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Marisa Abela's singing is the most impressive thing about the Amy Winehouse biopic "Back to Black." Photo by Dean Rogers

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The American (NR) Talia Ryder stars in this dance film as an American ballerina accepted into Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Also with Diane Kruger, Oleg Ivenko, Natasha Alderslade, Natalia Osipova, Tomasz Kot, and Charlotte Ubben. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

Back to Black (R) This Amy Winehouse biopic has so little to say about its subject that it’ll actually make you angry. Marisa Abela portrays the ill-fated singer and does the singing on the soundtrack. Her vocals are easily the most impressive thing in the movie. Unfortunately, director Sam Taylor-Johnson gives a hackneyed and one-paced take on the story and doesn’t even seem that interested in Winehouse’s music or her career. Writer Matt Greenhalgh neglects to tackle the cruel reaction of the press and public to Winehouse’s transparent need for help, and that is the biggest missed opportunity here. The portrayals of Amy’s cabdriver dad (Eddie Marsan) and faithless husband (Jack O’Connell) are too generous by half, too. This is yet another boilerplate music biopic whose soundtrack album is a better use of your time than the film. Also with Lesley Manville, Sam Buchanan, Juliet Cowan, Anna Darvas, Harley Bird, Ryan O’Doherty, and Therica Wilson-Read. (Opens Friday)

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The Blue Angels (G) Paul Crowder’s documentary profiles the Navy and Marine pilots who seek to join the elite squadron of fliers. (Opens Friday)

Boksi Ko Ghar (NR) Sulakshyan Bharati stars in his own drama as a journalist investigating false claims of witchcraft against a village woman. Also with Keki Adhikari, Shupala Sapkota, Swechchha Raut, and Rama Thapalia. (Opens Friday at Cinepolis Euless)

Guruvayoor Ambalanadayil (NR) Prithviraj Sukumaran stars in this Indian dramedy as a man whose arranged wedding sees him married to the wrong woman. Also with Basil Joseph, Yogi Babu, Nikhila Vimal, Anaswara Rajan, Jagadish, Irshad, Baiju Santhosh, and Gokul Suresh. (Opens Friday)

IF (PG) John Krasinski’s kids’ movie stars Ryan Reynolds as a man who acquires the ability to see kids’ imaginary friends after their children have grown up. Also with Cailey Fleming, Alan Kim, Fiona Shaw, and Bobby Moynihan. Voices by Steve Carell, Emily Blunt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper, Blake Lively, Awkwafina, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sam Rockwell, Jon Stewart, Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, Matthew Rhys, Maya Rudolph, Richard Jenkins, Sebastian Maniscalco, John Krasinski, and the late Louis Gossett Jr. (Opens Friday)

The Last Frenzy (NR) Jia Bing stars in this Chinese drama as a young hotshot businessman who refuses to spend his money until he’s diagnosed as terminally ill. Also with Dong Baoshi, Tan Zhuo, Xiao Shenyang, and Yu Yang. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)

Raju Yadav (NR) This Indian comedy stars Getup Srinu as a victim of medical malpractice whose surgery causes him to smile all the time. Also with Rocket Raghava, Bhushan Kalyan, Ankitha Kharath, R.J. Hemant, and Chakrapani Ananda. (Opens Friday)

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (R) The prequel to the slasher series stars Gabriel Basso and Madelaine Petsch as a couple stalked by the masked killers in a remote cabin. Also with Richard Brake, Rachel Shenton, Froy Gutierrez, Ema Horvath, and Ella Bruccoleri. (Opens Friday)

Who Is Stan Smith? (NR) Danny Lee’s documentary profiles the former tennis champion-turned-sportswear mogul and philanthropist. Also with John McEnroe and Pharrell Williams. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

You Can’t Run Forever (R) This thriller stars Fernanda Urrejola as a traumatized teenager who’s hunted in the woods by a psychopathic killer (J.K. Simmons). Also with Allen Leech, Isabelle Anaya, Graham Patrick Martin, Andres Velez, Kevin Quinn, Michael Spears, and Olivia Simmons. (Opens Friday in Dallas)

 

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Abigail (R) The horror-comedy team called Radio Silence worked their magic to great effect in Ready or Not. Some of that talent is in evidence here, but it feels like the joke goes on too long. A high-end fixer (Giancarlo Esposito) gathers together a crew of small-time criminals to kidnap a rich little girl (Alisha Weir) for ransom, but then the criminals discover that she’s a vampire. The movie does have quite a few funny bits in its first half, and Weir (the Irish actress who starred in Matilda the Musical) delivers a star-making performance as the vamp who can impersonate a cowering little girl who loves ballet. This movie might have been tremendous as a 90-minute yarn, but at almost two hours, it drags on too long. Also with Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Kevin Durand, William Catlett, Matthew Goode, and the late Angus Cloud. 

