A Call to Spy (PG-13) Lydia Dean Pilcher (Radium Girls) directs this drama about the women whom Britain’s espionage service recruits to spy on the Nazis shortly after the outbreak of World War II. Starring Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic, Radhika Apte, Linus Roache, Rossif Sutherland, Laila Robins, and Marc Rissman. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Call (NR) This horror film is about a group of teens who suffer a road accident only to encounter greater danger in the home of an older couple (Tobin Bell and Lin Shaye). Also with Chester Rushing, Erin Sanders, Mike Manning, Sloane Morgan Siegel, and Judd Lormand. (Opens Friday at América Cinemas Gran Plaza)
The Forty-Year-Old Version (R) Radha Blank stars in her own comedy as an aging playwright who tries to break into show business by reinventing herself as a rapper. Also with Reed Birney, Welker White, Jacob Ming-Trent, Peter Kim, Haskiri Velazquez, and Imani Lewis. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Heaven (NR) Angus Benfield stars in his own Christian drama as a man who dies and goes to the afterlife. Also with Eric Roberts, Michael Maclane, Michelle Fozounmayeh, Scott King, Ben Kientz, Juliet Rusche, Aaron Groben, and Brittany Mann. (Opens Friday)
Jiang Ziya (NR) Chinese animated movies have now reached the point where we can say that they look great, but the story is weak. That’s the case with this film about a legendary warrior god (voiced by Zheng Xi) who’s exiled from heaven after he refuses to kill a demon (voiced by Ji Guanlin) because doing so would result in the death of a little girl (voiced by Yang Ning). This is intended to be contiguous with last year’s animated film Ne Zha, as part of the studio’s effort to build up a Marvel-style cinematic universe based on Chinese mythology, but despite some spectacular visuals by directors Cheng Teng and Li Wei, this doesn’t have the strong characters or the humor that Ne Zha had. The film just sort of washes over you without leaving an impact. It was supposed to be released during Chinese New Year, but was delayed until now by the pandemic. Additional voices by Tutehameng, Yan Meme, and Jiang Guangtao. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Like Harvey Like Son (NR) Rudy Harris’ documentary is about Cincinnati schoolteacher Harvey Lewis III, an ultra-runner who vows to break the record for fastest time running the Appalachian Trail. (Opens Friday)
On the Rocks (R) The latest film by Sofia Coppola stars Rashida Jones as a new mother who’s forced to work through her issues when she’s thrown together with her bachelor father (Bill Murray). Also with Marlon Wayans, Jenny Slate, Jessica Henwick, Nadia Dajani, Jules Willcox, Kelly Lynch, and Barbara Bain. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Save Yourselves! (R) A great premise yields indifferent results in this comedy about a loser Brooklyn hipster couple (John Reynolds and Sunita Mani) who spend at a week at a friend’s cabin upstate to disconnect from the internet, only to discover while they’re there that the Earth has been invaded by space aliens that look like Tribbles and kill people. The comic chemistry between the two leads is impeccable and the slow burn from banal normality to the apocalypse is reasonably well-done, but the writing-directing team of Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson can’t find that much comedy in either the couple’s relationship issues or their complete unsuitability for having to survive in the wilderness. The collision of genres doesn’t give the uproarious results you might expect, either. Edgar Wright would have done this better. Also with Ben Sinclair and Johanna Day. Voices by Zenobia Shroff and Amy Sedaris. (Opens Friday)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (R) Aaron Sorkin writes and directs this drama based on the criminal proceedings brought against activists following their disruption of the Democratic National Convention of 1968. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Ben Shenkman, Caitlin FitzGerald, Michael Keaton, Mark Rylance, and Frank Langella. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Akira (R) A movie set in 2019 but released in 1988, Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s anime classic receives a re-release, with voices by Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Tesshô Genda, and Yuriko Fuchizaki.
