Aaraattu (NR) This Indian action thriller stars Mohanlal, Shraddha Srinath, Ramachandra Raju, Siddique, Saikumar, Prabhakar, Sivamani, and A.R. Rahman. (Opens Friday at Cinemark Tinseltown Grapevine)
Dog (PG-13) Channing Tatum stars in and co-directs this comedy about an Army Ranger veteran who takes a road trip with a fallen colleague’s traumatized Belgian Malinois. Also with Q’orianka Kilcher, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Kevin Nash, Aqueela Zoll, and Jane Adams. (Opens Friday)
The Ledge (R) This action thriller stars Brittany Ashworth as a mountain climber being stalked by killers while stranded on a mountain ledge. Also with Ben Lamb, Nathan Welsh, Louis Boyer, David Wayman, and Anaïs Perello. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Pursuit (R) John Cusack stars in this thriller about a cop trying to track down a fugitive computer hacker. Also with Emile Hirsch, Elizabeth Faith Ludlow, Graham Patrick Martin, Alexandria DeBerry, Shelby Yardley, Jake Manley, and William Katt. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Strawberry Mansion (NR) Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney co-direct, co-write, and co-star in this film set in a dystopian future where the government taxes people’s dreams. Also with Reed Birney, Penny Fuller, Constance Shulman, and Linas Phillips. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Ted K (R) Sharlto Copley stars in this drama about the Unabomber’s secluded life leading up to his arrest. Also with Drew Powell, Travis W. Bruyer, Wayne Pyle, Amber Rose Mason, and Christian Calloway. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Too Cool to Kill (NR) This Chinese action-comedy stars Wei Xiang as an aspiring comedian who is caught up in a spy plot. Also with Ma Li, Ai Lun, Chen Minghao, Huang Cailun, Zhou Dayong, and Gianluca Zoppa. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Uncharted (PG-13) Based on the video-game series, this film stars Tom Holland as an adventurer recruited by a more experienced colleague (Mark Wahlberg) to find a Spanish treasure that has been lost for 500 years. Also with Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Steven Waddington, Pilou Asbæk, and Antonio Banderas. (Opens Friday)
The Worst Person in the World (R) Nominated for the Oscar for Best International Film, this Norwegian coming-of-age comedy stars Renate Reinsve as a 30-year-old student trying to figure out what to do with her life. Also with Anders Danielsen Lie, Maria Grazia di Meo, Herbert Nordrum, Hans Olav Brenner, and Deniz Kaya. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
American Underdog (PG) This has much better acting than your typical Christian football film, and better production values, with real NFL teams lending their stadiums and logos. These things make a difference, just not enough of one. Zachary Levi portrays Kurt Warner, an undrafted quarterback out of Northern Iowa University who stocks shelves at a local supermarket before catching on with the Arena League and then leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title. I would have liked more on what made the Rams’ offense so revolutionary and what it was like for Warner as a QB with a scant resumé to step in and lead a group of pros who had scant knowledge of who he was. The second half has too many inspirational speeches strung together. Still, Levi and Anna Paquin (as Warner’s wife Brenda) make this go down much more easily than other movies about faith. Also with Hayden Zaller, Ser’Darius Blain, Chance Kelly, Bruce McGill, Simeon Castille, Adam Baldwin, Steven Chester Prince, and Dennis Quaid.
Badhaai Do (NR) Indian society still needs a film that states that homosexuals are human beings, too, which means this comedy is necessarily for their audiences rather than ours. Rajkummar Rao plays a secretly gay cop who marries a secretly lesbian P.E. teacher (Bhumi Pednekar) so that both of them can get their families off their backs to marry someone. This, unfortunately, only results in their families pressuring them to have a baby. Even more unfortunately, the promising setup only translates to leaden farce. This is a story of a gay man and a lesbian becoming friends, and we’ve seen it done before, and better. Also with Seema Pahwa, Sheeba Chaddha, Loveleen Mishra, Chum Darang, and Hani Yadav.
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.
