Movies with Milan

Movies with Milan

Movies reviews from Milan PaurichRead More

 

Milan at the Movies 11-24-21

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NEW TO STREAMERS, HOME VIDEO (AND IN THEATERS):

THE ADDAMS FAMILY 2--Lightly likable follow-up to the 2019 'toon spin-off of the beloved '60s tube series. In this iteration, the Addams clan--Gomez (Oscar Isaac); Morticia (Charlize Theron); Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz); Pugsley (Javon Walton); and Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll)--take a road trip family vacation while Grandma (Bette Midler) stays home to throw a rave for local millennials. The only fly in the ointment is crackpot scientist Cyrus Strange (Bill Hader) who, after convincing himself that he's Wednesday's biological father, sics his lawyer (Wallace Shawn) on them. The animation is decent enough, some of the jokes are actually pretty funny and anyone who's ever enjoyed the antics of this altogether "ooky" family should have a reasonably good time. (B MINUS.)

ANTLERS--Could the disembodied corpses found in an Oregon forest be connected to the eerie drawings of a middle schooler (Jeremy T. Thomas)? Director Scott ("Hostiles") Cooper and producer Guillermo del Toro's smashingly effective horror movie about a Native American boogey man (the fabled "Wendigo" of mythological lore) manages the uncanny feat of scaring the bejesus out of you while also touching your heart. As the kid's teacher, Keri Russell neatly balances genuine concern for her troubled student with a palpable--and perfectly reasonable under the circumstances--fear for her life. The always-welcome Jesse Plemons' brings much-needed gravitas to a film that might have simply been too Guignol-ish for its own good. His sheriff provides the moral fulcrum for a stylish and delectably spooky thriller that deserves to become a future cult favorite. (B PLUS.)

BELFAST--Kenneth Branagh's best film in decades is also his most personal: a heartfelt, autobiographical coming-of-age drama about growing up in late 1960's Belfast amidst Northern Ireland's "Troubles." Branagh surrogate Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill in a remarkable screen debut) is broken-hearted when his parents (Jamie Dornan and Catriana Balfer, both wonderful) decide to uproot their family and move to England. (Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds deliver Oscar-worthy performances as 9-year-old Buddy's grandparents.) The b&w lensing is luminous, and the soundtrack (heavy on vintage Van Morrison) is well-nigh unimpeachable. If previous British coming-of-agers like Terrence Davies' "The Long Day Closes," John Boorman's "Hope and Glory" and Stephen Frears' "Liam" cut deeper and packed more of an emotional wallop, Branagh's "one from the heart" is still a joy to be treasured. The very definition of "audience movie," it's not surprising this has been widely considered a front-runner for the 2021 Best Picture Oscar since winning top prize at this year's Toronto Film Festival. (A MINUS.)

CANDYMAN--Clive Barker's short story--previously filmed by Bernard Rose in 1992--has been reimagined by producer/cowriter Jordan ("Get Out") Peele for the Black Lives Matter era, and it's both a corking good genre flick as well as as thoughtful treatise on race in 21st century America. Yahya Abdul-Manteen (Bobby Seale in "The Trial of the Chicago Seven") plays an artist who moves into Chicago's newly gentrified Cabrini Green district and makes the fatal mistake of using the Candyman mythology as inspiration for his work. Costarring "WandaVision" breakout Yeyonah Parris, the currently ubiquitous Colman Domingo and original "Candyman" Tony Todd. (B PLUS.)

CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG--While mom's away on a business trip, precocious Manhattan tween Emily Elizabeth (appealing Darby Camp) befriends the titular crimson puppy who magically grows to gargantuan dimensions over night. Slapsticky shenanigans ensue as an evil geneticist (Tony Hale) attempts to steal Clifford for nefarious purposes. Thanks to our quick-thinking heroine and her brainiac school chum (Isaac Wang), the kids--reluctantly aided by Emily Elizabeth's slacker uncle (Jack Whitehall)--manage to save the day, and even elude a dog-hating apartment super (David Allen Grier). Based on the popular 1960's Scholastic books and subsequent PBS series, this CGI/live-action hybrid is surprisingly tolerable, even for normally kidflick-averse grown ups like myself. Or maybe I was just predisposed to like it since I recently adopted a puppy myself. Available at no additional charge to Paramount+ subscribers. (C PLUS.)

CRY MACHO--91-year-old Clint Eastwood not only directed, but stars in this agreeably mellow tale of an ex-rodeo rider (Eastwood) who agrees to escort his former boss' 13-year-old son (Eduardo Minnett) from Mexico City to Texas. In the process, the grizzled old sodbuster teaches the kid a few things, including what it truly means to be a man ("the macho thing is overrated"). The script is a little pat and not all of it is particularly subtle, but Eastwood somehow manages to keep it from veering into Afterschool Special terrain. And he delivers a first-rate performance as well. (B.)

DUNE--As someone who loved David Lynch's generally reviled 1984 Frank Herbert adaptation, I didn't really see a crying need for a reboot. But Denis ("Arrival," "Blade Runner 2049") Villeneuve clearly did. And he wasn't thinking small either. Apparently afflicted with "Peter Jackson Elephantiasis," Villeneuve decided that Herbert's wildly influential sci-fi magnum opus had the makings of a--yawn--"epic trilogy." So like Jackson's torturously protracted "Hobbit" trifecta, he's chosen to italicize every Herbert comma and apostrophe. The result is a visually dazzling, but glacially paced "Chapter One" that beautifully, sometimes thrillingly, dawdles to, well, nowhere in particular. I'm assuming the real ending is being saved for "Chapter Three" since this particular movie doesn't end so much as stop. "It" boy Timothee Chalamet plays Paul Atreides who journeys to the planet Arrakis to find the precious "spice" (think mescaline or some other groovy hallucinogen) that will hopefully save his doomed planet. As Chalamet's parents, Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson (Duke and Lady Atreides) do fine work, and the entire supporting cast is an embarrassment of of high-voltage talent (Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Zendaya) and franchise movie beefcake (Jason Mamoa and Dave Bautista). During the course of its lumbering two-and-a-half-hour run time, I frequently wanted to freeze an image and frame it on my mantelpiece. But I was never emotionally invested or, quite frankly, entertained. (C.)

ENCANTO--Disney's 60th animated feature is the Mouse House's latest culturally specific female empowerment fairy 'toon. ("Raya and the Last Dragon" precedes it by a mere eight months.) With a busy, if not particularly memorable song score by Lin-Manuel Miranda--currently vying for the title of "hardest working man in show business" after "In the Heights," "Vivo" and "Tick, Tock...Boom", all in 2021--the film is a feast for the eyes, but somewhat lacking in terms of story/character development. Adolescent protagonist Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) is the only member of her Columbian mountain family not to be blessed with a "special" gift--one sister can make flowers bloom through sheer willpower; an uncle ("That '70s Show" alum Wilmer Valderamma) is a shape-shifter; et al. When the Madrigals start losing their collective mojo, Mirabel embarks upon a journey to help restore her clan's magical world. From John Leguizamo's toucan sidekick (yawn) to the boilerplate message about how everyone is "special" in their own way, the whole thing feels recycled and second-hand. Directors Byron Howard and Jarred Bush had more success with their last Disney collaboration, 2016's delightful "Zootopia." (C.)

ETERNALS--"Did it really have to be that long?" Except for the most rabid fanboys/girls, that'll probably be most people's reaction to this nearly three-hour Marvel origin story featuring a corps of below ballot superheroes. The fact that it's not only watchable, but frequently impressive stems from the authorial sensibility/vision of Oscar-winning director Chloe ("Nomadland," "The Rider") Zhao. While (literally) light years away from the semi-improvised neorealist dramas largely populated by non-professional actors she cut her teeth on, there's just enough of "The Zhao Touch" to make fans sit up and take notice. For starters, it's the most visually resplendent Marvel production to date, with a decided emphasis on the natural world (dig those painterly landscapes) and the humanity of its (in this case, mostly otherworldly) cast of characters. The titular Eternals have been around for thousands of years and reunite to battle their ultimate foe (the Deviants) to save earth from global destruction. For better or worse, every woke box is checked here. Among the Eternal phalanx--led by a Latinx woman (Selma Hayek), natch--are an African-American gay (Brian Tyree Henry); an Indian (Kumail Nanjiani) who moonlights as a Bollywood superstar; a deaf African-American female (Lauren Ridloff); Angelina Jolie; and two former "Game of Thrones" hunks (Kit Harrington and Richard Madden). I can't say that its 157 minutes exactly fly by--it could have definitely used a last-minute trim--but "Eternals" is one of the few Marvels to date that actually seems more like a "film" than merely a cynical Hasbro marketing tool. (B.)

FREE GUY--If "The Truman Show" and "Ready Player One" had a baby with ADD, it might be Shawn ("A Night at the Museum") Levy's frenetic and ultimately fatiguing farce. As a video game avatar with identity problems, Ryan Reynolds is his usual charming self, but this non-gamer had a hard time following the overheated action from setpiece to setpiece. If you're making what is essentially a live-action cartoon, it would have been helpful if the director had an aptly 'toon-like visual sensibility. (Either the late Frank Tashlin or "Gremlins" auteur Joe Dante could have made a minor masterpiece from the convoluted scenario.) Journeyman Levy, however, clearly wasn't up to the task. (C.) 

THE FRENCH DISPATCH--Like every Wes Anderson movie, his latest marvel has such a hand-made, almost artisanal quality--with near-pointillist mise-en-scene that practically jumps off the screen without the benefit of 3-D--that you spend most of the time just gazing in wonder at its creator's fecund imagination. Set in the fictitious Ennui, France, the film concerns the day-to-day operations of the titular English-language magazine whose editor (an impeccably droll Bill Murray) is mother hen to his eccentric corps of writers, including Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson and Jeffrey Wright. As their various stories (inhabited by the starry likes of Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Timothee Chalamet, Lea Seydoux, Willem Dafoe, Christoph Waltz and Saoirse Ronan!) come to enchanted life, Anderson exerts the push and heart-stopping pull of classic fairy tales. (A.)

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE--Carrie Coon plays the daughter of one of the original ghostbusters who, after inheriting her late dad's Oklahoma farm, moves there with her two kids ("Stranger Things" star Finn Wolfhard and McKenna Grace). Small town life proves even stranger than poltergeists for this NYC single-parent brood, and director Jason ("Juno," "Up in the Air") Reitman gets a lot of predictable comic mileage out of the story's fish out of water elements. He also handles the f/x elements like the chip off the old block that he is (Reitman's dad, Ivan, directed the original Reagan-era blockbusters). Thanks to its strong cast--the always welcome Paul Rudd pops up as a local science teacher/potential Coon romantic interest--and Easter eggs galore, this is unlikely to offend the purists who (somewhat unfairly) balked at Paul Feig's 2016 all-female reimagining. Whether its box-office appeal will extend beyond '80s nostalgists to create a new generation of Ectomobile fans remains to be seen, however. (B MINUS.)

HALLOWEEN KILLS--Picking up where David Gordon Green's well-received 2018's "Halloween" reboot left off with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) recovering in the hospital after Michael Myers was (or so everyone thought) burned to death in her basement, Gordon Green's Covid-delayed follow-up is a lot like the slew of cash-grab sequels that followed John Carpenter's 1978 original. It's overly familiar, lacking in the panache that made its predecessor pop and fatally illogical, even by slasher-movie standards. Laurie's daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) join a group of Haddenfield vigilantes to vanquish Myers from their town once and for all. Playing the grown-up version of Tommy Doyle--the kid Laurie was babysitting when the first Halloween massacre took place--Anthony Michael Hall is so aggressively MAGA he's kind of a joke. But an exponentially increased body count (this is quite possibly the bloodiest "Halloween" movie yet) should keep gore-hounds pacified. For anyone hoping for an actual climax, though, you'll have to wait until "Halloween Ends" opens in 2022. (C.) In theaters and available at no additional charge to Peacock+ subscribers.

HOUSE OF GUCCI--Lady Gaga, Adam Driver and Jerod Leto topline Ridley ("Gladiator," "Thelma and Louise")) Scott's camp-tastic farrago about the Italian fashion dynasty which, if one is to believe the film, must be directly descended from the Borgias. As the working class usurper who marries into the family and ultimately launches an internecine campaign to take control, Gaga largely fulfills her "A Star is Born" promise. But Leto--seemingly channelling Max Schreck's Nosferatu--is so flamboyantly, spectacularly awful he seems to be an alien visiting from a distant planet. As Gaga's Gucci hubby, Driver underplays in his patented Method fashion while Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons (as Gucci co-heads Aldo and Rodolfo) deliver some of their wiggiest performances to date; for a seasoned hambone like Pacino, that's saying something. While Scott was clearly aiming for a "Godfather" set in the fashion industry, the end result plays more like '80s primetime soaps, But with more style, of course. (C.)

KING RICHARD--Will Smith is the whole show in director Reinaldo Marcus Green's pleasant, if somewhat pedestrian biopic about Compton security guard Richard Williams, the show-boating dad of tennis phenoms Venus and Serena. As the future superstars, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton are both immensely appealing, but Zach Baylin's screenplay never seems terribly invested in their personal stories. (It's called "King Richard" for a reason.) Fortunately, Smith is more than capable of shouldering the weight of carrying a two-and-a-half-hour movie, and he's never been better.The former Fresh Prince somehow manages to make Williams a likable blowhard despite all of his surface bluster, and we never doubt his love for his daughters or steely determination to insure they have a better life. Strong support from Aunjanue Ellis as Mrs. Williams, and Jon Bernthal and Tony Goldwyn (tennis coaches who sometimes clash on and off the court with Mr. Williams). It makes sense that Warner Brothers is making this available free of charge to HBO MAX subscribers day-and-date with its theatrical release since it has the appeal--and limitations--of an old-fashioned "HBO Movie." (B MINUS.)

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO--Edgar Wright follows up his sensational 2021 rock doc "The Sparks Brothers" with a groovy ghost story mostly set in mid-1960's London. As an aspiring fashion designer who crawls through a rabbit hole and winds up in Swinging England, Thomasin McKenzie makes a wonderfully empathetic heroine. And playing the glamorous, wannabe singer who becomes McKenzie's doppelgänger on the other side of the looking glass, "Queen's Gambit" breakout Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a (big screen) star-making performance. Sort of a Brit-accented--and slightly more explicable--riff on David Lynch's nonpareil "Mulholland Drive," the movie features juicy supporting turns by '60s icons like Terrence Stamp, Rita Tushingham and the late Diana Rigg, and a wonderfully venal bad guy in the form of former Dr. Who Matt Smith. It doesn't all come together, but a swell golden oldies soundtrack (cue Petula Clark's "Downtown"!) makes Wright's sugarplum fantasy well-nigh irresistible. (A MINUS.) 

THE LAST RITE--Debut director Leroy Kincaide's slow-burning British exorcism flick is better in build-up than its ("exorcising") pay-off. Impressive newcomer Bethan Waller begins seeing a creepy "man in the hat" shortly after moving in with her distracted boyfriend (Johnny Flynn). Could her visions be the result of long-suppressed childhood traumas, or is a demon really trying to possess her soul? Because Kincaide only devotes the last 15 minutes of his nearly two-hour movie to the actual exorcism, it almost feels like a contractual obligation. And the whole thing ends on such a blahly inconclusive note that you'll wonder why anyone even bothered. Waller, however, is a real find. I hope she can graduate to more worthy vehicles in the immediate future. (C.)  

MA BELLE, MY BEAUTY--The third member (Hannah Pepper's androgynous Bertie) of a onetime bisexual triad visits her former lovers(Idella Johnson and Lucien Guignard) in southern France a year after they got married. First-time writer/director/editor Marion Hill's sultry, sexy romantic drama is so stunningly lensed by Lauren Guiteras that the images have an almost tactile quality. And the performances by Johnson, Guignard and Sivan Noam Shimon (as Bertie's Israeli hook-up) are so persuasive that it's easy to forgive Hill's somewhat underdeveloped script. Since international travel has been (permanently?) sidelined by Covid, consider this a make believe French vacation. (B.)

THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK--When "The Sopranos" ended its run on HBO in 2007 after 86 episodes over 6 seasons, the two burning questions on fans' minds were: "What happened next?" and "What happened before?" Series creator David Chase has finally decided to give the faithful some answers, at least in regards to the latter query. Directed by Alan Taylor--who helmed 9 episodes of the series--this "Sopranos" prequel is set in late-'60s/early '70s Newark when a teenaged Tony (Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini) lived in the Italian North Ward of the city and--believe it or not--entertained the notion of attending college and living a straight and narrow life despite having grown up in a mobbed-up family. As Tony's future-virago mother, Vera Farmiga shows a softer, gentler side of Livia we never saw in Nancy Marchand's embodiment of the character. Also popping up as their younger selves are Uncle Junior (Corey Stoll), Paulie "Walnuts" (Billy Magnussen), and sundry others. As Johnny Boy Soprano--Tony's previously unseen old man--an excellent Jon Bernthal does as much as anyone to help explain how Tony became Tony. Think of this very solid movie as an extended "lost" episode of "The Sopranos." (A MINUS.) In theaters and available at no additional charge for HBO MAX subscribers.

