Rex Reed’s Best & Worst Films of 2023

I dislike ratings of any kind, but movies are as competitive as baseball teams, so I guess some editorial format is necessary. Otherwise, like the census, everything would blend into one blurry mess.

Observer

In 2023, Rex Reed reviewed over 60 movies for Observer. Regardless of the rating, the instant his reviews hit our inbox (even when they’re late), the day is better. Nobody writes like Rex, and it’s nothing short of an honor to work with him. From best to worst—including those so bad they weren’t worthy of a review—here’s what our beloved film critic had to say about the year in film. 


“I dislike ratings of any kind, but movies are as competitive as baseball teams, so I guess some editorial format is necessary. Otherwise, like the census, everything would blend into one blurry mess. The rating procedure separates the almost-winners and the also-rans from the memorable triumphs that will, in my opinion, survive for decades. Barbie will not inspire a ripple of applause years from now, in the same way that Hair has gone from a controversial front-runner in 1979 to a blank page in 2023, but Singin’ in the Rain has been at the top of its game for 70 years and still delighting new generations every day.

Despite the general criticism that I have not kept up to date with the times, I believe the great films of the past were often much tighter, better written, and more entertaining than the films of today. There are few artists today in the same class as Elia Kazan, John Ford, Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor, John Frankenheimer, William Wyler and Billy Wilder, to name just a few. If a load of pornographic swill such as Poor Things is keeping up with the times, then drop me off in the 1940s and leave me there. (And Emma Stone is no Audrey Hepburn.)”

4-Star Movies

“I liked all of these movies because they do exactly what they set out to do, they have a strong emphasis on the kind of storytelling narrative I like best, and they seem flawless within the context of their focus, goal, and artistry.”

‘Maestro’: Bradley Cooper’s Masterpiece

Maestro is the movie of the year. Amendment: not to slight the amazing Oppenheimer, make that one of the two best films of the year. But Bradley Cooper’s warts-and-all biopic about volatile conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein has more passion, tenderness and heartbreaking resonance—and it’s a lot more fun…Maestro is the closest thing to perfection I’ve seen on the screen in a very long time…The film leaves no stone unturned and no turn unstoned as it investigates every turbulent chapter in Bernstein’s career…When the elements combine, you get a film as welcome and rare as a perfect Christmas morning. Maestro is a masterpiece.”

‘Saltburn’: Barry Keoghan’s Jaw-Dropping Performance Can’t Be Over-Praised

“Don’t let 2023 end without investigating a gem called Saltburn. It’s one of my personal unexpected, under-praised and unseen favorites of the holiday season, and I urge you to check it out immediately…Gorgeously photographed by Linus Sandgren, it’s both beautifully directed and cleverly written by British Oscar-winner Emerald Fennell, who follows her highly regarded Promising Young Woman with a film of even more staggering impact.”

‘Everything Went Fine’: A Life-Affirming Examination of Death

At a particularly bleak time in movie history when a good 90 percent of everything I see on the screen is regrettably dumb, pointless and forgettable, leave it to the French to elevate the cinema with something beautiful, touching and memorable. Written and directed by the prolific François Ozon, Everything Went Fine is an exemplary work that intelligently explores the pros and cons of euthanasia with the kind of  love, truthfulness and power that is rarely captured on film. If you fall into the dwindling category of filmgoers who demand more from motion pictures than mindless junk, it will restore your faith in humanity…Mr. Ozon’s meticulous screenplay and compassionate direction leave no stone unturned in telling this true story, based on the book Emmanuele Bernheim published following her father’s death, and enhanced immensely by a perfect cast that includes the ravishing Sophie Marceau as Emmanuele, Geraldine Pailhas as Pascale, veteran actress Hanna Schygulla as the woman who runs the actual Swiss organization that provides solutions to terminally ill patients…Movies about growing old gracefully and dying heroically are often avoided like a virus by audiences seeking happier and more entertaining feel-good subjects. I hope this is not the case with Everything Went Fine. It’s life-affirming and teaches us something valid about life’s unexpected but unavoidable challenges, eschewing all temptations to give in to sentimentality. It’s a very fine film indeed.”

‘The Zone of Interest’: Don’t Even Think of Missing This Movie

Fresh, original and deeply unsettling, The Zone of Interest is this year’s Oscar-competing entry from the UK. It is one of the year’s best films from anywhere. I saw it in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it has haunted me ever since…Shot on location, The Zone of Interest exposes both the banality and the evil of Nazism, illuminated by the taut, suspenseful performances of Sandra Hüller as the most unremarkable, often clueless wife and Christian Friedel as the most deceptively powerless control freak ever created by the Third Reich. The point of this overwhelming film—that depraved insanity sometimes goes undetected because of its unexpected mediocrity—has a chilling impact that seems, in the terrifying power politics of our world today, more egregiously relevant than ever.”

‘Close’ And ‘The Quiet Girl’: Oscar-Nominated Gems

With so many bad American movies cluttering the market, I find it more interesting and rewarding to take a look at some of the foreign films that will be competing in the forthcoming Academy Awards. Two of the best that I recommend with four stars and no reservations are in the same coming-of-age genre, with equally exquisite results…From Belgium, Close is a fresh, moving and unforgettable chronicle of masculine trust and devotion between two 13-year-old boys from neighboring farms who experience a blush of first love they don’t understand because it happens to be not with outsiders, but with each other…Belgian writer-director Lukas Dhont sustains the balance of mood and physical beauty with a thrilling eloquence and Eden Dambrine as Leo and Gustav DeWaele as Remi are stunning young discoveries who will not easily be forgotten…Meanwhile, from Ireland, The Quiet Girl, made with sensitivity and care by first-time writer-director Colm Bairead, combines serene editing, quiet reserves of strength, and subdued performances that allow you to think and feel instead of just watch. It mercifully uses words sparingly, without the padded pointlessness injected by most commercially driven American filmmakers to give viewers more time to waste more money at the concession stand. Movies rarely attempt to show the power in what is understated and restrained; this one is truly about what happens between the lines to fill in the spaces.”

‘Loren & Rose’: Jacqueline Bisset Stuns As An Actress Confronting Her Past

Beautifully acted, intelligently scripted and sensitively directed, Loren & Rose showcases the undervalued, not always properly showcased talents of Jacqueline Bisset. This is a wonderful film, memorable and carefully made, that succeeds on many levels, but most of all as a welcome vehicle for a splendid,  gorgeous star. One of the consistent joys of the movie business, she is still, at 79, nothing less than splendiferous.”

