Movie Review Roundup: What You Should See This Weekend

The weekend offers a respite from the hustle bustle of the week. With the respite, though, come the cute side dish of decisions. What should you do with your time off? Shall you sleep, finally able to rest your head? Or should you head to the movies? And then, once you make the choice to head to your nearest AMC, you've got to decide which movie to watch.
That's where we come in. Ahead, you'll find the latest films in wide release, all available for your viewing pleasure. We'll gather the comments from the peanut gallery of movie critics from across the web just for you to see. Both positive and negative comments are welcome — and we won't mince words when it comes to the critically panned. Not sure about the latest indie flick? We can help. On the fence about the star-studded blockbuster all your friends want to see? Come hither. We'll be updating this list every week, so be sure to check back on Friday. Sit back, relax, and let us make your movie-viewing decisions.
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Alien: Covenant

Starring: Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

Summary: Ten years after the movie Prometheus, a ship bearing space colonists picks up a distress signal and ends up on a planet where the sole inhabitant is a robot, and lots of terrifying monsters.

What's the Word: It seems that the word is Alien: Covenant is more of the same Alien franchise, for better or for worse. If you're into Alien movies, great. If not, this movie won't convince you. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone must like Alien, because he raves, "It's covering old ground - the shocking originality of the first Alien is a one-time thing. No worries. I'd rank Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant with the best of the series, right after the initial one-two punch. Fans are going to freak out." If you're looking for a thrilling blockbuster, this is the right direction to head in. Kevin Sullivan of Entertainment Weekly says, "Alien: Covenant indulges in a spectacle that's been missing from summer movies for the past decade or so. It grosses you out and then laughs at you while you puke (not literally)." So, sit back, watch this Frankenstein meets horror meets deep space movie, and enjoy the start of summer.
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Everything, Everything

Starring: Amandla Stenberg

Rotten Tomatoes: 49%

Summary: 17-year-old Maddy has never left the house because of her severely compromised immune system, but a budding relationship with the boy next door tempts her to venture into the big wide world.

What's the Word? Fans of the original YA novel will probably enjoy this adaptation. Katie Rife of AV Club thinks the movie will appeal to its teenage target audience, saying, "If you're spending the running time of a movie like Everything, Everything being annoyed by plot holes rather than swooning over every chaste kiss and meaningful look, you're probably too old and cynical for it anyway." Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter put it bluntly: "Its target audience will swoon." So, essentially: If you're an adult, go see Alien: Covenant.
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Snatched

Starring: Goldie Hawn, Amy Schumer

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 44%

Summary: A mother and daughter are kidnapped while on vacation in Ecuador.

What's the Word? When reviewing this romp through the Ecuadorian jungle, critics lament that Hawn and Schumer's comedic talents aren't put to good use. Christy Lemire sums up her disappointment by saying, "As an exercise in afternoon cable-channel surfing while dozing in and out from cold medication, it’s harmless. But as a summer-launching comic adventure, it’s a frustrating waste of everyone’s abilities." Essentially, every hoped for more from Hawn and Schumer. Alissa Wilkinson of Vox makes due with its humor, writing, "Snatched lands more of its jokes than it flubs" and decides she will "let it have its jokes, and ignore how much better it could have been."
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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Summary: Your favorite intergalactic misfits are back, this time discovering the truths of Peter Quill's parentage.

What's the word? Guardians' fun is hard to resist, even for the most pretentious of the critics. As Brian Tallerico of Roger Ebert says, " This is the rare Hollywood CGI orgy that doesn’t take itself deadly seriously—like the current plague of superhero movies—and wants to be as purely entertaining as possible." For Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post, Guardians signals the start of summer: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a toe-tapping, eye-popping indication that summer is here, and that it might not suck after all." For two hours, Guardians offers a sure escape from reality.
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Buster's Mal Heart

Starring: Rami Malek

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%

Summary: A reclusive mountain man begins having flashbacks to a life he barely remembers — a happy home, a wife and kids. We piece together the events that split his life in two.

