Michael Compton covers popular movies as the film critic for the Daily News.

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Cage's latest a fascinating tale of grief and loss

Nicholas Cage is in an interesting stage of his career - with films like "Mandy" and "The Color of Space" showcasing the Academy Award winning actor's willingness to embrace his over-the-top persona and use it in some truly unique projects.

While his latest "Pig" is definitely another project that is far from the standard Hollywood fare, moviegoers expecting another totally bonkers experience might be a bit disappointed at first - only to realize they have once again been introduced to something truly unique and special. This is a very restrained Cage, showcased in all his glory in a fascinating film about grief and loss that is one of the most memorable films of 2021 to date.

In "Pig" Cage plays Rob, a former chef who has dropped off the grid after a tragic event. Rob now lives in the Oregon wilderness with his beloved pig, a truffle hunter who has drawn the attention of a young man named Amir (Alex Wolff).

Amir buys truffles from Rob, the only connection Rob has with the outside world.

Rob's sheltered life is shattered, when he is attacked in the middle of the night and his pig abducted. Rob turns to Amir to bring him back into town and help him recover his prized possession.

On the surface the plot of "Pig" sounds like it is going to play out like some sort of "John Wick" type of revenge flick with Cage dialed up to 11 on the crazy scale. That craziness never reaches the level you might expect and that is what makes director Michael Sarnoski's film (he also co-wrote the script with Vanessa Block) so special.

The deeper Rob's quest to find his pig, the more we learn about his past and how one incident has left him a broken man unable to move on. He is still grieving the event more than a decade later. 

And as Rob's wounds begin to fester, we learn that he isn't the only one unable to let go of the past.

"Pig" understands loss and grief in a way few films can, with Cage delivering a masterfully restrained performance. This is as controlled and calculated work as he delivered in "Leaving Las Vegas," another film that dealt frankly with grief.

But to just put "Pig" and "Leaving Las Vegas" in the same basket is really not fair to "Pig." This is a beautiful piece of work that will resonate long after the end credits roll.

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"Forever Purge" stays true to franchise's familiar formula

If you are going to see a movie called "The Forever Purge" - the fifth film in the franchise - you pretty much know what you are getting.

That is why this film - and franchise - continues to find ways to surprise. Director Everardo Gout and writer James DeMonaco (who has penned all the movies in the franchise) embracing the film's schlocky B-movie persona, using current hot button political topics to drive the narrative of a pretty standard thriller.

"The Forever Purge" picks up shortly after the 2016 film "The Purge: Election Year," which ended with purges - a 12 hour period in which all crime is legal - were finally deemed illegal.

Well about that no purge thing, they are back on with the film telling us that the "New Founding Fathers" have re-instated the annual event.

On the eve of the latest purge an immigrant couple named Adela (Ana de la Reguera), Juan (Tenoch Huerta) bunker down with other people to seemingly survive the night. But they soon learn that a rogue group determined to return the United States to its purist form have taken to the streets willing to continue the purge until their cause in complete.

With the help of the family of ranchers (Josh Lucas and Cassidy Freeman) that Juan works for, the couple set out to get back to the Mexican border and escape the wrath of this band of terrorists.

Like "Election Year" "The Forever Purge" isn't afraid to make some not so subtle commentary on everything from immigration reform to white supremacy. This gives the film an eerie sense of realism that is rarely present in this genre, but the soap box moments have never been this series strong suit.

What does work is the simple victim on the run formula, looking to get revenge on the people trying to hunt them down. Gout and DeMonaco deliver that once again, using the location shift to Texas to give the film an almost wild wild west feel. 

When "The Forever Purge" sticks to its formula and keeps things simple is when it is at its best. For the most part the film delivers on that level, knowing its lane and providing the loyal fan base exactly what they've come to expect from this series.

Rita Moreno documentary a solid look at acting icon

Rita Moreno is an icon, an activist, and someone who is willing to speak her mind.

That is why the new documentary "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It" is such fascinating film. Director Mariem Pérez Riera has delivered a film that is the perfect tribute to Moreno's lengthy career - providing unfiltered insight courtesy of Moreno.

The film traces her childhood in Puerto Rico up to her recent success on the Netflix revival of "One Day at a Time." Throughout the film we see the highs of her career - Moreno is the first Latina to ever win an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) - as well as the low points which included her battles with racism and sexism in the entertainment industry.

Riera also uses insight from people she worked with and influenced - including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Whoopi Goldberg, and Morgan Freeman - but the film is at its best when we here from Moreno herself. She is such a fascinating person who is willing to talk about anything, even the dark moments in her past.

When the film lets Moreno tell her story and share moments like her relationship with Marlon Brando and how her battles in Hollywood led directly to her call to political activism it provides an intimate peak into her life that few would allow.

The film covers so much that at times it feels like it could have dived even more into specific moments. 

Still, this proves to be a worthy portrait of a woman whose career is so expansive.  

