Adventures of a Boy Genius (NR) Miles Brown stars in this family comedy as a 12-year-old boy who teams up with a retiree (Rita Wilson) to solve a crime. Also with Nora Dunn, Zach Gilford, Tracie Thoms, Arden Myrin, Patrika Darbo, and Skylan Brooks. (Opens Friday at América Cinemas Fort Worth)
Before You Know It (NR) Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock star in their comedy as sisters who discover that the mother whom they thought was dead is actually alive and a successful soap opera actress (Judith Light). Also with Mike Colter, Tim Daly, Ben Becher, Mandy Patinkin, and Alec Baldwin. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Brittany Runs a Marathon (R) This comedy stars Jillian Bell as an overweight woman who decides to get in shape by training for the New York City Marathon. Also with Utkarsh Ambudkar, Michaela Watkins, Dan Bittner, Patch Darragh, Mikey Day, and Lil Rel Howery. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles (PG-13) Max Lewkowicz’ documentary examines the cultural impact of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. Starring Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Stephen Sondheim, Itzhak Perlman, Bartlett Sher, Topol, Josh Mostel, Jessica Hecht, Fran Lebowitz, Harvey Fierstein, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the late Harold Prince. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
It Chapter Two (R) The sequel to the 2017 horror film finds its now-grown-up protagonists (Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean, and Bill Hader) reuniting when they find that Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) has risen from his slumber. Also with Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, Jaeden Martell, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jess Weixler, Jake Weary, Peter Bogdanovich, and Xavier Dolan. (Opens Friday)
Love, Antosha (R) Garrett Price’s documentary profiles the late actor Anton Yelchin. Also with Kristen Stewart, Jodie Foster, Nicolas Cage, Chris Pine, Martin Landau, Frank Langella, Zoe Saldana, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ben Foster, Willem Dafoe, J.J. Abrams, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sofia Boutella, J.J. Abrams, Jon Voight, and Jennifer Lawrence. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Next Level (NR) This drama is about a group of teens competing at a summer camp for songwriters and hip-hop dancers. Starring Lauren Orlando, Emily Skinner, Hayden Summerall, Chloe East, Brooke Elizabeth Butler, Ellarose Kaylor, and William B. Simmons III. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Night Hunter (R) This thriller stars Jim Caviezel as a sheriff who catches a serial killer (Brendan Fletcher), only to find that his alleged crimes run deeper than anyone knows. Also with Ben Kingsley, Alexandra Daddario, Minka Kelly, Emma Tremblay, Nathan Fillion, and Stanley Tucci. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Strange but True (PG-13) This horror film stars Margaret Qualley as a woman who shows up at a family’s house to tell them that she is pregnant with the baby of their dead son. Also with Brian Cox, Amy Ryan, Mena Massoud, Nick Robinson, Blythe Danner, and Greg Kinnear. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
After the Wedding (PG-13) With Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams, you’d expect fireworks, and you do get them, but the film itself is more of a damp squib. Williams plays an orphanage director in India who travels to New York to meet with a media mogul (Moore) who wants to donate a large sum of money. They’re both surprised to find out that the orphanage director had a youthful fling with the philanthropist’s husband (Billy Crudup), and that their biological daughter (Abby Quinn) is getting married that weekend. The film is a remake of Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated 2006 Danish drama, with all the main characters’ genders flipped. The two lead actresses do everything you’d expect them to, but the soapiness of the original script sinks writer-director Bart Freundlich, whereas Bier was skilled enough to carry it off. Also with Will Chase, Eisa Davis, Alex Isola, and Susan Blackwell.
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.
Angel Has Fallen (R) Less racist than the first two movies in this story, but still as dumb as ever. Gerard Butler’s Secret Service agent is in line to be the agency’s new director when he’s framed for a terrorist attack that kills a bunch of his comrades and leaves the new U.S. President (Morgan Freeman) in a coma. As always, the women are peripheral, Butler’s acting is all jaw-jutting machismo, and the hero survives attacks that leave body counts that would qualify for national disaster status. New director/co-writer Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch) at least has a background as a stuntman, so the stunts are done reasonably well, but when there’s so little creativity in the rest of the movie that you can sniff out the villains so easily, it doesn’t do much good. Also with Danny Huston, Tim Blake Nelson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Piper Perabo, Lance Reddick, and Nick Nolte.
