Justin Chang

The words "Licorice Pizza" are never spoken in Paul Thomas Anderson's new movie, Licorice Pizza, and so you may wonder where the title comes from, especially if you weren't in Southern California in the '70s. It's the name of an old chain of record stores that were around when Anderson was growing up in the San Fernando Valley.

The great New Zealand writer-director Jane Campion has long been acclaimed for her films about the complex inner lives of women, notably in 19th-century dramas like The Portrait of a Lady, Bright Star and especially The Piano. Her tense and gripping new movie, The Power of the Dog, thus marks something of a departure. It stars a superb Benedict Cumberbatch as a 1920s Montana rancher named Phil Burbank who's the very picture of rugged American masculinity.

It was Federico Fellini who once said that "All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography." He knew of what he spoke, given his fondness for self-portraiture in films like 8 1/2 and especially Amarcord, his 1973 classic about his own childhood.

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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

It's commonly assumed that film critics hate most sequels, though the truth is we try to keep an open mind. A few months back, I felt it was only fair to point out that the ninth Fast & Furious movie wasn't nearly as terrible as the eighth Fast & Furious movie. And while I'm mixed on the latest adaptation of Dune, I'm as excited as anyone for Dune: Part Two.

Dune may not be the best new movie you'll see this year, but it's easily the most new movie you'll see this year. I left the theater feeling overwhelmed and a little parched, as though I'd spent two hours and 35 minutes being pummeled by hot desert winds and blinding sandstorms. The world of Frank Herbert's novel feels big and immersive here in a way it never has on-screen, with its futuristic spacecraft, cavernous fortresses and, of course, terrifying sand worms.

The Last Duel is a sprawling, often ungainly movie — a talky, three-part Rashomon-style drama that mixes past and present-day politics — but there's a bracing intelligence to its messiness. It opens the way a lot of Ridley Scott period epics do, on a gloomy day with two sides preparing for battle.

It's been more than a year since No Time to Die was supposed to open in theaters, and while the pandemic is far from over, the movie's long-overdue release feels like a good omen for an industry that could use it.

Blue Bayou moved me a lot more than I expected or maybe even wanted it to. Scene by scene, this story of a Korean American adoptee facing deportation is frequently heavy-handed and overwrought. There were moments when I was certain I loathed it — only for it to reel me back in. By the end, I found myself wiping away furious tears, a little angry perhaps at the filmmakers for their sledgehammer tactics, but much angrier at the injustice of what they show us: an immigration system that can tear families apart.

The signature Paul Schrader image is of a lonely middle-aged man nursing a glass of booze and writing in his diary, pouring out all his dark thoughts and guilty secrets. In the 1992 film Light Sleeper, it was a drug dealer having a midlife crisis.

The best moments in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are the ones where you almost — almost — forget you're watching a Marvel movie. Some of the hallmarks are still there: the deft comic banter, the high-flying action, the passing references to other characters and events in the Marvel universe.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The average musical biopic — and most of them are pretty average — follows a predictable arc: the troubled childhood marked by flashes of genius; the record deals and hit album montages; the marriages torn apart by affairs, addiction and the ravages of fame. Even when these clichés are drawn from real life, it's disappointing to see great artists reduced to formulas.

2021 is shaping up to be a significant year for movie musicals: We've already seen In the Heights, and several more stage-to-screen adaptations are headed our way, including Dear Evan Hansen; Tick, Tick ... Boom!; and Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story.

As powerful a grip as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table still exert on our imaginations, there haven't been enough great or even good movies made about them. There have been some, of course — I'm fond of the lush Wagnerian grandeur of John Boorman's Excalibur and will always love Monty Python and the Holy Grail — but they're more the exception than the rule.

The 60-year-old South Korean writer-director Hong Sang-soo is one of the most tirelessly productive filmmakers working today. He's made more than two dozen films over the past couple of decades, sometimes churning out one or even two a year. The consistency and quality of his work have earned him a significant following at film festivals and among arthouse audiences, who've come to love his wry and melancholy movies: slender, low-budget dramedies that are often focused on the fractious dynamics between women and men.

Having been fortunate enough to attend the Cannes Film Festival every year since 2006, skipping this year's event wasn't easy. Cannes is the most important event of its kind: a thrilling, maddening 10-day marathon of red-carpet glamor and behind-the-scenes deal-making as well as a showcase for some of the best new movies from all over the world.

Eight years ago, Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from feature filmmaking. Happily for us, it turned out to be short-lived.

By curious coincidence, two of the lovelier movies I've seen so far this summer — the family-friendly animated fable Luca and the German art-house fairy tale Undine — tell stories about mythic sea creatures making contact with the human world.

In the Heights couldn't be more perfectly timed. For one thing, summer movies don't get much more summery than this one, which takes place during a record-breaking New York heat wave. For another, this vibrant screen adaptation of the Lin-Manuel Miranda stage musical captures something we've largely gone without over the past year: a joyous sense of togetherness.

In the sensational 2018 thriller A Quiet Place, humanity has been ravaged by hideous alien predators with extraordinary powers of hearing. The story follows the Abbotts, a family of survivors who must stay quiet at all times, unable to talk or sneeze or step on a creaky floorboard or they'll likely be dead.

It was a killer word-of-mouth hook: Here was a movie you had to watch in a theater in your own state of silence, with no slurping or popcorn crunching allowed.

Chalk it up to our eternal fascination with human evil or to a movie industry that's short on original ideas, but it seems like almost every classic villain nowadays is guaranteed their own feature-length backstory.

Just about every era gets the great end-of-a-marriage movie it deserves, sometimes even more than one. The '70s gave us Scenes From a Marriage and Kramer vs. Kramer; the past decade brought us the Iranian masterpiece A Separation and, more recently, the justly acclaimed Marriage Story.

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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

Before I saw The Disciple, I knew nothing about Hindustani, or northern Indian, classical music. By the end of the movie, I knew a little bit more, though I'd still be hard-pressed to follow the different intonations that singers bring to their performances, or to explain how a raga works. (That's the musical framework that allows performers to improvise.) Fortunately, no expertise is needed to appreciate The Disciple, which is both a welcome introduction to a kind of music we rarely hear onscreen and a richly layered story of a young man's artistic struggle.

About Endlessness is a fitting title for a movie about the futility of the human condition, but happily, the movie itself is anything but a slog. For one thing, it's only 76 minutes long. And in every one of those minutes, it strikes an exquisite balance between deadpan humor and acute despair, offset by the faintest glimmer of hope.

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

There have been many fine films over the past several years about characters struggling with the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, like Away From Her, Still Alice and the recent Colin Firth/Stanley Tucci drama

When a violent ethnic conflict broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, the writer-director Jasmila Zbanic was a teenager in Sarajevo, where she would spend the next three years living under siege.

The instability and violence of that era would indelibly shape Zbanic's later work as a filmmaker: In movies like Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams and For Those Who Can Tell No Tales, she explored the aftermath of the war and the deep scars it left in her country's psyche.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a lovely, moving surprise. Its big selling point is that it's the first Disney animated film to feature Southeast Asian characters, but like so many movies that break ground in terms of representation, it tells a story that's actually woven from reassuringly familiar parts. I didn't mind that in the slightest.

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