Ashwathama (NR) Naga Shaurya stars in this Indian thriller as a police detective hunting a serial killer. Also with Mehreen Pirzada, Sargun Kaur, Krishna Murali Posani, and Prince Cecil. (Opens Friday)
Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words (PG-13) Michael Pack’s documentary profiles the Supreme Court justice. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Gretel & Hansel (PG-13) This revisionist take on the fairy tale stars Sophia Lillis as the girl who takes her little brother (Samuel Leakey) into the woods for food, only to fall into an evil trap. Also with Alice Krige, Charles Babalola, and Jessica de Gouw. (Opens Friday)
Judy (R) Looking bleary, alcohol-soaked, and prematurely aged, Renée Zellweger does an uncannily precise imitation of Judy Garland in this biopic that takes in the singer as she plays five weeks in a London nightclub in the winter of 1968. The part shows off her gift for mimicry, and she’s probably a better singer than Garland was at the sadly diminished late-career stage that’s portrayed here. The film is based on Peter Quilter’s stage play End of the Rainbow, and it doesn’t have much to say about the traumas of child stardom lingering into adulthood. Beyond the lead performance, the film is rather indifferently cast. Zellweger’s performance deserves better than this lukewarm show business tragedy. Also with Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Bella Ramsey, Royce Pierreson, Phil Dunster, Darci Shaw, Andy Nyman, and Michael Gambon. (Re-opens Friday at Grand Berry Theater)
Quezon’s Game (PG-13) A fascinating real-life story is buried in shortcomings all too typical of Filipino historical dramas. Raymond Bagatsing bears a marked resemblance to real-life Filipino president Manuel Quezon, and the film takes in his final years, racked by disease as he wages diplomatic battles with both Nazis and Americans in his determination to take in German Jewish refugees during the early years of the Holocaust. The story is compelling stuff, especially with the knowledge that future U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower (David Bianco) was in on the rescue effort as a lieutenant colonel. However, this 127-minute drama gives us cardboard heroes and villains without moving swiftly enough. The epic sags under the weight of its self-importance. Director-cinematographer Matthew Rosen makes all the indoor shots look washed-out, for some reason. Also with Rachel Alejandro, Kate Alejandrino, Billy Ray Gallion, and James Paoleli. (Opens Friday)
The Rhythm Section (R) Blake Lively stars in this action-thriller as an Englishwoman who seeks revenge on the terrorists who caused the plane crash that killed her family. Also with Jude Law, Daniel Mays, Max Casella, Geoff Bell, Raza Jaffrey, Tawfeek Barhom, and Sterling K. Brown. (Opens Friday)
Bad Boys for Life (R) Michael Bay is no longer on this series as a director, and the result is a mild improvement. The Miami detectives are split when Marcus (Martin Lawrence) tells Mike (Will Smith) that he’s retiring and Mike takes it as a betrayal, especially after he’s personally targeted by a Mexican drug cartel queenpin (Kate del Castillo). The two stars seem invested in a way that they haven’t been in earlier installments, and the subplot with Mike being forced to work with a unit of tech-savvy younger cops (Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, and Alexander Ludwig). The new directing team of Adil & Bilal can’t fix the flaws left over from the previous films, but they do a more than acceptable job with the action sequences. Also with Paola Nuñez, Jacob Scipio, DJ Khaled, Ivo Nandi, Rory Markham, Theresa Randle, and Joe Pantoliano.
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.
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.
Detective Chinatown 3 (NR) Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran reprise their roles in the comic mystery series, as their characters try to solve a case in Japan. Also with Satoshi Tsumabuki, Masami Nagasawa, Shôta Sometani, Tadanobu Asano, Zhang Zifeng, and Tony Jaa.
Dolittle (PG) About as bad as you’d expect. Robert Downey Jr. plays the doctor who can talk to animals as a Welsh-accented misanthropic shut-in widower before he’s summoned to voyage to Africa to save the life of the young Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). The Hugh Lofting novel has been pared away in favor of generic adventures with the doctor encumbered by numerous cute animal sidekicks as well as a cute kid (Harry Collett) just so that we can avoid looking at things that are not cute. The script isn’t funny, and the occasional wilder edges of Downey’s performance are the only things to engage a viewer over the age of 4. Also with Michael Sheen, Carmel Laniado, and Jim Broadbent. Voices by Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Craig Robinson, Frances de la Tour, Jason Mantzoukas, and Ralph Fiennes.
