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"Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour" might be the moviegoing event of the season. Photo courtesy of Facebook.com

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Bhagwan Bharose (NR) This Indian comedy stars Satendra Soni and Sparsh Suman as two kids who try to make sense of their religious teachings and their life experiences. Also with Vinay Pathak, Masumeh Makhija, Manu Rishi Chadha, Mahesh Sharma, and Shrikant Verma. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Dear David (R) Justin Long stars in this horror film as a man inexplicably haunted by the ghost of a murdered boy named David (Cameron Nicoll). Also with Andrea Bang, Augustus Prew, Rachel Wilson, Tricia Black, René Escobar Jr., and Ethan Hwang. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

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Joan Baez: I Am a Noise (NR) Miri Navasky, Maeve O’Boyle, and Karen O’Connor’s documentary profiles the folk music legend and political activist. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (PG-13) Sam Wrench’s documentary takes in the pop music megastar’s concert tour. (Opens Friday)

 

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Barbie (PG-13) This philosophical statement about being a woman in present-day society is likely the strangest Hollywood blockbuster you’ll see all year, and much more than the crass corporate product it could have been. A perfectly pitched Margot Robbie plays a Barbie doll who has to travel from Barbie Land to our reality to discover why she’s having random thoughts about death. When Ken (Ryan Gosling) follows her into our reality, he likes the sight of men running everything and tries to turn Barbie Land into another patriarchy. All this takes place against a backdrop that’s wholly committed to Barbie-ness, with streets lined with life-size Barbie Dream Houses and more pink than you’ve ever seen in your life. If the storytelling loses a bit in its last third, the loose ends fit a story about the messiness of being a woman (or a man). This girly film is also thoughtful, complex, and funny, and will ensure that you never look at a Barbie doll the same way again. Also with America Ferrera, Arianna Greenblatt, Emma Mackey, Issa Rae, Beanie Feldstein, Simu Liu, Michael Cera, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, Alexandra Shipp, Hari Nef, Sharon Rooney, Ritu Arya, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa, Nicola Coughlan, Emerald Fennell, Scott Evans, Sharon Rooney, Ana Cruz Kayne, Rhea Perlman, and John Cena. Narrated by Helen Mirren.

The Blind (PG-13) This biography of Phill Robertson from TV’s Duck Dynasty depicts his debauched life before he saw the light of Jesus Christ. Starring Aron von Andrian, Amelia Eve, Matthew Erick White, Brielle Robillard, Connor Tillman, John Ales, Kerry Knuppe, and Ronan Carroll. 

Blue Beetle (PG-13) The Mexican family at the center of this is enough to make this DC superhero movie feel different. Xolo Maridueña portrays a young man on a U.S. territory in the Caribbean who stumbles onto a suit of armor that gives him superhuman powers and also makes him a target of the evil tech firm that wants it. The movie does drag towards the end when the bad guys square off with the good guy and his familia, but director Angel Manuel Soto does not look overmatched by the scale and special effects, and the humor among the hero’s tightly knit family is both funny and culturally specific, especially with his crackpot uncle (George Lopez) and his abuelita (Adriana Barraza) who mysteriously knows how to handle an automatic firearm. Also with Elpidia Carrillo, Bruna Marquezine, Raoul Max Trujillo, Damián Alcázar, Belissa Escobedo, Harvey Guillén, and Susan Sarandon. 

Camp Hideout (PG) This kids’ movie stars Ethan Drew as a young man who hides out in a summer camp after stealing a valuable from criminals. Also with Corbin Bleu, Amanda Leighton, Tyler Kowalski, Zion Wyatt, Jenna Raine Simmons, Josh Inocalla, and Christopher Lloyd.

The Creator (PG-13) This science-fiction epic looks amazing. If only the story were as good. John David Washington stars as a U.S. Army intelligence officer in 2070 who’s tasked with retrieving a superweapon being developed by robots in a war between robots and humans. The weapon turns out to be a 14-year-old kid (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). The reported $80 million budget looks like three times as much, with hordes of sentient robots fighting on battlefields and explosions on spaceships that are visible in the sky. Problem is, the relationships between the hero and the girl as well as his possibly dead ex-girlfriend (Gemma Chan) don’t resonate the way they should, and the movie’s statement about artificial intelligence is underbaked. Director Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) has great gifts, but they come with severe limitations. Also with Allison Janney, Sturgill Simpson, Marc Menchaca, Amar Chadha-Patel, Ralph Ineson, Veronica Ngo, and Ken Watanabe.

