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COURTESY OF GRAVITAS VENTURES

OPENING 

Along Came the Devil (NR) This horror film stars Sydney Sweeney as an abused teenager who becomes possessed by a demon after participating in a séance. Also with Madison Lintz, Jessica Barth, Matt Dallas, and Bruce Davison. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Dog Days (PG-13) This ensemble comedy directed by Ken Marino concerns the lives of various Los Angelenos and their dogs. Starring Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Eva Longoria, Finn Wolfhard, Adam Pally, Lauren Lapkus, Thomas Lennon, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ron Cephas Jones, Jessica Lowe, Jessica St. Clair, David Wain, Ryan Hansen, Rob Corddry, and Tig Notaro. (Opens Wednesday)

The Island (NR) Somewhere between Cast Away and Lord of the Flies lies this Chinese epic dramedy that holds your interest. Huang Bo stars in, writes, and directs this film as an office drone who goes on a team-building harbor cruise, where he wins the lottery just a few minutes before a meteorite hits the Earth, causing a tsunami that strands him on a deserted island with his co-workers. What follows is a weird allegory about religion, capitalism, or some such, as our protagonist waits on the sideline while a power struggle erupts between the head of the company (Yu Hewei) and the boat driver (Wang Baoqiang), biding his time until he can wrest power from both of them. It’s a long way to go just to impress that one woman at the office (Shu Qi) whom he’s been too shy to talk to, but Huang the director keeps things more or less in balance and conjures up fantastic sights like fish falling from the sky. Also with Zhang Yixing, Wang Xun, Li Qinqin, Li You Lin, and Sun Honglei. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

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The Meg (PG-13) Jason Statham stars in this thriller as a sea diver batting a 70-foot prehistoric shark. Also with Li Bingbing, Ruby Rose, Rainn Wilson, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Masi Oka, and Cliff Curtis. (Opens Friday)

Never Goin’ Back (R) Maia Mitchell and Camilla Morrone star in this stoner comedy as two high-school dropouts who take a week off from their dead-end jobs to get high at the beach. Also with Kyle Mooney, Matthew Holcomb, Joel Allen, and Atheena Frizzell. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

A Prayer Before Dawn (R) Based on true events, this drama stars Joe Cole as an English boxer who gets thrown into a Thai prison and competes in Muay Thai tournaments to win his freedom. Also with Pornchanok Mabklang, Vithaya Pansringarm, Panya Yimmumphai, and Nicolas Shake. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Puzzle (R) Kelly Macdonald stars in this drama as an unappreciated suburban mom who finds new life when she teams with a stranger (Irrfan Khan) to enter jigsaw puzzle contests. Also with David Denman, Daniel Sherman, Austin Abrams, and Liv Hewson. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Slender Man (PG-13) Sylvain White (The Losers) directs this horror film about a group of teens stalked by a supernatural creature. Starring Joey King, Javier Botet, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Taylor Richardson, and Annalise Basso. (Opens Friday)

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Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days (NR) Wow, this is all over the place. This Korean movie was shot concurrently with its initial installment, Along With the Gods: The Two Hells, which came out this past January. Having shepherded a firefighter through the afterlife in the first movie, the guardian angels (Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-hoon, and Kim Hyang-gi) now have to take charge of that man’s brother (Kim Dong-wook), a soldier murdered by his comrades. Along the way, we get sea monsters, a parody of Jurassic World, and the angels’ backstory. Those guardians also spend a lot of time hanging around the welfare office to deal with a schlubby household god (Ma Dong-seok), who defies the order of heaven to invest a struggling family’s money in mutual funds. This 140-minute epic would have done better to concentrate on the soldier’s story and the spectacle. There’ll be a third and fourth film in this wildly successful series, so maybe we can look for improvement. Also with Do Kyung-soo, Lee Joon-hyuk, Nam Il-woo, Jung Ji-hoon, and Lee Jung-jae.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (PG-13) Better and funnier than the first movie. The rest of the Marvel universe is mostly ignored for this standalone episode that returns Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, the man in the shrinking suit, now with Evangeline Lilly joining his side in a similar outfit with wings. The stuff with Scott’s family is still dull, and the subplot about Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) trying to find his long-lost wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t add much. Still, this comic adventure zips along and plays cleverly with people, cars, buildings, and other things suddenly changing size, and the script gives more comic material to Rudd and Michael Peña, which is never a bad move. Sometimes, the art of cinema comes down to the hero throwing a 20-foot Hello Kitty Pez dispenser at the chasing bad guys. Also with Walton Goggins, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, T.I., Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, David Dastmalchian, Randall Park, and Laurence Fishburne.

