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Movies: New and Noteworthy

Opening Christmas Day Fences ***1/2 August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece about a working-class African American family in the 1950s is transformed into a compelling, searing film in the hands of producer, director, and star Denzel Washington. He plays a charismat

Opening Christmas Day

Fences ***1/2 August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece about a working-class African American family in the 1950s is transformed into a compelling, searing film in the hands of producer, director, and star Denzel Washington. He plays a charismatic, funny, energetic but embittered Pittsburgh garbage collector who derides anyone - including his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and his best friend (Stephen Henderson) - who suggests life has improved for African Americans since the Civil War. Once a star baseball player forced by segregation to play in the Negro League, the aging patriarch is harshest on his sons (Russell Hornsby, Jovan Adepo), whose optimism disturbs him deeply. 2 hrs. 18 PG-13 (thematic elements, profanity, and some suggestive references) - Tirdad Derakhshani

Hidden Figures *** Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe are terrific in this feel-good family movie about a group of black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the 1960s. The true story is about overqualified scientists who could only get jobs crunching numbers for their white male bosses, but who overcame prejudice to make their own mark on the space program. What it lacks in serious history it makes up for with an empowering social message. The ensemble cast includes Kevin Costner, Glen Powell, Mahershala Ali, and Aldis Hodge. 2 hr. 7 PG (thematic elements and some profanity) - T.D.

Lion *** Australian TV director Garth Davis (Top of the Lake) makes his feature debut with this heartbreaking, if sometimes maudlin, true story told in two parts. In the first, a 5-year-old boy in India becomes separated from his impoverished family and ends up being adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). In the second part, the now-grown young man (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire) goes in search of his lost family. 1 hr. 48 PG-13 (thematic material and some sensuality) - T.D.

Excellent (****)

Reviewed by critics Steven Rea (S.R.), Tirdad Derakhshani (T.D.), Molly Eichel (M.E.), and Steven Rea (S.R.). W.S. denotes a wire-service review.

La La Land Some kind of transcendent magic happens in Damien Chazelle's starry-eyed musical, with one foot (in tap shoes) firmly planted in the past, and the other (in taps, too, of course) planted in a me-first, modern-day world. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the struggling Los Angelenos who fall in love despite a mutual wariness, walking and talking, singing and dancing, amid a swirl of classic Hollywood references. Not quite perfect, but its imperfections, and its embrace of passion over cynicism, are part of the charm. 2 hr. 8 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

Moonlight A true American masterpiece, the sophomore feature from Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) is a heady mix of brutal social realism and poetry as it tells the coming-of-age story of a young black gay man from a Miami ghetto. Divided into three parts, it tells the story of Chiron as a 10-year-old, a high school student, and a 20-something professional as he wrestles with external forces he can't control, including poverty and drug crime and internal desires he cannot ignore. Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes give memorable performances as Chiron. With André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali.1 hr. 50 R (some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and profanity throughout) - T.D.

Very Good (***1/2)

Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) acquits himself most awesomely in the 14th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a visually sumptuous, trippy origin story about an arrogant surgeon who loses his career but regains his soul - and the ability to cast wicked spells, do wicked kung fu, and look wicked cool in a majestic bloodred cape. The plot? Hmm, well evil threatens to swallow all of reality and the good guys try to stop it. 1 hr. 55


(sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence) -


The Eagle Huntress Remarkable documentary follows wildly charismatic 13-year-old girl from nomadic family in Mongolia as she captures and trains an eagle. The story is mythic, the scenery jaw-dropping, the tone often surprisingly fun. And young Aisholpan Nurgaiv is a born star. 1 hr. 27 G (contains nothing objectionable) - W.S.

Elle Paul Verhoeven's most daring exploration of sexual politics features a stunning performance by Isabelle Huppert as a successful business executive and single mother who is violently raped by a masked assailant. Refusing to become a victim or to seek revenge, she tries to understand the dynamics of rape, going as far as to befriend and seduce her attacker. 2 hrs. 10 R (violence involving sexual assault, disturbing sexual content, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity, and profanity) - T.D.

Hacksaw Ridge One of Mel Gibson's greatest achievements as director, this incredibly violent, gory WWII epic tells the true story of U.S. Army medic Desmond Doss (a remarkable Andrew Garfield), who became one of the most decorated soldiers of the Pacific Theater without firing a single shot. A conscientious objector, he single-handedly saved more than 75 wounded men during the Battle of Okinawa. 2 hrs. 11 R (intense prolonged graphic sequences of war violence, including grisly bloody images) - T.D.

