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 big-screen plans.
Friday, Jan. 11
The trailer for A Dog's Way Home assures us that Bella — the cute little puppy with Bryce Dallas Howard's chirpy voice — doesn't die in the end. This isn't another Old Yeller. In fact, the story has a lot more in common with The Incredible Journey, the 1963 Disney docudrama in which a group of furry animals traverse several hundred miles of untamed forest after being separated from their owner. Sony's new movie, directed by Charles Martin Smith, pitches itself as a spiritual sequel to A Dog's Purpose, the 2017 blockbuster that grossed more than $200 million worldwide. Smith is something of an expert at directing animals (A Dolphin Tale and Air Bud are among his credits), as well as acting with them. (See his superb turn as environmentalist Farley Mowat in the 1983 Disney film Never Cry Wolf.) The director's new film does not attain a level of high art, but it's calculated to please as many canine lovers as possible.
The Upside is a remake of the popular 2011 French film The Intouchables (the second highest-grossing French film of all time), which relates the story of a recently paroled, street-smart black man who becomes the primary caregiver to a white, uptight, wealthy quadriplegic (based on real-life business magnate Philippe Pozzo di Borgo). In this lightly Americanized update, a relatively subdued Kevin Hart plays opposite Bryan Cranston, with Nicole Kidman filling out the primary cast as the billionaire's assistant. Neil Burger, whose credits range from the dueling-magicians thriller The Illusionist to the YA adaptation Divergent, takes the reigns as director. The film was originally set for an early 2018 release but stalled due to the Weinstein scandals.
Also opening Friday: Replicas; Touch Me Not; Ashes in the Snow; Buffalo Boys; The Aspern Papers; Pledge; Perfectos Desconocidos.
Sunday, Jan. 13
Burning stands as one of 2018's best-reviewed and most talked-about films — Barack Obama included it on his top-20 list. Lee Chang-dong's gripping examination of contemporary romance, loneliness and despair builds beautifully and inexorably to a shocking conclusion. The American Cinematheque will play it for a special evening that includes a post-screening discussion with the director, moderated by L.A. Times film critic Justin Chang. Lee's previous credits include Oasis, Secret Sunshine and Poetry, three crucial masterpieces of the young millennium. Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Sun., Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m.; $15. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
Won't You Be My Neighbor is the highest-grossing documentary of 2018 and pleased more people — critics included — than virtually any other film last year. Fred Rogers certainly would appreciate the tact and devotion with which the film depicts the career of this peerless educator and advocate for children. Morgan Neville, who also directed the excellent Orson Welles doc They'll Love Me When I'm Dead for Netflix, will appear for a discussion following the screening. The show is free, but an RSVP is mandatory and does not guarantee a seat, since American Cinematheque members have first dibs. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Sun., Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m.; free with RSVP. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
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Monday, Jan. 14
If Beale Street Could Talk is slowly rolling out into theaters following some stellar reviews, and the American Cinematheque will spotlight it for a special one-night screening at the Aero. This adaptation of James Baldwin's novel is a lushly photographed melodrama reminiscent of some of Douglas Sirk's groundbreaking 1950s romances, with one foot set firmly in the past (in this case, the early 1970s) and another in the turbulent present. Writer-director Barry Jenkins will take part in a post-screening Q&A. The screening is free with an RSVP, but hopeful viewers will want to show up at least an hour early to secure a seat. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Mon., Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m.; free with RSVP. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
L.A. Weekly also recommends (still in theaters): Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse; Aquaman; Vice; Welcome to Marwen; Creed II; Roma; Bohemian Rhapsody; Ralph Breaks the Internet; Mary Poppins Returns; A Star Is Born.