‘Passages’: Three Sensational Performances in This 4-Star Film

“Love comes in many forms, but it’s such a precious thing why not try them all?” wrote Oscar Wilde, and that’s what Passages, the brave, captivating and exemplary film by renowned writer-director Ira Sachs, is about. Stupidly saddled with a rare NC-17 rating, which means it cannot be shown to general audiences, Mr. Sachs plans to release it without any rating at all, which means it will be unfairly rejected by bigger venues and screened only in small, independent cinemas. It’s a crime, because this is a superior film of sensitivity and intelligence with a lot to say about infidelity, love, sex, bisexuality and monogamy in the troubled chaos of today’s mottled emotional landscape. My advice is seek it out wherever you can find it and learn something.”

‘NYAD’: If There’s Any Justice, It Will Be Remembered When Awards Season Rolls Around

Fresh from various film festival victories and still ringing with applause, NYAD arrives at last on both streaming platforms and the commercial screen, as splendid and captivating as ever. It’s the winning tabulate of tenacity, friendship, grit and drive that catapulted marathon swimmer Diana Nyad to fame as the first person to make the 110-mile, 62-hour non-stop trip from Cuba to Florida in shark-infested waters without a shark tank. Under the aegis of ordinary filmmakers, it might be an extraordinary sports saga about an extraordinary woman beating overwhelming odds, but carefully and meticulously chronicled in their feature narrative debut by the marvelous, prize-winning documentarians Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and her husband Jimmy Chin (Free Solo, The Rescue) and flawlessly written by Julia Cox, it combines archival material with the powerful passion and pulse-pounding obsession of a woman who did not know the definition of the word “failure”—a story that resonates long after the final frame, served and informed by the two devastating center-ring performances of Annette Bening as Nyad and Jodie Foster as her coach, best friend and one-time lover, Bonnie Stoll. The result of so much consecration and loyalty to the subject matter is a movie of uncommon exhilaration.”

3.5-Star Movies

“There’s a fine line between good and bad, just like in life there’s only a slender membrane that separates love and hate. So, although I thought “Oppenheimer” was a valuable historical document, it had too many pretentious, distracting editorial choices to earn one of my four-star ratings. Likewise, I strongly disagree with the Martin Scorsese sycophants who genuflect whenever his name appears on the screen. He knows where to place the camera, but “Flowers of the Killer Moon” did not get 4 stars from me because it was bloated and repetitive and desperately in need of cutting. You could lose at least one hour of that movie, and you wouldn’t miss a thing.”

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’: Martin Scorsese’s Strengths Seem Wasted

Clocking in at close to four hours, Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese’s epic film about the evil massacre of the Osage Indians by greedy white racist capitalists in the 1920s, is unquestionably and impressively well made, but exhaustingly and unnecessarily too long for anyone with a bad back or a short attention span. As much as I admire Mr. Scorsese’s direction and screenplay, co-written with Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), I found myself glancing at my watch occasionally and dozing off quite often.”

‘Oppenheimer’: An Unforgettable Rarity In The Swamp Of Movie Mediocrity

“​​As summer movies go, writer-director Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is in a class by itself. American moviegoers looking for a brief escape from the heat with brainless action or forgettable fun can waste their money on the latest Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible clones, people who will laugh at a public hanging have Asteroid City and Theater Camp, and anyone who isn’t allergic to pink has the insulting, obnoxious and idiotic Barbie. But if you want a single cinematic experience worth remembering after the summer of 2023 has come and gone, Oppenheimer is the one.”

‘Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed’: A Double Life Compellingly Explored

In Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed (an apt title that refers to Rock’s second film with Jane Wyman) the elements of that remarkable life are compiled compellingly as they shift between Rock’s life of deception as a closeted movie star and the tragic consequences of life in any closet—in his case, death from AIDS in 1985. He was only 59 years old. Archival footage and interviews with friends who were there for him through his demise lend a hair-raising accuracy to the headlines of his death and I was touched by the people who now acknowledge the positive results of that mournful event, which he faced courageously, erasing the stigma of AIDS and giving hope to millions. “What a way to end a life” were his final words. In many ways it was a great life, and for the most part he lived it admirably and left it honorably. A worthy and decent movie indeed.”

‘Sharper’: One Of The Classiest Thrillers In Ages

A total (but entertaining) contrivance from start to finish, the noir thriller Sharper is a monument to pretense without being pretentious, a puzzle without a pattern, an equation without an equal sign. This makes logic impossible and the search for solutions a waste of time. In the Random House Dictionary, the word “sharper” is a rarely used noun defined as a “shrewd swindler.” That pretty much describes every character in the film as they plot to cheat, betray, and ruin each other with taut, sexy performances by a uniformly terrific cast, including Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan and John Lithgow, slicing the air like newly sharpened steak knives under the streamlined direction of Benjamin Caron. Surprises heighten every scene and nothing is what it seems, including the smashing denouement. One of the classiest intellectual thrillers in ages.”

‘Juniper’: Charlotte Rampling Burns A Hole In The Screen

“Confession: I love Charlotte Rampling. I have always loved her, since I first grew entranced while watching her early screen appearances as Lynn Redgrave’s bitchy roommate in Georgy Girl (1966), and, especially, in James Salter’s sensitive 1969 drama Three, in which she played an alluring girl who breaks up the relationship between two best-friend American college students on a summer vacation in the South of France. Three is a brilliant, nuanced film so obscure that few people ever saw it. It has never been released on home video, but you can find it on YouTube. It launched a unique career in films that has broken new ground in works by demanding directors of value and taste from Luchino Visconti to Woody Allen. Now, at 77, on the rare occasion when Charlotte Rampling does come out of semi-retirement from her home in Paris to appear in a movie, it is a moment that should be accompanied by fireworks. Such an occasion is Juniper, a new work from New Zealand in which she burns a hole through the screen in another of her captivating  claims to an otherwise unexceptional role, devouring every frame like raw sirloin.” 

‘The Man In the Basement’: A Provocative, Intelligent And Suspenseful French Film

The riveting screenplay by director Philippe de Guay (with an assist from writers Gilles Taurand and Marc Weitzman) examines the diverse issues that plague and divide the world we live in now, and his smart, balanced direction will give you valid reasons to question your own political dynamics. Character revelations enhance the ideological issues boiling beneath the surface of a film so relevant to the alarming and unsettling times we wake up to daily. The level of professional acting makes for an entrancing ensemble. Jeremie Renier and Berenice Bejo are perfect as the couple whose placid lives are invaded and challenged by the impact of radical thinking. My only reservation is the unresolved ending. Exhausted by the endless court battles, negative publicity, legal snafus and personal defeats, the basement is empty and deserted, and the rightful owner still in question. It’s the kind of conclusion that plunges you into limbo. But as it unfolds, The Man in the Basement is as provocative, intelligent and suspenseful as anything you are likely to see this year.”

