• A Life Less Ordinary

    A Life Less Ordinary

    ★½

    It should not be possible to have a zany subplot teaming up Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter that through its tonal dissonance continually threatens to bring a movie to a screeching halt, but Danny Boyle found a way to do it. 

    And that direct-address two-shot featuring the leads saying the quiet parts out loud while a montage of scenes from the movie runs behind them is a very serious contender for all-time worst near-final shot.

  • Three Thousand Years of Longing

    Three Thousand Years of Longing

    ★★★½

    I recently watched a visually arresting film starring Tilda Swinton and directed by a stylish but at times emotionally distant idiosyncratic cinematic visionary that features three stories contained within one larger structure that is itself a story, and all of it comments on the nature, significance, and weight of storytelling, but the structure of the stories within stories make it difficult to glean one cohesive message across them all.

    But enough about The French Dispatch ...

  • Wendell & Wild

    Wendell & Wild

    ★★★½

    Overstuffed and obvious in its ideas, but perhaps that’s the exact thing that animation has been lacking? In becoming overly focused on fine-tuned devastating emotional beats and toyetic character design, we seem to have lost the notion that animated feature films are, in fact, an effective way to unabashedly instill progressive values into an impressionable generation.

    Does the depiction of the motivations of private prison operators grinding the gears of the literal capitalist machine feel a little too on-the-nose here?…

  • Lorenzo's Oil

    Lorenzo's Oil

    ★★★

    It feels like an emotionally honest depiction of the way a child falling tragically ill prompts feelings of hopelessness and despair that give rise to resolute, unwavering determination to do something — an earnest if not often heightened tribute to the way parents fill their grief with action, no matter how foolish or hopeless. But seeing this 30 years after release makes it one that isn’t just hard to endure, but to accept.

    The ways in which Lorenzo’s parents forcefully…

  • Trainspotting

    Trainspotting

    ★★½

    At what point does craft and style and attitude and character get overwhelmed by an experience that, for at least this viewer, is punishingly uncomfortable, frustrating, anxious, and grotesque? When does the shit suffocate the shine?

    Whether or not Boyle finds that shit (literal and metaphorical) appealing remains unclear on a second viewing, but it sure does feel like he relishes enveloping us in it. No thanks.

  • The Cat Returns

    The Cat Returns

    ★★★

    Wahoo, I was right! The lesson of this movie is that life is tough, but you can still always turn things around!

    — my 7-year-old, completely unprompted, as the credits rolled

    I mean, sure, a character 15 minutes into this movie says the words “life is tough,” and I would have probably used the word “theme” instead of “lesson,” but this day shall forever be marked as Baby’s First Analysis of a Film for How It Shapes the Way We See the World, which might make me prouder than when he took his first steps?

  • A Man Called Ove

    A Man Called Ove

    ★★★★

    A touching if not a bit too neatly structured call for empathy, for seeing people as more than they are, for understanding that there is so much more to those around us than we can ever understand — be they the refugee, the hapless young man, or the bitter old neighborhood grump.

    A tragic backstory is carefully unfurled, finely calibrated to deliver devastating emotional impact, but the biggest wallop, personally, came in a much smaller moment — a reveal that…

  • The Banshees of Inisherin

    The Banshees of Inisherin

    ★★★★

    A drama that is full of surprises and emotional impact without feeling manipulative or fast and loose. A metaphor for civil conflict and the absurdity of war that packs lots of punch — people who have lived a peaceful if not sometimes uninteresting co-existence that should be unending, until one side finally gets so fed up and wants to sever the relationship, with commitment so unwavering that significant self-harm is inflicted, which seems shocking if a bit innocuous until unintended…

  • Shallow Grave

    Shallow Grave

    ★★★

    There’s no denying that this is an impressively made, well-crafted debut, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a deeply unenjoyable experience to watch. Part of that is intentional, to be sure, as the tension and anxiety is methodically and efficiently ratcheted up as this friend group deals with the increasingly unraveling nature of their self-inflicted (or selfishness-inflicted) catastrophe. But part of it is my own total lack of patience or interest in two specific types of stories presented here —…

  • Stars at Noon

    Stars at Noon

    ★★

    Claire Denis has proven to be a master of telling stories with characters who say very little, but ensuring the audience nevertheless is able to discern or interpret so much detail about their perspective. What Stars at Noon posits is, what if Claire Denis protagonists never shut up? 

    The two characters at the center of this story say so damn much, and yet I feel like I didn’t learn very much about them at all. Denis is so often able…

  • Meyer from Berlin

    Meyer from Berlin

    ★★★

    Ernst Lubitsch the actor goes full pre-Chevalier cad here, to great comedic effect. Aesthetically, Ernst Lubitsch the director doesn’t do much remarkable, but his on-screen performance is positively preposterous and quite humorous. Eschewing the constant camera-mugging that dominates his earlier surviving performances, he tries his hand here at silent-film staples of physical comedy, flippant flirtation, and logistics-based laughs. A slight, but surprising, delight.

  • Sense and Sensibility

    Sense and Sensibility

    ★★★★

    After journeying through his Father Knows Best trilogy and its comedy and drama of errors, manners, and expectations, it’s easy to see why Ang Lee was so naturally suited to this material, and why this encounter with Jane Austen landed with me more than others. However you feel about the importance of this work itself or the quality of its adaptation, Lee gets this world (as does Emma Thompson), one defined by status and reputation, run by opinion, and confined…