The Art of Racing in the Rain (PG) The best auto racing film of the year, though that doesn’t necessarily make it good. Based on Garth Stein’s novel, the story of an aspiring Formula One driver (Milo Ventimiglia) is narrated from the point of view of his golden retriever (voiced by Kevin Costner). This might seem like another unbearable film about a dog, but the auto racing stuff keeps the cute dog business from being overpowering, while the dog’s point of view prevents the series of tragedies that befall the protagonist from becoming too much. Still, Costner’s voiceover makes mush out of the humor in Stein’s writing, and the material (with its intimations about the next world) still emerges pretty soft-boiled. Then again, this could have been quite a bit worse. Also with Amanda Seyfried, Martin Donovan, Kathy Baker, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, McKinley Belcher III, Al Sapienza, and Gary Cole. (Opens Friday)
The Bravest (PG-13) This Chinese disaster film is about a crew of firefighters who struggle to contain an oil fire at a pipeline. Starring Huang Xiaoming, Du Jiang, Tan Zhuo, Yang Zi, Ou Hao, Hou Yong, Yin Xiaotian, and Jason Gu. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Brian Banks (PG-13) A 1990s-style inspirational legal drama that ends up being a throwback in the wrong ways, this biography is about the real-life high-school football star (Aldis Hodge) who was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned for six years until an innocence project founder (Greg Kinnear) cleared his name in time for him to play briefly in the NFL. As I mentioned, all this actually happened, but the movie’s rendition of the facts not only turns it into yet another white savior film but also tells us that girls easily make up rape stories and football players are worth more than the rest of us. Moreover, Hodge isn’t charismatic enough to convince us that all the project’s lawyers are immediately on fire to save him. Even if ‘90s relic director Tom Shadyac didn’t intend these to be his film’s message, that’s what comes out. Also with Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd, Tiffany Dupont, Xosha Roquemore, Dorian Missick, and Matt Battaglia. (Opens Friday)
David Crosby: Remember My Name (R) A.J. Eaton’s documentary profiles the rock musician as he looks back on his life and career. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
ECCO (R) Lathrop Walker stars in this thriller as a former hit man in hiding who starts to question how he got into the business. Also with Tabitha Bastien, Helena Grace Donald, Michael Winters, and Vincent Cardinale. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
EXIT (NR) This South Korean thriller stars Jo Jung-suk as a professional rock climber who has to use his skills to rescue people during a terrorist attack on Seoul. Also with Kim Ji-yeong, Ko Du-shim, Lim Yoo-na, and Park In-hwan. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Kitchen (R) Based on Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle’s comic-book series, this thriller is about three Irish mob housewives (Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss) in 1978 New York City who defy the mob bosses and set up their own racket. Also with Domhnall Gleeson, Common, Margo Martindale, Bill Camp, Brian D’Arcy James, Tina Benko, and Annabella Sciorra. (Opens Friday)
Light of My Life (R) Casey Affleck writes, directs, and stars in this postapocalyptic thriller as a man trying to keep himself and his daughter (Anna Pniowsky) alive after a global pandemic. Also with Elisabeth Moss, Tom Bower, Timothy Webber, and Hrothgar Mathews. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Mission Mangal (NR) Akshay Kumar stars in this film based on the true stories of the Indian scientists contributing to the country’s first-ever mission to Mars. Also with Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Nithya Menen, Kirti Kulhari, Sharman Joshi, and Sanjay Kapoor. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Nekrotonic (R) Dave Beamish stars in this Australian science-fiction comedy as a man who discovers that he’s part of a secret network of wizards who hunt down demons on the internet. Also with Monica Bellucci, Charmaine Bingwa, Mike Duncan, William Cheung, Benedict Hardie, and Tess Haubrich. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Peanut Butter Falcon (PG-13) This low-budget drama stars Zack Gottsagen as a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from a care facility to become a professional wrestler. Also with Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Thomas Haden Church, John Hawkes, Jon Bernthal, Yelawolf, Mick Foley, and Bruce Dern. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Rapid Eye Movement (NR) Peter Bishai’s thriller is about a radio DJ (François Arnaud) who tries to stay awake for 11 straight days after a deranged caller promises to kill him if he falls asleep. Also with Reiko Aylesworth, Danny Ramirez, Godfrey, Chloe Brooks, and Jamie Jackson. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (PG-13) Based on Alvin Schwartz’ novel, this anthology horror film is about a group of teenagers in 1968 who must face their deepest fears to survive. Starring Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Austin Abrams, Lorraine Toussaint, Dean Norris, and Gil Bellows. (Opens Friday)
Them That Follow (R) This drama set among a Christian snake-handling sect is about a preacher’s daughter (Alice Englert) harboring a shameful secret. Also with Olivia Colman, Walton Goggins, Thomas Mann, Lewis Pullman, Jim Gaffigan, and Kaitlyn Dever. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Aladdin (PG) At last, a Hollywood movie where the Middle Eastern characters are the good guys. This live-action remake of the 1992 animated Disney musical fixes a good number (though not all) of the racial and class issues from the original. The decor helps differentiate the film from Disney’s other live-action remakes and forces Guy Ritchie out of his comfort zone to good effect. It isn’t all good, though, because Ritchie is rarely comfortable staging musical numbers and can’t match the wit of the animation in the original movie. (The new songs don’t add much, either.) However, the movie gives good roles to a cast full of Middle Eastern actors (Mena Massoud as Aladdin sings well and has the dance moves), and Will Smith avoids embarrassing himself as the genie and makes the part his own. We’ll take that much. Also with Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Numan Acar, and Billy Magnussen.