Alone (R) Slightly better than the similar and starrier Unhinged. Jules Willcox stars as a recent widow who drives her U-Haul on a long-distance move when she’s set upon by a serial killer (Marc Menchaca) who targets women traveling alone through the Pacific Northwest forest. The whole thing is done with a modicum of competence, but there isn’t enough to distinguish it from the herd of “killer pursues woman in remote wilderness” thrillers. You’d think that with so few characters here, there’d be more attention paid to characterization. Director John Hyams and writer Mattias Olsson make a stab at it with the protagonist’s residual feelings of grief. It doesn’t work. Also with Anthony Heald.
Ava (R) Tate Taylor tries to do a character-driven action thriller, and the fusion of the two elements is where it goes wrong. Jessica Chastain plays an ex-Army soldier, recovering drug addict, and contract killer whose recent erratic behavior draws the wrong kind of attention from her bosses. Chastain can handle both the action sequences and the scene where she relapses and considers killing herself, but the drama side of this is so much hackery, with a great deal of time wasted on the protagonist’s ex-fiancé (Common) who’s now engaged to her estranged sister (Jess Weixler). Taylor films the action legibly, but with a distinct lack of energy. Considering how many actors in this have Oscar nominations, you’d expect a little more from this. Also with Colin Farrell, John Malkovich, Ioan Gruffudd, Diana Silvers, Joan Chen, and Geena Davis.
Break the Silence: The Movie (NR) Not to be confused with last year’s Bring the Soul or 2018’s Burn the Stage, this documentary follows K-pop boy band BTS on their 2019 Love Yourself: Speak Yourself tour.
The Broken Hearts Gallery (PG-13) Chalk up another romantic comedy where the main character is meant to be lovably quirky but instead comes across as needing serious psychiatric help. Geraldine Viswanathan plays a New Yorker who is fired from her art gallery job and dumped by her boyfriend (Utkarsh Ambudkar) on the same day. She bounces back after meeting an entrepreneur (Dacre Montgomery) who’s renovating an old hotel and setting up her own gallery in the establishment, soliciting donations of objects from other people’s past relationships. The Australian star of Blockers, Viswanathan looks like a star in the making, and writer-director Natalie Krinsky includes some interesting reasons why the protagonist is obsessed with keeping things. Even so, the whimsy is forced, the complications are easy to see coming, and the heroine’s character is blatantly written from the outside in. Your average Netflix romcom is better crafted than this. Also with Phillipa Soo, Molly Gordon, Nathan Dales, Suki Waterhouse, Ego Nwodim, Sheila McCarthy, and Bernadette Peters.
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.
The Dark Divide (NR) David Cross stars in this drama as Robert Pyle, the real-life butterfly expert who walked through America’s unprotected wildlands in 1995. Also with Debra Messing, David Koechner, Gary Farmer, Cameron Esposito, and Kimberly Guerrero.
Fatima (PG-13) Marco Pontecorvo’s Christian drama is about the three 19th century Portuguese children (Stephanie Gil, Jorge Lamelas, and Alejandra Howard) who see a vision of the Virgin Mary. Also with Harvey Keitel, Goran Visnjic, Joaquim de Almeida, Joana Ribeiro, and Sônia Braga.
Infidel (R) Jim Caviezel stars in this thriller as an American journalist kidnapped by Iranian extremists during a trip to Cairo. Also with Claudia Karvan, Hal Ozsan, Aly Kassem, Bijan Daneshmand, Isabelle Adriani, Stelio Savante, and J.R. Cacia.
Kajillionaire (R) Miranda July is an unlikely filmmaker to do a caper movie, and she puts her own distinctive spin on this one. Evan Rachel Wood plays a young con artist who lives and works with her parents (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) at a family crime business and is put out when they invite a grifter from outside the family (Gina Rodriguez) into their fold. Wood gives undoubtedly her strangest performance to date as a poorly socialized case, speaking in an unnaturally deep voice, mumbling and stumbling over her words, and looking lost when she has to say anything that isn’t part of a con. It’s a wondrous tonic to the delicate-flower roles that this actress has played throughout her career. July’s comic instincts remain sharp as ever, and her persistent concern with our yearning for human connection leads this film to an unexpectedly moving ending, as the protagonist is conned herself but finds a love that’s worth a million petty insurance scams. Also with Mark Ivanir, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Rachel Redleaf, Michael Twaine, and Diana Maria Riva.