‘L’immensità’: An Extraordinary and Unforgettable Coming-of-Age Drama

A painful, heart-rending coming-of-age drama, L’immensità, which translates as “immensity,” is a sensitive, painful prize winner from the Venice Film Festival that mirrors the ethos and intensity of a tortured family’s experience in a time of change…This extraordinary film is directed by the esteemed Emanuele Crialese, who is himself trans. It is based on his own adolescence, which makes the grim details doubly memorable. Crialese knows how to tell a story and he gets phenomenal performances out of his entire cast, especially Penélope Cruz, whose haunting beauty stays with you after the film ends, and Luana Giulani, who magnifies the screen with consuming eyes, an impressive dramatic range, and an appealing voice as she vocally explores a vast sound track of songs, including “Where Do I Begin,” Francis Lai’s corny theme from Love Story.  Admittedly, this is a hard film to watch and hardly everyone’s cup of tea—but if you crave something different, tender and unforgettable, I highly encourage you to see L’immensità.”

‘Dreamin’ Wild’: Teenage Dreams Tangle With Adult Realities in Poignant Film

A fact-based film about the life-altering pain of failure, the thrill of belated success, and the challenges inherent in both, Dreamin’ Wild is a testament to a musical family who epitomize the old saying, “No matter how long it takes, if you wait long enough, your dream will come true.”…Dreamin’ Wild is a slow-moving narrative, but I didn’t mind. I admire the way it takes its time to develop character and mood. I also don’t mind admitting this is not my kind of music, but it grows on you. There’s a lot of it, most of it has depth and soul, and Casey Affleck is so well directed and so natural that it really looks like he’s doing the singing himself…A lot of talented people give it their all, in a film that is both thoughtful and rewarding. I liked it a lot.”

3-Star Movies

‘To Catch A Killer’: Shailene Woodley Delivers Another Blockbuster Punch

“Shailene Woodley, the versatile, dedicated and realism-drenched actress who never makes a wrong move (I’m still haunted by her galvanizing performances as both a spirited young cancer patient in The Fault in Our Stars and the heroic survivor of a calamitous hurricane at sea in Adrift) delivers another blockbuster punch in the above-average action thriller To Catch a Killer. She’s teamed with the equally superb Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, and their chemistry will keep your mind alert and your temples pounding. This film wastes no time finding an immediate pace that only occasionally pauses to catch its breath…Ms. Woodley plays it on the verge of mental and physical exhaustion, rubbing the pain from her eye and managing the stress of the job the way aspirin acts on backaches, giving every scene a little something extra. The dark, freezing cold of Baltimore in the winter (played by Montreal) is fully captured by the punishing cinematography of Javier Julia. So, for the most part, To Catch a Killer is a thriller that thrills more than other similar films do, and Shailene Woodley adds another laurel to her already impressive resume.”

‘The Miracle Club’: Laura Linney, Kathy Bates And Maggie Smith Elevate Bland Sweetness

Sweet and well-intentioned but bland and disappointing, The Miracle Club is one of those slow, meandering Irish dramas that inspire more respect than excitement. Set in a seaside town near Dublin in 1967, it centers on a disparate group of women who travel to Lourdes to honor a friend and the various ways the spiritual influence of the trip changes them forever…The badly needed charm missing in the script for this lackluster film falls to the ladies who inhabit it, and they work hard to make it work. Managing their diverse Irish accents is daunting, trying to understand them is even more of an uphill slog. The solemn direction and lack of tempo come uncomfortably close to a dirge. The Miracle Club is a sincere and meritorious effort, enhanced by John Conroy’s beatific cinematography that vividly captures the quiet stoicism of rural Ireland, but it leaves you empty, undernourished, and wanting more.”

‘Moving On’: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin Captivate In A Black Comedy With Heart

The third feature-length chapter in the Jane Fonda-Lily Tomlin franchise (excluding their Netflix comedy series Grace and Frankie), is called Moving On. Because it is directed and written by Paul Weitz, a more organized and humane artist than the oafs they usually choose, it is more memorable than the usual farces they’ve concocted in the past—maybe not as fresh and appealing as 9 to 5, but less imaginatively bankrupt than the abysmal 80 for Brady. It just sort of lies there in the middle of a sandwich, like day-old tuna. But the chemistry between two icons is irresistible.”

‘Book Club: The Next Chapter’: This Jane Fonda Film Is a Cinematic Joy

As a sequel to the popular 2018 comedy about four middle-aged women in Los Angeles who keep their friendship alive by meeting once a month to drink gallons of wine and discuss a book they’ve just read, Book Club: The Next Chapter follows the current trend of joining Jane Fonda with a trio of fading screen stars who are still ambulatory and sending them all on location, hoping they’re funny. The abysmal 80 For Brady dragged Jane, Lily Tomlin, Sally Field and Rita Moreno off to the Super Bowl with dismal results. Book Club: The Next Chapter reunites Jane, Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen as the plucked, pedicured and camera-ready septuagenarians they played in the original. It’s somewhat (but not very) superior to its recent all-star predecessors starring glamorous seniors, but even when it stumbles, the stars have never been more welcome.”

‘Pain Hustlers’: A Stunning Take on Capitalism in Healthcare

After making a name for himself directing four money-making Harry Potter films, British wunderkind David Yates decided it was time to leave Hogwarts magic behind and change the pace with a grittier look at the real world. The welcome result is Pain Hustlers, a real-life story with social issues about capitalism that is entertaining and funny while it makes you think, without being too earnest and serious…Based on the non-fiction book The Hard Sell by journalist Evan Hughes, it chronicles the glamour, excitement and depraved indifference toward idealism in a cutthroat society, centering on an ethically compromised single mom named Liza Drake (Emily Blunt, who just gets better every time).”