What's the Word? The intelligent indie thriller is garnering praise, though critics urge that viewers pay careful attention if they want to keep up with the film's complicated plot. Jeanette Catsoulis of the New York Times praises the Malek's character, saying, "If the story is too tricky to realize its themes or welcome the impatient, it also contains enough empathy to humanize a character who's part man, part spiritual symbol." And listen up, all you movie-watching multi-taskers. April Wolf of the LA Times warns, "This film is not for casual watching, with Twitter open on your phone. It's science fiction that's complex, thoughtful and funny, like 12 Monkeys or Primer run through a Fargo filter." Sounds pretty thrilling to us.
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The Lost City of Z

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Summary: The true story of an adventurer who finds traces of an advanced civilization that once inhabited a remote region of the Amazon.

What's the Word? Critics are loving this film. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times first commends writer-director James Gray for making "a film in the colonial era that suggests the likes of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, but through a sensitive, contemporary lens." She then relishes in the world's lush beauty, and the filmmakers' attention to ancillary characters and detail. As she summates, "There’s much to love in this film, but what lingers are those lapidary details that often go missing in stories about great men, as if they had built the world alone and no child had ever raced down a road waving goodbye as a father disappeared into history." Roger Ebert says, "Scene for scene, this is a splendid film." Not too shabby.
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Gifted

Starring: Chris Evans

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

Summary: A seven-year-old's extraordinary math abilities lead to a custody battle between her uncle and her grandmother, who wishes to exploit her math abilities.

What's the Word? The cute film charmed some critics, like Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter, who said, "Despite its recycled tropes, the comedy-drama manages to be both funny and moving even if its emotional manipulations are fully apparent." But Gifted left others frustrated at the actors' wasted potential and the places the film didn't seek to go. As Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of AV Club put it, "What's left, once one accounts for the suffocating and stultifying plot mechanics? Polished cutesiness; attractive shots of beach sides; and a good, mostly underutilized ensemble cast."
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Ghost in the Shell

Starring: Scarlett Johansson

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 47%

Summary: Major is the first successful robot to be implanted with a human brain, and she's deployed the rid her futuristic world of cyber terrorism.

What's the Word? Ghost in the Shell stuns visually, but falls flat when it comes to narrative power. For Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times, stunning visuals were almost enough: "Your head might not be spinning as you exit the theater, but your senses will be deeply and thoroughly ravished." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times laments the film's drastic veering from the original source material, and source country, when she says, "This isn’t just appropriation; it’s obliteration."
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Prevenge

Starring: Alice Lowe

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

Summary: Angry and resentful at the unfair world to which it will be born into, Ruth's unborn baby directs her to go on a killing spree.

What's the Word? Looks like Get Out won't be this year's only acclaimed entry into the horror-comedy genre. This wry British black comedy is garnering oodles of praise. Jeanette Catsoulis of The New York Times says, "What hoists this bloody battiness above much of the scrappily low-budget horror pack is the smartness of its execution and the strength of the movie's central performance." While Lowe's directorial debut isn't without fault — critics cite plot holes and sparse world-building — ultimately "Lowe’s take on pre- and postnatal depression and the dark side of motherhood is undeniably unique," as Katie Rife for AV Club says.

Released Friday, March 24, 2017
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Life

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%

Summary: Six crew members on a mission to Mars discover a new life form that's far more intelligent than they'd bargained for.

What's the Word? Critics who came into the theater wanting a novel, interesting take on the sci-fi film were sorely disappointed. You can practically taste the disappointment in Tom Huddleston's pen when he writes for Time Out, "How this by-the-numbers sci-fi horror managed to blast free of the DVD bin and engage A-list stars like Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds is hard to figure out." Alex Welch of IGN was more entranced by some of Life's terrifying alien moments, but still said, "Life can’t help but fall into the same genre cliches that have damaged past films like it."

