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Jim Cummings sees his life fall apart digitally in "The Beta Test." Courtesy IFC Films

OPENING

 

Annaatthe (NR) Rajinikanth stars in this Tamil-language film (which is also released in a Telugu version under the title Peddanna) as a village chief who must solve various problems around his village. Also with Meena, Kushboo, Nayanthara, Keerthy Suresh, and Jagapathi Babu. (Opens Friday)

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Beans (NR) Tracey Deer’s drama stars Kiawentio as a Mohawk girl in 1990s Quebec who witnesses her tribe face off against the Canadian government for control of ancestral lands. Also with Violah Beauvais, Rainbow Dickerson, Joel Montgrand, Paulina Alexis, D’Pharaoh Woon-a-Tai, and Jay Cardinal Villeneuve. (Opens Friday at Grand Berry Theatre)

The Beta Test (NR) Jim Cummings (Thunder Road) co-writes, co-directs, and stars in this thriller as a Hollywood agent who accepts an invitation for anonymous sex and opens up his digital life to the world. Also with PJ McCabe, Virginia Newcomb, Olivia Grace Applegate, Jessie Barr, Malin Barr, and Grant Rosenmeyer. (Opens Friday at Grand Berry Theatre)

Christmas vs. The Walters (PG-13) The first Yuletide comedy of the season stars Shawnee Smith as a pregnant mother of two who tries to hold her dysfunctional family together over the holidays. Also with Dean Winters, Chris Elliott, Caroline Aaron, Richard Thomas, Paris Bravo, and Bruce Dern. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Dangerous (R) This action-thriller stars Scott Eastwood as a reformed psychopath who investigates his brother’s disappearance. Also with Kevin Durand, Famke Janssen, Brock Morgan, Leanne Lapp, Tyrese Gibson, and Mel Gibson. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Hell Hath No Fury (R) This World War II drama stars Nina Bergman as a Frenchwoman accused of treason who must bargain with American soldiers to save her life. Also with Louis Mandylor, Andrew Bering, Daniel Bernhardt, and Josef Cannon. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Ida Red (R) Melissa Leo stars in this thriller as an incarcerated, terminally ill woman who asks her family to pull one last job to spring her from prison. Also with Frank Grillo, Josh Hartnett, Beau Knapp, Deborah Ann Woll, William Forsythe, and Mark Boone Junior. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Manchi Rojulochaie (NR) This Indian romantic comedy stars Rajitha, Mehreen Pirzada, Santosh Shoban, Vennela Kishore, Ajay Ghosh, and Srinivasa Reddy. (Opens Friday)

Mark, Mary & Some Other People (R) Hannah Marks’ comedy stars Ben Rosenfield and Hayley Law as a married couple who decide to try an open marriage. Also with Nik Dodani, Matt Shively, Sofia Bryant, Esther Povitsky, Joe Lo Truglio, Haley Ramm, Gillian Jacobs, and Lea Thompson. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Red Notice (PG-13) This comedy stars Dwayne Johnson as an FBI profiler forced to team up with an art thief (Ryan Reynolds) to catch the world’s most wanted art thief (Gal Gadot). Also with Ritu Arya, Chris Diamantopoulos, Ivan Mbakop, and Vincenzo Amato. (Opens Friday)

Sooryavanshi (NR) Akshay Kumar stars in this spinoff from Simmba as a police inspector seeking to thwart a terrorist plot in Mumbai. Also with Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn, Ranveer Singh, Jaaved Jaaferi, Gulshan Grover, Abhimanyu Singh, Rajendra Gupta, and Jackie Shroff. (Opens Friday)

 

NOW PLAYING

 

The Addams Family 2 (PG) The animated films are engagingly weird and can indulge in the sort of large set pieces that the old TV show couldn’t. In this sequel to the 2019 film, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) drags the family on a cross-country road trip to conceal the revelation that Wednesday (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) might have been switched at birth with the baby of a Silicon Valley tech mogul (voiced by Bill Hader) who now wants to claim her. Moretz does well with Wednesday’s affectless demeanor but is missing the edge of creepiness that Christina Ricci brought to the part in the 1990s live-action movies. Even so, the film has set pieces like her being forced to compete in a child beauty pageant in Texas and a climactic brawl when Uncle Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll) is turned into a Lovecraftian monster and has to fight off a giant horse/pig/rooster/elephant. Additional voices by Charlize Theron, Javon “Wanna” Walton, Wallace Shawn, Brian Sommer, Cherami Leigh, Snoop Dogg, and Bette Midler.

