Melinda Sue Gordon/Twentieth Century Fox
Battle of the Sexes, PG-13
Anyone who wasn’t around for the circus that was the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs may think Battle of the Sexes is a wild satire of women’s-lib-era sports and media culture, when it’s actually a fairly faithful account. Emma Stone shines as a champ who’s quietly overcoming off-court passivity about both her bargaining clout and her sexuality. But the movie is stolen by putative supporting player Steve Carell, 55. He’s so able to find the heartrending desperation behind Riggs’ show-biz chauvinism that he might have viewers developing a rooting interest in the wrong side of history. When the triumphal score swells as the feminist heroine inevitably starts walloping the huckster who was 26 years her senior, the weight of Carell’s hilarious but poignant performance almost makes you feel like they’ve put on the wrong music.
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Kingsman: The Golden Circle, R
This movie has everything. Colin Firth, 57, parodying 007. Mark Strong, 54, as his Q-like tech guru. Fisticuffs in a speeding car. Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, 51, and Jeff Bridges, 67, as their U.S. spy colleagues. Cool electric lariats, bulletproof bumbershoots and Gatling guns. Julianne Moore, 56, as the world’s top drug dealer in a jungle hideout where irritable Elton John, 70, is held prisoner. Startlingly crude, a bit violent, with funnier cannibalism gags than Mother! Director Matthew Vaughn has made six better films, including the first Kingsman, but this sequel’s fun.
Victoria & Abdul, PG-13
Judi Dench, 82, is masterful as Queen Victoria (Dench has channeled the enigmatic queen before, in 1997's Mrs. Brown) in this film, where she starts out a sad captive of her own castles but is soon drawn to her Urdu teacher, India’s hunky young Abdul Karim (Furious 7’s Ali Fasal). Unfortunately, as their relationship progresses the movie does little to explain Abdul, a cipher with illegible motives. Is he a great guy or a scammer manipulating Victoria for profit, as the racist imperialist court thinks? No way to tell from Victoria & Abdul, which is just good enough to hold your interest, and no better. But if you crave a fix of Brit royalty while waiting for The Crown Season 2 — or are a Dench fan, and who isn’t? — this is your jam.
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Brad's Status, R
Navel-gazing Sacramento insomniac Brad (Ben Stiller, 51) shares his narcissistic agony via voiceover, categorizing his shortcomings while sweating through a Harvard visit with his caring, unconflicted piano prodigy teen (The Walking Dead's Austin Abrams). Writer-director Mike White (School of Rock) has Brad desperately obsess about his more successful besties from Tufts (not Harvard!): preening TV pundit Michael Sheen, hedge-fund plutocrat Luke Wilson and White’s own character, who hosts Hollywood’s hottest pool parties. Very humorous, but it also smells of desperation, a comedy of declining white male privilege. Male critics have much more patience with this guy.
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Darren Aronofsky’s horror flick stars Jennifer Lawrence as a woman few seem to heed as her house becomes a nightmare world, but the real news is the mysterious couple who invade her home: Ed Harris, 66, who is never less than excellent, and Michelle Pfeiffer, 59, back at the top of the actor pack after five years out of the limelight.
American Assassin, R
American Assassin is an expertly dumb film by the exquisitely smart guys who brought you Showtime's Homeland and FX's The Americans. It stars terrific new action hero Dylan O’Brien as a kid who loses his fiancée to an Islamist terrorist attack on a beach and then trains for vengeance as a terrorist killer under CIA mentor Michael Keaton, 66. The dialogue is riddled with clichés and the plot is predictable, but the chase scenes are better than Logan Lucky’s and the pulse-pounding, terrorist-stomping narrative will hold your interest right until the end. FULL REVIEW
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Based on one of Stephen King’s most celebrated and scariest works, It is a true fright-fest that will satisfy anyone who loves the horror genre, regardless of age. Starring a septet of brilliant young actors — plus Bill Skarsgard, 27, who's terrifying as Pennywise the Dancing Clown — It doesn't rely on cheap jump cuts for its scares; it frightens and unsettles on a multitude of levels, including suspense, gore and repressed fear. While at some points the movie’s effects get in its own way (certain CGI monsters provoke more confusion than fright) and some of the main characters feel slightly underdeveloped, it's a thrilling entry in the genre and one of the better King adaptations. If clowns give you nightmares, though, be prepared for some sleepless nights.
