Novitiate (U.S. Dramatic) ***
Does a closing title card tell you what a film is about? That's too abstract a question to answer here, but the more it does, the more writer/director Maggie Betts' feature—set mostly in the early 1960s—becomes the most pointed critique of the Second Vatican Council from a traditionalist POV we're likely to see in a contemporary American movie.
Men at war, men on the hunt and a boy fighting the power
The Yellow Birds (U.S. Dramatic) **
The adaptation hews fairly closely to Iraq veteran Kevin Powers' novel, which is part of the problem; the key way in which it diverges presents an entirely different problem. Alden Ehrenreich plays Bartles, an Army private deployed to Iraq; upon his return, he appears traumatized, a condition in some way related to the fate of his buddy Murph (Tye Sheridan).
Colossal (Spotlight) ***
There's goofy high-concept and then there's goofy high-concept mixed with goofy allegory—and yet somehow it mostly works. Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an alcoholic writer who get kicked out of her New York apartment by her fed-up boyfriend, and retreats to her upstate hometown, where she reconnects with an old schoolmate named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (Documentary Premieres) **1/2
It might be hard for detractors of the original An Inconvenient Truth to imagine feeling nostalgic for all the PowerPoint presentation material, and yet here we are. Where Davis Guggenheim's 2006 Oscar-winner backgrounded the biographical material about Al Gore himself in order to focus on the former Vice President's urgent message about climate change, co-directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (last year's Sundance doc Audrie & Daisy) make this follow-up almost entirely about Gore himself and his ongoing crusade, leading up to his involvement in the 2015 U.N. Paris summit.
Multiplexes shake off their New Year's doldrums with a handful of entries ranging from sublime contemplation to ridiculous action, with art house offerings including a possible Oscar nominee. Ben Affleck once again adapts Dennis Lehane with the gangster drama Live By Night (pictured), but the story gets lost in fortune-cookie dialogue.
The 2017 movie year kicks off with a few holdovers from 2016 limited release, including a fanciful book adaptation, a real-life inspirational story and another great performance from Isabelle Huppert. A Monster Calls (pictured) tries to translate the emotionally-resonant fable of its source material to the screen, but feels forced and unconvincing on a big screen. Huppert stars as an academic experiencing personal upheaval in Mia Hansen-Løve's latest rich character study Things to Come.
The busy Christmas movie week brings a mix of would-be Oscar contenders and crowd-pleasers, representing nearly every possible genre. The science-fiction romance Passengers (pictured) opens with a strong concept, before collapsing in a conclusion that's morally indefensible.
As Hollywood does its now-traditional back-loading of December film releases for Christmas week, only a few new movies make their way to Utah theaters today, including an awards front-runner. Andrew Wright praises Jessica Chastain's fiercely intelligent performance as a cutthroat Washington lobbyist in the political drama Miss Sloane (pictured).
Programming announcements for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival began today, with U.S. and World Dramatic Competition slates and the NEXT category, featuring a few names familiar to festival regulars. The U.S. Dramatic Competition's 16 features include new movies by returning directors Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love, Sundance 2013), Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child, Sundance 2014) and Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip, Sundance 2014).
The traditionally busy Thanksgiving weekend features a full slate of Disney animation, historical drama, a psychological thriller and a feel-good documentary. Disney's Moana (pictured) may stick to a musical formula in its story of a Polynesia girl's hero journey, but there's a reason that formula works.