Movies With Milan


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

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

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

BREAKTHROUGH--Cheeseball Christian flick about a mother (Chrissy Metz from "This is Us") whose faith--or maybe it was just good medical know-how--saves her young son after an accident. An embarrassed looking Josh Lucas plays Metz's husband, and Topher Grace--in a not as big as you might expect departure from his oily David Duke in "BlacKkKlansman"--is the family minister. Only the most devout (or gullible) need apply. Or buy a ticket. (D.)

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

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

CAPTAIN MARVEL--Another Marvel Corp. product, but somewhat better than the cookie-cutter norm thanks to indie husband-and-wife directing team Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden ("Half Nelson," "It's Kind of a Funny Story") and Oscar winner Brie Larson as the titular

superhero. Larson brings her signature intelligence and grit to the role of Air Force pilot Carl Danvers who discovers her supernatural abilities after partnering with Samuel L. Jackson's iconic Nick Fury to battle alien invaders. The 90's nostalgia is laid on a bit thick, but at a relatively circumspect 124 minutes (including the usual interminable end credits) it's one of the pacier Marvels to date. Ubiquitous Aussie character actor Ben ("Rogue One," "Ready Player One," Netflix's "Bloodline," et al) Mendelsohn has fun as the movie's resident Big Bad, Talos. (B.)

THE CURSE OF LA LLORNA--Distantly linked to the "Conjuring"/"Annabelle" franchises by virtue of Tony Amendola's Father Perez character, this chintzy, scare-bereft horror flick wastes Linda ("Green Book") Cardellini in a silly story about a fabled Mexican bogeywoman plaguing mothers and their small children in 1970's Los Angeles. (D PLUS.)

DARK PHOENIX--Or "When Jean Grey Goes Bad." This "X-Men" iteration--the 12th, and allegedly final chapter in the long-running Marvel franchise--boasts another impressive roster of thesping talent (Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McCoy, Jessica Chastain, et al). And like most preceding "X" entries, it forgets to give them anything interesting to play. "Games of Throne" ingenue Sophie Turner picks up the Grey baton from Famke Janssen and adequately camouflages her posh British accent. But like everything else here, she's too 

innately boring to muster even a whiff of palpable interest beyond the "X" faithful. (C MINUS.) 

A DOG'S JOURNEY--Christian-accented sequel to the 2017 kidflick sleeper with Josh Gad returning as the voice of (frequently reincarnated) St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd mix Bailey. Sappier and inelegant compared to the charming Lasse Hallstrom-directed original, it'll probably suffice as a video babysitter in a few months. But it's hardly worth first-run admission prices, even for the most indulgent parent. (C.)

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS--Middling sequel to the equally lackluster 2014 'zilla reboot. Once again, many talented actors (including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Sally Hawkins) are singularly wasted, reduced to delivering boilerplate dialogue. The CGI is pretty impressive--Godzilla, Ronan, Mothra and King Ghidorah have never looked better--but the whole thing is tediously protracted and lacking in genuine thrills. (C MINUS.)

THE HUSTLE--Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson play a pair of con artists in this long-delayed feminist(ish) reboot of 1988's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." Decent fun, especially if you're fans of Hathaway and Wilson who give it their all...and then some. (C PLUS.)

THE INTRUDER--Dennis Quaid can't seem to quit his old Napa Valley home, even after selling it to a young married couple (Michael Ealy and Meagan Good). Typically trashy Screen Gems fare directed with a discernible lack of subtlety by Deon ("Traffic," "Meet the Blacks") Taylor. (D.)

JOHN WICK: PARABELLUM--The first "John Wick" was pretty good; the 2017 sequel was pretty darn great; and this latest iteration of the Keanu Reeves franchise is a near-masterpiece. It's the best pure adrenaline rush since "The Raid 2," or maybe even "Mad Max Fury Road." The uber-stylized violence is exhilarating and virtually non-stop, the supporting cast (including Anjelica Huston, Halle Berry and Laurence Fishburne) adds spice and Reeves confirms his status as one of the premier action stars of the modern era. Bow. (A.)

LATE NIGHT--Mindy Kaling is hired by chatshow host Emma Thompson to bring some much-needed estrogen (and color) to her white boys' club writers' room. Slick, sprightly and expertly played--especially by the ever-reliable Thompson who's wonderfully imperious--if a tad glib, this Sundance hit plays more like the extended pilot of an upcoming cable sitcom than a feature film. Which it may very well become. (B.)

