And Then We Danced (NR) The cause of a full-scale riot in the country of Georgia, Levan Akin’s drama is about a traditional Georgian folk dancer (Levan Gelbakhiani) who realizes his attraction to other men while preparing for another performance. Also with Bachi Valishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Kahka Gogidze, Ana Makharadze, and Nino Gabisenia. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Brahms: The Boy II (PG-13) Katie Holmes stars in this sequel to the horror film about a creepy doll in a bespoke suit. Also with Christopher Convery, Owain Yeoman, Anjali Jay, and Ralph Ineson. (Opens Friday)
The Call of the Wild (PG) Technology finally allows for Jack London’s novel to be filmed properly, except that’s not what happens here. The film softens up the storylines about the humans around the dog, but thankfully not the harshness of life in the Yukon or the violence against animals in the story of a large dog who discovers his true nature while pulling sleds across the frozen north. However, to accomplish the latter, the movie resorts to an entirely CGI-generated dog as the protagonist, and the CGI dog carries the film straight into the uncanny valley, with facial expressions that are never surprising. Harrison Ford does fine work playing John Thornton as a man fleeing a family tragedy, but this film’s tech isn’t up to the challenge of fleshing out a great work of literature. Also with Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Bradley Whitford, Jean Louisa Kelly, and Karen Gillan. (Opens Friday)
Goldie (NR) Slick Woods stars in this drama as a homeless teenager who fights to keep her family together while pursuing her dreams of becoming a dancer. Also with George Sample III, Danny Hoch, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Khris Davis, and Gbenga Akinnagbe. (Opens Friday at Grand Berry Theater)
Impractical Jokers: The Movie (PG-13) Brian Quinn, Joe Gatto, James Murray, and Sal Vulcano reunite for this comedy in which three of the four jokers seek redemption. Also with Jaden Smith, Joey Fatone, Kane Hodder, and Paula Abdul. (Opens Friday)
My Boyfriend’s Meds (R) This Mexican comedy stars Sandra Echevarria as a woman who sees a different side of her boyfriend (Jaime Camil) when he forgets to take his prescription medications on their vacation. Also with Jason Alexander, Luis Arrieta, Mónica Huarte, and Brooke Shields. (Opens Friday)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (R) Céline Sciamma’s lesbian romance stars Noémie Merlant as an 18th-century French painter who travels to a secluded estate to paint a portrait of an aristocrat (Adèle Haenel) so she can be married off to a wealthy man. Also with Luàna Bajrami and Valeria Golino. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Redoubt (NR) Matthew Barney’s latest art project is a mythological story told through dance in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Standing Up, Falling Down (NR) Matt Ratner’s comedy stars Ben Schwartz as a struggling standup comic who befriends an old doctor (Billy Crystal). Also with Grace Gummer, Eloise Mumford, Nate Corddry, Debra Monk, Kevin Dunn, and Jill Hennessy. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Traitor (R) Marco Bellochio’s Italian drama tells the true story of Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), the informer whose testimony resulted in hundreds of convictions for the bosses of the Sicilian mafia. Also with Fausto Russo Alesi, Luigi Lo Cascio, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Fabrizio Ferracane, Nicola Cali, Giovanni Calcagno, Gabriele Cicirello, Paride Ciccirello, and Alessio Praticò. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
True Fiction (PG) Kim Jin-mook’s thriller stars Oh Man-seok as a Korean politician who is caught up in a crime during a weekend getaway. Also with Ji Hyun-woo, Lee Na-ra, Kim Hak-cheol, Jo Eun-ji, and Goo Bon-woong. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
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.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (R) A lot more fun than Joker. This loose sequel to Suicide Squad has Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) gathering together a group of antiheroines to survive a murderous Gotham City crime boss (Ewan McGregor). Whether she’s contorting her face into clownish expressions or fracturing bad guys’ limbs, Robbie is a dynamo of energy. Working with major portions of the John Wick stunt team, first-time director Cathy Yan constantly finds creative elements to inject into the fight sequences and often films them in single takes to show that her actresses are doing their own stunts. She also stops to film the making of an egg sandwich that Harley orders as a hangover cure, with the sandwich’s subsequent death being treated more tragically than any person’s death. The movie is too scattered in terms of plot and theme, and not everyone will care for its nihilistic comic violence, but this endearing strange and funny film carves out a unique place among the DC comic films. Also with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Bojana Novakovic, and Chris Messina.
