Author: BRIAN LOWRY, CNN

'Parasite' looks poised to make history in this year's awards race

Awards chatter tends to focus on the usual big names, but some of the most excited current speculation in film circles surrounds "Parasite," a South Korean movie quietly piling up the sort of accolades that could position it to be a major, potentially history-making player in this year's race.

'Queen & Slim' builds a romance

"Queen & Slim" puts a timely spin on an old formula -- a road movie and romance borne in the ashes of police violence. Concerned with deeper issues, it's simultaneously a compelling story of an African-American couple getting to know each other in the wake of a crisis, as they undertake a seemingly hopeless quest to escape.

'Mad About You' reunites Reiser, Hunt as empty nesters

With so much else getting rebooted and revived, a "Mad About You" reunion series is hardly shocking. What's perhaps most surprising is seeing the one-time NBC hit relegated to an out-of-the-way spot on Spectrum, the cable distributor, where this amiable but disposable vanity project is likely to garner more media attention (hence this review) than viewers.

'The Mandalorian' blasts 'Star Wars' into the streaming frontier

"The Mandalorian" arrives with a lot of weight on its armored shoulders, not only representing the first live-action "Star Wars" series but easily providing the biggest original draw to help launch Disney+. Happily, the show's brisk, handsomely produced 39-minute premiere is a great deal of fun, giving fans reason to have a good feeling about this.

'The Morning Show' sounds muted alarm for Apple TV+

"The Morning Show" is the showiest of Apple TV+'s new series, starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon in a drama with a timely tie-in to the back-in-the-headlines scandal surrounding Matt Lauer's "Today" show exit. As executed, though, hold that wake-up call, considering that most of its big ideas essentially rehash ground "Network" covered more than 40 years ago.

Eddie Murphy kicks off comeback with 'Dolemite is My Name'

Eddie Murphy hasn't exactly been dormant since his Oscar-nominated role in "Dreamgirls," but he's been quiet enough for "Dolemite is My Name" to be billed as the start of a comeback. If so, it's a mildly diverting, sluggishly paced kickoff, one predicated on the hardscrabble underbelly of show business.

'Mrs. Fletcher' is a rare coming-of-middle-age story

"Mrs. Fletcher" takes a concept that sounds like a snooze and turns it into an unexpectedly absorbing limited series. Give much of the credit to "The Leftovers" producer-writer Tom Perrotta -- adapting his book -- and star Kathryn Hahn, who throws her all into a role distinguished by its lack of clear definition.

'The Current War' casts dim light on birth of electricity

"The Current War" is a fascinating story, badly told. A casualty of the Harvey Weinstein scandal that has languished on the shelf for two years, this historical saga about the birth of electricity -- and the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse -- isn't nearly as illuminating as it should be, despite a cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch a

'Terminator: Dark Fate' blasts path to its origins

When the Terminator warned "I'll be back" 35 years ago, no one could have foreseen how true that catchphrase would become. Even so, "Terminator: Dark Fate" represents a welcome return to the its origins, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprising their roles, adding nostalgia and mythological heft that separates it from everything that has followed "Judgment Day."

'Daybreak' and 'Looking for Alaska' unleash streaming teen troubles

Every demographic gets its own slice of the streaming pie, but teenagers remain one of the highest-profile niches. Enter a pair of series devoted to teen troubles, Hulu's "Looking for Alaska," adapted from a young-adult novel; and Netflix's "Daybreak," a strange construct set in a post-apocalyptic world.

'Catherine the Great' crowns Helen Mirren for regal miniseries

The chance to see Helen Mirren play another queen (OK, empress) is incentive enough to watch "Catherine the Great," a four-part British-American miniseries airing stateside on HBO. The fascinating history of Russia's longest-serving female monarch, court intrigue and lusty bodice-ripping merely seal the deal.

'Maleficent' flies higher in sequel 'Mistress of Evil'

"Maleficent" wasn't especially good, but it scared up enough money to conjure a sequel. Happily, this five-years-later follow-up, "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil," flies a bit higher, building on the central relationship while adding Michelle Pfeiffer's regal presence as a killer…

Will Smith battles himself in one-dimensional thriller 'Gemini Man'

Technical wizardry provides the centerpiece of "Gemini Man," a movie whose most kinetic moments approximate a first-person videogame, while giving Will Smith the opportunity to battle himself. Those flourishes, however, come at the expense of story, yielding a movie that emphasizes its experiential and 3D qualities but lacks depth on every other front.

'Joker' toes fine line in portraying the making of a monster

"Joker" might bring to mind a caped crusader, but it's another vigilante, "Taxi Driver's" Travis Bickle, who provides the movie's spiritual sire. Joaquin Phoenix's electric, disturbing performance is thus dogged by history and questions about the "why" of it all -- that is, a Joker without Batman -- an answer that isn't really in the cards.

'Living Undocumented' puts faces on families

"Living Undocumented" is a passionate piece of advocacy filmmaking, one that -- for all the tears and heart-wrenching moments -- will likely end up preaching to the choir. The Netflix presentation nevertheless puts faces on the toll of US immigration policy, while making a point of noting the role of past administrations as well as the current one.