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Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor (with purse over her shoulder) travels to India to learn about the caste system in "Origin." Photo by Atsushi Nishijima

OPENING

 

Alienoid: Return to the Future (NR) The sequel to the 2022 Korean science-fiction film continues the adventures of a group of Taoist warriors traveling through time to recover a magical artifact. Starring Kim Tae-ri, Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Woo-bin, Kim Eul-sung, Yoon Kyung-ho, Cho Woo-jin, and Lee Si-hoon. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

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. (Re-opens Friday)

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Cold Copy (R) This drama stars Bel Powley as a journalism student who’s determined to break a huge story regardless of the cost. Also with Tracee Ellis Ross, Nesta Cooper, Ekaterina Baker, James Tupper, and Jacob Tremblay. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Fighter (NR) Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone star in this Indian thriller as two air force pilots forming a new elite unit. Also with Anil Kapoor, Karan Singh Grover, Akshay Oberoi, Akarsh Alagh, Vinay Varma, Sanjeev Jaiswal, and Birol Tarkan Yildiz. (Opens Friday)

The Holdovers (R) Paul Giamatti seems to do his best acting for Alexander Payne, and this may be the performance of his career. He portrays a schoolteacher in 1970 who’s stuck babysitting the handful of students at his ritzy all-male New England prep school who have nowhere to go over Christmas break. Screenwriter David Hemingson does an excellent job of capturing the protagonist’s erudite voice as he insults his students’ intelligence and can’t get through a conversation without referencing the Peloponnesian War. When only one student (Dominic Sessa) is left on campus, the movie becomes a piercing but also quite funny portrait of the loneliness of the teacher, the student, and the cafeteria worker (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) who has lost her son in Vietnam. Randolph and the newcomer Sessa are both excellent, but Giamatti is fantastic as the man learning to appreciate things beyond the job he hates but has clung to tenaciously. Also with Carrie Preston, Brady Heppner, Ian Dolley, Michael Provost, Naheem Garcia, Gillian Vigman, Stephen Thorne, Andrew Garman, and Tate Donovan. (Re-opens Friday)

Junction (NR) Bryan Greenberg’s drama tells the interlocking stories of three people caught up in the opioid epidemic. Starring Sophia Bush, Michaela Conlin, Yara Martinez, Ryan Eggold, Ashley Madekwe, Josh Peck, Dascha Polanco, Eddie Kay Thomas, Dash Mihok, Hill Harper, Jamie Chung, and Griffin Dunne. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Killers of the Flower Moon (R) Martin Scorsese treats the Osage murders of the 1920s like one of his gangster films, and this might be better than Goodfellas or The Irishman. Based on David Grann’s history, this film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a World War I serviceman who returns home to Oklahoma and marries a full-blooded Osage (Lily Gladstone) to gain the money that comes with the rights to the oil on her land. Soon the Osage start dying under mysterious circumstances. Scorsese is canny enough to draw the parallels between the murders and the Tulsa race massacre from the same time, and he presents us with Okie cowboys acting like Mafia hoods to get away with their crimes. DiCaprio is great as a bad man whose accretion of bad deeds finally breaks him, and Gladstone is magnetic as the woman who barely survives when her tribespeople don’t. The film’s 206 minutes fly by and contain more than enough material for a second viewing. Also with Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jason Isbell, Pete Yorn, Scott Shepherd, William Belleau, Yancey Red Corn, Gary Basaraba, Sturgill Simpson, Tommy Schultz, Tatanka Means, Barry Corbin, John Lithgow, and Brendan Fraser. (Re-opens Friday)

Malaikottai Vaaliban (NR) This Indian historical thriller stars Mohanlal as a warrior who uses his magic powers to protect his village from British rule. Also with Sonalee Kulkarni, Hareesh Peradi, Manoj Moses, Danish Salt, Andrea Ravera, and Katha Nandi. (Opens Friday)

