aliceinpunderland's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Mean Girls
Mean Girls(2004)
½

Biting and absurd satire. So many quotable lines! "On Wednesdays, we wear pink." "Irregardless, ex-boyfriends are just off limits to friends. I mean that's just like the rules of feminism." "Gretchen, stop trying to make 'fetch' happen! It's not going to happen!" "Get in loser, we're going shopping." "Grool... I meant to say cool and then I started to say great." "Sorry, we only carry sizes 1, 3, and 5. You could try Sears." "You can't sit with us!"

Nerve
Nerve(2016)
½

A brilliant modern day parable critiquing our voyeuristic, no consequences, social media- obsessed culture. Teens log onto an MMORPG that immediately uploads all their personal information to secure, untrackable servers. The Watchers then challenge the Players to perform all manners of dangerous or embarrassing stunts for money and notoriety. Should a Player fail a dare, all their winnings are lost, and should they "snitch," they are trapped in the game and their digital footprints fall into the hands of sadistic Watchers.

Shrinking violet Vee, goaded on by her daredevil bestie, Sydney, joins the game as a Player and quickly sparks a cult following after kissing crowd favorite Ian for five seconds. They team up and complete more and more escalating dares until the challenges get personal and threaten to destroy the simmering Host-Parasite friendship between Vee and Sydney.

The plot is as thrilling as a blindfolded 60mph motorcycle ride, and all the actors are well-cast: Emma Roberts is amiable with a tinge of awkward; Dave Franco is charming in a wolfish way; and even all the supporting friends have great moments of emotional depth. I'm really into cute, denim-overalled Kimiko Glenn who was recently in "Waitress" on Broadway. Her speaking voice is both twee yet resonant.

She's the Man

Wow, this is like the most feminist movie I've seen in a long time, and it came out a decade ago! Based on Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," Viola disguises herself as her twin brother Sebastian in order to play soccer at a rival school because her old school won't let her try out for the boys' soccer team after they cut the girls' team. The character updates are really quite clever, like with Malvolio being terrible Malcom's tarantula, Sebastian skipping school to chase his true bliss at a music festival, and the battle of the sexes plot is nicely balanced with transgressions and redemptions on all sides.

Amanda Bynes's "boy" mannerisms and 2000-era Justin Bieber wig are ridiculously bad, but she is still a committed physical comedienne. Lauren Ramsey as heartbroken Olivia is an earnest girl-next-door with bite, and I even found Channing all-over-your Tatum to be pretty sweet.

V for Vendetta
½

In 2005, I was blissfully enthralled by Natalie Portman in her follicular heyday, so I didn't quite appreciate the philosophical core of this visually and aurally stunning film. I love the high angle shots in the onyx, low-lit war room, with all those contemptuous whites of eyes staring up at the oppressive video feed of our corn-grilled chancellor. I love Dario Marianelli's soaring arpeggios and was surprised that I hadn't taken notice of him until "Atonement" in 2007. I love the brilliantly paced and lovingly lit second act when Evey is taken prisoner and we learn Valerie's heartbreaking story.

I must also give kudos to the impressive cadre of British thespians that I was unfamiliar with before. Stephen Rea's yammy face and the smallest twitch of his lips convey Inspector Finch's every disguised exasperation at the tyrannical government he's tasked to protect, and this time around, I was truly invested in his character arc. Ben Miles of "Coupling" is also quite high of power and forehead.

Natalie Portman's accent falls off at times, but the lispiness seems at least consistent, and her performance throughout is every bit as good as her Oscar-winning one, though I do think she plays too coy during her "confession" with Father Lilliman so that she seems to be toying with him to aid in V's plan instead of seeking asylum for herself.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
½

Another girl-with-cancer movie from around the same time as "The Fault In Our Stars," but I liked it a wee better by virtue of it delivering on its promise that it wouldn't be a love story. The problem with the Dying Girl trope is that she has no other identity besides strength-and-detachment-derived-from-cancer. Rachel has one moment of whimsy when she mimics Greg's "subhuman" convulsions, but it's so early on, and we don't really see her transcend beyond Greg's erstwhile categorization of her as "Boring Jewish Girl Subset 2A" until the end, I guess, when her book sculptures reveal her romantic, creative, perhaps even tortured side, but even that emotional epiphany is more Greg's.

Olivia Cooke does give a beautiful strong-and-detached performance though. Sometimes, I think it's easier for actors to bawl uncontrollably than to try to NOT cry, and Cooke's big eyes well up for the duration of several, long uncut shots, but they never overflow.

Some other pretty glaring character development holes are Earl's and Madison's. As the other token minority of the titular triangle, Earl appears in the film to perpetuate some lower class black stereotypes for comedic relief; disappears; reappears to jive talk some sense into Greg; disappears; reappears to save Greg from a lunchroom brawl despite them being on the outs; then disappears again. One of Greg's narrations mentions how despite their disparate socioeconomic backgrounds, they still have the same taste in films and adventurous foods, and I was hoping there would be more to Earl's character/upbringing/aspirations and Greg's perception of him that could foil his knee-jerk obsession of typing all the other cliques at his school.

In re Madison: she's a nice-hot girl, and Greg is the stand-in for every "nice-insecure guy" who resents the "friendzone." He's the one who gets to judge her motives as controlling or disingenuous or oblivious when there's no backing for such projections since her motives are never made clear from a storytelling angle in the first place.

On the whole, the movie is funnier, more sardonic, more artsy (with all its movie remakes), and less saccharine than TFIOS, so it does have that going for it.

Sausage Party

So inappropriate yet oh-so-satisfying. The parallels to religion, afterlife, and cultural strife are pretty astute, and isn't it just so great that some things in life will never change, like Nick Kroll always playing a douche? I was hoping we'd get to see the animated food clash with the real world voice actors in the end, but I'm guessing the studio's reprehensible decision to overwork and not pay their animators cut that denouement short.

Bad Moms
Bad Moms(2016)

The party parts are very party, but the emotional parts are a tad treacly, and there never seems to be a good balance of both. The whole "we're all bad moms" "let's all be bad moms" rhetoric is only empowering in a lazy, talking-head way. This is an example of a movie I can laugh all the way through, but still come up feeling empty.

Footloose
Footloose(1984)

So I finally cut the original "Footloose," can you believe it? It's pretty good, and interestingly enough, less hokey and polished than the remake. Kevin Bacon's dance double is a bit obvious. I'm not into Lori Singer's face, and she's clearly not a dancer like Julianne Hough, but she's plenty wild and troubled (unlike my previous assumption of Ariel's character just from viewing the 2011 remake), which is quite ballsy for a 1984 movie, methinks. Chris Penn is adorable as honky-tonk Willard, and the "Let's Hear It For the Boy" dance montage is just everything. Rusty is a fun, colorful supporting character, and I always love seeing SJP in her younger roles. She looks completely different, yet still unmistakably herself.

The original's got a few 80s oddities, like the hair metal, the camera editing tricks, the gauzy balloon and confetti filter during the prom dance, and a high school full of built, adult-looking, male gymnasts, but one thing that I enjoyed more here is the fleshing out of Shaw and Vi's story. I've always thought John Lithgow such a goofy actor, by virtue of "3rd Rock From the Sun" being my first exposure to him, but I forget that he's actually a very decorated performer, and he is brilliantly grave and conflicted as the Reverend. Dianne Wiest also gives a quietly determined performance as the good little preacher's wife.

13 Going on 30

Just one of those delightful wish-fulfillment fantasies that you gotta watch when it comes on TBS. The "Big" concept + time travel is much more palatable, with Jenna already having a real adult life, rife with sordid history that she must "A Christmas Carol" her way out of. Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo are both so sweet and adorkable that you'll want to smash all the dollhouses.

Big
Big(1988)
½

A thirteen-year-old boy wishes to be big, and his wish comes true. Except there's no time travel element, which really sticks in my craw. This kidult immediately lands a job in the big city and masquerades as a genius toy titan for an entire month? A thirty-something woman has sex with a pre-pubescent? The floor piano scene IS really cute, but was 1989 just a slow enough talent year for Tom Hanks to be Oscar-nominated for his perfectly ordinary performance?

Ghostbusters (1984 Original)
½

I know a lot of Gen-Xers hold a nostalgic place in their hearts for the original "Ghostbusters," but I just couldn't really get into it. Bill Murray's lazy snark is just not my cuppa, and the demon hunting plot is just kinda whatever.

The Heat
The Heat(2013)

I was expecting this McCarthy-Bullock flick to be a raunchy farce, but it's actually a pretty solid buddy-cop movie about friendship, ethics, and redemption.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
½

Zac Efron and Adam Devine play hysterical party-hardy brothers who always take family functions one step too far. When their parents insist they bring nice girls as dates to their sister's wedding, they get more than they bargained for in DGAF Tatiana and stoner Alice. Aubrey Plaza is hot and mean, and that diddlin' Cousin Terry fiasco with subsequent smartphone gestures bit is subversively hilarious. Alice Wetterlund as aforementioned Cousin Terry is an awesome androgynous fashionplate. I wasn't quite sure what Anna Kendrick was trying to play at first: dumb, stoned, or heartbroken. Her blossoming relationship with Dave is nice, but I guess I just didn't connect with her story or performance.

Sugar Lyn Beard (yep) really steals the show as the little sister Jeanie: getting pummeled in the face by an ATV tire; being repeatedly butt-humped (runner up: rump-slapped) to ecstasy by oiled and ponytailed Kumail Nanjiani; tripping on actual ecstasy and unleashing that merkin. Props, girl.