‘Dog Gone’: A Tearjerker With Mature Intentions

Based on a true story about a beloved adopted pooch that goes missing and the distraught family that turns life upside down trying to find him, Dog Gone is carefully designed to warm the hardest of hearts. The title refers to two things: (1) the crisis surrounding the missing pet that plunges the distraught family into the search, and (2) the alternative G-rated exclamation “doggone” that is politer than “goddam,” which, at one time or another, everyone in the movie would like to utter…In full disclosure in the screenplay by Nick Santora and the sensitive, underplayed direction by Stephen Herek is the passion dog lovers share for dogs that practically amounts to a worldwide religion. The people responsible for Dog Gone (including star Rob Lowe, who is also the executive producer) obviously hope this obsession will extend to movie buffs, too. Loyal to the book by Pauls Toutonghi, the film teaches the Marshall family to take pride in each other’s character and courage in time for a happy ending. This is interesting, because despite the cynicism that permeates any film about family values, Dog Gone takes great pains to avoid sentimentality. It’s a tearjerker with mature intentions…I respect that because I’m a sucker for movies about dogs. It’s the only subject left that leaves me unequivocally smiling and reaching for a Kleenex at the same time. This one has the earmarks of real intelligence. The actors are dedicated and understated. The yellow lab that plays Gonger is pretty terrific, too.”

‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’: A Dracula Movie To Give You Nightmares

It’s all vigorously detailed and hair-raisingly enhanced with extraordinary computer-generated special effects. The cast is unknown (to me, anyway) but under the guidance of André Øvredal, the Norwegian director of the cult films Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, they all excel in complex and physically demanding roles, including Corey Hawkins as Clemens, Aisling Franciosi as Anna, and Liam Cunningham as the captain. Special effects are excellent and the clammy cinematography by Tom Stern is enough to give you nightmares. Filmed in Malta, a rare film location I’d like to see more of.”

‘The Old Way’: Nicolas Cage Goes West

Horror, sci-fi, romance, domestic drama, comedy—Nicolas Cage has tried his hand at everything. The only thing he has never done is a Western. Urban, unpredictable, very modern and sometimes controversial, he doesn’t seem the type. Frankly, he looks odd in a saddle wearing a Stetson. But giving the guy credit for fearless diversity, he’s changing all that in the dog days of January by starring in his first sagebrush saga. It’s called The Old Way, and it’s not bad.”

‘Fair Play’: Left a Nasty Taste in My Mouth

“A love and revenge drama set in the cutthroat world of high finance, Fair Play is a powerful and disturbing feature debut film by writer-director Chloe Domont that is being labeled “a Wall Street for the #MeToo era.”  The film stars Phoebe Dynevor from TV’s Bridgerton series and Aiden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story), two appealing dynamos who, after this, are guaranteed major screen time in terms of future stardom…The cast is riveting and the insights into the poisonous priorities of people who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing at all paint a picture of modern corporate treachery. But as much as I admired the whole thing, this movie left a nasty taste in my mouth. The dramatic stakes are well served, but Fair Play is anything but fair and ends with the cruelest feminist violence imaginable. Thoughtful, but hardly what I’d call entertainment.”

‘Plane’: A First-Rate Action Thriller

There’s always room for another first-rate action thriller, and Plane breathlessly packs its punches in spades. Starring underrated, two-fisted hunk Gerard Butler and tightly directed by Jean-Francois Richet, it’s a satisfying rush of suspenseful excitement that is several notches above its competitors in the same genre…Nothing new here to anyone who has seen Nicolas Cage in Con Air, Stephen Segal in Under Siege, or Liam Neeson in just about anything, but Plane is so well made and vastly entertaining you won’t even think about glancing at your watch.”

‘The Flood’: Cops, Criminals And Carnivores In A Bloody Good Battle

In one respect, film critics are no different from anyone else. We all have individual hangups, personal preferences, and guilty pleasures. Some hate Westerns, others love musicals, but we all have our own weaknesses. I have two: Nazis and crocodiles. Give me a Holocaust drama where you can tell the good guys from the bad guys because the good guys are the victims you root for and the bad guys wear swastikas. I like it even better when you can’t tell the difference. His fans hated it, but I even liked it when the centerpiece Nazi was played by Tom Cruise in a thing called Valkyrie. As for crocodiles, the reptilian versions of Nazis, my fascination never wanes any time they slither into the water in an endless search for lunch, especially when Tarzan is on the menu. There are no Nazis in a thriller called The Flood. No actual crocodiles, either, but alligators, their evil cousins with shorter snouts, are in full supply.”

‘Chevalier’: An Opulent Footnote to Black History

Chevalier is an opulent footnote to black history about Joseph Bologne, born in Guadeloupe as the illegitimate son of an aristocratic French plantation owner and an African slave who shocked and tantalized society with his astounding genius as a composer, violinist, and swordsman, attracting the attention and admiration of Marie Antoinette and her court with uncommon grace, talent and sex appeal. Typical of his audacity is an early scene in which he interrupts a Paris concert conducted by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the middle of the maestro’s Fifth Symphony and asks to play it with him. From there, the film, directed by Stephen Williams and written in lavish detail by Stefani Robinson, chronicles the triumphs and tragedies faced by the brilliant musician (Kelvin Harrison Jr. in a dazzling centerpiece performance) who rose to the pinnacle of popularity while battling racial prejudice his entire life…The movie piles on one damned thing after another, often turning a truly original life story into a Rabelaisian soap opera replete with powdered wigs and violin concertos. In truth, Napoleon Bonaparte later banned Bologne’s popular compositions, many of which have never been found or heard to this day. Some of that legacy rises from the ashes of obscurity in Chevalier, and even with its flaws, it’s worth hearing again.”

‘The Winter House’: This Film Deserves a Closer Look

Lili Taylor is another in a long list of first-rate actors who has inexplicably eluded stardom in favor of good work in solid but overlooked films and plays that deserved more attention than they got. Now comes another one, in which she delivers her most sensitive and nuanced performance. Thus far, both audiences and critics have ignored it, but The Winter House deserves a closer look…The pace of the film may be too slow to thrill every film fan, but writer-director Keith Boynton adds understated understanding to scenes that might seem forced under a more demonstrative guide, and he extracts two performances from his co-stars that blend warmly with mutual charisma. Lili Taylor has made so many forgettable films and played so many meaningless generic roles that it’s nice to see her play a real character with sensitivity and intelligence. It can’t be easy to keep up with an actress of such range and experience, but handsome, capable French-Canadian actor François Arnaud does a fine job as Jesse. It’s rewarding to watch them make an implausible love story plausible. Together, they define the solace we may find, against overwhelming odds, in each other, if we’re brave enough to try.”

