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  • Nymphomaniac: Vol. II

    Nymphomaniac: Vol. II 2013

    ★★ Watched 23 Aug, 2015

    Confirms that this whole thing is just a conversation piece. I mean, this is a movie in which the protagonist for no apparent reason mounts an apparently sincere defense of the word "negro." Or think about the scene where Jo walks out on Jerome and his son to pursue sexytime needs, and think about what it would have looked and sounded like had this been a movie that cared a whit about who these people are and how they feel…

  • Nymphomaniac: Vol. I

    Nymphomaniac: Vol. I 2013

    ★★½ Watched 22 Aug, 2015

    At core, pretty basic, perfectly adequate arthouse cud-chewing on lust vs. love -- the primal, if hollow, gratification of the former and the way it can be used as a weapon while the latter often just means pain and loss and desperately hanging on to slippery silhouettes of memory and feeling. Fine. But everything von Trier tries to layer on top of that is quickly exposed as ridiculous, particularly his attempts to be clever or funny -- the mannered back-and-forth…

  • Mr. Holmes

    Mr. Holmes 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 13 Aug, 2015

    The double-flashback structure is awkward, and a great example of a literary adaptation artifact -- no sane screenwriter starting from scratch would ever have come up with something this clunky. What I nonetheless really dug was the film's Ishigur-ian themes, explored with unexpected sensitivity: an old man, close to death, reckoning with a life and legacy he struggles or perhaps doesn't want to recall. The stories glorify him as an intellectual juggernaut, a legendary crime-solver, but what turns out to…

  • Cube

    Cube 1997

    ★★★★½ Rewatched 09 Aug, 2015

    A formative experience having my mind blown by this as a teenager, and my eyes opened to genre cinema that's weird, enigmatic, with one leg in our world and the other somewhere else. Now of course I see why this cult classic has retained its "cult" modifier -- the dialogue is overcooked, the acting overheated, the characterization sketched out ambitiously but with only a vague idea of how drama and storytelling work. But I continue to marvel at how propulsive…

  • Timbuktu

    Timbuktu 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 08 Aug, 2015

    Islamic fundamentalism as an imposition -- a violation of a peacefully established order, a way of life, ancient traditions. Not the most original conception, probably, but one heartbreakingly explored by Sissako, whose work with a cast of mostly non-pros is extraordinary. Highlight for me was the early scene with the fishmonger, whose response to harassment from Islamist thugs to put on gloves struck me as a piercingly authentic howl of rage by someone who has enough to worry about without having to deal with these murderous idiots.

  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

    The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies 2014

    ★★½ Watched 01 Aug, 2015

    Of the three HOBBIT films, this one most resembles the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, in style and content both -- bombastic and grim, obsessed with themes of loyalty and steadfastness in the face of temptation, with little of the kid-friendly romping that dominated its two immediate predecessors. But it's also the one that most clearly demonstrates why this second trilogy is so misguided: it's missing LOTR's narrative and moral clarity, the simple but powerful pitting of unity and friendship…

  • Slow West

    Slow West 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 25 Jul, 2015

    Refreshingly unmindful of conventional movie rhythms -- some of its most suspenseful moments come as oddball digressions (which are often also hilarious: "There's been an appalling misunderstanding. I'm at the wrong camp"), and at 83 minutes, by the time your average western would be getting warmed up, it's already launched into its (spectacular) climax. Gets a lot of mileage out of sticking its sweet, ingenuous protagonist into the viper's nest of the wild west, and Maclean shrewdly withholds a lot…

  • Eastern Boys

    Eastern Boys 2013

    ★★½ Watched 21 Jul, 2015

    Opens and closes as a reasonably effective thriller -- the first half hour, in particular, is eerily off-kilter and well-structured, with a humdinger of an "oooooh" moment when a much younger "Marek" shows up at the protag's door. Middle hour, though, hinges on one simplistic emotional turn that really doesn't do the work of mitigating the predatory nature of the central relationship -- Daniel realizes that Marek/Rouslan is a real person with a tragic backstory (which, no shit, w/r/t the…

  • These Birds Walk

    These Birds Walk 2013

    ★★★½ Watched 14 Jul, 2015

    Worth watching just for the heartwrenching, occasionally horrifying glimpses of Karachi, where I'm currently living (though I don't get to see many of the places depicted here). Otherwise, at its best when it sticks with the ambulance driver, whose story has some context and whose segments have a purpose; the long stretches that simply observe the Edhi-fostered children struck me as neither quite as lyrical as the film thinks nor terribly revelatory, unless their basic humanity is surprising to you.…

  • Inherent Vice

    Inherent Vice 2014

    ★★ Watched 11 Jul, 2015

    L.A. noir wrapped in a whole bunch of stuff I don't find all that interesting: Vietnam-era counterculture, drugged-out paranoia, the supposed decline of the American character. The storyline proper is incomprehensible and useless; all the appeal is in the mood and veneer (and all of PTA's chops are devoted to same), which did absolutely nothing for me. At 2.5 hours, excruciating.

  • Insidious: Chapter 3

    Insidious: Chapter 3 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 04 Jul, 2015

    Lacks the drop-dead beauty of Wan's films, but tops them in some other ways -- the first 40 minutes, in particular, felt lived-in and real in a way mainstream horror films rarely manage, with what seemed like an actual teenager part of an actual family living in an actual apartment grieving an actual loss. Ooga-booga is mostly pro-forma, but still plenty effective, doubly so because the screenplay went to the trouble of setting up the stakes. Very much recommended, and familiarity with earlier installments is not required.

  • Jurassic World

    Jurassic World 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 03 Jul, 2015

    Maybe a bit overcomplicated -- not sure the Vincent D'Onofrio stuff was necessary at all -- but from where I was sitting (in a plush recliner in a way-too-opulent Dubai cinema, to be clear) this pretty much delivered, and Chris Pratt appears to have ensured his berth as the new Indiana Jones in that inevitable reboot. Nifty theme park scenario, likable actors, several strong set pieces, effects that still manage to be impressive; the Spielbergian awe may be long gone, but this seemed perfectly cromulent as a summer diversion.