Movies With Milan


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.)

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.)

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.)

BIRDS OF PREY--This eagerly-awaited standalone vehicle for Joker ex-girlfriend Harley Quinn is, sadly, a bit of a mess. Margot Robbie reprises her scene-stealing role from 2016's "Suicide Squad," and she definitely gives it her all--and then some. I haven't seen this much overacting since Robbie's inexplicably Oscar-nominated "Bombshell" turn. There's so much undigested rage, fury and estrogen that it's hard to know who it's directed at, except maybe the audience. Not even the always welcome Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Harley cohort Huntress can stop the movie from sailing off a cliff in a blaze of tonal and narrative incoherence. Just because it doesn't look like a standard-issue comic book movie doesn't make it appreciably better. Just noisier and more abrasive. (D PLUS.)

BLACK CHRISTMAS--Bland PG-13 reboot of Bob Clark's 1974 sorority house slasher flick cult classic (which was already remade--badly--in 2006). Director Sophia Takal made an auspicious debut three years ago with feminist psychodrama "Always Shine," but a generic script and largely undistinguished cast insure she doesn't achieve a comparable level of success this time out. The one bright spot is Imogen ("She's Funny That Way") Poots who's much too good for such trifling nonsense. (C MINUS.)

BLOODSHOT--Vin Diesel is a dead soldier who's reanimated and becomes endowed with super powers--think Robocop crossed with the Terminator--in this latest franchise wannabe based on an obscure comic book. First-time director Dave S.F. Wilson's background in video game design probably explains why this looks more like a first-shooter console game than an actual movie. Just call it "Inception" (or "The Matrix") for dummies. (D PLUS.)

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.)

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.)

BULL--In a depressed Houston neighborhood, an at-risk teenager (Amber Havard) befriends a weathered bull rider (Rob Morgan) who teaches her the tricks of his trade. Director Annie Silverstein's low-key, naturalistic drama is perhaps a little too low key for its own good: it rarely works up a head of narrative steam. Fortunately the performances by Havard, Sara Albright (as the girl's jailbird mom) and especially Morgan help compensate for its occasional longueuers.


THE CALL OF THE WILD--The latest big-screen iteration of Jack London's kid-lit classic is a mildly rousing, CGI-forward adventure movie about a dog sled team during the 1890's Gold Rush. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Alaskan Yukon, animation-turned-live-action director Chris ("How to Train Your Dragon") Sanders doesn't try reinventing the wheel here, but gets the job done in reasonably expedient fashion. There's nothing remotely objectionable for children although grown-ups--of a certain age and disposition--will probably dig its old-fashioned charms more. A wonderfully grizzled Harrison Ford and "Jumanji" standout Karen Gillan are the most recognizable human actors. (B MINUS.)

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.)

CHARLIE'S ANGELS--This reimagining of the campy '70s TV series (and early '00s big-screen movies) trades the earlier "Angels" sexism and Girl Power tokenism for pure, unmitigated Riot Grrrl bravado. "Pitch Perfect" auteur Elizabeth Banks directs and plays Boz (Patrick Stewart is Bosley: it's complicated), but it's the Angels you'll remember (Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska and an indispensable Kristen Stewart) even if the plot--something to do with a high-tech whatzit?--is borderline incoherent. It's especially gratifying to see Stewart lighten up after so many

intensely dramatic screen roles: her sense of fun is downright infectious. Amusing cameo by Netflix rom-com superstar Noah Centineo, too. (C PLUS.)

CLEMENTINE--After her nasty break-up with an older lover, aspiring artist Otmara Marrero moves into the ex's secluded lake house where she strikes up an unlikely friendship with a local teenage girl (Sydney Sweeney). First-time feature director Lara Gallagher does a nice job of establishing mood and potential menace in the film's sylvan setting, but there's precious little follow-through. Neither Marrero or Sweeney's characters make a whole lot of psychological sense, and it's easy to lose interest in their flirtatious cat-and-mouse mind games. ("Persona" it's not.) As a result, the movie is stolen by an excellent Will Brittain as a busybody handyman who seems to understood the women better than they understand themselves. After awhile, I began to wish he was the protagonist rather than a subsidiary character. Which couldn't have been the avowedly feminist Gallagher's intention. (C PLUS.)

