The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (R) The Coen brothers’ latest Western is an anthology film of six stories set in the Old West. Starring Liam Neeson, James Franco, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Root, Ralph Ineson, Tyne Daly, Saul Rubinek, Clancy Brown, David Krumholtz, Tim Blake Nelson, and Tom Waits. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Boy Erased (R) The best movie yet to tackle gay conversion therapy, yet it feels oddly uninvolving. Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir about growing up in Arkansas during the ’00s, this drama stars Lucas Hedges as Conley’s fictional alter ego and Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as his religious parents who force him into therapy sessions. Joel Edgerton directs this and also portrays the pastor who runs the camp, and while he delves into the destructive methods that teach gay kids to hate both themselves and their parents, he doesn’t go far enough. He needed to portray the camp as a hellish place. The performances by the principals are faultless, but the whole thing can’t escape feeling by-the-numbers and dutiful. Also with Xavier Dolan, Joe Alwyn, Britton Sear, Madelyn Cline, and Troye Sivan. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Burn the Stage: The Movie (NR) Park Jun-soo’s documentary follows the Korean boy band BTS on their worldwide concert tour. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (PG-13) The sequel continues the adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), trying to track down the fugitive Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) in Paris. Also with Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Kim, Callum Turner, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, and Jamie Campbell Bower. (Opens Friday)
55 Steps (PG-13) This drama based on real life stars Hilary Swank as a 1980s lawyer who takes on the case of a mental patient (Helena Bonham Carter) with implications for the whole mental health system. Also with Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Culkin, Richard Riddell, and Johan Heldenbergh. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Great Buster (NR) Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary on the life and career of Buster Keaton. Also with Mel Brooks, Paul Dooley, Bill Hader, Bill Irwin, Carl Reiner, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Mankiewicz, Leonard Maltin, and Werner Herzog. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Green Book (PG-13) Peter Farrelly’s dramedy based on a true story stars Viggo Mortensen as an Italian-American nightclub bouncer in 1962 who’s hired to chauffeur a black concert pianist (Mahershala Ali) through a concert tour of the Deep South. Also with Linda Cardellini, Don Stark, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jenna Laurenzo, Dimiter Marinov, Mike Hatton, and Iqbal Theba. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Instant Family (PG-13) Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne star in this comedy based on a true story as a couple who adopt three siblings at once. Also with Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, Juliana Gamiz, Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty, and Joan Cusack. (Opens Friday)
The Long Dumb Road (R) Jason Mantzoukas and Tony Revolori star in this comedy as two men taking a spur-of-the-moment road trip across the Southwest. Also with Taissa Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Casey Wilson, Grace Gummer, Lindsay Burdge, Will Brittain, and Pamela Reed. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
A Private War (R) Rosamund Pike needs to stop starring in dry, self-important movies about world events. This makes three this year after Beirut and 7 Days in Entebbe. Here, she plays Marie Colvin, the American journalist for the British newspaper The Guardian who was killed covering the civil war in Syria in 2012. Pike does give a fine performance as a war correspondent who’s drawn to the job because of the adrenaline rush of dodging bullets and risking her life. Yet documentarian Matthew Heineman (City of Ghosts, Cartel Land) making his first fiction film doesn’t bring sufficient invention to this story of a flawed heroine, and his focus on her psychology has the unfortunate effect of reducing all the Third World suffering to a mere backdrop. Also with Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, Greg Wise, Faye Marsay, and Stanley Tucci. (Opens Friday)
Prospect (R) This science-fiction film stars Pedro Pascal and Sophie Thatcher as a father and teenage daughter who travel to a remote moon looking for jewels that will make them rich. Also with Jay Duplass, Andre Royo, Anwan Glover, and Sheila Vand. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Speed Kills (R) John Travolta stars in this thriller as a boat racing champion who lands in trouble with the law and drug lords. Also with Jennifer Esposito, Katheryn Winnick, James Remar, Kellan Lutz, Tom Sizemore, Jordi Mollà, Amaury Nolasco, and Matthew Modine. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Welcome Home (R) Aaron Paul and Emily Ratajkowski star in this thriller as an American couple vacationing in Italy when they are preyed upon by a helpful stranger in the countryside (Riccardo Scamarcio). (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Beautiful Boy (R) Based on the memoirs by David and Nicolas Sheff, this drama stars Steve Carell as a successful freelance journalist who watches his teenage son (Timothée Chalamet) become a meth addict. Director Felix van Groeningen smartly adopts a non-linear structure that mimics the tedium of addiction and its cycles of relapse, rehab, and sobriety. The acting here is pretty faultless, too, with Chalamet proficiently imitating the tics and cravings and fits of depression of a tweaker. Yet while van Groeningen’s wish to avoid a tidy and uplifting resolution is admirable, it still feels like he’s just piling misery on top of misery like he did in his Belgian film The Broken Circle Breakdown. David Sheff’s book is far more wrenching than this well-intentioned film. Also with Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Kaitlyn Dever, Andre Royo, LisaGay Hamilton, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Timothy Hutton.
