Red Joan, R
Judi Dench, 84, is as excellent as you'd expect playing a frail British pensioner arrested for espionage in 1999 while puttering in her garden. Her character, Joan Stanley, is based on the real Lettie Norwood, who fed Russia nuclear secrets for decades. The KGB rated her more important than Kim Philby and the Cambridge traitors who inspired le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Red Joan focuses too little on older Joan and too much on flashbacks to Sophie Cookson as her naive younger self, falling for a dashing Communist agent and the party line. Cookson is good too, but for a story about dizzying romance, ideological fanatics and A-bomb spies, it plays like a pale imitation of The Imitation Game. Still, it's a handsome period piece, and Dench knocks her part out of the park. — Tim Appelo (T.A.)
Also New in Theaters
Amazing Grace, Unrated
Aretha Franklin's legendary live 1972 gospel concert movie was long lost thanks to technical glitches in filming and the difficult star's mysterious refusal to permit its release after it was meticulously restored. At last, we get to see the event that resulted in the best-selling album of her career, and seeing her perform the gospel music she was raised on is quite different than watching her pop performances — you might say her performance is inspired. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
Still in Theaters
Wild Nights With Emily, PG-13
Saturday Night Live veteran Molly Shannon, 54, is still getting laughs in shows like The Other Two, but her dramatic reputation is rising, too: she won the Film Independent Spirit award for Other People. In the half-comic drama Wild Nights With Emily, she plays the great and mysterious poet Emily Dickinson as well as Julie Harris did in The Belle of Amherst. But in this revisionist feminist take, Emily has a lifelong affair with her brother's wife Susan (Susan Ziegler), which may or may not be true, and she gets thwarted and criminally misrepresented by the literary establishment (totally true). Even though it sometimes plays like a lively episode of Drunk History, it's a poignant story, and highly intelligent. —T.A.
The Chaperone, PG-13
Elizabeth McGovern, 57, used her Downton Abbey clout to produce another period drama by that show's creator Julian Fellowes: the story of a repressed matron (McGovern) who accompanies wild child and future flapper movie star Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) on her fateful first trip to Manhattan in 1922. The focus isn't on the bratty flapper but McGovern's character's hesitant, poignant attempt to find out what she wants to be when she grows up, in a time and place where nobody wants her to be much of anything at all. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.) READ ELIZABETH MCGOVERN INTERVIEW | FULL REVIEW
The Public, PG-13
The Breakfast Club’s Emilio Estevez, 56, wrote, directed and stars in a kindly populist fable in the sentimental tradition of John Steinbeck and Frank Capra. Estevez plays a befuddled yet heroic Cincinnati librarian who permits 70 lively, eccentric homeless people — some not quite sane — to take over the library when it’s freezing outside. A detective (Alec Baldwin, 60) tries to mediate between the street people’s sit-in leader (Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Kenneth Williams, 52), the chief librarian (Jeffrey Wright, 53) and a sleazy mayoral candidate (Christian Slater, 49), who accuses the homeless of holding hostages, inciting a crisis in hopes that it will help him get elected. The story’s moral has obviousness problems, the plot’s predictable, and its sweetness will annoy as many as it pleases. But it’s still warm, winsome and droll, and the spectacular cast fills underwritten roles with radiant star power. —T.A.
The Best of Enemies, PG-13
If you thought BlacKkKlansman's tale of black and white FBI agents infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan was improbable yet true, try the astounding story of black activist Ann Atwater and her bitterest opponent, KKK leader C.P. Ellis. The two clashed over school desegregation in North Carolina in 1971, solved the crisis and became lifelong friends and allies. No actors alive could play these characters more entertainingly and convincingly than Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
Tim Burton’s live-action version of the 1941 animated classic about a flying elephant doesn’t crash and burn, but it never quite takes flight, either. The CGI elephant aeronaut is cute, as is Thandie Newton’s lookalike daughter Nico Parker as the little girl who loves him. And the circuses Dumbo wows — a one-tent show run by small-timer Danny DeVito and monster plutocrat Michael Keaton’s sinister, Disneyland-size Art Deco/steampunk extravaganza — are marvelously rendered. But the script by Transformers: Age of Extinction writer Ehren Kruger is an overstuffed muddle, and there’s nothing as touching as the circus camaraderie of The Greatest Showman. When the original Dumbo lost his mom, it was as intense as the death of Bambi’s mom. Here it packs little emotional punch.—T.A.
