Movies with Milan

Movies with Milan

Movies reviews from Milan PaurichFull Bio


Movies with Milan 7-21-23

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AMOR BANDIDO--Daniel Werner's Spanish-language movie begins like an especially naughty "hot for teacher" softcore romp before segueing into a disturbing psychological thriller. When the foxy high school teacher (Romana Ricci's sultry Luciana) he's been sleeping with invites him to spend their midterm break at her family's country home, 16-year-old Joan (Renato Quattordio) jumps at the offer. Because Joan, the privileged son of a judge, is still at an age when hormones make all his major life decisions, he misses the warning signs that something ain't kosher. Soon after they arrive, a wounded man (Raffael Ferro) shows up claiming to be Luciana's brother. To nobody's surprise, a kidnapping is afoot with Joan as the victim and Luciana most likely involved. Werner keeps us guessing about Luciana's true agenda, and by the time of the big reveal we're as gobsmacked as Joan himself. Considering the film's copious surface pleasures (sex, nudity, ultra-violence; what's not to like?), I was surprised at how genuinely moving the ending is. And the fact that Werner does it all in an expeditious 80 minutes--in an era when most Hollywood directors would have probably needed 6-8 episodes of a Netflix "limited series" to tell the same story--makes his achievement all the more impressive. The sole extra on the Cinephobia Releasing DVD is a short interview with Werner discussing the making of the film. (B PLUS.)    


BARBIE--If Day-Glo colors, "authentic artificiality" and winking meta humor are your bag, director/cowriter Greta ("Lady Bird," 2019's "Little Women") Gerwig has delivered a veritable Barbie Dreamhouse of a movie. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling (both blissed-out perfection) play Barbie and Ken who, after suffering an identity crisis, leave their cosseted Barbie Land to experience the Real World for the first time. (Since this "Real World" is actually present-day Los Angeles, maybe "Real" should be spelled "Reel.") You'll need a scorecard to keep track of Gerwig's beacoup visual references--everything from "The Wizard of Oz" to "The Truman Show," with a deep dive into Jacques Demy's 1960's French New Wave musicals--which is all part of the fun. I can't decide whether the target demo is social-media obsessed Tweener girls or ironic gay men, but it's a hoot and a half. It's the best big screen toy commercial since the first LEGO movie. (A.)   

THE BOOGEYMAN--Still dealing with the fallout from their mom's death, sisters Sadie (Sophie Thatcher from Showtime's "Yellowjackets") and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) are forced to battle the titular monster lurking underneath the latter's bed. Because their therapist dad Will (Chris Messina) isn't much help, the two girls are pretty much left to their own devices. Loosely adapted from a 1973 Stephen King short story by "A Quiet Place" screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, this is a reasonably effective "PG-13" horror flick that should have no trouble satisfying its target audience of impressionable teenage girls. (B MINUS.) 

BREATHLESS--I first saw the late Jean-Luc Godard's feature debut in an NYU Cinema Studies class in 1977. It was my first exposure to Godard, and I experienced the same visceral kick I did when encountering New Hollywood auteurs like Martin Scorsese ("Mean Streets"), Robert Altman ("M*A*S*H") and Terrence Malick ("Badlands") for the first time. Since then, I've seen pretty much every film Godard directed in his sixty-year-plus career. But I resisted the urge to revisit "Breathless" for fear that it couldn't possibly deliver the same level of excitement that I experienced in a collegiate setting decades ago. Fortunately, I'm pleased (and relieved) to report that Godard's 63-year-old masterpiece--newly released by the Criterion Collection on a glistening 4K UHD Blu-Ray--remains as, well, breathtaking as ever. Thanks to the raw immediacy of Raoul Coutard's in-your-face cinematography, kinetic jump cuts and the blithe sang-froid of its uber-photogenic leads, the movie remains forever young. Like other truly revolutionary works of art that single-handedly rewrote the rules of filmmaking (Welles' "Citizen Kane" being the most famous example), it feels both of its time and utterly timeless. Jean-Paul Belmondo's Bogart-obsessed petty thief Michel is still very much the arbiter of New Wave cool whether stealing a car, wooing a pixieish American college student (Jean Seberg's iconic Patricia) or killing the motorcycle cop who makes the mistake of crossing his path. When writing about "Breathless" at the time of its 2010 re-release, former New York Times critic A.O. Scott described it as having the impact of "a bullet from the future of movies." Since Godard would continue reinventing cinema for the rest of his workaholic life, you might say that the future has finally arrived. The two-disc Criterion set includes both 4K UHD and Blu Ray copies of the film as well as a bevy of bonus features. There are archival interviews with Godard, Belmondo, Seberg, director Jean-Pierre Melville (who knew a thing or two about cool crooks), Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient and documentary pioneer D.A. ("Don't Look Back," "Monterey Pop") Pennebaker; video essays by filmmaker Mark ("From the Journals of Jean Seberg") Rappaport and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum; the 1993 French documentary, "Chambre 12, Hotel de Suede," about the making of "Breathless" which features cast/crew members; "Charlotte et Son Jules," Godard's 1959 short film which marked his first collaboration with Belmondo; a scholarly essay by Yale film professor Dudley Andrew; writings by Godard from Cahiers du cinema and Films and Filming magazines; Francois Truffaut's original treatment of the story; and Godard's screenplay in prose form. (A PLUS.) 

