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Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge celebrate one of their 14 Christmases together in "Spoiler Alert." Photo by Linda Källérus

OPENING

 

Aftersun (R) Charlotte Wells makes an impressive filmmaking debut with this autobiographical drama about a 10-year-old Scottish girl (Frankie Corio) who takes a summer vacation with her father (Paul Mescal) in Turkey in the 1990s, making cherished memories and also glimpsing her dad’s private troubles that will lead to his early death. This is beautifully photographed by Gregory Oke, and it’s impossible to find fault with the acting. Wells’ fragmented approach to the story prevents the movie from being overbearingly sentimental, though it also proves too diffuse to make more of an impact. Be sure to be in the mood for something allusive and oblique if you run across this. Also with Celia Rowlson-Hall and Ruby Thompson. (Opens Friday at Alamo Drafthouse Denton)

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (NR) Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) directs this documentary about photographer Nan Goldin, her struggles with opioid addiction, and her resulting crusade against Purdue Pharmaceutical. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

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Christmas Bloody Christmas (NR) Joe Begos’ horror film is about a robot Santa Claus (Abraham Benrubi) that goes haywire and goes on a rampage during the holiday. Also with Riley Dandy, Sam Delich, Jonah Ray, Dora Madison, and Adam Dietrich. (Opens Friday)

Divorce Bait (NR) This Mexican comedy stars Vannessa Vasquez as a woman who divorces her husband (Justin Berti) just to see which of her friends will try to steal him from her. Also with Erik Fellows, Jennifer Daley, Greg Roman, Alyssa LeBlanc, Lea Madda, and Luciana Vara. (Opens Friday at América Cinemas La Gran Plaza)

Emancipation (R) Everyone involved with this is saying that Will Smith’s Oscars slap has nothing to do with this, but the movie isn’t good enough for that to even matter. He plays Gordon a.k.a. “Whipped Peter,” the Haitian slave in antebellum Louisiana who escaped to freedom and served with the Union soldiers during the Civil War. Director Antoine Fuqua conjures up a phantasmagoric sequence when Peter ventures into a burning slave plantation to rescue a little slave girl as well as some great shots during the climactic siege of Port Hudson. Even so, Smith’s performance is as joyless as the narrative around him. Other recent movies about slavery have used pictorial beauty and humor to cut the misery, but Fuqua has neither the talent nor the inclination to do so, and so the film turns out as a slog. Also with Ben Foster, Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Aaron Moten, Michael Luwoye, Steven Ogg, Grant Harvey, David Denman, and Mustafa Shakir. (Opens Friday)

Empire of Light (R) Olivia Colman stars in Sam Mendes’ drama as the manager of a run-down movie theater on Britain’s southern shore in the 1980s. Also with Micheal Ward, Toby Jones, Tom Brooke, Tanya Moodie, Hannah Onslow, Monica Dolan, and Colin Firth. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Holy Spider (NR) Ali Abbasi (Border) directs this thriller about a journalist (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) who investigates a real-life series of prostitute killings in Iran. Also with Mehdi Bajestani, Forouzan Jamshidnejad, Arash Ashtiani, Sina Parvaneh, Firouz Agheli, and Mesbah Taleb. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Loudmouth (NR) Josh Alexander’s documentary profiles the Rev. Al Sharpton. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Matilda the Musical (PG) Alisha Weir stars in this film version of the Broadway musical based on Roald Dahl’s book. Also with Emma Thompson, Lashana Lynch, Meesha Garbett, Stephen Graham, and Andrea Riseborough. (Opens Friday)

Memories of My Father (NR) Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque) directs this drama about a Colombian author (Juan Pablo Urrego) remembering his father (Javier Cámara) and his struggles against government oppression. Also with Patricia Tamayo, Nicolás Reyes Cano, Maria Tereza Barreto, Laura Londoño, and Whit Stillman. (Opens Friday at América Cinemas La Gran Plaza)

