The Dawn (NR) This horror film stars Devanny Pinn as a young woman living in a convent who’s haunted by the demons that drove her father to murder her family. Also with Stacey Dash, Jonathan Bennett, Teilor Grubbs, Susan Slaughter, Scott C. Roe, Amanda Day, Rachel Grubb, David Goryl, and Heather Wynters. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Inherit the Viper (R) This crime thriller is about three siblings (Josh Hartnett, Margarita Levieva, and Owen Teague) trying to avoid the violence that comes with being opioid dealers in the Appalachians. Also with Valorie Curry, Dash Mihok, Brad Henke, Chandler Riggs, and Bruce Dern. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Just Mercy (PG-13) This foursquare biopic manages to convey its point without hammering it. Michael B. Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, the Harvard-trained lawyer who established a legal foundation in Alabama in 1989 to assist prisoners on death row. The film also has Brie Larson as the office manager who helps Stevenson set up his workspace, but somehow it’s Jamie Foxx who steals the show as the innocent and wrongly condemned prisoner who is among their first clients, a man whose faith and personality give strength not only to the other prisoners but also to his young lawyer. Director/co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton could use a bit of storytelling or visual distinctiveness to tell this story. There’s a fine supporting performance by Tim Blake Nelson as a prisoner who helped convict an innocent man and wants to undo it. Also with O’Shea Jackson Jr., Rob Morgan, Rafe Spall, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Tonea Stewart, and Michael Harding. (Opens Friday)
Like a Boss (R) Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne star in this comedy as the founders of a cosmetics company who battle a mogul (Salma Hayek) trying to take over their business. Also with Jennifer Coolidge, Ari Graynor, Karan Soni, Jessica St. Clair, Jacob Latimore, Jimmy O. Yang, and Billy Porter. (Opens Friday)
Reality Queen! (NR) This comedy is about a spoiled heiress (Julia Faye West) who uses a reality TV show to prove that she is a person of substance. Also with Denise Richards, Mike Tyson, Kate Orsini, Charles Fleischer, and the late John Witherspoon. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Sarileru Neekevvaru (NR) This Indian action film stars Mahesh Babu as an army officer deployed to a dangerous area to keep the country safe from foreign threats. Also with Aadhi, Vennela Kishore, Vijayshanti, Subbaraju, and Rashmika Mandanna. (Opens Friday)
The Sonata (NR) Freya Tingley stars in this horror film as a professional violinist who starts to unravel while going through the inheritance left her by her father. Also with Simon Abkarian, James Faulkner, Catherine Schaub-Abkarian, and the late Rutger Hauer. (Opens Friday at América Cinemas Fort Worth)
Underwater (PG-13) Kristen Stewart stars in this thriller as one of a team of researchers who have to get to safety when their lab on the ocean floor is compromised by an earthquake. Also with Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright, and John Gallagher Jr. (Opens Friday)
Waves (R) Trey Edward Shults ditches the rigor and austerity of his horror film It Comes at Night for a return to an out-of-control quality in telling the story of a middle-class black teenager (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) whose debilitating high-school wrestling injury sends him on a downward spiral. Shults goes for sensory overload in capturing the kid’s adolescent hormones, and the result is comparable to Barry Jenkins’ films in its lyricism. Harrison is good, as is Sterling K. Brown as a father who has even less idea than his son about how to cope with his son’s athletic career ending. Still, the film is stolen away by Taylor Russell as the kid’s sister, who takes over the film’s second half as a girl who has to find her own way in the aftermath of her brother’s tragedy. Also with Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Clifton Collins Jr., Neal Huff, Harmony Korine, and Lucas Hedges. (Re-opens Friday at Grand Berry Theatre)
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 Christmas (PG-13) “Up in the frat house, click, click, click, / You slipped me a roofie and then your dick.” This feminist revision of the 1974 slasher film stars Imogen Poots as a college student who publicly calls out her date rapist (Ryan McIntyre) — via Christmas carol sung at a school function, no less — and then finds that his fraternity brothers are dabbling in black magic and murdering her sorority sisters one by one over the Christmas break. There are some nice ideas like the Christmas carol, but director/co-writer Sophia Takal doesn’t have the instincts for horror and seems to be hamstrung by the film’s PG-13 rating. The material could have used a well-thought-out remake for our era, but this affair comes out a mess. Also with Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Caleb Eberhardt, Simon Mead, Brittany O’Grady, and Cary Elwes.
