Welcome to L.A. Weekly's Movie Guide, your look at the hottest films in Los Angeles theaters this week, from indie art-house gems and classics to popcorn-perfect blockbusters and new movies garnering buzz. Check here every week before you make your bigscreen plans.
Friday, Dec. 14
Keeping the post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure genre alive, Mortal Engines comes with a swanky blockbuster pedigree, namely a best-selling source novel by Philip Reeve and a screenplay by the trio who brought us The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson. Jackson originally was attached to direct but handed the reins to first-timer Christian Rivers. Steampunk production design abounds; only time will tell if it finds its intended niche.
The lack of publicity surrounding Clint Eastwood's new feature, The Mule, is perplexing. Maybe Warner Bros. has lost faith in it, or perhaps its director-star didn't want to compete for awards recognition with his friend Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), who co-stars. Nick Schenk (Gran Torino) wrote the screenplay based on a New York Times piece about a 90-year-old WWII veteran who became a drug courier for the infamous Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. Eastwood is now 88 years old. For that reason alone, the film is an event.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is yet another comic book adaptation based on the Marvel franchise character, only this time the titular superhero is fully computer-animated. What's the narrative hook this time? Multiple Spideys! Shameik Moore provides the voice of Miles Morales, a teenager of Puerto Rican and African-American heritage whose spidey strength ushers him into an interdimensional journey with others of his kind. A sequel and multiple spinoffs are already in development at Sony.
Wednesday, Dec. 19
Whether it succeeds or fails artistically, Mary Poppins Returns is going to be huge. This belated sequel comes 54 years after the cherished Julie Andrews original and has been lavished with four Golden Globe nominations. Emily Blunt looks practically perfect as the eponymous nanny who rejoins the Banks family a generation after their previous London adventure. Dick Van Dyke, 92, has lived long enough to revisit his role as the geezer at the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank who gets jiggy wit it in a scene that will no doubt be adored by all who witness it. Broadway legend Lin-Manuel Miranda leads an all-star supporting cast.
Also opening this week: Sicilian Ghost Story; Backtrace; Beyond White Space; Bird Box; Capernaum; Dead Souls; Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel; The Quake; The Second Time Around; That Way Madness Lies...; This One's for the Ladies (Saturday, Dec. 15); They Shall Not Grow Old (Monday, Dec. 17).
Friday, Dec. 14
Because there isn't enough misery in the world already, Lars von Trier has made an ultra-violent serial killer movie: The House That Jack Built. Matt Dillon stars as Jack, and the story follows this brilliant, depraved sociopath over a 12-year period that includes multiple sadistic killings, each rendered in minute detail. At Cannes, Von Trier went on record to say that the film celebrates "the idea that life is evil and soulless." As the Dude would say, "Yeah, well, you know, that's just like, uh, your opinion, man." The Frida Cinema, 305 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana; Fri., Dec. 14, 9 p.m.; thru Dec. 20; $10. (714) 285-9422, thefridacinema.org.
If Beale Street Could Talk marks the confident return of Barry Jenkins, writer-director of the 2016 Best Picture Oscar winner, Moonlight. Like its predecessor, this is a romantic drama in a lushly emotional key. The story, based on James Baldwin's 1974 novel, involves a black woman whose husband has been falsely accused of a crime. The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was picked up by Annapurna Pictures. The Landmark, 10850 Pico Blvd., West L.A.; Fri., Dec. 14, various showtimes; $12-$15; (310) 470-0492, landmarktheatres.com. Also playing at the ArcLight, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; Fri. Dec. 14, various showtimes; $16-$18; (323) 615-2550, arclightcinemas.com.
UCLA is showing a rare nitrate print of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives, a sly and sophisticated comedy starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell and Ann Sothern. The film is a Hollywood classic but for this screening, the format is as significant as the movie. Cellulose nitrate, noted for its high-contrast luster, is so rare these days that few theaters dare to project it. Thankfully, the technicians at the Billy Wilder Theater know exactly what they're doing, and viewers will be duly rewarded. UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood; Fri., Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.; $10. (310) 206-8013, cinema.ucla.edu.
Saturday, Dec. 15
Christmas Evil has been heralded by John Waters as the greatest Christmas movie ever made. Lewis Jackson's 1980 cult classic is, in actuality, a carefully made and deeply weird melodrama about a man haunted by a traumatic childhood event that drives him to don a Santa suit and repay each child — both naughty and nice — in kind. The newly refurbished New Beverly Cinema will screen it at midnight to kick off its seasonal series. New Beverly Cinema, 7165 Beverly Blvd., Fairfax; Sat., Dec. 15, 11:59 p.m.; $8. (323) 938-4038, thenewbev.com.
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Sunday, Dec. 16
Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki is a new documentary celebrating the life and work of the world's greatest living animator. The film opens nationwide on Dec. 13, but the Aero Theatre presents a special one-night screening following its four-day Miyazaki retrospective. Members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association will introduce the feature, which is directed by Kaku Arakawa. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Sun., Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m.; $12. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
L.A. Weekly also recommends these films still in theaters): Vox Lux; Bohemian Rhapsody; Ralph Breaks the Internet; The Favourite; Creed II; Widows; A Star Is Born.