The Biggest Little Farm (PG) John Chester’s documentary chronicles his own attempts to develop a sustainable farm outside Los Angeles, despite no experience in farming. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Chaperone (NR) Based on Laura Moriarty’s novel, this drama stars Elizabeth McGovern as an older woman from Kansas who accompanies Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) on her journey to New York City to find fame in movies in the 1920s. Also with Campbell Scott, Victoria Hill, Géza Röhrig, Matt McGrath, Robert Fairchild, and Miranda Otto. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
De De Pyaar De (NR) This Indian comedy stars Ajay Devgn as a 50-year-old man who causes an uproar among his family when he falls for a 26-year-old woman (Rakul Preet Singh). Also with Tabu, Javed Jaferi, Alok Nath, Jimmy Sheirgill, and Madhumalti Kapoor. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
A Dog’s Journey (PG) The same dog (voiced by Josh Gad) dies some more for the love of Dennis Quaid in the third film in the series. Also with Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Ian Chen, Henry Lau, and Abby Ryder Fortson. (Opens Friday)
The Meanest Man in Texas (NR) This Christian film stars Mateus Ward as the real-life serial killer who goes free and finds God. Also with Jamie McShane, Alexandra Byrd, Casey Bond, Ben Reed, Michael Monks, and Richard Riehle. (Opens Friday at Harkins Southlake)
Meeting Gorbachev (NR) The latest documentary by Werner Herzog profiles the former Soviet leader. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Professor (R) Not to be confused with The Professor and the Madman, this drama stars Johnny Depp as a repressed college professor who starts living recklessly after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Also with Zoey Deutch, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston, Linda Emond, Justine Warrington, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, and Danny Huston. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Sun Is Also a Star (PG-13) The heroine of this film wears a jacket that reads “Deus Ex Machina,” and unfortunately, that’s about as subtle as this teen romance gets. Yara Shahidi plays a teenage girl in New York who’s about to be deported back to Jamaica when she meets a handsome, athletic Korean boy (Charles Melton) who’s about to go to his college interview for Dartmouth. The bulk of the film takes place over 24 hours as they wander about the city, him maundering about fate and romantic destiny and wanting to give up medical school to write poetry, while she responds with percentages and chaos theory and scientific principles about why things happen. The movie (based on Nicola Yoon’s novel) could have taken all of this if the two leads had chemistry, but such is not the case. Also with Gbenga Akinnagbe, Jake Choi, Camrus Johnson, Anais Lee, Miriam A. Hyman, Keong Sim, Cathy Shim, and John Leguizamo. (Opens Friday)
Trial by Fire (R) This drama by Edward Zwick (Glory) is based on the real-life story of Cameron Todd Willingham (Jack O’Connell), the convicted child murderer who was executed despite evidence proving his innocence. Also with Laura Dern, Emily Meade, Jade Pettyjohn, Chris Coy, and Jeff Perry. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
A Violent Separation (NR) This thriller stars Brenton Thwaites as a sheriff’s deputy in a small Midwestern town in 1983 who discovers that his brother (Ben Robson) has committed a murder. Also with Alycia Debnam-Carey, Ted Levine, Claire Holt, Francesca Eastwood, and Gerald McRaney. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (NR) Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, this thriller is about a family whose life in seclusion is threatened by the arrival of a cousin (Sebastian Stan). Also with Alexandra Daddario, Taissa Farmiga, Paula Malcomson, Anna Nugent, and Crispin Glover. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Avengers: Endgame (PG-13) Pays off in spades. Following the events of Avengers: Infinity War, our heroes travel through time to try to avert the mass death that occurred when Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his fingers. The time-travel gambit is cleverly done, filling in backstory and making some of Marvel’s less essential previous films more important in retrospect. The film hits home emotionally, too, when you least expect it, as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) carry more emotional weight here than in other installments. Even if the massive climactic battle sequence is calculated to make you cheer when various superheroes enter the fray, it also brings an uncommon unity to the 21 movies that preceded it. Given what a heavy task this movie had to accomplish, it succeeds better than it had any right to. Also with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, Brie Larson, Tessa Thompson, Danai Gurira, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Rene Russo, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Wong, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Winston Duke, Letitia Wright, Cobie Smulders, Linda Cardellini, Ty Simpkins, Ken Jeong, Frank Grillo, Maximiliano Hernández, Jon Favreau, Hayley Atwell, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Marisa Tomei, Angela Bassett, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Hurt, Natalie Portman, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson. Voices by Kerry Condon, Taika Waititi, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper.
