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  • A Cure for Wellness

    A Cure for Wellness

    ★★★½

    I'd hesitate to recommend this widely, since it's nearly two and a half hours of what amounts to painstakingly gorgeous execution of gothic horror tropes. But if gothic horror tropes are your thing -- if, e.g., you thought CRIMSON PEAK might have been incredible if it hadn't been a bit half-baked, plot-wise -- then you're contractually obligated to check out Verbinski's bizarro opus, which is, at a minimum, admirably committed. Nothing really connects thematically -- our corporate striver culture somehow…

  • The Salesman

    The Salesman

    ★★★★

    Beautifully subtle tragedy that plays like an arty revenge movie but is really about the invidious and elusive way that shame propagates through society and makes people do inexplicable, destructive stuff. As good as A SEPARATION, I think.

  • John Wick: Chapter 2

    John Wick: Chapter 2

    ★★★

    This franchise is turning out to be a close cousin to the Gareth Evans/Iko Uwais Indonesian bone-crunchers, which very quickly began to bore me. CHAPTER 2 is still neat, mostly thanks to the alternate universe Stahelski and Kolstad continue to build, but a lot of the first film's sense of discovery is gone, and at a greedy 122 minutes the action wears out its welcome, spectacular as it is. Mostly runs into the same problem that THE RAID and its progeny face: near-invincibility radically lowers the stakes, and there's only so much ground that spectacular staging and stuntwork can make up.

  • Southbound

    Southbound

    ★★½

    Halfway-successful stab at an anthology whose segments interconnect to tell a loose story or at least to create a sort of weird hellscape. Unfortunately only the first segment really works on its own terms, and even its effect ends up dulled by the finale, which retroactively overexplains it. Everything else is just less than meets the eye, though the middle section (with the hospital) is at least creepy, and the film mostly has the guts to hint at the connective tissue without spelling out too much.

  • Straight Time

    Straight Time

    ★★

    Basic conceit is fine, and the first act does a nice job portraying the series of casual indignities to which the newly-released Dembo is subjected. But his plunge back into a life of crime -- particularly the repeated suggestion that he has a severe impulse control problem -- suggests that the screenplay has some seriously unpleasant notions about the "criminal mind"; plus the whole thing is kind of boring and the love story is useless and silly, with Palmer's character basically just there to fulfill Dembo's need to "be loved."

  • Blue Collar

    Blue Collar

    ★★★★

    Pretty sure Schrader's ending here is one of the most blisteringly courageous things I've ever seen a movie do, putting everything on the line and trusting the audience to think its way beyond the words being spoken and (physical and verbal) punches being thrown. I need to watch this again -- not really knowing where it was headed, I got a little bit exasperated by the hangout-movie stylings of the first 45 minutes and by some of the stuff that played like a sketch comedy routine (e.g. the IRS agent suddenly showing up). Regardless, all was soon forgiven.

  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

    The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

    ★★★★

    The sort of lean-and-mean thriller that doesn't really get made anymore -- no backstories, no love interests, no botched hostage negotiation in the protagonist's past that haunts him, no contrived emotional hooks beyond what's actually happening on screen. Honestly not sure if the casual bigotry on display ("The guy who's talking's got a heavy English accent. He could be a fruitcake.") is satire, critique, or a just a reflection of the times; there has to be a reason the movie…

  • Detour

    Detour

    ★★★

    Intriguing, but -- unlike Smith's previous films -- little more. Closest in spirit to TRIANGLE, but while that suspenseful brain-twister worked wonderfully moment-to-moment, DETOUR remains almost purely conceptual, with the story never building any independent momentum beyond Smith's structural fireworks. I did appreciate his willingness to let us do the work of figuring out what, precisely, the structural conceit *is*, and the ending retroactively justifies some of the general sketchiness. But where TRIANGLE and BLACK DEATH grabbed me entire and refused to let go, this one's just a chin-scratcher.

  • Lion

    Lion

    ★★★

    Not a ton of narrative thrust here -- the first half is just kind of a sad thing that happens, and then adult Saroo solves a tricky Google Earth problem and has a (mostly) joyful reunion. At its best in the 40 minutes or so it devotes to Saroo's sudden existential dislocation, and Patel broods compellingly -- though the film ultimately offers up a simplistic explanation for his sudden angst (realizing that his mother and brother spent years not knowing…

  • Passengers

    Passengers

    ★★½

    No number of bad reviews could have prepared me for the disastrous last half hour, which completely ignores everything that came before it -- the film lingers on a fascinating, thorny set-up and then proceeds to a climax and conclusion that are *entirely agnostic* as to whether anything in that set-up took place, and could have capped almost literally any space adventure. It's baffling, but the first hour remains pretty compelling, the film looks great, and Thomas Newman delivers a…

  • Sully

    Sully

    ★★½

    Clint's clearly still got it, as the suspenseful, cleanly-edited crash sequences demonstrate, and there's some great stuff here about the immense difficulty of realtime decision-making under pressure. (Hanks is just fantastic, too, particularly the second time through the crash, signaling the combination of adrenaline, instinct, and reasoning that must have gotten Sullenberger through.) I have no idea why the screenplay is determined to fashion the NTSB into craven mustache-twirlers (resulting, among other things, in a bizarrely hysterical performance from Anna…

  • Morgan

    Morgan

    ★★½

    I'm a sucker for the sorts of ethical questions this initially tries to pose, which are fundamentally the same ones that preoccupied A.I. Unfortunately, the endgame the film has in mind* just isn't all that interesting, and requires an extended and frankly boring series of action climaxes piled on top of each other to get there. (Said climaxes are also at odds with the repeated assertion that Morgan is super-intelligent.) Mostly a wasted opportunity, though there's a hell of a…