Akhanda (NR) This Indian fantasy-adventure film stars Nandamuri Balakrishna, Pragya Jaiswal, Jagapathi Babu, Srikanth, Shamna Kasim, and P. Sai Kumar. (Opens Friday)
Benedetta (NR) There are male directors whom I’d trust to make a responsible film about lesbians. The guy who made Basic Instinct isn’t one of them. This French film is about the 17th-century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira), who is pledged to a convent while still a girl and starts to have religious visions even before she begins an affair with a novitiate (Daphne Patakia). The female nudity is actually rather restrained by the standards of director Paul Verhoeven, and the film finds some contemporary resonances in its depiction of convent life with a plague raging outside the walls. Where it falls down is depicting Benedetta’s Christian visions, as Verhoeven doesn’t get nearly weird enough for those. For a movie about a lesbian nun challenging the Catholic Church’s power, this is awfully tame. Also with Charlotte Rampling, Lambert Wilson, Elena Pionka, Louise Chevillotte, Hervé Pierre, and Olivier Rabourdin. (Opens Friday)
Castle Falls (NR) Dolph Lundgren directs and stars in this thriller about various parties seeking to recover $3 million in cash from an abandoned hospital that’s set for demolition. Also with Scott Adkins, Kim DeLonghi, Kevin Wayne, Dave Halls, and Scott Hunter. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Christmas With the Chosen: The Messengers (NR) This concert documentary features various artists performing Christmas songs from the set of the TV series The Chosen. (Opens Friday)
C’mon C’mon (R) Joaquin Phoenix stars in the latest film by Mike MIlls (20th-Century Women) about a radio journalist who goes on a cross-country trip with his nephew (Woody Norman). Also with Gaby Hoffman, Scoot McNairy, Jaboukie Young-White, and Deborah Strang. (Opens Friday)
Deadlock (R) This thriller stars Bruce Willis as an ex-military officer who is caught up when a group of rogue soldiers take control of a power plant. Also with Patrick Muldoon, Matthew Marsden, Michael DeVorzon, Kelcey Rose, Ava Paloma, and Jamal Trulove. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Death of a Telemarketer (R) This thriller stars Lamorne Morris as a salesman who is taken hostage by a man he once swindled (Jackie Earle Haley). Also with Haley Joel Osment, Alisha Wainwright, Matt McGorry, Woody McClain, and Starletta DuPois. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Descarrilados (NR) This Spanish comedy is about three 40-year-old friends (Julián López, Ernesto Sevilla, and Arturo Valls) who go on a railway journey across the country to honor a college friend who just died. Also with Jordi Aguilar, Dafne Fernández, Ana Milán, Alicia Fernández, and Lesley Grant. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Encounter (R) Riz Ahmed gives yet another sterling performance as a Marine Special Forces soldier who kidnaps his two young sons (Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada) and flees into the Nevada desert, claiming that the Earth is being invaded by parasites from outer space. British director/co-writer Michael Pearce previously made Beast, and in both movies he shows a great talent for balancing an altered state of consciousness with ground-level realism. Chauhan does terrific work as a kid realizing that his estranged father might not be right in the head, but you can’t take your eyes off Ahmed as a man who drifts in and out of lucidity and easily disposes of a bunch of backwoods gun nuts who would take him as their bosom friend if he were a white guy. This is a better version of Midnight Special. Also with Octavia Spencer, Rory Cochrane, Janine Gavankar, Antonio Jaramillo, Brennan Keel Cook, and Bill Dawes. (Opens Friday at Cinemark North East Mall)
The Hand of God (R) The latest film by Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) stars Filippo Scotti as a teenager growing up in Naples in 1986, when the world’s greatest soccer player signs on with his team. Also with Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luisa Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Betty Pedrazzi, and Ciro Capano. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Red Stone (NR) Fort Worth’s Derek Presley (Whitetail) directs this thriller about a hit man (Neal McDonough) who questions his career choice while hunting down a teenage witness. Also with Michael Cudlitz, Dominic Scott Kay, Mike Dopud, Alexandria DeBerry, Jason Douglas, and Billy Blair. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Silent Night (NR) Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode star in this comedy as an English couple who hold a Christmas party at their home when they receive news that the apocalypse is imminent. Also with Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Roman Griffin Davis, Lucy Punch, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Trudie Styler. (Opens Friday at Alamo Drafthouse Denton)
