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. Damon and Bale are at the top of their game, and supporting players are at least as vivid. Tracy Letts, 54, the Pulitzer and Tony-winning writer (August: Osage County) who's also a skyrocketing, Tony-winning actor (Lady Bird, The Post, Little Women), makes Ford boss Henry Ford II a semi-comic monster, while Remo Girone, 70, excels as haughty mogul Enzo Ferrari. Josh Lucas, 48, is hissable as Ford's unctuous underling, and Jon Bernthal conveys Mustang man Lee Iacocca's scheming ambition. Strap into your theater seat: It's a wild ride. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)
Also New in Theaters
The Report, R
A wonky, All the President's Men-style whistleblower drama from Scott Z. Burns, 57 (The Laundromat), The Report records the political education of Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver). His investigative target: the CIA's post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program. Educational if chalky, Driver does the pouty hangdog serious thing with less success than his Oscar-bound Marriage Story performance. The highlight? Annette Bening, 61, winner of AARP's Movies for Grownups 2019 Career Achievement Award. She dons the stylish-yet-understated pumps of Jones’ superior, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein. Bening's supporting turn cries out for a standalone biopic, while suggesting how the California politician plays the D.C. game without letting her opponents see her sweat. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.)
Why haven't Dame Helen Mirren, 74, and the knighted Ian McKellen, 80, done a movie together before? They're two great British tastes who taste great together. He plays a dapper cad who cons widows and corrupt businessmen out of small fortunes, so when he meets a widowed Oxford don with a rather large fortune and scant financial acumen (Mirren), he turns on the extraordinary charm to woo her. Their duel as characters and as actors is a wonder to behold, even if the Hitchcock-like plot gets a bit far-fetched (though it's still quite fun) when all is revealed and the cad is exposed at last. No spoiler — you know he had it coming. It casts useful light on the scary scams that victimize older folks, but mostly it's just a cinematic bonbon. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
Still in Theaters
Independence Day director Roland Emmerich straps you inside the Dauntless dive bombers that avenged Pearl Harbor by sinking Japan's fleet (and imperial dreams) at the 1942 Battle of Midway. It's kinetic, unusually historical, and far better than the 1976 film Midway, celebrating real heroes from Adm. Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson, 58) to fearless flyboy Dick Best (Game of Thrones’ Ed Skrein). Sometimes it's insightful, as when Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa, 57) in 1937 tells U.S. intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) that he fears war. Yamamoto went to Harvard, saw Detroit factories and Texas oil fields, and knew that Japan was suicidally stupid at Pearl Harbor, the attack he was forced to command. But producer Wes Tooke hired the worst possible screenwriter: Wes Tooke. His dialogue is awful, his episodes disconnected. When Adm. Bill Halsey (Dennis Quaid, 65) gets shingles and goes to the hospital, it's narratively pointless. When Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart, 51) daringly bombs Tokyo and crashes in China, and the Japanese kill 235,000 Chinese for helping him, it makes no sense in the Midway story. It's perhaps there to please the film's Shanghai investors. Still, history buffs will find much to like in this shamelessly corny, retro, relatively accurate, slam-bang war epic. —T.A.
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver outdo their towering reputations playing an actress divorcing a MacArthur “genius,” in a story inspired by the actual split of its director, Noah Baumbach, 50, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, 57. Laura Dern, 52, Alan Alda, 83, and Ray Liotta, 64, sizzle as their sometimes ruthless divorce lawyers. Painful, funny, heartwarming and sadly wise, it's going to clean up at the Oscars. For a film with a feel-bad topic, it's arguably the smartest feel-good film of the year. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
Terminator: Dark Fate, R
Rugged and rangy Linda Hamilton, 63, is steaming mad as Sarah Connor, waitress turned robot killer, and her female rage is a thing of beauty too rare in male-dominated blockbusters.
With a deep, take-no-prisoners voice, she curses and growls, launches rockets and reluctantly unites with a lithe, androgynous augmented human (Mackenzie Davis) from the future, and also with Connor's Terminator nemesis from the past (Arnold Schwarzenegger, 72 and still spry). The trio must save humanity by protecting dewy Daniella (Natalia Reyes) from the relentless new killing machine, Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna).
Director Tim Miller keeps tight to the series’ cat-and-mouse-on-the-apocalyptic-edge formula. There's a crunching Mexican car chase and a battle royale in a fighter plane that ends in a submerged Humvee. Original producer James Cameron says Dark Fate is the true sequel to the first (and best) pair of Terminator roller derbies, and this sixth installment puts the third, fourth and fifth to shame. —T.M.A.
Motherless Brooklyn, R
Edward Norton, 50, should earn his fourth Oscar nomination as Lionel Essrog, a 1950s New York detective with Tourette's syndrome, which makes him blurt rude things and singsong puns, and gives him tics and obsessions, like untangling threads. It's a masterful performance in a Chinatown-like mystery Norton wrote and directed. When thugs kill his beloved boss (Bruce Willis, 64), Lionel follows threads of evidence leading to a malevolent Robert Moses-like city developer (Alec Baldwin, 61, at his intelligently bellowing best), a possibly mad civic visionary (soulful Willem Dafoe, 64), and a gorgeous equal-housing activist (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Gripping, confusing, bristling with vivid noir characters and packed with big ideas about power, justice, racism and city planning, the film is overstuffed and 10 minutes too long. But it's the smartest whodunit in years, and thanks to genius cinematographer Dick Pope (The Illusionist), the prettiest. —T.A.
