Kelvin Harrison Jr., Alexa Demie

“WAVES” My rating: B+ (Opens Dec. 6 at the Screenland Armour, Barrywoods and Town Center)

135 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Waves” is about a suburban American family coming apart at the seams.  Featuring plot elements like teen pregnancy, substance abuse — even murder — it promises a melodramatic rollercoaster ride.

But writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ third feature (after the dysfunctional-family-reunion drama “Krisha” and the end-of-the-world-horror entry “It Comes at Night”) is more insightful than exploitative.  He’s aiming at something profound:  forgiveness.

The film’s first hour concentrates on Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a handsome and charismatic high school senior with the world ahead of him.  He hopes to parlay his wrestling skills into a college scholarship; he has a beautiful girlfriend, Alexis (Alexa Demie); he’s a conscientious student and a talented pianist.

He lives in a nice home in Florida with his father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), his stepmother Catharine (Renee Elise Goldsberry) and his younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell).

But small chinks are apparent in this happy facade.  Ronald, a homebuilder, practices tough love.  He insists on training with Tyler, injecting an element of unhealthy competition into the father/son dynamic. Ronald belongs to a generation of black men who see America as a racially charged environment, and so is always pushing his son: “We’re not afforded the luxury of being average.”

(For the young people depicted here, being black or white is a non-issue. They live in their own world of racial fluidity, leaving all the breast thumping to their elders.)

Tyler’s world comes crashing down when an MRI reveals a career-ending shoulder injury.  The doctor tells him to immediately stop physical activities and prepare for surgery; instead Tyler keeps this devastating diagnosis to himself, continues wrestling (until the pain won’t allow him to any more) and self medicates with liquor and pills stolen from his parents.

And for the perfect frosting on his very bad week, Alexis reports that she has missed her period. Tyler, panicked, pushes her to have an abortion. Result: an acrimonious breakup.

Then things get really ugly.

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Mark Ruffalo

“DARK WATERS” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Dec. 6)

126 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

If in the New  Year America’s landfills are suddenly overflowing with discarded cooking paraphernalia you can blame “Dark Waters,” Todd Haynes’ fact-based examination of how DuPont, in developing Teflon, pretty much poisoned the world.

This legal procedural follows a decade long effort by Robert Bilott, an attorney whose firm counts DuPont as one of its major clients, to determine why first the cattle and later the people living around Parkersburg, West Virginia, began exhibiting bizarre birth defects, horrendous tumors and unexpectedly high death rates.

This isn’t the first time that Haynes have gone off on an environmental tangent. in 1995’s “Safe” he examined the plight of a woman who is literally allergic to just about aspect in modern life. But “Dark Waters” is unique in that it is the most straightforward, unambiguously non-artsy film in a directorial career marked by titles like “Far from Heaven,” “Velvet Goldmine” and “I’m Not There.”

In fact, the artsiest thing in the movie is its gray/blue palette…surely the sun sometimes shines in West Virginia?

Bilott, played with quiet intensity by Mark Ruffalo, is a big-city lawyer whose job is to defend chemical companies.  Then he’s approached by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), an acquaintance of his grandma, who demands that the high-priced attorney investigate the death of more than 100 of his cows after they drank from a stream on his land.

The Tennant property  abuts a decades-old DuPont waste storage facility; almost from the get-go Bilott (and those of us in the audience) knows where this is going. The problem is proving it.

Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa’s screenplay (adapted from Nathaniel Rich’s magazine article) simultaneously focuses on Billot’s long search for answers and his personal journey, using what’s he’s learned representing chemical giants to go after them.

At the same time his singleminded devotion to the case threatens his marriage to Sarah (Anne Hathaway) and his job at a big Cincinnati law firm, where the partners (led by Tim Robbins)  only give him leave to pursue the Dupont matter in the hopes of getting a piece of a massive settlement.

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Scarlett Johanssen, Adam Driver

“MARRIAGE STORY” My rating: B+ (Premieres Dec. 6 on Netflix)

136 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The opening moments of Noah Baumbach’s latest film finds a couple — Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) — rhapsodizing about the other’s best features.