LONG SHOT--Charlize Theron is a presidential candidate who falls for her newly hired speechwriter (Seth Rogen: nontraditional casting that works) in a sprightly rom-com that also functions as a media-savvy, "Veep"-ish political satire. Directed by Jonathan Levine who previously struck comedy gold with Rogen in "50/50" and "The Night Before." (B.)

MA--Oscar winner Octavia Spencer becomes her teen neighbors' best friend when she begins supplying them with liquor and a place to party. Little do they know she has an ulterior motive linked to their parents adolescent misbehavior and her mysterious past. A change of pace (and genre) for "The Help" director Tate Taylor, it's nasty Blumhouse horror fun until it isn't. (C.) 

MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL--More revamp than reboot, this F. Gary Gray ("Straight Outta Compton") spin-off of the early '00s Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones franchise casts "Thor Ragnarok" costars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as top-secret government agents struggling to maintain order in a world where it's hard to tell benign extraterrestrials from dangerous ones. While it's as unnecessary as most 21st century sequels, the chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson (and a slew of fun cameos) makes this more engaging than some. But just as disposable. (C PLUS.)

POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU--Or "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" with Pokemon characters instead of the cartoon archetypes from that 1988 Robert Zemeckis classic. Ryan Reynolds (amusingly) voices the titular Pokemon gumshoe who teams up with the son (Justice Smith) of his former partner to solve the mystery of dad's disappearance. Director Rob ("Goosebumps") Letterman has some fun with the premise, and it's certainly better than any previous Pokemon big-screen adventure. But the infantilization of 21st century Hollywood movies continues apace. (C.)

POMS--Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier and Rhea Perlman start a cheerleading squad in their retirement home. Why? To combat fear of encroaching senescence/death? To get back at the mean girls who cheated them of pom-hood in high school? Does it even matter? Spending 90 minutes in the company of these old pros is its own reward, even if the script is so flimsy it makes "The Book Club" seem like Restoration Comedy. (C PLUS.)

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

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2--Another so-so sequel to a CGI 'toon that, because it made a small fortune for a major Hollywood studio (Universal and their Illumination shingle), seemingly mandated a follow-up that nobody really needed or wanted. More sentimental and less slapstick schtick-y than the original, it's a movie that will be appeal more to very young children than the "all ages friendly" demographic that made the first "Pets" a surprise smash. Expect b.o. receipts to evince a downward trajectory as well. (C.)

SHAFT--Former Shafts Richard Roundtree and Samuel L. Jackson (from the '70s originals and 2000 remake respectively) team up with Jessie T. Usher's junior Shaft (he's Jackson's son, Roundtree's grandson) for intergenerational bonding in an easy-going--maybe too easy-going--continuation of the series first launched in 1971. Unlike the previous Shaft movies, it's more cute and cuddly than gritty and urban. Adjust your expectations accordingly. (C PLUS.) 

SHAZAM!--For an origin story of yet another fourth (or is it fifth?) tier comic book hero, this lightly likable D.C. iteration is fairly easy to take. Director David F Sandberg ("Lights Out," "Annabelle: Creation") found an ace in the hole with tube star Zachary ("Chuck") Levy who brings the same winning mixture of snark and self-deprecating humor that Ryan Reynolds brought to his "Deadpool" movies. So Spielberg Lite-y it could have been released by Amblin in the '80s, "Shazam!" won't rock anyone's world but provides a welcome respite from the lumbering, portentous superhero movies which have been all the rage since Chris Nolan rediscovered Batman last decade. (B MINUS.)

UGLYDOLLS--The titular playthings from the wildly popular line of plush toys learn valuable life lessons about acceptance and embracing their differences (yawn) in STX's first CGI kiddie 'toon. The savvy vocal casting (Kelly Clarkson, Wanda Sykes, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae, Pitbull, et al) swings for every demographic fence. Too bad the filmmakers didn't invest as much creativity or wit on the cliched script and "Toy Story Lite" visuals. (C MINUS.)


