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Opening in Orlando: Alpha, Mile 22 and more

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THIS WEEK:

Alpha Welcome to a week in which the controversies behind the movies are more interesting than the movies themselves. We start with Alpha, which on the surface might seem like merely the latest and most primal entry in a summer filled with pictures for dog lovers (Dog Days, A.X.L. ... it's almost as if Hollywood is daring me to call these the dog days of summer). The story concerns the friendship between an Ice Age hunter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a wolf, which is presented as the template for a human/canine partnership that has lasted 20,000 years. A great flick for all the animal lovers? Maybe not, because the American Humane Association had to withhold its traditional "none were harmed" certification after it became clear that the film's animal wrangler had had a bunch of bison slaughtered and skinned for use in a hunting sequence. But hey, it isn't dogs were talking about, right? I mean, it isn't like Hallmark offers a line of "from the bison" birthday cards or something. (PG-13) Crazy Rich Asians In a romcom based on the well-received book of the same name, a Chinese-American economics professor (Constance Wu) discovers that her boyfriend (Henry Golding) is the scion to one of the richest families in Singapore. The pitch here is that this is the first Hollywood movie in a quarter-century to feature an all-Asian cast ... but that isn't proving such a panacea in Asia itself, where complaints have been rampant about Chinese representation in the picture squeezing out other ethnicities. Boy, are some people touchy! Don't they realize what a blow for multiculturalism the movie is striking by showing that people from other lands can be just as relatable as the Kardashians as long as they're equally and obscenely affluent? It's as if social progress means nothing to those folks. (PG-13)

Mile 22 Comparatively lesser controversy here ... just lingering fallout from director Peter Berg's insensitive comments about Caitlyn Jenner three years ago. (Then again, who's interested in standing up for Caitlyn Jenner these days?) Berg's latest concerns a CIA agent who has to shepherd a valuable captive through enemy territory. It's the fourth pairing of this director and star Mark Wahlberg, who apparently feels comfortable for some reason around guys who like to spew reactionary nonsense. Go figure! Supposedly, the movie is just the beginning of a planned multimedia franchise. But remember what else they said that about? The Dark Tower! (R)

Also playing:

A Prayer Before Dawn Critics are praising the gritty, unsparing violence in this story of an English-born boxer (Joe Cole) who has to fight for his survival when he's incarcerated in Thailand. For that extra dose of realism, the film was shot in an actual Bangkok prison. Which explains its working title, Crazy Asians Who Aren't Remotely Rich But Will Fuck You Up Something Fierce. (R; playing at AMC Universal Cineplex 20)