Annabelle Comes Home (R) At this point, it’s basically a draw between these movies and the Goosebumps movies as to which is scarier. The Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) are out of town for most of the film, and their young daughter (McKenna Grace) carries most of the acting load as she and her teenage babysitters (Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife) try to cope on their own when they accidentally unleash the evil doll being kept in the basement. This film winds up aiming for a supernatural version of Adventures in Babysitting, and some of the jokes early on do indeed work, but eventually the need to conjure all the evil spirits from the previous movies drowns out the wit. Grace is an agreeable presence at the center. Also with Samara Lee, Michael Cimino, and Steve Coulter.
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.
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.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (PG-13) More fun than any of the proper Fast and the Furious movies, mostly because it leaves the racing crew behind and cherry-picks the two funniest actors from the series for their own adventure. British outlaw Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is contacted after his MI6-agent sister (Vanessa Kirby) is framed as a traitor. However, to bring her in safely, he’s forced to work with the American DSS agent (Dwayne Johnson) whom he despises, and they’re both forced to fight the genetically enhanced supersoldier (Idris Elba) who framed her. Some of the macho posturing between Johnson and Statham is actually funny, but Kirby damn near steals the film as the spy who cuts through all the crap and gets on with the task at hand. Having director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) join the series is a plus as well. Also with Eiza González, Eddie Marsan, Eliana Su’a, Cliff Curtis, Roman Reigns, Lori Pelenise Tuisano, Helen Mirren, and uncredited cameos by Kevin Hart and Ryan Reynolds.
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum (R) 55-year-old Keanu Reeves moves and fights like he’s 22 in this third installment of the martial-arts series. His hit man is now wounded and on the run after breaking the rules of his society of contract killers, so now his colleagues are all after him for the money and the notoriety. Director Chad Stahelski keeps up the accumulation of detail in this fictional universe full of colorful decor and sleek clothing. Also with Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Mark Dacascos, Jason Mantzoukas, Asia Kate Dillon, Saïd Taghmaoui, Randall Duk Kim, Boban Marjanovic, Cecep Arif Rahman, Yayan Ruhian, Tobias Segal, and Laurence Fishburne. — Chase Whale
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.
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (R) What I like: the deliberate pace, Margaret Qualley as a hippie cultist, Leonardo DiCaprio as a fading movie star who can still bring it as an actor, the occasionally beautiful notes about aging in a youth-driven industry, the crazed slapstick of the historically inaccurate ending. What I don’t like: the deliberate pace, the loose ends, the general lack of a point, the fact that Quentin Tarantino’s fetish about women’s feet has finally gotten out of control. The latest Tarantino film is set in Hollywood in 1969, where the aforementioned film star lives next to the house where the Manson murders are supposed to take place. As always with Tarantino, there are tasty scenes and great production design, but here he rather loses himself in nostalgia and re-creations of obscure 1960s TV Westerns. 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, Austin Butler, Nicholas Hammond, Lorenza Izzo, Rumer Willis, Zoë Bell, Al Pacino, and the late Luke Perry.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (PG) Not unendurable, but it does make you wonder why they bothered. The sequel to the 2016 hit has Max and Duke (voiced by Patton Oswalt and Eric Stonestreet) being taken to a farm in the countryside and trying to adjust to rustic life. The new movie brings in Tiffany Haddish as a terrier seeking help and Harrison Ford as a country dog who’s not having it with Max’s city-bred neuroses, but the various plotlines (many of them involving the dogs’ city friends having their own adventures) aren’t written with enough distinction to make the movie stick. Even Kevin Hart’s bunny rabbit and his megalomaniac delusions have been effectively neutered here. Additional voices by Jenny Slate, Hannibal Buress, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper, Nick Kroll, Bobby Moynihan, and Lake Bell.
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.
Mike Wallace Is Here (PG-13) Avi Belkin’s documentary profiles the late journalist and the ways in which he changed his profession.
The Operative (NR) Diane Kruger stars in this spy thriller as a Westerner recruited by Mossad to execute an undercover mission in Tehran. Also with Martin Freeman, Cas Anvar, Yoav Levi, and Ohad Knoller.
A Score to Settle (NR) Nicolas Cage stars in this thriller as an ex-convict who must choose between rebuilding his relationship with his family or taking revenge on the mob bosses who sent him to prison for 22 years. Also with Benjamin Bratt, Noah Le Gros, Mohammed Karim, Karolina Wydra, and Ian Tracey.
The Spy Behind Home Plate (NR) Aviva Kempner’s documentary about Moe Berg, the major league baseball player who led a double life as a U.S. government spy during World War II.
Sword of Trust (R) The latest comedy by Lynn Shelton stars Jillian Bell as a woman who puzzles over an antique Civil War sword left to her by her late grandfather. Also with Marc Maron, Jon Bass, Michaela Watkins, Toby Huss, and Lynn Shelton.