THE AFTERMATH--In post-WW II Germany, a British woman (Keira Knightley) becomes involved with the previous owner of her new house (Alexander Skarsgard). Needless to say this doesn't sit too well with her husband (ubiquitous Jason Clarke). A classy, nicely acted Harlequin romance, but something of a letdown after director James Kent's previous film, 2015's superb WW I romance "Testament of Youth." (C PLUS.)

AT ETERNITY'S GATE--Willem Dafoe is fantastic as Vincent Van Gogh in director Julian ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "Before Night Falls") Schnabel's exquisite--and supremely tactile--biopic. While there have been plenty of Van Gogh movies over the years ("Lust for Life," "Vincent and Theo," "Van Gogh," "Loving Vincent," et al), this could very well be the best of the bunch. It's certainly the most poetic and visually sumptuous. (A.)

THE BEACH BUM--Matthew McConaughey (who else?) plays the titular character, a proudly dissolute Florida pothead who lives by his own rules, social niceties be damned. An amusing supporting cast--Snoop Dogg, Jonah Hill, Isla Fisher, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence, Jimmy Buffett--and eye-popping visuals insure that this loosely-plotted Harmony ("Spring Breakers," "Kids") Korine joint (no pun intended) remains consistently intriguing from start to finish. Like all Korine movies, the journey matters more than the destination. (B.)

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.)

CAPTIVE STATE--This combo sci-fi/alien invasion thriller and "Purge"-ish political allegory is a mildly provocative mix for director Rupert ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes") Wyatt. It just isn't anything we haven't seen before. John Goodman, Vera Farmiga and Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly topline a motley cast. (C.)

CLIMAX--An after hours rave takes a deadly turn for a French dance company thanks to LSD-spiked sangria in Gaspar Noe's sexy, spooky new freak-out. Like previous Noe joints ("Irreversible," "Enter the Void"), it's strictly for acquired tastes. But if you groove on transgression and (really) bad behavior, you'll savor every illicit minute. (A MINUS.) 

COLD PURSUIT--Liam Neeson plays a Colorado snowplow driver who takes the law into his own hands after his son is killed by some criminal lowlifes. Adapted from the Norwegian 2016 thriller "In Order of Disappearance" by that film's director, Hans Petter Moland, it has considerably more humor (albeit of the pitch-black variety) and more human-scaled action than in any of Neeson's "Taken" movies. A decent enough popcorn flick that won't look appreciably worse in your living room in about three months. The great Laura Dern is criminally wasted in the thankless role of Neeson's wife. (C PLUS.)

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.)

A DOG'S WAY HOME--In the annals of "dog-finds-its-way-home-despite-seemingly-insurmountable-odds" movies that stretch back to 1943's "Lassie Comes Home"--if not silent-era Run Tin Tin--this is unlikely to rank among the pick of the litter. But if you're a pooch lover (or very, very young), it should have no trouble hitting your sappy-sweet spot. Not a sequel to 2016's sleeper hit "A Dog's Purpose:" that film ("A Dog's Journey") is set for release this May. (C PLUS.)  

DUMBO--The ads for the 1941 Disney cartoon classic promised "You'll believe an elephant can fly," and this (partially) live-action 2019 reboot takes that claim to the nth degree. Fancifully--if somewhat ponderously--reimagined by fabulist extraordinaire Tim Burton, the movie has a dream cast (Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Danny DeVito), but doesn't really give them anything interesting to play. Dumbo himself is a CGI wonder of truly epic proportions. Whether that's enough depends on your age and/or sophistication level. (C PLUS.)

ESCAPE ROOM-- Adam ("Insidious: The Final Key") Robitel's dopey thriller wastes some good actors (including Logan Miller, Tyler Labine and Taylor Russell) on frivolous material that wouldn't

pass muster on Netflix or Hulu, let alone a multiplex screen. Think a "PG-13"-rated/YA version of venerable torture porn franchise "Saw." (D.)

EVERYBODY KNOWS--Real-life husband and wife Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz play old sweethearts brought together during a crisis in two-time Oscar-winning director Asghar ("A Separation," "The Salesman") Farhadi's Spanish-language melodrama. Leisurely paced but riveting from start to finish, it casts an indelibly haunting spell that's hard to shake. (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.)  