‘At the Gates’: A Noble Film That Forces You to Think

At the Gates could not be more relevant. It offers a harrowing look at the challenges and nightmares faced by both the undocumented immigrants working hard to earn their keep and responsibly assimilate into a new culture and the sympathetic American citizens who risk their own security to help them by employing them illegally. I found it imperfect but riveting.”

‘Persian Lessons’: A Fable — Beautifully Acted — Set In a Concentration Camp

Appearing without much fanfare among the bigger, flashier and more idiotic summer entries, Persian Lessons is a small German-Russian co-production I found superior to the rest of what I’ve been suffering through lately. Expertly mounted, beautifully acted and meticulously detailed, it’s another harrowing Holocaust drama in the line of endless films about World War II, notable primarily as a rare entry in the filmography of Vadim Perelman, the highly regarded director of House of Sand and Fog…Chief among the flaws in Persian Lessons is the director’s tendency to slow down the narrative by spending an inordinate amount of time showing people shoveling snow, slicing bread, and wandering away from the central plot to illustrate the conflicts among Reza’s fellow prisoners, the jealousies and resentments among the German officers, and the brutality in the barracks. Too many characters with unclear motives need more definition…Not a great film, but in many ways extraordinary, unpredictable, and memorable.”

‘Cassandro’: You Can’t Take Your Eyes Off Gael García Bernal

“From Mexico, Cassandro is a fresh, unusual and highly entertaining film about the rarefied world of exotic Mexican wrestlers called “exoticos,” flamboyant fellows who entertain masses of fans by adding an extra dimension to their work in the ring—a dress, lipstick, wigs—inspiring insults and building a network of followers who shout enthusiastically from the bleachers. It’s a film that rises above all the obvious cliches because of the colorful naturalism of heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal’s likable appeal. Even with his black hair badly dyed blond, he gives the film such a solid center you can’t take your eyes off him. Fortunately, you couldn’t even if you wanted to. He’s a welcome centerpiece in almost every scene.”

2-Star Movies

‘Napoleon’: Joaquin Phoenix Borders on Catatonic

Another in a long list of flawed and boring movies about the Emperor of France, I could hardly sit through Ridley Scott’s Napoleon with my eyes open. I prefer both the classic 1927 silent film by Abel Gance and the 1954 flop Desiree with Marlon Brando as a miscast but memorable Bonaparte and rapturous Jean Simmons as Desiree Clary, the fiancee he should have married, who became Queen of Sweden, instead of the trashy, adulterous Josephine, who broke his heart and allegedly died of a nasty combination of diphtheria and syphilis. None of this, nor anything else that threatens to take Napoleon off the battlefield long enough to tell a moving or human story, is detailed enough to concern producer-director Ridley Scott, who is more interested in overloaded and overpopulated war scenes than illuminating history. The result is a colossal bore that is never passionate, exciting, sexy or entertaining, with an ill-fated titled performance by Joaquin Phoenix that borders on catatonic…Through it all, the acting remains muted and forgettable, except for the eye-rolling over-emoting of Vanessa Kirby, a Josephine who is always on the verge of hysterics. The screenplay by David Scarpa is dreary and turgid, hopping around episodically without any character development and evoking only a sketchy picture of Napoleon’s historic rise and fall and his nasty, violent marriage to Josephine. There is nothing here to engage the heart, nothing to explain or demonstrate the qualities that made him charismatic enough to captivate France. A Napoleon without a valid Napoleon is a Fourth of July without a firecracker.”

‘Priscilla’: Sofia Coppola’s Adolescent, Gushing, Empty-Headed Film Sugarcoats Elvis

Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter Sofia is a slick writer-director who specializes in lavishly decorated, empty-headed biopics about lavishly decorated, empty-headed people, i.e. Marie Antoinette and now Priscilla Presley. Since we already had the surprisingly fact-filled Baz Luhrmann epic Elvis last year, there isn’t much more to say about the chicken-lickin’ backwoods hillbilly with the palpitating pelvis that hasn’t been said already, so Coppola’s aptly-named Priscilla proves it by making Elvis a secondary character and concentrating on his child bride instead. ..If you believe the Elvis concocted by Sofia Coppola, he wanted to become a member of the Actors Studio and a method actor like Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean. Never happened. It’s especially disconcerting to see Elordi in so many random shots with photos of the actual Elvis. He admirably eschews the caricatures embodied by masses of Elvis imitators—but at the same time, he captures none of the authenticity or magnetism with which the monstrously overrated Presley captivated his fans. For Spaeny, the role of an ignorant girl—toxically hypnotized, sexually exploited, and finally mentally and physically abandoned—is alarmingly too far from her grasp to amount to much more than just another pretty face.”

‘A Man Called Otto’: A Plodding, Predictable Waste of Tom Hanks

A Man Called Otto is a plodding and predictable take on the 2015 Swedish film A Man Called Ove, dusted off to please viewers desperate for a bit of feel-good optimism in a current cinematic atmosphere of depression, violence and mean-spiritedness, transported from Scandinavia to Pittsburgh, and tailored to fit the ingratiating personality of Tom Hanks. It’s not his finest hour on film, but I guess he had to do it. It was produced by Rita Wilson, a.k.a. Mrs. Tom Hanks. The result, written by David Magee and directed by Marc Foster, is a follow-the-dots flick with a few moments of charm that aims to be a feel-good crowd pleaser, but lacks enough freshness and insight to make it anything special…My biggest problem with this treacle is not the waste of Tom Hanks, who is rarely so flawed and bloated with bad advice that he alienates his fans beyond redemption (although as the fatuous Col. Parker in Elvis he came dangerously close). It’s the fact that serious and challenging subjects (multiculturalism, the housing crisis, sexual discrimination, euthanasia, prejudice against immigrants, for starters) are introduced and dismissed faster than a list of appetizers at a drive thru. The movie is so overloaded with sweetness that you need a shot of insulin to get through it.”

‘Golda’: Helen Mirren In A Show-Off Acting Experiment

The most touching moment in Golda comes in the final shots—black and white images on a television screen depicting the real Golda Meir warts and all, side by side with her arch adversary, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat.  Here at last is a flash of the grandmotherly charm that hints at a hidden sense of humor. The movie needs more of that charisma and fewer cigarette butts to make Golda a woman as memorable on the screen as she was in real life.”

‘The Royal Hotel’: Why Make This Movie at All?