The Angry Birds Movie 2 (PG) Not nearly as objectionable as the first movie. The sequel to the 2016 animated hit has the birds and the pigs banding together when an eagle (voiced by Leslie Jones) starts hurling giant balls of ice at both of their islands. The second film sports an entirely new creative team, and they come up with some good stuff about Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) worrying about losing his war-hero status if there’s no more war and being forced to cede control to Chuck’s engineering genius sister (voiced by Rachel Bloom), as well as a running gag with some hatchlings losing and trying to recover some unhatched eggs. Maybe the enterprise lacks substance, but at least it has some out-loud laughs. Additional voices by Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Peter Dinklage, Bill Hader, Awkwafina, Eugenio Derbez, Maya Rudolph, Tony Hale, Beck Bennett, Gaten Matarazzo, Lil Rel Howery, Pete Davidson, Zach Woods, Dove Cameron, Nicki Minaj, Sterling K. Brown, and Tiffany Haddish.
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.
Bennett’s War (PG-13) This feels like a 1970s motorcycle racing movie, which isn’t a good thing. Michael Roark stars in this drama as a motocross racer who tries to get back into the sport after being wounded as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan. The script is mediocre stuff as our hero overcomes obstacles in spite of his wife (Allison Paige) reminding him of the catastrophic risks of one bad fall. This would be okay if the motorcycle racing scenes were filmed well, but writer-director Alex Ranarivelo doesn’t do much inventive with them. A number of racing moguls have their names on this film, which is perhaps why it feels so thoroughly like corporate product. Also with Trace Adkins, Ali Afshar, Hunter Clowdus, Brando Eaton, and Michael King.
Blinded by the Light (PG-13) Sometimes this movie plays like a glorified fan letter, but the way it’s rooted in its time and place helps make it so accessible. Based on Sarfraz Mansoor’s memoir, this film stars Viveik Kalra as a Pakistani teenager growing up in Luton, England, in the 1980s who has a life-changing encounter with the music of Bruce Springsteen. Director/co-writer Gurinder Chadha has some trouble with pacing (as she did in Bend It Like Beckham), but she knows this South Asian-British territory, as well as Mrs. Thatcher’s Britain, with its austerity and white racists who don’t bother to be subtle. The film’s issues of craftsmanship are more than offset by the way it captures the hope that the America of The Boss’ songs used to offer the world. Also with Kulvinder Ghir, Nell Williams, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nikita Mehta, Tara Divina, Rob Brydon, Sally Phillips, and Hayley Atwell.
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.
Don’t Let Go (R) David Oyelowo stars in this supernatural thriller as a police detective who starts mysteriously receiving phone calls from his niece (Storm Reid) days after he finds her and the rest of his brother’s family massacred in their home. The rickety conceit aside, the premise isn’t too bad, but writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes fumbles the execution, piling timelines on top of one another when clarity would have been the better choice. The acting here is almost enough to save this (there’s also a nice supporting turn by Brian Tyree Henry as the cop’s bipolar, drug-dealing screwup of a brother), but this needed a director who could juggle all the elements here. Also with Mykelti Williamson, Shinelle Azoroh, Byron Mann, and Alfred Molina.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold (PG) Adapted from the beloved animated TV show Dora the Explorer, this live-action movie isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but it has enough self-awareness to make it a different creature from the show. Isabela Moner plays the plucky explorer who’s packed off to high school in L.A. by her parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) after she addresses a few too many imaginary cameras, only to be kidnapped by treasure hunters who suspect that her parents know the location of a lost Inca city. The story doesn’t come to much of a point and the young cast is a bit flavorless, but there are enough savory things on the fringes of the action (including Eugenio Derbez’ first English-language performance that shows what he can really do) to make this relatively pain-free. Also with Jeff Wahlberg, Madeleine Madden, Nicholas Coombe, Madelyn Miranda, Q’orianka Kilcher, and Adriana Barraza. Voices by Benicio Del Toro and Danny Trejo.