Maya (NR) This thriller stars Cherie Jimenez as a 15-year-old girl from a broken home who’s lured into a sex-trafficking ring. Also with Rumer Willis, Rena Owen, Anthony Montgomery, Seri DeYoung, and Patricia Velasquez. (Opens Friday at Cinepolis Euless)

Miller’s Girl (R) Jenna Ortega plays a bored, wealthy, essentially unparented Tennessee high-school student who pursues her English teacher (Martin Freeman) because he’s a published author and she wants something of his talent and guidance. This could have been a bold, incisive look at an inappropriate sexual relationship between a teenager and an adult, but that’s not what we get. First-time filmmaker Jade Halley Bartlett comes up with a credible overall story arc for her protagonist, but we have to wade through reams of her hyperventilating, sub-Tennessee Williams dialogue to get to it. It isn’t worth the trip, and even Ortega’s presence can’t rescue this. The teacher is named Miller and the student is an inveterate Henry Miller reader, and the title of this film is typical of the cheap dramatic irony on offer. Also with Bashar Salahuddin, Dagmara Domińczyk, and Gideon Adlon. (Opens Friday)

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. (Re-opens Friday)

Origin (R) Ava DuVernay’s docudrama is chockablock with fascinating ideas that never quite jell. Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor portrays Isabel Wilkerson, the New York Times journalist who copes with the sudden death of her husband (Jon Bernthal) by undertaking a wide-ranging exploration of the global caste system. This movie’s 141 minutes take in American racism, the Holocaust, and Indian dalits, as well as flashbacks across centuries. DuVernay is too intelligent and too talented not to come up with some glittering insights here, but Wilkerson’s book (which this is based on) puts its arguments forth more cogently. Also with Niecy Nash, Emily Yancy, Finn Wittrock, Victoria Pedretti, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Stephanie March, Donna Mills, Leonardo Nam, Connie Nielsen, Blair Underwood, Nick Offerman, Audra McDonald, and Vera Farmiga. (Opens Friday)

Past Lives (PG-13 Celine Song’s immigrant drama is exquisitely well-crafted and curiously lacking in power. Greta Lee portrays a South Korean woman whose family brings her to America in the early 2000s when she’s a little girl. Twenty years later, she’s reunited with the boy (Teo Yoo) whom she had a crush on when she left. First-time filmmaker Song steadfastly resists picking a side with either the Korean man who got away or the American husband (John Magaro) who married the protagonist, and she’s never less than insightful about the awkwardness of this romantic situation. Somehow this remains a bit too restrained for its own good. It’s still a fantastic debut for the former staff writer on TV’s Wheel of Time, and Lee is fantastic in the lead role. Also with Moon Seung-ah and Leem Seung-min. (Re-opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Rob N Roll (NR) This Hong Kong action-comedy is about two sad middle-aged men (Gordon Lam and Richie Jen) who foil a high-tech multimillion-dollar bank heist. Also with Aaron Kwok, Maggie Cheung, Suet Lam, Lo Hoi-Pang, Paw Hee-Ching, Michael Wong, David Chiang, and Nancy Wu. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (PG-13) A treat for the eyes. The sequel to Into the Spider-Verse has three new directors, and has lost none of the innovation that made the first film such a delight. When Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) pays an unsanctioned visit to Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), it sets off a series of dominoes that threaten to unravel the multiverse and/or kill Miles’ dad (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry). This second film ends on a cliffhanger that sets up a third movie, so the story is incomplete. Never mind that, though. The movie gleefully drags Miles through universe after universe each with its different drawing style, and the animation allows for crazier hijinks than the live-action Spider-Man films can have. The inventiveness might be wearying if not for the movie stopping every so often for storylines that forebode tragedy. There’s also an argument between two characters about Jeff Koons’ art. I can’t wait to see what the third chapter brings. Additional voices by Oscar Isaac, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Luna Lauren Velez, Karan Soni, Shea Whigham, Greta Lee, Andy Samberg, Jharrel Jerome, Jack Quaid, Jorma Taccone, Jack Quaid, Rachel Dratch, Ziggy Marley, Donald Glover, Kathryn Hahn, Amandla Stenberg, J.K. Simmons, Mahershala Ali, and Daniel Kaluuya. (Re-opens Friday at Look Cinemas Arlington)

