Movies with Milan

Movies with Milan

Movies reviews from Milan PaurichFull Bio


Movies with Milan - February 9, 2024

AMERICAN FICTION--Jeffrey Wright plays Monk Ellis, an African American college professor who, under the nom de plume of Stagg R. Leigh, pens a novel ("My Pafology") that's shameless "Black trauma porn." When the book becomes an overnight literary sensation, Monk continues the ruse while guiltily collecting his royalty checks. First-time feature director Cord (HBO's "Watchmen") Jefferson's film is one half biting social satire and one part (not as satisfying) family melodrama. (Monk's mom is dying, and his kid brother has recently come out as gay.) Wright's fantastic lead performance is the movie's true raison d'etre, and he single-handedly makes it a must-see even though it runs out of steam in the somewhat clunky third act. Nice support from Leslie Uggams, Sterling K. Brown, John Ortiz and Erika Alexander, but it's Wright's show every step of the way. (B PLUS.)

ANYONE BUT YOU--After an extended foray into kid-friendly fare (Jamie Foxx's 2014 "Annie" reboot; the "Peter Rabbit" movies), director Will Gluck returns to his "R"-rated, "Easy A"/"Friends With Benefits" roots for a predictable, if fitfully amusing trifle. In rom-coms, casting and chemistry is everything, and Gluck is blessed with two of the most photogenic and appealing young actors working today. Ben (Glen Powell from "Top Gun: Maverick") and Bea ("White Lotus" breakout Sydney Sweeney) are exes who discover to their mutual horror that they're headed for the same destination (Australia, mate) wedding. To avoid embarrassing questions, they agree to pretend they're still a couple for the event. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or rom-com connoisseur to deduce that their play-acting will turn genuine before the flight home. Powell and Sydney strike bonafide comedic and romantic sparks. They're like a junior league Clooney and Roberts and single-handedly make this formulaic programmer (almost) worth leaving the house for. (C PLUS.) 

AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM--In what might be his final turn as Arthur Curry/Aquaman, Jason Mamoa's brawny insouciance remains the primary reason this D.C. super hero franchise is easier to take than the average Marvel or D.C. outing. The storyline--Black Monta (Yahya Abdul-Manteen II) unleashes something called the Black Trident, forcing Aquaman to reteam with his estranged Atlantis king brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to save the world from extinction--is strictly boilerplate, but returning director James Wan brings a certain snap to the rote proceedings and unlike, say, "The Marvels" or "Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3," it's never actively boring. Drive-by cameos by Nicole Kidman, disgraced Johnny Depp ex Amber Heard and Dolph Lundgren add a modicum of spice to the same old-same old template. (C PLUS.)

ARGYLLE--Matthew ("Kick-Ass") Vaughn directed this lumbering shaggy dog story about a mousy authoress (Bryce Dallas Howard's Elly Conway) whose spy novels suddenly turn very real when she's catapulted into a globe-hopping adventure. Fiction blurs with reality, and Elly is soon working side by side with her fictional protagonist/alter ego, Henry Cavill's Argylle. While Vaughn and screenwriter Jason Fuchs were clearly aiming for a riff on "Romancing the Stone" (or 2022's "Stone" homage "The Lost City"), their movie lacks the crackerjack pacing and screwball rhythms that made those hits click with audiences. Running a derriere-numbing 139 minutes--and saddled with leads who are either grating (Howard) or merely dull (Cavill)--it's left to the game supporting cast (including Sam Rockwell, Catherine O'Hara and Bryan Cranston) to provide the fleeting moments of amusement and/or pleasure. Vaughn was probably hoping this might lead to another tongue in cheek action franchise like his "Kingsman" trilogy. But since that's highly unlikely, he's best advised to return to the sort of idiosyncratic "small" films he cut his teeth on like 2004's "Layer Cake" which helped land Daniel Craig his 007 gig. (C MINUS.)   

THE BEEKEEPER--Decidedly not a film about apiaists, Jason Statham's latest starring vehicle--his fifth in the past year alone--is about an ex CIA operative (Statham's Adam Clay) who enacts scorched earth vengeance on weaselly miscreants behind an elaborate online phishing operation targeting senior citizens. (The title stems from the name of Kay's former covert paramilitary outfit.) Better than any January Jason Statham movie has a right to be, it was directed by masculinist auteur David ("Fury," "End of Watch") Ayer who knows his way around turbo-charged action setpieces. Costarring the always welcome Jeremy Irons and, as the designated Big Bad techie, Josh Hutcherson. (B MINUS.)