Mukhachitram (NR) This Indian romantic thriller stars Vishwak Sen, Ayesha Khan, Priya Vadlamani, Vikas Vasistha, and Chaitanya Rao. (Opens Friday)

Salaam Venky (NR) Kajol stars in this Indian drama as a mother who nurses a son (Vishal Jethwa) who has muscular dystrophy. Also with Aahana Kumra, Rajeev Khandelwal, Prakash Raj, Anant Mahadevan, and Aamir Khan. (Opens Friday)

Saudi Vellakka (NR) This Indian comedy with interlocking stories stars Lukman Avaran, Devi Varma, Dhanya Ananya, Binu Pappu, Gokulan, Sujith Shanker, and Riah Sarah. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

2nd Chance (NR) Ramin Bahrani’s documentary profiles Richard Davis, the man who shot himself 196 times to demonstrate his bulletproof vests. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Spoiler Alert (PG-13) TV critic Michael Ausiello found the love of his life in the early 2000s, only to lose his boyfriend to cancer 14 years later. This film based on his memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies at the End stars Jim Parsons as Michael and Ben Aldridge as “Kit” Cowan, a photographer who’s still in the closet to his family. Director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) keeps this film from dreary excess with flashbacks of Michael’s childhood filmed like a 1980s sitcom replete with laugh track, and also conjures some good farce out of the scene when Kit finally comes out to his parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin). Parsons’ charm as a man who narrates this story by using TV shows as a frame of reference helps make this weeper a strong example of its kind. Also with David Marshall Grant, Antoni Porowski, Sadie Scott, Tara Summers, Allegra Heart, Shunori Ramathanan, and Jeffery Self. (Opens Friday)

To the End (R) Rachel Lears’ documentary is about four politicians aiming to solve the global climate crisis. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Vadh (NR) Not a remake of the similarly titled 2002 film, this drama is about an elderly Indian couple (Sanjay Mishra and Neena Gupta) facing the prospect of their son (Diwakar Kumar) leaving the country to study in America. Also with Manav Vij, Umesh Kaushik, and Abhitosh Singh Rajput. (Opens Friday)

Vijayanand (NR) Nihal Rajput stars in this drama as a 19-year-old who works his way up to owning one of India’s largest transportation companies. Also with V. Ravichandran, Anant Nag, Prakash Belawadi, Vinaya Prasad, Anish Kuruvilla, Bharat Bopanna, and Siri Prahlad. (Opens Friday)

White Noise (R) Don DeLillo’s novel is one of American literature’s great masterpieces of the 20th century. This movie adaptation of that is not on that level, though it has some interesting stuff. Adam Driver plays a 1980s college professor who specializes in studying Adolf Hitler. When a train derails near their town and creates a massive pollution scare, he and his wife (Greta Gerwig) both become seized with the fear of imminent death. The misinformation that runs rampant among the panicked citizenry feels very much of our moment and director Noah Baumbach shoots this to look like a Reagan-era family comedy, but the actors feel like they’re acting in different movies, and too much of DeLillo’s paranoia is lost in the translation. The best part is the cast-wide dance number over the end credits, set to LCD Soundsystem’s “new body rhumba.” Also with Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, André Benjamin, Jodie Turner-Smith, Lars Eidinger, and an uncredited Barbara Sukowa. (Opens Friday at Premiere Cinemas Burleson)

 

NOW PLAYING

 

The Banshees of Inisherin (R) Martin McDonagh’s fourth film is his first that takes place in his native Ireland, and it feels the most like his stage plays in a good way. Colin Farrell plays a farmer on the Aran Islands whose best friend (Brendan Gleeson) suddenly cuts him off, and reacts to the end of their friendship by coming hilariously and dangerously unhinged. The entire island becomes sucked into the friendship drama, and McDonagh’s particular brand of violence in the air keeps the film from becoming a cozy comedy about village eccentrics. Farrell gives the performance of his career as a pathetic man whose quest to find out why leads him to bloodshed, and the underrated Kerry Condon receives a showcase as his sister who’s desperate to escape this island even if it’s to an actual war zone. Underneath the black comedy is the sadness of a friendship ending. Also with Barry Keoghan, Gary Lydon, Pat Shortt, David Pearse, and Bríd Ní Beachtain.