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman (NR) This Korean horror film stars Gang Dong-won as a fake exorcist who’s called to help a girl who’s actually demonically possessed. Also with Huh Joon-ho, Lee Dong-hwi, Esom, Cho Yi-hyun, Lee Jeong-eun, and Kim Ji-soo. 

Dumb Money (R) Relive the sweet schadenfreude of the GameStop stock saga, when a large group of small-time investors outsmarted some of Wall Street’s best minds in winter 2021. Paul Dano plays Keith Gill a.k.a. Roaring Kitty, a YouTube poster who notices that big-time hedge funds are shorting the stock of the Grapevine-based video game retailer and encourages his followers to inflate the value of the stock so that the hedge funds will lose money. The filmmakers rely too much on the rah-rah factor of working-class people going up against billionaires. If the villains were interesting, maybe this would be the scathing critique of capitalism that it sets out to be. Still, Dano for once plays a regular guy and is excellent in the part, while Pete Davidson as his brother is one of the few consistent suppliers of laughs. Also with Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Offerman, America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, Talia Ryder, Myha’la, Kate Burton, Clancy Brown, Dane DeHaan, Olivia Thirlby, Sebastian Stan, and Shailene Woodley. 

The Equalizer 3 (R) It’s unusual how slowly this movie goes about its business, and even more unusual that it works so well. Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is wounded in action and has to heal up in a small town on the Italian coast. He does so just in time for the Neapolitan camorra to start throwing their weight around. Before McCall faces down the bad guys, director Antoine Fuqua stops to take a breath and take in the sights in the various towns in Campania that stand in for the setting. It feels appropriate for the story of an aging hit man who realizes that he needs to hang it up while he can. If this is the last movie in the series, it’s a worthy ending. Also with Gaia Scodellaro, Remo Girone, David Denman, Eugenio Mastrandrea, Andrea Scarduzio, Andrea Dodero, Daniele Perrone, Zakaria Hamza, Manuela Tasciotti, Dea Lanzaro, Sonia Ben Ammar, Adolfo Margiotta, and Dakota Fanning.

The Exorcist: Believer (R) This movie jumps to life when Ellen Burstyn enters the proceedings about halfway through, and then the movie sends her off so unceremoniously that you wonder if the filmmakers knew what they had. It’s one of many missteps in this massively disappointing sequel, as a demon possesses two 13-year-old girls (Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum) and their parents have to enlist the help of Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil to exorcise them. The fantastic cast are hampered by characters that don’t develop in any believable way, and director/co-writer David Gordon Green ditches the Catholicism for simultaneous Catholic, Baptist, and Vodou exorcism rites that only dilute all of them. Some horror set pieces might have saved this, but instead we get fanservice from a director who lacks the ruthless craft of the late William Friedkin. Take away the connections to the 1973 classic, and this is a perfectly ordinary horror film. Also with Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Raphael Sbarge, E.J. Bonilla, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Linda Blair

Expend4bles (R) Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is killed on a mission botched by Lee (Jason Statham), who is expelled from the group, and his ex-wife (Megan Fox) takes over the group’s leadership. Somehow none of that is enough to energize this wheezy outing, as our aging mercs go up against a terrorist (Iko Uwais) who’s hoarding nuclear weapons for a mysterious kingpin. The attempt to get the women more involved here is strictly forgettable, none of the new additions to the cast give us anything memorable, and the subplots about everyone’s lack of personal lives falls flat. This group was ready for a nursing home in Florida a decade ago. Also with 50 Cent, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, and Andy Garcia. 

Fukrey 3 (NR) The third installment in the Indian comedy franchise stars Pulkit Samrat, Varun Sharma, Manjot Singh, Richa Chadha, Pankaj Tripathi, and Ali Fazal

Gran Turismo (PG-13) Rather than a straight adaptation of the auto racing video game, this sports drama is based on the true story of Jann Mardenberger (Archie Madekwe), a soccer player’s son from Cardiff whose skill at the game translated into a career driving race cars for real. The movie hammers home its emotional beats with less subtlety than most video games, and the acting isn’t good enough to carry this. Director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) shoots the racing sequences to resemble the game as closely as possible, and the American chief engineer is an embarrassing character, even though David Harbour plays the hell out of the part. This is a glorified commercial for the video game, and you’d get more drama out of playing the game for two hours than this. Also with Orlando Bloom, Takehiro Hira, Darren Barnet, Josha Stradowski, Maeve Courtier-Lilley, Daniel Puig, Pepe Barroso, Thomas Kretschmann, Geri Halliwell Horner, and Djimon Hounsou. 