"12 Mighty Orphans" a by the number sports film

"12 Mighty Orphans" is the kind of movie that is fine on the surface, but the substance is lacking.

This based on a true story sports drama basically brings nothing new to the genre - a predictable and paint by the numbers tale that we've seen plenty of times before in better films.

"Orphans" tells the story of Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson), a high school football coach in the late 1930s who takes a coaching job at an orphanage in Texas.

We learn through flashbacks that Russell was an orphan himself and a war hero who was injured during his stint in World War I.

Russell has to start from scratch, with the young men having to learn even the basics of the game. 

If you have ever seen a sports movie involving young athletes you pretty much know where this will go. There are obstacles (in the form of an over the top performance from Wayne Knight). There is the bad guy opposing coach (Lane Garrison wearing a weird toupee throughout. There is the lovable assistant with his own issues (Martin Sheen basically channeling Dennis Hopper from "Hoosiers") and there is of course the big game finale.

It all chugs along competently with Wilson, Sheen and the young cast perfectly fine. The problem though is director Ty Roberts films this pretty much in autopilot - borrowing from a lot of superior sports films.

For every moment that works, you got an overly dramatic flashback or an awkward narration that feels like it was added at the last minute to flesh out the narrative.

"12 Mighty Orphans" really has its heart in the right place, but it's a story I wish would have gotten slightly better treatment than this pedestrian sports drama.

"The Sparks Brothers" a fun primer of cult rock band

They are Sparks, the best band you probably didn't know you knew. Sparks are also the focus of the new documentary "The Sparks Brothers," director Edgar Wright's ode to the band whose influence stretches over multiple decades.

Using archival footage and a ton of celebrity interviews Wright has delivered the essential primer of the men behind this band - brothers Russell and Ron Mael - that will please their rabid fan base while making the uninitiated eager to look up their massive catalogue. 

Wright constructs a film that traces the Mael brothers from their early days and musical influences to how they formed the Sparks in the 1970s - and continue to re-invent themselves more than 50 years and 25 albums later.

Russell and Ron get to share their stories, along with former band members, of the creative process and how they sound and sardonic style lyrics developed - and how that sound influenced everyone from Duran Duran to Flea to Weird Al Yankovic.

The film also uses interviews that plays like a who's who of the music world. In addition to Duran Duran, Flea, and Weird Al you get stories from Beck, Jane Wiedlin (who recorded a track with the band in the early 80s) and many others. Their stories about how much Sparks influenced their work is interesting but the film's strength lies in the brothers. Wright captures their good natured humor with a film that is as laid back and entertaining as the brothers.

There is so much to cover that the film does bog down a bit towards the end of its 135 minute running time. It's clear Wright is as big of a fan as many of the people who appear in the film (Wright actually appears a few times as well), but that fandom sometimes leaves the director lingering with ideas that have already been well established and articulated.

It's a small quibble for a film that ultimately serves its purpose - letting you know who these brothers are and leaving you wanting more.

"Final Account" a chilling documentary

There have been plenty of films about the Holocaust, but perhaps no film has the kind of personal perspective as director Luke Holland's latest film "Final Account."

Holland's documentary was more than a decade in the making with the director setting out to interview the last living members of the generation that experienced the Third Reich first hand. This was a chance for Holland to come face-to-face with people who were part of an organization that was responsible for so many deaths - including his own grandparents on his mother's side.

The result of these interviews is chilling. Through these first-hand accounts and archive footage Holland recreates some of the most tragic moments during the Holocaust that resonates with power and emotion.

And while one might expect that many of these people are regretful of what occurred, what makes "Final Account" so frustrating is the surprising number of people right there who still justify what happened - or continue to make excuses for why they should not be held accountable.

These excuses range from being young and impressionable to I didn't know how bad it really was. It's frustrating for the audience (and surely must have been frustrating for Holland) to hear these people be so frank and so void of remorse (one man remains proud of his actions and still defends Hitler's decisions).

Holland has so many interviewees that at times I wished "Final Account" would have narrowed the scope and dived deeper into some individual stories. But the wide net builds to some compelling moments in the final act. One involving the aforementioned soldier still defending his actions. Another takes place at a conference where a remorseful man tells students it's a stain on German history that will never go away - leading to an argument with one student over his remorse.

And then there is one man who while not directly responsible for any deaths admits he still feels like a perpetrator. 

His remorse shows the pain and anguish that is still there more than 70 years later from one of the darkest moments in history.

"Wrath of Man" a solid action flick

"Wrath of Man" is a film that knows its lane and stays in it quite comfortably.

This blood-soaked revenge flick that reunites action star Jason Statham and director Guy Ritchie takes a while to get going, but once it does it is a pretty fun ride.

In "Wrath of Man" Statham plays H (no really that's his name), a man of few words and plenty of mystery who takes a job with an armored car company that has had some bad luck with robberies lately.

When H single-handedly stops the latest robbery attempt, he becomes a hero to his co-workers who still can't figure out why someone with his skill set would be working a job like this.

