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Zar Amir-Ebrahimi tracks a serial killer in an Iranian city in "Holy Spider." Courtesy Utopia Distribution

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Broker (R) Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) makes this Korean film about a gang of small-time criminals who sell abandoned babies on the black market to couples looking to adopt. Starring Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Lee Ji-eun, Lee Joo-young, Im Seung-soo, Bae Doo-na, and Park Hae-joon. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The Devil Conspiracy (R) This Christian horror film stars Peter Mensah as the Archangel Michael, who comes to Earth to thwart a conspiracy of Satan-worshipping biotech executives. Also with Alice Orr-Ewing, Joe Doyle, Eveline Hall, Brian Caspe, James Faulkner, and Joe Anderson. (Opens Friday)

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Holy Spider (NR) Denmark’s entry into the International Feature Oscar race is this sensationalistic Iranian true-crime film. Zar Amir-Ebrahimi stars as a journalist covering a series of prostitute murders in the city of Mashhad in the early 2000s, going so far as to put herself in the path of the religiously motivated serial killer himself (Mehdi Bajestani). The character of the reporter is fictional, but the murders did take place, and this film had to be shot in Jordan to avoid censorship by the Iranian government. Iranian-Swedish director Ali Abbasi (Border) is quite a talented filmmaker, but he runs into the same complications as Netflix’s Jeffrey Dahmer series, aiming to give the victims their due but accidentally glorifying the killer in the process. There is one memorable bit near the end, and I hope the Iranian justice system double-crossed the real-life killer the way it does in this movie. Also with Arash Ashtiani, Forouzan Jamshidnejad, Sina Parvaneh, Meshab Taleb, Firouz Agheli, Sara Fazilat, and Nima Akbarpour. (Opens Friday at AMC Parks at Arlington)

House Party (R) A remake of the classic 1990 comedy, this film stars Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole as two young men who decide to throw a rager when they gain access to LeBron James’ empty L.A. house. Also with Karen Obilom, DC Young Fly, Allen Maldonado, Bill Bellamy, and an uncredited LeBron James. (Opens Friday)

Kalyanam Kamaneeyam (NR) Santosh Sobhan and Priya Bhavani Shankar star in this Indian comedy as a married couple encountering troubles. Also with Devi Prasad, Kedar Shankar, Pavitra Lokesh, Satyam Rajesh, and Saptagiri. (Opens Friday)

Kuttey (NR) This Indian gangster musical stars Tabu, Arjun Kapoor, Radhika Madan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kumud Mishra, and Naseeruddin Shah. (Opens Friday)

Living (PG-13) A British remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, this drama stars Bill Nighy as a 1950s civil service worker who tries to build a children’s playground in the city after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Also with Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Adrian Rawlins, Oliver Chris, Hubert Burton, Anant Varman, Lia Williams, and Patsy Ferran. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Nabil el Gamil Plastic Surgeon (NR) This Egyptian comedy stars Mohammed Henedy as a cosmetic surgeon who has wacky misadventures at his clinic. Also with Mahmoud Hafez, Nour, Mohammed Tharwat, Mohammed Sallam, and Rahma Ahmed Farag. (Opens Friday at Regal Fossil Creek)

The Offering (NR) This horror film is about a Jewish family fighting off a demon (Paul Kaye) that is preying on them during a stressful time. Also with Emily Wiseman, Nick Blood, Velizar Binev, Jonathan Yunger, Daniel Ben Zenou, and Allan Corduner. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Plane (R) Mostly very plain indeed. Gerard Butler stars in this action-thriller as a commercial airline pilot flying 14 passengers from Singapore to Tokyo, and there is one great scene when the plane is hit by lightning and has to make an emergency landing on a jungle island in the Philippines. After that, though, this subsides into a boilerplate exercise, with the pilot having to free an accused murderer (Mike Colter) so that he can help save the other passengers from militant Filipino separatists. Butler is better than usual here because he’s playing a Scotsman instead of chewing on his American accent. Other than that, there’s not much distinctive about this. Also with Yoson An, Daniella Pineda, Paul Ben-Victor, Remi Adeleke, Joey Slotnick, Evan Dane Taylor, Claro de los Reyes, Lilly Krug, Oliver Trevena, and Tony Goldwyn. (Opens Friday)

The Price We Pay (R) Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff star in this horror film as two criminals who encounter supernatural terror while running from the law. Also with Gigi Zumbado, Erika Ervin, Jesse Kinser, Sabina Mach, and Vernon Wells. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Skinamarink (NR) This horror film stars Lucas Paul and Dali Rose Tetreault who awake one morning to find that their father (Ross Paul) and all the doors and windows in their house have vanished. Also with Jaime Hill. (Opens Friday)