Antlers (R) This horror movie starts out so promisingly and ends so limply. Keri Russell portrays a middle-school teacher in a small Oregon town who resolves to protect a student (Jeremy T. Thomas) whom she suspects of being abused at home. In fact, the boy is keeping his father and little brother chained up because they’ve been possessed by a wendigo. This is based on Nick Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy,” and director/co-writer Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) does great at capturing the atmosphere of this desolate rural backwater. His smooth scene transitions generate suspense early on, and he tracks how the teacher’s own history of childhood abuse makes her determined to intervene in the boy’s life. Sadly, the filmmakers can’t decide whether that wendigo is a metaphor for domestic violence or substance abuse or something else. The white filmmakers’ use of a monster from Native American folklore isn’t the most finely calibrated, either. Is that why the film isn’t scary enough? Also with Jesse Plemons, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Sawyer Jones, Graham Greene, and Amy Madigan. 

Candyman (R) The sequel to the 1992 horror film is dense with ideas and a pleasure to look at. Taking place in a now-gentrified Cabrini Green neighborhood, an artist (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) finds out about the urban legend and becomes obsessed, making Candyman-inspired art and bringing back the hook-handed undead man who hacks people to death if they say his name into a mirror five times. The script co-written by Jordan Peele expertly skewers the academic jargon of pretentious artists and cuts it with poisonous barbs about race relations. The Candyman goes from boogeyman of the hood to symbol of the Black community’s anger at generations of victims of white brutality. Mateen gives a great performance as a man unraveling physically and mentally, and director/co-writer Nia DaCosta gives the whole thing a lush look appropriate to the art-world setting. Also with Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Kyle Kaminsky, Brian King, Miriam Moss, Rebecca Spence, Michael Hargrove, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Heidi Grace Engerman, and Vanessa Williams.

Dune (PG-13) This second attempt at adapting Frank Herbert’s mammoth science fiction epic offers a much smoother storytelling experience than David Lynch’s 1984 film. Timothée Chalamet stars as the young prince who’s forced to flee into the desert on an alien planet after his father (Oscar Isaac) is overthrown as the installed governor there. Director/co-writer Denis Villeneuve ends the story well short of the end of the book, which makes the film’s alien cultures and worlds feel more lived-in, but also keeps it from being a satisfying stand-alone film. Villeneuve gives you buckets full of spectacular vistas, and at its best, the film is sublime in the old sense of making you feel small. Too bad he overdoes it, feeling the need to underscore the epic quality of every scene. Whatever intimacy he doesn’t beat out of the story, Hans Zimmer’s music takes care of. Ultimately, this is like a beautifully presented and cleverly conceived restaurant meal that leaves you wanting to hit the nearest McDonald’s afterwards. Also with Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chang Chen, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Golda Rosheuvel, Roger Yuan, Charlotte Rampling, and Javier Bardem.

Free Guy (PG-13) It’s like The Truman Show, but for video games. Ryan Reynolds stars as a bank teller inside an ultraviolent video game who discovers that he is just a non-playable character in a game and starts deviating from his programming. This movie is more attuned to gaming culture than most, with real-life YouTube and Twitch gamers making cameo appearances to comment on an NPC suddenly acting on his own. Neither of the movie’s romantic plots works, but the actors bring great energy, with Taika Waititi nailing the part of a T-shirt-wearing corporate tyrant, Jodie Comer switching gleefully between a blonde American gamer and her brunette British alter ego, and Reynolds doing well as a man who’s so square that he’s hip. Movies adapted from video games suck, but movies about video games and why people play them have better luck. Also with Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Channing Tatum, and Chris Evans. Voices by Dwayne Johnson, Tina Fey, John Krasinski, and Hugh Jackman.