Challengers (R) Even though the cast is young, this is the sort of grown-up romance that they supposedly don’t make anymore. Luca Guadagnino’s sports drama is about the love triangle between a six-time Grand Slam winner (Mike Faist), his wife and coach (Zendaya), and the tennis player whom she dated (Josh O’Connor) before a catastrophic knee injury brought her own playing career to an end. Guadagnino takes infectious joy in filming the tennis players’ bodies in motion as they strain their muscles to serve and run in for drop shots. The sport of tennis has never been filmed in such ecstatic terms. Justin Kuritzkes’ script gives all the characters juicy lines to work with, and Zendaya is truly stellar both as a teen champion who twists boys around her finger and the older coach who’s more uncertain as her life on the sidelines goes on. Her concluding scream of “Come on!” is well earned. Also with Darnell Appling, Nada Despotovich, and Hailey Gates.

Civil War (R) Pulls the old bait-and-switch. The film is set during a second American civil war that takes place during the present day, but rather than comment on the cultural and political divisions that might lead to that, Alex Garland’s war movie instead tries to get inside the heads of combat photographers documenting the conflict. A nicely deglamorized Kirsten Dunst stars as a photojournalist traveling with a small party of other reporters from New York to Washington to get an interview with the president (Nick Offerman) before his government falls. Garland does generate some nice set pieces from the setup, including a hair-raising cameo by Jesse Plemons as a thug with a gun who shoots whoever he damn well pleases, but this isn’t much more than a higher-minded version of Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down. Also with Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Nelson Lee, Evan Lai, Karl Glusman, Jin Ha, Sonoya Mizuno, and Stephen McKinley Henderson.

Dune: Part Two (PG-13) Not only a better movie than the first part, this sequel makes the original look better in retrospect. Timothée Chalamet reprises his role as the scion of a fallen family who takes up with revolutionaries to help them overthrow their oppressors, while also wrestling with the widely held belief that he’s the chosen one sent to liberate them. The supporting characters come off as more rounded, and while Chalamet is swallowed up for much of the film, he takes charge unambiguously and disturbingly when he goes full cult leader to rally the natives in their climactic battle. Denis Villeneuve does not disappoint in the movie’s two big set pieces, and the movie says some keen things about the advantages and booby traps of religious faith. The film features great turns by Austin Butler as a shaven-headed psychopathic villain and Zendaya as the love interest who is cruelly betrayed. Also with Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin, Léa Seydoux, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgård, Roger Yuan, Babs Olusanmokun, and an uncredited Anya Taylor-Joy.

The Fall Guy (PG-13) This big-screen version of the 1980s TV show is catnip for anyone who thinks stunt performers should be able to win Oscars. Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stuntman who’s called in to investigate the disappearance of a movie star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) from the set of a blockbuster that’s filming in Australia. Director David Leitch is a former stuntman himself, and while he’s had trouble handling humor in his past projects as a director, here the laughs sit easily on the story as the stuntman has to deal with his ex-girlfriend (Emily Blunt), who happens to be directing the movie. The climax features so many stunts that it turns out to be too much of a good thing. The movie is better when focusing on the little details that help stunt performers do their job, making this an endearing tribute to the profession. Also with Hannah Waddingham, Winston Duke, Stephanie Hsu, Teresa Palmer, Ben Knight, Adam Dunn, Kalkida China, Heather Thomas, Lee Majors, and an uncredited Jason Momoa.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (PG-13) Hate to say it, but it’s the old Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson) who do the most to drag down this fifth film in the series. The family from the previous film relocates from Oklahoma to New York City and the Ghostbusters’ old firehouse headquarters, and the move does nothing for the story, nor do the characters acclimate to the place in an interesting way. The most interesting plotline has 15-year-old Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) befriending a sullen teenage ghost (Emily Alyn Lind), but there are too many plotlines going on in this scattered film, and the supernatural hijinks don’t sing like they used to. The supporting cast is packed with added talent, but this movie feels like the smallest of the franchise. Also with Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Annie Potts, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, and William Atherton. 