Café Society

Leave it to Woody Allen to coax a fabulous performance out of Kristen Stewart. I was hoping he'd make magic with her like he does for so many of his heroines/muses/ ingénues (I know, the paternal attention can be construed as icky), and he sure delivered, whether by crafty post-production or actually weaning her off her self-conscious tics (running her fingers through her hair, looking down and shaking/vibrating her head, squinting excessively, tsk-ing before speaking). I'd like to think he just tied her hair back with a cute headband, lit her like a sunset, trained the camera on her in his signature uncut shots, and dared her to move as little as possible.

The result is dazzling amber-hued perfection. She is natural and luminous as Vonnie, the affable, down-to-earth film studio secretary caught between her bigshot boss and his naïve, starry-eyed nephew. Her standing posture is willowy, her voice sounds a little more resonant, and there are a few languid body poses that just make her look oh-so foxy yet oh-so innocent at the same time. Even when she does tsk or shrug, she does it intentionally with volume and flat palms up, respectively. And her chic wardrobe of sunglasses, crop tops, and ankle socks under kitten heeled Mary Janes are defying me to make some terrible fashion decisions.

The scene of Phil and Vonnie's break-up is so reminiscent of Isaac and Tracy's in "Manhattan." KStew is just so still and quiet like Mariel Hemingway was, and it's sad. Not heartbreaking or poignant or whatever grandiose emotion. Just sad. Apparently, this was the first film since "Twilight" that KStew had to audition for, and I'm glad she seemed to have worked her bobby socks off.

So as you can tell, I barely paid attention to anything else when KStew was on screen. The story is a basic love triangle with a light sprinkling of Woody's ethical and nostalgia-infused subplots and an overdose of his pandering narration. Jesse Eisenberg is Jesse Eisenberg, and his character is ill-defined - sometimes gallant and diffident; sometimes cruel and artificial. Steve Carell's film exec character's impressive reputation is only spoken of and not shown, and Carell doesn't really possess that style of mogul charisma exuded by Bruce Willis - originally cast but fired for laxity - or even Paul Schneider, who plays a small role but with surprising gentlemanly elegance. Blake Lively is, of course, vibrant and classy as Bobby's wife. She doesn't seem to need coaching on how to be an ingénue. Anna Camp is rather sympathetic and unintentionally funny in her bit part as a nervous call-girl.

* Spoilers* The only portion of the film that I sensed KStew slipping is after her transformation into the Hollywood society wife. She shakes her head, furrows her brow, tucks her hair behind her ears - making her seem less secure despite her newly minted status. The huge feathered epaulets overwhelm her slim frame, and her hairstyle remains cutesy just sans headband, which invites her to play. Bobby and Vonnie's last goodbye in Central Park is also dully lit, and I wonder if Woody or KStew just got lazy or if it's all part of Woody's master plan. "A dream is just a dream," and their wistful romance, Vonnie's elite marriage, (and KStew's acting), are dimmed by the harsh light of reality.

Man Up
Man Up(2015)
½

Lake Bell and Simon Pegg generate sexy-silly chemistry playing two unlucky-in-love losers on a blind date...only Nancy isn't actually the girl Jack was set up with. The mistaken identity plot is satisfyingly coincidental, and the post-reveal misadventures walk a fine line between uproarious and moving. The title is somewhat of a sexist misnomer, but kudos for the (unintentional?) "Love Actually" tribute in the end. And I spotted Paul Thornley, the guy who plays adult Ron Weasley in "The Cursed Child"! Definitely one of those hidden Netflix gems that shouldn't be missed!

The Secret Life of Pets

Pretty cute, but escalates really quickly and almost too fantastically. And was Snowball's psycho-dream murmuring, "That raccoon is lying! He's not the president!" an implicit jab at President Obama using an antebellum epithet for African-Americans? How did that get past the censors?

Me Before You
½

Free-spirited and quirky Louisa takes a job as companion to quadriplegic Will Traynor who is now surly and disheartened about losing his once charmed life. Usually daunting Emilia Clarke is adorably giddy, and Sam Claflin is Sam Claflin, the handsome asshole with a sensitive soul underneath. The love story is quite predictable, but there's a second-act moral conundrum that provides some suspense.

What's utterly stupid about this movie is that despite Lou being the ostensible protagonist, she is STILL merely a supporting character in her own story. The central moral question of the film is Will's, and everything Lou does is in aid of that plotline. It's not even clear how and when she falls in love with Will. It's never talked about, and she lacks the agency to leave or at least tell off her well-meaning but clueless boyfriend or to follow her dreams of fashion school.

I'm also chafed because Will tries to pilot Lou's life from the start: telling her what movies to watch and how to wear a dress with confidence (I mean, really?! She's already smokin'!) and how to party like the grand adventurer he once was, and he continues to do so (*spoilers*) even beyond the grave, down to what Parisian perfume she should wear! He also obnoxiously calls her by her last name "Clark" all the time, which any girl who's had a middle school crush on that cool skater boi knows is a familiarizing but controlling tactic that makes us happy and hungry for his approval. Was Will always this arrogant and patriarchal? Was his life truly charmed? That seems to be a better dramatic question, but the movie would still be about him. Lou is defined by the men around her, and that still seems to be the case from the synopsis of the sequel novel in which she meets a new man who helps her get over the erstwhile "You." Bleagh.

Zootopia
Zootopia(2016)

A bustling metropolis of "cute" prey and "aggressive" predators living together in perceived harmony is the setting for an astonishingly smart allegory about the overt prejudices and subconscious biases within humankind that don't rear their ugly heads...until they do. The parallels to our contemporary society are troubling and true. No identifier is left behind, running the gamut from race to gender, from class to ability.

In Zootopia, bunnies are assumed to be dumb, foxes are assumed to be untrustworthy, but first lady-bunny cop Judy Hopps teams up with street shyster Nick Wilde to uncover a government conspiracy against predators, but not before revealing her own privileged "But my best friend is a fox, and he's not aggressive like them" notion that tries to mask censuring the Other by claiming individual exceptionalism.

Overall, lots of great lessons, but one nit I have is that all the animals' names are so specist, you know what I mean? Mayor Lionheart is a lion; Mrs. Otterton is an otter; Gazelle is a gazelle. It's the equivalent of naming people by their races. But it's a cartoon. What're you gonna do? :-P

The Neon Demon
½

Having watched this as part two of a double feature with "Swiss Army Man," I noted that the former started out really high then plunged in the last forty minutes, whilst the latter pretty much stayed the same level of weird the whole time, actually picking up momentum in its last forty, earning the two films equal ratings.

We start with Nicolas Refn Winding's signature techno pulsing and neon titles - chosen specifically, I learned, for their contrast because he is color blind. Then we slog through slow-as-molasses though visually arresting exposition of Elle Fanning trying to make it on the runway, chastely flirting with a nice young photographer, befriending a trio of fashion-savvy frenemies, and making out with her own reflection in a neon-addled fever dream, signaling her initiation into the modeling underworld. Then the inciting incident advertised in most synopses happens, and it's just dirty, kinky, violent, and twisted as all-get-out.

Fanning the Younger is fine as an actress, but I don't think she possesses the willowy luminescence everyone in the movie keeps saying she has. Jena Malone delivers a bewitchingly sad, sexy, and serene performance as the make-up artist who moonlights in a morgue and gets into some pretty wicked games. Doll-eyed Bella Heathcote and leggy Abbey Lee give great face as rival models.

Swiss Army Man
½

Daniel Radcliffe said he took this role as a flatulent corpse after he read the first few pages of the script and knew he would regret it if he were sitting in a movie theatre two years later and saw some other actor being ridden by Paul Dano as they surge off to salvation by grace of the corpse's farts.

"Turn Down For What" music video directors, DANIELS, have a case of erectile function, helming a buddy movie about a man stranded on a desert island and a corpse that magically expels drinkable water from his gullet, cracks coconuts in his teeth, and lights fires with a snap of his fingers, that is by turns wacky, poignant, and completely incomprehensible. Hank and Manny teach each other about love, lust, friendship, and survival amidst twee DIY craft projects, backed by a playful onomatopoeic a cappella soundtrack.

But daaamn DANIELS, the third act seems to deliberately avoid wrapping up loose ends just to eff with us. Maybe they thought it too predictable for Hank to have been hallucinating an animated corpse that symbolizes himself and his cowardly self-isolation, even though that would have been a totally fine story. Then why throw in the red herring with the paramedics identifying the corpse as "Hank"? Who exactly is Sarah, and was Hank actually just a lunatic living in the woods behind her house the whole time? Who is the corpse and how did he know the theme to "Jurassic Park"? The corpse just bubble-bobbles away, and there's no closure at all.

Monster-in-Law

J-Lo, artsy and aimless with her sundress over pants (#RespectTo90sFashion), falls into Michael Vartan's Michael Vartanian gaze and must contend with her new ridiculously heinous mother-in-law. So bland, and insultingly unfunny. Bright spot was seeing Adam Scott in an early film role as the gay best friend, styled like a Y2K ninth grader with an oversized polo shirt and shaggy hair.

Hail, Caesar!

We see a fictionalized day in the life of famed MGM fixer, Eddie Mannix, in a whizbang of an enjoyable ride that gets pretty inscrutable by the end, until you realize (or research online) that the movie is a veiled biblical parable in the vein of the Coen Brothers' other odyssey films: "O Brother, Where Art Thou," "A Serious Man," and "Inside Llewyn Davis." Mannix is God, shepherding his flock away from communist writers, tabloid scandalmongers, and tyrannical directors. The film is a bit oblique in the Coen Brothers way, but it's not without that Golden Age of Hollywood shine.

