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.


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.


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.)

THE BELKO EXPERIMENT--Office workers are pitted against each other--kill or be killed--in a high-rise office building. Skillfully helmed by Aussie director Greg ("Wolf Creek") McLean and nicely acted--Tony Goldwyn and John Gallagher Jr. are standouts--but exceedingly nasty and viscerally unpleasant. Proceed at your own peril. (C.)

CHIPS--Dax Shepard's attempt to do to the cringe-inducing '70s Erik Estrada TV cop show what "21 Jump Street" did to Johnny Depp's 1980's tube hit is a hit and miss affair that, fortunately, hits the target more often than not. Shepard is partnered with Michael Pena (dependably fine as Ponch) to take down a big baddie, and it's a pretty good time even when it seems to be running on fumes. Or the same tired gay-panic joke repeated ad nauseam. (C PLUS.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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 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.)

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.)

JOHN WICK, CHAPTER 2--Despite its literary-sounding title, this follow-up to the minor 2014 cult hit is just more of the same: nihilistic violence interspersed with fortune cookie aphorisms, puppy love and a very good Keanu Reeves. Stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski still hasn't convinced me that he's the second coming of Michael Mann. (C PLUS.)

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.)

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 LEGO BATMAN MOVIE--For everyone who thought the best part of 2014 animated smash "The LEGO Movie" was LEGO Batman comes a rollicking, side-splitting sequel that for once doesn't feel like just a cynical cash grab. In this equally witty and subversive iteration, Batman (Will Arnett again) battles The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) with help from Robin (Michael Cera) and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). By gleefully tweaking America's obsession with super hero culture, it actually deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as the original. (A MINUS.)

LIFE--Hybrid sci-fi/horror flick with two marquee leads (Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds); a director, Daniel Espinosa, with a spotty track record ("Safe House;" good; "Child 44," bad); and a plot that feels recycled from dozens of "Alien" rip-offs. Occasionally effective, but the story beats are so thuddingly predictable you can see them coming a mile away. (C.)

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.)

MOANA--The titular heroine (15-year-old newcomer Auli'i Carvalho) of this eye-popping Disney animated tuner is a Pacific Island teen on a spiritual trek to find demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in order to save family and friends. Broadway deity Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Hamilton") cowrote the first-rate song score, and directors Ron Clements and John Musker previously collaborated on such classic Disney 'toons as "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin." Classic Mouse House. (A.)

MONSTER TRUCKS--Lucas Till from the "X-Men" movies befriends a junk yard monster (think a gear head gremlin) while searching for truck parts. Soon the beastie BFF is fueling his motor in more ways than one. Dismal live-action debut by animation veteran Chris ("Ice Age," "Robots") Wedge. (D.)

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 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 make the homiletic drivel almost palatable. Wildly overlong at 130 minutes, though. (C.)

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.)

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.)

---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.)

ANTHROPOID--Despite its 1950's creature-feature title, this is actually a fact-based WW II movie about a plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, principal architect of Hitler's Final Solution. As two brave soldiers attempting to change the course of history, Jamie Dornan ("Fifty Shades of Grey") and Cillian Murphy acquit themselves nicely even if the film itself is a bit of a slog until the rousing climax. (C.)

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 MOMS--Coarse big-screen sitcom about how hard it is to be a perfect parent in 21st century

America. Yeah, real white people problems. Appealing actors (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn and Christina Applegate) in generally unappealing material. Pass. (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.)

BEN-HUR--Utterly gratuitous remake of the Oscar-winning 1959 Chuck Heston sword-and-sandals spectacular. This one stars Jack Huston ("Boardwalk Empire") and a lot of eye-numbing, not particularly convincing CGI. It's in 3-D, of course, and even the chariot race sucks this time. Director Timur Bekmambetov has done much better work previously (Angelina Jolie's "Wanted" and even "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"0; hopefully he will again someday. (C 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.)

BLAIR WITCH--Adam ("You're Next") Wingard's reinvention of 1999 indie phenom "The Blair Witch Project" is actually a much better, considerably more polished movie. A group of young people venture into the woods to learn the secret behind the original group's mysterious disappearance. Spoiler: history repeats itself and much shaky-cam hijinks ensue. (B.)

