Book Club: The Next Chapter (PG-13) Our ladies have ditched E.L. James in the sequel to the 2018 comedy, but it doesn’t improve things much. Jane Fonda plays the lifelong bachelorette of the group who decides to get married, so her friends (Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen) take a pre-wedding trip to Italy. The stars are up for the challenge, but the script by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms is not. The best jokes come before the women leave home, as they talk over Zoom during the pandemic. Other than that, we’re treated to tired story beats about lost passports and lifelong friends appreciating each other anew. Also with Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Hugh Quarshie, Vincent Riotta, and Giancarlo Giannini. (Opens Friday)
Custody (NR) This Indian action-thriller stars Naga Chaitanya as a police constable who must protect a notorious mob boss (Arvind Swamy) from being killed before his trial. Also with R. Sarathkumar, Krithi Shetty, Priyamani, Sampath Raj, Ravi Prakash, and Vennela Kishore. (Opens Friday)
The Eight Mountains (NR) Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch (The Broken Circle Breakdown) adapt Paolo Cognetti’s novel about two Italian men (Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi) whose friendship and shared love of mountain climbing spans decades. Also with Lupo Barbiero, Cristiano Sassella, Andrea Palma, Elisabetta Mazzullo, Elena Lietti, and Surakshya Panta. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Fool’s Paradise (R) Charlie Day writes, directs, and stars in this comedy as a mute man who accidentally becomes a Hollywood star. Also with Kate Beckinsale, Adrien Brody, Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, Edie Falco, Ken Jeong, Common, Jillian Bell, Steve Coulter, Glenn Howerton, Travis Fimmel, Katherine McNamara, Alanna Ubach, Jimmi Simpson, Andrew Leeds, Dean Norris, John Malkovich, and the late Ray Liotta. (Opens Friday)
Hypnotic (R) Ben Affleck stars in Robert Rodriguez’ thriller about a police detective facing a cabal that uses hypnosis to force ordinary people to do their bidding. Also with Alice Braga, William Fichtner, Jeff Fahey, JD Pardo, Dayo Okeniyi, Kelly Frye, Hala Finley, and Jackie Earle Haley. (Opens Friday)
Jackie I Am 21 (NR) This Nepali comedy stars Dhiraj Magar as a young man who sets out to win a nationwide dance contest. Also with Jassita Gurung and Arun Chettri. (Opens Friday at Cinépolis Euless)
The Kerala Story (NR) The subject of controversy in India, this film is about a group of women who convert to Islam and travel to the Middle East to fight for ISIS. Starring Adah Sharma, Yogita Bihani, Sonia Balani, Siddhi Idnani, and Devadarshini. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Knights of the Zodiac (PG-13) This fantasy-adventure epic stars Mackenyu as a young warrior who’s destined to save the world. Also with Famke Janssen, Madison Iseman, Mark Dacascos, Nick Stahl, Caitlin Hutson, and Sean Bean. (Opens Friday)
Lost Love (NR) This Hong Kong drama stars Sammi Cheng as a bereaved mother who wants to foster children with special needs. Also with Alan Chun Kwong-Luk and Hedwig Tam. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Prasad 2 (NR) The sequel to the 2018 Nepali comedy stars Bipin Karki and Keki Adhikari as the inter-caste couple who return to the village that they once fled. Also with Kamal Mani Nepal, Arpan Thapa, and Mahesh Tripathi. (Opens Friday at Cinépolis Euless)
Rally Road Racers (PG) This animated movie is about a sloth (voiced by Jimmy O. Yang) who takes part in a long-distance auto race across Central Asia. Additional voices by Chloe Bennet, Sharon Horgan, Lisa Lu, J.K. Simmons, and John Cleese. (Opens Friday)