The Storm (NR) This Chinese animated film has voices by Chen Hao, Xie Linyan, He Ziqian, Zhang Xi, Wang Shan, Cao Yalong, and Conan Li. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (PG-13) You’ll likely be watching this in a packed theater with little girls running around and singing along with Taylor, but this movie is strong enough to hold up even if you see it on your smartphone by yourself six months from now. Sam Wrench’s concert documentary takes in Swift’s last performance from the first leg of her current concert tour, where she plays selections from all her previous albums. If you didn’t have the coin to pay your way in to her stadium show, this film showcases her deep understanding of stagecraft, her indefatigable energy, and her unforced chemistry with her fans. Maybe the moss-covered piano she plays on “Champagne Problems” is a bit much, but the show is full of wow moments like the mystical backdrop for “Willow” and the giant snake coiling around the stage to introduce the Reputation part of the program. Swift’s sturdy sense of songcraft underscores all of this. What more could you wish from a concert movie? (Re-opens Friday at Cinepolis Euless)

The Teachers’ Lounge (PG-13) Nominated for the Oscar for Best International Feature, this German drama is about a schoolteacher (Leonie Benesch) caught in an escalating professional crisis when she tries to catch a thief stealing money from her fellow teachers. Also with Leonard Stettnisch, Eva Löbau, Michael Klammer, Kathrin Wehlisch, Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Sarah Bauerett, Rafael Stachowiak, Padmé Hamdemir, Elsa Krieger, Vincent Stachowiak, Oskar Zickur, Canan Samadi, and Katinka Auberger. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

 

NOW PLAYING

 

American Fiction (R) One of the year’s funniest comedies is this delectable bit of Black literary satire based on Percival Everett’s Erasure. Jeffrey Wright plays a struggling novelist who adopts a pseudonym and writes a novel filled with the most insulting stereotypes of Black people he can think of, then is chagrined to see it become a huge hit among white readers. First-time filmmaker Cord Jefferson composes scads of smart, snappy dialogue about Black artists trying to reach white audiences and our antihero impersonating some uneducated street thug. Jefferson does write himself into a corner — the movie seems to leave no room for Black creators to be successful without selling out — but he gets career performances out of Wright and Sterling K. Brown as a gay brother, and his movie raises enough laughs to make us yearn for Jefferson’s next piece of fiction. Also with Erika Alexander, Tracee Ellis Ross, Adam Brody, John Ortiz, Keith David, Miriam Shor, Michael Cyril Creighton, Patrick Fischler, Issa Rae, and Leslie Uggams.

Anyone But You (R) Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney are nimble comic actors in this romantic comedy that doesn’t merit their performances. They portray a couple who have a short-lived, acrimonious relationship in Boston, so when they reunite for a wedding in Australia, their friends try to get them together just so their bickering won’t ruin the ceremony. Eventually our main characters decide to feign a relationship, because this is a weak re-telling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Some of the set pieces do work, like when the guy strips naked after finding a giant spider in his pants, but even scenes like that and the appeal of the leads can’t make this into anything but a formulaic and overly glossy exercise. Also with Alexandra Shipp, Hadley Robinson, GaTa, Charlee Fraser, Joe Davidson, Bryan Brown, Michelle Hurd, Darren Barnett, Rachel Griffiths, and Dermot Mulroney. 