The Last Shift (R) The wrong person is the main character in this fiction debut from documentarian Andrew Cohn (Night School). Richard Jenkins stars as an assistant manager at a fast food place in Michigan who confronts the smallness of his life while spending his last week on the job training a Black juvenile offender (Shane Paul McGhie) to replace him. Our protagonist is a guy who’s incapable of making life happen for him, and his encounter with this young Black man is meant to give him some perspective on the exploitative nature of his work and his long-ago failure to intervene in a hate crime. Neither of those things comes off, and he ends up where he started while his trainee is the one who makes some much-needed changes in his life. Cohn doesn’t seem to realize where the focus of his drama should be. What should have been a small-scale gem is fatally undermined. Also with Allison Tolman, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Birgundi Baker, and Ed O’Neill.
Leap (NR) Claiming the title of greatest volleyball movie ever made, this is a biopic of Lang Ping (played by her daughter Lang Bai as a teenager and then Gong Li as an adult), the Chinese women’s legend who led the team to five straight world championships as a player and then coached USA to a win over China at the Beijing Olympics and her homeland to a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics. The film suffers from the patriotic crap that too many Chinese movies have, as well as the cliches that too many sports movies have, but director Peter Ho-sun Chan does well directing the volleyball action, as many of the players from that 2016 team portray themselves. Computer graphics make Gong look six feet tall, and she gives a creditable performance as a coach who reforms her sport’s bureaucracy to help her players win. USA volleyball fans will recognize the great Logan Tom playing herself as well. Also with Huang Bo, Wu Gang, Chen Zhan, Luo Hui, Ling Min, Zhu Ting, and Jaqueline Carvalho.
The Nest (R) Along the same lines as Uncut Gems, this entry by Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) is a quieter and better entry. Jude Law stars as a 1980s British commodities broker who moves his American family to the U.K., ostensibly because he sees moneymaking opportunities there, but really so that he can show off the baronial estate in Surrey that he’s rented to his friends from back home. The problems with the move are illustrated too neatly in a metaphoric subplot with our main character buying a show horse for his equestrian wife (Carrie Coon). Durkin does much better at dissecting this family dynamic that comes under strain because Dad has a hole in his soul that no amount of money will ever fill. The well-heeled malaise here feels like it was adapted from a novel by John Cheever or Richard Yates, and makes it worth a trip to the theaters. Also with Anne Reid, Charlie Shotwell, Oona Roche, Adeel Akhtar, and Michael Culkin.
The New Mutants (PG-13) It really exists! It’s also the gayest X-Men film ever, which is saying something. Even so, it’s still kinda meh. Blu Hunt plays a teen of Cheyenne extraction whose discovery of her powers destroys her reservation. She’s brought to a facility for other mutant kids controlled by a sinister doctor (Alice Braga), where she falls for a gay Scottish girl (Maisie Williams). Director/co-writer Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) tries to play this for horror, but neither the hallucinations that the kids have nor the discovery that our protagonist is causing them manages to raise the hair on the back of one’s neck. The romance gets lost amid all the substandard CGI, and the finale with a demon bear is too dopey to work. Anya Taylor-Joy walks off with the acting honors as a Russian mean girl who bullies the new arrival. Also with Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, and Adam Beach.
