Movies With Milan


The Best Films of 2019:

 (1) Once Upon a Hollywood 

 (2) 1917 

 (3) The Irishman 

 (4) Waves 

 (5) Synonyms 

 (6) Parasite 

 (7) Marriage Story 

 (8) Little Women 

 (9) A Hidden Life 

(10) Richard Jewell 

Runner's-up (in alphabetical order): Ad Astra; An Elephant Sitting Still; The Art of Self Defense; Ash is Purest White; Atlantics; A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; Birds of Passage; Blinded by the Light; Booksmart; By the Grace of God; Charlie Says; Climax; Dark Waters; Everybody Knows; The Eyes of Orson Welles; Gloria Bell; Her Smell; High Life; The Image Book; The King; The Last Black Man in San Francisco; Long Day's Journey Into Night; Midsommar; Never Look Away; The Nightingale; Non Fiction; Pain and Glory; Peterloo; Portrait of a Lady on Fire; Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story; Shadow; 6 Underground; 63 Up; The Souvenir; Toy Story 4; Transit; Uncut Gems; Under the Silver Lake; Us; The Wild Pear Tree.


BAD BOYS FOR LIFE--Was anyone really clamoring for a follow-up to Michael Bay's 1995 and 2003 "Bad Boys" movies? Probably not unless they're a '90s nostalgist or Martin Lawrence's agent. Yet after sitting through this belated reunion of Will Smith and Lawrence as Miami narcotics detectives, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a fourth and even fifth "BB" in the offing. Thankfully it's not as nihilistically violent as the execrable "BB2," and OGs Smith and Lawrence still evince a tangible chemistry that makes them very good company indeed. Newcomer Jacob Scipio steals the movie as...well, that wouldn't be fair, would it? Suffice it to say Scipio could figure very prominently in any subsequent follow-ups. (B.)

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD--When an award-winning journalist (Matthew Rhys) with daddy issues is assigned a magazine profile of Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks, pitch perfect), his defenses are quietly broken down. Directed by Marielle ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?") Heller, it's a lovely, beautifully acted tale of love and kindness triumphing over cynicism and despair. Heartfelt and deeply empathetic, it's guaranteed to melt the hardest of hearts. Bring tissues. (A MINUS.)

BOMBSHELL--An entertaining, snappily paced dramedy about the sexual harassment lawsuits that toppled Fox News major domo Roger Ailes. While a tad glib and unevenly acted (Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman are letter-perfect as Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, but poor Margot Robbie is stuck with an unplayable fictional role and mostly flounders), it delivers an important message in the #TimesUp era. Sadly, John Lithgow's very fine performance as Ailes suffers from some dreadful prosthetics that make him look like the fat man from "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life." Directed by Jay ("Trumbo," HBO's "Game Change") Roach. (B.) 

CATS--There's a good reason why no one attempted a movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running Broadway/West End musical until now. Its overweening mixture of theatrical artifice and arch whimsy pretty much defies cinematic translation. The bizarre "Is it real, or is it CGI?" approach taken by Tom ("Les Miserables," "The King's Speech") Hooper only confirms that sentiment. A first-rate cast (including Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson) has little to do but hit their marks; they all manage to look faintly ridiculous. And there's still just one memorable song ("Memory") in the entire ALW score. (D.)

DARK WATERS--The true story of how Cincinnati corporate lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo in a welcome break from Marvel-Land) took on the DuPont corporation and their systematic, decades-long poisoning of an entire West Virginia town. Directed by the great Todd ("I'm Not Here," "Wonderstruck") Haynes, the film may sound more conventional than the Haynes norm, but the execution--intelligent, nuanced and stylized to the max--is of a piece with all his work. The strong supporting cast (Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, Bill Camp, Bill Pullman) is aces, but it's Ruffalo's show all the way and he'll tear your heart out. (A MINUS.)

DOLITTLE--The latest big-screen iteration of Hugh Lofting's kid-lit perennials about the veterinarian who talks to his, uh, patients stars a slumming Robert Downey Jr. as the titular doc, and--in voiceover roles--a veritable smorgasbord of thesping talent, including Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Octavia Spencer, Kumail Nanjiani and Tom Holland. Directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Stephan ("Traffic") Gaghan, none of whose previous films ("Syriana," "Gold") marked him as the logical choice to helm a $175-million all-ages-friendly wannabe franchise. Top-heavy, lumbering and glum when it needed to be effervescent and fleet-footed, the movie seems to be under the delusion that it's a "Pirates of the Caribbean" reboot with flatulent animals. Kiddies are likely to be confused and bored while any grown-ups who accompany them are advised to bring along a book and a flashlight. (D PLUS.)

FORD V. FERRARI--Crackerjack true-life yarn about how American car designer Carroll Shelby (Mat Damon) and British race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) teamed up at the behest of the Ford Motor Corporation to challenge the automotive dominance of the Ferrari brand at the 1966 Le Mans. Directed by "Walk the Line"/"Logan" helmer James Mangold, it's fast-paced, frequently funny, and you don't have to be a gear-head to dig it. With a scene-stealing supporting turn by character actor extraordinaire Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II. (B PLUS.)

FROZEN 2--OK, if mildly disappointing follow-up to the 2013 Disney blockbuster that's too busy and diffuse for its own good. Except for "Into the Unknown," the songs aren't nearly as catchy/hummable as they were in the original either. The female empowerment message that anchored the first movie battles for supremacy with eco-friendly message-mongering this time. It's so woke it could have been written by A.O.C. (C PLUS.)

THE GENTLEMEN--A comeback of sorts for Guy Ritchie whose most recent films ("Aladdin," "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword") reeked of corporate hackdom. In this London-set crime romp, Matthew McConaughey plays an American expat anxious to unload his profitable marijuana business and retire. Complicating matters are a veritable rogue's gallery of friends and foes including--are you sitting down?--Colin Farrell, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Jeremy Strong and, in a hilarious change of pace, Hugh Grant as a Cockney P.I. Even though it runs out of steam towards the end, it's still Ritchie's most enjoyable film since 2008's "Rocknrolla." (B.)

THE GRUDGE--The seams are beginning to show in this thoroughly unnecessary reboot of a J-horror reboot. Despite the best efforts of subversive indie director Nicholas Pesce ("The Eyes of My Mother," "Piercing"), the script makes so little sense that the entire movie feels like a compendium of hokey jump scares. Good actors (Jacki Weaver, John Cho, Andrea Riseborough) are conspicuously wasted on a losing cause. (C MINUS.)

HARRIET--Well-intentioned, if fairly pedestrian biopic about Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo from "Bad Times at the El Royale" and "Widows"), her escape from slavery and the birth of the Underground Railroad. Directed by the fatally uneven Kasi Lemmons whose credits range from the inspired ("Eve's Bayou" and "Talk to Me") to the insipid ("Black Nativity," "The Caveman's Valentine"). While Erivo is fierceness personified, I just wish the movie had lived up to her standards of excellence. (C PLUS.) 

JOJO RABBIT--In Nazi Germany, a bullied schoolboy (Roman Griffin Davis) creates an imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler! A rare misstep from Kiwi fabulist Taika ("Thor Ragnarok," "What We Do in the Shadows") Waititi, it's whimsy with a trowel. As the kid's single mom who's hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin Mackenzie) in their home, Scarlett Johansson is the only adult actor playing a recognizable human being. Supporting players like Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant pitch their performances in commedia dell'arte territory to diminishing returns. Waititi himself plays Hitler, and he's as broad and labored as the film itself. (C MINUS.) 

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL--Lightly likable sequel to the surprise 2016 blockbuster that reunites the original director (Jake Kasdan) and cast (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Nick Jonas), while adding some newbies into the mix (including the always welcome Awkwafina and Danny's DeVito and Glover). Fans of the original--or the 1995 Robin Williams movie it was derived from--will have a good, undemanding time. Latecomers will likely wonder what all the fuss is about. (C PLUS.)

JUST MERCY--Ivy League law school grad Michael B. Jordan crusades for prisoners on Alabama's death row, among them a wrongly convicted Jamie Foxx. Based on a true story, director Destin Daniel Cretton's film fits squarely in the tradition of liberal Hollywood agenda movies. What separates it from the pack--and why it's worth seeking out--is that the savior is an African-American this time rather than the usual Caucasian do-gooder. Little steps. (B.)

KNIVES OUT--When a mystery novelist (Christopher Plummer) is killed during his 85th birthday celebration, his horrible family (Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson and Toni Collette among them) automatically climbs to the top of wily, Southern-fried detective Daniel Craig's list of suspects. An old-fashioned Agatha Christie whodunit served up in sardonic post-modern style by writer/director Rian ("Looper") Johnson that's as flat-out entertaining as any movie I've seen this year. Diabolically clever, laugh-out-loud funny and impeccably acted with Ana de Armos and Lakeith Stanfield rounding out Johnson's Tiffany-plated cast. (A MINUS.)