Released Friday, March 24, 2017
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Beauty and the Beast

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%

Summary: As if you didn't already know this one! A smart young Frenchwoman goes to a mysterious beast's mansion in an effort to save her kidnapped father. The rest's as old as time.

What's the Word? All the reviews seem to ask the same question: did the film succeed in making an old film new again? According to The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday, who thought the live action version brought satisfying complexity to the story, the answer is yes: "This Beauty and the Beast isn’t predicated on starry-eyed romance or animal attraction, but the solace of mutual loss and understanding, which makes it all the sweeter." But if you're looking for praise, look no further than The New York Times A.O. Scott, who gushes, "Its classicism feels unforced and fresh. Its romance neither winks nor panders. It looks good, moves gracefully and leaves a clean and invigorating aftertaste. I almost didn’t recognize the flavor: I think the name for it is joy." Other curmudgeons, like Joe Morgenstern at WSJ, calls it, a "crazily cluttered, overproduced venture."

Released Friday, March 17
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T2 Trainspotting

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Summary: After 20 years, Mark Renton goes home to Edinburgh where he revisits his old gang of messed up friends.

What's the Word? Critics are on the fence as to whether this self-referential sequel was really necessary. Jeanette Catsoulis of The New York Times finds the film to address middle age in a satisfying way, saying, "While "T2" might be middle-aged, it's very far from moribund, the despondent base notes shouldering a story of revenge and regret, amity and acceptance." Scott Tobias of NPR, on the other hand, is not so positive, writing, "It never comes up with a coherent answer for why it exists, other than to indulge in the same nostalgia that its characters find so toxic." One thing they all agree on: all Transpotting fans should see the sequel.

Released Friday, March 17
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Kong: Skull Island

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Summary: An expedition to Skull Island reveals a crop of gigantic, carnivorous, horrifying monsters that these humans will struggle to go up against.
What's The Word: Critics weren't necessarily expecting an intelligent action film, and so are at least entertained by the film's twists, turns, and monsters. On the bright side, Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times says, "It's wildly entertaining and it has a sense of humor about itself." Many critics found that while the CGI effects were great, the characterization fell flat: "Every time the movie threatens to get interesting, one of its hordes of ersatz, non-animated characters shows up and starts talking again," says Chris Klimek of NPR.

Released March 10
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Before I Fall

Starring: Zoe Deutch, Halston Sage, Kian Lawley, Elena Kampouris

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

Summary: After getting into a car accident, queen bee Samantha Kingston is forced to relive the same day over and over again until she can break the cycle.

What's the Word? Critics are praising the dark teen drama, based off a YA book of the same title, for couching a moral lesson in realistic high school dynamics and friendships. It certainly works for Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post, who writes, "The filmmakers have crafted a canny delivery system for their life lessons, by way of a movie that balances escapism, candor and ethics with admirable aplomb." And while the Groundhog Day format has been done before, Justin Chang from Los Angeles Times cedes that it "takes an unapologetically silly conceit and wrings from it a surprisingly nimble and affecting survey of contemporary teenage attitudes and anxieties."
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Get Out
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% (!!!)
Summary: From the mind of comedian Jordan Peele, Get Out tells the story of a young Black man named Chris who goes to visit his white girlfriend's family. As the weekend progresses, Chris begins to realize there's something seriously amiss.

What’s the Word: The word is good, people, the word is good. The film is lauded for being equally scary and thought-provoking. Due to its seamless integration of social commentary and scares, Roger Ebert says, “Get Out feels fresh and sharp in a way that studio horror movies almost never do.” A New York Times critic’s pick, reviewer Manohla Dargis gets to the heart of the matter: “Mr. Peele is after more than giggles and shocks; he’s taking on 21st-century white racism and its rationales.” Building on this idea, A.V. Club summates perfectly, “Peele’s clever, incisive foray into genre cinema makes a point much more frightening than any jump scare or torture chamber: Being black in America is often its own horror movie.”

