Movies with Milan 4-15-21 New at the Theaters and Streaming


NEW TO STREAMERS (AND IN THEATERS):

CHAOS WALKING--A spaceship crash lands on a planet populated solely by men whose inner thoughts--"The Noise"--are audible to anyone within earshot. Because the new arrival is a woman (Daisy Ridley from the "Star Wars" movies), it creates a power imbalance that rattles the patriarchy. "Amazing Spider-Man" Tom Holland is entrusted with the newcomer's safety, and the pair flees to a distant town only to discover that everything they (and the audience) believed was a lie. Doug ("Edge of Tomorrow," "The Bourne Identity") Liman's sci-fi/western hybrid has a fairly ridiculous premise ("The Noise," duh) that no one ever found a

satisfactory way of depicting onscreen. Maybe that's why the film was stalled in post-production for three years. (Subtitles, loud whispering and streaks of CGI pixie dust floating through the air grow old pretty quickly.) Yet the second half--once Holland and Ridley reach a matriarchal society run by "Harriet" Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo--actually works pretty well, especially when Big Bad Mads Mikkelsen shows up and an internecine battle for gender supremacy erupts. Based on Patrick Ness' YA trilogy although it's doubtful we'll be seeing a sequel (let alone a Part III) anytime soon. (C.)

THE COURIER--Benedict Cumberbatch plays English businessman Greville Wynne who became a courier for British Intelligence and the CIA during the Cold War build up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. As Wynne's Russian contact, Merasb Ninidze brings a soulfulness to the film that effectively cuts against its stiff-upper-lip facade. Director Dominic Cooke does a neat job of balancing the home lives of his spy protagonists with their skullduggery, and "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" star Rachel Brosnahan and Jessica Buckley--seen last fall on FX's "Fargo" and in Charlie Kaufman's "I'm Thinking of Ending Things"--provide stellar distaff support as, respectively, Wynne's CIA handler and his long-suffering wife. A ripping good yarn for anyone with a yen for true-life cloak and dagger stories. (B.)

FRENCH EXIT--If you've been jonesing for a new live action Wes Anderson movie (hard to believe, but it's been seven years since "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Azael ("Terri," "The Lovers") Jacobs' charming new dramedy--based on Patrick DeWitt's well-regarded novel--should satisfy your craving. Michelle Pfeiffer (fantastic) plays a newly destitute New York socialite who impulsively moves to Paris with her grown son (Lucas Hedges) and a cat who may, or may not be, the reincarnation of her late husband. A stellar ensemble cast--including Valerie Mahaffrey, Isach De Bankole, Danielle Macdonald and Imogen Poots--comprise the dispossessed New Yorkers' de facto "family" unit, and their sparkling screwball banter is echt Anderson, as is the meticulously composed mise-en-scene. A nonpareil delight with a bittersweet kicker that I found unexpectedly moving. (A MINUS.)

GODZILLA VS. KONG--Adam Wingard graduates from smart, small-scaled genre flicks like 2011's 'You're Next' to this (much) larger-scaled, not-so-smart CGI fest. It is what it is, but I had a much better time watching this "Battle of the Titans" than I did with any of the preceding MonsterVerse movies (including 2019's somnambulant "King of the Monsters"). Wingard brings a much zestier kick to the proceedings: his pop-savvy sensibility and winking appreciation of the absurdity of the hokey premise makes all the difference. Rebecca Hall and Alexander Skarsgard play scientists tasked with relocating Kong to his new home, but the film is handily stolen by Brian Tyree Henry who brings some welcome humor to the role of a conspiracy-theorizing podcaster hot on the dynamic duo's trail. The FX are pretty groovy (I dug Kong's new beard and the Transformers-like Mechagodzilla makes a welcome appearance), and Wingard keeps things pacy enough that you won't notice--or even mind--some gaping plot holes in the third act. (B.)

IN THE EARTH--Transgressive British genre specialist Ben ("High Rise," "Kill List") Wheatley's latest shocker is set in the middle of a global pandemic and concerns the sylvan journey of a medical researcher (Joel Fry) and a park scout (Ellora Torchia) to a science test lab. Along the way they encounter a woodland wacko (Reece Shearsmith), uncover some chilling secrets about the virus and, oh yeah, lose a few limbs. With its Grand Guignol touches, paranoid sensibility and fetishization of Mother Nature at her most primal and forbidding, the movie feels like what 1973 horror cult flick "The Wicker Man" might have resembled if had been directed by Russian visionary Andrei Tarkovsky. Like all Wheatley films it's for, er, specialized audiences, but that rarefied coterie will likely have their collective minds blown. (B.)

MONDAY--Argtris Papadimitropoulos, director of 2016's tantalizingly sensual "Suntan," stumbles a bit with his latest fun-in-the-sun flick. Sebastian (Winter Soldier from the "Avengers" franchise) Stan and Denise Gough play randy Americans living in Athens, Greece (he's a DJ/struggling musician; she's an immigration lawyer) who seemingly forge a relationship based entirely on their explosive sexual compatibility and unabashed hedonism. The movie is easy on the eyes and does a nice job of establishing the sultry, let-it-all-hang-out ambiance of modern Greek life, but it's ultimately much ado about nothing. It's tough caring about either character and the whole thing has the feel of an '80s Zalman ("Two Moon Junction," "Wild Orchid") King soft-core potboiler, albeit with better acting. (C.)

NOBODY--If you put "John Wick," the original 1974 "Death Wish," "Straw Dogs" (Sam Peckinpah's, not Rod Lurie's), and the first and best "Die Hard" into a cinematic Cuisinart, you'd have Ilya ("Hardcore Henry") Naishuller's instant cult classic: a kickass action flick that "boys" (and "girls") of all ages will be endlessly quoting for years to come. Bob ("Better Call Saul") Odenkirk plays a mild-mannered office drone/family man whose inner ninja is released after a failed home invasion. Soon he's going mano a mano with a Russian oligarch (Aleksey Serebyakou), and wracking up a prodigious body count that would make Rambo blush. A throwaway line near the end--"A bit excessive, but glorious"--beautifully captures its gonzo sensibility. I just hope they don't ruin it with a sequel. Or sequels. If any movie can bring people back to multiplexes in droves, it's this one. (A.)

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON--If "Mulan" and "Kung Fu Panda" had a CGI baby, it would look something like this latest Disney 'toon. Fortunately, it's also much better than that reductive description would suggest. Directors Don ("Big Hero 6") Hall and Carlos ("Blindspotting") Lopez Estrada have crafted a great-looking movie with engaging characters, an easy-to-track storyline and a girl power message that seems more timely than ever. Awkwafina voices the titular dragon and she steals the show. (B.)

TOM AND JERRY--The origin story of Hanna-Barbera's onetime Saturday morning tube staple is a fairly seamless blend of CGI animation and live action. Tom (the cat) and Jerry (the mouse) are joined in fitfully amusing adventures by Chloe Grace Moretz, Michael Pena and SNL news anchor Colin Jost. While clearly aiming to be a New Millennium "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," journeyman director Tim ("Barbershop," "Ride Along") Story's kidflick has limited appeal for grown ups--unless they're inveterate '60s nostalgists. (C.) 

THE UNHOLY--First-time director Evan Spilotopoulos' adaptation of James Herbert's best-selling novel fits neatly into the "PG-13" religious horror groove that's been Screen Gems' bread and butter dating back to 2005's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." "The Walking Dead" Big Bad Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a disgraced tabloid reporter (isn't that an oxymoron?) who finds a chance at reviving his career after meeting a formerly mute teenage girl (appealing newcomer Cricket Brown) who claims the Virgin Mary cured her. Soon her small New England town is overrun with the faithful, all praying for their very own miracles. But when spooky things start happening, the journalist begins to wonder if an evil spirit might be afoot. (Cue "Tubular Bells.") Until going on mumbo-jumbo auto-pilot in the final 20 minutes, this is a reasonably diverting, decently crafted (and acted) Saturday night entertainment for the Clearisil set. (C PLUS.)

VANQUISH--As an obscenely wealthy, but somehow morally principled (yeah, right) ex cop, the great Morgan Freeman is wasted in a generic actioner directed by George Gallo who once upon a time wrote ("Midnight Run") and wrote/directed (1991's "29th Street") some pretty good movies. This ain't one of them. "Orange is the New Black" star Ruby Rose plays a former Russian drug courier blackmailed into returning to crime after her young daughter--who's suffering from an unidentified medical malady--is kidnapped. The statuesque Rose casts a striking figure, but is a complete washout as an actress. Only for the most undemanding fans of trashy, straight-to-video "B" action flicks. (C MINUS.)

VOYAGERS--Neil ("The Upside," "Limitless") Burger's dystopian YA sci-fi meller about a 2063 expedition to colonize a distant planet squanders a good cast (including Colin Farrell, Lily-Rose Depp and Tye Sheridan) on hackneyed material and dreary execution. The only amusement comes from identifying all the sources it borrows from: a little bit of "Alien;" a soupçon of "Gravity;" some "Maze Runner" and "Divergent;" a dash of "Lord of the Flies;" et al. At least the ending doesn't tease a sequel, proving that even the filmmakers weren't deluded into thinking this long-delayed turkey was going to be a hit. (C MINUS.)  

