Movies with Milan

Movies with Milan

Movies reviews from Milan PaurichFull Bio


Milan at the Movies 2-22-24


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.)

BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE--Disappointingly boilerplate musical biopic about the late reggae superstar exists principally as a showcase for Kingsley Ben-Adir who's nearly as good here as he was playing Malcolm X in 2020's "One Night in Miami." Opening in 1976 Kingston, Jamaica where Bob and wife Rita (Lashana Lynch in a mostly thankless role) are nearly killed in an assassination attempt before segueing to his exile in the U.K., director Reinaldo Marcus Green's movie is essentially a highlight reel of Marley's tragically abbreviated life. (He died in 1981 after a freak soccer injury.) Ben-Adir really shines in the electrifying concert scenes, but too much of the film is content to serve up hackneyed "Great Man" biopic cliches. (C.)   

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.)

BRING HIM TO ME--Although set in the U.S., this derivative neo-noir was actually shot in Queensland, Australia. (Besides some dodgy "American" accents, the giveaway is a predominantly Aussie cast.) The dependably steely Barry Pepper ("Saving Private Ryan," "The Green Mile") plays the driver for crime boss Veronica (Rachel Griffiths, best known stateside for HBO's late, great "Six Feet Under") tasked with delivering the crew member (Jamie Costa) she blames for their recent bungled heist of rival kingpin Sam Neill's office safe. Director Luke Sparke is clearly riffing on Quentin Tarantino's oeuvre--a warehouse setpiece is an obvious "Reservoir Dogs" homage--but Tom Evans' cliched screenplay and the generally lackluster performances (Pepper is the standout, maybe because he didn't have to fake his Yank accent) prevent it from ever catching fire. 


DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS--After breaking up with her cop lover (Beanie Feldstein), Philly flibbertigibbet Jamie (Margaret Qualley) convinces strait-laced roommate Marion (Geraldine Viswanathan) to accompany her on an impromptu road trip to Tallahassee, Florida. Their getaway quickly hits the skids, though, when they get mixed up with the goons who stashed a decapitated head (!) and metal suitcase (?) in their car trunk. Not counting his 2023 music documentary "Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind," this is the first film directed/co-written by Ethan ("No Country for Old Men," "Fargo") Coen without brother Joel, and it's a rollicking good time. Qualley and Viswanathan make an improbable, but delightful buddy duo, and the supporting cast is stacked with scene-stealing aces like Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp and "Rustin" Oscar nominee Colman Domingo. Clocking in at a fat-free 84 minutes--including end credits--these "Dolls" offer more entertainment value than any movie released so far this year. (B PLUS.) 

THE GOLDEN COACH--The legendary Jean ("Rules of the Game," "Grand Illusion") 

Renoir's second color film--shot in English at Rome's fabled Cinecitta Studios--was widely dismissed as a folly at the time of its 1954 U.S. release. But after a retrospective screening at the 1979 New York Film Festival (which is where I first saw it), "The Golden Coach" rightfully took its place as one of the French auteur's greatest movies. Screen icon Anna Magnani plays Camila, the grand diva of an 18th century commedia dell'arte theater troupe who's simultaneously courted by three men in colonial Peru. There's a bullfighter (Riccardo Rioli), a soldier (Paul Campbell) and the preening viceroy (Duncan Lamont) who gifts her with the titular coach. Billed as "a fantasy in the Italian style," it inaugurated an unofficial Renoir trilogy ("French Can Can" and "Elena and Her Men" would follow) in which theatrical artifice and all its gilded accoutrements trump humdrum realism ("Life is life, and stage is the stage"). The film's Pirandellian structure--adapted from Prosper Merimee's stage play--works beautifully, and the lush Technicolor and Vivaldi-heavy soundtrack make it a veritable feast for the senses. Bonus features on RARO/Kino Lorber's newly issued Blu-Ray include an audio commentary by critic Adam Nayman and an alternate French language audio track. (A.)

GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL--Forget "Tombstone," this 1957 John Sturges western remains the best of the many O.K. Corral movies after John Ford's seminal 1946 masterpiece, "My Darling Clementine." Starring Burt Lancaster (lawman Wyatt Earp) and Kirk Douglas (retired dentist/tubercular gunfighter Doc Holliday) in the second of seven films they would make together (their first pairing was in the forgettable "I Walk Alone" ten years earlier), "Gunfight" benefits from the kind of unfussy professionalism that distinguished Sturges' 1960's blockbusters, "The Great Escape" and "The Magnificent Seven." The supporting cast, littered with western stalwarts like Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, John Ireland, Earl Holliman and Kenneth Tobey, is golden, too. Jo Van Cleef plays Douglas' love interest two years after costarring as James Dean's mother in "East of Eden" and ten years before essaying Paul Newman's mom in "Cool Hand Luke." (The pre-"Easy Rider" Dennis Hopper turns up in a lip-smackingly villainous turn as one of the Clanton baddies.) Shot in eye-popping Vista Vision with a thunderous score by four-time Oscar winner Dimitri ("Giant," "High Noon") Tiomkin, it even features a deservedly classic theme song by Frankie Laine of "Blazing Saddles" renown. Trivia note: Sturges would go on to make another O.K. Corral oater a decade later ("Hour of the Gun") with James Garner and Jason Robards as Earp and Holliday, but it's barely remembered today. The KL Studio Classics' unstintingly handsome 4K Blu-Ray 

features an audio commentary by author/screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner and "True West" magazine contributor Henry Parke. (A.)

