What To See...What to Skip

This Weekend in Theaters and at Home

New In Theaters


*** The Commuter
At 65 (but playing a sprightly 60-year-old), Liam Neeson issues the latest in his late-career action canon. The plot is some nonsense about an insurance salesman drawn into a plot to assassinate a crime witness — but we're just here to enjoy Neeson outwitting bad guys, beating one or two to a pulp, and emitting that angry Irish growl.(FULL REVIEW)

New At Home

*** It
Those who suffer from coulrophobia would best avoid this big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel, about  a group of young friends decide to track down a supernatural killer clown. 


*** Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House  
Liam Neeson stars as the lifetime FBI bureaucrat who became "Deep Throat," the unnamed source who helped The Washington Post nail Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. The movie over-explains and feels unnecessarily dark, but Neeson creates a compelling character who must decide if betrayal can ever equal loyalty.  (FULL REVIEW)


**** Marshall 

Chadwick Boseman captures the quiet dignity and subtle legal genius of Thurgood Marshall, playing the future Supreme Court justice as a young lawyer, defending a Black man in a racist 1940s courtroom, and once more manages to find the soul of a complex character. Josh Gadd is a delight as Marshall's very Jewish colleague. As the tale unfolds in ultra-conservative Connecticut, the two stars give this conventional courtroom drama an unexpected buddy picture vibe.


*** The Foreigner
Jackie Chan brings surprising empathy (and his usual kickass acrobatics) to the role of a businessman seeking revenge for the death of his daughter in a terrorist attack. 


**** The Pirates of Somalia     
Consider it Captain Phillips: The Rest of the Story. Writer/director Bryan Buckley, Oscar nominated for a short film set in Somalia, returns to that embattled nation with this true tale of a struggling writer (Evan Peters), who decides to make his own big break by heading to Somalia as a freelancer. He pursues a story about local pirates who commandeer cargo ships for ransom and discovers a human element he'd never dreamed of. Peters is extraordinary as an innocent who finds himself thrust into a lawless land where long history and current desperation mix. And Barkhad Abdi, who was nominated for an Oscar as a Somalian pirate in Captain Phillips, brings authenticity to the role of the young man's guide through this little corner of Hell. 


**** Inherit The Wind (1962) (Pictured Above)

Spencer Tracy, Frederic March and Gene Kelly bring megastar wattage to a drama based on the famed Scopes Monkey Trial. Stanley Kramer's version of the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee seems stubbornly stage-bound, and the script definitely stacks the deck in Spence's favor, but the performances are uniformly gripping.


**** Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Henry Fonda brings boyish charm to the role of the future 14th President in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. The film came in the middle of the astonishing two-year span in which Fonda starred in Jesse James, Drums Along the Mohawk the Grapes of Wrath And The Lady Eve. His Abe Lincoln sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, but lanky, drawling, soft-spoken Fonda remains one of the most affecting Honest Abes ever.  



Still In Theaters and on VOD

**** Big Sonia

Leah Warshawski's heartfelt documentary about her grandmother, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, triumphs as a testament to human endurance...and a warning of human depravity. The camera follows Sonia from her homey tailor shop in Kansas City, MO (the only remaining store in an almost-extinct shopping mall) to local high schools and even an area prison telling her story and offering wisdom earned in the most harrowing of manners. As the movies insist on force-feeding us fake heroes, this real one provides one of the year's most stirring film experiences. 


**** The Breadwinner  
An animated film that will entertain your family...and warm your heart with an authentic glow. Secret of Kells co-director Nora Twomey has crafted the truly enchanting tale of a young girl in Afghanistan who, after her father is wrongfully arrested, disguises  herself as a boy to provide for her family — and find justice for her father. 

