Above the Shadows (NR) Olivia Thirlby stars in this magical-realist fable about a woman so overwhelmed by grief that she threatens to disappear. Also with Megan Fox, Justine Cotsonas, Maria Dizzia, and Jim Gaffigan. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Booksmart (R) Olivia Wilde proves a major comic talent in her directing debut, an instant classic of a teen comedy. A high-school valedictorian (Beanie Feldstein) and her openly gay best friend (Kaitlyn Dever) grow tired of being wallflowers and decide to cram four years’ worth of partying into the night before graduation. The story veers between episodes as the girls are repeatedly sidetracked on their way to a party, but Wilde sustains the anarchic energy as the movie barrels through one hectic, surreal night. Dever’s springiness contrasts well with Feldstein’s bulldozer-like force, and the script is chockablock with vivid supporting characters and funny lines. Billie Lourd steals all her scenes as an indestructible classmate who keeps improbably popping up along the girls’ journey and spends the entire film stoned. Also with Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Mason Gooding, Diana Silvers, Victoria Ruesga, Skyler Gisondo, Molly Gordon, Noah Galvin, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga, Mike O’Brien, Will Forte, and Lisa Kudrow. (Re-opens Friday)
Dead in the Water (R) This action-thriller stars Judd Nelson as a Marine whose vacation turns deadly when his family are kidnapped by pirates. Also with Casper Van Dien, Brianne Davis, and Griff Furst. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Dear Comrade (NR) This Indian thriller stars Vijay Devarakonda as a student union leader. Also with Rashmika Mandanna, Jayaprakash, Rao Ramesh, Anish Kuruvilla, Brahmaji, Sukanya, and Shruti Ramachandran. (Opens Friday)
The Farewell (PG) Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) stars in Lulu Wang’s autobiographical drama as an American who travels to China to say goodbye to her terminally ill grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen), but under strict orders not to tell the old woman that she’s dying. Also with Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Jim Liu, Chen Han, Jiang Yongbo, and Gil Perez-Abraham. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
iSmart Shankar (NR) Ram Pothineni stars in this Indian comedy as a man who takes on the personality of a secret agent after a chip is installed in his brain. Also with Nidhhi Agerwal, Nabha Natesh, Satyadev Kancharana, Rao Ramesh, Ashish Vidyarthi, and Brahmanandam. (Opens Friday at Harkins Southlake)
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (R) Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is about a fading movie star (Leonardo DiCaprio) trying to revive his career in Hollywood in 1969. Also with Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Damian Lewis, Emile Hirsch, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Scoot McNairy, Clifton Collins Jr., Lena Dunham, Dreama Walker, Brenda Vaccaro, Mike Moh, Lorenza Izzo, Rumer Willis, Zoë Bell, Rebecca Gayheart, Al Pacino, and the late Luke Perry. (Opens Friday)
Sea of Shadows (PG-13) Richard Ladkani, Sean Bogle, and Matthew Podolsky’s documentary is about the fight by environmental activists to save the vaquita, a species of small whale being hunted by Mexican drug cartels and Chinese mafiosi. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
See You Soon (R) This romantic drama is about an American soccer star (Liam McIntyre) who falls for a Russian single mother (Jenia Tanaeva) while recovering from a career-threatening injury just before the World Cup. Also with Harvey Keitel, Poppy Drayton, Oleg Taktarov, George Lako, and Carles Puyol. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Skin (R) Jamie Bell stars in this drama as a man who tries to leave the white supremacist group that raised him. Also with Danielle Macdonald, Daniel Henshall, Bill Camp, Louisa Krause, Zoe Colletti, Mike Colter, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Vera Farmiga. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Art of Self-Defense (R) This sour, subversive treat stars Jesse Eisenberg as a meek accountant and assault victim who takes karate lessons and falls into the hands of a sensei (Alessandro Nivola) who runs his dojo more like a religious cult. It so happens that writer-director Riley Stearns knows cults well after his debut feature Faults, but his comic touch has improved considerably, as our protagonist notices things becoming weirder and more violent as he advances through the master’s training program. Eisenberg is perfectly cast as a defective male who comes to believe violence is the way to attain manhood. The movie’s satire of manlier-than-thou teachers could be finer, but it’s funny that the antihero prevails by twisting his teacher’s hyper-masculine wisdom to his own ends. The film’s happy ending is disturbing in the right way. Also with Imogen Poots, Steve Terada, Phillip Andrew Botello, Hauke Bahr, David Zellner, and Leland Orser.
Child’s Play (R) You know exactly where this is going 45 seconds in, when the movie sets up Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) as a home assistant à la Siri or Alexa, but as a doll that murders people. That’s not a bad idea, but unfortunately, that’s all the filmmakers think they need. Gabriel Bateman is the boy whose overworked single mother (Aubrey Plaza) brings home a returned doll from the big-box retailer where she works, and realizes that the doll is killing people by accessing the wi-fi in phones, computers, and cars. Director Lars Klevberg and writer Tyler Burton Smith seem to be going for some satire on late capitalism, but they’re not near sharp enough to pull this off, and the Donald Trump-looking doll isn’t scary enough to compensate for it. Also with Brian Tyree Henry, David Lewis, Beatrice Kitsos, Carlease Burke, Marlon Kazadi, and Tim Matheson.
Crawl (R) Alexandre Aja just loves a thriller that puts a beautiful woman through tortuous abuse of every kind, and this is the best one he’s done. Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner and its sequels) plays a University of Florida varsity swimmer who travels south during a severe hurricane to rescue her father (Barry Pepper), who’s been injured by an attack from an oversize alligator. The French director keeps things simple, as father and daughter have to avoid the rising floodwaters in their house to keep from being eaten. The simplicity gives the film a momentum that has been missing from some of Aja’s forays into horror. As for the ethereally beautiful Scodelario, she keeps her American accent on and looks good dragging herself through mud and wading through waist-deep water. Actresses don’t act in Aja’s films, they survive them. Also with Morfydd Clark and Ross Anderson.
