Movies with Milan

Movies with Milan

Movies reviews from Milan PaurichFull Bio


Movies with Milan 3-23-23

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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA--Like Taika Waititi's Thor movies, the "Ant Man" flicks have always been among the easier-to-take Marvel Corp. products, mostly due to their waggish sense of humor and inspired casting. The third of director Peyton Reed's lightly likable A-M entries reunites the old gang--forever-boyish Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily, Michael Douglas and, in the film's best performance, Michelle Pfeiffer--and wisely brings along some new blood, namely Jonathan ("Devotion") Majors as Big Bad Kang the Conqueror and the great Bill Murray as his puckish henchman, Lord Krylar. The plot is typical Marvel gobbledygook (something to do with the "Quantum Realm" multiverse which resembles a CGI amusement park designed by '60s maestro of psychedelia Peter Max), but Reed maintains a relatively breezy pace throughout. It's nobody's idea of "Cinema," certainly not Martin Scorsese's, but it's not half-bad either. (B MINUS.)

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER--The first of James Cameron's promised "Avatar" sequels (three more are currently in production) has finally arrived, a mere 13 years after the original. To be perfectly honest, I hardly remember the first "Avatar" all that well despite having put it on my 2009 10-best list. (It was #7; I looked it up.) So this $350-million follow-up felt less like a continuation of an ongoing story than a standalone movie with cutting-edge CGI that will surely become the industry standard for decades to come. Paralyzed former Marine Jake (Sam Worthington) remains the series' leading character, now a full-fledged Na'vi himself thanks to having married Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) with whom he's started a family. (They have four kids.) Their antagonists are the "Sky People," led by the dastardly Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang, another holdover from the earlier film) whose mission is to colonize Edenic Pandora with displaced earthlings, thereby upsetting the ecological balance of the universe. To help ward off this imminent threat, Jake and his fellow Na'vis form an alliance with the Metkayina clan who are pretty much identical to the Na'vis except for their Maori-like tribal tattoos. But like most Cameron movies, plot--and dialogue which remains his Achilles Heel--takes a back seat to sheer, knock-your-socks-off spectacle. And on that count, "The Way of Water" truly delivers. The underwater sequences are particularly mind-blowing: so uncannily tactile and immersive they're like a Virtual Reality theme park ride minus the dorky headsets. Cameron's assiduous attention to world-building dwarfs every other fantasy franchise/tentpole you've ever seen, and pretty much rewrites the book on what an "event movie" is supposed to be. (A.)

CHAMPIONS--Apparently feeling left out after brother Peter went solo and directed the Oscar-winning "Green Book," Bobby Farrelly helms his first standalone film. (Spoiler alert: it probably won't be winning any awards.) Woody Harrelson plays a minor league basketball coach who, after running afoul of the law, is forced to do community service by mentoring a hoops squad of intellectually disabled young adults. While Farrelly's heart is clearly in the right place, this mix of "Dumb and Dumber" comedy and egregious sentimentality simply doesn't work. Harrelson is dependably strong and there's good support from Ernie Hudson, Cheech Marin and Kaitlin Olson, but the movie itself feels strangely retrograde and, worse yet, pandering. Running an indulgent two hours-plus, it merely repeats the same jokes--and tries milking the same tears--ad nauseam. Maybe Peter and Bobby should reteam in the hopes of striking gold with another "There's Something About Mary" rather than individually striking out with ho-hum movies like this and Peter's recent "The Greatest Beer Run Ever." (C MINUS.)

CHANTILLY BRIDGE--A group of longtime friends reunite for female-bonding sessions in director Linda Yellen's sequel to her 1993 film, "Chantilly Lace." The fact that Yellen managed to recruit most of the original cast--Lindsay Crouse, Jill Eikenberry, Talia Shire, Helen Slater, Jobeth Williams (in flashbacks) and Ally Sheedy (via Face Time conversations)--is impressive. Less laudable are the results which feel more like an off-Broadway play that would have probably closed on opening night. None of the women's problems, or perceived problems, are particularly earth-shattering or even very interesting. Rheza (Crouse) is being laid off from her job at an animal shelter; Hannah (Slater) wants to attend grad school; housewife Val (Eikenberry) and lesbian kid sister Elizabeth (Sheedy) have been at loggerheads for years over who was their mom's favorite child; etc. It's all pretty banal and ultimately tiresome; accordingly, the 83 minute run time feels a lot longer than it is. The performances are fine, and it's nice seeing so many underemployed actresses-of-a-certain-age together in one movie. I just wish the material was more worthy of their talents. (C MINUS.) 

