KRWG

Scott Tobias

The following baseball terms apply to The Catcher Was a Spy, a modestly appointed biopic about Moe Berg, a major-league-catcher-turned-OSS-agent during World War II: "Down the middle," "a can of corn," "passed ball," "below the Mendoza line," "designated for assignment."

In other words, it's a consistent underachiever, as washed-out and terminally mediocre as Berg himself was at the end of his long stint in the majors. Or, to quote a favorite schoolyard taunt: We want a catcher, not a belly scratcher. And there's an abundance of belly scratching going on in this film.

With Judd Apatow's 2005 phenomenon The 40-Year-Old Virgin becoming a teenager later this summer, it's entirely fitting that its theme of arrested adolescence continues to dominate studio comedies, despite the third-act assurance in every one of them that, yes, it's perhaps time to grow up and put away childish things. And yet here comes Tag, a hit-or-miss goof about middle-aged men still engaged in a playground battle royale, clinging to their lost youth like a cached beer keg at the end of the night.

A few months ago, the YA adaptation Love, Simon became the first gay teen romantic comedy released by a major studio, a sign of broader tolerance — and a changing calculus — in terms of what stories are deemed suitable for mainstream consumption. (That rom-coms themselves are an endangered species made it even more of a rainbow unicorn.)

To date, the Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur has made one film about a fisherman who survived in freezing water after his boat capsized off the Ireland coast (The Deep), another about a blizzard that wiped eight climbers off the summit of Mount Everest in 1996 (Everest), and now one more about a hurricane that pummeled a yacht in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, leaving its sailors wounded and badly off-course.

In order to shoot the underwater sequences in 1989's The Abyss, director James Cameron converted a turbine pit and a containment vessel at an abandoned nuclear power plant into giant tanks, each holding millions of gallons of water. Imagine those same containment vessels with stems on the bottom and that roughly suggests the white wine budget for Book Club, a benign comedy where the pours are generous and the innuendo is crisp and full-bodied, with a slightly nutty bouquet.

There are plenty of reasons why many consider Die Hard one of the great action films of the last 30 years: Bruce Willis' reinvention of the Western cowboy as wisecracking everyman, Alan Rickman as his slippery Eurotrash counterpart, the escalating tension within the confined space of a Los Angeles office tower, a script dense with quotable one-liners. But the primary reason is this simple: You always know where people and objects are in relation to each other.

At first glance, the remake of Overboard sounds like the product of a wayward pitch meeting.

Without getting into the particulars, the title of the lesbian romance Duck Butter refers to an unctuous medley of bodily fluids that might, say, discourage any further sexual engagement. For co-writer/star Alia Shawkat, who scripted the film with director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck, Beatriz at Dinner), it's also a statement of purpose, a commitment to the down-and-dirty realness to come.

There's a sequence in the documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami that follows the pop-art icon before, during, and after a pre-recorded TV performance she's giving in front of a studio audience in France. As she makes her way toward the stage in a black corset, high heels, and a lacy purple headdress that masks her eyes — an amusing contrast with the lumpen roadies and stagehands she greets along the way — Jones frets about the possibility of the set being tacky.

Limitations are a horror filmmaker's best friend, whether it's confining characters to a haunted house, constructing a forest menace out of shaky "found footage," waiting until the third act to show the shark, or starving the senses in order to heighten them. A Quiet Place is about a wave of blind, deadly arachnid creatures that are sensitive to sound — imagine if the aliens in the Vin Diesel film Pitch Black were deposited on earth, more or less — but it's really about isolating an effect and custom-fitting a story around it.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and Burt Reynolds took the one more traveled by, peeling through the backwoods South in a black Pontiac Trans Am with Sheriff Buford T. Justice on his tail. For a stretch in the mid-1970s, when Hollywood was overrun by film-school auteurs making high art on the studio dime, Reynolds was cashing checks on unpretentious commercial hits like The Longest Yard, Smokey and the Bandit, Semi-Tough, and Hooper.

In 1960, the great Japanese director Nagisa Oshima made Cruel Story of Youth, his second feature, about a rebellious young couple who perform sexual shakedowns on middle-aged men. Their M.O. is simple: She seduces, he robs. At the time, Oshima offered the film as a quick-and-dirty analog to the nascent French New Wave, with the couple representing a lost generation given to rebellion and criminality.

When director Travis Wilkerson first premiered his documentary, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, at the Sundance Film Festival and True/False last year, it was a unique piece of performance art. Seated next to the screen with a desk, a laptop, and a microphone, Wilkerson narrated the film in his deep, booming voice, leading the audience through a semi-experimental assemblage of home movies, snapshots, musical interstitials, and original footage of his travels to Alabama, where he went to investigate a shameful chapter in his family history. His great-grandfather S.E.

Over the past few months, the roll-out of several high-profile Netflix releases has revealed a predilection for expensive, hard-edged, futuristic genre fare, starting with the human-alien buddy picture Bright, continuing with the TV series Altered Carbon and the surprise post-Super Bowl unveiling of The Cloverfield Paradox. None of them opened to much critical acclaim and Netflix is notoriously cagey about sharing its numbers, but the company has found a niche market that its algorithm can reinforce.

Look closely at a frame from Early Man — or any of the other features and shorts by Nick Park, the stop-motion animator behind Creature Comforts, the Wallace and Gromit series, and Chicken Run — and you can spot the truest and most literal of all auteur stamps: The curvatures of a fingerprint. As computer animation has become the dominant format, Park and his craftspeople at Aardman Animations have remained defiantly analog, using their hands to manipulate the features of plasticine models, frame by painstaking frame.

