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Film Reviews

The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic of The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern reviews films weekly in the paper and on KCRW; he airs his current musings on the film industry in a biweekly column for the paper as well. He has worked for The New York Times

Copyright: KCRW 2018

I Feel Pretty

Fri, 20 Apr 2018 18:44:00 -0700

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At first blush “I Feel Pretty” has a promising premise. It’s about a sad duckling who’s far from ugly, just pleasantly plump and plagued by self-doubt. Suddenly, magically, she believes that she’s drop-dead gorgeous, and her delusion releases her joyous, lovable self. At second blush, after seeing the film, it’s a botched premise. At third blush, after thinking about the film, it never had a chance of being much good in the hands of filmmakers whose take on their subject is sitcom-deep.

The duckling, Renee Bennett, is played by Amy Schumer. She knows how to sell a comic notion, and she commits to selling this one, come what may. Renee’s only wish is to be beautiful. She works for a global cosmetics company modeled on Revlon or L’Oreal, but she does so from the company’s online office, a squalid warren in a Chinatown basement. (Where her only co-worker, a guy, is a total dimwit, and a slob.) This establishes two things—the heroine’s obsession with physical appearance, and the movie’s devotion to selling plot points, however absurd they may be.

And however arbitrary. Renee’s imagined transformation follows her watching TV and happening onto a key scene of “Big”—the one in which the little kid tells a carnival machine, “I wish I were big.” This is a praiseworthy example of truth in borrowing. But it’s also a reminder to be careful what you wish for; some instant transformations have wondrous consequences, while some don’t. This one doesn’t, notwithstanding Amy Schumer’s desperate efforts, and despite our wishing the movie well for its message that beauty comes from within.

After the kid in “Big” wakes up the next morning and is big enough to be played by Tom Hanks, our delight extends beyond the physical change to the sweetly naïve 13-year- old point of view that the ostensibly mature hero brings to the adult world around him. When Renee transmogrifies miraculously the day after she sees the scene from “Big,” it’s all in her head, so the rest of the movie depends completely on her behavior, which is comically delusional if you buy it, and scarily demented if you don’t.

All the beautiful people in her company buy it, even when Renee talks febrile nonsense about being a supermodel, and no one asks any questions. The men around her buy it. They tell her she’s dazzling and perfect. But the compliments are unearned, because she keeps coming on like a runaway narcissist, the kind of woman any sensible man would flee in a New York nanosecond. Renee eventually reverts to her original self, as in “Big.” She’s duly cured of her paralyzing insecurity, and gets to deliver an earnest exhortation about the need for girls and women alike to believe in themselves. But you can’t believe in “I Feel Pretty.” It’s a put-up job about a self- enchanted Cinderella.

I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back next week with a review of “The Avengers.”

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The Rider

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 18:44:00 -0700

“The Rider” has an unerring feel for its subject, a young cowboy struggling against his fate in the American West. That’s all the more remarkable because this beautiful film was written and directed by Chloé Zhao, a Chinese woman born in Beijing.

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A Quiet Place

Fri, 06 Apr 2018 18:44:00 -0700

“A Quiet Place” is exactly 90 minutes long, or short. It may not make the masterpiece cut, but this little horror thriller is enormously entertaining, because it’s organized around a terrific idea—the necessity of absolute silence.

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Ready Player One

Fri, 30 Mar 2018 18:44:00 -0700

This new film is impressive, and technically cool, but also emotionally cool. There’s a fundamental mismatch between artist and material.

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Isle of Dogs

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 18:44:00 -0700

“Isle of Dogs” is clever, funny, startlingly beautiful, politically acute and surprisingly heartfelt.

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The Death Of Stalin

Fri, 09 Mar 2018 18:44:00 -0800

All the same, “The Death of Stalin” gets off lots of clever jokes—finding a doctor for the comatose Stalin is hard because all the good ones are in the gulag. And it gets at political and historical truths on its own terms. Power doesn’t have to corrupt, the film suggests; many come to it pre-corrupted, as well as ignorant, fatuous and heedless.

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Red Sparrow

Fri, 02 Mar 2018 18:44:00 -0800

It’s the sort of tossed-off magic that Jennifer Lawrence has worked so often in the past, and that I hope she will work again.

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Fri, 23 Feb 2018 18:44:00 -0800

“Annihilation” is new. It wants us to think, and feel, while we’re having fun.

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A Fantastic Woman

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 18:44:00 -0800

Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” is Chile’s entry for this year’s foreign-language Oscar.

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Fri, 19 Jan 2018 18:44:00 -0800

A story of redemption that will stand the test of time.

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Paddington 2

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 18:44:00 -0800

When the little guy with the floppy red hat and a fondness for orange marmalade first appeared on the feature screen three years ago this month, he seemed like a gift from the movie gods in a traditionally lean season. Now he and his creators have outdone themselves. One lovely sequence finds Paddington inside the London of an antique pop-up book, but lovely sequences keep popping up with remarkable frequency.

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Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 18:44:00 -0800

Annette Bening can tell you everything you need to know about her character in a single unfolding scene. It’s always rewarding to see her in action, even though her latest movie, “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool,” doesn’t measure up to her performance.

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The Post

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:44:00 -0800

The most important movie opening this holiday season is The Post.

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The Last Jedi

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 18:44:00 -0800

The Last Jedi starts where The Force Awakens left off. The rebels are in full retreat, and Rey has discovered Luke Skywalker as a monkish hermit on a faraway island of a really faraway planet. The question is what comes next...

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I, Tonya

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:44:00 -0800

Impressive in its own right, the movie I, Tonya is also a cure for all those feel-good films about innately noble athletes who manage to triumph over impossible odds. 

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The Shape of Water

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 18:44:00 -0800

Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water is a flow of sumptuous images set to music, a flood tide of feelings with a mythic undertow..

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Justice League

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 18:44:00 -0800

This new film is a crowd-pleaser only if you're part of a comics-obsessed crowd. 

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 18:44:00 -0800

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is darkly comic, blazingly profane, flat-out hilarious and often violent, not to mention flippant, tender, poetic and profound. 

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Lady Bird

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 18:44:00 -0700

Greta Gerwig is one of the pre-eminent actors of our time, and fine actors often make good directors. And she's no stranger to the art of the screenplay.

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Suburbicon; Novitiate

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 18:44:00 -0700

Joe's got two movies this week, one good and one really, really bad...

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Faces Places

Fri, 20 Oct 2017 18:44:00 -0700

There's never been a film quite like this one.

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Fri, 13 Oct 2017 18:44:00 -0700

Marshall is a movie that surprises at every turn.

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Blade Runner 2049

Fri, 06 Oct 2017 18:44:00 -0700

The big question in Blade Runner 2049 continues to be the one posed by Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece. Who is human, made of flesh and blood, and who is a replicant, built in a factory but able to pass for human in most respects? 

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Fri, 08 Sep 2017 18:44:00 -0700

Errol Morris's enthralling Wormwood, a six-part, 258-minute miniseries produced by Netflix, debuts in December.

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Fri, 04 Aug 2017 18:44:00 -0700

Step is a stirring documentary about a female step-dancing team in an inner-city high school. 

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