Mary Kay Place, 71 (The Big Chill, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), gets her best role in years as a widow struggling to look after her family and boomer friends, and somehow discover her lost self in the process. The Tribeca Film Festival prizewinner has a rich supporting cast: SCTV’s Andrea Martin, 72, as Diane’s best friend and Bonnie and Clyde’s Oscar winner Estelle Parsons, 91, and Deirdre O’Connell, 67, as her ailing yet vital relations. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW
Most horror films are for the kid in all of us, but Jordan Peele’s horror films are for smart grownups. His follow-up to the Oscar-winning Get Out concerns an all-American family whose summer home gets invaded by evil replicas of each family member. It works as a taut genre thriller and also as food for thought about America, class, identity and the shadow self we may all contain. In a superb cast, the standout is Lupita Nyong’o in the dual role of a matriarch and her mysterious identical-twin assassin. – T.A. FULL REVIEW
Tara Violet Niami / Focus Features
Hotel Mumbai, R
Two weeks after Slumdog Millionaire made Dev Patel an overnight star at 18, in 2008, terrorists killed over 170 people in Mumbai, at 10 places, including Slumdog’s final-scene train station and the five-star Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Patel produced this tense but not exploitative drama about the hotel’s three-day siege, and plays one of the hotel staffers who risked (or gave) their lives to save their guests. Legendary actor Anupam Kher (Silver Linings Playbook), 64, movingly portrays the heroic Taj head chef, and Patel and Armie Hammer play composite characters inspired by real ones. Despite some fictionalization, it’s a vivid you-are-there experience, and when you learn that the massacre’s leaders remain unpunished in Pakistan, your anger will be palpable. —T.A.
Rubber Tree Productions
The Hummingbird Project, R
In Oscar-nominated writer-director Kim Nguyen’s The Big Short-like story, The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard play tech wizards trying to beat their ruthless ex-boss (Salma Hayek, 52) on a deal to build a thousand-mile fiber-optic cable to get financial data milliseconds ahead of the competition and make billions. The script is incompetent, but it’s still fun to see Eisenberg’s motormouth entrepreneur and bald, unsexy tech nerd Skarsgard tangle with a cartoonish Hayek, sporting a cool white-and-black hairdo a bit like Cruella de Vil. —T.A.
A24 / FilmNation
Gloria Bell, R
Oscar winner Sebastián Lelio does an almost scene-for-scene remake of his 2013 Chilean hit about divorced wallflower grandma Gloria, who gets her groove back at the disco, this time starring the incomparable Julianne Moore, 57, with John Turturro, 62, as the new guy who gives her a whirl but may not turn out to be the man of her dreams. The two stars' chemistry isn't electric, but there's poignancy in Gloria's attempt to shed the invisibility cloak of middle age, and fine work by Michael Cera as her son; Brad Garrett, 58, as her ex; Holland Taylor, 76, as her mom; and Jeanne Tripplehorn, 55, as her best friend. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW
Neon CNN Films
Apollo 11, G
Director Todd Douglas Miller won fame by turning previously unseen footage of the discovery of (and fight over) the biggest T. rex skeleton ever found into 2014’s Emmy-winning, Sundance Grand Prize-nominated film Dinosaur 13. Now, 50 years after the first moon landing, he has taken a trove of 65 mm footage of the Apollo 11 mission, languishing forgotten in the National Archives, plus 11,000 hours of audio, and crafted a documentary that will put you over the moon. No talking heads, just real people, from Neil Armstrong to Mission Control to President Richard Nixon to the 1 million spectators gathered for the launch. Currently in Imax, it's set for wide release on March 8. — Austin O'Connor (A.O.) FULL REVIEW
Husband and wife actors Penélope Cruz, 44, and Javier Bardem, 49, juice up this entertaining, well-crafted if slightly confusing Spanish-language saga from Iran’s Oscar nominee Asghar Farhadi (The Past, A Separation). Nominated for seven Goya Awards (the Spanish Oscar), this family-secrets drama unfolds during a rural wedding in Spanish wine country. While the guests — including steamy exes Cruz and Jardem — drink and dance, a kidnapping derails the reception. The crime exposes the fissures in the relationships among old and young, rich and poor, and husbands and wives. The movie's chief delights are the Cruz-Bardem pairing and Farhadi's generosity toward all the characters as he veers from joy to terror, playing with emotional extremes, delivering a portrait of a rural community in celebration and crisis. — T.M.A.
Jess Miglio/Paramount Players
Taraji P. Henson stars in an amusing, touching, Jerry Maguire-like remake of Mel Gibson's 2000 comedy (What Women Want) about being granted sudden power to read the minds of the opposite sex. She's got verve, and so do Erykah Badu as the psychic who makes her a mindreader and grownup supporting players Richard 'Shaft' Roundtree, 76, and Tracy Morgan, 50. —Lisa Kennedy FULL REVIEW
Courtesy Warner Bros.
Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson took 100-year-old footage of World War I soldiers, restored it with technical wizardry, added interviews with veterans and a you-are-there soundtrack — plus a coda about his own family's casualties and his ingenious restoration methods — and wound up with the most surprisingly wonderful Great War documentary ever made. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
Patti Perret/Universal Pictures
Green Book, PG-13
Lord of the Rings’ Viggo Mortensen, 60, gained 30 pounds to play Tony Lip, the Mafia nightclub bouncer who was a bodyguard, chauffeur and lifelong friend of piano genius Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali, 44) on his perilous concert tour of the South in 1962 — when black visitors were wise to carry The Negro Motorist Green Book to locate places where they’d be safe-ish. It’s a true story and a heartwarming Oscar magnet. No surprise Ali is tops, but who knew Viggo could play Italian American mob comedy? Or that director Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber) could direct a smart, only partly funny, socially conscious drama perfect for our times? —T.A. FULL REVIEW and Q&A WITH VIGGO MORTENSEN