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What to Watch at the Movies This Weekend Skip to content

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What to Watch at the Movies

Brad Pitt's 'Ad Astra,' 'Downton Abbey' a royal treat, Rambo goes out with a bang in 'Last Blood'

 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!” — Bruce Fretts (B.F.)

 Downton Abbey: The Movie, PG

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. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)

 Rambo: Last Blood, R

The fifth and final installment of Sylvester Stallone's action-jammed franchise (begun with the excellent 1982 First Blood) could have been a butt-kicker. No one can blame the 73-year-old (and still buff, if creaky) icon for thinking that playing John Rambo, traumatized Vietnam vet turned hero, was worth one more go. After all, Creed II, the eighth Rocky movie, grossed almost a quarter-billion. Sadly, Last Blood's plot is pure straight-to-video schlock: John, living in Arizona, hightails it to Mexico to rescue his abducted teenage niece (Yvette Monreal) from a sex-slave ring. Since he brings no PTSD meds, just his beloved special knife, heads roll — literally. The dialogue, cowritten by Stallone, is loaded with bewildering contrivances. The climax? Our hero lures baddies into his man cave turned booby-trapped tunnel of terror. Stallone comes alive when Rambo's eyes turn dead with grief and vengeance, but he mumbles through what aims to be a lump-in-the-throat ending for diehard fans. —John Griffiths

Also New in Theaters

 Hustlers, R

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.

  The Goldfinch, R

The best thing about this adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning mystery concerning a famous painting stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art by a troubled young man after a bombing is Nicole Kidman’s performance as a wealthy socialite who takes the thief in after the explosion kills his mom. The storytelling is lumpy and confusing, but there’s some power in its themes of love and loss. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.) FULL REVIEW

Still in Theaters

 Edie, Unrated

Distinguished British actress Sheila Hancock, 86, plays a woman who spent her life oppressed by a controlling husband and then served as his caregiver after his stroke. Now widowed, she takes the trip he forbade and she always dreamed of: climbing daunting Suilven peak in the Scottish Highlands. Hancock actually did climb it, defying storms and her fear of heights. “It was tough, but it was kind of wonderful to be doing that at my age,” she told the Daily Mirror. Edie’s first-time screenwriter, Elizabeth O’Halloran, utterly lacks experience, but Hancock’s performance takes us to the heights. “It’s also a huge chance for old people to see someone portraying age as lively and exciting,” said Hancock. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)

  Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, R

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. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.) FULL REVIEW

  Ms. Purple, Unrated

To support her beloved ailing father (James Kang), a young woman (Tiffany Chu) works at a seedy karaoke bar in L.A.’s Koreatown, getting plastered nightly with drunken businessmen whose hands she politely fends off, while cultivating one rich faux boyfriend (Ronnie Kim). But when her dad’s home-care nurse quits, she talks her estranged, AWOL brother (Teddy Lee) into coming home to help out. Beautifully shot and sensitively pensive, the film could use more skillful storytelling, and more plot. But its themes of family caregiving, vivid sense of place and resonant character study make you forgive most of its flaws. —T.A.

 Friedkin Uncut, Unrated

Film buffs will love this tribute to director William Friedkin, 84, with classic clips and interviews of Friedkin and admirers including Francis Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Matthew McConaughey and Willem Dafoe. Though you won't hear about controversial things Friedkin did (slapping actors, giving Ellen Burstyn a lifelong spine injury during The Exorcist), you get fascinating insights. Inspired by the realistic documentary style of Buster Keaton, Friedkin personally, recklessly shot The French Connection's high-speed chase scene in one take on a Brooklyn Sunday morning with no special effects — or permits — and won five Oscars, including best picture and director. Coppola notes that he would have shot The Exorcist as a metaphor of evil, but Friedkin “doesn't philosophize about evil, he shows you evil.” The documentary's unskilled neophyte director Francesco Zippel is no Friedkin, but his subject makes this an important part of film history. —T.A.

