Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart in Sully

SULLY

Sully is a well-crafted, touching, feel-good movie whose existence, for the life of me, I can’t comprehend.

Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender in The Light Between Oceans

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS

Romantic dramas for adults have been so infrequent this millennium that it sometimes seems they appear only when studios feel the need for another generally laughable Nicholas Sparks adaptation, which makes it hard, in The Light Between Oceans, to know whether to swoon or chortle when – honest to God – a woman accepts a marriage proposal by saying, “Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!” (I was sure that line had been put out to pasture after the demise of vaudeville.) Yet writer/director Derek Cianfrance is nothing if not sincere, occasionally to his detriment, and his take on novelist M.L. Stedman’s period romance is serious-minded, thematically resonant, and, at times, emotionally devastating in ways that the Sparks oeuvre almost never is. It’s the film’s second-half plot contrivances, and the unfortunate arm-twisting that accompanies them, that routinely bring Sparks to mind.

Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in Hell or High Water

HELL OR HIGH WATER

Jeff Bridges has given so many fantastically lived-in, and just plain fantastic, screen performances over nearly a half-century that picking out his best is a true fool’s errand. Yet if pressed for his most entertaining one, I’d be tempted to go with Bridges’ drunken sharpshooter Rooster Cogburn in 2010’s True Grit, which would make his portrayal of Hell or High Water’s Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton – more sober than Rooster but equally funny, marble-mouthed, and moving – a close second.

Dylan Minnette and Jane Levy in Don't Breathe

DON’T BREATHE

A few weeks ago, in the creepy and clever horror film Lights Out, our protagonists were at the mercy of a nightmarish figure they couldn’t see. In writer/director Fede Alvarez’s new horror film Don’t Breathe, our protagonists are at the mercy of a nightmarish figure who can’t see them. You’d presume these particular protagonists would have an easier time of things. But Alvarez, to his credit, doesn’t appear interested in making things easy for anybody – not for the “heroes,” not for the “villain,” and not for audiences accustomed to those tags presented without quotation marks. You may find your stomach in knots during much of this brutally effective shocker. You may also find that part of your discomfort stems from sensing that the traumatized characters here are getting just what they deserve.

Morgan Freeman and Jack Huston in Ben-Hur

BEN-HUR

The first words heard in the new remake of Ben-Hur are delivered in voice-over by – wouldn’t ya know it? – Morgan Freeman, meaning that the quality of director Timur Bekmambetov’s biblically themed epic is up in the air from the start. Will this be another Shawshank Redemption? A Million Dollar Baby? A March of the Penguins? A War of the Worlds? A Love Guru? A Hillary Clinton DNC bio-video?

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the movie, like Freeman’s vocal-track record, is similarly all over the place – sometimes lugubrious and laughable, sometimes powerful and exhilarating, sometimes merely blah. It’s hardly a threat to the legacy of 1959’s Ben-Hur and its record-setting 11 Oscar wins. But on the rare occasions that Bekmambetov’s unnecessary outing works, it works thunderously well, and either way we’re spared the monolithic orating of Charlton Heston, which is a plus right there.

Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

For more than 30 years, Meryl Streep has been singing on-screen in movies ranging from 1983’s Silkwood to last year’s Ricki & the Flash, with musical pitstops in a half-dozen outings in between. But not until the new bio-comedy Florence Foster Jenkins has the star ever sung quite this badly. Streep being Streep, of course, she sings badly brilliantly.

Will Smith and Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad

SUICIDE SQUAD

Everything you’ve likely heard about Suicide Squad is true – unless, for some reason, you’ve heard it’s great.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Cafe Society

CAFÉ SOCIETY

Woody Allen has made dozens of movies I’ve been happy to watch. Café Society may be the first one I’d be happy to eat.

Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Kathryn Hahn in Bad Moms

BAD MOMS

Despite the film’s silliness and inconsequentiality, the experience of Bad Moms does prompt an almost existential question: If a crummy comedy makes you laugh out loud at least three-dozen times, can it even be considered crummy in the first place?

Teresa Palmer in Lights Out

Friday, July 22, 9:55 a.m.-ish: Few things get me more psyched for a quadruple-feature – or, more accurately, get me less dreading one – than knowing my day’s first screening will be over in a scant 80 minutes. So I enter director David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out feeling pretty good. Somewhat incredibly, I exit feeling really good, because this hour-20 horror trifle gives you just what you want from these things and too rarely do: a creepy and clever premise, a snappy pace, a bunch of good scares, a few strong portrayals, and a relative lack of eye-rolling stupidity.

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