Breakthrough (PG) Up until the kid’s near-death experience, this Christian drama isn’t too bad. Chrissy Metz stars as Joyce Smith, the real-life mother whose adopted son (Marcel Ruiz) miraculously recovered after falling through an icy river and being in a coma. The film’s portrayal of small-town life in Missouri is finely executed, and Topher Grace is terrific as a newly arrived pastor from California whose self-consciously cool manner causes friction with some of the locals. The domestic stuff is handled well, too, but once the kid falls into the ice, this degenerates into another well-intentioned hospital drama with Jesus being more powerful than any medicine. Also with Josh Lucas, Sam Trammell, Mike Colter, Rebecca Staab, Ali Skovbye, and Dennis Haysbert.
Captain Marvel (PG-13) Brie Larson is everything you’d want in this first Marvel superhero movie with a woman at the center. She portrays Carol Danvers, a U.S. Air Force pilot who loses her memory, becomes caught up in an intergalactic racial war, crash-lands in L.A. in 1995, and tries to recover her past. Where other Marvel movies give us cool, futuristic tech, this one sticks to its time period and gives us superheroes working with dial-up internet and public pay phones. Larson looks capable of taking down a bunch of soldiers by herself and also looks convincingly shaken when she finds out her alien brethren have been lying to her. She also makes a neat comic duo with Samuel L. Jackson as a younger Nick Fury, who is better used here than in any previous Marvel films. Leading into Avengers: Endgame, this introduces a heroine who looks ready to pound Thanos into the ground. Also with Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Djimon Hounsou, Clark Gregg, Gemma Chan, Rune Tente, Algenis Perez Soto, Akira Akbar, Lee Pace, McKenna Grace, and uncredited cameos by Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson.
El Chicano (R) An interesting premise let down by its execution, this superhero film stars Raúl Castillo as an L.A. cop who becomes a masked vigilante to avenge the death of his twin brother at the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Some of the action sequences are professionally done by first-time film director and former stuntman Ben Hernandez Bray, but the dramatics are third-rate and Castillo is a leaden presence in the lead role. It takes too long for the antihero to become El Chicano, too. You can tell these stories on a small budget (see: Fast Color). This attempt at a Latin Batman origin story doesn’t fly. Kate del Castillo has a glorified cameo at the end of the film, and it is worth sticking around for. Also with Aimee Garcia, Armida Lopez, David Castañeda, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Emilio Rivera, and George Lopez.
The Curse of La Llorona (R) Underneath all the ethnic trappings, this is just the same old third-rate horror flick with the same old conjuring tricks. Linda Cardellini stars as a widowed Los Angeles social worker in 1973 who inadvertently causes the deaths of two Mexican boys, and their mother (Patricia Velasquez) calls down the child-snatching Mexican spirit to take revenge by taking the social worker’s two kids. There are other versions of the story of La Llorona that the movie could have used more profitably, and while first-time director Michael Chaves shows some talent, he doesn’t display any more invention or wit than a thousand other hack horror filmmakers. Cardellini gives everything she has to this performance, which is the best reason to watch. Also with Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Raymond Cruz, Marisol Ramirez, Tony Amendola, and Sean Patrick Thomas.
Detective Pikachu (PG) If you or your kids are already knee-deep in Pokémon knowledge, this movie is for you. Otherwise, it’s got nothing. Justice Smith stars as an insurance investigator in a metropolis filled with the magical creatures who runs into his father’s Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) and reluctantly teams up with him to solve his father’s disappearance. The CGI effects team does excellent work to create a world where humans interact with the mystical warriors of various stripes. However, the film-noir plot is weak stuff and the filmmakers clearly think that they can evoke the style of those old thrillers by putting characters in trench coats. Smith (Paper Towns) does creditable work to hold up his end of things. He deserves better material than this. Also with Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora, Karan Soni, Chris Geere, Diplo, Omar Chaparro, Bill Nighy, and Ken Watanabe.