Blacklight (PG-13) Liam Neeson looks almost as tired as this sleepy action thriller. He portrays an OCD-suffering fixer who is targeted for death by the FBI director (Aidan Quinn) who’s employing him off the books to retrieve agents who’ve gone too deep undercover. Aside from a chase sequence involving a garbage truck, nothing works here, not the action scenes, not the mental illness angle, not the main character’s attempts to connect with his young granddaughter (Gabriella Sengos), and not the showdown between Neeson and Quinn (who could stand up to Neeson under ordinary circumstances but here looks even more exhausted). This isn’t worth the effort to put on your shoes to go out. Also with Taylor John Smith, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Andrew Shaw, Zac Lemons, Tim Draxl, Georgia Flood, Yael Stone, and Claire van der Boom.
Death on the Nile (PG-13) Kenneth Branagh reprises his role as Hercule Poirot in this slower and somberer follow-up to Murder on the Orient Express. The great detective is on a Nile River cruise trying to solve the murder of a wealthy socialite (Gal Gadot) where the most obvious suspect has an ironclad alibi. The events play out differently than in the Agatha Christie novel, with both the detective and the killer making mistakes that cause more people to die. The director still has trouble accommodating his actors while capturing the story’s compressed time frame, though the deluxe cast still has a number of nice turns. The case winds up having personal stakes for Poirot, and while the conception of him as a traumatized war veteran on the autism spectrum isn’t what Christie wrote, it is undeniably interesting. Also with Armie Hammer, Emma Mackey, Tom Bateman, Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Rose Leslie, Ali Fazal, Russell Brand, and Annette Bening.
DJ Tillu (NR) Siddhu Jonnalagadda and Neha Shetty star in this Indian romantic drama. Also with Prince Cecil, Brahmaji, Pragathy, Narra Srinivas, and Fish Venkat.
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.
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.
Jackass Forever (R) These films are becoming more watchable. Is it because the guys are getting older, or because I am? Or maybe their stupid pranks are just what we need to break the ice after two years of pandemic hell? Johnny Knoxville and his crew find new ways to traumatize their brains and their testicles with high explosives, wild animals, mopeds, pig semen, electric stun devices, and basic physics. Some of their students are so disgusting that the cameraman vomits into his face mask. (At last, a solid argument for not masking up.) No meditation on men getting older is likely to be more fun than this. Also with Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Jeff Tremaine, Ehren McGhehey, Dave England, Preston Lacy, Zach Holmes, Rachel Wolfson, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Eric André, Francis Ngannou, Tyler the Creator, and Machine Gun Kelly.
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.
The King’s Man (R) Matthew Vaughn tries to go all somber with this origin story, which is a huge mistake. The spy agency’s roots are shown to take place in the 1910s, when a pacifist English lord (Ralph Fiennes) tries to prevent war by setting up his own intelligence agency and conducting backdoor diplomacy. The director of Kick-Ass as well as the two preceding Kingsmen films aims for the seriousness of 1917 when World War I breaks out and the lord’s son (Harris Dickinson) enlists in the army. Vaughn can’t balance this with the parts of the movie that are supposed to be entertaining. The historical fiction has been painstakingly researched so that the filmmakers can throw in an evil cabal that controls both Lenin and Hitler. The resulting movie can’t decide what it wants to be. Vaughn’s irreverent sense of humor has taken a powder at the worst possible time. Also with Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Daniel Brühl, Alexandra Maria Lara, Tom Hollander, Ron Cook, August Diehl, David Kross, Charles Dance, and Stanley Tucci.
