Fortress (R) Bruce Willis and Jesse Metcalfe star as father-and-son cops who try to thwart a gang of criminals. Also with Chad Michael Murray, Shannen Doherty, Ser’Darius Blain, Kelly Greyson, Sean Kanan, and Natalie Burn. (Opens Friday at América Cinemas Gran Plaza)
Julia (PG-13) The documentary team of Julie Cohen and Betsy West previously did RBG about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and now they return with this profile of Julia Child that is the most attractively photographed documentary of the year. The film contains audio footage from its subject’s interviews that hasn’t been heard before, but even so, you won’t learn much new about the great TV chef if you’ve followed her career, or even if you watched Julie & Julia. See the film for Nanda Fernandez Brédillard and Claudia Raschke’s cinematography, with its loving closeups of dishes as they’re prepared by chefs in the French style that Child devoted her life to. Also with Marcus Samuelsson, José Andrés, Jacques Pepin, Ruth Reichl, Ina Garten, and Charles Gibson. (Re-opens Friday)
Last Words (NR) This science-fiction film stars Kalipha Touray as an astronaut in the 2080s who journeys to find the last remains of the human race. Alos with Nick Nolte, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgård, Alba Rohrwacher, Jun Ichikawa, Maryam d’Abo, and Valeria Golino. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Lost Daughter (R) Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directing debut adapts Elena Ferrante’s novel about a professor (Olivia Colman) who looks back over her life’s decisions while on vacation in Greece. Also with Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Dominczyk, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Jack Farthing. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Margrete: Queen of the North (NR) This historical drama stars Trine Dyrholm as the real-life 15th-century queen of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark who finds a conspiracy within her court to overthrow her reign. Also with Morten Hee Andersen, Søren Malling, Bjørn Floberg, Magnus Krepper, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Halldóra Geirharđsdóttir, Annika Hallin, and Paul Blackthorne. (Opens Friday at América Cinemas Gran Plaza)
The Novice (R) Isabelle Fuhrman stars in this drama as a college freshman who joins the rowing team and becomes unhealthily obsessed with improving her performance. Also with Amy Forsyth, Dilone, Jonathan Cherry, and Kate Drummond. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Pushpa: The Rise (NR) This Indian film stars Allu Arjun as an outlaw who makes a living smuggling endangered red sanders trees in Andhra Pradesh. Also with Fahadh Faasil, Rashmika Mandanna, Dhananjay, Sunil, Anasuya Bharadwaj, and Samantha Ruth Prabhu. (Opens Friday)
Schemes in Antiques (NR) This Chinese film tells a series of stories all revolving around a mysterious Buddha head. Starring Lei Jiayin, Wang Qingxiang, Xin Zhilei, Rock Ji, Qin Yan, Ge You, and Alan Aruna. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Swan Song (R) Mahershala Ali stars in this science-fiction drama as a terminally ill man in 2040 presented with the chance to have an exact copy of himself manufactured to replace him with his family. Also with Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Adam Beach, Lee Shorten, and Glenn Close. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Being the Ricardos (R) Overstuffed and unsatisfying at the same time. Aaron Sorkin’s film takes in a week during the filming of I Love Lucy in 1952, as Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) is publicly accused of being a communist and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) makes the then-radical decision for her character to be pregnant on the show at the same time that she is in real life. Kidman does an uncanny impression of Ball’s mannerisms, Bardem is scarcely less great as a savvy entertainer enjoying his time in the spotlight, and this could have been great if Sorkin had focused. Unfortunately, he throws in all manner of sidebars about Lucy and Desi’s relationship, their respective pasts, anti-communist hysteria, and more. He can’t make us share his love of the inner workings of show business. This is the third film he has directed, and he isn’t getting any better. Also with J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, Christopher Denham, John Rubinstein, Ronny Cox, and Linda Lavin.
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (NR) This Indian romantic film stars Ayushmann Khurrana, Vaani Kapoor, Abhishek Bajaj, Kanwaljit Singh, Gautam Sharma, Yograj Singh, and Aanjian Srivastav.
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.
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.