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.
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.
Downhill (R) I was never a big fan of the Swedish comedy Force Majeure, but this American remake is a mixed bag. Will Ferrell plays a father taking his family on a ski vacation in Austria, and when what looks like a deadly avalanche seems to threaten his wife (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and kids, he abandons them to save himself. Ferrell is perfectly cast as a dad who tries to pretend that everything is fine in the aftermath, and you won’t forget Louis-Dreyfus choking back her disbelief when her husband presents a version of events that exculpates himself. Why, oh why do writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash take out the original film’s best scene, when the guy breaks down in horrifying fashion in front of his family? Also with Miranda Otto, Zoe Chao, Julian Grey, Giulio Berruti, Kristofer Hivju, and Zach Woods.
Fantasy Island (PG-13) It must have seemed like a clever idea on the page, but on the screen, it turns into a disaster. The escapist 1970s TV show becomes a horror film, as Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña, doing an entertaining impression of Ricardo Montalbán) welcomes a new group of tourists (Lucy Hale, Maggie Q, Austin Stowell, Ryan Hansen, and Jimmy O. Yang) who yearn to have their fantasies fulfilled, only for his tropical island paradise to then twist their fantasies into nightmares. Director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow can’t juggle the multiple plotlines without losing track of his characters for too long, and the incomprehensible ending has the feel of something hastily reshot without regard for what came before. Also with Michael Rooker, Kim Coates, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Nick Slater, Charlotte McKinney, Robbie Jones, and Portia Doubleday.
First Lady (PG) Nancy Stafford stars in this comedy as a woman not married to the U.S. president who nevertheless campaigns for the post of First Lady. Also with Corbin Bernsen, Joel King, Benjamin Dane, and Stacey Dash.
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.
Gretel & Hansel (PG-13) This trippy and highly flawed take on the fairy tale is for a specific subset of horror film fans. Sophia Lillis plays the teenage girl who takes her little brother (Samuel Leakey) into an enchanted forest only for them to be trapped by a witch (Alice Krige) with unaccountably good food. As he did with his previous horror movie The Blackcoat’s Daughter, director Osgood Perkins conjures up some nice slow burns and memorable visuals, and Krige is a terrifying presence as the hatchet-faced witch. I just wish there weren’t so many dead spots, and that screenwriter Rob Haley hadn’t made such clunky attempts at period dialogue. The film has some terrific cinematography and production design, but that only goes so far in this genre. Also with Charles Babalola and Jessica de Gouw.
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.
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.
Love Aaj Kal (NR) This Indian romance is about a man (Saif Ali Khan) who receives advice about his love life from his past self (Rishi Kapoor). Also with Deepika Padukone, Giselle Monteiro, Rahul Khanna, Florence Brudenell-Bruce, Raj Zutshi, and Neetu Singh.
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.
Malang (NR) This Indian film stars Aditya Roy Kapoor as a young introvert who falls for a free-spirited young woman (Disha Patani), then becomes a serial killer who’s hunted down by a cop who’s also a serial killer (Anil Kapoor). Also with Kunal Kemmu, Devika Vatsa, Amruta Khanvilkar, and Elli Avrram.
The Man Standing Next (NR) This Korean thriller is about the real-life 1979 assassination of South Korean President Park Chung-hee (Lee Sung-min) by the director of his own intelligence agency (Lee Byung-hun). Also with Kwak Do-won, Lee Hee-joon, Kim So-jin, Seo Hyun-woo, Ji Hyun-joon, and Kim Min-sang.
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.
The Photograph (PG-13) Cast in a straightforward romantic role, Issa Rae proves she can play that, too, in this film about a New York museum curator who tries to reconcile with her recently deceased, emotionally distant photographer mother (played in flashbacks by Chanté Adams) while also navigating a new relationship with a journalist (LaKeith Stanfield) who’s about to land his dream job in the U.K. The material has some problems reaching a point, but writer-director Stella Meghie does great with the atmosphere as the story shifts to New Orleans and London. The acting is impressive, too, from the leads and also from Kelvin Harrison Jr. as an ambitious journalism intern and Rob Morgan as the mother’s regret-filled ex. Robert Glasper’s luxurious jazz piano score helps make this a romance worth investing in. Also with Chelsea Peretti, Teyonah Parris, Lil Rel Howery, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Y’lan Noel, and Courtney B. Vance.