Bombshell (R) A film that succeeds by focusing on the ways that sexual harassment poisons the workplace. The script views the 2016 sex scandal at Fox News from the viewpoints of anchors Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), plus one fictionalized composite character (Margot Robbie) with an entry-level job at the network. While director Jay Roach keeps the tone determinedly light, the actors bring home the seriousness of the stakes, especially in a late scene for Robbie where she unravels over the phone explaining she was victimized by network president Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). The movie perhaps glosses over the hate-mongering of Fox News and its main characters, but this sort of male misbehavior goes on at many places that have nothing to do with conservative news. The movie shows how even the victims of harassment wind up enabling it, and how to navigate a world run by them. Also with Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Rob Delaney, Liv Hewson, Bridgette Lundy-Paine, Mark Duplass, Stephen Root, Robin Weigert, Nazanin Boniadi, Brooke Smith, Alanna Ubach, Jennifer Morrison, Katie Aselton, Alice Eve, Ashley Greene, Tricia Helfer, Ben Lawson, Josh Lawson, Richard Kind, Malcolm McDowell, and an uncredited Brian d’Arcy James.
Cats (PG) A late candidate for worst movie of the year. By the time you read this, a new version with supposedly improved effects will have replaced the one that went out to theaters on December 20, but it’s hard to imagine that fixing all the problems here. Francesca Haywood plays an abandoned cat who finds herself in a colony of London strays deciding which of them will be given a chance to be reincarnated into a better life. This is based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and the real issue is that the original material sucked back in the 1980s and hasn’t improved with the passage of time. Director Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) does little to help matters, with his static set and lack of wit. The material stubbornly refuses to come to life and looks irredeemably silly on the big screen. This should have been a full-on animated film. It’s the only way it might have worked. Also with Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Jason Derulo, Laurie Davidson, Danny Collins, Naoimh Morgan, Steven McRae, Taylor Swift, and Jennifer Hudson.
Dabangg 3 (NR) Your response to this will likely depend on how you take the film’s typically Indian mishmash of tones. Salman Khan returns as the Uttar Pradesh self-styled “outlaw cop” who has to battle the sex trafficker (Sudeep) whom he apparently killed in the last film by pushing him off a cliff. Our protagonist is given a tragic backstory involving the murders of multiple relatives, but it’s hard for us Westerners to square that with the hyper-macho comic elements of his characterization — he punches a bad guy while flying through the windshield of his car, causes earthquakes with his dancing, and shoots one of his own officers for requesting a promotion. (The wounded cop apologizes and tells his boss, “I love you!”) The up-tempo musical numbers work reasonably well. Also with Sonakshi Sinha, Arbaaz Khan, Amole Gupte, Mahie Gill, Tinnu Anand, Warina Hussain, and Prabhu Deva.
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.
Good Newwz (NR) Chalk up another Indian comedy whose humor won’t do much for Westerners. Set in Mumbai, the story concerns a wealthy professional couple (Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor) and a nouveau riche Sikh couple from Chandigarh (Diljit Dosanjh and Kiara Advani) who share a last name and a yearning to have children, which explains how their fertility clinic accidentally uses the wrong men’s sperm on the wrong women’s eggs. Kumar is at least toned down from where he usually is and lets Dosanjh do all the broad clowning. Even so, this movie doesn’t give you anything that a bunch of English-language pregnancy comedies haven’t done in decades past. This movie takes product placement to a whole new level, with an entire musical number devoted to Zumba. Also with Adil Hussain, Tisca Chopra, Anjana Sukhani, and Karan Johar.