The cast of Coen vets and novices perform commendably, especially Tilda Swinton as imperious and flinty twin gossip columnists. I wasn't too impressed with Channing Tatum's attempt at classic song-and-dance man, Burt Gurney, a homoerotic send-up of stage and screen hoofer Gene Kelly. Tatum's hip-hop shoulders are too popped and locked instead of broad and back for the tap number. Burt's traitorous flight and the lost briefcase are also strange McGuffins.

Best of all is newly-light sabered Alden Ehrenreich who steals the show as shucksidoodles Hobie Doyle, an oater player picked to portray a well-spoken, debonair gentleman. The scene of persnickety Ralph Fiennes trying to smooth out Hobie's drawl is hilarious and uncomfortable, but Hobie's payoff is suave perfection. Ehrenreich and Veronica Osorio are also just charming as heck on Hobie and Carlotta's arranged date. An unfortunate little factoid I learned is that Ehrenreich's singing voice was dubbed. I is disappoint.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

A young, oddball inventor solves his ocean city's sardine surfeit by masterminding a machine that precipitates any kind of food, only to fall victim to arrogance, greed, and gluttony. Chockful of groanworthy food puns, sweet familial understanding, and well-intentioned lessons about being yourself and following your dreams.

Colombiana
Colombiana(2011)

Zoe Saldana is slinky, sexy, and mad as hell as Cataleya, a contract killer bent on avenging her family who was killed..."in front of [her]"...a line from the trailer that I thought was delivered a little too emphatically. Saldana's dancer physicality is evident when Cataleya snakes through air ducts, swims with the sharks, and pratwaddles in a drunken ruse. The action is gripping enough, but Michael Vartan is forever contractually obligated to play Michael Vartan - the handsome, oblivious beau with a gracious smile and twinkling eyes.

Now You See Me 2

The original "Now You See Me" had a riveting cat-and-mouse mystery plot going in. Aside from some cool visual effects and a delightfully villainous turn from one D-Rad, this sequel lacks a real story - one that doesn't talk down to the audience who already knows things that the characters don't. My greatest pet peeve is the half-assed feminist agenda. Lizzy Caplan is awesome, but in an effort to make Lula more than the redheaded eye candy Isla Fisher played in the prequel, the filmmakers settled for lightweight feminist rhetoric. Instead of the on-the-nose comeback of Lula petulantly calling Dylan out for being patronizing, couldn't they just SHOW her being a badass on a motorcycle? Couldn't they even just show ANYTHING from her pop-up magic show? It's all just lip service to the "strong female sidekick."

The Lobster
The Lobster(2016)
½

Single people in a dystopian future are sent to a facility that militantly extols the virtues of coupledom. If the Singles don't land new mates within forty-five days, they are turned into animals of their choosing...unless they escape to live in the woods with the Loners who just as militantly revel in their singlehood and are also periodically hunted by the Singles to gain more time.

Suffice it to say, this is not your typical romantic comedy. Diabolically dark in execution - horrifyingly so in places - and rather clever with its commentary on the scary lengths we'd go to find, adapt, and maintain that special (often superficial) something in common with our partners, but the inciting turning-into-an-animal metaphor doesn't really fit into the satire. The stoic acting style is appropriately alienating, but Rachel Weisz is the only cast member who seems too expressive for this monotonous world, and I can't tell if it's intentional or not. Greek goddess Ariane Labed (from "Before Midnight") plays the collusive and sacrificial Maid to lithe, absurd effect.

That Awkward Moment
½

Three bros navigate the perils and promise of modern romance. One is freshly separated from his cheating wife; one is a serial ladykiller who meets his match but is too set in his ways to commit; and one gradually catches feelings for his platonic wingwoman. The prior two stories are par for the course, despite Zac Efron and Imogen Poots being rather likable together. None of the moments are that awkward, and some of the jokes are too "in." What's really surprising is the third story, which begets (another KStew doppelganger) Mackenzie Davis's excruciatingly lovely moment as an open mic night chanteuse with her soulful and modern rendition of "After You've Gone," chased by Miles Teller's so-subtle-and-you'll-miss-it look of admiration then dismissal.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

Theo James is still dreamy yet deadly, Miles Teller is still inexplicably douchey, and Shailene Woodley is still running the gun show, but her steel-eyed resolve only lasts through the first half of the movie. The second half sees Tris as this brainwashed diplomat of sorts manipulated by the system, and she barely gets to emote or say anything or even look remotely cool piloting a stolen pod or not look like a total n00b while wielding new drone gadgetry. Methought the movie ended abruptly with a nonsensical cliffhanger, but come to find out, the Divergent series has jumped on the YA film franchise L-train of splitting the final book into two films, thus ensuring cashflow but also long, dragged out plot points.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Not being an Efron or Rogen fan, I thought the original "Neighbors" was surprisingly tame, so I was more satisfied with "Sorority Rising"'s harder candy shell games coupled with its gooey-er heart center. Pete and Darren's engagement poker game serenade is just the darlingest thing ever, and the escrow lesson is actually quite enlightening. The Kappa Nu sisters are a dope-smoking, Take Back the Night (For Partying!) brand of millennial feminist, and they mean business when they challenge their university's ruling that sororities essentially have to be prim and proper ladies. There are of course some dumb moments, like all the girls being distracted by Teddy's Magic Mike striptease, which was not nearly choreographed or cinematographed hotly enough, and the "everyone be yourself" message at the end is easy in an #AllLivesMatter kind of way, ergo easier said than done, but on the whole, this sequel is a daring romp through neo-college crackademics.

X-Men: Apocalypse
½

I know I'm in the unpopular camp of favoring the X-Men over the Avengers, but I like my superhero movies like I like my baseball movies: shiny and happy with traditional heroic arcs rather than the arrogance, gadgets, dizzying action, and mile-a-minute prattle that seem to fuel their bullish Marvel big brother. "X-Men: Apocalypse" has tragedy, sacrifice, honor, betrayal, mentorship, friendship, and of course, meet-cutey sweetness and Ra's al Ghulian/Voldemortian "cleansing" destruction.

I had forgotten a bit about James McAvoy after the string of mediocre fare following his painfully romantic turn in 2007's "Atonement," but performances like his fatherly yet formidable Charles Xavier remind me of what a great actor he is. Michael Fassbender is gloriously sad and vengeful as Magneto (though his shifting allegiances seem predictable); Evan Peters is plucky and hilarious as Quicksilver (though his prolonged antics, while entertaining, give Nicholas Hoult aka Beast insanely little to do); and newcomer Sophie Turner as Jean Grey is self-possessed and fiery (though introducing the Phoenix plotline so soon seems to jump the shark).

JLaw is tired of being the maverick leader of this rag-tag franchise, and it shows. Olivia Munn put in some good bodywork for the purple-hued, leather-clad Psylocke, but perhaps due to the brainy or wry Men's Women she's accustomed to playing, she seems to lack the confidence and superhero posture to really work it. And of course: Oscar Isaac (my new James McAvoy, it seems) and his inimitable face and voice are unfortunately hidden under layers of neoprene and a millennia-old subwoofer.

Dazed and Confused

Definitely bizarre and satisfying to see where today's middle-aged movie legends got their start. In past years, I've developed a respectful though sometimes lukewarm liking of Linklater's existential walky talk, and I feared that a movie about high school stoners would feel sophomoric and the filmmaking skills raw, as evidenced by what I assumed to be clumsy editing of the same floppy-haired dude into nearly every scene of the opening montage. However, upon subsequent reflection, I found the movie deeper than its billing and iconic catchphrases and realized that the editing was to show how protagonist Pink gets along with every clique. The characters go through a shared odyssey of sorts. In the course of one day, they walk the line between cool and not, ultimately finding the selves to which they wish to be true - a fitting tribute to all the seminal summer breaks before the best years of our lives.

Mrs. Doubtfire

Classic Robin Williams at his manically schticky and emotionally naked best.

The One I Love

A floundering couple go away on a weekend retreat where a hexed cottage miraculously bestows them with their ideal versions of each other. Sophie's ideal Ethan exercises, doesn't wear glasses, and has a cooler beachier hairstyle. Ethan's ideal Sophie is always sunny and smiling, doesn't nag him about his poor eating habits, and is content to busy herself whenever he gets distracted and disappears from their romantic getaway. Real Sophie and Ethan agree to spend fifteen minutes each with their respective fantasy beaux just to figure out what's happening, but like in any tense relationship drama, greener grass begets green-eyed jealousy.

The suspenseful thriller aspect of this film does indeed provide eerie WTF moments and threats of danger, and I thought these perfect mirages would be metaphors for those six insignificant things we'd like to change about our partners, but then *spoilers*, the already surreal movie takes an awkward dip into surreal reality, revealing that the mirages are actually living people - past clients whose partners chose the better versions of themselves and have now been coached and nip/tucked to imitate new clients in an attempt to escape the cottage. Dark and mindfucky metaphor of how we change ourselves to adapt to new lovers whom we may not even be that into, but the rules of this satirical universe aren't entirely elucidated, so the plot falls apart from there.

Exit Through The Gift Shop
½

Banksy's directorial debut and it shows. It nears mockumentary status for how the subject of the film essentially becomes the filmmaker, but that switch comes too late to fulfill the larger narrative purpose or thesis, which isn't quite discernible either. I thought I'd be getting a film about graffiti and its status in the art world, but there is very little actual background or debate about this guerrilla art form.

The camera flashes quickly through the art pieces, not staying on any one long enough for the audience to take it in. The film is tainted by garbled and shadowed Banksy's desire for anonymous fame, and the motor is more propelled by Thierry Guetta's wild ravings and incompetent artistry than a real search for truth. This all makes me wonder whether or not Banksy even intended to make an earnest film about the legitimacy of graffiti (which seems to be what most people take away from this film), or if he actually just intended to alienate the audience with devil-may-care antics as a type of "joke's on you, this is shite" anti-art performance piece, and if that's the case, he may have succeeded.