NEW ON HOME VIDEO/STREAMIMNG CHANNELS:

ALL MY LIFE--Despite being based on a true story, this syrupy romance feels like a lesser Nicholas Sparks flick. "Glee" alum Harry Shum Jr. gets a fatal cancer diagnosis shortly after proposing to Jessica Rothe. An online fundraising campaign is launched to insure they have their dream wedding before it's too late. The most curious aspect of the film is that director Marc Meyers is best known for--are you sitting down?--2017's "My Friend Dahmer." 'Nuff said. (C MINUS.)

AMMOMITE--Director Francis Lee follows his standout 2017 film "God's Own Country" with a slow-burning period romance between a paleontologist spinster (Kate Winslet) and a London housewife stuck in a loveless marriage (Saorise Ronan). While bordering on the decorous at times--anyone hoping for a British "Blue is the Warmest Color" will be sorely disappointed: the two leads don't even kiss until 70 minutes in--the filmmaking is so assured and the performances so compelling that it's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of emotions. Strong support from Gemma Jones, Fiona Shaw, James McArdle and Alec Secareanu. (B PLUS.)

BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR--Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo play the titular BFFs who, after losing their jobs, decide to splurge on a vacation at a Florida resort. In the process, they wind up getting involved in the nefarious plot hatched by a megalomaniac albino (Wiig in a dual role) to exterminate the residents of Vista Del Mar with killer mosquitos. For anyone hoping that Wiig and Mumolo (who cowrote the screenplay) were reteaming for another "Bridesmaids" (also penned by the duo and which Wiig starred in), the fact that their follow-up vehicle is a lame "Austin Powers"-y spoof will be a crushing blow. I know it was for me. Sure, there are a few stray laughs--and Jamie Dornan gives a good-sport performance as a spy with mixed loyalties--but it's easy to see why this sat on the shelf for more than a year. (C MINUS.)

BLITHE SPIRIT--A misguided #MeToo update of the Noel Coward chestnut, previously (and memorably) filmed in 1945 by David Lean with Rex Harrison and Margaret Rutherford. The hapless Dan Stevens stars as a down on his luck screenwriter whose marriage to Isla Fisher grows increasingly, uh, complicated when a psychic (Judi Dench's Madame Arcati) inadvertently summons up the ghost of his vengeful dead wife (Leslie Mann). Because Fisher, Mann and (of course) Dench are such gifted farceurs it's only natural there would be a few isolated giggles. But this p.c. redo of Coward's greatest stage hit reeks of bad faith and creative desperation. (C MINUS.)

BOOGIE--On paper, first-time director Eddie Huang's high school basketball saga sounds fairly boilerplate. An inner city high school basketball phenom strives to be the best on the court to please both his demanding immigrant parents and win a college scholarship. But Huang's movie is about so much more than "The Big Game." Among other things, it's about race (Boogie is Asian-American and his girlfriend is African-American), class and the immigrant experience. Basketball is merely the springboard Huang uses to address those hot-button themes. He brings a vivid sense of place to the film--it was shot entirely on location in New York City--and his skill with actors, many of them newcomers, would be enviable in veteran directors. Running a taut 89 minutes, there isn't an ounce of flab here. Everything serves a purpose and, thanks to Huang and his cast, everything matters.(B PLUS.)

THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY--An art gallery assistant (Geraldine Viswanathan from HBO's "Bad Education") makes an exhibit out of souvenirs from old boyfriends. It soon becomes a social media sensation with other women (and a few men) adding remnants from past relationships, too. Viswanathan and "Stranger Things" alum Dacre Montgomery as a potential new romantic interest are as adorable as puppies frolicking under a lawn sprinkler. While first-time director Natalie Krinsky's movie won't go down in rom-com history, it's a decent enough "Ladies Night" divertissement. (B MINUS.)

CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING--Jacques Rivette's greatest--and most purely pleasurable--film finally receives the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release fans have been clamoring for, and this 2-disc set proves to be have been worth the wait. One of the most magical and enchanting movies ever made, it blithely encapsulates the entire history and ethos of the French New Wave in one 193-minute masterpiece. I hadn't seen "Celine and Julie" since 1978 when it received its belated U.S. theatrical release four years after premiering at the New York Film Festival. Manhattan was blanketed under more than a foot of snow, yet I bravely trekked from my NYU dorm room to the Upper West Side to see what J. Hoberman had raved about in that week's Village Voice. I can still remember walking out of Dan Talbot's Cinema Studio Theater that afternoon: the sun had finally returned, and I was so giddy with cine-euphoria that I could have literally flown back to the Village. As the librarian and her magician gal pal who get involved in a serpentine haunted house mystery that's like Nancy Drew Meets Roland Barthes, Dominique Labourier and Juliet Berto are utterly beguiling audience surrogates for Rivette's psychotropic immersion into candy-colored chaos theory and pure moviemaking magic. Extras include a 2017 audio commentary featuring Australian film critic Adrian Martin; Claire Denis' two-part 1994 documentary, "Jacques Rivette: Le veilleur," whose coup de grace is a far-ranging interview with Rivette conducted by French critic Serge Daney; recent interviews with frequent Rivette collaborators Bulle Ogier and filmmaker Barbet Schroeder; a chat between critic Pacome Thiellement and Helene Frappat, author of Cahiers du Cinema's invaluable "Jacques Rivette secret compris;" archival interviews with Rivette, Ogier, Berto, Labourier and Marie-France Pisier; an essay by film/theater critic Beatrice Loayza; and a playful 1974 article by Berto originally commissioned for the movie's press kit. (A PLUS.)

CHERRY--Tom Holland reteams with his "Avengers" directors Joe and Anthony Russo to play a former Army medic whose PTSD leads to an opioid addiction that he finances by becoming a serial bank robber. Pretty much what you'd expect when Marvel guys attempt to make a Millennial "Deer Hunter." Over-directed, over-written and (generally) over-acted, it's like being trapped in a room with somebody yelling at you for two-and-a-half hours. Exhausting and ultimately self-defeating. Partially shot in Cleveland if that rocks your boat. (D PLUS.)

CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI--The version of Francesco ("Salvatore Giuliano") Rosi's adaptation of political activist Carlo Levi's autobiographical novel that I saw in New York City forty years ago ran just a little over two hours. At the time, I wasn't even aware that a longer cut existed. (Certainly Janet Maslin's New York Times review made no mention of it.) While the abridged Rosi, then simply called "Eboli," seemed perfectly fine to me at the time, it didn't really leave much of a lasting impression. After seeing the Criterion Collection's newly released Blu-Ray edition which preserves the original four-part, 220-minute "Christ Stopped at Eboli," I'm beginning to think it could very well be Rosi's masterpiece. A political filmmaker whose work at times has verged on the wonkily doctrinaire (take 1976's "Illustrious Corpses;" please!), this is the only Rosi film I've seen that hints at the closet humanist lurking beneath the Marxist polemics. As the Levi surrogate, screen legend Gian Maria Volonte ("A Fistful of Dollars," "Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion") gives a career performance as a man exiled by Mussolini to a rural village in southern Italy because of his anti-Fascist views. The experience proves revelatory for Volonte's citified intellectual who, possibly for the first time, grows to understand and appreciate the psychology of both his troubled country and its citizenry. Costarring the great Irene Papas, Alain Cuny and Lea Massari, this isn't the type of movie you casually dip into like an episode of a streamer series. Because it needs to be met head-on, don't even begin watching unless you're prepared to devote four hours to the experience. This is definitely one film you'll want to finish in one sitting. For such a major work, the extras are a little on the skimpy side (at least by Criterion's usual Tiffany standards). The worthiest supplement is a 1978 documentary contextualizing the movie within the tradition of Italian political cinema with both Rosi and Volonte. The rest--excerpts from a 1974 doc featuring Rosi and Levi; an excerpt from Marco Spagnoli's 2014 doc "Unico" in which Rosi discusses his working relationship with Volonte; a new interview with translator/author Michael F. Moore; an essay by Columbia University professor Alexander Stille--are fine, too, but it's the film itself which makes the disc a must-own. (A.)

CITY OF LIES--Brad ("The Lincoln Lawyer," "The Infiltrator") Furman's film about the investigation into the murders of rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. is surprisingly watchable for a movie that sat on the shelf for five years. Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker (both very good) play a retired L.A.P.D. detective and the veteran crime reporter whose grunt work helped uncover some jaw-dropping criminal conspiracies and inspired "Labyrinth," Randall Sullivan's well-regarded non-fiction book which served as the basis for Christian Contreras' script. Worth seeking out, even if you're not a rap aficionado. (B MINUS.)