Exit (NR) Give major props to the main actors and stunt team on this South Korean disaster film for their superior displays of athleticism and upper-body strength. Jo Jung-suk stars as an unemployed professional rock climber whose family thinks he’s useless until a terrorist launches a poison gas attack on Seoul, and the whole family is trapped on the sixth floor of a convention hall with the gas slowly rising from the street. The comic relief is pretty wretched here, but who cares when you’ve got an extended Harold Lloyd-like sequence where the protagonist scales the face of the building, using the architectural features for handholds? Jo and Im Yoo-na (as a convention hall employee who happens to share the hero’s enthusiasm for climbing) do some fancy moves with ropes and clips. Also with Kim Ji-yeong, Ko Du-shim, Kang Ki-young, Yoo Su-bin, Jung Min-sung, and Park In-hwan.
The Farewell (PG) Writer-director Lulu Wang bases this comedy on her experiences with her own Chinese family, and it plays like Ang Lee’s early domestic dramas from Taiwan, which is high praise. Awkwafina stars as a struggling American writer who returns to China when her beloved grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen) is diagnosed as terminally ill, and her family and doctors decide to hide the diagnosis from the old woman. Wang looks like a born filmmaker here, with sharp edits and a story that moves along despite its quiet subject matter. Like Lee, she knows how to spike a potentially grim story with funny bits, including a set piece at a wedding where the alcohol flows a bit too freely. Wang doesn’t offer any easy answers about whether the family’s deception is right or wrong, either. It’s quite a story. Also with Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Chen Han, Jim Liu, Jiang Yongbo, and Aoi Mizuhara.
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.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged (PG-13) I must confess that I sat through the entire movie without it making any impression on me whatsoever. This sequel has only the sharks and director Johannes Roberts in common with the 2017 thriller. Two not-so-friendly teen stepsisters (Sophie Nélisse and Corinne Foxx) go scuba diving at an underwater archeological site with their cool friends (Sistine Stallone and Brianne Tju), only to discover themselves trapped in a maze of underwater tunnels to be preyed on by blind great white sharks with super-sensitive hearing. The actors (who include the daughters of Jamie Foxx and Sylvester Stallone) don’t make anything out of their underwritten roles, and Roberts can’t manage anything inventive with the setup. Then again, why would he succeed now when he failed with it the first time? Also with Nia Long, Khylin Rambo, Davi Santos, and John Corbett.
Good Boys (R) Charming, but no Booksmart. Three 6th-grade boys (Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, and Brady Noon) cut class to go to a cool kid’s birthday party, only to become entangled with a teenage girl (Molly Gordon) and her backpack full of molly and be forced to embark on a surreal journey. The boys are game for this and first-time feature director Gene Stupnitsky films a shootout with a paintball gun as if it’s a scene from a drug thriller. The film doesn’t tell us anything about friendship that Superbad didn’t tell us, but it has enough laughs to earn it some goodwill. Also with Midori Francis, Izaac Wang, Millie Davis, Michaela Watkins, Will Forte, Retta, and Lil Rel Howery.
It (R) A horror movie that’s everything you’d want, except scary. Based on Stephen King’s novel, this movie is about a group of kids in Maine (where else?) in the 1980s who band together against the scary clown (Bill Skarsgård) who has been murdering kids in their small town for decades. Argentinian director Andrés Muschietti (Mama) pulls off some sequences with great flair and gets some terrific performances from Jaeden Lieberher as the ringleader with a speech impediment and Sophia Lillis as the lone girl in the group. He also elicits commendable cinematography by Chung Chung-hoon and music by Benjamin Wallfisch, and the comic relief here is actually funny. Still, the clown’s antics don’t crawl under your skin like they should, and the whole affair lapses into regrettable sentimentality near the end. If you can’t wait for Season 2 of Stranger Things, this will tide you over nicely. Also with Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Rae Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Finn Wolfhard.
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
Killerman (R) Liam Hemsworth stars in this thriller as a money launderer who wakes up in possession of an enormous amount of stolen cash and drugs, with no memory of how he acquired them. Also with Emory Cohen, Diane Guerrero, Zlatko Buric, Souleymane Sy Savane, and Suraj Sharma.
