Sword of Trust, R
Comic Marc Maron, 55, is funny on his talk show Maron and as the women's wrestling coach on the must-see show GLOW, but as a Birmingham, Ala., pawnshop owner trying to sell a Confederate heirloom sword to crazy conspiracists who think it proves the South won the Civil War, he's both hilarious and touching. The cartoonish eccentrics congregated in his pawnshop are perfect foils for Maron's sardonic commentary, and his character has a moving backstory about his sad past with a drug-troubled ex (ably played by the film's Sundance prizewinning director, Lynn Shelton, 54), who's followed him to Alabama. The shaggy-dog story about the sword's sale, which loses momentum toward the end, matters less than the incomparable, semi-improvised ensemble acting. It's often as funny as, and almost as good as, BlacKkKlansman. — Tim Appelo (T.A.)
Also New in Theaters
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. — Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.) FULL REVIEW
Still in Theaters
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, R
In 1968, gifted director Nick Broomfield, now 71, had an affair on the romantic Greek isle of Hydra with Marianne Ihlen. She was also Leonard Cohen's lover, the pop star who inspired tunes such as “Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye” and “Bird on the Wire.” In this documentary, Broomfield — sensitively, using you-are-there archival footage — explores Ihlen and Cohen's story, which grew troubled once Judy Collins recorded Cohen's songs and launched him to fame. Cohen would go on to sleep with Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell, among many others; spend five years as a Buddhist monk; go bankrupt, thanks to an embezzling manager; and make a comeback at 74, grossing $149 million on tour. His last love letter to Ihlen, when both were dying in 2016, will make you cry. Though Broomfield shows their lives were a trifle darker and less noble than you might have thought, this brilliant film will make you wish you were 20 on a Greek beach in 1968, living on $83 a month, reading by moonlight, devoting sunny days to swimming, lovemaking and art that knew no limits — not yet. — T.A.
Greg Kinnear, 56 (As Good As it Gets, Little Miss Sunshine) makes his directing debut with a film about male midlife crisis. He plays a suicidal dentist who envies his happiest, most successful patient (Bradley Whitford, 59) — until the guy hangs himself. Then the dentist befriends the widow (Emily Mortimer) by impersonating an old friend of her husband's. The script is uneven and the tone uneasily shifts between comedy and tragedy, but the important subject is relevant to grownups, and the acting is fine. — T.A. FULL REVIEW
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
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.
Echo in the Canyon, PG-13
Bob Dylan's son Jakob Dylan, 49, is the star performer in Andrew Slater's delightful movie about L.A.'s mid-1960s Laurel Canyon scene, doing an exciting stage show of 1960s classics with Beck, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor and Cat Power. Even more fascinatingly, he interviews Eric Clapton; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Michelle Phillips; two Byrds; a Beatle; and a Beach Boy about their musical impact on each other. “They were living on top of each other, sharing songs, influencing and motivating each other,” Jakob Dylan tells AARP. Judy Collins’ “Since You've Asked” inspired Stephen Stills’ “Questions,” which inspired Clapton's “Let It Rain.” Roger McGuinn explains how his 12-string guitar and tune “The Bells of Rhymney” inspired George Harrison's “If I Needed Someone.” “Then Rubber Soul inspired Brian Wilson to make Pet Sounds, and that acetate inspired Sgt. Pepper,” says Dylan, who wasn't interested in commenting on McGuinn's suggestion that the Byrds’ hit version of his dad's “Chimes of Freedom” made Bob go electric. David Crosby does confess that everyone hated him, and Phillips confesses that a great many stars romanced her ("I was a busy girl"), causing her man, John Phillips, to write “Go Where You Wanna Go.” If you like these songs, see this film. —T.A.
It's tough to make a movie about a fiction writer's life — they mostly sit around typing — but not when you've got a subject like the Nobel Prize-winning author of Beloved. Her life sounds like a movie: born poor, a black single mom raising two kids, Morrison became the most important editor of books by black authors like Angela Davis, and then a best-selling millionaire who gave Oprah Winfrey her best movie role. She's very guarded, but a friend, director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, got her to open up in a fascinating way. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW | READ DIRECTOR TIMOTHY GREENFIELD-SANDERS INTERVIEW
Wild Rose, R
Hot off the must-see hit Chernobyl, Jessie Buckley pulls a star-is-born turn as a recently paroled Scottish single mom with dreams of Nashville stardom. Her powerhouse vocals call to mind Janis Joplin, and the movie hits its true dramatic high notes in the scenes between her and Julie Walters, 69, as her disapproving mother. Oscar nominee Walters (Billy Elliot, Educating Rita) could be a 2019 contender for this feel-great charmer. —Bruce Fretts (B.F.)
The Quiet One, Unrated
Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, 82, is the group's pack rat, with an archive the size of Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel, so this documentary is your best chance to see Stones footage and photos you haven't seen before. He's too murmurously quiet and utterly unforthcoming to make a great cinema subject, but his life of sex and rock ‘n’ roll (no drugs for him) is quite a trip, and you may find some surprises: When the band fled to France to dodge taxes, he befriended James Baldwin, who turned him on to Ray Charles, and he became close chums with the painter Marc Chagall. There's less detail about the 1,000 women he bedded and the 18-year-old he married at 52. —T.A.
What could be more fun than No. 1 box office star Samuel L. Jackson, 70, donning his long leather jacket to whup guys even more criminal than he is in a Shaft movie? This time, you get three Shafts: Jackson's John Shaft, original Shaft Richard Roundtree and John's straight-arrow son JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher). John is upset that his offspring is an FBI man, but more upset that he refuses to be rude and crude. It's a silly cop-buddy movie with Jackson doing the shtick that made him famous. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
Is this Elton John biopic as good as the Freddie Mercury hit Bohemian Rhapsody? It's a blow-the-roof-off rock ‘n’ roll epic with even catchier (and more popular) tunes and a more inspiringly melodramatic rise-and-fall-and-rise-again story. As Elton, Taron Egerton is as good as Rami Malek's Oscar-winning turn as Mercury. And it's Taron singing, not Elton (though they duet during the end credits). —Dana Kennedy FULL REVIEW
If you liked Jonah Hill's breakout hit Superbad, you'll love his sister, Beanie Feldstein, in this female version of the archetypal movie about best friends (Feldstein as an uptight valedictorian and Kaitlyn Dever as an overachieving gay virgin) at their last high school party, where they're desperate to have all the fun they missed with their noses in books. Directed by Olivia Wilde (House), it's a comedy with smarts and heart, with small, nice parts for Wilde's husband, Jason Sudeikis, as a Lyft-driving principal, Lisa Kudrow, 55, and Will Forte, 48, as Dever's folks, and Billie Lourd as a poignant party girl a bit like her real mother, Carrie Fisher. Both Booksmart and Feldstein's 2017 hit Lady Bird scored a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. —T.A.
The incredibly durable star Keanu Reeves, 54, makes a comeback in a cartoonishly violent, wildly successful action trilogy directed by his stuntman for The Matrix, and stranger still, the third one is the best. Don't see it if shoot-'em-up video-game cinema is anathema to you, but if you've got a taste for shadowy conspiracies, retro weaponry, horseback chases, ninja sword fights on motorcycles, fistfights, knife play, choreographed kung fu ballet, actual ballet, lively turns by Anjelica Huston, 67, and Halle Berry, 52, and battles with shattering glass that remind you of the hall of mirrors in Orson Welles’ Lady From Shanghai, this movie's for you. — T.A. FULL REVIEW