NO TIME TO DIE--Finally released after 18 months in Covid jail, Daniel Craig's farewell outing as 007 winds up being something of a letdown, especially after the last two fantastic Sam Mendes-directed Bonds ("Skyfall" and "Spectre"). Picking up five years after the last movie--it's really been 6 1/2, but who's counting?--James has retired from M16 and is living a quiet retirement in Jamaica. (His "007" insignia has already been passed on to a new agent.) Summoned back into the field to rescue a scientist kidnapped by megalomaniacal terrorist Lyutsider Safin (Rami Malek, overacting like crazy), Bond is forced to seek the help of former nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) who's ensconced, Hannibal Lecter-like, in a British loony bin. Director Cary Jaji Fukunaga (HBO's "True Detective") hits the globe-hopping action in a professional, if somewhat perfunctory manner, but the only parts of his (egregiously overlong) 163-minute film that have any emotional resonance are the scenes between James and "Spectre" inamorata, Madeleine (Lea Seydoux). I actually wanted more of their love story and less of the rote CGI action setpieces: hardly what I was expecting from a new 007 movie. (B MINUS.)    

NOT TO FORGET--Millennial grifter Chris (the resolutely charmless Tate Dewey) gets sentenced by an absurdly lenient New York City judge (Olympia Dukakis) to house arrest at his grandmother's Kentucky mansion. Upon arrival, Chris immediately begins scamming his way into the Alzheimer-ridden lady's fortune. Director Valerio Zanoli's gauche dramedy is so littered with past Oscar winners (besides Dukakis, Cloris Leachman, Louis Gossett, Jr., Tatum O'Neal and George Chakiris briefly turn up in forgettable roles) it's almost funny. Zanoli seems to be under the delusion that all their gold statuettes will somehow render legitimacy to his amateur-hour production. As if. (D.)

RED NOTICE--Proof that Netflix likes making big, dumb, expensive (allegedly $200-million) franchise wannabes as well as the major Hollywood studios. Come to think of it, the world's largest streaming service should rightfully be considered a "major" themselves by now since they produce more original movies per year than all the studios combined. Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot take a break from their other tentpole paychecks ("Fast and the Furious," "Deadpool," "Wonder Woman") for writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber's featherweight romp. Johnson is an FBI profiler hot on the trail of the world's second best art thief (Reynolds) who ends up (reluctantly) partnering with his prey to take down an even bigger fish, "The Bishop" (Gadot). Hop-scotching across the globe--Italy, Russia, France, Spain, oh my!--the whole thing feels as though Marshall Thurber crammed a bevy of previous hits ("The Thomas Crown Affair," "National Treasure," sundry Indiana Jones adventures, et al) into a cinematic Cuisinart to produce this not actively unpleasant, but distinctly flavorless stew. (C MINUS.)

RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY--When Claire (Kayla Scodelario) returns to the titular dying midwestern town in search of her missing brother, she discovers an Umbrella Corporation conspiracy involving contaminated water that's turning its citizens into zombies. Both reboot and prequel to the six Paul W.S. Anderson/Milla Jovovich "Resident Evil" flicks, this iteration is mostly set in 1998 and explains how the plague came to be. (Think the first season of "Fear the Walking Dead.") Director Johannes Roberts, who helmed 2018's estimable "Strangers Prey by Night," keeps the storyline relatively coherent, but the film badly sags by mid-point and is at least 20 minutes too long. Also curious is the fact that the CGI actually seems less impressive--cheesy even--than they did in the first "Resident Evil' movie from 2002. (C MINUS.)

RON'S GONE WRONG--Locksmith Animation and director Sarah Smith brought us 2011's lovely "Arthur Christmas," yet this overly formulaic family comedy is only fitfully engaging. Middle school misfit Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer, most recently heard as a voiceover artist in Pixar's "Luca") bonds with a runaway robot (Ron, voiced by Zach Galifianakis) who quickly becomes his BFF. But since the irrepressible Ron is a few microchips short of a fully-functioning A.I. (he literally fell off a truck), the pair get into a series of fairly predictable, somewhat belabored misadventures. The social media and Apple jokes are a little too lazy-pat, and not even the participation of Oscar winner Olivia Colman and Ed Helms (as, respectively, Barney's grandma and dad) can elevate this to top-tier 'toon status. Considering some of the superior animated movies that went directly to streaming services in the Covid era (including Pixar's "Soul" and Sony's "The Mitchells Vs. the Machines"), it's somewhat mystifying that Disney/Fox would consider this worthy of a theatrical release. Harried parents looking for a new video babysitter are advised to wait a few weeks when it becomes available as a VOD. (C.)

SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS--Marvel Corp.'s first Asian-centric superhero movie is nearly as affirmative and potentially game-changing as "Black Panther" (Marvel's first Afro-centric superhero flick). Charismatic newcomer Simon Liu plays Shawn (or Shang-Chi), the prodigal son of thousand-year-old Wenwu (longtime Wong Kar-Wai muse Tony Leung in a smashing Hollywood debut), whose humdrum existence as a San Francisco parking valet gets violently upended when he's tasked with saving the world. (Something involving the titular rings which look an awful lot like George Lucas' lightsabers.) A dandy supporting cast--Awkwafina; Michelle Yeoh; Meng'er Zhang; Florian Munteanu--adds spice to an already tasty package. Director Destin Daniel Cretton, none of whose previous credits (including Brie Larson's career-launching "Short Term 12" and Michael P. Jordan starrer "Just Mercy") hinted at a flair for blockbuster productions with elaborate action setpieces, handles his tentpole duties in expeditious fashion. (B PLUS.)

SPENCER--Kristen Stewart gives an extraordinarily layered, deeply empathetic performance as Princess Diana in Pablo ("Jackie") Larrain's microscopic, fly-on-the-wall portrait of the late "People's Princes." Because screenwriter Steven Knight wrote and directed Tom Hardy's 2013 "Locke," he definitely knows his way around compressed-time narratives, concentrating on a three-day Christmas weekend in the early '90s when Di began formulating her plans to leave the aloof, two-timing Charles (Jack Farthing). Described by the filmmakers as "a fable from a true tragedy," it's not a biopic in a conventional sense. But regardless of how "factual" the events depicted truly are, it feels emotionally true thanks in large part to the mercurial, mesmerizing Stewart. The film would be unimaginable without her. Thanks to Stewart it's a minor masterpiece. (A.)

TICK, TOCK...BOOM--"Hamilton" auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his big-screen directorial debut with a somewhat clumsy, if heartfelt Netflix adaptation of late "Rent" composer Jonathan Larson's quasi-autobiographical musical. As the designated Larson surrogate, Andrew Garfield is surprisingly credible playing a starving artist waiting for his big break in early '90s NYC. As Garfield's tsk-tsking girlfriend and gay BFF, Alexandra Shippp and Robin De Jesus are rather colorless and bland, but Bradley Whitford and Vanessa Hudgens impress as, respectively, Stephen Sondheim (Larson's real-life mentor) and the star of Garfield/Larson's workshop production. In fact, Hudgens' "Come to Your Senses" number is the highlight of the entire movie. (C PLUS.) 

VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE--A sequel to the 2018 Marvel franchise-starter that's faster, looser and easier to take than the middling original. Apparently someone--director Andy Serkis perhaps?--decided to take a page from Ryan Reynolds' "Deadpool" movies and make it a larkish comedy. At least that's how Tom Hardy plays his titular role this time. Adding spice to the mix is Woody Harrelson as Big Bad arch villain Carnage, and the whole thing is so breezily paced and unapologetically ridiculous that it's impossible to be offended by the wall-to-wall "R"-caliber violence that somehow managed to squeak by with a "PG-13" rating. The only real downside is the return of perennially mopey Michelle Williams who makes a fleeting (thank heavens!) appearance as Venom's dour ex. (C PLUS.) 

THE VILLAGE DETECTIVE: A SONG CYCLE--Bill ("Dawson City: Frozen Time") Morrison, the avant-garde filmmaker who single-handedly redeemed the concept of "found footage" movies, returns with another singular marvel. After gaining possession of four reels of 35 mm film retrieved from lobster nets off the Icelandic coast (volcanic ash helped preserve the celluloid), Morrison began to investigate the life and career of Russian star Mikhail Zharov. (The reels were from a 1969 Soviet programmer starring Zharov as the titular detective.) A beloved character actor whose 70-year career began in the silent era, Zharov's life--and formidable body of work (more than 30 of his films are excerpted)--almost serve as a microcosm for the entire history of the former Soviet state. David Lang's accordion-heavy score provides the "song cycle," but it's the haunting, immaculately preserved images that leave the most indelible impression. (B PLUS.) 

CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON HOME VIDEO/STREAMIMNG CHANNELS:

ADVENTURES OF A MATHEMATICIAN--True story of Polish emigre Stan Ulam (Philippe Tlokinski) who was recruited from Harvard to join the U.S. government's top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II. Besides working on the creation of the atomic bomb, Ulam also helped invent the computer, married and had a daughter (Esther Garrel plays his wife), experienced chronic guilt over the sister he left behind in Europe who was killed by the Nazis and suffered a decades-long sibling rivalry with his ne'er do well kid brother (Mateusz Wieclawek). Considering how fascinating--and remarkably eventful--Ulam's life was, it's a shame that Thorsten Klein's prosaic biopic never once evinces anything resembling a pulse. (C MINUS.)

AILEY--Boilerplate, PBS-esque documentary about legendary African-American choreographer, Alvin Ailey. Director Jamila Wignat does neither Ailey or nonfiction filmmaking any favors with her movie which crosscuts between preparations for a 2018 performance in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and blandly assembled archival footage/talking heads interviews with Ailey friends/colleagues. If you're interested in celebrating Ailey's life/art, there are numerous biographies available on Amazon.com. (C MINUS.)

THE ALPINIST--Fans of 2018's thrilling mountain-climbing documentary "Free Solo" are the target audience for Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen's doc about another daredevil: Canadian alpinist Marc-Andre Leclerc. ("Free Solo" star Alex Honnold turns up to offer affectionate color commentary about Leclerc and his derring-do antics.) Not having been familiar with Leclerc before seeing the film, I was unprepared for the tragic turn it takes at the end. Spoiler alert: the 25-year-old died during a 2018 climbing expedition in Juneau, Alaska. (B.)

AMERICAN NIGHT--Stunningly awful crime flick about a sociopathic Mafia boss (Emile Hirsch) with delusions of becoming a painter and the shady NYC art dealer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who gets mixed up in his degenerate world. First-time feature director Alessio Della Valle is clearly as deluded as his protagonist since he seems to be under the impression he's Tarantino 2.0 ("Reservoir Dogs" costar Michael Madsen even turns up in a vaguely delineated supporting role). The art world satire is jejune, the internecine mob shenanigans are strictly boilerplate and the whole thing runs on for an interminable, excruciating 123 minutes. Only Paz Vega as an art restorer romantically linked to Rhys Meyers emerges with her dignity intact. (D MINUS.) 

AMERICAN TRAITOR: THE TRIAL OF AXIS SALLY--The true story of Ohio-born Mildred Gillars (aka Axis Sally) who, after broadcasting Nazi propaganda to American servicemen during WW II, was arrested and put on trial for treason in 1949. Michael Polish's film has a Classics Illustrated quality--he works in broad strokes; subtlety doesn't seem to be one of the colors in his Crayola box--and isn't helped by Meadow Williams' bland lead performance. Fortunately, Polish enlisted Al Pacino to play Gillars' lawyer, and that wily old pro brings a much-needed spark of energy to an otherwise somnambulant production. Also very good are Swen Temmel as Pacino's eager beaver co-counsel and Thomas Kretschmann--icily exuding a subtle menace--as Joseph Goebbels. After this and last year's trashy "Forces of Nature," it's clear that Polish's days as an indie director of provocative films like "Twin Falls, Idaho" and "Northfork" have long since passed. (C.)

ANNETTE--Surrealist extraordinaire Leos ("Holy Motors," "The Lovers on the Bridge") Carax's cockeyed rock opera (scored by Sparks!) won him the Best Director prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it's easy to see why. There's certainly never been anything like it. Chronicling the idyllic courtship and stormy marriage of a confrontational performance artist (Adam Driver channelling Andrew Dice Clay at his most offensive) and superstar soprano ("La Vie en Rose" Oscar winner Marion Cotillard), it's a movie where most of the dialogue is spoken-sung (think Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady"). And once baby Annette enters the equation--mostly played by a really creepy puppet-doll--things get even stranger and more fascinating. Even though it runs 140 minutes, there isn't a single dull or even remotely "ordinary" moment in the entire film. The whole thing is so terrifically outre/weird, and so stunningly assured, that it feels like an instant cult classic. (A.) 

Available at no additional charge to Amazon Prime subscribers.  

ARMY OF THE DEAD--Zack ("Justice League," "Batman vs. Superman") Snyder takes a welcome break from his usual DC mythologizing to helm a (relatively) unpretentious walking dead (not "Walking Dead") flick about a group of Vegas hooligans (led by Rock 2.0 Dave Bautista) who decide to pull a heist during a zombie apocalypse. As a return to Snyder's roots with his 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" remake, it's not half-bad if egregiously overlong at two-and-a-half-hours. And with zombies occupying so much cable real estate thanks to AMC, it also feels kind of irrelevant. Premiering in (some) theaters prior to its May 21st Netflix bow. (C PLUS.)

ASHES AND DIAMONDS--Martin Scorsese's all-time favorite movie is reissued by the Criterion Collection in a gorgeous 4K digital restoration. (Criterion previously released Andrzej Wajda's 1958 masterpiece in 2005.) Set in a small Polish village on the last day of World War 11, the story pivots on anti-Communist resistance fighter Maciek (a magnetic Zbigniew Cybulski, frequently described as Poland's Marlon Brando and/or James Dean) who's tasked with assassinating a visiting Russian commissar. Maciek's plans are derailed, however, when he meets a comely barmaid (Ewa Krzyewska) who makes him reconsider his kamikaze mission. Stunningly shot in deep focus b&w by Jerzy Wojcik (Gregg Toland's legendary cinematography for "Citizen Kane" was Wajda and Wojcik's primary influence) and breathlessly paced, the final chapter of Wajda's "war trilogy" (following 1955's "A Generation" and 1957's "Kanal") feels stunningly modern (or "modernist"). Much of the credit for its contemporaneity goes to Cybulski who's such a hip cat in his omnipresent sunglasses that he could serve as the template for Jack Nicholson's star-making performances a decade later. Extras include a 2004 audio commentary with critic Annette Insdorf; a new video essay by Insdorf discussing the film's historical import; a 2005 video ("Andrzej Wajda: On 'Ashes and Diamonds'") with Wajda, second unit director Janusz Morgenstern and critic Jerzy Plazewski; archival footage on the making of the movie; and an essay by Western University film professor Paul Coates. (A PLUS.) 

BEANS--Based on the true story of a 78-day standoff between Mohawk communities and the government in 1990 Quebec, first-time director Tracey Dear's coming of age dramedy centers on the titular middle schooler (Kiawentiio), her loving, close-knit family and some bad peer influences, namely a mean girl (Paulina Alexis) and and a too-cool-for-school older boy (D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai from FX's great "Reservation Dogs"). Dear's heart is clearly in the right place and some of the performances are undeniably affecting, but this wispy little movie feels too echt-Canadian by half and leaves precious little emotional residue. (C.)

BECOMING COUSTEAU--Oscar-nominated director Liz ("What Happened, Miss Simone?") Garbus' bio-do about the late Jacques Cousteau borders on hagiography at times, but a treasure trove of archival footage makes it worthwhile. Co-creator of the Aqua-lung which helped revolutionize deep-sea diving, Cousteau is best known for his globe-hopping underwater journeys shown on television in the late '60s/early-to-mid '70s. The film also makes clear that Cousteau--despite having been briefly co-opted by the oil industry in the 1950's when his beloved Calypso and crew were cash-strapped--was a major proponent of environmentalism and almost single-handedly launched the "Save the Planet" movement. Cousteau's journal entries are read by actor Vincent Cassel and they provide a glimpse into the wandering soul of a remarkable, if ultimately enigmatic man. (B.) 

BERGMAN ISLAND--Mia Hansen-Love directed one of my favorite movies of the last decade (2014's "Eden"), and her latest is another triumph. Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps play married filmmakers--Tony's an internationally renowned director and Chris is a screenwriter with directing aspirations--who spend a summer on Sweden's Faro Island, best known as the home of the late Ingmar Bergman. During the course of the season, Chris gets bogged down on her latest script (she can't figure out the ending), and Tony, in pre-production on his next project, flits in and out. The final third of the movie is Chris' work-in-progress screenplay come to life, with Mia Wasikowska as a director (!) who comes to Faro for the destination wedding of an old friend. In the process, she rekindles a romance with an old boyfriend (Anders Daanielsen Lie). Hansen-Love juggles the art vs. reality theme as brilliantly as, well, Bergman himself, and her splendid quartet of actors all deliver pitch-perfect performances. (A.)