Written and directed with muscle and grit by Kitty Green, The Royal Hotel is loaded with grim ambiance, and there is even some suspense, mainly while the viewer waits to see if anything will ever happen. Aside from the assorted villains and a poisonous snake that invades the bar, nothing much ever does, which leads to the bigger concern: why make this movie at all? The life-changing tension between Aussie vulgarians and civilized outsiders that usually leads to violence and rape is not an original subject in Australian movies. Still, it’s a theme explored with more depth and detail in far superior films such as the devastating Outback (re-released to great acclaim as Wake in Fright). The cast is convincing, and the two leads are admirable—especially Julia Garner’s Hannah, who shows several colors and feelings as she tries to negotiate the dead-end circumstances of life in Hell without parole. The outback, once again, is the film’s most valid and important character—a place of endless fascination, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

‘Maybe I Do’: Seasoned Pros Can’t Save This Alleged Romantic Comedy

Talky, labored and lost in mediocrity, Maybe I Do is another sad example of what happens to seasoned pros when they hang around long enough to end up in material that is regrettably beneath them. They want to work to keep flagging careers alive, but with worthy vehicles so few and far between, they’re forced to accept whatever lean projects come their way. As much as I admire, respect and look forward to seeing Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and William H. Macy on the screen, this glamorous ensemble can do nothing to lift the deadly dullness of an alleged romantic comedy called Maybe I Do. With stars like these, this should be a cause for rejoicing. Instead, it seems doubly disappointing…The characters are all neurotic and miserable, but not in any interesting way, resulting in stilted dialogue that never comes alive, spoken in the style of phony monologues that keep you glancing at your watch….What attracted an enlightened cast like this, liberated politically and sexually, to a film mired in naivete and dated ignorance is a mystery. All four stars have made careers playing hip, balanced, outspoken people in everything from American Gigolo and Looking for Mr. Goodbar to Boogie Nights. Now they’re playing stale, clueless clods with no defining characteristics beyond the usual conservative cliches. And I fear they’re doing it to make money and keep their careers afloat because they aren’t being offered anything better. This is a crime that must be rectified at once. Bottom line: despite a surfeit of   mistakes, is I Do Maybe any good? Are you kidding? In the end, the moral, when each husband convinces his wife, “the best part of the rest of my life is you,” is cringe-inducing. Is it worth seeing anyway? Your move.”

‘What Happens Later’: Meg Ryan and David Duchovny Are Still Appealing. Their New Movie Is Not.

It’s been years since either Meg Ryan or David Duchovny appeared in a feature film, but now that they’re back, co-starring in a two-hander called What Happens Later, it’s fairly obvious that neither has forgotten anything about charm or how to keep a mediocre movie alive. They’re still appealing. This film is not. It’s a shame, because Ryan co-wrote the tepid screenplay and provided the meandering direction herself. I’m not sure what the title means, but I doubt if What Happens Later implies anyone will want to see it twice. ..Clearly, Meg Ryan and David Duchovny are ready for a better, more rewarding film than What Happens Later.”

‘Marlowe’: Liam Neeson Is The Dullest Denizen Of A Noir Lacking Energy and Wit

I guess I underestimated Hollywood’s addiction to sequels, prequels and recycling old hits into stale, second-rate repros. Marlowe, directed by Ireland’s Neil Jordan, drags him out of mothballs again, wearing the same old hat and the same rumpled suit from the 1930s every Marlowe from the past has worn, from Humphrey Bogart to Dick Powell and Robert Mitchum. The suit has worn out its welcome and so has Philip Marlowe…Not many filmmakers know how to make a film noir any more. Black and white camera work would help, but I don’t see any remedy to Liam Neeson’s bland expressions or indifferent line readings. In the clinches with Diane Kruger, there isn’t a shred of the sexy chemistry that turned Bogart and Bacall onto household names in The Big Sleep, and nothing happens you haven’t already seen orchestrated in keener and far superior films, such as Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Random characters appear to revisit early Hollywood locations, including a shady club owner (Danny Huston), a wealthy ambassador (Mitchell Mullen), a collector of rare and priceless antiques (Alan Cumming), and the missing man’s tortured sister (Daniela Melchior). They all waft in and out of incoherent subplots, contributing nothing important or fascinating to the narrative.”

‘Emily’: The Story of Emily Brontë Makes For Paralyzing Tedium On The Screen

Emily, a colossal bore that centers on Emily Brontë in the days before she wrote Wuthering Heights, is the latest bafflingly overrated attempt to turn the Brontë saga into a box-office triumph. Despite its visual appeal, its concentrated star performance by Emma Mackey and the dedicated obsession of Australian actress Frances O’Connor, making her debut as a writer-director, it gets almost everything wrong and seems more like a work of fiction than a believable biopic.”

‘Devil’s Peak’: Billy Bob Thornton (Almost) Carries A Southern Gothic Crime Thriller

After a brief hiatus, Billy Bob Thornton returns to the screen in Devil’s Peak, another backwoods Southern Gothic crime thriller, playing the kind of menacing, two-fisted role that made him famous. The movie isn’t much, but his unique whiskey-slogging, snuff-spitting redneck routine is the thing he does better than anyone else, and he does it so well in Devil’s Peak that he makes you overlook a multitude of flaws…With terrific Appalachian ambience and moments of carefully constructed action, Devil’s Peak is not a terrible movie, but in the bigger picture, it’s not a particularly memorable one, either. It just lies there on the table, like day-old grits.”

‘Retribution’: Liam Neeson’s Family Is In Danger Yet Again

Time for a career re-think, or at least a change of pace, for Liam Neeson. Once a powerful, appealing and versatile stage actor in both London and New York (I’ll never forget his galvanizing portrayal of Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss on Broadway), he rocketed to movie stardom in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The rest, as they say on Hollywood Boulevard, is history, but now, at 71, he’s been playing lockjawed stock characters in forgettable formulaic thrillers so long he can do it in his sleep. Which is exactly what he does in Retribution, another routine action programmer—doubly forgettable, because he does the whole thing sitting down.

‘Red, White and Royal Blue’: Feel-Good Queer Rom-Com Is Lightweight Silliness

A feel-good fairy tale that collapses under the weight of its own silliness, Red, White and Royal Blue is a gay rom-com that dazzles visually but defies all attempts at anything resembling plausibility. It is written and directed by Matthew López, the esteemed playwright who wrote The Inheritance, the acclaimed play that startled and enthralled London and Broadway. This time around, he seems to have taken leave of his senses. Lavishly appointed and beautifully photographed, it’s gorgeous to look at, but as weighty and consequential to think about as a half-eaten popsicle…For all of its candor, the sex scenes never resort to anything more than random tenderness, the dialogue is polite but rarely insightful, and the script fails to resolve any of the issues it raises.”