Blindspotting (R) A thoughtful and visceral debut from Carlos López Estrada and his two co-writers and co-stars. Daveed Diggs plays a convicted felon with three days left on his probation when he sees a white cop (Ethan Embry) shoot an unarmed black man in the back, while Rafael Casal portrays his white best friend with a penchant for thuggish behavior. Both of them have to deal with gentrification bringing gays and hipsters into their Oakland neighborhood. Diggs and Casal hold a nuanced view of gentrification, script some extremely funny exchanges, and touch on a lot of different issues without overextending themselves, while López Estrada displays the nervous, bubbling energy of Spike Lee’s earlier films as he captures this community in flux. The movie points out the blind spots all of us have in our racial and class awareness, and it shines a light. Also with Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Wayne Knight, and Tisha Campbell-Martin. 

Christopher Robin (PG) At times quite powerful and at other times just bizarre, this movie set in London after World War II stars Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Christopher Robin who has Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) appear to him at a crisis point in his life. Director Marc Forster is at his unimaginative worst during the sequences in London, where Christopher’s a joyless efficiency expert working for corporate ogres. However, McGregor soldiers manfully acting opposite animatronic stuffed animals with visibly worn fur, and the film’s take on the characters retains their good-natured essence. There’s also a scene in a foggy Hundred Acre Wood that looks like it might have come out of a Beckett play. The unlikely team of heavyweight screenwriters includes Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) and Alex Ross Perry (Queen of Earth), and makes this work better than it should. Also with Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Adrian Scarborough, and Roger Ashton-Griffiths. Voices by Brad Garrett, Nick Mohamed, Sophie Okonedo, Toby Jones, and Peter Capaldi. 

The Darkest Minds (PG-13) Man, you’d think a movie where the government forcibly takes kids away from their parents and puts them in prison camps would have more juice than this. Unfortunately, director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Frozen) has major problems with pacing and tone as she adapts Alexandra Bracken’s novel about children who survive a global pandemic with superhero-like powers, and Amandla Stenberg is one girl who manipulates people’s minds and escapes from one of the camps to try to make her way to a rumored-about place run by kids like herself. Besides the dystopian YA tropes that we’ve seen from dozens of other movies, the quality of acting is pretty low here, and the whole enterprise lacks strangeness and wonder. Also with Mandy Moore, Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Wallace Langham, Patrick Gibson, Bradley Whitford, and Gwendoline Christie. 

Death of a Nation (PG-13) The latest documentary by convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza compares Donald Trump (the president who pardoned him) to Abraham Lincoln.

Eighth Grade (R) This scarifying movie about adolescence stars Elsie Fisher as a 13-year-old girl going through hell while finishing her last week of middle school. First-time writer-director Bo Burnham has an eye for school drudgery and stages a funny and depressing scene where the kids go through a mass-shooting drill. The centerpiece of the movie is where Kayla goes to a high school to observe and winds up getting harassed by an older boy (Daniel Zolghadri) who has no compunction about asking a 13-year-old to take her shirt off. The sequence is excruciating and gross and should probably be shown to everyone in middle school as a textbook example of sexual predation. Josh Hamilton (not to be confused with the ex-Rangers player) gets the best role of his career as a dad who manages to say the right thing in a tough situation. Also with Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Luke Prael, and Catherine Oliviere.

The Equalizer 2 (R) For this sequel, Denzel Washington moves to Boston and takes a job as a Lyft driver while looking for wrongs to right. He winds up mentoring an at-risk teenager (Ashton Sanders from Moonlight) while trying to solve the murder of his CIA friend (Melissa Leo) in Brussels. The climactic shootout in an evacuated New England town during a nor’easter is pretty well managed, but the villains are boring and director Antoine Fuqua hopelessly tangles all the different plot strands here while moving at a molasses-like pace. Everybody’s just going through the motions in this sludgy exercise. Also with Pedro Pascal, Orson Bean, Sakina Jaffrey, and Bill Pullman.

The First Purge (R) Watching this series evolve is like watching a 3-year-old spend six months learning how to bake a cake: There’s some definite improvement, but it isn’t worth all the mess. This origin story tells of how an offshoot of the Republican Party takes power, instigates the Purge in Staten Island as a way of getting people of color to kill one another, and finally sends soldiers into the poor neighborhoods to get the slaughtering rolling. A black drug kingpin (Y’Lan Noel) winds up protecting the neighborhood, but it’s all a good deal less clever than it sounds. Marisa Tomei also shows up as the social scientist who invents the idea as an experiment. There’s one nice sequence with the drug dealer fighting off a bunch of commandos on a stairway, but not enough thriller material to compensate for the undercooked script. Also with Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Luna Lauren Velez, Kristen Solis, Rotimi Paul, Patch Darragh, and Steve Harris.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (PG) The laziness of Adam Sandler’s live-action films finally seeps into the animated series, as Dracula (voiced by Sandler) and all his buddies and family members take a cruise to the Bermuda Triangle together. While this isn’t unendurable, the jokes are mostly unmemorable, save for one when Wayne and his wife (voiced by Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon) finally detach themselves from their hundreds of kids and find themselves at a loss about what to do. The plot about a cruise director (voiced by Kathryn Hahn) who’s secretly a descendant of Van Helsing only provides the barest whisper of a plot, and certainly nothing surprising. Additional voices by Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Parnell, Chrissy Teigen, Joe Jonas, and Mel Brooks.

