The only local member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, three-time S.P.J. (Society of Professional Journalists) award-winning critic Milan Paurich takes a look at movies currently playing in area theaters as well as the latest home video releases.


A BAD MOM'S CHRISTMAS--This holiday-themed follow-up to the 2016 sleeper is just as crude, toxic and unfunny as the inexplicably popular original. Adding a patina of cloying Yuletide sentimentality to the mix isn't an improvement. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn and Christina Applegate all deserve better. As do you. (D PLUS.)

BOO 2: A MADEA HALLOWEEN--Formulaic and utterly dreary sequel to Tyler Perry's Halloween-themed 2016 hit (his top-grossing film to date). Even hardcore Perry fans will want to sit this one out. (D MINUS.)

COCO--Aspiring 12-year-old musician Miguel visits the Land of the Dead in the latest CGI Pixar 'toon. As visually resplendent as it sometimes is, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd seen this movie before. (And I had:  2014's underrated "The Book of Life.") More culturally sensitive and politically correct than your average Disney production. (B.)

DADDY'S HOME 2--Yuletide-themed sequel to the 2015 hit adds Mel Gibson and John Lithgow (both perfectly cast) to the mix as, respectively, Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell's dads. The humor is once again as broad as a barn (and as subtle as a network sitcom), but fans of the original are unlikely to care. (C.)

THE DISASTER ARTIST--James Franco's hilarious new film affectionately chronicles the making of one of the worst movies ever made (Tommy Wiseau's 2003 jaw-dropper "The Room"), and it's an unbridled delight. So good it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Tim Burton's 1994 masterpiece, "Ed Wood." (A.)

GEOSTORM--With all the disasters--natural and otherwise--occurring on a daily basis, another ecological disaster movie hardly qualifies as "entertainment." Lousy acting, stupid script, hackneyed execution, no fun. Skip it. (D.)

HAPPY DEATH DAY--If "Groundhog Day" had been a slasher flick--and set on the campus of a generic U.S. college instead of Punxsutawney, PA--it might have looked something like this half clever/half silly throwaway. Director Christopher Landon did a better job with 2015's "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse." (C MINUS.)

IT--Moderately successful adaptation of Stephen King's 1,138-page magnum opus wisely elects to tell only half of the story (the part with the Losers Club), the better to play up its "Stand by Me" similarities. Directed by Andy ("Mama") Muschietti, it's chockablock with spooky setpieces, appealing juvenile performers ("St. Vincent" alumnus Jaeden Lieberher is a standout), and a classic, Freddie Krueger-esque boogey man in Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise. If the whole thing feels a tad lumpy and unfinished, it's probably because we'll have to wait for the in-the-works sequel to see how it all turns out. Or you can just read the book. (B.)

JIGSAW--The return of the original torture porn franchise that nobody, expect maybe a few sadists, were clamoring for. If this is your cup of fright film arsenic, knock yourselves out. Anyone else has been warned. Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig who did much better work with the 2010 Ethan Hawke vampire opus, "Daybreakers." (D.)

JUST GETTING STARTED--Morgan Freeman plays a former mob lawyer in the Witness Protection Program who strikes up an unlikely partnership with a retired FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones) while eluding a contract killer. Both leads are fine, of course, but this is a fitfully amusing AARP divertissement at best. Hard to believe director Ron Shelton once made great movies like "Bull Durham" and "White Men Can't Jump."


JUSTICE LEAGUE--D.C.'s attempt to forge their own "Avengers"-style franchise is a hit-and-miss affair that  largely coasts on the goodwill generated from last summer's "Wonder Woman." Ben Affleck's Batman, Henry Cavill's Superman (well, sort of) and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman are the marquee players, but Jason Momoa makes a pretty good case for himself as the newly anointed Aquaman. The rest of the newbies (Cyborg and the Flash) tend to blend into the CGI scenery, but it's passably entertaining and--at just under two hours--mercifully brief considering the bloated run times of most recent comic book flicks. (C PLUS.)

LADY BIRD--Director/screenwriter Greta Gerwig's semi-autobiographical coming-of-age movie is so pitch-perfect and beautifully realized on every front that you'll be in tears when you aren't laughing your ass off. Saoirse ("Brooklyn") Ronan plays a high school senior in Sacramento, CA circa 2002 whose parents (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts, both wonderful) mean well, but are driving her bonkers. All she wants is to skip town after graduation and head east for college. "Manchester by the Sea" Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges plays Ronan's too-good-to-be-true-because-he-isn't boyfriend. An instant classic, it's a spiritual prequel to Noah Baumbach's great "Frances Ha" (which Gerwig wrote and starred in). (A.)