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT--A pokily paced, dully earnest sports underdog movie whose real-life bona fides don't make it any less tedious to sit through. University of Washington engineering student Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) joins his school's 8-man rowing crew to help pay for tuition--he's currently living in Seattle's Hoovertown--and winds up competing in the 1936 Summer Olympics. (Yes, the same Olympics Games that were held in Hitler's Nazi Germany.) Director George Clooney, working from a by-the-numbers screenplay by "Revenant" scenarist Mark L. Smith, has made a slick, good-looking film that stubbornly fails to come to life. There's nice work from Turner, Joel Edgerton (coach Al Ulbrickson) and Hadley Robinson (Joe's debutante girlfriend), but to little avail. It's the sort of movie your grandparents might enjoy when they catch it on Amazon Prime in a few months. (C.)

THE COLOR PURPLE--Based on the long-running Broadway musical version of Alice Walker's beloved novel, Blitz Bazawule's colorful screen adaptation is so well cast and acted that it's easy to overlook the fact that none of the songs (by Brenda Russell, Stephen Bray and Allee Willis) are particularly memorable. Former "American Idol" winner Fantastia Barrino plays Celia (the same role that catapulted Whoopi Goldberg to stardom in Steven Spielberg's 1985 version), a chronically put-upon Black woman who raises herself up during the course of the story which takes place between the early to mid-twentieth century. Bazawule's movie doesn't really kick into high gear until the third act, but winds up delivering more of an emotional kick than Spielberg's somewhat prosaic version. Taraji P. Hensen (Shug Avery), Danielle Brooks (Sofia), Colman Domingo (Mister) and H.E.R. (Squeak) all deliver memorable performances. Brooks is a real scene-stealer, and Domingo makes Mister's climactic conversion the most moving part of the film. (B PLUS.)

FLOAT--Before starting her residency in Toronto, med school grad Waverly (Andrea Bang) decides to pay an impromptu visit to her bohemian aunt (Michelle Krusiec) in a tiny--but immensely scenic, natch--Canadian town. During the course of her visit, she makes a love connection with hunky lifeguard Blake (Robbie Amell) who's the legal guardian of his troubled teenage sister (Sarah Desjardins). But how will Waverly's parents back in Taipei react when they learn she's blown off her summer research gig for a hot weather fling with a white boy? Director Shereen Lee's swoony romantic drama feels a bit like a multicultural Nicholas Sparks flick with its box-checking cast of Asian, Black, gay and Middle Eastern characters. While not actively unpleasant (the cast and sylvan setting are immensely appealing), it's not particularly memorable either. (C.)   

GHOSTWRITTEN--Eight years after penning his quasi-autobiographical debut novel, Guy (Jay Duplass) is terminally blocked and seriously cash-strapped. (His ailing mom is about to be ejected from her nursing home because of delinquent bills, and he's been reduced to sleeping on friends' sofas.) Offered a two-month residency on a secluded New England island by his publisher, Guy understandably jumps at the chance. But once sequestered in his new abode, very strange things begin happening. The pilot (Lyn Sheil) who flew him to the island--and moonlights as a bartender at the local tavern--says cryptic things about an unsolved murder. And there's an alcoholic celebrity author (Thomas Jay Ryan from Hal Hartley's "Henry Fool" trilogy) who begins stalking Guy. The discovery of a completed manuscript in the house could be the answer to his prayers if he can convince his editor (Laila Robins) that it's his work. The title of writer/director Thomas Matthews' genre-bender is literal: a spectral presence may indeed have penned the book Guy claims as his own. But despite an intriguing premise and a game cast (Ryan is particularly good), the filmmaking is halting and tentative, never choosing a single lane (dark comedy; horror; literary satire) to make its mark. Think of it as a Mumblecore riff on a Stephen King movie. (C.)

LISA FRANKENSTEIN--After accidentally reanimating a 19th-century corpse (Cole Sprouse), misfit high school senior Lisa (Kathryn Newton) immediately sets to turning him into boyfriend material. But since he's still missing some essential body parts, they'll need to, uh, kill a few people to make him whole again. Working from a derivative screenplay by Oscar-winner Diablo ("Juno," "Young Adult") Cody, first-time feature director Zelda Williams turns this Tim Burton-y premise into an obvious, but relatively painless 1989-set horror-comedy. (Think "The Corpse Bride" meets "Edward Scissorhands.") Newton, so appealing in "Freaky" and "Blockers," is the real deal: I'd love to see her headline a film for grown-ups someday. And newcomer Liza Soberano as Lisa's perky cheerleader step sister steals every scene she's in. The fact that Soberano is the spitting image of a "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"-era Phoebe Cates is probably the '80-iest thing about the movie. (C PLUS.)

