City of Lies (R) This thriller by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) is about an ex-cop (Johnny Depp) and a reporter (Forest Whitaker) who start a cold-case investigation into the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Also with Toby Huss, Dayton Callie, Louis Herthum, Shea Whigham, Xander Berkeley, Michael Paré, and Obba Babatundé. (Opens Friday)
Dark State (NR) I smell QAnon here. This thriller stars K. O’Rourke as a reporter who uncovers a ring of Satan-worshipping pedophiles behind world politics. Also with Constantine Maroulis, Antoni Corone, Nicholas Baroudi, and Melissa Connell. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Happily (R) BenDavid Grabinski’s dark comedy stars Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé as a couple whose romantic getaway turns into a lethal plot. Also with Natalie Morales, Natalie Zea, Shannon Woodward, Breckin Meyer, Charlyne Yi, Brea Grant, and Stephen Root. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Last Call (R) Jeremy Piven stars in this drama as a real estate developer who returns to his Philadelphia neighborhood to decide what to do with the family bar he inherited. Also with Taryn Manning, Jamie Kennedy, Cheri Oteri, Jason James Richter, Cathy Moriarty, and Bruce Dern. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Mank (R) David Fincher’s film about old Hollywood is amazing to look at and listen to. Too bad its insights about the film industry don’t match that. Gary Oldman plays Herman Mankiewicz, the alcohol-pickled screenwriter who sells out his socialist ideals in the late 1930s to write the script for Citizen Kane and perhaps take down wealthy newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance). The script by Fincher’s long-dead father Jack Fincher is full of dialogue so exquisite that his son seemingly couldn’t bear to cut out any of it, and Erik Messerschmidt’s black-and-white photography is luxuriant. However, the movie too often falls into clichés about alcoholic writers, and its commentary on the artists’ difficulties in the Hollywood factory are considerably less deep than Citizen Kane’s. Amanda Seyfried is excellent as Marion Davies, convincing us that Kane gave her a bad rap. Also with Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Tom Burke, Tuppence Middleton, Arliss Howard, Joseph Cross, Ferdinand Kingsley, Jamie McShane, Jack Romano, Adam Shapiro, and Bill Nye. (Opens Friday)
My Brother’s Keeper (PG-13) This Christian film is about a PTSD-afflicted war veteran (T.C. Stallings) who returns home and struggles with his faith in God. Also with Joey Lawrence, Robert Ri’chard, Gregory Alan Williams, and Keshia Knight Pulliam. (Opens Friday)
Promising Young Woman (R) This movie is evil, and also so very, very good. Emerald Fennell’s candy-colored, lethally sharp thriller stars Carey Mulligan as a woman who sets a master plan in motion when her medical school classmate and her dead friend’s unpunished date rapist (Chris Lowell) is back in town to get married. The main character is a compelling antiheroine with a powerful intellect, the willingness to put herself in harm’s way, and the hellish vindictive drive of Nicolas Cage in the back half of Mandy, and Mulligan plays her with a calm reasonability that’s all the more terrifying. The British actress-writer Fennell makes a sparkling debut as a director here, with on-point observations about rape culture and shows how her protagonist’s lust for revenge has drained her life of any joy or other meaning. This feels like the first of a wave of rape revenge films, and the filmmakers who follow this will have some work to do to surpass this movie’s achievements and fun. Also with Bo Burnham, Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown, Laverne Cox, Max Greenfield, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Molly Shannon, Connie Britton, and an uncredited Alfred Molina. (Re-opens Friday)
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry (R) A decent intro for newcomers to the pop star’s music, and a rewarding peek inside for the people who like her music. (She states in the movie that she doesn’t like to call them “fans.”) R.J. Cutler follows Eilish on her 2018 and 2019 concert tours. Her music may run counter to the teen pop market, but she herself comes across as rather a normal teenager who smiles occasionally, jumps up and down when she receives her driver’s license, and clowns around with her brother Finneas. Her parents are bracingly levelheaded about her success, too. The movie does suffer from the same thing that has hit all documentaries about working musicians — there’s so much material about life on the road, and we’re watching it while no musicians are on the road. She is clearly going through some stuff under an unforgiving spotlight, but she seems to be handling it better than other pop stars before her. The film also reveals the existence of a secret boyfriend. From what can be gleaned here, he sucks.