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (PG-13) The sequel tries to work in comedy interludes to take advantage of Jason Momoa’s ability to be funny, and these sometimes work, but director James Wan has never been one to integrate laughs into what he’s doing. Aquaman takes over double duties as king of the undersea realm and father to a baby and feels like he’s failing at both. When Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) discovers a lost undersea kingdom that can give him power to destroy the world, Aquaman has to break his brother (Patrick Wilson) out of prison to fight him. Wan retains his skill with action, and the climactic fight is quite well done, but the movie still feels like parts of two different movies stitched awkwardly together. Also with Amber Heard, Randall Park, Temuera Morrison, Martin Short, Indya Moore, Pilou Asbæk, Vincent Regan, Jani Zhao, Dolph Lundgren, and Nicole Kidman. 

The Beekeeper (R) As Jason Statham-shooting-people movies go, this one’s considerably less fun than some of the others. He plays a retired U.S. government hit man-turned-beekeeper who comes out of retirement after his employer (Phylicia Rashad) is scammed out of her life savings and kills herself. The best Statham is the one who’s allowed to flash his sense of humor, and director David Ayer (Suicide Squad) is entirely the wrong filmmaker to bring that out. Our hero kills a ton of bystanders without a thought for the collateral damage, and the film doesn’t have the wit to consider what that means. Weirdly, the only energy comes from Josh Hutcherson as the bratty tech CEO behind it all who radiates scorn for all the tougher and more powerful people around him. Also with Emmy Raver-Lampman, Bobby Naderi, David Witts, Taylor James, Don Gilet, Enzo Cilenti, Jemma Redgrave, Minnie Driver, and Jeremy Irons. 

The Book of Clarence (PG-13) This movie is bad, but in a fascinating way. LaKeith Stanfield stars in this Biblical comedy as both St. Thomas and his identical twin brother Clarence, a con artist who decides to dig himself out of debt by proclaiming himself the Messiah and hitting up Jerusalem’s citizens for cash, even though Jesus Christ (Nicholas Pinnock) is still very much alive. Writer-director-composer Jeymes Samuel (The Harder They Fall) is evidently talented behind the camera, but he’s trying to balance serious religious inquiry with satire, and the film is neither thoughtful nor funny enough to pull this off. The film is stuffed with good ideas (like a drug dealer offering the Israelites hookahs with drugs that make them float in midair), but Samuel isn’t comedian enough to get his message across. Also with RJ Cyler, David Oyelowo, Omar Sy, Teyana Taylor, Anna Diop, Micheal Ward, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, Caleb McLaughlin, Tom Glynn-Carney, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Alfre Woodard, James McAvoy, and Benedict Cumberbatch. 

The Boy and the Heron (PG-13) If this is the last anime film by Hayao Miyazaki, the master’s hallucinatory powers are undiminished. Set during World War II, the story is about a boy (voiced by Soma Santoki in the Japanese-language version and Luca Padovan in the English-dubbed one) who wants to reunite with his dead mother and instead discovers a fantastical world through a talking gray heron (voiced by Masaki Suda and Robert Pattinson). Miyazaki gives us villainous clans of pelicans and parakeets for the boy hero to negotiate, and the voice cast for the English dub might just be the starriest that any Miyazaki film has received on our shores. The story does resolve itself rather too quickly, but the psychedelic visuals and world-building of Miyazaki is always glorious on the big screen. Additional voices by Aimyon, Karen Fukuhara, Yoshino Kimura, Gemma Chan, Shōhei Hino, Mark Hamill, Ko Shibasaki, Florence Pugh, Kaoru Kobayashi, Willem Dafoe, Jun Kunimura, Dave Bautista, Takuya Kimura, and Christian Bale. 

The Boys in the Boat (PG-13) George Clooney’s sports drama is awfully plain, especially since he’s taking on a sport that doesn’t get much play in movies. Callum Turner stars as a homeless University of Washington student in the 1930s who joins the school’s rowing team, learns from a curmudgeonly coach (Joel Edgerton), and eventually competes in the 1936 Summer Olympics for Team USA. The cast full of unknowns fails to inject much personality into this, and this follows the template of sports movies so neatly that it’s rowing in lockstep. Even if you are a rowing fanatic, this won’t hold much for you. Also with James Wolk, Hadley Robinson, Sam Strike, Thomas Elms, Jack Mulhern, Luke Slattery, Bruce Herbelin-Earle, Chris DIamantopoulos, Peter Guinness, and Ian McElhinney. 