Each has a laundry list of his/her spouse’s positive attributes.  My God, you think, these two are wildly in love.

Uh, no.  The cataloguing of lovable traits is simply an exercise developed by a marriage counselor.  In fact, Nicole and Charlie seem destined for the big split.

“Marriage Story” — which more accurately might have been entitled “Divorce Story” — is a black comedy that leaves audience suspended between laughter and wincing.  It’s about how despite the best efforts of the people involved, a marital breakup takes nightmarish turns.

It’s funny and heartbreaking.

Nicole and Charlie live in NYC with their adorable son Henry (Azhy Robertson).  Charlie is the director of a semi-celebrated experimental theater company; Nicole’s the leading lady  in most of their productions.

But Nicole has long felt stifled, artistically and emotionally. Over Charlie’s objections she takes a role in a TV series being filmed in Hollywood and with young Henry heads West to live — temporarily Charlie assumes — with her mother Sandra (Julie Hagerty). It eventually dawns on Charlie that Nicole won’t be returning to their life in New  York.

Now Nicole and Charlie are decent folk and they agree up front that while the marriage may be doomed, there’s no reason to become enemies.  They have a child to think of and, anyway, who wants to get all wrapped up in recriminations and resentments?  Why not just split up the common property and make it all as painless as possible? Continue Reading »

Noah Jupe

“HONEY BOY”  My rating: B

94 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Fathers and sons have long been a staple of the dramatic arts; even so, “Honey Boy” stands apart as a brutal yet poetic bit of personal storytelling.

Scripted by actor Shia LaBeouf, whose battles with the law and substance abuse are the stuff of Hollywood legend, the yarn is based on his own boyhood as a child actor being raised — well, sort of — by a troubled father.

And here’s the kicker: LaBeouf plays his own dad, delivering a performance that is simultaneously lacerating and tender.

Twelve-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) spends his days on movie and TV sets where he is a respected actor.  Usually hanging around — when he isn’t at an AA meeting — is his father James (LaBeouf), an odd duck with scraggly long hair and outsized wire rim glasses who devotes much energy to trying to score with the women working there.

James is a former rodeo clown who once had an act featuring a live trained chicken; he’s  a nonstop talker whose tales are so outlandish you can’t be sure what to believe.  He’s actually kind of pathetic.

He and Otis reside in a rundown motel on the edge of the desert and travel exclusively by motorcycle.

Ostensibly James is the father…but Otis is technically his boss. The kid makes  the money; the father gets an allowance for looking after him. (There’s a divorced mother somewhere, but we never see her.)

You can see the possibilities for conflict.

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Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith

“QUEEN & SLIM” My rating: B (Now showing)

131 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Bonnie and Clyde” (or perhaps “Thelma and Louise”) meet Black Lives Matter in “Queen and Slim,” the impressive feature film directing debut of television and video veteran Melina Matsoukas.

Penned by Lena Waithe (an Emmy winner for her writing for Netflix’s “Master of None”) from a story by James Frey, this tale of lovers on the run soars on a pair of killer perfs from stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith.

We meet Queen and Slim — they have real names but we won’t learn them until the movie’s end — in the midst of a disastrous first Tinder date.  Queen (Turner-Smith) is a lawyer bummed because one of her clients has received the death penalty.  She called up Slim because she likes his looks and because she badly needs to vent to someone.

They’re about as different as can be. She’s angry, cynical, judgmental and, on some level, elitist.

He says grace before eating (even in restaurants), has a license plate that reads “Trust God,” works at Costco, doesn’t drink and maintains a live-and-let-live attitude. He eats with his mouth open; she’s grossed out.

He’s driving her home after what will surely be their one and only date when they’re pulled over by a cop. A white cop (played very well by country star Sturgill Simpson).  Things quickly escalate when the hot-headed Queen throws accusations at the officer. Within seconds she has a bullet hole in her leg and the policeman is dead, shot by Slim with his own service weapon.