COCAINE BEAR--A 500-pound bear ingests a fortune in cocaine during a drug deal gone bad and goes on a nose candy-fueled rampage in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest. What could have been another "Snakes on a Plane"--all sizzle, no steak--is instead a surprisingly enjoyable and occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny action/horror flick. Director Elizabeth Banks really lucked out by recruiting a first-rate cast (Alden Ehrenreich, Margo Martindale, the late Ray Liotta and a reunion of "The Americans'" stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell). They help sell a high-concept premise--allegedly "inspired" by a true story--that could have been merely ludicrous instead. (B.)

CREED III--Ryan Coogler's 2015 "Creed" was an even better movie than the original, Oscar-winning "Rocky," but 2018's "Creed 11" (not helmed by Coogler who moved on to Marvel's "Black Panther" franchise) was nearly as forgettable as most of the "Rocky" sequels. For this third go-round, Creed himself (Michael B. Jordan) not only reprises his role as Apollo Creed's son, Donnie, but directs as well. While not remotely in the same league as Coogler's film, it's still a major improvement over its middling predecessor. In the latest outing, newly retired boxing champ Donnie's childhood friend Damien (Jonathan Majors) shows up after having served an 18-year prison sentence. Now living high on the hog--he's a Ralph Lauren model, owns a Rolls and manages a stable of up and coming boxers in his L.A. gym--Donnie throws Damien a bone by hiring him as a sparring partner for his pugilist proteges. But since the ex con still has a score to settle with his old pal, he challenges Donnie to a championship (grudge) match. Jordan does good work both in front of and behind the camera, and graciously cedes the movie to Majors who's nearly as memorable an antagonist as Mr. T.'s Clubber Lang in "Rocky 111." (B PLUS.) 

80 FOR BRADY--For the AARP crowd who found "Book Club" too egghead-y (books, ewwww!), this gridiron-themed distaff buddy comedy stars Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Lily Tomlin and Rita Moreno as four lifelong pals who win tickets to the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston, the better to cheer on their fave rave, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Brady plays himself and co-produced the film.) Hokey and too silly by half, the movie still works on the goodwill of its old pro cast. They could have cut the Guy Fieri cameo though (the supremely unctuous "Mayor of Flavortown" turns up to judge a hot wings contest). At least it's better than some of Diane Keaton's woebegone recent comedies. (C PLUS.)

JESUS REVOLUTION--The latest film by "American Underdog"/"I Can Only Imagine" auteur Jon Erwin tells the true-life story of how a pastor (Kelsey Grammer's Chuck Smith) invited groovy flower children into his California congregation in the late '60s, inadvertently kickstarting the "Jesus Revolution" in which disenfranchised young people, many of them hippies or hippie-adjacent, turned onto Christ after kicking dope. Grammar is fine, but the movie's real protagonist is Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney from Netflix's Kissing Booth" franchise) who picks up Smith's torch and eventually becomes a mega-church pastor. It's nicely acted (I especially liked Anna Grace Barlow as the future Mrs. Laurie), and Erwin--who co-directs this time with Brent McCorkle--has seemingly cornered the market on helming Christian-themed movies that even non-believers can enjoy. The film's major flaw is not acknowledging how Evangelism devolved over the decades, ultimately being co-opted by right-wing Republican politicians. (B MINUS.) 

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

THE LOST KING--Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins from "The Shape of Water"), a divorced single mother suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, becomes obsessed with finding the remains of Richard III and rehabilitating the hunchbacked king's "Bad Guy" reputation. (She blames Shakespeare.) Based on a true story, director Stephen ("Dangerous Liaisons," "The Grifters") Frears' fanciful new movie primarily coasts on Hawkins' waifish charm. In the hands of another actress, Philippa's single-minded determination bordering on obsessiveness might have come across as a tad off-putting. The film also marks a creative union of sorts for Frears and "Philomena" screenwriter/star Steve Coogan who performs similar thesping and scripting duties here (he plays Philippa's remarkably accommodating ex husband). The fact that amateur historical sleuth Philippa's hunch eventually led to the discovery of Richard's corpse--in a parking lot, no less!--would be absurd if it didn't actually happen. (B.)  

MAGIC MIKE'S LAST DANCE--The third "Magic Mike" movie reunites star Channing Tatum with the original director, Steven Soderbergh, and it's a winner. After his nascent carpentry business goes bust, a newly humbled Mike (Tatum) is reduced to working as a bartender in Florida where he meets Maxandra Mendoza, (Selma Hayek), the soon-to-be-ex trophy wife of a billionaire media mogul. After some private dirty dancing, Max whisks Mike off to London where, under her tutelage, he stages a comeback of sorts by directing a Vegas-y, West End version of his strip-o-rama. Yes, the script could have probably used an additional pass (or two: it's fairly boilerplate), but Tatum and Hayek make a sizzling September-December couple and Soderbergh, at this stage of his remarkable career, is seemingly incapable of making a wrong move. This is the "Erin Brockovich" auteur's first theatrical release since 2018's "Unsane," but Soderbergh directed five--count 'em--streaming movies (four for HBO MAX; one for Netflix) in that time, all of them unequivocally first-rate. If this really is Mike's last hurrah, he and the franchise are going out with a bang. (B PLUS.)