Dumbo (PG) Yet another Disney animated film turned into a middling live-action movie, this one is directed by Tim Burton, with Danny DeVito as the circus troupe ringmaster and Colin Farrell as the trick rider who comes home from World War I having lost his left arm and his wife. The big-eared flying elephant is all CGI, and if it’s too cute by half, you can say the same about its hand-drawn counterpart. The bigger issue here is the cardboard villains (especially Michael Keaton as a rich financier) and the lack of any humor to cut the sentimentality. DeVito and Farrell both do fine work here, but they can’t save this. This story was done better when it was called The Shape of Water. Also with Eva Green, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, Lars Eidinger, Deobia Oparei, and Michael Buffer.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (PG) I was never a fan of this series, but I must say its final installment winds things up quite gracefully. Jay Baruchel plays the young chief of his Viking tribe whose island has become overcrowded with dragons, so when an evil overlord (voiced by F. Murray Abraham) targets them, he sets off for a hidden dragon utopia that has been rumored to exist off the edge of the world. The action sequences flow smoother than in either of the previous two installments. The jokes still aren’t funny, but the glimpse of the underworld where the dragons live is appropriately wondrous, and the way the humans say goodbye to their dragon pets is beautifully managed. Additional voices by America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Ferguson, Kit Harington, and Gerard Butler.
The Hustle (PG-13) In this trifling, inoffensive remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a posh British con artist (Anne Hathaway) meets a working-class Australian grifter (Rebel Wilson) in a resort town on the French Riviera, and the two go back and forth between being allies and enemies. The two actresses are game, but the various characters they pretend to be aren’t funny (with the possible exception of Hathaway as a German psychiatrist), and first-time director Chris Addison has little sense of how to build a scene. This would have been better had it been a film version of the Broadway musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with Hathaway and Wilson singing and dancing. Watch for Dean Norris as a Fort Worth oilman who becomes a mark for the con artists. Also with Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver, Casper Christensen, and Nicholas Woodeson.
The Intruder (PG-13) There’s a surprising number of home-invasion thrillers about black families, and this one is nowhere near as inventive as Us. Michael Ealy and Meagan Good are a well-to-do San Francisco married couple who buy a house in Napa Valley from a friendly old guy (Dennis Quaid) who starts stalking them obsessively and acts as if the house is still his. Director Deon Taylor (Traffik) hammers home every action sequence without an ounce of cleverness or subtlety, and neither the racial angle nor the villain driving an emotional wedge between the husband and the wife generates anything interesting. The bad guy is a leering psychopath played clumsily by Quaid, and the other characters all act like idiots so that the plot can keep going. Also with Joseph Sikora, Alvina August, and Lili Sepe.
Little (PG-13) Good acting can’t save this woeful comedy that makes very little out of a promising setup. Regina Hall stars as a bullying tech executive who wakes up one morning to find herself magically transformed into her 12-year-old self (Marsai Martin). Issa Rae contributes a keen supporting turn as the office assistant who becomes the only person to find out about the transformation, and Martin is a particularly bright newcomer. Still, there’s no ignoring how scene after scene here misfires. Not only does the comic potential here go untapped, the movie gets its messages about gender roles and women having power in the workplace hopelessly snarled. If you’re going to see one movie that’s a patch on Big, go with Shazam! Also with Justin Hartley, Mikey Day, Rachel Dratch, and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Long Shot (R) For a comedy that aims to address politics and sexism today, this feels awfully beside the point. Charlize Theron stars as a U.S. Secretary of State who runs for president and hires a new speechwriter (Seth Rogen) who used to be her neighbor when she was a girl. The biggest problem here is that the script simply isn’t funny, concentrating too much on the guy’s stumblebum antics in the national spotlight. The movie doesn’t know how to confront Donald Trump and the virulent sexism that his presidency has unleashed, so it presents us with a fictional world without those things. That’s nice for the characters who live in that world, but it doesn’t do much for us. The wonkish heroine catches up on her pop culture by binging the Marvel movies and Game of Thrones. We’d rather be watching those, too. Also with June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Randall Park, Lisa Kudrow, Andy Serkis, and Alexander Skarsgård.
