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Film Reviews


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

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


Santa Monica, CA




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






1900 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405 310-450-5183


When Basic Training Goes Beyond the Basics

The hero of "Moffie" is a closeted gay conscript in the South Africa of 1981. In addition to the killing arts, he and his fellow draftees are trained in racism and homophobia.


Duelling Monstrosities

Versus films are a genre unto themselves. Now we have "Godzilla vs. Kong," an addition to the genre that isn't proud so much as inevitable. Or unavoidable.


When might and right make a Bob Odenkirk action thriller

In "Nobody," the star of "Better Call Saul" plays a placid suburbanite who discovers the pleasures of revenge.


The Importance of Not Being Earnest

"The Courier," a Cold War spy thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is earnest to a fault. Meaning it's unaccountably dull, even though Cumberbatch gives another of his strong performances, this time in the role of Greville Wynne, a British civilian recruited by MI6 and the CIA to travel to the Soviet Union and make covert contact with a Soviet intelligence officer who wants to help the West avoid a nuclear war.


When A Smaller Film Has Big Ambitions

Working from the Nico Walker novel about the horrors of war and opioid addiction, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo have made a screen version that elevates, for better or the gritty source material into the epic journey of a troubled soul.


A deep dig into fertile soil

In "The Truffle Hunters," a new documentary by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, Italian men in their 60s, 70s and 80s do as they've done for decades--search the forests of the Alba region for precious white truffles. Their lives are happy and their health is fine, but their work is increasingly endangered.


When the Feds are the enemy

"The United States vs. Billie Holiday" chronicles the U.S. government's war on Billie Holiday in the late 1940s, when the Bureau of Narcotics saw in the peerless, heroin-addicted singer a chance to racialize its so-called war on drugs.


On the road again--and again

In Chloé Zhao's gorgeous "Nomadland," a woman in her 60s, played with gusto and intimations of grief by Frances McDormand, joins a transient population of older and just plain old Americans driving their vans and RV's around the American West in search of companionship, and gig work where they can find it.


Chillingly relevant American history from half a century ago

In Shaka King's remarkable "Judas and the Black Messiah," Fred Hampton and the Chicago Black Panthers struggle against racism in the late 1960's, unaware that the FBI has planted an informant in their midst.


Previewing the Pandemic

"Little Fish" finished shooting many months before Covid-19 hit, but it gets some things right and other things very right, even though the virus in the movie attacks your memory instead of taking your life.


A deep dig into the distant past

Sutton Hoo, in the English countryside in Suffolk, was the site of one of the most spectacular archaeological finds of the 20th century. Now that discovery has been dramatized--affectingly, and quite accurately--in a Netflix film called "The Dig."


The beguiling charms of "Our Friend"

Flawlessly acted by Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck and Jason Segel, and beautifully directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, this movie about friendship and cancer--in that order--is funny and affecting in equal measure.


Society as a rooster coop

That's how the hero of "The White Tiger" views his native India. The way you'll view the film is with rapt attention and great delight. It's really terrific.


Brightening the Autism Spectrum

A documentary called "The Reason I Jump" is a stirring new addition to the movie genre--best exemplified by "The Miracle Worker"--about disabled people who can't express what they're thinking or feeling.


The Meaning of the Blues

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" stars Viola Davis as the great blues singer of the title and Chadwick Boseman, brilliant in his final performance as the cornetist in a quartet that accompanies her. "White folk don't understand the blues," Ma says at one point. Their understanding will be enhanced by this powerful, ultimately shattering film version of the 1982 August Wilson play.


A show-stopper in a non-starter

Are you willing to watch 130 minutes of unfounded self-delight for four minutes of terrific song and dance? Then "The Prom" is the film for you. The cast includes Meryl Streep, James Corden and Nicole Kidman, but there's little they can do to save this Netflix music from its own excesses.


"Proxima" is an astronaut story set entirely on Earth, and all the stronger for it

The subject is love--between Eva Green's astronaut mother and her 7-year-old daughter, played affectingly by Zélie Boulant--and extremely well-founded separation anxiety, since Mom is soon to blast off for a one-year tour aboard the International Space Station.


The Life and Governance of American Cities

Frederick Wiseman's documentary feature, "City Hall," is the latest in a remarkable string of 43 films about cultural and political institutions. It's more than four hours long, but fascinating at almost every point along the way, a testament to the ideal of civic governance and the complex pleasures of city life.


Over-rich Witchery

"The Witches," Robert Zemeckis's remake of the 1990 version of the dark Roald Dahl novel, transfers the action from Norway and the United Kingdom to Alabama in the late 1960s. That's a good idea with one substantial reservation. Remaking a cult classic turns out to be a digital-effects extravaganza and too much of a good thing.


Echoes of Chaos

In striking ways Aaron Sorkin's "The Trial of the Chicago 7 " is a docudrama for our time. It's about the riots that surrounded the 1968 Democratic convention, which took place during the Vietnam war, and the 1969 trial of anti war demonstrators charged with inciting violence in the streets around the convention. But docudramas have their own way of mixing truth with invention, and this one is no exception.