Slim wants to stay put; Queen quickly convinces him he’ll be shot on sight.

“We can’t just leave him here.”

“Yes we can.”

“I’m not a criminal.”

“You are now.”

They take off with a vague plan to find Queen’s uncle in New Orleans and then, maybe, catch a plane to Cuba. Continue Reading »

Mel Gibson, Sean Penn

“THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN” My rating: B (Now on Amazon Prime)

124 minutes | No MPAA rating

Given that it was initiated three years ago by Mel Gibson’s production company, that its release was delayed by internal controversy, and that its director has insisted on using an alias in the credits, one expects “The Professor and the Madman” to be a hot mess.

Instead it is a fascinating slice of history and a moving tale of friendship and salvation. Plus it features one of Sean Penn’s greatest performances.

Be thankful the film was picked up by Amazon, where it will be experienced by far more people than would have paid to see it in a theater.

Based on Simon Winchester’s non-fiction best seller of the same name, “Professor…” stars Gibson as James Murray, a self-taught Scotsman who ended up leading a team that over 70 years produced the Oxford English Dictionary, an attempt to catalogue and parse the history of every word in the English language.

A genius with an almost encyclopedic memory when it came to language, Murray set up a system by which everyday British citizens from throughout the Empire could contribute postcard-sized analyses of words, quoting examples of their use in great literature.

His work created problems on the domestic front — Murray’s obsession with the project led to tension with the Missus (Jennifer Ehle). And he was forever being undercut by the titled snobs attached to the project, who resented Murray’s Scottish background and his lack of a university degree.

Murray is the “professor” of the title.  The “madman” is a veteran of the American Civil War, surgeon William Minor (Penn), who suffered from what today might have been diagnosed as PTSD, along with a good dose of schizophrenia.

Minor was convinced he was being targeted by an assassin; in Lambeth in 1871 he shot to death George Merrett, a man he believed was stalking him. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in an asylum.

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Daniel Craig…Southern fried private eye

“KNIVES OUT” My rating: B (Opens wide on Nov. 27)

130 minutes | MPAA rating:

The genteel drawing-room murder mystery gets roughed up but emerges more or less intact in “Knives Out,” the latest from “it” director Rian Johnson (“Looper,” “The Last Jedi”).

What you’ve got here is a dead man, a house full of suspects (played by some very big names),  a Southern-gentleman detective who seems to have been dipped in molasses — and a gleefully satiric sense of humor.

Plus a lot of snarky attitude when it comes to privileged white folks.

The film begins with the housekeeper for famed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) discovering her employer’s corpse.  His throat has been cut.

Apparently the crime (if it is a crime…it might be a very bizarre suicide) took place shortly after Harlan’s 85th birthday party, an event attended by a pack of relations crammed into the old man’s semi-spooky turn-of-the-last-century mansion (described by one cop as “practically a Clue board”). Apparently the evening (which we see in flashbacks) was marked by some discord — old Harlan was no pushover and he loved rubbing his family’s noses in their inadequacies.

The local officer in charge of the investigation (LaKeith Stanfield) has his hands full with the various children, in-laws and others, all of whom seem to have some motive for killing their Sugar Daddy and a bad attitude when it comes to dealing with authority. So he’s mildly relieved when a famous private eye, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), mysteriously shows up.

Benoit, who talks with a slow drawl so thick it drips sorghum, has been hired by an anonymous client to look into the case. He won’t stop until he gets answers. Think Matlock on Thorazine with a cannabis chaser.

Murder mysteries in this  vein (“Murder on the Orient Express,” “Gosford Park”) rely on a large cast of eccentrics to keep us engaged and guessing. “Knives Out” has a colorfully hateful bunch.

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Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys

“IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Nov. 22)

108 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Movie trailers are a hugely effective way of lying. One should always approach them with the same caution brought to political postings on Facebook.

