After Class (NR) Justin Long stars in this comedy as a professor who flees campus for a week after his behavior lands him in trouble with the students and administration. Also with Fran Drescher, Richard Schiff, Kate Berlant, and Lynn Cohen. (Opens Friday)
Dark Light (NR) Padraig Reynolds’ horror film is about a woman (Jessica Madsen) who takes possession of her family’s home only to find that it’s now inhabited by monsters. Also with Ed Brody, Opal Littleton, Christina Clifford, and Weston Meredith. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
En Brazos de un Asesino (R) William Levy stars in this Dominican-made thriller as a handsome killer for hire who unwittingly transports a drug lord’s sex slave (Alicia Sanz) to freedom. Also with Adrián Lastra, Roberto Sosa, Jean Jean, and Ettore d’Alessandro. (Opens Friday)
Hold On (PG-13) Micayla de Ette stars in this drama as an aspiring singer who tries to save her brother from addiction. Also with Tarek Tohme, Luis Guzmán, Maurice Bernard, Beth Grant, and Flavor Flav. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Honey Boy (R) Shia LaBeouf writes and co-stars in this autobiographical drama about a child actor (Lucas Hedges) dealing with an abusive childhood and the pressures of fame. Also with Noah Jupe, Maika Monroe, Natasha Lyonne, Laura San Giacomo, Clifton Collins Jr., Martin Starr, and FKA Twigs. (Opens Friday)
I See You (R) Adam Randall’s crime thriller/alien invasion film stars Jon Tenney as a detective who finds strange occurrences while investigating the disappearance of a boy. Also with Helen Hunt, Judah Lewis, Owen Teague, Gregory Alan Williams, Erika Alexander, and Sam Trammell. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Islands (PG-13) This historical film stars Teuira Shanti Napa as Kapi’olani, the 19th-century Hawaiian high chiefess who demonstrated her new Christian faith by climbing down into an active Mt. Kilauea. Also with Ricky Sua’ava, John Savage, Michael Camp, Malia Marquez, and Mira Sorvino. (Opens Friday at Premiere Cinemas Burleson)
A Million Little Pieces (R) Adapted from James Frey’s fraudulent memoir, this film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the aspiring writer who checks into a facility for his drug addictions. Also with Billy Bob Thornton, Odessa Young, Dash Mihok, David Dastmalchian, Charlie Hunnam, Giovanni Ribisi, and Juliette Lewis. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Panipat (NR) This Indian historical epic dramatizes the 1761 battle between the Maratha Empire and the King of Afghanistan (Sanjay Dutt). Also with Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, Mohnish Bahl, Padmini Kolhapure, and Sunasini Mulay. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Playmobil: The Movie (PG) This animated film based on the kids’ toys is about a dashing British secret agent (voiced by Daniel Radcliffe) who’s forced to team up with two civilians (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy and Gabriel Bateman) on a mission. Additional voices by Jim Gaffigan, Meghan Trainor, Adam Lambert, and Kenan Thompson. (Opens Friday)
Trauma Center (R) Bruce Willis stars in this action-thriller as a police detective assigned to protect a hospitalized woman (Nicky Whelan) who is the target of two vicious killers. Also with Steve Guttenberg, Texas Battle, Roman Mitichyan, Tito Ortiz, and Heather Johansen. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Two Popes (PG-13) Fernando Meirelles (City of God) directs this drama about an imagined conversation between Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) as the former prepares to give up power to the latter. Also with Juan Minujín. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Waves (R) This drama by Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night) is about a high-school athlete (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) whose life plan unravels after he suffers a career-threatening injury. Also with Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Clifton Collins Jr., Neal Huff, Harmony Korine, and Lucas Hedges. (Opens Friday)
The Whistleblower (NR) This thriller is basically meant to reassure the Chinese public that the government will protect any corporate whistleblowers. Lei Jiayin plays an executive working for an Australian energy company who finds out that his ex-girlfriend (Tang Wei) is brokering a big deal with his company from the Chinese side. Soon, she’s hiding from hired killers in his Melbourne apartment because she has information that his company caused an explosion that wiped out a village in Malawi. You wonder why the assassins shoot at our protagonists in broad daylight in public places, or why the hero doesn’t tell his pissed-off wife (Qi Xi) the truth about why his ex is on the run. If you’re not invested in the Chinese economy, you won’t have any reason to follow the action in this clunky exercise. Also with Ce Wang, John Batchelor, Brett Cousins, and Stephen Hunter. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Wolf Hunter (R) Naomi Watts stars in this thriller as a former hippie leader who has become a shut-in recluse in New York in the summer of 1977. Also with Emory Cohen, Jennifer Ehle, Brennan Brown, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