The Color Purple (PG-13) A Hollywood studio hands a big-ticket item to an African director, and Blitz Bazawule does well enough with it to make you wonder why Tinseltown never tried it before. The film is based on the Broadway musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, with Fantasia Barrino starring as a woman who spends more than 40 years waiting to hear from the sister she’s separated from. Neither the songs from the stage show nor the new ones written for the film are that impressive, so it’s fortunate that Bazawule finds such dramatic backdrops for the musical numbers. His cast is even better, with memorable singing and dancing performances coming from nine or ten actors, and Danielle Brooks is particularly grand as the heroine’s sister-in-law. If this movie misses the complexities in the novel, it makes up for that with exuberance and skill. Also with Taraji P. Henson, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R., David Alan Grier, Deon Cole, Jon Batiste, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Halle Bailey, Louis Gossett Jr., and an uncredited Whoopi Goldberg.

The End We Start From (R) Jodie Comer stars in this thriller as a new mother who tries to survive amid a catastrophic flood that hits London. Also with Katherine Waterston, Mark Strong, Joel Fry, Gina McKee, Alexandria Riley, and Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Ferrari (R) Michael Mann’s sports biography is as visually scrupulous and well-edited as his other movies, but something’s missing. Adam Driver portrays Enzo Ferrari as he tries to engineer a win for his racing team at the 1957 Mille Miglia while negotiating between his angry, childless wife (Penélope Cruz) and the mistress (Shailene Woodley) with whom he has a son. The racing sequences are done well, especially during the catastrophic sequences, but both Driver and Cruz have been better elsewhere, and the depiction of their adultery-ridden marriage never quite strikes a spark. As much effort as has been taken to capture Italy in the 1950s, the film feels curiously underwhelming. Also with Gabriel Leone, Sarah Gadon, Giuseppe Festinese, Derek Hill, Michele Savoia, Giuseppe Bonifati, Valentina Belle, Ben Collins, Jack O’Connell, and Patrick Dempsey.

Freud’s Last Session (PG-13) Thirty years after he portrayed C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands, Anthony Hopkins portrays Lewis’ adversary in this low-temperature historical drama based on a meeting that may or may not have happened in real life. He plays a dying Sigmund Freud in exile in London in 1939, who receives the Oxford don Lewis (Matthew Goode). Freud’s experiences with the Holocaust and losing his daughter and grandson to illness have taught him that there can’t be a God, while Lewis’ experiences in the foxholes of World War I have taught him that there must be one. The professional quality of the acting and the writing (by director Matthew Brown, based on his own stage play) can’t quite convince us that anything is really at stake here. Chalk up another British drama that’s as dull and gray as a rainy English day. Also with Orla Brady, Jodi Balfour, Liv Lisa Fries, Pádraic Delaney, Tarek Bishara, Rhys Mannion, Peter Warnock, Jeremy Northam, and Stephen Campbell Moore. 

Godzilla Minus One (PG-13) One of the year’s best movies (and an Oscar nominee for its visual effects) goes deeper than any other Godzilla movie except the original. Ryunosuke Kamiki stars as a failed kamikaze pilot trying to rebuild his life in the immediate aftermath of World War II when the big lizard rises up out of the sea and starts wreaking havoc. Director Takashi Yamazaki does well to balance the small-scale drama with the monster material, pulling off a terrific boat chase and doing better than anyone with Godzilla’s radioactive breath. The story sometimes borders on melodrama, but it all comes off with a minimum of bombast. Also with Minami Hamabe, Sakura Ando, Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, and Michael Arias. — Cole Williams

Guntur Kaaram (NR) This Indian thriller stars Mahesh Babu as a man seeking revenge for his father’s imprisonment and the burning of his factory by local gangsters. Also with Sreeleela, Meenakshi Chaudhary, Ramya Krishnan, Jayaram, Prakash Raj, Jagapathi Babu, Rao Ramesh, Easwari Rao, Murali Sharma, Vennela Kishore, and Poorna.