ELEMENTAL--Burnie, Cinder and their teenage daughter Ember immigrate from Fireland to Element City only to face discrimination from the intolerant Water people. Things come to a literal boil after Ember embarks upon a forbidden Romeo and Juliet romance with native Water boy Wade. Will the racist citizens of Element City learn the virtues of tolerance and acceptance, or will things end tragically like in Shakespeare's doomed romance? Since this is a CGI Pixar 'toon, a happy--and eminently woke--ending is pretty much preordained. Directed by Peter Sohn whose previous animated feature, 2015's "The Good Dinosaur," has the dubious distinction of being the single worst Pixar movie to date, this new film is undone by a surprisingly witless script, unappealing characters, dull vocal casting and ickily sentimental messaging. Even the short preceding the main feature ("Carl's Date," a misguided "Up" sequel) is disappointing. (C MINUS.)  

FAST X--Like the 007 franchise which officially jumped the shark during the later Roger Moore years ("The Spy Who Loved Me," "Moonraker"), the "Fast and the Furious" franchise officially left planet earth half a dozen movies ago. This tenth iteration is no exception. Stunt work and CGI have become increasingly untethered to any sort of reality and the characters no longer seem like real human beings, just video game avatars. A new director (Louis Leterrier of the "Transporter" actioners) does nothing to rectify a ship that went off course years ago. The cursory plot involves an elaborate vendetta against Dom, Letty, Roman, Taj, et al. by a drug kingpin son's (Jason Mamoa's Dante, the best thing in the movie) The fact that the producers have somehow managed to wrangle Oscar winners Charlize Theon and Helen Mirren back into the fray is less depressing than the recruiting of additional award-winning actors (Rita Moreno and Brie Larson). Originally intended as the penultimate F&F movie, this series is now--according to a recent Deadline interview with Diesel--apparently going to run ad infinitum. Or ad nauseam, depending upon your patience for high-octane nonsense. (C MINUS.)

THE FLASH--A combo origin story and multiverse adventure story, the latest D.C. mega-production aspires to be a super-hero variant of "Back to the Future." But thanks to a bloated 144-minute run time and an unfocused screenplay that spirals off in so many directions that it makes "Everything Everything All at Once" seem minimalist, it's more wearying than entertaining. Ezra Miller, who previously essayed the titular role in "Justice League," "Suicide Squad," "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" and TV's "The Flash," once again plays Barry Allen/The Flash, this time in two separate dimensions: as a Central City forensics chemist and a gawky 18-year-old college student. There are even two different actors playing Batman (O.G. Bat dude Michael Keaton, this film's undisputed MVP, and Ben Affleck, the most recent thespian to don the trademark cape and cowl), as well as an appearance by Superman's arch-nemesis General Zod (Michael Shannon). Director Andy Muschietti, who helmed the equally oversized "It" movies, lacks the lightness in touch to finesse the more ostensibly comic parts of the movie, and the whole thing has an unpleasant heaviness that's the antithesis of "fun." (C.)

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOLUME 3--Rocket the Raccoon (once again voiced by Bradley Cooper) is the main focus of the last, longest (150 minutes) and arguably least of James Gunn's GOTG trilogy. When Rocket is injured in an attack on Knowhere by super villain Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), Peter (the increasingly annoying Chris Pratt) is forced to seek help from Gamora's Ravagers pals to save the smart alecky raccoon's life. More solemn than the previous installments--Gunn seems to think he's making a movie for his new D.C. bosses rather than Marvel Corp.--and egregiously bloated, the ceaseless attempts to tug at our heart strings fall as flat as most of the jokes.The series standout remains Zoe Saldana's Gamora who's been resuscitated after her death in the last chapter. The fact that a reborn Gamora no longer finds man-child Peter terribly appealing (who can blame her?) sends the once and future Star-Lord spiraling into alcoholism. (See, I told you it was dark). By the time the movie crawls to its conclusion, you might be in need of something stiffer than a Diet Coke yourself. (C MINUS.)  

INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY--Since Harrison Ford is now 80 years old, this fifth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise is probably the last time we'll see the former Han Solo don his trademark fedora. I only wish the first Jones movie not helmed by Steven Spielberg ("Ford v Ferrari" and Logan" director James Mangold assumes the reins) was better. At 154 minutes, it's definitely the longest film in the series, but also the most lumbering and wearisome. Set in 1969, Professor Jones is a frequently soused Hunter College professor whose retirement from swashbuckling adventures ends when he's visited by goddaughter Helene (Phoebe Waller-Bridge of "Fleabag" fame). The spunky lass is determined to get her hands on the missing half of the titular "Dial of Destiny;" Indy, conveniently, has the other half in his possession. Because the Antikythera dial has alleged supernatural powers that tamper with wormholes and reset history, it's also highly coveted by Nazi physicist Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) who hopes to change the outcome of World War II. Ford and Waller-Bridge make a winning duo, but their globe-trotting (Tangiers, Greece, etc.) adventures feel less exhilarating than merely quaint, even rote. None of the previous sequels--with the possible exception of 1984's "Temple of Doom"--came close to capturing the enchantment and gee-whiz excitement of 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and this is no exception. Strictly for sentimentalists, nostalgists and/or Indy die-hards. (C.) 

INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR--The fourth chapter of a horror franchise that's been chugging along since 2010 delivers pretty much what diehard fans are expecting. (Cue the "PG-13"-rated jump scares.) Josh (Patrick Wilson who also directs) and estranged son Dalton (Ty Simpkins from "The Whale") must venture beyond the titular door to hopefully end their family's decades-long trauma. In the process, they unwittingly unmask some long-repressed memories they'd prefer to keep hidden. Mom Renai (Rose Byrne) is largely sidelined this time, probably because Byrne was too busy shooting her new Apple TV+ series with Seth Rogen. Fortunately, Lin Shaye is back as psychic extraordinaire Elise, and she's always been the spooky heart of the "Insidious" universe. FYI: A spinoff, "Thread: An Insidious Tale," is already in the works. (C PLUS.)