It turns out that H is on an undercover mission, trying to avenge the death of his son (during an armored truck heist). He is convinced that the thieves had someone on the inside, so his plan is to find the perpetrator - which will hopefully lead him to the man who pulled the trigger.

This all unfolds on a fractured timeline, with Ritchie opting to slowly peel back layers to create an element of surprise for the audience.

This leads to a slow first half, a steady build that we've seen in a lot of similar action films. But once H's true plans are revealed - and we get a glimpse of the crew he is intent on taking down - the film takes off with the insanity growing exponentially as the bullets fly.

This allows Statham to do what he does best, say very few words and beat people to a pulp. It's a role that showcases the actor's strength and gets better as the film progresses.

But "Wrath of Man" also allows Ritchie to use a talented supporting cast that includes Jeffrey Donovan, Scott Eastwood, Josh Hartnett, and Andy Garcia.  It's the detail to these characters that really allows "Wrath of Man" to hit another level - and provides the depth that makes the finale quite engaging.

To Ritchie's credit, he dials back his hyperkinetic style here - letting this cast work hard. He's rewarded with a film that is truly a meat and potato kind of action film - one that fans of the genre will find fun and quite satisfying.

Crystal, Haddish deliver in "Here Today"

"Here Today" is a film that can be quite maddening at times.

This comedy/drama with the unlikely pairing of Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish has plenty of flaws and several cringe-worthy moments. Yet, the film works largely due to its two leads and a few genuine moments that almost make it feel like you are watching a completely different movie.

In "Here Today" Crystal, who also directed and co-wrote with Alan Zweibel, plays Charlie Burnz a veteran comedy writer working on a "Saturday Night Live"-type sketch show.

Charlie goes to lunch one day with a fan, as part of a charity auction, but instead of the fan he meets Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish). She is the ex-girlfriend of the winner of the lunch, taking his prize as revenge.

The lunch ends with Emma in the emergency room after having an allergic reaction to shellfish (one of the bits that really doesn't work), but Charlie and Emma stay in touch and develop a friendship.

Charlie learns that Emma is a street singer with dreams of a bigger stage. Emma learns that Charlie is still grieving the tragic death of his wife from years earlier and is estranged from his two children.

She also discovers a secret that Charlie has been hiding for some time. It turns out he is suffering from early stages of dementia, able to cover it up to an extent.

But when Charlie starts to lose some of that control, and his world starts to crumble, Emma provides the support he needs - helping Charlie reconnect with his family and face his failing health.

"Here Today" is certainly ambitious - tackling a lot of dramatic elements in a two-hour movie. A lot of moments just don't connect the way that Crystal likely envisioned (it also doesn't help that the film comes on the heels of the Oscar winning "The Father").

Yet every time "Here Today" feels like it is teetering on the edge there are scenes of such profound emotional impact that you can't help but be drawn back in.

I really enjoyed scenes with Charlie working with a young comedy writer on the show looking to find his voice. And the flashbacks with his wife (Louisa Krouse) framed where the audience sees the action from Charlie's point of view are quite touching.

And then there is Crystal and Haddish, who have surprisingly strong chemistry. They make you believe this pair would develop an unlikely friendship with Haddish showing she can be quite good when asked to dial it down a bit.

I wish Crystal and Haddish had a little bit better material to work with, but they manage to make the most of what they have in "Here Today" - giving this film the spark it needs to overcome all of its glaring problems.

Full Oscar predictions

Here are the predictions for tonight's Oscar ceremonies.

Best Picture: Nomadland

Best Director: Chloe Zhao

Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman

Best Actress: Viola Davis

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya

Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Father

Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman

Best Cinematography: Nomadland

Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Best Editing: Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Makeup: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Best Production Design: Mank

Best Score: Soul

Best Song: Speak Now

Best Sound: Sound of Metal

Best Visual Effects: Tenet

Best Animated Feature: Soul

Best Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher 

Best International Film: Another Round

Best Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You

Best Documentary Short: A Love Song for Latasha

Best Live Action Short: Two Distant Strangers

Pfeiffer makes "French Exit" a delightful treat

"French Exit" is a sublime little comedy of manners that sometimes feels like it is traveling on shaky seas.

Fortunately, "Exit" has Michelle Pfeiffer there to anchor it and keep the ship steady - a wonderfully delicious role that is some of Pfeiffer's best work in recent memories. She takes this material and makes it her own - bringing the kind of work that gives this comedy the bite it needs.

In "French Exit" Pfeiffer plays Frances Price, a New York socialite who discovers that she has blown through the inheritance of her late husband and is on the verge of being broke.

Frances decides the best way to face her financial troubles is to flee with her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) to Paris to start anew, despite Malcolm's desire to stay in New York with his fiancée (Imogen Poots).

Director Azazel Jacobs has a knack for films where the characters manage to be totally off the wall yet relatable. He gets to play to that strength here as Patrick DeWitt's screenplay, based on DeWitt's novel, is chock full of people who are battling to improve their social status.