 

**** Darkest Hour
Gary Oldman triumphs as Winston Churchill in the story of Winnie's first dramatic days as Britain's wartime Prime Minister. They don't  make leaders like Churchill anymore, and come to think of it, there aren't that many actors the calibre of Oldman, either. (FULL REVIEW) 


*** Downsizing  
Writer/director Alexander Payne (Nebraska, The Descendants) has big ideas for his social sci-fi comedy about a near future when people have the option to have themselves shrunken down to Thumbelena scale. For the first two-thirds of the film, his vision is sharp as our hero Paul (Matt Damon) discovers the wonders of being knee high to a grasshopper: For one thing, you can live in a mansion that costs no more than a swanky doll house. We're as dumbstruck as Paul at the outset — but later on, as Payne starts getting a little preachy about the social implications of his utterly fanciful premise, things start to drag. No one likes to be talked down to, especially when you're just five inches tall. 


**** Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool  

Annette Bening is poignant and profound as 1950s movie sexpot Gloria Grahame, years removed from her glory days and scraping out a living in small-city stage plays. She flies into an irresponsible romance with a young man (Jamie Bell), but the match turns out to be just what each of them needs. Greene, an Oscar winner who is all but forgotten today, could get no higher compliment than to be played with such tender reflection by one of the screen's most versatile artists. 

(FULL REVIEW)


* The Florida Project

Like his breakthrough film, Tangerine, Sean Baker's story of a precocious preteen girl (Brooklynn Prince) roaming the streets of Orlando with her fellow street urchins is an ordeal in self-absorbed dysfunction. Baker seems to expect us to embrace this borderline delinquent and empathize with her essentially sociopathic mom because, well, they're poor. Sorry, but Jean Valjean Mom is not (and while I wouldn't wish the fate of Eponine upon the film's young heroine, she could perhaps benefit from a night or two on the barricades). 

 

**** I, Tonya

Margot Robbie brings complex layers to the Olympic skater we thought we knew, and Allison Janney is uncannily creepy as her domineering mom. The 1994 Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Olympic spectacle is a fading memory for most of us, but director Craig Gillespie (Lars And the Real Girl) makes their rivalry — and its violent climax — seethe with urgency. Tonya emerges as a rough-edged but sympathetic figure, relentlessly pushed by her mother; cruelly rejected by a sport that bitterly resents her humble roots. 


***** Loving Vincent
One of the most extraordinary animated films ever made utilizes 65,000 oil paintings to illuminate the last days of Vincent Van Gogh. Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman reference numerous famous Van Gogh images, but every frame is infused with the spark and danger of the painter's genius. It takes about five minutes to get used to this singular experience; after that you are utterly along for the ride. 

 

*** Molly's Game (Pictured Above)

Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, Steve Jobs) directs his own script for the first time, and surprisingly he does a better job than the other guys of pacing his machine gun dialogue. Still, his telling of the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic skier who ran one of America's most exclusive (and illegal) card games, is oddly soulless. Despite heartfelt scenes with her lawyer (Idris Elba) and dad (Kevin Costner), we never really learn enough about Molly to truly care about her. (FULL REVIEW)


**** Murder on the Orient Express
Drinking heartily from the font of Sidney Lumet's lush 1974 version, director/star Kenneth Branagh guides us through Agatha Christie's most famous mystery with a deft and knowing hand. Sporting a moustache that deserves its own billing, Branagh plays detective Hercule Poirot with delightful eccentricity while providing lots of star-type turns for his stellar cast of suspects, including Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench and Willem Dafoe. It's no spoiler that Johnny Depp plays the victim, and to his credit he makes us good and glad he's dead. 


**** Novitiate  

The film's focus is on a 17-year-old girl (Margaret Qualley) who enters a super-strict convent just as Vatican II begins to loosen things up in the Catholic Church. But the movie's lightning rod is Melissa Leo as the Mother Superior, a terse dictator whose entire identity is wrapped up in tradition, and who is not about to kick the old habits. Alternately infuriated  and exhausted by her hopeless battle against Catholic authorities, Leo also conveys the heartbreak of one who believes her one true love, God Himself, has let her down. 