COME PLAY--Oliver (Azhy Robertson), an autistic 8-year-old boy, inadvertently summons a diabolical force named Larry via his iPhone and iPad. It's up to Oliver's bickering parents--the always welcome Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr.--to rescue him (and themselves). Based on his 2017 short, director Jacob Chase's feature debut occasionally strains to pad its slender premise to 90-odd minutes. But empathetic performances and a refreshingly un-gory approach to screen horror makes it a decent alternative for anyone seeking a spooky pick-me-up. (C PLUS.)  

COMING 2 AMERICA--This long-delayed sequel to John Landis' 1988 blockbuster reteams Eddie Murphy with his "Dolemite is My Name" director Craig Brewer, but it's a half-hearted affair on every count. The "plot"--Murphy's Akeem returns to New York to meet the grown son he never knew existed--almost feels like an afterthought. You get the sense that everyone involved felt all they needed to do was repeat the same jokes from the first movie. Leslie Jones and Wesley Snipes are the best things here--and be sure to stick around for John Legend's song mid-credits. (C.)

THE COMPLETE FILMS OF AGNES VARDA--"Complete" is right! This 15 (count 'em) disc Criterion Collection box set commemorating the 39-film oeuvre of French New Wave godmother Varda is the first truly indispensable Blu-Ray release of the new decade. If you think that "godmother" sobriquet sounds like hyperbole, consider: when 26-year-old Varda made her first feature (1955's "La Pointe Courte" starring a baby-faced Phillipe Noiret), Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut were still writing movie reviews for Cahiers du Cinema. Besides a sumptuously illustrated 200-page book containing notes on Varda's films and essays on her life by, among others, Amy Taubin and Ginette Vincendeau, seemingly every frame of celluloid and/or video Varda shot in the course of her lifetime is included here. From undisputed classics like "Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962), "One Sings, the Other Doesn't" (1977) and "Vagabond" (1985); to the relatively obscure (among them 1969's "Lion's Love...and Lies" starring Andy Warhol superstar Viva and "Hair" authors Gerome Ragni and James Rado which plays like a West Coast Warhol movie, and 1995's star-studded "One Hundred and One Nights" whose stunningly eclectic cast includes everyone from Marcello Mastroianni to Robert DeNiro, Catherine Deneuve and Harrison Ford); her culty 1988 collaborations with Jane Birkin ("Kung Fu Master" and "Jane B. par Agnes V."); Varda's loving celebrations of the life and career of her late husband, Jacques Demy (1991's "Jacquot de Nantes" and 1995's "The World of Jacques Demy"); as well as her lavishly praised 21st century docu-diaries (including 2017's "Faces Places," 2000's "The Gleaners and I" and her final film, last year's suitably elegaic "Varda by Agnes"); they're all here. As are any number of shorts like 1970's "Black Panthers," shot during the same late 1960's L.A. sojourn that produced "Lion's Love" and Demy's "The Model Shop." Besides the copious discoveries the set provided, it was lovely revisiting a digitally restored copy of my personal favorite Varda, 1965's "Le Bonheur," whose intoxicatingly romantic spirit always felt a bit like one of Demy's movies (minus the song score, natch). Predictably, Criterion's extras (e.g., rare footage from unfinished Varda features, "La melangite" and "Christmas Carole;" over seven hours of archival programs featuring Varda, many directed by her as well; and a 72-minute 2006 television version of a Varda installation from the previous year) are nearly as bountiful as the films themselves. You could spend a month of weekends just getting through them all. (A PLUS.)

CRISIS--After making a minor splash with "Arbitage," his promising 2012 debut, director Nicholas Jareck falls victim to the dread sophomore jinx with this long-awaited follow-up, a labored attempt to do for the opioid crisis what "Traffic" brilliantly did 20 years ago for the U.S./Mexico drug war. Three parallel stories (Armie Hammer plays an undercover D.E.A. agent with an addict sister; Evangeline Lily is a recovering addict whose teenage son dies of an overdose; and Gary Oldman sleepwalk tinghrough his role of a researcher/college professor in bed with Big Pharma) coverage--oh so predictably--in the third act. While rarely boring, it's never remotely convincing either. Maybe it would've worked better as a cable miniseries. (C.)

THE CROODS 2: A NEW AGE--Formulaic sequel to the 2014 DreamWorks CGI caveman 'toon in which the Crood brood (Nicolas Cage, Catherine Keener, Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds as Stone's boy-toy) moves to a more upscale prehistoric 'hood where their new neighbors (Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann voice The Bettermans) turn out to be status-conscious snobs. Bananas, "punch monkeys" and Partridge Family songs factor into the equation which is punctuated by the sort of lame caveman jokes that would have been rejected by "Flinstones" staff writers in the 1960's. (C MINUS.)

THE DIG--For anyone nostalgic for tony Merchant Ivory literary adaptations like "Howards End" and "A Room With a View," Netflix's new British period flick should prove irresistible. Carey Mulligan--in a far cry from her "Promising Young Woman" role--plays a widow in 1939 England who invites archeologists Ralph Fiennes and Lily James to excavate a fabled sixth century Anglo-Saxon ship buried on her property. Based upon a true story, Simon Stone's gorgeously lensed film is structurally ambitious and brimming with reflections on class, history (and who gets to write it), gender inequality, et al. While it's a heady brew that moves at a rather stately pace, Stone and his terrific cast make it accessible and richly entertaining. (B PLUS.)

EARWIG AND THE WITCH--The first CGI effort from legendary Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli is, sadly, a major disappointment. Even the most routine DreamWorks CGI 'toons (I'm looking at you, "Trolls World Tour") is more visually appealing. The story--orphan Earwig is adopted by a witch and moves into the crone's enchanted house--isn't particularly original or memorable either. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Japanese animation auteur, Hayao Miyazaki. Apparently Goro didn't inherit his father's talent. (D PLUS.)

THE EMPTY MAN--An empty vessel. Based on Cullen Bunn's graphic novel, first-time director David Prior's egregiously overlong supernatural thriller is long on moody atmosphere, but fatally lacking in any palpable suspense. Good actors like James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland and Stephen Root seem as confused by the murky script as any theatrical audience this hopes to attract will be. Prior, a longtime associate of David Fincher, mimics Fincher's slow-burn style--and dark color palette--without any of the intensity or creative genius. (C MINUS.)

FALLING--Viggo Mortensen wrote, directed and stars in a beautifully made, but almost unremittingly bleak drama about the torturous relationship between a middle-aged gay man (Mortensen) and his absolutely horrible father (Lance Henriksen). As good as Henriksen is, his character is such a raging monster--racist, homophobic and misogynistic for starters--that the film becomes something of an endurance test. Why Mortensen chose to make this as his follow-up to the Oscar-winning "Green Book" is a mystery for the ages. It's hard to think of a less commercial (and less audience-friendly) movie. (B MINUS.)

FATALE--Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays an L.A.P.D. detective gone bad in Deon ("The Intruder," "Black and Blue") Taylor's amusingly bonkers action melodrama. As Swank's former one-night stand who finds himself enmeshed in her increasingly deadly head games, Michael Ealy isn't bad, but not as sympathetic as he probably should have been. Despite a title with smoky evocations of film noir classics like "Double Indemnity" and "Chinatown," it's actually more of an African-American/Millennial twist on Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train." But (duh) not nearly as good. (C.) 

THE FATHER--As an elderly man riddled with dementia who desperately tries to make sense of his surroundings and the people in his life, Anthony Hopkins delivers one of the greatest performances of his career. Florian Zeller's directorial debut is among the most emotionally harrowing films I've ever seen: painful and lacerating, yet infused with so much humanity and compassion that it never becomes oppressive. It's a tour de force for both Hopkins and Zeller who uses the camera to navigate time, space and memory in ways that quietly take your breath away. "The Favourite" Oscar winner Olivia Colman is extraordinarily touching as Hopkins' daughter/primary caregiver. (A.)

FAT MAN--When a bratty rich kid (Chance Hurstfield) gets a lump of coal in his holiday stocking, he hires a hitman (Walton Goggins) to ice Santa Claus. Since Santa is played by Mel Gibson--who, quite frankly, is getting too old for this shite--it's going to take more than a contract killer to cancel Christmas. A semi-clever idea is bludgeoned to death by inelegant execution and lazy writing. For anyone thinking of taking the kids (hey, it's Santa!), this is one of the bloodiest, most sadistic movies in recent memory. Ho-ho-huh? (C MINUS.) 

FREAKY--Or "Freaky Friday the 13th." Christopher Landon, director of the "Happy Death Day" movies, returns with an even better darkly comic horror flick about a serial killer (Vince Vaughn as the infamous Blissfield Butcher) who swaps bodies with 17-year-old high school student Millie (Kathryn Newton). There are more laughs than scares, but its meta-cleverness keeps you happily buzzed for the duration. (B.)

GREENLAND--After a giant comet renders most of Earth uninhabitable, Atlanta engineer Gerard Butler must somehow find a way to bring his wife (Morena Baccarin) and son (Roger Dale Floyd) to safety in--you guessed it--Greenland. Butler's latest "B" disaster flick isn't quite as howlingly awful as his last one (2017's dreadful "Geostorm"), but it's easy to see why it was rerouted to streamers. "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact," not to mention Irwin Allen's entire 1970's oeuvre, never looked better. (C MINUS.)