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 Gentlemen (R) Guy Ritchie goes back to his British gangster film stomping grounds with less than attractive results. Matthew McConaughey stars as an American expat marijuana grower who tries to sell off his business while fighting off takeover attempts from a Chinese psychopath (Henry Golding) and a gay blackmailer (Hugh Grant). The story is framed by the blackmailer’s narration of his scheme to the American’s right-hand guy (Charlie Hunnam), and it doubles back on itself about every five minutes, to the point where it outsmarts itself. Ritchie casts a lot of actors against type, but the only instance where that works is Michelle Dockery as a Cockney gang wife trying to be posh. Ritchie stages bits like a gang of muscled-up bodyguards being introduced at length only to be promptly beaten up by a rival gang of teens who film themselves doing it and put the footage into their own rap video. Even so, the bad guys in this game are too overmatched by the good guys, who have too easy a path to victory. Also with Colin Farrell, Jeremy Strong, Tom Wu, Chidi Ajufo, Eliot Sumner, Samuel West, and Eddie Marsan.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The Last Full Measure (R) This war film really should be intolerable, but thanks to its acting, it doesn’t get there until the very end. The fictionalized tale of Airman William “Pits” Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) and the efforts to get him a Congressional Medal of Honor decades after his death trying to save wounded Army soldiers in Vietnam is told through the eyes of a civilian Defense Department flack (Sebastian Stan) who investigates the case. A much-feted cast full of veteran actors plays Pits’ parents and the soldiers who served alongside him, and they not only manage to keep sentimentality at bay but also keep the plot moving forward. Only during the final scene does the film tip over into treacly patriotism. That’s not enough to keep it from being recommendable. Also with Christopher Plummer, Diane Ladd, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Bradley Whitford, Amy Madigan, Michael Imperioli, Linus Roache, Alison Sudol, John Savage, and the late Peter Fonda.
LIke a Boss (R) Occasionally stuff breaks loose and raises laughs in this comedy. Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish star as lifelong best friends and roommates who launch their own cosmetics business, but whose lack of business acumen attracts an orange-haired cosmetics mogul (Salma Hayek) who invests in their company and then tries to break up their friendship so that she can take over. Miguel Arteta directs smoothly but can’t seem to decide whether this is a workplace comedy or a comedy about two best friends. The film is dependent on stray jokes scoring, like the drones flying around the mogul’s corporate headquarters or Hayek’s bitchy lines: “My head is not little. It’s just that my breasts are humongous.” Also with Billy Porter, Jennifer Coolidge, Ari Graynor, Karan Soni, Jessica St. Clair, Jacob Latimore, Ryan Hansen, Jimmy O. Yang, and an uncredited Lisa Kudrow.
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.
1917 (R) Remarkable though this is in stretches, this isn’t anything close to the best movie of the year. Sam Mendes’ World War I film stars Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay as two British lance corporals sent on a dangerous mission to relay a message to call off an attack by their own forces. The film is edited to look like a single unbroken take, and Mendes uses the tactic to come up with some remarkable incidents like one of the soldiers running down the British line perpendicular to the direction of the charging soldiers. It’s technically dazzling, yet Mendes never quite goes beyond his storytelling gimmick to bring home the emotional cost of war. This bland tribute to military heroism and the twilight of the British Empire is a war film for Downton Abbey fans. That doesn’t make it a great film. Also with Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Richard Madden, Daniel Mays, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
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.
Panga (NR) Indian sports movies continue to treat sports that are unfamiliar to us, and I say, let’s have them. Like so many of these films, this is a fictionalized version of a real-life story. It’s about a woman from Bhopal (Kangana Ranaut) who is one of the all-time great players of kabaddi, gives up the sport in her prime after giving birth to a chronically ill son, then tries to make a comeback at age 32 after that 7-year-old son (Yagya Bhasin) begs her to. The drama and characters are rather run-of-the-mill, but you’ll likely be intrigued by the sport of kabaddi, which is like rugby played indoors without a ball. This is better than quite a few Hollywood movies about girls who play sports. Also with Jassie Gill, Neena Gupta, Rajesh Tailang, and Richa Chadha.
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.
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.
Sarileru Neekevvaru (NR) This Indian action film stars Mahesh Babu as an army supersoldier deployed to the Pakistani border to protect the country from external threats, though he also finds himself protecting a law professor (Vijayshanti) who is targeted for violence because she stands up for women’s rights. The movie grinds its gears deafeningly as it switches between serious subjects like this and comic interludes such as one where the supersoldier refuses to defuse a bomb until he’s had his coffee brewed to his exacting specifications. The musical numbers sit alongside the action sequences, and while both of them have moments of inspiration, they would have been better off existing in separate movies. Also with Rajendra Prasad, Aadhi, Vennela Kishore, Subbaraju, Prakash Raj, Murli Sharma, and Rashmika Mandanna.
The Song of Names (PG-13) Based on Norman Lebrecht’s novel, this drama is about an Englishman (Tim Roth) trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of his childhood friend. Also with Clive Owen, Jonah Hauer-King, Catherine McCormack, Saul Rubinek, Gerran Howell, and Eddie Izzard.
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.
Street Dancer 3D (NR) This dance film was shot in 3D, but if you’re not watching it in a theater showing it in 3D, you’ll probably wonder why everyone is constantly throwing things at the camera. This enjoyable dance film is about rival Indian and Pakistani hip-hop dance crews in London who are forced to team up for a big competition so they can take down the snooty white dance crew from the elite school. There is a weird and wrongheaded subplot with the Indian group’s main dancer (Varun Dhawan) making extra cash by illegally smuggling immigrants into the U.K., but the invention in the dance numbers makes up for it, especially the climactic bit with the white guys incorporating classical ballet and the South Asians countering with a laser light show. Also with Shraddha Kapoor, Prabhu Deva, Nora Fatehi, Aparshakti Khurana, Dharmesh Yelande, Salman Yussuf Khan, Punit Pathak, Raghav Juyal, Sushant Pajari, Sushant Khatri, Murli Sharma, and Javed Khan.
Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior (NR) For the 450th anniversary of the Battle of Sinhagad, this Indian film dramatizes the events as the legendary warrior Tanhaji Malusare (Ajay Devgn) vows to hold southern India for the Marathi people against the Mughal rulers of the north. The drama never transcends the Indian archetype of superheroes battling mustache-twirling villains and killing hundreds of people as collateral damage. However, Devgn is a swashbuckling hero and Saif Ali Khan makes a fearsome bad guy as the Mughals’ sadistic main military commander in the south. Director Om Raut does a fine job with the battle scenes, too. Also with Kajol, Arush Nand, Ajinkya Deo, Vipul Gupta, Nitesh Kalbande, Nissar Khan, Devdutta Nage, Trishia Patel, and Luke Kenny.
The Turning (PG-13) This bad horror film is so close to being a great one. An adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw set in the 1990s, this film stars Mackenzie Davis as a nanny who takes a job at a secluded mansion caring for an orphaned girl (Brooklynn Prince) when the older brother (Finn Wolfhard) unexpectedly comes home after being expelled from school. Writer-director Floria Sigismondi (The Runaways) draws out some intriguing modern feminist notes from the material by modernizing it, and Wolfhard gives an excellent performance as a little creep who tortures animals and pervs on the nanny when he’s not threatening to kill her. Too bad the ending is chopped up beyond the point of incomprehensibility. If only Sigismondi had been able to see her vision through. Also with Barbara Marten.
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.
Underwater (PG-13) This movie isn’t sure whether it wants to be 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Poseidon Adventure, Alien, or Gravity, but it’s watchable thanks to Kristen Stewart. Sporting a bleached buzz cut, she plays a mechanical engineer working on an oil drill seven miles underneath the ocean surface when it’s suddenly compromised by causes unknown. The character beats are less convincing than the bits of science that director William Eubank and his writers drop on us about the extreme water pressure on the ocean floor. If they had concentrated on that instead of veering off into dopey plots about merfolk, this might have been good. Also with Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher Jr., Jessica Henwick, Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright, and T.J. Miller.
Weathering With You (PG-13) If you’re an emo teenager who’s worried about climate change, this is your movie. Makoto Shinkai’s anime adventure is about a Japanese teenager (voiced by Kotaro Daigo in the original version and Brandon Engman in the English-dubbed version) falls for a mysterious girl (voiced by Nana Moria and Ashley Boettcher) who works at McDonald’s and can control the weather. While the film is too derivative of Shinkai’s previous movie Your Name, he comes up with some jaw-dropping crystalline visuals of the weather changing. While this fantasia isn’t as deep as better anime films, there’s more than enough magic in here to satisfy fans of the genre. Additional voices by Shun Oguri, Yûki Kaji, Tsubasa Honda, Lee Pace, Alison Brie, and Riz Ahmed.
Assassin 33 A.D. (PG-13) This science-fiction film is about a group of science students who accidentally invent a time-travel device. Starring Danny Boaz, Heidi Montag, Morgan Roberts, Lamar Usher, Martin Peña, and Jason Castro.
Color Out of Space (NR) Nicolas Cage stars in this film based on an H.P. Lovecraft story about residents of a small town trying to cope with the dangerous fallout from a meteorite. Also with Joely Richardson, Q’orianka Kilcher, Madeleine Archer, Julian Hilliard, and Tommy Chong.
Disturbing the Peace (R) Guy Pearce stars in this thriller as a small-town sheriff who has to make a stand against a gang of outlaw bikers trying to pull a heist. Also with Devon Sawa, Barbie Blank, Dwayne Cameron, Michael Bellisario, Kelly Greyson, and John Lewis.
The Host (R) This thriller stars Robert Beckingham as a British banker who has to pull a job for Chinese cartel in Amsterdam to start a new life. Also with Maryam Hassouni, Dougie Poynter, Nigel Barber, Togo Igawa, Tom Wu, Jeroen Krabbé, and Derek Jacobi.
Intrigo: Death of an Author (R) Benno Fürmann stars in this thriller as a Swedish book editor who receives a manuscript from a presumed-dead famous author that comes with strange conditions and circumstances. Also with Ben Kingsley, Tuva Novotny, Michael Byrne, Veronica Ferres, Sandra Dickinson, and Elizabeth Counsell.
John Henry (R) Terry Crews stars in this thriller as an ex-convict who is unwillingly drawn into conflict with his former gang leader (Ludacris). Also with Maestro Harrell, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Jamila Velazquez, Joseph Julian Soria, Rich Morrow, and Baadja-Lyne Odums.
Midnight Family (NR) Luke Lorentzen’s documentary is about a family that drives a for-profit ambulance in Mexico City’s wealthy neighborhoods, trying to beat other ambulances to patients who need help.