The Addams Family (PG) With the cartoon family created by Charles Addams returning to its roots, and with Oscar Isaac voicing Gomez and Charlize Theron as Morticia, you’d think this would come to more. The Addamses deal with a gentrifying neighborhood and an evil home makeover TV host (voiced by Allison Janney) who’s bent on tearing down their eyesore of a house. The animation doesn’t match the weirdness of the subject matter. The only thing that does is the subplot in which Wednesday (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) starts attending public school. She’s the serene Goth heart of this thing, and there’s a nice Eighth Grade callback in the casting of Elsie Fisher as a girl at school who goes Goth with her. Additional voices by Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Tituss Burgess, Jenifer Lewis, Aimee Garcia, Pom Klementieff, Bette Midler, and Snoop Dogg.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (PG) The movie’s trailer doesn’t do the film justice, because this film is quite a bit weirder than that trailer makes it seem. Matthew Rhys plays a jaded, angry Esquire journalist who finds ways to cope with his new fatherhood and his broken relationship with his own drunken father (Chris Cooper) when he’s assigned to profile Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Casting Hanks as the ultra-nice children’s TV host is a bit on the nose, but the film is about the reporter anyway. Director Marielle Heller makes this more than just another touchy-feely drama by introducing transition shots made to look like the miniature sets on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, as well as a dream sequence in which the writer becomes part of the show’s set. Also with Susan Kelechi Watson, Enrico Colantoni, Wendy Makkena, Tammy Blanchard, Maryann Plunkett, Maddie Corman, Jessica Hecht, and Christine Lahti.
Black and Blue (R) The premise of this cop thriller is creative. Too bad the creativity stops there. Naomie Harris plays an Army vet-turned-rookie New Orleans cop whose bodycam catches a bunch of crooked cops executing a bunch of unarmed drug dealers whom they’re working with. Her colleagues realize what’s up and frame her, so she spends a day being hunted down by the cops and criminals. Harris’ crisp presence is nice to have here and Deon Taylor (who did The Intruder earlier this year) makes this watchable without providing anything memorable. Perhaps we shouldn’t fault the movie for failing to comment on police shootings (then again, perhaps we should). Regardless, this film makes hackwork out of material that could have amounted to more. Also with Tyrese Gibson, Mike Colter, Reid Scott, Nafeesa Williams, James Moses Black, Beau Knapp, and Frank Grillo.
Charlie’s Angels (PG-13) Poofy escapism packaged with shallow, rah-rah feminism doesn’t do much for me. This newest big-screen version of the 1970s TV show is about a computer programmer (Emily Scott) who enlists the help of Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) and her Angels (Kristen Stewart and Ella Balinska) to help destroy her own invention before it can be weaponized. Banks is also the writer-director here, and she has no instincts for filming action sequences. The male villains tend to be uninteresting, and the movie fails to invest us emotionally in the Angels. Stewart and Scott are funny, and there are nice supporting turns by Sam Claflin as a wimpy tech mogul and Luis Gerardo Méndez as a New Age wellness guru who can make spy gadgets and weapons. The director is miscast. Also with Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Noah Centineo, Chris Pang, Nat Faxon, Marie-Lou Sellem, and Jaclyn Smith.
Dark Waters (PG-13) Todd Haynes is about the last filmmaker you’d expect to direct a gritty, middlebrow corporate thriller set in modern times, and it doesn’t suit him. Mark Ruffalo portrays Robert Bilott, the real-life defense lawyer for chemical companies who joined the other side when he found out that the DuPont corporation was leaking toxic chemicals into the drinking water in his West Virginia hometown. Sporting extra weight and a bad haircut, Ruffalo mopes through the role, and his approach spreads to the rest of the cast and the director, whose grand cinematic style is completely absent here. The story this movie tells is important, and the importance is what turns this so dull. Also with Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, William Jackson Harper, Mare Winningham, Bill Pullman, and Victor Garber.