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE--The third--and least special--LEGO 'toon is sort of what "Kung Fu Panda" would look like minus the pandas and with, y'know, LEGOs. While great-looking and intermittently engaging/amusing, it's just not up to the same level of creativity and wit that distinguished the first two LEGO iterations. (C PLUS.)

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS--Fanciful account of the real-life story behind Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Quaintly old-fashioned, but I wish another actor had played Dickens. Dan Stevens' callow smugness can spoil even the jolliest holiday party. Good support from Christopher Plummer and Jonathan Pryce among others, though. (B MINUS.)

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US--After miraculously surviving a plane crash, Kate Winslet and Idris Elba fight for survival in freezing conditions while stranded atop a mountain. Brrr. Not bad per se and both leads are reliably strong, but we've already seen this movie before many times before both on cable and in theaters. Oscar-nominated director Hany Abu-Asad ("Omar," "Paradise Now") has done better, less generic and certainly more distinctive films. (C.)

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS--Kenneth Branagh directed and stars as super sleuth Hercule Poirot in this sumptuously produced adaptation of the Agatha Christie perennial, previously filmed by Sidney Lumet in 1974 with Albert Finney essaying Poirot. The all-star cast--including Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp--is clearly having a ball, and their enjoyment is infectious. Even if you guess the killer from a mile away, it's still fun watching Poirot (and Branagh) at work. (B.) 

ONLY THE BRAVE--The Granite Mountain Hotshots--an elite corps of Arizona fire fighters--are the subjects of an impressively visceral action flick that proves 1991's "Backdraft" wasn't the last word on firemen movies after all. Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges and Taylor Kitsch star in aptly uber-macho mode. Amidst all this roiling testosterone, Jennifer Connelly manages to turn in her best screen performance since "Requiem for a Dream" as Brolin's long-suffering wife. Nice. (B.)

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.--Denzel Washington is a morally compromised lawyer experiencing a Screenwriting 101 redemption arc in writer/director Dan ("Nightcrawler") Gilroy's spotty urban thriller. Washington is predictably fine and Colin Farrell aces his supporting turn, but

the film meanders just when it should be building a head of steam. It'll probably play better on your TV screen in about three months. (C.)

THE STAR--Ever wonder what barn animals at the Nativity were thinking? Me neither. Blandly inoffensive pabulum for the very youngest among the Sunday School set. (D PLUS.)

THOR: RAGNAROK--Entrusting the latest entry in the "Thor" franchise to New Zealand wunderkind Taika ("What We Do in the Shadows," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople") Waititi was the smartest decision in Marvel Land since Robert Downey Jr. landed his "Iron-Man" gig. Wapiti's screwball humanism is the perfect tonic, and everyone involved seems newly energized and inspired to do their best work. Chris Hemsworth--with newly shorn locks; hurray!--Tom Hiddleston, Tessa ("Creed") Thompson, Jeff Goldblum and Mark Ruffalo are clearly having a blast, as is delicious new series villain Cate Blanchett. It's maybe 20 minutes too long, but entertaining (and laugh-out funny) from start to finish. (B PLUS.)

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI--This whimsical dramedy by writer/director Martin ("In Bruges") McDonagh gives Oscar winner Frances McDormand her juiciest big-screen role since 1996's "Fargo." She plays Mildred, the grieving mom of a dead teenage girl whose killer (or killers?) was never caught. Because Mildred harbors a grudge against local law enforcement for not solving the crime, she blows her life savings on the titular billboards which accuse police chief Woody Harrelson of criminal negligence. Smashingly written and directed with one of the year's finest ensemble casts (Sam Rockwell is a standout as an idiot cop), it's a film whose impact will linger long after you've hit the parking lot. And you can't say that about a whole lot of movies today. (A.)

VICTORIA AND ABDUL--Judi Dench returns to the role of Queen Victoria that she essayed in 1997's "Mrs. Brown" for a fanciful account of the British monarch's friendship with an Indian Muslim (Ali Fazal). Because it feels more like a movie from 20 years ago than today where comic book tentpoles rule, audiences of a certain age should find it well-nigh irresistible. Directed by Stephen Frears ("Philomena," "The Queen") who knows a thing or two about royalty. And Dame Judi. (B.)

WONDER--Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson play the parents of facially disfigured Jacob Tremblay in director Stephen ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") Chbosky's warm and fuzzy dramedy about inclusiveness and celebrating difference. While it's no "Mask," the gentle, non-dogmatic tone marks it as one of the more satisfying feel-good movies of recent vintage. Bring Kleenexes. (B.)