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.)

BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN--Harmless trick-or-treat-themed Tyler Perry comedy that returns his most iconic character to the big screen. An affectionate throwback to previous franchise goofs like "Francis in the Haunted House" or "The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters," it proves

there's still plenty of life left in Perry's irrepressible African-American matriarch. (C PLUS.)

THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT--God's 10-year-old daughter comes to earth--actually present-day Belgium--to find six new apostles in the latest film by fabulist extraordinaire Jaco Van Dormael ("Toto the Hero," "Mr. Nobody"). Whimsical, perverse, droll and inexorably moving in typical Von Dormael fashion. (A MINUS.)

BRIDGET JONES'S BABY--Was anyone really clamoring for a follow-up to 2004's "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" (itself a mediocre sequel to 2000's delicious "Bridget Jones's Diary")? Nah, didn't think so. As the title suggests, a still-unmarried Bridget (Renee Zellweger) finds herself pregnant, but unsure whether the daddy is an ex (Colin Firth) or a new suitor (Patrick Dempsey). Only Emma Thompson as Bridget's obstretician provides a modicum of giggles. Otherwise, it's strictly sloppy thirds. (C MINUS.)

CAFE SOCIETY--Woody Allen's latest takes place in 1930's Hollywood and stars Jesse Eisenberg as a transplanted New Yorker looking to make it in the movie business. Falling in love with uncle Steve Carell's mistress (Kristen Stewart, fantastic) probably isn't a good idea. Goes down as easily as a frozen margarita on a hot summer day. (A MINUS.)

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC--In this 2016 Sundance Film Festival hit, Viggo Mortensen gives a career-best performance as a forest-dwelling dad who returns his six kids to mainstream society after the

death of their mom. It's an awkward adjustment for all concerned. Director Matt Ross hits a few of his points too bluntly, but the performances (including a superb Frank Langella as Mortensen's still-grieving father in law) make it compelling from start to finish. (B PLUS.)

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.)

DEEPWATER HORIZON--The director (Peter Berg) and star (Mark Wahlberg) of 2013's "Lone Survivor" reteam for another exciting, fact-based action movie, this one about BP's 2010's Gulf Coast oil spill. Berg does some of the best work of his career recreating the oil rig's explosion/ sinking as crew members fight to survive. Less compelling are sappy Wahlberg homefront scenes (an under-utilized Kate Hudson plays his wife). As eco-disaster movies go, it's definitely a nailbiter, though, even if you already know the outcome. (B.)

DENIAL--Fact-based courtroom drama about a Jewish historian (Rachel Weisz) sued for libel by a Holocaust denier (Timothy Spall). Too prosaic for its own good, but the performances are stellar (Tom Wilkinson steals the movie as Weisz's lawyer) and the film remains consistently engrossing even if you know the verdict. Directed by Mick Jackson who's been mostly MIA since the days of "The Bodyguard" and "L.A. Story." (B MINUS.)

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM--J.D. ("Disturbia," "Eagle Eye") Caruso's long-shelved haunted house movie is finally unveiled and proves not worth the extended wait. A blonde Kate Beckinsale toplines, and it's even more of a career setback for the British thespian than her worst "Underworld" sequel. (D.)

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.)

DOG EAT DOG--Any Paul Schrader movie is worth seeing, and this deliberately disagreeable, intermittently amusing crime flick starring a well-matched Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe as a pair of criminal lowlifes is no exception. I just wish that it was sharper and less derivative of earlier, better films. (C PLUS.)

DON'T BREATHE--This better than average horror flick is sort of a millennial twist on "Wait Until Dark." Stephen Lang plays the old Audrey Hepburn role of a blind person who turns the tables on some luckless home invaders. Tautly paced and genuinely creepy. (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.)

EQUITY--Imagine "The Big Short" if all the Wall Street heavy-hitters had been played by women and you've pretty much nailed this Sundance Film Festival favorite. "Breaking Bad" star Anna Gunn is the lead power broker, a woman who's sacrificed pretty much everything (including any semblance of a personal life) to get ahead and lives to regret it. Nicely done and exceedingly well acted, but overly familiar if you've already seen "Short" or 2011's "Margin Call." (B MINUS.)