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY--Boisterous and surprisingly heartfelt, this good-natured true-life story about the unlikely rise to WWE stardom of Great Britain's Saraya Jade-Bevis AKA "Paige" (played by "Lady Macbeth" breakout Florence Pugh) is a breath of fresh air in a dispiritingly stagnant (so far) 2019. Produced by and costarring--as himself--Dwayne Johnson, this Stephen Merchant-directed comedy features a terrific supporting cast including Nick Frost, Lena Headey and Jack Lowden as Knight's family of lovable brawlers who frequently confuse a piledriver for a hug. (B PLUS.)

FIVE FEET APART--Remember "The Fault in Our Stars"? Or "Everything, Everything"? This star-crossed romance between two photogenic teenagers with cystic fibrosis (the wonderful Haley Lu Richardson and "Riverdale" star Cole Sprouse) is more of the same, just not as good. Impressionable tween-age girls, knock yourselves out. (C.)

FORTY GUNS--Sam Fuller's pulpy 1957 feminist Barbara Stanwyck western has frequently been compared to (and confused with) Nicholas Ray's campy 1954 feminist Joan Crawford western, "Johnny Guitar." The Criterion Collection's digitally restored new Blu-Ray should go a long way toward eliminating any future confusion. Jessica Drummond, Stanwyck's rancher baron, was clearly the template for her matriarchal role on the long-running ABC tube series "The Big Valley" a decade later. It's great fun seeing the black-clad Stanwyck--"a high-riding woman with a whip"!--in one of her juiciest post-1940's screen roles. The chemistry between Stanwyck and gunslinger-turned-marshall Barry Sullivan is as electric as the movie's frequent bouts of sadistic violence are wildly kinetic in classic Fuller fashion. The disc's extras are up to Criterion's usual Tiffany standards, including "A Fuller Life," Samantha Fuller's 2013 feature-length documentary about her father; new interviews with Samantha and Fuller's widow, Christa Lang Fuller, as well as critic Imogen Sara Smith, author of "In a Lonely Place: Film Noir Beyond the City;" a rare 1969 audio interview with Fuller conducted at London's National Film Theater; an essay by scholar Lisa Dombrowski; and "Stuffed With Phalluses," a chapter from Fuller's posthumously published 2002 autobiography, "A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking." (A.) 

GLASS--M. Night Shyamalan's 2000 masterpiece "Unbreakable" turned out to be the new millennium's most prescient film by essentially predicting the two dominant cultural themes/obsessions (domestic terrorism and comic books) of the 21st century. "Split," Shyamalan's 2017 serial killer suspenser, felt like a one-off until its twisty final scene which tied the universes of the two films together. In this conclusion to what's now being called the "Eastrail 177 Trilogy," Shyamalan tries to wrap up storylines and characters introduced nearly two decades ago. The result is a snake that eats its own tail: fatally ponderous at times, and more than a little strained in its "Big Theme" heavy-lifting. Shyamalan remains a master of mood and a first-rate director of actors (James McAvoy Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis are dependably good). I just wish that he'd hired a cowriter to help curtail some of his worst tendencies. (C.)

GLORIA BELL--In Oscar-winning Chilean director Sebastian ("A Fantastic Woman") Lelio's affecting "cover version" of his 2013 arthouse hit, Julianne Moore plays the titular character: a 50-ish L.A. divorcee who lives to boogie at dance clubs. Moore is positively incadescent, and John Turturro is equally good as the divorced guy Gloria strikes sparks with, on and off the dance floor. A rare remake that matches--and in some ways--actually surpasses the original. (A MINUS.)

GRETA--Entertaining psychological thriller starring Chloe Grace Moretz as a young New Yorker who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a needy, increasingly unhinged Hungarian expatriate (screen legend Isabelle Huppert at her most deliciously imperious). Because director Neil ("The Crying Game," "Interview With the Vampire") Jordan ratchets up the suspense and jump-scares so effectively you won't realize--or even care--just how silly/preposterous it is until the closing credits. (B MINUS.)

HER SMELL--"The Handmaids Tale" star Elisabeth Olsen knocks it out of the park as a drug-addled '90s punk rocker (think Hole-era Courtney Love) who delights in causing misery for everyone in her quasi-incestuous orbit. Written and directed by indie darling Alex Ross Perry ("Listen Up Philip," "Queen of Earth"), it's the kind of movie seemingly designed to rattle, even antagonize audiences. Personally I found its tough love approach bracing, even exhilarating. 