---Milan Paurich


ALIEN:  COVENANT--The new "Alien" movie--directed by Ridley Scott who helmed the 1979 original and 2012's underrated "Prometheus"--ranks among the very best in this long-running sic-fi/horror series. White knuckle tension and great Scott style permeate every scene as a motley crew (including Danny McBride, Katherine Waterston, Damian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo and "Prometheus" star Michael Fassbender) battles a new interplanetary beastie. Best of all, it's not in 3-D. (A MINUS.)

ALL EYEZ ON ME--As late rap icon Tupac Shakur, newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. does a more than creditable job. The sprawling, messy and seriously overlong (140 minutes!) biopic surrounding him is strictly boilerplate, though. (C.)

AMERICAN ASSASSIN--Dylan ("The Maze Runner") O'Brien is trained to be, well, precisely what the title suggests in Michael ("Homeland") Cuesta's entertaining, if largely forgettable action-thriller based on Vince Flynn's 16-book series. As his ex-Navy SEAL trainer, Michael Keaton steals every scene he's in. The movie might have been better if Keaton---who seemingly can do no wrong these days--had been the titular assassin. (C PLUS.)

AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING--Amityville--at least the long dormant horror movie franchise--should have stayed asleep. (D.)

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL--Follow-up to the Oscar-winning 2006 documentary that brought climate change (and Al Gore) to multiplexes across America. And according to Gore, things have only gotten worse in the intervening decade, both domestically and internationally. While movies like this essentially preach to the converted, it also succeeds as a clarion wake-up call to anyone not yet up to speed on the perils of global warming. (B.) 

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

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

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

THE BAD BATCH--Set against a dystopian futuristic backdrop, this gleefully gonzo movie by Ana Lily Amirpour ("A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night") can't decide whether it wants to be "Mad Max" or "Southland Tales," but it's still compulsively watchable. (The scenes of cannibalism are probably too graphic for sensitive viewers, however.) Starring impressive newcomer Suzi Waterhouse, future Aqua-Man Jason Momoa, a barely recognizable Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves as a pharmaceutically-inclined cult leader, natch. (B.)

BAYWATCH--So-so big-screen Seth ("Horrible Bosses," "Identity Thief") Gordon reboot of the campy David Hasselhoff/Pam Anderson tube perennial. While there are some big laughs (most of them provided by Zac Efron as a newbie lifeguard), the whole thing just grinds on and on--it's 119 minutes when 90 would have sufficed--cobbled by an idiotic action movie plot that we're asked to take seriously. Dwayne Johnson ably steps into the old Hasselhoff role, though, and Bollywood icon Priyanka Chopra is certainly an eyeful as the film's "Miami Vice"-esque villainess. (C.)

BEACH RATS--Harris Dickinson delivers a breakout performance as a sexually conflicted Brooklyn teenager in director Eliza Hittman's powerful--and powerfully discomfiting--character study. A worthy follow-up to Hittman's extraordinary 2013 debut, "It Felt Like Love." (A MINUS.)

BEATRIZ AT DINNER--Salma Hayek has her best screen role since 2002's "Frida" as a New Age-y massage therapist invited to dinner at a wealthy client's home. Among Beatriz's fellow guests is a billionaire vulgarian (think Donald Trump) played with a twinkle in his eyes by a deliciously loathsome John Lithgow. Directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White who previously teamed for, among others, "Chuck & Buck" and HBO's late, great "Enlightened," it's a stinging social satire about the way we live in 21st century America. (B PLUS.)

THE BEGUILED--Sofia ("Lost in Translation," "The Virgin Suicides") Coppola's gorgeous reimagining of the 1971 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood cult flick turns the original's luridly overripe Southern Gothic melodrama into a swoony hothouse fairy tale. An excellent Colin Farrell plays a

Union soldier who, after being wounded in battle, is rescued and nursed back to health by a group of women (including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning). Everything is hunky-dory until each of them begins to develop romantic and/or lustful feelings for their hunky captive. Coppola won the Best Director prize at the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival for the movie. (A.)

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

THE BOOK OF HENRY--Dopey genre mash-up about precocious kids, a harried single mom, a sexual predator and a half-dozen other plot threads randomly tossed into the mix. Heavy-handed direction by Colin Trevorrow ("Jurassic World") doesn't help, and some very good actors--among them Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris--are conspicuously wasted. (C MINUS.)

THE BOSS BABY--Pretty much the nadir of post-"Shrek" DreamWorks Animation, this snarky, pun-filled slab of CGI nonsense has a surface slickness, even beauty at times that belies its creatively bankrupt, generally witless script and grating stock characters. Babysitter fodder at best. (D PLUS.)