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.)

FINDING DORY--Delightful follow-up to 2003's Pixar classic "Finding Nemo." No sloppy seconds here, it's that rare sequel every bit as good as the original. The only question is, what took them so long? (A.)

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS--Meryl Streep acts up a storm as the titular, real-life 1940's New York society doyenne whose musical aspirations far exceeded her talent. As Jenkins' long-suffering spouse, Hugh Grant steals every scene he's in simply by underplaying. While not nearly as memorable as "Marguerite," a recent French arthouse hit inspired by the same true story, it's solidly crafted by veteran director Stephen Frears ("Philomela," "The Queen") and a reasonably diverting entertainment for the AARP crowd. (B.)

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.)

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.)

GOAT--Expose of college fraternity hazing stars Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer (both very good) as brothers pledging the same frat. The film, unfortunately, mistakes heavy-handed for hard-hitting. James Franco has a typically showy cameo as an alumnus frat brother. (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.)

HANDS OF STONE--Edgar Ramirez plays boxing superstar Roberto Duran in an overly formulaic, but still enjoyable biopic costarring Robert DeNiro as trainer Ray Arcel. Ramirez is always worth watching, DeNiro turns in one of his better recent performances and fight fans will dig the gritty ring action. (B MINUS.)

HELL OR HIGH WATER--Chris Pine and Ben Foster play a pair of hapless Texan brothers who embark on a bank-robbing spree. Jeff Bridges is the weathered, seen-it-all cop on their tail. Directed by David MacKenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan of "Sicario" fame, it's a relentlessly bleak, frequently brilliant examination of life among the have-nots in 21st century America. Deserves comparison with classics like "Bonnie and Clyde" and "No Country for Old Men." (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.)

THE HOLLARS--John Krasinksi directed this touching dramedy about a man (Krasinski) who returns home to help care for his ailing mother (Margo Martingale, terrific). Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley and Charlie Day round out the first-rate cast. (B.)

INDIGNATION--Not just the best screen adaptation of a Philip Roth novel to date, it's one of the finest literary adaptations in recent memory. Set against the backdrop of a prestigious Ohio

college in 1951, James Schamus' remarkable directorial debut stars Logan Lerman (superb) as a Jewish freshman whose star-crossed romance with an emotionaly unbalanced shiksa (the wonderful Sarah Gadon) ends in tragedy. As the autocratic dean who crosses swords with Lerman, Tracy Letts gives a performance that deserves to be remembered at Oscar time. (A.)

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.)

JACK RYAN: NEVER GO BACK--The greatest flaw of this follow-up to 2012's "Jack Reacher" is self-seriousness. Director Ed ("The Last Samurai," "Glory") clearly thought he was making an "Important" movie rather than an unpretentious popcorn flick like its predecessor. Tom Cruise still owns the ex-military cop turned freelance avenger title role, though, and there's modest pleasures to be gleaned here. I just wish that Zwick hadn't tried so hard to impress with his prestige pic bonafides. (C.)

JASON BOURNE--Since its 2002 inception, the "Bourne" series has pretty much set the gold standard for contemporary Hollywood action franchises. This latest outing, which returns Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass to the fold for the first time since 2007, is no exception. Who cares if the Las Vegas ending feels a tad flat? Getting there is a total gas. Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander are welcome additions to the "Bourne"-ian universe. (B PLUS.)

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES--Despite a Tiffany-plated cast (Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, "Wonder Woman" Gal Gadot) and gifted comedy director (Greg Mottola of "Superbad" and "Adventureland" renown), this domestic spy romp mostly fires blanks. Any movie with a cast this strong is bound to generate a few fleeting moments of fun, but there aren't nearly enough to justify the price of a first-run movie ticket. Maybe it'll look better on home video in a few months. (C MINUS.)

KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?--Middling stand-up concert flick that feels a lot longer than its 96 minutes. For die-hard Hart fans only.


KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS--Gentle, deliberately-paced stop-motion animated fable from Laika, the tony 'toon house that brought us "Coraline" and "ParaNorman." As pretty as it is to look at, it's also a wee bit boring and never terribly involving. That rare animated film parents will probably enjoy more than their kids, unless the wee bairns are really into Japanese folklore. (C 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.)

LITTLE MEN--Miniaturist extraordinaire Ira ("Love is Strange," "Keep the Lights On") Sachs' latest tells the story of a friendship that develops between two tween-age boys in Brooklyn. Has the intelligence, formal elegance and economy of a really great short story: there isn't a single wasted, or gratuitous moment here. Perfectly pitched and played by both the youngsters (newcomers Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri) and grown-ups (including Jennifer Ehle, Greg Kinnear and Alfred Molina). (A.)

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.)

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN--"Magnificent" is a tad hyperbolic; "perfectly adequate" seems more on the nose. Antoine ("Training Day," "The Equalizer") Fuqua's reboot of the 1960 John Sturges western chestnut (itself an Americanization of Akira Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai") is nicely cast (including Fuqua good luck charm Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Peter Sarsgaard) and reasonably entertaining, even if it feels unnecessarily padded at 132 minutes. Will probably play best to audiences unfamiliar with its superior antecedents. (B MINUS.)

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.)

MASTERMINDS--This long-delayed Jared ("Napoleon Dynamite") Hess comedy stars Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis as a trio of buffoons who somehow manage to pull off a $12-million heist. Surprisingly not terrible--which isn't the same thing as being, y'know, good. (C.)

MAX STEEL--Brainless tweener bait about a 16-year-old (charisma-deficient Ben Winchell's Max) endowed with super powers who teams up with a wise-cracking E.T. named Steel (obnoxious Josh Brener) to battle...something. The script and direction are so clumsy it's hard to tell exactly what's at stake or why anyone should care. Unlikely to launch a new teen movie franchise. (D.)

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.)

MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE--Greasy--and profoundly dopey--kid's stuff, strictly for the junior high set. Based on James Patterson's popular kid-lit book series, the Steve Carr-directed blend of live action and (not great) animation is frenetic, largely unfocused and largely devoid of both humor and heart. Griffin Gluck is more annoying than appealing as protagonist Rafe, and poor Lauren Graham is saddled with the hopeless, thankless role of his dim-bulb single mom. (C MINUS.)

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN--Based on Ransom Riggs' 2011 best seller, Tim Burton's return to kid-friendly terrain has a predictably magical/surreal look reminiscent of previous Burton lollapaloozas like "Edward Scissorhands" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." As the titular headmistress, Eva Green steals the show, finessing a fine line between sincerity and irony. It may not be a great Burton movie--Riggs' source material feels too much like a shotgun marriage between the "X-Men" and Harry Potter's Hogwarts--but it's definitely an eyeful, albeit somewhat padded at 127 minutes. (B.)

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.)

MORGAN--A dumbed down "Ex Machina" on steroids, the feature directing debut of Luke Scott (son of Ridley who produced) is competently made and decently acted (Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Toby Jones are standouts), but mostly a drag. I'm still waiting for someone to make a film about an A.I. who doesn't turn into a raging killing machine before the closing credits. (C MINUS.)

MORRIS FROM AMERICA--Charming, low-key indie about the comic misadventures of a 13-year-old African American (promising newcomer Markess Christmas) living in Germany where his single dad (Craig Robinson) coaches a local soccer team. (B MINUS.)

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.)

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.)

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL--Satisfactory prequel to the 2013 horror sleeper that actually improves upon the original. The 1967 setting is nicely captured by director Mike ("Oculus") Flanagan, and the backstory proves more interesting--and scary--than the first, teenybopper-centric contemporary "Ouija." (C PLUS.)

QUEEN OF KATWE--"12 Years a Slave" Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o plays the mom of real-life Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (fantastic newcomer Madina Nalwanga) in Mira ("The Namesake," "Monsoon Wedding") Nair's inspirational family drama. So expertly done you won't even mind the occasional underdog sports movie cliche. David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma") is beautifully understated as young Phiona's coach/mentor. (B.)

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.


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.)