Haunted Mansion (PG-13) Another corporate conglomerate turns over a beloved property to a smart and inventive independent filmmaker, and if this isn’t as good as Barbie, at least it’s better than the 2003 movie from the Disney ride. Rosario Dawson plays a single mother who buys a New Orleans mansion, finds out that it’s haunted, and hires a tour guide (LaKeith Stanfield), a priest (Owen Wilson), a medium (Tiffany Haddish), and a history professor (Danny DeVito) to exorcise her house. The Big Easy setting offers up some promise, and the cast and director Justin Simien are well suited to the comedy elements in this movie. The horror elements, on the other hand, don’t work at all, and the ending is a complete botch job. The tone of this thing is all over the place, and the enticing talent here deserves better than this mess. Also with Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto, Chase W. Dillon, J.R. Adduci, Charity Jordan, Hasan Minhaj, Dan Levy, and an uncredited Winona Ryder. 

A Haunting in Venice (PG-13) Death on the Nile left Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot at the end of a well-formed character arc, and this third Poirot adventure shows he should have quit while he was ahead. The story picks up in 1947, when a famous mystery novelist (Tina Fey) brings him out of retirement to help her debunk a psychic (Michelle Yeoh). Instead, somebody winds up dead at the end of her séance. The movie is actually based on Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party with the setting moved to Venice. The Venetian locations add nothing to the proceedings, the gallery of murder suspects yields little in the way of memorable performances, and Branagh and Fey have as much chemistry as oil and water. The filmmakers try to add supernatural doings to the mix, but the director doesn’t have the instincts for horror, and we know that a Christie adaptation isn’t going to give us actual ghosts. Also with Jamie Dornan, Camille Cottin, Jude Hill, Emma Laird, Ali Khan, Kyle Allen, Riccardo Scamarcio, Rowan Robinson, and Kelly Reilly.

Jawan (NR) This Indian action-thriller stars Shah Rukh Khan as both a soldier trying to call out corruption in India’s military-industrial complex and that man’s son, the warden of a women’s prison who uses his inmates to pull off heists and clear his father’s name. The film has a couple of nice set pieces, including a dance number inside that prison, but the thing seems to end five different times. The movie’s point about graft and embezzling in the system is a good one, but it’s made at laborious length with cardboard villains and kids in jeopardy. Also with Nayanthara, Vijay Sethupathi, Priyamani, Riddhi Dogra, Sanjay Dutt, Sanya Malhotra, Girija Oak, Lehar Khan, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, Sunil Grover, Seeza Saroj Mehta, Yogi Babu, and Deepika Padukone.

MAD (NR) Madhav Chilkuri and Rajath Raghav star in this Indian romantic comedy as mismatched best friends having misadventures. Also with Spandana Palii and Swetaa Varma. 

Meg 2: The Trench (PG-13) Everything’s bigger and badder in this sequel, and yet it all feels stubbornly unexciting. Jason Statham reprises his role as an environmental activist who goes back up against a pod of colossal sharks after a deep-sea mining operation goes wrong. Statham is saddled with a cute kid (Shuya Sophia Cai) and a part that doesn’t allow him to be funny. Director Ben Wheatley takes over this sequel and fails to bring any of the twisted humor or visual pyrotechnics that distinguished his previous films (Sightseers, Free Fire). This is adapted from Steve Alten’s novel The Trench, so this may well be the worst and most profitable literary adaptation of the year. Also with Wu Jing, Cliff Curtis, Skyler Samuels, Page Kennedy, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Felix Mayr, Melissanthi Mahut, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, and Sienna Guillory. 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 (PG-13) About as deep as a picture postcard from some souvenir shop, this third installment of the series has the Portokalos family travel to Greece to track down the childhood friends of Toula’s late father. The Greek scenery is pretty, but you’d think that 20 years after the original film, writer-director Nia Vardalos would bother to throw the scenes together into some sort of order. There are altogether too many characters for the comic business to go around, and two tertiary characters marry each other for no reason other than so that the movie can have the word “wedding” in the title. This Greek family needed to retire gracefully in the early ’00s. Also with John Corbett, Andrea Martin, Louis Mandylor, Elena Kampouris, Lainie Kazan, Gia Carides, Maria Vacratsis, Elias Kacavas, Melina Kotselou, Alexis Georgoulis, Stephanie Nur, and Joey Fatone.