MOVING ON--While attending the funeral of a college pal, Claire (Jane Fonda) vows to kill the widower (Malcolm McDowell's weaselly Howard) for drunkenly raping her 46 years earlier. Roped into the revenge plot is Evelyn (Lily Tomlin), another school friend with her own axe to grind. (She was the dead woman's former lover.) Frequent costars Fonda and Tomlin (Netflix's "Grace and Frankie," "80 for Brady," et al) remain a winning comic duo, even when the movie veers into darker-than-expected gallows humor and greeting card sentimentality. It's not as good or seamless a film as Tomlin and writer/director Paul ("About a Boy") Weitz's previous collaboration, 2015's letter-perfect "Grandma," but there are still enough grace moments (many involving Richard Roundtree as Claire's ex husband) and laughs to make it worth your while. (B.)

PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH--After Puss (Antonio Banderas) uses up the eighth of his nine lives, he begins an existentialist quest to locate the fabled "Wishing Star" and (hopefully) restore his lost lives. Along for the ride are his jilted ex-fiancee Kitty Soft Paws (Salma Hayek) and irrepressible canine help-mate Perro (Harvey Guillen). Complicating their Candide-like journey are a number of combative fairy tale characters also seeking the magical star, including a kung-fu fighting Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and her Three Bears (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone and Samson Kayo); Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney); and the fearsome Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura). Surprisingly, this belated sequel to 2011's forgettable "Puss in Boots" is one of the year's very best animated movies. It's gorgeously animated, genuinely witty and as much fun for grown-ups as it is for the tiniest of tots. (B PLUS.) 

SCREAM VI--When Wes Craven's "Scream" opened in December 1996, it felt like a breath of fresh air in the moribund slasher movie genre. Craven's canny mix of laughs and scares seemed downright revelatory at the time. Unfortunately, the film's sleeper success meant that a follow-up was mandatory, and the following year's "Scream 2"--not to mention the even drearier 2000 and 2011 sequels--just felt like lazy cash grabs. Which is why last year's "Scream" reboot by "Ready or Not" wiz kids Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gilllet seemed like such a pleasant surprise. Who knew there was any creative juice left from Craven's quarter century old template? In a case of history repeating itself, this rushed sequel to 2022's "Scream" has more in common with the disappointing previous "Scream" iterations than it does with the game changing film(s) that preceded it. The one innovation is moving the action to New York City where the Ghostface killer (or the latest incarnation of the Ghostface killer since their identity has changed from film to film) stalks survivors of the previous movie. Jenna (Netflix's "Wednesday") Ortega, breakout star of the '22 "Scream," is the sole redeeming feature of the movie. But bringing back Courtney Cox (again?) and the 2011 "Scream" queen Hayden Panettiere for another go-round just seems desperate. (C.) 

SHAZAM: FURY OF THE GODS--The inevitable follow-up to 2019's D.C.-derived "Shazam" is essentially a busier (more plot) and more cluttered (thanks to a slew of guest stars including Helen Mirren as the principal Big Bad and "West Side Story" ingenue Rachel Zegler) version of the larkish original. Director David F. Sanberg, reuniting with his "Shazam" co-leads Zachary Levi and Asher Angel, once again delivers a slick tech package with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. The major problem this time is that everyone seems to be taking it more seriously. Which somewhat dampens the fun and makes it feel more like, well, just about every other comic book super hero movie. (C PLUS.)

SPACE ODDITY--When Rhode Islander Alex (Kyle Allen) signs up for a privately funded, one-way mission to Mars, his parents (Kevin Bacon and Carrie Preston) and sister (Madeline Brewer) are understandably concerned about his mental well-being. Still grieving theloss of their eldest son who died while saving Kyle's life in a freak accident, they're not ready to lose another son. As a new insurance agent in town who catches Alex's eye--and might change his potentially suicidal career path--Alexandra Shipp is so warmly appealing that she single-handedly makes the prospect of life on earth seem not so terrible after all. The feature directorial bow of actress Kyra Sedgwick, this is one of those nice little movies that probably isn't worth leaving the house for but should find a warm embrace from VOD and streaming audiences. (B MINUS.)