Released February 24, 2017
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Everybody Loves Somebody
Starring: Karla Souza, José María Yazpik, Ben O'Toole
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Summary: Clara (Karla Souza) asks a co-worker to pose as her boyfriend for a family wedding and — whaddya know? — the two get cozy. But then her ex shows up.

What's The Word: For a movie with a stunningly trite premise, Everybody Loves Somebody dishes satisfying romantic comfort. The New York Times thinks it's a spiffier version of your average rom-com, writing, "The setup is commonplace, but the scenery is delicious, the dialogue refreshingly tart and the keen supporting cast frisky or affecting, as the occasion demands." The Hollywood Reporter wrote back in January, when the film made its world premiere, "Anyone expecting an incisive exploration of human psychology or cross-cultural conflicts will find the script pretty superficial and overly reliant on self-help bromides. Yet we get caught up in the movie all the same. Everybody may lack depth, but it often compensates with raucous humor. " Much of the focus is on the film's bilingual aspect — Clara and her family are Mexican and half of the film's dialogue is in Spanish. SFGate says, "Like its bilingual heroine, the multicultural romantic comedy Everybody Loves Somebody breezily bounces back and forth from Baja to Los Angeles, and it’s a pleasant diversion, on both sides of the border."

Released February 17
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The Great Wall
Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 35%
Summary: This action film depicts a great war to defend China's most famous landmark.

What's The Word: It's even crazier than we thought it would be — in fact, it's just plain stupid, and that might be okay. The A.V. Club is down for the splendiferous visuals, calling it a "stupidly awesome eyeful." The New York Times declares the film, "a painless, overstuffed spectacle that works overtime as a testament to China’s might." Everyone seems to agree that it sends a nationalist message and, for all the talk about white savior complex, it's all too silly to be politically affecting. The Guardian calls it a "damp squib of a gunpowder plot," and effectively writes off the film as weak. Others seem to agree that a movie with extra-terrestrials attacking the Great Wall of China is either your cup of tea or it's not — this isn't meant to be an Oscar contender. It's stupid.

Released February 17
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A Cure For Wellness
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Ivo Nandi
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 40%
Summary: This psychological thriller takes place at an eerie "wellness center" in the Swiss Alps.

What's The Word: So bizarre it's thrilling — but under its creepy covers, the film is just run-of-the-mill spookery. The Atlantic calls it "demented," but admits that "it’s annoyingly pedestrian, with [director Gore] Verbinski abandoning his most surreal visuals to conclude on a note that feels pat." The A.V. Club found the movie slightly weirder, writing, "Equal parts baroque fairy-tale, atmospheric mystery, and hideous body-horror nightmare, the film puts what could have been a cost-effective genre exercise on steroids, giving life to a two-and-half-hour, R-rated Frankenstein monster." (Even the review feels grandiose in its absurdity. Did we need all those adjectives?) The New York Times found it more a baffling collage of film references, calling it, "a lustrous box of genre candy, the self-revealing work of an auteur who has laid bare not so much his psyche as his online streaming queue."

Released February 17
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My Name Is Emily
Starring: Evanna Lynch, Michael Smiley,Martin McCann, George Webster, Cathy Belton
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Summary: 16-year-old Emily hits the road in order to break her father out of a mental hospital.

What's The Word: Dreamy cinematography and a sweet performance by Evanna Lynch lend the bildungsroman an enchanting presence. The New York Times writes the the film "[balances] its heavy subject matter with a tone of airy resilience." Variety thought the film was twee, writing, "My Name Is Emily believes firmly and vigorously in life’s hidden joys and our ability to rearrange our thinking to accept it, but its own preciousness proves too steep an obstacle." But The Hollywood Reporter argues that the film narrowly avoids preciousness: "While its narrative elements threaten at times to descend from whimsicality into hopelessly twee, My Name is Emily ultimately finds a proper, if not particularly compelling, balance."

Released February 17
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You're Killing Me Susana
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Verónica Echegui, Ashley Grace, Jadyn Wong, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Summary: Eligio (Gael García Bernal) chases down his wife, who escaped to the Iowa writer's workshop.

