Peacock / Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures
In theaters now
Eli Adé/Columbia Pictures Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell in Devotion
Airplanes, danger zones, a certain brand of squinty square-jawed masculinity: Devotion sure looks like a low-flying Top Gun, and not only because it costars golden-boy Maverick alum Glen Powell. It even arrives with the hook of an inspiring real-life story — about the first Black aviator in U.S. Navy history — and two talented actors who seem to represent the hopes of young Hollywood. But the movie's propulsive trailer, alas, conceals the sputtering dramatic engine of an oddly dull and dutiful biopic, too restrained to serve the valiant efforts of its leads.
Lovecraft Country's Jonathan Majors, recently inducted into the extended Avengers universe, is Jesse Brown, a Mississippi native who famously broke color lines to earn his wings as a Navy pilot. Cloaked in the careful reserve of a man used to deflecting cruelty and hate on a daily basis, he seems like an unlikely friend for Powell's gregarious All-American Tom Hudner to latch onto; he's also married with a young daughter, a settled-down outlier in the rowdy bachelor culture of their military unit. But Tom is the kind of guy who gets what he wants, and soon the pair have formed a tentative friendship, just in time to be deployed in an operation that isn't yet being called the Korean War.
There are a few appropriately harrowing flight-training sequences, and a glamorous furlough in Cannes that collides with an actual movie star (that's Ballers' Serinda Swan as a vampish Liz Taylor); lessons are learned and bonds forged. The screenplay steers so consistently toward generalities, though, that it's hard to invest in any real stakes for the sketched-out characters on screen, and director J.D. Dillard (Sleight, Sweetheart) hits his story beats with dogged competence but not much flair: As Jesse's devoted wife Daisy, The Good Fight's Christina Jackson seems to be waiting nearly two and half hours for a line not out of the Faithful Housewife handbook. Powell and Majors, both born with surfeits of natural charisma, strain mightily to imbue their scant dialogue with deeper meaning, but Devotion, earnest and determinedly earthbound to the end, never really captures the air up there. Grade: B– — Leah Greenblatt
Lady Chatterley's Lover
On Netflix now
If you've pitied actress Emma Corrin, forever playing the scorned or abandoned wife in period dramas (see: The Crown, My Policeman), be assured that she more than gets hers in Lady Chatterley's Lover — a movie so happily, explicitly sexed, it may turn the Netflix logo a deeper shade of red.
D.H. Lawrence's vaunted novel, scandalous enough to be banned for several decades after it was first published in Italy in 1928, has been adapted many times on screen, most recently for the BBC in 2015. French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (who made 2019's lovely, meditative prison drama The Mustang), approaches the material here with refreshing straightforwardness, bringing an air of feminist modernity to the production without tilting into full anachronism — a take closer to Joe Wright's 2005 Pride & Prejudice, you could say, than the recent, relentlessly winky Persuasion.
Here, Corrin's Constance Reid is a young aristocrat just bohemian enough to believe that her union with a lord of the manor (Matthew Duckett, perfectly priggish) can be a marriage of equals. But when he comes back paralyzed from the Great War, and apparently unconcerned about her finding any sort of physical satisfaction for the rest of her life, the Lady's eye begins to wander. That gaze doesn't have far to go on their remote British estate, and so it lands on the gamekeeper (Godless star Jack O'Connell, so quietly magnetic it seems unfair). He may come from the lower classes, but he reads James Joyce in his spare time, and is, as you may have guessed, very good with his hands.
Corrin and O'Connell spend most of the next hour-plus flirting and cavorting and doing things al fresco that would not be out of place at a Roman orgy. Sniffy husband and a generally disapproving society aside, there isn't actually much dramatic conflict in Chatterley, though that feels like a relief, frankly, in a sea of stories that rarely allow for female desire without some mortal moral punishment (if only Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary had been so lucky). What's left, then, is just an unabashedly heady romance, rich in pretty costumes — when they're wearing them — and lush, lusty atmosphere. Grade: B+ — Leah Greenblatt
In limited theatrical release November 25
Courtesy of TIFF
Director Florian Zeller pulled off several miracles with 2020's The Father, an elegant drama about dementia that was never mawkish, and a reminder (for anyone who needed it) that Anthony Hopkins was always more than fava beans and a nice Chianti. If Zeller doesn't match the same poise with his follow-up, The Son, a ruinous family tragedy that borders on audience brutality, he still demonstrates admirable commitment to life's tougher stories — this filmmaker will never be accused of dumbing anything down.