"French Exit" takes a while to find its stride, but once the laughs start to land in the second half they come at a rapid pace - a film that is darkly funny and slightly sinister. 

When it is just Frances and Malcolm, the film isn't nearly as sharp. But once this people interact with others who they feel superior to in some twisted way, it's when "French Exit" takes off - and makes great use of Pfeiffer's great performance.

Frances is a woman broken, but trying to hold it together to keep up the world she has built to shelter her all these years. Pfeiffer makes Frances a living, breathing person that the audience can relate to - and manage to both love and loathe at the same time.

Pfeiffer is on another level here, delivering work that takes a ho-hum dark comedy and lifts it into something much more.

2021 Oscar nominations predictions

We have finally arrived at nomination day, heading down the stretch of the longest Oscar season yet.

There should be plenty of surprises when the nominations are announced Monday morning, but then again the surprise could be lack of surprises. With the awards precursors all over the map picking the final nominees won't be easy, but I might as well take a shot.

Here is who I expected to be nominated in the six major categories:

Best Picture

Judas and the Black Messiah

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom




One Night in Miami

Promising Young Woman

The Sound of Metal

The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Father and News of the World could sneak in, but recent history suggests only eight or nine films not the 10 max allowed (that changes next year). If either sneak in, One Night in Miami and Sound of Metal might be in the most trouble.

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari

Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

David Fincher, Mank

Aaron Sorkin, Trial of the Chicago 7

Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

All five received DGA nominations and while history suggests one will get snubbed, I'll stick with these. Regina King, Darius Marder or even Paul Greengrass could sneak in.

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round

Steven Yeun, Minari

I have this sneaky suspicion that Mikkelson will be one of the big surprises Monday morning. That meant a tough elimination and with Mank's momentum waning I opted to leave out Gary Oldham. Tahir Rahim could also surprise.

Best Actress

Andra Day, United States vs. Billie Holiday

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Four appear to be locks, leaving one slot. I'll give it to Day, who won at the Golden Globes, but Amy Adams, Sophia Loren or Rosamund Pike could sneak in.

Best Supporting Actor

Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Jared Leto, The Little Things

Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami

Again four seem set, with Leto the shaky one. He already has a Globe and SAG nod so I will reluctantly stick with him over Paul Raci or Bill Murray or the one I am rooting for the most Bo Burnham.

Best Supporting Actress

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman, The Father

Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian

Youn Yuh-Jung, Minari

If you get all five right here congrats ahead of time. This is not only wide open with no clear frontrunner, but even the five that will make it seem shaky. Amanda Seyfried, Ellen Burstyn, Dominique Fishback or Helena Zengal all had a shot.

Hopkins, Colman headline powerful drama "The Father"

There have been many films that have dealt with dementia from "Away From Her" to "Amour" to "Still Alice," but we've never seen a movie handle the subject quite like "The Father."

Anchored by award worthy work from Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, this is a touching and deeply emotional film that not only shows the toll the disease can take on loved ones - but manages to provide insight from the patient's point of view in a way that is absolutely fascinating.

"The Father" is based on a play by Florian Zeller (making his directorial debut) and tells the story of Anthony (Hopkins) an aging patriarch who still believes he can function alone in his London flat.

His daughter Anne (Colman) is not as certain as Anthony. She has been there for him, but is about to move away. Anne wants to make sure her father is cared for and tries to convince him to allow her to hire an assistant to help him.

As Anthony wrestles with allowing the help, he grows increasingly angry with Anne's please while also growing frustrated with his struggles to determine what is real and what is just his imagination.

Zeller does a very good job behind the camera, creating a murky timeline that leaves the audience just as disoriented as Anthony. People come in and out of the apartment, but are these people real? Are they just figments of Anthony's imagination? This is a film that provides an understanding of dementia by showing the audience an almost first person account. 

The murkiness requires a cast that is basically asked to be multiple characters - depending on which version of the story we get. Colman captures the confusion and frustration of Anne quite well, in a role that may not be as flashy as her Oscar winning work in "The Favourite" but is just as effective.

But it is Hopkins performance that really brings it all together. He captures Anthony in a way that feels real, authentic and quite touching. This is a man who has always been in control of his world, but the realization has set in that has lost that control.

Hopkins makes Anthony's journey spellbinding and makes "The Father" a film that is one of the best films of this awards season.

"Boogie" falls short of lofty ambitions

"Boogie" is an oddity - a coming of age film set against the backdrop of basketball where the basketball scenes are not nearly as good as the rest of the movie.

The result is an uneven piece of work from writer/director Eddie Huang. He effectively captures the elements involving family and culture and tradition, but once the film hits the court it sinks into predictable tropes that the rest of "Boogie" can't overcome.

Taylor Takahashi stars as the title character,  a basketball phenom living in Queens, New York with dreams of playing in the NBA.