HALF BROTHERS--An uptight Mexican yuppie (Luis Gerardo Mendez) learns that he has an American half-brother (Connor Del Rio who overplays the yang to Mendez's ying) after being summoned to their dying father's bedside. The Chicago-to-El Paso road trip/scavenger hunt that ensues serves as the template for a "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"-style odd couple/buddy movie, but John Candy and Steve Martin did it a lot better 33 years ago. Not half-bad, but not very good either. (C PLUS.)

HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT--In "The American Cinema," OG film critic Andrew Sarris famously proclaimed that Frank Borzage's 1937 masterpiece had "the most romantic title in the history of the cinema," and described the movie itself as "a profound expression of Borzage's commitment to love over probability." For that reason alone, this newly minted Criterion Collection Blu-Ray is a keeper. This story of an affair between an imperiled society wife (Jean Arthur) and a debonair international man of mystery (Charles Boyer) spans several continents and seemingly encompasses an entire gamut of genres (including screwball comedy, film noir, Sirkian melodrama and DeMille-ish disaster flick). That potpourri shouldn't work, but does splendidly thanks to the combustible romantic chemistry between Arthur and Boyer and Borzage's unshakable belief in the power of romantic love. The meticulous digital restoration is ravishing, and the extras are suitably luxe. There's an enlightening new conversation between Herve Dumont (author of "Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic") and historian Peter Cowie; a 2019 interview with critic Farran Smith Nehme in which he discusses Borzage's career; audio excerpts from a 1958 interview with Borzage; a 1940 radio adaptation of the movie starring Boyer; and an essay by author/critic Dan Callahan. (A.)

HONEST THIEF--After a pair of non-genre movies ("Ordinary Love" and "Made in Italy," both released this year) to prove he can still act, Liam Neeson returns to tough-guy avenger mode with a pedestrian B-movie in a bid to reclaim his red meat "Taken" fanbase. Neeson plays a career bank robber whose bid to go straight is foiled by some crooked feds. The rest plays out pretty much as you'd expect if you've seen any straight-to-DVD action flicks in the past ten years. (C MINUS.)

THE IRISHMAN--The third Netflix original to get the Criterion Collection treatment (their previously released 'flix films were "Roma" and "Marriage Story") is Martin Scorsese's three-and-a-half-hour mob drama magnum opus that ranks among the finest work of America's greatest living director. Suffused with a Proustian density and the kind of emotional weight and reflectiveness that only comes with age, it both demands and rewards multiple viewings. Fantastic performances by Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel, et al., too. The extras offer a groaning board of additional cinephile pleasures, including a 2019 roundtable conversation with Scorsese, DeNiro, Pacino and Pesci; "Making 'The Irishman'" featuring Scorsese, producers Irwin Winkler, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and various cast/crew members; critic Farran Smith Nehme's "Gangsters Requiem," a video essay contextualizing "The Irishman" within Scorsese's oeuvre; an inside baseball-y exegesis by Scorsese of the movie's Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night sequence; "The Evolution of Digital De-aging," a fascinating 2019 short on how the visual effects were created; 1999 and 1963 interviews with, respectively, Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and Jimmy Hoffa; and "The Wages of Loyalty," an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien that takes a deep dive into the film. (A PLUS.)

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH--The true story of F.B.I. informant William O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) who was indirectly responsible for the 1971 assassination of Illinois Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton ("Get Out" Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya). Stanfield and Kaluuya are both superb, and director Shaka King brings a real epic sweep to the historical material. Although a period film set 50 years ago, it still manages to seem bracingly, depressingly contemporary in the Black Lives Matter era. (A MINUS.) 

KAJILLIONAIRE--A family of con artists (Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and a fantastic Even Rachel Wood) invite a newbie (Gina Rodriguez) to join their reindeer games in Miranda ("Me, You and Everyone We Know") July's deeply strange, weirdly touching and impeccably acted new film. As usual, July is more interested in the dynamics of family--in all of its messy, dysfunctional permutations--than she is in plot mechanics, so don't expect a juicy neo-noir like "The Grifters," Stephen Frears' masterful 1990 adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel. It is, however, the finest, most bracingly original "con" movie since David Mamet's 1987 masterpiece, "House of Cards." And July remains one of the most interesting and idiosyncratic directors working in American indie cinema. I just wish she was more prolific: this is only her third film in fifteen years. (A.)

THE LADY EVE--Few directors in the history of American movies had as remarkable a winning streak as nonpareil writer-director Preston Sturges did in Hollywood's Golden Age. Beginning with "The Great McGinty" in 1940 and concluding with 1944's "Hail the Conquering Hero," Sturges made seven--count 'em--screwball classics that were as popular with audiences as they were with critics. "The Lady Eve," which came near the start of Sturges' amazing run (it was released in 1941), is perhaps my favorite of all his films. Barbara Stanwyck (never better) plays a conniving card shark who sets her sights on Henry Fonda's geeky snake researcher/brewery heir during an ocean cruise. The fact that the movie--thanks to Stanwyck and Fonda's densely layered performances--is as uproarious as it is touching proves Sturges' unmatched ability to turn emotions on a dime. The extras on the newly released Criterion Collection Blu-Ray/DVD are worthy of Sturges' genius. There's a 2001 audio commentary featuring film historian Marian Keane; an introduction, also from 2001, with the great Peter Bogdanovich; a new discussion with Bogdanovich, Sturges' biographer/son Tom Sturges, filmmakers James L. Brooks and Ron Shelton and critics Kenneth Turan, Susan King and Leonard Maltin; a video essay by critic David Cairns; a 1942 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the movie with Stanwyck and Ray Milland; an audio recording of a song ("Up the Amazon") from an unproduced stage musical based on the film; a 1946 Life Magazine Sturges profile; and an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien. (A PLUS.)

LAND--Robin Wright directed and stars in this mournful, pensive drama about a middle-aged woman (Wright) who, after suffering the loss of her husband and child in a mass shooting, decides to move to a desolate cabin in Wyoming and live off the grid. As the local widower who teaches her important survival skills, Demian Bichir brings a much-needed warmth and humanity. His scenes with Wright are the heart of a very good, beautifully lensed movie that, regrettably, has the misfortune to be opening almost simultaneously with the thematically similar Oscar front-runner, "Nomadland." (B PLUS.)  

THE LAST VERMEER--True-life story about Dutch art dealer/con man Hans van Meegeren (a career-best Guy Pearce) who was accused of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II. (He allegedly sold a priceless Vermeer painting to Hermann Goering.) Claes Bang--most recently seen in another art-themed movie, "The Burnt Orange Heresy"--plays the Dutch Jewish officer tasked with investigating van Meegeren by the Allied provisional government who wound up defending him in court. First-time director Dan Friedkin has crafted a great-looking film with juicy performances (the tony supporting cast includes Vicky Krieps from Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread" and August Diehl who starred in Terrence Malick's "A Hidden Life") that plays more like crafty pulp fiction than a cut-and-dried historical drama. (B PLUS.) 

LET HIM GO--When their late son's widow surreptitiously moves to North Dakota with her abusive new husband, Montana ranchers Kevin Costner and Diane Lane embark on a road trip to keep tabs on their young grandson. The family reunion doesn't go especially well; soon shotguns are a-blazing and butcher knives wielded. Until derailing in its implausible third act, director Thomas ("The Family Stone") Bezucha's adaptation of Larry Watson's 2013 novel is suitably gripping and impeccably acted (Costner and Lane are predictably aces, and Jeffrey Donovan, Will Brittain and a deliciously villainess Lesley Manville impress as the in-laws from hell). Bezucha also does a nice job of establishing the film's early-'60s setting without hitting you over the head with Boomer signifiers. (B.) 

LET THEM ALL TALK--Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh's smashing new dramedy is set almost entirely aboard the Queen Mary 2 where a Pulitzer-winning novelist (Meryl Streep) is reunited with her college pals (Dianne Wiest and a scene-stealing Candice Bergen). Although the pretext for the ocean voyage is a chance for the three ladies to catch up, things don't quite go according to plan. Soderbergh--who shot the film in just 14 days--brings such a Gallic je ne sais quoi to the proceedings that I kept picturing Isabelle Huppert in Streep's role. Oui, oui! (A MINUS.)

THE LITTLE THINGS--After this and his revisionist 2019 Bonnie and Clyde movie "Highwaymen" which starred Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as lawmen on the trail of the infamous bank-robbing duo, it's pretty clear that writer/director John Lee Hancock's days of helming feel-good movies like "The Blind Side" and "The Rookie" are officially kaput. In this serial killer procedural, Denzel Washington plays a veteran deputy sheriff who teams up with a hotshot LAPD detective (Rami Malek) to track down the psycho responsible for a series of grisly murders. Good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as David Fincher's genre classics "Se7en" and "Zodiac," it casts a haunting spell that's hard to shake long after it's over. Washington is dependably great and, as the cops' prime suspect, Jared Leto is utterly chilling. The teasingly ambiguous ending is guaranteed to launch pro and con (not to mention, "Did he, or didn't he?") debates for years to come. (A MINUS.)

