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  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High

    Fast Times at Ridgemont High

    ★★★½

    Comparing this to a similar high school movie of the era (anything by John Hughes, say) makes it evident just how much compassion Amy Heckerling has for her characters. The Breakfast Club takes archetypes and gradually turns them on their heads, but in the process, it reaffirms the idea of archetype at all: the film would not work without an implicit understanding of stereotypical high schooler molds. Fast Times at Ridgemont High, on the other hand, treats its characters first…

  • Crash

    Crash

    ★★★½

    Initially, Crash repelled me: my sensitivities the transgressive sexual acts it depicts, many of which involve a fascination with violence inflicted on the human body. (In a lot of ways, I was probably the exact pearl-clutching audience member that drove J.G. Ballard to write the novel or David Cronenberg to direct the film.) What ultimately won me over is the idea of sex as power and power as sex; that is to say, realizing that the film's characters are sexually…

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  • Straight Outta Compton

    Straight Outta Compton

    ★★★

    While largely suffering from a lot of the same issues that plague biopics and other movies of that ilk (I have no intention of being the billionth person to spell them out), Straight Outta Compton digs a tiny bit deeper than it probably had to into the N.W.A members' psyches and unique personalities, making their joint and individual stories a little more robust and wholly captivating throughout the film's duration. Come for the great music, stay to watch Ice Cube's…

  • Ash Is Purest White

    Ash Is Purest White

    ★★★½

    This feels like one of Jia Zhangke's more personal films, especially when comparing it to his other decades-spanning works. Zhao Tao and Fan Liao both excel in their roles, each one coming to terms with the realities of their world by coming from two separate poles to meet at the middle only after their relationship has all but run its course. The film's alternating moments of tenderness and badassery are tinged with a sense of ephemerality, though the characters seem…

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  • Birdman

    Birdman

    ★★★★½

    Visually, Birdman is a beautiful film whose appearance as one unbroken take allows us to understand the complexity of life behind the Broadway stage and the fast-paced nature of the world of theatre. It is this world where we find Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor who is about to star in a stage adaptation of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love that he both wrote and directed but who struggles with his own descent from fame. Despite…

  • The Shape of Water

    The Shape of Water

    After having seen only three of his films, I'm starting to think that Guillermo del Toro chooses to work in a "fairy tale" register because it means that he gets to be lazy with characterization and thematic development, chalking it up to the simplicity of the form. There is little other excuse that I can think of for why the villains in his films, perhaps true for The Shape of Water even more than for Pan's Labyrinth, seem to be…