BRIGSY BEAR--Quirky Sundance indie about a misfit (Kyle Mooney) obsessed with a lo-fi sci-fi TV show and its lead character, a giant stuffed bear named Brigsby. Claire Danes is his shrink; Greg Kinnear plays a sympathetic cop. It shouldn't work--the potential for treacle overkill is off the charts--but the darn thing manages to be well-nigh irresistible. (B PLUS.)

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE--DreamWorks Animation strikes again with yet another CGI 'toon so aggressively in your face that the only options are surrender or retreat.

Your choice depends on how much pop culture smack talk (and potty humor) you can handle in 90-odd minutes. Better than "The Boss Baby" or "Trolls" (a live-action sock puppet scene actually made me laugh out loud), but it's still a far cry from DreamWorks' halcyon days of "Shrek" or even "Antz." (C PLUS.)

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

CERTAIN WOMEN--Regional minimalist Kelly ("Wendy and Lucy," "Old Joy") Reichardt continues to go against the grain of contemporary American independent cinema. Even when working in ostensible genre terrain (eco-thriller "Night Moves" and revisionist western "Meek's Cutoff") she somehow managed to avoid the cliches lazy directors traditionally cling to. The fact that Reichardt still hasn't broken through commercially probably isn't coincidental. Adapted from three short stories by Maile Meloy, Reichardt's "Certain Women" didn't win her any new fans in theaters, but home video should prove to be a more conducive home for its ephemeral charms. Composed of three self-contained but interlocking vignettes--all set against the backdrop of small town Montana life--Reichardt's triptych provides meaty roles for some of our finest actresses. While the Michelle Williams and Laura Dern episodes are compelling in their own right, the standout segment features Kristen Stewart (wonderful as always) as a night-school teacher who befriends a lonely Native American ranch hand (remarkable newcomer Lily Gladstone). Don't be surprised if you find yourself wiping away tears at the end. One of the rare contemporary films released by the Criterion Collection, it features only a handful of extras (interviews with Reichardt, producer Todd Haynes and Meloy; an essay by film critic Ella Taylor), but is still worth seeking out. (A MINUS.)

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

CHURCHILL--Brian Cox is very good as the former British Prime Minister in this sluggishly paced, dramatically inert WW II flick. The always welcome Miranda Richardson costars as Mrs. Churchill, and "Mad Men" alumnus John Slattery does an unconvincing Dwight Eisenhower imitation. Because there's a much better Churchill movie (Joe Wright's "Darkest Hour" with Gary Oldman) on the horizon, just wait for that. (C.)

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

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

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

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

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID:  THE LONG HAUL--The fourth entry in the big-screen franchise adapted from Jeff Kinney's popular kid-lit series recasts the lead roles (Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott are the new parents; Jason Drucker plays "Wimpy Kid" Greg) and is neither appreciably better or worse than its mediocre predecessors. If you're not a fan, the film's title is likely to seem as painfully accurate as it was for me. (C MINUS.)

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

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

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING--Sappily earnest YA flick about a germ-imperiled "Bubble Girl" (appealing newcomer Amanda Stenberg) and her burgeoning friendship/romance with the hunky boy next door (Nick Robinson from "Jurassic World"). Probably best appreciated by starry-eyed tweeners. (C MINUS.)

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

47 METERS DOWN--Cheeseball shark flick that makes "The Shallows" look like "Jaws." Originally slated for a 2016 direct-to-video release, it now finds its natural home in the living rooms of undemanding couch potatoes everywhere. (D PLUS.)

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

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

GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA: A SELF PORTRAIT--Barbet ("Reversal of Fortune," "Barfly") Schroeder's provocative 1974 documentary about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin has finally been released on Blu-Ray by the Criterion Collection, and it remains one of the most definitive portraits of evil ever captured on celluloid. Schroeder had extraordinary access to Amin and the strongman turned on the charm offensive, never realizing that he was being set up. (Can you say "Hanging yourself with your own petard?") Whether staging "national pride" rallies or faux military escapades for the benefit of Schroeder's crew (Oscar-winning cinematographer Nestor Almendros was the film's DP), Amin's quicksilver temperament turns on a dime. Even at his most foolish/silly he exudes a blood-curdling menace that makes it easy to believe the very worst about this egomaniacal baby man. For a Criterion release, the extras are surprisingly skimpy:  two Schroeder interviews, from 2001 and 2017 respectively; an interview with journalist Andrew Rice about Amin's reign of terror; and an informative essay by former Village Voice critic J. Hoberman that neatly contextualizes "General Idi Amin: A Self-Portrait" within Schroeder's eclectic oeuvre and the history of documentary cinema. (A MINUS.)