65--While on a two-year exploratory mission, astronaut Mills (Adam Driver) is forced to crash land on earth...65 million years ago! Accompanied by the ship's only other survivor, a young girl named Koa (Arianna Greenblatt), Mills must ward off dinosaur attacks while hunting for the escape shuttle that can fly them home before an asteroid decimates the planet. Co-directed by "A Quiet Place" screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woody, this slapdash crossbreeding of "Planet of the Apes" and "Jurassic Park" is so brazenly wackadoodle that it can't help be mildly amusing for a mercifully brief 93 minute run time. But not even strong performances by Driver and Greenblatt can compensate for frankly middling CGI and a script that desperately needed an additional polish or two. (C.)


BABYLON--The "most" movie of 2022 and also the finest, Oscar-winning "La La Land" director Damien Chazelle's breathtaking swing for the fences chronicles Hollywood's wobbly transition from silent to sound movies. Chazelle's mastery of tone (and scale) is positively breathtaking here. What begins as a riotous screwball farce ultimately segues into something approximating Greek tragedy. And all the stuff in between--and there's plenty of "stuff," trust me--is equally enthralling. Margot Robbie plays an aspiring starlet willing to do pretty much anything (yes, anything) to make it in the picture business. And as the John Gilbert-like star worried that his days of being the king of Tinseltown are numbered, Brad Pitt brings such a soulful gravity to the role that he brought tears to my eyes. Equally impressive are Diego Calvo (a Mexican immigrant who rises from studio gofer to studio boss), Jovan Adepo (the "hot jazz" trumpeter seduced and ultimately betrayed by Hollywood), Jean Smart (an imperious, proto Hedda Hopper gossip columnist) and former "Spider-Man" Tobey Maguire who's downright terrifying as a psychopathic gangster. Not since Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Hollywood" has there been a movie as thoroughly besotted with the film industry, its storied (and frequently checkered) history and the movers, shakers and hangers-on who keep the machine humming. The tech work is equally stunning, with Justin Hurwitz's haunting score and Linus Sandgren's crystalline cinematography deserving of special mention. It's another Chazelle masterwork, and single-handedly redeems a rather desultory movie year. (A PLUS.)  

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN--When lifelong friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) announces seemingly out of the blue, "I just don't like you no more," Padraic (Colin Farrell) is so devastated he makes it his mission to change Colm's mind. Enlisting the support of his sister (Kerry Condon) and a local lad (Barry Keoghan), Padraic soon discovers that their entire island community on the west coast of Ireland has a stake in the outcome. Set in 1923, writer/director Martin ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) McDonagh's fantastic new movie has the whimsy and inadvertent gravity of a fable passed down through generations. McDonagh's dual career as one of the leading playwrights of his generation is evidenced in his wonderfully idiosyncratic dialogue--profane and poetic at the same time--which his stellar cast delivers in typically bravura fashion. Farrell and Gleeson, who memorably played a pair of hapless hitmen in McDonagh's 2008 filmmaking debut (2008's "In Bruges"), give career performances that are sure to be remembered at awards time. You'll never be able to predict the ending, but it's guaranteed to knock the wind out of your sails. I was shaken and stirred. (A.) 

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER--How do you make a 161-minute Black Panther movie without the Black Panther/King T'Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman)? Very, very carefully. Ryan Coogler's sequel to his 2018 Marvel blockbuster treads a fine line between Afrocentric boosterism and comic book mayhem, and it's not really a comfortable fit. Accordingly, the Wakanda scenes are infinitely more interesting--and certainly more colorful thanks to some truly spectacular costume and production design--than the fairly rote action setpieces. This sophomore entry in Marvel's billion dollar franchise feels like a placeholder until they finally get around to recasting the lead role. (C.)

THE FABELMANS--Steven Spielberg's quasi-autobiographical film about growing up as a movie nerd in the 1960's is both a love letter to his parents (warmly played by Paul Dano and Michelle Williams) as well as the entire filmmaking process. Spielberg surrogate Sammy Fabelman (appealing newcomer Gabriel LaBelle) navigates the usual teen angst as his family relocates from Arizona to Northern California--where he experiences virulent anti-Semitism from some preppie classmates--while beginning to forge his identity as a fledgling auteur. Although this two-and-a-half hour film takes awhile to kick into gear, the ultimate effect is deeply moving and, for Spielberg and probably a good chunk of the audience, emotionally cathartic. Wonderful support from, among others, Seth Rogen, Jeannie Berlin, Judd Hirsch and, in a delightful cameo, David Lynch as legendary Hollywood director John Ford. (A.)