**** The Pirates of Somalia
In Theaters and VOD
Consider it Captain Phillips: The Rest of the Story. Writer/director Bryan Buckley, Oscar nominated for a short film set in Somalia, returns to that embattled nation with this true tale of a struggling writer (Evan Peters), who decides to make his own big break by heading to Somalia as a freelancer. He pursues a story about local pirates who commandeer cargo ships for ransom and discovers a human element he'd never dreamed of. Peters is extraordinary as an innocent who finds himself thrust into a lawless land where long history and current desperation mix. And Barkhad Abdi, who was nominated for an Oscar as a Somalian pirate in Captain Phillips, brings authenticity to the role of the young man's guide through this little corner of Hell. 


**** The Post 

Meryl Streep is Washington Post owner Katherine Graham, Tom Hanks is editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, and Steven Spielberg is the director — and that's about all you need to know about this dynamite newspaper saga. We find Graham facing twin, intertwined crises: Her editor wants to take on the Nixon administration by excerpting the notorious Pentagon Papers right at the moment when she's trying to take the family-owned newspaper public. In the course of the ordeal, Streep's Graham transforms from an uncertain CEO bullied by her male board members into a full-voiced authoritarian who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to get some ink on her hands to make it happen. Meanwhile, Hanks' Bradlee is an ambitious but pragmatic newshound who's equally at home dealing with both exremes of his boss's personality spectrum. Best of all, Spielberg evokes the slam-bang spirit of old-time newspaper work, from the looming once-a-day deadlines to the pneumatic office tubes to the rumble of a giant press in the basement, signaling the end of one news cycle and the start of another. (FULL REVIEW)


**** Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Pictured Above)
Denzel Washington adds an indelible new character to his portfolio: that of a socially awkward civil rights lawyer who, after years of beating his head against the wall of  institutionalized racism,  slowly allows himself to be co-opted by the trappings of success. Meanwhile his law firm boss (Colin Farrell), inspired by Roman's initial idealism, finds himself following the opposite route. What results is an actors' fugue of sorts, as the two characters' points of view weave amongst each other to create a rich tapestry of social commentary. Directed by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), whose knack for capturing the seedy side of LA is unspurpassed.  

   

***** The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro's fairy tale for grownups is part Beauty and the Beast, part E.T., and part Creature From the Black Lagoon. And it's one of the most gloriously assured films of this or any year. Sally Hawkins is a mute cleaning woman at a U.S. government compound who stumbles upon a tall, dark, and fishy creature in a squalid holding tank. She brings him food, and ends up giving him her heart. Be forewarned there's some carnal splashing involved, but only a monster would deny this beauty her beast. 


**** Star Wars: The Last Jedi

To paraphrase Santayana, those who continue to see Star Wars movies are doomed to re-live them. The eighth installment in the saga recycles lots of visual (and musical) leitmotifs from the 1977 original. Still, an abundance of good humor and winning performances by Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Benicio Del Toro and the late Carrie Fisher make for a pleasing addition to the canon. (FULL REVIEW)


***** Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MIssouri  

They might as well engrave Frances McDormand's name on the Best Actress Oscar right now; her exposed-nerve performance as an angry, grieving mom is a monumental achievement. She plays Mildred, a mother who, frustrated with the local cops' inability to solve her daughter's brutal murder, posts her displeasure on three giant billboards on the main road into town. Woody Harrelson, having the best year of his career, is a sympathetic foil as the police chief who tries to reason with Mildred. And perhaps best of all is the glorious Sam Rockwell as a trigger-tempered, yet somehow lovable deputy. Writer/director Martin McDonagh has already made two small masterpieces (In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths). This is his most satisfying film to date. 


**** Voyeur (On Netflix)
Meet Gerald Foos, a friendly guy with an easy laugh — and a motel owner who for decades hovered above each room, peering from his "observation platform," watching his guests in their most private moments. In this spellbinding documentary, writer Gay Talese visits Foos just prior to publication of his book about him. Turns out Talese didn't know quite everything about America's most notorious Peeping Tom. 


**** Wonder  
Bring the family — and a family-size box of tissues — to this endearing story of a young boy born with a deformed face (Jacob Tremblay) whose parents decide to send him to school rather than home school him. Tremblay is wonderful, as are Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as his wise and loving parents.