The Kitchen (R) A promising cast is wasted pretty effectively in this limp comic-book adaptation. Set in Hell’s Kitchen in 1978, the film stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss as three women who married into the Irish mob. When their husbands are sent to prison and the male bosses fail to provide for them, they take up the business themselves and wind up taking charge. The story has potential, but first-time director Andrea Berloff has little sense of pacing or building up the impending tragedy that this story is meant to be. The twist near the end is pretty neat, but that comes too late to save this. Also with Domhnall Gleeson, Common, Margo Martindale, Bill Camp, Brian D’Arcy James, James Badge Dale, E.J. Bonilla, Jeremy Bobb, Wayne Duvall, Tina Benko, and Annabella Sciorra.
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.
Luce (R) Amid all the Oscar nominees in this cast, Kelvin Harrison Jr. delivers the standout performance as a former African child soldier adopted by a wealthy white American couple (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) who seems like a model student until the day he writes a school essay that disturbs a black teacher (Octavia Spencer). The film is adapted from J.C. Lee’s play, and there are elements of staginess about the way this movie hashes out all its issues. Still, the acting keeps you guessing about whether the parents are overcompensating here or whether the teacher is just a busybody. It’s good that the title character is no empty symbol. In Harrison’s rendering, he’s a guy who’s hyperaware of the impression he makes on white and black people and a skilled manipulator who’s a little too willing to flash his brilliant smile. Also with Norbert Leo Butz, Andrea Bang, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Astro, and Omar Brunson.
The Matrix (R) There is less than meets the eye here, but the Wachowski siblings’ 1999 science-fiction thriller is still fairly watchable. Keanu Reeves plays the cubicle drone who discovers that we’re all living in a computer simulation, and he’s the one meant to liberate everybody from the tyranny of the machines. The technological concerns here are pretty dated now, but the action sequences remain top-notch, with old Hong Kong veteran Yuen Wo-ping (who’d go on to do Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Kill Bill films) choreographing ground-breaking fight scenes. The aesthetic here is distinctive, too, and the script isn’t yet weighed down by the Wachowskis’ tendentious readings of Baudrillard and Cornel West that would plague the sequels. Now that a fourth film is in the offing, maybe the siblings can get onto tech subjects that are more up-to-date. Also with Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Gloria Foster, and Hugo Weaving.
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.
Mission Mangal (NR) The story of how India launched a successful Mars probe on its very first attempt becomes a boilerplate inspirational Indian drama, where every setback is met with a heroic speech about how they won’t let this stop them. Akshay Kumar (whose comic stylings are borderline intolerable here) stars as a fictionalized mission director who is demoted to the Mars unit after a high-profile failure and takes on a team of castoff, mostly women scientists to defy the expectations of the Indian Space Research Organisation to launch the Mars Orbiter Mission successfully, ahead of schedule and under budget. An Indian NASA scientist (Dalip Tahil) is brought on as a boogeyman to tell the team that they’re doing everything wrong, and one scientist’s husband (Purab Kohli) is brought on to tell his wife that she’s destroying their family by working so much. Given how interesting the story’s events were, the movie should be more interesting. Also with Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Nithya Menen, Kirti Kulhari, Sharman Joshi, H.G. Dattatreya, and Sanjay Kapoor.
Ne Zha (NR) A relatively rare Chinese comedy whose laughs translate to a non-Chinese-speaking audience, and without losing its distinctive flavor. This animated film is about a baby boy in feudal China (voiced by Lü Yanting) who is cursed by an evil sorcerer to be a demon child who wreaks all manner of havoc before his parents (voiced by Chen Hao and Lü Qi) and fat sorcerer guardian (voiced by Zhang Jiaming) lie to him and tell him he’s destined to be a protector of the local village by fighting demons. Some of the jokes (like the boy realistically faking his own death by drowning as a prank) are gleefully darker than we’d see in a Hollywood animated movie, and if writer-director Jiaozi doesn’t do so well at investing emotional resonance into the epic battles that conclude the film, the movie is still strange and funny enough on its own to recommend. This film out-earned The Lion King in China, and it’s the better film. Additional voices by Han Mo, Cao Yalong, Wang Zheng, Zeng Hongru, and Yang Wei.