The Souvenir: Part II (R) Honor Swinton Byrne reprises her role in this sequel to Joanna Hogg’s 2019 autobiographical film. Her film-student character receives the news that her manipulative ex-boyfriend has died of an overdose, and she tries to make sense of her broken relationship by devoting her thesis film to it. Hogg demonstrates an incredibly sophisticated grasp of the formal qualities of filmmaking, going from grainy home-video footage to super-slick when the protagonist directs a music video for a synth-pop band. The changing look of the film is a nice accompaniment to the satire of film-school character types, and Byrne remains excellent as her character comes of age. Also with Charlie Heaton, Joe Alwyn, Ariane Labed, Richard Ayoade, James Spencer Ashworth, Lydia Fox, Harris Dickinson, and Tilda Swinton. (Opens Friday at Grand Berry Theatre)
Sword Art Online: Progressive — Aria of a Starless Night (NR) The latest installment of the anime series about a video game that traps gamers inside and kills them when they try to escape or die inside the game. Voices by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Bryce Papenbrook, Haruka Tomatsu, Cherami Leigh, Inori Mase, and Anairis Quinones. (Opens Friday)
Tadap (NR) This Indian romantic thriller stars Ahan Shetty as a man who loses his bearings when the woman he loves (Tara Sutaria) is revealed to have ulterior motives. Also with Saurabh Shukla, Kumud Mishra, and Sumit Gulati. (Opens Friday)
True to the Game 3 (R) The last of the trilogy has the protagonist (Erica Peeples) making a treacherous journey to inform her loved ones of her future plans. Also with Malik Barnhardt, Omar Gooding, Starletta DuPois, Iyana Hailey, Jeremy Meeks, Darius McCrary, and Columbus Short. (Opens Friday)
Antim: The Final Truth (NR) This Indian action-thriller stars Salman Khan as a Sikh policeman trying to stop the rise of a crime boss (Aayush Sharma). Also with Mahima Makwana, Jisshu Sengupta, Mahesh Manjrekar, Upendra Limaye, Sachin Khedekar, Lankesh Bhardwaj, and Varun Dhawan.
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.
Belfast (PG-13) Kenneth Branagh mines his autobiography for this coming-of-age story, and it’s charming rather than overbearing. His fictional stand-in (Jude Hill) grows up in Northern Ireland in 1969, where sectarian religious violence is forcing his dad (Jamie Dornan) to consider moving the family somewhere out of harm’s way. The young Hill is the real deal whether he’s deconstructing his cousin’s theories about Catholics or staring in awestruck wonder at the movies he watches at the local theater. The cast is mostly from Norn Iron, and Ciarán Hinds is particularly good as an ethically shady but lovable old grandfather. If the climactic confrontation is over-the-top, the film is better when it shows its kids being kids even amid the street uprisings and the turmoil in their homes. This is an appropriate companion piece to Brooklyn. Also with Caitríona Balfe, Lewis McAskie, Josie Walker, Freya Yates, Michael Maloney, Colin Morgan, Mark Hadfield, John Sessions, and Judi Dench.
Clifford the Big Red Dog (PG) Very little of the charm of Norman Bridwell’s books comes through in this unbearably cutesy kids’ movie. Darby Camp portrays the 11-year-old girl who buys a bright red puppy from a creepy old dude (John Cleese) and wakes up the next morning to find the dog has outgrown her room. Jack Whitehall does raise a few laughs as a deeply irresponsible uncle who’s left in charge of the girl for a weekend, but he’s fighting a losing battle against the nonstop parade of tired gags and slapstick resulting from the CGI dog. Save the money from movie tickets and use it to buy the books themselves to read to your kids. They’ll be better entertained. Also with Izaac Wang, Kenan Thompson, Sienna Guillory, Tony Hale, David Alan Grier, Horatio Sanz, Paul Rodriguez, Russell Peters, Tovah Feldshuh, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan.
