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What to Watch at the Movies

See 'Little Miss Sunshine'-like indie 'Puzzle' and 'BlacKkKlansman,' Spike Lee's best film in a decade

 Puzzle, R

Kelly Macdonald, 42, who stole Boardwalk Empire from Steve Buscemi and No Country for Old Men from Josh Brolin, seizes the spotlight from everyone in this low-key drama about a neglected Connecticut housewife who discovers she’s got a brilliant gift for putting puzzles together. Though she loves the mechanic husband (The Office’s David Denman, 45) and sons who take her for granted, she’s most alive when sneaking off to Manhattan to partner with a divorced millionaire (Irrfan Khan, 51) in a puzzle contest. As she tries to put herself together, you’re with her all the way. The script isn’t as good as Little Miss Sunshine, which director Marc Turtletaub produced, but it has a similar sweet spirit. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)

Also New in Theaters

Adam Driver and John David Washington sitting next to each other.

David Lee/Focus Features

Adam Driver (left) and John David Washington play friends in "BlacKkKlansman" and work together to move in on the KKK.

 BlacKkKlansman, R

In a highly unlikely story that actually happened in the 1970s, a black cop (Denzel Washington's son John David Washington) teams with a Jewish colleague (Adam Driver) to infiltrate the KKK, fooling even Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) with their audacious impersonations of racists. The film is apt to be the biggest hit directed by Spike Lee, 61, since Inside Man in 2006. It's political to a fault and may annoy some viewers, but it's not just a message picture — it's funny, serious and totally entertaining. —Dana Kennedy FULL REVIEW

Still in Theaters

Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt in

Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt in the dizzyingly exciting "Mission: Impossible - Fallout."

  Mission: Impossible — Fallout, R

Who needs James Bond? Tom Cruise, 56, outdoes him in his sixth M:I action epic, with a little help from fellow spies Alec Baldwin, 60, and Ving Rhames, 59. The knotty plot about loose nukes is the perfect excuse for stunt after spectacular, 007-shaming, Bourne-topping stunt, with Cruise piloting helicopters, racing through European capitals, opening his parachute way too close to the ground and clinging to icy cliffs. Cruise broke bones doing his own stunts, but it was worth it. What a ride! —Thelma Adams (T.M.A.) FULL REVIEW

Aubrey and Morgan crawling on a floor in a scene from

Hopper Stone/Lionsgate Entertainment

Best friends Audrey (Mila Kunis) and Morgan (Kate McKinnon) become partners in crime in "The Spy Who Dumped Me."

 The Spy Who Dumped Me, R

If Romy and Michele found themselves in a Mission: Impossible movie instead of a school reunion, it would be The Spy Who Dumped Me. Mila Kunis is fun as a shy grocery clerk who gets in touch with her inner international assassin, goaded on by her bestie Kate McKinnon, who’s wilder than she ever is on Saturday Night Live. Their girl-buddy bonding helps anchor the uneven action, which is startlingly violent — but you wouldn’t say that if they were guys. It’s a cut below Melissa McCarthy’s similar Spy, but as good as some of the Mission: Impossibles, and just as silly. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

  Nico, 1988, R

Alec Baldwin called Trine Dyrholm, 46, from the Oscar winner In a Better World, “the best actress in the world,” but she started out as a singer in the Eurovision Song Contest (which discovered ABBA), so she’s just perfect playing German-born singer and model Nico, star of the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s 1966 film Chelsea Girls. This gritty biopic tracks Nico's last days, touring Europe in a punk band, trying to live down her past with Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan and Federico Fellini, and to connect with the troubled son she had with actor Alain Delon. Dyrholm captures Nico’s paradoxical dark radiance, tone-deaf musicality and nihilistic vitality. —T.A.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios

Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried and Christine Baranski are among the multigenerational cast of "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again."

 Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, PG-13

Nobody expected good things from this ABBA-song-filled sequel to the critically reviled, massively popular 2008 movie about a Greek island innkeeper (Meryl Streep) and her daughter's possible fathers (Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan), all reunited as grownups. Surprise! It's more fun than the first flick. Director Ol Parker, who wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, blends storylines featuring the grownup cast and youngsters playing them in youth. Streep returns, Christine Baranksi and Julie Walters are terrific, and Cher, 72, upstages everyone as the mother of Streep, 69, singing "Fernando" in a finale fizzier than a magnum of Dom Perignon. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW

Denzel Washington and Ashton Sanders in The Equalizer 2

Sony Pictures Entertainment

Denzel Washington reprises his role as Robert McCall in "The Equalizer 2".

  The Equalizer 2, R

The complex plot is ridiculous, but few vigilante movies boast the cinematic skill of this action franchise starring Denzel Washington, 63, as a black-ops assassin turned Boston Lyft driver who just hates to have to kill bad guys — but if he won't, who will? Washington stabs kidnappers with a corkscrew on a Turkish train, slices rich-boy rapists' throats with their own credit cards, saves a kid (Moonlight's Ashton Sanders) from gang life, and gets especially vengeful when his CIA pal (Melissa Leo, 57) dies. Gory and silly, but director Antoine Fuqua, 53, whose 2001 Training Day got Washington an Oscar, knows how to make violence stylish, and the final shootout in a gale-force storm is as epic as it is dumb. —T.A.

Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton in

Photo by Linda Kallerus, courtesy of A24

Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton play an adolescent girl and her single dad in "Eighth Grade".

 Eighth Grade, R

Bo Burnham, whose homemade YouTube videos earned him 228 million viewers at 16, crafts a superb first film about a girl's last week in middle school. Elsie Fisher (Despicable Me) is wonderful as a YouTube motivational video maker who's bubbly and confident online but intensely shy in real life — especially when she, voted most quiet in her class, gets invited to the rich, cool kids' year-end pool party. Everything in her scary but exciting life rings true — the tyranny of social networks, boys good and bad, kids welcoming and menacing, big decisions you're not ready for. It's as good as a John Hughes movie but sweeter and infinitely more realistic. It will take you back, and to the eighth-grader in your life it will feel like a documentary. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

  Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, R

For a fact-based drama concerning an alcoholic paralyzed in a car wreck, Gus Van Sant’s biopic about cartoonist John Callahan (1951-2010) is rather cheeky and jaunty. But Joaquin Phoenix slam-dunks the role of an artist who navigates a 12-step program, finds relief in his controversially sardonic work (published in The New Yorker and 200 newspapers), and rages against physical and psychic limitations — all beneath a self-mockingly awful ginger wig. It's not Van Sant’s most tightly crafted story, but it's a compassionate saga of the Sisyphean task of sobriety. An unrecognizably slim Jonah Hill plays an eccentric AA sponsor and Jack Black the drunk driver who crashed Callahan’s VW at 90 mph, changing his fate. —T.M.A.

Mister Rogers sitting behind the famous trolley on  the set of

GENE J. PUSKAR/AP

"Won't You Be My Neighbor" beautifully chronicles Fred Rogers and his positive impact on generations of children.

 Won't You Be My Neighbor?, PG-13

The movie of the moment is this tear-inducing tribute to Fred Rogers, the late host of the children's TV show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, by Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville. The film, which particularly draws grownup viewers with its irresistible nostalgia, is powered by Rogers' world-class kindness, which inspires kindness in others. The film also depicts his fearlessness — he helped kids deal with issues as troubling as Bobby Kennedy's assassination and the 1986 Challenger explosion, and convinced President Nixon not to kill $20 million in PBS funding by defending public broadcasting in an eloquent six-minute U.S. Senate speech. When Tom Hanks plays Rogers in the forthcoming film You Are My Friend, he'll have a heck of a time topping the real man's performance. —T. A. SEE RELATED ARTICLE 

 Thomasin  Harcourt  McKenzie  and  director  Debra  Granik  on  the  set  of  LEAVE  NO  TRACE,  a  Bleecker  Street  release.

Scott Green / Bleecker Street

Director Debra Granik (right) instructs newcomer Thomasin McKenzie on the set of "Leave No Trace."

 Leave No Trace, PG

Debra Granik, 55, who made Jennifer Lawrence famous in Winter’s Bone, has crafted another father-daughter drama about rural outcasts — this time a war vet (Ben Foster) whose soulful teen (Thomasin McKenzie) is tired of living off the grid with him, subsisting on rainwater, foraging and sales of PTSD meds the haunted dad clearly needs. Inspired by a real dad and teen who spent four years hiding in the 5,000-acre Forest Park in Portland, Ore., it’s a vividly realistic story about their bond, the power of nature (including human), and the kind city folk who try to save them. Winter’s Bone had a way more propulsive plot, but this sensitive, brooding drama is an Oscar magnet, too.—T.A.

Two men sitting at a table.

Eric Lin

Ted Danson, right, plays a bartender who sits down for a talk with buddy and budding songwriter Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) in "Hearts Beat Loud."

 Hearts Beat Loud, PG-13

Director Brett Haley, whose 2017 Sam Elliott film The Hero was a modest hit, charms again with this slightly High Fidelity-like drama about a widower dad (Nick Offerman, 47, Parks and Recreation) who writes a catchy indie tune with his daughter (Kiersey Clemons). She wants to go to med school; he tries to hang on to their togetherness, his youth and his record store. The landlady (Toni Collette, 45) wants to help him grow up — which sounds like a bad idea to his amusing, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing pothead bartender pal (Ted Danson, 70). As Offerman’s mom, Blythe Danner, 75, is underwritten but good. Like Lady Bird, this is a touching intergenerational flick with dark-horse Oscar potential. —T.A.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Magnolia Pictures

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg looks a bit different without her black robe; the documentary "RBG" catches her at the gym as well as the chambers of the Supreme Court.

 RBG, PG

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, gets the star treatment in this charming documentary (though conservatives in the film who call her "vile" and "wicked" won't be applauding). We see her ascend from a ladylike, blue-eyed young beauty traumatized by Harvard Law School's sexism to a crusading attorney winning case after case for women's rights before the court, and finally joining it thanks in part to the superb lobbying of her husband, of whom their daughter said, "Daddy does the cooking and Mommy does the thinking." Warm and funny, the film also sheds substantive light on the collision of legal ideas and personalities that shape our nation. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

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