The Handmaiden Based on Sarah Water's novel The Fingersmith, this breathtaking, clever, funny, sexy - and sexually graphic - romantic thriller from Oldboy director Park Chan-wook is about a lesbian romance that develops between an impoverished confidence trickster and an isolated, naïve heiress. Set during the 1930s, when Korea was a vassal state of Japan, the film cleverly addresses a range of themes about power, economic exploitation, and sexuality.2 hrs. 24 No MPAA rating (nudity and graphic sexual situations throughout, profanity, smoking, violence) - T.D.

Manchester by the Sea Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret) proves once again he's one of America's finest dramatists with this working-class drama about loss, grief, and family obligations. Casey Affleck is sensational in an Oscar-worthy performance as a self-hating melancholic who has lived a miserable life as a janitor since an accident. When his older brother (Kyle Chandler) dies, he must return to his tiny hometown and assume responsibility for his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges). Costars Michelle Williams, Matthew Broderick, and Gretchen Mol.2 hrs. 17 R (profanity throughout and some sexual content) - T.D.

Moana This delightful, lyrical, and deeply moving 3D computer-animated family picture is a semicomic adventure story featuring the first truly feminist heroine to grace Walt Disney's animated features. Based in part on Polynesian myths, it's about a teenage princess (15-year-old Hawaii-born singer Auli'i Cravalho) who goes on an arduous journey to restore the creative powers of the fecund earth mother who created the world. Co-starring Dwayne Johnson as a macho demigod, the film is fueled by a wondrous ecofeminist point of view. 1 hr. 53 PG (peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements) - T.D.

Also on screens

Allied **

Robert Zemeckis (

Forrest Gump

) pays tribute to classic Hollywood films with this subpar romantic WWII spy yarn starring Brad Pitt as a commando who parachutes into Casablanca to help an agent from the French Resistance (Marion Cotillard). The derivative story is so far-fetched and the romance so tepid the film lacks any real vitality. The thriller elements are too thin to be taken seriously and the romance is far too sentimentalized. 2 hrs. 04


(violence, some sexuality/nudity, profanity, and brief drug use) -


Almost Christmas **1/2 Finally, a decent role for Mo'Nique after her Oscar for 2009's Precious. Writer/director David E. Talbert turns the cameras on and lets her do her thing as the eccentric, motormouth Aunt May of the Meyers clan as the family works through all the familiar tropes of the holiday movie genre. 1 hr. 52 PG-13 (suggestive material, drug content, and language) - W.S.

Assassin's Creed **1/2 Director Justin Kurzel reunites with his Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard for this hard-hitting violent, rapidly-paced fantasy action thriller based on the video game franchise. Based on an utterly ludicrous premise it's about a centuries-long conflict between two secret societies, the Knights Templar who want to eradicate human will and the Assassins, a line of anarchist social libertarians. The film stages two conflicts between the two sides, one in 1492 and one in today's world. 1 hr. 55 PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong profanity) - T.D.

Bad Santa 2 **1/2 In long-in-coming sequel to 2003 hit, safecracking Santa Billy Bob Thornton and elfin sidekick Tony Cox try to knock over a Chicago charity. Kathy Bates is here, too, and the cast is in fine form – but the jokes feel way past their prime. 1 hr. 32 R (crude sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nudity) - W.S.

The Brand New Testament *** In the grand satirical tradition of Monty Python and Kevin Smith, Belgian writer-director Jaco Van Dormael takes gleeful yet genial aim at the God of the Judeo-Christian universe - reimagined as an angry, foul-mouthed schlub in flannel pajamas and played with an unflattering sneer by Benoit Poelvoorde. Yolande Moreau and Pili Groyne are terrific, too. French with English subtitles. 1 hr. 55 No MPAA rating (nudity, sexuality, strong language, and some violence) - W.S.

Collateral Beauty *1/2 This overly earnest movie misses its mark by a mile, stranding an impressive cast (Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren). Smith is a grieving ad man whose young daughter died two years before; he spends his time at the office playing dominoes and writing letters to Love, Time, and Death. His supposed pals at work hire actors to follow him around and pretend to be them. 1 hr. 34 PG-13 (thematic elements and brief strong language) - W.S.

