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  • The Blackcoat's Daughter

    The Blackcoat's Daughter

    ★★★

    This is likely a philistine complaint, but my take on both of Oz Perkins' acclaimed first two films is that he needs to figure out how to anchor his admittedly impressive atmospherics a little bit better to narrative. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE didn't even try, and I found it boring and eerie in equal measure; THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER, made earlier but released later, has more of a story but remains so opaque for so…

  • Alien: Covenant

    Alien: Covenant

    ★★★½

    An attempt to make a direct sequel to PROMETHEUS -- both in plot and in theme -- while redirecting the franchise back to its monster-movie roots. As such, it feels a bit uneasy, like a heady sci-fi drama periodically interrupted by 10-minute stretches of screaming; this is particularly frustrating since this is the kind of movie that badly needs to build momentum, and COVENANT feels like it keeps derailing itself. On the couple occasions it has the opportunity to really…

  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

    Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

    ★★

    Sigh. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was one of the two (2) Marvel Studios films I've really liked -- it was energetic and funny, with a light-footed STAR WARS-like mythic feel to it, a painstakingly-crafted screenplay, and seemingly little concern about its place in the Marvel Craptastic Universe. This sequel, by contrast, goes on absolutely for-fucking-ever, has roughly six plots but zero forward momentum, and feels like a very (very, very, very) long episode of a TV show that I stopped…

  • Buster's Mal Heart

    Buster's Mal Heart

    ★★

    Just Not My Thing (tm), I think. I get frustrated by these sorts of pseudo-genre allegories that expend no effort to make the sci-fi foreground work or make sense on its own terms, content to have it serve as arbitrary symbolism for whatever is on the writer's mind -- in this case, the arbitrariness of the way society is organized and the way we treat people who break the rules. Found little ifanything to sink my teeth into here, since even the character work seems like a reductive front for Smith's messaging (e.g., Lin Shaye's absurd mother-in-law).

  • A Dark Song

    A Dark Song

    ★★★½

    A minor gem, though it almost became a major one through its specific, systematic vision of the occult. Ultimately, it's committed to the story's emotional throughline above all, and perhaps to the detriment of the rules of its protagonist's relentless supernatural pursuit, which remain vague in a way that suggests they weren't fully thought-through more than it suggests a hint of something larger than is shown. Still, this is moody and fascinating, and the ending delivers in a way that's both surprisingly straightforward and quite moving.

  • The Next Skin

    The Next Skin

    ★★

    Oddly uninvolving thriller-drama about a teenager who is reunited with his mother after nine amnesiac years following a traumatic event -- but who may not be what he claims. None of the relationships really ring true, and the film's mysteries don't seem to have much behind them. Briefly wakes up at the very end, but not sure it's worth the sit.

  • Sieranevada

    Sieranevada

    ★★★½

    Three-hour Romanian-new-wave family drama occasionally builds an intoxicating momentum, observing complex family dynamics with a jagged start-and-stop rhythm and a world-weary sense of humor and absurdity. It is also, to be frank, a bit of an endurance test.

  • Beach Rats

    Beach Rats

    ★★★

    I don't know when precisely this is supposed to be set -- post-Chatroulette and pre-smartphone, it would seem, which I think is counterfactual since they never didn't overlap -- but even in, say, 2008, a Brooklyn 19 year-old who looked like Harris Dickinson (or even one who didn't) would have readily been able to engage in discreet exploratory hook-ups without needing to follow strange middle-aged men into the woods. The painful turn the film takes in its last 20 minutes…

  • Score: A Film Music Documentary

    Score: A Film Music Documentary

    ★★½

    Flagrantly a puff piece, but the subject matter is interesting, and if you can sit through the largely inane first half you'll be rewarded with a few enjoyable behind-the-scenes tidbits about how scores are recorded (using MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION and MINIONS as examples) and about 20 minutes of listening to well-known composers talk about other composers' work, which is neat. How they managed to make a doc that purports to trace the lineage of film music to the present day and not mention Clint Mansell once is beyond me.

  • Ma' Rosa

    Ma' Rosa

    ★★★½

    Totally thrilling for about a half hour as it delves into the mundane nitty-gritty of what it is like to have to eke out a day-to-day living in a Manila slum. Deflates a bit once the plot gets going and the film becomes basically a parade of horrors about police corruption, but even then it retains a fair bit of force by observing the extent to which the problem is distributed: Rosa and her family deal meth because that's just…

  • Marjorie Prime

    Marjorie Prime

    ★★

    Stultifying Michael Almereyda adaptation of what strikes me as probably not a very good play. Basic idea -- the ability to generate holographic versions of dead loved ones and essentially craft their personas anew leads grieving relatives to create idealized and comforting versions of the people they once knew -- bends under the weight of the almost surreally lugubrious pace and artificial, stereotypically "theatrical" dialogue. Drab, visually unarresting sets and cheap-looking cinematography make it look like it was filmed in a weekend.

  • The Sense of an Ending

    The Sense of an Ending

    ★★½

    More or less what I feared from an adaptation of Julian Barnes' brilliant novel by the director of THE LUNCHBOX, in that it ends up soupy and bittersweet, unwilling to either commit to Barnes' bleak agenda or transform the source material into something different. Batra does show occasional signs of life, mostly in the jittery, arhythmic scenes between Broadbent and Rampling, and Broadbent himself turns in a gem of a performance that wants to be harsher and more astringent than the film ultimately permits.