New In Theaters
**** Mr. Roosevelt
Noël Wells writes, directs, and stars in this breakthrough comedy about a struggling young LA comic (Wells) who returns to her native Austin, Texas, to deal with a family emergency...and comes face-to-face with the myriad was life has gone on without her. The premise is frothy, but the film is brimming with smart and sneakily soulful observations of how we are all, at one time or another, on the outside looking in. (FULL REVIEW)
** The Star
This animated re-telling of the Christmas Story — told through the eyes of the animals that witnessed it — betrays its promise of gentle Holiday entertainment by devolving quite quickly into a raucous slapstick adventure. Ice Age meets The Nativity, and the result is somewhere this side of Heaven.
**** The Breadwinner (Pictured Above)
Now let's talk about 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.
**** 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.
** Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron becomes the latest Oscar-winning star to go the action hero route; too bad she's kicking up her heels in this hyper-caffeinated spy yarn. She plays an agent seeking a top-secret spy list in Cold War Berlin. There's ice everywhere — in the river, in the drinks, even in Theron's bath tub — all of which help explain why this film has no beating heart. (FULL REVIEW)
**** Wind River
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) has fashioned a new genre: The Modern Western. Instead of rustling cattle, the bad guys get high and commit grotesque crimes until a determined lawman tracks them down. Here it's Jeremy Renner, usually a tracker of animal predators, on the trail of the human predator who killed a local girl.
** The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) (Pictured Above)
Lily Tomlin would probably prefer to be remembered for classics like 9 to 5 or late-career triumphs like Grandma. But as far as we know, this sci-fi comedy marks the only big-screen appearance of her characters Edith Ann and Ernestine.
*** Battle of the Sexes
Steve Carell is Bobby Riggs and Emma Stone is Billie Jean King in this based-on-fact telling of the pair's epic, carnival-like 1973 tennis match. The stars embody their characters; Carell captures Riggs' P.T. Barnum-like delirium and Stone evokes King's smoldering ambition. But while those who were around then will recall the spirit of fun that surrounded the event at Houston's Astrodome, the film takes it all a bit too seriously, resulting in the feeling of a Saturday Night Live Sketch that seldom lightens up. (FULL REVIEW)
*** Blade Runner 2049
Producer Ridley Scott, who directed the 1982 cult classic Blade Runner, hands to Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) the reins of this long-awaited sequel, and the result is visually dazzling, moodily engaging — and about an hour too long. Ryan Gosling, whose eyes convey more in 10 seconds than most of his contemporaries can in their entire careers, is perfect as a conflicted futuristic LA cop chasing down renegade humanoids. When he comes face-to-face with Harrison Ford, returning as the hero of the original film, the screen nearly supernovas with star power. But Villeneuve, usually an economical filmmaker, seems contractually bound to use every inch of special effects footage created to portray the series' signature dystopian, smog-choked, and ultimately sense-numbing Los Angeles.
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) stars in the true story of Robin Cavendish, a 1950s polio victim who, determined to escape the confines of the hospital, collaborates with his wife (Claire Foy) and a tinkering friend (Hugh Bonneville) to invent a portable ventilator. Garfield brings restrained dignity to his role; Foy carries fully half the film as Robin's resourceful and determined spouse. (FULL REVIEW)
Scientists can control the weather from satellites! A villain has seized control and is wreaking havoc! Frozen jetliners fall from the sky! Towering waves crush cities! Only Gerard Butler can save us! So may exclamation marks!
** The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Pictured Above)
The performances by stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are first-rate, but unfortunately they're in the service of an off-the-wall story by director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) that involves a troubled young man (Barry Keoghan) forcing a heart surgeon (Farrell) to choose which member of his own family to kill. The roles are played with the same bloodless detachment Farrell evoked in Lanthimos' Lobster, leaving us with little empathy for the main characters and lots of misgivings about the film's narrative, which is best described as Sophie's Choice played for laughs. (FULL REVIEW)
***** 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.
I'm glad Chadwick Boseman gets to make a good living playing Black Panther in the Marvel movies, but will someone else please, please recognize him as one of the screen's most versatile actors? He was galvanizing as James Brown in Get On Up...he was positively heroic as Jackie Robinson in 42 — and now he captures the quiet dignity and subtle legal genius of Thurgood Marshall in Marshall. Boseman plays 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.
Something is clearly wrong with the remote house occupied by Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence: The walls bleed, as do the floors, and the place makes ungodly noises. But the real problem here is writer/director Darren Aronofsky's ambition to infuse his dark tale with Biblical allusions reaching from Genesis to Revelation, yet somehow forget to provide a meaningful context. (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.
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.
** Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Spider-Man had his radioactive arachnid, Superman had Krypton...and Wonder Woman was born in the imagination of a college professor (Luke Evans) who, along with his professor wife (Rebecca Hall) and their mutual girlfriend (Bella Heathcote) defied social norms in the 1940s. The true story of WW's genesis has its share of salacious secrets, but director Angela Robinson's account is oddly bloodless.
Good News: Director George Clooney got Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac to star in his movie about murder and mayhem in a 1959 'burb. Bad News: He failed to reckon with a scattershot script (co-written by Clooney and the Coen Brothers) that piles social consciousness on top of a whacked-out plot. (FULL REVIEW)
***** Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MIssouri (Pictured Above)
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.
**** Victoria & Abdul
In her last years, Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) befriended a low-level emissary from India (Ali Fazal) — much to the horror of the Royal court, especially her son and future king Bertie (Eddie Izzard). This telling of that story offers absolutely everything lovers of the Masterpiece Theatre genre will expect: lush settings, cross-cultural conflicts, benevolent members of the Upper Crust and plucky up-and-comers. Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena, Florence Foster Jenkins) knows his audience and delivers the goods.