Sick of Myself (NR) This Norwegian comedy stars Kristine Kujath Thorp as an artist who tries to steal the spotlight from her famous artist boyfriend (Eirik Sæther). Also with Fanny Vaager, Sarah Francesca Bræne, Fredrik Stenberg Detlev-Simonsen, Andrea Bræin Holveg, Steinar Klouman Hallert, and Anders Danielsen Lie. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (R) Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) directs this documentary about the famous actor’s struggles with Parkinson’s disease. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Super Punjabi (NR) This Pakistani comedy stars Mohsin Abbas Haider as an accountant with a grudge who recruits a criminal to help him rob his boss. Also with Saima Baloch, Sana Fakhar, Nasir Chinyoti, Iftikhar Thakur, and Adnan Shah. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (PG-13) More than 50 years after Judy Blume’s children’s book came out, the movie version finally reaches us with its subversive qualities intact. Abby Ryder Fortson plays the titular 11-year-old girl who adjusts to her new home in New Jersey by praying to God for guidance with religion, her new friends, and her first menstruation, which a health film at school promises her is coming. Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen) tones down her foul-mouthed wit to PG-13 levels without losing too much sharpness, and she adds some comic material for her actors to indulge in. In a vacuum, I might say that this adaptation was too tame and needed to take a few more chances, but our current political climate of book banning and legislators trying to control women’s bodies makes this still fresh. Also with Rachel McAdams, Benny Safdie, Elle Graham, Amari Price, Katherine Kupferer, Aidan Wojtak-Hissong, Landon Baxter, Echo Kellum, and Kathy Bates.
Air (R) Ben Affleck sets out to make a piece of light entertainment, and it’s tremendous. Matt Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike basketball scout who signs Michael Jordan in 1984 and allows his company to become a leader in athletic footwear. First-time screenwriter Alex Convery pens a boatful of funny lines for the Nike executives and basketball coaches to volley back and forth, and it’s done expertly by this cast, with Affleck playing Nike CEO Phil Knight as something of a buffoon and Matthew Maher stealing his scenes as a shoe designer amid a bunch of starrier actors. It all makes for quite an enjoyable group hang. Also with Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, Marlon Wayans, Julius Tennon, Gustaf Skarsgård, Barbara Sukowa, Dan Bucatinsky, Joel Gretsch, Jay Mohr, and Viola Davis.
Beau Is Afraid (R) A three-hour Jewish mother joke. Joaquin Phoenix stars as a man who’s scared of everything all the time. He’s forced to travel back to his hometown after his mother (Patti LuPone) is killed in a freak accident, but his trip is waylaid by all sorts of obstacles, including a crazed serial killer, an avant-garde theater production, and a couple (Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan) who kidnap him after he’s hit by a car. Writer-director Ari Aster expands on the themes that popped up in his previous horror movies Midsommar and Hereditary, and the result is confusing as hell. The epic doesn’t drag, and some of the graffiti in the background is funny enough to be worth the price of admission in themselves. It’s possible to admire the systematic way he closes off all happy endings for his protagonist while also thinking it’s not worth all this trouble. Also with Parker Posey, Denis Ménochet, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Richard Kind, Hayley Squires, Zoe Lister-Jones, Kylie Rogers, Armen Nahapetian, Julia Antonelli, and Bill Hader.