THE CREMATOR--By the time Juraj Herz's movie premiered in 1969, many of his fellow Czech New Wave compatriots (Milos Forman, Ivan Passer and Jan Kadar among them) had already departed for sunnier and considerably less censorious climes. Herz's unapologetically bleak, yet

scathingly funny parable about a Prague crematorium manager (Rudolf Hrusinsky) during WW II who allows himself to be coerced into assisting the Nazis in their Final Solution is marked by the sort of playfully surrealistic touches one associates with Czech New Wave helmers, as well as the formally inventive visual tropes of vintage (Luis) Bunuel. You could even say that Herz's film anticipates the unbridled, go-for-broke experimentation of fabulist extraordinaire Terry ("Brazil") Gilliam. While hardly a movie for all tastes--some will find it supremely off-putting while others embrace it as an arsenic-laced souffle--it's easy to see why "The Cremator" developed a

passionate cult following over the ensuing decades. The Criterion Collection's new Blu-Ray edition restores the film's brilliantly crepuscular black and white cinematography in all its haunted and haunting glory. Among the disc's extras are "The Junk Shop," Herz's auspicious 1965 debut short; a 2011 documentary in which Herz revisits shooting locations and discusses the movie's production; an interview with programmer Arena Kovarova in which she expounds at length on Herz's distinctive visual style; a 2017 documentary about composer Zdenek Liska featuring Herz and fellow filmmakers Jan Svankmajer and the Quay Brothers; a 1993 interview with Hrusinsky; and an essay by Eastern European cinema authority Jonathan Owen. (A.)

THE CURRENT WAR--The bitter rivalry between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) in late 19th century America is the intriguing subject of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's unexpectedly exciting new film. With Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla and Katherine Waterston as Westinghouse's supportive spouse, it's the rare historical drama that brings a contemporary relevancy/urgency and movie-movie snap to subject matter that usually plays as fusty and dull. (B.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

DOWNHILL--An English language remake of 2014 Swedish arthouse hit "Force Majeure" teams Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell as a married couple whose skiing vacation (and marriage) hits the skids after a near-fatal avalanche. Written and directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (best known for 2013 Sundance hit "The Way, Way Back"), it's a nice try--infinitely smarter and more nuanced than most cookie-cutter Hollywood rom-coms--but lacks the raison d'être and emotional resonance of the nonpareil original. (B MINUS.)

DRIVEWAYS--A perfectly scaled film with the breadth and depth of a beautifully calibrated short story. Hong ("Downsizing") Chau plays a single mother who brings along her precocious 8-year-old (Lucas Jane, letter perfect) to empty out her late sister's home before putting it up for sale. In the process, the boy makes friends with a reclusive septuagenarian next door (the late Brian Dennehy in one of his last screen appearances). That reductive plot synopsis probably makes director Andrew ("Spa Night") Aho's movie sound sentimental and even banal, but it's a tiny gem that deserves to find a large and appreciative audience on whatever streaming platform you can find it. (B PLUS.)

EMMA--I'm not sure whether the world really needed yet another screen adaptation of the Jane Austin perennial, but first-time director Autumn de Wilde's scrumptious, Wes Anderson Lite rom-com is well-nigh irresistible. Scream queen Anya Taylor-Joy ("Glass," "The Witch") plays Emma, and her trademark spacey demeanor actually works to the film's advantage: you can't tell whether she's high on love...or something else. Good support from Callum Turner, Johnny Flynn and Bill Nighy, too. (B PLUS.)

FANTASY ISLAND--Blumhouse's decision to turn the cheesy 1970's Aaron Spelling tube hit into a teen horror movie was a semi-clever idea. Too bad the execution is so lazy/flaccid. Stepping into Ricardo Montalban's role of the oleaginous Mr. Roarke who makes strangers' dreams come true, Michael Pena is clearly having a ball. Sadly, his amusement isn't likely be shared by audiences. (C MINUS.)

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.)

