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Stardust opens Wednesday in Dallas.

OPENING

The Croods: A New Age (PG) The sequel to the 2013 animated film features the titular prehistoric family meeting a new family that claims to be better evolved. Voices by Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Leslie Mann, Kelly Marie Tran, and Peter Dinklage. (Opens Wednesday)

Faith Under Fire (NR) This Christian drama stars Nick Vlassopoulos as a firefighter whose religious faith is tested by a series of family tragedies. Also with Kevin Sorbo, Keyna Reynolds, Jesi Jensen, Grover McCants, Joel Paul Reisig, and Dean Cain. (Opens Friday in Dallas) 

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Last Call (NR) Rhys Ifans stars in this film about the alcohol-soaked last days of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Also with John Malkovich, Rodrigo Santoro, Tony Hale, Romola Garai, Philip Ettinger, and Zosia Mamet. (Opens Wednesday in Dallas)

Stardust (NR) Johnny Flynn stars in this drama as David Bowie during his 1971 American tour that inspired his creation of Ziggy Stardust. Also with Marc Maron, Derek Moran, Anthony Flanagan, Julian Richings, Aaron Poole, and Jena Malone. (Opens Wednesday in Dallas)

 

NOW PLAYING

 

Buddy Games (R) Josh Duhamel makes his directing debut and co-stars in this comedy about a group of friends who reunite for a series of absurd challenges. Also with Olivia Munn, Jensen Ackles, Nick Swardson, Neal McDonough, Kevin Dillon and Dax Shepard. 

The Christmas Chronicles 2 (PG) Kurt Russell reprises his role as Santa Claus in this comedy about Kris Kringle trying to head off an attempt to cancel Christmas. Also with Darby Camp, Tyrese Gibson, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Judah Lewis, Julian Dennison, and Goldie Hawn. 

The Climb (R) Michael Angelo Covino shows exquisite comic timing in this film about a curdled friendship. He stars as a tousle-haired loser who takes advantage of his best friend (Kyle Marvin) at every turn by stealing away his fiancée, trying to sleep with a second one, tagging along on various trips, and generally wreaking havoc everywhere he goes. Covino’s performance infuses the character with a self-loathing that nearly matches the loathing other characters have for him. As the film’s writer and director, he shoots this film in a series of intricately choreographed single takes with some impressive technical work for such a low-budget affair. These showcase his delicate touch, especially during the nine-minute opening scene with the two main characters biking up a hill in France. If you’re unlucky enough to know someone like the main character, this movie will ring some bells. Also with Gayle Rankin, Judith Godrèche, Talia Balsam, Daniela Covino, Eden Malin, and George Wendt.

Come Play (PG-13) Something we haven’t seen before: a horror movie about a kid with autism. Azhy Robertson plays an 8-year-old who can’t speak and relies on speech apps to communicate with his parents (Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr.). A demon named Larry tries to reach our world by communicating with the boy through a tablet. Jacob Chase adapted this from a short film and effectively uses the fact that people can’t see Larry unless they’re looking through the cameras in phones and laptops. Alas, the film falls apart definitively in the final third, with the tension in the parents’ marriage going unexplored and the boy recovering his speech at precisely the moment you’d expect. Even so, this is a necessary step that changes the outlines of the genre by placing an autistic character at the center of the story. Also with Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright, and Eboni Booth.

Freaky (R) Christopher Landon’s latest slasher comedy isn’t as tidy as his Happy Death Day, but it has some compensatory pleasures. Kathryn Newton plays a high-school wallflower who switches bodies with a serial killer (Vince Vaughn) after he stabs her with a magical knife. The setup means that Vaughn spends most of the film portraying a teenage girl, admittedly not my idea of a good time. Newton gets the better of the switch playing the killer, but Landon doesn’t do much as you’d hope with the gender flip of his characters. Supporting characters who know the rules of slasher movies and some good writing turn this film into a modest treat. Also with Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Dana Drori, Melissa Collazo, Katie Finneran, and Alan Ruck.

Honest Thief (PG-13) Yet another Liam Neeson thriller that’s hard to distinguish from the rest. In this one, he plays a Marine veteran-turned-safecracker who tries to atone for his misdeeds, only for two crooked FBI agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) to try to take his money for themselves. There’s some bad CGI here, but that’s not as harmful as the supporting characters taking turns being conveniently stupid so our hero can get out of all the jams that the plot sets up for him. The dramatic interludes where the protagonist reveals the truth to his new girlfriend (Kate Walsh) are soppy stuff, too. Also with Jeffrey Donovan and Robert Patrick. 

