Film Reviews

The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic of The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern reviews films weekly in the paper and on KCRW.


  • Aquarela

    Aug 17 2019

    A remarkable documentary called "Aquarela" is about water--really and truly about water and its effect on the planet. The film makes the stuff almost palpable, as no motion picture I've ever seen before.

  • The Peanut Butter Falcon

    Aug 10 2019

    The Peanut Butter Falcon is a certified feelgood film that has no use for naked tenderness, disability sentimentality or full-frontal sweetness. Go in expecting the best and you'll come out smiling.

  • Luce

    Aug 03 2019

    An interesting independent film called "Luce" is framed as a psychological mystery. It labors under more layers of significance than it can handle without falling into contrivance. Yet the dramatic core is strong: an exceptional young man—played by an exceptional actor named Kelvin Harrison Jr.--struggling to become whoever he really is.

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Jul 27 2019

    Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood" seduces you, in the spirit of its once-upon-a-time title. Come along, it seems to say, you may have guessed where we're going but we'll have fun and some surprises along the way.

  • The Lion King

    Jul 20 2019

    Disney's remake of "The Lion King" looks like the real thing--animation that simulates real life in astonishing detail. Whether we want animation to simulate real life is another question, but it's the crucial one.

  • The Farewell

    Jul 13 2019

    The lovely paradox of Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” in subtitled Mandarin and English, is that everyone in it tries to hide their feelings as long as they can, yet their story goes straight to your heart.

  • Toy Story 4

    Jun 22 2019

    A fourth "Toy Story," coming nine years after the trilogy ended, is automatically big news. But is it good news? The answer is four times yes, with only minor qualifications.

  • Men in Black: International

    Jun 15 2019

    "Men in Black: International" is an industrial product salvaged from the remnants of an exhausted franchise and aimed at a young audience that may not know or care what a joy the original was.

  • The Last Black Man in San Francisco

    Jun 08 2019

    Until you open your heart to “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” it’s hard to get your mind around this piercingly beautiful debut feature by Joe Talbot. So many themes flowing through it, so many hypnotic visions of the City by the Bay as it’s seldom seen. There’s no plot to speak of, but none is needed. The story concerns the stories we need to tell ourselves, and the feelings come through strong and clear. What the hero longs for most strongly is a place he can call home. His name is Ji...more

  • The Fall Of the American Empire

    Jun 01 2019

    "The Fall Of the American Empire" is a French-Canadian crime caper about money--not just the small fortune involved in a heist, but the larger fortunes that sustain the world of business and finance.

  • Booksmart

    May 25 2019

    “Booksmart” beats all. Really, who could have imagined that a high- school comedy about a couple of high achievers would be the prodigy that it is? Nothing funnier, smarter, quicker or more joyous has hit the big screen in a long time. It’s an Advanced Placement course in the exuberance of youth. The heroines are best friends. Because of their braininess, they’re misfits with a shared misapprehension that all the other kids in their senior class are perfect fits. Amy is played by Kaitlyn Dever...more

  • John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum

    May 18 2019

    During an uncharacteristically quiet moment in “John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum,” the hero seeks out The Director, a mysterious crime boss who’s played by Anjelica Huston. She’s protected him in the past, but now she’s dismayed that he’s on the run, with a $14 million bounty on his head. “All of this for what?” she asks. “Because of a puppy?” “It wasn’t just a puppy,” he insists. But it was. By now John Wick, the contract killer played by Keanu Reeves, has endured countless insults to his body ...more

  • All Is True

    May 11 2019

    Shakespeare is tending his garden near the beginning of “All Is True”—he’s come home to his family after the devastating fire that destroyed the Globe Theater, and he’s literally tending his garden. Suddenly an earnest young man appears out of nowhere. “I just wanted to know how you knew,” he says. “What?” asks Shakespeare. “Everything,” the visitor says. That’s a fair question, even though its fatuousness should have sent Will fleeing into the brambles. It’s also part of the answer to why thi...more

  • Long Shot

    May 04 2019

    A raunchy new rom-com called “Long Shot” constructs a cartoon version of contemporary politics—a cartoon version of a cartoon version—as background for a fantasy of switched polarities, with the woman dominant and the man a panting puppy. Seth Rogen is Fred Flarsky, a sweet-spirited slob and unemployed inflammatory journalist. Charlize Theron is Charlotte Field, the U.S. secretary of state; she was Fred’s first crush when he was 13 and she was his babysitter. At one point enemy fire brings dow...more

  • Avengers: Endgame

    Apr 27 2019

    Good news for humanity, and for the significant fraction of it that’s been following the exploits of the Avengers and their allies in twenty-one Marvel movies over the course of the past 11 years. The people of this planet have a brightening future, even after the stunning setback they suffered a year ago. That came at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” when the peerlessly evil Thanos turned half of them—half of us—to dust with a snap of his fingers. Better news still, the climactic episode, “...more

  • Hail Satan?