MEAN GIRLS--Angourie ("The Nice Guys," "Honor Society") Rice is the best reason to see this serviceable adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musicalization of Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams' 2004 sleeper. Stepping into the old Lohan role of Cady, the new girl at a clique-ruled high school who ingratiates herself with "The Plastics" (led by Renee Rapp's truly terrifying queen bee Regina) before taking them down with the help of a posse of misfits (Auli'i Cravalho and Jacquel Spivey), Rice is immensely winning. Tina Fey--who wrote the original movie, the stage version and this iteration--reprises her role as a teacher, and Jon Hamm, Jenna Fischer and Busy Phillips (all very good) play typically clueless grown-ups. None of the songs or production numbers are especially memorable, but tweeners are sure to eat it up. (B MINUS.) 

MIGRATION--Benjamin Renner, director of the delightful Oscar-nominated 2012 animated feature "Ernest and Celestine," helmed this beguiling and (no pun intended) featherweight Illumination 'toon. There's very little "plot" to speak of, but this 80-minute divertissement provides intermittent delight thanks to some frequently gorgeous CGI animation and the pleasure of spending time with its flock of fine feathered friends voiced by the likes of Kumali Nanjioani, Awkwafina, Elizabeth Banks, Keegan-Michael Key and Danny DeVito. (B MINUS.)

MOLLI AND MAX IN THE FUTURE--Molli ("Girls" alumnus Zosia Mamet) and Max (Aristotle Athari) meet cute during a spaceship fender bender. Over the course of 12 years, the star-crossed duo go from mutual antagonism to nurturing friendship to finally realizing that each is their "one." Writer-director Michael Lukk Litwak's rom-com follows the classic template of the genre ("When Harry Met Sally" is an obvious influence), but the psychedelic sci-fi trappings--mostly achieved with lots of greenscreen--give it the cartoony look of an extended episode of "Futurama." Athari and especially Mamet make a charming couple, and it's hard not to root for them finally making it official. Unfortunately, a lot of the wink-wink-nudge-nudge parallels to contemporary life (demi-god sex cults; a COVID-like pandemic; presidential elections decided by audience voting on a TV reality show; etc.) are labored at best. Despite a 90-minute run time, it runs out of steam long before Molli and Max's climactic clinch. (C PLUS.) 

NIGHT SWIM--It wouldn't be January without a new Blumhouse horror flick, and this year's model is better than most, if not quite up to last year's standard-bearer ("M3gan"). The movie's major assets are its two leads, "Banshees of Inisherin" Oscar nominee Kerry Condon and Wyatt Russell, star of the late, great AMC series, "Lodge 49." Making a backyard swimming pool--hence the giveaway title--the nexus of supernatural terror admittedly takes a leap of faith, but first-time feature director Bryce McGuire gives it the old college try. Expanding his 2014 short, McGuire adds a Gothic fairytale dimension that brings a quasi mythological gloss to the jump-scares. Russell, Condon and newcomers Gavin Warren and Amelie Hoeferle as their kids are all very good, and it doesn't overstay its welcome at a corcumspect 98 minutes. For the first new movie of 2024, you could do a lot worse. (C PLUS.)  

POOR THINGS--Brought back to life by a crackpot M.D. (Willem Dafoe's hideously scarred Dr. Baxter) after jumping off a bridge, Bella (a fearless Emma Stone in the year's most extraordinary distaff performance) has to relearn what it means to be human. Although Baxter's most prized student (Ramy Youssef) eventually proposes to her, Bella opts to run off with conman lawyer Duncan (Mark Ruffalo, marvelously sleazy). During the course of her Candide-like odyssey--which takes her from Victorian-era steampunk London to Lisbon, Paris and various points in between--Bella experiences both a profound sexual awakening and ultimately her well-earned emancipation from patriarchal society. Adapted from a 1992 novel by Arasdair Gray, Yorgos ("The Lobster," "The Favourite") Lanthimos' cockeyed masterpiece is like a Terry ("Time Bandits," "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen") Gilliam pop-up storybook fantasy directed by the late, great Stanley Kubrick with all of his customary trademark formal rigor. Costarring Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott and Margaret Qualley, it's the most extravagantly, sumptuously entertaining movie-movie of 2023. Winner of the Golden Lion at last summer's Venice Film Festival. (A.) 

SCRAMBLED--Still reeling from her break-up with a longtime boyfriend, flailing 34-year-old Etsy jeweler Nellie (Leah McKendrick who also wrote and directed) decides to freeze her eggs just in case she wants to have kids some day. Her old-fashioned parents (Clancy Brown and Laura Ceron) wonder why she just doesn't get back with her ex and have a baby the "normal" way. After borrowing $8,000 from obnoxious yuppie brother Jesse (Andrew Santino), Nellie begins the torturous process of daily injections. She also revisits some of her exes (played by, among others, Sterling Sulieman, Brett Dier and Adam Rodriguez) to see whether any might be daddy material. A frequently unwieldy combination of ribald, occasionally cringey comedy and heartfelt drama, McKendrick's movie is a bit of a mixed bag, but ultimately succeeds on the strength of her winning performance and some scene-stealing supporting turns (Santino and SNL cast mate Ego Nwodim as her newly married BFF are particularly amusing). It's no "Trainwreck" or even "Bridesmaids," but it made me anxious to see what Mckendrick does next.

