First Love – 8

This kind of hilarious, over-the-top gangster flick is probably common in Japan (indeed, the director Takashi Miike has made almost 100 movies himself), but its sensibility is a rare treat for a New York audience (not to mention Santa Barbara). The casual violence (heads literally rolling), the tough-guy gangster attitude, the all-out gang war are direct modern descendants of the great samurai films of Kurosawa and Mifune. (They even throw in a samurai sword duel as homage.) The story, too, has been told many times before: two innocents – the “first love” of the title – find themselves pursued by three sets of bad guys who mistakenly believe they are hiding a big shipment of meth. Once you figure out who is who, the race to the end is pure joy.

Judy – 4

The last 60 seconds of “Over the Rainbow” brought tears to my eyes, but was that worth two hours of unrelieved misery, watching the pill-popping, self-destructive Judy Garland spiral in late career toward her death? Renee Zellweger’s tight face was painful to watch, her children were an embarrassment, and the attempt to make Judy sympathetic by backflashing to the pressures of her childhood stardom was a phony flop. On top of everything, the young Judy was charmless and the adult entertainer was merely ho-hum.

The Farewell – 3

So painful to watch I left after 55 minutes. The acting is labored, the pace is halting, the story is devoid of subtlety. In all, the most amateurish movie I’ve seen this year, starting with Awkwafina’s “acting.”

Ad Astra – 7

Visually stunning trip through space – and probably even better if the viewer is high, too. Once you suspend your disbelief and buckle up for the ride, there are lots of close-ups of Brad Pitt’s face and color saturations of red and blue, plus a healthy dose of soundtrack and silence to wallow in. Tommy Lee Jones and the whole Oedipal thing were a distraction; here, the journey was everything, not the destination.

Downton Abbey – 7.8

Loved every minute as all the characters we grown to love took a final spin on stage. The “plot” was preposterous – cramming an entire season’s worth of crises into a compressed few days – but it was the people, and their clothes, and their customs we came to watch. Everybody came out happy in the end, each in his or her own way. The Times reviewer who was upset that the lower classes were content with their lot has been living in her paper’s recent front pages, not as we have, in the world of “Victoria,” “The Crown,” and of course previous seasons of “Downton.”

Aquarela – 7.5

Extraordinary photography from around the world captured a dozen unrelated vignettes, except all had water, which isn’t much of a connection. The photography, augmented by the powerful, mostly dialogue-free soundtrack, forced you to think about, if not feel, The Power of Nature; The Crisis of Climate Change; and Man’s Insignificance. It was also, perhaps, the most plot-free movie I have ever experienced. Why, for example, was there a couple sailing a boat in stormy, icy waters?

Honeyland – 5.5

A rather bizarre quasi-documentary, in which we suspect nothing will ever happen, but then it does, but it isn’t much. There seemed something condescending about making a movie star of a poor Macedonian woman who kept bees and took care of an ailing mother, but maybe that is just me. Was the moral, even a simple life has setbacks and suffers from the greed of others? Or maybe there was no moral.

The Nightingale – 6

A return to the movies, particularly Westerns, of old, where the good guys are blameless and heroic, while the bad guys are evil incarnate, and the only mystery is how vengeance will be reeked. It’s not enough that the villain is a serial rapist; he also must be shown shooting innocent children and killing babies. The overkill includes a lot of killing as well as lack of subtlety and credibility; but the Lonesome Dove-like journey is appealing due to the novelty of time and place: 1825 Tasmania. The taste of someone else’s colonial history, together with fine acting by the heroine and her aborigine guide, made me overlook the paint-by-numbers aspect of the story.

David Crosby: Remember My Name – 5

Why a biopic on David Crosby?, I wondered before I saw the movie, and 90 minutes later the question remained unanswered. Crosby’s life, as told here, is neither inspiring, entertaining, nor cautionary. His talent is obscured, the cause of his drug addiction unexplored, and the one overriding fact of his life – that everyone hates him – is unexplained. Yes, the film is warts-and-all honest, I suppose, but why should we care? Crosby is a footnote to Stills, Nash & Young, and I suppose McGuinn and Hillman, too. His music leaves me cold and he’s not much to look at or listen to.

Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood – 8

You are immediately in the hands of a master filmmaker and storyteller and are in for 2:40 of fun plus :05 of trademark Tarantino violence. The story is not much. The setting is pretty much everything: August 1969 in Hollywood, with tons of vintage cars, songs, marquees, famous people and those old metal ice trays with handles you pulled and cubes that came out fractured. There is approximately one interesting character: “Pussycat,” played by Margaret Qualley (Andie MacDowell’s daughter!). The bulk of acting is left to Tarantino regulars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, together for the first time. As I find DiCaprio’s performances generally a parody of acting, he fits the “don’t-take-this-seriously” vibe of the film. By contrast, Pitt is surprisingly the solid one (compare this to Inglorious Basterds, where he came off as the goof in a serious movie) despite never changing his expression and is easy on the eyes. Margot Robbie is a nonentity, while the other cameos are nothing more than fun to spot. As I said, this is a time-and-place movie, an amusement park ride that’s fun while it lasts, but not much to think about the next day.