Doctor Sleep (R) Stephen King’s sequel to his own novel The Shining is adapted into this dreary, scare-free horror film. Ewan McGregor plays a grown-up, recovering alcoholic Danny Torrance who is located by a little girl (Kyliegh Curran) with his powers of “shining” and who’s being hunted by a group of traveling demons who feed off the shine. Director Mike Flanagan has done some good work in Netflix thrillers (Hush, Gerald’s Game) that are set in enclosed spaces, but the far-flung plotlines of this movie defeat him. He’s too busy making callbacks to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror opus to give this thing the chills that it could have. Also with Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Zahn McClarnon, Alex Essoe, Carl Lumbly, Henry Thomas, Zackary Momoh, Jocelin Donahue, and Jacob Tremblay.
Ford v Ferrari (PG-13) Solid entertainment, whether you’re a racing fan or not. This film tells the real-life story of how retired Texan racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and crusty English driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) were brought on by Ford Motors to build a race car that would defeat Ferrari’s five-time champions at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. If you get all misty-eyed for the era when American industrial might and know-how always carried the day, this is your movie. If not, the film still traces how the work away from the racetrack contributes to victories on race day, as well as the clash between Ford’s corporate culture and the freewheeling spirits who drive the cars, all without dumbing down the car talk. The movie runs off the dynamic between Damon and Bale, who make an assured team. Also with Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon, JJ Feild, and Tracy Letts.
Frozen II (PG) Not as awesome or ground-breaking as the original film, but then that was never going to happen. Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) journeys into a land shrouded by impenetrable mist to save her kingdom, accompanied by Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven (voiced by Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad). The songs are too close together, and both designated showstopper “Into the Unknown” and comedy number “When I Am Older” would have benefited from having more air on either side of them. Once the royal party goes on their journey, things pick up, with Olaf acting out the story of the first film and Kristoff singing “Lost in the Woods” in the manner of a 1990s boy band. This and the goodwill left over from the first film should satisfy the original’s fans. Additional voices by Evan Rachel Wood, Sterling K. Brown, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Jeremy Sisto, Ciarán Hinds, Aurora, and Alan Tudyk.
The Good Liar (R) Helen Mirren is a wealthy London widow, and Ian McKellen is a con artist who woos her to get to her £3 million fortune. The matchup of these two lions of British acting lives up to its billing, but the same can’t be said for the vehicle around them. Based on Nicholas Searle’s novel, this thriller has good material, but Bill Condon is the wrong director for something that’s supposed to snap shut like a steel trap. He clumsily handles the flashbacks to World War II. You’ll have to satisfy yourself with the chess match that goes on between the two protagonists, as it becomes clear that the widow has her own game going against the charming suitor. Also with Russell Tovey, Jim Carter, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Mark Lewis Jones, Laurie Davidson, Phil Dunster, and Lucian Msamati.
Harriet (PG-13) This biopic of Harriet Tubman is disappointingly conventional. Cynthia Erivo plays the slave who escapes to freedom and then works as the Underground Railroad’s greatest conductor to help more Southern slaves find their way north. Director Kasi Lemmons doesn’t have much feel for the action sequences, and the material (written by her and Gregory Allen Howard) is weak. At least it would be something if this movie succeeded in turning the wizened old woman from the photographs into a swashbuckling action heroine, but the film never brings her to life and stops dead every so often to give Harriet a speech about how she would give her life for the freedom of her people. These are the failings of a much lesser filmmaker. The movie fails despite the best efforts of Erivo, whose singing is something you can listen to all day. Also with Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Clarke Peters, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Zackary Momoh, Omar J. Dorsey, Jennifer Nettles, Vondie Curtis-Hall, and Janelle Monáe.
Jojo Rabbit (PG-13) A strange and compelling failure. Based on Christine Leunens’ much more serious novel Caging Skies, this satirical film stars Roman Griffin Davis as a 10-year-old boy in Nazi Germany who is such a fanatical Nazi that Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) appears to him as an imaginary friend. Waititi also writes and directs this film, and the early scenes at Hitler Youth camp play like Moonrise Kingdom with more swastikas. Waititi’s hand for comedy makes this more watchable than other films that try to take in the Nazi horror from a child’s limited perspective, but the filmmaker loses his footing when the proceedings turn serious and characters start dying. As failures go, this is brave, ambitious, somewhat insane, and aiming at a worthy target. You can see the better film that Waititi was trying to make. Also with Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates, and Sam Rockwell.
