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What to Watch at the Movies

Robbie Robertson and The Band documentary and a new version of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’

 Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, R

This biopic of The Band will fascinate grownup music fans, but some are grousing that it’s like a version of Marriage Story where only one divorcing spouse gets to talk. Robbie Robertson, 76, tells his side eloquently (with help from George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal and Martin Scorsese). An only child born on Canada’s Six Nations reservation, Robertson bonded with Levon Helm when they were teenagers in a rockabilly band, and wrote great songs like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” about Helm’s Arkansas homeland, with Helm’s help, for Helm to sing. With Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, they helped Bob Dylan go electric, then pioneered Americana music with Dylan and on their own. Helm, Danko and Manuel were, as Bruce Springsteen says in the film, “three of the greatest white singers in rock history.” All contributed ideas to their immortal songs, but as the writer, Robertson got the cash. And he was an ambitious workaholic who dreamed of working with Ingmar Bergman and wound up as pals with Dylan and Martin Scorsese, who directed The Band’s farewell concert film The Last Waltz. Three of the others were junkies inclined to crash into police cars, and illness made them less productive. Robertson’s ex-wife, Dominique Bourgeois, who lived with the group and survived such a crash, became an addiction therapist and has insightful things to say about their psychology. It’s a thrilling film, but also as heartbreaking as the lyrics of the title song: “Once were brothers, brothers no more.” As Robertson says of the group, “It was so beautiful, it went up in flames.” —Tim Appelo (T.A.)

Also New in Theaters

 Emma, PG

Take a break from our troubled times with this exquisite version of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel of manners and romance. Doe-eyed Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) spins an enchanting web as Emma Woodhouse, the rich, spoiled and beautiful 21-year-old queen bee of her sleepy village, who lives with her hypochondriac father (Love Actually’s Bill Nighy, 70). Having successfully played matchmaker between her governess and a wealthy widower, Emma believes she can find the perfect husband for sweet, naïve Harriet Smith (a refreshing Mia Goth). Johnny Flynn brings a scruffy charm as the moral (and sexy) Mr. Knightley, who constantly chides Emma — only to realize he is madly in love with her. 

Though it’s a fresh take with gorgeous costumes, lush cinematography, colorful production design and a luminous score, first-time feature director Autumn de Wilde and writer Eleanor Catton — the youngest-ever winner of the prestigious Booker Prize — don’t really reinvent the wheel with this version. It’s won’t make you forget Amy Heckerling’s inspired 1995 Clueless or the 1996 Emma with a pre-Goop Gwyneth Paltrow. But it’s akin to a delicious crumpet smothered in lemon curd with the perfect cup of Earl Grey tea. —Susan King (S.K.)

Still in Theaters

 Ordinary Love, R

In the best movie you ever saw about what it’s like to have a good marriage stressed by breast cancer, masterful actors Lesley Manville, 63, and Liam Neeson, 67, evince emotional and erotic chemistry — their love has a lived-in feel, like a frayed old sweater that still warms like a woolen hug. Written by distinguished playwright Owen McCafferty (whose wife was thus stricken, as was Manville’s sister), it’s not a cancer story but a beautifully moving middle-aged love story. They lost a daughter years ago, but their bond sustained them through grief, and now they’re a contented Belfast couple, fretting over their Fitbits and caffeine intake, dispelling tensions with fond banter. Through her cancer diagnosis and year of treatment, emotions get rawer. When they argue over what’s for dinner, it’s really about her determination to keep life as normal as possible. Neeson, whose affecting performance reminds us he can do more than kick terrorist derriere, is still a guy determined to do something, anything, to battle the cancer. Men want to be action heroes. But he can’t punch a carcinoma. They snap at each other over a missed dose of medicine. “We’re both going through this,” he says. “No, we’re not!” she says. They’re both right. The night before her scheduled mastectomy, when they bid farewell to her breasts, may be the sweetest, tenderest, truest sex scene of the year. Sad as the film is, it leaves you feeling uplifted — even strengthened. —T.A. READ LESLEY MANVILLE INTERVIEW

 Portrait of a Lady on Fire, R

This sexy, intellectually teasing, brilliantly acted valentine pairs two strong women: painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and her portrait subject, bride-to-be Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). On a remote French island in 1770, the artist tries to capture the aristocrat’s fleeting essence on canvas. The painting is intended for Héloïse’s betrothed, a wealthy Milanese stranger she hasn’t even met yet and does not want to marry. The women’s emotional honesty and awakening to their sensual connection recall those beautiful moments when Romeo and Juliet find each other in Franco Zeffirelli’s lushly romantic Oscar winner from 1969. The movie presents a feast for the eye and a salve for the heart. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.)

 The Assistant, R

The Assistant is a resonant Working Girl for the #MeToo era. It follows a day in the trenches of office worker Jane (Ozark Emmy-winner Julia Garner), who works for a tyrannical Tribeca movie mogul. Her married boss makes her complicit in his drug-and-sex-fueled work life.

It’s an insider’s retelling of the Harvey Weinstein allegations with different names and details and a sly twist. Writer-director Kitty Green keeps the boss off camera, a garbled voice through the phone, a naughty chuckle from behind a closed door. Instead, she hinges the short, static drama on the powerless employee. We see every insult register in Jane’s pale, watery eyes. When she heads to HR after delivering a new “assistant” to a luxury hotel for what she knows is an assignation with the boss, she’s painfully outmatched by HR’s Wilcock (Succession’s brilliant Matthew Macfadyen), who toys with her like a spider with a fly. Instead of busting the sex-assailant boss, Wilcock dispatches her to apologize to him for disloyalty. The graceful Garner glues the movie together, nailing the intelligence and ambition of this naïve professional bargaining with the devil for career advancement. —T.M.A.