Boogie (R) Celebrity chef Eddie Huang makes his debut as a filmmaker, and does he ever need more seasoning. Taylor Takahashi stars as a Chinese-American high-school basketball prospect in New York who has blue-chip talent but whose temper and ego scare away the top colleges. The movie tries to make points about growing up in a dysfunctional immigrant family and trying to be taken seriously as an Asian basketball player, but it fails on both fronts. First-time actor Takahashi is an uninteresting presence, and the romance between him and a Black classmate (Taylour Paige) fails to strike any sparks. Aside from Jorge Lendeborg Jr.’s performance as a teammate, the best thing here is the hip-hop soundtrack, which features a number of songs by the recently murdered Pop Smoke, who also shows up here as the main character’s basketball nemesis. Also with Perry Yung, Pamelyn Chee, Mike Moh, Steve Coulter, and Domenick Lombardozzi.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (R) If the set pieces here are more hit-or-miss than they were in the first moviefilm, this sequel’s impressive commitment to building a story around its characters makes it feel fresher than it otherwise would. Sacha Baron Cohen returns as the disgraced Kazakh journalist who is pulled out of a labor camp to deliver a tribute from Kazakhstan’s president to Donald Trump. Tagging along Borat’s teenage daughter (Maria Bakalova, standing in for Baron Cohen to good effect), who is amazed to see that American women don’t live in cages and can own businesses. Part of the movie was shot during the pandemic, which allows an incognito Baron Cohen to share a bunker with COVID truthers who blame China and the Democrats for the virus, while Bakalova’s interview with Rudolph Giuliani reveals him to be even more of a creep than we realized. If you don’t see the potential for a Borat sequel, this will come as a pleasant surprise. Also with Dani Popescu and Tom Hanks.
Chaos Walking (PG-13) If this is going to be the next YA franchise, people may want to think about cutting their losses. Based on Patrick Ness’ novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, this is set on an alien planet in the 23rd century, where a human settler (Daisy Ridley) crash-lands as the sole survivor of her ship, only to discover that the women have all been killed off and she can hear the thoughts of all the men. Director Doug Liman too often comes up with a dud when he tries to tackle science fiction, and he can’t think of a way to handle the film’s premise gracefully. He assembles an enviable cast, and none of them seem to have quite connected with their characters. The loose ends in the plot hang from this like so much Spanish moss. Also with Tom Holland, Demián Bichir, Mads Mikkelsen, David Oyelowo, Cynthia Erivo, Kurt Sutter, Ray McKinnon, and Nick Jonas.
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.
Cosmic Sin (R) Bruce Willis stars in this science-fiction film as a general leading an effort to wipe out an alien civilization after it attacks a fleet in outer space. Also with Frank Grillo, Brandon Thomas Lee, Corey Large, C.J. Perry, Perrey Reeves, Costas Mandylor, and Lochlyn Munro.
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.
Crisis (R) Nicholas Jarecki’s drama wants to be Traffic for the opioid crisis, but it isn’t that good. (Neither was Traffic.) The movie tells the interlocking stories of a recovering addict (Evangeline Lilly) who loses her teenage son to drugs, a research professor (Gary Oldman) who turns whistleblower when he finds a painkiller being marketed as non-addictive is more addictive than existing opioids, and a DEA agent (Armie Hammer) who’s undercover with Canadian fentanyl smugglers and trying to take them down. The whole affair shuffles between locations in Detroit and Montreal easily enough, but Oldman is downright terrible as the voice of conscience here, and the subplot with the agent’s heroin-addicted sister (Lily-Rose Depp) belongs in a much worse film. The drama is too high-minded to be much fun. Jarecki did better in a similar vein with his previous film, Arbitrage. Also with Greg Kinnear, Luke Evans, Kid Cudi, Indira Varma, Guy Nadon, Mia Kirshner, Veronica Ferres, Martin Donovan, and Michelle Rodriguez.
Dutch (R) This crime thriller stars Lance Gross as a small-time car thief who rises to become the head of a crime syndicate in New Jersey. Also with Jeremy Meeks, Macy Gray, James Hyde, Michael Blackson, Malcolm Kelley, Kyle Massey, and Robert Costanzo.
Jathi Ratnalu (NR) This Indian comedy is about three ex-convicts (Naveen Polishetty, Priyadarshi, and Rahul Ramakrishna) whose plans for post-prison life go awry. Also with Faria Abdullah, Murali Sharma, Brahmanandam, Naresh, and Brahmaji.