Wish I Was Here
½

Zach Braff's crowd-funded sophomore effort received a lot of flack for its privileged genesis, its grammatically incorrect pseudo-clever title, and its oblique trailer full of indie-pretentious images that drew inevitable comparisons to Braff's polarizing "Garden State." However, I was pleasantly surprised that "Wish I Was Here" is NOT just a continuation of Andrew Largeman's ennui-driven love story.

The movie is a realistic and funny treatment of early Millennial adulthood and its responsibilities of unruly kids, libido-less spouses, estranged siblings, and reconnecting with once tyrannical and now dying parents. Aidan Bloom is a dopey suburban dad who has to homeschool his kids after his father defaults on their yeshiva tuition due to exorbitant medical bills. Aidan's brand of guerilla life lesson is random and uplifting but not in a way that insists upon itself. The local color of Los Angeles is quirky and moving with the disparate cultures of "Yom Kippur Jews," audition-circuit actors, and furry cosplayers. Brown Bear Donald Faison also cameos in an irreverent little misunderstanding that blends the cancer motif with the sheitel (wig) motif of Orthodox Judaism.

The kid actors are adorable: Joey King is a sweet, bright-eyed innocent, and Pierce Gagnon is as hilariously foulmouthed in this as he was creepy in "Looper." Kate Hudson is nicely glam-glum as the working mom who lost track of her dreams, but her character tips into "long-suffering-wife" territory with no true motivation or credit. When her erstwhile disapproving father-in-law gives her the rare compliment that she has the power to be a great matriarch someday, she counters, "I already am a great matriarch." She should have just stopped there instead of negating her power with, "Well, I'm trying anyway."

The reconciliation plot between father and sons is a bit cloying and sentimental, but on the whole, the movie is joyful, especially the end montage of little happinesses experienced in the moment before daughter Grace resurfaces from her first purifying foray into the water. I wouldn't say it's better than "Garden State" as a whole though. Despite the predecessor's reliance on the hipster atmospheric aesthetic, it really WAS the height of the mid-aughts' affected yet affecting quarter-life crisis movie - with its non sequitur humor, indie soundtrack, and tap-dancing Natalie Portman at her most heart-swelling. "Wish I Was Here" is beautifully nostalgic for the present, but it doesn't seem to commit hard enough.

Safe Haven
Safe Haven(2013)
½

An abused wife flees her sadistic cop-husband and learns to love again with a widower and his kids in what could be a Lifetime movie - complete with big twist ending! - save for the big name actors and director. Julianne Hough shows incredible vibrancy and emotional range out on the dance floor, but in summoning bodily restraint for a film role, she becomes a personality vacuum. Josh Duhamel seems at home enough as the hunky and jovial single dad, and David Lyons really creeps it up as the corrupt and deranged abuser, hot on his wife's trail. The movie is heavy on the folksy charm of a seaside tourist town and only skin-deep with the abuse recovery, but it's still guiltily watchable.

Annie Hall
Annie Hall(1977)
½

This romantic comedy classic changed games and defied genre conventions with its non-sequential narrative, anhedonic witticisms, metatheatrical antics, and pragmatic ode to human relationships. I don't really think the titular character is as ditzy as she's always described in synopses, nor do I think Diane Keaton's satisfactory performance was Oscar-worthy, but as a whole, "Annie Hall" is simply one of the best.

Adventureland

Hokay, so when I first saw this movie, I LOVED it. Like, haven't-had-a-new-favorite-movie-in-a-long-time LOVED it. I thought it had the lewd humor of "Superbad," the zaniness of "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," and the brain and heart of "Juno." But after two rewatches in the past seven years, I've gone from a rave 5-star rating to a fine-but-still-demoralizing 3-star rating. Could it be that I'm over my turn-of-the-century cinematic crushes on intellectual and romantic Jesse Eisenberg and/or withdrawn yet open-book Kristen Stewart? Could it be that in my young adulthood, I've grown jaded by the coolly aimless post-college bildungsroman? The soundtrack, production design, and park hijinx are as whimsically nostalgic as a deep-fried cornmeal-battered sausage on a stick, but my blind spot for the '80s renders this movie a drive down someone else's memory lane.

Across the Universe
½

This ambitious pastiche musical is perhaps just too avant-garde - trying to fit so many Beatles songs and tropes into a cohesive, motivated story about war, class, love, politics, (and failing in a narrative sense) - but dang it all if those crazy, trippy symbolic scenes and performances don't just make you want to have whatever Julie Taymor is having, whether sex, drugs, or rock and roll. Jim Sturgess is the most soulful of down-and-out bums, and it's disappointing that he hasn't gotten more high-profile jobs.

First Girl I Loved
½

A high school yearbook nerd and a popular softball player dabble in lesbianism in this bittersweet "coming-out-of-age" story. Anne and Sasha engage in playful yet sensual flirtation, and a morally complicated rift forms between Anne and Clifton, her guy best friend who has held a longtime torch for her. Director/writer Kerem Sanga's film is beautifully rendered in non-linear scenes and a gritty sheen of "neo-alternative" chic. Supremely talented Dylan Gelula shines in her first film role with brash intensity and sulky vulnerability, and Brianna Hildebrand plays the quintessential girl-crush to a tee. I was gobsmacked when I realized the former also plays the pouty, acerbic daughter, Xanthippe, on "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and the latter recently broke into the mainstream as Negasonic Teenage Warhead in "Deadpool"! They are definitely rising stars to watch.

How To Be Single
½

Dakota Johnson's flat everygirl quality is actually quite perfect for Alice, a twenty-something trying to find herself in the aftermath of a codependent relationship. There is the requisite misguided ex-sex and no-strings-attached friend-sex of a standard romcom, but there's also genuine friendship between the age-diverse women and a good balance of raunchy girl-bonding comedy (courtesy of reliable hot mess Rebel Wilson) and complex emotion from the parade of interesting new suitors. The ending also delivers well on the premise of the title - no more, no less.

45 Years
45 Years(2015)

One week before a couple's 45th wedding anniversary, the husband receives news that his first love's remains have been found preserved in ice on the mountains where she fell and died nearly fifty years ago. He is understandably shaken, and his wife is at first supportive and curious, but then increasingly insecure, especially when he starts obsessively reminiscing over his quixotic twenties instead of helping her plan their anniversary party. This quiet, if slow, drama is a stark, sad look at the emotional detritus that builds up over an aging life and the little heartbreaks and secret truths that can unravel a long marriage. Charlotte Rampling's gracefully lined face achingly captures Kate's passive aggressions, and she delivers a thirty-second actor's masterclass in that one-sided dialogue scene of her on the phone, confirming the party songlist with the event planner and deliberately avoiding "their song" only to capitulate in a subtle fit of anguish at the very end.

Stutterer
Stutterer(2015)

The Oscar-nominated live action short that I loved the most but didn't expect to win because it wasn't "important" and topical enough. On the surface, it's a sweet love story about a man whose interior monologue is articulate and clever, but whose vocalized speech is hampered by stops and starts. He attempts online dating, memorizes and trains himself to recite famous quotations to his dad, and even learns sign language, but still feels too crippled by anxiety to meet his internet girlfriend in person.

The screenplay deftly captures the cacophonous swirl of words he wishes he could say, and I really enjoy his calming tactic of listing the letters of the alphabet. It's the clearest and most succinct of the films, but it's also the whitest (American production with British actors and setting) with the stigma of privilege that comes from seemingly low-stakes romantic comedy. Nevertheless, it did win, and perhaps it's not so dissimilar from the other films after all. It's about what gets lost in translation, and it depicts the struggle between the abled, the disabled, and perhaps the differently abled.

Shok
Shok(2015)
½

The Oscar-nominated live action short that I thought would win because out of the three other "important" and topical films, "Shok (Friend)" seems the least agenda-driven while still telling a very political story. Most of the films deal with culture shock or "big issues": an Afghan-American woman joins the military as an interpreter, but then has to deliver a baby on her first day because of Islam's tradition of modesty; an Israeli couple accidentally crash into a West Bank convent, and the nuns begrudgingly break Sabbath to help them; a German film about a quietly unhinging father who takes his daughter out for a fun day...at a photo booth and then a passport bureau in an attempt to flee the country with her to avoid further custody battles. All the short films are good, but "Shok," the longest one at twenty minutes, has enough time to fully develop a bitter, violent, and traumatic tale about the Kosovo War through the eyes of two adolescent boys, who also give the most disarmingly strong performances.

Warm Bodies
Warm Bodies(2013)
½

Quite adorable! I used to not care for Nicholas Hoult - mostly because of his uncomfortably attractive elfin features - but he's all hunched over and oatmeal-tinged as a half-sentient zombie who lives in an abandoned airport in a post-apocalyptic future, so I can dig it.

In this gritty yet comedic send-up of "Romeo & Juliet," R catches feelings for Julie, the headstrong daughter of the general in charge of eradicating the undead. He kidnaps her to keep her safe from other less evolved zombies, and they eventually strike up a bond. The R&J parallels are pretty cute, and though it pains me to say this, Teresa Palmer is the blond, Australian, more emotive doppelganger of KStew.

Deadpool
Deadpool(2016)
½

Foul and fun as all hell. Reynolds is indeed God's Perfect Idiot as the anarchic, motor-mouthed regular-guy-turned-disfigured-vigilante-crimefighter.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
½

You may be turned off by the film's long and artless title, but after taking in this exquisitely restrained romance between man and woman, man and nature, the known and the unknown, you'd be hard pressed to find a title as earnest and true as the film itself.