Licorice Pizza (R) After the death grip he kept on his last few movies, Paul Thomas Anderson adopts a looser and more charming approach to this coming-of-age story. Cooper Hoffman stars as a 15-year-old working kid actor in the San Fernando Valley in 1973 who falls in love with a young woman (Alana Haim) who’s 10 years older and who works as an assistant at her dad’s portrait photography business. The plot is really just a prop to hang their comic misadventures in the Valley, as Anderson creates some great, hair-raising set pieces like one with our characters trapped in a moving truck rolling out of control down a hill, or trying to deal with a coked-up Hollywood producer (Bradley Cooper). Hoffman (the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman) is good, but the real star turn comes from Haim as an insecure young woman seeking her own path. This isn’t one of 2021’s best movies, but it’s quite likable. Also with Sean Penn, Tom Waits, John Michael Higgins, Yumi Mizui, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Skyler Gisondo, Christine Ebersole, Harriet Sansom Harris, Benny Safdie, Joseph Cross, Moti Haim, Este Haim, Danielle Haim, Maya Rudolph, and John C. Reilly.
Marry Me (PG-13) The hell is this? Jennifer Lopez stars in this romantic comedy as a pop star who is publicly cheated on by her pop-star boyfriend (Maluma), so she gets back at him by marrying a random dude (Owen Wilson) whom she meets at one of her concerts. ‘Cause that happens all the time. The movie has no insight on managing a sham relationship in the glare of social media or how that impacts his life as a math teacher. The only truly surprising thing here is that the movie ends with her helping his students win a math contest. Kat Coiro directs this listlessly. If this is the movie that’s meant to save the romantic comedy, the genre can stay dead. Also with Sarah Silverman, Utkarsh Ambudkar, John Bradley, Chloe Coleman, and Michelle Buteau.
Moonfall (PG-13) The Moon threatens to crash into the Earth in the latest disaster movie by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), and the people behave so stupidly that you’re rooting for the Moon. The newly promoted NASA director (Halle Berry), a disgraced former astronaut (Patrick Wilson), and a crackpot science nerd who thinks the Moon is a hollow structure built by aliens (John Bradley) are the team that take it upon themselves to save the world. The only thing worse than the science is the complete lack of jokes that work. The filmmakers are afraid to guy the insane premise for humor, and the action is clotted up with bad dialogue about why the characters are doing everything they’re doing. If this had come out in the mid-1990s, maybe the audiences would have cottoned to it. Then again, maybe not. Also with Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer, Carolina Bartczak, Chris Sandiford, Jonathan Maxwell Silver, Eme Ikwuakor, Stephen Bogaert, and Donald Sutherland.
Nightmare Alley (R) The original 1947 film is really good, and so is Guillermo del Toro’s remake, in a lusher and different vein. Adapted from William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, this stars Bradley Cooper as a con artist who joins a traveling carnival in 1939, learns the tricks of appearing to read minds, strikes out on his own as an entertainer, and becomes entangled with Buffalo’s power elite. This may look too good in the sequences set among the marginal types in the carnival, but Del Toro’s willingness to go in for gore saves his movie from being overly tasteful. The psychological depth here is impressive, with Cooper’s charisma in fearsome form as an abused kid who’s applying his skills at reading people. This tragedy about a man who doesn’t know when to stop builds to a ruthless conclusion that the old film-noir masters would have admired. Also with Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, David Strathairn, Willem Dafoe, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, Mark Povinelli, Peter MacNeill, Holt McCallany, Jim Beaver, Clifton Collins Jr., and Tim Blake Nelson.
Parallel Mothers (R) Penélope Cruz gives one of her greatest performances, and once again, it’s for Pedro Almodóvar. She portrays a successful fashion photographer in Madrid who unexpectedly discovers she’s pregnant with her first child and strikes up a friendship in the maternity ward with a teen mother (Milena Smit), then later finds out that the baby girl she took home isn’t hers. This might be Almodóvar’s soapiest film yet, and he creates great tension by cross-cutting between the mothers going about their lives. Still, he leaves a number of extraneous plotlines hanging, with the teenager’s mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) struggling with her acting career and our protagonist’s boyfriend (Israel Elejalde) leading an expedition to uncover Spain’s fascist past. It’s all worth it to see Cruz’ performance as her secrets eventually overtake her, to her shame and grief. Once more, the Spanish master gives us something worth watching. Also with Rossy de Palma, Daniela Santiago, Ainhoa Santamaría, Adelfa Calvo, and Julieta Serrano.