A HIDDEN LIFE--Terrence Malick's strongest film since 2011's "The Tree of Life" is also his most accessible to date. For starters, there is more dialogue (people actually speaking to each other: what a concept!) than in any Malick movie ever. The true story of a real-life saint--Austrian farmer Franz Jagerstatter whose refusal to serve in the German army during WW II cost him his life--it's a sensory feast with rapturous images of natural beauty, but also a moving affirmation of faith as a primal force of life. Splendidly acted by August Diehl and Valerie Pachner as Jagerstatter and his wife, the film proves why Malick remains one of the most vital and, yes, indispensable American directors working today. (A.)

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).

HONEY BOY--Shia LaBeouf wrote the screenplay (and plays his own father) in this autobiographical cri de couer. Noah Jupe ("Ford v Ferrari") and Lucas Hedges ("Manchester by the Sea," "Boy Erased") play LaBeouf at various stages of his life, and both are fantastic. But it's LaBeouf's mesmerizing turn as his dad that lingers and sears. An impressive filmmaking debut by Alma Har'el. (B PLUS.)

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT--Since premiering out of competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Lars von Trier's most recent provocation has violently divided critics and audiences. For very good reason. Rarely has a film taken such obvious glee in flagrantly antagonizing audiences. In a career performance, Matt Dillon plays a remarkably industrious serial killer in the late 1970s Pacific Northwest. It's equal parts appalling and hilarious (sometimes hilariously appalling), but always brilliantly directed by a master filmmaker in total command of his medium. Scene-stealing supporting turns from Uma Thurman, Riley Keough and the late Bruno Ganz. Proceed at your own peril, though; it's definitely not for the squeamish, or the faint of heart. (A.)

HOW TO BUILD A GIRL--Coky Giedroyc's hugely entertaining adaptation of Caitlin Moran's autobiographical novel about a Midlands teenager (Beanie Feldstein from "Booksmart") who became an alt-weekly rock critic in the mid-1990's is sort of a British distaff version of "Almost Famous." Paddy Considine and Sarah Solemani provide invaluable support as the girl's working-class parents, as does Alfie Allen as the nascent rock star she crushes on. But it's Feldstein's show all the way and she's flat-out terrific: even finessing a working-class English accent.


THE HUNT--It's Libtards versus Deplorables in director Craig ("Compliance," "Z for Zachariah") Zobel's canny, zeitgeist-ian riff on "The Most Dangerous Game." A classy cast (including Hilary Swank, Emma Roberts, Amy Madigan and Ike Barinholtz) makes it easy to forget you're watching a fairly nasty exploitation flick clothed in sociopolitical/satirical dressing. (B MINUS.)

IMPRACTICAL JOKERS: THE MOVIE--The Tenderloin comedy troupe (Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn and Sol Vulcano) headline their first movie, a slapdash road trip comedy that aspires to be a sort of a more house-broken "Jackass." If you're a fan of the cultish Funny

or Die quartet, knock yourself out. For anyone else--myself included--you'll wonder where the laughs are. Or maybe they're just funnier online. (D.)

THE INVISIBLE MAN--An ingenious #MeToo riff on the H.G. Wells classic starring Elisabeth Moss as a woman being stalked/tormented by her abusive ex (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who uses his Silicon Valley engineering background to...become invisible! Director Leigh ("Upgrade") Whannell slightly overdoes the sadism, and some of the movie is admittedly tough to watch. But Moss' deeply empathetic performance keeps you in the game even when you'd prefer to look away. Easily the best of Universal's recent-ish spate ("The Mummy," "Van Helsing," "The Wolfman") of classic horror reboots. (B.)

I STILL BELIEVE--"Riverdale" star K.J. Apa plays Christian recording artist Jeremy Camp in the latest tearjerker inspirational by the Erwin Brothers ("I Can Only Imagine," "Woodlawn"). Apa and costar Britt Robertson make such an appealing couple you can't help rooting for them, even when the suds and homilies threaten to derail an already overlong film. (C.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

THE LODGE--Atmospheric suspense thriller stars Riley ("American Honey," "It Comes at Night") Keough as the survivor of a cult that committed mass suicide who's enlisted to babysit her fiance's kids (Jean Martell and Lia McHugh) at a secluded lodge when he's called away for work. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, pretty much everything. Austrian co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronica Franz, whose previous film was 2015's equally creepy "Goodbye, Mommy," expertly turn the screws and build up a steady stream of white-knuckled tension. If the ending feels a tad anti-climactic (and even though Fiala and Franz pilfer a bit too much from the "Shining" playbook), it's sitll an effective spooker with a typically strong turn from Keough. (B.)

