• Drive My Car

    Drive My Car

    ★★★★

    Performs the quietly impressive magic trick of appearing loose and emotionally spontaneous while actually being very precisely plotted and carefully threaded with dense symbolism. It remains compelling through an unrushed (but by no means draggy!) 179 minutes by granting us access to its characters' inner lives gradually but deliberately; it's masterful at giving us enough to chew on but also leaving us to muse about exactly what they're thinking for nearly the entire runtime, right up to an ending which…

  • The Yakuza

    The Yakuza

    ★★★★

    A drum-tight little crime thriller flavored with melancholy machismo and little spikes of pulpy action. It's grounded in a sharp, observant screenplay (by Paul Schrader --his first produced screenplay!-- based on a story by his brother Leonard [KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN]* and given a credited re-write by Robert Towne [!]) which focuses on Japanese Gangster honor culture without drifting too badly into lurid Orientalism. Leonard Schrader lived in Japan, spoke Japanese and (according to this fairly credible-looking article) got…

  • The Matrix Revolutions

    The Matrix Revolutions

    ★★★½

    This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Certainly the only one of the MATRIX sequels which could be defended as a legitimately functional movie, rather than a sprawling, messy clutter of half-thought-through ideas and unfocused plotting glued together by badass action scenes. In fact, with the exception of the opening 30-40 minutes that it spends scurrying around tying up the pointless loose ends that RELOADED left dangling*, it's a surprisingly sleek, focused narrative. Basically once the detritus from RELOADED is swept away, we are left with two…

  • The Matrix Reloaded

    The Matrix Reloaded

    ★★★

    Although I think I'm probably a bigger fan of the sequels than most people, there's no way to avoid seeing RELOADED as at least something of a disaster. Whatever else it does, there's no denying that it unwisely abandons the propulsive, elegant structure of the original MATRIX to then spend 138 minutes oscillating between withering exposition and frustrating narrative wheel-spinning, resulting in a stultifying, prattling, directionless churn that leads to a bizarre anticlimax. I'm going to say some nice things…

  • Mare of Easttown

    Mare of Easttown

    ★★★½

    Not so hot as a murder-mystery (the solution has passed through so many twists and fake-outs that it becomes meaningless and arbitrary by the time the game of suspect musical chairs finally stops) and even worse as a detective procedural ("solving" the crime turns out to simply be a matter of waiting around until a dramatically salient moment arrives, when inevitably someone who knows the answer will turn up to explain everything -- at one point, a witness literally gives…

  • The Tragedy of Macbeth

    The Tragedy of Macbeth

    ★★★★

    As a version of Macbeth, it's perfectly respectable. In my humble opinion Macbeth is some better-than-average source material, and Joel Coen's zippy, pared-down abridgement of Shakespeare's play is admirably economical and satisfying. The actors are all very good -- Washington doesn't seem especially interested in who Macbeth is before he becomes a murderer, or what, other than the caprices of fate, compels him to do what he does, but he handles the big broad madness scenes with enthusiasm and personality.…

  • The Matrix Resurrections

    The Matrix Resurrections

    ★★★

    After some time to ponder it, I think I have to rate this one "bad, but endearing."

    So yeah, on one hand, there's plenty to complain about here. The action is mostly downright bad, inexplicably ditching the finely-honed precision of the original MATRIX films for a disappointingly incoherent shaky-cam mess (though Lana Watchowski is at least unable to prevent herself from indulging in a few moments of sublime comic-book-frame slow-mo action posing, which helps, and the climactic chase scene is…

  • A Christmas Carol

    A Christmas Carol

    ★★½

    This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    So absurdly over-the-top grimdark that it lurches into grotesque parody almost immediately, and never recovers. It literally begins with a child pissing on the face of Jacob Marley's corpse, so it at least tells you what it is right from the get-go; if you're still watching after the flashback where Scrooge's father screams at him that Christmas is a humbug while decapitating his beloved pet in front of him, I guess you probably won't be too surprised to learn that…

  • Die Hard

    Die Hard

    ★★★★½

    One thing that stands out to me on this watch is how surprisingly broad the ensemble is. I assume this is the result of adapting a novel*, but normally you'd probably be fine paring this down to just the basics; all you really need are John, Holly, Hans, and, arguably, Al (since otherwise John has no one to talk to). But instead the movie is lousy with side characters and subplots. Argyle, Thornburg, Ellis, Takagi, the FBI guys, Al, Robinson,…

  • An American Christmas Carol

    An American Christmas Carol

    ★★★

    After watching MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL, A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1984), SCROOGE (1951) and MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL last year, I thought it might be fun to do another run of adaptations of Charles Dickens' oddball ghost story classic.

    With a couple of real titans already taken care of, though, I had to go to the second tier. Which is where I found AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL, a made-for TV oddity which originally played on ABC December 16, 1979. (It is not to…

  • Cold Mountain

    Cold Mountain

    ★★

    Between HEAVEN'S GATE, WYATT EARP and now COLD MOUNTAIN, I guess I'm on a bit of kick of wildly ambitious, expensive historical epics that nobody really likes. But I thought this was the safest bet of the bunch; unlike those others, this one made a tidy profit, won a couple Oscars, and received at least a tepid critical blessing, even if pretty much everyone I talked to at the time thought it wasn't as good as the book. But you…

  • Heaven's Gate

    Heaven's Gate

    ★★★½

    Sweeping, stunning, epic, gorgeous, fiery, insightful, and also mostly enervating. One is tempted to blame that on its lack of focus, but actually the many, many, extraneous, always wildly expensive diversions tend to be the best part. It's full of delightful little vignettes, nearly all of them packed with astounding images and offbeat charm. There is absolutely no reason that this movie needs to begin with something like 20 minutes of a wildly elaborate college graduation ceremony and rowdy afterparty…