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  • Boulevard

    Boulevard 2015

    ★★½ Watched 09 Feb, 2016

    Shame that Montiel has abandoned the nervy energy of his first two films for this well-meaning but dispiritingly ordinary, underwritten indie drama. Best in the first half hour, when Williams' meek, repressed protagonist manages to very nearly blend into the background of every scene; works less well when he's required to do stuff, since Douglas Soesbe's screenplay has precious few ideas apart from various obvious signifiers to do with Life Passing Nolan By. Would have been stronger had it settled…

  • Pride

    Pride 2014

    ★★★ Watched 08 Feb, 2016

    You might be tempted to bail in the first 45 minutes, which feature some startlingly phony scenes, foremost among them the entire miner hall breaking into rapturous applause at the conclusion of Dominic West's disco demonstration. But stick around and be mildly rewarded with a stirring, if ceaselessly maximalist, paean to solidarity -- formulaic and contrived, but also alive to small moments of joy and possibility (Joe's first kiss, glimpsed through a throng of bodies, in shadow) and the transformative, bigotry-defeating effect of meeting new people and having new experiences.

  • The Overnighters

    The Overnighters 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 01 Feb, 2016

    At first, a film about the limits of kindness: there's a fine line between helping others out of basic human decency and stepping into a complex and possibly hazardous web of misery that really needs a professional to sort out. Then comes the late-stage revelation and it becomes something else: what empathy looks like when it's veiled by something else, and what goodness looks like when its motivations are more tangled and complex than it appears at first blush. Straightforwardly presented and filmed but with lots going on under the surface, this is a singular, masterful doc.

  • Closer to God

    Closer to God 2014

    ★★½ Watched 29 Jan, 2016

    Half a nifty execution of the "monster in the attic" trope, at times all the scarier for being basically pretty mundane -- there's one extended shot, in which "Ethan" is seen head-on but from a distance, standing behind his crib, that's truly, deep-in-the-bones unsettling. And from this part of the film emerges a chilling suggestion: that a greater moral failing than playing god, as a scientist, is not having the guts to deal with the results of your experiments. Unfortunately,…

  • Joy

    Joy 2015

    ★★½ Watched 16 Jan, 2016

    As scattershot as Russell's other films but -- except for one very funny early scene in which De Niro is deposited at his daughter's house by his fed-up wife -- lacking his usual manic energy, leaning instead on an unexpectedly formulaic earnestness. (Others have mentioned the mind-boggling scene with the nice black couple in the finale, but I also could have done without the apologies for making Joy think she's more than just a housewife who had some ideas, "so…

  • Tangerine

    Tangerine 2015

    ★★★ Watched 12 Jan, 2016

    Charming as shit, and I loved its sympathetic, non-exploitative treatment of very difficult lives -- proof, if any were needed, that miserabilism isn't the only way to treat tough subject matter with dignity and respect. At the same time, though the rough edges may be part of the charm, I can't help but feel like the film suffers a bit from the jagged lead performance, which is sometimes very funny but which also doesn't quite have the necessary range, particularly in the home stretch. (On the other hand, the main supporting turn by Mya Taylor is just about perfect.)

  • What We Did on Our Holiday

    What We Did on Our Holiday 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 11 Dec, 2015

    Appealing combo of the madcap and the bracing -- e.g. the family slapstick of the opening sequence being interrupted by the older girl demanding a list of "the lies we're going to tell," though also the entire middle section, which executes a very funny idea with real poignancy. Last 30 minutes are undeniably a shambles (someone should go to jail for the violinists' courtship), but what precedes it is really, really lovely, the kind of solid pop all-ages drama that 15 years ago might have made $40 mil in theaters but is now relegated to indie VOD play.

  • Goodnight Mommy

    Goodnight Mommy 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 05 Dec, 2015

    This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Have read some complaining about the alleged predictability of "the twist," but there appears to be some confusion about what "the twist" actually is. I don't think it's accidental that the prior death of Lukas is thoroughly telegraphed well ahead of time -- if nothing else, the overheard phone conversation should have put to rest any remaining doubt for a remotely attentive viewer. The climax's real revelation, which I found bone-chilling, is that Elias's murderous psychosis was triggered by Mom's…

  • Heaven Knows What

    Heaven Knows What 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 02 Dec, 2015

    Grimly fascinating in its obsession with the details and logistics and jargon of life on the street as a heroin junkie -- the constant negotiations over minute amounts of money vis-a-vis each high, the adversarial nature of every relationship one builds, epitomized here by the poisonous, insanely destructive central love affair. Most heartbreaking is that Harley's obsession with Ilya appears to be a form of validation, her proof to herself that she is capable of doing one right, "normal" thing,…

  • Z for Zachariah

    Z for Zachariah 2015

    ★★½ Watched 28 Nov, 2015

    Not sure what Zobel was trying to convey here, as the faith/science stuff seems to require tortured readings in order to make sense, and the film isn't much as a character study. Might have worked better as a two-hander, a film about having to come to terms with the prospect of life with someone who shares none of her values (which has some metaphorical weight, surely), but instead the screenplay veers toward a love triangle that more or less makes…

  • Creep

    Creep 2014

    ★★½ Watched 28 Nov, 2015

    Miscalibrated: Aaron's video doesn't gradually become creepy, it starts out creepy, albeit in a pretty funny way, with Duplass getting a lot of mileage out of earnest overfamiliarity and inappropriate non sequiturs. (I did laugh heartily the first time Josef goes in to hug the nonplussed Aaron, lurching above and past the camera the latter is holding.) Brice also emphatically does not have a resolution -- what eventually turns out to be Josef's motivation has zero connection to the set-up,…

  • Manglehorn

    Manglehorn 2014

    ★★★ Watched 26 Nov, 2015

    Throwback DGG, digressive and off-kilter, with results that are sometimes priceless ("I'm glad you asked me to dinner." "Where's the bathroom?") and sometimes really obnoxious (all the Harmony Korine stuff sapped my will to live, as anything involving Korine tends to do). At its best portraying the mindset of a man who has foreclosed the rest of his life -- the beehive under his mailbox, his choice of restaurant, his response when someone expresses actual interest in him -- though…