The Nightingale (R) A load, and a fairly glorious one. Jennifer Kent’s ambitious epic is set in 19th-century Australia, when an Irishwoman (Aisling Franciosi) chases a British Army officer (Sam Claflin) across Tasmania, seeking revenge for him raping her and murdering her husband and baby. Kent is aware of both violence’s’ power to bring about catharsis in a drama and its real-life tendency to take a toll on the perpetrator as well as the victim, and better than any filmmaker in memory, she splits the difference between the two. She’s also out to create a racial hellscape, as the heroine’s journey shows her firsthand the cruelties visited upon both white and black people by the colonizers, and the Aborigine (Baykali Ganambarr) whom she’s forcing to act as her guide through the wilderness. The carnage here is offset by the Terrence Malick-like intense beauty of the verdant forest where this takes place. This act of storytelling is remarkable, for those strong enough to look. Also with Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell, and Magnolia Maymuru.
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.
Overcomer (PG) Alex Kendrick stars in his latest Christian film as a high-school basketball coach who is forced to train a single cross-country runner (Aryn Wright-Thompson) after massive unemployment in the area scuttles his team. Also with Shari Rigby, Priscilla Shirer, Ben Davies, Holly Morris, Kendrick Cross, and Cameron Arnett.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (PG) If you watch this and don’t like it, check your pulse. This small film has a big, beating heart. The film follows titular hero Zak (Zack Gottsagen) and his dreams of becoming a wrestler. He has Down Syndrome and lives in a retirement home, spending his time watching an old VHS of his favorite wrestler (Thomas Haden Church). Wrestling is Zak’s dream, so he escapes and inadvertently ends up on a boat with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who’s on the run from a group of no-goods he stole from. A bond is formed, and they make it a mission to track down Zak’s hero. The writers-director duo do not exploit Gottsagen’s condition and Tyler treats him as he does everyone: like a human being. LaBeouf disappears into this role, one of the best of his career. Also with Dakota Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Yelawolf, Mick Foley, John Hawkes, and Bruce Dern. — Chase Whale
Raise Hell: The LIfe & Times of Molly Ivins (NR) It’s fitting that Texas sees this documentary film before the rest of the country does. The acerbic Texan journalist at the center would have had it no other way. Janice Engel’s film profiles Ivins’ storied career as a woman who loved stirring up trouble in a male-dominated profession. Engel does give us some insight into the woman behind the words, her battles with alcoholism and her lifelong feelings of inadequacy as a 6-foot-tall woman whose own family told her she wasn’t pretty. I do wish this had been a snappier piece of filmmaking, but this film gives us reason to lament that cancer took Ivins in 2005. She would have been tailored for these times. Also with Rachel Maddow, Paul Krugman, and Dan Rather.
Ready or Not (R) Samara Weaving turns this comic horror film into a morsel of evil fun. She plays a woman who marries into a wealthy family that traditionally plays a game whenever a new person joins the clan, not knowing that the object of her game (hide and seek) is to kill the hider. Perhaps this film doesn’t have the complexity or the creep factor of the similar Get Out, but directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett make sure that the visual gags land as a bunch of evil but incompetent rich people chase the heroine around with antique weapons they barely know how to use. The cast all gets into the swing of things (especially Adam Brody as an alcoholic brother-in-law who’s not so keen on the murdery parts of the ritual), while the Australian lead actress knows whether to overact or underplay, and does both with great panache. Also with Andie MacDowell, Mark O’Brien, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Elyse Levesque, Nick Guadagni, John Ralston, and Henry Czerny.
Saaho (NR) The hero of this Indian thriller (Prabhas) is a cop who drives a Lamborghini, reads romance novels and obsessively plays foosball while on duty, makes people fly backwards 25 feet when he punches them, fights a panther barehanded and wins, and single-handedly exterminates half the criminals and crooked cops in Mumbai. Then there’s a plot twist halfway through that makes all that look relatively sane, resulting in our hero being chased through Tibet, Italy, Hungary, and Burning Man by Indian, Chinese, Russian, and African gangsters, accompanied by a fellow cop (Shraddha Kapoor) whose hair dramatically blows backward every time she enters a room. With all this, did this 170-minute film really need its musical numbers? I’m not sure whether writer-director Sujeeth meant this to be funny, but it’s grotesquely watchable. The only thing more absurd than the bad CGI is everything else about the movie. Also with Mandira Bedi, Jacqueline Fernandez, Jackie Shroff, Evelyn Sharma, Neil Nitin Mukesh, and Mahesh Manjrekar.