THE LITTLE MERMAID--Putting aside the question of whether the world really needed a (mostly) live action remake of the classic 1989 Disney 'toon, director Rob ("Chicago," "Into the Woods") Marshall's robustly entertaining movie justifies its existence solely by the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel. Bailey's "star is born" performance is so enchanting that you literally can't take your eyes off her. She's also a wonderful singer. (Bailey's "Part of Your World" will make you forget you ever heard that Alan Menken and Howard Ashman standard before.) The quest of teenage mermaid Ariel to experience life on terra firma--and find true love with Prince Eric (Jonah Haver-King)--remains as captivating as ever, and spot-on casting down the line gives it a freshness and welcome new piquancy. Javier Bardem (King Triton), Daveed Diggs (Sebastian the crab), Awkwafina (seabird Scuttle), Jacob Tremblay (Flounder) and scene-stealing Melissa McCarthy's sea witch Ursula all provide invaluable comic and/or emotional ballast. I think it's a pretty safe bet that Bailey and Marshall's "Little Mermaid" will be delighting audiences for years to come. (B PLUS.) 

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE--DEAD RECKONING: PART I--The seventh film in a billion dollar franchise that began all the way back in 1996, and the first since series standout, 2018's "Fallout," has chosen an uber-topical villain for Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt. Rather than an exotically accented bad guy, the scoundrel this time isn't human at all but a super-power A.I. called "Entity." There's a McGuffin-ish hunt for a two-part key that everyone wants--including preening sociopath Gabriel (Esai Morales) and his lethal henchwoman (Pom Klementieff)--but it's Entity's seemingly personal vendetta against Ethan that triggers the usual embarrassment of "Can You Top This?" "M:I" action setpieces, most done with little or no CGI. Cruise, of course, remains as indefatigable as ever, and it's great seeing the old gang (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson) back together again. Besides the customary bloat that's become the Achilles Heel of most 21st century tentpole movies (it could definitely stand to lose a half hour from the 164-minute run time), the central weakness is built into the title. Since this is only "Part I" (the concluding chapter is slated for release in June '24), the ending inevitably feels a bit like coitus interruptus. But for crackerjack hot weather entertainment, Cruise & Co. can't be beat. Along with spring's "John Wick, Chapter 4," it's the year's most purely entertaining actioner. (A MINUS.)   

NEVADA SMITH--Marketed as a sequel to "The Carpetbaggers" which was a box-office behemoth two summers earlier, audiences were probably surprised to discover that "Nevada Smith" wasn't another sexy soap opera, but instead a fairly leisurely, unabashedly old-fashioned western. Apparently they didn't mind since this starring vehicle for "King of Cool" Steve McQueen was another hot weather hit for Paramount Pictures in 1966. Of course, the very concept of "sequel" must have seemed pretty alien at the time. Inspired by a few chapters from Harold Robbins' source novel, the movie tells the "origin story" of Alan Ladd's aging cowboy from the earlier film. (Ladd actually died before "The Carpetbaggers" was released.) The vengeance-fueled plot involves farm boy Nevada (McQueen) training to become a hard-nosed gunslinger so he can avenge the murder of his parents. Brian Keith amusingly essays Nevada's frontier Mr. Miyagi, and character actor royalty (Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy and Martin Landau) play the trio of no-good varmints who (separately) get their comeuppance before Nevada can mosey off into the sunset. Because this was made in an era when no pennies were pinched during the casting process, there are also juicy supporting turns from a pre-"Newhart" Suzanne Pleshette, Pat Hingle, Raf Vallone, Howard Da Silva and the wonderful Janet Margolin. Interestingly, the movie was directed and photographed by Henry Hathaway and Lucien Ballard three years before they reunited for another revenge-driven oater, "True Grit." The Kino Studio Classics Blu-Ray features a gorgeous new HD master taken from a scan of the original 35mm negative, and an audio commentary track with screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner, producer Mark Jordan Legan and film historian Henry Parke. (A MINUS.)

NO HARD FEELINGS--Newly unemployed Uber driver Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) answers a Craig's List ad posted by helicopter parents (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) hoping to bring their socially awkward teenage son (Andrew Barth Feldman) out of his shell before heading for Princeton. Of course, what they're really looking for is someone to deflower the 19-year-old virgin--something made eminently clear in a cringey job interview. After reluctantly accepting the job (hey, they promised her a new car!), Maddie winds up having a positive influence on the geek and, yes, even (sort of) popping his cherry. Director Gene Stupinsky had a sleeper hit four summers ago with the potty-mouthed "Good Boys," and don't be surprised if lightning strikes twice. With its pitch-perfect performances by Lawrence (who's playing a rougher-edged version of her Oscar-winning "Silver Linings Playbook" character) and newcomer Feldman, this is precisely the type of unapologetically raunchy "R" rated comedy that seemingly nobody is making in Hollywood anymore. (B.) 

OPPENHEIMER--The birth of the Atomic Bomb--and its terrifying reverberations which can still be felt today--is the unlikely subject of "The Dark Knight" director's most conventional, but in some respects most satisfying film to date. Except for the peekaboo nudity and four letter words, this three-hour historical epic would have been right at home in the 1960's roadshow era. All that's missing is an intermission and a souvenir program booklet sold in the lobby. Cillian ("Peaky Blinders") Murphy plays J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant theoretical physicist charged with spearheading the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1942, and Nolan's cast encompasses seemingly half the membership of SAG. Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Kenneth Branagh and sundry others all make indelible impressions in strongly etched supporting roles. But the true star of the movie is fanboy favorite Nolan whose supremely kinetic approach to egghead-y material (see "Interstellar") insures that it's as visually dynamic as it is intellectually stimulating. (A.) 