Judas and the Black Messiah (R) What Spike Lee’s Malcolm X did for Malcolm X, this film comes close to doing for Fred Hampton. LaKeith Stanfield portrays Bill O’Neal, the small-time criminal who is roped in by an FBI agent (Jesse Plemons) in the late 1960s and forced to join the Black Panther Party for the purposes of informing on the Chicago branch’s leader, Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Awesomely named director/co-writer Shaka King makes this a necessary companion piece to Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, and if his story rings a few too many familiar bells about informants who get in too deep, the anguish on Stanfield’s face puts it across as Bill buys into the revolutionary rhetoric but still delivers Fred into his killers’ hands. He’s overshadowed, however, by Kaluuya, giving his most impressive performance to date and bringing Hampton’s charisma and presence to fiery life. Also with Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith, Lil Rel Howery, Khris Davis, Darrell Britt-Gibson, and Martin Sheen.
The Little Things (R) Seriously, they got together three recent Oscar winners for this pile of crap? This serial killer that’s a throwback in all the wrong ways is set in 1990, with Denzel Washington as an ex-LAPD detective who comes back from exile to assist a hotshot younger detective (Rami Malek) in taking down a serial killer who butchers women and poses their naked bodies at places other than the murder scenes. Our protagonist is supposed to have Sherlock Holmes-like powers of observation, and they’re underwhelming here. Jared Leto infuses the part of the prime suspect with a welcome degree of creepy humor, but writer-director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) butchers the climax so badly that you can’t forgive him. Also with Chris Bauer, Terry Kinney, Natalie Morales, Michael Hyatt, Isabel Arraiza, Glenn Morshower, and Judith Scott.
Long Weekend (R) This oppressively quirky romantic comedy turns into a different kind of bad movie about halfway through. Finn Wittrock plays a struggling Angeleno writer reeling from a bad breakup when he falls in love with a mysterious woman (Zoë Chao) who has no ID or cell phone but carries a ton of cash around in her purse. The explanation for this takes the movie into the realm of science fiction, but other films like Safety Not Guaranteed and the recent Palm Springs have handled this with far more wit. Writer-director Stephen Basilone has severely overestimated the charisma of his two lead actors, and they seem to have done the same. Bad as it is when these characters are trying to be lovable, it’s worse when they’re exchanging starry-eyed observations about the meaning of life. Also with Damon Wayans Jr., Casey Wilson, and Wendi McLendon-Covey.
The Marksman (PG-13) The whole Liam Neeson old-man thriller bit really shows its age here. He plays a Marine sniper and Vietnam veteran-turned-Arizona rancher who gets into a shootout with a Mexican drug cartel after a boy (Jacob Perez) flees across the border and his property. The boy’s mother (Teresa Ruiz) is killed in the firefight, and he resolves to fulfill her dying wish by taking the boy to his remaining family in Chicago. The relationship between the embittered widower and the kid never chimes, and the action sequences staged by director/co-writer Robert Lorenz are boring even though the plot would seem to lend itself to a decent chase scene. Even at home, this isn’t worth your time. Also with Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, Alfredo Quiroz, Sean Rosales, Jose Vazquez, Antonio Leyba, and Amber Midthunder.
Minari (PG-13) The great boom in Korean filmmaking is joined by a great movie about Korean immigrants in America. Veteran director Lee Isaac Chung draws on his own childhood for this story about a Korean farmer (Steven Yeun) who buys up 50 acres in northwest Arkansas in the 1980s to grow Asian vegetables for the other immigrants coming after him. The workload on him and his wife (Han Ye-ri) is too much to allow them to look after their kids (Noel Cho and Alan Kim), so her mother (Youn Yuh-jung) comes there from South Korea to look after the children. The hard-swearing, chain-smoking grandma is a presence as hot as gochujang, and much of the comedy comes from the unlikely friendship she forms with her 6-year-old grandson. Chung devotes a great deal of attention to the practical struggles of farming, and in so doing demonstrates how an immigrant takes root in American soil. The movie’s title comes from a parsley-like herb that the old woman plants, a symbol of the legacy she leaves in a short time. Also with Will Patton, Darryl Cox, Esther Moon, Ben Hall, and Eric Starkey.
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.
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.
Nomadland (R) Chloé Zhao makes her second film in America, and it shows off how much at home she is in a Western. Frances McDormand stars as a widow whose company town has shut down, so she lives out of her van and travels across the American West doing odd seasonal jobs. Zhao shows us this loose community of people who live thus, where life is a series of farewells and reunions as individuals move from place to place. McDormand blends in seamlessly with a cast full of real-life nomads, and her rapport with a 75-year-old named Swankie is so easy that the whole movie could have been just them hashing out the particulars of life on the road. Zhao and cinematographer Joshua James Richards have an eye for the natural beauties of the West but don’t overlook the privations of such a life. This Chinese filmmaker’s portrait of the margins of American society is rendered with great compassion. Also with David Strathairn, Melissa Smith, Warren Keith, and Tay Strathairn.