BEST SELLERS--Michael Caine has a ball playing a reclusive author--think a British-accented J.D. Salinger, but even less prolific--who grudgingly agrees to do a book tour for his first novel in fifty years. Accompanying him is Aubrey Plaza, the in-over-her-head daughter of his publishing company's CEO. In her feature debut, director Lina Roessler somewhat overdoes Caine and Plaza's bickering banter. Fortunately, they're both such gifted farceurs that the effect is more endearing than annoying. Even the sentimental ending sort of works. (B MINUS.)

THE BETA TEST--Multi-hypenate Jim ("Thunder Road," "The Wolf of Sleepy Hollow") Cummings and co-writer/director PJ McCabe team for a bilious, wickedly entertaining dark comedy about Hollywood agent Jordan Hines (Cummings) who accepts a mysterious invitation to meet an unknown woman in a hotel room for no-strings sex. Because both are blindfolded, it's anonymous sex to the nth degree. Unable to shake the encounter, he embarks upon a potentially lethal quest to find out (a) who the mystery woman was; and (b) who was responsible for setting up the encounter. (McCabe plays an agency pal who assists with the sleuthing.) In the process, Jordan nearly sabotages his burgeoning career and engagement to his long-suffering fiancée Caroline (an appealing Virginia Newcomb). Part showbiz/Big Data satire, part neo-noir, Cummings and McCabe manage to cram a lot into their terse 90-minute run time. It's a true original, and you can't say that about many movies these days. (A MINUS.)

BLACK WIDOW--The titular Marvel super heroine finally gets her own standalone vehicle, and it's one of the best in the billion-dollar Disney Corp. franchise. Much of the film wittily plays as an extended family therapy session as Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff reconnects with her kid sister (Florence Pugh), mom (Rachel Weisz) and dad (David Harbour). The fact that none of them are actually blood relations--although they're the only family Natasha has ever known--doesn't make the impromptu reunion any less Freudian. As the movie's Big Bad Russian oligarch, Ray Winstone is an utter hoot: sort of Vladimir Putin after a vodka bender and too many carbs. The action setpieces are dependably terrific and, unexpectedly for Marvel, a lot more intimate/personal which greatly enhances their emotional impact. Director Cate ("Lore," "Somersault") Shortland's background in art cinema gave little indication that she'd be a natural fit for tentpole filmmaking, but her surprise triumph is Marvel's victory as well. "Avengers" fans rejoice. (B PLUS.)

THE BLAZING WORLD--First-time writer/director Carlson Young stars as a young woman who returns to her childhood home before her parents (Dermot Mulroney and Vinessa Shaw) sell it. In the process, a lot of repressed memories of the twin who died in an accidental drowning decades earlier bubble to the surface. With the aid of an otherworldly gatekeeper (Udo Kier at his Udo Kier-iest), she soon enters an "Alice in Wonderland"-like wormhole where her sister might still be alive in an alternate reality. Even though its resplendent color palette is visually captivating, Young's hopelessly muddled film plays like dimestore David Lynch. (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.)

BLUE BAYOU--Justin Chon directed, wrote and stars as a Korean husband/father living in Louisiana who's faced with deportation despite having lived in the U.S. since he was three years old. As Chon's wife and daughter, Alicia Vikander and Sydney Kowalske (who look so much alike they really could be mother and daughter) are heartbreaking, as is the movie. While the flashback/dream sequences don't really work--they're initially confusing and ultimately extraneous--this is a deeply felt, beautifully acted/lensed film that deserves to find as large and appreciative audience as 2020 Best Picture nominee "Minari." (A MINUS.)

THE BOSS BABY: FAMILY BUSINESS--Disposable, but generally amiable sequel to the 2017 DreamWorks 'toon sleeper in which estranged brothers Ted (Alec Baldwin) and Tim (James Marsden) reunite thanks to an intervention staged by Tim's baby daughter (Amy Sedaris). After taking a magic formula returning them to infancy (don't ask), they embark on a top-secret Baby Corp. mission to foil the Machiavellian plans of an evil charter school principal (Jeff Goldblum). A little too busy for its own good, but smart vocal casting (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmell voice Tim and Ted's parents!) helps make the overly generous 107-minute run time go down smoothly enough. (C PLUS.)

BROKEN DIAMONDS--After the death of their father, an aspiring writer (Ben Platt) ditches his plans to move to Paris in order to be the primary caregiver for his mentally ill sister (Lola Kirke). Director Peter (2014's "Camp X-Ray") Sattler's intimate drama is essentially a two-hander between Platt and Kirke, both of whom rise to the challenge with exemplary performances. The movie's intrinsic, unadorned modesty is its most appealing feature. (B MINUS.)

THE CAPOTE TAPES--The second Truman Capote documentary of 2021 ("Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation" was the other) is a treasure trove for Capote devotees. Besides immaculately preserved archival footage and audio interviews with Capote intimates (including Dick Cavett. Lee Radziwell and Norman Mailer), Eps Burnough's film offers a fascinating glimpse behind "Answered Prayers," Capote's legendarily unfinished roman a clef. (B PLUS.)

THE CARD COUNTER--Oscar Isaac plays William Tell, an ex-con Army vet whose poker skills enable him to live a peripatetic existence, traveling from one podunk casino to the next, pocketing modest paydays along the way. It isn't until meeting gambling agent Tiffany Haddish that he decides to up his game, aiming to make a "Big Score" then retire. When the son (Tye Sheridan) of a fellow soldier who committed suicide enters William's life, they begin hatching a plot to kill the sadistic military contractor (Willem Dafoe) who trained him to interrogate prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Paul Schrader's cold-as-ice film plays like a "Greatest Hits" clip reel. There's a soupçon of "Taxi Driver" anti-hero Travis Bickle (which Schrader wrote for Martin Scorsese); a generous helping of "American Gigolo" (written and directed by Schrader); et al. So dramatically inert and sluggishly paced that not even a shocking "twist" ending can rouse it from its self-induced stupor. (C.) 

CASANOVA, LAST LOVE--Veteran director Benoit ("Diary of a Chambermaid," "Farewell, My Queen") Jacquot once again returns to the past for a pensive and melancholy film about the titular womanizer (beautifully played by Vincent Lindon). Framed as a series of flashbacks, the movie begins in 1793 Bavaria where the 68-year-old Casanova is working as a librarian. Compelled to share secrets from his past by the comely Cecile (Julia Ray), Giacomo movingly recounts the story of "the one who got away:" prostitute Marianne de Charpillon (Stacy Martin from Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac, Volume 1") during a London sojourn 30 years earlier. As usual with Jacquot period pieces, the film is visually stunning and practically drips with 18th century verisimilitude. And thanks to the stellar performances of Lindon and Martin, it's also unexpectedly touching. Along with Fellini's 1976 "Casanova," this is quite possibly the finest screen depiction of the fabled lothario to date. (A 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.)

CENSOR--In Thatcher-era London, a censor (Nimah Alger) working for the British Board of Film Classification becomes fixated on an actress (Sophia La Porta) who reminds her of the sister who vanished years earlier and was ultimately declared dead. Could there be a connection? First-time director Prano Bailey-Bond's arthouse shocker is one of the better horror flicks of recent vintage, appealing to both gorehounds and cinephiles. Enjoy! (B PLUS.) 

CINDERELLA--Was there really a crying need to make another live-action "Cinderella" when Kenneth Branagh's perfectly dandy 2015 Disney reboot is still so fresh in our collective memory banks? Sadly, "Blockers" director Kay Cannon's half-hearted stab at putting a contemporary spin on the oft-told tale--e.g., renaming the storybook heroine's Fairy Godmother "The Fab G.," and having the role played by an African-American male ("Pose" Emmy winner Billy Porter)--never makes a convincing case for its existence. The songs (yes, it's a musical) are pedestrian and there's precious little romantic chemistry between Cinder (newcomer Camille Cobello in an inauspicious debut) and Prince Charming (the fatally bland Nicholas Galitzine). Broadway vets Porter and Idina Menzel as the wicked stepmother are the only genuinely bright spots here, but neither gets enough screen time to salvage a movie that never really catches fire. Originally slated for theatrical release, the Sony production is instead premiering on Amazon Prime at no additional cost to subscribers. (C MINUS.)

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.)

CODA--The runaway audience and critical hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival--it won four awards including the Grand Jury Prize, and sold to Apple for $25-million--is the kind of feel-great flick that nobody seems to want to make anymore. "Locke & Key" breakout Emilia Jones plays Ruby, a 17-year-old high school senior who's the only speaking member of a deaf family (her mom, dad and older brother are played by Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant, all terrific). Even though Ruby dreams of leaving home to attend a Boston music conservatory, her parents' overreliance on her (to serve as translator to speaking people among other things) stifles her aspirations. While you pretty much know where it's headed from the opening scene, director Sian Heder's remarkably assured handling makes it a pleasure every step of the way. There's something tremendously satisfying--and, yes, old-fashioned--about a story with recognizably human characters/situations and a vivid sense of place (in this case, a small New England fishing village). Available at no additional charge on Apple TV+. (A.)  

THE COMEDY OF TERRORS; THE LAST MAN ON EARTH; THE RAVEN--Three 1960's A.I.P. cult movies have been lovingly restored by Kino-Lorber, and it's a good bet they look better than they did on drive-in screens back in the day. 1964's "Terrors," directed with tongue firmly in cheek by auteurist favorite Jacques Tourneur (best known for his Val Lewton classics "Cat People" and "I Walked With a Zombie"), features an all-star cast (Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone) and is more funny than scary. Karloff, Price and Lorre also teamed up a year earlier for Roger Corman's "Raven," one of the B-movie impressario's justly famous Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. Like "Terrors" it has more laughs than chills, but is so stylish (on a budget, natch) that chances are you won't mind. (Be on the lookout for Jack Nicholson in a supporting role.) "Last Man" (1964), arguably the best of the trio, was the first screen adaptation of Richard Matheson's sci-fi novel "I Am Legend" (subsequently remade as "The Omega Man" in 1971 and again with Will Smith in 2007). Director Sidney Salkow creates a haunting mood thanks to sepulchral mise-en-scene and one of Price's finest screen performances as a (possibly mad) scientist seemingly immune to a virus that's turned everyone into vampires. Not only a first-rate horror flick ripe for rediscovery (or discovery if you've never seen it), it's also one of the most prescient horror flicks ever. Its influence--both visual and thematic--can be felt in everything from George A. Romero's zombie cycle to AMC's "The Walking Dead" franchise. ("The Comedy of Terrors," B; "The Last Man on Earth," A; "The Raven," B PLUS.)

THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT--Husband and wife Christian ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back on the case, this time investigating a 1981 murder committed by a young man (the suitably haunted-looking Ruairi O'Connor) who uses demonic possession as his defense. While not great--none of the "Conjuring" movies really are--it's at least a step up from director Michael Chaves' previous film, 2019's mediocre "The Curse of La Llorona." And despite the jokey title, Flip Wilson's Geraldine doesn't make an appearance. (C PLUS.)

COPSHOP--To elude Gerard Butler's contract killer, mob flunky con man Frank Grillo gets himself arrested and jailed in a podunk Nevada town. Things get dicey, however, when Butler pulls the same scam and winds up in an adjacent cell. And I haven't mentioned the the psychotic rival assassin (Toby Huss) who wants to cancel both their tickets. Director Joe ("Narc," "The Grey") Carnahan's flashy, trashy homage to John Carpenter's 1976 termite movie classic "Assault on Precinct 13" is over-extended by a good 15-20 minutes, but fitfully amusing grindhouse/drive-in fare for undiscriminating audiences. Probably not worth leaving the house for, though. (C PLUS.) 

CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS--Cohen Media Group's digital restoration of Terrence Young's 1948 filmmaking debut is one of the most intriguing discoveries of the season. A polyglot of genres (Gothic romance; film noir; Hitchcockian suspenser; et al), this deliciously unhinged movie stars Eric Portman an an artist who goes off the deep end after becoming obsessed with figures in a Renaissance painting. In his overheated imagination, he and his lover (Edana Romney) are reincarnations of the couple from the artwork. The gorgeous black-and-white cinematography evokes the fantastical mise-en-scene of Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast," and Young's deft handling of potentially risible material makes one want to reconsider his entire oeuvre. Young would go on to helm some of the better James Bond movies (including "From Russia, With Love" and "Dr. No"), but didn't make a good film after 1967's "Wait Until Dark." (The less said about latter Young misfires like "Inchon" and "The Klansman" the better.) But a minor classic like "Corridor of Mirrors" bears favorable comparison to early David Lean, and made me wonder what direction Young's career might have taken with consistently first-rate material. (A MINUS.)

CRUELLA--Craig ("Lars and the Real Girl," "I, Tonya") Gillespie's live-action prequel to Disney's "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" is an unalloyed delight. As fantastic as Emma Stone is playing the young Cruella de Vil, an ab-fab Emma Thompson handily steals the movie as Cruella's mentor/arch nemesis. I wouldn't be surprised if Thompson wins 2021's Best Supporting Actress Oscar, even though her role is actually a co-lead. It's a better super villain origin story than "Joker," but probably won't be recognized as such because it's a femme-centric (vs. uber male) film. Some of the song choices seemed a tad odd (Rose Royce's "Car Wash" for a scene where Cruella's criminal minions kidnap Thompson's dalmatians?), and the mid-credits sequence setting up the 1961 cartoon felt an awful lot like radical revisionism. Maybe they'll explain it in the sequel. Despite the length (137 packed minutes), I was never bored for a moment. (A MINUS.)

THE DAMNED--I've been obsessed with Luchino Visconti's rococo masterpiece since December 1969 when I first saw an ad in the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times. The photo of Helmut Berger in full Marlene Dietrich drag, effusive pop quotes from household name critics like the Today Show's Judith Crist and talk-show perennial Rex Reed, a cast (Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling, Ingrid Thulin, et al) comprised of actors associated with sophisticated, grown-up movies (most of which I hadn't seen) and, of course, its scarlet-letter "X" rating sent my 11-year-old self into fits of apoplexy. Although I knew the film would probably never open in my podunk Northeastern Ohio town (it eventually did, albeit four months later), and that I'd never be allowed to see it if it did, I knew this was a movie I absolutely, positively had to see, and that I was going to love it. That opportunity wouldn't present itself until my freshman year at NYU when I finally--victory!--got the chance to see it at the Carnegie Hall Cinema rep house on a double-bill with Visconti's follow-up, 1971's "Death in Venice." Needless to say my obsession continued apace. When Warner Brothers finally released it on a bare-bones DVD in 2005, I was first in line to buy a copy. But I couldn't help wishing that it had been a Criterion release with the usual tantalizing Criterion supplements. It took awhile--16 years to be exact--but "The Damned" is finally a member of the Criterion family, and their newly issued Blu-Ray (digitally restored, natch) is pretty much everything I could have dreamed of as a movie-besotted sixth grader in Youngstown, Ohio. Polymorphously perverse and jaw-droppingly decadent, Visconti's grandly operatic chronicle of a Krupp-like German dynasty--named the von Essenbecks here--who make nice with Nazis to further their steel industry concerns remains one of my all-time top-ten favorite films (along with "The Last Picture Show" and "Satyricon," two other Criterion stablemates). And it's as shocking, maybe even more so, than it must have seemed at the time. (Footnote: 1969 was also the year of such envelope-pushers as "Midnight Cowboy" and "The Wild Bunch.") Extras include a 1970 Visconti interview; archival interviews with Berger, Thulin and Rampling; the 1969 behind-the-scenes documentary, "Visconti on Set;" a contemporary interview with film scholar Stefano Albertini discussing the movie's sexual politics; and an essay by former U.C. Berkeley professor (and "Hidden Hitchcock" author) D.A. Miller. There's even an alternate Italian-language soundtrack for anyone who wants to hear "The Damned" in Visconti's native tongue. (A PLUS.)

DANGEROUS--Scott Eastwood channels his dad's gritted teeth acting style to play a recently paroled killer who skips town to attend his estranged brother's funeral on a secluded Washington State island. Following him are FBI agent Famke Janssen and psycho Kevin Durand who brings along a gang of sociopathic miscreants. A WW II Japanese submarine (?) and a king's ransom in gold bars inexplicably factor into the berserk equation. Director David Hackl somehow manages to make Christopher Borrelli's idiotic script--with its cringe-inducing dialogue--borderline tolerable for 90 minutes, and Mel Gibson turns in an amusing performance as Eastwood's bats**t Cleveland shrink. The movie actually began production in 2015 before running out of money, and didn't resume shooting until last year. Maybe Hackl should have ordered a rewrite during the shutdown. (D PLUS.)

DATING + NEW YORK--Dopey rom-com about a Millennial couple who broker a "friends with benefits" contract after their one-night stand. As the cynical, romantically-challenged duo, Francesca Reale and Jaboukie Young-White are both so resolutely charmless that the film is easily stolen--for what it's worth--by Brian Muller and Katherine Cohen as their BFF sidekicks. Co-produced by "Entourage" alumnus Jerry Ferrara who narrates and has a supporting role as Cohen's doorman. (C MINUS.)