  Official Secrets, R

Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice) is the best thing about this fact-based film about Katharine Gun (Knightley), a translator at Britain's Government Communications Headquarters outraged by a 2003 government attempt to spy on and blackmail diplomats who might oppose Tony Blair's advocacy of the Iraq War. So she leaked the news to a newspaper and got arrested under the Official Secrets Act. The storytelling is drab and scatterbrained, and cowriter-director Gavin Hood utterly fails to live up to the promise of his Oscar-winning 2005 debut Tsotsi. Even so, it's a fascinating, little-known episode, Knightley's magnetism nearly redeems her underwritten character, and Ralph Fiennes is good as her crusading attorney. —T.A.

  Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins, Unrated

Legendary liberal Texas gadfly reporter Molly Ivins was a force of nature, a scourge of scoundrels, a humorist on a par with Mark Twain, an out-of-control tobacco-and-alcohol addict, and one of the few journalists whose vivid presence can carry a movie. Though it won't persuade political opponents of her fairmindedness, this documentary sure reveals her outsize talent, stern conscience, stinging wit and cussed character. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

  Angel Has Fallen, R

Secret Service agent Gerard Butler gets framed for the attempted assassination of the president (Morgan Freeman, who else?). He flees the dragnet of FBI sleuth Jada Pinkett-Smith and nerdy Vice President Tim Blake Nelson, with a lot of help from his irascible Vietnam-vet dad (Nick Nolte), a survivalist who just loves hating authority. Even though it’s a silly adventure full of things blowing up and stuntmen flying through the air, there’s real intergenerational chemistry between Butler and Nolte. Butler’s character is like a Bond who knows what it feels like to turn 50 but won’t let aches, pains, migraines, addiction and a nationwide manhunt stop him from saving the free world. –T.A. FULL REVIEW

 Where'd You Go, Bernadette, PG-13

In an eagerly awaited adaptation of the best-seller by Maria Semple, 55, a TV auteur (Arrested DevelopmentSuddenly SusanMad About You), Seattle MacArthur genius architect Bernadette (Cate Blanchett, 50) and her workaholic, TED-talking Microsoft millionaire husband Elgie (Billy Crudup, 51) are in a midlife marital muddle that he'd like to unload entirely on her. Since the story about the hunt for vanished Bernadette is by Emmy nominee Semple and the film is cowritten and directed by five-time Oscar nominee Richard Linklater, 59, you expect great things. But it's neither organic nor grounded in reality like Linklater's best work. Bernadette's visionary architecture is well constructed, but this movie is a mess of tone and timing. The best moments celebrate the Gilmore Girls-like intimacy between Bernadette and younger-yet-wiser daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), as when they carpool-karaoke the movie's signature oldie, “Time After Time.” Bernadette is a vibrant creative spirit, and Blanchett blithely gives the character her all. But you can't build a satisfying comedy on a cracked foundation. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.)

  Blinded by the Light, PG-13

The alienated teen son (Viveik Kalra) of a laid-off Pakistani immigrant in uncool Luton, England, in the depths of 1980s bad hair and worse pop music finds hope and purpose in the tunes of Bruce Springsteen, who inspires him to win love, happiness, the writing career of his dreams and the Boss's approbation. It's a high-concept premise that sounds ridiculous — but it pretty much happened to the film's writer. Sweetly exhilarating and winsomely innocent, it should make a star of Kalra, just as director Gurinder Chadha's comparably delightful Bend It Like Beckham made a star of Keira Knightley. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