LONG WEEKEND--An emotionally fragile aspiring writer (Finn Wittrock) meets a kooky free spirit (Zoe Chao) at an L.A. rep house. Soon they're falling in love over the course of a magical weekend that's slightly marred by some early warning signs: e.g., she's carrying a huge wad of cash and doesn't own a cellphone. First-time director Stephen Basilone's rom-com is an implausible, but irresistible blend of "Before Sunrise" and "Back to the Future," a highly original, immensely charming two-hander buoyed by appealing performers and a snappy screwball pace. (B PLUS.)

MALCOLM AND MARIE--The creator (Sam Levinson) and star (Zendaya) of HBO's phenomenal "Euphoria" team for a b&w Netflix movie shot stealthily during the early days of the pandemic. Zendaya plays the live-in girlfriend of "Next Big Thing" director John David Washington, and the action follows them after the premiere of his latest film. Think a biracial Millennial twist on "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"--minus the party guests--and you'll have a handle on what Levinson has wrought. Because his gifted lead actors are both enormously photogenic, you're almost willing to buy the cockeyed premise. Almost. (C PLUS.)

MALMKROG--At an isolated Transylvanian estate circa 1900, a group of aristocrats (and some arrivistes) gather together, ostensibly to celebrate Christmas. What ensues is a series of dialectical philosophical debates (in French) on a wide range of topics--including the nature of evil; Christianity; the concept of an anti-Christ; colonialism and its roots; the morality of war; the value of culture in a civilized society; et al.--played out in seeming real time. Although the movie runs 201 minutes with a minimum of cuts, Romanian auteur Cristi ("The Death of Mr. Lazarescu") Puiu somehow manages to make all this erudite tongue-wagging weirdly compelling. After awhile, I began to trance out on his rigorously ascetic chat-fest and developed something akin to a contact high. Like a Straub/Huillet movie on steroids, Puiu's magnum opus is a sublime, one-of-a-kind achievement that separates cineastes from cine-poseurs. (A.)

MANDABI--"A lie that unites people is better than the truth," someone says in Ousmane Sembene's fable-like 1969 film, and for a brief moment I thought they were referring to America's former president. Rest assured, this second feature by the godfather of African cinema--and the first ever made in the African language--has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Adapted from Sembene's own 1966 novella, the movie tells the story of the nightmarish problems that befall an unemployed layabout after he receives a money order for 25,000 francs from a nephew currently living in Paris. The bureaucratic chutes and ladders Sembene's holy fool protagonist is forced to navigate while trying to cash the order approaches a near (Samuel) Beckett-ian level of comic absurdity. Biliously funny and properly indignant, it paints a scathing portrait of a society whose colonial roots of greed and corruption continue to fester long after the French usurpers officially departed. While future Sembene works like "Ceddo," "Xala" and "Moolade" would be more ambitious and fully realized, "Mandabi" (which translates as "money order") remains one of his most purely enjoyable films. Extras on the Criterion Collection's new Blu-Ray include an introduction by film scholar Aboubakar Sangoo; a conversation between author/screenwriter Boubacar Boris Diop and feminist activist Marie Angelique Savane; "Praise Song," a video essay on Sembene's life and art featuring outtakes from the 2015 documentary "Sembene!;" the director's 1970 short, "Tauw;" an essay by Columbia University professor Tiana Reid; excerpts from French critic Guy Hennebelle's 1969 interview with Sembene that was originally published in "L'Afrique litteraire et artistique;" and the Sembene novella on which the film is based. (A.)

MANK--David ("The Social Network," "Gone Girl") Fincher's glittery recreation of 1930's Hollywood in all its b&w splendor serves as the backdrop for the story of how Herman J. Mankiewicz (a splendid Gary Oldman) cowrote "Citizen Kane" with Orson Welles. As Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst's mistress and the inspiration for "Kane"'s Susan Alexander, Amanda Seyfried gives an Oscar-worthy performance. The one major problem I have with the film is that it purposely discounts Welles' literary contribution at the expense of lionizing Mankiewicz. But I guess that's why it's called "Mank." (A MINUS.)

MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM--August Wilson's 1982 play--part of his ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle" despite taking place entirely in a Chicago recording studio--is transferred to the screen with a minimum of frills by esteemed stage director George C. Wolfe who wisely turns it into a showcase for the thesping wattage of Viola Davis (blues legend Ma Rainey) and the late Chadwick Boseman (Rainey's new horn player). It's more canned theater than cinema, but powerhouse performances by the two dynamic leads make this an unforgettable experience nonetheless. (B PLUS.)

THE MARKSMAN--Liam Neeson plays an Arizona rancher and ex-Marine sharpshooter who makes it his mission to protect an 11-year-old Mexican migrant (Jacob Perez) fleeing the murderous drug cartel who followed him into the U.S. and murdered his mother. Directed by former Clint Eastwood protege Robert Lorenz (whose only previous film was 2012's "Trouble With the Curve" which starred Eastwood and Amy Adams), it evinces some of the virtues of a typical Eastwood movie. Although ultimately too formulaic for its own good, Neeson--in what is essentially the "Eastwood Role"--does some of his best screen work in years. (B MINUS.)

THE MAURITANIAN--Tahar Rahim is brilliant as Mohamedou Ould Slahi who, after being arrested by the U.S. military in the wake of 9/11, is detained and imprisoned for more than a decade at Guantanamo Bay without ever having been officially charged with a crime. Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley play his defense team, and Benedict Cumberbatch is the military prosecutor who becomes an unwitting hero after experiencing a change of heart about the case. Based on a true story, director Kevin ("The Last King of Scotland") Macdonald's film is exceedingly powerful and, despite the downbeat subject matter, ultimately (improbably?) life-affirming. (B PLUS.)

THE MIDNIGHT SKY--While director/star George Clooney's dystopian sci-fi-er is visually stunning, the script--adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton's 2016 book, "Good Morning, Midnight"--appears to have been recycled from countless other post-apocalyptic yarns. Clooney plays a dying astronomer living in the Antarctic, and Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler and David Oyelowo are among the astronauts whose two-year mission climaxes with a global crisis that prevents them from returning to earth. A stirring score by the great Alexandre Desplat helps fill in some of the emotional beats missing from the actual film, but it's a lost cause. (C.)

MINARI--A family of Korean immigrants (led by "The Walking Dead" alumnus Steve Yeun) struggle to make a go of it as farmers in 1980's Arkansas. Director Lee Isaac Chung's warm, audience-friendly movie has the sort of universal, humanistic appeal that seems awfully quaint in the current climate. Which is probably why it's so darn irresistible, and has already been designated as a potential awards season spoiler The ensemble cast--including Will Patton, Yeun Yari Han, Alan S. Kim, Noel Cho and Yuh-jung Youn as the family's lovably gruff matriarch--is unimpeachable. (A MINUS.) 

MOFFIE--Based on Andre Carl van der Swart's autobiographical novel, Oliver Hermanus' quietly searing film details the mandatory military service of Nicholas (Kaiu Luke Brummer), a sensitive teenager in early 1980's South Africa. The fact that Nicholas is secretly gay--and that South African culture is as racist as it is homophobic (the title is derogatory slang for homosexual)--makes his two-year stint a physical as well as mental challenge. Stylistically and thematically reminiscent of both Claire Denis' "Beau Travail" and Barry Jenkins' Oscar-winning "Moonlight," Hermanus' film is impressive enough to be spoken of in the same breath as those masterpieces of modern cinema. (B PLUS.)

MONSTER HUNTER--"Resident Evil" auteur Paul W.S. Anderson tackles another videogame franchise with more noisy, brain-dead nonsense that explains why critics hate most vidgame movies and resent the overuse of CGI at the expense of old-fashioned verities like plot and characterization. "RE" star (and Mrs. Anderson) Milla Jovovich plays U.S. Army Ranger Artemis who teams up with "The Hunter" (Thai martial arts superstar Tony Jaa who's the best thing here) to save the world from persnickety giant spiders. Instead of ending, it just stops--probably as a shout-out to the inevitable sequel. I'd say that was wishful thinking, but there were six (count 'em) "Resident Evil" movies after all. (D.)

MOUCHETTE--Only the great French ascetic Robert Bresson could make a film ending in the suicide of its lead character that somehow feels emotionally transcendent. The 1967 follow-up to what many--myself included--consider Bresson's greatest work (the previous year's ineffable "Au hasard Balthazar"), "Mouchette" is a movie that has only gained in stature with critics and audiences over the ensuing decades. It's now regarded as one of his seminal films, and certainly one of the most distinctly "Bressonian." The newly released Criterion Collection release looks amazing in its 4K digital restoration; unfortunately, the extras aren't nearly as plentiful as the Criterion norm. Included are a 2006 audio commentary track by critic Tony Rayns; "Au hasard Bresson" (cute title), Theodore Kotulla's 1967 documentary featuring Bresson on the set of "Mouchette;" a standalone episode of French tube series "Cinema" that includes on-set interviews with Bresson and actors Nadine Nortier and Jean-Claude Gilbert; the original French trailer (edited by none other than Jean-Luc Godard!); and a recycled 2007 essay ("Girl, Interrupted") by critic/poet Robert Polito. Perhaps the lack of frou-frou was intentional. After all, I did say that Bresson was an ascetic. (A.) 