LIKE A BOSS--Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne make a deal with the devil (Selma Hayek) to bail out their mom-and-mom cosmetics line. Directed by Miguel ("Chuck and Buck," HBO's "Enlightenment") Arteta, it's more than just a girls-night-out romp: there's actually some bitting sociopolitical commentary about corporate misogyny (even when the misogyny comes from other women). The game cast make this a fitfully entertaining 83 minutes. (C PLUS.)

LITTLE WOMEN--Greta ("Ladybird") Gerwig's pitch-perfect adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott perennial is the best big-screen "Little Women" to date. A fantastic cast (including Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern and Timothee Chalamet) helps sell Gerwig's fractured narrative approach--the story begins at the end, jumping back and forth in time throughout--and the richly burnished production/costuming design feels both remarkably tactile and luxuriantly lived-in. An instant classic. (A.)

1917--One of the greatest war movies ever made, Sam ("Skyfall," "American Beauty") Mendes' WW I masterpiece is an intimate chamber drama played on a (very) large scale. George MacKay and Dean Marshall Chapman (both wonderful) are enlisted men tasked with sending a top-secret message to army commanders in order to avoid a German ambush. Their harrowing journey comprises the bulk of the film, and it's a doozy: suspenseful, action-packed and transcendently moving. Bring Kleenex. (A PLUS.)

PARASITE--Ever since winning the Palme d'Or at last May's Cannes Film Festival, "Snowpiercer"/"Okja" director Bong Joon Ho's masterpiece of blazing originality has been winning fans and, most likely, influencing future filmmakers. It's also one of the few movies in recent memory where it's well-nigh impossible to predict where it's headed from scene to scene. (Only HBO's "Watchmen" comes close to achieving Bong's delicious suspension of gravity.) A genre-bender--social satire, screwball comedy, suspense thriller, even a horror flick in the third act--par excellence, "Parasite" is as entertaining as it is endlessly provocative. Don't be surprised if it haunts your dreams: it did mine. (A.)

PLAYING WITH FIRE--A throwback to the sort of lame "family" comedies that Disney specialized in 50-odd years ago, usually starring Dean Jones and/or Kurt Russell. Fireman John Cena rescues three kids from a wildfire and, along with fellow firefighters Keegan-Michael Kay and John Leguizamo, becomes their de facto babysitters. Director Andy Fickman helmed Dwayne Johnson's similar--and similarly lousy--2007 stink bomb "Game Plan," so he's right in his element. (D.)

QUEEN AND SLIM--During an otherwise uneventful Tinder date, a working class Cleveland dude (Daniel Kaluuya of "Get Out" fame) and a newly minted lawyer (impressive newcomer Jodie Turner Smith) have an altercation with a cop during a routine traffic stop that ends in his accidental death. Because they're African-American and the racist policeman was white, the couple hits the road rather than stick around to answer questions and clear their names. If you buy that premise, first-time feature director Melina Matsoukas (best known for helming Beyonce's "Lemonade" mini-movie) has delivered a compelling, albeit depressingly topical contemporary take on "Thelma and Louise" that has more to say about race in 21st century America than a dozen NYT op-ed articles. (B.)

RICHARD JEWELL--Sensationally effective docudrama from master class filmmaker Clint Eastwood about the titular Atlanta security guard (brilliantly played by Paul Walter Hauser) who went from hero to prime suspect after a bomb explosion at the 1996 Summer Olympics. As the lawyer who takes his case pro bono, Sam Rockwell is terrific, as are Kathy Bates as Jewell's ever-loving mama and Jon Hamm as the cynical F.B.I. agent convinced of the big lug's guilt. Don't go in expecting a right-wing manifesto condemning the "Deep State" and the abuses of MSM. This isn't that movie. But it does rank among Eastwood's best films this decade. (A.) 

SPIES IN DISGUISE--Ho-hum CGI 'toon in which Will Smith plays a secret agent turned into a pigeon by nerd-geek Tom Holland to foil...well, something. Very little appears to be at stake here, and the fleeting pleasures are strictly from some handsome animation and the occasional flashes of wit. Seen-it-all kids will shrug it off as quickly as any parent roped into escorting them. (C.) 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER--The eagerly anticipated conclusion to the "Star Wars" sequel-trilogy that began four years ago wraps things up in a satisfying fashion that should have no trouble pleasing the fanboy-faithful. Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver remain the thesping standouts, although Daisy Ridley has grown nicely into the role of freedom fighter Rey. (A late-inning scene between Driver and Ridley brought tears to this "Star Wars" agnostic's eyes.) Yeah, it's too busy/convoluted for its own good, especially in the opening half hour where you could get whiplash from all the dueling exposition. But light sabers are still cool after all these years, and those black waves rocked my world. It'll suffice until Disney reboots the entire damn franchise. Which they'll probably do sometime within the next five years--if not sooner. (B.)

THE TURNING--Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" is modernized--and Americanized--in director Floria (2010's "The Runaways") Sigismondi's reasonably engrossing and moderately stylish reprise. As the unsuspecting nanny in way over her head, Mackenzie Davis is predictably strong/sympathetic, and the kids ("Stranger Things" series regular Finn Wolfhard and Brooklynn Prince from "The Florida Project") are as eerily spooky as you'd expect them to be. While it doesn't hold a candle to previous "Screw" adaptations like "The Innocents" (1961) or "The Nightcomers" (1972), it's a decent Saturday night entertainment. (B MINUS.)

UNCUT GEMS--If the Dardenne Brothers and Gaspar Noe had joined forced to make a "1970's Sidney Lumet New York Movie," it might have looked something like the Safdie Brothers' pulse-rattling urban thriller. Adam Sandler totally nails the role of a Manhattan diamond merchant who gets into hot water with some loansharks. Although the Safdies are guilty of running the clock--at 135 minutes, it could have been a little tighter--their whiplash approach to genre pays major dividends. And Sandler richly deserves all the awards attention he's receiving for his bravura dramatic performance. (A MINUS.)

UNDERWATER--Kristen Stewart toplines director William ("The Signal") Eubanks' sci-fi/horror hybrid which aspires to be an underwater "Alien," but is mostly a waterlogged bore. Despite a typically strong turn from Stewart, I'm not surprised that it sat on the shelf for two years. (C MINUS.)

---Milan Paurich


ABOMINABLE--Sweet, if overly familiar 'toon about a young girl (voiced by Chloe Bennet) who befriends a Yeti and makes it her mission to return the hairy beast to his Mount Everest home with the help of two school chums. If you saw Laika's "Missing Link" from earlier this year--a similarly-themed animated film that skewed more grown-up in its sensibility and humor--there won't be a lot of surprises. But very young children will dig it, and adults will appreciate the painterly water color compositions. (C PLUS.)

THE ADDAMS FAMILY--Enjoyable enough animated reprise of the beloved 1960's TV sitcom (and its '90s live-action movie reboot) that's more faithful to the look of Charles Addams' original New Yorker cartoons than either previous iteration. Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron voice Gomez and Morticia, and they're just about perfect. Fun for both nostalgists and newbies to the madcap, macabre world of the endearingly ghoulish Addams clan. I only wish the script hadn't adhered so strenuously to the 21st century CGI 'toon template. (B MINUS.)

AD ASTRA--Brainy yet emotionally accessible sci-fi movie about an astronaut (Brad Pitt, terrific) on a top-secret mission to discover the whereabouts of his astronaut father (Tommy Lee Jones) who disappeared in space many years ago. Directed by James Gray who's used to working in the arthouse precinct ("The Immigrant," "The Lost City of Z"), it's a refreshingly adult genre film that respects the audience's intelligence while still delivering the goods. (A MINUS.)

ALADDIN--The first of Disney's live-action reboots of their animated classics that fails on nearly every level, Guy ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Snatch") Ritchie's misguided foray into family fare looks chintzy, lacks charm and pretty much arrives DOA. The romantic leads (Mean Massoud's titular character and Naomi Scott's Jasmine) are blandly forgettable, as is Marwan Kenzari's boring Big Bad Jafar. Will Smith gives it the old college try as the genie in the bottle, but he can't hold a candle to the vivid presence Robin Williams created strictly with his voice in the 1992 'toon original. (D PLUS.)

