**** Isle of Dogs (Pictured Above)
Wes Anderson's second foray into stop-action animation lacks the bite of his first (Fantastic Mr. Fox), but he fills his screen with meticulously designed sets and set pieces. It's the kind of film you'll want to see a second time, just to make sure you didn't miss anything first time around (and believe me, you did!).
**** The Death of Stalin
As dark as a comedy gets, and possibly as profound, this account of the frantic repositioning that accompanied the death of Russia's brutal dictator id mercilessly co-written and directed by Armando Iannucci (Veep).
*** Final Portrait
Stanley Tucci, who wrote the script, directs Geoffrey Rush as the painter Alberto Giacometti and Armie Hammer as the art critic James Lord. Giacometti convinces Lord to sit for a portrait in his Paris studio, but an afternoon posing stretches into weeks, and it seems the artist will never finish. Final Portrait is at times an intriguing glimpse at the mind of a genius, and Tucci’s cast is perfect. But the story rambles, no one seems to learn anything, and at the end we’re left with a movie much like one of Giacometti’s portraits: The semblance of life set surrounded by hollow darkness. (FULL REVIEW)
**** Paul, Apostle of Christ
First-rate performances propel this historical drama about the Apostle Paul. Game of Thrones' James Faulkner) and Gospel writer Luke (Passion of the Christ's Jim Caviezel). The two characters play off each other so effectively — discussing faith and fear within the confines of Paul's Rome prison cell — that we begin to resent the passages when co-writer/director Andrew Hyatt pulls us out into the light to show Paul's eventful life in flashback.(FULL REVIEW)
***** A Trip To The Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune) 1902 (Pictured Above)
Most early filmmakers were inventors and technicians — Georges Melies was an artist of the first rank. Seizing on the fanciful possibilities of the medium, he created a series of fantastic, dream-like films unmatched for their sheer originality. He didn't consider A Trip to the Moon to be his masterpiece, but it is the one that continues to capture the imagination of 21st Century movie lovers. The original hand-colored version was thought lost forever, then found in Barcelona in 1993 — then held in storage for decades while experts tried to figure out how to restore the horribly decayed film stock. Here it is, all 15 minutes of rainbow glory, as mesmerizing today as it was when awestruck patrons first saw it in Paris.
**** Call Me By Your Name
Screenwriter James Ivory became the oldest Oscar-winner ever for this lushly told tale of a teenager finding first love in 1980s Italy. The actors are beautiful to look at, but the real star here is Lombardy, Italy, vividly photographed by the Thai cameraman Sayombhu Mukdeeprom.
*** Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle
Those of us with fond memories of the 1995 original with Robin Williams and Kirstin Dunst will not be disappointed by this variation on the theme starring an appealing cast including Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart.
***** The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Every film school nerd has marveled at the expressionist artistry of director Carl Dreyer and the transcendant performance of Renee Falconetti in this evocative account of St. Joan's final hours. Astonishingly modern yet hauntingly Medieval, this film created an entire volume of new cinematic language. Criterion Collection's new disc includes three musical scores and a new digital restoration.
**** Black Panther
Chadwick Boseman is rewarded for years of fine film performances (42, Get On Up) with the lead in this groundbreaking superhero flick that creates an elegant mythology and offers characters who really breathe. It's unlike any other Marvel flick — until the third act, when the bad-vs-evil battle becomes a strictly-by-the-numbers affair.
** Death Wish
This update of Charles Bronson's 1974 revenge drama isn't really inferior to the original, but it's a victim of its time: As Bruce Willis takes to the streets to avenge the murder of his wife, we just can't bring ourselves to share his fury against street thugs. These days, we're most likely to fear that one guy with a gun in his hand and a chip on his shoulder. And in this movie, the guy who resembles him the most is Bruce Willis.(FULL REVIEW)
*** A Fantastic Woman
In this closely observed tale of a Chilean transgender woman, Daniela Vega plays Marina, a waitress who finds herself on the outside looking in when her live-in lover (Franisco Reyes), dies suddenly. Director/co-writer Sebastian Lelio seems a bit too quick to demonize those who find themselves confused by Marina. It all adds up to a d distressingly dark vision of a world that may simply need to take a deep breath of two before extending a wholehearted embrace.
**** Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool
Annette Bening is poignant and profound as 1950s movie sexpot Gloria Grahame, years removed from her glory days and scraping out a living in small-city stage plays. She flies into an irresponsible romance with a young man (Jamie Bell), but the match turns out to be just what each of them needs. Greene, an Oscar winner who is all but forgotten today, could get no higher compliment than to be played with such tender reflection by one of the screen's most versatile artists.
From Israel comes the quirky, funny and tragic story of a couple (Lior Askenazi and Sarah Adler) who get the worst possible news about their soldier son Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) — but then find out it was all a horrible mixup. It turns out Jonathan is alive but not necessarily well as he toughs it out at a remote and decrepit border checkpoint. (FULL REVIEW)
**** Game Night
Clever, playfully convoluted and featuring an endlessly appealing cast, it’s hard to imagine a movie being more fun. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a married couple who get together with friends every week for game night. Then then one week his jet-setting brother comes to town and sponsors an epic game night that may or may not involve an actual murder mystery. Writer Mark Perez mines the best elements of films like Date Night, After Hours, and David Fincher’s little-seen 1997 thriller The Game, starring Michael Douglas. But mostly, co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein let their stars roll the dice, scampering from scene to scene with frantic enthusiasm.
**** Keep the Change (Pictured Above)
Writer/director Rachel Israel's first feature checks off all the boxes for a classic romantic comedy — but her story about two New York people with autism finding love touches on heartstrings you didn't know you had. (FULL REVIEW)
*** The Leisure Seeker
There are modest pleasures aplenty in this road trip flick, following a long-married couple (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland) as they take one last drive to Florida in their beloved but dilapidated motor home. He's slipping into dementia, she's in the grip of serious illness. Still, the film is not about the ravages of age, but the ultimate and inevitable triumph of marital devotion. (FULL REVIEW)
On its surface, Loveless follows a bitterly feuding soon-to-be-divorced couple, Zhenya and Boris (Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin) who are so consumed by hatred for each other (and burning lust for their lovers) that they fail to notice that their young son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) has been missing for an entire day. But the pair’s circular pursuit of the immediate at the expense of what really matters is for Zvyaginstev a microcosm of the relentless cycles of self-destruction that consume not only people, but also nations.(FULL REVIEW)
**** The Post
Meryl Streep is Washington Post owner Katherine Graham, Tom Hanks is editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, and Steven Spielberg is the director — and that's about all you need to know about this dynamite newspaper saga. We find Graham facing twin, intertwined crises: Her editor wants to take on the Nixon administration by excerpting the notorious Pentagon Papers right at the moment when she's trying to take the family-owned newspaper public. In the course of the ordeal, Streep's Graham transforms from an uncertain CEO bullied by her male board members into a full-voiced authoritarian who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to get some ink on her hands to make it happen. Meanwhile, Hanks' Bradlee is an ambitious but pragmatic newshound who's equally at home dealing with both exremes of his boss's personality spectrum. Best of all, Spielberg evokes the slam-bang spirit of old-time newspaper work, from the looming once-a-day deadlines to the pneumatic office tubes to the rumble of a giant press in the basement, signaling the end of one news cycle and the start of another. (FULL REVIEW)
** A Wrinkle In Time
Once you get past the 60-foot-tall Oprah Winfrey, you'll still be flummoxed by this over-produced and impenetrable sci-fi fantasy based on a beloved young adult novel. The tale of a young girl (Storm Reid) trying to rescue her dad (Chris Pine) from the clutches of a disembodied evil called The It fancies itself a profound meditation on universal truths, but in the end settles for a mundane "Love Conquers All" trope. Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and that supersized Oprah appear as her very annoying spirit guides. (FULL REVIEW)