Assault on VA-33 (R) This thriller is about a PTSD-afflicted veteran (Sean Patrick Flanery) who is forced into action after the VA hospital that he’s in is taken hostage by armed terrorists. Also with Michael Jai White, Mark Dacascos, Weston Cage Coppola, Gina Holden, Brittany Underwood, and Rachel True. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Every Breath You Take (R) Casey Affleck stars in this thriller as a psychiatrist who allows the brother (Sam Claflin) of a recently deceased patient into his personal life. Also with Michelle Monaghan, India Eisley, Emily Alyn Lind, and Hiro Kanagawa. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Girl Who Believes in Miracles (PG) This Christian drama stars Austyn Johnson as a girl who takes a sermon literally and starts praying to move a mountain. Also with Mira Sorvino, Kevin Sorbo, Tommi Rose, Darryl Cox, Burgess Jenkins, and Peter Coyote. (Opens Friday)
The Unholy (PG-13) They’re running out of titles for religious horror films, aren’t they? This one is about a deaf teenage girl (Cricket Brown) in Massachusetts in the present day who miraculously recovers her hearing and speech at the site of a 19th-century witch burning, claiming to have visions of the Virgin Mary. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a disgraced journalist who covers the events and starts to suspect that something other than the blessed virgin gave her back her senses. First-time director Evan Spilitopoulos (who was a screenwriter on the Beauty and the Beast remake) has some sharp things to say about people’s need to believe in miracles and how that can be corrupted, but this movie fails utterly as a horror film. The newcomer Brown gives an impressive performance amid the wreckage. It’s not enough to recommend this movie that lands on “dopey” rather than “scary.” Also with Cary Elwes, Katie Aselton, Diogo Morgado, and William Sadler. (Opens Friday)
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.
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.
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.
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 Courier (PG-13) Benedict Cumberbatch is magnificent in this British spy thriller based on real-life events. He portrays Greville Wynne, the London-based industrial machinery salesman sent by MI6 to contact a high-level Soviet official (Merab Ninidze) who wants to pass classified information to the West. Director Dominic Cooke (On Chesil Beach) does well as long as he sticks to the thriller element, but when Greville is thrown into a Soviet gulag, the movie becomes a prison drama and loses its effectiveness. Cumberbatch dazzles as an irreducibly ordinary man who is turned on and stressed out by the dangerous nature of the job that he isn’t trained for. The rest of the cast is great, too, with Rachel Brosnahan as a CIA agent, Jessie Buckley as Greville’s wife, and Ninidze as the crafty operator who bonds with the amateur who is his contact. Also with Angus Wright, Keir Hills, James Schofield, Vladimir Chuprikov, Maria Mironova, Petr Klimes, Anton Lesser, and an uncredited Željko Ivanek.
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.
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.
Mystery of the Kingdom of God (NR) This Christian animated film is about a boy who must undergo trials and tests to be admitted to God’s realm.
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.
Nobody (R) Wonderful as it is to see Bob Odenkirk star in an action thriller, the film doesn’t have much besides its novelty value. The comedy writer and star of Better Call Saul plays an anonymous suburban father of two who’s hiding a past as a government-licensed killer. When his past comes to light, he falls afoul of the Russian mob. The best scene here is a fight on a bus when he takes down five knife-wielding thugs, as director Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry) makes good use of the setting and Odenkirk conveys the difficulty his character has in defending himself against all these bad guys. The other action set pieces don’t measure up to that one, though, and the script fails to do justice to the concept of a regular guy who tries to manage his family life while his past catches up with him. The humor is heavy-footed, too. The 58-year-old star fully merits his action vehicle, and could have used a better one. Also with Connie Nielsen, Alexey Serebryakov, Michael Ironside, Colin Salmon, Gage Munroe, Paisley Cadorath, Christopher Lloyd, and RZA.
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.
Rang De (NR) This Indian comedy stars Nithiin as a young man who has his marriage arranged to a childhood friend (Keerthy Suresh) whom he hates. Also with Naresh, Kausalya, Rohini, Brahmaji, Vennela Kishore, and Abhinav Gomatam.
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.
The Seventh Day (R) This horror film is about a young priest (Vadhir Derbez) who teams with a seasoned exorcist (Guy Pearce) on a demonic possession case. Also with Stephen Lang, Robin Bartlett, Hannah Alline, and Keith David.
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.
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.
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.
Shoplifters of the World (NR) Stephen Kijak’s comedy is about four young fans of the Smiths in Denver (Helena Howard, Elena Kampouris, James Bloor, and Nick Krause) who process their feelings about the band’s breakup over one night in 1987. Also with Ellar Coltrane, Olivia Luccardi, Thomas Lennon, and Joe Manganiello.
The Vault (R) Not to be confused with the similarly titled horror film from three years ago, this thriller stars Freddie Highmore as a British engineering student in Spain who resolves to rob the national bank’s safe while everyone is distracted by the 2010 World Cup tournament. Also with Famke Janssen, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Liam Cunningham, Luis Tosar, José Coronado, and Sam Riley.