HOUSE PARTY--Two house cleaners (Tosin Cole and Jacob Latimore) with dreams of becoming club promoters have the bright idea of turning their latest job site-- basketball great LeBron James' crib--into the setting for an invitation-only party. Music vid helmer Calmatic's feature debut is a coarse, witless reboot of the charming same-named 1990 hip-hop comedy that has no reason to exist other than exploit a long dormant IP. (C MINUS.)

INFINITY POOL--This spectacularly creepy freak-out by Brandon ("Possessor") Cronenberg--the writer/director son of Cinefantastique master David--casts Alexander (Vampire Eric from "True Blood") Skarsgard as James, a blocked writer on vacation with his wife (Cleopatra Coleman) at a posh, "White Lotus"-like beach resort in the fictional La Tolqa. A chance encounter with a fan ("X" and "Pearl" breakout Mia Goth) precipitates an impromptu day trip culminating in a fatal car accident with James behind the wheel. To get out of his impending legal trouble, James is forced to pay a hefty price more ways than one. Despite a somewhat protracted two-hour run time, Cronenberg and his gifted cast keep you happily goosed (and frequently grossed out). Like most outre NEON releases (including their divisive Best Picture nominee "Triangle of Sadness"), it's definitely not for everyone. But don't be surprised if it picks up a rabid fanbase once hitting streaming services and home video. (A MINUS.)   

KNOCK AT THE CABIN--While on vacation in the Pennsylvania woods, a gay couple (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldrige) and their adopted daughter (Kristen Cui) are visited by Dave Bautista and his mysterious associates and tasked with a "Sophie's Choice" style conundrum. Do they save their family, or all of humanity? Based on Paul Tremblay's award-winning 2018 novel, M. Night Shyamalan's latest crafty, twisty, metaphysically-inclined thriller is all set-up, but that set-up--and the first half of the movie before it begins treading water--is a doozy. (B.)

LARS VON TRIER'S EUROPE TRILOGY--Kraftwerk's hypnotic techno dirge "Europe Endless" played in my head while dipping into the Criterion Collection's new box set of former enfant terrible Lars Von Trier's "Europe Trilogy." I've been a Von Trier enthusiast since first seeing "Zentropa" back in 1992 (it was originally called "Europa" before the U.S. distributer requested a title change so it wouldn't be confused with Agnieszka Holland's "Europa, Europa" released the previous year), but I'd never had the chance to check out his first two movies. 1984's "The Element of Crime" is a baroque procedural in which a retired detective (perpetually gloomy Michael Elphnick) is enlisted to help investigate a serial killer targeting young girls. Shot in sepia with the occasional pop of bold primary colors (e.g., a red Coke can), the film is actually more interesting visually than it is narratively. Von Trier himself plays dual roles in 1987's meta-before-its-time "Epidemic." Besides essaying a variation of "Lars Von Trier," a director whose most recent script vanished in a computer mishap, he also plays an epidemiologist tackling a contemporary variant of the Bubonic Plague. Needless to say it feels even more scarily relevant in today's Covid environment than it probably did at the time. Unfortunately, the movie itself is borderline jejune: one of those overweening in-jokes that must have seemed cleverer in the development stage than it does onscreen. "Zentropa," however, remains as brilliant as ever. Set in post-WW II Germany, it stars Jean-Marc Barr as an American working as a Pullman conductor who falls for the heiress (Fassbinder rep player Barbara Sukowa) whose family owned the trains used to transport Jews to concentration camps during the war. With its bravura mix of b&w and color, double-exposures and dizzying optical effects, it's a hypnotic experience that deservedly won Von Trier the 1991 Best Director prize at Cannes. Max von Sydow provides suitably otherworldly narration, Joakin Holbek's score playfully riffs on Bernard Herrmann's legendary "Vertigo" score and "Alphaville" tough guy Eddie Constantine pops up in a supporting role. Not surprisingly, the bountiful extras are Criterion-formidable. All titles include commentary tracks w/ Von Trier and sundry guests, and each disc contains separate making-of documentaries. There's also a 2005 interview with Von Trier about the trilogy; two short Von Trier student films ("Nocturne" and "Images of Liberation"); Von Trier's 1991 Danish television interview; and an essay by critic Howard Hampton which neatly contextualizes the movies within Von Trier's subsequent oeuvre. ("The Element of Crime," B; "Epidemic," C; "Zentropa," A.; cumulative grade, "A MINUS.")   