Maharshi (NR) Mahesh Babu stars in this Indian action-thriller Also with Pooja Hegde, Allari Naresh, Meenakshi Dixit, and Prakash Raj.
Missing Link (PG) Is it me, or is Laika Studios going downhill? The stop-motion animation outfit burst onto the scene with great films such as Coraline, The BoxTrolls, and ParaNorman, but lately, they seem to have lost an indefinable something from their films. This latest one is about an English explorer (voiced by Hugh Jackman) who meets a Sasquatch (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) in the Pacific Northwest who can speak and write, and who asks the explorer to take him to Asia to meet up with a colony of yeti. The concept of an 8-foot-tall ape-man trying to pass himself off as a human would seem to be an easy one, and yet writer-director Chris Butler can’t do anything with it except make this tepid version of Around the World in 80 Days without the fine insight and complex characterization of Laika’s previous films. Something’s missing. Additional voices by Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, David Walliams, and Emma Thompson.
The Mustang (R) This Western is a fine first effort for its director. Matthias Schoenaerts stars as a violent felon who’s transferred to a prison in the Nevada desert and given a chance to participate in a rehab program that domesticates wild horses. If you’ve never seen Schoenaerts’ French-language performances in Bullhead and Rust and Bone, this is a good English equivalent, as he plays a big, muscular, nonverbal guy trying to control his murderous rage. French comedienne Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre directs her first feature film and displays a feel for the rhythms of prison life as well as orchestrating a phantasmagoric scene when the horses are brought into the prison kitchen to protect them from a thunderstorm. The story of a man who tames the beast within by learning to tame another large, angry beast is rendered with grace and sensitivity. Also with Jason Mitchell, Connie Britton, Gideon Adlon, Josh Stewart, Noel Guglielmi, and Bruce Dern.
Pet Sematary (R) For all the high-end talent and the pedigree of this project, it’s just another horror flick. Adapted from Stephen King’s novel, this stars Jason Clarke as a Maine doctor who attempts the unthinkable after an accident kills his daughter (Jeté Laurence). The team of screenwriters introduce a few plot twists, but none of them are clever enough to freshen up a book that has been widely read. The directing team of Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer don’t bring any wit to the story, either. One of King’s best and most horrifying books is turned into something disappointingly ordinary. Also with Amy Seimetz, Obssa Ahmed, and John Lithgow.
Poms (PG-13) The seed of something more interesting can be detected at the center of this underwhelming senior comedy. Diane Keaton plays a woman who is secretly dying of brain cancer when she decides to start up a cheerleading squad for the women at her retirement home. Director Zara Hayes (a documentarian making her first fiction film) makes the mistake of telling us that these old ladies are cool instead of just showing them doing cool things, and she does too much to gloss over the edges promised by the plot. Keaton is understatedly fine here, but she and a nice supporting cast can’t prop up this script. Also with Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier, Rhea Perlman, Celia Weston, Phyllis Somerville, Alisha Boe, Charlie Tahan, and Bruce McGill.
Shazam! (PG-13) The decision makers at Warner Bros. and DC Comics finally lighten up, to the relief of all of us. Asher Angel stars as a 14-year-old foster kid who gains powers that allow him to transform into a flying, bulletproof superhero (Zachary Levi) when he says the magic word. The movie has issues with pacing and a dull supervillain (Mark Strong), but horror-film director David F. Sandberg doesn’t screw up the comic material. All the other kids in the foster home have their distinct personalities, and Jack Dylan Grazer is a standout as a handicapped friend and comic-book nerd who helps the hero navigate his new life. The tone of this retro exercise is on a par with Marvel’s enjoyably dizzy exercises. This breath of fresh, lightning-singed air is the first DC movie I want to see again. Also with Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, John Glover, Meagan Good, Michelle Borth, Ross Butler, D.J. Cotrona, and Adam Brody.
Student of the Year 2 (NR) This Indian comedy stars Tiger Shroff as a college student who’s caught between two love interests while competing for the title of his school’s best student. Also with Tara Sutaria, Ananya Panday, Aditya Seal, and Alia Bhatt.