DEAR EVAN HANSEN--Director Stephen (2012's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and 2017's "Wonder") Chbosky's breathlessly anticipated screen adaptation of the Tony-winning 2016 Broadway smash about a high school nobody (Ben Platt reprising his titular stage role) who claims BFF status of a classmate (Coltan Ryan) who committed suicide. Chbosky does a commendable job of opening up the play and giving it cinematic life, but his film works less because of Platt than despite him. A supremely unctuous screen presence in even the best circumstances--e.g., the likable recent indie "Broken Diamonds"--he never bothers scaling back his theater performance for the intimacy of the camera. Not helping matters is that Platt is possibly the oldest-looking high schooler since Stockard Channing played Rizzo in 1978's "Grease." Fortunately, the supporting performances (Julianne Moore as Evan's mother; Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Denver as, respectively, the dead boy's mom and sister; etc.) are all terrific, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's songs ("You Will be Found"!) remain eminently hummable. I was moved in spite of my misgivings, and I'm guessing that a lot of moviegoers will be, too. (B.)

DEMENTIA 13--This digitally restored print of Francis Ford Coppola's first mainstream film (two 1962 nudies, "Tonight for Sure" and "The Bellboy and the Playgirl," preceded it), a $40,000, b&w horror cheapie produced in Ireland by schlock mogul Roger Corman, is Gothic nonsense of the highest order. Axe-murders, closely guarded family secrets, a scenery-chewing Patrick ("A Clockwork Orange") Magee and cult favorites William Campbell and Luana Anders) add to the on-the-cheap fun. What's most striking is how well-directed it is on what was clearly a beer-and-pretzels budget. It wouldn't be until 1967's "You're a Good Boy Now" that Coppola would start impressing critics--paving the way for future masterpieces like the "Godfather" trilogy and "Apocalypse Now"--but his filmmaking skills were already in full evidence, even with derivative material that shamelessly apes Hitchcock's "Psycho." The newly issued Lionsgate Blu-Ray restores the "D-13 test" prologue and includes a dishy Coppola audio commentary. Trivia note: Coppola met future wife Eleanor during the production where she was working as the movie's assistant art director. (B PLUS.)

DEMONIC--Onetime South African wunderkind Neill Blomkamp set the industry on fire with 2009's "District 9" which defied the odds and became one of the few genre movies to win an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. None of Blomkamp's subsequent films (2012's underrated "Elysium" and 2015's deserved flop "Chappie") recaptured the "D9" mojo, and he seemed to fall off the radar. Because I was one of many fans rooting for a comeback, it pains me to report that Blomkamp's latest--a shot-in-British-Columbia exorcism schlock-fest being released by boutique indie IFC--is a disaster on nearly every level. The performances all have the flat, blandly anonymous quality one associates (unfairly or not) with Canadian thespians; the script is pure claptrap; and the final thirty minutes are so egregiously underlit it's like looking at a black screen. Even a Screen Gems throwaway like April's "Exorcist" knock-off "The Unholy" had better acting, a more coherent storyline and provided audiences with a (much) better time. (D PLUS.)

DON'T BREATHE 2--The "you-just-knew-they-were-gonna-make-it" sequel to the 2016 horror sleeper with Stephen Lang reprising his role as the blind recluse with a checkered past who has an uncanny ability to attract delinquent teenagers to his crumbling abode. Written and directed by Rodo Sayaques Mendez who scripted the original "Don't Breathe," it's basically the same movie. That's fine if you're one of those people who love rewatching their favorites ad nauseam on Netflix. But for anyone looking for something--anything--appreciably new or original, it's about as exciting as a meal of Saturday leftovers on Thursday. (C MINUS.)

DOUBLE WALKER--A near-mute blonde siren (Sylvia Mix) lures and gruesomely kills a series of men in a Columbus, OH suburb. Could it have something to do with her own murder as a child (Layla Pritt plays Mix's pre-pubescent self)? And how exactly are her parents (Justin Rose and Make Carter) implicated in all this? Director Colin West's near-inscrutable indie is beautifully shot and decently acted, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of it and quickly lost patience despite a bare-bones 71-minute run time. The end result has the feel of a student film made by a gifted undergrad who still hadn't figured out what it is they wanted to say. Better luck next time. (C MINUS.)

DREAM HORSE--A middle-aged barmaid (Toni Colette) rallies friends and neighbors into investing in a racehorse (Dream Alliance) that winds up competing in--and winning!--the Welsh Grand National. Based on the same true story previously chronicled in the splendid 2015 documentary, "Dark Horse," director Euros Lyn's underdog dramedy is very much in the mode of Brit-accented feel-good movies like "The Full Monty" and "Calendar Girls." But it's so beautifully done and charming that you won't mind the occasional nudge-nudge manipulation. It's that rare entertainment that can be enjoyed by all ages--and which doesn't insult anyone's intelligence. What a concept. (B PLUS.)

DREAMING GRAND AVENUE--Trippy Chicago-set indie about a pair of strangers--struggling artist Jimmy (Jackson Rathbone) and day care worker Maggie (Andrea Londo)--who somehow wind up in each other's dreams. To help solve the mystery of their entwined nocturnal ramblings, Maggie joins a dream research study and Jimmy hires a "dream detective" (Tony Fitzpatrick). The fact that Walt Whitman (Troy West) and Greek mythological siren Andromeda (Wendy Robie) make appearances should clue you in to just how far out writer/director Hugh Schulze's sophomore effort is. It's all a tad precious and featherweight, but I can't deny that Schulze's protagonists didn't exert a certain pull on my emotions. And Chicago-philes will have a field day since the Windy City itself (gorgeously lensed) deserves top-billing. (B MINUS.)

EMA--Chilean auteur Pablo ("Jackie") Larrain returns to his native country for this aggressively strange film about the lengths to which the titular anti-heroine (Mariana Di Girolamo, a knockout) goes to retrieve the adopted son (Christian Suarez) she and her soon-to-be-ex-husband (Gael Garcia Bernal) returned to the orphanage after experiencing adopter's remorse. The performance scenes with Ema's dance company eat up too much screen time, but the wickedly perverse ending is a whopper, and very much worth waiting for. (B.)  

THE EMPEROR'S SWORD--When their kingdom is attacked by a rebel army, it's up to the daughter of the Chinese Emperor's most trusted general to restore order. Directors Zhang Yingli and Haonan Chen's colorful period actioner is strikingly similar in plot/character archetypes to last summer's modern-dress "Yakuza Princess," but it's the more satisfying iteration. While Yingli and Chen's film doesn't hold a candle to genre-beaters like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or "Hero," at least its ambitions are admirable. (B MINUS.)

ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS--Depressingly inevitable sequel to the 2019 sleeper reunites that film's director (Adam Rabitel) and stars (Taylor Russell and Logan Miller) for a somewhat more extravagant, if no less sadistic regurgitation. This time, Zoey and Ben join other former winners from "Escape Room" challenges in New York City at the behest of the sinister Minos corporation. It's all feels very familiar and borderline-tedious, and Russell--so terrific in "Waves" and "Words on Bathroom Walls"--is much too good for this type of YA schlock. (C MINUS.) 

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE--Entertaining, if largely superficial biopic about the late televangelist, Tammy Faye Bakker, better known for her drag queen make-up than any intrinsic spirituality. Beginning in 1960 when Tammy (Jessica Chastain) meets future husband Jim (Andrew Garfield) at Bible college, Michael ("The Big Sick") Showalter's movie covers a lot of ground--the Bakker's Heritage USA theme park; cable celebrityhood; the sex and financial scandals that toppled their "Christian" empire--and is buoyed by terrific performances from the entire cast, including Cherry Jones as Tammy's mom and Vincent D'Onofrio's Jerry Falwell. Unfortunately, the filmmakers' revisionist attempt to turn grifting con woman Tammy Faye into a #MeToo heroine before her time feels more like a Ronan Farrow wet dream than anything approximating reality. For the record, the film was adapted from Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey's same-named 2000 documentary which was considerably less agenda-driven. (B MINUS.) 

FALLING FOR FIGARO--Featherweight rom-com about an American expat living in London (plus-sized Aussie Danielle Macdonald, the breakout star of 2017's "Patti CakeS") who ditches her high-paying fund manager job and live-in boyfriend (Shazad Latin, the terrorist recruiter in "Profile") to pursue a dream of becoming an opera singer. She winds up in the Scottish Highlands--cue "Brigadoon" jokes--where a persnickety vocal coach ("Ab Fab" alum Joanna Lumley) whips her into shape for an upcoming UK operatic singing competition. Naturally she winds up making a love connection with her teacher's only other student (Hugh Skinner). It's utterly predictable, but an appealing cast and gorgeous Scottish locations make this a decent enough Girls' Night Out chick-flick divertissement. (B MINUS.)

THE FEAST--A wealthy couple (Julian Lewis Jones and Nic Roberts) host a dinner party at their country home with the help of a mysterious local barmaid (Annes Elwy) moonlighting as kitchen help in director Lee Haven Jones' deeply strange, memorably icky and occasionally very funny Welsh (yes, Welsh) horror flick. Most of the dialogue is subtitled, but you won't need any translation to grasp Lewis Jones' progressive politics or #TimesUp agenda. It reminded me of trailblazing Australian genre flicks like "The Last Wave" and "Picnic at Hanging Rock," but with more gore and a larger body count. (B.)  

FINDING YOU--New Yorker Finley (Rose Reid) takes a semester abroad where she meets and falls for the hunky star (Jedediah Goodacre) of a "GOT"-style franchise. While clearly aspiring to be a YA update of the 1999 Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant smash "Notting Hill," this touristy rom-com doesn't quite make the cut due to Brian ("I'm Not Ashamed") Bough's pedestrian direction and a middling script too enamored with cliches and treacle. But thanks to its engaging young leads and a predictably wonderful supporting turn by the great Vanessa Redgrave, it suffices as a pleasant enough diversion. Bough gets great scenic mileage out of his bucolic Irish locations even if he seems determined to turn the Emerald Isle into an Orlando theme park. (B MINUS.)

FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI--Hou Hsiao-hsien's 1998 masterpiece is so dreamy and gorgeously, sensuously tactile that it feels more like a film by Hou's Asian New Wave compatriot Wong Kar Wai instead. (It even stars Wong muse Tony Leung Chau-wai.) Set against the backdrop of Shanghai brothels in the late nineteenth century--the titular "flowers" are the courtesans who work there--the film casts an intoxicating spell that transports you back to a time and place that feels as ethereal as it is inexorably haunting. Hou's films ("The Puppetmaster," "The Flight of the Red Balloon," etc.) have traditionally been more grounded in poetic naturalism; this one soars into a heightened realm in which poetry supersedes realism. It's a heartening affirmation of cinema in its purest form. Unlike the bare-bones Winstar DVD from twenty years ago, the Criterion Collection's newly released Blu-Ray features a wealth of extras. Among them are an introduction by critic Tony Rayns (who also did the subtitle translation); Daniel Raim and Eugene Suen's documentary ("Beautified Realism") about the making of the film with interviews and copious behind the scenes footage; excerpts from a 2015 Hou interview, recorded for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences' oral history project; an essay by Stanford University film professor Jean Ma; and UCLA Chinese cultural studies professor Michael Berry's 2009 interview with Hou. (A.)

THE FOREVER PURGE--What would happen if the one-night-a-year Purge became a 365-day loop of mayhem and murder? The fifth chapter in a franchise that began in 2013 posits that scary theorem--and it's a doozy. Josh Lucas plays a Texas rancher who teams up with immigrants (Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta) to save himself and his pregnant wife (Cassidy Freeman) by crossing over into Mexico which is offering sanctuary for gringos fleeing the Purge. Everardo Gout's provocative film is the most blatantly political "Purge" yet, and maybe the best. It also speaks to this particular moment in American life more powerfully than any "serious" movie I can think of. (B PLUS.) 

FOUR GOOD DAYS--Unlike recent male-oriented addiction dramas like "Ben is Back" and "Beautiful Boy," director Rodrigo ("Mother and Child," "Nine Lives") Garcia's film tells the story of a tough-love mom (Glenn Close) trying to help her grown daughter (Mila Kunis) kick heroin. Although Garcia isn't reinventing the wheel here, the bruising, lived-in performances of his two leads make this an eminently worthwhile endeavor. Based on a true-life story that was chronicled by Washington Post journalist Eli Saslow. (B MINUS.)

F9: THE FAST SAGA--The dumbest, lamest Hollywood franchise of the 21st century--and yes, I'm counting the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Resident Evil" movies--continues apace with this ninth installment, a staggeringly lame-brained entry even by idiotic "F&F" standards. What little plot there is concerns John Cena's attempt to settle a score with his squinty-eyed, chrome-domed brother (Vin Diesel's terminally dim Dom). Not even the welcome return of late-to-the-party "A" listers like Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren and Kurt Russell can make this more than an arrested adolescence endurance test. By the time a Pontiac Fiero starts flying in space (I kid you not), it becomes eminently clear that returning director Justin ("Fast + Furious" and "Fast + Furious 6") Lin has gone postal, totally jumping the proverbial shark. The only thing missing from this bloated farrago is Richard Kiel as Bond heavy Jaws. (D MINUS.)

FREELAND--Krisha Fairchild plays an aging pot farmer/dealer whose business is jeopardized when cannabis becomes legal in California. Former documentarians Mario Furloni and Kate McLean's impressive narrative debut has such a naturalistic, lived-in quality that it's easy to believe the characters are real people rather than fictional constructs. Fairchild, best known for her remarkable performance in Trey Edward Shults' 2015 masterpiece "Krisha," is again extraordinary, and Lily ("Certain Women") Gladstone and Frank Mosley provide stellar support. (B PLUS.) 

THE GATEWAY--Nonpareil character actor Shea Whigham (best known for playing Steve Buscemi's cop brother on the late, great "Boardwalk Empire") gets a rare starring role as a social worker who cares too much in director Michele Civetto's mildly schizophrenic urban drama. Olivia Munn and Taegan Burns play a single mom and her tweener daughter whose lives are imperiled when Munn's psychotic ex (Zach Avery) is released from prison. Whigham's efforts to help them wind up backfiring, and the movie's body count rises exponentially. Frank Grillo (a local crime boss) and Bruce Dern (Whigham's estranged dad) are both good in support, and the film is mildly compelling up until a berserk final scene that should have probably been left on the cutting room floor. (C PLUS.) 

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.)

THE GRAND DUKE OF CORSICA--A brilliant, if crotchety architect (Timothy Spall) is commissioned to design a mausoleum for a dying billionaire (Peter Stormare as the titular "Grand Duke") during a Corsican malaria epidemic in Daniel Graham's well-nigh unclassifiable film. (And I haven't even mentioned the St. Francis movie with its Method-y lead actor--Matt Hookings--that plays a supporting role in the narrative.) I really have no idea how any any of these disparate story threads are supposed to connect, but some very good actors help maintain interest even though it's all pretty much hooey. (C.)  

THE GREEN KNIGHT--Visionary director David ("A Ghost Story," "The Old Man and the Gun") Lowery's fanciful riff on Arthurian legend stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain who embarks upon a heroic quest to prove his mettle by besting the titular--yes, he's literally emerald-hued--knight. The supporting cast includes heavy-hitters like Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (in a dual role) and Joel Edgerton, but the real stars are Lowery's exquisite mise-en-scene and his deft touch with FX. It's that rare effects-centric film that doesn't feel weighed down by pixels. (B PLUS.)

GULLY--While clearly aspiring to be a New Millennium answer to "Boyz n the Hood" or "Menace 11 Society," Nabil Elderkin's episodic film about an eventful 48 hours in the lives of three childhood friends (Kelvin Harrison Jr., Charlie Plummer and Jacob Latimore, all of whom are infinitely better than their material) is overwrought, wildly pretentious and borderline-incoherent. It's also actively unpleasant with intimations of child sexual abuse and two creepy home invasion scenes that make the "Singin' in the Rain" sequence from "A Clockwork Orange" seem like child's play. (D PLUS.)

HABIT--If June's rock 'em/sock 'em "Zola" had been a meretricious piece of attitudinizing trash, it would have been this godawful indie-exploiter. After getting into hot water with a drug kingpin, LA party girl Bella Thorne dons a nun's habit and goes into hiding at a rich blind lady's house. Accompanying her are BFFs Libby Mintz (promiscuous and drug-addled) and Andreja Pejic (a transgender with major diva attitude). Witless and shrill, first-time director Janell Shirtoliff piles on one faux outrage after another in a desperate attempt to keep the audience from falling asleep. (D MINUS.) 

THE HARDER THEY FALL--Jay Z co-produced first-time director Jeymes Samuel's rousing, new-fashioned western that's populated by a spectacular cast of African-American talent. The movie pivots around an impending showdown between outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors tom HBO's "Lovecraft Country") and ex-con Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), but it's the journey more than the destination that make it so much fun. And any movie that finds juicy roles for Regina King, Zazie Beetz and LaKeith Stanfield is A-O.K. in my book. (B PLUS.)

HARD LUCK LOVE SONG--Inspired by Todd Snider's country western ballad "Just Like Old Times," first-time writer/director Justin Corsbe's genre-bender has some of the grit and funk of New Hollywood movies from the 1970s. ("Five Easy Pieces" gets a shout-out.) A wildly charismatic Michael Dorman plays Jesse, an ex con/c&w wannabe/pool hustler who reconnects with his high school sweetheart Carla (Sophia Bush, a long way from her willowy ingenue on "One Tree Hill") at a No-Tell motel. The supporting cast includes Dermot Mulroney, RZA and Eric Roberts, but it's Dorman's show all the way. Just when you think Corsbe has made a fatal misstep in the third act, he corrects himself (and his movie), wrapping things up on an emotionally satisfying note. I liked it a lot. (B.)