 (B MINUS.)  

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR--After his two previous films (1966 Best Picture nominee "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" and 1967 BP winner "In the Heat of the Night") catapulted him to the top ranks of Hollywood directors, Norman Jewison helmed this crackerjack entertainment which was considerably less well-received, but has since gained almost "classic" status. (It was even remade in 1998 as a vehicle for then-007 Pierce Brosnan.) Critics at the time of its release complained about "self-conscious artiness, multiple screens, flashy camerawork and pretentious dialogue," and regarded it as a major letdown. The highest praise it received was from New York Times reviewer Renata Adler who described it as "an ordinary, not wonderful, but enjoyable movie." Despite critical carping, it was--along with "Rosemary's Baby," "The Green Berets" and (despite still not being in wide-wide release) "2001: A Space Odyssey"--one of the biggest box office hits in the summer of 1968. Essentially a glossy cat-and-mouse game played between a foxy insurance investigator (Faye Dunaway in her follow-up to "Bonnie and Clyde" which turned her into The Next Big Thing) and the roguish bank robber (Steve McQueen's titular "Thomas Crown") she's stalking, it's best appreciated as a text case of what supremely charismatic actors--i.e., "Movie Stars"--can bring to even the most cliched, even desultory material. (Try to imagine Doug McClure and Jill St. John in the McQueen/Dunaway roles. Or better yet, don't.) Stunningly lensed by esteemed cinematographer Haskell ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "American Graffiti") Wexler and memorably scored by Michel ("The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," "Summer of '42") Legrand, it even features an Oscar-winning song ("The Windmills of Your Mind") sung by Noel Harrison (!!). The KL Studio Classics Blu-Ray includes two separate audio commentaries (one provided by Jewison, and the second with screenwriter Lem ("The Limey," "Dark City") Dobbs and historian Nick Redman); interviews with Jewison and legendary title designer Pablo Ferro; making-of featurette, "Three's a Company;" and the original theatrical trailer. (B PLUS.)  

TROLLS BAND TOGETHER--Part origin story, part adventure flick, director Walt Dohrn's third CGI Trolls 'toon should please fans of the earlier movies (released in 2016 and 2020 respectively) without necessarily gaining any new admirers. When Branch (Justin Timberlake) learns that his estranged brother Floyd (Traye Silum) has been kidnapped by psychotic sibling singers Velvet and Veneer (Amy Schumer and Andrew Rannells) and being held captive in a diamond perfume bottle (don't ask), he elects to join the rescue mission. The best parts of the movie are flashbacks to Branch's past as a member of boy band BroZone (Timberlake's own NSYNC history adds an amusing meta dimension to the subplot), and Anna Kendrick brightens up her few scenes as Branch gal pal Poppy. The "Taste the Rainbow" color palette remains as eye-massaging as ever, but the whole thing will seem pretty jejune unless you're 6. Or younger. (C.)  

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION-- Along with Sidney Lumet's 1974 "Murder on the Orient Express," this irresistible 1957 Billy Wilder courtroom drama remains the finest--and most extravagantly entertaining--Agatha Christie big-screen adaptation to date. Two years after directing "The Night of the Hunter," Charles Laughton starred as an aging London barrister with a heat condition who takes on a high profile murder case, defending the dandyish Tyrone Power against a charge of murdering a wealthy widow for her money. Laughton's job is made even more difficult because the prosecutor's chief witness is the defendant's frosty German wife (Marlene Dietrich in one of her last decent film roles). He must convince the jury that she's committing perjury, but can't fathom a motive for turning on her husband. The most fun comes from trying to guess if the obvious (and highly amusing) overacting by the defendant and witnesses is being done by the actors, or by the characters they're playing. A marvelous Laughton clearly reveled in his showy part with a trademark mix of sardonic humor and unforced authority, and an imperious Dietrich is clearly having a ball playing, well, "Dietrich." But it's Power who's the stealth MVP of the film as a charming rogue with a callous soul. Laughton's scenes with real-life wife Elsa Lanchester as his doting nurse are comic highlights, and the Old Bailey courtroom set is an art-directed marvel. The new KL Studio Classics' Blu Ray includes an audio commentary by Joseph McBride, author of "Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge;" a featurette in which Wilder and "Tin Drum" director Volker Schlondorff discuss "Witness for the Prosecution;" and the original theatrical trailer. (A.)