The Lion King (PG) The original Disney animated musical sucked, and this remake is somehow worse. This new film replaces the hand-drawn characters from the 1994 movie with realistically rendered CGI African creatures, and it winds up working against the film because the new characters are less expressive than their cartoon counterparts. Simba (voiced by JD McCrary and Donald Glover) is as boring as ever as he is ousted from his pack by a coup engineered by his uncle (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor) and has to take his rightful place as king. Director Jon Favreau continues to have no flair for a musical number, and he sticks so slavishly to the original story that you wonder why he bothered. In addition, the A-list voice cast is dull. You’re better off watching the stage version. Additional voices by James Earl Jones, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodard, John Kani, John Oliver, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Amy Sedaris, and Chance the Rapper.
Midsommar (R) A romantic comedy wrapped in a psychedelic horror flick, this superbly creepy film is about a group of American anthropology grad students who visit a remote rural Swedish village for a midsummer festival, only to discover their jolly hosts are into ritual sacrifices and spiking their guests’ food and drink with mood-altering substances. Ari Aster follows up his horror film Hereditary with something more ambitious and funnier; the one woman on the trip (Florence Pugh) discovers amid all of the bloody violence that her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) sucks and needs to be dumped. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski does wonders generating scares in the wide-open spaces and near-constant sunshine of the place and production designer Henrik Svensson conjures some wondrous wooden sets where the terrors play out. The short-statured Pugh injects much nuance into a role where she’s either chemically altered or ugly crying most of the time, and turns this into a twisted parable of getting out of a bad relationship. Also with William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Vilhelm Blomgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia, and Anna Åström.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (PG-13) Underwhelming, obnoxious, goofy, derivative, and bad-looking. After spending 30 seconds on the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, this sequel quickly devolves into repetitive jokes as the resurrected web-slinger (Tom Holland) tries to go on a European vacation with his classmates and winds up dealing with a new superbeing (Jake Gyllenhaal) from another version of Earth. Director Jon Watts tries to keep everything grounded and self-contained, but it doesn’t work with so many superheroes floating in the wind. I wanted to love this film, but it left me feeling uneasy. Also with Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Angourie Rice, Tony Revolori, Martin Starr, Numan Acar, J.B. Smoove, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, and an uncredited J.K. Simmons. — Chase Whale
Stuber (R) The pairing of Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani lifts this buddy-cop thriller above the level of the pedestrian. Bautista plays a monomaniacal L.A. detective with temporarily compromised vision who hires Nanjiani’s Uber driver to chase a drug lord (Iko Uwais) around the city. We know who the mole inside the police department will be, and that the tough, macho cop will teach the fussy driver to stand up for himself while the driver will teach the cop to get in touch with his feelings. Director Michael Dowse does have a talent for escalating mayhem, but the gruff Bautista and the neurotic Nanjiani squeeze more laughs than they should out of this boilerplate material. Also with Mira Sorvino, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin, Jimmy Tatro, Steve Howey, and Karen Gillan.
Super 30 (NR) This inspirational teacher film from India follows the template pretty closely, though it’s based on a true story. Brilliant mathematician Anand Kumar (Hrithik Roshan) wins nationwide prizes and admission to Cambridge in the 1990s because of his skills, but can’t find the money to go, then briefly sells out to become a math teacher to rich kids before seeing the light and founding his own free school for poor kids in his hometown of Patna. The musical numbers here are the only big departure from the sort of stuff Hollywood used to make, and the songs aren’t strong enough to add much. The main thing to take away from this is that it’s not only in America that educators cut deals with rich elites. Also with Mrunal Thakur, Nandish Singh, Pankaj Tripathi, Virendra Saxena, and Johnny Lever.
Toy Story 4 (PG) Pixar’s flagship series continues to be good and gets much weirder. The toys are ensconced with a new owner (voiced by Madeleine McGraw), and a now largely-ignored Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) decides to protect a toy created by the child named Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), who thinks his destiny is as a piece of trash. It all leads to a surreal adventure on a road trip, during which Woody encounters a doll with a broken talking mechanism (voiced by Christina Hendricks), a Canadian motorcycle daredevil action figure (voiced by Keanu Reeves), and a stuffed duck and bunny (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) with delusions of grandeur, all of them funny and creepy in distinctive ways. It ends with Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) returning to convince Woody that he deserves a bit of time to himself, an ending that is wrenchingly perfect. Additional voices by Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Ally Maki, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Jeff Garlin, Bill Hader, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, John Ratzenberger, and Patricia Arquette.
Yesterday (PG-13) A lovely tribute to the Beatles, this comedy is set in the present day, when a struggling British musician (Himesh Patel) is hit by a bus and wakes up in a world that seems like his own, but all trace of the Beatles and their work has disappeared from everyone’s memory, so he records his own versions of the Fab Four’s songs and passes them off as his work. The satire of the music industry could be sharper, and the script by Richard Curtis (Love Actually) misses a huge opportunity to depict how we might view the songs differently if we thought an Asian guy had written them. However, Patel (a newcomer from British TV) brings a ton of musical chops to his part and Lily James (as his love interest) is at her most charming. Director Danny Boyle makes Liverpool look like an enchanted place and brings a shape to Curtis’ script that Curtis himself couldn’t do. Also with Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, Joel Fry, Harry Michell, Sophia Di Martino, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Lamorne Morris, and an uncredited Robert Carlyle.