Boogie has talent, but a temper, which is making it hard to find a college that will offer him a scholarship. There is added pressure from his parents. His mom (Pamelyn Chee) has made his future such a priority, Boogie becomes resentful of all of her demands. His father (Perry Yung) is just as demanding, but has been in and out of his life because of numerous brushes with the law.

Boogie finds solace with his new girlfriend Eleanor (Taylour Paige) and the game he loves. But even the love of basketball begins to fade as pressures build and an on the court rival (the late rapper Pop Smoke) emerges.

"Boogie" is at its best when its lead is in his home and at school interacting with classmates. There is a naturalness to all the performs that really gives the film an authenticity - peering into a world we don't get to see that often on screen.

But the coming of age moments aren't enough to overcome a sports film that really isn't that good. Huang's script relies way too much on sports tropes and cliches, building to a predictable big game moment in the final act that brings everything crashing down. 

It's as if Huang had this great idea of a story he wanted to tell, but couldn't figure out how to stick the landing - wedging a conclusion that feels as false as the first hour felt authentic.

Ultimately, Huang's heart is in the right place in "Boogie," but the end result falls way short of his lofty expectations.

"Coming 2 America" a satisfying sequel

Eddie Murphy, Aresnio Hall and the rest of the gang are headed back to the mythical kingdom of Zamunda in "Coming 2 America," the long awaited sequel to the wildly popular 1988 comedy.

Fans of the original will be happy to know that the wait has been worth it, with the follow-up a lot fun - full of memorable cameos, lots of callbacks, and most importantly a lot of laughs. It's a credit to director Craig Brewer and the screenplay, credited to multiple writers, that they manage to maintain the spirit of the original while offering a fresh up-to-date spin.

This sequel finds Akeem (Murphy) now happily entrenched in his homeland with his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) and their three daughters. The eldest Meeka (Kiki Layne) has dreams of someday following her father as ruler of Zamunda, but laws require that the king be replaced by his first born son.

With no apparent heir, the kingdom is teetering on the edge of a hostile takeover from General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) - the leader of a neighboring kingdom who has his sights on extending into Zamunda.

Akeem finds a possible way to counter Izzi's threat, when he is told by his long time confidante Semmi (Hall) that he has a long lost son (Jermaine Fowler) in New York. Akeem sets out on a quest to find the son and bring him back to his homeland, to groom him as the possible heir and build a relationship.

I was not a fan of the original film, which I felt played a lot like an extended SNL sketch than a movie and lacked the charm needed in a successful romantic comedy, and entered this sequel with low expectations. Fortunately, the film exceeded those expectations within minutes - with some callbacks to the original and a couple of sight gags in the first few minutes that let me know right away this was not going to coast on the reputation of the original film.

Murphy and Hall are having a lot of fun, not just in their main roles but bringing back other characters from the original as well, but to Murphy's credit he takes a backseat a lot of the time - allowing the sequel to devote time to secondardy characters.

It's a move that pays off. You not only get hilarious supporting roles from Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan, as well as good comic work from Snipes, but "Coming 2 America" also allows newcomer Fowler and Layne to shine as well.

The story doesn't stray too far from formula, but Brewer (who also pulled off the remake of "Footloose") knows the strength is in his very funny cast and the audience's adoration for the first film - and plays from those strengths throughout.

My only regret with "Coming 2 America" is I didn't get the chance to see this in a full theater, experiencing the reactions of a crowd to the surprises and laughs.

This is a movie that would have played well in theaters. Fortunately it still has a chance to be seen - and appreciated - in the comfort of your home.

"The World's a Little Blurry" a rare peak inside the world of Billie Eilish

In just a few short years, singer Billie Eilish has skyrocketed into super stardom.

A five-time grammy winner before her 18th birthday, Eilish has enjoyed both critical and commercial success - collaborating with her brother Finneas O'Connell.

The new documentary "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry" captures her rise - a raw and intimate time capsule in which the young singer granted director R.J. Cutler unlimited access during her ascent from Youtube sensation to pop superstar. The result is a film that is unfiltered - a rare peak behind the curtains that captures Eilish at her highest highs and lowest lows. 

It's a must for fans and a film that will likely create new fans as well.

"Blurry" follows Eilish during her work on her debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” We get to see the creative process with her brother in their family home in California and how their mom Maggie Baird and father Patrick O’Connell helped shape their love for music.

But the film isn't your standard, this is how we got here, documentary. The family gave Cutler incredible access that really drives the film. Yes, we get to see Eilish's music and some astounding concert footage, but it also captures her for what she is - a vulnerable, moody teenage girl just trying to find herself.

Some of the best moments include interactions with celebrities. Eilish by this point was pretty famous as well, but her reaction to childhood crush Justin Beiber is quite endearing while a brief encounter with Katy Perry and fiancée Orlando Bloom provides a bit of humor that reminds us she is still just a kid.

Cutler has so much footage to work with - including some candid observations from her parents and her struggles with trying to deal with the pressures of fame - that the film starts to feel the weight of it's very lengthy 140 minute run time.