Big George Foreman (PG-13) These Christian films are getting better, even if this biopic doesn’t quite rise to the level of good. Khris Davis portrays the heavyweight boxing champion who finds Jesus after losing the Rumble in the Jungle to Muhammad Ali (Sullivan Jones). There’s one really good scene when George temporarily dies after absorbing a horrific beating during a bout, and Davis seems like two different actors playing both the lean-and-mean Foreman of the early 1970s and the heavier version of him who comes back during the late 1980s. Some of the storytelling is still rushed, especially early on, but the film avoids the pitfalls of other Christian films, as George’s conversion doesn’t give him all the answers, nor does it interfere with his friendship with Ali despite their different religions. Also with Jasmine Matthews, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., John Magaro, Erica Tazel, Shein Monpremier, Ayden Gavin, Sonja Sohn, Sam Trammell, and Forest Whitaker.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (PG-13) Finally, a D&D movie for those of us who don’t own a 20-sided die. The role-playing game is turned over to John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the comedy team (Game Night) that knows how to make light of their subject matter without pissing off the game’s fans. Chris Pine stars as an escaped convict who seeks to take back his child (Chloe Coleman) from a rich lord (Hugh Grant) who was his friend before betraying him. There are jokes about obese dragons and a magic spell that lets you interrogate dead people, and they’re carried off well by the filmmakers and a bouncy cast. I wouldn’t mind following this crew on another adventure, especially since D&D gives them far more monsters to encounter. Also with Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Daisy Head, and an uncredited Bradley Cooper.
Evil Dead Rise (R) The whole franchise has always been more about great visuals than any sort of coherent story or theme. This new installment with a bunch of Australian actors playing Americans with varying degrees of success is a middling entry. Alyssa Sutherland plays a Los Angeles mother of three who temporarily takes in her childless sister (Lily Sullivan) when her teenage son (Morgan Davies) moronically sets loose a demon spirit in their nearly abandoned apartment building. The mother becomes possessed, and the sister has to protect her kids. The bloo-ha-ha lines and performances notwithstanding, I don’t find that writer-director Lee Cronin has the same visual bad taste as Sam Raimi, nor does he come up with the heroin-addiction angle that made the 2013 reboot so interesting. There is plenty of blood and gore here. It just feels rote. Also with Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher, Jayden Daniels, Tai Wano, Billy Reynolds-McCarthy, Mark Mitchinson, and Anna-Maree Thomas.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (PG-13) This Marvel movie draws out the backstory of Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), which makes it uniquely harrowing and one of Marvel’s best in recent years. A gold-skinned super-alien (Will Poulter) attacks our crew of outlaws and maims Rocket badly, so the others have to save his life by stealing his medical records from the sadistic scientist (Chukwudi Iwuji) who created him. The movie has a ton of animal torture, and even though many of the creatures here don’t belong to any existent species, seeing them tortured may hit you harder than a documentary about actual animals being tortured. The villain and his fascist god complex makes for one of the scariest and most despicable bad guys in the Marvel canon, and Rocket’s story is inspiring like few other ones. Also with Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Elizabeth Debicki, Nico Santos, Miriam Shor, Sarah Alami, Nathan Fillion, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rosenbaum, and Sylvester Stallone. Additional voices by Vin Diesel, Maria Bakalova, Judy Greer, Mikaela Hoover, Asim Chaudhry, Seth Green, and Linda Cardellini.
Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant (R) Of all his movies, the British director chooses to put his name on this skilled but sententious war film. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a master sergeant in Afghanistan who’s wounded in action, so his local interpreter (Dar Salim) goes above and beyond by dragging him 100 kilometers back to Bagram Air Base. When he finds that his savior has been left back there without an exit visa, he goes back into the country by himself in order to get his interpreter and his family to safety in America. The scenes of combat are filmed decently and Gyllenhaal is fully engaged, but this is the sort of movie that spells out the definition of the word “covenant” and assumes that we don’t know what the initials in IED stand for. This is wholly without the sense of fun that has distinguished Ritchie’s better films. Also with Alexander Ludwig, Antony Starr, Jonny Lee Miller, Fariba Sheikhan, and Emily Beecham.
Jaari (NR) This Nepali romance stars Dayahang Rai, Bijay Baral, and Meruna Magar.
