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Nomadland . Image courtesy of YouTube.com

OPENING

 

Cliff Walkers (NR) This Chinese spy thriller by Zhang Yimou (Hero) is about a group of agents (Qin Hailu, Yu Hewei, Zhang Yi, and Zhu Yawen) who return to their Japanese-occupied country in the 1930s to find that they’ve been betrayed by persons unknown. Also with Liu Haocun, Li Naiwen, and Ni Dahong. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

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Four Good Days (R) Rodrigo Garcia delivers yet another dull, earnest drama about white people living on the West Coast. Glenn Close stars as a mother who takes in her estranged, opioid-addicted daughter (Mila Kunis, looking emaciated with bleached-blonde hair and blackened teeth) to help her stay clean for four days prior to receiving a shot of naltrexone that will prevent her from getting high. The film doesn’t drag, but every argument in this movie feels like something you’ve heard from a thousand other movies about drug addiction. The performances here aren’t enough to lift the film above those, and the direction by Garcia (Albert Nobbs, Mother and Child) is unimaginative as usual. The film is based on a Washington Post article by Eli Saslow. You’re better off reading that than watching this. Also with Stephen Root, Joshua Leonard, Michael Hyatt, Rebecca Field, and Carla Gallo. (Opens Friday)

Golden Arm (NR) This comedy stars Betsy Sodaro as a tough trucker who trains her best friend (Mary Holland) to compete in the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship. Also with Olivia Stambouliah, Eugene Cordero, Dot-Marie Jones, Dawn Luebbe, and Ron Funches. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Limbo (R) Ben Sharrock’s drama stars Amir El-Masry as a Syrian musician forced to stay on a remote Scottish island while the British government decides whether to grant him refugee status. Also with Sidse Babett Knudsen, Grace Chilton, Vikash Bhai, Sanjeev Kohli, Ola Orebiyi, and Kenneth Collard. (Opens Friday)

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. (Re-opens Friday)

Percy vs. Goliath (PG-13) Christopher Walken stars in this drama based on a real-life Canadian farmer who successfully sued giant agribusiness corporations for interfering with his farm. Also with Christina Ricci, Zach Braff, Martin Donovan, Luke Kirby, Roberta Maxwell, and Adam Beach. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Separation (R) This horror film stars Violet McGraw as an 8-year-old girl whose emotional tumult during her parents’ divorce starts to manifest supernaturally in her New York townhouse. Also with Rupert Friend, Mamie Gummer, Madeline Brewer, Troy James, Simon Quaterman, and Brian Cox. (Opens Friday)

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (PG) Marilyn Agrelo’s documentary chronicles the beginnings of the beloved, long-running children’s TV show. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Triumph (PG-13) Based on a real-life story, this drama stars RJ Mitte as a cerebral palsy-suffering high-school student who tries to overcome the odds to compete on his school’s wrestling team. Also with Johnathon Schaech, Colton Haynes, Grace Victoria Cox, Michael D. Coffey, and Terrence Howard. (Opens Friday)

The Virtuoso (R) This thriller stars Anson Mount as a contract killer whose boss (Anthony Hopkins) gives him mysterious orders to kill someone in a small town. Also with Abbie Cornish, Diora Baird, Eddie Marsan, Richard Brake, and David Morse. (Opens Friday)

Walking With Herb (PG) Edward James Olmos stars in this Christian drama as a who struggles with his faith after a tragedy. Also with George Lopez, Kathleen Quinlan, Jessica Medoff, Johnathan McClain, Billy Boyd, and Christopher McDonald. (Opens Friday) 

 

NOW PLAYING

 

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.

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.

Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train (R) The newly crowned all-time box-office champion in Japan is this anime film that plays in Japanese- and English-language versions here. If you’re not familiar with the series of manga comics that this is based on, you may be confused by the lack of backstory and the weird continuity hiccups with extended flashbacks and dream sequences. However, the story still comes through about a young demon hunter (voiced by Natsuki Hanae in Japanese and Zach Aguilar in English) who is called on a mission with two other hunters and a mentor (voiced by Satoshi Hino and Mark Whitten) to catch an evil spirit preying on the passengers of a train out of Tokyo. If the dramatics are too lachrymose for you, the action sequences and the repulsively imagined demons are enough to give this movie traction. Additional voices by Akari Kitô, Abby Trott, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Bryce Papenbrook, Hiro Shimono, Aleks Le, Daisuke Hirakawa, Landon McDonald, Akira Ishida, and Lucien Dodge. 

French Exit (R) Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance in this comedy isn’t Oscar-worthy, but it reminds us of what she can do when she’s focused on the task at hand. She plays a wealthy Manhattan widow who has frittered away her money and uproots herself and her son (Lucas Hedges) to a rich friend’s apartment in Paris. The movie is based on Patrick deWitt’s novel, and it’s similar to Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine in its depiction of a woman who grows up wealthy and can’t cope when the money goes away. Pfeiffer’s performance is more resigned and less oppressive than Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-winning one, and Hedges is nice against type as someone who’s diffident, neurotic, and afraid to stand up to his mom. Director Azazel Jacobs (Terri) does this all up with a light touch, though he can’t redeem the plotline about the protagonist’s dead husband being reincarnated as a cat. Also with Imogen Poots, Danielle Macdonald, Valerie Mahaffey, Susan Coyne, Isaach de Bankolé, and Tracy Letts.

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. 

