The only local member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, three-time S.P.J. (Society of Professional Journalists) award-winning critic Milan Paurich takes a look at movies currently playing in area theaters as well as the latest home video releases.


ALIEN: COVENANT--The new "Alien" movie--directed by Ridley Scott who helmed the 1979 original and 2012's underrated "Prometheus"--ranks among the very best in this long-running sic-fi/horror series. White knuckle tension and great Scott style permeate every scene as a motley crew (including Danny McBride, Katherine Waterston, Damian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo and "Prometheus" star Michael Fassbender) battles a new interplanetary beastie. Best of all, it's not in 3-D. (A MINUS.)

BAYWATCH--So-so big-screen Seth ("Horrible Bosses," "Identity Thief") Gordon reboot of the campy David Hasselhoff/Pam Anderson tube perennial. While there are some big laughs (most of them provided by Zac Efron as a newbie lifeguard), the whole thing just grinds on and on--it's 119 minutes when 90 would have sufficed--cobbled by an idiotic action movie plot that we're asked to take seriously. Dwayne Johnson ably steps into the old Hasselhoff role, though, and Bollywood icon Priyanka Chopra is certainly an eyeful as the film's "Miami Vice"-esque villainess. (C.)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST--In the tradition of last year's sensational "Jungle Book"--and the preceding year's enchanting "Cinderella"--comes another Disney live-action reboot of one of their animated classics. Directed by Bill ("Dreamgirls," "Mr. Holmes") Condon and starring "Harry Potter" ingenue Emma Watson as Belle, it's pure pleasure: a glittery, lavishly appointed jewel box of a movie musical. Splendidly cast (Kevin Kline, Ian McKellan and, best of all, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts!) and vigorously entertaining, the only real letdown is a wan Beast ("Legion" star Dan Stevens) who's clearly not up to the task. Otherwise, it's the stuff that little girls'--and more than a few grown-ups', both female and male--dreams are made of.


BORN IN CHINA--Disney's latest "Earth Day"-timed nature documentary, and it's actually a pretty decent one. But since you can see pretty much the same thing for free on The National Geographic Channel, why bother paying first-run prices? (C PLUS.)

THE BOSS BABY--Pretty much the nadir of post-"Shrek" DreamWorks Animation, this snarky, pun-filled slab of CGI nonsense has a surface slickness, even beauty at times that belies its creatively bankrupt, generally witless script and grating stock characters. Babysitter fodder at best. (D PLUS.)

THE CASE FOR CHRIST-- More Christian doggerel for the already converted. How Faye Dunaway, Robert Forster and Erika Christensen wound up in the cast is more interesting than the actual movie. (D.)

THE CIRCLE--Dave Eggers' novel has been turned into a provocative James ("The Spectacular Now," "The End of the Tour") Ponsoldt movie that has "Future Cult Item" written all over it. After taking a job with a Facebook/Google-type company, Emma ("Beauty and the Beast") Watson discovers the secret behind this seemingly utopian, cult-like organization that...well, best not to spoil the surprise for anyone who hasn't read the book. A cast-against-type Tom Hanks is aces as the guru-like CEO. Like "Get Out," it's that rare contemporary thriller which actually speaks to the way we live now. (B.)

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL--The fourth entry in the big-screen franchise adapted from Jeff Kinney's popular kid-lit series recasts the lead roles (Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott are the new parents; Jason Drucker plays "Wimpy Kid" Greg) and is neither appreciably better or worse than its mediocre predecessors. If you're not a fan, the film's title is likely to seem as painfully accurate as it was for me. (C MINUS.)

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING--Sappily earnest YA flick about a germ-imperiled "Bubble Girl" (appealing newcomer Amanda Stenberg) and her burgeoning friendship/romance with the hunky boy next door (Nick Robinson from "Jurassic World"). Probably best appreciated by starry-eyed tweeners. (C MINUS.)

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS--More sound and fury signifying very little. The eighth edition of the vroom-fest franchise that started all the way back in 2001 adds two Oscar winners to the mix (Charlize Theron as the chief villain and Helen Mirren in a glorified cameo as Jason Statham's mum), but very little has changed. While F. Gary Gray ("Straight Outta Compton") is a slight upgrade over the usual studio hacks assigned to helm these things, any sort of meaningful directorial innovations are hard to discern. The stunt work is as ludicrously oversized (and unrealistic) as usual, though, so fans--and apparently they're legion although I've never joined this particular mass-cult--will go home satisfied, guaranteeing a ninth installment, probably in two years. Whatever. (C.)

GIFTED--A big-screen Lifetime movie starring a Marvel super hero (Chris Evans) and an Oscar winner (Octavia Spencer) about a blue collar guy (Evans) raising his 7-year-old math prodigy niece (newcomer (McKenna Grace) in central Florida. Directed by Marc ("500 days of Summer," the "Amazing" Spider-Man movies) Webb, its heart is unmistakably in the right place. Too bad its brain is Play-Do mush. (C.)

GOING IN STYLE--A Zach Braff-directed remake of the 1979 Martin ("Beverly Hills Cop," "Midnight Run") Brest heist comedy. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin replace George Burns, Lee Strasberg and Art Carney, but it's pretty much the same movie: disenfranchised senior citizens pull a robbery to help their dwindling resources. Charming and nicely-played; too bad its attitudes towards the AARP brigade come off as a trifle condescending. (B MINUS.)

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOLUME 2--The Marvel sequel that everyone has been waiting for has finally arrived and, sadly, it's just another sequel. Longer, louder and even more frenetic than the ADD 2014 original, it's like being trapped in a room with someone who can't stop poking you in the ribs as he tells an interminable joke with no punchline. Chris Pratt's Star-Lord remains the franchise's undisputed ace in the hole, but even he seems flummoxed by director/screenwriter James Gunn's decision to go big, bigger, biggest when a Mystery Science Theater pretzels and beer budget would have only enhanced its termite charms. (C.)

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD--Perversely misjudged Guy ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") Ritchie reboot of the King Arthur story with Charlie Hunnam--the best thing here--stepping in as Mr. Camelot. While far too enamored with "Game of Thrones"-era sword-and-sorcery cliches (and Ritchie's typically aggravating ADD style editing), it's at least marginally better than Antoine Fuqua's somnambulant 2004 "King Arthur." (C MINUS.)

KONG: SKULL ISLAND--Another King Kong origin story, but a surprisingly enjoyable one by a director (Jordan Vogt-Roberts) whose only previous film was a low-budget, shot-in-Northeastern-Ohio indie (2013's undervalued "The Kings of Summer"). Casting Oscar winner Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman and John C. Reilly didn't hurt Vogt-Roberts' cause either. Best of all, it clocks in at just under two hours so it never overstays its welcome unlike so many other 21st century "event" movies. 10 times better than Peter Jackson's somnambulant 2005 "King Kong." (B.)

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES--This fifth Jack Sparrow outing sports a Paul McCartney cameo (?), two Oscar-winning villains (Javier Bardem as longtime Sparrow nemesis Captain Armando Salazar and returning heavy Geoffrey Rush) and a whole lot of hooey. On the plus side, Johnny Depp does more than phone it in this time and fresh-faced Brenton Thwaites is a nice substitute for Orlando Bloom (he's actually playing Bloom and Keira Knightley's son), but I expected more from co-directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg of Oscar-nominated "Kon-Tiki" fame. Although shorter and less self-indulgent than previous "Pirates" movies ("Dead Man's Chest," I'm looking at you), it's not exactly memorable either. (C.)