The Rest of Us (NR) Aisling Chin-Yee’s drama is about a divorced mother (Heather Graham) who invites her ex-husband’s wife and daughter (Jodi Balfour and Abigail Pniowsky) to live with her. Also with Sophie Nélisse, Charlie Gillespie, Tameka Griffiths, and Inga Cadranel.
The Rhythm Section (R) Blake Lively stars as an Englishwoman whose family is killed in a terrorist bombing and who is ensnared in British intelligence dealings when she goes looking for revenge. Director Reed Morano displays chops as an action filmmaker during two one-take sequences, a fight over a breakfast table and a car chase through the streets of Madrid. I also like how the protagonist rather sucks as an international contract killer. However, screenwriter Mark Burnell (adapting his own pre-9/11 terrorism novel to a post-9/11 world) doesn’t have the instincts to write for the screen and produces glaring inconsistencies in character and plot development. Lively continues to deglamorize herself playing a woman who slips into heroin addiction and prostitution after her family’s deaths, but like her attempt at a posh English accent, she only occasionally hits the mark. Also with Jude Law, Max Casella, Raza Jaffrey, Nasser Memarzia, Amira Ghazalla, Richard Brake, Tawfeek Barhom, and Sterling K. Brown.
Sonic the Hedgehog (PG) They delayed this film’s release by three months to make the video-game hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz) look less creepy on the big screen. They succeeded; now he just looks boring. The super-fast game hero sees his hiding place on Earth revealed and has to team up with a Montana sheriff (James Marsden) to escape the clutches of Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). The result is a lot of defanged hijinks centering on a dramatically inert CGI-generated presence on the road from Montana to San Francisco. Carrey’s hamming may be old hat by now, but it’s right for the part of a video game villain, and it’s the only thing here that’s within hailing distance of entertaining. This is yet one more video-game adaptation that fails. Also with Tika Sumpter, Adam Pally, Lee Majdoub, and Neal McCullough.
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.
World Famous Lover (PG-13) This anthology film consists of interlocking short films about Indian people dealing with love. Starring Vijay Deverakonda, Raashi Khanna, Aishwarya Rajesh, Catherine Tresa, and Izabelle Leite.
The Assistant (R) Julia Garner stars in this drama as an assistant at a film studio who realizes that her boss is a sexual predator. Also with Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth, and Dagmara Dominczyk.
Camp Cold Brook (R) This horror film stars Chad Michael Murray as the leader of a team of paranormal investigators at an abandoned summer camp where a massacre once took place. Also with Danielle Harris, Courtney Gains, Michael Eric Reid, Loren Ledesma, and Mary Kathryn Bryant.
Citizen K (NR) Alex Gibney (Inside Job) directs this documentary about the rise and fall of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Incitement (NR) This Israeli historical thriller follows Yigal Amir (Yehuda Nahari) in the year leading up to his assassination of President Yitzhak Rabin. Also with Amitai Yaish, Anat Ravnitzki, Yoav Levi, Daniella Kertesz, and SIvan Mast.
The Last Thing He Wanted (R) Adapted from Joan Didion’s novel, this film stars Anne Hathaway as a Washington Post reporter who is caught up in her late father’s business as an arms dealer. Also with Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez, Toby Jones, Edi Gathegi, and Willem Dafoe.
Spy Intervention (NR) Drew Van Acker stars in this comedy as an international superspy who tries to settle into the life of an ordinary suburbanite after marrying his soulmate (Poppy Delevingne). Also with Dave Sheridan, Blake Anderson, Natasha Bassett, Brittany Furlan, and Lane Garrison.
VFW (NR) Joe Begos’ thriller is about a group of war veterans who defend their VFW post against a horde of drug-crazed junkies. Starring Martin Kove, Stephen Lang, Sierra McCormick, William Sadler, Dora Madison, David Patrick Kelly, Fred Williamson, and George Wendt.