Hanu Man (NR) Teja Sajja stars in this Indian film as both the god Hanuman and a petty thief whose story mirrors the god’s. Also with Amritha Aiyer, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Vinay Rai, Raj Deepak Shetty, Vennela Kishore, Samuthirakani, and Sunishith.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (PG-13) In some ways better than the original set of films, this prequel stars Rachel Zegler as the heroine from District 12 and Tom Blyth as the future dictator of Panem who’s randomly assigned to mentor her. The film looks better than its predecessors, as holdover director Francis Lawrence seems more comfortable with the 1930s fascist-style decor. Amid a distinguished cast, Zegler proves worthy of her star turn, playing to the cameras, cracking jokes, evading attempts on her life, and singing bluegrass. The thing is lacking on the conceptual end, the conclusion is too drawn out, and the material with the ethically compromised hero’s family doesn’t amount to much more than an Easter egg. It’s still the most sustained piece of filmmaking in the series. Also with Viola Davis, Jason Schwartzman, Hunter Schafer, Fionnula Flanagan, Josh Andrés Rivera, Athena Strates, Ashley Liao, Mackenzie Lansing, Nick Benson, Isobel Jesper Jones, Dakota Shapiro, George Somner, Burn Gorman, and Peter Dinklage. 

The Iron Claw (R) Zac Efron shows a newfound maturity in this movie dramatizing the curse of the Von Erich clan, the North Texas pro wrestling family hit by multiple tragedies in the 1980s. The real story is even more crushing than the film, which reduces the number of Von Erich brothers to streamline the story, and the movie still almost buckles from all the deaths in the family. It doesn’t, partly because of the visual skill of director Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and because of the acting, especially from Harris Dickinson as the most naturally talented Von Erich brother and Holt McCallany as the father whose rigid parenting style contributes to the tragedy. Efron’s eyes go numb as loss upon loss hits him. The film is a moving testament to the bonds of brotherhood that persist even after death. Also with Lily James, Jeremy Allen White, Stanley Simons, Michael J. Harney, Kevin Anton, Cazzey Louis Cereghino, Aaron Dean Eisenberg, and Maura Tierney.

I.S.S. (R) A decent potboiler in a confined space. Ariana DeBose plays a NASA astronaut aboard the International Space Station. She and two other Americans are working with three Russian cosmonauts, but when nuclear war breaks out between the two countries, both groups receive orders to seize control of the station by all means. The cramped zero-g environment gives a fresh look to the familiar plot, the acting generates suspense, and director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) wrings some credible tension out of the action in outer space. This isn’t deep or anything, but it is 95 minutes of popcorn-munching entertainment. Also with Chris Messina, Masha Mashkova, Pilou Asbæk, Costa Ronin, and John Gallagher Jr. 

Johnny Keep Walking! (NR) This Chinese dramedy stars Dong Changpeng as a fitter whose rural roots clash with corporate culture after he receives a promotion at his factory. Also with White-K, Zhuang Dafei, Wang Xun, Sun Yi-Zhou, and Li Naiwen. 

Mean Girls (PG-13) Based on the Broadway musical which in turn was based on the 2004 teen comedy, this musical rides the strength of its star power. Angourie Rice plays Cady Heron, the home-schooled student who gets culture shock in an American high school, and Reneé Rapp plays the school’s queen bee whom Cady decides to take down. Rice’s singing voice is rather forgettable, but Rapp (one of several cast members from the Broadway show) finds a slinky, sultry take on Regina George, and Auli’i Cravalho comes close to stealing the movie as a lesbian and fabulous Janis. First-time directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. also find some creative ways to stage the numbers. Tina Fey reprises her roles as Mrs. Norbury and the screenwriter, and if she can’t find new angles from the fact that these characters are now using social media, she soft-pedals the original’s insistence that adults had all the answers. Also with Bebe Wood, Avantika, Jaquel Spivey, Christopher Briney, Mahi Alam, Jenna Fischer, Jon Hamm, Ashley Park, Busy Philipps, Tim Meadows, Megan Thee Stallion, and Lindsay Lohan.