The Nun II (R) What a mess this turned out to be. The sequel to the 2019 horror film is set in 1956 and has Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) traveling to a convent in Provence when she hears that Valak (Bonnie Aarons) isn’t dead after all and is murdering her way through Europe. The story winds up hopelessly scattered as characters run all over this church looking for one another and trying to put their hands on some mystical thingumabob that’s supposed to tip the balance between good and evil. I could live with that if the movie were scary, but the set piece at a magazine stand is outweighed by too much rote stuff, and the appearance of the werewolf demon is one of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen in a horror film. The tying of this series to the Conjuring movies isn’t enough to make it worth the trip. Also with Storm Reid, Anna Popplewell, Jonas Bloquet, Katelyn Rose Downey, Suzanne Bertish, Peter Hudson, Tamar Baruch, Natalia Safran, Patrick Wilson, and Vera Farmiga. 

Oppenheimer (R) This three-hour biographical epic aims to evoke a single mood of guilt-wracked despair, and darned if Christopher Nolan doesn’t almost pull it off. Around the story of how J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) takes charge of the Manhattan project and builds the atomic bomb that ends the war, there are two interlocking framing stories about him trying to renew his security clearance while his former boss Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to be confirmed as the U.S. Commerce Secretary. Nolan gives us precious little time to catch our breath from the start as he toggles between timelines while the supporting characters around Oppenheimer largely get lost. Still, the framing stories snap together in a marvelous way, and the successful atomic bomb test is a splendid set piece. Inside this movie is a better, smaller film that’s trying to get out. Also with Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, Alden Ehrenreich, Josh Hartnett, Jason Clarke, Tony Goldwyn, Benny Safdie, James D’Arcy, Harry Groener, Tom Conti, David Krumholtz, Matthias Schweighöfer, Alex Wolff, Michael Angarano, David Dastmalchian, Dane DeHaan, Josh Peck, Jack Quaid, Gustaf Skarsgård, James Remar, Olivia Thirlby, Matthew Modine, Kenneth Branagh, Casey Affleck, and Gary Oldman. 

Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie (PG) “They’re cute little dogs who drive around in cars!” says one character. “I know it’s weird, but just go with it.” It’s about to get weirder. A mad scientist (voiced by Taraji P. Henson) pulls a meteorite out of the sky, but the crystals wind up in the paws of our puppies, who then acquire superpowers. Skye (voiced by Mckenna Grace) frets about being the runt of the litter until she acquires super-strength, and Liberty (voiced by Marsai Martin) frets that her superpower hasn’t manifested at all. Somehow none of it adds up to a solid laugh or any story developments that are in any way surprising. The little ones in the crowd will be the only ones who derive any entertainment value from this. Additional voices by Finn-Lee Epp, Luxton Handspiker, Christian Corrao, Christian Convery, Nylan Parthipan, Callum Shoniker, Ron Pardo, James Marsden, Lil Rel Howery, Kim Kardashian, Kristen Bell, and Chris Rock. 

Rules Ranjann (NR) This Indian romantic thriller stars Kiran Abbavaram, Neha Shetty, Meher Chahal, Vennela Kishore, Subbaraju, Hyper Aadhi, Viva Harsha, Ajay, and Annu Kapoor.

Saw X (R) Finally, a Saw movie I can get behind. It only took them 10 tries. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, falls victim to a scam involving a quack cure, and sets about hunting down the fake doctors who conned him. The movie takes an unusually long time setting itself up, and patiently delves into the emotions of a serial killer as he faces his end. Even better material comes at the end when some of his prospective victims manage to turn the tables on him and force him to lock himself in his own trap while taunting him about everything wrong with his world-view. It’s so good that it almost makes the previous eight or nine films worth having sat through. Also with Shawnee Smith, Michael Beach, Synnøve Macody Lund, Renata Vaca, Steven Brand, Joshua Okamoto, Octavio Hinojosa, Paulette Hernández, Jorge Briseño, and Costas Mandylor.

She Came to Me (R) This agreeable farce from Rebecca Miller stars Peter Dinklage as an acclaimed classical composer who’s creatively blocked until he cheats on his psychotherapist wife (Anne Hathaway) with a tugboat captain (Marisa Tomei) whom he meets by chance. The one-time infidelity unblocks him, and there are way more plotlines than this knocking around that give all the actors something to play but occasionally come off as arbitrary. The music by Bryce Dessner isn’t convincing as something that will become an opera smash. Still, Miller ties together the different plotlines in a remarkably dexterous way, and the filmmaker is just as interested in the workings of a tugboat as she is in the creative process of staging an opera. This may not be great art, but it’s a pleasing diversion. Also with Joanna Kulig, Evan Ellison, Harlow Jane, Isabel Leonard, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Judy Gold, Gregg Edelman, Chris Gethard, Aalok Mehta, and Brian D’Arcy James.