The Incredibles 2 (PG) Lives up to the original. Brad Bird returns for this Pixar animated film, in which brother-and-sister telecom moguls (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) try to legalize superheroes by making Helen (voiced by Holly Hunter) the face of the movement. The movie doesn’t significantly advance the ideas and characters who we met in the first movie, but Bird works a number of crackerjack action sequences, including Helen having to fight the supervillain blind in a room full of hypnotizing TV monitors and another with Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) facing off with a zombified superheroine who can throw punches at her from other dimensions. An astonishing amount of this movie works, from Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) trying to adjust to life as a househusband to Violet’s courtship of a boy at school. The thing zips along quite well. Additional voices by Samuel L. Jackson, Huck Milner, Sophia Bush, Brad Bird, Phil LaMarr, Jonathan Banks, Barry Bostwick, Isabella Rossellini, and John Ratzenberger. 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (PG-13) The best directed movie since the first one, and also the dumbest. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return for this sequel, as they try to rescue the dinosaurs from a volcanic eruption on the island where they’ve been kept. You can admire the craftsmanship by new director J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls) and still take in the gaping plot holes and boneheaded decisions by all the major characters. To make matters so much worse, there’s a cute little girl (Isabella Sermon) whom the heroes have to protect as the dinosaurs run loose on the mainland. Behind the first-rate production values, this movie is as tick-tock predictable as any low-budget slasher flick. Also with Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, Geraldine Chaplin, Toby Jones, BD Wong, and Jeff Goldblum. 

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (PG-13) Everybody’s orange. Why is everybody orange in this movie? The sequel/prequel to the 2008 jukebox musical stars Amanda Seyfried as a newly pregnant Sophie trying to reopen the family inn after her mother’s possible death and Lily James as a young version of her mother shown in flashbacks. James is a stellar addition, ABBA’s lesser songs are better than many other bands’ lesser songs, and the audience for this film likely won’t mind that continuity and timelines have gone completely out the window. Still, this thing is just as much a tacky monstrosity as the first movie, with more stars of questionable singing ability shoehorned in. Also with Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Andy Garcia, Meryl Streep, and Cher.

Ocean’s 8 (PG-13) If this pleasant but wifty caper comedy had been just a little cleverer, it might have merited the deluxe cast adorning it. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett headline this sequel to Ocean’s 11 as partners in crime who head up an all-female group of thieves to steal a diamond necklace from a bitchy movie star (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Gala. Director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) will never be mistaken for an imaginative filmmaker, but he keeps the thing moving along well enough. Unexpected notes come from the sexual tension between the two lead actresses and a funny turn from Helena Bonham Carter as a down-on-her-luck fashion designer who thinks her acting’s better than it is. A bevy of celebrity cameos (including Anna Wintour and members of her staff) help make the film seem like it’s really at the Met Gala. Also with Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Awkwafina, James Corden, Richard Armitage, Dakota Fanning, Marlo Thomas, Dana Ivey, Elizabeth Ashley, Mary Louise Wilson, Shaobo Qin, and Elliott Gould.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (R) Emily Blunt is gone, and so is any sense of direction in this sequel to the 2015 hit. Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro return here, trying to start an internecine war among the Mexican drug cartels by kidnapping a kingpin’s teenage daughter (Isabela Moner). Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has also returned here, but the plot has entered a black hole in which nothing that anybody does makes the slightest bit of difference. Del Toro is still awesomely icy as the vigilante lawyer wreaking havoc on the drug traffickers, and new director Stefano Sollima (from Italian TV) does fine by the action sequences. Still, their talents are wasted on distinctly substandard material. Also with Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, and Catherine Keener. 

Skyscraper (PG-13) This popcorn thriller wants to be dumb fun, and it manages the “dumb” part pretty well. Dwayne Johnson plays a security consultant whose family is trapped in a burning supertall structure in Hong Kong. The script makes some nice use of the fact that the main character is an amputee with a prosthetic left leg, but director Rawson Marshall Thurber can’t keep the movie from getting waterlogged with the domestic drama as the skyscraper burns down around them. The film has delusions of Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno, and even though the titular building is bigger, the movie itself feels smaller. Also with Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, Roland Møller, McKenna Roberts, Hannah Quinlivan, Byron Mann, and Tzi Ma. 