Bohemian Rhapsody (PG-13) That PG-13 rating is the first sign that something is wrong with this Queen biopic. Rami Malek stars as Freddie Mercury, who rebels against his Parsi family by embracing rock and roll. The story has all the continuity of a playlist on shuffle, as success seems to come out of nowhere for the band and hit follows hit with little insight into the odd creative process that the band went through. The project appeals to none of the strengths of X-Men director Bryan Singer. This bad movie is almost redeemed by a blazing performance by Malek, who plays the piano and struts around on the stage with Mercury’s particular swagger that’s manly and queeny at the same time. This actor deserves to headline better movies than this one. Also with Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Joseph Mazzello, Ben Hardy, Allen Leech, Aidan Gillen, Aaron McCusker, Tom Hollander, and Mike Myers.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (R) Melissa McCarthy does a fine dramatic turn in this film based on the memoirs of Lee Israel, the literary biographer who turns to creating forgeries of famous people’s letters after her career takes a downturn. Writer-director Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl) rigs up an efficient narrative that moves along at an unhurried pace and, more importantly, elicits strong supporting performances from a well-employed supporting cast. The role of an alcoholic lesbian who hangs out in gay bars so she won’t be disturbed isn’t a great departure for McCarthy, but she reaches true greatness in a late scene when Lee stands up before a judge and reflects that her flaws as a writer led her to her life of crime. Also with Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone, Stephen Spinella, Anna Deavere Smith, and Jane Curtin.
First Man (PG-13) Not great, but terribly impressive. The latest film by Damien Chazelle is this historical drama about Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), portraying the recessive astronaut as a taciturn loner tormented by his 2-year-old daughter’s death, throwing himself into his work to numb the pain. This is based on James R. Hansen’s exhaustively researched book, but the drama is provided by Chazelle, who makes sure we hear every creak in the metal ships as they fly through space and feel the terrifying danger of early space flight. Fans of Chazelle’s earlier films like La La Land and Whiplash may not respond to the emotional restraint shown here, but others may like his willingness and ability to do something else. We touch the stars here, just as we did in Chazelle’s last film. Also with Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ethan Embry, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Olivia Hamilton, Ciarán Hinds, Lukas Haas, Shea Whigham, Patrick Fugit, Cory Michael Smith, and Kyle Chandler.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web (R) Both Claire Foy and Lisbeth Salander deserve better than this reheated spy thriller. Based on David Lagercrantz’ continuation of Stieg Larsson’s series of novels, this one has Foy take over Rooney Mara’s old role as Lisbeth trying to solve a string of murders, recover a computer program that can unlock the world’s nuclear arsenal, dodge the law and various other pursuers, and face down her childhood trauma. Uruguayan director Fede Álvarez is a decent action-film guy who delivers a couple of good sequences, and Foy isn’t a bad choice for the role despite her atrocious Swedish accent. Yet they’re helpless in the face of their source material, which saddles Lisbeth with a cute kid (Christopher Convery) who’s the key to the plot. The film’s prologue sequence starts with Lisbeth as an angel of the #MeToo era, a direction that the series would be better served by. Also with Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Sverrir Gudnason, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps, Mikael Persbrandt, and Cameron Britton.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (PG) It’s the same plot! They used the same plot! Jack Black reprises his role as R.L. Stine (a much smaller part this time), as a couple of boys (Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris) who weren’t interesting enough to make it into the cast of Stranger Things discover a book that unleashes all the monsters from Stine’s books on their small town. The movie gets a few stray laughs from the adults in the cast (particularly Ken Jeong as a neighbor who goes way overboard on his Halloween decorations), but cue a bunch of CGI monsters that aren’t scary and contrived hijinks. You’re much better off watching the other kiddie-horror film this season that stars Jack Black. Also with Wendi McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman, Bryce Cass, and Chris Parnell.
