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.


ANNABELLE: CREATION--Prequel to the 2014 haunted doll horror flick which was itself a prequel to 2013's "The Conjuring." A slight improvement over the original (which made my 10-worst list that year), but still no great shakes. Egregiously overlong at 109 minutes, too. (C MINUS.)

ATOMIC BLONDE--Charlize Theron has her best screen role in years as a kickass "British" secret agent working in 1989 Berlin. This breathlessly-paced, adults-only roller-coaster ride is directed with tongue firmly in cheek by David ("John Wick 1") Leitch whose stunt choreography roots inform nearly every frame. Good support from Sofia Boutella, a cast-against-type John Goodman and the always welcome James McAvoy. (B.)

BABY DRIVER--Edgar Wright's personal best since "Shaun of the Dead" is a sensationally entertaining joy ride, and the finest studio release of the year (so far anyway). Ansel Elgort is Baby, a getaway driver for Kevin Spacey's Atlanta crime syndicate whose surly ranks include Jamie Foxx and, in his best big screen role to date, Jon Hamm. Elgort and love interest Lily ("Cinderella") James are the cutest movie couple in recent memory, and the uber-cool soundtrack is worthy of vintage Tarantino. Don't miss it. (A.)

THE BIG SICK--Pakistani-American stand-up/"Silicon Valley" costar Kumail Nanjiani wrote this autobiographical rom-com with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, about their courtship, break-up and how her being in a coma brought them back together. Directed by Michael ("Hello, My Name is Doris") Showalter, the film manages to be tender and funny, usually at the same time. It's one of the few Sundance Film Festival "discoveries" in recent memory that actually merits the hype. Nanjiani (essentially playing himself), Zoe Kazan (Emily), Holly Hunter and Ray Romano (Emily's parents) are all letter-perfect.

Finally, romantic comedy done right. (A MINUS.)

CARS 3--The second sequel to Pixar's 2006 smash corrects many of the mistakes of its lackluster 2011 precursor by essentially remaking the original 'toon. After flaming out in a spectacular crash, Lightning McQueen (once again voiced by Owen Wilson) is mentored by Cruz Ramirez (newcomer Cristela Alonzo) who helps whip him back into racing shape. While not appreciably better than your average straight-to-DVD animated sequel, it's satisfactory entertainment for little boys (and, yes, girls) of all ages. (B MINUS.)

THE DARK TOWER--Dumbed-down, reductionist adaptation of Stephen King's fetishized multiverse novel series pits Gunslinger Idris Elba against Matthew McConaughey's Man in Black. If judged by who chews the most scenery, it's McConaughey's movie all the way. Personally, I found the dystopian/apocalyptic

tone seriously, grimly overwrought and even borderline risible. It's also kind of boring. The director, sadly enough, is Denmark's gifted Nikolaj Arcel who previously helmed 2012's Oscar-nominated historical romance, "A Royal Affair," with Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen. (C MINUS.)

DESPICABLE ME 3--Former baddie Gru is reunited with long-last twin brother Dru (both voiced by Steve Carrel) and battles a new super villain (Trey Parker) in the third--and least--entry in the Illumination CGI 'toon franchise that turned Minions into household names. It's fast-paced and silly enough to amuse small fry; adults will probably grow restless long before it's over. I did. (C.)

DETROIT--Oscar-winning director Kathryn ("The Hurt Locker," "Zero Dark Thirty") Bigelow's bruising, brutal examination of one of the most shameful chapters in America's fraught racial history is utterly riveting for nearly two-and-a-half hours. Because serious adult movies have become an endangered species in today's Hollywood--especially in the summer--Bigelow's molotov cocktail of a film should be seen by anyone who cherishes the medium as an art form. (A.) 

DUNKIRK--At 107 fat-free minutes, visionary auteur Christopher ("The Dark Knight," "Inception") Nolan's hotly anticipated WW II epic is a tour de force of kinetic action cinema. An ensemble piece in the truest sense of the word (Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh are the most familiar faces, all first-rate), the real marquee star is Nolan. It's among the "Dark Knight" helmer's finest directorial achievements to date. (A.)

THE EMOJI MOVIE--Proof that 21st century Hollywood will turn anything into a 3-D CGI 'toon. Stray flashes of wit occasionally seep through, but the animation--and the film itself--are drearily, predictably second-rate. (D PLUS.)