The Irishman, R
Adapting the controversial memoir of the Irish American hit man (Robert De Niro, 76) who claimed his mob boss (Joe Pesci, 76) made him kill Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, 79), Martin Scorsese makes his most acclaimed Mafia movie since Goodfellas. The tone is elegiac, the tale a series of flashbacks to the memories of the hit man at 82, looking back on life from a wheelchair in a nursing home. It's slow and deliberate compared with the rock-'n-roll vitality of Goodfellas, but it's a masterpiece and a giant Oscar magnet. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
The best superhero since Black Panther is Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, the 5-foot-tall Maryland slave who incredibly escaped to Philadelphia, then went back in disguise 13 times and led at least 70 people (including her family) to freedom, before leading Union soldiers in battle. Brain-injured by an overseer when she was in her teens, she often passed out and saw visions she thought God was sending — which guided her in outmaneuvering the hounds and slavers hot on her trail. They called her “Moses,” and even some blacks were out to catch her, for the reward ($1.1 million in today's dollars). Erivo is a superb Tubman, and since she's a Tony-winning Broadway singer, she's great at singing gospel songs to rally her troops. The writing and direction are not half as good as 12 Years a Slave, and there should be a sequel about her life as a Civil War spy, suffragist and activist whose home became the Tubman Home for the Aged. But this is a solid, entertaining film. —T.A.
The Current War: Director’s Cut, PG-13
Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult and Matthew Macfadyen energize this movie — even in Victorian dress with a mustache here and a swagger stick there. But this 1880s period piece with an overstuffed script makes a clunky attempt to dramatize the brainy battle involving Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch), George Westinghouse (Shannon) and Nikola Tesla (Hoult) to bring cheap electric light to the masses, abetted by wily capitalist J. P. Morgan (Macfadyen). The subject — scientific discovery in the industrial age and the complicated egos behind the electric current that changed the world — fascinates, and it resonates with today’s dueling titans of tech. But director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon never gains control of all the pieces, failing to connect the dots dramatically. Despite a top-notch cast always worth watching, for a drama with war in its title, there’s a lot of smoke and minimal fire. —T.M.A.
Facing the end of her days with classy panache, celebrated actress Frankie (Isabelle Huppert, 66) gathers her friends and family for a last vacation in a Portuguese seaside town. “I want us to have a good time, which for me now just means time together,” she says. But the good times don’t roll, as Frankie tries and fails to fix up her glum son with her old filmmaking friend (Marisa Tomei), families feud, and couples split up. It’s a drifty, talky film with minimal plot, but whenever Huppert is onscreen it blazes with emotion and intellect. And it’s so beautiful, you want to leave the theater and go straight to Portugal. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
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.
The most artsy-fartsy movie of the year is also one of the best, a wildly hallucinatory, beautifully retro existential drama that comes off like The Odd Couple directed by David Lynch. Willem Dafoe, 64, plays a lighthouse keeper in 1890s New England who shows the ropes to a new assistant, Twilight's Robert Pattinson, because the last one went nuts. They both go crazy, drinking, quarreling, menacing symbolic seagulls and experiencing noisy digestive upsets while trying to out-howl the wind. It's a wild ride that puts both actors toward the front of the Oscar race. —Dana Kennedy FULL REVIEW
Gemini Man, PG-13
There's about 45 minutes’ worth of pretty good entertainment in this 117-minute thriller by Ang Lee, 64 (Hulk, Life of Pi). As unconvincingly guilt-ridden government sniper Henry, Will Smith, 51, has an excellent motorcycle chase and fistfight with his nemesis — an ingeniously CG-created replica of himself at 23, though the effect would work better if the oddly age-resistant Smith had more visible wrinkles or jowls and didn't act like a half-witted zombie. Grownup Henry has good chemistry with his sidekicks, twinkly Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who helps grownup Henry stomp young Henry, and Benedict Wong, 48, as his old Army buddy. And it's great to see bad guy Clive Owen, 55, hold his own in combat. But the story is grossly predictable, the storytelling dull, and the dialogue dumb, even by action flick standards. —T.A.
