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  • 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.

  • Spy

    Spy 2015

    ★★★ Watched 03 Jul, 2015

    Pretty funny ("Who puts a roof on a scooter? What are you, the pope?"), and I share everyone's admiration of its refusal to make fat jokes, but this suffers from some serious Feigititus, which is to say that it's over two fucking hours long and not nearly tight or consistent enough to justify that running time. I'm now convinced that the most lasting consequence of the rise of the Apatow School is flab -- comedies packed full of funny people who are permitted to mug and digress endlessly rather than being focused into a comic storytelling engine.

  • Maggie

    Maggie 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 21 Jun, 2015

    One of a slew of endless conceptual permutations of the zombie virus scenario, but like CARRIERS and THE RETURNED, I thought this found some real dramatic heft in the human relationships between its decreasingly human characters. Schwarzenegger and Breslin portray the father/daughter bond with real, understated tenderness, and the movie never gives in to the genre's bloodier temptations.

  • We Are Still Here

    We Are Still Here 2015

    ★★★ Watched 20 Jun, 2015

    I guess I wasn't quite as taken with the splattery pay-off as others, though I did enjoy the long slow build. No issues with the giddy climactic outburst per se (and the seance scene that leads into it is gangbusters), but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and it seemed to me to break the movie's creepy spell in a kind of shrugworthy way. The first couple minutes may be the best part.

  • Black Sea

    Black Sea 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 14 Jun, 2015

    Was a time when a sturdy, exciting Jude Law submarine thriller could have comfortably grossed $60m theatrically, no? As opposed to going day-and-date on 353 screens and barely cracking $1m? Shame no one seems interested in anything without a franchise logo anymore, 'cause this is crackerjack stuff, maybe best submarine movie since THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (or at least K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER), passably realistic and attentive to the mundane details of working on a creaky old boat, complicating the…

  • What We Do in the Shadows

    What We Do in the Shadows 2014

    ★★½ Watched 13 Jun, 2015

    Agreeably goofball, with several good chuckles, but a lot of the jokes are stretched really thin (the werewolves, Stu) and it kind of needed... more?... to work at feature length.