The French Dispatch (R) A relatively minor work by Wes Anderson, this love letter to France won’t convert you if you don’t share his Francophilia, but it will entertain his fans. Bill Murray plays the publisher of a French-based magazine published for readers in Kansas, where he comes from. The story is structured like an issue of his magazine, divided into discrete stories narrated by various writers (Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and Jeffrey Wright). The deadpan performances and the fastidiously arranged visuals are all brilliantly done, although here more than in other Anderson films, it feels like cleverness for its own sake. The best story is the one narrated by Wright about a police lieutenant and legendary chef (Stephen Park) who performs heroic feats on a night when his boss’ son is kidnapped. In addition to France, the movie is a tribute to The New Yorker and to writers who want to tell their readers a bit about the wider world. Also with Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Liev Schreiber, Mathieu Amalric, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Henry Winkler, Tony Revolori, Lois Smith, Denis Ménochet, Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Rupert Friend, Alex Lawther, Hippolyte Girardot, Winsen Ait Hellal, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, and Christoph Waltz.

Halloween Kills (R) This latest installment tries to turn Michael Myers into a metaphor for something or other, and sweet Lord, it doesn’t work. Taking place immediately after the events of the 2018 film, this sequel has Jamie Lee Curtis and a bunch of other actors from the original 1978 movie (Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, and Nancy Stephens) huddle to discuss the ways they’ve been traumatized by Michael’s murders. It all turns into a lynch mob that vows to hunt Michael down and chases a few innocent people to their deaths. Director David Gordon Green and his fellow writers try to balance the demands of a slasher movie with making Michael into a symbol of the divisions in American society, and they are the wrong filmmakers to try to pull something like that. At least the old Halloween movies were up-front about pandering to teens’ basest instincts. This movie wants to justify it intellectually. Also with Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Thomas Mann, Jim Cummings, Dylan Arnold, Robert Longstreet, Scott MacArthur, Michael McDonald, Anthony Michael Hall, and Bob Odenkirk. 

Heart of Champions (PG-13) Having Michael Shannon headline a sports drama about a sport that doesn’t get much run in movies sounds like a great idea. It translates to a disappointingly conventional movie. He portrays a Vietnam veteran in the 1990s who takes over a fictitious Ivy League school’s underachieving rowing team. As you’d expect, Shannon projects the authority you’d imagine for a tough but wise coach. The story beats, on the other hand, are yawn-inducing as the coach strips the captaincy from a wealthy donor’s son (Alexander Ludwig) and a troubled transfer student (Charles Melton) has a forgettable romance. The acting from the supporting roles isn’t good enough to make this worthwhile. The movie is only for those who row crew, and maybe not even them. Also with Ash Santos, Alex MacNicoll, Michael Tacconi, Andrew Creer, Lilly Krug, Lance E. Nichols, and David James Elliott. 

Jungle Cruise (PG-13) Thuddingly mediocre Disney entry has none of the technical dazzle of Raiders of the Lost Ark nor any of the bracing weirdness of the better Pirates of the Caribbean films. This adventure film based on one of the Disneyland rides is set in 1916 and features Emily Blunt as a British archeologist who travels to Brazil and engages a rough riverboat captain (Dwayne Johnson) to take her on an Amazon expedition to find a lost treasure. The filmmakers are aiming for something like the Bogart-Hepburn chemistry from The African Queen, but it never materializes, and the only actor here who comes correct is Jesse Plemons as a German military officer who serves as a comic villain. This isn’t bad, necessarily. It’s just overwhelmingly Disney. Also with Edgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Veronica Falcón, Andy Nyman, and Paul Giamatti. 

Lamb (R) The most badass Icelandic film you’ll see this year is this horror film about two sheep farmers (Noomi Rapace and HIlmir Snær Guđnason) in the remote countryside who see one of their ewes birth a lamb that’s, uh, a tad unusual and start raising the animal as their own child. First-time writer-director Valdimar Jóhannsson makes good use of his native country’s landscape, which seems an unremittingly hostile place that offers oppressive solitude. However, he loses control of his signifiers once he starts to show his cards. The story is best taken as a blasphemous parody of the Nativity story, and yet the conceptual joke doesn’t land. A former special-effects artist, Jóhannsson clearly has considerable talent behind the camera, but this movie falls short of what it sets out to do. Also with Björn Hlynur Haraldsson.