HEART OF CHAMPIONS--Fairly boilerplate, but not unenjoyable underdog sports flick about a moribund Ivy League rowing team (yes, rowing team) that springs to championship life thanks to their new coach (the estimable Michael Shannon) and a preternaturally gifted transfer student (Charles Melton from "The Sun is Also a Star"). Melodrama is largely provided by a snotty rich kid (Alexander Ludwig, aptly hissable) with major daddy issues (David James Elliott, a long way from "JAG," plays his prickly pop). Since it isn't "based on a true story" like so many films of this ilk, director Michael Mailer's decision to set the action in 1999 seems odd. And the fact that he does nothing with the period setting feels like a missed opportunity. (C PLUS.)  

HELD FOR RANSOM--Gripping true-life account of Danish photojournalist Daniel Rye's 398 days of captivity by the Taliban in Syria. After being captured while on assignment, former gymnast Rye (a very good Esben Smed) shares a prison cell with a motley (French, British, Russian, Spanish, et al) crew of fellow hostages, including American journalist James Foley (Toby Kebbell). Director Niels Arden Oplev, best known for 2009's "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," does a nice job of balancing the action--or inaction--between the imprisoned Rye and his family's efforts to obtain his release. As a professional hostage negotiator working on Rye's behalf, Anders W. Barthelsen craftily steals every scene he's in. (B PLUS.)

HERE TODAY--Billy Crystal stars, directed and cowrote this lachrymose, tone-deaf dramedy about a veteran comedy writer succumbing to the indignities of Alzheimer's. As the itinerant singer he strikes up an unlikely friendship with, Tiffany Haddish is OK although she can't sing a lick. Nothing about it--including Crystal's emotionally fraught relationships with grown children Penn Badgley and Laura Bernati--rings true or feels remotely genuine, and the entire film has a synthetic, disingenuous quality that feels particularly disappointing coming from the same studio (Sony Pictures) that released "The Father" with Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning performance as an elderly man battling the ravages of dementia. Embarrassing cameos by Kevin Kline and Sharon Stone. (C MINUS.)

HIGH SIERRA--Paul Thomas Anderson, one of our finest working directors, has been MIA since 2017's "Phantom Thread." (Anderson's latest, "Licorice Pizza," finally opens this December.) 80 years ago, while under contract to Warner Brothers, Raoul Walsh directed four movies, all released within the span of 12 months. Among that quartet were the James Cagney screwball romp "The Strawberry Blonde" and "They Died With Their Boots On," a Little Big Horn epic starring Errol Flynn as General Custer. "High Sierra," the best of Walsh's 1941 oeuvre, has just been released by the Criterion Collection in a spiffy 4K digital restoration. Needless to say it looks better--the glistening b&w cinematography literally pops off the screen--than ever. A sort of test run for what would become known as film noir, "Sierra"--cowritten by John Huston and W.R. Burnett and based on Burnett's novel--stars Humphrey Bogart as recently paroled thief "Mad Dog" Roy Earle whose dreams of going straight are foiled when he falls in with some lowlifes planning a major heist in the Sierra Nevada. As Bogart's love interest, Ida Lupino has one of her juiciest screen roles. Their chemistry is both palpable and improbably touching. Walsh, who began his career working as an assistant to D.W. Griffith (he played John Wilkes Booth in Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation"), was an eclectic artisan. His 49-year career ran the gamut, although he found his greatest success in masculinist genres (e.g., 1940's "They Drive by Night" and 1945's "Objective Burma"). Accordingly, that made him less easy to pigeonhole than such contemporaries as Ford and Hawks which might explain why he remains so criminally undervalued. In "The American Cinema," Andrew Sarris wrote: "If there is no place in the cinema for the virtues and limitations of Raoul Walsh, there is even less place for an honestly pluralistic criticism." Well said, sir. The Blu-Ray extras are predictably stellar, as is the Criterion norm. Among the many highlights: "Colorado Territory," Walsh's entertaining 1949 western remake of "High Sierra;" a conversation about Walsh between critics Dave Kehr and Farran Smith Nehme; the 1997 documentary, "Bogart: Here's Looking at You, Kid," which originally aired on England's South Bank Show; Marilyn Ann Moss' 2019 documentary, "The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh;" "Curtains for Roy Earle," a 2003 short about the making of "High Sierra;" an interview with film/media historian Miriam J. Petty extolling the virtues of character actor extraordinaire (and "High Sierra" costar) Willie Best; a 1944 radio adaptation of "High Sierra;" excerpts from a 1976 American Film Institute interview with Burnett; and an essay certifying "High Sierra"'s noir bonafides by "In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City" author Imogen Sara Smith. (A PLUS.)

THE HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD--Director Patrick Hughes, bodyguard Ryan Reynolds, hitman Samuel L. Jackson and titular wife Salma Hayek reunite for a fitfullly amusing follow-up to their 2017 sleeper. Con woman Hayek is the one in need of the bodyguard's protection this time (mostly from a Greek megalomaniac amusingly played by Antonio Banderas). Giddily hopscotching from Tuscany to Zagreb without batting an eye--or making a lick of sense--the film is as much a scenic Euro travelogue as it is an ultra-violent buddy/action comedy. In other words, something for everyone. (C PLUS.)

HOLLER--After her addict mom (Pamela Adlon from FX's "Better Things") goes to jail, Southern Ohio high school senior (Jessica Barden, best known as the breakout star of Netflix's "The End of the F***ing World") begins working at a not-strictly-legal scrap metal start-up with her older brother (Gus Helper). Nicole Riegel's grim and gritty regional drama is reminiscent of Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone," but not nearly as memorable. For starters, it lacks a central performance as dynamic as Jennifer Lawrence's Oscar-nominated turn. Barden is solid enough, but doesn't provide the emotional anchor required to make us genuinely care about these hardscrabble lives of not-so-quiet desperation. (B MINUS.) 

HOME SWEET HOME ALONE--Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney go to torturous lengths to retrieve a priceless antique doll they think was stolen by bratty 10-year-old Max (Archie Yates) in an appalling reboot of the 1990 Chris Columbus/John Hughes blockbuster. The fact that it all turns out to be a case of mistaken theft does nothing to erase the unpleasantness of what transpires before an unconvincing "happy" ending. Yates, so appealing as a comic sidekick in "JoJo Rabbit," is gratingly obnoxious here playing a privileged snot whose sadistic efforts to protect his family home--which looks only slightly smaller and less ornate than Buckingham Palace--from Delaney and Kemper's underclass interlopers are literally revolting. The whole think reeks of bad faith/taste and preaches a tone-deaf gospel of conspicuous consumerism that's the farthest thing from the true meaning of the holiday season. (D MINUS.) 

HOW IT ENDS--Made during pandemic social distancing requirements last summer, Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein's melancholic doomsday comedy manages to do a lot of things very well under clearly difficult circumstances. Lister-Jones plays a thirtysomething singleton who spends her last day on earth--NASA has alerted the world that a comet will strike at 2 A.M., wiping out life as we know it--navigating the streets of her Los Angeles neighborhood. She reconnects with old friends and lovers (Olivia Wilde and Logan Marshall Green), makes amends with her estranged parents (Helen Hunt and Bradley Whitford) and even meets friendly strangers like Fred Armisen and Nick Kroll. What makes her Candide-like journey especially interesting is that she's accompanied by her younger self (winningly played by Cailee Spaeny), adding a metaphysical wrinkle to the film. While it could have gone deeper with such emotionally fraught material, Lister-Jones and Wein manage to make an end of the world movie that feels weirdly upbeat. (B.)

I'M YOUR MAN--A prickly, bracingly unromantic sci-fi rom-com about the three weeks a German archaealogist (Maren Eggert) spends with the humanoid robot (Dan Stevens) factory-designed to be her "perfect" partner. Writer/director Maria Schrader tackles both the meaning of love and the importance of human connection without succumbing to ersatz sentiment or cheap, easy laughs. Thematically provocative and splendidly acted by its two leads (Stevens gives his best post-"Downton Abbey" performance), the film casts a haunting, melancholy spell that lingers long after the end credits. (B.)

INDIA SWEETS AND SPICES--During summer break from UCLA, Alia (Sophia Ali) returns to her parents' posh New Jersey home where she meets a cute boy (Rish Shah) who works at his family's Indian grocery store, fends off the advances of a spoiled rich kid ex (Ved Sapru) and uncovers the truth about her mother's feminist past. Writer/director Geeta Malik's rom-com clearly aspires to be the Indian-American answer to "Crazy Rich Asians," but only partially succeeds due to budgetary limitations. Thanks to Ali and Sapru's winning performances, it's still a charming "Ladies Night Out" divertissement And Manisha Koirala are both very good as Alia's mom-with-a-secret and her philandering doctor dad. (B MINUS.) 

IN THE HEIGHTS--"Crazy Rich Asians" director Jon M. Chu's irresistible film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony-winning 2008 Broadway hit is the most ebullient New York-lensed movie musical since Nancy Walker's "Can't Stop the Music." It's also the much-needed lift "gotta sing/gotta dance"-loving audiences have been craving since "La La Land." The wildly charismatic Anthony Ramos plays bodega owner Usnavi whose Washington Heights store serves as the fulcrum of his close-knit Latino community. Naturally there's a woman involved (Melissa Barrera as social-climbing fashionista Vanessa), but it's the exhilarating production numbers you'll remember. While hardly perfect--in every sense it feels like a dress rehearsal for the multi-cultural triumph Miranda would later achieve with "Hamilton"--yet it's so much fun only spoilsports will kvetch. (A 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.)

JOE BELL--As a follow-up to 2018's provocative "Monsters and Men," director Reinaldo Marcus Green's latest work suffers from the dread sophomore jinx. Although based on a true story and made with the noblest of intentions, it mostly plays like a glorified After School Special. Mark Wahlberg (who also produced) plays Joe Bell, the father of a 15-year-old gay son (Reid Miller) who committed suicide due to schoolyard bullying. In an attempt to spread a message of acceptance and inclusiveness, Bell embarks upon a cross-country walk from Oregon to New York City. (Spoiler alert: it didn't go well.) Only one scene--a heart-to-heart chat between Bell and the Midwestern sheriff played by Gary Sinise that he meets along the way--rings true emotionally. The rest is woke window-dressing. Sadly, it was cowritten by "Brokeback Mountain" scenarists Larry McMurtry and Dianna Ossona without evincing an iota of that Ang Lee masterpiece's sensitivity, subtlety or insight. (D PLUS.)

JUNGLE CRUISE--The latest Mouse House attempt to develop a big-screen franchise out of one of their theme park rides is at least better than Eddie Murphy's woebegone "The Haunted Mansion." Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt gamely try to ignite some Bogey/Hepburn, "African Queen"-y sparks, but the leaden script is pure boilerplate: you'd swear Disney just dumped "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "National Treasure" into a Cuisinart. The supporting cast (including Edgar Ramirez, Paul Giamatti and an amusing Jesse Plemons as the Teutonic "Big Bad") helps elevate the formulaic material by virtue of sheer professionalism. Like director Jaume Collet-Serra's previous Liam Neeson actioners ("Non-Stop," "Unknown," et al), it's watchable enough without being remotely memorable. Also puzzling is the fact that subtitles aren't offered for major swatches of Spanish and German language dialogue. (C PLUS.)

KAREN DALTON: IN MY OWN TIME--Dalton was a blues/folk singer on the 1960's Greenwich Village circuit--Bob Dylan was a fan--who, despite cutting two albums, never quite made it in the big leagues. Robert Yapkowitz and Richard Peete's documentary is as sad as Dalton's life (she died in 1993 at age 55 after a lengthy period of drug abuse), and not even affectionate anecdotes supplied by former bandmates, ex-lovers and her daughter can shake the haunted spell it casts. Dalton was described by one admirer as being a "heart singer," and her voice like something you might have heard emanating from a very old radio. The film is an apt memorial to an an undeservedly obscure artist. (B MINUS.)

KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK IN TIME--40 years in the making, co-directors Robert Weide and Dan Argott's affectionate documentary about the late, great American author covers a lot of biographical ground: Vonnegut's Indianapolis childhood and stint as a POW during WW II; early jobs as a G.E. publicist and car salesmen; sundry marriages and children; et al.But it's the second act of Vonnegut's life--his super-stardom after the 1969 release of "Slaughterhouse-Five" that turned him into a household name--that most intrigues. Emmy winner Weide, who previously helmed estimable docs about Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce, became a close friend of Vonnegut's during the lengthy, on-and-off-again production. (The genesis of the project was a fan letter Weide sent to Vonnegut while still in college.) Is this a critical or even objective portrait of a famous writer with all too human frailties? Probably not, yet it's still hugely enjoyable and deeply touching nonetheless. (B PLUS.)

LAMB--The creepiest, funniest movie about parenting since David Lynch's "Eraserhead," this Icelandic freak-out by Valdimar Johannsson proudly stands beside other disturbing, darkly comic A24 horror flicks ("Hereditary," "The Witch," "Midsommar") of recent vintage. Ingvar and Maria (Hiller Snaer Guonason and Noomi Rapace) are childless sheep famers who greet the birth of a new lamb--"Ada"--as though it were their own baby. Accordingly, Ada moves into the house and assumes the role of surrogate child: they bathe with her, set a place for her at the dinner table, dress her in human clothes, etc. Not even a visit from Ingvar's commonsensical brother Petur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) can dissuade them from perpetuating their shared delusion. Of course, they haven't met Ada's real parents yet, sheeps with a bone to pick with the usurpers of their little lamb. Eerily beautiful (Eli Arensen did the breathtaking cinematography) and spectacularly acted by the principals, this is a movie that will both haunt your dreams and tickle your funny bone. (A MINUS.)

LANGUAGE LESSONS--Oakland widower Mark Duplass' online Spanish lessons take a personal turn when he develops an unlikely Zoom friendship with his Costa Rican teacher, Natalie Morales (who directed and co-wrote the movie with Duplass). Another indie made under strict Covid conditions, it has an intrinsic sweetness that helps circumvent the occasional didacticism. And Duplass and Morales are both terrific--which helps. (B MINUS.)

LANSKY--Harvey Keitel plays infamous Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky in his Florida dotage (the excellent John Magaro from Kelly Reichardt's "First Cow" plays the younger Lasky in flashbacks which comprise half the film) and "Avatar" star Sam Worthington is a down-on-his-luck journalist contracted to write his autobiography. Director Eyton Rockaway's surprisingly compelling gloss on the halcyon days of American organized crime when syndicates like Murder Inc. ruled the roost boasts superior production values and better-than-average performances. It won't replace "The Godfather" in anyone's mob movie pantheon, but it's a pretty solid addendum just the same. (B.) 

THE LAST DUEL--Set in 14th century France, Ridley Scott's #MeToo spin on Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon"/competing narrative template stars Matt Damon as a battle-scarred knight whose wife (Jodie Comer from "Killing Eve" and "Free Guy") accuses a nobleman (Adam Driver) of rape. Ben Affleck plays the king's playboy cousin who's caught in the middle because he's a friend of both men. Dripping with painstakingly realized period verisimilitude and truly epic battle scenes, the movie wears its two-and-a-half-hour length with such ease you wouldn't want it to be any shorter. The three different versions of the assault are equally compelling (and convincing), so it's hard to know who's telling the truth. Which is precisely Scott and the film's point. Cowritten by Damon, Affleck and Nicole Holofcener who brings a much-needed female perspective to the material, it's the kind of unapologetically adult, big budget studio movie that Hollywood stopped making years ago. Or around the time Scott directed his first film, 1978's "The Duellists," set in Napoleonic France. (A MINUS.)

LEONA--A young Jewish woman (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) living in Mexico City freaks her friends and close-knit family out when she begins dating a non-Jewish man (Christian Vazquez). Eventually bowing to peer and familial pressure, she eventually breaks it off and starts seeing a more "acceptable"--i.e., Jewish--suitor (Daniel Adissi). In the process, she grows a backbone and determines to begin living life on her own terms. Set against the exotic backdrop of Mexico's insular Syrian-Jewish community, first-time director Isaac Cherem's romantic dramedy is buoyed by Gonzalez Norvind's buoyant performance. She's utterly charming, and so is the movie. (B.)

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.)

THE LOST LEONARDO--First-rate documentary about the discovery earlier this millennium of "Salvador Mundi," the first painting by Leonardo daVinci discovered--at a shady New Orleans auction house, where it sold for $1,175!--this millennium. Watching the machinations of art brokers once they realized what they had in their possession (and how much money was to be gained) is as fascinating as it is mortifying. The fact that the painting, who's authenticity was never fully confirmed, adds another queasy layer to this study of avarice and greed. Not surprisingly, the ultimate buyer was Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudia Arabia. Apparently his deep pockets didn't balk at the ultimate $450-million price tag. (B PLUS.)

