Rob has written 12 reviews for films released in 2013.

  • Frankenstein's Army

    Frankenstein's Army

    ★★

    Mostly an excuse to bring to life a collection of steampunk Nazi monsters that probably began as notebook doodles, and to take advantage of access to some marvelously dilapidated industrial locations. The creatures are fun, but the halfhearted found-footage format is distracting enough to sink the whole thing, flaunting its artifice with English-speaking Russian soldiers and supposed 16mm footage from the 1940s rendered in crisp HD. I know I’m taking this all too seriously, but the film offers no cues…

  • Inequality for All

    Inequality for All

    ★★★½

    When we see the contrast between the values we share and the realities we live in, that is the fundamental foundation for social change.

    If you have a shaky grasp of economics and want to better understand the growing problem of income inequality in the U.S., you probably can’t do much better than Inequality for All, an exhibition of the collected insights of former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. Reich’s affable oratory and knack for economic pattern recognition make a…

  • Boy & the World

    Boy & the World

    ★★★★

    Animated films aimed at broad audiences rarely take real advantage of the medium’s expressive potential, opting instead for one or another flavor of mannered representationalism. Boy & the World is a delightful exception, channeling the magical realism of a child’s naïve perspective to create a singularly vibrant, rhythmic aesthetic. Both a polemic and an affirmation, the film is occasionally heavy-handed with its politics, but not enough to undermine its core exploration of a generational spectrum of triumphs, mundanities, tragedies, and the resilience of creativity and community.

  • Muscle Shoals

    Muscle Shoals

    ★★★½

    In its assessment of how a small town in Alabama came to be a recording destination for discerning musicians and a hotbed of hit singles, Muscle Shoals spends a little too much time indulging New Age mysticism and Native American fables about the region’s supernatural gifts. Thankfully, it spends considerably more time peeling back the layers of Fame Studios founder Rick Hall, whose vision and prodigious talent as a producer is the unquestionable nucleus of the legendary “Muscle Shoals sound.”…

  • Narco Cultura

    Narco Cultura

    ★★★½

    The Mexican drug war has claimed over 100,000 lives since 2006, and much of the violence has taken place in the city of Juarez, just across the US/Mexico border from El Paso, TX. Narco Cultura examines the conflict chiefly through two sets of eyes: those of Richi Soto, a crime scene investigator who works an endless procession of homicides in Juarez, and those of Edgar Quintero, a Mexican-American in LA who is making a burgeoning career of glorifying the drug…

  • 20 Feet from Stardom

    20 Feet from Stardom

    ★★★

    Whether they’re grappling with the side effects of success or (more likely) licking the wounds of failure, I don’t have much sympathy for people trying to be superstars. And as much as 20 Feet from Stardom is primarily an affectionate profile of some of pop’s most noteworthy backup singers, it spends a little too much time entertaining assertions that these (mostly) women’s status as historical footnotes is some kind of gross injustice.

    Granted, it’s not all pity party, and even…

  • Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

    Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

    ★★½

    If you’ve seen Johnny Knoxville’s hilarious Irving Zisman schtick in the Jackass movies, you know what to expect from Bad Grandpa, and it delivers. But trying to use an actual story to string together its collection of pranks and gags disrupts the pace and dilutes the comedy. The absence of character development was never a problem for the Jackass series before, so I’m not sure why they decided to try it here. The closing credits are full of outtakes that would have been a welcome replacement for all the unnecessary exposition.

  • 12 O’Clock Boys

    12 O’Clock Boys

    ★★★

    There’s a strange narrative conflict at the heart of 12 O’Clock Boys. On one hand, the broader story of Baltimore’s brand of impoverished urban escapism through reckless dirt bike riding probably could have been told well enough in a short film. The local news clips and interviews with riders get pretty repetitive after awhile. On the other hand, following its charismatic protagonist, Pug, through three of his formative years (ages 12–15) offers a valuable glimpse into how kids are shaped…

  • The Wolf of Wall Street

    The Wolf of Wall Street

    ★★½

    I was 22 before I finally saw The Godfather. I previously had no interest in mob movies, mainly because of what I knew about Tommy DeVito, Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas, whose maniacal extortionist with an intolerable sense of entitlement I took to be the genre’s dominant archetype. While it turned out that wasn’t entirely off-base, I was pleased to find many Mafia stories richer than I expected.

    Fifteen years later, The Wolf of Wall Street is that unhinged ode…

  • Her

    Her

    ★★½

    In Her, the central romance between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his artificially intelligent operating system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) is developed almost entirely through conversation, since Samantha doesn’t have a physical presence. As a result, virtually everything either character thinks or feels is plainly stated aloud, giving viewers little to assess for themselves. The film is its own CliffsNotes. And while it touches on various difficulties inevitable to a relationship between a metaphysically boundless AI and its primitive human prototype, there…

  • Computer Chess

    Computer Chess

    ★★

    Computer Chess is a paradox. It appears to be a (successful) attempt to be as dry and impenetrably arcane as its subject can be, even for people who might be interested in that subject. In theory, it’s a compelling experiment, but its very definition requires that it offer no rewards, and for the most part, it meets that requirement.

  • Dallas Buyers Club

    Dallas Buyers Club

    ★★½

    McConaughey is excellent, but the redemption story is pretty by-the-numbers, and is ultimately overpowered by a rather shrill anti-FDA polemic.