MY SALINGER YEAR--Margaret Qualley is enormously appealing as an impulsive young woman who drops out of Berkeley to move to New York in the mid-'90s and work for an imperious literary agent (Sigourney Weaver, terrific) whose most illustrious client is the legendary J.D. Salinger. Among her many tasks, Qualley's new assistant is responsible for answering the dozens of Salinger fan letters that come into the office on a weekly basis. It turns out to be the sort of transformative experience that alters the direction of her life. Director Philippe (2012's Oscar-nominated "Monsieur Lazhar") Falardeau does a nice job with his actors--and disguising the fact that much of the film was actually shot in Montreal. (B.)

MY ZOE--Julie Delpy directed and stars as a divorced research scientist who resorts to extreme measures after the death of her young daughter (Sophia Ally). A trip to Paris to meet with a geneticist (Daniel Bruhl) whose experiments with cloning have made him persona non grata in establishment circles results in a leap of faith for all concerned, not least the audience. A curious mix of marital/medical drama and even (gulp) sci-fi that shouldn't really work, but almost does thanks to strong performances by Delpy, Bruhl, Ally and Richard Armitage as her control freak ex. (B MINUS.)

NEWS OF THE WORLD--Although somewhat encumbered by a hushed solemnity, Paul ("United 93," "Captain Phillips") Greengrass' slow-burn revisionist western has a physical beauty--courtesy of virtuoso cinematographer Darius Wolski's painterly images--and moral authority that makes it compelling even when you're on the verge of dozing off. Tom Hanks plays a former Civil War captain tasked with escorting a young girl (Helena Zengel) to her only living relatives after having spent the past six years living with the Kiowa Indians who kidnapped her after murdering her family. It's sort of a cross between John Ford's "The Searchers" and "True Grit" (the John Wayne original or the 2010 Coen Brothers reboot: take your pick) with a soupçon of "Paper Moon" thrown into the mix for good measure. (B.)

NOMADLAND--Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose for Fern (Frances McDormand) in Chloe ("The Rider," "Songs My Brother Taught Me") Zhao's magnificent new film. After the death of her husband, Fern buys a van and drives across country, living a nomadic, hand-to-mouth existence with zero attachments. As a portrait of the disenfranchised and dispossessed barely surviving in the 21st century gig economy, Zhao's masterpiece feels like the most quintessentially "American" movie of recent years. Except for David Strathairn as the equally rudderless guy Fern meets on the road, the cast is largely comprised of non-professionals, all of whom are essentially playing themselves. Zhao's seamless blending of scripted/improvised material is as breathtaking as it is skillful On the basis of her first three films, Zhao has quietly emerged as the most distinctive new cinematic voice since Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola and Quentin Tarantino in the 1990's. (A.) 

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI--The "night" in question is February 25, 1964 when Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeated Sonny Liston in a championship bout. Later, Clay--on the cusp of his conversion to the Muslin faith and becoming Muhammad Ali--meets up with friends Malcolm X ( Kingsley Ben-Adir from "Pesky Binders"), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr., best known as Aaron Burr in "Hamilton") at Miami's Hampton House Motel. Adapted from a stage play by Kem Powers, Regina King's feature directing debut is essentially filmed theater. But the performances are so strong, especially Odom Jr. who deserves a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, that Powers' apocryphal tale remains riveting from start to finish. (B PLUS.)

OUR FRIEND--When a young wife/mother (Dakota Johnson) becomes fatally ill, a family friend (Jason Segel) puts his life on hold to become her de facto caregiver while her journalist husband (Casey Affleck) is traveling for work. Director Gabriela ("Blackfish," "Megan Leavey" ) Cowperthwaite's deeply moving, splendidly acted new film is reminiscent of the sort of character-driven pieces ("Terms of Endearment," "Ordinary People," etc.) that used to be the bread and butter of Hollywood studios. In today's franchise-crazy, CGI-besotted universe, it feels positively revolutionary. For anyone hankering for a cathartic movie cry, you won't do any better than this. (A.)

PIECES OF A WOMAN--Vanessa Kirby plays a young woman whose marriage to Shia LeBeouf falls apart after their baby girl dies post-childbirth. Director Kornel Mundruczo does such extraordinarily intimate work with his actors (including screen legend Ellen Burstyn as Kirby's mother) that the line between character and performer all but disappears. Like the John Cassavetes masterpieces it resembles (particularly 1974's "A Woman Under the Influence"), it can be an excruciatingly painful movie to watch at times. But chances are likely that you'll never forget it. (A MINUS.)

PIERROT LE FOU--In his Village Voice review, critic Andrew Sarris said that this early period Jean-Luc Godard masterpiece was the first Godard film he had to wait on line to see. Although it premiered at the 1965 Venice Film Festival--and screened at the New York Film Festival the following year--"Pierrot le Fou" didn't receive a U.S. theatrical release until early 1969. At that point, even the director's most ardent fans were beginning to suspect that the days of conventionally entertaining Godard movies like "Breathless," "Band of Outsiders" and "A Woman is a Woman" were long gone. No wonder "le Fou," arguably the last Godard film that could be categorized as "fun," became a hot ticket among Manhattan cinephiles. On paper, it didn't sound appreciably different than Gallic bon-bons like "That Man from Rio" and "Up to His Ears" that Godard leading man Jean-Paul Belmondo had been making for Philippe De Broca during the same mid-'60s period. But as always with Godard, his signature "JLG" touches were in the details. Belmondo plays Ferdinand, a romantic iconoclast who ditches his rich wife to go on an extended (and increasingly surreal, with playful comic book touches sure to endear it to Marvel and D.C. fans) road trip with ex-girlfriend/gangster moll Marianne (Godard's then wife/muse, Anna Karina). The pair is ostensibly rebelling against capitalist/consumerist culture and bourgeois society, but it's really just topical window-dressing for a giddy homage to the sort of "lovers on the run" Hollywood noirs like "They Live by Night" and "Detour" that Godard would soon reject. Among the extras on the newly released Criterion Collection Blu-Ray are a 2007 Karina interview; 2007 video essay "A 'Pierrot' Primer" helmed by frequent Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin; Luc Lagier's 2007 documentary, "Godard, l'amour, la poesie," about Godard and Karina's marriage and professional relationship; excerpts from 1965 interviews with Godard, Belmondo and Karina; an essay by Godard biographer/New Yorker film critic Richard Brody; Sarris' original review of the film; and a 1965 interview with Godard. (A.)

PINOCCHIO--Italian fabulist Matteo ("Gomorrah," "Tale of Tales") Garrone's live action rendering of Carlo Collodi's kid-lit perennial is a feast for the eyes: a veritable children's storybook come to magical life. As Geppetto, Roberto Benigni has considerable more success than he did playing the titular role in his 2002 disaster. Unfortunately, U.S. distributer Roadside Attractions is releasing the movie in a dubbed rather than subtitled version which means that everyone sounds like they're performing in a cheesy Japanese Godzilla flick. For shame. ("A MINUS" for the visuals; "C MINUS" for the soundtrack.)

THE PROM--Based upon the cultish 2018 Broadway musical, Ryan Murphy's shrill and frequently grating Netflix adaptation stars Meryl Streep and James Corden as Broadway has-beens who, after teaming up with never-weres Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells, descend upon a small Indiana town to teach tolerance. (Really.) Except for Kidman--possibly the finest working actress in film/television today--nearly every performance is pitched to the second (or is it third?) balcony. Whether Streep or Corden is the worst offender in that regard, I'll let you be the judge. (D PLUS.)

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN--Carey Mulligan gave the best female performance of 2020 in first-time director Emerald Fennell's remarkably accomplished, terrifically enjoyable black comedy that has the larkish Guignol spirit and flamboyant visual style of vintage Brian DePalma ("Carrie," "The Fury, "Body Double," et al). It also benefits from Fennell's diabolically clever script that keeps pulling out one surprise after another from of its considerable arsenal of narrative tricks. The fact that you're never entirely sure where it's headed makes the journey as exhilarating as it is (frequently) shocking. (A.) 

ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE--The second Martin Scorsese Netflix movie released by the Criterion Collection in as many months is another masterful Scorsese music documentary (see "No Direction Home," his fantastic 2005 Dylan bio-doc). "Rolling Thunder Revue" incorporates (frequently rare) archival footage/interviews, generous clips from Dylan's undeservedly obscure 1978 mega opus "Renaldo and Clara" and more (much more) in the service of something altogether unique and largely unprecedented in music film annals: a playful, occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny meditation on time, memory, "truth" and illusion, and the tricks a brilliant director can wring from the so-called historical record. Set largely against the backdrop of Dylan's legendary 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue--essentially a traveling counterculture caravan featuring Allen Ginsberg, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez among other Baby Boomer icons--the movie is consistently surprising, often revelatory and enormously entertaining. Extras include interviews with Scorsese, editor David Tedeschi and writer Larry Sloman; restored footage of heretofore unseen Rolling Thunder Revue performance footage (including a new, extended cut of "Tangled Up in Blue"); a nuts-and-bolts demonstration on how the original footage was digitally restored for the film; an essay by novelist Dana Spiotta; and "Logbook Entries" by Sam Shepard, Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. My only disappointment is that "Renaldo and Clara"--which has been notoriously difficult to see since its truncated theatrical release 40+ years ago--isn't included among the disc's bonus features. (A.) 