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER--Pedro Almodovar's floridly melodramatic ode to motherhood in all of its various permutations deservedly won the 1999 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and the Criterion Collection's new digitally restored edition is 2020's first must-own Blu-Ray. After losing her teenage son, a nurse (Cecilia Roth) embarks upon a road trip to find the boy's long-lost father. In the process, she forms a de facto family with a pregnant, HIV-positive nun (Penelope Cruz), a celebrated stage actress (Marisa Paredes) and a transgender prostitute (Antonia San Juan). While the enfant terrible who made "Labyrinth of Passion" or "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" might have played that scenario largely for laughs, the mellower, more mature Almodovar of the late '90s used it as the set-up for a moving, compassionate reflection on the indomitablility of the fairer sex. As visually resplendent and playfully dotted with filmic references as it is, the movie never loses sight of its core humanity and is all the richer for that. Extras include a 2012 documentary about the making of the film; a 1999 TV program with Almodovar, his real-life mother, Cruz, Roth, Paredes and San Juan; a 2019 post-screening Q&A with Almodovar and guests; an essay by Emma Wilson, a Cambridge University professor of cinema and literature; Frederic Strauss' 1999 interview with Almodovar; and the obituary Almodovar wrote for his mother, originally published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais. (A.)   

ALL IS TRUE--William Shakespeare's final days are depicted with great affection and good humor in Kenneth Branagh's entertaining, gorgeously lensed biopic. Branagh also plays the Bard of Avon and he's predictably strong; Judi Dench is Will's indomitable, long-suffering spouse. (B.)

AMAZING GRACE--This long-delayed 1972 documentary chronicling the recording of Aretha Franklin's seminal, same-named gospel album at Watts' New Bethel Baptist Church was well worth the wait. Co-directed by the late, great Sydney ("The Way We Were," "Out of Africa") Pollack. (B PLUS.)

ANGEL HAS FALLEN--Third entry in the unofficial trilogy that began with 2013's "Olympus Has Fallen" once again stars franchise mainstay Gerard Butler as Secret Service agent Mike Bannon who's framed for an attempted assassination on the U.S. president (Morgan Freeman replacing Aaron Eckhardt). While on the lam to clear his name, Bannon stumbles upon a terrorist plot with far-reaching tentacles. Snooze. While not as cretinously stupid or culturally insensitive as the previous "Fallen" movies (2016's "London Has Fallen" was number two), it's still direct-to-video flotsam that somehow wound up on multiplex screens. (D.)

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2--A "Who asked for it?" follow-up to the 2016 hit that's B-grade 'toon fodder for very young (and undemanding) viewers, and maybe some emotionally arrested stoners. The vocal cast (Jason Sudekis, Josh Gad, Bill Hader, Tiffany Haddish, Maya Rudolph, Awkwafina, Danny McBride, et al) is so good you'll wish they were starring in a live-action comedy--preferably one for adult audiences--instead. (D.)

AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE--As hard as it is to believe, a lot of people--even some ardent film buffs--think that New Zealand auteur Jane Campion directed only one movie: 1993's Oscar-winning "The Piano." Think of the Criterion Collection's release of this early Campion masterpiece as a partial corrective to that prevailing cine-myopia. A stirring artist-as-a-young-woman biopic, "An Angel At My Table" first wowed audiences at the 1990 Venice and New York Film Festival (it won the Jury Prize at the former). Based on the same-named autobiography of Kiwi author Janet Frame--who's played by three actresses, including the wonderful Kerry Fox--Campion avoids the usual biopic traps by skimping on the boilerplate and emphasizing the palpable humanity of her protagonist. Frame, who endured a hardscrabble childhood, a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia, electroshock therapy and even a near-lobotomy, certainly lived an eventful, frequently tragic life. But Campion finds great joy and even earthy humor as well, climaxing with Frame's emergence as one of her country's most celebrated authors. While the extras are less bountiful than the Criterion norm (an audio commentary with Campion, Fox and cinematography Stuart Dryburgh; a 2002 documentary short about the making of the film; six deleted scenes; a 1983 audio interview with Frame; and an essay by feminist critic Amy Taubin), what's here is choice. Hopefully some of Campion's other lesser-known works ("Sweetie," "The Portrait of a Lady," and "Bright Star" among them) will eventually get the "Criterion Treatment" as well. (A.)   

THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN--Based on Garth Stein's best-selling novel, Richard ("My Week With Marilyn," "Woman in Gold") Curtis' unabashedly sentimental tearjerker about a Formula One race car driver (Milo Ventimiglia from "This is Us"), his beloved golden retriever Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner) and various romantic/domestic travails (Amanda Seyfried is his wife) plays like a Nicholas Sparks Lifetime Movie. It's also fairly irresistible if you're in the mood for upscale schmaltz. (C PLUS.)

AT WAR--Compelling drama about a strike at a French auto part supply plant and the fractures it causes between workers and management. A creative reunion between director Stephane Brize and lead actor Vincent Lindon who previously collaborated on 2015's "The Measure of a Man" (which won Lindon the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival), it's a despairing universal commentary on life in the 21st century economy. The subtitles fly by fast and furiously, so be prepared to rewind frequently unless you're fluent in conversational French. (B.)

AVENGERS: ENDGAME--The third--or is it fourth? it's hard to keep track--"Avengers" movie is also (a) the longest (181 bloated minutes); (b) the most cluttered (thanks to the addition of a new corps of superheroes, including Captain Marvel); and (c) the most incoherent (half the time I couldn't figure out what was happening from scene to scene). As usual, lots of good actors (Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Brie Larson, Jeremy Renner, et al) are reduced to striking action figure poses, making stupid quips and--yawn--unleashing firepower. It's all too, too...much. And depressing when you consider how far Cleveland natives Joe and Anthony Russo have strayed from their 2002 breakout film, the decidedly non-CGI-centric "Welcome to Colllinwood." This is reportedly the final movie in The Marvel Industrial Complex's "Avengers" series. But if you believe that, you probably think we still have four seasons in Northeastern Ohio. (C MINUS.)

BETTY BLUE--Jean-Jacques Beinex made a splash in domestic arthouses with 1981's "Diva" (it played one Manhattan theater for a year). But I've always preferred Beneix's lesser loved follow-up films, 1983's "The Moon in the Gutter" with Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani, and 1986's "Betty Blue" which opened domestically in truncated form, an hour shorter than the European print. In the new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray, Beneix's post-modern take on l'amour fou has been restored to its original 185-minute "Director's Cut," and it's revelatory, even to someone like me who was perfectly satisfied with the earlier version. Anchored by a dazzling, mercurial performance by Beatrice Dalle that should have made her an international superstar, the movie is rhapsodic, exhilarating and as besotted with go-for-broke filmmaking possibilities as its lead characters are by their all-consuming, ultimately self-destructive love. As the yin to Dalle's yang, Jean-Hugues Anglade is enormously affecting: a struggling novelist with zero impulse control who allows himself to be swept away by a woman whose beauty matches her emotional-

instability-bordering-on-madness. Sadly, Beinex's career nosedived after "Betty Blue"--none of his subsequent movies received American theatrical releases--and his name is now little more than an '80s edition trivia question. Hopefully the much-deserved Criterion attention will inspire a new generation of cineastes to check out Beinex's oeuvre. Extras include "Blue Notes and Bungalows," a wistful hour-long 2013 documentary with Beinex, Dalle, Anglade, producer Claude Ossard, cinematographer Jean-Francois Robin and composer Gabriel Yared (who would go on to win an Oscar for 1996's "The English Patient"); "Making of 'Betty Blue,'" a short featuring Beinex and Philippe Djian whose 1985 novel served as the basis for the film; a rare 1977 Beinex short ("Le chien de Monsieur Michel"); a 1986 French television interview with Dalle and Beinex; Dalle's screen test; and an essay by critic Chelsea Phillips-Carr. (A.)

BLACK AND BLUE--When a rookie New Orleans cop (Naomie Harris) witnesses fellow officers kill an unarmed drug dealer, her personal and professional life become increasingly imperiled. There's a germ of a good idea here--and "Moonlight" Oscar nominee Harris is 

excellent--but ham-fisted direction by Deon ("The Intruder") Taylor sabotages the movie's best intentions at every turn. (C MINUS.)

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT--Based on a true story, Gurinder ("Bend it Like Beckham") Chadha's affectionate dramedy is about a British-Pakistani teenager (the appealing Viveik Kalra) living in 1980's England who becomes obsessed with the music of Bruce Springsteen. His Boss mania eventually takes him to New Jersey in the hopes of visiting his musical hero's hometown. Sweet-natured and ineffably charming. (A MINUS.)