GIRLS TRIP--Unapologetically raunchy, sometimes very funny comedy about a group of African-American gal pals who stage an impromptu college reunion at New Orleans' Essence Fest. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett are the biggest names in the cast, but newcomer Tiffany Haddish steals the show. A good twenty (thirty?) minutes too long, though. (C PLUS.)

THE GLASS CASTLE--Based on Jeanette Walls' autobiographical best-selling novel, director Destin Daniel Cretton's follow-up to 2013's "Short Term 12" reteams him with that film's star (Brie Larson, Oscar winner for 2015's "Room") for a fraught, decades-spanning family drama. Reminiscent of last year's "Captain Fantastic" (a free-spirited dad chooses to raise his family off the grid with unforeseen consequences), but told from a female POV. The performances by Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts are all very strong; I just wish the film was more psychologically nuanced and a lot less soapy.


THE HITMAN'S BODGYGUARD--Hitman Samuel L. Jackson is escorted by bodyguard Ryan Reynolds on his way to testifying against big bad Gary Oldman in a silly, high-concept action-comedy. The performers are game, but the lazy, generic script feels like a Brett Rather reject from 1998. (C MINUS.)

KIDNAP--Halle Berry chases the no-goodniks who kidnapped her six-year-old son in this long-delayed clunker that feels more like a bad cable movie than something you'd pay to see in an actual, y'know, theater. Berry deserves better; too bad she's made one bone-headed career decision after another ("Catwoman" anyone?) since winning an Oscar for 2001's "Monster's Ball." (D.)

LOGAN LUCKY--Director Steven Soderbergh ends his retirement from feature films with a rollicking, good-time heist flick that plays like a redneck variation on his "Ocean's" trilogy. West Virginia brothers Channing Tatum and Adam Driver rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway with the help of safe cracker extraordinaire Daniel Craig (hilariously channelling Strother Martin), little sis Riley Keough and more varmints than you can shake a stick at. Soderbergh affectionately pays homage to the blue-collar humanism of early Jonathan Demme ("Citizen's Band," "Melvin and Howard") in a setting that couldn't feel more up-to-date contemporary. For anyone who's forgotten that movies are actually supposed to, y'know, entertain, dig in. (A.)

THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE--Inexplicable follow-up to the 2014 CGI 'toon that had all the panache and skill of a generic straight-to-video kidflick. Is it the worst animated movie of 2017? Probably not in a year that's already brought us "Rock Dog." Just don't expect it to make Oscar's short list for Best Animated Feature. Or spawn another junky sequel. (D MINUS.) 

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING--The second attempt to reboot Sony's Marvel franchise in five years does a lot of things right (a refreshing multiculturalism; casting appealing Brit Tom Holland as Spidey; and dispensing with the whole "how-I-developed-my-superpowers" backstory blather). Unfortunately, it fumbles as often as it scores. The action setpieces and CGI are resolutely ordinary; Michael Keaton's villain is woefully underwritten; it's a good 20 minutes too long; and the frequent attempts to shoehorn Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) into the movie seem awfully forced. Not bad, just not very good . (C PLUS.)

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT--Having enjoyed the last two "Transformers" movies, I was genuinely looking forward to this fifth (and final?) entry, especially since it stars Mark Wahlberg who headlined the previous (and best) "Trans" movie and brought a welcome sense of humanity that was absent from the previous installments. Sadly, even judged on a Michael Bay curve, it's just not very good. Wahlberg tries to rouse the troops with his prole charm, but the robot-on-robot action seems seriously arthritic this time. And a snooze-inducing 2 1/2 hour running time does nobody--especially the audience--any favors. Stray moments of visual beauty aside, this is the weakest "Transformers" since 2011's unspeakable "Dark of the Moon." If this really is the end of the franchise, it's going out on a bummer note. (C.)

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS--Luc Besson's most extravagant, excessive and entertaining sci-fi movie since "The Fifth Element" is nearly as psychedlic/trippy as that 1997 cult fave. Based on a legendary French comic book series that was one of George Lucas' "Star Wars" influences, the film is, regrettably, saddled with lump-of-coal leads Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, neither of whom are up to the task of headlining a big-budget spectacle. A feast for the eyes, but probably best to check your brain at the door. (B MINUS.)