MILITARY WIVES--"Full Monty" director Peter Cattaneo returns from career limbo with another feel-good flick about a group of army wives who form a choir on a British military base during the Afghanistan War. Kristin Scott Thomas (uptight) and Sharon Horgan (fun-loving) star as the polar opposites vying for control of the chorus members' hearts and minds. Allegedly "inspired" by a true story, it actually feels more influenced by other middlebrow dramedies of its ilk, Cattaneo's own "Monty" included. (B MINUS.)

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.)

ONWARD--A rare misfire from Pixar, the gold standard of contemporary CGI animation. Overexposed voiceover talent (Marvel staples Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) combine with a hackneyed premise (two elf brothers bond while trying to reanimate their dead father for a day) to achieve A-level mediocrity. Not terrible, just dispiriting and profoundly unmemorable coming from the studio that brought us the "Toy Story" franchise, "Up" and "Wall-E" (among others).


THE OTHER LAMB--Polish distaff helmer Malgorzata Szumowska's first English language film is the story of a messianic cult leader (Michiel Huisman) and his all-female disciples, one of whom (Raffey Cassidy) rebels against him. Along with cinematographer Michal Englert, Szumowska has crafted a mesmerizing, gorgeously stylized movie that feels a bit like a cross between Robert ("The Witch," "The Lighthouse") Eggers and Terrence Malick with its hushed, cryptic, spooky ambiance and profound appreciation for natural beauty. (B PLUS.)

THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF--Intriguing documentary about the friendship that developed between Czech artist Barbara Kysilkova and the Norwegian thief (Karl-Bertil Nordland) who stole two of her paintings from an Oslo art gallery. Director Benjamin Ree was given extraordinary access to his subjects, and that unfettered intimacy makes for occasionally discomfiting viewing. The jaw-dropping ending proves the axiom that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. (B.)

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.)

PARIS IS BURNING--Before Madonna's "Vogue" video, RuPaul and FX's "Pose," director Jennie Livingston's ground-breaking 1990 documentary shone a dazzling, evanescent light on New York City's African-American and Latinx Harlem drag-ball circuit. Shot over seven years, the film depicted the sometimes internecine (but often very funny) battles between rival fashion "houses" in their bid for trophies and recognition. Self-actualization was what the drag queens, voguers and trans women fought for with every fiber of their being, and a de-facto community evolved in the process. Livingston makes a moving case that the drag balls served as a social/cultural bulwark during a period when AIDS was decimating an entire generation of gay men. The movie was arguably several decades ahead of its time, but has now achieved classic status as a vivid time capsule and moving testimony of an era. Among the copious extras on the just released Criterion Classics DVD/Blu-Ray are a new conversation between Livingston, ball community members Sol and Freddie Pendavis and documentary filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris; a 2005 audio commentary with Livingston, Freddie Pendavis and editor Jonathan Oppenheim; a 1991 episode of "The Joan Rivers Show" with Livingston and ball community members; an essay by award-winning documentarian Michelle Parkerson; and a review by poet Essex Hemphill that originally appeared in the U.S. edition of the Guardian. (A.)

THE PHOTOGRAPH--LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae play a couple whose burgeoning relationship is forced to share screen time with her late photographer mother via misty, water-colored flashbacks. Sort of an African-American variant on a Nicholas Sparks movie, it's nicely played by the appealing leads but pokily paced and somewhat lacking in any real dramatic momentum. (C.)

