• Conan the Barbarian

    Conan the Barbarian

    ★★

    2.0/5.0 = Satisfactory

    I love Arnold Schwarzenneger, even though this is squarely him in the "young actor who hasn't figured out how to be a likeable leading man yet" stage. That said, I think making a Conan movie with him in the title role was a no-brainer decision. John Milius, who is clearly obsessed with survival stories, ancient history and its intersection with mythology, makes a real capital-B Boys movie out of this; boobs, snakes, and decapitations abound; always executed…

  • Taking Off

    Taking Off

    ★★★★½

    4.5/5.0 = Stellar

    After the Czech Spring, Miloš Forman moved to the United States and launched his Hollywood career by riding on the coattails of EASY RIDER's popularity, a film so anachronistically successful that Universal studios decided to greenlight five feature films with a budget of less than $1M and give each directors full creative control and final cut! One of those five films was TAKING OFF, and frankly there is nothing else like it; a quirky, experimental, playful, and…

  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

    The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

    ★★★★½

    4.5/5.0 = Stellar

    Serious contender for best casting of New York archetypes. Definite nominee for greatest heist film ever. But most importantly, best final shot in cinema history? I think so!

    This film brilliantly sets up an entire B-plot about the flu-sick mayor of New York getting between the cops and the robbers, only to do absolutely nothing of real significance with it! That said, somehow this in no way matters because the experience of watching this inept politician waltz…

  • Ride Lonesome

    Ride Lonesome

    ★★★★

    4.0/5.0 = Amazing

    30 minutes of fleshed out character drama shy of being a masterpiece. This might be among the best-looking westerns I’ve ever seen; lensed with the precision of great Hollywood cinema (delicious dolly shots, pans, crane moves, the works), but shot entirely on location unlike so many of its sound stage peers.

    I love that this feels like reading a serial comic, with its brisk 73-minute running time making for an excellent get-in-get-out journey, but the best thing…

  • Doctor Zhivago

    Doctor Zhivago

    ★★★★★

    5.0/5.0 = Masterpiece

    You know how much of an absolute beast you have to be for this not to be the best film in your filmography?

    The scale of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, the intensity of its emotions; it’s literally all so perfect. Few directors know how to ellipse time like David Lean. It’s a study unto its own; characters transforming from tuxedo-clad aristocrats to distraught fugitives over the course of four hours. It’s such a dynamic film, capturing a nation’s transformation,…

  • Little Darlings

    Little Darlings

    ★★★½

    3.5/5.0 = Great

    Covered in slight imperfections, but so unbelievably real and charming that I can’t not love it! There is so much honest realism here, so many moments that I have never seen in any female coming-of-age story, and so genuinely playful with its scene work that the laughs and smiles from its ensemble cast feel more like documentary footage than dramaturgy. Sure, it ends a little too puritanical for my taste, bordering on being a PSA with its “reject…

  • Notting Hill

    Notting Hill

    ★★★

    3.0/5.0 = Good

    Only ever saw snippets of this growing up, so I figured it was high time I bite the bullet and watch the whole thing. What can I say? The elevator pitch to this is excellent, and I love all the wacky places this is able to go, but I actually think that it mostly shortchanges its own potential. This is an endearing romance, but if the narrative purpose is to toss a superstar into the life of…

  • 8-Bit Christmas

    8-Bit Christmas

    ★★★½

    3.5/5.0 = Great

    Threw this on mid-day to offer my dad a laugh, and was surprised to discover a sincere, clever, and genuinely accomplished children’s throwback flick. I don’t think I’ve seen any capital-C Christmas movies of this ilk come out in years; it’s so earnestly attuned to being a modernization of A CHRISTMAS STORY, throwing in some PRINCESS BRIDE-isms for good measure.

    I initially rolled my eyes at yet another 80s-themed film (this time about a kid who wants…

  • Amadeus

    Amadeus

    ★★★★½

    4.5/5.0 = Stellar

    Last time I saw this I was a middle schooler throwing on the DVD, so truthfully this felt like a first-time watch. That said, every feeling I ever had about this being a nigh-masterpiece remains. The lavish set design. The attention paid to music and performance, both within the story and the on-stage operas, is incredible. It’s a massively ambitious film and it completely sticks the landing.

    Perhaps the most ingenious element of this is the framing device.…

  • King Richard

    King Richard

    ★★½

    2.5/5.0 = Noteworthy

    Will Smith can only operate in two tonal registers; larger-than-life superstar or down-on-his-luck messiah of inspiration pornography. And while neither of those modes are ever poorly executed, it also means that you know exactly what to expect when going into KING RICHARD; an uplifting tearjerker released just in time for Thanksgiving about the relentless efforts of Venus and Serena Williams' father, Richard Williams. It's corny to the nth degree, but it's also dialed in and tastefully executed.…

  • The Panic in Needle Park

    The Panic in Needle Park

    ★★★

    3.0/5.0 = Good

    Unbelievable performances and shockingly immersive. It’s so easy to trace a direct line from this to Sean Baker. It’s honestly pretty hard to tell the staged moments of this apart from the documentary footage in Larry Clark’s KIDS; that’s how convincing this is! That said, I also think this is a little turgid and aimless in a bad way. I initially enjoyed the plotless nature of it, but as its second half kicks in it becomes frustratingly comfortable with…

  • Blue Jay

    Blue Jay

    ★★½

    2.5/5.0 = Noteworthy

    I really wanted to love this, especially because the acting is great and the script is a textbook “minimalist Duplass” script that makes you want to go and write a micro-budget feature of your own. Unfortunately this is directed in the easiest way possible. There’s nothing challenging about the actual filmmaking. Mark Duplass brings so much emotional gravitas to his role, but director Alex Lehman does not meet him on eye level.

    If Linklater would direct this…