The Grinch (PG) And still no one has made a good full-length movie out of Dr. Seuss’ children’s books. Illumination Entertainment, which previously did The Lorax, tries to tackle this animated adaptation with Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the green Christmas-hating being who tries to ruin the holiday for Whoville. Nobody seems to grasp that Seuss’ rhyming books don’t have enough story material for a 90-minute feature film, so they keep trying to pad out the running time. This movie has Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) trying to trap Santa Claus while the Grinch is given a backstory explaining why he hates Christmas. None of it comes out interesting, enlightening, or more than mildly amusing. I actually miss Jim Carrey. Additional voices by Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, and Angela Lansbury. Narration by Pharrell Williams.
Halloween (R) Gives the Laurie Strode-Michael Myers feud the finale that fans deserve. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the series in this sequel to the iconic 1978 slasher film that ignores all the movies in between (except for Easter eggs littered throughout the film). Forty years after the events of the first movie, Michael escapes from his mental asylum, and Laurie has spent all those decades training herself to kill him. In his first foray into horror, David Gordon Green imitates the look and decor of John Carpenter’s original movie as closely as possible without forgetting to portray its heroine as someone dangerous. This is the Michael Myers we have missed. Also with Will Patton, Judy Greer, Miles Robbins, Haluk Bilginer, Andi Matichak, Rhian Rees, and P.J. Soles. — Chase Whale
The Hate U Give (PG-13) Sometimes in life, you just need a black girl standing on the hood of a car and telling you to burn down this whole rotten world that white people built. That’s the unlikely pass that this teen movie adapted from Angie Thomas’ novel comes to. Amandla Stenberg plays a teenage girl who watches her unarmed African-American childhood friend (Algee Smith) get shot by a white cop during a traffic stop. The resulting media uproar gets her harassed by both other cops and the local gang kingpin (Anthony Mackie), who used to employ her dad. The film covers a great deal of ground without tripping over itself, and veteran director George Tillman Jr. weaves the different plot threads and characters together until the film is as dense as a George Eliot novel. In tackling such thorny social and racial issues, this teen film is something rare and valuable. Also with Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Common, Sabrina Carpenter, K.J. Apa, Dominique Fishback, Lamar Johnson, TJ Wright, and Issa Rae.
The House With a Clock in Its Walls (PG) What’s weirder, torture-porn director Eli Roth making a kids’ movie for Disney, or the fact that his movie kinda works? The Hostel filmmaker adapts John Bellairs’ novel about an orphaned boy in the 1950s (Owen Vaccaro) who goes to live with his eccentric uncle (Jack Black) and discovers that he’s a warlock fighting the forces of evil. Black is well-matched with Cate Blanchett as a platonic next-door neighbor with similar magical powers, which makes up for Vaccaro’s weepy presence in the lead role. No matter, the real story here is how well Roth tones down his horror-movie skills for the younger set without losing his distinctiveness or his macabre sense of humor. His evocation of a white-bread American suburb haunted by terrors reminds you of Tim Burton during his glory days. Also with Kyle MacLachlan, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, Lorenza Izzo, and Colleen Camp.
Hunter Killer (R) This submarine film was made before 2016, and does it ever show. Gerard Butler stars as a U.S. nuclear sub captain who must avert a war with Russia by transporting the country’s president (Alexander Diachenko) to safety after he’s deposed by a coup. This is far more watchable than most of Butler’s recent films, if you can ignore the weirdness of the Russian characters speaking English to one another. Weirder still is the whole vibe that the Americans and Russians can save the world if they work together. Had we seen this three years ago, it would have looked like a perfectly ordinary submarine flick. Now it looks hopelessly dated. Also with Gary Oldman, Common, Linda Cardellini, Caroline Goodall, Toby Stephens, Mikhail Gorovoy, Zane Holtz, Michael Trucco, and the late Michael Nyqvist.
Indivisible (PG-13) At last, a Christian film good enough that nonbelievers can actually watch. Justin Bruening plays an Army chaplain who tries to hold his marriage together after serving in Iraq and suffering from PTSD. The movie acknowledges that praying more won’t be enough to solve the protagonist’s problems. Even better, the film doesn’t drag, and the combat action is filmed in a convincing manner. If evangelical movies were better, they’d be at least as good as this one. Also with Sarah Drew, Jason George, Madeline Carroll, Tanner Stine, Skye P. Marshall, Michael O’Neill, and Tia Mowry-Harddrict.