A GHOST STORY--Dead guy Casey Affleck returns as a ghost to keep a watchful, melancholy eye on his grieving widow (Rooney Mara). Directed by David ("Ain't Them Bodies Saints," 2015's groovy "Pete's Dragon" reboot) Lowery, it's poetic, beautifully understated and profoundly moving.

Just don't expect another "Ghost" with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. (A MINUS.)

GHOST WORLD--Terry ("Crumb," "Bad Santa") Zwigoff's glorious 2001 teen dramedy based on Daniel Clowes' cult comic finally gets the Criterion Collection treatment its many fans--myself included--have always felt it deserved. Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch (both letter-perfect) play recent high school graduates whose nonconformity reaches new heights when they befriend a curmudgeonly vinyl fetishist played by a never-better Steve Buscemi. Zwigoff finds the ideal balance between sour and sweet, and never caricaturizes or condescends to his lovably quirky/prickly characters. Zwigoff and Clowes would reteam five years later for the underrated "Art School Confidential." Hopefully Criterion will release it some day. The Blu-Ray extras include a Zwigoff/Cloves commentary track; contemporary interviews with Johansson, Birch and costar Illeana Douglas; a generous sampling of the 1965 Bollywood movie, "Gumnaam," used in the opening title sequence; an essay by critic Howard Hampton; Zwigoff riffing on the movie's primo soundtrack of golden nuggets; and reprinted excerpts from Clowes's original comic. (A.)

GIFTED--A big-screen Lifetime movie starring a Marvel super hero (Chris Evans) and an Oscar winner (Octavia Spencer) about a blue collar guy (Evans) raising his 7-year-old math prodigy niece (newcomer (McKenna Grace) in central Florida. Directed by Marc ("500 days of Summer," the "Amazing" Spider-Man movies) Webb, its heart is unmistakably in the right place. Too bad its brain is Play-Do mush. (C.)

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

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


GOOD TIME--Former "Twilight" heartthrob Robert Pattison kills it as a small-time hood willing to do anything to protect his mentally challenged brother (Benny Safdie) in the latest pressure cooker from the Safdie Brothers (Josh and Benny). Gritty and sometimes unbearably intense, it's an apt companion piece to Martin Scorsese's 1973 masterpiece "Mean Streets." (A MINUS.)

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOLUME 2--The Marvel sequel that everyone has been waiting for has finally arrived and, sadly, it's just another sequel. Longer, louder and even more frenetic than the ADD 2014 original, it's like being trapped in a room with someone who can't stop poking you in the ribs as he tells an interminable joke with no punchline. Chris Pratt's Star-Lord remains the franchise's undisputed ace in the hole, but even he seems flummoxed by director/screenwriter James Gunn's decision to go big, bigger, biggest when a Mystery Science Theater pretzels and beer budget would have only enhanced its termite charms. (C.)

THE HERO--Sam Elliott knocks it out of the park as a former movie cowboy whose twilight years prove the adage that old age isn't for sissies. There's not much more to it than that, but Elliott makes this a laid-back pleasure just the same. (B.)

THE HOUSE--Will Farrell and Amy Poehler turn their home into a gambling casino to help finance their daughter's college tuition. Sadly, that high-concept premise is more depressing than funny in the current economic climate. Not even farceurs as gifted as Farrell and Poehler can make this sour one-joke comedy fly. (D.)

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

INGRID GOES WEST--Aubrey Plaza travels cross country to meet her social media "friend" Elizabeth Olsen. As a clear-eyed look at Millennial myopia--and the perils of confusing Instagram "like"s with real life--the film is quietly devastating. It's also pretty funny. (B.)

IT COMES AT NIGHT--No sophomore jinx here. Trey Edward Shults' follow-up to his brilliant 2016 debut "Krisha" is flat-out terrific:  a psychological horror movie so strikingly assured that it feels like the work of a veteran filmmaker. In the aftermath of a global pandemic, Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo reluctantly invite strangers Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough into their secluded home. The terrors that await them are both shockingly visceral and remarkably subtle. (A MINUS.)

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

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD--Perversely misjudged Guy ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") Ritchie reboot of the King Arthur story with Charlie Hunnam--the best thing here--stepping in as Mr. Camelot. While far too enamored with "Game of Thrones"-era sword-and-sorcery cliches (and Ritchie's typically aggravating ADD style editing), it's at least marginally better than Antoine Fuqua's somnambulant 2004 "King Arthur." (C MINUS.)

LADY MACBETH--Impressive newcomer Florence Pugh shines as a 19th century bride whose extra-marital affair unleashes a wanton side she never experienced in her loveless marriage to a man twice her age. Shockingly primal and stunningly realized by first-time director William Oldroyd. (B PLUS.)