Tolkien (PG-13) The J.R.R. Tolkien estate doesn’t want you to see this biopic, and I’m finding no compelling reasons to defy them. Nicholas Hoult stars as the fantasy author in his younger days at Oxford and then serving in the British Army during World War I. Director Dome Karukoski (Tom of Finland) and his writers draw everything in straight lines pointing toward Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth: his interest in medievalism and ancient languages, his close friendships with other male students at school, his scarring war experiences, his introduction to Wagner’s epic storytelling by his music-loving future wife (Lily Collins). Hoult does fine work and Derek Jacobi spikes the energy levels as Tolkien’s Oxford mentor, but they can’t make this into any more than some dully genteel drama that will only speak to Tolkien completists. Also with Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson, Tom Glynn-Carney, Harry Gilby, Colm Meaney, Craig Roberts, Genevieve O’Reilly, and Laura Donnelly.
UglyDolls (PG) About how you would expect an animated movie based on a line of toys to be. Kelly Clarkson is the voice of a malformed doll who believes that she and the other similar dolls in her magical land can find their way to “The Big World” and a child’s love. The proceedings do pick up in the middle when the dolls reach a place called The Institute of Perfection, a dehumanizing school where dolls are taught how to have no flaws. The place is funny, and so is the villain (voiced by Nick Jonas) running the place, who sings a Justin Bieber-style ode about how no other dolls can hope to be as beautiful or perfect as himself. This, though, can’t make up for the story or for the weak vocal acting by a cast full of singers rather than actors. Additional voices by Janelle Monáe, Blake Shelton, Pitbull, Gabriel Iglesias, Wanda Sykes, Charli XCX, Wang Leehom, Bebe Rexha, Emma Roberts, and Lizzo.
Us (R) Jordan Peele’s second horror film isn’t as good as Get Out, but it shows his talent as a director. Lupita Nyong’o stars as a woman who goes with her husband and children on a beach vacation, only for them to be hunted by murderous demons who look like them. The metaphors in this script don’t track so well, but Peele’s rigor and virtuosity are evident in many places, whether the son (Evan Alex) is investigating a scarecrow-like man standing and bleeding on a crowded beach or whether he’s cutting the horror with humor, as when the husband (Winston Duke) tries to sound “ghetto” when he’s trying to intimidate the monsters. Nyong’o gives a great performance here, utterly terrifying as the evil version of her character and excelling as the mother forced to confront her childhood demons. It’s not fair that Peele has to make all the horror films from a black point of view, but it’s well that he’s as good at it as he is. Also with Shahadi Wright Joseph, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Anna Diop, Madison Curry, Tim Heidecker, and Elisabeth Moss.
Amazing Grace (G) The late Sydney Pollack’s documentary chronicles a January 1972 performance in a Los Angeles church by the late Aretha Franklin.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (NR) Not a film version of the Eugene O’Neill play, but a Chinese drama about a man (Huang Jue) who returns to his hometown and becomes obsessed with the memory of a woman (Tang Wei) whom he loved long ago. Also with Sylvia Chang, Lee Hong-Chi, and Chen Yongzhong.
The Professor and the Madman (NR) This historical drama stars Mel Gibson as the professor putting together the first-ever Oxford English dictionary, and his correspondence with a mental patient (Sean Penn) who sends him thousands of words. Also with Natalie Dormer, Stephen Dillane, Jeremy Irvine, Jennifer Ehle, Eddie Marsan, Ioan Gruffudd, and Steve Coogan.
The White Crow (R) Ralph Fiennes directs and co-stars in this historical drama about ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) and his defection to the West. Also with Adèle Exarchopoulos, Louis Hofmann, Olivier Rabourdin, Raphaël Personnaz, and Sergei Polunin.
Wine Country (R) Amy Poehler stars in her own directing debut as one of a group of middle-aged friends who travel together to Napa Valley. Also with Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Maya Erskine, Paula Pell, Rachel Dratch, Jason Schwartzman, Liz Cackowski, Kate Comer, Cherry Jones, and Tina Fey.