Tea With the Dames

⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: Unrated.

Theater: Lagoon.

This documentary from director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") is as cozy and satisfying as its title suggests. Simply put, it consists of Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright and Dame Eileen Atkins gathering together at Plowright's home and talking, a consistently hilarious 90-minute chat that could have gone on for twice as long (or, ideally, a weekly television series) without ever feeling like too much of a good thing.

The verbal volleying, interruptions, sentence-finishing, and anecdotal confirmation of a 60-plus-year friendship among the four rarely lags. The topics up for dissection include stage nerves ("Fear is petrol," states Dench), difficult men (notably Lord Laurence Olivier, Plowright's late husband, of whom Smith says, "I was more nervous of your husband than the critics. Everybody was. We were terrified."), raising children, remembering only the bad reviews, the female beauty standards of the entertainment business, the unique situation of being offered the title of "Dame" and the challenges of film acting vs. stage work.

The film's charm is a product of a relaxed comfort the four women share. Michell captures the actors in what may be a somewhat artificial environment, but one in which they speak more openly than we're used to hearing — casually, but also truthfully, in a manner that tends to be tamped down in more formal interview settings. We feel lucky to be eavesdropping.


Black '47

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for violence and profanity; in English and subtitled Irish.

Theaters: Apple Valley, Eden Prairie, St. Anthony Main

Set against the grim backdrop of Ireland's Great Famine, this is a visually arresting, Irish western-style revenge tale that maintains a firm directorial grip on the foreboding landscape.

Having abandoned his post fighting for the British army in Afghanistan, Feeney (Australian James Frecheville), a tough-as-nails Irish Ranger, returns home during the harsh winter of 1847 to discover his mother dead from starvation and his brother hanged by English authorities. Vowing vengeance, he systematically embarks on a campaign of terror, while Hannah (Hugo Weaving), a veteran British military man skilled in tracking deserters, is dispatched to put an end to the mounting destruction.

With a stylistic approach reminiscent of "The Revenant," director Lance Daly's mournful film, which includes sturdy performances from reliables Stephen Rea and Jim Broadbent, admittedly puts a hefty premium on tone at the expense of more intricate plotting and character development. But that intense atmosphere manages to speak considerable volumes of its own as Daly incorporates a sensory palette that creates a palpable feeling of despair.

Michael Rechtshaffen, Los Angeles Times

22 July

⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for disturbing violence, graphic images and profanity.

Theater: Opened Wednesday at Lagoon.

When he's not making Jason Bourne popcorn movies, filmmaker Paul Greengrass reconstructs harrowing accounts of lethal clashes that play like you-are-there documentaries, among them "Captain Phillips" and "United 93." This time he's focusing on a 2011 terrorist attack in Norway in which alt-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo and then gunned down 69 people, most of them teenagers, at a youth camp.

The politically motivated Breivik is played with steely calm by Anders Danielsen Lie, who deftly walks the fine line between madman and revolutionary. The film puts us in the midst of the crime scenes, focusing afterward on collateral effects among the survivors, the nation's elected leaders, the lawyers at Breivik's trial and the 32-year-old killer himself.

Greengrass never tries for a manifesto to trigger outrage, but a way to open a difficult, objective meditation about staggering events. This breathtaking effort is an absolute must-see. One of the finest films of his outstanding career, it gracefully handles a true story that still carries crushing weight.

Colin Covert