Redeeming Love (PG-13) D.J. Caruso directs this Christian period film, and he doesn’t fit the mold for something so well-mannered. Based on Francine Rivers’ novel, the movie stars Abigail Cowen as a prostitute in California during the gold rush who has to adjust to life outside the business when an honest and moderately successful farmer (Tom Lewis) is struck by love at first sight and marries her. The director tries, but he can’t make the repetitive plot into something engaging. The film has some name actors, though it’s Cowen who hints at the psychic damage of being sold to a brothel as a girl. The actors here could have made this into a more interesting film. Also with Famke Janssen, Logan Marshall-Green, Nina Dobrev, and Eric Dane.
Scream (R) One of the characters here says she prefers elevated horror movies like The Babadook to slasher flicks, and this first installment of the series without Wes Craven will make you share her preference. Melissa Barrera plays a reformed drug addict and daughter of one of the killers from the original film, who returns to Woodsboro after her sister (Jenna Ortega) is attacked by another Ghostface. She recruits the survivors from the series (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette) to help her live through the experience. The filmmaking team calling themselves Radio Silence take over this, and they’re funnier when they’re doing their own material like they did in Ready or Not. The film is plagued by the same flaws of its predecessors: pseudo-cleverness, long-winded dialogue, and snark without wit. Also with Dylan Minnette, Jack Quaid, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Mikey Madison, Sonia Ammar, Kyle Gallner, Marley Shelton, Heather Matarazzo, and Skeet Ulrich.
Sing 2 (PG) An improvement on the original, in the sense that drilling a hole in a tooth is an improvement on a root canal. Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) takes the gang to the big-time, playing the biggest theater in the entertainment capital of this animal world that we’re in. Only problem is, he promises to coax a bitter, reclusive former music star (voiced by Bono) out of retirement for the show without knowing whether it’s possible. The characters from the original all have their own subplots, and the sequel introduces a thuggish entertainment mogul (voiced by Bobby Cannavale) and his spoiled daughter (voiced by Halsey) who horns her way into the show. These have potential, but they all play out in disappointing ways, and there aren’t any memorable musical performances like the first movie had. Additional voices by Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Garth Jennings, Jennifer Saunders, Chelsea Peretti, Nick Offerman, Eric André, Letitia Wright, Pharrell Williams, Edgar Wright, and Wes Anderson.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (PG-13) Fanservice done more or less right, this movie has Peter Parker (Tom Holland) trying to reverse time and instead creating portals to parallel universes where villains from other Spider-Man movies (Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, and Jamie Foxx) line up to fight him before realizing that he’s not the same Spider-Man that they faced earlier. The real reason they’re all brought together is so that all these great actors can get in the same room and bitch at each other, which they do to great comic effect. Peter does indeed pay a heavy price for messing with the time-space continuum, and if the storytelling only occasionally reaches the heights of Into the Spider-Verse, it does retcon some fixes for the previous movies about the web-slinger. Not a bad trick to make its predecessors seem worthier in retrospect. Also with Marisa Tomei, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Tony Revolori, Hannibal Buress, J.B. Smoove, Martin Starr, Angourie Rice, Benedict Wong, Charlie Cox, J.K. Simmons, Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire, and an uncredited Tom Hardy.
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.
Here Before (R) Stacey Gregg’s thriller stars Andrea Riseborough as a bereaved mother who becomes obsessed with the teenage girl (Niamh Dornan) who moves in next door and seems connected to her dead daughter. Also with Jonjo O’Neill, Eileen O’Higgins, and Martin McCann.
The Sky Is Everywhere (PG-13) Based on Jandy Nelson’s novel, the latest film by Josephine Decker (Shirley) is about a teenage musician (Grace Kaufman) trying to carry on with her life after the sudden death of her older sister. Also with Jason Segel, Cherry Jones, Pico Alexander, Havana Rose Liu, and Ji-young Yoo.