SAINT MAUD--If Lars von Trier had directed Roman Polanski's "Repulsion" between "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark," it might have looked something like first-time director Rose Glass' smashing religious horror flick. As hospice nurse Maud who makes it her mission to save the soul of her newest patient, Morfydd ("His Dark Materials") Clark is utterly chilling, and the wonderful Jennifer Ehle matches her every step of the way as Maud's terminally ill charge. Viscerally creepy and deeply haunting, it's one of the best scary movies in recent memory. (A MINUS.)

THE SALT OF TEARS--A twentysomething Casanova (the charismatic Logann Antofermo) gets his comeuppance in veteran French director Philippe Garrel's typically gorgeous b&w romantic melodrama. As the women who enter (and exit) his life at various stages, Souheila Jacob, Oulaya Amara and Louise Chevillote make indelible impressions. Garrell, one of the few living remnants of the halcyon French New Wave, continues making films in his own stubbornly idiosyncratic way, and they all matter. Bravo. (A MINUS.)

SILK ROAD--A true story so incredible it belongs in the Ripley annals. Nick Robinson plays Ross Ulbricht, a recent college graduate who brainstorms a get-rich scheme in which he uses dark web channels to sell illegal narcotics across the globe. Everything is hunky-dory until a D.E.A. agent (Jason Clark) begins to play cat-and-mouse games with the cocky Gen Z huckster. A slickly produced, highly entertaining cautionary tale. (B MINUS.) 

SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT--Cross-dressing stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard is egregiously miscast as an undercover British Intelligence agent foiling a Nazi plot at the cusp of World War II in director Andy Goddard's arthritic bid at an Old School Hitchockian suspenser. Judi Dench turns in the best performance as a boarding school headmistress with mixed loyalties, but the estimable Jim Broadbent is wasted in a glorified cameo. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the movie--allegedly based on a true story--that a different lead and snappier filmmaking couldn't have fixed. But what's onscreen is, unfortunately, a bit of a snooze. (C.)

SIX MORAL TALES--2020's first truly essential Blu-Ray release is also the most purely pleasurable: a lovingly packaged Criterion Collection box set of French New Wave master Eric Rohmer's self-described "Six Moral Tales." The features ("La Collectionneuse," "My Night at Maud's," "Claire's Knee" and "Love in the Afternoon") and shorts ("The Bakery Girl of Monceau" and "Suzanne's Career") have all been given scintillating 2K digital restorations, and collectively serve as the perfect gateway for anyone still unfamiliar with Rohmer's sublime oeuvre. Like pretty much every Rohmer movie, his "Moral Tales" are essentially romantic comedies, albeit rom-coms with a Ph.D. Hyperarticulate and effervescently witty, the nonpareil badinage between men and women in Rohmer Land would serve as a highly influential template to future filmmakers worldwide. Richard Linklater's "Before" trilogy would have never existed without Rohmer, nor would pretty much the entire filmography of South Korea's Hong Sangsoo. Befitting Criterion's usual standards of excellence, the 3-disc package has enough extras to keep a cinephile busy for weeks. There are four additional Rohmer shorts ("Presentation, or Charlotte and Her Steak;" "Veronique and Her Dunce;" "Nadja in Paris;" "A Modern Coed") from 1951, 1958, 1964 and 1966 respectively, and one that he served as adviser on (1999's "The Curve"); a 1965 episode from the French television series "En profil dans le texte" directed by Rohmer; archival interviews with Rohmer, actors Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Beatrice Romand, and Laurence de Monaghan, film critic Jean Douchet and producer Pierre Cottrel; a 2006 conversation between Rohmer and director Barbet Schroeder; a 2006 "video afterward" by director/playwright Neil LaBute; a booklet featuring essays by critics Molly Haskell, Geoff Andrews, Phillip Lopate, Kent Jones, Ginette Vincendeau and even a remarkably sanguine piece from notorious contrarian Armond White; excerpts from cinematographer Nestor Almendros' 1984 autobiography in which he discusses his working relationship with Rohmer on the set of "La Collectionneuse;" Rohmer's legendary 1948 Les temps modernes essay "For a Talking Cinema;" and an English translation of the book of Rohmer stories which served as basis for the films. (A PLUS.)

SLALOM--Charlene Favier's striking directorial debut tells the discomfiting story of a 15-year-old Olympic hopeful (promising newcomer Noeee Abita) and her inappropriate relationship with a skiing coach (Jeremie Renier) in the French Alps. As a study of the sexual exploitation of young women by powerful men, Favier's film is remarkably subtle while still delivering a punch to the gut. (B PLUS.) 

SOUL--The best Pixar 'toon since "Inside Out," maybe "Up," makes a case for why living--even in our supremely imperfect world--is still worth fighting for. In a year when many of us have struggled with sundry existential crises on a daily basis, that message feels both tonic and reassuring. Jamie Foxx plays Joe, a failed jazz musician trying to return to earth after dying in a freak accident. As soul-in-training #22, Tina Fey provides the inner voice of Joe's "spirit." It's a match made in comic heaven, and the film is heaven-sent, too. (A.)  

SUPERNOVA--Longtime companions Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) take a road trip from London to England's Lake District in director Harry Macqueen's touching character drama. Because Tusker is suffering from young-onset dementia, the journey has the bittersweet flavor of a "farewell tour" for both men. The level of delicacy and restraint that Macqueen brings to his film is admirable, and Firth and Tucci born turn in well-nigh career performances. (A MINUS.)

TENET-- Even after sitting through Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated new film twice, I'm still not sure I understand it. By "it," I mean the plot which is so convoluted and (deliberately?) confusing that it practically defies rational synopsis. What I can report is that it feels a lot like what the "Last Year at Marienbad"-era Alain Resnais could have made if he'd been contracted to direct a Bond movie in the last days of Camelot. There are copious action setpieces, all of which are skillfully handled if somewhat lacking in the "Look ma; no hands!" glee of the last few "Mission Impossible" installments. But Nolan does "surface" so well, it's easy to be seduced into the glistening, tactile worlds of his films, even when you're disoriented and narratively adrift for pretty much the whole time. Disorientation (remember "Inception"?) is clearly his preferred bag of tricks. "BlackKKlansman" John David Washington handles the leading man chores with panache (he's "The Protagonist"), and Robert Pattinson does yeoman work as his quipster sidekick. There's also strong work from Kenneth Branagh (dialing down his innate hamminess as the Russian Big Bad), Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and "Yesterday" breakout Himesh Patel. Michael Caine kills his one scene, but it's only one scene, alas. (B PLUS.)

THREE FILMS BY LUIS BUNUEL--The Criterion Collection's first box set of 2021 contains the final three films directed by the late Spanish surrealist extraordinaire, made during the greatest creative period of a decades-long career that stretched back to the silent era. Except for 1964's "Diary of a Chambermaid," I was never a particularly big Bunuel fan until 1967's "Belle de Jour." Sure, like everyone I dug "Un Chien Andalou" when I saw it as part of a midnight movie program in college. But Bunuel "masterpieces" like "The Exterminating Angel" and "Viridiana" left me strangely cold. The symbolism felt obvious, trite even, and the patches of dark humor seemed jejune. "Belle" turned the corner for me, and my enthusiasm continued unabated with "The Milky Way," "Tristana" and the trilogy (of sorts) that comprise this set. 1972's "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" is possibly my favorite Bunuel, and one of the most perfectly realized--and funniest--comedies ever made. 1974's "The Phantom of Liberty" ranks among Bunuel's most undervalued works: hopefully it will pick up new devotees thanks to this Criterion release. And 1977's "That Obscure Object of Desire" remains among the greatest swan songs of any pantheon director. Befitting the Criterion norm, the extras are suitably bountiful. Included are "The Castaway of Providence Street," a 1971 Bunuel homage made by friends and fellow directors Arturo Ripstein and Rafael Castaneda; the 2000 documentary, "Speaking of Bunuel," about the filmmaker's life and career; a 2011 television special about the making of "Discreet Charm;" interviews from 2000 with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere about his many collaborations with Bunuel; archival interviews on the three films featuring actors Fernando Rey, Michel Piccoli and Stephane Audran; a 1985 documentary about Serge Silberman who produced five of Bunuel's final seven movies; film scholar Peter William Evans' deep-dish analysis of "Liberty;" 2017 documentary "Lady Doubles" which features actresses Carole Bouquet and Angelina Molina who (jointly) played Conchita in "Obscure Object;" excerpts from a 1929 silent ("La femme et le pantin") based on the same 1898 Pierre Louys novel that Bunuel and Carriere would later adapt for "Obscure Object;" "Portrait of an Impatient Filmmaker: Luis Bunuel," a 2012 documentary with cinematographer Edmond Richard and assistant director Pierre Lary; scholarly essays by critics Gary Indiana and Adrian Martin; and Bunuel interviews from 1975 and 1977 conducted by Mexican film critics (and Bunuel confidants) Tomas Perez Turrent and Jose de la Colina. (A PLUS.)