Godzilla vs. Kong (PG-13) If you come to this movie for the monster-on-monster fights, this movie delivers on that. Three movies into the series, though, you’d think they’d be trying for more. This installment has a group of idiot scientists trying to lead King Kong to the hollow space at the Earth’s core to stop Godzilla after the big lizard starts attacking cities again. Adam Wingard takes over the helm of the series, and he stages the fights between Godzilla and Kong with a clarity that you don’t always have with kaiju fights. There are some humans in this thing, but they’re stupid and nobody cares about them. They’re played by A-listers, but Wingard could have cast the workers at his local Wal-Mart in these roles, and it would have had the same effect. This is the wrong kind of throwback, reminiscent of the bad old days of Michael Bay’s Transformers films. At least we’re spared Bay’s slavering over his actress’ asses. Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall, Demián Bichir, Millie Bobby Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, Eiza González, Lance Reddick, Shun Oguri, Kaylee Hottle, Julian Dennison, and Kyle Chandler. 

In the Earth (R) After his disappointing Netflix adaptation of Rebecca, Ben Wheatley is back to his weird self in this horror film shot during the pandemic under Britain’s COVID guidelines. When an agricultural scientist (Joel Fry) and a park ranger (Ellora Torchia) venture deep into a national forest, they’re targeted by a crazy homeless guy with an axe (Reece Shearsmith) who believes in the forest’s mystical powers. Wheatley deploys micro-flashbacks, flashing strobe lights, and Clint Mansell’s industrial score to create a psychedelic effect, appropriate for a movie where characters breathe in hallucinogenic mushroom spores. Yet this is another occasion when Wheatley’s less concerned with telling a story than with using his formidable arsenal of cinematic techniques, as his script is full of dead-end subplots that fail to comment on local folklore, climate change, or the foolishness of people who try to ride out a pandemic by going off the grid. Even so, his strangeness is worth taking in in a multiplex. Also with Hayley Squires, John Hollingworth, and Mark Monero.

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.

Mortal Kombat (R) A second film adaptation of the 1990s arcade video game, this movie has two very good martial-arts sequences, one at the start with a samurai (Hiroyuki Sanada) defending his home in feudal Japan from Chinese invaders and the other at the end with him joining with an American MMA fighter (Lewis Tan) against a ninja with freezing superpowers (Joe Taslim). Josh Lawson contributes some comic relief as a misogynistic Australian mercenary, but the movie is packed with too many characters and too much fanservice to the gamers who played the video game. The movie has the same gory deaths that made the game so notorious in its day, and the stakes about an evil overlord (Chin Han) from an alternate universe destroying ours never hits home. The movie has two very good martial-arts sequences, but it could have used three. Also with Jessica McNamee, Tadanobu Asano, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, Sisi Stringer, Laura Brent, Nathan Jones, and Mehcad Brooks. 

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. 

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.

Together Together (R) The curdled whimsy is just about enough to kill you in this comedy is about a single middle-aged man (Ed Helms) who hires a surrogate (Patti Harrison) to have his baby, only to become entangled in his feelings for her. Nikole Beckwith’s script is full of aimless conversations and random observations that aren’t pleasurable enough to stick with, and Helms’ charisma once again fails to carry a vehicle. It’s as if the filmmaker showed up without a script and expected something funny to happen. It didn’t. Also with Rosalind Chao, Nora Dunn, Fred Melamed, Julio Torres, Evan Jonigkeit, and Tig Notaro.

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.

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. 

Voyagers (PG-13) This science-fiction film is a bunch of horny teenagers acting out Lord of the Flies in space, and it’s way less interesting than that sounds. Neil Burger’s movie is set in the 2080s, when a group of Earth colonists who have been in space since childhood are in the middle of an 86-year journey to a colonizable planet. The teens are drugged with a potion that turns off their emotions and sex drive, but when their adult supervisor (Colin Farrell) is killed in an accident and the truth comes out, a demagogue (Fionn Whitehead) stages a coup to overthrow the democratically elected new chief (Tye Sheridan). This is an allegory for the Trump era, and the issue is less the conceit’s lack of subtlety than the lack of wit that Burger brings to the story, not to mention the young cast not being up to what’s required of them here. When it comes to the dangers of mob rule, cinema can do better than this arid parable. Also with Lily-Rose Depp, Chanté Adams, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Archie Madekwe, Viveik Kalra, and April Grace.

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

Night of the Sicario (R) Not related to Sicario or its sequel, this thriller stars Natasha Henstridge as a bodyguard trying to protect a young witness against the Colombian drug cartels. Also with Costas Mandylor, Manny Perez, Roberto “Sanz” Sanchez, Amanda Diaz, Addison Kendall, and Martin Peña. 

The Rookies (NR) This Chinese thriller stars Talu Wang as an extreme sports enthusiast trying to take down a ring of pirates in Budapest. Also with Milla Jovovich, Sandrine Pinna, Timmy Xu, David Lee McInnis, Danny Kwok-Kwan Chan, and Suet Lam. 

The Space Between (NR) This 1990s-set drama is about the friendship that blooms between an aging, creatively blocked rock star (Kelsey Grammer) and a young music executive (Jackson White) sent to force him out of his recording contract. Also with John Patrick Amedori, Julia Goldani Telles, Delon de Metz, Andrew Daly, and Paris Jackson. 

Wildcat (R) This thriller stars Khadija Young as an American reporter who is kidnapped for ransom while working in the Middle East. Also with Luke Benward, Ibrahim Renno, Mido Hamada, Ali Olomi, and Maz Siam.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for your thorough, sincere and objective review. You paid attention both aesthetics and narrative style presented in the film on a more professional level. Just want to point out about the background and history: the antagonists in this film are not Japanese; in fact, they are Japanese governed Chinese special police agents aiming to sabotage the “Utrennya” operation, and more importantly, finding out the mole who has been planted in the police agency by the Communist Party. And as for spilling out the alcohol to soon-to-be-executed spies, it has something to do with the traditional Chinese execution when a executioner is about to behead a prisoner, he would spill some alcohol to the blade, a superstition that by doing so the spirit of the dead prisoner won’t come after him.

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