What's The Word: It's frantic, a little messy, but never dull. The Los Angeles Times is infatuated with Bernal and his character: "Gael García Bernal is the most charming of actors, and one of the pleasures of his satisfying You're Killing Me Susana is watching him display that quality in a decidedly subversive way." The New York Times is also into the characters more than the movie, writing that it "deserves kudos for having abrasive, capricious characters." The off-kilter characters overwhelm the script, it seems, but not enough that the film isn't enjoyable.

Released February 17
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Fifty Shades Darker
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 9%
Summary: Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey enjoy more "kinky" shenanigans — including getting married.

What's The Word: It's worse than the original, and many didn't believe that could happen. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times found some redemptive aspects in the original film, but failed to find any here. She calls the film "almost bad enough to recommend." Almost. The movie isn't even bad enough to warrant a proper hate watch. Both Dargis and Catherine Shoard of The Guardian blame the movie's faults on new director James Foley. (The first one was directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson.) Shoard writes, "the only thing aroused by this headache of a movie is a desire to see Sam Taylor-Johnson back at the reins." Collider shares this negative opinion: "For a movie that isn’t sexy and isn’t romantic, Fifty Shades Darker fails completely at everything it tries to do."

Released February 10
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The LEGO Batman Movie
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Siri
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Summary: The self-aware genre — yes, LEGO movies — takes on Gotham City's most serious superhero.

What's The Word: Goofy enough for tykes, irreverent enough for the rest of us. The New York Times writes, "As gateway drugs go, The Lego Batman Movie is pretty irresistible. It’s silly without being truly strange or crossing over into absurdity." NPR is in enthusiastic agreement: "The LEGO Batman Movie is perhaps the best possible thing that could have happened to Batman and to DC, which has suffered for its humorlessness as Marvel movies have playfully cracked wise." Critiques of the film land on the movie's commercial appeal — after all, it's sort of an ad for LEGOs — and narrative looseness. To boot, the film seems to have suffered a sophomore slump. The AV Club writes, " If The Lego Movie was a delightful tribute to the multifaceted experiences of playing with Legos, this movie is like one of the licensed sets that inspired it: Less essential, more market-driven, and still irresistible for certain kids, fans, and nerds."

Released February 10
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A United Kingdom
Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike,Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Summary: A South African King (David Oyelowo) and a London office worker (Rosamund Pike) navigate the politics of an interracial marriage in the 1940's.

What's The Word: Oyelowo's performance brings this historical tale to a deeper, more profound impact. A New York Times critic's pick, A United Kingdom explores modern racial boundaries through period romance. Glenn Kenny writes, "Mr. Oyelowo, who is one of the best actors working today onstage or onscreen, imbues his portrayal of Seretse (who in 1966 became the democratically elected president of the independent Botswana) with a disarming delicacy and vulnerability that make the strengths he is later forced to show all the more convincing. It is remarkable, genuinely riveting work." Writing in The LA Times, Kenneth Turan says that "The married couple's real-life battles against the forces arrayed against them were fought one skirmish at a time over a number of years. A United Kingdom understands that it was by no means easy, but emphasizes the centrality of their determination not to allow 'the world's ugliness to take our joy away.' They don't, and we are all the better for it."

Released February 10
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Chapter and Verse
Starring: Daniel Beaty, Loretta Devine, Omari Hardwick, Selenis Leyva, Marc John Jefferies
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Summary: A recently released ex-con acclimates to everyday life.

What's The Word: Daniel Beaty, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Jamal Josephs, delivers an expert performance in a moving picture. The Hollywood Reporter writes, "Featuring a superb lead performance by acclaimed theater performer Daniel Beaty in his screen debut, the film handles its admittedly familiar themes in uncommonly sensitive fashion." The movie was selected as a New York Times critic's pick — the publication compares Chapter and Verse to the work of Sam Fuller, writing, "The movie’s wide-screen framing, ruthless plot reversals and say-what-you-mean writing sometimes recall a master of socially conscious cinema from another era, Sam Fuller. But this is a picture with its own strong voice." Much of the praise is directed towards Beaty, a lauded theater actor, for his performance. So, if it's incredible acting you're looking for, head this way. If it's an incredible story you're looking for, also head this way.