Still, you can't fault a person that is so willing to give us unique access like Eilish and her family. The truth is their is a lot to uncover here and Cutler gives fans more than enough to appreciate, while providing a perfect primer for those who want to know who Eilish is and why her fame has skyrocketed in recent years.

Robin Wright delivers in directorial debut "Land"

Robin Wright has made a career out of performances that are quietly intense and reflective, so it is no surprise that her her directorial debut "Land" is along those same lines.

This is an effective film about grief and loss and mourning with Wright and Demián Bichir providing two solid performances to anchor the emotion.

In "Land" Wright plays Edee, whose response to a personal tragedy is to move to a remote cabin in Wyoming and completely drop off the grid.

Her quest for personal peace gets off to a rocky start, as Edee's limited survival skills proves to be no match for the harsh wilderness she now calls home. Near death, Edee is saved by a local hunter named Miguel (Bichir).

The rescue turns into a friendship, with Edee soon learning that Miguel has also experienced personal tragedy similar to her - a bond that only strengthens their friendship and allows Edee to perhaps begin to heal.

Wright keeps it simple with the film clocking in at a brisk 89 minutes. As a director she relies on the basics - breathtaking cinematography from Bobby Bukowski, a beautiful score from Ben Sollee and Time for Three and a simple, yet emotional screenplay from Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam.

Wright's decision to keep her main character's backstory a bit of a mystery works for the most part - but it does perhaps take away some of the dramatic effect of the early scenes.

When it is just Wright "Land" is a little more spotty, but Bichir brings balance to the story - and a perspective that allows the story to advance to an ending with an emotional conclusion that really ties everything together quite nicely.

"Land" is  the kind of emotional arc one has come to expect from a Wright performance - establishing that she is just as talented behind the camera.

Justin Timberlake shows dramatic side in solid "Palmer"

Justin Timberlake has already shown his crossover appeal and dramatic side in films like "The Social Network," so it is no surprise that he proves to be an engaging lead in the new film "Palmer."

Timberlake's first live action film in almost four years is a solid, if somewhat predictable drama, that allows the singer to showcase his dramatic chops.

Timberlake plays the title character Eddie Palmer, a former high school football star who has returned to his Louisiana home after serving a 12 year prison term.

Palmer is eager to put his past behind him, acknowledging his mistakes but also determined to start anew. He moves back in with his grandmother (June Squibb) - whose neighbor is a troubled young woman named Shelly (Juno Temple) and her young son Sam (Ryder Allen).

When Shelly disappears, Palmer finds himself as the reluctant caregiver for the young boy - developing an unexpected bond with Sam.

Cheryl Guerriero's script follows plenty of the usual tropes of films with the same story arc, but the cast - headlined by Timberlake - makes it work.

Timberlake does a really good job of conveying Palmer's inner demons, but also has a believable transformation as he starts to bond with Sam. Guerriero does deserve credit for making Sam more than the typical precocious young kid, but making him a unique character that has clearly been shaped by his tough home life.

It helps that Timberlake and Allen have really good chemistry, making you believe their relationship is authentic.

"Palmer" weaves a few subplots into the story - including Alisha Wainwright as a potential love interest - but ultimately it comes back to the bond between its two leads. That bond is the strength of "Palmer," lifting what could have been a mediocre TV movie-level story into something a little more emotional and a little more profound then you might expect.

"Greenland" a solid disaster flick

"Greenland" is a the latest in a long line of disaster pictures - evoking everything from the "Earthquake" films in the 70s to "Deep Impact" in the 90s and "2012" in this millennium.

And while the film does hit all the familiar notes in the genre, director Ric Roman Waugh and writer Chris Sparling has crafted a movie that is adds a little unexpected substance to all the chaos.

In "Greenland" Gerard Butler plays John Garrity, a working man trying to keep his family together. Although estranged from his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), John plays the part of family patriarch joining his wife and son Nathan (Roger Dale Ford) at a neighborhood party to celebrate the arrival of a mysterious comet that can be seen around the world as it passes earth.

It turns out though that this comet isn't just a harmless passerby, but is starting to come apart in fragments that make it the potential to be a planet killer. As the fragments start to destroy cities around the world, John gets a notice that his family has been selected by the government to be evacuated to a secret location that is suspected to be out of harms way of the comet.

And this is where "Greenland" veers into some surprisingly effective territory - with the film becoming more about the family trying to navigate through a journey paved by many people not selected and willing to do anything to take the family's place. There is a paranoia in the plot turn that makes it way more effective than your standard countdown to the end of the world story (if you are a fan of those kind of movies, don't worry it is still here).

Butler is in his action hero element here - continuing to prove that he has found his niche playing the kind of roles Arnold Schwarzenegger made a career out of in the late 80s and early 90s.

"Greenland" does start to bog down a bit in the final act when it goes back to the more conventional disaster film tropes, but there is still enough here to provide a fresh spin on the genre. It's a film that fans of the genre will enjoy, while others will still be satisfied with how it all unfolds.