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES--The third (and final?) entry in Twentieth Century Fox's rebooted franchise creates as fantastic a digital universe as "Avatar" or "The Jungle Book." (Yes, you'll believe those apes are real.) Returning director Matt Reeves brings a true epic grandeur to the film that makes its myriad references to Old School Hollywood spectaculars (everything from "Spartacus" to "The Ten Command- ments") feel truly earned. As Caesar rallies his simian troops to battle a human army led by a fierce and terrifying Woody Harrelson, it completely delivers on the promise of its title. This is a war movie in every sense of the word ("Apocalypse Now" and "Full Metal Jacket" are both given shout-outs), and therefore probably not suitable for young children. It's a tad overlong--certain scenes drag on well past their expiration point--but as big-screen spectacles go, it's everything you'd want in a 21st century action tentpole. (B PLUS.)

WONDER WOMAN--Will "Wonder"s never cease? Leave it to a female director (Patty Jenkins who hasn't helmed a feature since 2003's slightly overrated "Monster") to deliver one of the better D.C.E.U. movies of recent vintage. Yes, it's another origin story, but Jenkins makes it all seem remarkably fresh, maybe because we're not as familiar with the roots of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) as we are with, say, Spider-Man or Superman. Set mostly against the backdrop of WW I, the film has a wide-eyed innocence to match the period and a game supporting cast (including Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis and a truly badass Robin Wright) to help sell the corn. Even with her thick Israeli accent, Gadot makes us buy her character's emergence as D.C.'s most formidable feminine firepower. (B PLUS.)

---Milan Paurich


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.)

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. (B PLUS.)

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.)

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 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.)

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 big baddie Vincent D'Onofrio, 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.)

CHUCK--Affable, low-key biopic about former heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner. Liev Schreiber is terrific as Wepner, and Elisabeth Moss and Naomi Watts deliver solid support as the women in his life. It doesn't reinvent the wheel--and it's certainly no "Raging Bull," "Rocky" or "Creed"--but boxing enthusiasts will eat it up. (B.)

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. (B.) 

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.)

COLOSSAL--Part monster movie, part rom-com, part substance abuse melodrama, this well-nigh uncategorizable whatzit? from cult director Nacho ("Timecrimes," "Extraterrestrial) Vigalondo starts out like gangbusters before devolving into chaos, confusion and ultimately incoherence. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis are both very good; too bad the movie surrounding them is so terminally, stubbornly and maddeningly unfocused. (C MINUS.)

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.)

A CURE FOR WELLNESS--The first two-thirds of director Gore ("Pirates of the Caribbean," "Rango") Verbinski's Gothic melodrama are brilliant:  gorgeously stylized, superbly creepy and wickedly funny. Which only makes the disappointing third act all the more deflating. Set at a health clinic/spa in the Swiss Alps whose methods probably weren't approved by the A.M.A., the cast includes a neurasthenic Dane DeHaan (the ostensible protagonist) and Jason Isaacs (spectacularly overripe as the chief baddie). (C PLUS.)

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.)

THE DINNER--Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall sit down for a meal at a posh restaurant to discuss their delinquent teenagers and prove to be just as deplorable as their kids. Nicely acted, especially by Linney and Gere, but the heavy-handed script and uninflected direction (by the talented Oren Moverman who should know better) renders the whole thing much ado about nothing. Based on Herman Koch's international bestseller that's already been filmed (twice!) previously. (C MINUS.)

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.)

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 EXCEPTION--Hugely entertaining movie-movie about a dashing young Nazi officer (Jai Courtney) who falls in love with the comely Jewish maid (Lily James from Disney's "Cinderella") working at the Dutch residence of deposed Kaiser Wilhelm (Christopher Plummer) on the cusp of World War 11. Sexy, suspenseful and luxuriously crafted, it's the sort of film Alfred Hitchcock would be making if he were still alive today. The feature debut of British theater wunderkind David Leveaux, it features strong supporting work from Eddie Marsan and Janet McTeer. (A 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.)

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.)

FRANTZ--A mysterious young French man (Pierre Niney) visits a family in Germany shortly after the end of WW I, claiming to be a friend of their son who was killed in combat. The dead man's fiancee (a fantastic Paula Beer) soon strikes up a friendship with him, and a love connection seems to be in the offing. But director Francois ("Swimming Pool," "8 Women") Ozon's hauntingly enigmatic film has a twist (or two) up its sleeve. As suspenseful as vintage Hitchcock and as luxuriously romantic as a classic '50s Douglas Sirk melodrama, it's one of the most impressive European films in recent memory. (A.)

FREE FIRE--Nihilistic black comedy about an arms deal gone very, very bad in 1970's Boston featuring an all-star cast of indie stalwarts (Oscar winner Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor, et al). Directed by Britain's Ben ("High Rise," "The Kill List") Wheatley, it's more fun than a blood-soaked, thoroughly disreputable movie oughta be. (B.)

