“Belfast” is a dreamily nostalgic tale from filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, loosely inspired by his own childhood in late 60s strife-torn Northern Ireland. Shot in glorious black-and-white, “Belfast” is a loving tribute to Branagh’s family and the denizens of his close-knit neighborhood as they faced “The Troubles” between Protestants and Catholics. There’s a lot of heart and sentimentality in the story of a young lad whose family faced financial struggles as well as political turmoil. The cast is fine what’s not to like about a score filled with Van Morrison music? “Belfast” is crowd-pleasing Oscar bait.
“Passing” marks the writing/directing debut of acclaimed actress Rebecca Hall. It’s a sensitive story set in 1920s New York about the complications that occur between two African American friends, one of whom is passing as white. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga give strong, subtle performances in this low-key, leisurely paced drama. Hall’s approach to the material may be a bit too laid back for full effect, and the finale seems contrived. Still, “Passing” is a thoughtful drama about a particularly thorny subject.
Three big stars use all the charisma that they can muster to save the big-budget action comedy, “Red Notice.” It’s not enough. The script of this misfire is a mishmash of ideas borrowed from other, better movies from multiple genres. Dwayne Johnson is an FBI agent out to nail rival international art thieves Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. But The Rock must go on the run when Interpol suspects that he’s collaborating with the criminals. The cartoonish tongue-in-cheek approach wears out its welcome as the plot becomes more and more absurd. You can see where Netflix spent its $200 million budget, but they should have spent more on the script and less on the scenery. “Red Notice” should pass without much notice.