RESISTANCE--Before becoming the world's most famous mime, Marcel Marceau was a member of the French Resistance who helped rescue thousands of Jewish orphans during World War 11. As remarkable as that story may sound on paper, the turgid pace and prosaic tone of director Jonathan Jakubowicz's Holocaust drama insure that his movie never truly catches fire. Not helping matters is the fact that Jesse ("The Social Network") Eisenberg's Marceau sounds as American as Mark Zuckerberg while the actors playing members of his family all speak thickly accented English. Despite committed performances from a first-rate cast--including "Son of Saul" breakout Geza Rohrig, Edgar Ramirez and Ed Harris whose scenes as General Patton bookend the film--Jakubowicz fared a lot better with his 2017 Roberto Duran biopic, "Hands of Stone."


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.)

ROMA--The first Netflix movie to be released on DVD/Blu-Ray should have also been the first non-English language film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Alfonso Cuaron's hauntingly beautiful, remarkably tactile memory piece set in early 1970's Mexico City was the two-time Oscar-winning director's personal best since his 2001 breakout, "Y Tu Mama Tambien." The story is largely told through the eyes of Cleo (screen newcomer Yalitza Aparicio whose stunning performance earned her a Best Actress nomination), an upper middle-class family's indigenous housekeeper. While Cleo's personal life undergoes its own metamorphosis, she quietly observes the unraveling of her employers' marriage which leaves their four young children unmoored and in a state of existential limbo. An elegiac throwback to the neorealist films that emerged in post-WW II Europe with a seamless blend of professional and nonprofessional actors and its poetic evocation of quotidian life, "Roma" was also something of a one-man-band achievement for Cuaron who wrote, directed, shot and coedited the movie. Like all great art, it feels seemingly effortless, as though emerging directly from Cuaron's subconscious. Because it's a Criterion Collection release, the extras are as formidable as the film itself. There are a treasure trove of new documentaries ("Road to 'Roma'" with behind-the-scenes footage and a Cuaron interview; "Snapshots from the Set" featuring the actors, casting director and executive producer; a deep-dive into the movie's sound and postproduction process highlighting Cuaron's work with his sound team, editor and post-production supervisor; and an Inside Baseball look at the film's marketing campaign and its seismic impact on Mexico), and a sumptuous booklet with contributions by novelist Valeria Luiselli, historian Enrique Krauze and author Aurelio Asiain, as well as images/notes by production designer Eugenio Caballero. (A PLUS.)

SCOOB!--Reboot of the '70s Saturday morning staple is a marginal improvement over the dreadful live-action "Scooby Doo" movies from the early '00s, but still no great shakes. While the animation is infinitely superior to the cheesy-looking Hanna-Barbara cartoon, the humor isn't appreciably more sophisticated. And the decision to shoehorn D-list H-B characters like Dynamutt, Dick Dastardly and Captain Caveman into an already cluttered narrative was clearly a bad idea. At least the vocal cast (including Will Forte, Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried and Mark Wahlberg) is fun. Housebound kiddies should find it a tolerable diversion. Grown-ups? Not so much. (C MINUS.)

SIX MORAL TALES--2020's first truly essential Blu-Ray release is also the most purely pleasurable: a lovingly packaged Criterion Collection box set of French New Wave master Eric Rohmer's self-described "Six Moral Tales." The features ("La Collectionneuse," "My Night at Maud's," "Claire's Knee" and "Love in the Afternoon") and shorts ("The Bakery Girl of Monceau" and "Suzanne's Career") have all been given scintillating 2K digital restorations, and collectively serve as the perfect gateway for anyone still unfamiliar with Rohmer's sublime oeuvre. Like pretty much every Rohmer movie, his "Moral Tales" are essentially romantic comedies, albeit rom-coms with a Ph.D. Hyperarticulate and effervescently witty, the nonpareil badinage between men and women in Rohmer Land would serve as a highly influential template to future filmmakers worldwide. Richard Linklater's "Before" trilogy would have never existed without Rohmer, nor would pretty much the entire filmography of South Korea's Hong Sangsoo. Befitting Criterion's usual standards of excellence, the 3-disc package has enough extras to keep a cinephile busy for weeks. There are four additional Rohmer shorts ("Presentation, or Charlotte and Her Steak;" "Veronique and Her Dunce;" "Nadja in Paris;" "A Modern Coed") from 1951, 1958, 1964 and 1966 respectively, and one that he served as adviser on (1999's "The Curve"); a 1965 episode from the French television series "En profil dans le texte" directed by Rohmer; archival interviews with Rohmer, actors Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Beatrice Romand, and Laurence de Monaghan, film critic Jean Douchet and producer Pierre Cottrel; a 2006 conversation between Rohmer and director Barbet Schroeder; a 2006 "video afterward" by director/playwright Neil LaBute; a booklet featuring essays by critics Molly Haskell, Geoff Andrews, Phillip Lopate, Kent Jones, Ginette Vincendeau and even a remarkably sanguine piece from notorious contrarian Armond White; excerpts from cinematographer Nestor Almendros' 1984 autobiography in which he discusses his working relationship with Rohmer on the set of "La Collectionneuse;" Rohmer's legendary 1948 Les temps modernes essay "For a Talking Cinema;" and an English translation of the book of Rohmer stories which served as basis for the films. (A PLUS.)