‘Unidentified Objects’: A Perversely Appealing Road Trip

Endlessly searching for something that smacks of a trace of originality and almost never finding anything that even remotely applies, it’s always a joy to come across a fresh idea. Such an occasion is an oddball curio called Unidentified Objects. This one is certainly different. That doesn’t mean it’s good. It’s just different.”

‘Prisoner’s Daughter’: A Visceral Brian Cox Performance Can’t Save This Melodrama

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, whose debut film Seventeen showed great promise, this maudlin soap opera is a disappointment, despite a strong performance by the extraordinarily gifted veteran actor Brian Cox. He makes every moment he’s on the screen throb with understated honesty, but Prisoner’s Daughter doesn’t boast much of anything else worth remembering…Surprisingly, the overstuffed yet bland screenplay by Mark Bacci offers no wit or nuance to relieve the tedium, but stocks the melodrama with cliches from other movies…It’s a heavy slog, but the strength and force that makes Prisoner’s Daughter watchable lies in the focused artistry of Brian Cox, who infuses his role with a visceral understanding of what it means to stare mortality in the face and come out swinging.”

‘The Good Mother’: Hilary Swank Can’t Save This Routine Crime Thriller

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank fritters away her time in the routine crime thriller The Good Mother…It’s not a particularly interesting narrative, and the episodic script and sluggish direction by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte don’t help.  On the plus side, Hilary Swank is as intensely committed as usual (she’s also one of the film’s producers), but The Good Mother is not a film that offers her much of a stretch. Not a bad film, just a dull and inconsequential one. here today and gone tomorrow.”

1-Star Movies

‘Poor Things’: See It And Hate Yourself in the Morning

Poor Things, a surreal mix of science-fiction and pornographic fairy tale by the loopy Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, may not be the worst commercially intended movie ever made. But it is unquestionably the filthiest. In a chaotic cacophony of mixed reviews, it has been described as weird, exhausting, repugnant, raunchy, garish, demented, twisted and bonkers. Those are the good reviews… I hated it, but reluctantly give it one star for whimsical sets and costumes, and there’s a minute sprinkle of suspense while you wait for a point of view that never arrives. But its laughable claim to deliver a fresh take on a woman’s tortured odyssey to liberation and self-discovery serves no other purpose than extracting admission money to experience something you’ve “never seen before” and is nothing more than pumped-up poopery. If you’re naïve enough to believe anything chock full of shock for its own sake is automatically praiseworthy, then open your wallets and see for yourself. You might hate yourself in the morning.”

‘Asteroid City’: Whimsical, Pointless Cinematic Jabberwocky

Asteroid City is the 11th film by Wes Anderson, the preposterously overrated writer-director who churns out the kind of whimsical cinematic jabberwocky that appeals to millennial movie audiences that applaud anything they don’t understand. They call him visionary, which gives new meaning to the old word pretentious. Still, I go to each new Wes Anderson concoction determined to give it a fair shake, and I always end up in more agony than it’s worth. This has been true of his entire filmography with the exception of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Admittedly, my memory is not what it used to be, but with no fear of being labeled old and out of touch with the times, I can honestly say, now that I have survived it, that I cannot remember any movie by this quirky, puzzlingly over-praised director that I have hated more than Asteroid City…The cast, left to their own devices, improvises without charm. In one scene, an actor complains he does not understand the play. “It doesn’t matter,” snaps the director, “just keep telling the story.” On another occasion, the actors decide they’re in the wrong scene and exit the screen looking for craft, coherence, and logic elsewhere. I admired the pastel palette of sets like pink Tinker Toys that form the stylistic patina of the movie, but the narrative was too episodic and smart-alecky to keep me awake. To quote legendary producer and malaprop king Samuel Goldwyn: “Include me out.””

‘The Mother’: A Generic Bloodbath Glaringly Devoid of Originality

They said she was a flash in the pan. That was 25 years ago, and Jennifer Lopez is still running in place. Most of her movies are one and the same, but some of them are surprisingly entertaining. The Mother is not one of those. It’s annoyingly lumpy, shockingly pedestrian, and instantly forgettable.”

‘Your Place or Mine’: About As Romantic And Funny As A Root Canal

Amid today’s endless junk pile of filthy, violent and unwatchable films about crime, vampires and war, the romantic comedies are saved for Valentine’s Day. This year Netflix brings us a stale rom-com called Your Place or Mine that fritters away the considerable charms of Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher. Even for a third-rate farce with two stars who appear together onscreen for no more than a total of five minutes, it’s derivative and preposterous—worse than a rejected TV pilot, and about as romantic and funny as a root canal…Nothing original or even mildly entertaining ever happens in either the hackneyed first-time direction or the moronic dialogue, both by Aline Brosh McKenna.”

’65’: A Waste Of Time, And Adam Driver

Bad movies waste time, but a contrived, empty-headed dinosaur movie called 65 wastes more of it than anything I’ve seen lately…The inept writing and directing are both the work of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, and it’s hard to decide which talent (or lack thereof) is the most boring. The idea of real people being tortured on a planet of pointless horrors only to discover they’ve never left Earth must have intrigued the creative team responsible, but it’s hard to imagine nobody bothered to tell them about the Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes. 65 is a gruesome thing to watch, even for dinosaur lovers—and not much fun, either.”

‘Love Again’: Phoned-In Rom Com About Text Messages

As lousy, amateurish rom-coms go, a disaster called Love Again doesn’t go fast enough. I take that back. As I write this, it’s probably gone already…It’s been quite some time since I’ve witnessed such unconvincing love scenes as Mira and Rob’s first date, when just as they begin to get serious, she impresses him (an alleged music critic?) about how much she craves hip-hop, losing all potential credibility. And why is it, in bad movies about contemporary relationships, that the girl always dumps the guy after they have sex the first time? The direction seems to be phoned in, and to make matters worse, for two people passionately in lust, a pair of actors have been chosen who exhibit no chemistry whatsoever. I guess I can’t blame them when the most profound philosophy in the movie is “You can learn more in ten minutes playing basketball with someone than you can in one hour of talking.” Huh? It’s not much to examine at length, much less remember, but if you’re in the mood for a Hallmark card to revive your faith in gooey rom-coms, Love Again is not the one.”