POWER RANGERS--That's "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" to you, pardner. High-tech re-boot of the campy lo-fi '90s Saturday morning kid series proves you really can't make a silk purse--or kickstart a new YA franchise--out of a sow's ear. I actually prefer the blissfully stupid, guilelessly innocent 1995 big-screen

"Power Rangers" movie. The only amusement here is watching Elizabeth Banks camp it up as arch-villain Rita Repulsa who's trying to get her hands on something called the Zeo Crystal which has the potential to destroy the planet. She could have saved herself a lot of trouble and just taken a job with the Trump administration instead. (D.)

THE PROMISE--Glacially paced Terry ("Hotel Rwanda") George quasi-epic about the 1915 Armenian genocide. Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale lend their combined gravitas, but the entire movie is such a stodgy, sanctimonious slog you're better off renting or streaming Atom Egoyan's underrated "Ararat" from 2002 instead. (D PLUS.)

THE SHACK--Based on the best-selling novel, this Christian inspirational is a tad less icky than most faith-fueled films thanks to an excellent cast (Octavia Spencer, Radha Mitchell, Sam Worthington, Graham Greene) who nearly make the homiletic drivel palatable. Wildly overlong at 130 minutes, though.


SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE--Unlike Sony's previous "Smurfs" kidflicks, this one is 100% animated and devoid of distracting human actors. And despite a topical feminist message (really), it's also well-nigh insufferable for anyone over the age of 5. (D PLUS.)

SNATCHED--Shrill high concept comedy partially redeemed by the inspired casting of Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn as mother and daughter. Directed by the estimable Jonathan ("50/50," "The Night Before") Levine, it's fast-paced and fitfully amusing. Just don't go in expecting "Trainwreck 2." (C PLUS.)

UNFORGETTABLE--Wanna bet? Except for Katherine Heigl's perfect Aryan features, this could be a particularly dopey iteration of a Screen Gems post-Labor Day release ("When the Bough Breaks," "The Perfect Man," etc.). Rosario Dawson does her best as the imperiled new wife of cuckoo bird Heigl's ex (Geoff Stults), but the movie is all about gimmicky plotting and has little to do with old-fashioned verities like acting, direction or building even a modicum of suspense. (D.)

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE--Based on the non-fiction best-seller by Diane Ackerman, Niki ("Whale Rider") Caro's overly decorous film tells the story of a couple (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh) who helped save hundreds of Jews during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Nicely acted--Chastain is always a pleasure to watch--but too prosaic for its own good. As a result, it lacks the emotional punch this type of gut-punching material demands. (C PLUS.)

---Milan Paurich


THE ACCOUNTANT--Ben Affleck kills it as an autistic forensic accountant who gets mixed up in dirty business (and lots more) in director Gavin ("Warrior") O'Connor's slick, silly action flick. An entertaining, if highly implausible throwback to '70s paranoid thrillers like "3 Days of the Condor" and "The Parallax View" in which J.K. Simmons and Anna Kendrick provide stellar back-up support. (B.)

ALLIED--A WW II romantic thriller starring Brad Pitt and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard that marks a welcome return to form by Oscar-winning director Robert ("Forrest Gump," "Back to the Future") Zemeckis who hadn't made a good movie since 2000's "Cast Away." Expertly played by the two leads and luxuriously crafted. (B PLUS.)

AMERICAN HONEY--British director Andrea ("Fish Tank," "Wuthering Heights") Arnold's dizzying, wildly impressionistic look at contemporary American life, particularly its rudderless teenagers living on the fringes of red state society, is like the longest (162 minutes) movie Harmony Korine never made. Newcomer Sasha Lane gives a stunning performance as the feckless teen protagonist, a runaway who falls in with a con man and woman (a never-better Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keogh) operating a scam operation out of their van. As long and frequently rambling as it is, the movie sustains our interest (and empathy) throughout. (A.)

AMERICAN PASTORAL--Ewan McGregor makes his directing debut with an overly prosaic, but still effective adaptation of Philip Roth's great novel. McGregor (merely serviceable in a role that Ben Affleck would have killed) plays former golden boy Swede Levov whose life disassembles when his beloved only child (Dakota Fanning, excellent) gets involved in the more violent side of the 1960's anti-war movement. Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly provides strong support as Swede's long-suffering wife and David Strathairn is Roth alter ego Nathan Zuckerman in the film's bookending scenes. (C PLUS.)

ARRIVAL--Denis ("Sicario," "Prisoners") Villeneuve's thinking-person's sci-fi about close encounters of the third kind is the sort of brainy, yet deeply humanistic genre film that's become an increasingly rare commodity in today's Hollywood. Amy Adams (never better) plays a linguist brought in to communicate with alien visitors; Jeremy Renner (also very good) is a physicist who provides assistance. Eerily beautiful with a hushed intensity that took my breath away. (A.)

ASSASSIN'S CREED--Yet another quixotic attempt to transfer the addictive pleasures of video gamesmanship to the big screen. Directed by Australian auteur Justin ("Snowtown Murders") Kurzel and starring master thespians Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard (who played the Scottish king and his missus in Kurzel's riveting 2015 "Macbeth"), it's fast-paced, easy on the eyes and almost maddeningly incoherent if you don't have at least a passing familiarity with the game it's based on. What the heck is "Animus" anyway? (C MINUS.)

BAD SANTA 2--Tardy sequel to the 2003 Yuletide black comedy classic that's like finding a wad of used chewing tobacco in your holiday stocking. Billy Bob Thornton flails about desperately trying to make it work, but political incorrectness simply doesn't have the shock value (or laughs) it did in the pre-Trump era. (D.)

BEFORE I FALL--A YA "Groundhog Day" that Nicholas Sparks could have penned starring pert Zooey ("Everybody Wants Some!!," "Why Him?") Deutch as a highschooler forced to relive the same day ad nauseam. Better than that description makes it sound, but don't go looking for Bill Murray. Or any laughs for that matter. (B MINUS.)

BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK--Two-time Oscar-winning director Ang ("Brokeback Mountain," "Life of Pi") Lee performs his usual cinematic wizardry in adapting Ben Fountain's same-named best-selling novel. Set against the backdrop of a 2004 victory tour for a squad of U.S. combat soldiers, the film blends Iraq flashbacks, a Dallas Cowboys football team and Thanksgiving/family melodrama into a sometimes thrilling whole. Newcomer Joe Alwyn is impressive as Billy, but Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund steal the movie in support. (A MINUS.)

THE BIRTH OF A NATION--The sensation of this year's Sundance Film Festival hits theaters hobbled by pre-release controversy stemming from director/cowriter/star Nate Parker's collegiate past. If you're able to overlook that, the movie--which chronicles Nat Turner's 1831 Virginia

slave uprising--will impress with its hard-wired intensity and filmmaking passion. While Parker's direction occasionally errs on the side of both over and understatement, the true-life story is so remarkable and the performances (especially Aja Naomi King as Turner's wife) so galvanizing it's hard not to be moved. (B PLUS.)

BLEED FOR THIS--Miles Teller delivers a knockout performance as real-life pro boxer Vinny Pazienza who battled his way back into the ring after breaking his neck in a near fatal car accident. Boilerplate at times, but affecting nonetheless, and Aaron Eckhart is fantastic as Pazienza's trainer. Directed by Ben Younger, best remembered for 2000 cult favorite, "Boiler Room." (B.)