LANDLINE--Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn (both terrific) play sisters in 1995 Manhattan whose discovery of dad John Turturro's infidelity upends their lives. "Sopranos" vet Edie Falco costars as the gals' understandably gobsmacked mom. Directed by Gillian Robespierre who previously teamed with Slate for 2014's abortion rom-com "Obvious Child." (B.)

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

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

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

THE LAST FACE--Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem are relief workers who fall in love while toiling in a war-torn African country. Directed by the estimable Sean Penn ("Into the Wild," "The Pledge"), it's a tone-deaf, perversely misjudged failure that doesn't succeed on any level. No wonder it was booed off the screen at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and received only a perfunctory U.S. theatrical release. (D.)

LE SAMOURAI--If Jean-Pierre Melville had never been born, would Michael Mann have existed?

Discuss. In the meantime, check out the Criterion Collection's breathtaking new hi-def digital restoration of Melville's 1967 masterpiece starring Alain Delon as the coolest contract killer on the Champs-Elysees. Delon's Jef Costello--wearing Gallic sangfroid as effortlessly as he does his sporty fedora and trench coat--must contend with a cop on his tail and an employer even more ruthless than he is. But plot matters less than mise-en-scene, and the whole thing is uber-stylized, infused with an Asian lone-wolf sensibility that wouldn't have been out of place in one of Kurosawa's classic samurai flicks. The extras are less bountiful than usual for a Criterion Blu-Ray, but still choice. There are archival interviews with Melville, Delon, Francois Perier, Cathy Rosier and Nathalie Delon, and 2005 interviews with two Melville scholars (Ginette Vincendeau, author of "Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris," and Rui Nogueira, editor of "Melville on Melville"); a 2011 short exploring the relationship between Melville and Delon; an essay by critic David Thomson; an appreciation by none other than Melville acolyte John Woo; and excerpts from the afore-motioned "Melville on Melville." (A.)

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

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


LOWRIDERS--Set against the backdrop of L.A.'s Hispanic car culture, this affecting family drama pits a recovering alcoholic/body shop owner (Demian Bichir) against his rebellious sons:  graffiti artist Danny (Gabriel Chavarria) and ex-con "Ghost" (Theo Rossi). The excellent lead performances help elevate familiar material. (B MINUS.)

MAUDIE--Sally Hawkins is wonderful as true-life Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis whose hardscrabble early years helped fuel her paintings. Ethan Hawke (also very good) plays her curmudgeonly, not particularly supportive mate. Beautifully directed by Aisling Walsh. (A MINUS.)

MEGAN LEAVEY--Kate Mara (very good) plays the titular real-life Marine corporal who bonded with her German shepherd combat dog, Rex, while serving in Iraq. Moving without being mawkish--especially if you're a dog lover--and inspirational in the best sense of the word. Nicely directed by documentary filmmaker Gabriela (2013 Sea World expose "Blackfish") Cowperthwaite with a breakout supporting turn by Ramon Rodriguez as a fellow soldier who strikes up a romance with tough chick Leavey.  (B.)

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



THE MUMMY--Dreary reboot of the horror movie staple that plays more like a creature-feature "Mission Impossible" installment than the old Boris Karloff (or Brendan Fraser) "Mummy"s. Tom Cruise barrels through the film's many action setpieces like, well, Tom Cruise, but a hammy Russell Crowe earns a few stray giggles as Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that Dr. Jekyll). While ridiculously overproduced like just about every 21st century tentpole, a relatively circumspect 110-minute running time (including end credits) insures that you're not totally wiped out by all the CGI bombast. That's not a recommendation. (D PLUS.)

MY COUSIN RACHEL--Rachel Weisz is spellbinding in an only fitfully effective reboot of the Dauphne du Maurier mystery previously filmed in 1952 with Olivia de Havilland and Richard

Burton. As the alluring woman of mystery who may or may not be a murderess, Oscar-winner Weisz blows neurasthenic wimp Sam ("Me Before You") Clafin off the screen. Directed by Roger ("Notting Hill," "Changing Lanes") Michell. (C PLUS.)