THE RANOWN WESTERNS: FIVE FILMS DIRECTED BY BUDD BOETTICHER--The 1950's were a golden period for Hollywood westerns. Consider: Anthony Mann's "psychological" westerns, most of which ("The Naked Spur," "Winchester '73") starred Jimmy Stewart; John Ford's greatest film, "The Searchers;" and Howard Hawks' "Red River" and "Rio Bravo" which bookended the decade. While Budd Boetticher's virile '50s oaters never achieved the same visibility or attention (at the time anyway), they've since become among the most fetishized films in arguably the oldest of movie genres. The Criterion Collection's imposingly hefty new box set features five ("The Tall T," Decision at Sundown," "Buchanan Rides Alone," "Ride Lonesome" and "Comanche Station") of the seven "Ranown" westerns Boetticher directed between 1957-'60. 1956's "Seven Men from Now" and 1959's "Westbound" are mysteriously absent; maybe Criterion wasn't able to acquire the home video rights. (In case you've been wondering about the "Ranown" monicker, it was a melding of their producers--Randolph Scott and Joe Brown--names.) 

What continues to make the films so fascinating is that they're all essentially variations on the same theme: a loner (Scott) doing "what a man's gotta do;" villains who seem like less virtuous Doppelgangers of the hero; similar plots; and even recycled dialogue. You almost get the sense that Boetticher was working things out as he moseyed along from movie to movie, and their stripped down, nearly austere quality prefigure the elemental 1960's westerns of Monte ("Two Lane Blacktop") Hellman. Strangely, the director whose work I was most reminded of while reviewing the Ranown set was French New Wave master Jacques Rivette, another cultish filmmaker whose most celebrated '70s and '80s works were all of a piece, using many of the same actors and revisiting/tweaking the same tropes time and again. 

Interesting side note: four of the Ranowns were written by Burt Kennedy, most of whose later films as writer/director (with the possible exception of 1965's "The Rounders") were boilerplate westerns made with John Wayne during the Duke's largely undemanding twilight years. It's safe to say that Kennedy's screen career peaked with his Boetticher collaborations. 

(1) 1957's "The Tall T," based on an Elmore Leonard short story, stars Scott as a struggling rancher who gets mixed up in a stagecoach robbery-turned-kidnapping when society matron Maureen O'Sullivan is ransomed by charming bad guy Richard Boone.The Scott/Boone yin-yang is as pronounced here as it would be in all of the Ranown films. Near dual-images of each other, their symmetry is almost pathological, culminating in a shocking burst of violence against the Lone Pine landscape. It's a minor masterpiece.

(2) "Decision at Sundown" (also 1957) features Scott as widower Bart Allison, hell-bent on revenge against the foppish big-man-in-a-small-town Tate Kimbourough (John Carroll) whose affair with his late wife led to her suicide. Bart's single-minded obsession ultimately leads to the cowering townspeople finally rebelling against Kimbourough's strong arm rule. 

(3) "Buchanan Rides Alone" (1958) seems a bit like a dry-run for Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" (and, subsequently, Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars") as a remarkably passive Tom Buchanan (Scott) saddles into a town run by the wealthy and corrupt Agrys family. Agilely playing both sides of the fence like Toshiro Mifune's master swordsman or Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, Buchanan conspires with a young Mexican to make the Agrys dynasty implode from within thanks to a series of increasingly cunning double and triple crosses. 

(4) "Ride Lonesome" (1959) is an air-tight model of narrative precision, and another Boetticher western in which Scott (this time poetically named Ben Brigade) seeks vengeance for a dead spouse. To get to the murderer (future Leone heavy Lee Van Cleef), Brigade abducts the killer's brother (James Best) as a way to get to his real prey (future Leone heavy Lee Van Cleef

(5) "Comanche Station" (1960) marked the final collaboration between Boetticher and Scott, although the latter would star in Sam Peckinpah's Boetticher-esque directorial debut, "Ride the High Country," four years later. A cowboy loner (Scott's Jefferson Cody) harboring a secret agenda rescues a white woman (Nancy Gates) kidnapped by Comanche Indians. To bring her home, Cody has to battle both Comanches and unscrupulous bounty hunters itching for the reward money proffered by the woman's wealthy husband. (Not surprisingly, we ultimately discover that Cody's wife was also captured by Indians years before.)

The Criterion package includes three 4K UHD discs presented in Dolby Vision HDR, and three Blu-Rays containing the films and a surfeit of extras. Included are introductions to the movies by directors Martin Scorsese and Taylor ("An Officer and a Gentleman") Hackford; a featurette about Scott with critic Farran Smith Nehme; audio commentaries for "The Tall T," "Ride Lonesome" and "Comanche Station" with, respectively, Jeanine Basinger, Jeremy Arnold and Hackford; archival interviews with Boetticher; an audio conversation between Boetticher and film scholar Jim Kitses; a super-8 home movie version of "Comanche Station;" and essays by University of Chicago professor Tom Gunning and freelance critic Glenn Kenny. (A.) 

SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE--This eagerly anticipated follow-up to the Oscar-winning 2018 CGI 'toon picks up where we left off with Miles (Shameik Moore) becoming increasingly comfortable with his new Spidey powers. There are still a few glitches to be worked out, of course, but that's where gal pal Gwen (Hailee Steinfield) comes in. It's a good thing, too, since there's a new Big Bad in town (Jason Schwartzman's The Spot) hell bent on revenge. Like the first film, the sequel is stunningly animated and chockfull of just-right urban talismans and judicious wit. But at a bladder-busting 140 minutes (making it nearly as long as your average live-action Marvel movie), it's perhaps too much of a good thing. And since this is only Part 2 of a proposed "Spider-Verse" trilogy--the concluding chapter is scheduled for release in 2024--it doesn't so much end as punt on the way to the finish line. (B.) 

THE SUPER MARIO BROTHERS MOVIE--"Teen Titans GO! to the Movies" directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic reteam for a DayGlo CGI 'toon adapted from the 38-year-old video game. The ubiquitous Chris Pratt voices Mario who teams up with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and a toad (Keegan-Michael Key) to stop fire-breathing Koopa Browser (Jack Black, perfectly cast) from achieving (ho-hum) world domination. Oh yeah; Mario also needs to find brother Luigi (Chaerlie Day) who's mysteriously gone missing in the Mushroom Kingdom. Although it's primary appeal is video game cultists and young children, this is still a vast improvement over the clunky live-action 1993 Mario Bros. movie starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo. (C PLUS.)

TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS-- The battle between Autobots and Decepticons continues apace in the latest attempt to reboot Michael Bay's HASBRO franchise. But unlike 2018's surprisingly engaging "Bumblebee," this one has a hard time achieving full lift-off. While it was a nice idea to give the series more of a multicultural spin than previous "Trans" flicks which all starred white bread actors like Mark Wahlberg and Shia LaBeouf, maybe the producers should have invested in a screenplay that didn't feel like it was A.I.-generated. Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback are pleasant enough company as the principal human protagonists, but they're consistently upstaged by the 'bots which remain the series raison d'etre (recent Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh voices Airazor, one of a new breed of wild animal Transformers called Maximals). Young kids will probably eat it up, though. (C.)  


ABOUT MY FATHER--Stand up comic and occasional actor Sebastian Maniscalo reunites with his "Irishman" costar Robert De Niro for a self-described "auto-biopic comedy." After Sebastian informs his Italian immigrant father Salvo (De Niro) that he's planning to pop the question to his blue blood girlfriend (Leslie Bibb's Ellie), dad decides to tag along for a weekend getaway at her family's posh estate. It's a culture clash farce pitting Salvo's earthy ethos versus the upper-crust stuffiness of Ellie's snooty parents (David Rasche and Kim Cattrall, both perfectly cast). The whole thing plays like an extended pilot for a new FOX sitcom ("Everybody Loves Salvo"?), but clocking in at a circumspect 89 minutes--including end credits--it never overstays its welcome either. (C PLUS.) 

AIR--The genesis of Nike's trademark Air Jordan basketball shoe in the mid-'80s is the unlikely, but highly winning premise of director Ben ("Argo," "The Town") Affleck's brash, witty, furiously paced and terrifically entertaining new docudrama. Affleck BFF Matt Damon plays Sonny Vacarro who hatches his dream shoe idea with the help of ace designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher). But getting the preliminary go-ahead proves surprisingly fraught since neither Sonny's prickly boss (Jason Bateman) or Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) don't think it's a very good idea. And securing the cooperation of Jordan's mom Deloris (a perfectly cast Viola Davis) and agent (Chris Messina) isn't going to be much easier. Fans of "Moneyball" and/or "The Social Network" are sure to love this Inside Baseball (or "Inside Basketball Shoe") movie which has the feel-good vibe of a classic sports flick. It'll make a great streaming double-bill with Apple TV+'s "Tetris" after hitting Amazon later this year. (A.) 

ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET--Based on Judy Blume's beloved YA novel, this long-gestating film version proves to have been well worth the wait. Adorable newcomer Abby Ryder Fortson plays 11-year-old Margaret who experiences major culture shock when her parents (Benny Safdie and a radiant Rachel McAdams in the beefed-up mom role) leave 1970's New York City for the Jersey suburbs. Margaret must navigate a new school with the help of a new friend and neighbor (Elle Graham), experiences her first crush (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong) and deals with menstruation, her first kiss and even religion. (A secular upbringng makes Margaret an exotic bird in her heavily Christian neighborhood.) Writer-director Kelly Freman Craig (her 2016 debut, "The Edge of Seventeen," was itself a YA classic) makes nary a false step. Her movie is funny, touching and deeply felt even for Blume initiates like me. As Safdie's Jewish mom, Kathy Bates steals her share of scenes without once veering into caricature. Like everything else here, it's perfectly judged and feels just right. (A MINUS.)  

ASTEROID CITY--An Arizona desert town is the enchanted setting for a 1955 Junior Stargazer Convention in which teen astronomers and their families gather to wonk out on all things extra-terrestrial. Unbeknownst to them, actual aliens are planning to crash the party. That's the far-out set-up for fabulist extraordinaire Wes ("The Grand Budapest Hotel," "Isle of Dogs") Anderson's sublime new film. And I haven't even mentioned the New York stage play inspired by the convention that takes place simultaneously as a play-within-the-movie. If that sounds confusing, it's not. The bifurcated structure just adds a typically Andersonian meta layer that's as laugh-out-loud funny as it is inexorably, profoundly moving. As a recently widowed father of four who's yet to break the news to his brood about mom's passing, Jason Schwartzman gives a performance of such aching, plangent vulnerability that he'll break your heart in fifty pieces. Because this is a Wes joint, the cast is the usual embarrassment of riches with both Anderson rep players like Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright and Bryan Cranston mixing it up with newbies to the party like Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, Hong Chau, Matt Dillon and Jeff Goldblum. The trademark lateral tracking shots and meticulously curated mise-en-scene remain as breathtaking as usual, and the whole thing casts such a magical spell that you'll think you're dreaming. I can't think of another place I'd rather spend my summer vacation. (A.) 

BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER--Carol (Mary Steenburgen), Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Vivian (Jane Fonda) take their book club to Italy in director/co-writer Bill Holderman's middling sequel to the equally middling 2018 sleeper hit. The occasion for the post-Covid trip is Vivian's imminent wedding to Arthur (Don Johnson), and the ladies cram in as much scenery (Rome, Venice and Tuscany included), wine, pasta and amour (Sharon strikes a love connection with a retired philosophy professor) as they can squeeze into roughly 100 minutes of screen time. Like the first movie, it all goes down easily enough, and it's always a pleasure to spend time with screen royalty like Fonda, Keaton, Bergen and Steenburgen. But you can't help wishing that rom-com wiz Nancy ("Something's Gotta Give," "The Holiday") Meyers was behind the camera instead of an amiable hack like Holderman. (C PLUS.)

CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER--I first saw Joan Micklin Silver's 1979 adaptation of Ann Beattie's novel back when it was called "Head Over Heels." Despite the fact that the movie was produced by United Artists which had a rep for being the most director-friendly studio in Hollywood, Micklin Silver got a lot of interference in both the pre and post-production process. UA didn't want John Heard to play the male lead (among the names dangled were TV stars Robin Williams and John Ritter), and even vetoed using the title of Beattie's book. Most contentious of all was their insistence upon a new "happy" ending which completely destroyed Beattie and Micklin Silver's vision. But like another UA film that bombed in its initial release (Ivan Passer's "Cutter's Way," also starring Heard), the studio's nascent classics division ultimately gave it a second life as "Chilly Scenes of Winter." (Retitled "Cutter and Bone," Passer's movie became an arthouse hit with a new ad campaign six months after opening, and quickly closing, in theaters.) It would take three years before Micklin Silver's preferred cut returned to theaters, but a few editorial changes (including dropping the studio-mandated ending) and its new title made all the difference. Critics and audiences were a lot kinder this time, turning "Chilly Scenes" into a major cult film. The new Criterion Collections Blu-Ray should help "Chilly Scenes" find a new generation of fans. Sort of a non-romantic rom-com, the movie stars Heard as Salt Lake City civil servant Charles whose on-again/off-again affair with newly separated co-worker Laura (Mary Beth Hurt at her most adorably prickly) turns into a romantic obsession that upends his life, and the lives of everyone surrounding him including his best friend (Peter Riegert), mom (a wonderful Gloria Grahame in her last significant screen role) and stepdad (Kenneth McMillan). Alternately wistful and laugh-out-loud funny, it's a true original and one of Micklin Silver's major works. Extras include the '79 ending for comparison/contrast purposes; a dishy chat with producers Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne and Mark Metcalf (the latter two have scene-stealing supporting roles in the film); Katja Raganelli's 1983 documentary about Micklin Silver; excerpts from a 2005 Micklin Silver DGA interview; and an essay by Fordham University professor Shanni Enelow. (A.) 

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES--Chris Pine has his best screen role in years as disgraced knight turned common thief Edgin Darvis in a swashbuckling adventure flick based on the uber-fetishized 49-year-old board game. With the aid of barbarian partner in crime Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), hapless sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) and suave nobleman Xenk ("Bridgerton" breakout star Rege-Jean Page), Edgin attempts to retrieve the legendary Tablet of Reawakening in the hopes of restoring his former life/dignity. As a bonus, the Tablet will also resurrect Edgin's dead wife and help him reconcile with his rebellious tween daughter (Chloe Coleman) who's fallen under the sway of Big Bad Farge Fitzwillian (a scene-stealing Hugh Grant). Directed by Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Frances Daley who last teamed for 2018 sleeper hit "Game Night," the film is a mash-up of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Princess Bride," "Star Wars" and probably a dozen other fanboy cultural touchstones. It's also more fun than any recent Marvel movie largely because it never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. (B PLUS.)

EVIL DEAD RISE--The fifth entry in the gore-soaked horror franchise Sam Raim launched in 1981 feels more like a standalone movie than a sequel. (The first tip-off is the absence of a Bruce Campbell cameo.) Beth (Lily Sullivan) visits her divorced big sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) in L.A. hoping to mend their relationship. During her stay, an earthquake opens an underground tomb hidden beneath Ellie's apartment building. Before you can say, "Boo!," Ellie morphs into a deadly killing machine, and it's up to Beth to save Ellie's three kids and herself from their Monster Mommy. Director Lee ("The Hole in the Ground") Cronin gets beaucoup claustrophobic mileage out of the dingy apartment setting, and expertly choreographs the bloody carnage. (A kitchen is the setting for the most gruesome sequence.) If your taste leans more towards "PG-13" fright flicks, you're clearly not the audience for this film. But for true horror aficionados, it's a bit like an early Halloween treat. (B.) 