LIVING--After being diagnosed with terminal cancer (he's given 6-9 months to life), a career civil servant (Bill Nighy's Williamson) from the public works department In 1949 London decides to get his house in order (so to speak). South African director Oliver ("Moffie") Hermanus' ineffably lovely and loving reboot of Akira Kurosawa's 1952 masterpiece "Ikiru" works on so many levels--character study, comedy of manners, elegantly appointed period piece, male weepie--that it's well-nigh irresistible for audiences of a certain age. Having spent his largely uneventful life just getting by, Williamson decides to finally make a difference before shuffling off this mortal coil. Carpe diem and all that. With the aid of former co-worker Margaret (the winsome Aimee Lou Wood from Netflix's "Sex Education"), he greenlights construction on a much-delayed playground to benefit a working class neighborhood. Besides Nighy whose Oscar-nominated performance is a thing of beauty, there is wonderful support from Wood, Alex Sharp (as a naive young salaryman whose path seems destined to chart the same humdrum course as Williamson's until striking romantic sparks with Margaret) and Tom Burke (the ramshackle "poet" who first lights Williamson's fire during a chance encounter at a pub). If you liked "A Man Called Otto," this is a movie you're sure to embrace. (A.)  

LOST HIGHWAY--By 1997, most people seemed to have grown impatient with David Lynch. Hence the chilly reception this movie received from both critics and audiences at the time of its release. Maybe it was the lack of closure to Lynch's "Twin Peaks" TV series. Or perhaps the generally perceived "self-indulgence" of his most recent big-screen films ("Wild at Heart" and "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me") cooled them on the visionary "Eraserhead"/"Blue Velvet" auteur. But as someone who loved "Lost Highway" at first sight--I saw it on opening day at an Orlando, Florida multiplex where half the audience walked out before the movie ended--living to see the Criterion Collection release this legendary film maudit feels an awful lot like poetic justice. In a 180-degree switch from his role the previous summer as the alien-busting president in Roland Emmerich's "Independence Day," Bill Pullman plays Fred Madison, an L.A. jazz musician who's accused of murdering his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). The fact that Fred somehow morphs into Pete (Balthazar Getty), a considerably younger auto mechanic, while cooling his heels in a jail cell is the least of the movie's bewildering dualisms. How about Renee somehow being transformed into "Alice," the mistress of an abusive hoodlum (a properly terrifying Robert Loggia)? And I haven't even mentioned the "far out, man" supporting cast which includes everyone from Richard Pryor in one of his last screen roles, Gary Busey, musician Henry Rollins, Lynch repertory player Jack Nance and Robert Blake (gulp) as "The Mystery Man" whose hauntingly cryptic words to Fred at a party ("We met at your house; as a matter of fact, I'm there right now") may--or may not--hold the secret to the myriad, shape-shifting mysteries that are afoot. As much film noir as science fiction/horror, "Highway" marked the second and final collaboration between Lynch and author Barry Gifford (who penned the book "Wild at Heart" was based on), and it's a doozy. Extras on the newly released Blu-Ray include Toby Keeler's indispensable feature-length 1997 documentary, "Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch," featuring Lynch, Gifford and frequent creative associates Angelo Badalamenti and Mary Sweeney; archival interviews with Lynch, Pullman, Arquette and Loggia; a suitably otherworldly reading by Lynch and critic Kristine McKenna of excerpts from their 2018 book, "Room to Dream;" and selections from an interview with Lynch taken from Chris Rodley's scholarly tome, "Lynch on Lynch." (A.)  

MALCOLM X--A great American movie by one of America's finest living filmmakers, Spike Lee's 1992 cradle-to-the-grave biopic of the titular civil rights leader finally receives the Criterion Collection treatment--and was well worth the wait. Anchored by Denzel Washington's towering performance as the divisive Muslim figurehead who was assassinated in 1965, it's one of the few movies in modern screen history to feel truly "epic." At three hours and 21 minutes, it has the breadth, depth and scope/vision of the type of 1960's roadshow movies that, ironically, would have never deemed Malcolm an "appropriate," or even deserving subject for biographical treatment. Born to a minister father, Malcolm Little eventually rebelled from his strict religious upbringing and served jail time for burglary. It was in prison that the future Malcolm X was introduced to the Nation of Islam, becoming one of its most devout and dedicated followers. A later pilgrimage to Mecca helped Malcolm change his "whites are the devils" mantra, ultimately preaching that all races needed to coexist and work together. Superb supporting turns from Angela Bassett (Malcolm's wife, Betty), Al Freeman Jr. (Elijah Muhammad) and Delroy Lindo (West Indian Archie). The late film critic Roger Ebert once called Lee's films exercises in empathy. Besides "Do the Right Thing," I can't think of another Lee joint more worthy of that description than this masterpiece. The Criterion Blu-Ray has a cornucopia of extras, including a 2005 audio commentary with Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, editor Barry Alexander Brown and costume designer Ruth E. Carter; contemporaneous chats with Lee, Brown, Lindo and composer Terrence Blanchard; a making of featurette with, among others, Lee, Washington, Dickerson, Brown, Blanchard, Carter, Ossie Davis, Martin Scorsese and Ilyasah Shabazz (Malcolm X's daughter); co-screenwriter Arnold Perl's feature-length 1972 documentary, "Malcolm X;" deleted scenes introduced by Lee; an essay by journalist/ screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper; Lee and Washington excerpts from the 1992 book, "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials of Tribulations of the Making of 'Malcolm X;'" and Davis' stirring 1965 funeral eulogy for Malcolm X. (A PLUS.)  

