The Dissident (PG-13) This film by Oscar-winning documentarian Bryan Fogel (Icarus) investigates the murder of Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its subsequent cover-up by the Saudi government and Donald Trump. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
News of the World (PG-13) Paul Greengrass tries to be John Ford. It doesn’t work. The director of The Bourne Ultimatum adapts Paulette Jiles’ Western novel about a Civil War veteran (Tom Hanks) who makes a living as an itinerant newsreader in Texas who finds an orphaned German girl (Helena Zengel) whose Kiowa family has been slaughtered and resolves to take her from Wichita Falls to Castroville to her last remaining biological relatives. Greengrass knows how to stage a shootout when our protagonist has to defend the girl against a band of pedophiles in the open country, but little of interest comes from the journey taken by two people who don’t speak the other’s language. Without the heart of the story, this Western is as arid as the Texas air. Also with Elizabeth Marvel, Michael Angelo Covino, Ray McKinnon, Fred Hechinger, Thomas Francis Murphy, Bill Camp, and Mare Winningham. (Opens Friday)
Pinocchio (PG-13) Matteo Garrone (Tale of Tales) returns to Italian fairy tales with this new version of Carlo Collodi’s story. Starring Federico Ielapi, Roberto Benigni, Rocco Papaleo, Massimo Ceccherini, Gigi Proletti, and Marina Vacth. (Opens Friday)
All My Life (PG-13) The outsize charms and skills of the two lead actors elevate this standard weeper above the rest. Based on a true story, this film stars Jessica Rothe as a woman who becomes determined to give her fiancé (Harry Shum Jr.) his dream wedding after he’s diagnosed with liver cancer. Before the thing drowns in tears and platitudes about living life for today, Rothe and Shum’s spunk and sense of humor lighten the movie and make them believable as a couple. Rothe lathers up nicely, too, as her character copes with the possibility of losing her husband before they’re officially married. It’s a shame that the material isn’t up to the level of the two stars, but this is still better than Hollywood will usually give you in this vein. Also with Marielle Scott, Ever Carradine, Keala Settle, Kyle Allen, Mario Cantone, and Jay Pharoah.
Archenemy (NR) Joe Manganiello stars in this thriller as a man who claims to be a superhero from another dimension trapped on an Earth where he has no superpowers. Also with Skylan Brooks, Glenn Howerton, Paul Scheer, Zolee Griggs, and Amy Seimetz.
Breach (R) Bruce Willis stars in this science-fiction film about a group of humans on their way to a new planet who must battle their own spaceship’s attempts to destroy them. Also with Cody Kearsley, Rachel Nichols, Kassandra Clementi, Johnny Messner, Callan Mulvey, and Thomas Jane.
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.
Fatale (R) This starts out as a Fatal Attraction-like erotic thriller for the first 40 minutes, then it turns into a whole other type of bad movie. Michael Ealy plays a successful sports agent who has a one-night stand in Vegas with some bachelorette (Hilary Swank) who then turns out to be the police detective investigating after an intruder breaks into his L.A. home and tries to kill him. I give director Deon Taylor and writer David Loughery credit for their ambition here, but the numerous plot twists that follow are well short of Hitchcockian cleverness. The filmmakers aren’t nearly clever enough to make their story pay off the way they want to. Poor Michael Ealy is a dynamic actor who deserves a much better showcase. Also with Mike Colter, Danny Pino, Damaris Lewis, Tyrin Turner, and Kali Hawk.
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.
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.
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.
The Midnight Sky (PG-13) This space opera has moments of great power balanced by moments of great tedium. George Clooney directs and stars as a terminally ill astronomer at the North Pole in 2049 who frantically tries to contact the crew of a space mission to warn them not to return to Earth after an unspecified apocalyptic event wipes out all life. Adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel Good Morning, Midnight, this film has better acting than other movies in this line and a remarkable speech by Felicity Jones describing the exoplanet that the astronauts have managed to colonize. However, Clooney the director is too scattershot in his approach to this. The flashbacks only pad out the running time, and the bits with his character being forced to take care of a little girl (Caoilinn Springall) don’t pay off like they should. Also, you can discern where Clooney is copying Gravity. This is a Netflix film, but seeing it on the big screen gives you a better idea of what it does well. Also with Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Sophie Rundle, Ethan Peck, and Demián Bichir.
Monster Hunter (PG-13) When it comes to movies about giant burrowing sand monsters, this isn’t as good as Tremors, and I hope the upcoming Dune remake is better. Milla Jovovich plays the leader of a group of U.N. soldiers who are transported to another planet where they have to fight massive beetle/rhinoceros/snake/dragon creatures that are impervious to gunfire. Soon enough, she’s the lone survivor who has to cooperate with a surviving human (Tony Jaa) from a previous mission, even though neither speaks the other’s language. This setup overtaxes Jovovich’s limited acting abilities, and writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson (who is married to Jovovich and worked with her on the Resident Evil movies) doesn’t have the action chops to do a performer like Jaa justice. One thing hasn’t changed about movies in 2020: Adaptations of popular video games still suck. Also with Ron Perlman, Meagan Good, Diego Boneta, Jin Au-yeung, and T.I.
The Rescue (R) Dante Lam, the director and stunt coordinator of Operation Red Sea and Operation Mekong, delivers another big-budget Chinese action thriller with fantastic set pieces and no heart. Eddie Peng stars as the leader of a Coast Guard rescue team that’s adjusting to the first woman helicopter pilot (Xin Zhilei) they’ve ever worked with. The unquestioned highlight of the film is an extended sequence where a passenger jet with more than 100 people onboard crashes into the ocean. However, the scenes about the rescue workers’ personal lives are third-rate soap opera, and the less said about the movie’s attempts at comedy, the better. These movies are for people who tear up at the might and bravery of the Chinese military. Everybody else can just watch excerpts when they pop up on YouTube. Also with Wang Yanlin, Lyric Lan, Wang Yutian, Xu Yang, Zhang Guoqiang, Guo Xiaodong, Zhang Jingyi, and Dale Song.
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.
Bad Impulse (NR) This thriller stars Dan Lauria as a homeowner whose purchase of a high-end security system proves to be his undoing. Also with Sonya Walger, Grant Bowler, Stephanie Cayo, Rebecca Black, and Paul Sorvino.
A Christmas Carol (NR) This animated film is the latest re-telling of the Charles Dickens story. Voices by Simon Russell Beale, Martin Freeman, Carey Mulligan, Andy Serkis, and Leslie Caron.
Hunter Hunter (NR) This horror film is about a family trapped in a remote cabin by a rogue wolf. Starring Nick Stahl, Devon Sawa, Camille Sullivan, Summer H. Howell, and Gabriel Daniels.
Skylines (R) This science-fiction thriller stars Lindsey Morgan as a mercenary leader who must save the Earth’s population after space aliens turn from friendly to hostile. Also with Rhona Mitra, James Cosmo, Alexander Siddig, Daniel Bernhardt, and Yayan Ruhian.