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  • First Man

    First Man

    ★★★★½

    Grainy, noisy and claustrophobic, and that’s before we even set foot inside a Gemini module. It took me a little while to warm to Linus Sandgren’s extreme close-up camerawork, but it’s a stylistic choice that serves to reframe any mundanity that was present in the Armstrongs’ home life, and to propel an otherwise traditional narrative along in an unexpected way.

    The mostly male cast is teeming with worthy character actors, many of whom are underused, but only so we can…

  • United 93

    United 93

    ★★★★★

    Ruthlessly economical filmmaking that so effectively illustrates just how unexpected and unfathomable the events of 9/11 were for the passengers and ground crews involved.

    Once past the opening hotel room and boarding gate scenes, the film never strays beyond the walls of the hijacked aircraft or the military and civilian command centres that responded. Director Greengrass provides no explanation — other than perhaps nerves — for the hijackers’ delayed gambit on board, and deliberately downplays most of the day’s iconic…

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  • Dolly Parton: Here I Am

    Dolly Parton: Here I Am

    ★½

    Dolly deserves so much more than this formulaic, hagiographic career retrospective. Even the on-screen lyric typography is bad.

  • Crawl

    Crawl

    ★★★★

    Inspired by a real event, Crawl’s enviable blend of genres (survival, natural disaster, home invasion, creature feature, ticking clock) got me in the door, but I stayed for the near-perfect depiction of attacking alligators, production design and weather effects that embrace the film’s small scale, and Barry Pepper’s turn as Kaya Scodelario’s estranged dad. The filmmakers got the most important trait of the gators correct: their heft. As well as being hyper-realistic, they move and interact with their physical surroundings,…

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  • Drive

    Drive

    ★★★★★

    The tech writer John Gruber is fond of a Kubrick quote about the truth of a thing being in the feel of it rather than the think of it, a phrase that for me perfectly explains the appeal of Nicolas Winding Refn’s noirish adaptation of the James Sallis novel. Right from the first hotel room scene, through a near wordless 15-minute opening stanza, the foreboding atmosphere of an after-hours, back-streets Los Angeles takes hold. The ambient, minimal score by Cliff…

  • Les Misérables

    Les Misérables

    ★★★

    Golden boy director, hot off earnest 2011 Oscar winner The King’s Speech, cashes in open-slather offer for next project by committing to film universally adored hit musical about love at first sight and the redemptive power of student uprisings.

    Loses drunken bet over which member of the Master and Commander cast will play the pivotal role of Javert, and is forced to cast vocally-challenged Aussie rocker, only to have him murder ‘Stars’ and be thoroughly upstaged by pint-sized unknown Daniel…