Bhediya (NR) This Indian horror-comedy stars Varun Dhawan as a construction worker who is turned into a werewolf. Also with Kriti Sanon, Deepak Dobriyal, Abhishek Banerjee, Saurabh Shukla, Shraddha Kapoor, Aparshakti Kuhurana, and Rajkummar Rao. 

Black Adam (PG-13) The old, boring DC Comics movies are back with this grim exercise. A completely miscast Dwayne Johnson plays the titular 5,000-year-old slave who’s reborn with god-like powers and a lust for revenge in the present day. The Middle Eastern country full of oppressed people who hate the Justice League and greet Black Adam as a liberator is an interesting setting, but director Jaume Collet-Serra (Jungle Cruise) is too busy imitating Zack Snyder’s heroic shots to do much with it. The humorous bits don’t work, and out of the new batch of superheroes sent to subdue Black Adam, only Quintessa Swindell registers as a human cyclone. Casting Johnson as a guy who’s seeking to avenge his son’s death ignores all the qualities that made him a star in the first place. Also with Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Shahi, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Bodhi Sabongui, Marwan Kenzari, Mohammed Amer, Djimon Hounsou, Henry Winkler, and uncredited cameos by Viola Davis and Henry Cavill. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (PG-13) Burdened with the difficult double objective of mourning Chadwick Boseman and providing the thrills of a Marvel superhero movie, this imperfect sequel manages better than we could reasonably expect. In the wake of King T’Challa’s death, Wakanda fends off threats to its vibranium supply from an awakened underwater kingdom led by a flying Mayan serpent god (Tenoch Huerta). While Ramonda (Angela Bassett) assumes the throne, Shuri (Letitia Wright) deals with grief in unexpected ways. The film does lag a bit when introducing us to a pre-Columbian ocean city, and the sympathetic villain isn’t quite as resonant as the one in the first movie. Even so, the movie gives us some solid nuggets of action and comedy, and the post-credit sequence does great work at bringing some closure to the story. Also with Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Martin Freeman, Michaela Coel, Florence Kasumba, Richard Schiff, Lake Bell, Robert John Burke, Mabel Cadena, Alex Livinalli, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Trevor Noah, and an uncredited Michael B. Jordan.

Bones and All (R) Luca Guadagnino’s career continues to take fascinating turns, the latest being this teen romance similar to Call Me by Your Name that looks like a cheap 1980s horror flick. Taylor Russell plays a teenage girl who discovers that she’s a cannibal. When her father (André Holland) abandons her and leaves her with information about the circumstances of her birth, she finds an itinerant existence on the road encountering others like herself, some of whom are very bad people while one other (Timothée Chalamet) falls in love with her. This beautifully photographed film based on Camille DeAngelis’ novel doesn’t really work on the level of a horror movie, but it is a gently moving piece about two broken young people who find romance, and there is a hair-raising moment when the girl tracks down her mother (Chloë Sevigny) and it goes very bad. Also with Mark Rylance, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, and Michael Stuhlbarg. 

Devotion (PG-13) The real-life Black U.S. Navy pilot and war hero deserved better than this square and badly photographed war drama. Jonathan Majors stars as Jesse L. Brown, who starts flying combat missions when the Korean War breaks out, becoming the only African-American pilot in his squad as well as best friends with his devoted wingman (Glen Powell). There’s a glimmer of an interesting bit when we see our man psych himself up for flights by shouting racial slurs at his reflection in a mirror, and there’s a cool one-take shot with the camera mounted on the wing of the plane as the wingman intentionally crashes his fighter. Beyond that, the movie doesn’t move beyond the template of stories about war heroes. Between the history and the battle sequences, this movie had more than enough to be interesting, but director JD Dillard can’t pull it off. Also with Joe Jonas, Thomas Sadoski, Christina Jackson, Daren Kagasoff, Spencer Neville, Nick Hargrove, Joseph Cross, and Serinda Swan. (Opens Wednesday)

Drishyam 2 (NR) This Hindi-language remake of the Malayalam-language crime thriller stars Ajay Devgn, Tabu, Akshaye Khanna, Shriya Saran, Ishita Dutta, and Rajat Kapoor. 