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 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 IN THE SHELL--If Scarlett Johansson's wonderfully outre 2013 arthouse hit "Under the Skin" had been redesigned as a kickass action franchise wannabe, it might resemble this amusingly unhinged Rupert ("Snow White and the Huntsman") Sanders adaptation of the 1995 Japanese anime cult classic. Fans of Johansson's "Lucy" will feel right at home with the sensation-over-sensibility aesthetic. Anyone else will just groove on the trippy visuals and uber-cool supporting cast: Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche, oh my! (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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER--Broad, sitcommy farce about an aging lothario (Eugenio Derbez) who, after getting dumped by his wife of 25 years, tries passing himself off as a young stud with predictably embarrassing results. The game supporting cast (Kristen Bell, Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Michael Cera and former screen icon Raquel Welch) help make it quasi-bearable. (C MINUS.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

L'ARGENT--The 13th and final film by French master auteur Robert ("Au Hasard Balthazar," "Pickpocket") Bresson receives the Criterion Collection's Blu-Ray treatment, and it's cause for celebration in cinephile circles. Austere and rigorous in the hallowed Bressonian tradition, the

movie--adapted from a Tolstoy novella--tracks a counterfeit bill as it crosses hands across Paris, culminating in a harrowing act of violence as devastating as it is seemingly preordained. Among the most spiritual of directors, Bresson's films achieve an emotional transcendence that make them among the most unique, enduring and, yes, sacred works of art ever committed to celluloid. Since Bresson's career preceded and outlived the French New Wave, it's no wonder he's always seemed both timeless and eternal. The extras include a press conference from the 1983 Cannes

Film Festival with Bresson and cast members; a fifty-minute video analysis of Bresson and "L'Argent" by scholar James Quandt; an essay by critic Adrian Martin; and a 1983 Bresson interview conducted by French critic Michel Ciment. (A.)

THE LAST WORD--Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried are terrific as a curmudgeonly octogenarian and the disillusioned newspaper writer she enlists to pen her obit. The filmmaking itself is fairly pedestrian, but the lead performances make it worth checking out, especially for grown-up audiences starved for an old-fashioned feel-good movie. (B MINUS.)

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.)

THE LOST CITY OF Z--James ("The Immigrant," "Two Lovers") Gray's sensational adaptation of David Grann's 2009 best-selling novel casts a never-better Charlie Hunnam as British explorer Percival Fawcett who vanished while attempting to locate a lost Amazon city in the 1920's. Gorgeously shot by ace veteran cinematographer Darius ("Se7en," "Midnight in Paris") Khondji, it's the kind of cerebral epic David Lean specialized in, but with a distinctly modernist sensibility. The supporting cast includes Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and new Spider-Man Tom Holland, all first-rate. (A.) 

THE LOVERS--Debra Winger and Tracy Letts are terrific as a long-married couple whose separate extra-marital affairs reignite a romantic spark between them. Nice work by director Azazel ("Terri") Jacobs; I just wish that he'd spent more time exploring the farcical potential of his film's delicious premise. Too much of it feels glum and even borderline depressive.


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.)

MINE--Armie Hammer plays a marine trapped on a desert land mine in this grimly over-determined (and wildly over-directed) war flick. Hammer--who also co-produced--certainly gives it his all, but it's such a grueling slog you'll secretly hope the mine explodes if just to end the movie.



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.)

NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER--A never-better Richard Gere headlines director Joseph ("Footnote") Cedar's smart, savvy, frequently very funny character study of a wannabe Master off the Universe. As Norman watches his world slowly collapse around him through a combination of hubris and naivete, it's hard to remain unmoved. The first-rate supporting cast includes Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi and Charlotte Gainsbourg. (B PLUS.) 

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.)  

PHOENIX FORGOTTEN--Chances are you'll have already forgotten this Grade-D, Ridley Scott-produced found-footage horror flick by the time you hit the parking lot. (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 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.)

A QUIET PASSION--"Sex and the City" alumnus Cynthia Nixon is superb as poetess Emily Dickinson in master filmmaker Terrence ("The Long Day Closes," "Sunset Song") Davies' elegiac and ultimately heartbreaking cradle-to-the-grave biopic. The wonderful Jennifer Ehle comes close to stealing the movie as Dickinson's supportive younger sister. (A.)