  The Art of Racing in the Rain, PG

Warning: You may get the sniffles from this shamelessly tearjerking adaptation of the best-selling novel about a dog, Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner, 64), who bonds with his race car driver owner Denny (Milo Ventimiglia). Enzo senses that something is wrong with Denny’s wife (Amanda Seyfried) before she knows it – though not before we guess it, because we can see every plot point coming down the track for a country mile! If you've ever loved a dog and felt he knew you deeply, you'll forgive the simplistically manipulative script and direction, and the clunky subplot with Kathy Baker and Martin Donovan as Seyfried's meddlesome parents. Costner is a pro-dog activist and deeply in love with his own pooches, and he aces his first voiceover role. —T.A. READ KEVIN COSTNER INTERVIEW

 Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, PG-13

Want to see a summer blockbuster about two stars in a two-fisted bromance with lots of flamethrower action? If you already saw Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, go see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, 47, and Jason Statham, 52, in the latest spin-off of the $5 billion Fast & Furious franchise. They squabble and punch each other while trying to prevent Idris Elba, playing a Terminator/Robocop-like mechanized superman, from destroying the world with a virus that's about to spread and melt the intestines of everyone on earth. But not if our quarrelsome duo can stop it, by driving fast cars in insanely improbable maneuvers and insulting each other every chance they get. Directed by the action-expert auteur of John Wick and Deadpool 2, this movie is total fun, the most over-the-top entry in the series. — T.A.

  Luce, R

Octavia Spencer, 47, is getting early Oscar buzz as a high school teacher suspicious of a star student, a former African child soldier (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who was adopted by white liberals (Naomi Watts, 50, and Tim Roth, 58). Luce seems like a young Barack Obama but may actually be succumbing to scary political ideas. A thriller that addresses serious social issues and the perils of marriage and parenthood. —  B.F. FULL REVIEW

  Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, R

Quentin Tarantino's eagerly awaited, Oscar-fated epic about the era of the Manson murders turns out to be more about life than death. It's a day in the life of a washed-up star of a ‘50s TV cowboy show (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman and best pal (Brad Pitt, 55). Their sinister encounters with the Manson family are, at first, just another part of the background of Hollywood back then. It's an incredibly, obsessively detailed portrait of pop culture in Tarantino's youth, with a tone that's comic, sad and as nostalgic as Alfonso Cuarón's Roma. The vast cast is great, DiCaprio is better, and Pitt steals the picture. — T.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

  The Farewell, PG

Awkwafina, the rapper and actress who struck comic gold in Crazy Rich Asians, breaks out as a dramatic actress in a more poignant story based on what really happened to director-writer Lulu Wang: When her grandmother in China got a cancer diagnosis, the family kept the news from her, and the clan flew in from America and Japan — ostensibly for a family wedding, but really to say goodbye while keeping Grandma (Shuzhen Zhao, 75) in the dark about her condition. The intergenerational bonding is beautifully moving. A tale as heartwarming as August: Osage County or The Wedding Banquet. — T.M.A. FULL REVIEW

  Yesterday, PG-13

What if suddenly everyone on earth forgot about the Beatles but you, a struggling singer-songwriter? Would you claim you wrote the Beatles’ songs and earn worldwide fame and the love of an adorable girl (Lily James, Downton Abbey's Lady Rose)? Find out what that would feel like by watching this rom-com wish-fulfillment fantasy by the makers of Love Actually and Slumdog Millionaire—Bruce Fretts (B.F.) FULL REVIEW

  Maiden, PG

The summer's most inspiring superhero is a petite Englishwoman named Tracy Edwards, 56. In the ‘80s, Edwards (then in her 20s) wanted to crew on the famed Whitbread Round the World yacht race — but none of the all-male teams would hire her, even as a cook. So she single-handedly raised the dough to purchase a yacht, assembled an all-female crew and entered the 1989 competition. Alex Holmes’ documentary, which mixes breathtaking race footage and contemporary discussions with Edwards and crew, is a thrilling, often weepy tale of female empowerment. It's skippered by a complicated character who's plagued by doubts yet driven by belief in her abilities. The Oscar-bound doc exhibits more raw emotional power and innate wisdom than any summer movie on the horizon. — T.M.A.

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