Sound of Freedom (PG-13) This thriller probably works best for those people who see pedophiles lurking around every corner. For the rest of us, it’s somehow overheated and too slow at the same time. Jim Caviezel plays a heroic Homeland Security agent who quits his job and sets up a full-time operation in Colombia to bust a child sex trafficking operation. He’s flat as usual in the role, and the movie is stolen away by Bill Camp as an American who pretends to be a pedophile so he can buy children from the traffickers and then set them free. He’s the only person who feels like he’s inhabiting a character instead of acting as a mouthpiece for some seriously paranoid filmmakers. Also with Mira Sorvino, Scott Haze, José Zúñiga, Eduardo Verástegui, Gary Basaraba, Manny Perez, and Kurt Fuller. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (PG) This animated reboot of the cartoon series scores its laughs, recasts its origin story, and then gets off the screen. Bless it for that. A mad scientist (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) loses his magic ooze down the city drain, which creates Splinter (voiced by Jackie Chan), our mutant heroes (voiced by Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, and Brady Noon), and the gang of criminal half-humans whom they’re trying to foil. The turtles are voiced by actual kid actors, some of whose voices haven’t changed yet, and they’re very funny, particularly in the frequent spots when all of them are talking at once. Co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg make sure that a good share of the humor appeals to the adults in the audience as well. This isn’t as deep as the other Hollywood blockbusters, but it’s enjoyable. Additional voices by Ayo Edebiri, Ice Cube, Post Malone, Hannibal Buress, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, Seth Rogen, John Cena, and Paul Rudd. 

Thank You for Coming (NR) This Indian romantic comedy is about five best friends who reunite for a family gathering. Starring Bhumi Pednekar, Dolly Ahluwalia, Shibani Bedi, Saloni Daini, Sushant Divgikar, Shehnaaz Gill, Kusha Kapila, and Anil Kapoor. 

A Very Good Girl (NR) This Filipino revenge comedy stars Kathryn Bernardo as a fired retail worker who plots retribution against the CEO of her former company (Dolly de Leon). Also with Donna Cariaga, Chienna Filomeno, Jake Ejercito, Ana Abad Santos, and Kaori Oinuma.

When Evil Lurks (R) A better demonic possession movie than the Exorcist sequel. Ezequiel Rodriguez and Demián Salomón play brothers living on the same farm in remote rural Argentina when they find half a corpse and a bloated, decomposing (but still alive) tenant farmer on their neighbor’s property. Writer-director Demián Rugna is a horror specialist who shows a great talent for generating gross-out visuals, like the one of the brothers removing the farmer from the property with pus, feces, and urine dripping through the bedsheets. The movie lacks a throughline from the murderous deeds of possessed people and animals to the impulsive, violent behavior shown by the protagonist without ever being possessed. Still, this director knows how to conjure up repulsive images and story developments that other horror filmmakers don’t have the stomach for. His talent makes this worth seeking out. Also with Silvia Sabater, Marcelo Michinaux, Emilio Vodanovich, Desirée Salgueiro, Virginia Garófalo, Federico Liss, Paula Rubinsztein, and Luis Ziembrowski.

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

 

Mercy Road (R) Luke Bracey stars in this Australian thriller as an ordinary man who commits a crime to save his child. Also with Alex Malone, Huw Higginson, Susie Porter, and Toby Jones.

Miranda’s Victim (NR) This legal drama stars Abigail Breslin as the 18-year-old girl whose rape and kidnapping occasions the Miranda case. Also with Donald Sutherland, Taryn Manning, Emily VanCamp, Kyle MacLachlan, Mireille Enos, Ryan Phillippe, Luke Wilson, and Andy Garcia.

Moscow Mission (NR) Andy Lau stars in this Chinese thriller as a detective who travels to Russia to arrest armed robbers hitting the trans-Siberian railway. Also with Huang Xuan, Jason Gu, Janice Man, Shang Yuxian, Zhang Hanyu, Zina Blahusova, and Temur Mamisashvili.

Shelter in Solitude (NR) Siobhan Fallon Hogan stars in and writes this drama as an ex-country singer-turned-prison guard who befriends a death row inmate (Peter Macon). Also with Robert Patrick, Michael Oberholtzer, Sinead Hogan, Patricia Scanlon, and Dan Castellaneta. 

Woman in the Maze (NR) This horror film is about a young woman (Meredith VanCuyk) who rents a house that turns out to be haunted. Also with Joey Heyworth, Sean Dillingham, Missy Jane, Brenda Jean Foley, and George Nelson.

 

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