John Wick: Chapter 4 (R) This gargantuan 169-minute installment is the best of the series. This one has John (Keanu Reeves) traveling through Osaka, Berlin, and Paris to hunt down a marquis (Bill Skarsgård) who’s douchey as only a French aristocrat can be, and who’s in charge of making John dead. The movie looks too similar to the other Wicks, and the po-faced solemnity makes me long for a single good joke or someone who thinks all the rituals and symbols of the Wick-verse are so much crap. The movie does have even more than its share of great action sequences, with one taking place in the Japanese hotel’s art collection and another in a Paris apartment when John has a shotgun with shells that cause people to burst into flames. Standout supporting turns come from Donnie Yen as a blind and blackmailed Chinese killer and Scott Adkins as an obese German boss who comes close to kicking John’s ass. Also with Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, HIroyuki Sanada, Marko Zaror, Shamier Anderson, Rina Sawayama, Natalia Tena, Clancy Brown, George Georgiou, and the late Lance Reddick.
Love Again (PG-13) We sure could use more romantic comedies with South Asian leads, but not if they’re going to be as conventional as this. Remade from a German comedy, this film stars Priyanka Chopra Jonas as a woman who copes with her fiancé’s death in an accident by sending text messages to his old phone number, unaware that the messages are being received by a Scottish music critic (Sam Heughan). He reveals the texts to Céline Dion (who portrays herself) while he’s writing a feature story on her, and while there’s comedy to be had from a celebrity randomly deciding that some random guy needs their help with his love life, Dion isn’t a nimble enough actor to make this sing. Watch for Chopra’s real-life husband Nick Jonas as a brain-dead Bumble date. Also with Celia Imrie, Sofia Barclay, Omid Djalili, Lydia West, Steve Oram, Russell Tovey, and Arinzé Kene.
Nefarious (R) This horror film stars Sean Patrick Flanery as a condemned killer who becomes demonically possessed on the day of his execution. Also with Jordan Belfi, Robert Peters, and Tom Ohmer.
Polite Society (PG-13) The funniest British teen Muslim science-fiction martial-arts wedding comedy you’ll ever see. Priya Kansara gives a star-making performance as a London schoolgirl whose dreams of becoming a stuntwoman in the British film industry are interrupted when an impossibly handsome doctor (Akshay Khanna) whom she’s convinced is evil arranges to marry her older sister (Ritu Arya). First-time director Nida Manzoor (who previously created TV’s We Are Lady Parts) can’t quite pull off the mash-up of genres in a seamless way, but the protagonist’s school friends (Seraphina Bey and Ella Bruccelleri) make an effective comedy team with her, and the film hits a delightful stride during its last half, with kung fu fights and dance numbers leading up to the wedding. Manzoor’s specifically British Muslim viewpoint gives this a unique flavor in our multiplexes. Also with Nimra Bucha, Shobu Kapoor, Jeff Mirza, Shona Babayemi, and Sophie Aisling.
Ponniyin Selvan: Part Two (NR) This was shot concurrently with the first part of the epic that came out last fall, so it’s puzzling that this second half turns out so much less exciting. Jayam Ravi returns as the prince who is presumed dead at the beginning of the film but has actually survived. He and other Chola princes band together to protect the realm against its enemies, which translates to a lot of bearded muscular dudes fighting against one another, and if you’re not familiar with the Kalki Krishnamurthy novel that this is based on, you’ll have trouble keeping everybody straight. Also with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram, Karthi, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Vikram Prabhu, Sobhita Dhulipala, Trisha Krishnan, R. Sarath Kumar, Kishore, Rahman, Babu Anthony, and Prakash Raj.
The Pope’s Exorcist (R) This horror film actually starts out reasonably well thanks to Russell Crowe’s amusing performance as the Vatican’s chief exorcist who drives a scooter, guzzles whiskey, and makes jokes about soccer. Unfortunately, the thing bogs down around the halfway mark as the Italian priest tries to cast out a demon possessing an American boy (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) whose family is taking a sabbatical in Spain. Once the possession takes effect, this degenerates into a standard-issue exorcism movie. Also with Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe, Laurel Marsden, Ryan O’Grady, Cornell John, Bianca Bardoe, and Franco Nero.