LOVE IS LOVE IS LOVE--Directed and co-written by Eleanor Coppola, this omnibus film about love and its various permutations features an appealing cast, but only one of its three stories really works. In that segment, Maya Kazan invites her late mother's oldest and dearest friends (among them Rosanna Arquette, Cybill Shepherd, Polly Draper and Rita Wilson) to a memorial luncheon in her honor. While some long-concealed secrets accidentally/inevitably spill out, it's mostly a kumbaya occasion for beaucoup female-bonding. Joanne Whalley, Chris Messina, Kathy Bates and Marshall Bell headline the other lesser episodes, but at least they're short. (C.)

LUCA--Minor, if lightly likable Pixar 'toon about Luca, a young sea monster (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) who, like Pinocchio, yearns to become a real boy. To achieve that end, Luca swims to a small fishing village on the Italian Riviera where, after morphing into temporary human form, he befriends another reconstituted sea monster (Jack Dylan Grazer from HBO's "We Are Who We Are"). Enrico Casarosa's debut effort is beautifully crafted--it's Pixar after all--but lacks the universal appeal and emotional layering/complexity that separates classic Pixar like last year's Oscar-winning "Soul" from a mere place-holder. Available at no extra cost on Disney +. (B.)

MALIGNANT--The latest Blumhouse "things that go bump in the night" flick is as generic as its title. After a home invasion that caused her to have a miscarriage, Annabelle Wallis begins seeing spooky visions. Are they nightmares, or some kind of alternate reality? A bat**** third act is so over-the-top ridiculous that it's almost impressive, but it's a safe bet that director James Wan (who helmed the first "Saw," "Insidious" and "Conjuring" films) won't be launching another horror franchise with this flatliner of a movie. (C MINUS.)  

MAMA WEED--After stealing a shipment of Moroccan hashish, a widowed French-Arabic translator for the Paris police department's anti-narcotics unit becomes an overnight drug kingpin. Although the initial goal was simply to raise some cash to pay her mom's nursing home bills, Mama Weed shrewdly uses inside knowledge--and a retired police dog that she adopts--to become a veritable mini-industry. Director Jean-Paul Salome was very fortunate to have enlisted the services of the great Isabelle Huppert to play his bodacious entrepreneur. Without Huppert's fierce commitment to the role, his featherweight movie might have come across as too cutesy and sitcom-broad. (B MINUS.)  

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.)

MASCULINE FEMININE--"The children of Marx and Coca Cola" are wittily--and indelibly-- embodied by Jean-Pierre Leaud and Chantal Goya in one of the greatest films by one of the greatest living filmmakers (Jean-Luc Godard). "Masculine Feminine" practically defines the JLG ethos: whiplash jump cuts, intellectual navel-gazing, an exhilarating Pop sensibility. Like Godard's best 1960's work, it's a dizzying sensory experience that demands a lot from audiences while amply rewarding them with the unbridled passion of a born filmmaker working at the peak of his creative powers. Sadly, when I showed it to my Y.S.U. class a few years ago, the Gen Z-ers were more bored than enthralled; a far cry from the '60s when college kids thought Godard was the grooviest cat under the sun. The newly issued Criterion Collection Blu-Ray merely recycles the extras from their 2005 DVD release, but they still constitute an impressive addendum to Godard's timeless masterpiece. Among them are a 1966 interview with Goya; 2004 and 2005 interviews with Goya, cinematographer Willy Kurant and frequent Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin; a 2004 discussion of the film with critics Dominique Paini and Freddy Buache; Swedish television footage of Godard directing the movie's justly famous "film within a film" sequence; an essay by Australian critic Adrian Martin; and French journalist Philippe Labro's 1966 on-set dispatch. (A PLUS.)

MAYDAY--Grace Van Patten plays a young woman who's transported, Dorothy Gale-like, into an alternate dimension where an all-girl army (led by Havana Rose Liu, Mia Goth and Soko) kills men to--I'm guessing--avenge centuries of patriarchal oppression. Karen Cinorre's feature debut is better at creating a fantasy world exclusively powered by grrrl power, but she's on less sure ground in building a coherent narrative. The perennially quirky Juliette Lewis turns up briefly in a nonexistent supporting role. (C.)

MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS--Dumb, but watchable serial killer thriller about the combined efforts of an FBI agent (Megan Fox) and a Florida cop (Emile Hirsch) to capture the psychopath who's been abducting and murdering young women. A bored-looking Bruce Willis shows up for a few scenes as Fox's tsk-tsk-ing boss, but the most memorable performance is turned in by Lukas Haas who's utterly chilling as the murderer. The first film helmed by veteran producer Randall ("The Irishman") Emmett, it's better-directed than it is written. (C PLUS.)

MORTAL KOMBAT--Because my only previous exposure to the phenomenally successful "Mortal Kombat" videogame franchise were the two pretty meh '90s big-screen spin-offs, I'm hardly the best judge of this new iteration. But taken on its own terms as an ultra-violent 21st century actioner, it's not bad. An origin story (of sorts), it's poorly acted and indifferently (often incoherently) written, but director Simon McQuaid stages the frequent action setpieces with bloodthirsty elan. Which, I suppose, is all that anyone really wants from a movie called "Mortal Kombat," isn't it? (C.)

A MOUTHFUL OF AIR--Post partum depression has rarely been portrayed as movingly as it is in first-time director Amy Koppelman's powerful new film. A superb Amanda Seyfried plays a Manhattan kid-lit author who develops suicidal tendencies after the birth of her son. Not even a loving, supportive spouse and mother (Finn Wittrock and Karen Allen, both terrific) can help ease the pain And having another baby--a daughter this time--only heightens her anxiety and psychological torment. This is the sort of small-scale adult downer that would have struggled to find a theatrical audience even in the pre-Covid era. Whether anyone will pay to see it in theaters during these deracinated times remains to be seen. But Seyfried's performance deserves to be remembered at awards time irregardless of its box-office fate. (B.)

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.)

NEEDLE IN A TIMESTACK--Snoozy time travel romance starring a pair of recent Oscar nominees (Leslie Odom and Cynthia Erivo, both very good) as a married couple whose domesticity is imperiled when her ex (Orlando Bloom) begins tinkering with the recesses of time. As a college pal who becomes a pawn in all the confusing back-and-forth soap operatics, Freida Pinto is quietly touching. But John Ridley's needlessly convoluted script and meandering direction renders the whole thing borderline-incoherent and dull. (C MINUS.) 

THE NIGHT HOUSE--Despite collecting dust on Fox-Searchlight's shelf since premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, director David Bruckner's haunted house movie is a fairly stylish, moderately entertaining affair. Rebecca Hall plays a recently widowed schoolteacher who foolishly elects to remain in the spooky lakefront home her late husband built. She soon discovers that hubby--who committed suicide--had a secret life involving occultism and other, uh, supernatural proclivities. Some of it is fairly muddled and it's hardly the most original premise for a thriller, but Hall is so good that she single-handedly makes it worthwhile. (B MINUS.)

NINE DAYS--If Pixar's Oscar-winning "Soul" had been a pokily-paced, ponderous and dull live-action film, it might have resembled first-time writer/director Edson Oda's 2020 Sundance Film Festival hit which is finally making its way into theaters. Winston Duke plays a somebody-or-other tasked with choosing which unborn souls deserve a shot at life on earth. The title refers to the time allotted for each candidate to prove their mettle (Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgard and Tony Hale are among the applicants). There's a lot of navel-gazing philosophizing that might have wowed Herman Hesse-loving undergrads in the '60s, but which sounds an awful lot like eye roll-inducing blather today. (C MINUS.)

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.)

NO FUTURE--As the grieving mother of a drug addict who died from an overdose and unwisely embarks upon an ill-advised affair with his recovering friend, the great Catherine Keener is the best, perhaps only reason to see Andrew Irvine and Mark Smoot's almost unrelievedly grim indie drama. "Stranger Things" alumnus Charlie Heaton is OK, if somewhat charisma-challenged, as the shoulda-known-better twentysomething whose May-September romance is doomed from the start. Props to the directing duo for daring to end their film on a note of abject despair rather than faux uplift. Not that it makes it any easier to sit through. (C.) 

NO SUDDEN MOVE--In 1954 Detroit, a ragtag crew of small-time criminals (Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro and Kieran Culkin) are hired by a shady Brendan Fraser to steal a top-secret document from David Harbour's house. What could possibly go wrong? Pretty much everything as it turns out. Steven Soderbergh's second film for HBO MAX after last year's equally terrific "Let Them All Talk" is a gritty urban noir blessed with a dream cast (Matt Damon, Ray Liotta, and Jon Hamm round out the Tiffany-plated cast), all of whom seem to be having a ball. You will, too. (A.)

THE NOWHERE INN--Supremely grating mockumentary starring St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) as herself on a concert tour. Director Bill Benz had the cutesy notion of making the film-within-the-"documentary" helmer (Carrie Brownstein from "Portlandia") the actual star of his movie. As likable a screen presence as Brownstein is, she can't redeem this thinly-veiled ego trip masquerading as a...whatzit? Dakota Johnson turns up briefly as St. Vincent's faux lover. Unlike me, she must be a St. Vincent fan. (C MINUS.)  

OLD--A family on vacation discovers a secluded beach where they begin to mysteriously age. M. Night Shyamalan's first literary adaptation--it was based on the 2010 graphic novel "Sandcastle"--is also one of his best films to date, chilling and thought-provoking in equal measure. It doesn't hurt that he's working with some very fine actors (Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Alex Wolff and Thomasine McKenzie as the family), all of whom make their plight as terrifying as it is inexorably moving. (B.)

OLD HENRY--Widowed farmer Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) lives a quiet existence with his teenage son (Gavin Lewis) until making the fatal mistake of helping a badly wounded man who turns up on their doorstep. The posse on the varmint's trail--led by a terrifying Stephen Dorff--mean business, and Henry's secret past (no spoilers!) proves helpful in battling the increasingly homicidal mob. The improbably named Potsy Ponciroli's remarkably accomplished directorial debut is the best revisionist western to mosey down the pike since Scott Cooper's "Hostiles" in 2017. (A MINUS.)

PASSING--In 1920's New York City, childhood friends Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) reunite, but their positions in life couldn't be any more different. Although both are of mixed race, Irene--who's married to a Black doctor (Andre Holland)--is startled to discover that Clare has been passing for white. Not even Clare's rich, bigoted husband (Alexander Skarsgard) knows the truth. Based on Neill Larsen's 1929 novel, first-time writer/director Rebecca Hall elicits splendid performances from her two leads and, thanks to Edu Grau's high-contrast b&w photography, beautifully captures the Harlem Renaissance period. It's the kind of glossy, socially-conscious sudser that Douglas ("Imitation of Life") Sirk could have made in the '50s if Hollywood had allowed him to. (B PLUS.)

PAW PATROL: THE MOVIE--Maybe this cheapie 'toon based on the Nickelodeon tube series will wow them in daycare centers. But as a pay-as-you-go multiplex attraction it's sorely lacking in anything (wit, imagination, competent animation) you'd expect from a major studio theatrical release. Director Cal ("Arctic Dogs," "The Nut Job 2") Brunker is Kryptonite to animated films. (D MINUS.) Available at no extra charge for Paramount+ subscribers.

PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY--A sequel to the 2018 kidflick that reunites the original director (Will Gluck) and cast to generally amiable effect. After Bea (Rose Byrne) publishes her first illustrated children's book about Peter and his pals, the bad boy bunny vows to clean up his act and quit being such an incorrigible brat. But when a disreputable pal of his late dad shows up, Peter is recruited to participate in the heist of a local Farmer's Market.What's a rabbit to do? A sunny, light-hearted lark (James Corden, Margot Robbie and Elizabeth Debicki once again supply the voices for Peter, Flopsy and Mopsy) with just enough wink-wink meta humor to amuse accompanying grown-ups. If it's not up to the exacting artistic standards of the "Paddington" franchise, it's still a pretty good time. (B.)  

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET--Pulp auteur extraordinaire Sam ("The Crimson Kimono," "Shock Corridor") Fuller's greatest noir finally receives the Criterion Collection treatment fans have been dreaming of. In one of his signature screen roles, Richard Widmark plays a pickpocket who gets roped into an FBI scheme to foil some Communist "infiltrators" (it's 1953 and Joe McCarthy's America after all). The film practically drips of hard-boiled cynicism--Widmark's Skip McCoy is no more interested in helping the Feds than he is in taking down the Commies: his three-time convict just wants to avoid more jail time--and is so relentlessly, exhilaratingly propulsive you could get a contact high watching it. The extras, per the Criterion norm, are abundant and delicious. There's a new interview with "In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City" author Imogen Sara Smith; Richard Schickel's 1989 interview with Fuller; a 1982 French TV interview in which Fuller discusses the making of the film; a 1954 "Hollywood Radio Theater" adaptation featuringThelma Ritter who costarred in the movie; a potpourri of trailers of classic Fuller films; essays by critic Luc Sante and director Martin Scorsese (a hardcore Fuller buff); and a chapter from Fuller's posthumously released, impishly titled 2002 autobiography, "A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking." (A PLUS.)

PIG--Nicolas Cage has appeared in so many crappy movies this Millennium that when he occasionally--seemingly accidentally--knocks one out of the park, it's a reminder of what a powerful actor he can be. In Michael Sarnoski's stunning directorial debut, Cage is as extraordinary as the film itself. Cage's Robin, a scruffy hermit living in the Oregonian wilderness with his beloved truffle-hunting pig, becomes unmoored when his porcine BFF is kidnapped. To help retrieve the hog, Robin teams up with the yuppie (Alex Wolff) who's been buying his truffles and selling them to upscale Portland restaurants. The mystery of Robin's past--he was a venerated four-star chef before going off the grid after a personal tragedy--is tantalizingly teased out, and the brilliance of Samoski's movie is how the (vast) layers of Robin's identity help inform his quixotic actions. The ending is so bleakly beautiful it will take your breath away. I was shaken and stirred. (A.)  

PROFILE--Undercover British journalist Amy (Valene Kane of AMC's new hit series "Gangs of London") stealthily infiltrates an Islamic website where she quickly makes a connection with ISIS recruiter Bilel ("Star Trek Discovery" breakout Shazad Latin). Soon Amy is booking a flight to Amsterdam to meet Bilel and making plans to travel to Syria with him. Is she still "on the job," or has she fallen (hard) for this swarthy religious zealot's seductive mind games? The genius of Timur (best known for his kick-ass 2008 Angelina Jolie action flick "Wanted") Bekmambetov's heart-stopping thriller is that it keeps you guessing right up until the shocking climax. Shot in just 9 days (!) and filmed entirely on virtual screens (Facebook, text messages, Skype, etc.), it tops even Aneesh Chaganty's 2018 screen-capture sleeper "Searching." (A MINUS.)

THE PROTEGE--After her mentor/surrogate father Samuel L. Jackson is killed, hired assassin Maggie Q goes on the warpath to enact vengeance. And when a slippery mystery man (Michael Keaton) begins playing a potentially lethal cat-and-mouse game with her, the stage is set for an interlocking series of "John Wick"-y action setpieces that make up in savagery what they lack in originality. Slickly directed by Martin Campbell whose career peaked with 2006's "Casino Royale," it's formula filmmaking that manages to hold your interest while still being instantly forgettable. But a live wire like Keaton helps brighten what might have otherwise been a thoroughly moribund enterprise without him. (C PLUS.)

QUEEN BEES--Screen legend Ellen Burstyn plays a widow who temporarily moves into a retirement community while her house is being renovated. But since this is a formulaic geriatric rom-com (think Diane Keaton's woebegone 2019 flop "Poms"), that "temporary" stay eventually becomes permanent. As Burstyn's fellow seniors, James Caan, Jane Curtin, Christopher Lloyd, Loretta DeVine and the forever-young Ann-Margaret are so clearly superior to their sub-"Golden Girls" material that you're likely to pity them. I know I did. (D.)

A QUIET PLACE 2--Picking up 14 months after the events chronicled in the 2018 sleeper, this somewhat pacier sequel is still riddled with gaping plot inconsistencies. But taken as a hot-weather thrill ride, it's satisfying enough--as long as you don't try to parse the whys and why-nots of alien cosmology. Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe and the wonderful Millicent Simmonds reprise their roles as the imperiled Abbott family (since his character was killed off in the original film, John Krasinski is only a presence behind the camera this time as director/ screenwriter), and Cillian Murphy is a welcome addition as the family friend who joins them on the road. (B MINUS.)  

RAGING FIRE--Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen plays a cop who goes mano-a-mano with the ex-cop (Nicholas Tse) turned criminal he testified against many years ago. Director Benny Chan got his start working as an assistant director to HK genre ace Johnnie To, and his movie--a tad overlong at 126 minutes, but reasonably stylish and diverting--definitely shows traces of To's signature style. And John Woo's and Michael Mann's as well. The plot is pretty boilerplate, but the execution is unstintingly slick. (B.)