So my tearful response to the trailer for “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” with Tom Hanks as the iconic PBS kiddie show star Fred Rogers, left me wary.  Could the actual movie really be that moving, or would it fall apart in a morass of manipulation and sentimentality?

Good news, Mr. Rogers fans.  “Beautiful Day” sidesteps virtually all the landmines in its path and delivers a funny, touching and uplifting story about a man who was too good to be true.

Fred Rogers was the subject last year of an exhaustive documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”; happily director Marielle Heller (“Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harvester (working from Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire profile of Rogers) don’t turn “Beautiful Day” into another retelling of the famous man’s life. In fact, one could argue that Fred Rogers is a supporting character here.

The film centers on Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a (fictional) investigative journalist whose specialty is digging up dirt on his subjects. He’s tough and analytical and cynical…and appalled when his editor assigns him to write a 500-word piece — essentially a long caption –on Mr. Rogers. (“Play nice,” she urges him.)

He doesn’t want the assignment. His wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson of TV’s “This Is Us”) sees disaster looming: “Please don’t ruin my childhood.”

Lloyd has more than a little baggage from his own childhood.  Early on we see his encounter at a wedding with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), whom he hasn’t seen for years; it almost immediately devolves into a father-son brawl.

Fifteen years earlier, when Lloyd’s mother became fatally ill, the philandering Jerry abandoned her and his two children. Now Lloyd carries a manhole cover-sized grudge. When Lloyd first interviews Fred Rogers (Hanks) at the Pittsburgh TV station where the show is taped, the evidence of his Oedipal issues is all over his bruised face.

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Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller

“21 BRIDGES” My rating: C (Opens wide on Nov. 22)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

To the extent that it delivers a series of adrenaline-stoked action sequences and a ridiculously high body count, Brian Kirk’s “21 Bridges” should satisfy audiences looking for a thrill.

And that’s about it.

Not even the presence of the versatile  Chadwick Baseman (whose roles range from Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall to the Black Panther) and the eerily transforming Sienna Miller can elevate this piece above “mehhh” status.

The first half of Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan’s screenplay (and by far the better half) is a manhunt told from the points of view of two couples — a pair of crooks on the run  and a pair of cops on their heels.

In the opening sequence a couple of well-armed thugs, Michael and Ray (Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch) hit a posh New York City restaurant late at night after closing.  They’ve been told there’s 30 kilos of cocaine hidden in the eatery; they are perplexed to discover it’s more like 300 kilos, way more than they can carry out.

To further complicate matters,  a bunch of cops show up.  Maybe they are looking for a late-night snack.  In any case, there’s a gun battle that leaves eight of New York’s finest headed to the morgue.  The perps take off running.

Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch

The filmmakers at least try for plausible back stories.  Michael and Ray are ex-military; Ray is by far the more ruthless of the two, but Kitsch gives him just enough charisma to keep us interested.  Michael basically finds himself in over his head.

On the other side of the coin are detectives Andre Davis (Boseman) and Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller, almost unrecognizable with no makeup), thrown together to manage a city-wide manhunt for the cop killers.

Again, an attempt is made to provide some depth to the characters.  Davis is himself the son of a slain cop who regularly faces Internal Affairs hearings for his marksmanship (eight fatal shootings in as many years); he maintains he never fires first. Burns is a single mom with a Brooklyn accent.

To keep the crooks from leaving town, Davis imposes a 1 a.m.-to-sunup closure of all 21 bridges leading into and out of Manhattan Island.  He’s got five hours before the quarantine will be lifted and rush hour begins. (Thus the movie’s title…though once the roads are blocked the film never returns to them. Another title would have been “21 Body Bags.”)

An already perplexing case is made even more unmanageable by the dead officers’ revenge-minded colleagues (J.K. Simmons plays their precinct chief). These cops have a bad habit of killing witnesses before Davis can interview them.

In the film’s second half it dawns on Davis that there may be more to this case than meets the eye…we’re talking corruption in high places. (And you can only imagine the paperwork demanded of our hero after personally killing a dozen people.)