WONKA--Paul King, director of the delightful "Paddington" kidflicks, was the perfect choice to helm this fantastical origin story of iconic chocolatier Willy Wonka. A sumptuously-appointed sugarplum fantasy that's a glorious throwback to 1960's family musicals like "Mary Poppins" and "Dr. Dolittle," it stars the perfectly-cast Timothee Chalamet as a twentysomething Willy still attempting to forge his candy 

empire in Dickensian England. While housed in the prison-like boarding house of Miss Hannigan-ish landlady Mrs. Scrubitt (Oscar-winner Olivia Colman having a larf), Willy teams up with orphan Noodle (an appealing Calah Lane) to combat Big Bad Slugworth (Paterson Joseph) and the nefarious Chocolate Cartel who will do anything to foil the new kid on the candy block. The fact that the Police Chief (an amusing Keegan-Michael Key) is on the Cartel's payroll only makes Willy's task more Sisyphean. But spurred on by Noodle's nudging and the divine intervention of a persnickety Oompa Loompa (Hugh Grant in a scene-stealing performance), Willy and his heavenly confections ultimately reign supreme. Nathan Cowley's spectacular production design, Park Chan Wook mainstay Chung Chung-hoon's dreamy cinematography and six Leslie Bricusse-worthy songs by Neil Hannon are merely icing on King's supercalifragilistic cake. (A.) 


THE APU TRILOGY--Viewed individually Satyajit Ray's "Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road)" (1955), "Aparajito (The Unvanquished)" (1957), and "Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)" (1959) are all indisputably great films. But viewed cumulatively as one nearly six-hour epic, "The Apu Trilogy" is among the greatest motion picture events of all time, a human document of timeless simplicity and exquisite beauty. In "Panchali," all the wonder and cruelty of nature and life itself are brought out in Ray's neorealist-inflected depiction of young Apu's childhood in a rural Bengali village. Full of memorable images (cinematographer Subrata Mira shot all three movies in luminous black and white) and sharply drawn characters, it was soon followed by "Aparajito" and "Sansar" which follow the adolescent Apu to Benares and ultimately adulthood in Calcutta where his wife and mother die, forcing Apu to raise his toddler son alone. Ray's trilogy marked a cultural breakthrough for Indian cinema (the three films won top prizes at festivals in Cannes, Venice and London), opening up a world of auteurist cinema far removed from Bollywood camp. They also helped establish Ray as the artistic equal to world-class international filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini, Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson. The sumptuously produced new Criterion Collection box set includes both digitally restored 4K UHD and Blu Ray copies of each film; 1958 audio recordings of Ray reciting his essay, "A Long Time on the Little Road," and in conversation with historian Gideon Bachmann; interviews with Ray actors Soumitra Chatterjee, Shampa Srivastava and Sharmile Tagore, camera assistant Soumendu Roy, and journalist Ujjal Chaskraborty; a video essay, "Making 'The Apu Trilogy:' Satyajit Ray's Epic Debut," by Ray biographer Andrew Robinson; "'The Apu Trilogy:' A Closer Look" featurette with director/producer Mamoun Hassan; excerpts from the 2003 documentary, "The Song of the Little Road," featuring composer Ravi Shankar; James Beveridge's 1967 documentary short featuring Ray, actors/crew members, and critic Chidanada Das Gupta; a clip of Ray receiving his honorary Oscar in 1992; supplements on the painstaking restorations with director Kogonada; essays by critics Terrence Rafferty and Girish Shambu; and a selection of Ray's storyboards for "Pather Panchali." (A PLUS.) 

FERRARI--Michael ("Heat," "The Insider") Mann's enthralling new movie about the Italian auto magnate isn't a biopic in the conventional, cradle-to-grave sense. Instead Mann focuses on a particularly significant period in Ferrari's life in the summer of 1957 when his burgeoning empire was on the verge of bankruptcy. Still mourning the death of his son a year earlier, Ferrari (Adam Driver in a remarkably soulful performance) entertains bailout overtures from Ford and Fiat, but winds up pinning his company's future on how well his racing team performs in Italy's Mille Miglia race. Briskly paced, madly stylish and enormously entertaining, Mann's first film in eight years ranks among his finest. Besides Driver, the cast includes stellar turns from Penelope Cruz (Ferrari's long-suffering spouse/business partner), Shailene Woodley (his longtime mistress and the mother of his illegitimate son), and Gabriel Leone (hotshot race car driver Alfonso De Portago). The climactic racing footage is predictably thrilling, but it's the small, intimate moments that carry the most emotional weight and make it so memorable. (A.)

THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES--What's a "Hunger Games" movie without Jennifer Lawrence? On the basis of this two-and-a-half-hour-plus slog of a prequel, not much. Set 64 years before the events chronicled in the four previous films based on Suzanne Collins' YA novels, "S&S" serves up the origin story of Coriolanus Snow (androgynous Brit "It Boy" Tom Blyth) who rises from humble origins to become the sociopathic dictator memorably played by Donald Sutherland in the preceding chapters. Because he hasn't yet morphed into a tyrant, young Coriolanus is even given a love interest: District 12 "songbird" Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler, Maria in Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story"). Their puppy dog romance is no more compelling than anything else here, but at least some of the casting is..interesting. As a distant relative of Caesar Flickerman, Stanley Tucci's unctuous master of ceremonies, Tucci doppelganger Jason Schwartzman steals every scene he's in playing a proto-Caesar. Less successful is the embarrasing scenery-chewing of Viola Davis and Peter Dinklage as, respectively, head gamemaker Dr. Gaul and Academy Dean Casca. Director Francis Lawrence had better luck shepherding J-Law's last three H.G. movies (the series ended in 2015). But if the "I Am Legend" and "Constantine" helmer thought he was going to be gainfully employed for the foreseeable future with additional Collins' adaptations, he's bound to be disappointed since it's doubtful this late-to-the-party addendum will launch another franchise. (C MINUS.) 

THE IRON CLAW--A sort of WWF "King Lear," Sean ("Martha Marcy May Marlene," "The Nest") Durkin's emotionally wrenching family drama about the real-life Von Erich wrestling dynasty is so beautifully crafted and superbly acted that it handily earns its considerable tears: this is the best male weepie of 2023. In a career performance whose physical transformation rivals Robert De Niro's in "Raging Bull," Zac Efron plays the Von Erich son most eager to win dad's approval. As the family's domestic tyrant, Holt McCallany is utterly chilling in his personification of toxic masculinity. It's easy to see why his wife (a sympathetic Maura Tierney) and other sons ("The Bear" star Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson and impressive newcomer Stanley Simons) positively cower in his wake. Set between the mid-1970's and early '80s, Durkin's film recounts a tale of such unimaginable familial woe that McCallany's pater familias begins resembling Job as much as he does Shakespeare's Lear before it's over. Besides enviable work with his actors, Durkin does such a pitch-perfect job of recreating the '70s period flavor that it feels like a movie that could have actually been made in the New Hollywood era. High praise indeed. (A.)  

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON--Newly returned from WW I, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) hooks up with his uncle, William "King" Hale (Robert De Niro), in Osage County, Oklahoma. What he doesn't realize--not at first anyway--is that Hale is behind a homicidal plot to murder off local Native Americans in order to steal their oil rights. (Osage is populated by oil-rich Osage Indians, incurring the enmity of the white citizenry.) With the encouragement of his uncle, Ernest marries a wealthy Osage woman (Lily Gladstone's Mollie) whose fortune William has designs on. It's not until ex-Texas Ranger and newly appointed F.B.I. agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) comes to town that Hale's nefarious scheme finally begins to unravel. Based on David Grann's award-winning non fiction book, Martin Scorsese's massive three-and-a-half hour masterpiece is the event of the fall movie season: a mournful, aching epic that shines an unforgiving spotlight on one of the most shameful chapters in modern American racial history. Stunningly lensed by the great Rodrigo ("The Irishman," "The Wolf of Wall Street") Pirieto and superbly acted by DiCaprio, Gladstone, De Niro, et al, it's the kind of dauntingly ambitious filmmaking very few directors even attempt in these days of corporate, IP-driven franchise movies. Despite echoes of previous benchmarks of American cinema like "There Will Be Blood," "Days of Heaven" and "Heaven's Gate," Scorsese's humbling and ennobling film remains very much its own thing. If you care about the future of Hollywood movies, don't dare miss it. (A PLUS.) 