Merry Christmas (NR) This Indian film-noir thriller stars Vijay Sethupathi as a man who returns to his village to solve a murder. Also with Katrina Kaif, Ashwini Kalsekar, Luke Kenny, Pari Maheshwari Sharma, Sahil Vaid, Radhika Apte, and Gayathrie. 

Migration (PG) This rather perfunctory animated film is about a family of mallards that migrate south to Jamaica after the overprotective father (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) has prevented his ducklings from leaving the pond. Truly nothing works here, not the scenes where the ducks finally take flight, not the detour when they hit a big city, and not the run-in with an evil chef who wants to serve them up with orange sauce. The amount of voice talent in the cast makes this disappointment all the sharper. The film is from Illumination Entertainment, and this film is even less memorable than some of the Despicable Me sequels. The feature comes packaged with a short film that spins off from Despicable Me, which only reminds us that the studio is capable of better. Additional voices by Elizabeth Banks, Tresi Gazal, Caspar Jennings, Awkwafina, Keegan-Michael Key, Carol Kane, Isabela Merced, and Danny DeVito. 

Naa Saami Ranga (NR) Nagarjuna stars in this Indian thriller as a village man who seeks revenge on the village elder’s son (Shabeer Kallarakkal) for preying on his sweetheart. Also with Ashika Ranganath, Allari Naresh, Mirnaa Menon, Raj Tarun, Nassar, and Rukshar Dhillon. 

Night Swim (PG-13) This horror film has the germ of an interesting idea but falls apart long before the end. A family moves into a suburban house that has a swimming pool that kills people. The interesting part is that the father (Wyatt Russell) is a baseball star who’s been struck down by multiple sclerosis, and he doesn’t want to leave because the water in the pool miraculously heals him. Bryce McGuire adapts this from his own short film, and though the aforementioned subplot is a nice stroke, the film isn’t near well-thought-out enough to transcend its clunky gimmick. Also with Amélie Hoeferle, Gavin Warren, Nancy Lenehan, Ben Sinclair, Jodi Long, Eddie Martinez, and Kerry Condon. 

Poor Things (R) This zany feminist take on the Frankenstein story has Emma Stone delivering the line, “I will keep my new life and my lovely old clitoris, thank you.” She plays a Victorian Englishwoman who is brought back to life after committing suicide, with her unborn baby’s brain transplanted into her body. Stone reunites with The Favourite director Yorgos Lanthimos, and this has the weirdness of some of his earlier Greek films. Stone gives her strangest and possibly greatest performance here, initially walking without control of her limbs and then doing a bizarre dance number in a Lisbon nightclub, and her performance makes this sex-positive story of a woman who fucks her way to wisdom and enlightenment into something credible. This lurid fantasia of sexual liberation packs some high comedy. Also with Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Yousseff, Jerrod Carmichael, Suzy Bemba, Kathryn Hunter, Vicki Pepperdine, Hanna Schygulla, Christopher Abbott, and Margaret Qualley.

Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé (NR) The pop music star directs this film of her own concert tour from this past summer. The performances are cut together, so sometimes the dancers wear different outfits while performing the same number. The film doesn’t have a thunderbolt that reveals what Beyoncé’s music is all about, and the star’s thoughts about balancing career and motherhood are nothing that you haven’t heard before. The movie’s main value lies in capturing the pop star in glorious voice (whether making beautiful sounds in “Flaws and All” or powering her way through “Drunk in Love”) and dancing imperiously despite her recent knee surgery. It’s all proof that your friends who saw the show and came back raving about it were not overselling it. Among the guest performances, 11-year-old Blue Ivy Carter steals the show, doing the dance moves with something of her mother’s stage presence. Also with Diana Ross, Kendrick Lamar, and Megan Thee Stallion.