Still, down is where Zeller means to take us, to a long-foreshadowed hellish place of pain that every parent fears, even high-powered Manhattan lawyers like Peter Miller (Hugh Jackman), cusping on career advancement and happily remarried. Peter's reboot with Beth (Vanessa Kirby, tops in a tricky role) — they even have an infant — is interrupted one night by his ex-wife, Kate (Laura Dern), concerned about their teenage son's moods and school absences. An intervention is required, and while it's not what Beth signed up for, the surly, fragile Nicholas (Zen McGrath) moves in.
The Son struggles hard not to be a bad-dad drama; at almost every juncture, it shows divorced parents trying to make the right calls, even as Nicholas bobs in the choppy wake of a recent-enough split. But it doesn't take long to sense that Zeller is making something darkly cynical and a bit sadistic. You see it in Jackman' increasingly furrowed brow and distracted eyes (the sledgehammer performance becomes a full-on descent). There's obviousness in the film's sun-dappled flashbacks to happier days, and one outrageous mid-argument reveal that would make Chekhov blush.
Give Zeller credit, though, for not flinching in the ways that count: Depression doesn't have an easy solve, nor, in many cases, a discernible cause. Sometimes, a father is the least-qualified person to deal with it. (The Son's Hopkins shows up for an electrifying cameo that reveals, with a minimum of dialogue, how optional the guilt can be.) Unlike The Father, which expanded Zeller's stage source material with maze-like complexity, The Son pins us in for an endgame that you wish had more of a takeaway than a gut punch. Grade: B– —Joshua Rothkopf
Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin
Streaming now on Peacock
Julia Terjung/Peacock Lera Abova, Flula Borg, Sarah Hyland, and Adam Devine in 'Bumper in Berlin'
It feels almost irresponsible, in this age of IP abuse, to praise the fourth extension of a franchise that has delivered diminishing creative returns with each successive installment. But here we are. Peacock's Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin is a slight but unexpectedly amusing spin-off of the film franchise. The show won't win any trophies for originality, but it keeps a pleasant beat thanks to an appealing ensemble and a fat heart.
Though it's been seven years since we last saw Bumper Allen (Adam Devine), he's still right where we left him in Pitch Perfect 2: Working security at Barden University, performing with the a cappella quintet The Tonehangers, and dreaming of superstardom. When his TikTok mashup of "99 Luftballons" and "Take On Me" goes viral in Germany, Bumper accepts an invitation from former a cappella champ-turned-manager Pieter Krämer (Flula Borg) to launch his career in Berlin. Only after relocating to the land of beer and Bratwurst does Bumper learn that Pieter has his own industry challenges to overcome.
Rather than build a series around the cocky and insufferable antagonist of the Pitch Perfect movies, showrunner Megan Amram (The Good Place) gives us a Bumper who's softened by maturity and the humility of persistent failure. But Berlin follows the formula that (mostly) worked for the films. There's the big competition: Pieter and influential DJ Das Boot (Lera Abova) aim to help Bumper land a coveted "newcomer" spot in the German Unity Day concert. The cartoonish rival: Pieter's flamboyant and manipulative ex-girlfriend/bandmate, Gisela (Jameela Jamil). The love interest: Pieter's assistant Heidi (Modern Family's Sarah Hyland), a kindhearted American and secret songwriter. And the showy songbursts: A Guns N' Roses duet in a dumpster; "Barbie Girl" at an avant-garde art show.
The half-hour episodes are breezy and light, perfect for background viewing — though you might miss some of the sharp and silly wordplay. (A Dutch a cappella group called "Holland Oats"? You bet I laughed.) Devine tempers Bumper's overconfidence with newfound shades of earnestness and self-awareness. Borg, reprising his role from Pitch Perfect 2, delivers every line with a chipper frankness that is both authentically German and consistently funny. The story hits all the notes you'd expect — friendships are tested, lessons are learned — but the familiarity is by design. Even when you've heard a song a million times, it's sometimes still fun to hum along. Grade: B —Kristen Baldwin