The Grudge (R) A loose sequel to the Japanese horror films, this one is set in America, as the curse follows an American woman (Tara Westwood) from Tokyo to central Pennsylvania and causes a spate of murders. This thing is unrelentingly grim — almost all the characters are dealing with dying parents, spouses, or children, including the widowed homicide cop (Andrea Riseborough) who gets ensnared in the case. Writer-director Nicolas Pesce has made two visually interesting horror films before this (The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing), but here he’s pressed into the template of slasher films where everything looks terrible and the scares are all predictable down to the second. Also with John Cho, Lin Shaye, Betty Gilpin, Frankie Faison, William Sadler, Jacki Weaver, and Demián Bichir.
A Hidden Life (PG-13) At this point, Terrence Malick’s whole filmmaking style is starting to look like a tic. His latest movie is about Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), the Austrian conscientious objector who was tortured and executed for his refusal to fight for the Nazi cause. Despite the film’s setting, most of the dialogue is in English. Besides that, Malick brings his familiar party guests: anamorphic lenses, actors filmed heroically from below, heartbreakingly beautiful shots of the Alpine countryside, and agonized monologues about our purpose on Earth. The film raises the question of what a devout Christian is to do when the government is evil, but despite a running time of three hours, it doesn’t have much in the way of answers. The movie isn’t worth all the time spent sitting down to watch it. Also with Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Franz Rogowski, Ulrich Matthes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Karl Markovic, Martin Wuttke, the late Michael Nyqvist, and the late Bruno Ganz.
Ip Man 4: The Finale (NR) The series ends the way it started, with Donnie Yen doing a lot of fight sequences in between bad drama. This final installment ends as the legendary kung fu master travels to America in the 1960s when his student Bruce Lee (Chan Kwok-Kwan) opens kung fu schools on the West Coast. The master immediately runs into static from the Chinese immigrants opposed to teaching barbaric Westerners their martial arts. The film is stolen away by Scott Adkins as a racist U.S. Marine gunnery sergeant, exuding screen presence even in a cardboard villain role, managing the American accent quite well, and demonstrating power, skill, and more quickness than you’d expect in his fight sequences. Whenever Asian martial-arts movies need a white-guy villain, they call Adkins, and you can see why. Also with Wu Yue, Chris Collins, Vanness Wu, Nicola Stuart-Hill, Kent Cheng, and Jim Liu.
Jumanji: The Next Level (PG-13) Best you can say about this is that this is a slight improvement on the original. When Spencer (Alex Wolff) goes back into the video game, his friends go in to retrieve him, only a couple of older relatives (Danny DeVito and Danny Glover) are accidentally sucked into the game as well. Sadly, too much of the humor relies on Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart impersonating DeVito and Glover and not understanding how video games work. We’re supposed to be hooked by the young characters coping with college life and the older ones trying to repair their broken friendship, but why on earth don’t we just play these out with the original actors instead of their video game avatars? The next level seems to be distinctly the same as the last one. Also with Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Awkwafina, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner, Rory McCann, Rhys Darby, Dania Ramirez, Colin Hanks, Nick Jonas, and uncredited cameos by Bebe Neuwirth and Lamorne Morris.
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.
Little Women (PG) Even intolerant partisans of Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 movie will have to admit that this new version is really good. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel plunks us down in the middle of the story and uses flashbacks to tell the first part. This allows Gerwig to juxtapose different scenes to good effect, and even better, to cast Jo (Saoirse Ronan) as the New York writer who finally finds success by mimicking Alcott’s life story and writing about her sisters. All this freshens the story without going so far as a postmodern riff on the 19th-century book. The mix of personalities among the actors means the performances add up to more than the sum of their considerable parts, with Ronan’s rambunctiousness playing off Emma Watson’s cool radiance (as Meg) and Florence Pugh’s willfulness and exuberance (as Amy, who is handled in much greater depth here than in other versions of this story). Gerwig’s fidelity to the written word becomes something moving here. Also with Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Eliza Scanlen, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Louis Garrel, James Norton, Chris Cooper, and Meryl Streep.