Karen Ballard/Open Road Films
Home Again, PG-13
This glossy romantic comedy stars Reese Witherspoon, 41, as Alice Kinney, a mother of two who returns to her childhood home and the arms of Mom (Candice Bergen, 71) after separating from her hubby (Michael Sheen, 48). Alice gets a little crazy at her 40th birthday party and ends up inviting three cute filmmakers to move in. Romance and wackiness ensue. The movie includes some corny and cliche romcom moments (the director Hallie Meyers-Shyer, 30, is the daughter of rom-com queen Nancy Meyers, 67), but it's hard not to like its message: There is life after love. FULL REVIEW
Few summer movies boast a better lineup of grownup talents than this handsomely photographed, incompetently written film — an attempt to blend the drama of India and Pakistan's violent 1947 Partition with a Romeo and Juliet-style romance between a Hindu (Manish Dayal, Halt and Catch Fire) and a Muslim (Huma Qureshi). Both are servants to Britain’s last India viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, whose job was to end England's 300-year rule and split India and Pakistan peacefully. Downton Abbey fans will thrill to see Hugh Bonneville, 53, as Mountbatten, timing his staff to see how fast they can dress him. But that’s about the only thrill they’ll get from this film, bland as a carob brownie and quite confusing. The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson, 49, so terrific in period pieces (Bleak House, House of Mirth), has little to do as Mrs. Mountbatten but kvetch about India’s heat and advocate niceness. And Michael Gambon, 76, is intriguing as Lord Ismay, scheming to effect Churchill’s plan to protect British oil interests and block Russia, though that plotline is vague and unresolved.
If you want to find out the real drama of the largest, fastest migration in human history, read Nisid Hajari’s Midnight’s Furies or Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, or see Rushdie’s flawed but intelligent film version of his novel.
Claudette Barius/Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street
Logan Lucky, PG-13
Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky is a fast, character-rich, zigzag romp of an action comedy. Daniel Craig (who turns 50 in March) has a trashy blast playing uneducated-but-ingenious Joe Bang, an improvised-explosives expert set on stealing a $14 million NASCAR trove (a sinkhole has opened under Charlotte’s racetrack). Its plot is familiar, in the same genre as The Hitman’s Bodyguard, but much smarter, better shot and more surprising. FULL REVIEW
The Hitman’s Bodyguard has zero surprises, but plenty of buddy-film cliches. Gary Oldman stars in a role he could play in his sleep (a Belarus dictator whom hitman Samuel L. Jackson must stop by testifying against him in court), and does. Yet it’s a diverting flick despite its witless derivativeness. Even gag lines that have no right to live do so, thanks to the infinite charisma of Jackson and the charm of Ryan Reynolds as his bodyguard and former nemesis. Their chemistry makes you wish their arguments — and the script — were equally clever.
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The Dark Tower, PG-13
Don’t despair, fans of Stephen King. The long-awaited $60 million film of his Dark Tower series is a critic's piñata and a commercial flop. But there are signs of hope in it nonetheless. Idris Elba, 44, is worth the price of admission as the Sergio Leone-inspired Gunslinger, who hunts the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey, playing a cheerfully homicidal variation on his car-commercial Zen master). The scenes set on the parallel universe Mid-World look cool and packed with references to other Stephen King stories (It, The Shining, etc.). And there’s hope for a better retelling: a TV show based on the book is in the works, and a 10- to 13-episode show has a far better chance of adequately accommodating King’s complex, world-hopping, 4,200-plus-page story than this somewhat disappointing film.