Sorry to Bother You (R) If this isn’t the comedy of 2018, I’d like to see the one that is. Rapper Boots Riley makes his feature filmmaking debut with this satire about an African-American telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) who starts rocketing up the corporate ladder when he learns to talk in a “white voice” (dubbed by David Cross). Riley delivers visual gags like an experienced hand, but he doesn’t take his eye off his corporate targets, as the world is ruled by a company that offers its workers free housing and food in exchange for lifetime wage-free labor. The movie features the buggiest plot development of the year and perhaps the decade in the last half hour, and it reminds us that not only was our nation’s economy built on slavery, but our captains of industry will revert to it if we let them. A master class in comic outrage, this is a cinematic act of bomb-throwing, and it made me laugh and laugh. Also with Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Steven Yeun, Omari Hardwick, Jermaine Fowler, Kate Berlant, Forest Whitaker, and Danny Glover. Additional voices by Patton Oswalt, Rosario Dawson, and Lily James.

The Spy Who Dumped Me (R) A mediocre entry in the genre of comic spy thrillers, this one stars Mila Kunis as a spottily employed L.A. loser who gets swept into a spy plot along with her overly dramatic best friend (Kate McKinnon) after her CIA agent boyfriend (Justin Theroux) is murdered. Director/co-writer Susanna Fogel (Life Partners) does better with the car chases and shootouts than she does with the plot and characters, with double-crosses that make no sense and a dull romantic subplot with an MI6 agent (Sam Heughan). This movie is mainly worth seeing for the unorthodox pairing of Kunis and McKinnon, whose comic chemistry works splendidly. The latter comes up with the lion’s share of the laughs as she fires off ad-libs at a machine-gun pace. These two deserve a better movie. Also with Hasan Minhaj, Ivana Sakhno, Kev Adams, Ruby Kammer, Genevieve McCarthy, Lolly Adefope, and Gillian Anderson.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies (PG) A funnier superhero parody than Deadpool 2. The big-screen version of the Cartoon Network animated show has its five teen superheroes (voiced by Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Greg Cipes, Tara Strong, and Hynden Walch) trying to emulate the grown-up superheroes by starring in their own Hollywood blockbuster film, while simultaneously battling a supervillain (voiced by Will Arnett) looking to exploit the heroes’ desire for fame. The rapid-fire script dings Green Lantern, the musical numbers have Michael Bolton playing a psychedelic tiger, and Stan Lee portrays himself as a guy who’s so hungry for cameo appearances that he doesn’t mind switching over to the DC universe to do it. Also, the wonderteens travel back in time to undo the origin stories of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. This is a superhero movie for small children, but you may get more laughs out of the jokes than them. Additional voices by Kristen Bell, Patton Oswalt, Halsey, Jimmy Kimmel, Lil Yachty, and Nicolas Cage. 

Uncle Drew (PG-13) What a surprise, a character created for a series of Pepsi commercials can’t carry a whole movie. NBA star Kyrie Irving gets into his old-age makeup to play a septuagenarian playground legend who reunites with his former teammates (Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, and Nate Robinson) to win a pickup basketball tournament at Rucker Park and teach his hustler nephew (Lil Rel Howery) some lessons about life. Uncle Drew doesn’t reveal any other facets of his character other than he’s an old dude with a young man’s basketball moves. More importantly, nobody bothered to write a script for this thing, so we’re stuck with too much screen time given to ex-players who can’t act. Lil Rel and the other non-ex-player actors here work overtime to get something out of this, but even Tiffany Haddish’s presence can’t get things going. Also with Erica Ash, Lisa Leslie, Nick Kroll, J.B. Smoove, and Mike Epps.

Unfriended: Dark Web (R) There’s a conceptual problem at work that makes this horror sequel inferior to the original. As fears go, “someone will come after me for a stray remark I made on the internet” is much more potent than “someone will come after me because I found a laptop belonging to a dude who’s into snuff films.” Colin Woodell plays the unfortunate guy whom the latter happens to, and he manages to get himself, his deaf girlfriend (Stephanie Nogueras), and their circle of friends into the targets of an international ring of masked killers. Writer-director Stephen Susco (Red 2) ditches the original movie’s supernatural element and only succeeds in making his story less believable, and having the whole story play out on everybody’s laptop screens now looks more a gimmick and less of a device. Also with Andrew Lees, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Savira Windyani, Alexa Mansour, and Betty Gabriel. 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

Leave No Trace (PG) This drama by Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) stars Ben Foster as a war veteran with PTSD who tries to raise his teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) off the grid in the Oregon wilderness. Also with Dale Dickey and Dana Millican. 

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (NR) Mari Okada’s anime film is about an immortal girl (voiced by Manaka Iwami) who befriends an ordinary boy (voiced by Miyu Irino). Additional voices by Yôko Hikasa, Hiroaki Hirata, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yûki Kaji, and Ai Kayano. 

McQueen (R) Ian Bonhôte’s documentary profile of tormented fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

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