On the Basis of Sex (PG-13) Mimi Leder turns this 2018 biography of Ruth Bader GInsburg into a shallow exercise in rah-rah feminism. Felicity Jones stars as the Harvard Law graduate-turned-Rutgers professor who, in 1971, takes up a sex discrimination case on behalf of a man (Chris Mulkey) who tries to become a caregiver for his mother. The director and writer Daniel Stiepleman reduce their main character to a one-dimensional heroine whom we’re meant to cheer for against a bevy of ogre-like white guys, with the notable exception of Ruth’s husband (Armie Hammer). Not a shred of insight comes about the discrimination faced by women in the legal profession or male power. You’re better off watching the documentary RBG again. Also with Justin Theroux, Cailee Spaeny, Jack Reynor, Stephen Root, Kathy Bates, and Sam Waterston.
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.
The Personal History of David Copperfield (PG) The British satirist Armando Iannucci (TV’s Veep) forgoes his obscenities and scathing insults for this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novels. Dev Patel plays the title character, a 19th-century young man who comes up from poverty to make his name as a writer. The colorblind casting has the unfortunate effect of making Victorian London seem like a more equal place than it was, but Patel is good whether he’s playing David as the dashing hero, the butt of a joke, or the clown doing comic impressions of other people. Iannucci underscores the theatricality of the effort with some postmodern storytelling devices that call attention to themselves, and his supporting cast embraces the Dickensian comic roles: Hugh Laurie underplaying as Mr. Dick, Ben Whishaw cast against type as Uriah Heep, Aneurin Barnard as a self-loathing Steerforth, and Peter Capaldi as the orotund Mr. Micawber. Lightening up does wonders for this Dickens adaptation. Also with Tilda Swinton, Morfydd Clark, Rosalind Eleazar, Benedict Wong, Daisy May Cooper, Paul Whitehouse, Bronagh Gallagher, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Darren Boyd, Anthony Welsh, and Gwendoline Christie.
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.
Ravers (NR) Georgia Hirst stars in this comedy as a journalist reporting on an illegal rave when a contaminated party drug causes the partygoers to go insane. Also with Eve Connolly, Danny Kirrane, Manpreet Bambra, Dave Johns, Orson Chaplin, and Natasha Henstridge.
RBG (PG) This blandly conventional 2018 documentary portrait of the late Supreme Court justice is best when its subject hints at the more jagged and less conventional person at its center. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West do an acceptable job of chronicling Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s rise to the country’s highest court, and their rush to portray their subject as a feminist hero glosses over some of the complicated bits in Ginsburg’s legal career. Ginsburg herself does much to inject complexity into the film, coming across in the interviews as a short-statured Jewish grandmother who just happens to be one of the most formidable legal minds of her time. If you aren’t aware of the loss our country has suffered with her death, here’s where to start. Also with Bill Clinton, Nina Totenberg, Orrin Hatch, Harry Edwards, Ted Olson, and Gloria Steinem.
The Secrets We Keep (R) A weak knockoff of Death and the Maiden. Noomi Rapace stars in this thriller as a Romanian Holocaust survivor living in America in 1960 who becomes convinced that a new neighbor (Joel Kinnaman) is the SS guard who raped her and murdered her sister while they were trying to escape from a Nazi prison camp. Director/co-writer Yuval Adler goes about this with a curious lack of urgency and tension, especially after our main character hits the man in the head and ties him up in her basement. This affair needed cleverer play about whether the man really is the person she claims him to be, or whether she and her American husband (Chris Messina) might be caught by either local law enforcement or their young son (Jackson Vincent), and a sense of claustrophobia wouldn’t have hurt, either. Nothing here really pops. Also with Amy Seimetz.
Shortcut (NR) This fantasy-horror film starts off promisingly before collapsing. Five British teens (Zak Sutcliffe, Sophie Jane Oliver, Jack Kane, Zander Emlano, and Molly Dew) are being driven on a school bus through Italy, for some reason. They’re taken hostage by a cannibal serial killer (David Keyes), though the real danger turns out to be man-eating revenants lurking outside the broken-down bus. Director Alessio Liguori does all right with the initial business as the kids discover what they’re dealing with, but the second half with the kids fleeing into an underground catacomb is dull, and there’s too much time devoted to flashbacks that explain the backstory of the creatures. While sentimentality isn’t a problem for most horror movies, this one pays tinny homage to the power of teamwork that would have been better left alone. Also with Terence Anderson, Mino Caprio, and Andrei Claude.