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

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

OTHELLO--Thanks to The Criterion Collection, Orson Welles' cinema maudit (literally translated as "cursed film") receives the bells-and-whistles treatment Welles and Shakespeare buffs have been clamoring for. Shot over three years in Italy and Morocco--depending on when/where the latest infusion of cash arrived--"Othello" somehow managed to triumph despite all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that rained down on Welles during the movie's troubled production. The two-disc Criterion Blu-Ray includes gorgeously restored 4K digital transfers of both the 1952 European version as well as the 1955 U.S. cut. And because it's Criterion, there's a veritable treasure trove of supplements, including Welles' last completed work, the 1979 docu-essay, "Filming Othello." Other choice extras include:  a well-nigh definitive 1995 audio commentary with director/Welles BFF Peter Bogdanovich and Welles expert Myron Meisel; the 1953 short film, "Return to Glennascaul," made during the film's protracted shooting by "Othello" actors Hilton Edwards and Micheal MacLiammoir; and a 1995 documentary about the movie's ethereal Desdemona, Suzanne Cloutier, directed by Francois Girard. There are interviews with Welles biographer Simon Callow; "Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race and Contemporary America" author Ayanna Thompson; writer Joseph McBride; and scholar Francois Thomas who compares and contrasts the two extant versions of "Othello." If that's not enough, there's even a smashing print essay ("In Pieces") by film critic Geoffrey O'Brien. It's the most impressive--and impressively packaged--Blu-Ray release I've seen all year. (A PLUS.) 

PARIS CAN WAIT--A radiant Diane Lane returns to "Under the Tuscan Sun" turf for a pleasantly scenic road trip rom-com directed by Eleanor Coppola (yes, Francis Ford's wife). It's featherweight fare aimed strictly at the AARP crowd, but a modest pleasure nonetheless. (B MINUS.)

PATTI CAKE$--This pricey Fox Searchlight acquisition is further proof that oxygen at the Sundance Film Festival must be perilously thin. A plus-sized white rapper (Danielle Macdonald's Patti) struggles to make it out of New Jersey despite no discernible talent and a disapproving mom (scene stealer Bridgett Everett). Twenty years ago this might have found a cult following; today it just seems tone-deaf and passe. (C MINUS.)

PERSONAL SHOPPER--Kristen Stewart is fantastic as a twentysomething American working as a spoiled celeb's personal shopper in Paris whose life becomes unglued when she begins receiving texts from her dead twin brother. Directed by the great Olivier ("Carlos," "Summer Hours") Assayas, the film is spooky, sexy and exquisitely moving in equal measure. (A.)

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES--This fifth Jack Sparrow outing sports a Paul McCartney cameo (?), two Oscar-winning villains (Javier Bardem as longtime Sparrow nemesis Captain Armando Salazar and returning heavy Geoffrey Rush) and a whole lot of hooey. On the plus side, Johnny Depp does more than phone it in this time and fresh-faced Brenton Thwaites is a nice substitute for Orlando Bloom (he's actually playing Bloom and Keira Knightley's son), but I expected more from co-directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg of Oscar-nominated "Kon-Tiki" fame. Although shorter and less self-indulgent than previous "Pirates" movies ("Dead Man's Chest," I'm looking at you), it's not exactly memorable either. (C.)

PLANETARIUM--While I was never entirely certain whose (or what) story this period piece wanted to tell, the performances of Natalie Portman and Lily Rose Depp (yes, Johnny's teenage daughter) as clairvoyant American sisters in WW II-era Paris kept me engaged. Part supernatural mystery, part Holocaust drama and part showbiz saga (the sisters get cast in a movie), it's a bit of a mess but consistently watchable nonetheless. (B MINUS.)

QUEEN OF THE DESERT--While hardly the disaster many have claimed, this glossy biopic about early 20th century British adventuress Gertrude Bell is definitely the most impersonal film ever made by visionary auteur Werner Herzog. (It might as well have been directed by Justin Chadwick or John Maddin.) Nicole Kidman is very good as Bell, and there are strong supporting performances from Damian Lewis and Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence. On paper, Bell might seem like kin to previous Herzogian protagonists like Aguirre and Fitzcaraldo, but their electrifying conquistador madness is absent. Bell seems much too demure and level-headed to flip out.


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

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

REBECCA--1940's Oscar-winning Best Picture has always been a peculiar case in that it's a great movie, but not necessarily a great "Alfred Hitchcock Movie." Hitch himself said that uber-producer David O. Selznick was the true auteur of the picture, and it feels as though it could have been directed by William Wyler, George Cukor, Michael Curtiz or any number of Old Hollywood master craftsmen. Adapted from Daphne du Maurier's novel, the film stars Joan Fontaine as the blushing bride of brooding widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier in his follow-up to Heathcliff in Wyler's "Wuthering Heights") whose arrival at Manderlay stirs up the ghost of de Winter's late wife (the titular Rebecca), as well as the dander of spooky housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson in an unforgettable performance). The Criterion Collection's 4K digital restoration insures that the movie has never looked better, and there are a treasure trove of yummy extras for Hitchcock completists. Chief among them are an audio commentary with film historian Leonard J. Leff; a conversation between critic Molly Haskell and scholar Patricia White; an interview with archivist Craig Barron on the visual effects; 2016 French television documentary, "Daphne du Maurier: In the Footsteps of 'Rebecca;'" a 2007 making-of doc; casting gallery with notes from both Hitchcock and Selznick; a 1975 television interview

Hitchcock did with Tom Snyder for NBC's old "Tomorrow" show; three radio versions of "Rebecca," including Orson Welles' 1938 Mercury Theater adaptation; screen, hair, makeup and costume tests with Fontaine, Vivien Leigh, Anne Baxter, Loretta Young and Margaret Sullavan; 1986 audio interviews with Fontaine and Anderson; an essay by Selznick biographer David Thompson; and Selznick production correspondence with (among others) Hitchcock. (A.)