Thunivu (NR) Ajith Kumar stars in this Indian thriller as the mastermind of a series of bank heists in Chennai. Also with Manju Warrier, Samuthirakani, Pavani Reddy, John Kokken, and Mamathi Chari. (Opens Friday)

Varisu (NR) Also released under the title Vaarasudu, this Indian family drama stars Vijay as the son of a powerful mining mogul (R. Sarathkumar) who has a falling out with his father. Also with Rashmika Mandanna, Prabhu, Prakash Raj, Shaam, Srikanth, Khushbu, and Yogi Babu. (Opens Friday)

Veera Simha Reddy (NR) Nandamuri Balakrishna stars in this action-thriller as both a village guru and the man’s son, who returns to India to avenge his father’s murder. Also with Shruti Haasan, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Honey Rose, Duniya Vijay, Naveen Chandra, and Murali Sharma. (Opens Friday

Waltair Veerayya (NR) This Telugu-language action-comedy stars Chiranjeevi as a smuggler who is targeted by different branches of Indian law enforcement. Also with Ravi Teja, Shruti Haasan, Catherine Tresa, Rajendra Prasad, Prakash Raj, and Vennela Kishore. (Opens Friday)

Women Talking (PG-13) Based on Miriam Toews’ novel (which was based on a real-life incident), Sarah Polley’s drama is about a group of Mennonite women who gather to discuss their next move after the clan’s elders order them to publicly forgive the men who drugged and raped them repeatedly. Starring Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Emily Mitchell, Liv McNeil, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

 

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Avatar: The Way of Water (PG-13) I’m not impressed. Picking up some 15 years after the previous film, the story has Jake Sully and Neytiri (Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña) the father of four kids on Pandora when the humans return and force them to take shelter with another clan of Na’vi who have evolved to live in the sea. The visuals are surprisingly not that good, reminiscent of a top-end video game with both human and alien characters moving in unnatural manners and even some motion-smoothing. The Na’vi go from representing Native Americans to Polynesians, and the villains from the original film are resurrected so that they can be evil again. (They’re left alive for that reason and no other, too.) James Cameron’s movies aren’t just dumb, they’re preachy, too. That’s a bad combination. Also with Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Brendan Cowell, Jemaine Clement, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Jack Champion, Dileep Rao, Giovanni Ribisi, Edie Falco, and Sigourney Weaver.

Babylon (R) Damien Chazelle’s three-hour epic is never boring, but it still bites off more than it can chew. Set in Hollywood during the 1920s and ’30s, it’s about a fading movie star (Brad Pitt), an actress (Margot Robbie) whose rise is thwarted by the advent of sound movies, and a day laborer (Diego Calva) who becomes an executive. After the discipline of La La Land and First Man, Chazelle truly lets rip here, capturing the madness of early Tinseltown with the rhythms of a Keystone Kops short. Some of the set pieces here are astounding. The problem is, amid all this length and all the orgiastic excess, he loses the characters’ tragic arcs and never really earns his movie’s status as a paean to the magic of cinema. Also with Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Lukas Haas, Li Jun Li, Eric Roberts, Olivia Hamilton, Samara Weaving, Max Minghella, Joe Dallessandro, P.J. Byrne, Jeff Garlin, Chloe Fineman, Damon Gupton, Ethan Suplee, Spike Jonze, Katherine Waterston, Flea, Olivia Wilde, and Tobey Maguire.

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.

Cirkus (NR) This Indian adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors stars Ranveer Singh, Pooja Hegde, Jacqueline Fernandez, Johnny Lever, Sanjay Mishra, Varun Sharma, Murali Sharma, Ajay Devgn, and Deepika Padukone. 

Corsage (NR) First-time director Marie Kreutzer tries awfully hard to convince us that this isn’t just another European costume epic, when too often that’s exactly what it feels like. Vicky Krieps portrays Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary in the 1870s, as a woman once famous for her beauty turns 40 and is now considered old by the press and the people. She cheats on him with a young Englishman (Colin Morgan), which is understandable given that her husband (Florian Teichtmeister) has lots of other women himself. I’m not sure that the empress, who was obsessed with maintaining her beauty, makes for a viable subject for a protofeminist royal saga, but in any event, the filmmakers here don’t get the job done. There are some beautiful shots in this movie like the one of the empress jumping off the boat off the Sicilian coast, but that’s not enough. Also with Tamás Lengyel, Ivana Urban, Finnegan Oldfield, Alma Hasun, Aaron Friesz, Jeanne Werner, Raphaël von Bargen, and Manuel Rubey. 

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. 

