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What to watch: Yorgos Lanthimos at his unearthly best with ‘Poor Things,’ starring Emma Stone

Emma Stone (left) and Mark Ruffalo in “Poor Things.” (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures/TNS)
Emma Stone (left) and Mark Ruffalo in “Poor Things.” (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures/TNS)
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Buckle up, movie fans: You’re in for one wild ride this week.

Just consider what awaits you: Emma Stone turns into a twitchy Frankenstein-like creature with a hardy sexual appetite; a flock of evil gargantuan parakeets terrorize in Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated fable; and a mysterious, life-altering event turns mild-mannered deer into menacing creatures that freak out Julia Roberts.

Here’s our roundup, but a word of advice. It’s best to keep a mind wide open while viewing.

“Poor Things”: Yorgos Lanthimos will never be accused of coasting on his laurels and playing it safe. The Greek filmmaker all but gobsmacked audiences with “The Lobster,” “The Favorite” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and he relishes coloring way outside of conventional narrative lines. And frankly contemporary modern cinema is better for it. His latest is true to form, and is as warped, brilliant and brazenly deluded as the legendary creator that it creatively tips its hat to — Baron von Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s classic serves as a template for this enterprise, a bonkers, sexy, excessive but thoroughly entertaining odyssey festooned around an outrageously inspired performance from Emma Stone, going for broke right along with Lanthimos.

Stone plays child-like Bella Baxter — BB, for short — a clever double meaning. The Victorian-era Bella has the brain of a child but the bod of a woman. She was brought back to life, pieced together really, by the scarred Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), or God, who, ironically, likes to tinker with animal parts to create something new. Bella develops an unquenchable appetite for knowledge and sex, which leads to a fantastical journey — including a visually spectacular passage on a ship — with leering lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), who wants to possess her for sex and doesn’t want her to become her own person. Broken down in fabulist chapters, the feminist “Poor Things” is certain to offend some viewers, but that’s part of its wacko charm. It’s a rollercoaster ride that curlicues around numerous inspirations (including the fantastical work of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Elia Kazan’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” and, of course, James Whale’s/Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to name but a few). But it also tears down the male desire to dominate and shape women around them, a deluded notion aimed to stifle and box in someone like Bella. In “Poor Things,” Bella learns she also harbors the power and smarts to create. And oh how satisfying it is to watch her — and Stone — wield that liberated power. Details: 3½ stars; in theaters Dec. 8.

“The Boy and the Heron”: Hayao Miyazaki’s 12th animated feature is a mesmerizing beauty, even if it doesn’t soar to the same heights as his classics such as “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Ponyo,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and others. Still, the justly revered filmmaker’s first feature in 10 years is an entrancing delight, and must be seen on a massive screen to appreciate its visual splendor. Miyazaki mines aspects of his own childhood and centers “Heron” on the grieving-for-his-mom Mahito Maki, a 12-year-old who warily moves to an estate with his father who just wed his dead mom’s sister, Natsuko. Once there, a feisty blue heron with magical properties pesters Mahito with the two eventually entering an alternative realm where evil gargantuan parakeets keep watch over a now kidnapped and pregnant Natsuko. Filled with elegantly rendered imagery that few other animated features could approach, it’s another lovely, lively fable that weaves a magical spell and is filled with ache and layered meaning. The last scene, however, is abrupt and perfunctory unfortunately. Details: 3½ stars; in theaters now.

“Leave the World Behind”: What’s the danger of wanting to exist only in our own individualized bubbles, comfortable spaces we’ve created where “strangers” on the outside aren’t welcome? Well-to-do New Yorkers Amanda (Julia Roberts) and Clay (Ethan Hawke) and their teen-aged son Archie (Charlie Evans) and daughter Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) find out the problem with that ideology when a cataclysmic event disconnects them from the outside world while they’re kicking it at a remote Airbnb. After a harrowing day at the beach where a cargo ship plows into it, a Black man (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter (Myha’la) knock at the rental property and say they live there and want to stay. That’s the tinder-box setup for director/screenwriter Sam (“Mr. Robot”) Esmail’s eerie, uncomfortable-making adaptation of author Rumaan Alam’s apocalyptic novel, which shook us out of our own insular, walled-in shells while reading it in the midst of COVID-19. Executive produced by the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions company (the novel landed on Barack Obama’s 2021 best list), “Leave the World Behind” burrows under the skin and exposes festering racism hidden inside as our so-called “connected” world gets shattered and conspiracy theories and fears abound while nature watches, waits and stares. It’s an unsettling, well-acted experience with layers and cautionary warnings to spare. And it’ll have you looking at your bicuspids afterwards. Details: 3½ stars; drops Dec. 8 on Netflix.

Find of the week

“The Three Musketeers — Part I: D’Artagnan”: You’re first reaction might be: not another one. Alexandre Dumas’ oft-adapted 1844 swashbuckler gets another turn in director/co-screenwriter Martin Bourboulon’s new film. But watch 10 minutes of this action-packed crowd pleaser stuffed with royal intrigue, swordplay and guy camaraderie and you’ll be all in. The cast is ridiculously first class and includes Vincent Cassel as the falsely accused Athos, Eva Green as the slithery Milady de Winter, Louis Garrel as the threatened King Louis XIII, Romain Duris as the charmer Aramis and François Civil as the cocky D’Artagnan. The production values are exquisite, the cinematography gorgeous and the fighting sequences exciting. It’s on a par with Richard Lester’s 1972 version, and that is saying something. Details: 3½ stars; available On Demand; Part II will be released next year.

“E”: Seasonally appropriate in a strange and twisted way, this dark, dark noir — set near Boston during Christmastime in the 1960s — is cut from the same pulpy antihero cloth favored by such iconic crime writers as Jim Thompson and Patricia Highsmith. Like the works of those genre specialists, “Eileen” coughs up a dim view of human nature. Director William Oldroyd’s shadowy psychological thriller is adapted from Ottessa Moshfegh’s serpentine, character-driven 2015 novel of the same name, a Booker Prize finalist that earned praise for its unique voice. Moshfegh adapted her novel for the screen with writer Luke Goebel, and the duo have produced one of the smartest screenplays of 2023, one that presents Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway with juicy parts. McKenzie sheds all innocence to play the title character, a voyeuristic 24-year-old caregiver to a belittling and drunken dad (Shea Whigham). She’s mesmerized by the striking entrance of flashy new counselor Rebecca (Hathaway, in full femme fatale mode) who drives into the office parking lot that’s full of beige and boring autos in a sporty red car. Rebecca’s unorthodox ways and professional practices tantalize Eileen and turn many heads, naturally. As they two get closer, “Eileen” hits you at the two-thirds point with a huge surprise — it’s not a wowza, and it works, as does just about everything else in this demented and twisty thriller. Details: 3½ stars; opens Dec. 8 in San Francisco, opens wider next week.

Contact Randy Myers at soitsrandy@gmail.com.

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