Movies With Milan


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

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

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

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

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

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON--Professional scene-stealer Jillian ("Office Christmas Party," "The Night Before") Bell headlines this Sundance-annointed dramedy about an overweight 28-year-old party girl (Bell) who decides to train for the New York City Marathon after being told that she needs to lose 50 pounds. Sharper-edged and more consistently surprising than your average rom-com, it marks a promising filmmaking debut by writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo. Think of it as "Trainwreck Lite." (B.) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL--Blah follow-up to the unexpectedly delightful 2014 Angelina Jolie "Sleeping Beauty" riff. Jolie is still a fantastic fit for the "Sleeping Beauty" villainess, but this Joachim ("Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales") Ronning-directed sequel has a marked identity crisis. Accordingly, it's a lot closer to a PG-13-rated "Game of Thrones" than it is to its charming predecessor. On the eve of Aurora's nuptials, her soon-to-be monster-in-law (a wasted Michelle Pfeiffer) locks horns with the imperious Maleficent when she reveals her devious plans to destroy fairyland. Overblown and creatively underwhelming, it's so CGI top-heavy that it never manages to leave the gate. (C MINUS.)

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

THE PEANUT BUTTER FACLON--Shia LaBeouf plays a small time grifter who takes a young man (Zach Gattsagen) with Down's Syndrome who recently escaped from a group home under his wing. Accompanying them on their road trip to a fabled wrestling school (turns out the kid really, really wants to be a wrestler) is a kind-hearted nursing home employee (Dakota Johnson). What could have been insufferably cloying and even condescending is instead a touching affirmation of the human spirit. The performances by the three principal actors are unimpeachable. (B PLUS.)

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

READY OR NOT--If "The Most Dangerous Game" and "Rosemary's Baby" procreated, the result would be this diabolically clever, laugh-out-loud dark comedy about a wedding night game of hide and seek in which the bride (Margot Robbie lookalike Samara Weaving) is pursued by the groom's murderous family. A satire about the ruthlessness of the 1%--and to what craven lengths they'll go to protect their money--it's slickly directed (by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett), expertly played (Andie McDowell is an absolute hoot as the groom's crossbow-wielding mother) and gratifyingly fat-free at 95 taut minutes. (B.)

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

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

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


AFTER--The latest tween romance "based on a best-selling novel"--in this case, Anna Todd's popular YA tome--serves up the hackneyed tale of a "Good Girl" (bland Josephine Langford) falling for a "Bad Boy" (even blander Hero Fiennes Tiffin). Will their star-crossed romance defy the odds and end blissfully ever after? Only 13-year-old girls are likely to care. (D.) 

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.)

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.)

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL--"King of the World" James Cameron produced and cowrote the script for this partially animated dystopian action-adventure flick based on a popular manga. (Robert Rodriguez is the director of record.) For better or worse, the "Avatar" auteur's "Think Big" mantra is all over the end result. A lonely inventor (Christoph Waltz) resuscitates the amnesiac 'bot title character (Rosa Salazar) who spends the rest of the movie trying to piece together her mysterious past (and, uh, kicking serious butt). While undeniably a technical marvel, the story, characters and setting feel pilfered from dozens of other movies ("Blade Runner," "Rollerball" and "Ready Player One" for starters). As a result, you're never truly engaged on an emotional level, and the experience becomes profoundly alienating, even borderline-tedious after a spell. (C.)

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

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

ANNA--Cross Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" with J-Law's "Red Sparrow," and you might have something vaguely approximating Luc Besson's latest bomb. The fact that Besson directed "Lucy," and a number of other films (e.g., his 1991 breakout hit "La Femme Nikita") "Anna" references means that he can't even successfully rip himself off anymore. Sad. As the titular assassin, Sasha Luss has a bright career a runway model. Some good actors (Luke Evans, Cilian Murphy and an amusingly hammy Helen Mirren) offer more thesping sustenance, but it's a losing cause in a movie we've seen many times previously. And usually better. 


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

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

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

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.)

THE BEST OF ENEMIES--The unlikely true-life friendship between KKK major domo C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) and African American civil rights activist (Taraji P. Henson) in 1971 Durham, North Carolina is chronicled in first-time director Robin Bissell's oddly denatured movie. Despite nice performances by its two leads, this is precisely the kind of tone-deaf wish-fulfillment racial unification fantasy that many accused 2018 Best Picture Oscar winner "Green Book" of being. Toothless, retrograde and pandering enough to make even MAGA-ers feel woke. Egregiously overlong at 133 minutes, too. (C MINUS.)

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

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

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

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

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

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.)

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.)

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

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.) 

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

THE 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.) 