C’mon C’mon (R) Why don’t I like Mike Mills’ films more? Joaquin Phoenix stars in Mills’ thoughtful, beautifully photographed, strangely inert drama as a radio journalist who takes his young nephew (Woody Norman) on the road with him while the boy’s parents sort out the father’s bipolar issues. Robbie Ryan’s black-and-white cinematography offers stunning vistas of Detroit, New York, and New Orleans as the characters interview kids about the future. The newcomer Norman makes a stunning debut, but Phoenix offers up flat readings from texts that include feminist essays and children’s books. The movie is meant to be a meditation on being human and our existence on this planet, but I rather think Eternals does a better job at this. Also with Gaby Hoffman, Scoot McNairy, Jaboukie Young-White, Molly Webster, and Deborah Strang.
Don’t Look Up (R) Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star in this comedy as astronomers who try to alert people that a comet is about to destroy the Earth. Also with Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Jonah Hill, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Michael Chiklis, Himesh Patel, Rob Morgan, Paul Guilfoyle, Kid Cudi, and Ariana Grande.
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.
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.
The Lady of Heaven (R) Proof that Muslim religious movies can be as inept as Christian ones. In accordance with Islamic scripture, Eli King’s film about Mohammed’s daughter Fatima uses CGI and dubbed voices so that no single actor portrays any of the holy personages of the Qu’ran. There’s probably a way to make this work as drama, but the filmmakers here haven’t found it. King resorts to myriad shots of brilliant sunshine streaming through windows that obscures people’s faces, and at one point there’s sunlight streaming through windows on opposite sides of a room, which is cosmologically impossible. The ancient story is intertwined with one set in 2014 about an Iraqi boy (Lucas Bond) who becomes a refugee after his mother is killed by ISIS, and that doesn’t work any better. Also with Denise Black, Ray Fearon, Chris Jarman, Gabriel Cartade, Albane Courtois, and Sami Kharim.
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.
National Champions (R) There are problems with the plotting, but the dialogue and acting keep this football drama on track. Stephan James plays a Heisman-winning quarterback who announces a players’ strike six days before he’s scheduled to play in the national championship game and induces a whole bunch of his teammates and opponents to walk out with him. Based on Adam Mervis’ 2019 stage play, the movie updates its references to include the COVID pandemic and NIL rights. The underrated James carries this movie without strain, and there are stellar turns by J.K. Simmons as a coach begging his players to come back and Uzo Aduba as a ruthless NCAA fixer. The low budget means the movie has no football scenes, and you do miss them, but the drama is still worth your time. Also with Kristin Chenoweth, Timothy Olyphant, Alexander Ludwig, Jeffrey Donovan, Lil Rel Howery, David Koechner, and Tim Blake Nelson.
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.
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.
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.
West Side Story (PG-13) The 1961 film of the musical won the Best Picture Oscar, but Steven Spielberg’s version is better, not least because it makes plenty of changes. Screenwriter Tony Kushner considerably fleshes out the supporting characters, and the propulsive force of Leonard Bernstein’s music forces the director to keep things moving. The fatal rumble takes place in a warehouse amid giant piles of salt, and “Cool” is staged (by choreographer Justin Peck) as Tony (Ansel Elgort) trying to keep a gun away from the other Jets. Elgort’s dancing makes Tony seem like a special guy in this neighborhood, Rachel Zegler (as Maria) displays operatic range, Ariana DeBose (as Anita) almost steals the film away, and Mike Faist (as Riff) makes the character into something hard and unforgettable. This classic is made new for our sensibilities. Also with David Alvarez, Corey Stoll, Brian d’Arcy James, Iris Menas, Josh Andrés Rivera, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Mike Iveson, and Rita Moreno.
American Sicario (R) This gangster film stars Philippe A. Haddad as a Mexican gangster whose rise to power makes enemies both outside and within his crime family. Also with Danny Trejo, Maya Stojan, Maurice Compte, Johnny Rey Diaz, Jaylen Moore, Margo Quinn, and Dionysio Basco.
Drive My Car (NR) Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story, this much-feted Japanese drama is about a theater director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) whose actress wife (Reika Kirishima) suddenly disappears. Also with Tôko Miura, Park Yoo-rim, Jin Dae-young, Sonia Yuan, and Masaki Okada.
The Hating Game (R) Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell star in this romantic comedy as professional rivals who are attracted to each other. Also with Corbin Bernsen, Sakina Jaffrey, Brock Yurich, Yasha Jackson, and Sean Cullen.