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Cut Throat City. Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.

 

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The Burnt Orange Heresy (PG-13) Giuseppe Capotondi adapts Charles Willeford’s novel into this atmospheric thriller that turns out to be something of a shell game. Claes Bang stars as a disgraced art scholar who takes his girlfriend of the moment (Elizabeth Debicki) to an Italian estate to meet a celebrated, reclusive Canadian artist (Donald Sutherland) whose previous work was destroyed in a fire but is rumored to be creating and hoarding some paintings unknown to the rest of the world. Debicki makes a tremendous impression as the film’s moral center, but the script’s satire of the art world is hopelessly shallow and the male characters are mostly just attitudes on a stick. Also with Mick Jagger. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills) 

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Cut Throat City (R) The rapper RZA directs this crime thriller about a group of New Orleansians who decide to pull off a heist in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Starring Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Terrence Howard, Eiza González, Kat Graham, Keean Johnson, Joel David Moore, Shameik Moore, Rob Morgan, Denzel Whitaker, Isaiah Washington, and T.I. (Opens Friday)

Peninsula (NR) This sequel to the Korean zombie film Train to Busan winds up as a pallid knockoff of Mad Max: Fury Road. Gang Dong-won stars as an ex-soldier who returns to the zombie-ravaged Korean peninsula with some other mercenaries to recover a stash of unguarded cash without alerting the revenants. There’s a well-executed climactic car chase and some interesting business with a colony of survivors staging gladiator matches between their prisoners and captured zombies, but returning director Yeon Sang-ho remains clumsy with the human emotions in the story and can’t find any new notes in the zombie saga. This series probably should have died after the first film. Also with Lee Jung-hyun, Kim Min-jae, Kim Do-yoon, Lee Ye-won, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Koo Kyo-hwan, and Bella Rahim. (Opens Friday)

Unhinged (R) Russell Crowe is really fat in this movie, and it’s hard to tell how much of it is padding, weight he gained for the role, or just the way his body is now. The extra pounds work to make him menacing as a murderous motorist who targets a divorcing mother (Caren Pistorius) after an altercation at an intersection. In a better version of this thriller, this would be terrific, but this one can’t overcome the weak performance by Pistorius or the uninventive direction by Derrick Borte (The Joneses). Don’t risk your health for this C-level trash. Also with Gabriel Bateman, Anne Leighton, Austin P. Mackenzie, and Jimmi Simpson. (Opens Friday)

The Vanished (R) The Emily Dickinson epigraph to this kidnapping thriller is a pretentious mistake. Thomas Jane and Anne Heche play a couple who take a camping trip at a remote lake in Alabama with their 10-year-old daughter (played by K.K. and Sadie Heim) when she mysteriously disappears. Their determination to recover their daughter leads them to kill at least one of the people they suspect to be involved. Writer-director Peter Facinelli (who also shows up here as a sheriff’s deputy) comes up with a clever plot revelation, but he doesn’t build up to it skilfully enough. Jason Patric unexpectedly walks away with the acting honors here as the sheriff who’s harboring his own private grief. Also with Alex Haydon, Aleksei Archer, Kristopher Wente, and John D. Hickman. (Opens Friday)

 

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Beauty and the Beast (PG-13) Emma Watson fits the Disney princess role like it was made for her, which is all the more remarkable because we know it wasn’t. This live-action remake of the 1991 animated Disney musical is still a mixed bag, though. Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spillotopoulos insert some feminist touches around the edges when they needed a radical refocusing of the script to make the romance look less like Stockholm syndrome. Director Bill Condon can’t bring any new life to the famous musical numbers. The movie does get better singing from its supporting cast than the original film, with Luke Evans looking liberated in the role of the narcissistic meathead Gaston and Josh Gad matching him well as his gay toady. Watson is a cooling vocal presence who doesn’t hit the dizzying highs of other singing actresses from other Disney films. She does stately as well as anyone, but she was made to do more interesting things. Also with Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack, Hattie Morahan, Kevin Kline, and Emma Thompson.

Black Panther (PG-13) Not just a movie about a black superhero, but a superhero movie whose blackness is central to all its accomplishments. Chadwick Boseman stars as the king of a fictitious African nation that is secretly the richest and most technologically advanced in the world, though he faces a challenge in an African-American (Michael B. Jordan) who thinks the country has failed oppressed black people around the world. Purely from a design standpoint, this is miraculous to look at, as the architecture, production design, and costumes all reflect an Afrofuturism that we haven’t seen on such a scale. In addition, the movie has more and higher-quality female representation than all of Marvel’s other superhero movies combined, as well as the best villain, a sumptuous cast, a soundtrack curated by Kendrick Lamar, and thoughtful ideas about what a powerful country owes the rest of the world. Simply by shifting from a white male point of view, this opens up the superhero genre in radical and exhilarating new directions. Also with Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Winston Duke, John Kani, Sterling K. Brown, Denzel Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and an uncredited Sebastian Stan. 

