Becoming Astrid (NR) This Swedish biopic stars Alba August as young Astrid Lindgren, the author who created Pippi Longstocking. Also with Trine Dyrholm, Maria Bonnevie, Björn Gustafson, Magnus Krepper, Liv LeMoyne, and Henrik Rafaelsen. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Blood Brother (R) Jack Kesy stars in this crime thriller as a recently released ex-con who starts murdering his old friends, blaming them for his imprisonment. Also with China Anne McClain, Chelle Ramos, Ron Killings, Noëlle Renée Bercy, Hassan Johnson, and Trey Songz. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Dead in a Week (NR) Aneurin Barnard stars in this black comedy as a young man who hires a killer (Cristopher Eccleston) after his ninth failed suicide attemped. Also with Freya Mavor and Tom Wilkinson. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Elliot the LIttlest Reindeer (PG) This animated film is about a horse at the North Pole (voiced by Josh Hutcherson) who dreams of making it onto the team that pulls Santa’s sleigh. Additional voices by Morena Baccarin, Samantha Bee, Jeff Dunham, Martin Short, and John Cleese. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Favourite (R) This farcical British historical comedy stars Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, who is caught between lesbian affairs with two of her ladies-in-waiting (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone). Also with Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, Mark Gatiss, and John Locke. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Possession of Hannah Grace (R) Shay Mitchell stars in this horror film as a rehabbing cop who suffers harrowing experiences while working late nights at the city morgue. Also with Grey Damon, Kirby Johnson, Nick Thune, and Stana Katic. (Opens Friday)
2.0 (NR) This Indian science-fiction film stars Rajinikanth as a scientist trying to solve a global crisis. Also with Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Sudhanshu Pandey, and Adil Hussain. (Opens Friday)
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.
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.
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.
Creed II (PG-13) Everything in this sequel is tick-tock predictable, and yet the movie comes out as honest instead of insulting or pandering. Michael B. Jordan reprises his role as Adonis Creed, who wins the heavyweight championship of the world just in time to be challenged to a fight by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the Russian boxer (Dolph Lundgren) who killed his dad. New director Steven Caple Jr. doesn’t do anything wildly creative, but all the principal actors remain dialed in to their characters. The movie also avoids staleness by throwing in some wrinkles with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and her progressive hearing loss, as well as the events from the 1980s that still haunt Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and the Dragos. Also with Wood Harris, Russell Hornsby, Phylicia Rashad, Milo Ventimiglia, and Brigitte Nielsen.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (PG-13) I really wish this had been a novel. Eddie Redmayne (now more settled into his role) plays the socially inept Newt Scamander tracking the fugitive Credence (Ezra Miller) into Paris in the 1920s on the orders of a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). We have Zoë Kravitz doing an English accent and a hinted-at youthful romance between Dumbledore and fascist wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), but they’re not worth sitting through 134 minutes of clunky flashbacks and people standing around while declaiming expositional dialogue. J.K. Rowling does not have the same natural flair for screenwriting that she does for writing books. She needs a collaborator to iron stuff out for the big screen. Also with Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Kim, Callum Turner, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, William Nadylan, Kevin Guthrie, and Jamie Campbell Bower.
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 Front Runner (R) Hugh Jackman stars in Jason Reitman’s dramedy about the downfall of 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart. Also with Vera Farmiga, Sara Paxton, Ari Graynor, Alfred Molina, Mark O’Brien, Alex Karpovsky, Kaitlyn Dever, Kevin Pollak, and J.K. Simmons.
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.
Green Book (PG-13) Peter Farrelly takes an inspiring real-life story and turns it into a white version of Driving Miss Daisy. I didn’t need that in my life. Viggo Mortensen plays an Italian-American nightclub bouncer who takes a job driving an African-American classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour of the Deep South in 1962. And they both learn something from each other. There are some honest observations about the differences between racial experiences, but these are drowned out amid the canned morality and simplistic contrasts between the characters. Mortensen manages some funny moments but his performance is like the rest of the movie, about as authentic as a supermarket jar of spaghetti sauce. Also with Linda Cardellini, Don Stark, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jenna Laurenzo, Dimiter Marinov, Mike Hatton, and Iqbal Theba.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (PG) A veritable orgy of product placement, and also quite a lot of fun. This sequel to Wreck-It Ralph has our lovable video-game villain (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) going into the internet to find a missing part for her game. The movie fires off some funny shots at the experience of being online, and it’s a better field for Easter egg hunting than Ready Player One. Still, two scenes demand to be seen: one in which Vanellope wanders into a dressing room with all 14 Disney princesses (voiced by the likes of Kristen Bell, Auli’i Cravalho, Mandy Moore, Idina Menzel, Irene Bedard, Kelly Macdonald, Ming-Na Wen, Paige O’Hara, and Jodi Benson), and another one in which she stars in her own musical number in a Grand Theft Auto-like video game that’s paradise for her. Additional voices by Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Alan Tudyk, Ed O’Neill, Alfred Molina, Ali Wong, Jason Mantzoukas, Tim Allen, Brad Garrett, Vin Diesel, Anthony Daniels, and June Squibb.
Robin Hood (PG-13) Taron Egerton stars in the latest attempt to restart the saga of the English vigilante. Also with Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, and F. Murray Abraham.
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.
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.
Widows (R) Steve McQueen isn’t a natural at popcorn entertainment, but his attempt at a heist movie yields some fascinating things. Taking her way overdue first lead role in a film, Viola Davis plays a woman who’s left in debt to the mob after her husband (Liam Neeson) and his crew of robbers are killed by police. She gathers up the other men’s widows (Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki) to help her retrieve $5 million that her husband stashed away. Davis is such a steely, authoritative presence that you don’t wonder at the other women lining up behind her despite not knowing her. McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) adapt this from a 1980s BBC miniseries and stuff it with all manner of social commentary and local color, depicting Chicago as a political cesspool. Not everything works, but compared to the poofy and underthought escapism of Ocean’s 8, this balkier and darker creation makes better use of its cast. Also with Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Jacki Weaver, Garret Dillahunt, Lukas Haas, Adepero Oduye, Carrie Coon, Matt Walsh, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Robert Duvall.
At Eternity’s Gate (PG-13) Julian Schnabel’s biography of Vincent van Gogh stars Willem Dafoe as the tormented painter. Also with Rupert Friend, Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Niels Arestrup, Vincent Perez, Amira Casar, Anne Consigny, and Oscar Isaac.
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.
Maria by Callas (PG) Tom Volf’s documentary profiles the mid-20th-century opera star with the tortured private life. Narrated by Joyce DiDonato.
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.