RAW--Stylish, albeit stomach-churning French flick about a virginal veterinary student (Garance Marillier) who inherited her family's cannibalism gene. First-time director Julia Ducournau strikes a nice balance between the droll and the nauseating. Rabah Nait Oufella steals the movie as Marillier's decidedly non-stereotypical gay roommate. (B.)

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.)

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.)

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING--Jim Broadbent takes an unwelcome trip down memory lane in a touching British drama about a man confronting the truth about his past and not liking it very much. Splendidly acted (especially by Broadbent, Harriet Walter and the sublime Charlotte Rampling) although director Ritesh ("The Lunchbox") Batra's back-and-forth storytelling device comes off as a tad mannered. (B.)

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. (C MINUS.)

SID AND NANCY--What ever happened to Chloe Webb? That's the question I kept asking myself while watching the Criterion Collection's restored 4K digital transfer of cult director Alex ("Repo Man") Cox's 1986 masterpiece. As Sid Vicious soulmate Nancy Spungen, Webb practically burns a hole through the screen with her voracious, unbridled intensity. Along with Debra Winger in "An Officer and a Gentleman" and Jessica Lange in "Sweet Dreams," Webb's searing turn is one of the truly great movie performances of the '80s. A sort of punk rock "Days of Wine and Roses," "Sid and Nancy" paints an indelible portrait of co-dependent addiction and l'amour fou set against the backdrop of the second British Invasion. Playing a snarling Romeo to Webb's smack-addicted Juliet, Gary Oldman is equally brilliant, but Oldman got a chance to play everyone from Lee Harvey Oswald to Beethoven to Joe Orton and Dracula after his star-making performance. And Webb? Despite winning the New York Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics Best Actress awards, a supporting role opposite Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzengger in 1988's "Twins" was the best Hollywood could offer. Not fair. Another thing that popped out on a second viewing--I hadn't seen the film since its original 1986 theatrical release--was Roger Deakins' crystalline cinematography. Deakins, who would emerge as one of the finest DPs of his generation, does amazing work here, crafting a graffiti-sprawled tapestry of squalor and snot as visceral as it is weirdly, hauntingly beautiful. Which makes it the perfect visual metaphor for Vicious and Spungen's star-crossed junkie romance. The newly issued Criterion Blu-Ray offers a cornucopia of extras:  two audio commentaries (from 1994 with Oldman, Webb and rock historian Greil Marcus, and an alternate 2001 track with Cox); a 2016 Cox interview; a 1987 making-of documentary; a 1976 television interview with the Sex Pistols; a Vicious telephone interview from 1978; interviews with Spungen and Vicious from 1980 documentary, "D.O.A.: A Right of Passage;" excerpts from "The London Weekend Show," a 1976 British TV show, and a 2016 doc, "Sad Vacation," about Vicious and Spungen; an essay by author Jon Savage; and Cox's 1986 musings about the titular couple and the making of the film. (A.)

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.)

SLEIGHT--An itinerant L.A. street magician (Jacob Latimore) deals drugs to help support his younger sister  in writer/director JD Dillard's intriguing debut effort. The title refers to "sleight of hand," and Dillard has quite a few tricks up his sleeves, both narratively and visually. It's an arresting first film although only partially realized due to conspicuous budgetary constraints. (C PLUS.)

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.)

SONG TO SONG--Another of Terrence ("Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line") Malick's rarefied visual tone poems, this one set against the backdrop of Austin's music scene. Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender and Rooney Mara star. If you're a fan like me, it's nirvana:  Malick's best and most accessible film since "The Tree of Life." Non-believers, however, will think they're watching paint dry for two-plus hours. (A.)

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.)

STALKER--Poet, mystic and visionary, the late Andrei ("Solaris," "Andrei Rublev") Tarkovsky was often described as the Jean-Luc Godard of Soviet cinema because of his bold formal experimentation and intellectually rigorous films. 1979's "Stalker," the last movie Tarkovsky directed in Russia before moving to Western Europe, has all the earmarks of his rarefied oeuvre: stream-of-consciousness techniques; surrealistic imagery; complex editing rhythms; and  metaphysical resonance. Adapted from a cultish sci-fi novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, the movie is set in a spooky dystopian future in which a stalker/guide (Alexander Kaidanovsky) escorts a writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and professor (Nikolai Grinko) onto the site of an ecological disaster seeking a place (the quasi-mythical "Room") where dreams come true. The Criterion Collection's stunning new 2K digital restoration of Tarkovsky's most accessible and entertaining film makes this one of the year's few truly essential Blu-Ray releases. The disc's bountiful extras include an interview with Geoff Dyer, author of "Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room;" interviews with the set designer and composer; a mid-1990's interview with nonpareil cinematographer Alexander Knyazhinsky; and an essay on the meaning (and making) of the film by critic Mark Le Fanu. (A PLUS.)