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (PG-13) At this point, why bother with the humans at all? Just have the massive beasts act out the drama, and we won’t miss the dialogue. King Kong and Godzilla are awakened by a new threat to life on Earth, which forces our scientists (Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry) to undertake a journey into uncharted reaches of the hollow Earth. Dan Stevens turns up as a veterinary dentist with an Australian accent, Hawaiian shirt, and blond highlights, and he’s the only one who’s remotely having fun. Everything else is swallowed up by the special effects. It’s all just exquisitely boring. Also with Kaylee Hottle, Fala Chen, Alex Ferns, Rachel House, and Greg Hatton.

Irena’s Vow (R) This Holocaust drama stars Sophie Nélisse as the real-life Polish woman who saved Jews during the Nazi reign. Also with Dougray Scott, Maciej Nawrocki, Andrzej Seweryn, Sharon Azrieli, Aleksandar Milicevic, Eliza Rycembel, Agata Turkot, and Filip Kosior.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13) The latest installment in the series is proficient and stubbornly unexciting. Decades after Caesar’s death, ape civilization has gone to hell, with a king (Kevin Durand) enslaving tribes of apes to glorify himself. The lone survivor of one captive tribe (Owen Teague) resolves to free his people with the help of a starving human (Freya Allan) who has her own agenda. Director Wes Ball (from the Maze Runner films) is more comfortable with these CGI simians than he is with human beings, and the action sequences are legible without ever raising the pulse. It’s all eminently watchable, and it exists at entirely too comfortable a remove. Also with Peter Macon, Eka Darville, Lydia Peckham, Sara Wiseman, Travis Jeffery, and William H. Macy. 

Kung Fu Panda 4 (PG) If this is the last installment of the animated series, it’s ending at the right time. Po (voiced by Jack Black) has to choose a successor for the title of Dragon Warrior while also teaming up with a street criminal of a fox (voiced by Awkwafina) to take down a villainous chameleon (voiced by Viola Davis) who wishes to steal the souls and kung fu skills of every villain Po has ever faced. The martial arts sequences are still well-filmed and capture stunts that couldn’t be done by human performers, but the wit in the script and the humor in the original premise have leaked away over the years. The film still has a few cinematic references to Stephen Chow’s films and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but it’s time for the warrior panda to lay down his weapons and spend his retirement eating all the dumplings he wants. Additional voices by Dustin Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, James Hong, Ian McShane, Lori Tan Chinn, Ronny Chieng, Seth Rogen, Harry Shum Jr., and Ke Huy Quan.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (R) Guy Ritchie films this based-on-real-life World War II drama like it’s one of his gangster larks, so why does this thing stubbornly refuse to take flight? Cary Elwes plays a British brigadier general who promises to kneecap the Nazi U-boat fleet by hiring an ex-con (Henry Cavill) who gathers together a group of other lowlifes with special espionage skills who can be disposed of if they’re caught. We get Eiza González as a British Jewish actress-singer and Alan Ritchson as a Danish muscleman, and the plot is sufficiently twisty to keep you watching. Somehow it all feels more rote than fun, like a spinoff of the Kingsmen series. Also with Alex Pettyfer, Babs Olusanmokun, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Til Schweiger, James Wilby, Freddie Fox, Danny Sapani, Henrique Zaga, Henry Golding, and Rory Kinnear. 

Monkey Man (R) Dev Patel stars in his own directing debut, an ass-kicking action-thriller that’s heavily stylized in a John Wick sort of way, but the more interesting stuff is around the edges. He stars as a wrestling heel in an underground Mumbai fight club who’s taking aim at a conspiracy of sex traffickers, crooked cops, a power-mad Hindu guru (Makarand Deshpande), and a Narendra Modi-like candidate for prime minister. That last bit is probably why the film has yet to be released in India, as Modi’s government would certainly bristle at this movie’s show of poverty in the country and sympathetic depiction of hijras (an accepted third gender in Indian culture). Still, Patel’s long-striding presence dominates the fight sequences, and his combination of Western techniques with Indian subject matter creates something spine-tinglingly new. Also with Sobhita Dhulipala, Sikandar Kher, Pitobash, Vipin Sharma, Ashwini Kalsekar, Aditi Kalkunte, Zakir Hussain, and Sharlto Copley. 

Not Another Church Movie (R) Isn’t it, like, 15 years too late to be parodying Tyler Perry? Kevin Daniels stars in this satire as a Black comedy filmmaker inspired by God to make a movie about his own dysfunctional family. Also with Jamie Foxx, Vivica A. Fox, Tisha Campbell, Lamorne Morris, Jasmine Guy, Kyla Pratt, Patricia Belcher, and Mickey Rourke. 