RATCATCHER--When I first saw Lynn Ramsay's "Ratcatcher" at the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, Ramsay impressed as a distaff Shane Meadows. The fact that I saw Meadows' "A Room for Romeo Brass" the same week helped their movies bleed together. Both were thickly-accented working class slices of life (1973 Glasgow for Ramsay; Britain's Midlands district for Meadows) with juvenile protagonists and social realist tropes that recalled the films of Ken Loach (particularly "Kes"), albeit with uniquely poetic bents. It wasn't until seeing Ramsay's follow-up, 2002's brilliant "Morvern Callar," that I recognized her as a sui generis world-class talent. Subsequent Ramsay films like "We Need to Talk About Kevin" and "You Were Never Really Here" only solidified my fandom. Thanks to the Criterion Collection, I finally had the chance to revisit Ramsay's feature debut, and it was positively revelatory. (Bollocks to Meadows who essentially disappeared after a few early-'00 movies.) I now consider "Ratcatcher" a worthy successor to coming-of-age masterworks like Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" and Terrence Davies' "The Long Day Closes." The extras are a tad on the skimpy side--for Criterion anyway--but still choice. Included are three Ramsay shorts ("Small Deaths," "Kill the Day" and 1998 Cannes Jury Prize winner "Gasman"); Ramsay interviews from 2002 and 2021; an audio interview with "Ratcatcher" cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler; and essays by Film Quarterly editor Girish Shambu and "Moonlight" director (and nonpareil Ramsay cheerleader) Barry Jenkins. (A.)

REMINISCENCE--As a Florida private investigator who specializes in helping people access their lost memories (who knew there was money in that?), Hugh Jackman brings more gravitas to this preposterous, largely incoherent farrago than first-time feature writer/director Lisa Joy deserves. As a recent client whose disappearance sends Jackson down the proverbial rabbit hole, Rebecca ("MI: Rogue Nation") Ferguson brings her usual class and sophistication to a barely-written role. Considering the fact that Joy is one of the house directors on HBO's infuriatingly opaque "Westworld," it's not surprising that her film is both confusing and inordinately tedious. (C MINUS.)   

THE RESCUE--Oscar-winning "Free Solo" directors' Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Jasarhelyi's exciting new documentary recounts the incredible true story of the 2018 rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a flooded Thailand cave. A combined effort involving Thai Navy SEALS, the U.S. military and amateur cave enthusiasts from around the globe, the film incorporates remarkable footage shot on the fly--and in the actual cave during the weeks-long rescue mission--that's heart-stoppingly intense/suspenseful, even if you already know the outcome. (A MINUS.)

RESPECT--2021's second Aretha Franklin biopic--the first was the National Geographic Channel's miniseries, "Genius: Aretha," with Cynthia Erivo as the Queen of Soul; "Respect" stars Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson--is a haphazard affair that never fully engages with its subject. First-time feature director Liesl Tommy's leisurely, ambling, let's-try-anything approach never finds a distinctive POV, and at 145 minutes it's also egregiously overlong. Not surprisingly, "American Idol" alumnus Hudson excels during the performance segments. She's less adept at crafting a coherent characterization from the scraps supplied by a script that never met a biopic cliche it didn't try to recycle. As Franklin's minister father and domineering first husband, Forest Whitaker and Marlon Wayans do what they can with underwritten roles. My favorite performance was by Marc Maron (solid as uber-producer Jerry Wexler), and Mary J. Blige blows the roof off the joint in one terrific scene as Dinah Washington. (C.)   

RIDERS OF JUSTICE--"Another Round" star Mads Mikelsen is terrific as an ex-soldier who, with the help of some techno nerds, plots revenge on the mobsters responsible for his wife's murder. Anders Thomas Jensen's terrifically entertaining film works as both a superb genre movie in the avenging daddy mode (think the "Taken" or "Death Wish" franchises), as well as a mordantly funny dark comedy. I'd be shocked if someone doesn't snatch up remake rights and turns it into a Hollywood blockbuster. (A MINUS.)

RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT--An affectionate look back at the life and career of show biz veteran Moreno. While I would have liked more screen time devoted to Moreno's greatest (and Oscar-winning) triumph, 1961's "West Side Story," and less to her present-day #MeToo proselytizing, it's still a lot of fun, although maybe not worth paying to see in a theater since it will be available for free on PBS later this year. (B MINUS.) 

ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN--Morgan ("Won't You Be My Neighbor?," "20 Feet From Stardom") Neville's deep dive, warts-and-all bio-documentary about the late chef/author/cable TV star Anthony Bourdain is as fascinating as it is shockingly confessional. Although he committed suicide in 2018, Bourdain is a huge presence in the film via remarkably candid archival footage/interviews. Among the chef luminaries who provide telling anecdotes about their friendship with Bourdain, David Chang and Eric Ripert are particularly insightful. While Neville doesn't find a smoking gun to explain Bourdain's passing, he etches a revealing psychological portrait that helps explain what made him tick--and why he was so tormented even at the peak of his celebrityhood. (A MINUS.) 

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.)

SEPARATION--After her mom (Mamie Gummer) is killed in a hit and run accident, 8-year-old Brooklynite Jenny (Violet McGraw) helps recover with the aid of her beloved puppets. But when those marionettes come to life and begin, uh, acting out, things quickly escalate from creepy to homicidal. The latest kid-centric horror flick by William Brent Bell (2016's "The Boy" and its 2020 sequel) is disposable junk, but at least it gives some good actors (including "Succession" patriarch Brian Cox and "Homeland" alumnus Rupert Friend) a paycheck. (C.)

SETTLERS--In the not-too-distant future, a family of settlers (Jonny Lee Miller, Sofia Boutella and "Florida Project" discovery Brooklynn Prince) find their Martian outpost threatened by a menacing stranger (Ismael Cruz Cordova). This debut effort by writer-director Wyatt Rockefeller is gripping lo-fi sci-fi, anchored by some very fine performances: Cordova and Neil Tiger Free as Prince's teenaged incarnation are the standouts. Proof that all genre films don't have to be brain-dead FX orgies. (B.)

SYBIL--Director Justine Trier's 2019 film festival darling is a flamboyantly outré, seriously sexy affair about the titular shrink (a sensational Virginie Efira) whose attempts to step down from her practice to concentrate on her first love (writing) are derailed by an emotionally needy starlet (Adele Exarchopoulos of "Blue is the Warmest Color" fame). The fact that the actress is having an affair with her hunky costar (Gaspard Ulliel) who's--mon Dieu!--married to the film's director (Sandra Huller from "Toni Erdmann") titillates Sybil and helps inspire her slowly gestating novel. Trier plays tricks with perspective that add to the over-heated ambiance (and occasional confusion). It's as giddily entertaining as it sounds, and just as irresistibly silly. (A 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.)

SMALL ENGINE REPAIR--Another movie where the bonafides of blue collar white dudes are signified by chain-smoking, frequent use of the "f" word and thick regional accents (in this case, New Hampshire). Adapted from his play by director/star John Poltana, the film stars Shea Whigham and Jon Bernthal as boyhood friends of Poltana who reunite to help the ex-con enact grisly revenge against the Boston preppie (Josh Holmes) responsible for his teenage daughter's suicide attempt. (She's currently in a coma.) It's a screechy indictment of toxic masculinity that's pretty toxic itself. Egregiously overacted by nearly everyone in the cast. (D PLUS.)

SNAKE EYES--Billed as a new "G.I. Joe" origin movie, this sleekly produced (if needlessly complicated: Japanese ninjas are involved) action flick has no discernible connection to Channing Tatum's big-screen "Joe" iterations from a decade or so ago ("The Rise of Cobra" and "Retaliation"). But thanks to two attractive leads ("Crazy Rich Asians" star Henry Golding and "Ready or Not" breakout Samara Weaving), it's at least easy on the eyes. The script, however, has about as much nutritional value as bubble gum. (C.) 

SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME--After having won last year's Best Director Oscar--and coming on the heels of her upcoming Marvel movie, "Eternals"--Chloe Zhao's remarkable 2015 debut is finally receiving a richly deserved Blu-Ray release courtesy of Kino-Lorber. Very much in the vein of Zhao's more widely seen follow-up films ("The Rider" and "Nomadland"), it's a loosely scripted drama cast largely with non-professionals who are essentially playing vaguely fictionalized versions of "themselves." The brother (John Reddy) and kid sister (Jashaun St. John) who anchor the narrative live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and their experiences mirror adolescent lives anywhere. Achingly tender and heart-stoppingly moving, it's one of the most extraordinarily moving films I've ever seen. A minor masterpiece. (A.)

SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY--LeBron James plays, uh, LeBron James in this belated. and at times deeply strange, follow-up to the 1996 live action/animation hybrid. James and gamer son Dom (Cedric Joe) surf the WB serververse ruled by Don Cheadle's Machiavellian algorithm, climaxing in--what else?--a basketball game featuring Looney Tunes luminaries like Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner and Porgy Pig (who, ugh, raps). Weirdest of all are the IP WB characters in the audience, among them the cretinous droogs from "A Clockwork Orange," "It" killer clown Pennywise," various "Matrix" and "Mad Max"-ites and even some deranged nuns from Ken Russell's "The Devils." Like I said, "deeply strange." (C MINUS.)i

THE SPARKS BROTHERS--Alternately described as "your favorite band's favorite band" and "the best British group to ever come out of America," the cultish, if somewhat obscure California-based Sparks may seem like an unlikely subject for a two-hour, twenty-minute documentary. But Edgar ("Baby Driver," "Shaun of the Dead") Wright's wildly inventive, spectacularly entertaining new film will make a convert out of you--even if you've never heard of "Sparks Brothers" Ron and Russell Mael before. The Maels have been making music together for more than 50 years, but never crossed over into the mainstream. Wright's fantastic movie could finally help them turn the corner. (A.)

SPIRAL--Police detective Chris Rock and rookie partner Max Minghella investigate a string of grisly murders eerily reminiscent of the notorious Jigsaw killings in this reboot of the "Saw" franchise. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman--who previously helmed three "Saw" movies, none of them any good--it has more wit (thanks to Rock who seems to have improvised much of his own dialogue: a "Forrest Gump" riff is alone worth the price of admission) and mercifully less viscera than the earlier films. But not even the always welcome Samuel L. Jackson as Rock's retired cop dad makes me hope this spawns a new torture-porn series. Life's too short. (C.)

SPIRIT UNTAMED--Another femme-centric CGI animated film, but a plodding and generally underwhelming one. Motherless Lucky (Isabela Merced) goes to visit her railroad titan dad for the summer and falls under the spell of Spirit, a wild mustang who prevously resisted all attempts to tame him. Naturally they become BFFs. And it's up to Lucky--along with some ethnicity-box-checked gal pals--to rescue him after dastardly ex-cons steal Spirit and his equine family. I have no idea why Jake Gyllenhaal and Julianne Moore signed on for vocal duties (as the kid protagonist's dad and aunt respectively), but I hope they were well paid for their labors. For anyone keeping score, this isn't a sequel to DreamWorks' superior hand-drawn 2002 'toon, "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron." (C MINUS.)

THE STARLING--Still mourning the death of a baby years earlier, convenience store clerk Melissa McCarthy becomes fixated on the starlings making a habitat out of her Northern California home. Because her milquetoast schoolteacher husband (Chris O'Dowd) is of little help, she seeks out a therapist (Kevin Kline dialing down the funny). Their sessions are mostly an excuse for a lot of eye rolll-inducing psycho-babble, and the movie is never as touching or profound as it wants to be (or thinks it is). An unfortunate misfire by director Theodore Melfi whose two previous films (2014's "St. Vincent," also starring McCarthy and O'Dowd, and 2016 Best Picture Oscar nominee "Hidden Figures") were both terrific. (C MINUS.)

STILLWATER--Matt Damon has his strongest role in years as Bill Baker, an unemployed Oklahoma roughneck who comes to France to help get his daughter (Abigail Breslin, "Little Miss Sunshine" all grown up) released from prison after she's convicted for the murder of her lover/roommate. Tom McCarthy (director of Oscar-winning 2015 Best Picture "Spotlight") is more interested in characterization than plot mechanics, and his film is all the stronger for that. As the French woman who becomes Bill's European helpmate, Camile Cottin comes close to stealing the movie. But at two-hours-plus, it's maybe 20 minutes too long. The performances--and McCarthy's low-key, naturalistic approach to potentially melodramatic material--help maintain interest, though. (B.)

SUBLET--While on assignment in Tel Aviv, a middle-aged New York Times travel writer (John Benjamin Hickey) sublets an apartment from a young film student (Niv Nissim). The generation-spanning friendship that develops between these two radically different gay men is consistently surprising, often humorous and frequently touching. And the performances by Hickey and Nissim are so beautifully naturalistic they seem more like people you might actually know than fictional characters. Directed by cult Israeli auteur Eytan ("Yossi and Jagger," "Yossi") Fox. (B PLUS.) 

THE SUICIDE SQUAD--More a reboot than a sequel to David Ayer's critically-derided 2016 DC blockbuster, James ("Guardians of the Galaxy") Gunn's "R"-rated iteration is so raucously entertaining and nimbly cast that its 132-minute run time practically flies by. Hard-nosed government operative Viola Davis (one of the few holdovers from the original "SS") recruits a band of convicts from a federal prison--including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Peacemaker (John Cena) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney)--for a top-secret mission on Corto Maltese island. Because this is DC rather than Marvel, the tone is predictably darker, even borderline nihilistic. But Gunn's witty, tongue-in-cheek approach makes it improbably light-hearted, even laugh-out-loud funny much of the time. Of course, I enjoyed Ayer's "Suicide Squad," too. (B PLUS.)

SUMMER OF 85--Former enfant terrible--and now revered elder statesman of post-New Wave French cinema--Francois ("Swimming Pool," "8 Women") Ozon's delicately hued memory film tells the story of a star-crossed summer romance between two teenage boys in mid-'80s France. Alexis (Felix Lefebvre, very good) falls under the spell of the slightly older David (Benjamin Voisin, really nailing his character's charismatic cocksureness) after he rescues him from a minor boating accident. Soon the pair become inseparable and--ultimately--lovers. But there's heartache around the bend, and the affair ends tragically. Curiously for a film set at the cusp of the AIDS epidemic, the disease is never mentioned (surely a deliberate choice on Ozon's part). Accordingly, the movie feels timeless and could be taking place at any period in history when teen hormones raged and common sense was jettisoned. (A MINUS.)

SUMMER OF SOUL--Roots drummer Questlove's exhilarating, ebullient documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival--often referred to as "The Black Woodstock"--artfully combines present-day interviews with fest attendees and participants with gorgeously restored archival footage of the event itself. There's literally something for everyone here: Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, the 5th Dimension, Moms Mabley and B.B. King were among the "A" list performers. And the film's reminder of how important the event was in bringing civic/racial pride, unity, great music, progressive politics and Afro-centric culture to an underserved Harlem community--at a time when few actually believed that Black lives mattered--is incredibly powerful. (A.) 

SURGE--Ben Whishaw gives the very definition of a "tour de force performance" as an airport security worker who goes mental and embarks upon a 24-hour crime spree. First-time director Aneil Kasia's breathlessly paced film reminded me of one of Gaspar ("Irreversible,"Enter the Void" ") Noe's meth-induced freak-outs--albeit a Noe provocation minus the de rigueur sex and ultra violence. The movie, and Whishaw's performance, are both stunningly assured. (A MINUS.)

SURVIVE THE GAME--After his partner (Bruce Willis) is seemingly killed in a drug bust gone bad, a federal officer (Swen Temmel) seeks refuge in a nearby farmhouse. Naturally the bad guys--led by a mildly amusing Kristos Andrews, the only one who seems to be having much fun--quickly turn up to raise some hell. The biggest role actually belongs to "One Tree Hill" alum Chad Michael Murray as the troubled Iraqi vet farmer, and he's OK. But the film is being sold as a Willis vehicle which is disingenuous at best since he's barely present. The former "Moonlighting"/"Die Hard" star has made more terrible straight-to-video flicks in the past five years than the Johns (Travolta and Cusack) combined. This slipshod, generic actioner is just another nail in the coffin of Willis' screen legacy, and pretty much an embarrassment for all concerned. (D.)

SWIMMING OUT TILL THE SEA TURNS BLUE--Jia Zhang-Ke ("Ash is Purest White"), one of the greatest living auteurs, directed this elegiac, ruminative documentary which tracks Chinese society from the 1930's until present day. Framed as a series of interviews with prominent Chinese authors (Jia Pingwa, You Itua and Liang Hong), all of whom hail from Jia's hometown of Shanxi, the film details life during China's "Great Leap Forward" in the 1950's, Mao's 1960's "Cultural Revolution" and explains how it achieved its status as a 21st century capitalist super power. Connecting the dots is as fascinating as it is wrenchingly sad, and the first-hand accounts of how the most feared and (secretly) envied country in the world came to be are utterly riveting. (A). AVAILABLE EXCLUSIVELY ON MUBI.

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD--Survival expert Angelina Jolie must protect juvenile murder witness Finn Little from two assassins (Nicholas Hoult and Aiden Gillen) in the midst of a raging Montana forest fire in Taylor Sheridan's new action thriller. While lacking the moral complexity and thematic gravitas of past Sheridan films like "Hell or High Water" and "Sicario," it's a good, old-fashioned suspenser, one that's best appreciated on a big screen.(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.)

