blunt’s), and the script is still laden with Elton John references, but it’s lacking the cleverness of the 2011 original, and neither the London setting nor the plotline with both Gnomeo and Watson being taken for granted by their respective partners offers up much. Additional voices by Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Mary J. Blige, Matt Lucas, Julie Walters, James Hong, Dexter Fletcher, Jamie Demetriou, Stephen Merchant, and Ozzy Osbourne.
Super Troopers 2 (R) Get as high as possible before you see this 4/20 comedy, because if you don’t, you’ll probably spot just how feeble this comedy’s jokes about women and Canadians are. The members of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe (Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske) reunite for this sequel to their 2002 comedy, in which the lunkheaded former Vermont state troopers are rehired when a stretch of Canada suddenly becomes American territory. Cue tired gags about hockey, Mounties, poutine, and French accents. The lizard isn’t broken anymore, it’s just gone limp from age. Also with Brian Cox, Rob Lowe, Jim Gaffigan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Marisa Coughlan, Will Sasso, Paul Walter Hauser, Lynda Carter, Fred Savage, Damon Wayans Jr., and Seann William Scott.
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.
Traffik (R) A much worse film about sex trafficking than You Were Never Really Here. Omar Epps and Paula Patton star in this thriller as an educated black couple who get trapped in a vacation home in the California woods by a violent white biker gang that runs sex slaves across freeways. Writer-director Deon Taylor wants this to be a racially charged version of Straw Dogs, but his pea-brained script won’t allow for that. (He went over this same territory better in Meet the Blacks.) The main characters and the bad guys all act like idiots for the convenience of the plot, and the dialogue is downright gruesome. This is sure to be the first of many post-Get Out films about black people besieged by whites, and there are sure to be many better ones. Also with Laz Alonso, Roselyn Sanchez, Missi Pyle, Dawn Olivieri, Luke Goss, and William Fichtner.
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.
You Were Never Really Here (R) Lynne Ramsay gets back on her game with this bracingly strange thriller adapted from Jonathan Ames’ novelette. Joaquin Phoenix portrays a former war veteran who tracks down sex slaves in New York City on an unofficial basis, using a hammer to inflict brutality on the traffickers he finds. The director’s unorthodox, clipped style goes well with the chaos in her protagonist’s head, as she uses micro-flashbacks to refer to his traumatic childhood and the soundtrack to depict his mind via cacophonous ordinary sounds or white noise. (Jonny Greenwood’s score also does much.) Though her script piles misery on her antihero, she captures well the rhythms of his solitary life and gives him a more hopeful ending than the book. It’s good to have this British filmmaker back. Also with Ekaterina Samsonov, Judith Roberts, Dante Pereira-Olson, Alex Manette, Frank Pando, John Doman, and Alessandro Nivola.
Lean on Pete (R) This Western by Andrew Haigh (45 Years) stars Charlie Plummer as a teenage boy whose unstable childhood takes another turn at a horse-training farm in Portland. Also with Steve Zahn, Chloë Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Lewis Pullman, Amy Seimetz, Alison Elliott, and Steve Buscemi.
Sweet Country (R) This Australian Western is about an Aboriginal man (Hamilton Morris) in the 1920s who kills a white man in self-defense and is hunted by a posse for his actions. Also with Bryan Brown, Matt Day, Ewen Leslie, Anni Finsterer, Thomas M. Wright, and Sam Neill.