A MAN CALLED OTTO--Based upon the Oscar-nominated 2015 Swedish film, "A Man Called Ove," director Marc ("Finding Neverland," "World War Z") Forster's pitch-perfect English-language remake gives Tom Hanks his best leading role in years. As Otto Anderson, a curmudgeonly Pittsburgh widower whose determined abrasiveness gradually melts after reluctantly making friends with his new neighbor (the wonderful Mariana Trevino), Hanks will crack you up then break your heart. This is the very definition of an old-fashioned "feel-good movie," and if Sony can't turn it into a word-of-mouth hit there really is no hope for the future of theatrical releases that aren't IP-driven or franchise and tentpole movies. (A.)

M3GAN--Robotics engineer Gemma (Allison Williams from "Get Out" and HBO's "Girls") unwisely allows A.I.-generated robot doll M3Gan (Amie Donald) to become the constant companion--surrogate parent, nanny, BFF and tutor all rolled into one--of her orphaned niece (Violet McGraw). Anyone who's seen "Child's Play," "Ex Machina," or the "Annabelle" and "Boy" movies could tell you that's probably not going to work out very well. New Zealand director Gerard Johnstone, best known for the cultish 2014 haunted domicile flick, "Housebound, brings a puckish sense of dark humor to the generic set-up, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. (C PLUS.)

OPERATION FORTUNE: RUE DE GUERRE--Mercenary-for-hire Orson Fortune (Jason Statham) is contracted by an MI6 operative (Cary Elwes) to foil Cockney billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmond's plan to sell a deadly new weapon technology (nicknamed "The Handle") to Ukranian terrorists. (Hugh Grant is amusingly cast against type as the ruthless "merchant of death.") Assisting Fortune are tech expert Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), jack of all trades J.J. (Bugzy Malone) and Hollywood action star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett) who Fortune recruits because he's Simmond's favorite actor. Guy ("The Gentlemen," "Snatch") Ritchie's latest globe-hopping actioner plays like a farm team version of one of Tom Cruise's "M:I" movies. But a game cast--Plaza and Grant are the thesping standouts--make it a reasonably diverting time-killer. Originally slated for release in early 2022, the film's U.S. bow was delayed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. All things considered, they should have probably just sold it to a streaming service since it's unlikely to make much of a dent in the domestic theatrical marketplace. (B MINUS.)    

PLANE--Gerard Butler plays an airline pilot whose emergency landing on a war-torn Philippine island forces him to team up with an accused murderer (Mike Coulter from Marvel's "Luke Cage") being transported by the F.B.I. to rescue passengers from the rebel army. Director Jean-Francois Richet--best known for Vincent Cassel's "Mesrine" movies--does a decent job of building and sustaining tension despite the absurdity of the central premise. Butler is a little less overbearing than usual, and this actually ranks among his better recent movies. Whether it merits a multiplex outing is another matter, though. (C PLUS.) 

TAR--In a career-best performance, Cate Blanchett plays Lydia Tar, the morally and ethically compromised conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic who's on the verge of her very own #MeToo moment. It couldn't happen at a more inopportune time. Lydia is preparing to record Mahler's notoriously difficult Symphony #5, and her marriage to Sharon (Nina Hoss) is already on thin ice. (The couple are parents of an adopted Syrian daughter who's having difficulties of her own at school.) Writer/director Todd Field's first film since 2006's "Little Children" is among the few genuine movie events of the year: a galvanizing character study as well as an enthralling, deep-dish immersion into its protagonist's rarefied world. I can't recommend it highly enough. (A.)    