Santa Girl (NR) Jennifer Stone stars in this comedy as the daughter of Santa Claus (Barry Bostwick) who is allowed one semester of college in America before returning home to the North Pole. Also with Devon Werkheiser, Hank Stone, Lydia Meredith, and Joshua Cody.
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.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (PG-13) This horror film takes too long to get going, but once it does, look out. Based on Alvin Schwartz’ series, this is about a group of teenagers who find a storybook in a haunted house in their small town and find themselves the subject of gory stories that come true. Zoe Colletti does some fairly heroic work in the main role, a girl with abandonment issues who is now watching her friends vanish from sight. Still, the main attraction here are the innovative monsters, owing more than a bit to Stephen Gammell’s illustrations for the books. When a racist jock suddenly starts vomiting straw in the middle of a cornfield, that’s something horror movies haven’t given us before. Director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) does a fair job of knitting these disparate short stories into a cohesive whole. Just try forgetting the Jingle Jangle Man (“Me tie dough ty walker!”). Also with Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Austin Abrams, Natalie Ganzhorn, Lorraine Toussaint, Dean Norris, and Gil Bellows.
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
Tod@s Caen (PG-13) Omar Chaparro and Martha Higareda star in this Mexican comedy as two single people who have bet their friends that their respective seduction techniques can work on anyone. Also with Mauricio Barrientos, Miriam Higareda, Francisco de la Reguera, and Alejandro Cuétara.
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.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (PG-13) Refreshing as it is to have a movie where the woman is an artist who has to obey the whims of her creative genius, director Richard Linklater loses a lot of the comic zip in adapting Maria Semple’s comic novel. Cate Blanchett stars as a faded starchitect who gave up her career to raise her lone, physically fragile daughter (Emma Nelson), and is now suffering from paranoid depression as a result of that decision. The main character’s angry Type A housewife neighbor (Kristen Wiig) suffers particularly from blanding out in the film version; why cast Wiig if she’s not allowed to contribute to the craziness? The film needed some frenetic energy, particularly in the last third during a chase through Antarctica, and Linklater has never been known for that quality. Intelligent as the film is, it’s also dull. Also with Billy Crudup, Judy Greer, Zoe Chao, James Urbaniak, Kate Burton, Troian Bellisario, David Paymer, Megan Mullally, Steve Zahn, and Laurence Fishburne.
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.
Angel of Mine (R) Noomi Rapace stars in this thriller as a grieving mother who suffers delusions that another little girl (Annika Whiteley) is her dead daughter brought back to life. Also with Luke Evans, Yvonne Strahovski, Rob Collins, and Richard Roxburgh.
Aquarela (PG) Viktor Kossakovsky’s documentary explores the various forms that water takes all over the planet.
The Fanatic (R) John Travolta stars in Fred Durst’s thriller as an unhinged stalker who fixates on a Hollywood action-film star (Devon Sawa). Also with Ana Golja, Jacob Grodnik, Josh Richman, James Paxton, and Jessica Uberuaga.
Spider in the Web (NR) This Israeli spy thriller stars Monica Bellucci as a Mossad agent sent to tail an older agent (Ben Kingsley) to keep tabs on his suspicious behavior. Also with Itay Tiran, Itzak Cohen, Filip Peeters, Hilde van Mieghem, and Luk Wyns.
Tel Aviv on Fire (NR) This Israeli comedy stars Kais Nashif as a Muslim writer on a popular TV soap opera who is caught in a dispute about the show’s ending. Also with Lubna Azabal, Yaniv Biton, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Nadim Sawalha, and Salim Dau.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (NR) This Mexican horror film is about a group of children who are beset by undead spirits in the midst of a Latin American drug war. Starring Paolo Lara, Juan Ramón López, Hanssel Casillas, Rodrigo Cortes, Ianis Guerrero, and Tenoch Huerta.