“21 Bridges” has been well made.  The acting is OK. The shots of NYC at night are sometimes eerily atmospheric.

On the whole, though, the film is more blah than bad. Instantly forgettable.

| Robert W. Butler

Taika Waititi, Roman Griffin Davis

“JOJO RABBIT” My rating: C+r (Now showing)

118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Jojo Rabbit” is one of those movies more satisfying in principle than in practice.

The latest from Kiwi auteur Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “Thor: Ragnarok” and, of course, TV’s “Flight of the Conchords”) is nothing if not timely.

Waititi’s subject is right-wing political fanaticism — German Naziism, to be precise — and his methodology is that of off-the-wall satire.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The title character is 10-year-old Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis) — Jojo for short.  Jojo lives in Germany in the latter stages of World War II.  His father has gone off to fight for the Fuehrer in Italy…at least that’s the story his mom, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), is sticking to.

Jojo is himself a worshipper of Hitler and all things Nazi. (Those uniforms! That invigorating aura of invincibility and racial superiority!) In fact, his adoring  imagination has conjured up a make-believe best friend…none other than Adolf himself (Waititi), who loves hanging out with Jojo and exudes childish enthusiasms and questionable advice.

Some of the film’s funniest material is front loaded…early on Jojo and his fat pal Yorki (Archie Yates) spend a weekend at a Hitler Youth camp where they are subjected to lectures on racial purity, practice lobbing grenades and gaze in gape-mouthed admiration at their chief instructor, Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), a one-eyed combat veteran rarely seen without his two flunkies, Finkel (Alfie Allen) and Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson).

The whole thing is like a Boy Scout rally with live ammunition.  Except that Jojo collapses when ordered to snap a bunny’s neck with his bare hands to prove his willingness to slay the enemies of the Reich. Apparently Jojo’s love of manly posing won’t be enough to make him a good National Socialist.

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Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa; Robert DeNiro as Frank Sheeran

“THE IRISHMAN” My rating: B (Now at the Alamo Drafthouse, Screenland Armour and Standees)

209 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Martin Scorsese’s much-anticipated “The Irishman” is a good movie.

Not a great one.

It’s been described as the filmmaker’s ultimate gangster epic, yet it feels less like a conventional celebration of tough-guy ethos than a slow (3 1/2 hour’s worth), mournful meditation on sins unacknowledged and unforgiven.

In fact, Scorsese seems to have gone out of his way to avoid the sort of eye-catching set pieces (like the long nightclub tracking shot from “GoodFellas”) that marked many of his earlier efforts. “The Irishman” is almost ploddingly straightforward.

Steve Zaillian’s screenplay follows the title character, real-life contract killer Frank Sheehan (Robert DeNiro), from his early days as a truck driver with a taste for theft  to his residency in an old folk’s home.

(Now seems a good time to comment on the much-ballyhooed CG “youthening” of the actors…it’s so good you don’t even think about it. No waxy skin tones or blurry edges — damn near flawless.)

The bulk of the movie, set in the ’50s and ’60s, chronicles Frank’s association with the Teamsters  and his friendship with union president Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), who in a phone call introduces himself to Frank with the statement: “I heard you paint houses.”  That’s code for acting as a hired assassin, a role Frank will perform for Hoffa and others for a quarter century.

The film centers on a long 1975 car trip in which Sheehan and his mentor, crime family boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and their wives drive from Philadelphia to Detroit, ostensibly to attend the wedding of a colleague’s daughter.  At various stages in the journey Frank’s memory is jogged to recall past exploits. He doesn’t realize until late in the trip that Russell has another agenda — the assassination of Jimmy Hoffa who, after serving a four-year sentence in federal prison, is now upsetting the apple cart by attempting to reclaim the presidency of the Teamsters Union.

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Emilia Clarke

“LAST CHRISTMAS” My rating: C-

102 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Despite my general hatred of seasonally-themed romantic comedies (like chugging a gallon of eggnog), there were reasons to think “Last Christmas” might be different.