Raya and the Last Dragon (PG) This Disney animated film is savvy enough to be set in Southeast Asia, which has a rich vein of folklore. If the results are somewhat underwhelming, the fact that the film is still watchable means something. Set in an ancient dragon-shaped kingdom that has broken off into five warring territories, the movie is about a teenage girl (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) who sees an opportunity to unite the land in peace by reviving the last dragon (voiced by Awkwafina). The film’s points about learning to get along were made by Zootopia with much greater wit and cogency, and Raya herself is so bland that the film surrounds her with six cute sidekicks. The movie badly needs Awkwafina, whose humor cuts through the movie’s reverence and pictorial beauty like a Thai chile through coconut milk. The picture serves an underserved audience and is better than last year’s live-action Mulan remake. Additional voices by Sandra Oh, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Benedict Wong, Sung Kang, François Chau, Ross Butler, Alan Tudyk, Lucille Soong, and Daniel Dae Kim.
Son (NR) This horror film stars Andi Matichak as a mother trying to protect her son (Luke David Blumm) from supernatural forces that haunted her past. Also with Cranston Johnson, Blaine Maye, J. Robert Spencer, Rocco Sisto, and Kristine Nielsen.
Sreekaram (NR) This Indian film stars Sharwanand, Priyanka Arul Mohan, Sai Kumar, Rao Ramesh, and Murali Sharma.
Tom and Jerry (PG) I get the feeling that a better movie could have been made about Itchy and Scratchy from The Simpsons. The cartoon cat and mouse remain animated as they take their rivalry into a live-action fancy New York hotel, where an unemployed millennial (Chloë Grace Moretz) cons her way into a job as a temporary event planner. Tom and Jerry’s mostly one-way slapstick violence against each other feels like it was taken straight from the 1940s cartoons, and the human characters around them have nothing to add to the proceedings. I’d blame the script for the lack of funny business, but I’m not sure there ever was one. When Michael Peña can’t inject anything into the comedy, you know things are dire. Also with Ken Jeong, Pallavi Sharda, Rob Delaney, Patsy Ferran, and Colin Jost. Voices by Bobby Cannavale, Lil Rel Howery, and Utkarsh Ambudkar.
Wonder Woman 1984 (PG-13) Patty Jenkins makes this sequel as much like a 1980s film as possible, and it gives her a hook that she didn’t have for the original film. Our heroine (Gal Gadot) is keeping a low profile at the Smithsonian during the Me Decade when a magic artifact surfaces that grants people their wishes, which includes Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) being brought back to life and Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) turning into the Cheetah. The film does a better job at incorporating comic relief into the proceedings than the original and Gadot looks more comfortable here than at any previous point in the DC Comics movies. The early action sequences also have a nice retro feel to them, but the last half hour of the film is a near-total disaster drowned in CGI and sentimentality. Even with its flaws, the film works better as entertainment than any of the Justice League movies before it. Also with Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Amr Waked, Kristoffer Polaha, Stuart Milligan, Doutzen Kroes, Lilly Aspell, and Lynda Carter.
Wrong Turn (R) A spinoff of the similarly titled 2003 horror movie, this film is about a group of hikers in the Appalachians who stumble onto the rural religious cult from the original series. Starring Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head, Bill Sage, and Matthew Modine.
Come True (NR) This horror film stars Julia Sarah Stone as a teenage runaway who takes part in a scientific sleep study that brings her nightmares to life. Also with Landon Liboiron, Tedra Rogers, Chantal Perron, Carlee Ryski, and Christopher Heatherington.
My Salinger Year (R) Based on Joanna Smith Rakoff’s novel, this drama is about an aspiring writer in the 1990s (Margaret Qualley) who takes a job interning for the literary agent (Sigourney Weaver) who represents the reclusive J.D. Salinger. Also with Douglas Booth, Seána Kerslake, Colm Feore, Yanic Truesdale, and Brían F. O’Byrne.
Silk Road (R) This drama is based on the real-life case of Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson), the young computer programmer who became an FBI target after creating a dark website for selling drugs. Also with Jason Clarke, Jennifer Yun, Jimmi Simpson, Katie Aselton, Alexandra Shipp, and Paul Walter Hauser.