BLOW-UP--1967's "Bonnie and Clyde" is the film most frequently cited as the kickstarter of the New Hollywood Cinema. But a case could be made that Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 landmark

of Swinging England chic and existentialist ennui--despite being directed by an Italian Marxist and shot entirely on location in Great Britain--marked the true beginning of that halcyon movement. Financed and released by MGM, the same studio that gave us "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind," "Blow-Up" was a critical and box-office sensation in its time (casual nudity! moral ambiguity! the Yardbirds!), and proved to be one of the most influential movies of its era: Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" and Brian DePalma's "Blow-Out" both owe a huge debt to Antonioni's masterpiece. As a jaded fashion photographer who unwittingly captures a murder on camera while snapping peekaboo shots of two lovers gamboling in the park, David Hemmings remains the quintessence of '60s cool. And Vanessa Redgrave's "Woman of Mystery" is as foxy (and hauntingly duplicitous) as ever. The newly released Criterion Classics Blu-Ray edition is the first time home video has done justice to the movie, and a newly restored 4K digital transfer insures that Antonioni's dazzling color palette pops the way he intended 50 years ago. A panoply of extras include a fascinating documentary about the making of the film; candid archival interviews with Antonioni, Hemmings and Jane Birkin; an erudite 2016 conversation between Redgrave and photography curator Philippe Garner; and a pocket-sized book featuring a scholarly essay by David Forages, an updated 1966 account of the film's production, and the 1959 Julio Cortazar short story that inspired Antonioni and Tonino Guerra's script. (A PLUS.)

THE BYE BYE MAN-- A teen horror movie delayed from 2016 that marks the big-screen return of screen legend Faye Dunaway. Pretty much indistinguishable from any other PG-13 rated fright flick of recent vintage. (C MINUS.)

COLLATERAL BEAUTY--A Will Smith weepie that's a lot closer to the bathos of "Seven Pounds" than to the honestly milked tears of "The Pursuit of Happyness." The wispy story involves Smith as a grieving father mourning the loss of a child, but neither some wonderful actors (Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, et al) nor estimable director David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada," "Marley and Me") can make it remotely convincing. Hallmark greeting cards have more genuine emotion than this trite tripe. (D PLUS.)

COLLIDE--Some good older actors with a tendency to chew scenery (Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley) and two boring young actors with no discernible personality (Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones) mix it up in a generic British crime drama that might have seemed a tad fresher twenty+ years ago. Nothing to see here, folks; move on. (D PLUS.)

THE COMEDIAN--Robert DeNiro plays a washed-up stand-up comic/sitcom star who embarks upon a May-December fling with Leslie Mann to annoy her dad, longtime frenemy Harvey Keitel. Much better than that description makes it sounds thanks to some very good performances and a convincingly lived-in NYC/ comedy club milieu. The strongest film in years by Taylor ("An Officer and a Gentleman," "Against All Odds") Hackford. (B.)

DR. STRANGE--One of the increasingly rare Marvel Corp. products that doesn't feel entirely generic/disposable. Adapted for the screen by Scott ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose," "Insidious") Derrickson and starring the redoubtable Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular B-list superhero, the movie amusingly zigs when you think it's going to zag. A smashing supporting turn by Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One (and a sympathetic distaff role for Rachel McAdams) add spice and sugar to an already tasty brew. (B.)

A DOG'S PURPOSE--Are dogs reincarnated? According to this appealing Lasse ("The Cider House Rules," "My Life as a Dog") Hallstrom-directed family flick based on the best-selling novel by W. Bruce Cameron, pooches have even more lives than their feline counterparts. Josh (Olaf from "Frozen") Gad provides voiceover duties for the various canines; two-legged members of the cast include Dennis Quaid, KJ Apa, Peggy Lipton (remember her?) and John Ortiz. Corny and unabashedly sentimental, it still manages to hit the sweet spot. Parents, however, may have some explaining to do on the drive home. (B MINUS.)

DON'T THINK TWICE--For a movie about a comedy improv group, writer/director/star Mike Birbiglia's movie is awfully depressing. It's also exceedingly good, and a significant step up from Birbliglia's overrated 2012 stand-up comedian debut, "Sleepwalk With Me." As the elder statesman of the troupe--a perennial also-ran gradually coming to the realization that he's never going to make the big leagues--Birbiglia makes you laugh while simultaneously breaking your heart. Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs offer strong support as fellow improv-ers.


THE DRESSMAKER--A femme fatale (the always welcome Kate Winslet) returns to her rural Australian village in 1951 and proceeds to wreak havoc on the lives of everyone who did her wrong. If you're familiar with Friedrich Durrenmatt's play "The Visit," you'll have some idea where this is going. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse (best known for 1992's "Proof" which introduced Russell Crowe to American audiences) and costarring Judy Davis (utterly delicious), Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth, the movie is a lot of fun even if it runs out of steam in the third act. (B MINUS.)

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN--Anyone nostalgic for 1980's John Hughes movies starring Molly Ringwald should love this James L. Brooks ("Broadcast News," "As Good As It Gets") produced dramedy about a high school junior (Hailee Seinfeld, excellent) going through a particularly rough patch. A droll Woody Harrelson plays her favorite, highly unorthodox teacher. (B PLUS.)

ELLE--Oscar-nominated Isabelle Huppert delivers a masterful performance in Dutch provocateur Paul ("Basic Instinct," "Starship Troopers") Verhoeven's first French-language film. Huppert plays a successful middle-aged businesswoman whose life takes some unexpectedly perverse turns after she's raped by a home intruder. Verhoeven (and Huppert) take so many high wire risks with their button-pushing material that all you can do is strap on your big boy (or girl) pants, keep repeating, "It's only a movie," and go along for the wild, fantastically entertaining ride. (A.)

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM--J.K. Rowling enthusiasts who've been experiencing withdrawal since the last "Harry Potter" flick are sure to devour this fanciful (if not quite fantastic), Rowling-scripted franchise starter about supernatural beasties afoot in late-1920's Manhattan. Eddie Redmayne (blah as usual) plays the British magi-zoologist trying to wrangle them back into his briefcase before disaster strikes. Like with the "Potter" movies, the supporting cast is stocked with so many wonderful actors (including Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston and Samantha Morton) you're almost willing to take all this stuff-and-nonsense seriously. Almost. (B MINUS.)

FENCES--Denzel Washington and Viola Davis burn up the screen in this Washington-directed adaptation of August Wilson's 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning play. So what if it's the best American Film Theater production Ely Landau never had the chance to make back in the 1970's? Washington's respect for the material--and his masterful handling of a nonpareil cast--make it galvanizing, rip-your-heart-out cinema nonetheless. (A.)

FIFTY SHADES DARKER--While marginally better than the 2015 original, this James ("At Close Range," "Glengarry Glen Ross") Foley-directed sequel suffers from the same thesping imbalance that damaged "Fifty Shades of Grey." Because Dakota Johnson is such a better actor than wan costar Jamie Dornan, it's difficult to care whether their star-crossed, S&M-loving couple stays together. E L James remains a pervy J.K. Rowling minus the talent and magic wands. Any garden variety studio film in 1970 was more sexually explicit--and sexier. (C MINUS.)

FIST FIGHT--Since HBO GO is still running episodes of last summer's "Vice Principals," there's no reason to buy a ticket to this foul-mouthed, aggressively mean-spirited comedy starring Ice Cube and Charlie Day as rival high school teachers. At least it's mercifully brief at 91 minutes--which is the nicest thing I can say about it. (D PLUS.)

THE FOUNDER--Michael Keaton is fantastic as former McDonald's CEO Ray Kroc in "Blind Side" director John Lee Hancock's jaundiced slice of Americana. At its frequent best, it recalls the social satires Michael Ritchie used to make back in the early '70s ("Smile," "The Candidate," et al). Sure, I would have liked if it had gone deeper, but what's onscreen is pretty darn choice. (B PLUS.)