Joker (R) What could have been a dark satire on society and its cruelty instead exploits mental illness. Joaquin Phoenix stars as an aspiring comedian with a socially inconvenient mental condition that makes him a target for bullies, which in turn makes him turn into the clown makeup-wearing supervillain. The film is angry, mean-spirited, plodding, joyless, depressing, and entirely derivative of Taxi Driver. Worse, it stigmatizes mental illness by taking one such character and raising him up as an antihero for killing rich people. Phoenix does give one of the best performances of his career, but everything else is just background noise. Also with Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Marc Maron, Josh Pais, Douglas Hodge, April Grace, and Brian Tyree Henry. — Chase Whale
Knives Out (PG-13) Rian Johnson revives the lost art of the cinematic murder mystery with this enormously entertaining whodunit. Armed with a thick-as-Nawlins gumbo accent and an array of “look at me” tics, Daniel Craig plays a private investigator who is hired by an unknown client to investigate the apparent suicide of a world-famous mystery novelist (Christopher Plummer) at a family gathering. The film is plotted within an inch of its life, as throwaway details resurface with grave implications, or simply to pay off some devastatingly funny jokes (as with the film’s final shot). A deluxe cast is used mostly efficiently, with Chris Evans standing out playing a real bastard in the victim’s grandson. The detective, who may or may not know what he’s doing, is a fun character, and the twists will keep even seasoned detective fiction fans guessing. Also with Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan, Noah Segan, M. Emmet Walsh, and LaKeith Stanfield.
Last Christmas (PG-13) A movie with too much on its plate. Emilia Clarke (working a bit too hard to show that she can be funny) portrays an aspiring singer who has been in a downward spiral ever since she received a life-saving heart transplant. She’s given a new sense of purpose when she meets a manic pixie dream guy (Henry Golding) whose only purpose is to make her rediscover her zest for life. Emma Thompson both portrays the main character’s Croatian mother and writes the script, and she gives it sidebars on Brexit, the Bosnian genocide, and a plot twist that even M. Night Shyamalan would be ashamed to use. The film is inspired by George Michael’s songs, which dot the soundtrack. Some of them are sung by Clarke, who is quite comfortable singing them. Also with Michelle Yeoh, Lydia Leonard, Peter Mygind, Peter Serafinowicz, and Patti LuPone.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (PG) The storylines are at least clearer in this sequel. Angelina Jolie returns as the dark fairy queen who has to deal with a warmongering, secretly evil human queen (Michelle Pfeiffer) after their respective children (Elle Fanning and Harris Dickinson) want to get married to unite the human and fairy kingdoms. The filmmakers give us one good scene with Jolie and Pfeiffer locking horns over a family dinner where the tension boils over into outright hostility. Other than that, there’s too much CGI, too many moving parts, and too many action sequences muddling this film’s message about dealing with the politics of fear. Also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein, Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Jenn Murray, David Gyasi, and Robert Lindsay.
Midway (PG-13) This movie would have been better if it had been made in 2003. Fallen blockbuster specialist Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) helms this dramatic retelling of the events leading up to the Battle of Midway, which established American superiority in the Pacific theater during World War II. The film benefits from scenes set on the Japanese side demonstrating what their thinking was as their fleet sailed into a trap set by the Americans. Still, the writing is indistinct, Ed Skrein (as American pilot Dick Best) doesn’t have the charisma to carry such a large and far-flung plot, and the opening scene depicting the bombing of Pearl Harbor suffers from really bad CGI. The whole thing suffers from too much research obscuring the action. Also with Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Mandy Moore, Darren Criss, Nick Jonas, Jake Weber, Luke Kleintank, Keean Johnson, Alexander Ludwig, Etsushi Toyokawa, Tadanobu Asano, Jun Kunimura, Aaron Eckhart, Woody Harrelson, and Dennis Quaid.
Parasite (R) This delirious, dark Korean farce helps make a case for Bong Joon-ho as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time — not today, all time. It’s about a family named Kim that lives in urban squalor until their teenage son (Choi Woo-shik) fakes his way into a job as an English tutor to a wealthy family’s daughter. He then conspires with the rest of his family (Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, and Park So-dam) to get the rich family to fire the rest of their domestic help and install the other Kims in those jobs, with everyone pretending not to know one another. Bong pulls some dazzlingly dexterous comedy from the Kims operating beneath the notice of their employers, with help from great comic performances across the board from his cast, and he takes the film into darker territory with one of the great “oh my God” plot twists in this year’s movies. The film’s indictment of capitalist society is savage, compassionate, and terribly funny. Also with Lee Sun-kyun, Jo Yeo-jeong, Jung Ji-so, Jung Hyun-jun, Lee Jeong-eun, Park Myeong-hoon, and Park Seo-joon.