Soccer Soul (NR) Gonzalo Arias and Martín Méndez’ documentary chronicles Argentina’s win at the 2022 World Cup tournament. Narrated by Ricardo Darín. 

Soul (PG) Pixar’s Oscar-winning 2020 film is weakest when it tries to play to the kids and wonderful when it addresses grown-up issues. Jamie Foxx provides the voice of a middle-aged music teacher who temporarily dies and tries to come back to life to show the world his unrecognized talent as a jazz pianist. Unfortunately, he has to seek the help of an unborn soul (voiced by Tina Fey), and the comic partnership between the two never finds its footing. The film’s depiction of the afterlife lacks visual flair, too, but Jon Batiste’s music convinces us that our hero is a talented musician who hasn’t had his shot yet. The film’s view of why we are on this Earth is little less than sublime. Additional voices by Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Wes Studi, Rachel House, Graham Norton, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Fortune Feimster, June Squibb, Sakina Jaffrey, Zenobia Shroff, and an uncredited John Ratzenberger.

Trolls Band Together (PG) At this point, reuniting with *NSYNC is the best career move possible for Justin Timberlake. In this most watchable of the Trolls movies, his Branch is discovered to have four long-lost brothers (voiced by Eric André, Troye Sivan, Daveed Diggs, and Kid Cudi) with whom he used to be in a boy band. His attempt to save one of them leads Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) to discover her own separated-at-birth sister (voiced by Camila Cabello), and Tiny Diamond (voiced by Kenan Thompson) asks, “Am I the only one without a long-lost sibling?” The movie doesn’t belabor any of its points too heavily and gives us an enjoyable batch of cover songs plus the first original *NSYNC song (“Better Place”) in more than 20 years. Nostalgia has given us worse than this. Additional voices by Amy Schumer, Andrew Rannells, Zooey Deschanel, Patti Harrison, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kunal Nayyar, Zosia Mamet, RuPaul, Ron Funches, Jungkook, Anderson .Paak, Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, and Chris Kirkpatrick.

Wonka (PG) Timothée Chalamet’s performance as a younger version of Roald Dahl’s candymaker is more than good enough to carry this prequel through its wobblier patches. He arrives in the big city ready to make chocolate but instead is turned into an indentured servant by a shady landlady (Olivia Colman) and kept out of business by a cartel of evil chocolatiers (Paterson Joseph, Mathew Baynton, and Matt Lucas). Director/co-writer Paul King (from the Paddington movies) brings a much-welcomed light touch to the material, and the Oompa-Loompa (Hugh Grant) is handled about as dexterously as modern audiences could hope for. When Willy Wonka finally opens his chocolate shop and welcomes in his customers by singing “A World of Your Own,” that’s when the film truly takes on a magical quality. Also with Calah Lane, Tom Davis, Keegan-Michael Key, Jim Carter, Natasha Rothwell, Rich Fulcher, Rakhee Thakrar, Freya Parker, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Simon Farnaby, Rowan Atkinson, and Sally Hawkins.

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

 

Anselm (NR) Wim Wenders’ documentary profiles the artist Anselm Kiefer.

Sunrise (R) Alex Pettyfer stars in this thriller as a man seeking revenge on the religious cult leader (Guy Pearce) responsible for the loss of his family. Also with Kurt Yaeger, William Gao, Crystal Yu, Forrest Bothwell, and Olwen Fouéré. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

The Zone of Interest (PG-13) The latest film by Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin) stars Christian Friedel as the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz during World War II, whose family lives a normal life next to the concentration camp. Also with Sandra Hüller, Freya Kreutzkam, Ralf Zillmann, Max Beck, Imogen Kogge, Stephanie Petrowitz, and Daniel Holzberg. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

 

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