Johnny English Strikes Again (PG) Rowan Atkinson shows his age in this third film starring him as the bumbling British secret agent. By now, we know that when Johnny crows about his vintage Aston Martin’s gas mileage, it’ll end up stranded on the road, and when he and Agent Bough (Ben Miller) pose as French waiters in a restaurant, they’ll set the place on fire. The character is stuck in place, and screenwriter William Davies can’t think of a new place for him to go, nor can he think of funny new characters to bring Johnny into contact with. Atkinson is 63 and no longer as limber as he once was, and he continues never to have found a suitable collaborator since Richard Curtis went into artistic decline. Also with Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, Adam James, Charles Dance, Edward Fox, Michael Gambon, and Emma Thompson.
Night School (PG-13) Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are the surest bets in African-American comedy right now, and they don’t disappoint in this one, even if the material doesn’t really deserve their talents. Hart plays a high-school dropout who resolves to get his GED so he can feel worthy of his gorgeous, educated fiancée (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and Haddish plays his hard-nosed instructor who won’t accept his glad-handing attempts to skate through her course. The supporting players are wasted and some of the set pieces are creakily contrived, but the script’s honest handling of learning disabilities and the skills of its two lead actors are enough to earn it a gentleman’s C. Also with Taran Killam, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Al Madrigal, Ben Schwartz, Anne Winters, Keith David, Fat Joe, and Mary Lynn Rajskub.
Nobody’s Fool (R) Tiffany Haddish stars in Tyler Perry’s latest comedy as a recently released ex-convict who determines to get revenge on the person who’s been catfishing her sister (Tika Sumpter). Also with Amber Riley, Mehcad Brooks, Omari Hardwick, Missi Pyle, and Whoopi Goldberg.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (PG) Like having a thousand-pound block of marzipan dropped on your head. Mackenzie Foy plays a teenage girl in the 19th century who is looking for her late mother’s Christmas present when she finds a gateway to a magical world full of flowers, candy, and gingerbread. This is co-directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, neither of whom have the capability to render this fantasy world as anything other than groaning under the weight of set decoration that upstages the waterlogged dramatics about finding your inner strength. A few minutes of Misty Copeland dancing can’t make up for that, nor can Keira Knightley playing a sugarplum fairy who’s weirdly turned on by her army of tin soldiers. (“Boys in uniform with weapons sends a quiver right through me!”) Also with Helen Mirren, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez, Sergei Polunin, Matthew Macfadyen, Ellie Bamber, and Morgan Freeman.
Overlord (R) Not the latest Cloverfield movie in disguise, as you may have heard. Instead, this is a boilerplate zombie movie about an African-American World War II soldier (Jovan Adepo) whose advance work in France before the D-Day invasion hits an unexpected snag when he stumbles on a secret Nazi lab where the scientists are developing a death-curing serum that turns its recipients into bloodthirsty zombies. This storyline is straight out of the Wolfenstein series of video games, but playing any of those games will afford you more amusement than this woefully unimaginative horror film where the zombies leap out from all the places where you expect them to. This is a waste of a fine young actor in Adepo. Also with Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Olivier, Pilou Asbæk, John Magaro, Iain de Caestecker, Dominic Applewhite, and Bokeem Woodbine.
Smallfoot (PG) Astonishing just how little happens in this movie over such a long period of time. This animated film is set in a fundamentalist community of Himalayan yetis who are taught that humans don’t exist, until one yeti (voiced by Channing Tatum) encounters a ratings-hungry British nature TV host (voiced by James Corden) and throws both the yetis and the humans into chaos. Director/co-writer Karey Kirkpatrick has not brought his best material here, and the musical numbers only pad out the running time without contributing anything fresh. The title is appropriate, since the movie will leave a small footprint on your memory. Additional voices by Zendaya, Gina Rodriguez, Common, Yara Shahidi, Danny DeVito, and LeBron James.
A Star Is Born (R) There’s stuff in this remake that the previous versions of this story don’t have. Bradley Cooper stars in this show-business tragedy as a country-rock star on his way down who falls in love with and marries a pop star (Lady Gaga) on her way up. Making his filmmaking debut, Cooper directs this with more competence than flair, but he’s quite good with atmosphere (whether he’s in a cramped drag bar or on a dusty ranch in Arizona) and he sings well enough to be credible as a music star who fills up arenas. The movie misses a chance to comment on how stardom is different now than in previous years, but Lady Gaga turns out to be a trump card. Casting a first-time movie actor as a character much like herself is no guarantee of a good performance, but she delivers both on the humor and the tragedy of the role here, as well as the character’s musical chops. Also with Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Ron Rifkin, Eddie Griffin, and Dave Chappelle.