HOTEL MUMBAI--The horrific 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack which left 160 people dead is the subject of this suspenseful docudrama by first-time helmer Anthony Maras. The biggest names in the cast are Dev Patel and Armie Hammer playing, respectively, a Muslim waiter at the titular hostelry whose stoical heroism helped save lives, and an American engineer staying at the hotel with his wife and infant son who gets caught up in the massacre. While occasionally guilty of exploiting a real-life tragedy for entertainment purposes, the movie's earnestness and artistry ultimately prevail. (B MINUS.)

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD--Confession. I've never been a fan of the "How to..." movies. Inexplicably critically acclaimed and apparently successful enough to warrant two sequels--without ever achieving the culture phenom status of numerous Pixar, Disney or even Illumination 'toons--they've always struck me as perennial also-rans. While good-looking and pacey enough to avoid abject boredom, the overarching storyline (a nerdy teenager becomes the man his macho dad always wanted him to be by buddying up with a fire-breathing flying reptile) elicited little more than a shrug from me. Which is probably why I found the latest "Dragon" iteration so instantly forgettable. The plot hasn't changed--nor have the stereotypical, one-dimensional characters, alas--and it remains about as exciting as staring at a dragon screen saver for 90-odd minutes. Fans of the earlier movies (and I'm assuming there must be some: maybe even a few over the age of 6?) will doubtless find "The Hidden World" a satisfying time-killer As for me, I'd have preferred spending the precious minutes I squandered working on my income taxes instead. (C MINUS.)

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.)

ISN'T IT ROMANTIC--After suffering a concussion, unlucky-in-love New York architect Rebel Wilson wakes up to discover that she's living in a glossy (PG-13) Hollywood rom-com. Amy Schumer did pretty much the same thing--but better--in last year's underrated "I Feel Pretty." Even though it clocks in at just under 90 minutes, the movie wears out its one-joke premise long before the end credits roll. With Liam Hemsworth as a dreamboat hunk and Wilson's "Pitch Perfect" costar Adam DeVine doing his patented sidekick schtick. (C MINUS.) 

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING--After a brush with Excalibur (aka "The Sword in the Stone"), a British lad (bland newcomer Louis Ashbourne Serkis) enlists his schoolmates to serve as knights to help ward off the evil Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). The kid's--and the movie's-- biggest ace in the hole is twinkly sorcerer Merlin (a perfectly cast Patrick Stewart at his most impishly appealing). This overstuffed fantasy-adventure by Joe Cornish (best known for his highly overrated 2011 alien invasion movie "Attack the Block") is pokily paced and much too pleased with itself, but not half-bad for a January throwaway. (C PLUS.)

THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART--Picking up where the 2014 instant 'toon classic ended, this entertaining follow-up finds Emmet (Chris Pratt), Batman (Will Arnett) and Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) battling (LEGO) invaders from space. Although journeyman helmer Mike ("Trolls") Mitchell has taken over the directorial reins, the original film's writing/directing dynamic duo (Chris Miller and Phil Lord) penned the script so the satirical jabs and pop culture savvy remain pretty much intact. Not as good/special as the first "LEGO Movie" (few 'toons are), but certainly better than any other all-ages-friendly movie currently playing in theaters. (B.)

A MADEA FAMILY FUNERAL--Madea's cinematic swan song (or is it?) finds Tyler Perry preaching, sometimes literally to the choir. The usual tonally schizophrenic melange of Chitlin Circuit jokes, daytime soap histrionics and heightened religiosity. Strictly for Madea/Perry fans. 


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.) 

MISS BALA--Catherine ("Twilight," "Thirteen") Hardwicke's Hollywood remake of a 2011 Spanish-language action flick about a young woman (the appealing Gina Rodriguez of "Mary Jane's a Virgin") who takes on a Mexican drug cartel after her friend is kidnapped. It's gritty, fast-paced and nicely acted, but neither particularly fresh or appreciably different/better than any isolated episode of Netflix's "Narcos." (C PLUS.)

THE MUSTANG--In French actress-turned-director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's striking feature debut, Matthias Schoenaerts plays a hardened convict who becomes involved in a Nevada prison's rehab-therapy program with wild Mustang horses. A strong supporting cast (Jason Mitchell, Connie Britton, Bruce Dern) provides emotional ballast for Schoenaerts' mesmerizing lead performance, and the horses are indeed magnificent. A bit too on-the-nose at times, but a

moving, deeply humanistic work that's never less than compelling. (B.) 