THREE COLORS BY KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI--Individually great and cumulatively one of the benchmarks of contemporary European cinema, the Criterion Collection's Blu Ray box set of late Polish visionary Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Thee Color Trilogy" is the first must-own home video release of 2023. "Blue" (starring Juliette Bioche) is the darkest, most haunting of the three; the ebullient "White" (with Julie Delpy) is the closest to a flat-out comedy; and "Red," featuring an incandescent lead performance by Kieslowski muse Irene ("The Double Life of Veronique") Jacob, ranks among the greatest French language films of the post-New Wave era. Each movie is accorded its own disc and contains a plethora of mouth-watering extras. There are three "cinema lessons" with Kieslowski; interviews with cowriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz, composer Zbigniew Preisner and actors Jacob, Delpy and Zbigniew Zamachowski; selected scene commentary with Binoche; video essays by critics Dennis Lim, Annette Insdorf and Tony Rayns; a 1995 documentary about Kieslowski; three Kieslowski short films ("The Tram," "Seven Women of Different Ages" and "Talking Heads") from 1966, 1978 and 1980 respectively; interview featurettes on Kieslowski's life and career with Binoche, Insdorf, Jacob, critic Geoff Andrew, director Agnieszka ("Europa, "Europa") Holland, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, producer Martin Karmitz and editor Jacques Witta; behind the scenes featurettes on "White" and "Red; a short documentary on the Cannes Film Festival premiere of "Red;" essays by critics Nick James, Stuart Klawans, Georgina Evans and Colin MacCabe; excerpts from "Kirslowski on Kieslowski;" and interviews with cinematographers Idziak, Edward Klosinski and Piotr Sobocinski. (A PLUS.)

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND--Unlike most music documentaries that unimaginatively mix-and-match talking heads interviews with archival performance footage, Todd ("I'm Not There," "Velvet Goldmine") Haynes' film about the experimental and wildly influential New York rock band is itself a kind of cinematic performance art. Taking its stylistic cues from the underground movies of the 1960's--the Velvet Underground began their career as a sort of house band for Andy Warhol's Factory--Haynes' doc has as much sensory overload as a V/A live show. (Haynes uses split screen more effectively than any director since vintage Brian DePalma.) One of the most amusing revelations is that it was Warhol who insisted Nordic chanteuse Nico become a member of the Underground; he likened her presence to "a blonde iceberg in the middle of the stage." The film is as much a retrospective, and deeply nostalgic, look at '60s NYC, as it is a memorial to Lou Reed, et al. The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray includes an audio commentary with Haynes and editors Adam Kurnitz and Alfonso Goncalves; outtakes of interviews with onscreen contributors Jonathan Richman, Mary Woronov and Jonas Mekas; Haynes in a 2021 conversation with surviving V/A bandmates John Cale and Maureen Tucker; complete versions of three of the avant garde films excerpted in the movie (two by Mekas); and rock critic Greil Marcus' steely-eyed essay, originally published in the New York Review of Books. (A.)

THE WHALE--Brendan Fraser plays Charlie, a morbidly obese man slowly eating himself to death in Darren ("Requiem for a Dream," "Black Swan") Aronofsky's stripped-down adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter's acclaimed off-Broadway play. Ensconced in his dingy apartment where he teaches an expository writing seminar via Zoom, Charlie is determined to reconcile with his estranged 17-year-old daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink of "Stranger Things" renown) before scarfing down his last pizza. The only other characters to pass through Charlie's gateway to hell are private nurse Liz (Hong Chau) and a persistent New Life Church missionary (Ty Simpkins) who keeps ringing his doorbell. In a chamber piece like this, performances are all and Aronofsky's cast delivers in spades. Fraser--outfitted in prosthetics so convincing you truly believe he weighs 600 pounds--turns in the best work of his thirty-year career, and Sink, Chau, Simpkins and Samantha Morton (who burns a hole through the screen in her one scene as Charlie's embittered ex) are all first-rate. Despite the claustrophobia of its single setting, Aronofsky never allows the film to become oppressive or stagey. Dynamic cinematography and editing by Aronofsky regulars Matthew Libatique and Andrew Weisblum help make this feel like a real movie and not just canned theater. (A MINUS.) 

WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY--If you can overlook the fact that British actress Naomi Ackie looks absolutely nothing like the late recording superstar, director Kasi ("Harriet," "Eve's Bayou") Lemmons' cradle-to-the-grave Houston biopic is serviceable enough, albeit a tad overextended at two-and-a-half-hours. While Lemmons and screenwriter Anthony ("Bohemian Rhapsody") McCarten don't entirely whitewash Whitney's life--her cocaine addiction and lesbianism (courtesy of Nafessa Williams' Robyn Crawford) are both documented--it's not exactly sensationalistic either. My biggest complaint is that, despite the overly generous run time, it completely skips over Whitney and husband Bobby Brown's early-Aughts TV reality show. (They could have spent the entire movie dishing that particular trainwreck.) Nice supporting turns from Stanley Tucci (as music industry titan Clive Davis) Ashton Sanders (Brown) and Clarke Peters and Tamara Tunie (Whitney's parents) as well. (B MINUS.) 

---Milan Paurich

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