Movies With Milan


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 endearinglyghoulish 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.)

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.)   

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.) 

ARCTIC DOGS--Arctic Fox Swifty (Jeremy Renner) aspires to lead an elite courier service's sled team in this formulaic kiddie 'ton with a climate change agenda. There's a fairly hip vocal cast (including Anjelica Huston, James Franco, John Cleese and Alec Baldwin), but this is strictly for the most undemanding wee bairns and their indulgent parents. (D.)

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 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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

DOCTOR SLEEP--A belated sequel to Stephen King's "The Shining" that catches up with Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) 40 years after the events at the Overlook Hotel chronicled in King's original book and the 1980 Stanley Kubrick movie. Danny bonds with a teenage girl (Kyleigh Curran) who shares his ability to "shine" (think ESP), and they team up against Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her minions who consider "shiners" their mortal enemies. While punishingly overlong at 152 minutes, some effective scares and decent performances help maintain interest over a very long haul. (C PLUS.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)  

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.)

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 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 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.)

THE GOOD LIAR--Bill ("Kinsey," "Dreamgirls") Condon's enjoyably old-fashioned suspense thriller about a sociopathic con man (Ian McKellan) who sets his sights on a wealthy widow (Helen Mirren). While loaded with implausibilities and one too many red herrings, old pros McKellan and Mirren keep you watching--and thoroughly entertained. I just wish it hadn't devolved into Holocaust kitsch in the third act. (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.) 

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.) 

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.) 

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.) 

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.)

LAST CHRISTMAS--Mopey British slacker Emilia Clarke meets Mr. Right (Henry Golding from "Crazy Rich Asians") while working as an elf at Michelle Yeoh's year-round Christmas store. It's sweetly sentimental without ever becoming Hallmark-saccharine, and the humor avoids the off-putting grossness than marred some of director Paul ("Bridesmaids," "The Heat") Feig's previous comedies. A hammy Emma Thompson steals every scene she's in as Clarke's Old World mum, and the soundtrack is heavy on 1980's George Michael. (B 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.)

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.)

MIDWAY--Director Roland Emmerich specializes in big, dumb disaster movies like "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow," and his new film's film's WW II setting serves as just another opportunity to blow things up with state of the art CGI. Not appreciably smarter, better or more entertaining than the dishwater dull 1976 "Midway" that starred Charlton Heston, or Michael Bay's 2001 "Pearl Harbor" farrago for that matter. Overlong and choppily edited, it squanders the talents of both good (Woody Harrelson; Dennis Quaid; Patrick Wilson) and not-so-good (Brit Ed Skrein mangling his New Jersey accent; insipid Ryan Murphy poster boy Darren Criss) actors. I hope that everyone was well paid. (D PLUS.)

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN--Writer-director-star Edward Norton's adaptation of Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel is literally bursting with only partially realized ambition. Norton plays a private eye with Tourette Syndrome in 1950's New York City whose investigation into the murder of his former mentor (Bruce Willis) takes him down some sinister noir-esque alleys. A superb cast (including Willem Dafoe, Alec Baldwin and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) insures that it's never dull despite an indulgent two-and-a-half-hour run time. But "Chinatown 2.0" it ain't. (C PLUS.)

THE NIGHTINGALE--Jennifer Kent's follow-up to her critically acclaimed "Babadook" is even better: a fully realized work whose feminist bonafides enhance a propulsive narrative rather than merely serve as decorative window-dressing. In 1825 Australia, a young Irishwoman (sensational newcomer Aisling Franciosi) embarks upon a journey into the Tasmanian wilderness to enact revenge on the British officer (Sam Claflin) who raped her and killed her husband and infant. Assisting her is an Aboriginal tracker (Baykali Ganambarr) with a few scores of his own to settle. The violence the film culminates in is as morally righteous as it is emotionally cathartic. (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.)

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.) 

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

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.) 

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.)

PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE--This lame attempt to do for the Playmobil toy line what the LEGO movies did for, well, LEGO plays more like a feature-length infomercial than a movie. "The Witch" star Anya Taylor-Joy plays a young woman who enters the psychedelic Playmobil universe to rescue kid brother Gabriel Bateman (last seen battling Chucky in last summer's "Child's Play" reboot). There are pirates, vikings and even an ersatz 007 (voiced by Daniel Radcliffe of all people), but precious little that feels fresh or legitimately funny. There have been worse animated films this year (I'm looking at you, "Arctic Dogs"), but few that felt like such a craven cash-grab. (D PLUS.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.) 

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.)

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.)

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE--Soldier-from-the-future Mackenzie Davis protects a young Mexican woman (Natalia Reyes) from a diabolical Rev-9 model terminator (Gabriel Long) in director Tim ("Deadpool") Miller's entertaining reboot of James Cameron's pre-"Avatar" movie franchise. While nobody is reinventing the wheel here, it's easily the most enjoyable "Terminator" flick since 1991's "T2." Reuniting original stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Davis' Bickering Bickersons helpmates was the smartest idea here, but it's more than just a fanboy nostalgia trip. It's a pretty kickass action flick, too. (B.)

21 BRIDGES--"Black Panther" Chadwick Boseman is wasted on this thoroughly generic cop movie about an NYPD detective on the hunt for a pair of cop killers. Naturally a far-reaching (and highly implausible) criminal conspiracy involving seemingly every member of the police force is involved. Good actors like Boseman, Sienna Miller, Taylor Kitsch and J.K. Simmons are saddled with stock roles and boilerplate dialogue. Plays like a 1994 direct-to-video "B" slightly buttressed by its "B PLUS" cast. (C 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.)

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.)

WAVES--After a violent accident, the lives of a middle-class African-American family in Central Florida quickly spiral out of control in writer/director Trey Edward Shults' masterpiece of empathy. Told from the dual perspectives of the family's high school-age son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and daughter (Taylor Russell), it's an ingeniously structured movie whose formal inventiveness doesn't impede its emotional heat or magnanimous heart. Harrison and Russell are both fantastic, and there are superb supporting turns from Sterling K. Brown (the tough-love father) and Lucas Hedges (Russell's love interest). (A.)

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.)

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.)

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content

Youngstown's MIX 98.9 · The 80's To Now
Listen Now on iHeartRadio