THE FISHER KING--Although it was Robin Williams' Pagliacci-like turn as Parry, a medieval history professor turned homeless man, that earned the former Mork his first Oscar nomination, Terry Gilliam's fantastical 1991 urban fairy tale is actually stolen by Jeff Bridges' more subtle costarring performance. Bridges, who was doing some of the best work of his career at the time ("The Fabulous Baker Boys" and "Texasville" preceded it), is fantastic playing Jack Lucas, an alcoholic Manhatan shock jock indirectly responsible for inspiring a mass shooting. (Pretty topical, huh?) Gilliam's first real studio film--and the first he made in his native America--blends pointed social satire and mythical allusions to ultimately heart-warming effect. It's like a Frank Capra movie written by Bret Ellis Easton in his "American Psycho" fabulist mode. Good support from Mercedes Ruehl (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her bravura portrayal of Jack's video store owner girlfriend), Amanda Plummer (the waif-like object of Parry's affection who he likens to "God's symbol of divine grace") and a scene-stealing Michael Jeter as a down on his luck gay cabaret singer who does a wicked Ethel Merman imitation. The new Criterion Collection box set includes a 4K UHD disc presented in Dolby Vision HDR and a Blu-Ray which contains the film as well as supplementary bonus features. Because this is Criterion, the extras are suitably impressive. There's Gilliam's audio commentary track; interviews with Gilliam, producer Lynda Obst, screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, Bridges, Plummer and Ruehl; a 2006 Williams interview; 1991 footage of Bridges training as a disc jockey with acting coach Stephen W. Bridgewater; costume tests; deleted scenes with audio commentary from Gilliam; interviews with Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds who designed the movie's hallucinatory "Red Knight;" and an essay by esteemed New York Magazine critic Bilge Ebiri. (A.)

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER IV--The fourth in Keanu Reeves' Zen-kamikaze franchise that launched in 2014 is the longest (clocking in at 169 minutes) and most extreme (I have no idea how it got an "R" rating). It could also be the finest. Former stuntman-turned-director Chad Stehelski--who helmed all the "Wick" movies--achieves genuine auteur status with this outing. It's almost entirely comprised of jaw-dropping, balletic action setpieces luxuriantly shot in long take, and they're like Sam Peckinpah directing a Sergio Leone yakuza western: a veritable grindhouse orgy of physical destruction. Still persona non grata after killing a High Table crime lord in the last film, Reeves' Wick is once again on the run as he fends off seemingly dozens of assassins contracted to take him down. The Big Bad calling the shots from his Versailles-like estate is the wonderfully creepy Marquis de Grament (played by "It" killer clown Bill Skarasgard), and Stehelski globe-hops with elan and evident relish. The Middle East, Tokyo (the setting for a Japanese garden conflagration that even surpasses the one in "Kill Bill, Volume 1"), Germany (where a futuristic night club becomes a literal killing field) and Paris (for a "you-ain't-seen-nuthin'-yet" finale featuring a vertigo-inducing 222-step stairwell) are all dutifully checked on your cine-passport. Series regulars Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Donnie Yen reprise their signature roles, but it's Reeves in his adieu to the Wick-ian universe that you came to see and he's ineffably "Keanu" to the core. A spin-off starring Ana de Armas is already in the can (with a rumored Reeves cameo), so it might not really be "The End" for Mr. Wick. But if this really is his long goodbye, "Chapter 4" insures that we'll never forget him. (A MINUS.) 

THE MACHINE--A rowdy, drunken college semester that comedian Rob Kreischer spent in Russia--previously chronicled in a 2016 Showtime special--comes back to haunt him 23 years later in this one-joke vanity production. When Rob and his estranged dad (Mark Hamill, a long way from a galaxy far, far away) are kidnapped by Russian mobsters, he has to muster his inner Rambo--or is that Luke Sykwalker?--to save the day. The best thing in the movie is Jimmy Tatro who plays the college-age Rob in intermittent flashbacks. The fact that Tatro, unlike Kreischer, is actually pretty charming and a decent actor makes you miss him whenever he's offscreen. Unless you're a die hard Kreischer fan, there's no crying need to rush out and see this in a theater since it'll be on Netflix before Labor Day. Director Peter Atencio had much better luck corralling Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key in 2016's "Keanu." (C MINUS.) 

PASOLINI 101--The Criterion Collection's monumental new box set commemorating the 101st anniversary of the late Pier Paolo Pasolini's birth is the first must-own Blu-Ray release of 2023. Comprised of nine films spread over nine discs with the usual Criterion cornucopia of extras, "Pasolini" contains every significant Pasolini feature made between 1961-1970. Pasolini's latter films, "Salo" and the three titles comprising his fabled "Trilogy of Life" ("The Decameron," "The Arabian Nights" and "The Canterbury Tales") were all released previously by Criterion.

Pasolini led such a fascinating life, it's not surprising that Abel Ferrara made him the subject of a 2014 biopic in which Willem Dafoe played Pasolini. The son of an army officer, he was already an established novelist, poet and essayist by the time he entered the film industry in 1954 as a screenwriter. (His most noteworthy early screen credit was co-writing Fellini's "The Nights of Cabiria.") Almost all of Pasolini's early movies depict the lives of Italy's working class or peasants, and many use non-actors. He frequently came to loggerheads with Italian authorities and the Catholic Church over his films which frequently included sex, violence and various other anti-establishment "blasphemies." But they have such a raw, even profound beauty that it renders their less savory aspects strangely palatable. 

His 1961 debut, "Accattone," a reworking of his novel, "A Violent Life," is a grimly realistic evocation of the sordid existence of a pimp living in a particularly squalid section of Rome. "Mamma Roma" (1962) stars Anna Magnani as a Roman prostitute who poignantly aspires to a middle class life. Both films evince a compassion for the lower class inspired by Pasolini's paradoxical mix of influences: his left wing commitment to Marxism, as well as a deeply felt, almost mystical religiosity. 