'All My Life' elevated by lead actors

"All My Life" is the kind of sappy, pull at the heartstrings, three hanky weeper that really has no business working because we've pretty much seen it all before.

Yet this formula manages to work thanks to two perfectly matched and totally appealing leads - Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum, Jr. They work so well together it is easy to forgive the film's shortcomings.

Rothe and Shum play Jennifer and Solomon, who meet one day at a sports bar and quickly become a couple.

Everything appears to be headed towards happily ever after with Solomon pursuing his dreams of being a chef. But the happy ending gets sidetracked when Solomon is diagnosed with liver cancer - putting everything, including the wedding plans, on hold.

"All My Life" is based on a true story and if you have seen the trailer, you probably know exactly where this is going to go. Todd Rosenberg's script doesn't stray far from the Hallmark movie formula, while Marc Meyers direction keeps it cheery even as things take a turn for the worse.

But even as the film continues along a path you will likely see coming even before you sit down to watch it, Rothe and Shum, Jr. are so good that they keep you engaged. Their chemistry is natural and believable, bringing an authenticity that is needed to make this work.

"All My Life" throws in some moments which each character's wacky group of friends (including "Saturday Night Live" alum Jay Pharoah), but it's the intimate moments between the two leads where the film finds its true strength. They make you believe you are watching a real relationship (and technically you are) and manage to elevate the material from standard tearjerker to a passable romantic drama.

Boseman, Davis deliver in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'

Chadwick Boseman's resume was already filled with memorable work when he passed away in August. Whether it was real-life heroes like Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall or the larger-than-life superhero in "The Black Panther," Boseman's range showed no bounds.

But the brilliant actor may have saved his best performance for last in the August Wilson adaptation "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Boseman totally commands the screen in a way few actors before him have ever done – a volcanic performance that serves as the anchor for another strong screen adaptation of Wilson's brilliant prose.

"Ma Rainey" takes place over a single afternoon in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians arrive in a study to work with Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), known as the Mother of Blues.

The band includes Levee (Boseman), an ambitious trumpet player who has designs on breaking out on his own.

As the session drags on, with Rainey battling for control from the white management in charge of the recordings, tensions start to rise – building to events that will forever change the lives of everyone in the studio.

Director George C. Wolfe wisely chooses to keep the film confined mostly to the studio and does not try to make this adaptation go beyond its stage roots too much. The decision brings the focus more on the exceptional cast – headlined by Davis and Boseman.

In any other film, Davis would be the story here for a performance in which she effortlessly dissolves into the role, to the extent that she is barely recognizable. Rainey is full of fire and sass, a woman who understands the music game and uses that knowledge to get things done. This is Davis at her very best, a role that will certainly garner awards consideration.

But as good as Davis is, this is ultimately Boseman's movie. It's a performance with so much energy, so much passion, you can't help but wonder if the actor knew while he was filming it that it might well be his final film.

If that was the case, Boseman certainly left everything he had in this work. It's a bittersweet swan song – one that shows how special of a talent he was, but also a bit sad knowing how much more he could have done.

Boseman was truly a once-in-a-generation-type actor. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" allows us one last glimpse of his immense talent.

'The Croods' sequel just more of the same

It's kind of appropriate that "The Croods: The New Age" opens Thanksgiving weekend because it feels a lot like leftovers.

Like the original film, this is a family fare that offers enough to satisfy children but doesn't have much to offer the parents who will be forced to watch it with them.

"New Age" once again follows the prehistoric family that includes father Grug (voiced by Nicholas Cage), wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), grandmother Gran (Cloris Leachman), daughter Eep (Emma Stone) and son Lunk (Clark Duke).

Grug is worried that Eep's relationship with Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is going to lead to Eep leaving the pack, but those problems quickly take a backseat to other issues when the Croods meet the Bettermans (Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann), who may be the key to Guy's past.

The more the two families try to co-exist, the more it evolves into a rivalry that threatens to cause riffs in both families.

Like the original this is a film that is pleasant enough to look at with plenty of colors and set details keep it visually stimulating. 

The problem is the story is basically the same plot we've seen in 100s of other animated films with "The New Age" not really bringing anything new to the table.

The very talented voice cast makes it at least passable - especially Dinklage - but they really aren't given much to work with.

At least the first film had a few comic diversions. This time the jokes really fall flat, with any attempt at humor likely to not play well to anyone other than the youngest in the audience.

The end result is a family film that feels more like it is going through the motions, basically giving fans of the original more of the same. If you liked the 2013 film then you will probably be OK with this sequel. If not, then this is probably not the holiday movie for you.

'Hillbilly Elegy' an uneven family drama

"Hillbilly Elegy" is a film that really should have been a slam dunk.

You've got director Ron Howard, a pair of the top actresses in the business today in Amy Adams and Glenn Close, and a screenplay based on a highly successful memoir.