BLUE VELVET--One of the most iconic and influential American films of the past 40 years finally receives its Criterion Collection due with this painstakingly thorough exhumation of David 

Lynch's seminal masterpiece The type of movie that just gets better with age, "Velvet" remains as stunning and transgressive as it was in Ronald Reagan's America of 1986. Lynch muse/alter ego Kyle MacLachlan is letter-perfect as small town teen Jeffrey who launches a Hardy Boys-ish investigation after discovering a severed ear in an empty lot near his house. Aiding Jeffrey in his detective work is the comely Sandy (Laura Dern practically oozing virginal pulchritude) and noirish femme fatale lounge singer Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rossellini in her greatest 

screen role). Dennis Hopper's Big Bad Frank Booth remains one of the most indelible and nightmarish incarnations of pure evil ever captured on celluloid. It's a performance that still has the ability to send shivers down your spine. Criterion has outdone themselves with the extras, and they're very choice indeed. Included in the Blu-Ray package are 53-minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes personally curated by Lynch; two (count 'em) feature-length making-of docs ("'Blue Velvet' Revisited" and "Mysteries of Love"); a 2017 interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti; "It's a Strange World: The Filming of 'Blue Velvet,'" a 2019 documentary featuring interviews with crew members and visits to the shooting locations; Lynch reciting from the 2018 book, "Room to Dreams," that he coauthored with Kristine McKenna; and excerpts from the book. (A PLUS.)

BOOKSMART--Olivia Wilde's remarkably accomplished filmmaking debut is so warm, witty and wise you'd swear she'd been directing movies for years. On the eve of high school graduation, two overachieving BFFs (Kaitlyn Never and Beanie Feldstein, both letter-perfect) decide to make up for lost time by cramming in four years of fun into one night. What could have simply been a distaff "Superbad" is richer, more layered and infinitely more insightful: it's the most impressive femme-centric coming-of-ager since Greta Gerwig's "Ladybird." (A.)

THE BRD TRILOGY--"BRD" is shorthand for Bundesrepublik Deutschland and the trilogy of films ("The Marriage of Maria Braun," "Lola" and "Veronica Voss") Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed tracing the postwar history of West Germany and its much vaunted "economic miracle" through the eyes of three fascinating women. "Maria Braun" (1979) starring Fassbinder muse Hanna Schygulla was the director's biggest hit (it played for a year at Manhattan's Cinema Studio after premiering at that year's New York Film Festival) and the best known of the three masterpieces collected in this fantastic Criterion boxed set. "Lola" (1981) with Barbara Sukowa and Armin Mueller-Stahl (both of whom went on to considerable success in American movies) was the poppiest of the bunch: a sardonic, candy-colored riff on "The Blue Angel" that owed more to Douglas Sirk's 1950's "women's pictures" than Von Stroheim. "Voss"--my personal favorite of the trio--is a shiveringly gorgeous b&w reverie about a washed-up '40s movie star (and Goebbels consort) battling morphine addiction and delusions of former grandeur in a desiccated Germany. The 4K digital restorations are predictably top-notch, and the extras are copious and prime. There are indispensable audio commentaries from 2003 (Fassbinder's German New Wave colleague Wim Wenders and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus tackle "Maria Braun;" film scholar Christian Braad Thomsen explicates "Lola;" and critic/author Tony Rayns does yeoman service on "Voss"); 2003 interviews with Schygulla, Sukowa, Rosel Zech (who played Veronika), cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger, screenwriter Peter Marthesheimer, film scholar Eric Rentschler, author/curator Laurence Kardish and film editor Juliane Lorenz; a 1978 Fassbinder TV interview ("Life Stories: A Conversation with R.W. Fassbinder"); the feature-length 1992 documentary, "I Don't Just Want You to Love Me," about Fassbinder's life and career; "Dance With Death," a 2000 doc about UFA studios star Sybille Schmitz (often referred to as the "German Garbo"), the inspiration for Voss; a free-form essay by Film Society of Lincoln Center chairman Kent Jones; and exhaustive production histories by author Michael Toteberg. My pick for the most essential Blu-Ray release of 2019 so far. (A PLUS.)

BRIAN BANKS--The true story of a high school football phenom (Aldis Hodge) falsely accused of rape who spent 11 years in prison before a lawyer (Greg Kinnear) from the California Innocence Project took his case. Directed by Tom ("Bruce Almighty," "Patch Adams") Shadyac, this is a do-gooder movie that works more often than not because of the conviction of the performances--newcomer Hodge gives a breakout performance--and the righteousness of its cause. (B MINUS.)

BRIGHTBURN--What if Superman came to earth for nefarious purposes rather than to be mankind's savior? This knotty James ("Guardians of the Galaxy") Gunn-produced sci-fi-/horror hybrid has considerable fun with that tantalizing premise, and this glorified "B" movie is mostly 

good, lowbrow fun. Jackson A. Dunn cuts a menacing figure as the kid-from-outer-space, and Elizabeth Banks and David Denman are aptly sympathetic as his understandably confused adoptive parents. (B MINUS.)

CHILD'S PLAY--I never much liked any of the original "Child's Play" movies. Always found them cheesy, stupid (Chucky's pun-ny one-liners made Freddie Krueger seem like Oscar Wilde) and vaguely unpleasant (imperiled children have never been my cup of cinematic arson, sorry). Yet this 21st century reboot is actually kinda/sorta...not bad. Casting Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry as the most significant adults--and a pretty good kid actor (Gabriel Bateman) as Andy---definitely helps. While I'm hardly advocating for a slew of new Chucky sequels (we have enough Grade-C franchise movies monopolizing multiplex screens these days, thank you), you could do worse. (C.)

COUNTDOWN--A nurse (Elizabeth Jail) downloads an app on her phone that predicts when she's going to die. Generic horror flick shamelessly rips off the "Final Destination" franchise to desultory and increasingly risible effect. Maybe she should have just called Apple Care. (D.)

CRAWL--Nifty hybrid disaster/horror flick about a young Florida woman (Kaya Scodelario) attempting to rescue her dad (Barry Pepper) during a Category 5 hurricane. Besides the raging storm, she also has to contend with alligators. A lot of alligators. Director Alexandre ("High Tension," the 2006 "Hills Have Eyes" remake) Aja keeps his tongue firmly in cheek, and the breezy, fat-free 88-minute run time is a definite plus. (B MINUS.)

THE DAYTRIPPERS--Before "Superbad" and "Adventureland," Greg Mottola directed a charming 1997 New York indie that's been all-but-forgotten in the ensuing two decades. Thanks to the Criterion Collection's new Blu-Ray release, "The Daytrippers" lives to see another day (and hopefully find a new audience). What's most striking is its wealth of thesping talent (Stanley Tucci, Parker Posey, Campbell Scott, Anne Meara!), some of whom (Hope Davis, Liev Schreiber) were relatively new to film, but have since become mainstream mainstays (I'm looking at you, Ray Donovan). A road trip movie--if the journey from Long Island to Manhattan constitutes a "trip"--filled with quirky characters, deadpan humor and unexpected pathos, it's proof that American independent cinema in the late '90s wasn't exclusively the province of Tarantino wannabes. His "Superbad" smash and "Adventureland" cult notwithstanding, Mottola never really had the career he should have (his last film was 2016's disappointing "Keeping Up With the Joneses"). Consider "The Daytrippers" a taste of what might have been, if American movies themselves hadn't changed so irrevocably--usually for the worst--in this slaphappy comic book/franchise new millennium. The extras are less exhaustive than the Criterion norm, but seem part and parcel with the film's intrinsic modesty. There's an audio commentary with Mottola, producer Steven Soderbergh (an old hand at commentary tracks) and editor Anne McCabe; new interviews with Mottola, Davis, Posey, Schreiber and Scott; Mottola's 1985 short "The Hat;" and an essay by Pulitzer-winning New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum. (A.)

THE DEAD DON'T DIE--Indie icon Jim ("Stranger Than Paradise," "Mystery Train") Jarmusch tackles his first zombie flick (yes, really), and it's a typically deadpan hang-out movie. Buoyed by a cast that hipster dreams are made of--Bill Murray; Adam Driver; Tilda Swinton; Tom Waits; 

Steve Buscemi; et al--it's immensely winning, if a tad too self-reflexively meta for its own good. 