THE PRODIGY--Taylor ("Orange is the New Black") Schilling plays a mom who begins to suspect that her young son (a chilling Jackson Robert Scott) may be possessed by an evil spirit. In other words, a typical winter weekend spent cooped up in the house with your kids. Strictly for undemanding horror--and Schilling--fans. (C MINUS.)

REPLICAS--After his family is killed in an accident, biologist Keanu Reeves attempts to...well, the title pretty much gives it away, doesn't it? This long-delayed sci-fi actioner--it was shot in 2016 and sat on the shelf for two years--fails as both a cautionary tale about the perils of messing with Mother Nature and check-your-brains-at-the-door hokum. It more closely resembles the sort of anonymous title you skip over while perusing your cable's On Demand menu than something anyone would actually leave the house to see in a, y'know, theater. Pass. (D.)

SERENITY--Fishing boat captain Matthew McConaughey agrees to do a favor for slinky ex wife Anne Hathaway. Of course, she neglected to mention that said favor involves killing her sleazebag husband (ubiquitous Aussie heavy-breather Jason Clarke). Writer-director Steven ("Locke") Knight's earnest bid to make a new Millennium "Body Heat" lacks the sizzle, sensuality and airtight plotting of that 1981 Lawrence Kasdan classic, but it suffices as a Saturday night rental. (C 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.) 

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE--"The Myth of the American Sleepover"/"It Follows" director David Robert Mitchell's wildly ambitious stab at a contemporary spin on "Chinatown" actually owes more to the groovy cosmic whatzit? films of Richard Kelly ("Donnie Darko" and especially "Southland Tales"). I liked it a lot. Andrew Garfield plays a youngish, down on his luck Los Angeleno who meets his dream girl (Riley Keough) literally days before getting evicted from his apartment. When she disappears in the middle of the night, he embarks upon a Candide-esque quest to find out what happened to her. It's spooky, funny, dreamy, romantic: "La La Land" reimagined as a "Twilight Zone" episode. (A MINUS.) 

THE UPSIDE--This OK English-language remake of the enormously popular, "based on a true story" 2011 French movie "The Intouchables" coasts on the odd couple chemistry between Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart as a billionaire quadriplegic and his African-American caretaker. Directed by Neil ("Limitless") Burger and written by Paul ("Bridesmaids") Feig, it goes down easily enough even if you won't believe a single minute of it. Nicole Kidman adds a soupçon of class in the underwritten role of Cranston's selfless Gal Friday. (C PLUS.)

US--Jordan ("Get Out") Peele's eagerly awaited follow-up to his 2017 Oscar nominee is a balls-to-the-walls horror flick about a seemingly ordinary family whose Santa Cruz beach vacation turns terrifying when they encounter near-identical clones of themselves. Can it have something to do with a spooky experience Mom (a fantastic Lupita Nyong'o) had--and suppressed--as a child 30 years earlier? And what about those rabbits? Although maybe 20 minutes too long (it could definitely use some tightening, particularly in the somewhat overextended third act), this is the very antithesis of "sophomore slump." Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss are both superb in supporting roles, but this is Nyong'o and Peele's movie every step of the way. (A MINUS.)

WHAT MEN WANT--Gender-flipped African-American reboot of Mel Gibson's 2000 rom-com smash "What Women Want" casts Taraji P. Henson as a sports agent sick of being passed over for promotion at her boys' club office who magically gains the ability to read men's minds. Henson gives it the old college try, but the jokes land flatter than a pancake and the whole thing feels curiously wan and dispirited. It's nearly as clumsy as "Down to Earth," Chris Rock's ill-conceived "Heaven Can Wait" remake from 2001. Directed by hack extraordinaire Adam ("The Pacifier," "Cheaper by the Dozen") Shankman which probably explains why it looks like a failed network sitcom pilot. (D PLUS.)

WONDER PARK--A fantastical (and possibly imaginary?) amusement park is the stuff of wee bairn June's dreams in Nickelodeon's latest corporate-branded 3-D/CGI animation. Young kids should love it; anyone over the age of 8 will likely be bored out of their minds, despite a relatively brief (under 90 minutes) run time. (C MINUS.)


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