That '70s Flick

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Paul Thomas Anderson/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Licorice Pizza (2021)

Essentially Paul Thomas Anderson’s take on “Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood,” “Licorice Pizza” is ’70s nostalgia peppered with sketchy Tinseltown lore and auteurist details variously recalling “Boogie Nights,” “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Inherent Vice,” revolving around the puppy love between 16-year-old child star Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour) and arrested-developed 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim, of the namesake band) in the 1973 San Fernando Valley.

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Land War in Asia

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Courtesy photo

MOVIE REVIEW
The Battle at Lake Changjin (2021)

Centered on the 1950 Battle of the Chosin Reservoir that decided the Korean War, “The Battle at Lake Changjin” is a spare-no-expense epic commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party that boasts three noted filmmakers – Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam (plus three more codirectors!) – a budget of $200 million and a three-hour runtime. It’s like Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” but for the Chinese – same jingoistic celebration of militarist carnage but, instead of white gaze, we get communist homilies.

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Homeland Insecurity

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Rob Youngson/Focus Features

MOVIE REVIEW
Belfast (2021)

In a movie about people whose lives are torn apart by terrorism, it’s pretty bad to reduce your audience to rooting for the bombs, but here it’s the only rational choice. The only innovation in Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” is to make the tax situation of one family as important as the sectarian violence busting out all over. Otherwise no cliché of the Troubles or life in ’60s Ireland is forgotten. Critics who don’t know the city of Belfast are salivating over this movie. Critics who do are finding praise sticking in the throat.

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No Good Deed

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Amirhossein Shojaei

MOVIE REVIEW
A Hero (2021)

Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” is yet another engrossing thriller in the vein of his “A Separation,” in which a few seemingly innocuous white lies spiral out of control and lead to dire consequences.

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Girls Trip

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Courtesy photo

MOVIE REVIEW
Revirginized (2021)

In “Revirginized,” Filipina superstar Sharon Cuneta stars as Carmela, and the film’s opening scene finds her arriving at the courthouse in a daze, seemingly dreading what is about to take place: her divorce proceedings. Just when you think her day has hit rock bottom though, her parked car gets booted.

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It Takes a Village

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Concordia Studio

MOVIE REVIEW
All These Sons (2021)

The documentary “All These Sons” looks at two Chicago nonprofits – Maafa Redemption Project and Inner-City Muslim Action Network’s Green ReEntry – working to deescalate the gun violence plaguing the city’s south and west sides. Billy Moore, life coach and case manager at IMAN, served a 20-year sentence for murder. Robert Ervin, life coach and program manager at Maafa and deacon of New Mount Pilgrim Church, is apparently also a former convict. Having been lured down the wrong paths themselves, these reformed men now serve as father figures to at-risk youths struggling with broken families, mental health issues and/or substance abuse, and help steer them in the right direction.

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Big Brother Is Watching

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Courtesy photo

MOVIE REVIEW
Annaatthe (2021)

When “The Irishman” digitally de-aged its stars – Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino – many complained they still moved like senior citizens. In “Annaatthe,” 70-year-old legendary Tamil superstar Rajinikanth is under a blow-dried ’80s rock band wig and an entire cake’s worth of concealer to appear decades younger, but at the very least he carries himself accordingly – which is not to say he hasn’t had help from some movie magic. During the requisite musical numbers, director-cowriter Siva employs the old Hype Williams trick of slowing down the music on set, then playing back at regular speed to make movements look a lot sharper. The result is almost seizure-inducing, much like “In the Heights.”

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Intolerable Cruelty

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TIFF

MOVIE REVIEW
The Middle Man (2021)

Bent Hamer seems to specialize in charming tales about eccentric small-time characters, like “Kitchen Stories” and “O’Horten.” Without the charm, we’re sort of in Coen brothers territory. Such is the case with “The Middle Man,” his adaptation of Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel “Sluk.” Some imply – as can be seen in the Toronto International Film Festival programming notes – that it has a comedic tenor, though that’s not the impression it left on this reviewer.

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Crash and Burn

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Alberto Novelli

MOVIE REVIEW
Three Floors (2021)

Three decades ago, Nanni Moretti was dubbed the Italian Woody Allen on these shores. Fortunately, he reinvented himself as a Serious Filmmaker two decades ago with “The Son’s Room,” way ahead of Mr. Allen’s public fall from grace and Hong Sang-soo embracing his own Korean Woody Allen designation to the point of self-parody. Lately however, Mr. Moretti seems to be stuck in a rut. There’s a point in his new film, “Three Floors,” where he takes a literal beating. Enough! It’s something the Mr. Moretti from “Dear Diary” might have winced at. (Incidentally, he took to Instagram to let everyone know he winced at “Titane.”)

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The Poet as Hero

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TIFF

MOVIE REVIEW
Benediction (2021)

“Benediction,” Terence Davies’s Siegfried Sassoon biopic, coalesces from nonlinear memory fragments, the device for which the filmmaker is best known. With this particular film, though, he seems oddly wistful for a time when people were terrible and terribly unhappy to boot.

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