Playing With Fire (PG) This comedy is so defanged, it could have been a Disney movie from the 1960s. John Cena plays a promotion-obsessed California smoke jumper who rescues three kids (Brianna Hildebrand, Christian Convery, and Finley Rose Slater) from a cabin fire and is forced to look after them in his immaculate fire station until their parents come to get them. That’s the occasion for obvious jokes, slapstick gags, oppressive overacting, and soppy drama about how the perfectionist firefighter has to learn to loosen up. If that’s not bad enough, the film throws a cuddly dog into the mix. Chalk up yet another kids’ movie that works as a torture device on any parents who accompany their children. Also with John Leguizamo, Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer, Tyler Mane, and Dennis Haysbert.
Queen & Slim (R) A terrific scenario — what if an unarmed black man killed a white cop instead of the other way around? — proves fitfully powerful in this bracing road movie. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith play a Cleveland couple on their first date when a white cop (Sturgill Simpson) wounds her and the man shoots him during a struggle. First-time film director Melina Matsoukas seldom leaves the side of these two as they make a run for New Orleans, and it would have been better if she’d taken in the nationwide protest movement that seems to spring up around their flight from the law. However, she does excel in the film’s smaller moments, with our protagonists determined to snatch every small pleasure from life because they know it will probably end soon. The star turn comes from British newcomer Turner-Smith, who finds her character’s family dysfunction under her regal air. Also with Bokeem Woodbine, Indya Moore, Benito Martinez, Jahi D’Allo Winston, Flea, and Chloë Sevigny.
Terminator: Dark Fate (R) Just like Logan and Rambo, this series heads south of the border to retire. Ignoring all the previous Terminator films except the first two, this one has an aged Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) teaming up with a cyborg operative (Mackenzie Davis) from the future who has been sent to protect a young Mexican woman (Natalia Reyes) who will be the new savior of humanity. Tim Miller (Deadpool) takes over the series and engineers a cool car chase and shootout on a bridge, and Davis is in fearsome fighting trim. However, there are too many flashbacks, flash-forwards, and callbacks littering the action, and the filmmakers can’t make us invest in the closure of Sarah and the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is now a curtain installer named Carl. It wasn’t worth the effort to recharge this battery. Also with Gabriel Luna, Ferran Fernández, and Diego Boneta.
21 Bridges (R) Two bad guys (Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch) rob a Brooklyn restaurant where cocaine is being stashed and wind up murdering eight cops plus the restaurant’s owner, and a homicide detective with a reputation for killing perpetrators (Chadwick Boseman) shuts down all access to and from the island of Manhattan when he receives word that the criminals are there trying to unload the stolen coke. This is really just another boilerplate cop thriller, and you’ll have picked out the main villain long before the film points out that person. Still, Boseman does some good work, especially in a scene where he gets into a hostage situation with the last of the cop-killing armed robbers left standing. Also with J.K. Simmons, Sienna Miller, Alexander Siddig, Louis Cancelmi, and Keith David.
Zombieland: Double Tap (R) Ten years after the first film, all four of the principal cast members return with their enthusiasm undimmed, a principal reason why this sequel is so watchable. The group holes up inside the remains of the White House, but Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) goes chasing after a boy her age, and Wichita (Emma Stone) runs after her in a panic after Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) proposes marriage to her. Eisenberg and Stone are the engines that drive this comedy, and the film adds a scene-stealing Zoey Deutch as a dumb blonde who joins the group and a delicious interlude with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus meeting copies of themselves (Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch). The original’s subtext might be lost, but who cares when returning director Ruben Fleischer is on hand to stage more inventive zombie kills? Also with Rosario Dawson, Avan Jogia, and Bill Murray.
Almost Home (NR) Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s drama is about a group of homeless teenagers in Los Angeles struggling to survive. Starring Hannah Marks, Rachel Zimmermann, Niko Guardado, and Max Burkholder.
The Irishman (R) The latest film from Martin Scorsese is this gangster movie based on the memoir of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), the real-life mobster who claims to have played a part in the death of Jimmy Hoffa. Also with Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Stephen Graham, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel, Jack Huston, Domenick Lombardozzi, Jesse Plemons, Dascha Polanco, Ray Romano, Sebastian Maniscalco, Aleksa Palladino, and Anna Paquin.
Marriage Story (R) Noah Baumbach’s drama is about a New York theater director (Adam Driver) and a Hollywood actress (Scarlett Johansson) going through an acrimonious divorce. Also with Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, Julie Hagerty, Azhy Robertson, Merritt Wever, Mickey Sumner, and Wallace Shawn.