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW--I always refer to Peter Bogdanovich's 1971 New Hollywood classic as "The Great American Movie" the same way Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" is routinely described by literature mavens as "The Great American Novel." I've felt that way since I first saw it as a 13-year-old at the time of its initial release, and still feel that way today after having probably seen it at least a hundred times. Needless to say I know "The Last Picture Show" by heart: every line of dialogue, every song cue, every pan and edit is ingrained in my DNA, It's hard to describe the seismic impact the movie had when it premiered at the 1971 New York Film Festival. The New Hollywood era which helped revolutionize the industry had been alive and kicking since 1967, but audiences (even young people who so many of the movies actively courted) began to sour on perceived pandering. Groovy rock soundtracks and proto music video editing were no substitute for solid narrative structure and characters worth giving a damn about. By essentially making the French Wave film John Ford never directed, Bogdanovich almost single-handedly reversed New Hollywood's downward spiral. The rest, as they say, is history. Yet when Bogdanovich returned to the setting (Anarene, Texas) and many of the same "Picture Show" characters (Jeff Bridges' Duane, Cybill Shepherd's Jacy, Timothy Bottoms' Sonny, Cloris Leachman's Ruth, etc.) for 1990's "Texasville"--adapted from another Larry McMurtry novel--the movie was indifferently received by most critics and flopped at the box office. Maybe they were confused by the tonal and aesthetic differences between the two movies. While "Picture Show" was a heart-wrenching drama, "Texasville" was essentially a comedy, albeit a Renoir-esque comedy of manners in which the foibles of now middle-aged characters were affectionately, if astringently celebrated. What nobody seemed to realize at the time was that Bogdanovich had made another brilliant symphony, albeit one in a distinctly different key. Hopefully the Criterion Collection's glorious new three-disc Blu-Ray which includes a 4K UHD copy of "Picture Show" as well as "Texasville" in both its original color theatrical cut and Bogdanovich's preferred, 25 minutes longer b&w version (previously available only on laser disc) will serve as a corrective to the sequel's initially lukewarm reception. Most of the extras are recycled from Criterion's 2010 box set, "America Lost and Found: The BBS Story," but they're eminently worth revisiting. There are two separate audio commentary tracks featuring Bogdanovich, uber-producer Frank Marshall and costars Shepherd, Leachman and Randy Quaid; three--count 'em--documentaries about the making of the film; screen tests/location footage; excerpts from a 1972 French television interview with French New Wave charter member Francois Truffaut discussing America's "New Wave;" an introduction to "Texasville" with Bogdanovich, Shepherd and Bridges; a "Picture Show" essay by critic Graham Fuller; and excerpts from Bogdanovich's 2020 interview with Peter Tonguette in which they discuss "Texasville." (A PLUS.)

THE MARVELS--Director Nia ("Candyman 2021") DaCosta's sequel to 2019's "Captain Marvel--the single worst big-screen MCU entry to date--is marginally better, or at least a little easier to sit through. (At 105 minutes, it's also the shortest Marvel Corp. film product in recent memory, so be thankful for small favors.) A bored-looking Brie Larson reprises her role as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, and DaCosta ratchets up the Girl Power hijinks by pairing her with both a Jersey City super fan (Kamala Khan) and estranged niece/S.A.B.E.R. astronaut Monica (Teyonah Parris). The hackneyed plot once again revolves around super heroes saving the universe (yawn) while navigating some prerequisite metaversian wormholes. Not being a Marvel-head, I had a hard time following most of it. Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury does a drive-by cameo, but it's not enough to shake DaCosta's film out of its terminal stupor. (D.) 

NAPOLEON--Opening in 1769 when the ambitious young Corsican officer witnesses the guillotining of Marie Antoinette and climaxing with his exile (and death) on the Island of St. Helena, Ridley ("Alien," "Blade Runner") Scott's 159-minute epic starring Joaquin Phoenix as the titular military genius is visually dazzling, if somewhat malnourished dramatically. For all its surface glitter--and some stunningly immersive battle scenes--it never remotely quickens the pulse or touches the heart. Phoenix's dependably quirky (and frequently very funny) portrayal of Monsieur Bonaparate bests previous big-screen Napoleons Marlon Brando ("Desiree") and Rod Steiger ("Waterloo"), but it's probably not for all tastes. Rather than cutting a heroic or even dashing figure, his Napoleon is instead an insecure man-child with antisocial tendencies. His enduring love for Josephine (Vanessa Kirby, very good), even after they divorce because she's unable to sire an heir, is the most compelling part of the movie. Their witty, sexually-charged scenes hint at the film this might have been if Scott had shown as much interest in marital drama as he does in staging elaborate battle sequences. Despite laudable ambitions, the best Napoleon biopic remains Abel Gance's five-and-a-half-hour 1927 silent masterpiece. (B.)  

THE RED BALLOON AND OTHER STORIES--I first saw "The Red Balloon," Albert Lamorisse's Oscar-winning 1956 short, at my Catholic elementary school. While Sister Bertha never adequately explained why she chose to show the film, my second grade class was suitably enthralled. The fable-like tale of a young boy (Lamorisse's adorable son, Pascal) being pursued by, yes, a red balloon would remain a talisman of my youth. The 34-minute masterpiece even inspired a wildly popular Chef Boyardee commercial that was a fixture on network TV back in the '60s. In this new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray box set, "Balloon" is coupled with four other Lamorisse films: shorts "Bim, the Little Donkey" (1951) and "White Mane" (1953), and the medium-length features "Stowaway in the Sky" (1960) and "Circus Angel" (1965). It's one of the most delightful--and long overdue for Lamorisse fans like me--home video releases of the year. And unlike most Criterion releases, it's eminently suitable for family viewing. 