The Fabelmans (PG-13) Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical film is highly likable, if not exactly ground-breaking. His fictional alter ego (played by Mateo Zoryan as a small boy and Gabriel LaBelle as a teenager) is captured by the magic of cinema at a young age and seeks to become a filmmaker while growing up in New Jersey, Arizona, and northern California. Spielberg and co-writer Tony Kushner draw a complicated portrait of the former’s childhood, with his father (Paul Dano) not understanding the ways of arts while his mother (Michelle Williams) is the fun parent, but emotionally unstable. The loose, baggy structure allows for some great set pieces ranging from a monologue by an old Jewish great-uncle (Judd Hirsch) to a sex scene with a Christian girl (Chloe East) who has pictures of Jesus on every surface of her bedroom. Also with Seth Rogen, Sam Rechner, Oakes Fegley, Keeley Karsten, Julia Butters, Sophia Kopera, Robin Bartlett, Jeannie Berlin, and David Lynch. 

HIT 2 (NR) The sequel to HIT: The First Case stars Adivi Sesh as a homicide cop tracking a serial killer. Also with Meenakshi Chaudhary, Rao Ramesh, Tanikella Bharani, Posani Krishna Murali, and Komalee Prasad.

I Heard the Bells (NR) This Christian film stars Stephen Atherholt as the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who writes “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Also with Rachel Day Hughes and Jonathan Baird. 

The Inspection (R) Elegance Bratton is a gay man who served in the U.S. Marines in the 2000s, so this autobiographical film stars Jeremy Pope as a homeless gay man who enlists. This is one of the better movies about going through military training camp, as our hero is singled out for abuse after he becomes aroused while showering with his fellow recruits. Gabrielle Union, usually such a polished presence, deglams herself to good effect here as our man’s homophobic mother who thinks the Marines will straighten her boy out, and Bokeem Woodbine makes a complicated villain out of the hardass drill sergeant. Bratton’s view of military life may be a bit too rose-colored, but he does deliver something new in this subgenre. Also with Raúl Castillo, McCaul Lombardi, Nicholas Logan, Eman Esfandi, Aaron Dominguez, and Aubrey Joseph. 

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (PG) The idea of adapting Bernard Waber’s children’s books into a partially animated musical film is fantastic. The execution? Boo, hiss! Shawn Mendes does the voice of the CGI-generated crocodile who is adopted by a down-and-out stage magician (Javier Bardem) and then abandoned before making friends with a boy (Winslow Fegley) who moves into the Manhattan brownstone where he lives. Bardem looks somewhat manic when he bursts into song and dance, but he isn’t the problem. The animation of both Lyle and the neighbor’s cat looks terrible, and the directing team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory, Office Christmas Party) has no natural flair for musical numbers. Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (The Greatest Showman, Dear Evan Hansen) have seen better days as well. The charm of the original is lost here. Also with Constance Wu, Scoot McNairy, Brett Gelman, Lyric Hurd, and an uncredited Jack Black. 

The Menu (R) This art satire uses haute cuisine as its metaphor to become a tasty amuse-bouche. Anya Taylor-Joy plays a woman whose boyfriend (Nicholas Hoult) takes her to a super-exclusive Noma-meets-El Bulli restaurant on a rocky island only to find that the guests and employees are being killed one by one as the evening progresses. If making fun of molecular gastronomy is so 2005, the movie has better stuff in the characterization of the 10 other dinner guests, and it is funny when the main character survives an attack by hitting the restaurant hostess with a Pacojet. The writers and director here all come from TV’s Succession, and their lines are made better by Taylor-Joy’s pinpoint comic delivery. This falls short of being a great satire, but it works as a joke that pays off. Also with Ralph Fiennes, John Leguizamo, Hong Chau, Paul Adelstein, Reed Birney, Judith Light, Aimee Carrero, Rob Yang, Mark St. Cyr, Arturo Castro, and Janet McTeer.