TOWN BLOODY HALL--Or when Norman Mailer was metaphorically drawn and quartered by a panel of Women's Lib superstars (including Germaine Greer, Diana Trilling and Jill Johnston) on April 30, 1971 at New York City's Town Hall. Mailer, whose recently published book "The Prisoner of Sex" had made him persona non grata in feminist circles, was a sitting duck, and watching the polemical fireworks can retroactively give you a contact high. Husband and wife documentary filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker ("Don't Look Back," "Monterey Pop") and Chris Hegedus' more-talked-about-than-actually-seen record of this fiery conflagration remains one of the finest--and frequently funniest--examples of the cinema verite movement. It also remains as relevant as ever in the #MeToo/#TimesUp era. The newly issued Criterion Collection Blu-Ray includes a new interview with Hegedus (Pennebaker died in 2019); archival interviews with Greer and Mailer; a 1971 episode of the Dick Cavett Show with Mailer promoting the book that instigated the Town Hall event; Hegedus and Greer's audio commentary; a 2004 anniversary commemoration with Pennebaker, Hegedus, Greer, Johnston, et al; and an insightful essay by 4Columns film editor Melissa Anderson. (A.)

TWO OF US--An elderly lesbian couple (Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier) encounter societal roadblocks after one of them falls ill. Because their relationship has been secretive until now--Chevallier is a widow with two grown children, neither of whom know of her sexual predilection--the partner is left out of the decision-making processes regarding medical care, etc. First time feature director Filippe Meneghetti's touching drama is beautifully acted by her two principals, and the story has resonance far beyond the LGBT community. This is France's designated entry for the Best International Film Oscar (B.)  

AN UNMARRIED WOMAN--"'Balls' said the queen, 'if I had them I'd be king.'" I've never forgotten that line from Paul Mazursky's "An Unmarried Woman," even though it had been more than 40 (!?!) years since I'd last seen it. Spoken by the late, great Jill Clayburgh after her husband (Robert Altman rep player Michael Murphy) walks out on her after 15 years of marriage for a--hmmm--younger woman, it felt emblematic of the whole "Hear me roar" Women's Lib movement of the 1970's. It was also hysterically funny. I still remember how Manhattan's Beekman Theater practically vibrated with the knowing laughter of Bloomingdales Belt "Ladies Who Lunch" at the first matinee performance in March 1978. Thanks to the Criterion Collection's new Blu-Ray release, I got to re-experience one of the singular zeitgeist films of the New Hollywood era, as well as one of my personal favorites. (Sadly, it's been tough finding the movie in the DVD era.) The extras are less bountiful than the Criterion norm, but still choice. There's a 2005 audio commentary with Mazursky and Clayburgh; new interviews with Murphy, Lisa Lucas (who played Clayburgh and Murphy's tween daughter) and "The Big Goodbye" author Sam Watson; an audio recording of a 1980 Mazursky speech at the American Film Institute; and an essay by Vulture critic Angelica Jade Bastien that frames the movie within the context of both '70s feminism and Hollywood's New Wave. (A.)

THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY--An electrifying Andra Day blows a hole through the screen as the titular blues legend in Lee ("Precious," "The Butler") Daniels' Brechtian biopic. Starting in 1947 and focusing on the last decade of the singer's life, the movie is a dialectical, unabashedly political sensory blur, and all the stronger for its unconventional approach. As Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner Harry Anslinger whose relentless pursuit of Holiday contributed to her death, Garret Hedlund makes a more vivid impression than Trevante Rhodes (rather wan as the undercover agent who, curiously, wound up becaming Holiday's most trusted confidante after setting her up for a bust that resulted in a lengthy prison sentence). Less romanticized and more emotionally bruising than Diana Ross' guilty pleasure 1972 Holiday biopic, "Lady Sings the Blues," and the music, of course, is fierce. (B PLUS.)

VANGUARD--The 007 movie that Jackie Chan never made (until now) reunites him with his favorite director--Stanley Tong, who helmed Chan's "Supercop" movies among many others--and it's their best outing in years. As the head of a top-secret global security force, sixtysomething Chan graciously, and probably sensibly, hands the lion's share of chop-socky duties over to newcomer Yang Yang who rises to the occasion with a potentially star-making performance. The scenic globe-hopping (London, Dubai, Africa, London, et al) gives it an old-fashioned, travelogue-y vibe which feels especially welcome in the Era of Quarantine. (B.) 

WANDER DARKLY--Sienna Miller and Diego Luna are very good, but this glacially paced, quasi-metaphysical love-story-from-beyond-the-grave plays like an artsy variant on "Ghost." Accordingly, it's both ponderous and sappy. Recommended only for the most ardent fans of the two leads. (C MINUS.)

THE WAR WITH GRANDPA--A bratty kid (Oakes Fegley) goes to unusual lengths to reclaim his bedroom after grandpa (Robert DeNiro, sigh) moves in. Director Tim ("Alvin and the Chipmunks," "Hop") was clearly aiming for the sort of all-ages-friendly comedy that "Home Alone" auteurs John Hughes and Chris Columbus used to specialize in, but the dispiriting results are closer to a TGIF sitcom pilot that accidentally stumbled onto multiplex screens. In the pre-Covid era, this would have been sent straight to DVD without its (theatrical) supper. (D PLUS.)

THE WHITE TIGER--Imagine "David Copperfield" set in modern-day India, and you'll get a handle on director Ramin ("99 Homes," "Fahrenheit 451") Bahrani's vigorously entertaining rags-to-riches tale. Adarsh Gourav (terrific) plays a young man whose fate and fortunes change once he becomes the driver for a well-to-do couple recently returned from America. By combining jaundiced social commentary about the 1% with sweeping, old-fashioned storytelling, Bahrani has made a film that can be enjoyed by fans of both "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Parasite." (A MINUS.) 

WILD MOUNTAIN THYME--Irish spitfire Emily Blunt has romantic designs on neighboring farmer Jamie Dornan, but an imagined family curse prevents him from reciprocating her advances. Oscar-winning writer/director John Patrick Shanley ("Moonstruck," "Joe Vs. the Volcano") stumbles in a labored adaptation of his own short-lived 2014 Broadway play. Accordingly, neither the film's comedic or romantic elements ever fully gel. Costarring Christopher Walken and Jon Hamm, both of whom are infinitely better than their material. (C MINUS.)

THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW--Definitely not a conventional horror flick--I'm not even sure whether it's a horror movie at all--so don't bother renting this if you're hankering for a "B" creature feature. Instead, like writer/director/star Jim Cummings' previous film (2018's fantastic "Thunder Road") this is an uber-quirky, defiantly idiosyncratic, well nigh uncategorixable "whatzit?" Imagine a cross between indie maverick John ("A Woman Under the Influence") Cassavetes and early Farrelly Brothers (e.g., "Kingpin"), and you're halfway home. It's also pretty wonderful, and Cummings remains one of the most exciting multi-hyphenates working today. (A MINUS.)

WONDER WOMAN 1984--This only quasi successful follow-up to the 2017 D.C. blockbuster reunites director Patty Jenkins with stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine whose romantic chemistry is still off the charts. The major reason the sequel doesn't have quite the same joie de vivre as the original is an indulgent, and frequently lumbering, 151 minute run time. As a result, this is only fun intermittently, usually whenever Kristen Wiig is onscreen as WW antagonist Barbara Minerva. The film's "be careful what you wish for" theme has even more resonance than probably intended thanks to the year that 2020 was. (B MINUS.) 

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS--High school senior/aspiring chef Charlie ("Lean on Pete") Plummer battles the ravages of schizophrenia with the help of mom Molly Parker. After being forced to switch schools because of his condition, a sympathetic classmate with personal issues of her own (Taylor Russell from "Waves") becomes an important new support system. Based on Julie Walton's YA novel, director Thor ("Diary of a Wimpy Kid," "Hotel for Dogs") Freudental's prosaic adaptation plays like a big-screen After School Special that's somewhat elevated by the performances of Plummer and Russell, two of the finest young actors working today. (B MINUS.)

THE WORLD TO COME--In 1865, two unhappily married farm women find themselves inexorably drawn to each other in director Mona Fastvold's gorgeously tactile lesbian romance. As the women in love, Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby (most recently seen in the shattering "Pieces of a Woman") are very good, as are the always welcome Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott as their respective spouses. It's unfortunate that the film is opening so soon after "Ammonite" and "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," two other period same-sex love stories. Through no fault of its own, Fastvold's movie can't help but feel a tad second-hand. (B.)

---Milan Paurich