For starters, it was written by Emma Thompson (who in addition to being a great actress gave us the screenplays for “Sense and Sensibility,” “Nanny McPhee” and “Bridget Jones’ Baby”) and directed by Paul Feig of “Bridesmaids” fame.

Surely those two could provide just enough edge to make all that good cheer palatable.

If only.

“Last Christmas,” which purportedly was inspired by the George Michael song of the same name, is an unbearable mess, too dour to be truly funny and too silly to work dramatically.

Most of the film is a too-quirky dramady that botches just about everything it attempts; in its final stages the script delivers a plot twist that has been so poorly set up that it hardly makes a dent in the audience ennui.

Kate (Emilia Clark) is a mess.  Though she considers herself an aspiring singer, she works in a year-round Christmas store in London where she is required to suit up as an elf — even in the summer.  Her off hours are devoted to boozing and sleeping with cute strangers.  At odds with her parents, she lives out of a suitcase, crashing on the couches of friends whose patience is wearing thin.

We’re supposed to find her charming in an offbeat way; mostly she’s just irritating.

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Eddy Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore

“DOLEMITE IS MY NAME” My rating: B- 

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Aside from setting a cinema record for the number of times “motherf**cker” and its variants are uttered, “Dolemite Is My Name” reminds us of why Eddie Murphy remains one of our comedy treasures.

Murphy slips effortlessly into the skin of Rudy Ray Moore, the struggling singer who in the early ’70s reinvented himself with a series of gleefully lewd party albums, then transferred his alter ego “Dolemite” onto the big screen at the height of the blaxploitation craze.

That said, this comedic slice of entertainment history from director Craig Brewer– a white guy whose Afro-centric films include “Hustle and Flow” and “Blacksnake Moan” —  is so slow out of the gate that more than few viewers will be tempted to bail before the picture hits its stride.

In the waning days of the 1960s the middle-aged Rudy Ray, pot-bellied and jowly, managers a record store and desperately tries to peddle his r&b/funk recordings.  His career is going nowhere (and at this point neither is this movie).

Then Rudy Ray latches onto a vociferous homeless guy (Ron Cephas Jones of TV’s “This Is Us”) who in exchange for a pint or two regales him with tales of the comedic folk hero Dolemite, a sort of ghetto Br’er Rabbit who bombastically outsmarts, outfights and outscrews any and all who get in his way.

Moore develops a comedy act in which he dons Afro wig and colorful pimp regalia to portray Dolemite, telling his self-serving stories in rhymed raps of pyrotechnical profanity. Black audiences go crazy for Dolemite; Rudy Ray is soon making a tour of the chitlin’ circuit, selling his LPs out of his car trunk.

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Joaquin Phoenix

“JOKER” My rating: B+

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

If Ingmar Bergman and Lars von Trier teamed up to make a superhero movie, the result would be just like “Joker.”

Less conventional comic book material than existential scream, Todd Phillips’ take on the legendary D.C. villain gives us Joaquin Phoenix as a hapless loser transformed by isolation and grief into a clown-faced avenging angel.

This grim — as in NOT FUN — yarn unfolds not in some make-believe alternative universe (the traditional Tim Burton-ized abode of comic book sagas) but in a Gotham City that looks, sounds and seems even to smell like the dystopian NYC of the 1970s, replete with wall-to-wall graffiti and mounds of garbage thanks to a strike by city workers.

There’s nothing supernatural offered by Phillips and Scott Silver’s screenplay, no fantastic science fiction machines or surgeries, nobody gifted with special powers.

Just the eternally miserable Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a human wraith doomed by genetics and circumstance to live in brutal isolation.

Arthur  works as a professional clown (children’s parties, sidewalk huckstering) and aspires to do stand up — which is odd because he is stupendously unfunny.

Street punks beat him up. When nervous — pretty much all the time — he breaks into uncontrollable laughter.  It’s actually a medical condition for which he takes an array of prescriptions.  Except that the city agency that provides drugs and counseling (Arthur spent some of his young adulthood in a mental ward) has lost its funding. Now he’s on his own.