ROUGH NIGHT--"Rough" indeed. Scarlett Johansson's bachelorette party goes toxic after a male stripper is accidentally killed while performing a lap dance. Her gal pals (including Zoe Kravitz, Kate McKinnon and MVP Jillian Bell) rise--and fall--to the, er, challenge. This distaff version of 1998 cult comedy "Very Bad Things" is rudely funny at times (first-time director Lucia Aniello did get her start on "Broad City" after all), but too much of it seems forced and aggressively mean-spirited. (C MINUS.)

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

SMURFS:  THE LOST VILLAGE--Unlike Sony's previous "Smurfs" kidflicks, this one is 100% animated and devoid of distracting human actors. And despite a topical feminist message (really), it's also well-nigh insufferable for anyone over the age of 5. (D PLUS.)

SNATCHED--Shrill high concept comedy partially redeemed by the inspired casting of Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn as mother and daughter. Directed by the estimable Jonathan ("50/50," "The Night Before") Levine, it's fast-paced and fitfully amusing. Just don't go in expecting "Trainwreck 2." (C PLUS.)

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

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

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

STEP--A documentary following the senior members of an all-girls Baltimore high school dance squad. While maybe a little too beholden to the "Hoop Dreams" template for its own good, the film is a bonafide audience-pleaser. No wonder Sundance audiences ate it up last January. (B.) 

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

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


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

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

THE TRIP TO SPAIN--Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reteam for another gastronomic travelogue, this time (you guessed it) in Spain. While Coogan and Brydon remain an entertaining duo, riffing off each other like they've been doing it their whole lives, some of the bloom is off the rose in "Trip" #3. Directed once again by Michael Winterbottom who really knows how to photograph both landscapes and food. (B.)

TULIP FEVER--Long-delayed adaptation of Deborah Moggach's popular novel is a flaccid non-starter, indifferently directed by Justin ("Mandela") Chadwick. Alicia Vikander plays a young woman in 17th century Amsterdam whose arranged marriage to a wealthy older man (Christoph Waltz) leaves her unsatisfied. When a young artist (Dane DeHaan, miscast) is commissioned to paint her portrait, an adulterous affair ensues. Tulips and Dame Judi Dench are somehow involved. (C MINUS.)

VICEROY'S HOUSE--"Downton Abbey" alum Hugh Bonneville plays Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy in India whose task was overseeing the country's transition back to independent rule in 1947. Directed by Chadra ("Bend it Like Beckham") Chadra and sporting an esteemed supporting cast (including Michael Gambon, Simon Callow and Gillian Anderson as Mrs. Mountbaten), it's the kind of lushly appointed, old-fashioned period piece that used to be catnip with arthouse audiences. Slightly stodgy, but enjoyable nonetheless. (B MINUS.)

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

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

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

WIND RIVER--Federal wildlife officer Jeremy Renner and rookie F.B.I. agent Elisabeth Olsen investigate the rape/murder of a young woman on a Utah Indian reservation in virtuoso screenwriter Taylor ("Hell or High Water," "Sicario") Sheridan's stunningly assured sophomore directorial outing. Terse, beautifully crafted and with nary an ounce of fat, it's the best grown-up movie of the season. The ending will haunt you for years to come. (A.)

WISH UPON--A bullied teen (Joey King) uses a sinister music box to enact revenge on her tormenters. In other words, just another YA horror flick. Better than some, I suppose, but not remotely special. (C MINUS.)

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

WOODSHOCK--As a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Kirsten Dunst (dependably good, but clearly struggling with a nonexistent role) is the entire show in a narcoleptic, fussily pretentious co-directorial debut by fashion designer sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy. Resembles a feature-length perfume ad...for anti-depressants. As insufferable as it sounds. (D.)

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE--Based on the non-fiction best-seller by Diane Ackerman, Niki ("Whale Rider") Caro's overly decorous film tells the story of a couple (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh) who helped save hundreds of Jews during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Nicely acted--Chastain is always a pleasure to watch--but too prosaic for its own good. As a result, it lacks the emotional punch this type of gut-punching material demands. (C PLUS.)