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.
Encanto (PG) One of Disney’s better musical efforts, this animated film is about a refugee family in the Colombian mountains who all possess magical powers except for one granddaughter (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), who turns out to be vital to saving her sisters’ and cousins’ powers after they start fritzing. The cast is solid rather than containing any spectacular performances, and the songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda are consistently clever while lacking a genuine showstopper. The Colombian setting gives the animators chances to draw all manner of flora, fauna, and food that we don’t often see at the multiplex, while the script makes references to South American magical realist literature. The tasty family drama that has almost everyone hiding something makes for a family film to savor. Additional voices by María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Jessica Darrow, Diane Guerrero, Angie Cepeda, Mauro Castillo, Carolina Gaitán, Rhenzy Feliz, Adassa, Maluma, and Wilmer Valderrama.
Eternals (PG-13) This is like the Marvel Comics movies’ version of The Tree of Life, and it should be much worse than it is. The main characters are 10 ageless beings who came to the Earth 7,000 years ago to assist in developing human civilization. In the present day, they find out they’re meant to assist in humanity’s extinction, and some of them decide to prevent it instead. Fresh off her Oscar win for Nomadland, Chloé Zhao brings all of Disney’s resources to re-creating Babylon in the 6th century B.C. and the Aztec empire. This is amazing to look at, and she films a Bollywood dance number like it’s something she’s always wanted to do, but her transition from her previous films to the maximalism of this one has its rough patches. Even so, the movie has its moments of inspiration when its characters dwell on the human race’s accomplishments over time. Messy as the film is, it’s hard not to admire the crazy ambition of this effort by the world’s reigning movie franchise. Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Lia McHugh, Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff, Don Lee, Kit Harington, Harish Patel, Bill Skarsgård, Haaz Sleiman, Patton Oswalt, and Harry Styles.
For the Love of Money (R) Keri Hilson stars in this thriller as a single mother who’s forced to turn to her wealthy family for help during a crisis. Also with Katt Williams, Jason Mitchell, D.C. Young Fly, Rotimi, LisaRaye McCoy, Jazzy Jade, and Keith Sweat.
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.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (PG-13) This movie gives the fans everything they want. And it sucks! It sucks ectoplasm. It doesn’t start out so bad, to be fair, as Egon Spengler’s bankrupt and estranged daughter (Carrie Coon) receives news of his death and moves her teenage children (Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace) to his badly kept farm in rural Oklahoma, where the kids discover who their grandfather used to be. Jason Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the movies in the 1980s. The younger Reitman is too good not to come up with some good lines as the family tries to put down roots, but he’s the wrong filmmaker for this project. He’s good at finding humor in ordinary everyday life, not at combining jokes with supernatural horror. They had 36 years to think of a different storyline, and instead they played back the exact same one as the original movie. That’s the sign of a filmmaker who’s too afraid of the fans to move. Also with Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bokeem Woodbine, J.K. Simmons, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Sigourney Weaver.
House of Gucci (R) Ridley Scott takes an irresistibly soapy subject and films it like High Art, and the result is as lifeless as a department store mannequin. Lady Gaga portrays Patrizia Reggiani, who marries fashion heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) in the 1980s and then has him murdered in the 1990s when he tries to divorce her. The star has better instincts about what this film should be than the guy who’s been directing movies for 45 years. She’s the only actor in this cast stuffed with Oscar laureates who brings any sense of fun to the enterprise, as she dances with Maurizio’s cousin (Jared Leto) to gain his support and swears “Father, Son, and House of Gucci.” Scott has forgotten that movies are supposed to be entertaining and chisels a monument out of stone. The movie is too serious to take pleasure in its fashions or anything else, and so there’s little pleasure to take from it. Also with Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Camille Cottin, Reeve Carney, and Salma Hayek.