DEATH IN VENICE--One of the great Luchino Visconti's most exquisite films receives the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray treatment in one of the new year's most impressive home video releases. When it opened in 1971, audiences who only knew Visconti from his previous work (1969's X-rated, divinely decadent "The Damned") were surprised, even disappointed by the decorousness and, frankly, decorum of his stately Thomas Mann adaptation. But repression lies at the heart of both Visconti's movie and his lead character, dandyish middle-aged composer Gustav von Aschenbach. As unforgettably played by Dirk Bogarde in a career milestone, von Aschenbach becomes fatally smitten with androgynous 14-year-old Tadzio (Bjorn Andressen) in the titular city which is--egad!--under plague alert. In "Death in Venice," two European aesthetes (Visconti and fictional counterpoint von Aschenbach) are inextricably linked by their heedless obsession with beauty. Anyone familiar with Visconti's real-life May-December affair with frequent leading man Helmut Berger can easily read between the lines. Scored largely by the works of Gustav Mahler, the film is as intoxicating aurally as it is visually, and the ending--which felt oddly muffled the first time I saw it--now has the galvanic force of a Category 5 hurricane. Among the disc's juicy extras: "Luchino Visconti: Life as in a Novel," a 2008 documentary featuring Visconti, Francesco Rossi, Franco Zeffirelli (who began his career as Visconti's assistant director in the late 1940's), Burt Lancaster and Marcelo Mastroianni;  the 1970 Visconti-directed short, "Alla ricerca di Tadzio," about the casting of Tadzio; a 2006 interview with costume designer Piero Tosi; excerpts from a 1990 European television program about the use of music in Visconti's films, featuring Bogarde and his "DIV" costar Marisa Berenson; a 1971 Visconti interview; "Visconti's Venice," a 1970 documentary about the making the film; and an essay by Dennis Lim which contextualizes the film within the Visconti oeuvre. (A.)

DON'T LET GO--LAPD detective David Oyelowo gets a phone call from his recently murdered niece (Storm Reid), a crime he tries to reverse via some hokey time travel/sci-fi tropes. Nicely acted (besides the stellar leads, the always welcome Brian Tyree Henry and Alfred Molina are very good in support) and moderately engaging on a moment-by-moment basis, but the central gimmick feels more exhausted than inspired. Directed by Jacob Aaron Estes who made a splash earlier this millennium with "Mean Creek" before essentially vanishing into the ether. It's doubtful this will jump-start his stalled career. (C.)

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD--Young Latina adventurer Dora the Explorer (Isabela Moner) makes her big-screen debut in a live-action adventure sure to delight fans of the long-running Nickelodeon cartoon series. Whether it wins her any new admirers remains to be seen. The film itself is slickly disposable and instantly forgettable: director James ("The Muppets") Bobin brings nothing special to the party. Michael Pena and Eva Longoria play Dora's parents and they're mostly wasted. (C.)

DOWNTON ABBEY--The long-awaited big-screen follow-up to Julian Fellowes' beloved BBC/PBS television series is as soothing as tea and crumpets and as much fun as top-tier Marvel. Pretty much the entire cast has been reassembled (with special props to the indispensable Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton whose Mutt-and-Jeff routine never grows old), and it's like catching up with beloved old friends you haven't seen in awhile. The plot--the family and staff at Downton prepare for a visit by King George and Queen Mary in 1927--is paper-thin, but who cares? Just revel in the posh pleasures of this Anglophile comfort food. (A MINUS.)

A FACE IN THE CROWD--Elia Kazan remains best known for "On the Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire," but I've been making the case for years that his spookily prescient 1957 political cautionary tale is actually Kazan's crowning cinematic achievement. (I also love 

"Wild River" and "Splendor in the Grass," both of which are as egregiously underrated as his Brando two-fer are overrated.) Written by "Waterfront" scenarist Budd Schulberg who based it on his own short story, the film tracks the meteoric rise of Arkansas grifter Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes--Andy Griffith in a fantastic screen debut--who uses the nascent television airwaves to launch a populist, actually demagogic, political campaign. As the cynical media strategist who latches onto Rhodes for her own ticket to fame and fortune, a never-better Patricia Neal matches Griffith's brilliant performance every step of the way. The movie is so good you don't even have to read present-day politics, i.e. the ascent of Donald Trump, into the mix to find it profoundly bone-chilling and vastly entertaining. The Criterion Collection's juicy extras include interviews with Kazan and Griffith biographers Ron Bailey and Evan Dalton Smith; "Facing the Past," a 2005 documentary featuring Griffith, Neal, "Crowd" costar Anthony Franciosa, Schulberg and film scholars Leo Braudy and Jeff Young; an appreciative essay on the movie by critic April Wolfe; excerpts from Kazan's introduction to the published screenplay; and a 1957 New York Times Magazine story on Griffith. (A PLUS.)  

THE FAREWELL--"Crazy Rich Asians" scene-stealer Awkwafina plays a young Chinese-American woman who visits her terminally ill grandmother in China. A tearjerker that earns its emotions honestly, this Sundance Film Festival hit is beautifully acted and sensitively written and directed (by Lulu Wang). Nirvana for audiences burned out on chintzy franchise movies and pro-forma sequels. (A MINUS.)

47 METERS: UNCAGED--Junky sequel to the equally junky 2017 shark movie that was an inexplicable sleeper hit. John Corbett and Mia Long are the only recognizable faces in a cast that's otherwise as blandly anonymous as the movie itself. The sort of thing you'd watch maybe 10 minutes of on the Sci-Fi Channel before reaching for the remote. (D.)

GEMINI MAN--A big miss for Oscar-winning director Ang ("Life of Pi," "Brokeback Mountain") Lee and Will Smith, this CGI fest stars the former Prince of Bel Air as a professional assassin whose handlers decide to eliminate him with a genetically manufactured clone of his 30 years younger self. Initially confusing then just plain annoying, the movie grinds on and on. The CGI is so oppressive you'll want to watch no-fi You Tube cat videos just to take the synthetic taste out of your mouth. (C MINUS.)

THE GOLDFINCH--John ("Brooklyn") Crowley's disappointingly superficial adaptation of Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2013 novel captures all of the book's major incidents while somehow missing its soul. The story of a young man (played at various ages by Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort) who never fully recovers after losing his mother in a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when he was a boy, it has a first-rate cast (including Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson and Jeffrey Wright), looks great (thanks to virtuoso cinematographer Roger Deakins) and moves reasonably well on a scene by scene basis. You won't be bored, but "The Goldfinch" on film never evinces much of a pulse. (C.)

GOOD BOYS--If potty-mouthed pre-pubescents are your thing, you'll get a kick out of this rude and extremely crude comedy about a group of sixth graders (gamely played by Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon) who want to kick-start their puberty overnight. Directed with a noticeable lack of subtlety by first-time helmer Gene Stupnitsky. A few mild chuckles, but you'll probably feel embarrassed afterwards. (C MINUS.)

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH--The Criterion Collection's digitally restored edition of John Cameron Mitchell's 2001 Queer Cinema masterpiece ranks among the year's most eagerly awaited (and exhaustively thorough) Blu-Ray releases. Based upon Mitchell and composer-lyricist Stephen Trask's late '90s theatrical hit, the film version didn't really hit paydirt until its home video release when a cult following soon developed. The saga of outrageous rock-and-roll diva Hedwig (Mitchell brilliantly recreating his stage role) and her Candide-like journey from East Berlin to the U.S., the movie has the propulsive rhythm and dynamism of a 1970's Glitter Rock concert. Both ferociously funny and inexplicably, inexorably moving, it's a tour-de-force of both performance (a fearless Michael Pitt matches Mitchell in a spectacular breakout turn) and filmmaking. Befitting Criterion, the extras are profligate including an audio commentary featuring Mitchell and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco; a 2019 cast and crew reunion; a chat between Track and rock critic David Fricke about the original soundtrack; a 2003 documentary tracing the development of "Hedwig;" a scholarly examination of the movie's fabled "Adam and Eve" sequence; a study of the creative genesis of "Hedwig," its look and legacy; deleted scenes with Mitchell/DeMarco commentary; an essay by Time Magazine critic Stephanie Zacharek; excerpts from Plato's "Symposium" and "The Gospel of Thomas," both of which inspired the film; illustrations by animator Emily Hubley and iconic Hedwig portraits by photographer Mick Rock. Whew. (A.) 

HIGH LIFE--Robert Pattinson stars in Claire Denis' wild and wooly sci-fi/artflick about a crew of convicts picked to man a top-secret space mission. The fractured narrative takes some getting used to, but Denis' protean artistry, unerring visual panache and the superb performances (Pattinson proves he's among the best, most fearless actors of his generation, and Juliette Binoche is ferociously funny in the "Isabelle Huppert Role") insure that it's mesmerizing every step of the way. After watching the film twice, I'm still not entirely sure I "get" it. I doubt whether I'll ever forget it. (A.) 

