(Ratings for each film begin with a "star'' rating -- one star meaning "poor,'' four meaning "excellent'' -- followed by the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and then by a family-viewing guide, the key for which appears below.)
"A Simple Favor": When so many movies don't have a solid leading role for one actress, it's interesting to see a film that offers two. This one does that, with Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively teamed by director Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids'') ... but here, he's working in suspense more than comedy. Kendrick plays a video-blogging widow and mom who meets -- and is dazzled by -- the stylish Lively, both having children who go to the same Connecticut school. They become fast friends, leaving Kendrick puzzled and dismayed when Lively suddenly disappears. Of course, she's determined to find out why. Henry Golding ("Crazy Rich Asians'') and Andrew Rannells ("Girls'') also are present, but the picture clearly belongs to the women, who appear to have a great time with it and with each other. DVD extras: six "making-of'' documentaries; audio commentary by cast and crew members; deleted scenes; outtakes. *** (R: AS, N, P, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Venom": Another Marvel Comics character gets the spotlight in this fantasy-adventure about a fired journalist (played by Tom Hardy) whose efforts to expose a bioengineering tycoon's (Riz Ahmed) experiments with alien symbiotes ultimately leave him bonded with one of the creatures himself ... physically transforming him at key moments in his battle with the mogul, whose own physiology is affected by another of the symbiotes. Michelle Williams also stars as a prosecutor with a close personal tie to the reporter, and Marvel creative icon Stan Lee made one of his last screen appearances in a cameo here. Woody Harrelson, Jenny Slate and Ron Cephas Jones ("This Is Us'') also are featured. *** (PG-13: P, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"The Predator": The franchise that began more than 30 years ago with an Arnold Schwarzenegger adventure-thriller was revived by this latest installment, bringing another of the lethal title aliens to Earth. An autistic youngster ("Room's'' Jacob Tremblay) -- whose father (Boyd Holbrook) is among the military veterans trying to stop the threat -- becomes the key to vanquishing the enemy, but other, literally bigger terrors lie in wait. Original "Predator'' co-star Shane Black is the director and co-writer here; cast members also include Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown ("This Is Us''), Thomas Jane, Yvonne Strahovski ("The Handmaid's Tale'') and Keegan-Michael Key. Featured as well is Jake Busey, as the son of the character his father Gary played in "Predator 2.'' DVD extras: four "making-of'' documentaries; deleted scenes; photo gallery. *** (R: AS, P, GV) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"The House with a Clock in Its Walls": Adapted from John Bellairs' Edward Gorey-illustrated book by television-producing veteran Eric Kripke ("Timeless,'' "Supernatural'') and directed by Eli Roth ("Hostel''), this fantasy casts young Owen Vaccaro as an orphan who teams with a warlock and a witch (Jack Black, Cate Blanchett) to find -- and to find the meaning of -- a clock that his parents hid while they were alive. Otherworldly elements have a very big place in the story, letting the picture's special effects team have a field day. Roth gives himself an acting part here, and Kyle MacLachlan and Tony Award-winning "Hamilton'' alum Renee Elise Goldsberry also are featured. *** (PG: AS, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
Also Releasing this Week:
"The Sinner: Season Two": Jessica Biel stayed on board for the sophomore round of the intense USA Network melodrama, not as a star this time, but still as an executive producer -- with much of the heavy lifting acting-wise remaining with Bill Pullman, who returns as Detective Harry Ambrose. The sleuth is drawn into the probe of another shocking, seemingly inexplicable crime after an 11-year-old (Elisha Henig, of last season's ABC show "Alex, Inc.'') kills his parents. The investigation takes Ambrose back to his rural New York hometown, where an old friend (actor-playwright Tracy Letts) and a mystery woman (Carrie Coon, "The Leftovers'') factor into the case. *** (Not rated: AS, P, V)
"Little Women": Louisa May Alcott's classic story of the March sisters has gotten all sorts of screen retellings over the years, but this is an especially fruitful time for it, given a recent PBS/BBC television version and another movie edition currently in production with Meryl Streep, Laura Dern and Emma Watson. This spin on the tale gives it a modern sheen, with Lea Thompson ("Back to the Future'') as Marmee and Sarah Davenport, Allie Jennings, Melanie Stone and Taylor Murphy as her emotionally close daughters. The project -- which was released to commemorate the 150th anniversary of "Little Women's'' original publication -- reunites Thompson with her "Switched at Birth'' co-star Lucas Grabeel. *** (PG-13: AS)
"White Boy Rick" (Dec. 25): In this fact-inspired drama, Matthew McConaughey stars as the father of a teenager (Richie Merritt) who becomes the youngest FBI informant in history. (R: AS, N, P, V)
"Bad Reputation" (Jan. 1): The life and career of rock star Joan Jett are traced in this documentary, featuring comments from her and many of her friends and associates. (R: AS, N, P)
"Night School" (Jan. 1): A man (Kevin Hart) tries to complete the high school education he never finished by studying for the GED test; Tiffany Haddish and Taran Killam also star. (PG-13: AS, P, V)
"Hell Fest" (Jan. 8): Young attendees of a Halloween-themed event don't realize that a serial killer also is present; stars include Amy Forsyth and Tony Todd ("Candyman''). (R: AS, P, V)
"The Purge: Season One" (Jan. 8): The USA Network series spun off from the suspense-movie franchise makes crimes legal for a specific period of time. (Not rated: AS, P, V)
"What They Had" (Jan. 8): A woman (Hilary Swank) rejoins her Chicago family as her father (Robert Forster) tries to cope with her mother's (Blythe Danner) illness. (R: AS, P)
Oldies But Goodies:
"The Holiday" (2006): Jack Black is appealing as a composer who finds new love with a heartbroken visitor to Los Angeles (Kate Winslet). *** (Also on Blu-ray)
"The Jerk" (1979): The Carl Reiner-directed comedy that established Steve Martin in movies gets slightly early "40th Anniversary Edition'' treatment on Blu-ray; Bernadette Peters also stars. ***
"Up in the Air" (2009): Anna Kendrick does great work as a driven efficiency expert teamed with a specialist in dismissing workers (George Clooney). **** (Also on Blu-ray)
TOP 10 DVD & Blu-Ray Rentals
(Week ending December 2, 2018, Courtesy of comScore, Inc)
1) "Crazy Rich Asians"
2) "The Meg"
3) "Incredibles 2"
4) "Mile 22"
6) "Christopher Robin"
7) "Ant-Man and the Wasp"
10) "The Spy Who Dumped Me"
FAMILY VIEWING GUIDE KEY: AS, adult situations; N, nudity; P, profanity; V, violence; GV, particularly graphic violence