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

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


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

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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

HELLBOY--Pointless reboot of the graphic novel franchise that previously spawned two pretty good Guillermo del Toro movies (in 2004 and '08 respectively). This one, alas, mostly shoots blanks. As the titular personage, David ("Stranger Things") Harbour is no Ron Perlman, and once-promising director Neil ("The Descent," "Dog Soldiers") Marshall clearly isn't in del Toro's league either. The best moments are provided by "Resident Evil" star Milla Jovovich as the Blood Queen who causes major agita for Hellboy. But there aren't nearly enough of them to recommend the film unless you're a diehard fanboy or girl. (C 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. 


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

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.)

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.)

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

THE 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. (A MINUS.)

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

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

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

LITTLE--Issa Rae (HBO's great "Insecure") watches in bemused horror as boss-from-hell Regina Hall morphs into her childhood self ("black-ish" star Marsai Martin is a hoot as the mouthy kid). Sort of an African-American spin on the 2004 Jennifer Garner/Mark Ruffalo rom-com "13 Going On 30," it's got some laughs and generally strong performances (Rae and Hall are particularly good), but could have definitely used a trim. At 109 minutes, it quickly becomes repetitious and even borderline-tedious. (C.) 

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

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.) 

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.) 

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.)

MIDSOMMAR--Imagine "The Wicker Man" (the 1973 British original, not the silly 2006 Nicolas Cage remake) if it had been directed by a "Virgin Spring"-era Ingmar Bergman. That's writer-director Ari Aster's exceedingly ambitious follow-up to his 2018 freakout debut "Hereditary." Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor (both very good) play an American couple on the skids who accompany some pals to a once-every-90-years festival in the Swedish countryside where things take a predictably sinister turn. Creepy, compelling and visually dazzling, but a daunting 148-minute run time feels hubristic/excessive. (B.)

MISSING LINK--Gorgeously animated, consistently amusing Laika 'toon in which an explorer (voiced by Hugh Jackman) teams up with the titular yeti (Zach Galifanakis) to help locate the hairy one's lost family in Shangri-La. Lighter in tone and a whole lot funnier than the typical Laika production ("Coraline," "Kubo and the Two Strings," etc.), it's the most enjoyable animated film since "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse." (B.)

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.) 

PENGUINS--Another anthropomorphized nature documentary from the Disney Corporation. You can see better--and certainly less hokey--nature docs on basic cable. Your call. (C.)

PET SEMATARY--Overexposed Jason Clarke and always welcome Amy Seimetz move to a rural backwater with their two young kids and discover that, well, sometimes dead is better. John Lithgow amusingly chews the scenery as the family's old-coot neighbor. A decent enough adaptation of the Stephen King source material, but not appreciably better--or different really--than the 1989 version directed by Mary Lambert. (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.) 

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.) 

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.)

THE SOUVENIR--Honor Swinton-Byrne is a film student in 1980's London with major boyfriend issues. Swinton-Byrne's real-life mom (the great Tilda Swinton) plays her mother. Both are wonderful. A typically opaque, even borderline cryptic artflick by critics' darling Joanna ("Exhibition," "Archipelago") Hogg that's as fascinating to watch as it is to rewind in your head days later. (B PLUS.)

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

STUBER--Ultra-violent odd couple/buddy action-comedy about a grizzled L.A. cop ("Guardians of the Galaxy" breakout Dave Bautista) and his mild-mannered Uber driver (Kumail Nanjiani from "The Big Sick" and "Silicon Valley") trying to crack a case. The sometimes jarring mix of humor

and grisly violence recalls former hits like cult fave "Freebie and the Bean" and last summer's "The Spy Who Dumped Me," and the movie coasts on the chemistry between its mismatched leads. Don't be surprised if there's a sequel. Directed by Michael ("What If," "Goon") Dowse. 


THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR--Prior to being deported along with her family, an undocumented Jamaican teenager living in New York City ("Grown-ish" breakout Yara Shahidi) meets the boy of her dreams (Charles Melton from "Riverdale"). More topical (and interesting) than your average YA star-crossed romance, it benefits from sensitive direction (Ry Russo-Young previously helmed the solid YA flick "Before I Fall"), better-than-average performances and a palpable chemistry between its romantic leads. (B MINUS.)

TOLKIEN--Prosaic, by-the-numbers biopic about the formative years--and WW I service--of "Lord 

of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien. Not helping matters is the casting of Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien: the only British actor of his generation who's even less exciting than Eddie 

Redmayne. Lily Collins provides a few grace notes as Mrs. Tolkien, but the entire thing feels underbaked and terminally bland. (C 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.)

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.) 

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

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

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.)

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


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