HOBBS AND SHAW--A spin-off of the "Fast and Furious" franchise that equates mind-numbing CGI action setpieces with old-fashioned niceties like plot and character development. The Rock and Jason Statham go through their paces without breaking much of a sweat; undemanding viewers will oblige by queueing up. Personally, I would have rather seen the testosterone duo topline a feature-film version of the late, great comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes." Now THAT would have been interesting. (C MINUS.)

HOLIDAY--George Cukor's nonpareil 1938 romantic comedy adapted from Philip Barry's smash 1928 Broadway play starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn at their Movie Star-iest remains as enchanting as ever in this Criterion Collection release. Arriving between their screwball pairings in Howard Hawks' "Bringing Up Baby" (released just four months earlier, believe it or not) and 1940's "The Philadelphia Story" (also directed by Cukor), anyone expecting a similar rat-a-tat-tat comic rhythm will be surprised to discover just how gently melancholic--and even dead-serious at times--the tone is. Which could explain why it's the least well known of the three movies. (Cukor, Hepburn and Grant's initial pairing came three years earlier with the problematic "Sylvia Scarlett.") Intriguing extras include the 1930 version of Barry's play directed by Edward H. Griffin; a contemporaneous chat between critic Michael Sragow and filmmaker/exhibitor Michael Schlesinger; audio excerpts from Cukor's AFI oral history from 1970 and '71; and an essay--with an emphasis on Hepburn's invaluable contribution--by Slate critic Dana Stevens. (A).

HUSTLERS--This truth-is-stranger-than-fiction real-life story of a group of strippers who fleeced some Wall Street fat cats in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis has been dynamically helmed by Lorene ("The Meddler") Scafaria in Scorseseian "Good Fellas" mode and blessed with a top-notch cast. As the exotic dancer mastermind, Jennifer Lopez delivers her best performance since 1998's "Out of Sight:" she's never been more alive on screen. "Crazy Rich Asians" star Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhardt offer stellar support. Who would have guessed that a de facto feminist manifesto could be this juicily entertaining? (B PLUS.)

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT--I've always held a bit of a grudge against Norman Jewison's Southern-fried police procedural for stealing the 1967 Best Picture Oscar from more groundbreaking and original work like "The Graduate" and "Bonnie and Clyde." (Truth be told, I've always resented "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," too, for trumping "Nashville" and "Barry Lyndon" at the 1975 Academy Awards ceremony.) When the Criterion Collection announced their plans to release a spiffy new Blu-Ray edition of "Night"--with typically tantalizing Criterion extras--it seemed like a good opportunity to give the movie another look. While I still think it's far from a masterpiece, I have a newfound appreciation for what Jewison (and lead actors Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger) accomplished at the dawn of the New Hollywood era. Yes, the murder mystery at the heart of the film is kind of meh and could have been lifted from a future episode of "Matlock." But the tactile verisimilitude Jewison and legendary cinematographer Haskell Weller were able to achieve--you can practically feel the heat and humidity in the movie's Sparta, Mississippi setting--and the bench-strength casting (Lee Grant, Scott Wilson, Warren Oates!) make it more than just a run of the mill programmer. The bonus features include new interviews with Jewison, Grant and Poitier biographer Aram Goudsouzian; Poitier's 2006 American Film Institute interview; an audio commentary track from 2008 with Jewison Steiger, Grant and Wexler; a featurette ("Turning Up the Heat: Movie-Making in the '60s") about the making of the film and its considerable legacy; "Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound," an appreciation of Jones's justly lauded "Night" soundtrack and the Ray Charles theme song; and a thoughtful exegesis of the movie by Vanity Fair critic K. Austin Collins. (A MINUS.)

IT: CHAPTER TWO--The tweens from the 2017 Stephen King blockbuster are all grown up (Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader join the cast and are most welcome company), but still battling clown from hell Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Entertaining and stylish 

enough (Andy Muschietti resumes his directorial duties from "It"), but did this really have to be three hours long? I guess we should be grateful that Warner Brothers didn't stretch the finale out to two separate movies. (B MINUS.)

JEXI--When a socially inept millennial slacker (eternal man-child Adam Devine) updates his cellphone, its AI life coach (voiced by Rose Byrne) improves, then wrecks his life thanks to her incipient jealousy. For anyone who thought Spike Jonze's 2013 masterpiece "Her" was too smart and didn't have enough frat boy sex jokes (not surprisingly, "Hangover" alums Jon Lucas and Scott Moore share directing/screenwriting duties). Clocking in at a circumspect 84 minutes, it's at least mercifully brief. (C MINUS.)

JOKER--Origin story about the Clown Prince of Crime plays like a cross between early Martin Scorsese (specifically "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy") and Christopher Nolan's operatically pitched Dark Knight movies. As the titular sociopath, a bravura Joaquin Phoenix confidently anchors the film, and strong supporting work from--speaking of vintage Scorsese--Robert DeNiro and an appealing Zazie Beetz helps seals the deal. Directed by "Hangover" alumnus Todd Phillips who's quietly emerging as one of the most interesting pastiche artists working today. (A MINUS.)

JUDY--Renee Zellweger is flat-out sensational as Judy Garland in the final year of her troubled, tragic life in Rupert Goold's adaptation of the Tony-nominated play, "End of the Rainbow." If Zellwerger's climactic rendition of "Over the Rainbow" doesn't bring you to tears, you clearly don't have a heart. (B PLUS.) 

THE KITCHEN--Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss are wives of low-level Mob guys in New York City's Hells Kitchen neighborhood who take matters into their own hands when their mates are sentenced to prison. Based on a DC comic book series (really), the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Andrea ("Straight Outta Compton") Berloff fails to convince despite some very good performances and decent late-'70s period flavor. The plotting is too conventional/predictable by half, and the whole thing feels like a failed pilot for an AMC series that didn't get picked up by the network. (C.)  

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO--2019 Sundance Film Festival prize-winner tells the haunting story of a young man (Jimmie Fails playing a slightly fictionalized version of himself) who surreptitiously reclaims possession of his abandoned childhood home with the help of a 

friend (Jonathan Majors). A most auspicious directing debut by Joe Talbot, it's one of the year's best and most essential films. (A MINUS.)

THE LIGHTHOUSE--Robert Eggers' feverishly anticipated follow-up to his striking 2016 debut "The Witch" is a stylized Gothic melodrama set in 1890's New England. Willem Dafoe plays the old salt and Robert Pattinson the newbie on the titular beat, and their oil and water chemistry forms the basis of what constitutes a "plot." But narrative takes a back seat to metaphor and spooky b&w imagery. The performances are as deliciously bent as the film itself even if Eggers backs himself into a corner with another anti-climactic ending. (B PLUS.)

THE LION KING--Disney's 1994 classic gets a "live" action update by director Jon Favreau who previously helmed the Mouse House's wonderful 2016 "Jungle Book" reboot. If anything, the photo-real animation technology is even more sophisticated this time, and the uncanny results are positively mind-blowing. The hip vocal cast (including Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, John Oliver and Queen Beyonce) is predictably aces, and the song score ("Can You Feel the Love Tonight?," et al) every bit as hummable as you remembered. And yet I can't help thinking that all the newfangled technology at Favreau's disposal somehow renders the Simba saga less charming, truly magical and--dare I say it?--real than it was as an old-fashioned hand-drawn 'toon 25 years ago. (B MINUS.)

LOCAL HERO--I hadn't realized how much I'd missed Scottish director Bill Forsyth until revisiting his 1983 masterpiece newly released by the Criterion Collection. In the '80s, Forsyth was one of the brightest lights on the international film circuit, turning out one smart, funny, heartbreaking gem after another ("Gregory's Girl," "Comfort and Joy," "Housekeeping" and "Breaking In" were the others). "Hero," his first movie for a major Hollywood studio, may be the purest distillation of Forsyth's Preston Sturges-with-a-burr humanist sensibility. A lilting, magical fish-out-of-water story about a Texas oil executive (Peter Riegert) whose adventures in a tiny Scottish seaside town turn his life and world upside down, it's "Brigadoon" in the age of Reagan. (There's even a mermaid with a PhD played by the enchanting Jenny Seagrove). With a fantastic score by Dire Straits frontman Mark Knoplfler and one of Burt Lancaster's most indelible twilight performances as Riegert's wackadoodle boss, the film seems even richer and more resonant than it did at the time. The extras are bountiful and predictably Criterion-choice: a 2018 audio commentary track with Forsyth and critic Mark Kermode; a new conversation between Forsyth and David Cairns; "Shooting from the Heart," a 1985 documentary about ace cinematographer Chris Menges; a 1983 episode of "The South Bank Show" about the making of the film; a 1983 interview with Forsyth ("I Thought Maybe I'd Get to Meet lan Whicker"); "The Making of 'Local Hero,'" a documentary shot during the movie's production that includes interviews with Lancaster and Riegert; and a scholarly essay on Forsyth's oeuvre by Jonathan Murray. (A.)