Last Night in Soho (R) Edgar Wright does a female acid head trip on the order of Black Swan, and if it’s not on the same level, it is enjoyably trashy. Thomasin McKenzie stars as a fashion student who starts experiencing terrifying hallucinations about a murdered aspiring singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) from the 1960s while renting a London flat and doesn’t know whether to solve the murder or seek psychiatric help. McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) is so strong that she holds the center against Taylor-Joy, giving a pitiable performance as a lonely student away from home for the first time and afraid that her mother’s mental illness is coming for her. Wright well evokes London during the Swinging Sixties, pulls off some intricate shots with the two actresses serving as each other’s reflection in mirrors, and (with the help of writer Krysty Cairns-Wilson) tracks the singer’s destruction through men who prey on her dreams of stardom. All this and the film’s visuals make this so retro chic. Also with Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Synnøve Karlsen, Elizabeth Berrington, Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp, and the late Diana Rigg.

A Mouthful of Air (R) Amanda Seyfried acts the living crap out of this drama as a 1990s children’s book author whose postpartum depression leads her to attempt suicide. Amy Koppelman adapts her own novel in her directing debut, and she finds some curious angles to depict her heroine’s mental illness as well as some animated sequences that depict the story in the main character’s books. Still, you can’t take your eyes off Seyfried and her finely calibrated performance as she portrays a woman who is barely holding things together while deceiving everyone around her into thinking that she’s fine. The movie is too heavy-handed in making its point that its protagonist lives in a time when people don’t recognize postpartum depression as a thing, but Seyfried’s performance gives it all the authority it needs. Also with Finn Wittrock, Britt Robertson, Jennifer Carpenter, Amy Irving, Josh Hamilton, Eliot Sumner, Alysia Reiner, Cate Elefante, and Paul Giamatti. 

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ MIssion (NR) I found myself admiring the great splashes of color in the action sequences more than anything in the story or characters in this anime film. Deku (voiced by Daiki Yamashita in the Japanese version and Justin Briner in the English version) has to team up with an orphaned thief (voiced by Ryô Yoshizawa and Ryan Colt Levy) in order to stop Flect Turn (voiced by Kazuya Nakai and Robbie Daymond) from releasing a poison that kills everyone in the world with superpowers. The action is flung very far indeed, with heroes in four different countries trying to stave off the apocalypse at once. The film has a great chase scene early on when Deku tries to apprehend the thief and recover his stolen briefcase. Much like the last installment in this series, this film will charm the audience who are already fans and leave newcomers on the outside looking in. Additional voices by Nobuhiko Okamoto, Clifford Chapin, Yuki Kaji, David Matranga, Tetsu Inada, Patrick Seitz, Yuichi Nakamura, and Zeno Robinson. 

No Time to Die (PG-13) Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond proves to be a fitting send-off. James breaks up with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) after she appears to set him up for an ambush, but he’s forced to work with her again along with Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) after one of Blofeld’s enemies (Rami Malek) gets hold of a biological weapon that could wipe out billions. The first-ever Bond film with a non-British director (specifically America’s Cary Joji Fukunaga) has the big action set pieces the fans are looking for, though the better ones are smaller scenes like the one in the Norwegian forest. The writers put a greater emphasis on psychological depth, but there’s still too much fat and fanservice in this 163-minute film. Even so, Craig finds some new notes to play as the secret agent who’s broken inside, and brings the character to a wholly logical conclusion. Also with Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Lashana Lynch, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright, and Ana de Armas.

Paw Patrol: The Movie (G) I think they just recycled the least creative scripts from the TV show and used it for this movie. The rescue puppies hit the big city, and the police dog (voiced by Iain Armitage) continually screws up as they try to rescue people from dangerous publicity stunts pulled by the Trump-like mayor (voiced by Ron Pardo). Not a single story beat of this thing registers as fresh, except perhaps the filmmakers’ unreasonable hatred of cats. The visuals are acceptable and the movie adds a bunch of celebrities as voices, but the whole affair has about as much energy as a sedated 14-year-old house pet. Additional voices by Marsai Martin, Will Brisbin, Yara Shahidi, Randall Park, Dax Shepard, Jimmy Kimmel, Kim Kardashian West, and Tyler Perry. 