FOX AND HIS FRIENDS--The leading filmmaker of the German New Wave, Rainer Werner Fassbinder was--along with Jean-Luc Godard--the greatest European director and the most radical innovator to emerge in the post-WW II era. Wildly prolific, enfant terrible Fassbinder completed over 14 movies in a fourteen year period before dying in 1982 at the age of 36. Maybe because Fassbinder's oeuvre is so expansive (and has largely been released in dribs and drabs on American home video in generally subpar editions), he's not as well-known by younger audiences as he should be. Fortunately, the Criterion Collection is doing their part to once again make Fassbinder a household name among discerning cineastes. 1975's "Fox and His Friends," one of Fassbinder's greatest and most accessible films, is the latest recipient of Criterion's TLC. Thanks to their 4k digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, the movie certainly looks and sounds better than ever (certainly better than the rep house print I saw in the late '70s).

Fassbinder himself plays the titular character, a proletariat naif whose life becomes unmoored after winning the lottery. Exploited by his bourgeois boyfriend and their backbiting circle of friends, Fox's Candide-like journey is as harrowing to watch as it is tragically inevitable. You can interpret the film as a resonant political metaphor--the working class gets the shaft from the 1%--or simply

as a haunting precursor to America's Queer Cinema movement of the 1990's. Either way it's a masterpiece. Extras include new interviews with Fassbinder repertory player Harry Baer and American director Ira ("Love is Strange") Sachs; excerpts from a 1975 interview with Fassbinder; and a provocative essay by critic Michael Koresky. (A.)

GET OUT--"Girls" star Allison Williams brings her African-American boyfriend (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet the folks (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) and things quickly go from awkward to weird to terrifying. An effectively jolting horror flick--which also doubles as a parable for racism in 21st century America--directed by "Key and Peele" star Jordan Peele. Which might explain why it's also pretty funny; in the most discomfiting ways imaginable, of course. (B PLUS.)

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN--Emily Blunt's scalding performance is the best reason to see Tate ("The Help") Taylor's glossy and superficial rendering of Paula Hawkins' best-selling novel. Relocating the story from England to New York is problematic, and some egregious miscasting (e.g., Dominican actor Edgar Ramirez as a Middle-Eastern shrink) only compounds the confusion. But as an alcoholic whose obsession with her ex-husband teeters on the edge of madness, Blunt practically burns a hole through the screen. (C PLUS.)

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS--British zombie flick, and a pretty good one. Proves that even brain-munching can seem classy with a posh accent. (B.)

GHOST WORLD--Terry ("Crumb," "Bad Santa") Zwigoff's glorious 2001 teen dramedy based on Daniel Clowes' cult comic finally gets the Criterion Collection treatment its many fans--myself included--have always felt it deserved. Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch (both letter-perfect) play recent high school graduates whose nonconformity reaches new heights when they befriend a curmudgeonly vinyl fetishist played by a never-better Steve Buscemi. Zwigoff finds the ideal balance between sour and sweet, and never caricaturizes or condescends to his lovably quirky/prickly characters. Zwigoff and Clowes would reteam five years later for the underrated "Art School Confidential." Hopefully Criterion will release it some day. The Blu-Ray extras include a Zwigoff/Cloves commentary track; contemporary interviews with Johansson, Birch and costar Illeana Douglas; a generous sampling of the 1965 Bollywood movie, "Gumnaam," used in the opening title sequence; an essay by critic Howard Hampton; Zwigoff riffing on the movie's primo soundtrack of golden nuggets; and reprinted excerpts from Clowes's original comic. (A.)

GOLD--Matthew McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a real-life, modern day gold prospector in Stephen ("Syriana") Gaghan's sprawling rags-to-riches/riches-to-rags saga that aspires to be a cross between "American Hustle," "The Big Short" and "The Wolf of Wall Street." As Wells' cagey geologist partner, Edgar Ramirez steals every scene he's in. Less fortunate is Bryce Dallas Howard, instantly forgettable in the stock role of "Long-Suffering Girlfriend." It takes awhile to shift into gear, but the story and characters are so compelling that it ultimately won me over. (B.)

THE GREAT WALL--For centuries, historians have mused about the building of China's Great Wall. What/who were they trying to keep out? According to this $150-million multinational spectacular, it was monsters. The great Zhang ("House of Flying Daggers," "Hero") Yimou strikes out with his second predominantly English-language film (2011's "The Flowers of War" with Christian Bale was the first) which is visually ravishing but dramatically malnourished. Matt Damon does his darnedest to provide an entry point for western audiences as a Han Solo-esque mercenary soldier in what is basically an old-fashioned creature feature with newfangled historical gloss. (C.)

HACKSAW RIDGE--Four-square WW II actioner directed by Mel ("Braveheart," "The Passion of the Christ") Gibson about a Seventh-Day Adventist (Andrew Garfield) who became a hero during the Battle of Okinawa despite never picking up a weapon. A trifle heavy-handed at times and definitely overlong at 128 minutes, but generally effective as red meat-style entertainment. (B MINUS.)

THE HANDMAIDEN--Voluptuously stylized, lip-smackingly decadent movie-move by the great Park Chan-wook ("Oldboy," "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance") about two women (one of noble birth, the other working class), one scheming playboy and a rich old pervert. The labyrinthian plot is meticulously constructed, densely layered and full of the sort of diabolical twists and turns that would make Quentin Tarantino green with envy. It's also better than any movie Tarantino has directed since "Kill Bill, Volume 1." (A.)

HIDDEN FIGURES--At NASA's Virginia headquarters in 1961, three brilliant African-American women (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and scene-stealer Janelle Monae) rise through the ranks despite the agency's institutionalized racism. Based on a true story, director Theodore ("St. Vincent") Melfi's triumphant and inspiring feel-good movie is a warm, funny and beautifully acted slice of Americana: the 21st century equivalent of a Frank Capra classic like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." A superlative supporting cast includes Kevin Costner, Mahershala Ali, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst and Glen Powell (terrifically charming and--no pun intended--down-to-earth as astronaut/future Ohio senator John Glenn). (A.)

HIS GIRL FRIDAY--The Criterion Collection's two-disc special edition Blu-Ray of Howard Hawks' 1940 screwball comedy keeper is an early candidate for best-of-2017 laurels. Adapted from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's hit Broadway play, "The Front Page," with the character of ace reporter Hildy Johnson rewritten as a woman at Hawks' request (Charles Lederer and an uncredited Hecht wrote the screenplay), this breathlessly paced, battle-of-the-sexes workplace farce remains one of the smartest, funniest, most subversive Hollywood comedies of all time. As hardboiled newspaper editor (and Hildy ex) Walter Burns, Cary Grant continued his fruitful partnership with Hawks which had already produced such classics as "Only Angels Have Wings" and "Bringing Up Baby." And Rosalind Russell's feminist trailblazer Hildy--a role model for the ages--is my personal favorite of her screen roles (sorry, "Auntie Mame"). Criterion's high-def digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack will be a revelation if your only previous exposure has been the pockmarked public domain prints that, tragically, have been the only way to see it for decades. The plethora of tantalizing extras include a 4K digital restoration

of Lewis ("All Quiet on the Western Front") Milestone's ultra-rare 1931 "The Front Page;" archival interviews with Hawks; a new interview with historian David Bordwell; featurettes about Hawks, Russell and the making of the film; and a booklet featuring essays by critics Michael Sragow and Farran Smith Neeme. (A PLUS.)

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO--Searing Raoul Peck-directed movie that uses the writings of the late James Baldwin to shine a spotlight on the fractious history of race in America. Samuel L. Jackson narrates, and it's his best performance in years. A richly deserved 2016 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary. (A.)