The relatively obscure "Love Meetings" (1964) remains a fascinating time capsule: a documentary consisting of interviews with ordinary Italian citizens (rural and city dwellers; young and old; liberals and conservatives) discussing everything from marriage, divorce, gender roles, homosexuality and sex workers. 

"The Gospel According to St. Matthew" (1966) was the finest screen treatment of the life of Christ until Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" 22 years later. By presenting New Testament gospels in a radically new style, the uncompromising "St. Matthew" is rough-edged, grindingly realistic, spellbinding to watch and has a powerful emotional impact. Along with his scandalous 1975 masterpiece, "Salo," it remains Pasolini's greatest film. 

Heavily allegorical, "The Hawks and the Sparrows" (also 1966) is a stylized and amusing fable about a father and son who encounter a talking bird on their wayward journey through the Italian countryside. The bird actually turns out to be a bit of a windbag, philosophizing on such favorite Pasolini topics as Christianity and socialism. There's even an extended cameo by St Francis of Assisi thanks to the loquacious bird's time traveling abilities. 

"Oedipus Rex" (1967) and "Porcile" (1970) are both remarkable in their individual way. The former for its unique desert setting which suggests primeval times; the latter as a pitch-black comedy tour-de-force. 

In the darkly compelling "Teorema" (1968), Terrence Stamp plays an enigmatic, Christ-like stranger who insinuates himself into the lives and beds of a patrician Milanese family. A parable of near mathematical precision, it's one of Pasolini's most divisive and brilliant films. 

In her only screen role, legendary opera diva Maria Callas played the title role in the director's stunning 1970 Euripides adaptation, "Medea." After helping a beefy Jason steal the Golden Fleece to regain the throne, Callas' Medea becomes a woman possessed when he spurns her romantic advances. "My revenge shall be splendid!," Medea-Callas promises, and Pasolini makes sure that she makes good on her threat. The stark imagery at times recalls the settings of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. Groovy.

Supplemental features include two shorts Pasolini contributed for anthology films "La Ricotta" (1963) and "The Sequence of the Paper Flowers" (1969); two docs Pasolini made during his travels; a new featurette on Pasolini's signature visual style told through his 

writings and narrated by Tilda Swinton and Rachel Kushner; audio commentaries for "Accatone" and "Teorema;" documentaries on Pasolini's life/career including archival interviews with Pasolini and many of his collaborators; a 1966 episode of the French television show, "Cineastes de notre temps;" interviews with filmmakers and scholars discussing Pasolini's oeuvre and cinematic legacy; and a 100-page essay book on the disc's films by critic James Quandt with writings and drawings by Pasolini himself.  (A PLUS.)   

RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRACKEN--16-year-old Kracken Ruby (Lana Condor of Netflix's "All the Boys I've Loved Before" franchise) has been living incognito with her family (Toni Collette and Colman Domingo voice Mr. and Mrs. Gillman) for years in a bucolic seaside town. But when an accident tosses Ruby into the briny deep, her multi-tentacled true self emerges. Despite the protestations of her mom, Ruby finally meets her grandmother (Jane Fonda), the Warrior Queen of the Seven Seas, who helps the brainiac teen get in touch with her inner Kracken. A battle royale between Kracken and mermaids ensues--who knew mermaids were secretly evil and that Krackens were really good guys and gals?--but conveniently wraps up just in time for Ruby to attend her high school prom with dreamy skateboarder crush Connor (Jaboukie Young-White). While colorful enough and even fitfully amusing at times, the latest CGI DreamWorks 'toon is nothing we haven't seen dozens of times before. Small kids who dug director Kirk DeMicco's equally unremarkable "The Croods" will probably eat it up, though. (C PLUS.) 

THELMA AND LOUISE--Thirty two years later, it's ironic that a movie called "Thelma and Louise" is best remembered for introducing a young actor named Brad. That would be Oscar winner Brad Pitt who committed grand larceny in his breakthrough supporting role as the rascally J.D. in Ridley Scott and Callie Khouri's proto #TimesUp manifesto. Not that Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis--both of whom were Oscar nominated, along with Khouri (who won), Scott and cinematographer Adrian Biddle--are chopped liver. As BFFs who become inadvertent fugitives from the law when their girls' trip goes awry, Davis (mousy housewife Thelma) and Sarandon (brassy waitress Louise) are both fantastically empathetic. Thanks to combustible chemistry, you actually believe their ride-or-die friendship will literally take them off a cliff. There's also good supporting work from Harvey Keitel (the surprisingly sympathetic cop on the distaff duo's trail), Michael Madsen (Louise's good-ole-boy male pal) and Christopher McDonald (Thelma's weaselly husband). While the somewhat nihilistic ending remains a source of controversy, it felt emotionally right in 1991 and even more so today. The newly released, director-approved Blu-Ray Criterion Collection special edition includes a cornucopia of extras on two discs. Among them are two separate audio commentary tracks with Scott, Khouri, Sarandon and Davis; contemporary interviews with Scott and Khouri; a documentary featuring Sarandon, Davis, Pitt, Madsen, McDonald, Scott, Khouri and other members of the cast/crew; "Boy and Bicycle," Scott's first short film from 1965; the original theatrical featurette; storyboards, deleted and extended scenes, including an elongated ending with Scott's commentary; a music video for former Eagle Glenn Frey's "Part of Me, Part of You;" and essays by critics Rachel Syme and Jessica Kiang and Rebecca Traister, author of the seminal feminist tome, "Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger and All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation." (A.)  

---Milan Paurich 

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