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The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic of The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern reviews films weekly in the paper and on KCRW.
5 days ago
When the Feds are the enemy
"The United States vs. Billie Holiday" chronicles the U.S. government's war on Billie Holiday in the late 1940s, when the Bureau of Narcotics saw in the peerless, heroin-addicted singer a chance to racialize its so-called war on drugs.
Feb 19, 2021
On the road again--and again
In Chloé Zhao's gorgeous "Nomadland," a woman in her 60s, played with gusto and intimations of grief by Frances McDormand, joins a transient population of older and just plain old Americans driving their vans and RV's around the American West in search of companionship, and gig work where they can find it.
Feb 12, 2021
Chillingly relevant American history from half a century ago
In Shaka King's remarkable "Judas and the Black Messiah," Fred Hampton and the Chicago Black Panthers struggle against racism in the late 1960's, unaware that the FBI has planted an informant in their midst.
Feb 5, 2021
Previewing the Pandemic
"Little Fish" finished shooting many months before Covid-19 hit, but it gets some things right and other things very right, even though the virus in the movie attacks your memory instead of taking your life.
Jan 29, 2021
A deep dig into the distant past
Sutton Hoo, in the English countryside in Suffolk, was the site of one of the most spectacular archaeological finds of the 20th century. Now that discovery has been dramatized--affectingly, and quite accurately--in a Netflix film called "The Dig."
Jan 22, 2021
The beguiling charms of "Our Friend"
Flawlessly acted by Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck and Jason Segel, and beautifully directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, this movie about friendship and cancer--in that order--is funny and affecting in equal measure.
Jan 15, 2021
Society as a rooster coop
That's how the hero of "The White Tiger" views his native India. The way you'll view the film is with rapt attention and great delight. It's really terrific.
Jan 8, 2021
Brightening the Autism Spectrum
A documentary called "The Reason I Jump" is a stirring new addition to the movie genre--best exemplified by "The Miracle Worker"--about disabled people who can't express what they're thinking or feeling.
Dec 18, 2020
The Meaning of the Blues
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" stars Viola Davis as the great blues singer of the title and Chadwick Boseman, brilliant in his final performance as the cornetist in a quartet that accompanies her. "White folk don't understand the blues," Ma says at one point. Their understanding will be enhanced by this powerful, ultimately shattering film version of the 1982 August Wilson play.
Dec 4, 2020
A show-stopper in a non-starter
Are you willing to watch 130 minutes of unfounded self-delight for four minutes of terrific song and dance? Then "The Prom" is the film for you. The cast includes Meryl Streep, James Corden and Nicole Kidman, but there's little they can do to save this Netflix music from its own excesses.
Nov 6, 2020
"Proxima" is an astronaut story set entirely on Earth, and all the stronger for it
The subject is love--between Eva Green's astronaut mother and her 7-year-old daughter, played affectingly by Zélie Boulant--and extremely well-founded separation anxiety, since Mom is soon to blast off for a one-year tour aboard the International Space Station.
Oct 30, 2020
The Life and Governance of American Cities
Frederick Wiseman's documentary feature, "City Hall," is the latest in a remarkable string of 43 films about cultural and political institutions. It's more than four hours long, but fascinating at almost every point along the way, a testament to the ideal of civic governance and the complex pleasures of city life.
Oct 23, 2020
"The Witches," Robert Zemeckis's remake of the 1990 version of the dark Roald Dahl novel, transfers the action from Norway and the United Kingdom to Alabama in the late 1960s. That's a good idea with one substantial reservation. Remaking a cult classic turns out to be a digital-effects extravaganza and too much of a good thing.
Oct 16, 2020
Echoes of Chaos
In striking ways Aaron Sorkin's "The Trial of the Chicago 7 " is a docudrama for our time. It's about the riots that surrounded the 1968 Democratic convention, which took place during the Vietnam war, and the 1969 trial of anti war demonstrators charged with inciting violence in the streets around the convention. But docudramas have their own way of mixing truth with invention, and this one is no exception.
Oct 9, 2020
A great documentary, and a timely one
Garrett Bradley's "Time," a gorgeous documentary that skips back and forth over the course of two decades, is a Black filmmaker's lyrical tribute to a Black family trying to hold itself together while it's beset by barely imaginable pressures.
Oct 2, 2020
The father-daughter romance, eternal and infernally complicated
Bill Murray and Rashida Jones star in Sofia Coppola's "On the Rocks," a film about her marriage and their relationship, both of which are fraught and funny.
Sep 25, 2020
Star Quality That's Readily Detectable
Millie Bobby Brown was only 12 when she first played Eleven, the mysterious girl with psychokinetic powers, on the TV series "Stranger Things." Now she's all of 16 and starring as Sherlock Holmes's kid sister in "Enola Holmes." The mystery this time is how she carries the whole movie with nary a false note.
Sep 18, 2020
When Telluride Came To the Rose Bowl
After cancelling this year's Telluride Film Festival because of the pandemic, the festival set up shop for one night at a pop-up drive-in next to the Rose Bowl. Only one film was shown, but it was special, and beautiful--Chloé Zhao's "Nomadland."
Sep 11, 2020
What Are They Doing To Us?
A Netflix documentary, "The Social Dilemma," examines the myriad ways social media platforms hold our attention while they mine our minds for data and pollute them with news that ranges from trivial through questionable to flat-out counterfeit.
Sep 4, 2020
A Mobius Strip Of a Road Trip
Charlie Kaufman's "I'm Thinking of Ending It All" defies description but doesn't defeat it. The Netflix film starts with two people in a car on a road trip, then goes off on a trip of its own to explore matters of identity, relationships, projection (not the multiplex kind) and nothing less than the nature of reality. It can be exasperating, but also beautiful, a work of emotional impressionism with moments of rueful grace and startling images that evoke yearning.
Aug 28, 2020
In the Matter of Robin Williams's Death
A new documentary, "Robin's Wish," deals with the disease that took his life, but also celebrates his life, and his courage as his inner self came undone.
Aug 21, 2020
Heroism and Heartbreak
"Desert One," a superb documentary by Barbara Kopple, examines the 1980 special forces mission launched secretly by President Jimmy Carter in an attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis.
Aug 14, 2020
Through a glass glibly
In "Boys State," a documentary streaming on Apple TV+, 1,000 or so high school juniors come together in Texas for a week-long program in which they build their own state government and run for governor in mock elections. How they go about it inevitably reflects the state of participatory politics in supposedly adult America. It is not a pretty picture.
Jul 31, 2020
Rising from real ashes
Ron Howard's "Rebuilding Paradise," a fine National Geographic documentary, reconstructs the 2018 wildfire that destroyed the town of Paradise in the foothills of Northern California. The film also has something to say, however indirectly, about our own rebuilding effort, once the pandemic is behind us, and about even greater challenges to come.
Jul 24, 2020
When the Nucleus Won't Hold
"Radioactive," a biopic that starts to be about Marie Curie, can't resist a cause-and-effect survey of radiation that extends as far afield as Hiroshima, the Nevada Proving Ground and Chernobyl. But Rosamund Pike's vivid performance as the peerless scientist and two-time Nobel Prize winner comes close to redeeming the whole production.