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?

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