Woman in Gold
½

I just cannot with dramatic Ryan Reynolds. I once described Kal Penn as being a good actor in comedic movies and even dramatic parts of comedic movies, but not a good actor in dramatic movies. I feel the same way about Reynolds, and they probably only have half a degree's worth of separation between themselves.

Anomalisa
Anomalisa(2015)
½

I'm not a fan of stop-motion puppetry, but this eerie and tender film about loneliness and connection is a feat in animation and storytelling: from all the secondary characters being played by reedy-voiced Tom Noonan, to Jennifer Jason Leigh's elegaic rendition of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," from the discomfitingly realistic puppet sex, to the hallucinatory flashes of robotic wiring underneath Michael's humanoid casing - foreshadowing the film's ultimate thesis about the inexorable fade of love, individuality, and will.

Grease: Live!
½

FOX was fashionably late to the live TV musical game, but boy did it deliver. "Grease Live!", helmed by Broadway wunder-director Thomas Kail, is an epic, progressive extravaganza from soundstage to soundstage - full of careening golf carts, swinging poodle skirts, and preppy saddle shoes. Not to mention innovative costume changes, hip new choreography, and an energy-hyping live audience.

The updated cast is a smorgasbord of talent. Vanessa Hudgens steals the show as brassy and bold Rizzo, Keke Palmer is luscious as nymphomaniac Marty, and Boys II Men as Teen Angel is just 90s Teen Beat perfection. Although Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit lead the way adequately in terms of singing and dancing, their acting is a little phoned in, which is an inevitable danger with the iconic though stereotypical roles of sweet Sandy and cool guy Danny. Hough is nice-girl bland, and her voice strains during "Hopelessly Devoted to You." And I know it's customary for adults to play teens, but bless his megawatt smirk, Tveit's pronounced smile lines make him look A LOT older than everyone else.

My favorite parts are the long, outdoor tracking shot of Jessie J's "Grease (Is the Word)," "Freddy My Love" with the seamless USO transitions, Hudgens's impeccable emotional control in "There Are Worse Things I Could Do," and the drag race with kinetic lighting effects and camera zooms to simulate moving vehicles.

The Martian
The Martian(2015)

I was so not into the 1 1/2 chapters of the book that I slogged my way through, so of course, I fully expected the Hollywood powers-that-be to transform this novel (in terms of scientific accuracy) yet utterly juvenile (in terms of literary skill) self-published book into a big screen Cinderella wagon hitched to Matt Damon's star.

It's pretty good. The hokey exposition of Mark Watney talking to himself is tempered by Damon's self-deprecating tone. The action sequences are suspenseful and devastating, and Watney's agricultural, geographical, and semiotic ingenuity is ingenious. Damon gives an emotional turn, especially when he performs surgery on himself and right before the final launch when he finally lets himself cry and feel the last-ditch enormity of the moment. The middle of the movie with all the other countries' SNASAs plotting with or against the US is a little convoluted, but on the whole, the movie is nicely light and triumphant for being about a man stranded on the Red Planet.

Sleeping with Other People

One of those movies, like "Friends With Benefits," that purports to break romcom genre conventions...and it does...quite wonderfully for a minute...then kinda weirdly for an unnecessarily large part of the film. Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis play platonic besties to charmingly drugged effect. That moment when they admit to themselves that they're in perfect, agenda-less love with each other is so achingly beautiful, and it's such a waste that *spoilers (but as if you couldn't see it coming)* they end up together like every other Harry and Sally pairing instead of making good on the movie's second act premise that all Lainey and Jake want from their friendship is to teach each other how to love.

The other plot point that tries to break genre is Lainey's addictive and abusive relationship with creepy doctor Matthew played by Adam Scott in over-stoic mode, which worked really well for his dramatic performance in "The Vicious Kind," but here, just smacks of a nothing character. Maybe that's who Matthew is, but there's gotta be a hint as to why Lainey was so obsessed for so much of the movie. The tonal shift from dorm hijinx to emotional Stockholm Syndrome is just inconsistent, as is the brief glimpse of true pathos juxtaposed with the baity, sex-sells title.

Survivor
Survivor(2015)

Leave it to Cinemax Taiwan to air the only action/espionage movie in existence where Milla Jovovich doesn't kick even a little bit of ass. Milla is a mild-mannered government employee who inexplicably goes on the run after getting framed for terrorist crimes she didn't commit, and dubiously mustachioed Pierce Brosnan is hot on her very pedestrian trail. Eh.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
½

It starts off well enough. Battered and bruised Katniss is examined after Peeta's trackerjacked attack. JLaw flinches ever so slightly as the doctor gently presses her collarbone to assess the damage. Her eyes are darty and untrusting, and when she tries to speak, we can tell her spirit is as broken and raspy as her voice.

That's pretty much the best part. The rest, as predicted from the 2-film split, is Lord of the Rings-style slow, building to the rushed climax of Gale's betrayal, which I don't think people who haven't read the books would fully get. Then of course, long-suffering Peeta's PTSD rehabilitation with the "Real or Not Real" game is hardly touched upon, and the flashforward epilogue is too shiny and pat. And did anyone else think that baby's head was ridiculously huge?

50 First Dates
½

So freakin' likable. A bumbling bachelor falls in love with a woman with short-term memory loss, so he must remind her of their relationship every day. The reveals of Lucy's dad and brother painstakingly recreating the day of her accident and Lucy painting Henry's face from her dreams despite not remembering him are quite touching.

She's Funny That Way
½

A sweet but louche playwright gifts young call girls with generous nest eggs to encourage them to stop hooking, but when one such ingénue gets cast in his play starring his wife, the show nearly goes dark. Peter Bogdanovich's philosophical romantic comedy is reminiscent of Woody Allen's show biz fables - full of mistaken identities, magical realism, and a star-making turn from real-life ingénue Imogen Poots. Her lurchy walk is so awkward yet purposeful.

The Intern
The Intern(2015)
½

Pop publications have pondered what makes Anne Hathaway so annoying. She's a perfectly beautiful and talented actress, but there's something about her that just smacks of trying too hard. Why the public prefers cool, calculated nonchalance over effusive ambition to please is an argument (perhaps loaded with gender politics) for another day, but suffice it to say, Anne Hathaway is a little bit annoying in this movie.

She tries to be cool and calculated, as per Jules, her character - a self-made internet entrepreneur - but when Jules meets the titular intern, Ben, and lets that bosswoman exterior fall and starts hanging out with her dopey underlings, Hathaway (not the character) tries to be "one of the boys" and the performance fails. Her buzzed rant lamenting the manboys' sloppy workplace attire rings false, trite, whiney, and patriarchal. That may also be the script's fault for creating a flat gentleman hero of yore to act as Jules's foil and to be put on a pedestal as the classic man all men should strive to be. For a movie about a woman in a man's world, written and directed by a woman, it defaults to the crutch of "behind every great woman is a greater-yet-not-flashy-about-it man who allows her to blossom into the powerful, great woman she has the potential to be." It just happens to be cute because Ben is thirty years her senior and is more a father figure than a romantic interest.

Regardless, this movie is like the Anne Hathaway conundrum. It's cute but annoying. It has the potential to challenge the incessant questions kick-butt actresses and female CEOs are asked about balancing home and work, but it doesn't. It has the potential to question why go-getting women like Anne Hathaway are thought of as annoying or fake, but it doesn't.

The Wiz Live!

NBC's best live musical yet! Shanice Williams has a dazzling voice and sassy moves, and I like her more yearning rendition of "Home," though I do enjoy the casting of the original Dorothy, Stephanie Mills, as Auntie Em. Elijah Kelley is a groovin' powerhouse, and I wish there were more song and dance roles for him. The story and songs got a bit repetitive by the end, Common looked like he was actively not acting, and Queen Latifah as the Wiz seemed an interesting choice but with lackluster execution. Nevertheless, it has been the most professional production so far with probably the highest energy and most vibrant (but not tacky) design.

Love Actually

Some believe "Love Actually" is a senseless gimmick - a surface holiday love story with beautiful people... and not even a holiday story at that, as seen from recent vehement debates (and maybe not even beautiful people, owing to the goofus face of Kris Marshall who's at least got a big knob). For me and countless others though, never has so many intertwining stories meshed so well with the messages of peace, goodwill, love of all kinds, and even gifting. There is seriously no character or storyline that I don't like.

To those who say Jamie and Aurelia falling in love without speaking the same language is stupid and unrealistic, consider the intuitive connection that some people have and how they understand each other and communicate through actions and looks other than words, forming emotional bonds through the journey of misunderstanding and miscommunication.

To those who say Sarah's an idiot for answering her mentally ill brother's phone call in the middle of getting it on with hot Karl, consider how that obsessive impulse of hers is to show that she needs to take care of him as much as he needs taking care of, and perhaps that's why she shouldn't have a romantic relationship right now.

To those who hate Mia for seducing Harry, consider the slut-shaming double standard of women always being the seducers and the men always having no choice but to be seduced. Mia flirts with her married boss; he is still culpable for deceiving his wife.

To those who think Colin and the American quintet is misogynistic and anti-American, consider the pure, "lust, actually" fantasy fulfillment in an otherwise pretty earnest, British movie. In an arguable attempt at showing female agency, Colin is no longer the pushy manwhore; the women are now the pursuers, and their totally obvious macking techniques show that they are quite aware of the easy-American-girl-who-falls-for-foreigners stereotype, and they use it to their advantage.