The Edge of Seventeen *** A teen's (Hailee Steinfeld) life takes a turn for the worse when her best friend begins dating her brother. It works because it's not a candy- coated version of teenagedom. It's harsh, awkward, and funny, just like being a teenager.1 hr. 30 R (sexual content, language, and some drinking) - M.E.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them *** Harry Potter spin-off scripted by J.K. Rowling brings the wizarding world across the pond to our side. Set in 1920s Manhattan, with Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell. 2 hrs. 13 PG-13 (for some fantasy-action violence) - T.D.

Jackie *** Natalie Portman, intense, focused, transfiguring, stars as Jacqueline Kennedy in a daring fever dream of a biopic, wheeling around the events before, during, and after the assassination of JFK. Not every element of Chilean director Pablo Larrain's film works, but its star is unforgettable, and the images - historic and imagined - imbue this psychological portrait with a haunting resonance. 1 hr. 40 R (brief strong language and some violence) - S.R.

Loving *** True story of an interracial couple who were jailed for getting married in 1950s Virginia. Their case led to the Supreme Court decision invalidating race-related marriage laws. 2 hrs. 3 PG-13 (thematic elements, some profanity) - T.D.

Miss Sloane ** Disappointing political thriller features Jessica Chastain in a powerhouse performance as an amoral conservative Washington lobbyist who comes under attack from the gun lobby when she switches sides to help a gun-control bill pass a Senate vote. John Madden, who directed Chastain's 2010 breakout film, The Debt, delivers a serviceable thriller that feels far more like a heist film about a con artist than a satire about the corrupting influence of money in politics. 2 hrs. 12 R (profanity and some sexuality) - T.D.

Nocturnal Animals *** In this intense, haunting, convoluted movie - and movie-within-a- movie - Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal star as a divorced couple whose relationship takes a dark turn after he writes a novel. 1 hr. 56 R (violence, obscenity, and graphic nudity) - W.S.

Office Christmas Party **1/2 Coworkers have one last hope of hanging on to their jobs: Throw a wild Yuletide bash that will win over a potential client. Jennifer Aniston is the cutthroat corporate boss looking to slash the payroll. Jason Bateman, Kate McKinnon, and T.J. Miller are the office goofballs. Courtney Vance is the target of their party-hearty tomfoolery. 1 hr. 45 R (crude sexual content, language, drug use, graphic nudity) - W.S.

Passengers ** 1/2 Norwegian director Morten Tyldum follows up his brilliant features Headhunter and The Imitation Game with a disappointing entry that tries to graft a solid love story onto a weak, badly conceived sci-fi adventure. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt have great chemistry as two passengers on a 120-year intergalactic flight whose hypersleep pods malfunction. The only two people awake on a ship of 5,000, they embark on a troubled romance that gets all wonky when they have to save the ship from blowing up. 1 hr. 56 PG-13 (sexuality, nudity, and action/peril) - T.D.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. ** Director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) delivers a passable minor prequel to 1977's Star Wars featuring Felicity Jones as a reluctant rebel hero who takes on the Empire to save her scientist dad (Mads Mikkelsen), who happens to be the guy who built the Death Star from the 1977 masterpiece. Costarring Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, and Donnie Yen, this would have been a fun, effective diversion were it not for its absurd sense of self-importance - nowhere more apparent than in composer Michael Giacchino's bombastic, over-the-top John Williamsesque score that swells and crescendos in every scene. 2 hrs. 13 PG-13 (extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action) - T.D.

Sing **1/2 The team behind Minions now brings you an animal-populated reality singing competition – a Zootopia Idol, if you will. Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Nick Kroll, Seth MacFarlane, and John C. Reilly are among the celebs who voice the song-and-dance menagerie. Peppy, good natured, and full of good tunes. 1 hr. 48 PG (some rude humor and mild peril) - W.S.

Why Him **1/2 James Franco burns up the screen with surreal weirdness in a madcap take on Meet the Parents co-starring Zoey Deutch as his younger lover and Brian Cranston and Megan Mullally as her straight-laced Midwestern parents. Franco plays Laird, an eccentric, four-letter-word loving, heavily tattooed Silicon Valley gazillionaire with a heart of gold who hosts his gal's family at his gorgeous mansion for a weekend filled with wordplay, sight gags, crazy stunts, and a bit of sex. Keegan-Michael Key is brilliant as Laird's friend, employee, and martial arts teacher. Franco lays it on heavy here and dominates every scene, so those allergic to him might want to keep away. His fans will lap it up. 1 hr. 51 R (strong profanity and sexual material) - T.D.