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Opening in Orlando: Dunkirk, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and more 

This week's two biggest releases arrive in theaters riding an avalanche of publicity concerning their purported visual magnificence. In each case, we're being urged to shell out for the most elaborate viewing format possible – preferably the full 70mm IMAX 4D with complimentary reach-around. Behind all this hyperbole lies two distinct possibilities: 1) This week will mark a major step forward in the history of film as a visual medium; and 2) by the time both of these pictures reach Reelz, we might have to admit that they're actually kind of lousy. Unless you're the kind of person whose Christmas traditions include a family viewing of Avatar.


Dunkirk Christopher Nolan's depiction of the evacuation of Dunkirk boasts a whole mess of superlatives: First use of hand-held IMAX cameras in a feature film! Greatest percentage of IMAX footage in a Nolan film (75 percent)! Most extensive use of the Etch-a-Sketch as a storyboarding tool! To accommodate all this visual razzle-dazzle, Nolan had to jettison some lesser frills – like dialogue and characterization. Largely wordless, the film allegedly tells us next to nothing about its characters' personal histories; the director felt that knowing much of anything about the key players would detract from the experience of wondering how they were going to escape a life-or-death situation. Hey, I've had relationships that were like that, but nobody suggested blowing them up to the size of a small building. (PG-13)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets "Visionary" director Luc Besson returns to the sci-fi territory he mined in the well-regarded The Fifth Element. Just try to ignore that viewers whose major expenditure was diapers when that picture came out now devote most of their money to college tuition. Initial reports are that Valerian, a space opera based on a French comic book, has more hallucinogenic WTF flourishes than the second Guardians of the Galaxy – including Rihanna's appearance as a shape-shifting sex worker. (Personally, I never felt there was any urgency for her to shift out of the shape she was in, although I would like to see Chris Brown morph into something without hands.) Critics are already complaining, however, that the movie's production design and effects don't adequately compensate for rote plotting and inferior dialogue. I guess that's what they mean by "visionary." ("Coming next summer, from tin-eared filmmaker Luc Besson ...") (PG-13)

Girls Trip Witness the evolution of the asshole-buddies genre: "It's juvenile, scatological trash." "It's juvenile, scatological trash, but the first one made money, so why not?" "It's juvenile, scatological trash, but it's women this time, so you know, whatevs." "It's juvenile, scatological trash, but it's nonwhite women, so praise it with the quickness!" Reading the desperately fawning trade reviews for Girls Trip – a gross-out bonding picture headlined by Regina Hall and Queen Latifah – made me feel as if we're living in a world where those "Fatties" flicks in Tropic Thunder qualify as high art, and where white, neoliberal guilt has surpassed hydrogen as the most abundant element in the universe. Variety wants you to know that even the clumsy post-production dubbing "works like a charm." (I'm not kidding.) I can't wait until Hollywood realizes its ambition of making a gay Muslim Hangover, and the critical cognoscenti is so afraid to say it sucks that its Metacritic page is just a big 404 message. (R)

The Bad Batch A graphic horror comedy about a woman who survives captivity in a holding pen just outside Texas. WARNING: Contains feces, dismemberment and Keanu Reeves. (R)

Also playing:

Jagga Jasoos Annoying autobiographical digression: At the age of 52, I recently wrote my first-ever rock musical. And I was pretty proud of myself for having managed to pen nine original songs. Then I learned that Jagga Jasoos, a Hindi musical mystery about a boy detective who searches for his vanished father, features a full 29 original numbers, all of which are tied tightly to the narrative. Good talk, Jagga. I'm so glad you're in this class to set the grading curve. (NR)

The Little Hours Aubrey Plaza and Kate "Oates" Micucci play convent nuns whose libido is awakened by the arrival of a mysterious stranger (Dave Franco). So basically, it's like watching The Beguiled, but there's no dismemberment and you don't have to give your money to Sofia Coppola. (R)

Maudie Sally Hawkins plays real-life painter Maud Lewis, who had to weather personal trials like arthritis and unwanted pregnancy. In the movie, she's paired with Ethan Hawke, which is really just piling on. (PG-13)

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