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG--The blue hedgehog from Sega's videogame franchise gets his big-screen close-up in an over-caffeinated kiddie adventure that clumsily blends live action and CGI. In a typically manic turn, Jim Carrey plays Dr. Robotnik, an evil scientist bent on world domination (or something like that) who crosses paths with the pugnacious Sonic. Ben Schwartz voices the titular hog, and an embarrassed looking James Marsden plays the podunk sheriff he teams up with to foil Robotnik's nefarious plan. Maybe very young (and undemanding) viewers will dig it.


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 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.)

SWALLOW--Haley ("The Girl on the Train") Bennett is a knockout as a young housewife whose obsessive habit of swallowing dangerous objects (including nails and marbles) imperils her unborn child and sends her husband (Austin Stowell, very good) around the bend. A most auspicious directing debut by Carlo Mirabelle-Davis that's as visually striking as it is disturbing. Not for all tastes--no pun intended--but if you liked Todd Haynes' "Safe" a quarter century ago, this should be right up your alley. (B.)

TAMMY'S ALWAYS DYING--"Desperate Housewives" alumnus Felicity Huffman has a veritable field day chewing the scenery in director Amy Jo Johnson's echt-Canadian dramedy as an alcoholic manic-depressive whose fraught relationship with her grown daughter (Elisabeth Moss doppelgänger Anastasia Phillips) fuels what passes for plot in this largely character-driven movie. Johnson's skill at capturing hardscrabble lives of noisy desperation in the butt-ugly Toronto 'burbs makes this a surprisingly compelling watch. While Huffman and Phillips are pretty much the whole show, an excellent Clark Johnson steals his share of scenes as BFF/sounding board to both mother and daughter. (B MINUS.)

TEOREMA--One of the first movies awarded an "X" rating in the early days of the MPAA, Pier Pasolini's 1968 Marxist fable is actually pretty tame and would barely rate a PG-13 today. But as its long-churning cult rep might suggest, this new Criterion Collection release was one of the future "Salo" director's most provocative and strikingly original works. Terrence Stamp plays a mysterious Christ-like figure who insinuates himself into a bourgeois Milanese household. Like the lower class interlopers of "Parasite," his presence wrecks the family's passive, status quo equilibrium. Stamp's character actually seduces them one by one, but this is far from a polymorphously perverse sex romp. (The seductions are more implied than depicted.) Rarely has Pasolini's genius as an image-maker been more evident than it is here: there's a stunning array of frame-worthy compositions, many evocative of religious art. While the actors--besides Stamp, the top-tier cast includes Silvana Mangano, Laura Betti and onetime Jean-Luc Godard spouse Anne Wiazemsky--are used more for decorative than thesping purposes they make great human props for Pasolini's grand theorem. The haunting score is by prolific Italian maestro Ennio Morricone in a break from his 1960's spaghetti western chores for Sergio Leone.There are some fascinating extras included in Criterion's 4K digital transfer including an alternate English-dubbed soundtrack in which Stamp provides his own voice (this is the version most American audiences heard at the time); a 2007 audio commentary featuring Robert S.C. Gordon, author of "Pasolini: Forms of Subjectivity;" a Pasolini introduction from 1969; an interview with Pasolini scholar John David Rhodes (author of "Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini's Roma"); a retrospective 2007 interview with Stamp; and a deep-dish essay by Toronto Cinematheque senior programmer James Quandt. (A.)