Released February 3
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The Space Between Us
Starring: Britt Robertson, Asa Butterfield,Janet Montgomery, Carla Gugino, Gary Oldman
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 18%
Summary: A boy raised on Mars discovers his health is failing and travels to Earth to meet his girlfriend (and, ostensibly, get better.)

What's The Word: Plot-hole detectives beware: this movie is riddled with nonsensicals. If you can ignore those gaping holes, you might just enjoy the film. Ben Kenigsberg, writing for The New York Times, says, "Committed to this preposterousness, the movie is consistently tougher to resist than it might seem." Most reviewers take the love-it-or-hate-it path, pointing out that a teen romance about a boy on Mars isn't a universal cup of tea. Rolling Stone writes "By the time you get to the money shot of two lovers kissing in zero gravity, you'll either be deep in this movie's pocket or have fallen into a diabetic coma. There's virtually no in-between." The famed film reviewer Leonard Maltin seems to like it unabashedly, although he credits the success of the film to Gary Oldman, who, for what it's worth, could make a State Farm commercial watchable. Maltin writes, "What makes it work for me, aside from the superior production design and visual effects, is Asa Butterfield as the boy and Gary Oldman as the mastermind behind this all-important Mars mission."

Released January 31
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The Lure
Starring: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka,Jakub Gierszal
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Summary: Two mermaids fall for the same mere mortal and horror ensues.

What's The Word: The Polish film takes Disney and corrupts its gleaming surface into something utterly mesmerizing. It premiered at Sundance in 2016 to positive (albeit puzzled) reviews. In January, The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Indeed, the unrestrained exuberance of The Lure often substitutes stylistic flourishes for a sometimes confounding lack of coherence, which is perhaps attributable to a youthful perspective on hazily remembered bygone days that vanished with the fall of Communism. The wide release has seen similar responses from other outlets. The New York Times calls it an "always intriguing if not always coherent" exploration of "the myths and puzzles of female sexuality." The AV Club is more glowing, declaring the movie, "a genre-defying film that blends elements of musicals, horror, romance, and fantasy into a contemporary fairy tale that celebrates the animalistic, the feminine, and the intimate intersections between the two." Be aware that this movie does contain music — some might call it a musical. Variety compares the film to Disney's The Little Mermaid. Film critic Guy Lodge points out that it's a "deeply dippy story of vampire mermaid sisters wreaking havoc above water [that] gleefully shows off its cluttered collection of whosits and whatsits galore. " You know, like Ariel did.

Released January 31
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I Am Not Your Negro
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin,Dick Cavett
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Summary: This documentary cobbles together the work of essayist James Baldwin and footage of the civil rights movement to provide the Black American narrative.

What's The Word: Necessary viewing for anyone and everyone. The New York Times declares, "Whatever you think about the past and future of what used to be called “race relations” — white supremacy and the resistance to it, in plainer English — this movie will make you think again, and may even change your mind." Richard Brody, writing in The New Yorker, points out that director Raoul Peck makes the expert move to pull the since deceased writer's word into the present. He writes,"Peck also spotlights Baldwin’s analysis of the yet unbridged gap between the legal end of segregation and the practice of white supremacy." Stephanie Zacharek, writing in TIME, compares James Baldwin to an "ambassador from a lost time." Baldwin died over three decades ago, but that doesn't mean his words can't reverberate through American pop culture.

Released February 3
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The Salesman
Starring: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini,Babak Karimi, Mina Sadati, Farid Sajjadi Hosseini
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Summary: Two actors in Iran are evicted from their apartment. At the same time, they star in a production of Death Of A Salesman.