INCARNATE--Second-rate exorcism flick partially redeemed by the presence of Aaron Eckhardt as a wheelchair-bound dispeller of possessed souls. Not worth leaving the house for, but this Brad ("San Andreas") Peyton-directed programmer might suffice as a late-night VOD choice somewhere down the road. (C MINUS.)

INFERNO--The third--and arguably worst--of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks' trashy Dan Brown adaptations. In this go-round, Hanks' Robert Langdon tries to stop a loon (Ben Foster) who's using Dante's Inferno as his template for destroying the world. Don't you hate when that happens? As a Langdon associate, Felicity Jones proves why she's possibly the most boring actress working in films today. Yawn. (D PLUS.)

JACKIE--Natalie Portman delivers a career-best performance as Jackie Kennedy in director Pablo Larrain's dazzlingly inventive bio-drama. Set entirely in the immediate aftermath of J.F.K.'s assassination, the film may disappoint anyone expecting a cradle-to-the-grave approach. But Larrain's unconventional modus operandi pays huge dividends in terms of a laser sharp focus and gut-wrenching intensity. Superb supporting performances by Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig and the late John Hurt. (A.)

LA LA LAND--2016's best film is also the first wholly original movie musical since 1982. (I'm not counting 'toons, Broadway-to-screen transfers, tube spin-off "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" or karaoke tuner "Moulin Rouge.") Leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone continue to evince the same you-can't-bottle-this romantic chemistry that worked so well for them in "Crazy, Stupid, Love" and "Gangster Squad," and they're absolutely smashing once again playing a struggling jazz musician and an aspiring actress. While falling in love against the enchanted, pastel-colored backdrop of present-day Los Angeles, Gosling and Stone sing and dance their way into each other's (and our) hearts. Director Damien Chazelle proves that 2014's "Whiplash" wasn't a fluke: he's simply one of the most exciting young directors to emerge this decade. (A PLUS.)

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS--If Ingmar Bergman had adapted a Nicholas Sparks novel, it might have looked something like Derek ("Blue Valentine") Cianofrance's arty film version of M.L. Stedman's sudsy best-selling novel. A lighthouse keeper and his childless wife (Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) discover a baby in a rowboat and raise it as their own. Complications ensue years later when the birth mother resurfaces. So austere and glacially paced that it never truly makes an emotional connection despite superb performances by Fassbender, Vikander and especially Rachel Weisz as the mom. (C.)

LION--The true story of a young man (Dev Patel of "Slumdog Millionaire" fame) who used Google Earth to help locate his family back in India 20 years after being adopted by an Australian couple. (As a boy, he accidentally took the wrong train, and wound up thousands of miles away from his rural village.) The first half is arguably stronger, but director Gareth Davis expertly jerks tears and the heart-tugging climax provides one of the most cathartic movie cries of the year. Nicole Kidman is first-rate as the protagonist's adoptive mom. (B PLUS.)

LIVE BY NIGHT--Ben Affleck directs and stars in a great-looking adaptation of Dennis ("Shutter Island," "Mystic River") Lehane's novel about a WW I vet-turned-hoodlum (Affleck) who makes a killing in Prohibition-Era Florida. Even though the overall effect is akin to squeezing an entire season of HBO's late, great "Boardwalk Empire" into a two hour (and change) movie, Affleck remains a gifted director of both action and actors. The supporting cast includes Chris Messina, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning and Sienna Miller, all terrific. Ironically, it's Affleck's anemic lead performance that's the film's most glaring flaw. (B MINUS.)

LOGAN--Or "Wolverine: Fury Road." Imagine "Mad Max" as a Marvel super hero, and you're halfway home in describing this (hard) "R"-rated standalone Wolverine vehicle. Directed by the estimable James Mangold ("Walk the Line," ""The Wolverine") and starring an even more feral than usual Hugh Jackman, it's ultra violent, edgy and immensely entertaining. One of the best Marvel Corp. productions to date; probably because it rarely feels like one. (B PLUS.)

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA--Casey Affleck (never better) plays a working class dude from Massachusetts still grieving an inconsolable loss who becomes the de facto caretaker of his troubled teenage nephew (newcomer Lucas Hedges in a breakout performance) after his older brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me," "Margaret"), it has the palpable sting of real life and pathos to burn. There isn't a single false note or wasted moment in the entire film. (A.)

McCABE AND MRS. MILLER--Robert Altman's elegaic 1971 revisionist western--one of the crown jewels of the New Hollywood era, and one of the greatest American movies period--looks more impressive than ever in this magnificent new Criterion Collection digital restoration. As the titular characters--an inveterate gambler and the cynical frontier madam he falls in love with--Warren Beatty and the Oscar-nominated Julie Christie are sheer perfection. Shot on location in Vancouver, British Columbia, the film's mining town setting remains unsurpassed in its raw-boned verisimilitude, particularly impressive when you learn that it was created piecemeal for the production. The Leonard Cohen soundtrack provides a suitably haunting musical backdrop for Altman's timeless parable of love, greed and capitalism. Fans of HBO's late, great "Deadwood" will marvel at how indebted that David Milch series was to Altman's masterpiece. (And Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will be Blood" would have probably been inconceivable, too.) Copious juicy extras include a 2002 audio commentary Altman did with producer David Foster before his death, a making-of documentary with cast and crew, excerpts from two 1971 episodes of the Dick Cavett Show with Altman and critic Pauline Kael (who famously described "McCabe" in her New Yorker review as "a beautiful pipe dream of a movie") and an essay by novelist Nathaniel Rich. (A PLUS.)

MEAN DREAMS--You know a movie must be really special when the late, great Bill Paxton isn't necessarily the best thing it. That would be this terse and terrific Canadian sleeper about young lovers (Josh Wiggins and Sophie Nelisse) on the lam after stealing drug money from a dirty cop (Paxton) who also happens to be the girl's abusive dad. Director Nathan Morlando was clearly influenced by New Hollywood-era classics like "Badlands" and "The Sugarland Excpress," and his two leads impress like teen versions of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. (A MINUS.)

MISS SLOANE--Jessica Chastain has her best starring role since "Zero Dark Thirty" as a steely

D.C. lobbyist pushing a background-check bill through the Senate. Although gun-control legislation isn't the sexiest theme to build a movie around, Chastain's performance makes it modestly compelling despite some screenwriting infelicities. Directed by John Madden, best known for dainty crinoline fare like the Oscar-winning "Shakespeare in Love." (B MINUS.)

A MONSTER CALLS--A giant tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson in full Aslan mode) helps 12-year-old Conor (newcomer Lewis McDougall) cope with schoolyard bullies, a frosty grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), an absentee dad (Toby Kebbell) and a dying mom (Felicity Jones) in director J.A. ("The Impossible") Bayona's stirring adaptation of Patrick Ness' 2011 graphic novel. While probably too disturbing for very young audiences, it has all the earmarks of a film destined to become a cult favorite among children of all ages. (B PLUS.)

MOONLIGHT--Barry Jenkins' lyrical tale of a young African-American male's coming of age in Florida skews more European arthouse than Sundance indie (or "Straight Outta Compton") and is all the stronger for it. Brilliantly shot by James Laxton, the film has a sinuous grace and formal elegance that belies the gritty urban subject matter. The naturalistic performances (especially by a heartbreaking Naomie Harris as the protagonist's hard-luck mother) are beyond reproach, and Jenkins impresses as the domestic equivalent to Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai. (A.)