King Richard (PG-13) Serena Williams may be the greatest tennis player who has ever lived, and yet somehow it’s her dad who they make the movie about. Will Smith plays the father who plans to raise his daughters Venus and Serena (Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton) to be tennis prodigies even before they’re born. The script labors mightily to distinguish Richard Williams from all the other crazy tennis parents screaming at their kids and turning them into burnout cases, yet the movie can’t stray far enough from the conventions of sports movies. For all the movie’s efforts to paint Richard with flaws and all, it still doesn’t know how to treat him except as a hero. No surprise given that the Williams sisters are producers on this film, but it makes for bad drama. Jon Bernthal pilfers some scenes as a tennis coach who’s also part snake-oil salesman. Also with Aunjanue Ellis, Tony Goldwyn, Kevin Dunn, Rich Sommer, Jimmy Walker Jr., and Dylan McDermott.
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.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (R) This movie is set in 1998 so that the filmmakers can make a ‘90s-style horror film, use music from the era, and set up the backstory for the zombie series. It fails at all three. Kaya Scodelario stars as an orphan child who fled the company town rather than be subjected to medical experiments. She returns as an adult just in time for the first zombie outbreak and the pharmaceutical company’s decision to bomb the place and its inhabitants into oblivion. This is a movie where a helicopter crashes into a house and police officers searching a different part of the house somehow remain unaware of it. The inept scares and action sequences only underscore how cynically the studio is trying to extend this series. Never thought I’d be yearning for the presence of Milla Jovovich, but here we are. Also with Robbie Amell, Hannah John-Kamen, Neal McDonough, Avan Jogia, Chad Rook, Tom Hopper, Lily Gao, and Donal Logue.
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.
Sooryavanshi (NR) The title is the name of the main character (Akshay Kumar), and if you don’t know how to pronounce it, the soundtrack says it for you at least 100 times. This thriller is about a police detective trying to thwart a Muslim terrorist plot in Mumbai. He’s so fanatical that he starts a shootout with some thugs when his family is nearby, and his little boy catches a stray bullet. His fellow cops are so fanatical that they all tell his wife (Katrina Kaif) that she has to forgive him anyway. Aside from that, the film’s message that all religions are welcome in India doesn’t jibe with the current government’s systematic repression of non-Hindus, especially Muslims. This is the Indian version of copaganda, and it’s no more attractive than the American version. Also with Ajay Devgn, Ranveer Singh, Jaaved Jaaferi, Gulshan Grover, Abhimanyu Singh, Rajendra Gupta, and Jackie Shroff.
Spencer (R) It’s entirely appropriate to cast an actress who has been famous since childhood to play Princess Diana in the royal fishbowl, and Kristen Stewart does not disappoint, even if the movie’s agonies are muted. The story is set over Christmas weekend 1991 but doesn’t depict the momentous events that happened during that time in her marriage to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). Rather, director Pablo Larraín (Jackie) aims to create a single, sustained mood of unbearable tension. Cinematographer Claire Mathon gives the proceedings a gauzy, nostalgic glow that ironically points up the anti-nostalgia of the piece, as Diana is tormented by the proximity of her childhood home and fantasies of self-harm — you won’t forget her choking down the pearls off her necklace at dinner. The film ends with a better fantasy of ordering lunch at McDonald’s, pointing out that sometimes the only happy part of the fairy tale is escaping it. Also with Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, Stella Gonet, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry, Sean Harris, Laura Benson, and Amy Manson.
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.
Not to Forget (NR) Tate Dewey stars in this comedy as a con artist who is forced to take care of his wealthy grandmother (Karen Grassle). Also with Louis Gossett Jr., Tatum O’Neal, Olympia Dukakis, George Chakiris, and the late Cloris Leachman.
Zeros and Ones (R) Ethan Hawke stars in Abel Ferrara’s thriller as an American soldier trying to unravel a plot to blow up the Vatican while stationed in Rome. Also with Babak Karimi, Valerio Mastandrea, and Salvatore Ruocco.