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Black Bear opens Friday in Dallas. Image courtesy of YouTube.com

OPENING

 

All My Life (PG-13) Jessica Rothe stars in this dramedy as a woman who becomes engaged to her fiancé (Harry Shum, Jr.) only for him to be diagnosed with liver cancer shortly afterward. Also with Marielle Scott, Ever Carradine, Keala Settle, Mario Cantone, and Jay Pharoah. (Opens Friday)

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Billie (R) James Erskine’s documentary profiles the jazz singer Billie Holiday. (Opens Friday at Grand Berry Theatre)

Black Bear (R) Aubrey Plaza stars in this psychological thriller as a Hollywood actress and filmmaker who starts to unravel during a retreat in the Pacific Northwest. Also with Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, Paola Lázaro, Alexander Koch, Jennifer Kim, Grantham Coleman, and Lindsay Burdge. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Half Brothers (PG-13) Mexican comedies keep trying to bring in American audiences despite lagging behind their American counterparts. Luis Gerardo Méndez plays an uptight Mexican business magnate who hears that the father (Juan Pablo Espinosa) who abandoned him as a child is now dying in Chicago, and the old man’s last wish is to have him take a road trip through America with the doofus half-brother (Connor Del Rio) whom he never knew existed. Hollywood director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) takes charge of this comedy that’s about 60 percent in English, but this setup just leads him into soppy stuff about the importance of family. The screenwriters know that the main character holds stereotypical attitudes about fat, lazy, stupid Americans, but then they rely on those same stereotypes for humor. Unlike the country’s dramatic films, Mexican comedies haven’t proved that they can travel. Also with José Zúñiga, Vincent Spano, Bianca Marroquin, Ashley Poole, Ian Inigo, Nohelia Sosa, and Alma Sisneros. (Opens Friday)

Love, Weddings & Other Disasters (PG-13) A rare outing for director Dennis Dugan without Adam Sandler, this comedy tells a series of interlocking stories about the employees and guests around one wedding in particular. Starring Diane Keaton, Jeremy Irons, Maggie Grace, Diego Boneta, Andrew Bachelor, Richard Kline, Chandra West, and Jesse McCartney. (Opens Friday)

The Midnight Sky (PG-13) George Clooney stars in his own science-fiction film as a scientist at the North Pole trying to keep a group of astronauts from returning to Earth after an apocalyptic event. Also with Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Ethan Peck, and Demián Bichir. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Wander (R) Aaron Eckhart stars in this thriller as a mentally unstable private detective who becomes convinced that the case he’s investigating is connected to his own daughter’s death. Also with Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham, Katheryn Winnick, Raymond Cruz, and Brendan Fehr. (Opens Friday)

 

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. 

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.

The Croods: A New Age (PG) This sequel to the 2013 animated film has a message about learning to get along with different people, but the story is way too scattershot to bring that across. Our family of cavemen are on the point of starvation when they run across another family (voiced by Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann) who claim to be better evolved, a claim backed up by their plentiful food supply. This leads to a tangled plot with a giant monster, a sisterhood of warriors, and monkeys that communicate by hitting one another, and the material achieves something by making such a distinctive cast sound so bland. The best part of this is Tenacious D’s cover version of “I Think I Love You,” which plays at different junctures of the movie. Additional voices by Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, and Kelly Marie Tran.

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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