Prey for the Devil (PG-13) Pretty terrible. Jacqueline Byers stars in this horror film as a Catholic nun who receives exorcism lessons after the same demon that possessed her abusive mother then does the same to a little girl (Posy Taylor). The gender flip of a woman fighting the church to perform the ritual really should generate more than it does here. The plot turns on an outrageous coincidence, and for all the filmmakers’ desire to portray the darker history of the church, the commentary is pretty toothless. Also, the movie isn’t scary, so there’s that. This movie has too many ideas in its head and doesn’t have the chops to see them through. Also with Virginia Madsen, Colin Salmon, Nicholas Ralph, Christian Navarro, Cora Kirk, Debora Zhecheva, Koyna Ruseva, and Ben Cross. 

The Quintessential Quintuplets Movie (NR) Chalk up another anime series that offers nothing to viewers who are coming in cold. Futaro Uesugi (voiced by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka in the Japanese version and Josh Grelle in the English-dubbed one) has to choose between five identical sisters who love him at their school’s cultural festival, and whom he will presumably marry in a flash-forward at the beginning of the film. To a newcomer, this looks like a lot of low-stakes high-school drama, and it’s not even clear why this story needs to be animated. Here’s one anime film that truly didn’t need the big screen. Additional voices by Miku Itou, Felicia Angelle, Ayane Sakura, Bryn Apprill, Inori Minase, Tia Lynn Ballard, Kana Hanazawa, Lindsay Seidel, Ayana Taketatsu, and Jill Harris. 

She Said (R) If you want to be cynical about a Hollywood movie celebrating the journalists who did the work that Hollywood wouldn’t do, go ahead. There are other issues in play here. Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan portray Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the New York Times reporters who act on a tip in summer 2016 and wind up exposing Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator. The obvious model for this movie is Spotlight, which isn’t a flattering comparison. Where that film gathered power by gradually building up detail, but this one is missing too much connective tissue. The two lead actresses give creditable performances (Kazan has a great knack for conveying the reporter’s gift of listening to people’s stories without judging them), but the whole affair is too businesslike to have much life. Also with Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Angela Yeoh, Sean Cullen, Zach Grenier, Emma O’Connor, Peter Friedman, Samantha Morton, and Ashley Judd.

Smile (R) Parker Finn’s horror film has the germ of an interesting idea, but fouls it up in the execution. Sosie Bacon plays a psychiatrist at a mental hospital who has a patient (Caitlin Stasey) commit suicide in front of her while grinning, and then discovers a chain of suicides behind that of witnesses to other suicides killing themselves a few days later. I like the suggestion that our psychiatrist is in dire need of mental help even before witnessing the patient’s death, but the movie suffers from three different contradictory endings, and too often resorts to stale old jump scares. The cast can’t save a lot of bad dialogue or carry the conceit. Also with Kyle Gallner, Jessie T. Usher, Robin Weigert, Judy Reyes, Gillian Zinser, Rob Morgan, and Kal Penn. 

Spirited (PG-13) In this agreeable modern-day musical version of A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) tries to redeem a marketing guru (Ryan Reynolds) who spreads disinformation on social media. The songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are better than the ones they wrote for Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, and both Reynolds and Octavia Spencer as the marketing guy’s Number 2 executive look surprisingly comfortable singing and dancing. Even better, director/co-writer Sean Anders (Instant Family) recognizes that turning a bad person good is a more complicated task than Charles Dickens made it appear. The filming might not be the most creative, but the charm of the three leads carries this holiday musical. Also with Tracy Morgan, Sunita Mani, Andrea Anders, Marlow Barkley, Patrick Page, Rose Byrne, and Judi Dench. 