“The worst thing about having mental illness,” he observes, “is that people expect you to act like you don’t.”

At home in a peeling apartment he feeds and bathes his aged mother (Frances Conroy); their relationship is essentially loving, but it’s pretty clear that Mom is delusional.  She insists on sending pleading letters to her long-ago employer Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), an oligarchical fascist making a run for mayor. (Yes, that Thomas Wayne, father of young Bruce, who will one day become Joker’s arch nemesis Batman.)

But then Arthur has his own issues with reality. He fantasizes that he appears on the late-night talk show of his favorite TV personality, Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro). Movie buffs will no doubt pick up some residual vibes from Martin Scorsese’s 1982 “King of Comedy,” in which DeNiro played a pathologically inept standup comic.

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“DOWNTON ABBEY” My rating: B+ 

122 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Feature film spinoffs of successful TV series have an iffy track record (“Sex and the City,” “Entourage,” “Absolutely Fabulous”), but the folks at “Downton Abbey” have done it right.

The new “Downton Abbey” movie is an astonishingly effective piece of work, one that hits all the notes that made the TV show so successful and then adds a couple of new ones.

Will the movie make sense to anyone who wasn’t glued to PBS on Sunday nights?  Well, maybe, but the real pleasure here comes from continuing our relationships with characters we already know inside out.  It’s like a family reunion…only you actually like hanging with this family.

Writer Julian Fellowes, who created the series and scripted most of its episodes, provides a screenplay that gives almost every member of the huge cast at least one memorable moment and effortlessly balances multiple story threads.

Director Michael Engler deftly handles the pacing and the impressive technical production (he’s in charge of the actors, too but since most of these players have been doing their characters for the better part of a decade, how much coaching could they have required?).

The plot? Well, there are a dozen of them, but the overriding one has the King and Queen visiting Downton. It’s like when the FBI takes over a local murder investigation…Their Majesties’ arrogant retainers invade the Abbey, relegating the resident staff to observer status.  But not for long, thanks to machinations that come off as a more genteel iteration of “Revenge of the Nerds.”

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“ONE CHILD NATION” My rating: B+ (Now on Netflix)

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Americans — thoughtful ones, anyway — know all about collective guilt.

After all, under our belts we’ve got 200 years of slavery, the decimation of the continent’s aboriginal population, internment camps for loyal Japanese Americans…and President Donald J. Trump.

That’s just for starters.

But we’re given a run for our money by China, which for nearly 40 years enforced its one-child-per-family rule with millions of involuntary sterilizations and abortions.

The  moral weight of that experience is at the heart of “One Child Nation,” a devastating documentary that starts out as an examination of personal history and quickly becomes an indictment of an entire culture.

The film follows Nanfu Wang (who co-directs with Jialing Zhang) as she returns to her birthplace in China (she’s now a U.S. resident).  Visiting her native village in Jiangxi Province she interviews older citizens — including her schoolteacher mother and the burg’s former mayor — about the one-child policy that was in effect from 1979 to 2015.

At the time it was the largest example of social engineering in the world; the filmmakers display TV ads, posters, parades and songs designed to make the one-child effort as important as buying bonds during wartime.

Mostly Wang’s subjects toe the party line, declaring the policy a great success which prevented mass starvation and allowed China to slowly build itself into the economic powerhouse we see today. They’re proud to have done their duty and by doing so to have guaranteed the survival of their country.

But bit by bit horror stories come slithering out.  The former mayor talks about standing to one side, shamefully unable to act or to interfere when authorities arrested women found to be illegally pregnant.

A midwife sorrowfully estimates she was responsible for as many as 20,000 forced abortions — often involving weeping, pleading women who had to be tied down for the operation.  Many of those aborted fetuses were late-termers capable of surviving outside the womb. They were strangled. This same woman now devotes her life to good deeds, hoping to expunge the bad karma she has built up over decades.

At one point the filmmakers stumble across a dumpster filled with snapshots of aborted babies.

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