STRAW DOGS--Brutal and brilliant, Sam Peckinpah's ultra-violent 1971 masterpiece was famously described by Peckinpah cheerleader Pauline Kael as "a fascist work of art." Which, I suppose, makes the timing of this newly issued Criterion Collection Blu-Ray perfect in the Age of Trump. Dustin Hoffman (terrific) plays David, a milquetoasty American mathematician who moves with his British wife (Susan George putting the voom into va-va-voom) to the cloistered village where she was raised. Tensions soon escalate between David and some loutish locals--most of whom share a, uh, carnal history with his spouse--leading to a tour-de-force action climax that remains as shocking, and shockingly inevitable, as it was 46 years ago. Since this is a Criterion release, the bonus features are dependably first-rate:  audio commentary by Peckinpah scholar Stephen Prince; "Mantrap," a 2003 documentary about the making of the film; new and archival interviews with, among others, Ms. George and Roger Spottiswoode, one of the movie's editors; a 1993 career appreciation doc ("Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron"); an essay ("Home Like No Place") by critic Joshua Clover; and a rare 1974 print interview with Peckinpah by French-Canadian journalist Andre Leroux. (A.)

TABLE 19--Cute, if mildly forced wedding-themed rom-com starring Anna Kendrick as a jilted maid of honor. A terrific supporting cast (Margo Martingale, Tony Revolori, Stephen Merchant, June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Wyatt Russell, et al) makes it seem better than it is. Directed by Jeffrey ("Rocket Science," "Spellbound") Bitz and written by Mumblecore vets Mark and Jay Duplass. (C PLUS.)

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.)

THEIR FINEST--Lone ("An Education," "Italian for Beginners") Scherfig's warmly nostalgic look at a disparate group of civilians hired by the British government during WW II to help boost morale by making propaganda films. A charming Gemma Arterton is the ostensible lead, but scene-stealers like Richard E. Grant, Bill Nighy and Jeremy Irons pretty much run away with the movie.


3 GENERATIONS--Elle Fanning is a New York teen who wants to transition from female to male in a big-screen After School Special. Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon play her mom and grandmother. Well-meaning and decently-acted, but overly simplistic and willfully naive. (C.)

TRAINSPOTTING: T2--Danny Boyle's spotty sequel to his 1996 breakthrough revisits the lives of some junkie lowlifes (Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner and Robert Carlisle all reprise their roles) and discovers that not much has changed. While Boyle's filmmaking is nearly as flashily bravura as it was in "T1," the mood is a lot more downbeat this time. I guess 20 years of hard living will do that to you. (C PLUS.)

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.)  

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.)

A UNITED KINGDOM--True-life story of the mixed marriage between King Seretse Khama of Botswana (David Oyelowo) and a white British woman (Rosamund Pike) in the late 1940's. Directed by Amma ("Belle") Asante, it suffers from a decorous, overly prosaic approach that renders the central love story more soporific than compelling. For a superior film about an interracial marriage during an unenlightened era, rent last year's "Loving" instead. (C.)

WAKEFIELD--Bryan Cranston plays a hot-shot New York lawyer who pulls a disappearing act and moves into an attic above the garage (while still keeping a watchful eye on his daughters and wife Jennifer Garner). Despite strong, sympathetic performances from Cranston and Garner, the movie plays more like a fanciful literary conceit--John Cheever meets Rod Serling--than a satisfying drama. (C PLUS.)

THE WALL--Soldiers Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena are pinned down by an Iraqi sniper in director Doug ("The Bourne Identity," "Edge of Tomorrow") Liman's terse, stripped-down action thriller. Gripping enough while it lasts, but ultimately too minimalist to leave much of a lasting impression. (B MINUS.)

WILSON--Adapted by Daniel Clowes ("Ghost World") from his own graphic novel, this Craig ("The Skeleton Twins") Johnson-directed dramedy stars Woody Harrelson as a middled-aged misanthrope reconnecting with his ex (the always welcome Laura Dern) and getting to know a teenage daughter he never knew existed. While a little too beholden to Sundance (Film Festival) "Little Man" cliches, it's a nicely acted character study with some big laughs and an even bigger heart. (B MINUS.)

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.)

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.)