‘Rumble Through the Dark’: Two Hours of Savagery With Nothing New to Say

There is nothing charming, appealing, or remotely memorable about a thing called Rumble Through the Dark. This one goes down in the Aaron Eckhart filmography as an ill-advised mistake. The only reason I can imagine why he was attracted to it was his persistent resistance to being labeled one of People magazine’s 100 most beautiful people…Living up to its title, the film is so dark you can’t see what is going on half the time, but it does raise two serious questions—why make it in the first place, and what could persuade an actor with Aaron Eckhart’s talent and reputation to appear in it? It doesn’t stretch his range, it stands the chance of a popsicle in hell to make money, and in the final analysis, nearly two hours of savagery add up to nothing new to say or write home about. One-word summary: Huh?”

‘Blood’: Dog Bites Boy, Boy Drinks Blood In This Creep-Show Bomb

With the demise of real movies on big screens that appeal to real audiences, we’re in the middle of an alarming trend to make movies on the cheap, featuring good actors desperate to keep their careers going, exploring repulsive themes that try to be “different” but only end up being deplorable. Most of them aren’t even released in commercial cinemas but find themselves littering various streaming services instead. The result is a surfeit of junk movies too numerous to mention, but if you saw  Bones and All, Babylon, or Crimes of the Future (to name just a few recent debacles) then you know what I mean. The latest creep show is a bomb called Blood. The title says it all because there is enough of that to fill a transfusion bank…From one shock (and one snack) to the next, this movie is a disaster waiting to happen. Daughter Tyler finds the prisoner in the basement, the patient falls on a barbed-wire fence and slashes her throat, and when Owen’s estranged father (Skeet Ulrich) takes him home to live with his wife and newborn baby, the film progresses to a climax that can only be described as horrifying. None of it makes any sense, and the details are too gruesome to even describe.”

‘Inside’: Willem Dafoe Trapped In An Interminable Slog Of A Movie

A lumbering bore called Inside is a crucially wooden and mechanical vehicle for the peculiar talents of Willem Dafoe that amounts to nothing more than nearly two hours of pretentious bilge. He plays a thief named Nemo who breaks into a magnificent Manhattan penthouse to steal a fortune in art treasures when the power system malfunctions in the middle of the heist, leaving him stranded with only his wits to survive. The rest of this seemingly interminable slog focuses on what he does in a curiously locked and indifferently owned luxury apartment that seems more like an art gallery than a living space. No occupant phones or shows any interest in the empty space despite leaving a king’s ransom in rare art behind unattended. No alarm system rings. No voice ever registers on the answer machine. What we get is a growing insanity nourished by growing insanity while the star mopes, moans, agonizes, screams for help, and tries to find enough food to stay alive. Did I say “endurance test”? This one breaks new ground in the effort to stay awake…William Dafoe’s unique face and morally ambiguous stance make him an exceptional portrayer of unhinged psychological screen wackos, but the absence of any character revelation or plot development robs Inside of any remotely sustainable  interest.”

‘Foe’: A 1-Star, Deadly Bore, Rambling Heap of Junk

a hateful and pretentious load of pornography called Poor Things that trashes the career of Emma Stone, and a deadly bore called Foe, about a disintegrating marriage in some bizarre futuristic world in the year 2065 plagued by catastrophic droughts, A. I., and bad acting. It just opened commercially to a firing squad of bad reviews, so here goes…The title of Foe makes no sense, and neither does anything else in this rambling heap of junk. The actors deserve a medal for babbling so much convoluted claptrap with a straight face. Written and directed by Garth Davis from a 2018 novel I never want to read by Iain Reid, Foe is not just a bad dream. It’s a colossal nightmare.”

‘Mercy’: Another Piece of Junk in the Current Parade of Forgettable Movies

The status of movies today is grim, and the future looks grimmer. Re-opened cinemas are empty and grosses are down, and it’s not much fun being a critic trying to stay optimistic while trying to stay employed. Among the new disasters, something called Mercy…The dialogue is witless and dull. The direction by Tony Dean Smith gives the actors nothing meaty to do beyond mouthing words designed to move the narrative forward. Nicolas Cage or Bruce Willis might once have added a spark. At least by clocking in at a mere hour and 25 minutes, Mercy is not long enough to bore you to death—just long enough for a nice nap.”

Zero-Star Movies

‘The Boogeyman’: The Only Thing Scary Is How Bad This Movie Is

The Boogeyman, a pointless, misguided and totally incomprehensible waste of time, is yet another horror film that exists for the sole purpose of exploiting the endless desk-drawer doodlings of writer Stephen King…The special effects don’t raise a single goose bump, the acting is uniformly dreadful, and when the real monster finally shows up, it’s the kind of fire-breathing freak with multiple tongues dripping blood that only the most committed, die-hard horror-flick fan would find interesting. Extrapolating an experimental  Stephen King discard into something substantial might have made a better comic book—or best of all, left alone entirely.”

‘Renfield’: Zero Stars for Loud, Obnoxious, Violent Junk

the movie follows all of the current trashy trends—gouged eyes, severed heads, exploding bodies spraying blood all over the wallpaper, and worse—while it seeks but fails to find a believable balance between fright flick and farce.  I went out of curiosity—the same curiosity, it turns out, that killed the cat.”

‘Thanksgiving’: Exactly the Hack Job You’d Expect

“It’s inevitable that the hacks would eventually get around to Thanksgiving. And so this year the turkeys are not all on the table….Despite the appearance of such veterans as Gina Gershon and Patrick Dempsey, the acting is uniformly mediocre, the really bad and intrusive pop music only prolongs the agony, and nobody in this miserable Thanksgiving ever eats so much as a single cranberry. It’s as scary as a pumpkin pie left in the oven too long. Instead of horror, it’s pretty funny.”

Movies so bad they weren’t worthy of a review

“I try to give everything a fair shake, but I’m so fed up with bad, mediocre, pointless and incomprehensible junk on the screen that I have made a conscious effort to expand my cultural exposure to the theatre, and although I enjoy the variety it adds to the spice of life, I have found the theatre is, for the most part, worse than the movies. The difference between the two art forms: you don’t have to dress for a movie and it’s easier to walk out.”

Barbie

“I hated Barbie (I’m allergic to pink), and because both Barbie and Oppenheimer were opening the same day, I considered Oppenheimer far superior to Barbie and I chose the more important film.”

Theater Camp

“I was going to write about Theater Camp, but it is such an amateurish muddle that I really would rather not.” 

Rex Reed’s Best & Worst Films of 2023