LAND OF BAD--A typically solid Russel Crowe provides the lone star power for this underwhelming war flick about an outnumbered Special Forces team in the Philippines whose extraction mission goes awry. Trying to stave off an enemy air strike, their only hope is a seasoned Air Force drone pilot (Crowe). Except for the former "Gladiator" star, most of the cast (Liam and Luke Hemsworth, Milo Ventiglia, et al) is sorely lacking in charisma or dynamism. Director William Eubank was more successful at crafting suspense in previous films like "The Signal" and "Underwater." (C MINUS.) 

LA SYNDICALISTE--In her finest screen performance since 2016's "Elle," screen legend Isabelle Huppert plays real-life union rep turned whistleblower Maureen Kearney who took on multinational nuclear power company AREVA whose backroom deal with China eliminated thousands of French jobs. After being sexual assaulted and mutilated by an unseen assailant, Kearney must then contend with a misogynistic French legal system that accused her of faking the attack. The third act of director Jean-Paul Salome's bristling procedural segues into a courtroom drama every bit as nail-bitingly suspenseful as the one in Best Picture Oscar nominee "Anatomy of a Fall." And Huppert, reuniting with Salome after 2021's less successful "Mama Weed," brings a scorched earth intensity to her role that's breathtaking to behold. Extras on the Kino Lorber Blu Ray include separate interviews with the real Kearney and Salome. (B PLUS.)

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.)

MADAME WEBB--The wonderful Dakota Johnson and current "It Girl" Sydney ("Anyone But You") Sweeney are the main draws of another B-list Marvel origin story. Johnson plays NYC paramedic Cassandra who becomes endowed with a super power that enables her to see into the future--and possibly change it. Since this is 2024, Madame Webb's girl-power posse is predictably box-checked with blonde Julia (Sweeney), African-American Mattie (Celeste O'Connor) and Latina Anya (former "Dora the Explorer" Isabela Merced). The excellent French-Algerin actor Tahar ("The Mauritanian," "Napoleon") Rahim is resident Big Bad Ezekiel Sims, and Adam Scott, Kerry Bishe, Zosia Mamet and Emma Roberts round out the supporting cast. In her feature debut, tube director S.J. Clarkson makes the generic comic book nonsense slightly more bearable than usual thanks to a relatively pacy 116-minute run time and some very good actors. While it's unlikely to launch another Marvel franchise--box office tracking hasn't been great--anyone hankering for a big screen super hero fix could do a lot worse. (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.)

ORDINARY ANGELS--Good time gal Kentucky hairdresser Sharon Stevens (two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank) comes to the aid of financially strapped widower Ed Schmitt (Alan Ritchsen) whose 5-year-old daughter (Emily Mitchell) needs a liver transplant. In his directorial debut, "Jesus Revolution" and "American Underdog" screenwriter Jon Gunn somehow manages to make this improbable-sounding (yet true-life story) not only compelling, but deeply moving. As a recovering alcoholic who turns her dissolute life around by learning to help others, Swank is a veritable force of nature, and an excellent Ritchsen matches her every step of the way. It's also a testament to the wonders that can be achieved through internet crowdsourcing. (B.)  

STOPMOTION--Ella (Aisling Franciosi from "The Last Voyage of the Demeter") is a fledgling stop-motion artist living in the shadow of her tyrannical mother (Stella Gonet's Suzanne) who's a certifiable legend in the field. Because Suzanne has a debilitating form of arthritis, Ella has become her de facto hands and tasked with completing mom's last film. Unable to escape Suzanne even after her death, Ella is now being bossed around by one of her own puppets. And what's with the creepy little girl (Caoilinn Springall) who becomes a frequent visitor to Ella's studio? BAFTA-nominated filmmaker Robert Morgan--best known for his contributions to horror omnibus "The ABCs of Death"--borrows liberally from David Lynch ("Eraserhead"), Roman Polanski ("Repulsion") and the creepy stop-motion works of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer ("Alice"), yet still manages to put a perversely meta spin on his myriad surrealistic influences. Franciosi makes an empathetic heroine, even at her most deranged, and Lola de la Mata's unnerving sound design is as spectacularly creepy as the various clay creatures populating the film. (B PLUS.)  

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.) 

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.)

