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  • Her

    Her

    ★★★★½

    Spike Jonze once again wowed me with this subtly dystopian exploration of isolation and connectedness in a near-future world. The pace is unrushed, the ideas razor-sharp, and the story somehow utterly believable - I think because it focuses microscopically on the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters, whose faces (those who have one, anyway) the camera seems to want to sink into, the close-ups are so devoted. The set design too is inspired, as is the acting, perhaps most…

  • Much Ado About Nothing

    Much Ado About Nothing

    ★★★

    Joss Whedon's 2012 version of Shakespeare's famous comedy got good of word of mouth, so I thought I'd revist Kenneth Branagh's early-90's version before taking in the most recent adaptation. It is as I recall it: entertaining enough, with some great acting, but a bit forced-feeling. The merry-making seems staged to distraction at points and the repeated use of the "Sigh no more, ladies" verses as song becomes a bit tedious. Denzel Washington, Branagh and (his then-wife) Emma Thompson are…

  • Killer Joe

    Killer Joe

    ★★★½

    I read good things about this when it came out, mostly about Matthew McConaughey's return to form as an actor and the effectiveness of the dark, claustrophobic storytelling. So I was surprised to see in the opening credits that it's a William Friedkin film - his direction masterfully ties together the world of the sordid lot on display in Tracy Letts' lurid screenplay. All the acting is solid, but Juno Temple (the deceptive blond girl from Atonement) is particularly impressive,…

  • I'm Still Here

    I'm Still Here

    Phoenix finally convinced me he's a great actor in "The Master" and was equally great in "Her" so I thought I'd give this mockumentary a whirl. I've got a three-word review for it: I'm not interested. I still think he's a skilled actor, only here he's skilled at being ceaselessly unbearable. To me, the only 2 entertaining things about this whole trope (of mocking reality shows by living one and filming it) are Letterman's quip "I'm so sorry you couldn't be here with us tonight" and Ben Stiller's impression of disheveled "J.P." at the Oscars.

  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

    The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

    ★★★½

    The co-creators of BBC's acclaimed "Sherlock" series (who call it the best Holmes film ever made) admit nicking more than a few inspired ideas from this comedic take on Doyle sprung from the irreverent mind of Billy Wilder. This "self-described hitherto suppressed and thoroughly fascinating tale" is presented as an anthology of cases too ignominious for Watson to chronicle proudly (and apparently 2 of 4 of the filmed sections were edited out and are now only available on the laserdisc…

  • Inside Llewyn Davis

    Inside Llewyn Davis

    ★★★★½

    "Inside Llewyn Davis" resonated to me like the Coen's equivalent of Woody Allen's "Interiors," with a beautiful elliptical narrative structure that keeps rolling through my mind like a haunting and heart-breaking folk song. I hope great things are in store for Oscar Isaac (forgot he was in "Drive"), and laud the brothers for not catering to awards with this moving rumination of a picture (which is perhaps easier for them to do, having already scooped up the big ones with "No Country for Old Men" in 2008), but I cannot believe one of these songs didn't get Oscar-nominated!

  • American Hustle

    American Hustle

    ★★★½

    I liked "American Hustle" but I didn't love it. The performances are amazing and all nominations well-deserved, but it felt more workmanlike in its craft than remarkable in voice or vision. I keep waiting for David O'Russell to be truly madcap as in "Flirting With Disaster" or as defiant as he was with "I Heart Huckabees." "Silver Linings Playbook" was a little more daring and "him," in my opinion. But "Hustle" is a fun ride, a respectable simplification of abscam…

  • The Place Beyond the Pines

    The Place Beyond the Pines

    ★★★½

    This is not the Ryan Gosling vehicle you might think it was. It is a daring, quiet epic drama, impressively expansive yet woven together by Derek Cianfrance's assured direction, which highlights repeated us of a rear tracking shot that levels and humanizes the wide variety of characters we're (literally) following. Bradley Cooper continues to prove he's more than a pretty Hangover face, and it was particularly pleasing to see young Dane DeHaan (Jessie from In Treatment's third season) in a…

  • Libeled Lady

    Libeled Lady

    ★★★★

    Screwball comedies don't get much better than this underseen classic. I guess Jean Harlow and William Powell were a real-life item at the time, and Spencer Tracy and the dazzling heart-faced Myrna Loy may have even had a fling during the filming. If you love It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, Sullivan's Travels, The Awful Truth, The Lady Eve or any of the other well-known 30s comedies, you'll do well to seek out this gem. Nowhere else could you hear the line "She may be his wife, but she's engaged to me!" and have it make complete delightful sense.

  • Solaris

    Solaris

    ★★★★★

    Why have I never committed the nearly 3 hours to fall under the spell of this movie, a common entrant on best-of-all-time lists? It's a film I've meant to watch but never got around to, but having caught not even all of it on cable finally, I can count myself firmly among its transfixed admirers. Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's response to Kubrick's 2001, Solaris is easily the most intellectually emotional and scientifically unsettling sci-fi film I've experienced. I cannot wait…

  • Safety Not Guaranteed

    Safety Not Guaranteed

    ★★★

    This is a sweet, clever, non-twee independent comedy whose plot was inspired by a real (fake) time-travel ad that ran in a magazine in the late 90s. Aubrey Plaza shows she can hold her own on the big screen, Mark Duplass shows he can do more than mumble (though singing and playing the zither isn't likely to dent his mumblecore softy reputation), and the writer/director team (who met as interns on SNL) established potential I'll be interested to watch unfold.

  • Les Misérables

    Les Misérables

    ★★½

    I finally caught this on cable, which signals my level of interest in the kind of musical where nearly every word is sung. Can someone explain why a French historical musical features all British accents? Or why Tom Hooper keeps tilting the camera (once even mid-shot) for no discernible reason other than to draw attention to his lack of confidence directing a big Hollywood musical? But I watched this for Eddie Redmayne, whom I first saw on Broadway hold his…