KRWG

Justin Chang

Justin Chang is a film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Fresh Air, and a regular contributor to KPCC's FilmWeek. He previously served as chief film critic and editor of film reviews for Variety.

Chang is the author of FilmCraft: Editing, a book of interviews with seventeen top film editors. He serves as chair of the National Society of Film Critics and secretary of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

The best scene in Disney's incredibly photo-realistic remake of The Lion King features a computer-generated beetle rolling a ball of computer-generated dung across a computer-generated African landscape. It might sound mundane, but this particular ball of dung is carrying a tuft of fur from the runaway lion Simba, and its eventual discovery will renew hope that the rightful king of the savanna is alive and well. It's a funny, touching reminder that in the circle of life, every little creature and every lump of waste has an important role to play.

The Farewell opens with five cheeky words: "based on an actual lie." This funny, melancholy ensemble drama was inspired by an experience that the writer-director Lulu Wang and her family went through years ago, when they were told that Wang's grandmother was terminally ill. They decided to keep her in the dark about her diagnosis, hoping to spare her unnecessary fear and anxiety — an extreme decision, perhaps, but one that the movie suggests is hardly unheard of among Chinese families.

In the viscerally unnerving films of Ari Aster, there's nothing more horrific than the reality of human grief. His haunted-house thriller, Hereditary, followed a family rocked by traumas so devastating that the eventual scenes of devil-worshipping naked boogeymen almost came as a relief. Aster's new movie, Midsommar, doesn't pack quite as terrifying a knockout punch, but it casts its own weirdly hypnotic spell.

I'll say this much for the breezy but dispiriting musical romance Yesterday: It has a clever conceit that it doesn't make the mistake of trying to explain. What explanation could there be for how The Beatles suddenly vanished from history, leaving behind only one lonely fan who remembers some of the greatest rock 'n' roll songs ever written? Like a lot of surreal comic fantasies, the movie just invites you to shrug and go along with its cheerfully ridiculous premise.

The Toy Story movies are about the secret lives of dolls and action figures that find their deepest fulfillment in a child's embrace. But they're really about what it means to be human: the joys of love and friendship and the pains of rejection and loss. But even more than the earlier films, Toy Story 4 feels haunted by the idea of impermanence. What happens when we outgrow something we once cherished? To put it another way: After three Toy Story movies, do we really need a fourth?

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

The first time we see Elton John in Rocketman, he's wearing a spangly red devil costume with sharp horns and enormous wings. It's one of the many glorious, glittery things we see him wear in the movie, although on this occasion, he isn't dressed for a concert. It's around 1990, and Elton, played by Taron Egerton, is attending a group therapy session. He may be one of the world's most successful rock stars, but he's also being eaten alive by sex addiction and substance abuse, and also by feelings of abandonment that go back to his childhood.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The new movie "Non-Fiction" is an ensemble comedy about two bickering couples who work in and around the Parisian literary community. It was made by the French writer-director Olivier Assayas and stars Juliette Binoche. They previously worked together on the films "Summer Hours" and "Clouds Of Sils Maria." Film critic Justin Chang has a review of "Non-Fiction."

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. As you might've heard, this week marks the release of "Avengers: Endgame," which ties up the threads of the previous 21 films in this Marvel series. Like last year's "Avengers: Infinity War," this one was directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo and reunites a cast of actors led by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. Film critic Justin Chang has this review.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

High Life is like no outer space movie you've ever seen, even if you recognize some of its artistic influences.

A bare description of the plot — about a doomed crew of astronauts traveling millions of miles from Earth — might suggest Ridley Scott's Alien and its countless gory imitators. The spaceship has a lush greenhouse that seems inspired by Douglas Trumbull's eco-parable Silent Running, while the mood of existential gloom feels straight out of Andrei Tarkovsky's science-fiction landmarks Solaris and Stalker.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Eight years ago, the British comedian Joe Cornish wrote and directed Attack the Block, a sci-fi horror-comedy about a bunch of rowdy South London teenagers warding off aliens from outer space. It was funny, scary and also touchingly sincere in its belief that children are the future, that the fate of the world really does rest on our young people's shoulders.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

So many of my favorite films this year seemed to be in close conversation with each other that it didn't make sense, in the end, for me to separate them. So I didn't. Here are my 12 favorite movies of 2018, listed as a series of themed pairings. You can read my full write-ups of these pairings here, or find a simple list below:

Every December, our critics look back on the books, movies, music and TV they loved — and this year, we've gathered all of those Fresh Air recommendations for you in one place.

I can't imagine a harder act for a filmmaker to follow than Moonlight. That movie, a quietly shattering portrait of a young black man wrestling with his sexuality, held you rapt with its intimacy; it left you feeling as if you'd stared deep into that young man's soul.

Nearly every review I've read of Alfonso Cuarón's Roma has insisted that you must see it on the big screen, and it's hard not to agree. You can certainly watch and appreciate this immaculately photographed movie when it hits your Netflix queue, but it's hard to imagine its immersive storytelling and virtuoso camerawork having quite the same effect.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Joel and Ethan Coen have an erratic body of work but a remarkably consistent worldview. So it's no surprise that their six-part Western anthology, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, feels like both an entirely coherent vision and something of a mixed bag.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Pages