MULTIPLE MANIACS--I never thought I'd live to see the day when the tony Criterion label would release an embossed Blu-Ray rendering of a vintage John Waters movie. But I'm sure glad I did. Waters' 1970 sophomore feature--shot in black-and-white for a piddling $5,000--has never looked better, and the ensuing decades have proven exceedingly kind. What seemed a lot like amateur hour madness at pot-stoked midnight screenings in the '70s now seems very much like brilliantly, rigorously controlled chaos. Divine, Waters' favorite leading lady, plays Lady Divine (duh), the star of a rolling circus ("The Cavalcade of Perversion") whose romantic travails set off a string of

grisly murders. Waters' repertory players (including Mink Stole, David Lochary, Cookie Mueller and the inimitable Edith Massey as--I kid you not--the Virgin Mary) remain the very best sort of company, and the cinematic and real-life references--Vietnam, the Manson Family, Pier Paolo Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew," et al--fly by fast and furiously. Climaxing with Divine's rape by a 15-foot crustacean ("Lobstora"), it's definitely not for the faint of heart. Waters aficionados, however, will think they've died and gone to heaven. Not quite as many extras as the standard Criterion Blu-Ray, but the 4K digital restoration is so stunningly gorgeous you're unlikely to care. There's an audio commentary from Waters (who remains one of the best raconteurs in the business), present-day interviews with cast and crew members, a fun video essay by Gary Needham and a scholarly appreciation by film critic Linda Yablonsky. (A.)

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS--Fashion maven Tom Ford's brilliant adaptation of Austin Wright's seemingly unfilmable 1993 novel "Tony and Susan" fully delivers on the promise of his auspicious 2009 debut, "A Single Man." Amy Adams (superb) plays a jaded L.A. art dealer who receives a manuscript from ex-husband Jake Gyllenhaal that's dedicated to her. The movie cuts between the story in the novel (Gyllenhaal does double-duty as a suburbanite whose wife and teenage daughter are abducted by redneck hooligans led by a terrifying Aaron-Taylor Johnson), present day and flashbacks to Adams and Gyllenhaal's emotionally-fraught marriage. It shouldn't work, but does thanks to Ford's unerring control of the

material. Visually audacious, wildly provocative and emotionally gripping from start to finish, it proves that Ford is the real deal. As the cancer-stricken cop who comes to Gyllenhaal's aid in the book-within-the-movie, Michael Shannon gives the greatest performance of his career to date. (A.)

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY--An unauthorized Yuletide bash at a failing Chicago tech company goes from wild to worse in this raunchy, frequently hilarious, occasionally indulgent all-star romp. Jennifer Aniston, T.J. Miller, Jason Bateman and the indispensable, irrepressible Kate McKinnon headline a first-rate cast of farceurs, not all of whom are particularly well utilized. (C PLUS.)

ONE-EYED JACKS--Marlon Brando's 1961 film maudit--the only movie Brando ever directed, and the "Heaven's Gate" of its era--finally hits Blu-Ray in the Criterion Collection's lovingly restored special edition. While messy, indulgent and arguably overlong at 141 minutes, "Jacks" exerts a cinephiliac fascination that makes it a must-see for any Brando and/or revisionist western buff.

(Its influence on Sam Peckinpah's future oeuvre is revelatory.) After escaping from prison, bank robber Brando (at his Method-y finest) vows revenge on his former partner-in-crime Karl Malden (deliciously venal) who did him wrong. Complicating matters is Malden's comely Mexican stepdaughter, Pina Pellicer, who Brando inconveniently falls in love with. Costarring future "The Last Picture Show" Oscar winner Ben Johnson, Timothy Carey and a sympathetic Katy Jurado, the movie is vivid and compelling throughout despite occasionally overripe dialogue ("Get up, you scum-sucking pig!"). Flagrantly homoerotic and riddled with sadomasochism (the scene where Malden whips Brando is still shocking), it's amusing to think what Camelot-era audiences must have thought when they bought a ticket to this humdinger of a Freudian oater. Extras include an introduction by Martin Scorsese, excerpts from recordings Brando made during the screenwriting process (Stanley Kubrick was one of the original scenarists!) and video essays on the movie's tortured production history and its cult movie rep. (A MINUS.)

PASSENGERS--Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt wake up 90 years early on an interstellar spaceship bound for a space colony 120 years into the future. Sounds confusing, but "Imitation Game" director Morten Tyldum's sci-fi/love story hums merrily along for three quarters of its two-hour run time on the charisma of its talented, well-matched stars. Yes, I would have preferred a different ending, but the degree of vitriol it's engendered among my critical brethren seems ridiculously harsh. Nice supporting turns from Laurence Fishburne and Michael Sheen, too.


PATERSON--"Girls" costar Adam Driver gives a brilliantly naturalistic performance in Akron native Jim Jarmusch's slice-of-life dramedy set in Paterson, New Jersey. Driver plays a bus driver/aspiring poet (also named Paterson) whose quotidian existence--waking up every day with his wife (enchanting Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani); driving the #23 bus; scribbling verse; walking his English bulldog--becomes the stuff of ordinary magic. The work of native New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams lovingly informs every frame (beautifully lensed by indie vet Frederick Elmes of "Blue Velvet" fame), but you don't have to be a poetry buff to appreciate the film. Just someone who digs whimsy in the service of Truffaut-worthy humanism. A minor masterpiece. (A.)

PATRIOTS DAY--Director Peter Berg and his "Lone Survivor"/"Deepwater Horizon" star Mark Wahlberg reteam for a gripping, breathlessly paced procedural about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The superb supporting cast is loaded with ringers (John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Khandi Alexander) and impressive up-and-comers (Alex Wolff, Melissa Benoist, Jake Picking). (A MINUS.)

THE RED TURTLE--This co-production between Belgium animator Michael Dudok de Wit and Japan's legendary Studio Ghibli is akin to staring at a screen saver for 80 minutes. A castaway muses on life while stranded on an island. Lovely to look at, but I was bored to distraction. Inexplicably, it was a 2016 Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature. (C MINUS.)

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER--The sixth--but probably not "final"--entry in the long-running video game-derived action movie franchise. Milla Jovovich continues to kick serious butt as Alice, and the Umbrella Corporation remains as elusive and devious a foil as ever. It's taken me awhile to acquire a taste for director Paul W.S. Anderson's kinetic-beyond-reason filmmaking aesthetic, but now that I'm (kind of) on board I had a reasonably good time. Just don't ask me to synopsize the plot. (C PLUS.)

RINGS--It's hard to work up much enthusiasm for a long dormant horror franchise that was old news before Barack Obama entered the Oval Office. Original headliner Naomi Watts is long gone, and the biggest name in the cast is Johnny Galecki. Tells you everything you needed to know, doesn't it? There was a good reason this long-delayed sequel to 2005's "The Ring Two" collected dust on Paramount's shelf for two years. It stinks. (D.)

ROCK DOG--Insipid 3-D CGI kiddie 'toon that won't amuse even the youngest, least pop culture savvy tykes. What it's doing in theaters is mystifying: once upon a time flotsam like this went straight to home video. To paraphrase one of the late Roger Ebert's famous digs, it would have been more interesting to watch the (vocal) cast--Owen Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Eddie Izzard--shooting the breeze over lunch than watching (actually, hearing) them in this utterly dismal movie. (D MINUS.)

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY--The first official spin-off of the George Lucas franchise takes place before the events of 1977's "A New Hope," and only completists should care. Director Gareth ("Godzilla") Edwards seems flummoxed by the sheer amount of exposition he has to deliver, and audiences will likely feel gobsmacked by the narrative overload. (A better title would have been, "Everything You Never Wanted to Know About the Death Star, But Were Afraid to Ask.") Small children--and any sentient grown-up for that matter--will likely be bored to distraction. Headlined by charisma-free Felicity Jones who's possibly the most boring under-30 British actress working in films today. (C MINUS.)