Rama Banam (NR) This Indian action-thriller stars Gopichand, Jagapathi Babu, Nassar, Kushboo, Dimple Hayathi, and Sachin Khedekar.
Renfield (R) This horror-comedy has the wit to treat Dracula as the world’s worst boss. Nicholas Hoult portrays the title character, who still works for the count (Nicolas Cage) in New Orleans in the present day and has to attend group therapy to cope with his boss’ abuse. The script and Cage cannily portray Dracula as a clever abuser who knows how to play on Renfield’s feelings of guilt. The injection of therapy-speak into this familiar story works wonders, and Chris McKay’s direction keeps the thing afloat. The mix of psychology and supernatural thrills make this into a delightful workplace comedy. Also with Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Brandon Scott Jones, Adrian Martinez, and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Sisu (R) The director and star of the Finnish Christmas thriller Rare Exports reunite for this film whose title is a word signifying a particularly Finnish breed of toughness. Jorma Tommila plays an indestructible World War II resistance fighter-turned-gold prospector who strikes it rich but then has to defend his haul against evacuating Nazis who want to take his gold. Our protagonist’s incredible skills at killing people could have been made more inventive use of, and writer-director Jalmari Helander trades in the rapid pace of Rare Exports for something altogether slower. That does fit the story, but it doesn’t pay off its own rewards. Most of this movie’s dialogue is in English. Also with Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo, Tatu Sinisalo, and Onni Tommila.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (PG) The video game series depended heavily on its gameplay rather than its story for its success, and the animated movie version succeeds by letting the characters be themselves. Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) is sucked into the Mushroom Kingdom, but instead of rescuing Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy), he has to enlist her help to rescue his brother Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day). The star-studded voice cast rises to the challenge, and the action of the film imitates the gameplay without overexplaining things. Perhaps the characters could use a bit of fleshing out, but the movie doesn’t try to do too much. Additional voices by Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen, Khary Payton, Juliet Jelenic, and Sebastian Maniscalco. — Cole Williams
Suzume (PG) The latest anime film by Makoto Shinkai (Weathering With You) is about a teenage girl (voiced by Nanoka Hara and Nichole Sakura) who discovers a door to the afterlife and finds that it and the mysterious young man (voiced by Hokuto Matsumura and Josh Keaton) who keeps trying to close it are the key to preventing natural disasters from striking Japan. The young man is turned into a walking, talking three-legged chair, and the two of them wind up chasing a talking cat (voiced by Ann Yamane and Lena Josephine Marano) all the way to Tokyo. Shinkai’s films are all beautiful to look at, but they lack that last bit of roundedness in the story department. This film, despite its indirect references to the Fukushima earthquake, doesn’t add up to a powerful statement about the environment or the power of memory or any other subjects that it touches on. Still, if you’re looking for an animated film that doesn’t come from a video-game franchise, this is your best bet. Additional voices by Eri Fukatsu, Jennifer Sun Bell, Shota Sometani, Roger Craig Smith, Kotone Hanase, Rosaline Chiang, Sairi Ito, Amanda C. Miller, Ryunosuke Kamiki, and Joe Zieja.
Ugram (NR) This Telugu-language thriller stars Allari Naresh, Mirnaa Menon, Indraja, Sharath Lohithaswa, and Shatru.
Carmen (R) Ballet superstar Benjamin Millepied makes his filmmaking debut with this musical re-imagining of Bizet’s opera, starring Paul Mescal, Melissa Barrera, Elsa Pataky, Nicole da Silva, Tara Morice, and Rossy de Palma.
One Ranger (R) Thomas Jane stars in this thriller as a Texas Ranger who’s recruited by British intelligence to help foil a terrorist attack on London. Also with Patrick Bergin, Dominique Tipper, Nick Moran, Dean Jagger, and John Malkovich.
Unconditional (NR) Richard Lui’s documentary is about the mental-health challenges faced by people living with disabilities.