The Rescue (PG) If you need a documentary to lift your spirits, here’s your best bet. Fresh off their Oscar win for Free Solo, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin turn to the cave divers from various European countries who came to Thailand in 2018 to free 12 youth soccer players and their coach from a cave that had flooded due to unexpected monsoon rains. The filmmakers fill out their interviews with computer animation and re-enactments that were filmed in a London studio, which help illustrate the conditions inside the cave that was filling up with water. Chai Vasarhelyi and Chin are fascinated by the kinds of people who are drawn to such a solitary and dangerous pastime, and they also acknowledge how these men with such a strange hobby wound up saving so many lives.

Ron’s Gone Wrong (PG) Acceptable tech satire for the kiddie crowd, this animated film is about a boy (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) from a poor Luddite family who begs them for the tech industry’s hot new toy, a robot that’s programmed to be its owner’s best friend. When he finally gets one (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), it turns out to be defective in ways both good and bad. It’s never too early for kids to learn that tech moguls don’t care about them and only want to sell them more stuff, though I wish the satire had been sharper and subtler. The film does boast a superb bit of chaos in the middle when the defective bot comes to class and causes all the other kids’ robots to misbehave and tear apart the school. This is the first feature by Locksmith Animation, and it’s a decent start for the outfit. Additional voices by Ed Helms, Rob Delaney, Justice Smith, Kylie Cantrall, Ricardo Hurtado, Ruby Wax, Liam Payne, and Olivia Colman.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (PG-13) The superhero movie that the Chinese film industry has been trying to make for the last decade or so. The latest Marvel film stars Simu Liu as the son of a Chinese mob boss (Tony Leung) who has been lying low in San Francisco to escape that life. He’s forced to come out of hiding when he learns of his father’s plans to destroy a mythical Chinese village containing legendary beasts. Director/co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton skilfully imitates the pictorialism of Chinese martial-arts epics, gracefully imitates the flashbacks, and injects humor into the proceedings without strain. The fight sequences move at blinding speed, which helps compensate for Liu’s lack of distinction when it comes to depicting the hero’s damaged childhood. Leung is much better, as his mournful, haunted face keeps his villain from being one-dimensional. This is up to the standard of Marvel’s other superhero films, and its ties to Asian folklore set it apart. Also with Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Meng’er, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le, Yuen Wah, Ronnie Chieng, Tsai Chin, Benedict Wong, Tim Roth, Ben Kingsley, and uncredited cameos by Mark Ruffalo and Brie Larson.

13 Minutes (PG-13) This ensemble drama is about four different families whose lives intersect after a tornado hits the small town where they live. Starring Anne Heche, Amy Smart, Thora Birch, Sofia Vassilieva, Peter Facinelli, Paz Vega, Yancey Arias, Will Peltz, and Trace Adkins.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (PG-13) The series continues to be a useful odd entry in the world of superhero comic adaptations. Tom Hardy returns as Eddie Brock, San Francisco reporter with an alien symbiote inside him that eats people. When an imprisoned serial killer (Woody Harrelson) bites his hand, the being reproduces itself inside him, allowing him to massacre everyone who attends his execution. Andy Serkis takes over as director and has a tough time balancing between the action and the elements of dark humor, as the protagonist tries to keep the murderous thing inside him from coming out. There’s a funny interlude when Venom separates from Eddie, hits a costume party, and finds kinship among the out-and-proud gays there. The script also has a firmer grasp on the fact that Eddie is an idiot and a bad journalist. If only the series could find greater consistency in the non-Venom parts of these movies, they’d be awesome. Also with Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Stephen Graham, Reid Scott, and Peggy Lu. 

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

Mass (PG-13) The filmmaking debut of actor Fran Kranz is about two couples (Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney) who meet years after the school shooting that linked them. Also with Breeda Wool.

Passing (PG-13) In her filmmaking debut, Rebecca Hall adapts Nella Larsen’s novel about two light-skinned Black schoolmates (Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga) in the 1920s, one of whom identifies as Black while the other one passes herself off as white. Also with André Holland, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, and Alexander Skarsgård. 

The Spine of Night (NR) This animated feature is about heroes from different eras teaming up to battle a supervillain. Voices by Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, Patrick Breen, and Larry Fessenden. 

 

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