THE TRIP TO GREECE--The fourth entry in director Michael Winterbottom's culinary travelogue series with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon is every bit as delightful as the previous installments. Using the path Ulysses took in "The Odyssey" as their de facto travel itinerary, Coogan and Bryden yuck it up over six days of stream-of-consciousness musings, celebrity impersonations and foodie porn. If you enjoyed Winterbottom & Company's past getaways--to Great Britain, Italy and Spain respectively--their Greek sojourn will warm the cockles of your heart as much as it did mine. Long may they run. (A MINUS.)

TROLLS WORLD TOUR--Every bit as psychedelically colorful--and purposefully inane--as the 2016 original, this rote sequel should delight any kiddies who grooved on the first movie. Adults are advised to leave the room for 90 minutes. ("A" for toddlers; "D" for anyone over the age of 10.)

TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG--Justin Kurzel, whose previous films have ranged from the near-sublime (a 2015 reworking of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard) to the quasi-ridiculous (his largely incoherent 2016 video game adaptation, "Assassin's Creed," also starring Fassbender), does his best work to date with this dauntingly ambitious, stunningly realized and remarkably tactile account of fabled 19th century Australian bandit Ned Kelly. While Kelly has been the subject of numerous biopics over the years--everyone from Mick Jagger (1970) to Heath Ledger (2003) has played Kelly--Kurzel's version and "1917" breakout star George MacKay's mercurial Kelly trumps them all. There are smashing supporting turns from Russell Crowe, Charlie Hunnam, Nicholas Hoult and, most memorably of all, Essie Davis as Kelly's supremely pragmatic mother. Thanks to cinematographer Ari Wegner, it's also a visual feast, one best appreciated on the biggest, widest screen possible. Since that's not a possibility right now, just see it wherever you can. (A.)

THE TURNING--Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" is modernized--and Americanized--in director Floria (2010's "The Runaways") Sigismondi's moderately stylish and well-cast reprise. As the unsuspecting governess in way over her head, Mackenzie Davis is predictably 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. Unfortunately, Sigismondi is unable to deliver the requisite thrills, and her ending is frustratingly vague/anti-climactic. This pulse-less "Screw" doesn't hold a candle to previous adaptations like "The Innocents" (1961) or "The Nightcomers" (1972). (C.)

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.


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.)

THE VAST OF NIGHT--In a sleepy little New Mexico town during the 1950's, a late night DJ (Jake Horowitz) and a high school girl (Sierra McCormick) working part time as a switchboard operator investigate a weird radio frequency. Could it have something to do with--gulp!--aliens from outer

space? During the course of the appealing duo's nocturnal hunt for answers, first-time director Andrew Patterson does such a skillful job of ratcheting up the suspense you won't even notice (or miss) the complete absence of CGI. An affectionate pastiche of old-fashioned drive-in fare that should prove irresistible to genre fans. (B.)

THE WAY BACK--We've seen the premise countless times before--a washed up ex-jock with substance abuse issues is enlisted to coach a struggling high school basketball team--but Gavin ("The Accountant," "Warrior") O'Connor's iteration on a familiar theme works surprisingly well thanks to a stellar lead performance by Ben Affleck. Despite a veritable waterfall of cliches, I was moved. (B MINUS.)

THE WRETCHED-- Despite its rather unprepossessing title, this is actually a pretty decent little horror flick. John-Paul Howard (immensely appealing) plays a rebellious teenager who goes to live with his divorced father at a lakeside resort town during summer vacation. Things go from Dullsville to super-strange PDQ when the kid discovers that dad's next door neighbors are possessed by a "tree-skin hag" who lives in some nearby woods. Only a friendly co-worker (the equally likable Piper Curda) believes him; everyone else (including dad's new girlfriend) thinks he's losing his marbles. Directors Brett and Drew T. Pierce clearly know they're not reinventing the wheel here, but their unpretentious, lo-fi approach to things that go bump in the night creates the kind of pleasantly spooky frisson that's been conspicuously absent from most 21st century scary movies. (B MINUS.)

---Milan Paurich

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