Yet the sum of the parts never quite add up. This is a film that is competently made and has some interesting work from Close, but it's a bit inconsistent and never quite sure what it wants to say. 

"Elegy" is based on J.D. Vance's memoir about three generations of an Appalachian family. As the film begins Vance (Gabriel Basso) is a Yale law student trying to get a summer internship when he gets a call from his sister Lindsay (Haley Bennett) about his mother Bev (Adams). 

Bev has been hospitalized after a drug overdose, with Lindsay needing Vance's help to get their mom to agree to go into rehab to fight an addiction she has struggled with for as long as the children can remember.

As J.D. makes the trip home, "Elegy" uses flashbacks to show us how Bev's addictions shaped his childhood and how his relationship with his grandmother (Close) helped him through some of the lowest moments with his mom.

I haven't read the novel, but I do know "Elegy" was a bit of a lightning rod for its political commentary on how the economic struggles in that area has turned that region from blue to red.

Vanessa Taylor's screenplay chooses to take away (most of) the politics and instead focus on the addiction and how it effects everyone not just the addict.

That approach creates a film that feels a little overstuffed, with threads and ideas introduced but eventually taking a back seat to Bev's instability. That would be fine, but "Elegy" proves to be at best a run of the mill family drama.

Basso gets overshadowed by his female co-stars, making his plight not as engaging as it should have been.

Close has strong moments as the family's matriarch, the kind of showy performance that usually gets awards notice. She is the best thing about "Elegy," but the work still wouldn't rank among the the highest points of her outstanding career.

Adams seems to be miscast, despite her best efforts. It's a role that I feel like doesn't play to Adams strengths as an actress, but I certainly don't fault her for accepting this challenge. The problem is when you have a character so essential to the film's success that never quite clicks it leaves everything else a bit off sync as well.

And ultimately that is the problem with "Hillbilly Elegy." It's not really a misstep for all involved, but more of a film that just never finds its stride - unable to hit the high bar it has set for itself.

'The Last Vermeer' a solid thriller

"The Last Vermeer" is a straight forward, meat and potatoes-type movie.

That's not a bad thing.

Anchored by strong work from Guy Pearce, this is a solid historical thriller that gets enough out of the cast and material to satisfy its audience.

"The Last Vermeer" is based off a fascinating post World War II true story of Han Van Meegeren (Pearce), a renowned Dutch artist who is accused of conspiring with the Nazis.

Joseph Pillar (Claes Bang) is the soldier who is asked to investigate these charges. As the evidence against Meegeren starts to mount, Pillar finds himself questioning the charges and siding with the artist - with his investigation shifting from convicting this man to proving his innocence.

"Vermeer" is the directorial debut for Dan Friedkin, who has a good eye for the material and the pacing. This starts out as a well crafted thriller that builds the case for Meegeren that culminates in a tense, but engaging courtroom finale. 

Bang is good as Pillar, who is essentially providing the audience with the facts for and against Meegeren to help them decide as the movie goes on. This is a man conflicted, but also determined to do what is right.

It's also nice to see Vicky Krieps from "The Phantom Thread" in a small role as Pillar's assistant, but "Vermeer" finds its strength in Pearce - who takes an obviously showy role and brings depth and substance to the performance that really brings this artist to life.

This is some of the best work of Pearce's career, giving the audience a reason to become invested in the Dutch artist's plight - and ultimately a reason to become engaged with "The Last Vermeer."

Winslet, Ronan shine in 'Ammonite'

"Ammonite" is a period piece romance that unfolds in a pretty straightforward and familiar manner.

And while it may be something its audience as seen before in some form it has one distinct advantage over its predecessors - the teaming of two of the best actresses working today in Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan.

Winslet and Ronan do not disappoint, bringing the passion and intensity needed to make this a solid piece of filmmaking.

In "Ammonite" Winslet plays real life fossil hunter Mary Anning, who as the film begins has settled into to an isolated life with her mother (Gemma Jones) on the southern England coastline.

Mary is approached by a wealthy young man with a unique proposal - watch over his wife Charlotte (Ronan) who has been battling depression for a few weeks.

Mary reluctantly agrees to the arrangement and at first it seems like she will regret her decision. But as the women get to know each other - and the barriers of social clash come crashing down - they develop an intense relationship that will change both forever.

Writer/director Francis Lee has crafted a film that doesn't stray too far from its genre playbook, with a story where the audience clearly knows the path these people will take long before the characters. As an actor turned filmmaker Lee understands that his film's strength lies in his cast - particular his two leads - and he allows these talented women to do most of the heavy lifted.

They are certainly up to the challenge, developing a believable chemistry that makes this material work even as it threatens to veer into melodrama territory. Winslet brings a quiet intensity that gives the film its emotional core, while Ronan is asked to portray a character on a journey of discovery - finding her own voice as the film progresses. 

Winslet and Ronan are so good that they make the familiar feel fresh and new - giving "Ammonite" the spark it needs to satisfy audiences.

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