With films like The Color Wheel, Listen Up, Philip and Queen of Earth, writer-director Alex Ross Perry swiftly established himself as indie-cinema's premier misanthrope, as if the literate class of Woody Allen movies had been body-snatched by caustic malcontents of John Cassavetes movies. Shot in 16mm, mostly in interiors free of electronic distraction, Perry's films are defiantly analog in their four-walled intensity, committed to unpacking the restive desires of characters who act on impulse and often look ugly in the process.

The late Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami often talked about the audience "completing" his movies, which of course implies that he left his work deliberately incomplete, as if to tease the imagination. "I make one film as a filmmaker," he once said, "but the audience, based on that film, makes 100 movies in their minds. Every audience member can make his own movie. This is what I strive for."

The maze-running part of The Maze Runner trilogy wrapped up about two-thirds of the way into the first film, leaving it to exist only as a metaphor for fresh-faced young people getting treated like laboratory rats.

The funniest throwaway moment in Freak Show, an unsteady coming-of-age fantasy, finds Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther), a gay teenager with a penchant for sequins and feather boas, introducing himself to his new classmates at a private school somewhere in the Deep South.

In the desert outpost of Five Keys, New Mexico in 1953, the Rainier family lives so close to the federal penitentiary that all the lights in the house flicker from the surge of a nearby electric chair. While her little brother Christian greets the occasion with boyish enthusiasm ("You're on the Hades Express, mister!"), Elise quietly sketches a vision of the man in his final moments and recites certain facts about him, like how he chose a ribeye steak for his last meal and told the witnesses to "Go to hell!" before the executioner flipped the switch.

Even the title, Phantom Thread, sets the mind reeling. The term refers to a Victorian Era phenomenon in which East London seamstresses, utterly exhausted by a long day's work, continue to go through the motions at home, sewing threads that do not exist. It also evokes the otherworldly quality of artistic creation, some divine and inexplicable force that helps bring a work to fruition.

For a simple children's story about a pacifist bull in Spain who would rather smell the flowers than charge a matador, Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand generated tremendous controversy, owing to its worldwide popularity and its date of publication, 1936, which found it caught in political crosswinds. It was banned in Franco's Spain. Hitler ordered it burned as "degenerate democratic propaganda" in Nazi Germany, though it was republished and distributed for free in the same country once the war was over, to teach children a message of peace. Gandhi was a fan. So was H.G. Wells.

About 20 minutes into the beautiful documentary Quest, a stray bullet strikes a 13-year-old African-American girl in a neighborhood in North Philadelphia, robbing her of sight in her left eye. What's remarkable about the incident is that the documentary would have existed without it: Director Jonathan Olshefski had already committed to making a film about the girl's family, the Raineys, and the errant gunfire just happened to occur within the flow of the day.

Though Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space is commonly cited as the worst film ever made, he released a far more compelling failure three years before with Glen or Glenda, a semi-autobiographical melodrama about a cross-dresser, played by Wood under the pseudonym "Daniel Davis." Glen or Glenda has all the staggering ineptitude of Plan 9 — most memorably, Bela Lugosi's armchair commentator shouting "Pull the string!"— but it has the added benefit of being nakedly personal, a plea for tolerance from a man who has chosen to reveal a closely guarded secret on s

Through an accident of timing, 2017 has produced complementary films about British perseverance and moxie at a dangerous inflection point in World War II, when 300,000 men were penned in by encroaching Nazi forces in France. Earlier this summer, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk celebrated the multi-pronged effort to rescue these soldiers and bring them back across the English Channel, where they could regroup and continue the fight.

At one point during Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond — Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton, a documentary about Jim Carrey and the making of Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, Carrey gets emotional when asked about his father. Carrey remembers his dad as the funniest person in the room and a brilliant saxophonist who gave up his musical ambitions in order to care for his family. Then he lost his job as an accountant at 51 and it broke him. He hadn't just failed to achieve his dreams. He failed at the compromise.

The title of Greta Gerwig's semi-autobiographical Lady Bird refers to the name— not the nickname, the name — a mildly rebellious senior gives to herself, part of the comprehensive array of quirks meant to separate her from the pleated drones of an all-girls Catholic high school. She insists that everyone call her "Lady Bird," including her parents, who grudgingly oblige, though they prefer the name they gave her, Christine, and it stings a little to see it rejected so casually.

Director Tomas Alfredson is in the ennui business. His films are heavy and portentous, often blanketed in the permafrost of his native Sweden and always just as chilly indoors. His 2008 breakthrough, Let the Right One In, reinvigorated the vampire myth by draining it of sensationalism and using it as an affecting metaphor for the eternal loneliness of adolescence.

In a hospital in the late 1950s, the wheeze and ca-chunk of the respirators sound like the inside of an Industrial Age factory, only the product being churned out is another few seconds of life. Compared to the elegant organism that is the healthy human body, the inflation and collapse of the pump is a tired accordion, and the hose connecting the machine to the patient's neck is bandaged and ungainly.

The Sundance-winning documentary Dina is a tale of two movies, sometimes at odds with each other: One is a quirky indie rom-com about two people on the autism spectrum who are getting ready to tie the knot. The other is an unvarnished verité about the difficulties they have with sexual intimacy. Directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles structure and frame the film so carefully that it almost seems like the staging of a script, rather than real life unfolding before the camera.

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