Dhamaka (NR) Ravi Teja stars in this Indian action-comedy as both an unemployed man and a CEO who fight a business magnate (Jayaram) who tries to take over the latter’s company. Also with Sree Leela, Sachin Khedekar, Tanikella Bharani, Rao Ramesh, and Chirag Jani.

18 Pages (NR) Nikhil Siddhartha and Anupama Parameswaran star in this romantic comedy. Also with Dinesh Tej, Ajay, Posani Krishna Murali, Brahmaji, and Sarayu Roy. 

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. 

I Wanna Dance With Somebody (PG-13) The overabundance of material defeats a terrific director, Kasi Lemmons, in this biography of Whitney Houston. British newcomer Naomie Ackie acts as hard as she can as the legendary singer while lip-syncing to recordings made by the real Houston. The movie covers much of the ground that Kevin Macdonald’s documentary Whitney covered, with the addition of some good material about Houston’s complicated relationship with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams). However, the 150-minute runtime is too much, the filmmakers don’t adopt a compelling angle on Houston’s life or her music, and the whitewashing done on the character of Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) — the real Davis is a producer on this film — is borderline disgraceful. Despite a few powerful moments, there’s not much point to all this. Also with Ashton Sanders, Clarke Peters, Tamara Tunie, Bria Danielle Singleton, and Dave Heard. 

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. 

A Man Called Otto (PG-13) This remake of the Swedish comedy A Man Called Ove isn’t nearly as good as the original. Tom Hanks is terribly miscast as a grumpy, prematurely old man who decides to kill himself after his wife dies and he’s pushed into retirement. Instead, he’s pulled out of his misanthropy by the Latino family from California who move in across the street. Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace) has little feel for the gentle comedy in this story and fails to turn the snowy Iowa setting into a suitable backdrop for it. Hanks also misses the simmering anger underneath his character’s fastidiousness and love of engineering. The whole thing just subsides into tasteful Hollywood melodrama. If the Swedish movie was a little bit too sentimental, this is a lot too sentimental. Also with Mariana Treviño, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Truman Hanks, Rachel Keller, Mack Bayda, Cameron Britton, Juanita Jennings, Peter Lawson Jones, Kailey Hyman, and Mike Birbiglia. 

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.

The Old Way (R) The writing and acting in this Western are quite good, the direction much less so. Nicolas Cage plays an ex-killer for hire who has to come out of retirement when an old victim’s grown-up son (Noah LeGros) comes after him looking for revenge and murders his wife (Kerry Knuppe). Cage is good, Ryan Kiera Armstrong as his young daughter who goes hunting for the outlaws with him is even better, and the script has a firm grasp of the ethical complications of a man who goes from ruthless gunman to solid family man and back. The problem is, director Brett Donowho brings so little energy to the project. Maybe he mistakes slowness for mimicking the period setting, but there’s ways to do that without putting the audience to sleep. Also with Shiloh Fernandez, Clint Howard, Abraham Benrubi, and Nick Searcy. 

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (PG) This better-than-you-might-expect sequel has the Spanish-accented cat (voiced by Antonio Banderas) losing the eighth of his nine lives and facing the end of his adventure-hero career. A quest for a star that grants wishes brings him up against obese crime boss Jack Horner (voiced by John Mulaney) and a wolf (voiced by Wagner Moura) who is Death incarnate. The stereotypes are unfortunate, especially when Puss’ retirement home is run by a crazy cat lady (voiced by Da’Vine Joy Randolph), but his climactic swordfight against the wolf is boss, and Florence Pugh has a great time voicing Goldilocks with a trashy London accent. The studio makes an effort to make the movie look different from the Shrek films, and Puss’ confrontation with his mortality gives the character new dimensions. Additional voices by Salma Hayek Pinault, Harvey Guillén, Anthony Mendez, Kevin McCann, Samson Kayo, Ray Winstone, and Olivia Colman. 

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. 

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. 

The Whale (R) Torturous, like the best Darren Aronofsky movies. This adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play stars Brendan Fraser as a 600-pound gay man who tries to reconcile with the daughter he abandoned (Sadie Sink) by saving her from failing high school. If you’re wondering whether this is just so much fatsploitation, you’d better believe it is. When the main character first gets up from his sofa, it’s shot like a horror movie, and too often the movie revels in creating disgust for the guy who’s trying to eat himself to death. The flaws in the play have been exacerbated here, but Fraser’s performance is one for the ages, as his initial play-it-cool demeanor with his child gives way to desperation to make things right with her before he dies. Also with Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, and Samantha Morton.

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

 

EO (NR) Jerzy Skolimowski’s drama is about a donkey that meets a number of people while being transported through Europe. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Lolita Chammah, Agata Sasinowska, Tomasz Organek, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, and Sandra Drzymalska.

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