LUCY IN THE SKY--Cable auteur Noah ("Fargo," "Legion") Hawley's feature debut is considerably more interesting than its dire critical rep and box office ignominy last fall might 

suggest. Natalie Portman (with a wobbly Southern accent) plays a NASA astronaut who has difficulty adjusting to quotidian life--including a dullard husband played by Dan Stevens who seems to be doing a bad Ned Flanders imitation---after her voyage in space. As the fellow astronaut Lucy begins an ill-advised affair with, Jon Hamm amusingly reprises his iconic "Mad Men" portrayal (if Don Draper had been a space cowboy, that is). Zazie Beetz and Ellen Burstyn give the best performances as, respectively, a rival femme astronaut and Lucy's cantankerous grandma. (C PLUS.)

THE MAGIC FLUTE--When I first saw Ingmar Bergman's ravishing 1975 musical masterpiece back in high school, it was my first exposure to opera and only the second Bergman film I'd ever seen. Although trepidatious going in--I was pretty sure the movie would bore me insensible, and feared it would be a veritable slog to sit through--the experience was downright revelatory. In fact, it was one of the most enchanting times I'd spent in a theater until that point. I still remember--don't laugh--humming selections from the Mozart opera for years afterward. Needless to say, the announcement of a digitally restored Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of the film was thrilling news. I couldn't wait to revisit the movie to see whether it was still deserving of my teenage ardor. Short answer: Yes! A sugarplum fantasy etched large with some of the most gorgeous music ever written, the story of fearless Prince Tamino and his Sancho Panza (the impish Papageno) on a perilous quest to rescue a damsel (well, actually Princess Pamina) in distress is the stuff dreams 

are made of. And Bergman's witty conceit of staging the whole thing as a movie-within-a-theatrical-performance at Sweden's Drottningholm Palace remains a stroke of creative genius. I've seen numerous filmed operas since--among them, Joseph Losey's "Don Giovanni" and Franco Zeffirelli's "La Traviata" and "Otello"--but none have matched "The Magic Flute" for sheer joy, or the intense pleasure I derived from it. Among the extras are a feature-length documentary, "Tystnad! Tagning! Trollflojten!," about the making of the film; a 1974 Swedish television interview with Bergman; an essay by novelist Alexander Chee; and a new interview with Bergman scholar Peter Cowie. (A.) 

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL--Turgid follow-up to the unexpectedly delightful 2014 Angelina Jolie "Sleeping Beauty" riff. Jolie is still a fantastic fit for the "Sleeping Beauty" villainess, but this Joachim ("Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales") Ronning-directed sequel has a marked identity crisis. Accordingly, it's a lot closer to a PG-13-rated "Game of Thrones" than it is to its charming predecessor. On the eve of Aurora's nuptials, her soon-to-be monster-in-law (a wasted Michelle Pfeiffer) locks horns with the imperious Maleficent when she reveals her devious plans to destroy fairyland. Wildly overblown and creatively underwhelming, it's so CGI top-heavy that the overall effect is tantamount to choking on pixie dust. (C MINUS.) 

MATEWAN--If John Sayles' earlier films ("Return of the Secaucus Seven," "Lianna," "Brother from Another Planet" and even my beloved "Baby, It's You") seemed a tad DIY-functional, 1987's "Matewan" was the first that looked like an actual movie. Thanks to legendary cinematographer Haskell ("Medium Cool") Wexler's chiaroscuro lensing, Sayles brings the film's 1920 battle royale pitting union organizers against an implacably evil coal company to vivid, throbbing life. Buttressed with a sterling cast of up-and-coming thespian talent (including Chris Cooper, Mary McDonnell, David Strathairn), the film proudly wears its liberal sentiments on its sleeve without ever seeming like a do-gooder civics lesson. The gorgeous Criterion Collection digital restoration captures every grain of West Virginia soot, and it's literally thrilling to behold. Extras include an invaluable 2013 audio commentary with Sayles and Wexler; two new documentaries on the making of the movie; an interview with composer Mason Darling; a look back at the impact the film's production had on a tiny West Virginia town; and an appreciative, scholarly essay by critic A.S. Hamrah that helpfully contextualizes the movie in the Trump era. (A.)

MIDSOMMAR--Imagine "The Wicker Man" (the 1973 British original, not the silly 2006 Nicolas Cage remake) if it had been directed by a "Virgin Spring"-era Ingmar Bergman. That's writer-director Ari Aster's exceedingly ambitious follow-up to his 2018 freakout debut "Hereditary." Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor (both very good) play an American couple on the skids who accompany some pals to a once-every-90-years festival in the Swedish countryside where things take a predictably sinister turn. Creepy, compelling and visually dazzling, but a daunting 145-minute run time feels hubristic/excessive. (B.)

ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD--Quentin Tarantino's best movie of the new millennium (and maybe since "Pulp Fiction") is a kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria set in 1969 Hollywood. While the movie's pre-release publicity focused on the fact that it peripherally involves Charles Manson and the Sharon Tate murders, it's really a two-tiered character study of B-lister Rick Dalton (Leonard DiCaprio) and his stunt double/best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Both are wonderful, as are Margot Robbie (whose Tate is both incandescent and deeply touching), Al Pacino, Bruce Dern, Margaret Qualley, Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Kurt Russell and, well, pretty much everyone. Even though it runs 161 minutes, my one complaint is that it isn't long enough. Tarantino does such a fantastic job of recreating a specific time and place in American pop culture history that it feels like a dream you don't want to wake up from. (A PLUS.)

PAIN AND GLORY--A career-best performance by Antonio Banderas solidly anchors Oscar-winning writer-director Pedro Almodovar's most personal film to date. A confessional film, a recovery film and maybe a masterpiece. (A.)

THE PEANUT BUTTER FACLON--Shia LaBeouf plays a small time grifter who takes a young man (Zach Gattsagen) with Down's Syndrome who recently escaped from a group home under his wing. Accompanying them on their road trip to a fabled wrestling school (turns out the kid really, really wants to be a wrestler) is a kind-hearted nursing home employee (Dakota Johnson). What could have been insufferably cloying and even condescending is instead a touching affirmation of the human spirit. The performances by the three principal actors--especially a never-better LaBeouf--are unimpeachable. (B PLUS.)

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD--Was anyone really clamoring for another Sylvester Stallone "Rambo" movie? Probably not. But thanks to director Adrian ("Get the Gringo") Grunberg's flair for blood-soaked pulp fiction, it's a surprisingly enjoyable twilight action flick. At 89 pacy minutes (including end credits), it doesn't overstay its welcome either. (C PLUS.)

ROCKETMAN--Smashing Elton John musical biopic that's vastly superior to "Bohemian Rhapsody" on pretty much every count, and not just because John's songbook is stronger than Queen's. As Sir Elton, Taron Egerton (who does his own singing) gives as much of a thesping tour de force as Rami Malek did in "Rhapsody," minus the latter's distracting dental prosthetics. Director Dexter Fletcher was clearly aiming for a stylistic mash-up of Baz ("Moulin Rouge") Luhrmann and mid-'70s Ken ("Tommy") Russell, and mostly pulls it off. (B PLUS.)

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK--Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro produced/coauthored this entertaining horror flick based on the popular Alvin Schwartz YA book series that's funny and, yes, scary in equal measures. After its run in theaters, expect it to become a favorite video rental at middle school pajama parties. The 1968 period setting smacks of "Stranger Things" window-dressing, but the cast of fresh faces is generally appealing. 


SHAME--One of Ingmar Bergman's bleakest, most uncompromising films hits Blu-Ray in a beautifully restored Criterion Collection release. Made at the height of the Vietnam War (and international protests against it), the movie plays very much like a European intellectual's rebuke of what was widely perceived as an immoral war and American imperialism writ large. As married musicians living in seclusion on a remote island forced to confront a civil war when it turns up on their doorstep, Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow are extraordinarily empathetic. Never more so than when they're forced to make some profoundly discomfiting moral decisions in order to survive. As unapologetically experimental as "Persona" two years earlier (Sven Nykvist's cinematography is as visceral and in-your-face confrontational as Raoul Coutard's work for Jean-Luc Godard at the time), "Shame" finds Bergman at a mid-career precipice. Before embarking on his series of emotionally charged 1970's chamber dramas ("Scenes from a Marriage," "Face to Face," "Autumn Sonata," et al), the Swedish master expanded his gaze to consider global trauma. And few films in Bergman's justly lauded body of work are as unnerving and, yes, 

traumatic as this frequently overlooked masterpiece. The disc's extras include 1967 and 1968 Swedish television interviews with Bergman; "An Introduction to Bergman," a 1968 documentary about the making of the film; a new interview with Ullmann; and an essay about the movie by critic Michael Sragow. (A.) 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME--Pity any live action "Spider-Man" movie that has the misfortune to follow last year's thrilling (and Oscar-winning) "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse." That's the Achilles heel of Tom Holland's second official outing as Peter Parker in which the titular webslinger takes a school trip to Europe for some much-needed R&R after the travails of "Endgame." Holland remains boyishly appealing, Zendaya (currently killing it on HBO's "Euphoria") brightens every scene she's in and Jake Gyllenhaal makes a surprisingly decent Big Bad as the colorfully garbed Mysterio. But five big-screen "Spider-Man" flicks in seven years definitely screams of overkill. (C PLUS.)

THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE--A campy, pre-Code Paramount melodrama would seem to be an odd choice for the Criterion Collection, but this Miriam Hopkins vehicle loosely based on William Faulkner's "Sanctuary" acquits itself nicely in this gorgeous hi-def restoration. While the

movie creaks at times, Hopkins' bravura performance (Joan Crawford, eat your heart out) as a spoiled rich girl who gets mixed up with bootleggers more than compensates for the occasional clunky line of dialogue and a rather ham-fisted directorial approach (it was helmed by the largely forgotten Stephen Roberts). If you haven't seen a lot of pre-Code movies (they've become a staple on TCM in recent years), you'll be amused by how racy and "grown-up" they were--and marvel at how much studios were able to get away with. The extras include a conversation between esteemed cinematographer John Bailey ("Ordinary People," "The Big Chill") and Matt Severson, director of the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences about the film's visual style; a featurette with critic Imogen Sara Smith who discusses the movie's surprising emotional complexity and Hopkins' (career?) performance; an informative interview with San Francisco critic Mick LaSalle about the film, its censorship battles and some background on the Production Code; and an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien that helpfully contextualizes the movie within early 1930's America. (B.)  

THEM THAT FOLLOW--In the Appalachians, a demented Pentecostal minister (Walton Goggins, justly famous for FX's "Justified" and HBO's "Vice Principals") holds sway over his tiny community of believers. (Snakes are involved.) It's strikingly creepy, pungently atmospheric and gifted with a very strong ensemble cast (including "Favourite" Oscar winner Olivia Colman, Alice Englert and Lewis Pullman). Not for all tastes, but worth a look if you're hankering for something a little off the beaten path. Partially shot in the Youngstown area last year. (B MINUS.)

TOY STORY 4--If you found "TS 3" nine years ago as vaguely unsatisfying as I did, this fourth entry in the Pixar franchise that started in 1995 feels like a welcome do-over. Tackling the subject of what happens when toys outlive their usefulness, the movie has the same plangent poignancy that distinguished the best "TS" movies. The computer animation remains nonpareil, and the vocal casting (Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, et al) is as spot-on as it was in previous installments. Props to Rashida Jones and Will McCormack's genuinely witty script for having both grown-up and kid appeal. (A MINUS.) 

UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD--I've always been a tad Armond (White) Contrarian in regards to Wim Wenders. While "Wings of Desire" and "Paris, Texas" are Wenders' most universally venerated films, I've always preferred 1977's "The American Friend" and his 1991 film maudit "Until the End of the World." At the time, I had no idea that the 158-minute U.S. release print of the latter was actually two hours shorter than Wenders' preferred "Director's Cut." Who knew, right? Apparently the Criterion Collection, since they've just released that super-sized, nearly five-hour version on Blu-Ray and DVD. A metaphysical road movie (15 cities on 4 continents!), "End of the World" is as languorously paced as you'd expect from the director of "Kings of the Road" (another ambling Wenders road movie from 1976). But the extra length makes the studied pacing seem almost luxurious. It's the kind of film you curl up into like a warm blanket or a doorstop novel: it even has the ability to lower your heart rate. (I know it did mine.) Populated with familiar faces--among them William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, Jeanne Moreau and Sam Neill--and equally recognizable Wenders tropes (e.g., the fetishization of American rock-and-roll), it's downright mesmerizing for anyone willing to enter its admittedly rarefied wavelength. If Wenders had made this movie today, probably only Netflix would have ponied up the budget (and turned it into a "limited series" as opposed to a standalone film). That's depressing on multiple levels. Extras include new interviews with Wenders (and Wenders with Talking Heads frontman David Byrne); a Japanese behind-the-scenes featurette exploring the movie's then cutting-edge hi-def sequences; a 2001 interview with Wenders; "Up-Down Under Roma," a 1993 Wenders interview discussing his experience in Australia; 1991 short, "The Song," about the recording of ("I'll Love You) Till the End of the World" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; deleted scenes (yes, Virginia, there are deleted scenes); and essays by critics Bilge Ebiri and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on the film and its cultish soundtrack. (A.)

WAR AND PEACE--For decades, I had recurring nightmares about Sergei Bondarchuk's Oscar-winning Tolstoy adaptation. The version I saw in sixth grade wasn't the two-part six-hour roadshow epic that had played in major cities. No, the cut that finally made it to downtown Youngstown's State Theater in October '68 was a truncated (slightly under three hours), hideously dubbed atrocity. And when I finally located a deservedly obscure DVD version, it wasn't much of an improvement. The print was an eyesore with badly faded colors and an unremitting darkness: you'd swear the entire movie had been shot through a flimsy black negligee. When news broke earlier this year that Bondarchuk's magnum opus had been restored to its original length, I was psyched. Maybe I could finally see the film as it was intended, and learn what the fuss was about all those many years ago. (Who even knew that the original Russian version was shown in four versus two parts and ran an hour longer than the U.S. hard ticket print?) The Criterion Collection's "W&P" is, to put it mildly, a revelation. Their stunning 2K digital restoration bears no resemblance to either previous version I suffered through. And actually hearing Pierre, Natasha and Prince Andrei speak Russian (their lips match with the subtitled dialogue; hooray!) was

enormously gratifying as well. Even though the film's raison d'être--its justly-lauded cast-of-thousands battle sequences--are naturally dwarfed on even the largest hi-def home screens, its visual grandiloquence (and sheer monumentalism) still shines through. True, Bodarchuk himself may not have been an ideal choice to play Pierre (he's a good decade too old for starters), but Ludmila Svelyeva's exquisite Natasha is sheer perfection, even better than Audrey Hepburn in King Vidor's 1956 Hollywood version. There have been numerous film and TV adaptations of Tolstoy's masterpiece over the years, but the Criterion Blu-Ray edition makes a persuasive case for Bondarchuk's version being well-nigh definitive. Extras include new interviews with virtuoso cinematographer Anatoly Petritsky and Bondarchuk's filmmaker son Fedor; documentaries from 1966 and 1969 about the movie's lengthy production; a 1967 TV program with Svelyeva and Bondarchuk; "'War and Peace:' Literary Classic to Soviet Cinematic Epic," an exhaustive study of the film's cultural and historical contexts by Denise J. Youngblood; and an essay by critic Ella Taylor. (A.)

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?--Richard ("Boyhood," "School of Rock") Linklater's intriguing adaptation of Maria Semple's best-selling 2012 epistolatory novel stars Cate Blanchett (perfectly cast) as Seattle helicopter mom Bernadette who pulls a disappearing act that turns her family's lives upside down. Billy Crudup plays her well-meaning, if ineffectual husband and terrific newcomer Emma Nelson is Bernadette's wise-beyond-her-years 14-year-old daughter. In a welcome return to the screen, Kristen Wiig steals every scene she's in as a busy-body neighbor. 


YESTERDAY--After a freak accident erases the world's collective musical memory, a struggling singer/songwriter (charming newcomer Himesh Patel) co-opts the Beatles' songbook and becomes an overnight sensation. That's the can't-miss premise of this delightful Danny ("Slumdog Millionaire," "Trainspotting") Boyle movie which costars Lily James and Kate McKinnon (both terrific). Written by rom-com virtuoso Richard ("Love Actually," "Notting Hill") Curtis whose Midas touch hasn't deserted him. (B PLUS.)

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP--A throwaway sequel to the 2009 Ruben ("Venom") Fleischer sleeper that still manages to amuse, not only because they somehow managed to reunite the original cast (Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin and the great Bill Murray), but because its casualness and innate modesty distinguish it from most big studio tentpoles of this bigger is better/diminishing returns era. Even if you're as zombied out as I am, chances are you'll have a pretty good time. (B MINUS.)


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