ROMA--Between "Satyricon" (1970) and "Amarcord" (1974), Federico Fellini made this well-nigh uncategorizable 1972 cine-essay about the Eternal City. Although "Roma" was never really given its due at the time of its original release, the Criterion Collection's sumptuous digital restoration could very well be the first step in helping to rehabilitate its spotty critical rep. Seamlessly drifting from past to present, fantasy to reality, the sequences in which a young Fellini (guilelessly played by Peter Gonzales) moves to Rome and finds his footing, both personally and artistically, feel an awful lot like a dry run for "Amarcord." Such familiar Fellini talismans as whores, dwarfs, the Catholic Church and Marcello Mastroianni are all present and accounted for, as are Anna Magnani and, in a show-stopping scene, Gore Vidal. Narrated by Fellini himself, the movie is such a sensory blur of art and artifice that multiple viewings are probably in order. Supplemented with the usual Criterion cornucopia of extras including an audio documentary featuring Fellini scholar Frank Burke, deleted scenes, interviews with Fellini friend Valerio Magrelli and Fellini-esque director Paolo ("The Great Beauty," "Youth") Sorrentino, and an invaluable essay by film historian/N.Y.U. professor David Forgacs that helps contextualize the surreal "Roma" within Fellini's oft-fantastical oeuvre. Here's hoping that Criterion eventually releases 1990's "The Voice of the Moon," Fellini's last completed feature which, shockingly, never received theatrical or even home video distribution in the U.S. (A.)

RULES DON'T APPLY--Warren Beatty's long-gestating passion project is a valentine to late '50s Hollywood and old-fashioned movie-movies. Beatty (director and coauthor of the breezy, buoyant screenplay) plays kooky billionaire Howard Hughes who serves as a kind of matchmaker to his eager young chauffeur (the adorable Alden Ehrenreich) and an aspiring starlet (the equally appealing Lily Collins). With a deluxe cast that includes Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick and Martin Sheen, the film is as irresistible as a second helping of pecan pie a la mode. (A.)

RUMBLE FISH--Francis Ford Coppola described his second 1983 S.E. Hinton adaptation as an "art film for teenagers," and that might explain why it never found much of an audience.

Like Hinton's "The Outsiders" (a commercial hit for Coppola the same year), "Rumble Fish" traffics in the sort of juvenile delinquent tropes that probably seemed dated back in the days of "Rebel Without a Cause." But Coppola's rarefied, brazenly uncommercial handling of the frankly dime store material--b&w cinematography with its evocative nods to German expressionism; French New Wave attitudinizing; etc.--help make it one of the more fascinating curios of the "Godfather" director's eclectic oeuvre. Starring Matt Damon and Mickey Rourke as estranged Tulsa brothers (dad is Dennis Hopper which gives you some idea of this family's screwy gene pool) attempting a rapprochement after years apart, the movie keeps surprising you with its creative audacity, visual experimentation/beauty (Stephen N. Burum did the phenomenal cinematography) and dazzling procession of up-and-coming actors (including Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Spano and Chris Penn). The new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray is a marvel, and the extras are up to Criterion's usual standards of excellence. Besides a Coppola audio commentary, there are present-day interviews with Coppola, author/co-screenwriter Hinton, Dillon and Lane; a 1984 French television interview with Rourke; "Locations: Looking for Rusty James," a 2013 documentary about the film's far-reaching influence; deleted scenes introduced by Coppola; and much more. If you've never seen "Rumble Fish"--and few did at the time of its truncated '83 theatrical release--what are you waiting for? If, like me, you have warm and fuzzy memories of it from back in the day (#6 on my 10-best list that year!), it's like going home again. Either way, this is one of the most impressively packaged Blu-Ray releases so far this year. (A.)

THE SALESMAN--The winner of the 2016 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film is another triumph by Iranian auteur Asghar ("A Separation," "The Past") Farhadi. A production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" provides the backdrop for Farhadi's typically resonant examination of a marriage in crisis as a husband (Shahab Hosseini who won Best Actor at Cannes last year) acts out after his wife (a touching Taraneh Alidoosti) is assaulted by a home invader. The final half hour is almost unbearably suspenseful. (A.)

SHORT CUTS--The Criterion Collection's new Blu-Ray special edition of Robert Altman's contemporary epic is manna for Altman buffs. Based on short stories by cult writer Raymond Carver, the 1993 film effortlessly juggles twenty-two characters and their individual narratives--some funny, some harrowing, some just plain weird--in typically masterful Altman fashion against the backdrop of post-Rodney King, pre-O.J. Los Angeles. Tim Robbins, Frances McDormand, Lily Tomlin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Frances McDormand, Jack Lemmon, Robert Downey Jr. and, in her breakthrough role, Julianne Moore are among the many actors who turn in achingly human performances. At three-hours-plus there's a lot of movie to love, and not a single wasted moment either. Twenty-three years later, Altman's jaw-dropping level of artistic ambition remains as inspiring (and moving) as ever. The two-disc set includes an embarrassment of riches including a feature-length documentary on the making of the film, a 1992 PBS documentary on Carver, demo recordings of the soundtrack's Doc Pomus/Mac Rebennack songs, deleted scenes and a fascinating inside side baseball look at the marketing of the film. (A PLUS.)

SHUT IN--Middling suspenser starring Naomi Watts as a child psychiatrist whose spooky new patient (Jacob Tremblay from "Room") gets under her skin. Nothing you haven't seen before--and better. (C MINUS.)

SILENCE--Martin Scorsese's long-burning passion project feels an awful lot like "Apocalypse Now" if it had been directed by French minimalist Robert ("Pickpocket," "A Man Escaped") Bresson instead of Francis Ford Coppola. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play Jesuit priests in 17th century Japan hunting for fellow cleric Liam Neeson who has apparently renounced his Christian faith and--shades of Colonel Kurtz--gone native and possibly insane. So austere, stripped down and glacially paced, it's the least sensual filmmaking of Scorsese's career. It's also a must-see for any serious Scorsese buff: just don't go in expecting "The Departed" or "The Wolf of Wall Street." (A MINUS.)

SING--"American Idol" meets "Zootopia," and if animals warbling karaoke is your bag, the queue forms here. A pig (Reese Witherspoon), a porcupine (Scarlett Johansson), and an elephant (Tori Kelly) are just a few of the critter contestants in koala-bear impresario Matthew McConaughey's singing competition. Fun as far as 21st century CGI 3-D 'toons go, but a little goes a long way and I was quite frankly exhausted after an hour. Small kids will probably love it, though. (C PLUS.)

SLEEPLESS--The chickens come home to roost for dirty cop Jamie Foxx when his son is kidnapped by the same criminal outfit he's in bed with. Not bad--it's neatly paced and Scoot McNairy is first-rate as the lead heavy--but overly familiar and not distinctive enough to warrant first-run admission prices. (C.)

THE SPACE BETWEEN US--Imagine a Nicholas Sparks sci-fi flick with his ickiest Harlequin Romance tendencies intact and you've pretty much described this hokey interstellar-crossed romance about a teenager raised on Mars who falls in love with an earthling. The fact that the space boy (Asa Butterfield) looks a decade younger than the girl from Colorado (Britt Robertson)

doesn't help their non-existent romantic chemistry. If nothing else it proves that Elton John was right when he said, "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids." Directed by Peter Chelsom who once made a great movie (1995's "Funny Bones"), and whose career has been running on fumes ever since. (C MINUS.).

