At first, it all seems too romantic – or maybe the word is “corny” – to be believed. As we listen to the melancholy, strings-heavy refrains of composer Nicholas Britell's score, a pair of beautiful young lovers stroll through their Harlem neighborhood on a warm, mid-autumn evening, and we can't help but notice that the blazing gold of the leaves matches the gold of the woman's jacket, which, in turn, matches the gold of the man's shirt. Is If Beale Street Could Talk's writer/director Barry Jenkins paying some kind of tribute to the boldly hued, fantasy-land charms of La La Land, the movie that almost made off with the Best Picture Oscar that (ya know, eventually) went to Jenkins' Moonlight?

In recent years, picking my number-one-favorite movie for this annual recap has been relatively simple, with the choice either being a no-contest one (2017's Get Out, 2014's Boyhood) or a figurative coin flip over two equally worthy possibilities (2016's Manchester by the Sea over Moonlight, 2015's Brooklyn over Spotlight). But this year, I could've contentedly walked away from this article with any of my top five favorites emerging ultimately victorious … if I hadn't decided to listen to “Shallow,” three times in a row, right before making my final placements. Love makes you do silly things like that.

Escape Room is about a group of strangers who want to escape a room, or rather several rooms, and in its narrative elegance, psychological nuance, and thematic incisiveness, the film brings to mind Pirandello, or perhaps the Jean-Paul Sartre of No Exit. “Hell is other people” wrote the author, and as our six tormented protagonists struggle in the face of devastating insularity and the nothingness of existence, Escape Room invites us to … .

I'm pulling your chain. It's just a cheesy, dopey little thriller. But it has its moments.

With movies you like or love, you tend to best remember their strongest elements, and with movies you dislike or despise, you tend to immediately recall their failings. That's why I'm currently finding it hard to reconcile my feelings toward the Dick Cheney bio-pic Vice, because while I had a lot of fun at the time, it seems easier, several days after my screening, to pinpoint what doesn't work over what does. Sure, Christian Bale delivers a fascinating, transformative performance as Cheney, and writer/director Adam McKay's filmmaking has energy and attitude to spare. Does that matter all that much if, in hindsight, I'm finding myself increasingly distracted and bothered by Vice's glibness, shallowness, and relentless display of snark? Did I, when all was said and done, really like the movie, or was I merely intoxicated by its enticing new-car smell?

Ho ho ho! As is traditional, Hollywood dropped off a load of holiday gifts over the pre-Christmas weekend, despite at least half of them looking significantly better when they were still wrapped.

Speaking as someone who isn't reflexively psyched for the arrival of a new superhero adventure, my problem with the genre, at least over the last decade, has had almost nothing to do with quality, and almost everything to do with quantity.

Clint Eastwood's The Mule casts the 88-year-old as professional horticulturist Earl Stone, and in the man's first five seconds on-screen, he refers to his Mexican employees' vehicle as a “taco wagon.” He does it with a grin, of course, and the friendly chuckles of his workers indicate that they know good ol' Earl is just pulling their chains. But like that elderly relative of yours whose casually racist comments at the Thanksgiving table make you wish you'd had a drive-thru burger instead, Clint, from the start, is so relentlessly, “adorably” offensive in his first starring role in six years – and offensive in so many different ways – that I spent almost the entirety of the film's two hours silently loathing him. In theory, The Mule, with its script by Gran Torino scribe Nick Schenk, is about a broke, aging man who finds a steady income and renewed purpose running drugs for a Mexican cartel. In actuality, though, it's about Eastwood knowing he can say and do anything he damn well pleases and the faithful will devour it with ravenous gratitude. Personally, I'm well past full.

When it comes to debuting movies, the weekend after Thanksgiving weekend is customarily barren for our area, so it wasn't necessarily surprising to see last week's only new release the low-rent – and actually not-that-bad – horror trifle The Possession of Hannah Grace. But what I absolutely didn't expect was for this past weekend to be so barren as to be utterly grim, with the only “new” local arrival the 25th-anniversary re-release of Schindler's List. (“Hey, honey! You know what we could see that would really depress us …?!”)

A new documentary on one of the most revered film artists of all time will enjoy special screenings at Rave Cinemas Davenport 53rd 18 + IMAX on December 13 and 18, with Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki providing insight into the legendary Japanese director, producer, screenwriter, animator, author, manga artist, and two-time Academy Award recipient.

Forty-five years after The Exorcist, we can still count the number of legitimately great demonic-possession movies on the fingers of one hand. (And that's including works that employ the conceit only tangentially, as this past summer's phenomenal Hereditary does.) Consequently, in regard to this particular horror-flick sub-genre, it's easy to be grateful for the little things, and Dutch director Diederik Van Rooijen's The Possession of Hannah Grace, although fair-to-middling overall, actually boasts a number of little things worthy of gratitude. It's doubtful you'll remember much about the film a day after seeing it, but while you're there, it's an inoffensive way to pass 85 low-expectation minutes.

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