Pain and Glory (R) This superior effort from Pedro Almodóvar stars Antonio Banderas as an extremely Almodóvar-like world-famous filmmaker who looks back on his childhood while dealing with physical ailments that have stopped him from making films. The movie has two great scenes, first when the director pens an anguished autobiographical monologue about a heroin-addicted boyfriend for an actor friend (Asier Etxeandia) to deliver, and then when the boyfriend in question (Leonardo Sbaraglia) happens to be at the performance and reunites with the filmmaker. Banderas’ performance reminds you of what a great actor he was for Almodóvar, showing the shrinking of a man holed up in his Madrid mansion with his books and artworks as well as a guy who’s too ashamed to tell his recovering heroin addict friends that he’s on the stuff himself to alleviate his pain. The layer of metafiction as the protagonist recovers his health enough to make films gives this the feel of an intricate puzzle. Also with Penélope Cruz, Nora Navas, César Vicente, Asier Flores, Cecilia Roth, Susi Sánchez, and Julieta Serrano.
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.
Richard Jewell (R) As the real-life security guard who was wrongly accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Paul Walter Hauser does admirable work portraying a law-and-order type who is a hero precisely because he’s a pain in the ass. It’s too bad that director Clint Eastwood uses him to pen an angry screed about how the FBI and the press are the enemies of us all. Cardboard villains abound here, and the whole thing suffers from a lack of energy like too many of Eastwood’s recent films. If this is what we can look forward to from him, he can’t retire soon enough. Also with Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Nina Arianda, Ian Gomez, and Kathy Bates.
Spies in Disguise (PG) It’s not saying much to call this the best film that Blue Sky Animation has ever made, but it did make me laugh out loud on occasion. A superspy (voiced by Will Smith) finds himself having to work with a tech geek (voiced by Tom Holland) who advocates using his nonlethal gadgets to achieve his aims without hurting people. When the spy is framed as a traitor, he tests out one of the gadgets and is turned into a pigeon. The metamorphosis works better than it should. The movie plays the James Bond-like gadgetry for laughs better than other animated films like the Despicable Me series has done. Additional voices by Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Rachel Brosnahan, Karen Gillan, DJ Khaled, Masi Oka, and Reba McEntire.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (PG-13) For reasons that are never fully explained, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) returns from the dead and quickly becomes the subject of manhunts by both the good guys and by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who wants to protect his own power. The problems here seem to stem from Palpatine, who is as uninteresting as he was 36 years ago in Return of the Jedi. His attempt to turn Rey (Daisy Ridley) to the Dark Side falls flat, and the massing of forces against him is weak compared with the equivalent scene in Avengers: Endgame. The movie does have a lightsaber duel on a wrecked spaceship with both combatants being soaked by ocean surf, but it suffers in director/co-writer J.J. Abrams’ rush to get through the proceedings. Also with John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Naomi Ackie, Kelly Marie Tran, Billie Lourd, Dominic Monaghan, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Billy Dee Williams.
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.
Uncut Gems (R) Not bad by any stretch, but it got on my nerves. Adam Sandler plays a scuzzy jeweller in New York’s Diamond District who comes into possession of a rare uncut black opal and tries to sell it to NBA superstar Kevin Garnett (who portrays himself — brilliantly, too) over a frantic few days to pay off his numerous debts. Writer-directors Josh and Benny Safdie know how to fashion thrillers about desperate New Yorkers running pell-mell over the city, but their main character doesn’t just have a void at his center, he is the void. While Sandler disappears into this role, he and the filmmakers share in the blame of turning this character into a one-note gambling addict who never considers the possibility that any of his schemes might fail. I recommend that you see it, even though I don’t like it very much. Also with Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian, LaKeith Stanfield, Keith Williams Richards, Tommy Kominik, Mike Francesa, Judd Hirsch, and The Weeknd.
Apparition (NR) This horror film is about a group of people who experience dire consequences when using a smartphone app that allows them to talk to the dead. Starring Mena Suvari, Jon Abrahams, Annalisa Cochrane, Grayson Russell, Megan West, and Kevin Pollak.
Inmate Zero (NR) This horror film is about an outbreak of an epidemic among violent prisoners housed on an island off the coast of New England. Starring Kate Bell, Jane Garda, Christopher Dunne, Philip McGinley, Brian McGovern, Jess Chanliau, Meg Alexandra, Lydia Hourihan, and Lynne Anne Rodgers.