To those who say Mark is a pansy for harboring romantic feelings for Juliet, a woman he seems to hardly know (as evidenced allegedly by their few scenes together), consider her honest self-deprecation (claiming she's nice aside from for her bad taste in pie), amiability (in hoping she and Mark can be better friends), and direct motivation (in pursuing the video she knows he clearly has). In sum, she HAS a personality and is certainly likable, even lovable. To those who say they are both douches - he for professing his feelings and she for kissing him - consider Mark's utterly agenda-less act of love as a gift of truth, friendship, and apology for his coldness, and Juliet's kiss as one of comfort and thanks.

I love "Love Actually," and anybody who doesn't should get a heart!

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
½

My goodness, Elizabeth Debicki must be made of Jell-O. She just slinks down to the ground so smoothly, I might as well kill myself. Anyhoo, Alicia Vikander is a spritely fashion plate in mod cloths, but her character seems a bit tough-mechanic-sidechick for the sake of being a touch mechanic sidechick. If only Henry Cavill or Armie Hammer did anything for me, I might have enjoyed this movie more.

Fantastic Four

Hmm not the summer superhero Blockbuster that it aspired to be. Despite the stellar cast of Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, and Kate Mara, the story is hokey pokey and the stakes are so high that they're impossible to ground in reality.

Black Mass
Black Mass(2015)
½

Perhaps it's a far greater travesty that Johnny Depp, at age 52 and three Oscar nominations, has never won one and that those nominations were more awarded for pop novelty (Sweeney Todd and Jack Sparrow) than actorly craft (the not nominated Gilbert Grape and Ed Wood). As infamous mobster Whitey Bulger, Depp is appropriately terrifying, though the story is convoluted and episodic to the point that I don't know if the role was truly nuanced or challenging.

For the longest time, I thought Jesse Plemons was Matt Damon in plaster makeup. Juno Temple is pretty dang good in the third degree scene. Her fear is so tiny yet fierce.

The Roommate
The Roommate(2011)

Frighteningly bad, yet I couldn't tear my eyes away...unlike the way Leighton Meester blithely tears out Aly Michalka's navel ring. Second most uncomfortable shower scene since "Psycho."

Pitch Perfect 2

When the original came out, I wasn't that into Anna Kendrick, but in the last three years, I've really grown to hate-like her for the annoyingly talented, enviably petite, infinity-threat powerhouse she is. Elizabeth Banks proves a competent director in this installment, charting the trajectory of some real-life senioritis challenges for the stagnant Bellas: Beca gophering and ultimately impressing a bigshot music producer played by Key and/or Peele, Fat Amy taking a chance on Bumper (with non-aca backing track??), Chloe finally graduating from super-senior status, and Aubrey channeling her Type-A control freak mojo into a team-building retreat.

The best aca-performances of the movie are the riff-off invitational, the training montage, and the campfire reprise of "Cups," but unfortunately, the parts that I expected to bring das haus down (the Das Sound Machine sets, the Bellas' final set, Hailee Steinfeld's audition, and the Jessie J-penned generic pop song "Flashlight")...didn't. Katey Sagal has a surprisingly nice singing voice though!

Pitch Perfect

Bitchtastic.
"I can see your toner [ladywood for a member of the nemesis male a capella group]!"
"That's my dick."

The rising action is a bit slow and repetitive with Aubrey mindlessly sticking to her traditional setlist, but the song and dance numbers at the end really pump up the jam. I used to not care for Anna Kendrick's face or acting - attributing her badass demeanor to mostly costume and make-up - but her pixie-sized sex appeal is just winning as heck. Rebel Wilson is hilariously "a ca-awkward," as are the ragtag team of supporting characters, namely the quiet Asian and her sociopathic murmurings, "I ate my twin in the womb."

Irrational Man
½

Woody's fourth conscionable killing movie, and well, it does feel a bit rehashed with the age- and power-inappropriate relationship between the cynical, alluring liberal arts professor and the luminous, self-possessed student. The stakes ARE higher in that Abe premeditates a conscionable killing (*SPOILERS: and then a self-serving one), but the whole movie is a lot of pseudo-philosophical talk interspersed by bland narration and not enough humor and heart ("Crimes and Misdemeanor"), fervent sensuality ("Match Point"), or moral conflict ("Cassandra's Dream").

I would have to say there is more physical violence though, which is interesting for Woody. That nearly silent 10-15 second shot of Jill struggling with Abe in front of the open elevator shaft is awkward and disturbing as hell, and Woody is one of the only directors left who allows the audience to feel such raw, unbroken discomfort.

Ricki And The Flash
½

A down-and-out, estranged mother comes back into the lives of her upper-middle-class children, ex-husband and his perfect second wife (played by perfect Audra McDonald, naturally). She wins them back through music, and it's really just so much fun.

I know Meryl Streep is lauded as the best dramatic actress of her generation, but I've always thought the grand dame a bit stuffy and boring. Perhaps that's why I liked her departure into blue-lidded, Alanis-braided, tatted-up, has-been rockstar. The thing is, Meryl Streep ISN'T a badass; she dabbles in it, as does her character Ricki whom she plays as appropriately lost and hopeful and distant and maternal. She performs the mellow, classic rock selections better than the (possibly altered) mezzo belting of the Witch in "Into the Woods" and the tinny pop of Donna in "Mamma Mia." It's unfortunate that Streep breaks her streak of annual Oscar nominations, seeing as most critics found her performance campy and the movie predictable. Oh well.

Mamie Gummer, Streep's doppelganger daughter, is a bit one-note ragey and one-note catatonic, but her Resting Bitch Face is intensely formidable, and I like the casting of real life family members in movies.

Joy
Joy(2015)
½

Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for yet another David O. Russell flick, but this time, I gotta say I'm mopping up what she's spilling. JLaw plays Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop, with the good ol' spirit and guts we saw in "Winter's Bone," but tempered by even more smoky-voiced weariness and middle class ennui. Her resting face is just so eminently watchable with flickers of masked annoyance, seething fury, and hushed tenacity. I think that's why I didn't love her in "Silver Linings Playbook" or "American Hustle." She had to move her face too much, and it came off as inorganically manic or too young compared to her castmates, but here, she maturely commands the screen despite being much younger than the original figure. This is her story, with liberties taken from the source, but nevertheless, a compelling underdog tale of ingenuity and individualism, good business and bad blood.

David O. Russell certainly deserves credit for toning down his usual flashy zooms and nostalgic soundtracks in favor of just telling a straight story. The expository narration and frost-edged childhood dreams are quaintly hokey, but when we see adult Joy stuck in a rut of caring for her rowdy kids, sweet but aimless ex-husband, and delusional parents, we can experience the full disappointment that she and friend Jackie feel of "how did we get here?" I also enjoyed the recurring juxtaposition of Joy's uphill battle with the glitzy and glam soap opera to which her agoraphobic mother, Terry, vicariously cleaves - holding the paper tiger sort of "daring woman" mentioned in the epigraph up against the real deal (or perhaps just the opposite: actually tearing down the traditional stereotypes of soap operas as melodramatic and feminine and reclaiming female agency, as argued in Ryan C. Shower's "The Case for Joy" http://www.awardsdaily.com/2015/12/30/the-case-for-joy/). There's also a cute little nod to the provenance of David O. Russell's middle initial with the upward mobility anecdote about how David O. Selznick, "son of immigrants," went on to marry Jennifer Jones. (Selznick's middle initial was an arbitrary choice, and Russell picked his as an homage.)

The cast of supporting characters is also eccentric and diverse. Joy's father, Rudy, is that particular brand of loving but patriarchal, well-meaning but impotent man's man, and his line about how he shouldn't have encouraged Joy to follow her dreams, which seemingly blames himself but actually blames an uppity woman, is infuriatingly characteristic. His new squeeze, Trudy, is an Italian socialite who plays businesswoman but is not as shrewd as she is domineering. Despite these toxic influences in her life, Joy does have supportive relationships with her best friend played by Dascha Polanco and her crooner ex played by Edgar Ramirez, the latter of whom helps showcase JLaw's singing voice and Spanish skills. A little bit of French is also thrown in when Terry emerges from her bedroom with some charming persuasion from the Haitian plumber played by Jimmy Jean-Louis (of "Heroes"!).

Now apparently, Joy Mangano's real-life journey is not as conflict-filled as the fictionalized account, but having screen Joy muck through so much denigrating sexism, professional misconduct, and blatant unconcern really earns her the badass, albeit clichéd, black-leather-clad moment of chopping her hair off and strutting up to get what's hers.

Jennifer's Body
½

I think I like this movie more upon rewatch because I am now an out-and-proud Megan Fox fan :-P Fox came on the scene as a salty male fantasy, but in the past several years, she has proven her supporting actress mettle in low-key dramas and mainstream comedies. She has a certain quality that evokes the same charm and magnetism of Marilyn Monroe, an actress with ambiguous talent who was poorly managed and not taken seriously because of her pin-up appearance and frothy voice.

Such is the case for Fox. She possesses Monroe's bewitching beauty but also her uncannily sad eyes. Fox's physical attributes render her undoubtedly perfect for the role of the devilishly hot and eerily mercurial man-eater, Jennifer, but she actually brings some layers into the character - not only the sweetly flustered flirtation or the quietly anguished "My name is Jennifer" - but a layer that I'm not sure the filmmakers intended (more on why not later).

Even in the scenes where Jennifer is madcap elated, Fox's sad eyes seem to imply a deeper torment tugging at the surface demon. This leads me to believe that Jennifer's soul is still present and fighting for control of her body, but the film does not go in that direction.