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.
Tenet (PG-13) Either Christopher Nolan has gone up his own ass, or he’s made an avant-garde masterpiece too intelligent and sophisticated for my puny little brain to comprehend. John David Washington stars as a nameless CIA agent who is assigned to trace objects moving backwards through time to their source before they cause a time crunch that destroys the universe. This movie exists in the future perfect tense; everywhere our protagonist and his investigating partner (Robert Pattinson) look, they find evidence of things that will have happened. The film is structured as a palindrome, with the hero going through the looking glass and moving backwards through the story he just experienced. This leads to some cool action sequences, but there are a suspicious number of loose ends hanging, and the actors are swallowed up by the conceit except for a terrifying Kenneth Branagh as a wife-beating Russian arms dealer. Without the element of human emotion, this thing just sows confusion. Also with Elizabeth Debicki, Himesh Patel, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy, Dimple Kapadia, Martin Donovan, and Michael Caine.
Trolls World Tour (PG) Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake return to this animated sequel, as they try to save the other troll kingdoms from being taken over by a hard-rock troll (voiced by Rachel Bloom). Additional voices by James Corden, Ron Funches, Kelly Clarkson, Anderson .paak, Kenan Thompson, Mary J. Blige, Ester Dean, Jamie Dornan, Ozzy Osbourne, Anthony Ramos, Karan Soni, Charlyne Yi, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Zooey Deschanel, and Sam Rockwell.
Tulsa (PG-13) Scott Pryor co-directs, co-writes, and stars in this drama about a marine biker who discovers the existence of a 9-year-old daughter (Livi Birch). Also with John Schneider, Nicole Marie Johnson, Cameron Arnett, Cedric Greenway, and Kristin Brock.
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.
Words on Bathroom Walls (PG-13) The acting saves this teen mental illness drama based on Julia Walton’s novel. Charlie Plummer plays a student transferring to a new Catholic high school after suffering a schizophrenic breakdown and runs into trouble after falling for the class valedictorian (Taylor Russell) and going off his meds. Director Thor Freudenthal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) often renders the main character’s hallucinations in overly cutesy terms, and having three actors personify the voices in his head (AnnaSophia Robb, Devon Bostick, and Lobo Sebastian) is a mistake. Even so, the script holds occasional insights about mental illness, and Plummer is good whether he’s on the pills and suffering from the side effects or off them and raving at his family. His chemistry with Russell means this works better as romance than as drama.
Draupadi Unleashed (NR) Based on Nisha Sabharwal’s novel, this Indian film stars Salena Qureshi as a woman in the 1930s who rejects her arranged marriage. Also with Dominic Rains, Cas Anvar, Anna George, Azita Ghanizada, Melanie Chandra, and Pooja Batra.
Foster Boy (NR) This socially conscious drama is about a lawyer (Matthew Modine) and a young Black prison inmate (Shane Paul McGhie) who team up to expose the injustices of the foster care system. Also with Michael Hyatt, Michael Beach, Lex Scott Davis, Julie Benz, Evan Handler, Amy Brenneman, and Louis Gossett, Jr.
Misbehaviour (NR) Keira Knightley stars in this film about the real-life feminist protests surrounding the 1970 Miss World competition in London. Also with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Keeley Hawes, Rhys Ifans, Lesley Manville, Suki Waterhouse, and Greg Kinnear.
Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles (NR) This documentary by Laura Gabbert (City of Gold) follows chef Yotam Ottolenghi and five pastry chefs as they try to create an extravagant meal for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Visitors to Versailles exhibit.