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 is likely to win the Oscar for best foreign film and get nominated for best picture and best director. More than 130 critics rated it a perfect 100 percent on Rottentomatoes.com. Don't miss this one. — T.M.A. FULL REVIEW
Antonio Banderas, 59, stars as Salvador, a film director plagued with physical agony and midlife crisis — a character based on director Pedro Almodóvar, 70. The dazzlingly colorful compositions and vivid characters are like the movies that made Almodóvar famous, but this is a wiser, sadder tale than his ebullient 1980s classics. It's about a genius wrestling his demons to a draw and reconciling with old colleagues and loved ones, including Salvador's tough, loving mother (Penélope Cruz in flashbacks to Salvador's youth). A gorgeous, moving film with a career-capstone performance by Banderas, it makes you feel as if the pain and glory of a tempestuous, gay, mother-obsessed Spanish movie director were a universal experience every grownup must go through. —T.A. FULL REVIEW | READ ANTONIO BANDERAS' 'PAIN AND GLORY' INTERVIEW
In this addition to the Batman canon, the Joker is Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix, 44), who trudges up a steep staircase daily to the dingy abode he shares with his mom (Six Feet Under's Frances Conroy, 65) after another rough day as a professional party clown and comic. Economically declining Gotham is slashing services. “How will I get my meds?” Arthur asks his social worker prior to erupting in violence. At the coal-black heart of the film is Phoenix's striking gem of a performance. He invites us into Arthur's delusions. He makes palpable the unfairness of being so overlooked, and mocked by a late-night TV host (Robert De Niro, 76) Arthur admires. Yet the willfully provocative fable feels empty and derivative. Arthur is like a combination of Taxi Driver's alienated killer and King of Comedy's kidnapper of a talk-show host (both played by De Niro). As well made as Joker is, there is little here to delight in beyond Phoenix's performance. —Lisa Kennedy (L.K.)
People worried that Renée Zellweger, 50, was the wrong actress to play Judy Garland in her last concert series in London months before her 1969 death. She turns out to be just perfect, a slam-dunk and probable Oscar winner. The movie isn't perfect — the flashback scenes to Judy's youth don't work — but Zellweger is riveting as the singer reaching the end of her rainbow, when she was broke and divorced, lost her home and beloved kids, and succumbed to her lifelong pill habit, yet still sang up a storm, earning ovations (and peltings by bread-throwing audiences), dancing and crying and wisecracking (Asked, “Do you take anything for depression?” she replies, “Four husbands."). A must-not-miss performance. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW
Ad Astra, PG-13
This visually spectacular but dramatically inert sci-fi snoozer strands Brad Pitt, 55, as an emotionally alienated astronaut who journeys to Neptune in search of his long-lost father (Tommy Lee Jones, 73). Donald Sutherland, 84, and Liv Tyler, 42, fail to find signs of intelligent life in their bit parts as a colonel and the neglected wife Pitt leaves behind on Earth. When Jones finally shows up in something other than a grainy flashback 90 minutes in, he brings genuine poignance to his portrayal of the universe's worst dad. But you get the sense that if Stanley Kubrick had seen this, he would have told writer-director James Gray, “Lighten up, dude!” — B.F.
Practically the entire old Crawley gang and their servants are back for the film version of the series that made butlers fashionable again. The dowager countess (Dame Maggie Smith, 84) is still squabbling inseparably with Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton, 73), but now they're both up against yet another Crawley (Imelda Staunton, 63), the Queen's lady in waiting. And the Queen herself is coming to Downton for dinner! Lady Mary is now outranked in society by her former loser sister Lady Edith, but it's Mary to whom the dowager and her dad are entrusting Downton's future. And their eldest has big news about their future together — plus plenty of sage advice. If only this movie were longer, it would be ideal. —T.A. READ FULL REVIEW
If only everything about this movie — based on the real story of New York strippers who drugged and robbed their amusingly disgusting, overpaid Wall Street clients after the 2008 market crash robbed the rest of us — were as good as the performance of Jennifer Lopez as the strippers’ ringleader. There’s serious Oscar talk inspired by her charismatic, emotionally shape-shifting character, sometimes like a doting den mother to her team, especially Constance Wu as Destiny, sometimes ruthless, cold and nasty for mysterious motives. But the film doesn’t know whether it’s a searing satire, a weepie tragedy or a sisterhood-is-powerful saga, and the writing and direction are wan and undistinguished. The plot is a foregone conclusion, but it’s still fun to see the jerks get fleeced and Lopez strut her acting stuff. —T.A.
A must-see documentary celebrates the genius and indomitable spirit of Ronstadt, 73, who sold over 100 million records and won 10 Grammys. The vocalist launched the Eagles, outshouted the Rolling Stones, dated George Lucas, Jim Carrey and Jerry Brown, and mastered more styles than any other superstar pop singer: barefoot-in-the-pigpen country (“Different Drum”), arena rock (“You’re No Good”), light opera (The Pirates of Penzance), American Songbook classics, and mariachi (Canciones de Mi Padre, the best-selling non-English album in U.S. history). Then Parkinson’s silenced her gift, though she still sings softly and sweetly with her family. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW
The Lion King, PG
This innovative cinematic hybrid version of Disney's $8.1 billion blockbuster epic, using visual effects, live action and computer-generated images, definitely offers some dazzling moments, and fine performances by James Earl Jones, 88, as the elder royal lion Mufasa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as wicked Scar, and John Oliver as Mufasa's confidant, Zazu. But Beyoncé and Donald Glover are surprisingly meh, and grownups are likely to prefer the 1994 animated original or the Broadway version. However, if you take youngsters to see it, they're apt to just love it. This one's for the cubs. — Lisa Kennedy (L.K.) FULL REVIEW