Gentle, even brushstrokes grace every frame of writer-director Céline Sciamma’s balletic Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The film’s late 18th-century setting shrouds Portrait’s central couple in secrecy. Secluded sea caves and daily walks replace traditional courtship for its passionate lovers. Sciamma’s love story is set at a comfortable simmer without ever boiling over.
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is the latest release in a series of amusing but empty comic book adaptations from the DC Extended Universe. The film, formerly known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), relies on the charisma of its title character to make good on its promise of light-hearted, homicidal fun. There’s only so much star Margot Robbie can do.
The third, and supposedly final, entry in the How to Train Your Dragon series, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was released in February 2019. Although series writer-director Dean DeBlois returned for the final third of the trilogy, the finale lacks the heart and charm of its predecessors. Apparently, cat-like dragons and their cute Viking owners are a gimmick that only has the staying power of two movies.
Two years after the release of the pulse-pounding Good Time, Josh and Benny Safdie return to the theater with Uncut Gems, their second respectable genre outing in as many years. Led by Adam Sandler giving the performance of a lifetime, breakout talent Julia Fox, and former NBA MVP Kevin Garnett, Uncut Gems is a modern thriller shot by vintage filmmakers. Fair warning: you’ll be using your jeans to dry your sweat-slicked palms.
The Two Popes draws a distinction between the reign of Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and his successor, Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Relative to Benedict, the movie positions Francis as benevolent, modern, and liberal. Under even the lightest of scrutiny, this intellectual dishonesty crumbles like the Eucharist in sacramental wine. As an artistic endeavor, The Two Popes doesn’t fare any better.
Based on a 1998 Esquire article by journalist Tom Junod, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the second film about television entertainer Fred Rogers released in the last two years. With a cast that includes The Americans star Matthew Rhys, the reliably great Chris Cooper, and American icon Tom Hanks, the film is less than the sum of its parts.
In Miss Americana, documentarian Lana Wilson explores eating disorders, fame, and celebrity politics through subject Taylor Swift. Wilson, whose directorial credits include documentaries about Japanese suicide and late-term abortion, finds similar depth in the ensuing inspection of Swift’s character. Modern celebrity documentaries are overproduced to a fault, but Swift’s vulnerability allows Wilson the access needed to craft an early contender for the best documentary of the year.
Queen and Slim’s title characters (Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, respectively) are billed as the black Bonnie & Clyde. Screenwriter Lena Waithe (Master of None) draws parallels to the infamous outlaw couple throughout the film; although both parties are fugitive lovers on the run, the circumstances surrounding their most-wanted statuses are determined by the racial history of the country hunting them.
Co-writer and director Sam Mendes entrusted his frequent collaborator and cinematographer, Roger Deakins, with an ambitious one-shot war epic. The 70-year-old director of photography delivered a cinematic achievement fitting of his visual genius.
The origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime, whose history is often as fluid as his sanity, is firmly established in Joker. Loosely remaking Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, director Todd Phillips riffs on the Martin Scorsese classics without revamping them. Star Joaquin Phoenix is contorted and damaged as Batman’s notorious archnemesis, but never approaches Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Joker masquerades as prestige film without revealing emotional, political, or intellectual depth behind its clown-shaped mask.