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The Glass Castle, PG-13
The film and its star Brie Larson do a decent job of capturing the inspiring true story of Jeannette Walls’ rise from a childhood marked by lurid poverty and bizarre parenting to Park Avenue and writerly success (a saga chronicled in her superb mega-bestselling memoir). It could have used less sentimentality, however: Her parents’ stunning selfishness and nomadic madness should have been more heart-chilling, and the ending should have felt more haunted by the aftershock of the film noir horrors that went before. The best part is Woody Harrelson, 56, who plays Walls’ charismatically dazzling, dead-drunk deadbeat dad and makes this astounding tale come alive. FULL REVIEW
Director Kathryn Bigelow’s movie about Detroit’s 1967 race riot is mercilessly gripping, told with artfully crafted documentary-style realism. It’s a masterpiece but a lesser one than her six-Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2008) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Based on an incident in which cops killed innocent black people trapped by the riot in Detroit’s Algiers Motel, the film is hobbled in part by the fact that the victim characters are based on real people (Algee Smith is terrific as a member of the Motown group the Dramatics) and the cops are fictionalized into caricatures. It’s still worth seeing for wonderful acting and the 65-year-old Bigelow’s icy genius. FULL REVIEW
An Inconvenient Sequel is no An Inconvenient Truth. While, like its predecessor, the documentary begins with the horrors of climate change — Al Gore speaking in front of a slideshow to a rapt audience — it quickly devolves into a ham-handed narrative of Gore as hero. We see him flying from nation to nation to meet with important people in preparation for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The film’s presentation of him as the savior behind the agreement is at best contrived and at worst quite offensive to the thousands of other attendees from 196 countries who worked to forge the deal. The film only briefly touches upon, but neglects to reckon with, an inconvenient possibility: These efforts might all be undone by the next president of the United States. We’re left with a laughably forced ending: The Earth is getting hotter, but you can make a difference, as long as you attend Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps training and make sure to #BeInconvenient.
Atomic Blonde is a wild, sordid, violent ride. It’s also a lot of fun – provided you’re a fan of fight scenes and their resultant blood and bruises, which the titular blonde (a top-of-her-game Charlize Theron) both gives and takes with a tenacious swagger. Set in the 10 days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the film stars Theron as Lorraine, a British special agent sent to Berlin to retrieve a list — code-named “the list” — of every undercover MI6 operative in the city. Adapted from the graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde knows it’s ventured into the ridiculous, awash with neon like a bad 1980s music video and full of more crazy plot twists than you can count. But that’s all part of the fun.
Girls Trip, R
A posse of four college friends (played by Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish) is headed to the Essence Festival in New Orleans for a rekindling of friendship and some serious partying. Yet one more comedy featuring women behaving badly — the F-bombs fly in the first minutes — the comedy is disappointing despite an all-star cast and a standout performance by Haddish. FULL REVIEW
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk may be the best World War II epic in years. Based on the May 1940 evacuation of almost 400,000 Allied soldiers trapped by the enemy on France’s Dunkirk beach, the film manages to make the soldiers’ sitting-duck tension palpable without the typical Hollywood heartstring-fiddling. Mark Rylance plays a civilian boat captain with appropriate stiff-upper-lipped resolve, and Cillian Murphy is convincing as the shell-shocked shipwreck survivor he picks up. FULL REVIEW
Baby Driver, R
Baby Driver delivers one of the best opening scenes in recent memory, throwing the audience into the rush of a car chase and keeping the pedal to the metal until the credits roll. As the titular Baby (yes, that’s his name), Ansel Elgort offers a perfect mix of sensitivity and bravado, while Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx are outrageously entertaining in support roles. Edgar Wright’s direction is masterful, with much of the action synced to the beats of a stellar soundtrack. Even if you’re not usually into movies featuring high-speed car chases and gratuitous violence — and Baby Driver has plenty of both — you’ll want to give this one a shot.
Spider-Man: Homecoming, PG-13
This is the best Spidey movie since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. That’s in part thanks to new star Tom Holland, who — despite having been 20 during filming — makes a far more believable 15-year-old webslinger than his predecessors. This Spidey knows he’s overeager and under-experienced, and respects his elders, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his nemesis the Vulture (Michael Keaton). Not jaded or cynical, it’s simply a fresh and fun summer film. FULL REVIEW
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