Trial by Fire, R
This pleasingly old-fashioned drama by Glory director Edward Zwick tells the tragic true story of Cameron Todd Willingham (Unbroken's electrifying Jack O'Connell), a prisoner who was falsely condemned to death for the murder of his three young children. Enter Laura Dern, 52, as Elizabeth Gilbert, the playwright who campaigned for his exoneration. The actress brings her trademark intelligence and tenacity to the character, and the film also features strong supporting performances from Emily Meade (The Deuce) as Willingham's long-suffering wife and Jeff Perry (Scandal) as an eccentric arson expert. -— Bruce Fretts READ LAURA DERN INTERVIEW
Also New in Theaters
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, R
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. — Tim Appelo (T.A.) FULL REVIEW
Still in Theaters
Ask Dr. Ruth, NR
The most winsome movie star of 2019 has got to be Dr. Ruth Westheimer, 90, the 4-foot-7 sex therapist who has been a pop-culture giant ever since her 1980 radio show Sexually Speaking first made Americans smile, blush and learn about eros. In the deepest parts of this Sundance Film Festival hit documentary by Ryan White (The Keepers), we get Dr. Ruth’s origin story: her Frankfurt youth (she reunites with her platonic childhood boyfriend and tells how she lost her virginity), her escape from the Nazis who killed her family at age 10, her sniper-training days in Israel, her flukey ascent to stardom. If you miss this irresistible movie in theaters, it’s on Hulu starting June 1. — T.A. READ RUTH WESTHEIMER INTERVIEW
Ralph Fiennes, 56, directs an intelligent, sensitive film about Russian ballet great Rudolf Nureyev, who defied the KGB and defected to the West in 1961 in Paris, and Fiennes plays Nureyev's eminent dance teacher Alexander Pushkin. The script is by Oscar-nominated Sir David Hare, and Fiennes, who also directed Coriolanus and the Charles Dickens biopic The Invisible Woman, creates a rarity: a film that accurately captures the life and work of a ballet dancer. —Nichol Hlinka FULL REVIEW
Avengers: Endgame, PG-13
In the 22nd Marvel movie, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., 54) gets swept up in one more enormous adventure, and feels his age. Can he and an incredibly overpopulated cast of superheroes played by famous actors use time travel to undo the murder of half of mankind by sad baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin, 51) Since most major characters each get one big scene, why don't we see more of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, 70) And could any more plot possibly be stuffed into a three-hour film? —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.) FULL REVIEW
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. — T.A.
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
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. —T.M.A. READ ELIZABETH MCGOVERN INTERVIEW | FULL REVIEW
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.
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.
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