Suspiria (R) The best horror remake ever. Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) redoes Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film set at a dance academy in Berlin, with Argento’s wacky, baroque decor replaced by a drab, brutalist look for the school, and Guadagnino and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom make you feel the rising damp in the place. The school is a front for a coven of witches, investigated by both a new American student (Dakota Johnson) and an old German psychiatrist (Lutz Ebersdorf, a.k.a. Tilda Swinton made up to look like an 80-year-old man). The dullness of the school is offset by some spectacular and violent modern dance numbers choreographed by Damien Jalet and some horrific sequences centered on mutilation of the female body. The film’s reference to Germany’s historical guilt makes it a haunting piece of work told in the dancers’ slashing movements. Also with Mia Goth, Angela WInkler, Alek Wek, Sylvie Testud, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Renée Soutendijk, Malgorzata Bela, and Chloë Grace Moretz.
Thugs of Hindostan (NR) This Indian blockbuster is about a group of 18th-century freedom fighters trying to liberate the Indian subcontinent from British rule. Starring Aamir Khan, Katrina Kaif, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Lloyd Owen, Abdul Quadir Amin, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub, and Amitabh Bachchan.
Venom (PG-13) Terrible, but also kinda fun. Tom Hardy stars in this Marvel Comics adaptation as a disgraced journalist who becomes infected with an alien organism that allows him to change into a bulletproof beast that bites off people’s heads. The plot makes no sense and director Ruben Fleischer can’t do much with all the CGI in this thing, but Hardy gives the funniest performance of his career in slapstick sequences where he’s not in control of his body. The moments with the alien speaking to him in a voice only he can hear are pretty funny, too. This would have been awesome if the filmmakers had only had the courage to go the full Deadpool with this material. Also with Michelle Williams, Jenny Slate, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Melora Walters, and Woody Harrelson.
Bodied (R) Calum Worthy stars in this comedy as a white graduate student who sparks a campus outrage when he decides to write his thesis on battle rap. Also with Jackie Long, Rory Uphold, Walter Perez, Shoniqua Shandai, Debra Wilson, Anthony Michael Hall, and Charlamagne tha God.
Border (R) This Swedish Gothic romance film stars Eva Melander as a facially deformed Swedish cop who falls in love with a man (Eero Milonoff) with a similar deformity. Also with Jörgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren, Kjell Wilhelmsen, and Rakel Wärmländer.
Free Solo (PG-13) Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary follows rock climber Alex Honnold as he prepares to scale the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without ropes or gear.
In Search of Greatness (PG-13) This documentary by Gabe Polsky (Red Army) is about athletes considered the greatest in their sport. Starring Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice, and Pelé.
Lez Bomb (NR) Jenna Laurenzo writes, directs, and stars in this comedy as a closeted lesbian whose plans to come out to her family over Thanksgiving are thwarted by circumstances. Also with Caitlin Mehner, Elaine Hendrix, Steve Guttenberg, Deirdre O’Connell, Kevin Pollak, Cloris Leachman, and Bruce Dern.
The Other Side of the Wind (R) Orson Welles’ latest film, assembled from rough documentary footage from the 1940s and filmed footage from the 1970s, stars John Huston as a dying film director trying to complete one last project and contemplating his legacy. Also with Robert Random, Joseph McBride, Lilli Palmer, Edmond O’Brien, Mercedes McCambridge, Susan Strasberg, and Peter Bogdanovich.
Outlaw King (R) Chris Pine stars in this historical war film as Robert the Bruce, the Scottish leader who repels a larger English invasion force in the 14th century. Also with Stephen Dillane, Rebecca Robin, Billy Howle, Paul Blair, Sam Spruell, and James Cosmo.
River Runs Red (NR) This cop thriller stars John Cusack as a burned-out veteran who decides to take justice into his own hands regarding two white officers (Luke Hemsworth and Gianni Capaldi) who get away with shooting an unarmed black man. Also with George Lopez, Briana Evigan, RJ Mitte, and Taye Diggs.
Wildlife (PG-13) Adapted from Richard Ford’s novel by Paul Dano, this drama stars Ed Oxenbould as a teenager growing up in 1960 Montana and watching the marriage of his parents (Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan) break apart. Also with Bill Camp.