Lamorisse (who died while shooting a documentary in Teheran in 1970) began his career as a photographer before turning to filmmaking in the late '40s, specializing in the fantasy world of children. All of his works were marked by a distinctly poetic quality, most redolent in the exquisitely realized "Red Balloon." 

"Bim, the Little Donkey" is the story of two boys who put class differences aside (one is rich; the other poor) to rescue the titular donkey from some dastardly thieves. Shot on the Tunisian island of Djerba, it features enchanting, fairy tale-like narration by the celebrated French author Jacques Prevert.

The magical bond between children and animals also figures prominently in "White Mane" where an untamed stallion forms an allegiance with a pre-pubescent lad (Alain Emery). Like "Balloon," it won the Grand Prix for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival.   

Another boy-and-his-balloon story, "Stowaway in the Sky," once again stars Pascal Lamorisse, this time as a stowaway on his inventor granddad's new hot-air balloon which he pilots across France. Lamorisse created an aerial photography technique (Helivision) specifically for this movie, and it pays huge dividends in the frequently breathtaking shots of castles, the Mediterranean Sea, cathedrals and the Alps.

In "Circus Angel," Lamorisse's last completed film, a young man (Philippe Avron) dons a pair of wings for his flying circus act. Things get a little complicated, however, when he's mistaken for an angel by gullible locals while traveling in the French countryside. 

"Balloon" and "Mane" are both presented in 4K digital restorations while "Bim," "Stowaway" and "Circus" are 2K restorations. Extras include an English-language version of "Bim;" a new interview with Pascal Lamorisse; the 2008 documentary, "My Father Was a Red Balloon," with Pascal and his daughter; Lamorisse's 1957 and 1959 French TV interviews; English narrations for "Mane" and "Stowaway" by, respectively, Peter Strauss and Jack Lemmon; an English-dubbed soundtrack of "Circus;" and a warmly appreciative essay about Lamorisse's ouevre by critic/filmmaker David Cairns. (A.) 

SALTBURN--Invited to spend summer break at the 12th century country estate--the titular "Saltburn"--of Felix (Jacob Elordi), the Oxford classmate he's secretly been crushing on, scholarship nerd Oliver (Barry Keoghan of "The Banshees of Inisherin") feels like Roald Dahl's Charlie after winning one of Willy Wonka's Golden tickets. Newly ensconced in Saltburn's cloistered world of old money and social privilege, Oliver undergoes a startling metamorphosis. As Felix's eccentric-bordering-on-bonkers parents, Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike win the lion's share of chuckles in writer/director Emerald Fennell's well-nigh irresistible follow-up to her Oscar-winning "Promising Young Woman," but they're the kind of laughs that stick in your throat. Everything climaxes at a nocturnal midsummer party where Fennell really goes for broke. (Prepare to drop your popcorn bag.) It's not a movie for everyone; the tonal shifts could give you whiplash if you're not on Fennell's polymorphously perverse wavelength. Yet film buffs who revere Joseph Losey's Harold Pinter collaborations ("The Servant," "Accident," "The Go-Between") and Peter Greenaway's meticulously curated provocations ("The Draughtsman's Contract," "A Zed and Two Naughts," et al) will think they've died and gone to cineaste heaven. (A.)   

WISH--The bland uniformity/homogeneity that's plagued CGI 'toons this century strikes again in Disney's 62nd animated feature; it feels interchangeable with any number of animated Mouse House movies of recent vintage ("Moana," "Coco," ad nauseam). Set on Rosas, a Mediterranean island ruled by seemingly benign sorcerer Magnifico (Chris Pine having a larf), directors Chris ("Hercules") Buck and Fawn Verasunthorn's assembly-line mediocrity has another teen heroine Asha (LGBT spokesmodel Ariana DeBose) championing (here we go again; yawn) Girl Power. During a job interview to become Magnifico's new apprentice, Asha is crestfallen to learn that Rosas' "cool guy" ruler is as much of a sham as the Wizard of Oz. Instead of granting the wishes of his subjects, he's been hoarding them in floating bubbles instead. After encountering a magical wishing star ("When you wish upon a star," yadda-yadda), Asha impulsively launches a Rosas resistance movement that turns her into an overnight media sensation. Y'know, like Taylor Swift. While the unmemorable songs all sound like Lin-Manuel Miranda rejects and the attempts at humor generally fall flat, the absence of a palpable heart is the film's most conspicuous failure. Maybe it's time for Disney to go back to the drawing board instead of simply regurgitating the same old/same old. (C MINUS.)

---Milan Paurich 

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