    Apr 20 2019

    The title is “Hail Satan?”—but with a question mark at the end and it may look like a mockumentary, but it’s not. It’s a fascinating documentary about ragtag political activists making serious mockery with lots of media savvy. It’s about jiu jitsu as performance art—turning an opponent’s outrage to one’s advantage; about deadpan as dramatic technique, and about the damnedest strategy you could imagine, summoning up Satan as a champion of religious freedom. This new film by Penny Lane follows a ...more

  • Hellboy

    Apr 13 2019

    How bad can a movie be? “Hellboy” expands the possibilities. It’s brain- numbing and head-splitting (literally the latter, since the cleaving of skulls is a recurrent motif). It’s a seemingly interminable succession of decapitations, dismemberments, amputations and impalements interrupted every now and then by semicoherent pieces of story in which pieces of a 5th century sorceress figure significantly—her name is Nimue, aka the Blood Queen, and she’s embodied—more about her body in a moment—by...more

  • Shazam!

    Apr 06 2019

    The most obvious thing that “Shazam!” lacks is gravitas. And grimness. Also bleakness, darkness and relentless self-seriousness. In other words, it’s terrific fun, and none of the things that were threatening to turn DC Entertainment into the cinematic equivalent of a black hole. Just when the world needs a superhero with a gift for silliness, here he is in a movie whose best superpower turns out to be a good heart. Comic book fans will remember “shazam” as the magic word Billy Batson uttered t...more

  • Dumbo

    Mar 30 2019

    Disney’s new “Dumbo” is one ponderous pachyderm. This is a live-action remake of the 1941 animated classic, but with a grim tone and a dead soul. It’s astounding that Tim Burton could have created such a downer from a long-beloved source of delight. Instead of a fantasy about a baby elephant who defies the law of gravity, “Dumbo” redux is a confirmation of Murphy’s law. The circus was originally a charming and modest backdrop for the primal tale of a baby ripped from the tender grip of his moth...more

  • Us

    Mar 23 2019

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is a polytonal slasher saga with more undertones, overtones, intricate themes, elusive mysteries and scary images than anyone could absorb in a single viewing. I’ve only seen it once, so all I can tell you for now is that it’s compulsory seeing for everyone who loves the horror genre, the movie medium and the notion of saying sage things about contemporary life without straying from entertainment’s twisty path. Connoisseurs of sensational trailers already know something ab...more

  • The Mustang

    Mar 16 2019

    “The Mustang” starts with a good idea and makes it better—an incorrigible prison inmate learns to tame his own wild rages by taming, and training, a wild mustang. This is a debut feature by a French filmmaker, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, who’s clearly at home in the United States. However many films you may have seen about the bond between humans and horses, here’s one that will move you anew, and deeply. The premise is grounded in fact. Over 100,000 mustangs still roam free across the West. Th...more

  • Captain Marvel

    Mar 09 2019

    It takes a long time for “Captain Marvel” to focus its force fields. And for Brie Larson’s fearless pilot, Carol Danvers, to find her true identity, her authentic superpowers and a reason for us to want to watch her. As the jumble shop of a plot starts to unfold, she thinks she’s a Kree warrior in training—the Kree are an advanced civilization on a far-off planet. When she’s sent on assignment to our humble globe—where the year is 1995—she hurtles down from outer space, crashes through the ro...more

  • Apollo 11

    Mar 02 2019

    One of the things we learn from the wonderful documentary “Apollo 11” is that at lift-off from Kennedy Space Center in July of 1969, Neil Armstrong’s heart rate was a mere 110 beats per minute. It was also 110 during the lander’s descent to the lunar surface, although it got up to 156 at the moment of touchdown; good to know that the first member of our species to walk on the moon allowed himself some excitement. Your own pulse will pound often and hard during Todd Douglas Miller’s film, which o...more

  • Roma

    Feb 23 2019

    Every year at Oscar time I do a kind of two-pronged prognistication that runs as part of the Journal’s Oscar package. I try to guess who’s going to win in the major categories, and I also say who or what should win. My gifts as a handicapper are seriously flawed. Every year I get at least one category wrong because, I don’t know, I haven’t kept up with all the backlashes to the backlashes. And every year I cling to my convictions about the shoulds and tell myself it’s not about the horse race bu...more

  • Alita: Battle Angel

    Feb 16 2019

    The cyborg heroine of "Alita: Battle Angel" is just a slip of a girl with huge eyes in a face shaped like an inverted teardrop. When she puts an urgent question to a boy she really cares about, you hope he comes up with the right answer. "Does it bother you that I'm not completely human?" she asks shyly. "You are the most human person I have ever met," he replies. Love may not always be blind, but sometimes it suffers from selective sight. Who can blame him, though? Alita does have a human br...more