SPLIT--James McAvoy delivers a tour-de-force performance in M. Night Shyamalan's latest thriller as a sociopathic killer--with 24 distinct personalities!--who kidnaps three teenage girls. Shyamalan's best directorial outing since 2002's "Signs," it's also the first good major studio release of 2017. (B.)

TAMPOPO--A truck driver/noodle connoisseur (Toshiro Mifune doppelgänger Tsutomu Yamasaki) takes a comely young widow (Nobuko Miyamoto) under his wing, tutoring her on the intricacies and artistry of great noodle making in Juzo ("A Taxing Woman") Itami's delightful 1987 arthouse sensation. An ode to the perfect noodle (how to make, cook, serve and eat them), it turned an entire generation of American moviegoers onto the glories of Japanese cuisine, non-sushi variety. Even if you don't know soba from ramen, it's literally a feast for the senses. And Itami's free form approach to narrative remains as exhilarating and (seriously quirky) as ever. "Tampopo" belongs in the pantheon of all-time great foodie movies--"The Grand Bouffe," "Babette's Feast," "Big Night"--and it's possibly the funniest, too. The recently issued Criterion Collection Blu-Ray includes copious extras, including a 90-minute documentary ("The Making of 'Tampopo'") narrated by Itami; new interviews with Miyamoto, food stylist Seiko Ogawa, ramen scholar Hiroshi Oosaki and superstar chefs; Itami's 1962 debut short, "Rubber Band Pistol;" an essay by food/culture writer Willy Blackmore; and lots more. (A.)

THINGS TO COME--Isabelle Huppert is spectacular as a middle-aged college professor who's forced to reassess her life and priorities when her husband leaves her for a younger woman. It sounds like the stuff of hoary domestic melodrama, but director Mia Hansen-Love and the continually astonishing Huppert make it anything but. (A.)

TONI ERDMANN--2016 Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee about a non-conformist dad (Peter Simonischak) who goes to unconventional lengths to improve his relationship with an estranged workaholic daughter (Sandra Huller). Written and directed by Maren ("Everyone Else") Ade, it's raucous, touching and borderline-profound, if a tad overlong at 161 minutes. See it before the upcoming Hollywood remake starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. (A MINUS.)

THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS--Confession. When I first saw Ermanno Olmi's Palme d'Or-winning peasant epic in 1979, I was impatient with its measured pace and quickly grew bored with its painterly (and painstaking) depiction of 19th century Italian peasant life. Of course, I had just come from seeing Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" and was still experiencing an adrenaline rush. Decades later, a second viewing proved a revelatory experience, and the Criterion Classics' Blu-Ray actually looks better than the print I saw at New York's Cinema Studio back in August '79. Olmi's masterpiece is the type of movie you have to meet on its own terms and surrender to: its leisurely pacing can actually slow your heart rate, and if you're in the right frame of mind, it's almost a religious experience. Three-hours and change, the film rigorously follows the lives of four families who toil on the estate of a wealthy Bergamo landowner. The cast is comprised largely of nonprofessionals, and to say that they inhabit their roles is an understatement: the demarcation between actor and role has rarely been so invisible. Taking the neorealist principles of Roberto Rossellini and Satyajit Ray to heart, Olmi crafted a one-of-a-kind film for the ages. I now think it ranks among the finest Italian language productions of the last half century. The stunning 4K restoration was personally supervised by Olmi. Extras include an introduction by esteemed British filmmaker Mike Leigh; "Ermanno Olmi: The Roots of the Tree," an hour-long 1981 episode of "The South Bank Show" which includes a visit to the actual farm where the movie was shot; two separate interviews with Olmi; a 2016 cast/crew reunion at the Cinema Ritrovato film festival in Bologna, Italy; and a scholarly essay by critic Deborah Young who rightly claims that Olmi "raised the moral bar for contemporary Italian cinema." Amen.


UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS-- The fifth and hopefully final chapter in the werewolves/vampire franchise that started all the way back in 2003. Pretty embarrassing that Kate Beckinsale would

follow a career-best performance in Whit Stillman's glorious "Love + Friendship" with her phoned-in turn here. Strictly for "Underworld" completists. (D PLUS.)

WAR ON EVERYONE--Cop/buddy movie from John Michael McDonagh ("Calvary," "The Guard") starring Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena (both terrific) as a pair of unapologetically corrupt Albuquerque police detectives. So defiantly, outrageously non-p.c. it can literally take your breath away--and it's wildly entertaining, too. As far as genre subversions goes, it belongs in the same rarefied class as Jordan Peele's "Get Out." (A MINUS.)

WHY HIM?--Bryan Cranston channels his old "Malcolm in the Middle" pater familias role to play Zoey Deutch's buttoned-down dad horrified to discover that his daughter is newly engaged to a tech billionaire (James Franco at his most James Franco-ish) with zero impulse control. Sort of a cross between "Meet the Parents" and "What About Bob?," this John ("I Love You, Man") Hamburg-directed big-screen sitcom is fitfully amusing, but wildly overlong (111 minutes) for what is essentially a one-joke comedy. (C.)

WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN--The 1988 screwball comedy that turned Pedro Almodovar into a household name receives the Criterion Collections Blu-Ray treatment fans have been craving. Longtime Almodovar muse/cinematic deity Carmen Maura plays a woman who opts to commit suicide when her married lover breaks up with her via an answering machine message. But nothing (literally nothing) goes according to plan for Maura's increasingly hysterical Pepa. The comic chaos that ensues is so brilliantly choreographed and feverishly pitched you won't have time to notice how delectably color-coordinated the mise-en-scene is. Almodovar has credited Jean Cocteau's short play, "The Human Voice," as creative inspiration, and it's easy to picture Anna Magnani who starred in Roberto Rossellini's screen adaptation in Maura's role. A bonus for Antonio Banderas fans: an impossibly young Banderas proving his mettle at breakneck farce in a supporting role. The extras are less generous than usual for Criterion, but still very choice. Included are interviews with Almodovar and Maura, a discussion with former NYFF majordomo Richard Pena discussing the film's seismic impact at home and abroad, and an essay by novelist/critic Elvira Lindo. The 2K digital restoration insures that the vibrant colors pop even brighter than they did almost 30 years ago. (A.)

THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT--When Jacques Demy's candy-colored homage to 1950's Hollywood musicals opened domestically in 1968, it was flanked by New Hollywood benchmarks like "The Graduate" and "2001." Accordingly, few moviegoers were interested in an uber-stylized Gallic ode to the Golden Age of MGM musicals. At the time, it felt like a film seriously out of step with its time. Yet, like a lot of movies that flopped in their original release, age has been exceedingly kind and the film now seems positively timeless. Real-life sisters Catherine Deneueve and the late Francoise Dorleac play small-town twins (one's a dance instructor; the other's a music teacher) who ache for the excitement and romance of big city life. When a traveling carnival comes to town, they finally get their chance to grab the brass ring (and hitch a ride to Gay Paree). The supporting cast--Hollywood royalty Gene Kelly; "West Side Story" alumnus George Chakiris; Michel Piccoli, Danielle Darrieux--is as delectable as the enchanting visuals. The bouncy score is by Demy's "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" collaborator, Michel Legrand and it's eminently hummable even if you don't speak French. The newly released Criterion Collection Blu-Ray edition has a bounty of extras: a 1966 French television interview with Demy and Legrand; a 2014 chat between Demy biographer Jean-Pierre Berthome and costume designer Jacqueline Moreau; a 1966 making-of featurette shot for Belgium television; "The Young Girls Turn 25," a 1993 documentary by Demy's widow, Agnes Varda; and an essay by redoubtable Chicago film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. (A.)