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  • A Most Violent Year

    A Most Violent Year 2014

    ★★★★½ Watched 24 Apr, 2015

    Rich, generous, expansive entertainment for adults -- shades of Scorsese and James Gray and a little bit of Mamet -- a crackerjack story in a vivid setting, beautiful and beautifully acted. A gangster movie with a main character who fights tooth and nail against becoming a gangster -- and continues to fight well past the point when any other protagonist in a movie like this would have given in (thus providing the dramatic fulcrum for countless stories sort of like this). A film about the intersection of ambition and scruples, or at least the self-image of oneself as scrupulous. Phenomenal.

  • Exodus: Gods and Kings

    Exodus: Gods and Kings 2014

    ★★ Watched 24 Apr, 2015

    You'll find no bigger fan of Sir Ridley than I, but this screenplay is so turgid and ham-handed that even Scott's remarkable penchant for robust Hollywood spectacle can't save it. Unlike Aronofsky's NOAH, EXODUS simply fails to find any sort of compelling dramatic angle on the story, so we're just left to mentally go through the Biblical checklist as we wait for the movie to end. Closest it comes to something interesting is Moses' profound unease with God's vengeance on…

  • Kill the Messenger

    Kill the Messenger 2014

    ★★★ Watched 17 Apr, 2015

    First half is mostly a journalism procedural and it has some crackerjack moments (e.g. the courtroom scene), even though Cuesta's direction is choppy and inelegant -- the dude has no sense of rhythm vis-a-vis storytelling; easiest to see this during Andy Garcia's big scene, which keeps undermining itself with pointless and clunky cross-cutting, but really a problem throughout. Second half gets a little maudlin (all the family-is-what's-really-important stuff), though it's arguably justified by what ultimately happens to Webb, which kind…

  • Beyond the Lights

    Beyond the Lights 2014

    ★★★ Watched 04 Apr, 2015

    Loved the first hour, which skewers the 21st century music industry as shrewdly as anything I've seen, shot through with a sadness that the film has no need to overexplicate. Sadly, it's designed as an inspirational story of a young woman who Finds Her Voice™, and the second half of the film is therefore tasteful, well-intentioned, warm-hearted, and kind of interminable -- particularly the half-hour-long interlude in Mexico, which is dramatically crucial but refuses to fucking end. The performances are lovely and I'm glad this got made, but it's just disappointing to see it retreat so aggressively to convention after a start that suggested something special.

  • City Lights

    City Lights 1931

    ★★★★ Watched 28 Mar, 2015

    I know almost nothing about silent-era comedy and thus have zero credibility -- as evidenced by the fact that this is my first viewing of CITY LIGHTS. Most of it is obviously delightful, but my instinctive reaction is that the Tramp is too play-acted, too choreographed -- the funniest moments here are the precious few where Chaplin lets chaos break loose, like in the awesome nightclub sequence. Like, I don't have a ton of experience with Keaton either, but my…

  • Spring

    Spring 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 24 Mar, 2015

    Only one real quibble, and it's with the ending -- to be as vague as possible, the thing that happens in the film's final seconds is set up kind of mechanically, through dialogue, a mere few minutes earlier, and the pay-off feels like a contrived and too-easy resolution to a heartrending conflict that had theretofore played out unpredictably and organically. That aside, Moorhead/Benson's follow-up to RESOLUTION is bold, gutsy stuff, risking embarrassment to deploy horror tropes in service of sincerity…

  • Citizen Kane

    Citizen Kane 1941

    ★★★★★ Rewatched 22 Mar, 2015

    The remarkable thing about the identity of "Rosebud" is that: (1) when you learn what it is, the mystery is deepened rather than solved; (2) that doesn't make it any less satisfying or cathartic as resolution; (3) its power doesn't remotely diminish with knowing the answer in advance.

  • Faults

    Faults 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 21 Mar, 2015

    A wee bit of a letdown in the end, though perhaps only because so much of the second act is so astonishingly creepy that a satisfying plot-based resolution would be a tall order. (Though I must say that the Lance Reddick/John Gries half of the storyline remains as unimaginative as it seems -- the rest of the film is so clever that I expected it to have something up its sleeve w/r/t that, too, but no dice.) The whole thing…

  • Lucy

    Lucy 2014

    ★★★★½ Watched 20 Mar, 2015

    Might be overrating this somewhat owing to being totally blindsided by its weirdness and ambition, but after one viewing this seems like the one recent film actually worthy of comparisons to 2001 -- a movie that takes seriously the question of what it would be like for humanity to ascend to a higher plane of existence in this universe. I suspect ultimately the pointless goofiness of the gangster throughline might knock me down a half a star or so, but…

  • Ex Machina

    Ex Machina 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 09 Mar, 2015

    Smart as hell -- unlike a lot of screenwriters who dabble in this sort of thing, Garland seems at least a little bit versed in AI research, software engineering, etc. -- and engaging, too; maybe the first time I've truly appreciated Oscar Isaac as a versatile performer. If there's a problem it's with the resolutely small-scale three-hander of a plot, which has a killer set-up but finds itself without anywhere to really go and grinds to a wet noodle of an ending. Still very much worthwhile, I think.

  • Still Alice

    Still Alice 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 08 Mar, 2015

    Played me like a piano, since it's about my worst fear, but I do think it vividly captures the horror of this sort of decline. A lovely family drama, too -- Moore's praise is deserved, but Kristen Stewart is also perhaps unexpectedly fantastic in a tricky role.

  • It Follows

    It Follows 2014

    ★★★★½ Watched 07 Mar, 2015

    Despite the universal praise from both general cinephiles and genre fans, Mitchell's debut led me to expect something a bit languid and arty, but nothing doing: this is spectacular, full-on horror, with the opening scene alone enough to place it among the best of this decade's crop. Scarier than THE BABADOOK, and braver for not making its horror just abstractly symbolic. Mitchell also somehow finds a great ending, satisfying plotwise and a lovely thematic/allegorical button too.