What's The Word: Well, it's already been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, and The Salesman lives up to the nomination. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calls it a "dazzling, darkly funny, quietly devastating human drama." Variety says that when watching the film, "we’re seduced, almost by a kind of invisible reverse trickery, into a situation of clear-eyed naturalism, except that they also start to realize we’re caught in a gathering storm, and it has everything to do with the shifting interior sands of the people onscreen." Most seem to agree that the movie belongs on film school syllabi — it's so classically good that it deserves a good study. The Guardian calls it "a well-crafted, valuable drama" — valuable because it's an expertly crafted suspense thriller.

Released January 22
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A Dog's Purpose
Starring: Britt Robertson, Dennis Quaid,Peggy Lipton, Josh Gad, K.J. Apa
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 31%
Summary: Man's best friend bears witness to all — or some — of life's great events.

What's The Word: Unabashedly saccharine, and all the soppiness doesn't soak through as it's meant to. The New York Times calls this family movie "clumsily manipulative dreck." The film premieres amidst controversy over treatment of the canine actors. The A.V. Club wears its hate on its sleeve — the review is titled "Maybe next time A Dog’s Purpose can be reincarnated as a good movie." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone thinks the film should be "put to sleep" — oof. Even he admits, though, that the dog factor is difficult to resist. He writes, "A Dog's Purpose is preposterous and, at first, hard to resist."

Released January 22
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Gold
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 36%
Summary: McConaughey plays a charismatic owner of a mining company in Nevada who stumbles upon wealth — and the manages to lose it several times over.

What's The Word: McConaughey wins, but the film can't ride his energy to the bank. The New York Times says, "Mr. McConaughey is a ball of profane, entrepreneurial energy bouncing around in a vacuum." Variety agrees, pointing out that Gold sacrifices factual integrity for McConaughey's performance. Pete Debruge writes, "Gold plays fast and loose with its factual origins, allowing McConaughey to become a one-man acting tornado." The actor reportedly gained 45 pounds for the role and sports a receding hairline — he's decidedly not handsome. The New York Daily News feels this is one area where the film wins, writing "Turning McConaughey into a wreck through makeup and lighting is not an adequate substitute for character development. But it underscores something that the film gets right — the fact that underneath many pretty surfaces is ugliness."

Released January 22
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Split
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Summary: James McAvoy plays a man with split personality disorder in this thriller directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

What's The Word: M. Night Shyamalan has redeemed himself for the flukes of the past few years — The Happening, anyone? — with his latest film. It's been hailed as both absurd and compelling. The New York Times calls it "lurid and ludicrous" while The Atlantic deems it "a movie that’s actually worth seeing, at least for those in the proper mood." The film appears to be more of a horror film than Shyamalan's previous hits, which would be considered more psychological thrillers. Much of the praise has been directed at McAvoy — Variety writes, "Ultimately, Split belongs to McAvoy, who has ample scenery to chew, but doesn’t stop there — he practically swallows the camera with his tiger-like teeth."

Released January 22
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Detour
Starring: Emory Cohen, Tye Sheridan, Bel Powley
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 33%
Summary: A tidy teen finds his way into a deal with a devil of sorts (Emory Cohen) after asking him to kill his stepfather.

What's The Word: Don't let the critical score scare you away — this movie sounds like a ride, albeit not a perfect one. It exceeds expectations for what looks like a popcorn-and-chocolate VOD movie. Variety admits: "It may be tempting, and not entirely inaccurate, to describe Christopher Smith’s “Detour” as “Sliding Doors” reimagined by Quentin Tarantino, but this cleverly twisty neo-noir thriller turns out to be more substantial and surprising than such logline shorthand might suggest." The A.V. Club thinks it seems like a "film school project," but begrudgingly allows the film "makes for some interesting compositions, in a purely showy look-at-me way." It seems the film pays homage to neo-noir and the work of Quentin Tarantino, but perhaps it falls just short of matching the inevitability

Released January 22
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The Founder
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, Laura Dern
Rotten Tomatoes Score: TK
Summary: A business tycoons come up with a brilliant idea: a fast food empire. And thus an American dynasty was born.