There's much to like about the movie: the pumping soundtrack, the satirical commentary on indie bands and tragedy boners, the pervasive hotness. In the end though, it's just a cheap, crazy-chick-gets-revenge flick (the trope of which has experienced a feminist/pseudo-feminist resurgence with many of Gillian Flynn's novel adaptations). Diablo Cody tried to write a feminist horror movie in which all the tropes of helpless, preyed-upon women get turned on their heads. A woman preys on the men, and a woman ultimately kills the demon, but the eponymous woman is merely fantasy porn for sadistic man-haters. I would have liked the movie better if Jennifer only kills the men who wronged her or leched after her. Chip would be spared, and the douches of Low Shoulder will get their due without Needy having to resort to one-dimensional cracked-outedness. The script doesn't allow the demon any depth; despite Fox's nuanced gaze, her original soul is a null entity.

I was hoping that the movie would actually follow through with its truthful analysis of tragedy, but alas, it's just not-as-clever, awkwardly-executed "Juno"-esque dialogue with blood and gore. And a hot lesbian make-out. But you know, that part didn't really further the plot.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

I feel like I should like this movie more, but I don't. I'm predisposed to think of Kate Winslet as a feisty English rose, and perhaps that's what makes me not buy her as this offbeat character with multicolored hair and a foul mouth. She doesn't transform herself.

The Laramie Project

Some unbelievably beautiful acting and words. I found myself sympathizing with every character, regardless of their ideologies. This project is the ultimate representation of each person's own "universal truths," no matter how flawed or different from my own. As a film, the cinematography at the beginning is a bit cloying, with the extreme close-ups and camera angles for optimal emotional impact, and the "frame story" seems forced and unnecessary. Most natural performances come from Fonda, Madigan, Linney, Davies, Baker, Irwin, and Kinney.

Slumdog Millionaire

Gorgeous cinematography and editing, but terribly weak story. It's not that I'm against optimistic, uplifting movies, but there needs to be proper development and higher stakes than just "star-crossed love." Why does Salim suddenly let Latika go after remorselessly kidnapping her days ago? Where is his moral and fraternal turning point? What is the point of the frame story of the torturing producers? There is no pay off for that; it is merely a device to reveal Jamal's past. What is the consequence of the gangsters' cruelty to Latika? She isn't horribly disfigured or hurt. Would Jamal still love her if she is? Will their love still transcend such superficialities? I have a problem with destiny-driven plots. It's an easy cop-out. I really wanted to like this film because it's pretty much everyone's favorite movie ever, but I find it incredibly overrated.

To Rome with Love
½

I was really excited that Ellen Page was going to play Monica, the newest installation of Woody's neurotic/erotic female fantasy, because while she had made her career playing quirky/damaged girls, there's an irresistible quality in her that I find sexy and sensual. Instead, either Woody directed her or she acted as her usual loquacious faux-savant. Styling could have helped. Page needn't have glammed up or channeled Penelope Cruz, but it seems like every aspect of Monica's personality (whether sexy or banal) is spoken of and determined by others, not actually shown on the screen by Page's performance or costuming.

Her friend, Sally, keeps saying she's so attractive, but Alec Baldwin's old-man-guide character keeps criticizing her pretentious art and literary references that I wonder why Jack even falls for her. If characters undercut other characters, there isn't much for the audience to fall for. Woody often has such a way with his actresses - whether lighting them or just getting them to smile more. I never thought much of Alison Pill, but she is radiant in a girl-next-door part just because she smiles and wears white and has more outdoor scenes in natural light.

The rest of the movie is Woody's typical, below average, antic-ridden ensemble comedy.

Brave
Brave(2012)

I wasn't into this at all. The miscommunication between mothers and daughters about marriage, duty, and honor are so played out. There's nothing new in this trite script, borrowed from so many Amy Tan novels. The bear plot is unsatisfying as well, but mostly because I abhorred the animation. The mother bear looks too cartoonish and not at all a manifestation of the actual queen character. Disney/Pixar's foray into the neo-princess movie without a love interest is lifeless and contrived.

Matilda
Matilda(1996)

So touching, suspenseful, extreme, and campy! Mara Wilson had such a deep, sage-like voice, and all the recent 20-year reunion pics of the cast are adorbz.

Imagine Me & You
½

What a nice freakin' movie. Very sweet and British. I rather like Heck's "If you had any respect for me at all, that's exactly what you WILL do [leave him]" and Rachel's, "What do you mean?" after Heck claims this was all her choice. She doesn't say yes or no; she's conflicted as to whether love is a choice at all.

However, I can't help but think the audience wouldn't be as forgiving of this extramarital tryst if "the other woman" was a man. A wife falling in love at first sight with a man other than her husband...well, that's just her succumbing to lust. A wife falling in love at first sight with a woman...well, that's just her following her heart. In either scenario - if they're believed to be earnest - there is both succumbing to lust and following of hearts. The movie assumes a slight double standard of homosexual affairs being more forgivable than heterosexual affairs, that one diverse population holds the monopoly on suffering, so they should be able to get away with certain crimes. I'm not saying the movie straight-up champions this; I just wonder how much of my liking of the movie is based on this forgiveness, and how much of a PC hypocrite that would make me.

Lastly: such a very nice use of title song!

Trumbo
Trumbo(2015)

Bryan Cranston is just such a very good actor. He utilizes his entire being - voice, eyes, mouth, shoulders, gut, hands, feet - to create a multifaceted performance. "Trumbo" is the maddening story about the unconstitutional witch hunt of suspected communists and communist sympathizers during the Red Scare. Hollywood ghostwriter of "Roman Holiday" Dalton Trumbo and friends face persecution, job loss, imprisonment, prejudice, and harassment for committing the crime of taking the 1st Amendment literally.

The script hits all the intellectual and emotional highs and lows (though sometimes a bit too abstrusely), and the historical context surrounding the blacklist (post-WWII and pre-civil rights movement) are nicely evinced. The splicing together of modern actors into grainy black and white footage is also very cool. The performances are all strong, especially Cranston and Michael Stuhlbarg (whom I could not place for the life of me, but now realize, played the titular serious man in one of the first Coen Brothers' movies I ever liked) as the stocky, noir antihero in life and art, Edward G. Robinson.

A recurring continuity error that really grinded my gears though was the awkward aging, namely the random and sudden swapping in of giantess Elle Fanning as middle daughter Nikola (great name, though) while the babyfaced eldest brother looks exactly the same. Then later when the eldest brother is portrayed by an older actor while Elle Fanning looks exactly the same. Then Alan Tudyk and Diane Lane looking exactly the same thirty years later, though let's be honest, Lane will never age. And of course, Elle Fanning in a brassy red, Jackie O-style blowout reminiscent of the horrible age make-up job for Bonnie Wright as thirty-five-year-old Ginny Weasley. Why, future? Why?

Spotlight
Spotlight(2015)

A very solid, unshowy film about the Boston Globe Spotlight team's uncovering of child abuse and decade-long cover-ups by Boston clergy and beyond. It's all very matter-of-fact and not...Sorkin-fied, if you know what I mean. The story is the story, and not too much time is spent on twists and turns or embellished personal lives of the reporters. Dependably steady director Tom McCarthy is the master of affecting but not affected human stories.

I'm a little surprised though that Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo are nominated for Best Supporting Oscars and that the entire cast took home the SAG Ensemble Acting prize. True, Rachel McAdams was very natural in her role, but the role was a bit small and pedestrian. Not that she or it needed to be a flashier, intrepid Lois Lane type, but she and it lacked a bit of energy methinks. Mark Ruffalo is fine, but he seemed to compensate for his ordinary character by outfitting him with an Aspergerian slouch, speech impediment, and quirk of always putting his hands in his pockets. His big angry moment was also a bit forced. I honestly thought Michael Keaton and Brian D'Arcy James were better in their higher stakes supporting roles.

All in all, a good issues movie that puts the plight of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, other victims yet to come forward, and unfortunately, those yet to become victims, in the spotlight.

Room
Room(2015)

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay really carry this movie as mother and son who are imprisoned in a garden shed for seven (and five) years (respectively). Joy's days are spent creating as normal of a childhood as she can for her son Jack - full of daydreams and exercise and crafts - so that at night when Old Nick comes for his conjugal visit, Jack would never think that hiding in the wardrobe is out of the ordinary. Now that he has turned five years old, Joy deems him old enough to learn the truth and plan their escape.

And what a riveting escape it is. I've laughed at movies, cried at movies, jumped out of my seat and yelped at movies, but never has my heart raced so fast at a movie as when Jack struggles to disentangle himself from the carpet and scrabbles out of this moving, rumbling behemoth into a loud, populated, alien world he has never seen, much less imagined before.

Nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay is so utterly natural as Jack, expressing shades of joy, anger, amusement, disgust, doubt, fear, and working that raggedy mop of hair to boot. My favorite moment is when Joy makes Jack repeatedly practice unrolling from the rug, and a disheveled, out-of-breath Jack tumbles out and spouts, "I hate you!" There is such power in his vehemence. Brie Larson is pretty dang good, infusing this young abuse victim with motherly patience and motherly ferocity, but I suppose she was good in an expected way. I expected a performance of this character to be this way, so I didn't see any surprising distinctions. In fact, the post-Room scenes with the reporter or fighting with her mom seem a bit inorganic, both in script and acting. There isn't enough nuance about Joy's PTSD; all the dialogue is too on-the-nose, so both Larson and Joan Allen end up just yelling in one note.

There are some weird must-happens in the story, of course. Old Nick must either be "kind" or dumb enough to not abuse his child begat from abuse, to not look inside the rug to confirm his child's death, to not wrestle his child back into the truck after his escape attempt, to not go home right away to punish his prisoner-wife. I mean, the audience probably wouldn't be able to handle more atrocity, but I wanted at least some background on what kind of abuser he is and what happens to him after the news broke. I know it's not his story, nor would a real life person like him deserve more consideration, but for a fictional character, he needs some grounding traits. What would compel the reporter to ask Joy why she didn't just have Old Nick take baby Jack to a hospital so that he may have a normal life? That would take an inordinate amount of trust in the abuser. And what if the rug were placed so that it would roll INTO the truckbed wall? And wouldn't Joy's friends have been affected by her disappearance and be interested/happy to know that she made it out alive?