THROW DOWN--This 2004 genre-bender finds director Johnnie To--heir apparent to John Woo as the king of Hong Kong action cinema--in a surprisingly mellow, even sweet mode. Whether "Throw Down" truly merited the Criterion Collection treatment is up for discussion. (Personally, I would have given the CC imprimatur to To's fantastic "Breaking News," also from 2004). Yet this could be To's most appealing film, and it certainly ranks among his most entertaining and emotionally accessible. The fable-like story involves a fledgling young martial arts fighter (Aaron Kwok), the former judo champion--and currently alcoholic karaoke bar owner--he hopes to challenge (Louis Koo) and a wannabe singer (Cherrie Ying) with dreams of pop stardom. This unlikely trio of misfits somehow manage to forge a makeshift family unit--of sorts--in To's gorgeously lensed, neon-saturated Hong Kong. Dedicated to Akira Kurosawa whose "Sanshiro Sugata" is frequently referenced throughout the pacy 94 minute run time, the movie will probably strike To fanboys who only know him from hard-edged urban crime flicks like the "Election" actioners as a lightweight curio. But it's an indisputably delightful curio just the same. Extras include a 2004 To interview; new interviews with co-screenwriter Yau Nai-hoi, composer Peter Kam and Asian cinema aficionados David Bordwell and Caroline Guo; a 2004 making-of doc with To, Kwok, Koo and Ying; and a To think piece by Tacoma film critic Sean Gilman. (A MINUS.)

TOGETHER--James McAvoy and Sharon O'Horgan play a couple forced to quarantine together in the early days of the Covid pandemic despite the fact that their relationship is clearly on the rocks. Director Stephen ("Billy Elliott," "The Reader") Daldry's movie feels more like theater than cinema, and not very good theater at that. O'Horgan and (especially) McAvoy bring more to the material than it probably deserves, but somebody should have told Daldry that not every movie that plays like one long bitch-fest isn't necessarily "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Maybe it would have worked better on stage. (C.)

TOGETHER, TOGETHER--Ed Helms plays a middle-aged Silicon Valley techie who hires twentysomething barista Patti Harrison to be the surrogate mother to his child. During the course of the pregnancy, these two social misfits develop a nurturing, but not romantic (thank heavens) relationship thanks to their forced intimacy. Writer-director Nikole Beckwith does such a nice job with her actors (including a scene-stealing supporting turn from Julio Torres as Harrison's gay coworker) that it's regrettable she felt the need to throw in some gratuitous Woody Allen bashing--and ends the movie on such a flat, inconclusive note that you'd swear the producers ran out of money and just scrapped the last few pages of Beckwith's script. (B MINUS.)

12 MIGHTY ORPHANS--The best, "based-on-a-true-story" high school sports flick since "Hoosiers" is currently rankling some progressives because it doesn't hew to fragile 21st century "woke" sensibilities. (They conveniently overlooked the fact that it's set in 1938 Texas where nobody was dutifully checking inclusivity boxes.) Luke Wilson plays Rusty Russell, a WW I veteran still suffering from PTSD, who leaves a cushy job to become a teacher and football coach at Ft. Worth's Masonic Home and School for orphans. With the help of assistant coach Doc Hall (Martin Sheen), Russell somehow managed to bring his ragtag squad to the state finals. In the process, the "Mighty Mites" became a national phenomenon--even FDR was a fan--who gave the Depression-fatigued country underdogs to root for. Treat Williams, Vinessa Shaw, Jake Austin Walker and Robert Duvall (reunited with Sheen for the first time since "Apocalypse Now") turn in memorable supporting performances. A beaut. (A.)

TWIST--Middling and utterly gratuitous update of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" casts Rafferty Law (yes, Jude's son) as the titular orphan who hooks up with Michael Caine's Fagin on the streets of modern-day London. Bill Sykes is now butch lesbian "Sikes" ("GOT" alum Lena Headey) who's got her hooks in Twist's fellow orphan crush (Sophie Simnett). The plot--something to do with an art gallery heist--is needlessly complicated, and some of the dialogue is truly wince-inducing. Law proves a chip off the old block, though. He's got his dad's mid-'90s-era beauty and effortless charisma. (C MINUS.)

UNDINE--Memorably played by Paula Beer, the titular character is an architectural historian working as a Berlin museum guide. After breaking up with her two-timing boyfriend (Jacob Matschenz), she quickly hooks up with a hang-dog industrial diver (Franz Rogowski). But their idyllic love affair is jeopardized when Undine unexpectedly disappears: it turns out that she's actually a mermaid! Director Christian ("Barbara") Petzold, the most accomplished Teutonic filmmaker since the halcyon days of the German New Wave, has crafted a hypnotic, teasingly enigmatic love story/character study, and Beer and Rogowski--reunited from Petzold's 2019 masterpiece "Transit"--make an unforgettable couple. (A.) 

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.)

UPPERCASE PRINT--Based on the true story of 16-year-old Mugur Calinescu who ran afoul of Romanian authorities for graffiti critical of then-dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, much of the film is told via old newsreel footage and actors reading from official security service transcripts. It's all very Brechtian and admittedly somewhat dry, but director Radu Jude--best known stateside for his striking 2016 Romanian western, "Aferim!"--somehow manages to make Calinescu's plight oddly compelling and even moving. (B.)

VAL--Ting Poo and Leo Scott's feature documentary about the strange life and even stranger career of mercurial Method actor Val ("Top Gun," "Tombstone") Kilmer is disarmingly intimate and highly entertaining. Rare footage of Kilmer having "creative differences" with his "Island of Dr. Moreau" director John Frankenheimer is alone worth the price of admission. (B PLUS.) 

VIOLET--Olivia Munn is superb as a Hollywood production executive battling crippling inner demons--specifically a hyper-critical voice inside her head that mocks and degrades her every action. Justine Bateman's assured feature writing/directing debut isn't a particularly easy watch; it's even actively unpleasant at times. But thanks to Munn, it's also riveting from start to finish. (B.)

THE VIRTUOSO--Overwrought, pretentious thriller about a contract killer (Anson Mount) who has a crisis of conscience while on his latest job in a sleepy little town. The only thing that gives this generic throwaway a shred of distinction is that it features Anthony Hopkins--with a risible stab at an American accent--in a glorified cameo role as Mount's boss. There's a quasi-neat twist at the end involving Abbie Cornish's diner waitress, but it's not enough to salvage Nick Stagliano's thoroughly pedestrian film. Hollywood's continued inability to find worthy post-"Hell on Wheels" roles for the gifted Mount continues to astonish and depress me. (D PLUS.)

VISIONS OF EIGHT--Maybe it was the pall left by the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes, but this omnibus documentary about the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games sank without a trace when released a year later, and has been tough to see ever since. Like most anthology films, it's a mixed bag with some segments (e.g., Milos Forman's light-hearted look at decathalon competitors, wittily scored to both beer-hall oompah music and opera) inevitably outshining others (e.g., Michael Pfleghar's vaguely condescending nod to female athletes or Juri Ozerov's boilerplate "introduction" to the Games), but the whole thing is immensely watchable. Arthur Penn's thrilling ode to pole vaulters made me think of the advertising tagline from Richard Donner's "Superman" ("You'll believe a man can fly") and John Schlesinger's mournful elegy for the loneliness of long distance runners is extraordinarily touching. Even Claude Lelouch's paean to Olympic losers--a segment that was dismissed by most critics at the time--proves unexpectedly trenchant. The Criterion Collection's 4K digital restoration is predictably gorgeous, and the supplemental features are a smorgasbord of riches. Among them are an audio commentary by podcasters Sean Fennessey, Amanda Dobbins and Chris Ryan; a retrospective documentary featuring Lelouch, supervising editor Robert K. Lambert and Olympics historian David Clay Large; George Plimpton's 1973 Sports Illustrated essay about the movie; excerpts from producer David L. Woper's 2003 autobiography; and contemporary musings about the film by novelist Sam Lipsyte. (A 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;" 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.)  

WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING--While sheltered in their bathroom during a hurricane, a dysfunctional family (Pat Healy, Vanessa Shaw, Sierra McCormick and John James Cronin) find themselves trapped when a fallen tree prevents their escape. Could teenage daughter Melissa (McCormick) be responsible for the natural cataclysm thanks to a witchy spell she helped cast with the aid of her wiccan girlfriend? In a promising feature debut, director Sean King O'Grady keeps you guessing as one disaster after another befalls this nuclear family in abject crisis mode. Proof that sometimes all you need to make an effective thriller is (essentially) one location and some very good actors. (B.)

WEREWOLVES WITHIN--A new forest ranger Finn ("Veep" alumnus Sam Richardson) quickly deduces that something isn't kosher in the seemingly bucolic New England village where he's been reassigned. Could a werewolf be responsible for the recent spate of bloody murders? Because every kook in town is a suspect, Finn sequesters them all in a cabin, "Knives Out"-style, to try and suss out the culprit. Based on Unisoft's VR game, director Josh Ruben's slapdash movie aspires to "horror spoof," but is neither particularly funny or remotely scary. Instead it plays like an interminable Saturday Night Live skit--the kind that usually turns up around 12:53 A.M.--that refuses to end. (C MINUS.)

WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT--Based on Judith Kerr's best-selling 1971 autobiographical novel, Oscar-winning director Caroline ("Nowhere in Africa") Link's splendidly realized adaptation is the kind of subtitled "Tradition of Quality" period drama that used to be bread and butter for domestic arthouse audiences. Now it seems positively quaint, if no less satisfying. The film is told mainly through the eyes of nine-year-old Anna (Riva Frymalowski in a remarkable kid performance) when her Jewish family is uprooted from Berlin by her journalist dad (Oliver Masucci) after Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Their journey takes them (briefly) to Zurich and Paris (for a more extended stay), before finally setting up permanent roots in England. The production values are luxe, the performances superb (besides Frymalowski, Carla Juri is particularly good as her mom who retains a chic veneer even when hopscotching across the European continent) and the occasional sentimentality is both well-earned and deeply affecting. (A MINUS.)

WHIRLYBIRDS--Matt Yoka's new film is essentially two documentaries in one. The fascinating first half details the helicopter reporting company started by Bob and Marika Tur in 1980's Los Angeles which basically revolutionized television live news coverage. (Among the Turs' many coups, glimpsed here in archival footage, were the 1992 L.A. riots and O.J. Simpson's freeway chase.) Less compelling is the section devoted to Bob's transitioning into a woman (he's now "Zoey") in 2013. MSNBC reporter Katy Tur, daughter of Bob/Zoey and Marika, is featured in present-day interviews which are among the most compelling moments of the film. The fact that she still refers to Zoey as "dad" is particularly revealing. (B MINUS.)

WHITE AS SNOW--As evil--but tres chic--stepmother Maud in director Anne Fontaine's delicious modern-dress spin on "Snow White," Isabelle Huppert literally burns a hole through the screen. You can't take your eyes off her. And the ravishing Lou de Laage--playing Huppert's virtuous foil, Claire--is the most enchanting live-action fairy tale heroine since Lily James in Kenneth Branagh's 2015 "Cinderella" reboot. After surviving Maud's kidnapping/ murder plot, Claire wakes up in an idyllic village where she's doted on by twin brothers, an aspiring musician, the local veterinarian, a middle-aged bookseller and his martial arts master son. In the process, she becomes empowered and even physically liberated thanks to a lot of mutually satisfying consensual sex. Neither Fontaine or de Laage oversell the female empowerment angle: it is what it is. And the communal party sequence which ends the film on a buoyant note is downright Altman-esque in its munificence and brio. Wonderful. (A.)  

WHO YOU THINK I AM--Screen legend Juliette Binoche delivers a tour de force performance as a middle-aged professor and single mom who catfishes the hunky twenty- something roommate (Francois Civil) of the equally studly--and equally young--ex (Guillaume Gouix) who ghosted her. Told largely in flashbacks as Binoche's Claire sits on the couch of her seen-it-all shrink (a wonderfully expressive Nicole Garcia), director Safy Nebbou's wildly provocative and unapologetically steamy cyber-drama keeps you guessing from start to finish, delivering a twist ending as clever as it is chilling. Nebbou cowrote the screenplay--adapted from Camille Lauren's best-selling novel--with longtime Arnaud Desplechin collaborator Julie Peyr, and his film has some of the same meta cleverness and multi-layered narrative structure of classic Desplechin. And did I forget to mention how wickedly entertaining it is? (A MINUS.) 

WIFE OF A SPY--Prolific Japanese helmer Kiyoshi Kurosawa won the Best Director prize at the 2020 Venice Film Festival for this compelling true story of a husband and wife (Issay Takahashi and Yo Aki Satoko) whose 1941 attempt to defect to America was foiled when they were arrested, jailed and summarily executed. Kurosawa's superbly crafted period film packs a surprisingly emotional punch, especially considering its (uber Japanese) discretion/rectitude. (A MINUS.)

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW--Joe ("Atonement," "Darkest Hour") Wright's adaptation of A.J. Finn's best selling novel is perfectly cast (Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, oh my, expertly crafted, intelligently written (Pulitzer Prize winning playwright--and character actor extraordinaire--Tracy Letts penned the taut screenplay) and just the type ofsatisfying, medium-budgeted adult movie that Hollywood stopped making years ago. Although originally slated to be a theatrical release last fall, Netflix stepped in at the last minute, so it's now a streamer vs. theatrical premiere. Netflix's gain is multiplexes' loss. (B PLUS.)

WORTH--Based on the true story of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, director Sara ("The Kindergarten Teacher") Colangelo's well-intentioned drama never shakes the essential glumness of its subject matter. Some very good actors (including Stanley Tucci, Amy Ryan and a terrific Michael Keaton as D.C. lawyer Kenneth Feinberg) are handicapped by a script that feels more like a series of position papers than compelling drama. How much is a life truly worth? That's a question nobody involved with this film ever comes close to answering. (C.) 

WRATH OF MAN--As a follow-up to his best film to date (last year's firing-on-all-cylinders "The Gentlemen"), Guy Ritchie's latest actioner falls a bit short. It's closer to middling director-for-hire Ritchie assignments like "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." or "A Game of Shadows" than, say, "Rock 'N Rolla" or "Snatch." Jason Statham--reteaming with Ritchie for the first time since their 2005 disaster "Revolver"--plays mystery man H who goes to work as a security guard for an L.A. armored truck company. His true mission is supposed to be the movie's raison d'être, but it's eminently predictable if you've seen the tell-all trailer. Some good actors (including Holt McCallany and Jeffrey Donovan) drift around the margins, but it's Statham's show all the way. (C.)

YAKUZA PRINCESS--Based on the cult graphic novel, Vicente Amarim's stylish, Sao Paulo-set action flick stars Japanese-American singer Masumi as titular protagonist Akemi, the only surviving daughter of an international crime family whose members were killed in a 1999 massacre by rival factions. With the aid of an amnesiac hit man (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), she uncovers the secret of her identity that kendo teacher Chiba (Toshiji Takeshima) concealed from her for decades. The ultimate showdown between Akemi and Big Bad Takeshi (Tsuyoshi Ihara) over possession of a magical sword is as predictable and silly as it is fun to watch. (B MINUS.)

ZEROS AND ONES--Abel ("Bad Lieutenant," "King of New York") Ferrara has had his head so far up his rectum in recent years that the concept of "audience" seems as alien to him as narrative coherence. His second movie in less than a year (the equally cryptic, if somewhat more bearable "Siberia" with Willem Dafoe precedes it) stars Ethan Hawke in dual roles as an American soldier and his Che Guevara-ish rebel brother. The action--what little there is--transpires during one night in Rome and involves a terrorist bombing of the Vatican (!), Russian hookers and an undercover military operation so stealth I had no idea what was going on for most of the mercifully brief 90-minute run time. It's nice that Ferrara is as prolific as he is. I just wish that his films weren't so punitively, even obnoxiously hermetic. (C MINUS.)

ZOLA--Detroit waitress Zola (star-in-the-making Taylor Paige) impulsively hits the road with a shady customer (Riley Keough's Stefani) to earn some extra cash dancing at a Tampa strip club. Accompanying them are Stefani's (sort of) boyfriend (Nicholas Braun from "Succession") and (kind-of) pimp ("Walking Dead" MVP Colman Domingo). Nothing--literally nothing--goes according to plan, and director Janiicza Bravo's bold, bracing, gleefully transgressive and frequently laugh-out-loud comedy has the feel of an instant cult classic. While it may ruffle some p.c. sensibilities, Bravo's unapologetically rude and lewd social satire deserves to become a summer sleeper. While it's not part of a multi-billion dollar corporate franchise--and may lack the marketing bucks of, say, "Black Widow" or "F9"--it's the best time I've had at a movie all year. (A.) 

ZONE 414--"Westworld" meets "Blade Runner" (or is that "Blade Runner 2049"?) in a pre-fab sci-fi/action hybrid about a private dick with emotional baggage (Guy Pearce playing the sort of role that normally goes to Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage or John Cusack in straight-to-DVD flotsam) hired to find tech mogul Travis Fimmel's missing daughter. Aiding him is a humanoid A.I. (Matilde Anna Ingrid Cuts) with suicidal tendencies. Ironic that a movie populated with robots is so utterly synthetic, seemingly cobbled together from disparate parts stolen from a slew of better films. (C MINUS.)

---Milan Paurich


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