What's The Word: Michael Keaton is incredible and a little villainous in his role. Much of the praise points in his preening direction — Variety writes, "Not since “Steve Jobs” has such a bright prestige spotlight been granted to such a nakedly venal protagonist." Many have compared the Keaton's scuzzy opportunist with the president elect. "Along the way, [The Founder] shows us something about postwar entrepreneurial capitalism, innovation, corporate expansion and intellectual property rights. It even casts an oblique light on the new age of Trump," writes Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. (Bradshaw also calls the film "absorbing and unexpectedly subtle.") Overall, the praise is generous, if a bit nervous due to all the Trumpian similarities.

Released January 20
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The Bye Bye Man
Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%
Summary: College students move into a spacious home "off-campus." Spooks ensue.

What's The Word: Given that the cinematic horror landscape is somewhat bleak, The Bye Bye Man brings some refreshing throwback shocks, and it ain't half bad. Most critics who loved the film admit they are grading on a curve (this is January, after all, a desert of sorts for good film.) The Los Angeles Times writes, "Despite any titular trepidation, there is fun to be had and even some cultural relevancy if you decide to say hi to The Bye Bye Man." The New York Times gives it an A for good, clean spooks with even a touch of self-awareness. "It helps that the added moments of humor acknowledge that the movie’s potent concept is also, well, ridiculous."

Released January 13
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Monster Trucks
Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57%
Summary: A teenage boy discovers a friendly-ish monster in the hood of a truck.

What's The Word: Absolutely stupid. Fun despite itself. Absolutely worth a watch. Helmed by Chris Wedge, who directed Ice Age, the movie has been heralded as a heart-filled alternative to the heady movies headed to the Oscars in February. The New York Times calls the film, "a spry, spirited and delightful family film that has nothing to do with giant-wheeled vehicles piling on top of one another in indoor arenas." Variety says, somewhat regretfully, that "the creative team [on Monster Trucks] managed to assemble a sturdy forbidden-friendship movie, where men in black want to separate a well-meaning human from his misunderstood pet." Most critics seem somewhat surprised they liked it, which, of course, means you should go see it.

Released January 13
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Claire In Motion
Starring: Betsy Brandt, Chris Beetem, Zev Haworth, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Sakina Jaffrey
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62%
Summary: A woman copes with the mystery surrounding her husband's sudden disappearance.

What's The Word: Atmospheric spooks and melancholy deliver — but only to a degree. Manohla Dhargis, writing in The New York Times says the movie is "thicker with atmosphere than plot." Nevertheless, it has "a nice way of unsettling a mood, destabilizing a scene and creating a sense of vague threat." The Hollywood Reporter calls it "a quiet breakthrough for star Betsy Brandt," which seems to be the resounding praise for the film. Brandt, who appeared in Breaking Bad, takes a central role here, and seems to have handled it with aplomb.

Released January 13
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A Monster Calls
Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Summary: A 12-year-old boy copes with his mother's illness with the help of a giant, talking tree monster.

What's The Word: For a movie that arrived just a tad too late for Oscar buzz, A Monster Calls is receiving damn near adoration from critics. The film supposedly balances the dark material (a dying mother, the terrors of childhood) with whimsy and adventure (the monster in question.) "It’s a catharsis painted with bold, noisy imagery, one that makes death an overwhelming tsunami," writes Neil Genzlinger in The New York Times. "Visually it will certainly stick with you, and your children." The A.V. club has a similar sentiment: "The craft of the film is undeniable. The artistry is subtler and perhaps harder to perceive. But it’s there, lurking in the dark, waiting to rise up when least expected." Variety is less enthused: "We’ve heard the same lesson countless times before in other movies, and though it’s certainly impressive to see Conor’s anxieties manifest themselves in such a stunning Ent-like being, as monsters go, Bayona’s creation is all bark and no bite." Nevertheless, everyone seems to agree it will be a tearjerker.

Released December 22
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