ERIC ROHMER'S TALES OF THE FOUR SEASONS--After concluding his "Six Moral Tales" and "Comedies and Proverbs" cycles, French New Wave master Eric Rohmer inaugurated "Tales of Four Seasons," another series of morality parables centered on words, thoughts and emotions rather than plot and action. All four films have been lovingly restored and released in an exquisite new Criterion Collection box set, marking it as 2024's first truly indispensable addition to any true cineaste's home video collection. Besides being one of the most intelligent and original thinkers in the history of cinema, Rohmer was also an extraordinarily sophisticated and accomplished filmmaker. Using uncomplicated, economical, but fluid camera techniques, he succeeded in capturing not only the evocative imagery of his locales, but also the inner lives of his characters and the psychological atmosphere that grows from their encounters. Technically, he was a minimalist who maximized the effect of the modest means he allowed himself in the process of making his films. Long-time New York Times critic Vincent Canby--who, along with the Village Voice's Andrew Sarris helped turn Rohmer into a household name among arthouse habitues in the '70s and '80s--famously described his ouevre as the "movie equivalent of prose that dispenses with adjectives and adverbs," and the quartet of masterpieces that comprise "Four Seasons" once again demonstrate his genius at creating narrative from the slightest of substances. 

"A Tale of Springtime" (1992) pivots on the friendship between music student Natacha (Florence Darel) and philosophy professor Jeanne (Anne Teyssedre) that runs afoul when Natacha decides to play matchmaker for Jeanne and her dad (Hugues Quester).

1994's "A Tale of Winter" stars the enchanting Charlotte Very as Felice, the single mom of a five-year-old daughter who juggles two men (librarian Loic and hair salon mini-mogul Maxence) while still carrying a torch for the long-lost lover (Frederic van den Driessche's Charles) she thinks, hopes and prays will miraculously resurface one day. Along with 1988's "Boyfriends and Girlfriends," it ranks among Rohmer's most sublimely romantic films.

Although made in 1996, the quasi-autobiographical "A Tale of Summer" didn't open in the U.S. until 2014 (!?), four years after Rohmer's death at 89. Future star Melvil ("A Christmas Tale") Poupaud had a memorable early role as feckless student/aspiring musician Gaspard who, while on vacation at a Breton resort town, is pursued by three women (played by Amanda Langlet, Gwenaelle Simon and Aurelia Nolin), none of whom he's willing to commit to. The verbal chess game that ensues among the quartet is both richly amusing and achingly poignant. 

Rohmer reunited with his "Claire's Knee" star Beatrice Romand for "A Tale of Autumn" (1999) which could have been a blueprint for one of Nora Ephron's Hollywood rom-coms about middle-aged women searching for love. Romand is widowed vineyard owner Magali who's being set up with the ex flame (a retired philosophy professor played by Didier Sandre) of her son's girlfriend (Alexia Portal). Simultaneously, Magali's BFF Isabelle (Marie Riviere) tries snaring eligible bachelor Gerald (Alain Libolt) under a pseudonym. A series of reversals and coincidences bubble up deliciously. But since this is Rohmer, even the frothiest exchanges come with an undercurrent of rueful melancholy.  

Extras on Criterion's 2K Blu-Ray set include excerpts of radio interviews with the famously reclusive Rohmer conducted by critics Michel Ciment and Serge Daney; interviews conducted at Rohmer's house with long-time collaborators: cinematographer Diane Baratier, producer Francoise Etchegaray, sound engineer Pascal Ribier and editor Mary Stephen; Etchegaray and Jean-Andrew Fieschi's 2005 documentary about the making of "A Tale of Summer;" two rarely seen Rohmer shorts (1956's "The Kreutzer Sonata" and 1968's "A Farmer in Montfaucon"); and an essay about "Tales of Four Seasons" by critic Imogen Sara Smith. (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.)  

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.)

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.)  

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.) 

PRISCILLA--Think of writer/director Sofia ("Lost in Translation," "The Virgin Suicides") Coppola's exquisite Priscilla Presley biopic as the "B" side to Baz Luhrmann's Oscar-nominated 2022 blockbuster, "Elvis." Based on Priscilla's 1985 memoir "Elvis and Me," it's also the superior film. Opening in 1959 when the 14-year-old Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny in a career-launching performance) first meets 24-year-old Elvis (Jacob Elordi from HBO's "Eophoria") at a West German Air Force base. Against the wishes of her parents, Priscilla is whisked back to the states where she becomes the pop star's child bride. Coppola infuses the movie with the same swoony, dreamlike quality she brought to her remarkable 2000 debut, "The Virgin Suicides." And virtuoso cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd--who also shot Coppola's "The Beguiled" and "On the Rocks"--finds the perfect mix of light and darkness for this true-life fairy tale. The second half of the film, centering on Priscilla's emancipation from the cosseted, dollhouse-like existence she was imprisoned in, is ineffably moving. (A.)

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.)   

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.)  

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. 


---Milan Paurich 

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