Want to catch something on the big screen this weekend? Here’s what’s in theaters from blockbusters to independent films. Ratings key: ★★★★ excellent;
★★★ good; ★★ fair; ★ poor.
A Dog’s Way Home Charles Martin Smith (“Never Cry Wolf ”) directs the tale of a dog who travels across the country to reunite with his owner. Of course, the adventures he has on his journey are the best part. With Bryce Dallas Howard and Ashley Judd.
The Upside In a remake of the French film “Les Intouchables,” a quadriplegic man (Bryan Cranston) hires a man (Kevin Hart) with a criminal history to help take care of him.
Aquaman ★ 1⁄ The DC Comics superhero
Aquaman takes center stage, on land and under the sea, in “Aquaman.” The “Game of Thrones” actor Jason Momoa’s great in close-up, surly and charismatic, with eyebrows that suggest all sorts of fun. Screenwriters David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall stumble all over the place trying to set up simple origin-story exposition — how Arthur Curry, the lighthouse keeper’s son, was born to Queen Atlanna of Atlantis, and how he must prevent an apocalyptic surface war waged by Orm and associates, while aquamanning-up to claim a leadership role down where the fishies go. The film’s just sincere enough where it counts to float this soggy mediocrity for a global audience. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
Beautiful Boy ★★★ 1⁄ “Relapse is a part of
2 recovery,” a clinic worker says to a distraught David Sheff, played by Steve Carell in the new film “Beautiful Boy.” David’s bright, unraveling son, Nic, played by Timothee Chalamet, has begun to face his addictions head-on. But on the road to success, failures lurk around every corner, along with chemical demons. It’s a tricky and largely successful back-and-forth. The simple two-person scenes work best. Chalamet’s terrific throughout, accessing and deploying every kind of emotion in unpredictable combinations. A lot of “Beautiful Boy” is necessarily hard to take, though the script softens the roughest of Nic’s travails. Is this why the movie’s anguish feels more indicated than inhabited? Still: You can’t fault the performers much. Or Chalamet, at all. — Michael Phillips
Ben Is Back ★★★ In its emotional peaks “Ben is Back,” the new drama from writerdirector Peter Hedges, affords Julia Roberts the chance to go full-on “Steel Magnolias” — delivering short, sudden outbursts of desperation, anger and tough love. Getting to those peaks, however, Hedges’ film doesn’t travel the expected route. This addiction drama is primarily a showcase for its superb leading performers, and in its compressed time frame (24 hours around Christmas) it feels like a well-made play more than a fully amplified feature film. The acting is enough, though. — Michael Phillips
Boy Erased ★★ 1⁄ Seeking to survive a
2 gay-conversion program, Jared (Lucas Hedges), the teenage hero of “Boy Erased,” is advised by one of his peers to “fake it til you make it.” What the kid means is that Jared should play along until he finishes the purported rehabilitation. But Jared’s parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) would prefer that their son fake it for the rest of his life — or at least the rest of theirs. Writer-director Joel Edgerton plays Victor Sykes, a self-styled therapist who runs the conversion center. A literature student, Jared ends up in the program after a sexual encounter with a fellow college student who wrongs him in multiple ways — including by outing Jared to his parents. “Boy Erased” is a showcase for Hedges. The film is finely crafted, yet short on surprises, either narrative or emotional. — Mark Jenkins, The Washington Post Bumblebee ★★ 1⁄ Downsizing was the
2 only answer for the “Transformers” franchise after 2017’s epic, sprawling “Transformers: The Last Knight.” Paramount decided to go home, paring the latest film back to an origin story and getting at what makes this franchise tick: the friendly yellow Transformer known as Bumblebee. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Charlie, a musicobsessed 18-year-old who. She’s mourning the loss of her father, pouring herself into working on his classic car. All she wants is her own set of wheels, so when a dusty yellow VW Beetle shows up at the junkyard, she finagles a way to take it home. Much to her surprise, the little beater morphs into a scared, quivering, giant robot, whom she dubs Bumblebee. This prequel offers Bumblebee a chance to shine, and you’ll come away with a newfound sense of affection for the most lovable alien vehicle in the universe. — Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service
Creed II ★★ 1⁄ For starters, the way to
2 appreciate the fairly enjoyable, consistently predictable “Creed II” is to acknowledge its superiority to most of the first-round “Rocky” sequels. Full credit goes to the easy charisma and emotional authenticity of Michael B. Jordan as Adonis, son of the late Apollo, out to avenge his father’s death in the boxing ring; Sylvester Stallone; and Tessa Thompson as Adonis’ partner Bianca, maker of music, contender with hearing loss, all-around dreamy Rock of Gibraltar. The first of the two big championships in “Creed II” arrives at the 45minute mark, which then puts our hero, Adonis, in prime position for soul-searching setbacks. By the end, the movie has become a shameless and, yes, effective ode to fathers and sons everywhere. — Michael Phillips
Escape Room ★★ In “Escape Room,” half a dozen terrified strangers have signed on to compete in a game of experiential survival. Can our heroes figure out the clue that will let them exit the room and move on to the next trip-wired chamber of horror? “Escape Room,” which is like “Saw” remade as a PG-13 group date, jettisons the torture but keeps the death. The contestants, who have to escape a linked series of rooms, have signed on to win a possible prize of $10,000. They don’t realize that the stakes of the game are real — i.e., their lives are truly on the line. The first part of the film gets some airy momentum going. Then we learn the secret of what the characters have in common, and it gives you that slightly sinking feeling of one contrivance too many. — Owen Gleiberman, Variety
The Favourite ★★★★ “The Favourite” would be worth seeing if only for the subtle varieties of cutting rejoinder it offers its central trio of performers: Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and, as Queen Anne, early 18th century ruler of England, Ireland and Scotland, the heartbreakingly funny Olivia Colman. “The Favourite” depicts a
Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and Bella (Amber) in Columbia Pictures’ ‘A Dog’s Way Home.’