Bloodshot (PG-13) Not as smart as it thinks, unfortunately. Vin Diesel stars in this science-fiction thriller as a soldier who’s brought back to life by an evil biotech CEO (Guy Pearce), genetically enhanced, and re-programmed repeatedly to seek out his wife’s killer, whose identity changes depending on whom the CEO wants dead. Based on the graphic novel by the same name, this movie wants to tell us about megalomaniacal engineers and how easily people can be manipulated when they’re out for revenge, but the script isn’t equipped to handle those questions. There’s some nifty casting here, with Pearce as an intellectually superior workplace bully, Lamorne Morris as a British computer hacker, and Eiza González as a lithe operative. Even so, this thriller doesn’t deliver on what it promises. Also with Sam Heughan, Talulah Riley, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Siddharth Dhananjay, and Toby Kebbell. 

Ghostbusters (PG) The special effects have not held up, but the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is still hilarious. The movie gets its juice from the chemistry between Dan Aykroyd’s enthusiastic naïveté, the late Harold Ramis’ nerdy stiffness, and Bill Murray’s live-wire combination of snark and sangfroid. Sigourney Weaver is bad in the early scenes as a damsel in distress, but she’s much better shooting down Murray’s attempts to hit on her or when she’s possessed by Zuul. This movie was released before the PG-13 rating was invented, which is how jokes about oral sex made it into a PG-rated film. Also with Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Slavitza Jovan, and William Atherton.

The Goonies (PG) Richard Donner’s 1985 adventure-comedy is about a group of misfit kids (Josh Brolin, Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, and Kerri Green) who find a treasure map. Also with Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano, Anne Ramsey, and the late Lupe Ontiveros.

Grease (PG) The biggest box-office hit of 1978 retains its goofy charm, if the eternally edgeless singing of Olivia Newton-John doesn’t get to you. She plays a straight-arrow girl who falls in love with a greaser (John Travolta) at a high school in the 1950s. The young Travolta remains a charismatic and electrifying presence, and the film is good about the different pressures on boys and girls to act a certain way. The deep bench of high-energy musical performers helps this affair retain its appeal. Also with Jeff Conaway, Didi Conn, Barry Pearl, Michael Tucci, Kelly Ward, Dinah Manoff, Sid Caesar, Joan Blondell, Eve Arden, and Frankie Avalon.

I Still Believe (PG) This musical biopic dramatizes the real-life story of Christian singer Jeremy Camp (K.J. Apa) as he goes to college in California in the late 1990s, falls in love with a fellow student (Britt Robertson), marries her even though she’s dying of cancer, and witnesses her Christian faith up until the end. Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin went through this territory already in I Can Only Imagine, and they can’t bring any odd corners to the story of a man in his early 20s watching his wife die. The New Zealander Apa performs Camp’s songs acceptably well, but that’s just window dressing on a tearjerker that has too much Christian comfort in it to be interesting. Also with Gary Sinise, Melissa Roxburgh, Reuben Dodd, Tanya Christiansen, Nathan Parsons, Abigail Cowen, and Shania Twain. 

Inception (PG-13) One of the trippiest summer blockbusters in recent memory, this big brain-teaser stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the leader of a team of corporate spies who have to plant a self-destructive idea in the head of an heir (Cillian Murphy) by breaking into his dreams. Writer-director Christopher Nolan enhances the movie’s dreamscapes by twisting real-life locations into M.C. Escher-like tableaux, while cinematographer Wally Pfister and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas make it all look elegant and beautiful. Nolan may have outsmarted himself here — the hero’s struggles to let go of his dead wife (Marion Cotillard) don’t pull the emotional weight that they should. Nevertheless, the movie sends you tumbling down a fascinating rabbit hole. Also with Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Lukas Haas, Michael Caine, and the late Pete Postlethwaite.

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. 

Jurassic Park (PG-13) Steven Spielberg’s 1993 dinosaur blockbuster holds up better than you might think. The script’s characters are poorly drawn (the kids especially, but the adults too), which is the biggest reason why the movie doesn’t rank with the director’s best work. Still, Spielberg’s ingenuity and flair for action sequences are on good display here — check the T. rex’s artfully stage-managed entrance or the scene with the van stuck in a tree. For a movie whose success was based on special-effects that were cutting-edge 27 years ago, this has aged rather well. Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Bob Peck, Wayne Knight, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (PG) Steven Spielberg and George Lucas took their shared love of the 1950s TV adventure serials that they grew up on and turned them into this rip-snorting 1981 adventure film that was easily the biggest box-office hit of its year. Harrison Ford’s natural swagger goes well with his fedora and bullwhip as he plays the world’s most dashing archeology professor trying to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling into Nazi hands. The casting of John Rhys-Davies as an Egyptian guide is a piece of whitewashing that wouldn’t fly today, but the film remains a masterclass in action sequences. Also with Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, Wolf Kahler, Denholm Elliott, George Harris, and Alfred Molina.

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. 

Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (PG) George Lucas and company made fans wait three years for the Star Wars sequel, not something that a major studio would allow today, but it was worth the wait. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) goes to Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) to complete his training as a Jedi knight while his friends Han and Leia (Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) try to hold off Darth Vader and the forces of evil. The action set pieces on the ice planet of Hoth and Cloud City remain skillful uses of backdrops, and Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian is not only an early example of a Black character in Hollywood science-fiction but also a complicated figure in his own right. With some justification, fans think of this as the best of the early films. Also with Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, David Prowse, Julian Glover, John Ratzenberger, and Alec Guinness.

 

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