Strange World (PG) Disney’s latest animated film takes a pre-emptive shot at the Avatar sequel by conjuring some fantastical creatures of its own. Set on an alien planet where the people have maglev transportation and vinyl records, the movie is about a farmer (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal) who has discovered electricity-producing plants but is caught between his manly-man explorer dad (voiced by Dennis Quaid) who abandoned him and his teenage son (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White) who takes after the old man when he resurfaces in his life. Props to this movie that the grandson is both mixed-race and gay. The ingredients are in place for a male version of Frozen, but the filmmakers become too caught up in the mechanics of the story and resolve everything too quickly. The film still looks great, but it misses its chance to be great. Additional voices by Gabrielle Union, Alan Tudyk, and Lucy Liu. (Opens Wednesday)

Ticket to Paradise (PG-13) The best stuff in this curiously inert romantic comedy comes around the edges of the action. George Clooney and Julia Roberts play a bitterly divorced couple who team up when their law-school graduate daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) falls for a hot Indonesian guy (Maxime Bouttier) and throws over her legal career to marry him and farm seaweed in Bali. The bickering between the older couple is written lamely, and their attempts to sabotage the wedding aren’t funny. There’s one amusing set piece where everybody plays beer pong with arak instead of beer, and Billie Lourd cadges a few funny bits as the daughter’s best friend. Mostly, the stars seem to be going at half speed in this tropical setting. Also with Cintya Dharmayanti, Geneviève Lemon, Dorian Djoudi, and Lucas Bravo. 

Till (PG-13) Danielle Deadwyler’s performance as Emmett Till’s mother is everything for this film about the infamous lynching of a Chicago boy in Mississippi. Jalyn Hall portrays the ill-fated 13-year-old who goes down south to visit his family and makes the mistake of wolf-whistling a white woman (Haley Bennett) who brings a mob to his relatives. Director/co-writer Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency) is a fundamentally scrupulous filmmaker who keeps the violence against Emmett Till offscreen. This gambit works because the revelation of the boy’s face, with all distinguishing features beaten out of it, is so skillfully built up to and executed. The movie as a whole remains too careful to make the impact it should, but Deadwyler is tremendous as the boy’s grieving mother who has his corpse photographed to show the world what the white people of Mississippi have done. Also with Frankie Faison, Sean Patrick Thomas, John Douglas Thompson, Gem Marc Collins, Sean Michael Weber, Eric Whitten, Keisha TIllis, Kevin Carroll, Tosin Cole, Jayme Lawson, E. Roger Mitchell, Roger Guenveur Smith, and Whoopi Goldberg.

Violent Night (R) A few years ago, David Harbour starred in a Saturday Night Live sketch that was a gritty version of Sesame Street. This movie feels like a more or less direct spinoff of that idea. He plays a drunk and jaded Santa Claus who’s sick of his job until he delivers presents to a wealthy family’s home at the same time a group of armed robbers stages a home invasion. He has to kill the bad guys, who all happen to be on his naughty list. The film runs out of momentum about halfway through, but Harbour gives the performance as much attention as a straight dramatic role and Santa kills the main bad guy in a particularly gruesome and funny way. Not bad as an entry for those burned out on holiday cheer. Also with John Leguizamo, Cam Gigandet, Leah Brady, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Alexander Elliot, Edi Patterson, Mitra Suri, André Eriksen, Brendan Fletcher, Mike Dopud, and Beverly D’Angelo. 

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

 

Almighty Zeus (NR) This boxing drama stars Chris Soriano as a boxer who becomes a celebrity after avenging the victim of a hate crime on the street. 

Hunt (NR) Lee Jung-jae (TV’s Squid Game) stars in his directing debut as a South Korean operative in the 1980s who attempts to find a mole inside the government. Also with Jung Woo-sung, Heo Sung-tae, Jeon Hye-jin, Go Yoon-jung, Jeong Man-sik, and Joe Nowell. 

Taurus (NR) Machine Gun Kelly stars in this drama as a musician caught in a self-destructive spiral. Also with Megan Fox, Scoot McNairy, Ruby Rose, and Maddie Hasson. 

 

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