The Last Vermeer (R) Guy Pearce walks off with this historical drama as Han van Meegeren, playing the real-life art forger as flamboyant, narcissistic, attention-hogging, hard-drinking, witty, and eager to get back at the Dutch art world that rejected him. He’s way more interesting than Claes Bang as the Dutch Jewish intelligence officer who returns to his country after World War II and investigates van Meegeren for collaborating with the Nazis. First-time director Dan Friedkin leans heavily on the script (adapted from Jonathan Lopez’ book The Man Who Made Vermeers), which sustains him during patches of indifferent pacing. The complicated status of van Meegeren, who goes from national pariah to national hero for selling the Nazi conquerors fake masterpieces of his own creation is treated decently, but it’s Pearce who brings this story and this personage to vivid life. Also with Vicky Krieps, August Diehl, Roland Møller, Olivia Grant, Tom Mulheron, and Adrian Scarborough.

Let Him Go (R) Based on Larry Watson’s novel, this Western regrettably doesn’t measure up to other recent examples of the genre. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play a retired couple in Montana who, three years after their adult son is killed in an accident, head to North Dakota to rescue their grandson from the clutches of an abusive family of criminals. The best part of this is Lesley Manville, the British actress who too seldom graces American films, playing the matriarch of the crime family as a compelling, blowsy, alcohol-soaked, vicious monster. However, writer-director Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone) is miscast as the filmmaker for a slow-burn Western. The characterization is indistinct and the movie doesn’t build up effectively to its climactic shootout. The talent here deserved better. Also with Jeffrey Donovan, Kayli Carter, Will Brittain, and Booboo Stewart.

Spell (R) Omari Hardwick stars in this horror film as an airplane pilot who crash-lands in rural Appalachia and falls into the clutches of a Hoodoo practitioner (Loretta Devine). Also with Lorraine Burroughs, Andre Jacobs, Tumisho Masha, and John Beasley. 

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.

True to the Game 2 (R) The sequel to the 2017 film stars Erica Peeples as a journalist who finds her violent past following her as she moves across the country. Also with Vivica A. Fox, Andra Fuller, Rotimi, Jeremy Meeks, Darius McClary, Faith Evans, and Columbus Short. 

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. 

Vanguard (NR) Basically, this is a 1990s Jackie Chan thriller, only with Chan playing the guy at corporate headquarters and leaving most of the ass-kicking to younger guys. He portrays the founder of a London-based private security firm that has to protect a Chinese financier (Jackson Lou) after he becomes entangled with Arab terrorists. Greater resources mean that the film boasts locations in India, Africa, and the United Arab Emirates, but it suffers from terrible acting by all the non-Chinese actors. Most of the action workload is handled by Yang Yang and Zhu Zhengting as the company’s two main operatives, and they have neither Chan’s charisma nor the superhuman skill he had in his younger days. This is still an action-thriller directed by old hand Stanley Tong, who knows what he’s doing. Even so, I wouldn’t pay money to see this one. Also with Muqi Miya, Ai Lun, Xu Ruohan, Tomer Oz, Eyad Hourani, Michelle Kesler, Eric Heise, and Tam Khan. 

The War With Grandpa (PG) This kids’ comedy is so toothless that it could have been made 30 years ago. I wish it had been; then I would have forgotten it by now. Oakes Fegley (from the recent Pete’s Dragon remake) plays a borderline sociopath of a boy who initiates a war of practical jokes when his grandfather (Robert De Niro) moves into his parents’ house and forces him out of his bedroom. The parents (Uma Thurman and Rob Riggle) look brain-damaged for not noticing all the broken furniture and wild animals suddenly appearing in their house. Haven’t the adult cast members done enough paycheck films among them to not have to participate in these fourth-rate hijinks? This is adapted from Robert Kimmel Smith’s children’s book, which I can only hope is better than the movie. Also with Christopher Walken, Laura Marano, Juliocesar Chavez, T.J. McGibbon, Isaac Kragten, Cheech Marin, and Jane Seymour. 

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

 

Embattled (R) This sports drama stars Darren Mann as an aspiring MMA fighter dealing with the legacy of his abusive father (Stephen Dorff). Also with Elizabeth Reaser, Saïd Taghmaoui, Karrueche Tran, Drew Starkey, and Donald Faison. 

Jiu Jitsu (R) Nicolas Cage stars in this martial-arts fantasy film based on a comic book. Also with Alain Moussi, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, Tony Jaa, Marie Avgeropoulos, and Rick Yune. 

Mank (R) David Fincher’s latest film is about Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he struggles to make Citizen Kane. Also with Tom Burke, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tuppence Middleton, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Leven Rambin, and Charles Dance. 

 

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