Rocket Club: Across the Cosmos (NR) This Canadian animated film is about a group of astronauts hoping to save the Earth and return an alien to its home planet before dinner. Voices by Andrea Libman, Ian James Corlett, Elyse Maloway, Elishia Perosa, and Vincent Tong. 

The Roundup: Punishment (NR) This rather ordinary Korean cop thriller stars Don Lee as a homicide detective whose unit catches the trail of a cybercrime gambling operation behind murders in both South Korea and the Philippines. Our hero doesn’t even know what open-source code is, so it’s good that some of his cops make up for his lack of expertise. Still, the culture clash between him and the tech-savvy cops doesn’t provide much in the way of laughs, and while Lee can still throw a right cross with the best of them, the action sequences are dull by the lofty standards of Korean thrillers. The movie doesn’t drag, but it’s strictly disposable as a piece of entertainment. Also with Lee Dong-hwi, Lee Beom-su, Park Ji-hwan, Lee Ji-hoon, Kim Mu-yeol, and Kim Min-jae.

Srikanth (NR) Rajkummar Rao stars in this drama as a blind Indian man who graduates from MIT and tries to start up his own tech company. Also with Alaya F, Jyotika, Sharad Kelkar, and Ravi Singh.

Star (NR) This Tamil-language film stars Kavin as a young man seeking to make a name for himself as an actor. Also with Aaditi Pohankar, Lal, Geetha Kailasam, and Preity Mukhudan.

Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (PG-13) Don’t believe the revisionist take. The first one was correct: This 1999 prequel sucks, and Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is only an emblem of why. Two Jedi knights (Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor) travel to a desert planet to unearth the future Darth Vader (Jake Lloyd), thinking that he’s the warrior who’s going to vanquish evil once and for all. Insensitive racial stereotyping aside, George Lucas bogs down in microscopic minutiae and dull political maneuvering to build out his world, and the script is chockablock with bad dialogue. The knights’ duel with Darth Maul (Ray Park) is pretty cool, but that is not nearly enough to make up for the tedium of everything that comes before. Also with Natalie Portman, Ian MacDiarmid, Hugh Quarshie, Pernilla August, Kenny Baker, Warwick Davis, Sofia Coppola, Keira Knightley, Terrence Stamp, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Tarot (PG-13) A bunch of stupid young people get their horoscope readings from a cursed tarot deck despite numerous warnings about what might happen, then they start dying mysteriously. That is not the end of the dumb decisions that they make in this horror movie. Newcomer Harriet Slater has the only semi-developed character here, and she gives it everything she has, but she can’t begin to overcome the relentless idiocy of this affair. To top it all off, the movie falls victim to the Kill Your Gays trope. The original title of this movie was Horrorscope, which would have been an improvement, but not enough to save this. Also with Jacob Batalon, Avantika, Adain Bradley, Humberly González, Larsen Thompson, Wolfgang Novogratz, and Olwen Fouéré.

Unsung Hero (PG) Joel Smallbone co-writes, co-directs, and co-stars in this biography of his Australian family’s struggle to succeed in America as Christian singers. Joel portrays his own father as an angry, depressive man who’s too proud to accept charity or other people’s ideas. That’s interesting, but the rest of the movie is reduced to inspirational pablum, as the musical career of his daughter Rebecca St. James (Kirrilee Berger) is carelessly smooshed out of shape to give the story a neat little cap. There’s a better movie trapped inside this one, and it never threatens to escape. Also with Daisy Betts, Jonathan Jackson, Paul Luke Bonenfant, Diesel La Torraca, JJ Pantano, Terry O’Quinn, Hillary Scott, Lucas Black, and Candace Cameron Bure. 

 

DALLAS EXCLUSIVES

 

Aisha (NR) Letitia Wright stars in this drama as an immigrant in Ireland who befriends a native (Josh O’Connor) while her immigration status is in limbo. Also with Denis Conway, Lorcan Cranitch, Stuart Graham, Ian Toner, Theresa O’Connor, and Ruth McCabe. 

Evil Does Not Exist (NR) Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s follow-up to Drive My Car is this drama about a village outside Tokyo that’s facing the possibility of being torn down to provide city-dwellers with a countryside getaway. Starring Hitoshi Omika, Ryô Nishikawa, Ryūji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani, Hazuki Kikuchi, Hiroyuki Miura, and Yoshinori Miata. 

Hazard (NR) This Belgian action-comedy stars Dimitri “Vegas” Thivalos as a racer who’s forced to choose between his family and his car. Also with Jennifer Heylen, Frank Lammers, Jeroen Perceval, Mila Rooms, Monic Hendrickx, and Alice Toen. 

 

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