SAUSAGE PARTY--Raunchy and frequently riotous R-rated 'toon about talking groceries (yes, talking groceries) from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad," "This is the End") geared to their usual stoner demographic. Chances are you'll never look at a hot dog the same way again. (B PLUS.)

THE SEA OF TREES--Matthew McConaughey is superb as an American college professor who flies to Japan to commit suicide in the Aokigahara forest after the death of his wife (Naomi Watts). Ken Watanabe plays a Japanese businessman with a similar death wish that he meets in the woods. Directed by Gus van Sant ("My Own Private Idado," "Elephant"), the film is beautifully shot, deeply engrossing and exceedingly moving. (A MINUS.)

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS--What do Manhattan pets do on weekdays when their owners head off to work? Get into lots of goofy trouble if this Illumination Animation 'toon is to be believed. Although it spins its wheels a bit in the third act--it should have really been 15 minutes shorter--this is the most consistently enjoyable feature to date by the creators of "Despicable Me" and "Minions." The vocal cast (Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks, et al) is top-notch. (B.)

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.)

SNOWDEN--Since the era of great Oliver Stone movies like "J.F.K." and "Natural Born Killers" has long since passed, it's not surprising that Stone's latest bid for topicality and relevance would seem a little flat. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, is excellent as the NSA whistleblower whose theft of top-secret government documents essentially turned him into a man without a country. Sadly, it isn't nearly as compelling or definitive a Snowden portrait as the Oscar-winning 2014 documentary "Citizen Four." See that instead. (C.)

SULLY--Clint Eastwood's riveting account of "The Miracle On The Hudson" in which U.S. Airways pilot Sully Sullenberger (Tom Hanks in another captain role) landed a plane on the Hudson River, saving the lives of 155 passengers. Much of the film is devoted to the NTSB investigation of Sullenberger's emergency landing, and it's even more suspenseful than the crash landing. Aaron Eckhardt (Sully's co-pilot) and Laura Linney (Sully's wife) provide stellar back-up. (A MINUS.)

THE TAKE--Rouge CIA agent Idris Elbra teams with a pickpocket (Richard Madden from "Game of Thrones") in a formulaic action flick that at least gets scenic mileage out of its Parisian locales. The international conspiracy plot is too convoluted for its own good, but Elbra proves he's got the goods to be the next 007. (C PLUS.)

31--Another redneck horror flick from Rob ("The Devil's Rejects") Zombie about kidnapped carnival workers fighting for their lives in a sinister compound called "Murderworld." Not even the film's raison d'être (killer clowns) seems particularly fresh anymore. Zombie has done better, and so have you, genre fans. (C MINUS.)

TRAIN TO BUSAN--North Korean zombie movie that was a surprise 2016 critics' darling. Not as exciting as "World War Z" nor as witty a class-conscious Korean train allegory as "Snowpiercer," it's still a perfectly decent rental for "TWD" fans. Somewhat padded at an indulgent 118 minutes, however. (B 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.


WAR DOGS--Miles Teller and Jonah Hill (both terrific) play a couple of Miami-based millennials who become international arms dealers. Based on a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction true life story, Todd ("The Hangover" trilogy) Phillips' satirical comedy goes down easily as a sort of late summer palate cleanser even if it isn't in the same rarefied league as such obvious influences as "American Hustle" and "The Wolf of Wall Street." The always welcome Bradley Cooper aces his glorified cameo. (B.)

WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS--Screen Gems' ("No Good Deed," "The Perfect Guy") latest African-American twist on the hoary "Fatal Attraction" template is neither appreciably worse (or better) than its many antecedents. A happily married couple (Regina Hall and Morris Chestnut) becomes unglued after hiring an unstable surrogate (Jaz Sinclair) with an even crazier ex. Slick and fatally silly despite a typically strong performance by the redoubtable Hall. (D PLUS.)

WHITE GIRL--Sordid, actively unpleasant tale of a criminally naive New York City college student (Morgan Saylor, best known for her role as Brody's troubled daughter on Showtime's "Homeland") getting mixed up with some low-rent drug dealers. While first-time director Elizabeth Wood clearly intends for this to be a cautionary tale, it mostly comes across as exploitation despite a strong performance by the gifted Saylor. (C.)

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.)