Mark Jenkins | Texas Public Radio

Mark Jenkins

Driving though the segregated South in 1962, an Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx introduces the pleasures of fried chicken to an African-American pianist originally from Pensacola, Fla. Anyone who finds that moment plausible is tuned to the same wavelength as Green Book, a well-meaning but glib and shallow ode to interracial healing.

Lisa Spinelli loves small children — their innocence, their enthusiasm, above all their promise. But The Kindergarten Teacher's protagonist, achingly played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, knows that most 5-year-olds don't grow up to be particularly creative or even interesting. Exhibit A: herself.

Stuffed with references to classic crime flicks, American Animals is British writer-director Bart Layton's clever and assured bid to rival Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino. The film is highly self-conscious, but no more so than its real-life antiheroes, a quartet of Kentucky college kids who study The Killing and Reservoir Dogs to plan a heist that turns out to be poorly scripted.

Among Isabelle Huppert's many impressively vehement roles are several murderers, a mother who seduces her son, and the abortionist who was the last woman France ever sent to the guillotine. So the first joke of the intriguing but bewilderingly scattered Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde) is director Serge Bozon's casting of the anything-goes actress as a shy, awkward schoolteacher.

When the 60-ish heroine of the moderately charming Finding Your Feet decides on a change of locale, she doesn't travel to anyplace as warm and colorful as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Yet viewers may think of that dramedy anyway, even though the expatriate merely takes refuge with her older sister in a cluttered apartment in a grungy London public-housing complex. The place is less than alluring, but enchantment is sure to arrive later.

If Beatrix Potter were reborn as dean of students at Lake District U., the latest version of Peter Rabbit would represent her worst nightmare. This frat-bunny comedy is a part-CGI Animal House that revels in theft, gluttony, vandalism, and absurdly destructive pranks. All that's missing is the scene where Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-Tail filch the wrong kind of mushrooms from Mr. McGregor's garden and hop into a bad trip.

In 1823, the publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (aka "The Night Before Christmas") put into circulation holiday lore that retailers, advertisers, and other true believers have been rejiggering ever since. So it's a tad presumptuous to call Charles Dickens, whose A Christmas Carol was published 20 years later, The Man Who Invented Christmas.

'Wonder': Why?

Nov 16, 2017

Life is hard for the Pullmans, the affluent Brooklyn family at the heart of the watchable but underachieving Wonder — or at least that's what this semi-comic weepie sets out to demonstrate. Yet the Pullmans' troubles, which stem from their youngest member's medical condition, turn out to be as superficial as the boy's disability.

In the anxious years after World War II, crusaders for decency accused many comic books of promoting deviant behavior. In the case of Wonder Woman, at least, the bluenoses were entirely correct. Some of the vintage Wonder Woman panels reproduced in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women are seriously kinky.

That was intentional and, in a way, high-minded. Briefly a professor of psychology, Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston wanted to bring his DISC theory (Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance) to the pubescent masses.

Although Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is visually overstuffed and sometimes cloaked in darkness, one thing is easy to see: how its principal setting, the sprawling space-station Alpha, parallels writer-director Luc Besson's utopian filmmaking vision.

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