 The Traitor, R

If you liked The Irishman, try this true story of Tommaso Buscetta, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra boss who turned informer after his treacherous Corleone colleagues killed his family. In trial scenes that make Italian justice look like a bizarre circus, the nattily dressed mafiosi, locked in cages in the courtroom, shout down their accusers — and  they even managed to get the judge whacked. Pierfrancesco Favino (50) is great as the morally ambiguous hero of a tale that’s strange but true. —T.A.

 The Gentlemen, R

If you liked Oceans 11, you’ll probably like Guy Ritchie’s exuberantly talky crime caper about a pot merchant who wants to quit (Matthew McConaughey, 50) and his tough wife (Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery). Happily trashing their usual images are Hugh Grant, 59, as a vile blackmailer, Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding as a bad guy who won’t respect his elders and Colin Farrell as a criminal boxing coach whose taste in tracksuit fashion is a crime in itself. Convoluted, vulgar and veddy British. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW

 Little Women, PG

Meryl Streep, 70, may be the most formidable Aunt March in the history of adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s classic about a Massachusetts family whose father (Bob Odenkirk, 57) is off fighting the Civil War as they fight, love and support one another. Laura Dern, 52, is perhaps the first Marmee who admits that her saintly self-sacrifice fills her with constant suppressed rage. Though she’s got a weakness for flashbacks, director/writer Greta Gerwig has made an ambitious Little Women for our time. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW

 1917, R

It’s too bad Roger Deakins, 70, won the cinematography Oscar for last year’s Blade Runner 2049 on his 14th nomination, because this World War I epic is a more impressive feat: It’s basically all one continuous shot, following two young British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) on a Saving Private Ryan-like mission behind enemy lines to prevent 1,600 soldiers from an ambush massacre — including the brother of one of the lads. On the way they encounter older allies Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott (Fleabag’s hot priest), Colin Firth, 59, and Germans who are excellent at killing Brits. It’s as overwhelming as Dunkirk, and infinitely more personal. —T.A.

Adam Sander in a poster for 'Uncut Gems'


 Uncut Gems, R

Adam Sandler, 53, has never achieved anything to match his stunning performance as a jeweler and gambler in ever-increasing debt to pawnbrokers, bookies and extremely dangerous people. He stakes his life on the auction of a gemstone from Ethiopia, which he unwisely loans to Celtics star Kevin Garnett (playing himself, amazingly well), who thinks it's a good-luck charm. The film is a frantic masterpiece, like Goodfellas if Robert Altman had directed it. Tense, action-packed, emotionally dramatic and unpredictable, it's also funny — in a Tarantinoish way. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

 Knives Out, PG-13

Writer-director Rian Johnson, 47, whose great genre movies playfully mock their clichés (LooperBrick), fields an all-star grownup cast for this Murder on the Orient Express pastiche with a sardonic modern vibe. Someone slit the throat of a tyrant (Christopher Plummer, 89) in his Victorian manse. Was it his plutocrat kid (Jamie Lee Curtis, 60) in the secret passageway? Her cheating husband (Don Johnson, 69)? A Poirot-ish detective (Daniel Craig, 51), who has an accent so Southern-fried someone sarcastically asks him if he's from CSI: KFC, tries to find out. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

 A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, PG

Tom Hanks, 63, as Mr. Rogers? Perfect. From the moment he zips his trademark cardigan and addresses the camera, he dissolves into the kindly TV host. In this emotional drama adapted from Tom Junod's 1998 Esquire article, Rogers is the supporting player who rehabilitates the broken writer Lloyd Vogel (The Americans’ moody Matthew Rhys) assigned to profile the gentle children's hero. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW

 Ford v Ferrari, PG-13

Besides exhilarating you-are-at-the-wheel-at-230-mph racetrack scenes, Ford v Ferrari is a glorious bromance about a car designer (Matt Damon, 49) and an irascible driver (Christian Bale, 45) — along with their Italian rival Ferrari, whose cars always win at Le Mans, and their nasty Ford bosses, who order them to beat Ferrari or else. Who wins? You, the viewer. Strap into your theater seat: It's a wild ride. —T.A.

 Jojo Rabbit, PG-13

This bold, ridiculous and controversial comedy, in the tradition of mock musical Springtime for Hitler, beat the Oscar-buzzed runners-up Marriage Story and Bong Joon-ho's Parasite to win the Toronto Film Festival's Grolsch People's Choice Award. Fatherless Berlin boy Jojo (the delightfully expressive Roman Griffin Davis) is in constant conversation with his imaginary friend Adolf, as in Hitler (a devilishly appealing Taika Waititi, who writes, directs and costars). Beloved by his stylish, mysterious mother (Scarlett Johansson in a free-spirited dance of a performance better than her role in Marriage Story), Jojo ultimately learns to overcome his blind worship of the Führer. Oscar winner Sam Rockwell, 50, lays down a brilliantly zany and sweet supporting performance as the perpetually demoted Captain Klenzendorf. —T.M.A.

 Parasite, R

Bong Joon-ho, 50, is making the biggest imaginable comeback after a couple of commercial clinkers (Snowpiercer and Okja) with this darkly comic piece of social commentary in the form of a kickass home-invasion thriller. It won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Oscar for best picture, best foreign film and best director. More than 130 critics rated it a perfect 100 percent on Don't miss this one. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW

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