Sicario
Sicario(2015)

Brutal and suspenseful in its depiction of betrayal, street justice, and corruption, from the dirty underpasses of Ciudad Juarez to the lavish mansions of drug cartel kingpins. The whole, nausea-inducing sequence (in terms of both cinematography and graphic content) of the black SUV motorcade entering Mexico with Policia Jeep escorts, getting their man, then instigating a violent bloodbath right in the immigration lanes into the US, was the second-most anxious I felt at the movies this year (second to "Room"). Johann Johannsson's ominous, gut-sinking score - with its blend of classic strings and modern synths - is nominated for an Oscar, and rightfully so.

What nearly ruined the movie for me, though, is that while this is a story that needed to be told, the creators invented a paper-thin "tough woman" character to be the lens through which the story is told. Cold yet vulnerable Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, a tough woman FBI agent chosen for special ops (why are tough ladycops always named Kate?), but despite her physical toughness, she acts as nothing more than a bland moral compass. Her idealism is hardly motivated at all. Is she haunted by a past case gone wrong? Does she have a backstory for joining the FBI? How did she get so respected in her field of kidnap response? The character is basically there as the audience proxy to question the shady dealings of Benecio Del Toro's Alejandro, who helps the team but for his own reasons.

Kate doesn't seem to have agency of her own. Her junior partner is the one to finally get the straight dope from her special ops handlers (and to make some derisive comments about her nonexistent hygiene and beauty routine, ostensibly to make her seem like "one of the guys," but just comes off as unnecessary patriarchal banter), and *SPOILERS* when she does get the gumption to pull a gun on Alejandro and deck Matt, it's like, "Why would she do that? What makes her so righteous yet foolhardy?" She fights back, but blindly. Although both Blunt and Del Toro are good in the scene in which Alejandro tenderly threatens her life unless she sanctions their sins in the name of the lesser evil and she pulls her gun on him AGAIN (really?!), Kate's brave resistance is really only written in for show.

Bridge of Spies

In one word: manufactured. I had already pegged this Spielberg/Hanks joint as "serious" and "uplifting," but what uplift it could manage felt treacly and overdone - from the immediate bromance between Tom Hanks's upstanding insurance lawyer, James Donovan, and the alleged USSR spy whom he is summoned to defend, to the heartstring-tugging image of stalwart Donovan watching Rudolf Abel being "shown the backseat" (to signify that he won't be welcomed back to USSR with open arms) only for the epilogue to reveal no such enmity against him in real life; from the heavy-handed sequence of East Berliners being shot and killed when trying to escape over the Wall and Donovan watching helplessly from an elevated train, to the parallel sequence at the end of kids jumping over a fence for fun and all the bus passengers slowly smiling at Donovan, recognizing his service to America. Ugh.

Rudolf Abel, played stoically and bemusedly by Mark Rylance, seems like an interesting character, but there is never any interpersonal conflict between him and his new counsel. Abel and Donovan are both solid, "standing men," and treat each other with mutual respect right from the start, which makes for static character arcs. Their instant rapport feels manufactured, and there are no shades of Abel's spy persona or allegiance to home and government. What information did he peel off under the bench? How much intelligence had he gathered? As such, I don't think the role was enough to make Mark Rylance's performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nod over, say, Jacob Tremblay's.

Much of the movie also felt propagandistic with Big Brother America being all altruistic about due process, and no man left behind, and not torturing hostages (...), and essentially demanding an unequal two-for-one POW swap when there really is no strategic benefit for the other side(s). The hostage negotiation on the bridge is so full of faux wait-by-the-phone tension that I much preferred the Kid Theatre scripts that Tom Hanks and Jimmy Fallon enacted on "The Tonight Show": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0p1Iv9z8bOY.

Trainwreck
Trainwreck(2015)
½

Comedian Amy Schumer has indeed made some incisive satirical commentary on the trials and tribulations of the modern woman, and while I can't say I'm a huge fan of her vocally fried stand-up delivery, she does prove herself a competent actress in this movie and her televised sketches.

I was expecting this romcom to break a little ground though - be unabashedly unapologetic for fourth wave feminism, but it ends up reinforcing the traditional trope of one partner trying to change the other and the other one capitulating by the end. It's a cute gender-reversed capitulation with awkward Amy winning Aaron over by dancing along with the New York Knicks cheerleaders, but there's really no development as to why the two connected in the first place, and as such, whether there's enough gas in the tank to keep this tank rolling after the obligatory grand romantic gesture.

Tilda Swinton, buffed and bronzed to unrecognizable perfection, channels devil in Prada as the bossy British editrix, LeBron James is a surprise comedic talent, and can DanRad BE any cooler making fun of himself in all manners of ridiculous cameos?

The Internship
½

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson tone down their respective fast-talking and schlubby buddy routines as two middle-aged nobodies who land tech internships at Google based on sheer salesmanship. This mid-life crisis movie is actually rather uplifting in that good intentions and collaborative problem solving triumph over cutthroat post-college millennials who typify the adage "youth is wasted on the young."

This Is Where I Leave You
½

Solid ensemble dramedy about a dysfunctional family who gathers to sit shiva for their deceased patriarch. Secrets come out, punches are thrown, but no love is lost (in both loving and hateful usages of the phrase). Lots of great characters, such as cheating wife Quinn who actually plays a sympathetic and vulnerable part, the gutsy, newly voluptuous matriarch played by dishy Jane Fonda, and the manboy next door whom eldest sister Wendy has to forgive herself for ditching years ago after their car accident left him brain-damaged.

Love Happens
Love Happens(2009)

Horrible title. Somewhat bland, stereotypical leads: widower seemingly capitalizing on tragedy and quirky gal who needs to be quirkier than Jennifer Aniston can play her. Burke's reconciliation with his father-in-law is kinda nice, and I do like a good old ASL meet-cute.

Magic Mike XXL
½

Two-thirds of the movie is rather disappointing. The first Steven Soderbergh joint is actually a proper exposé of the male stripping world with gritty interpersonal conflict; this installation is pure bachelorette eye candy with a bit too much road trip sprinkled in. But Channing Tatum's liquid moves are still a marvel; sleek, pant-suited Jada Pinkett Smith is a fierce dame; Amber Heard has a nice boho chill quality; and the last balls-out competition performance is just entertaining as hell.

Turks & Caicos

I had never heard of this movie before, but apparently, it's part two of David Hare's BBC trilogy about a fugitive gentleman spy, now forced to play mild-mannered retiree on the eponymous islands due to a crisis of conscience that led to his being MIA from MI5. The staid British caper pits stolid Bill Nighy as Johnny Worricker against chilly Christopher Walken as Curtis Pelissier, an undercover CIA agent who blackmails Worricker into helping him entrap some white collar criminals. Riveting, right?

They are joined by two femme fatales: a plummy Helena Bonham Carter as MI5 analyst and Worricker's former flame, and wild-eyed Winona Ryder as the white collar criminals' PR rep who keeps all their secrets. It's a pedigreed production to be sure, if a bit vague in the stodgy British thriller way, but it boasts some fine performances, and it actually got me to read the rather beautiful inscription on all passports about offering aid and protection to the holder of the passport.

Top Five
Top Five(2014)
½

Rumored to be a Woody Allen-esque Chris Rock movie, "Top Five" IS a pretty walky-talky journey between a B-list comedian with A-list aspirations and the journalist interviewing him, but I'm not really sure about the relevance of the inciting task of ranking one's top five favorite rap artists. The scope of the interview is more expansive than that. Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson eventually create some tragically beautiful missed-connection chemistry, but the movie is too slow throughout and too afraid to let the intimate conversation carry itself.

Love, Rosie
Love, Rosie(2015)
½

Audrey-Hepburn-browed Lily Collins has always been a pretty solid actress for me despite her lukewarm public cachet, and yet, she still impressed me by carrying the ever-optimistic Rosie from teenage years through motherhood in charming though grounded fashion. Even though she has a young face, I didn't not believe her as a parent (unlike with Natalie Portman and Tobey Maguire in "Brothers"). Sam Claflin is dependably glassy of eye and taut of lips.

This is a somewhat typical best-friends-of-opposite-genders-grapple-with-romantic-feelings movie, and of course, we know Rosie and her faux-beau, Alex, will get together at the end, but not before years of missed connections, awkward wedding toasts, safety-school marriages, and bitter divorces actually melted some cockles of this reviewer's cold, dead heart. The platonic besties friendship was all very reminiscent of Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess's in "One Day" - a movie I also didn't bet on, but was still delightfully surprised by.

10 Years
10 Years(2012)

Former classmates attend their high school reunion. Some have dysfunctional families now; some have made it big; some are still the same old chuckleheads they have always been; and some are old flames with unfinished business to face. It's a nice slice of quarter-life crisis with some beautiful moments of forgiveness and understanding. My favorite storyline was with Oscar Isaac and Kate Mara as the now famous musician and the girl he never had. The scene of Reeves being coerced into basically karaoke-ing his own hit song and the "funny yellow shoes" lyric that sparks Elise's dawning realization that the song is about her is so full of romantic tension and dramatic irony.

Inside Out
Inside Out(2015)

So freakin' lovely, as expected from a Disney Pixar joint. We see how children naturally evolve from their compartmentalized basic emotions to composite secondary and tertiary emotions. Even I didn't understand Joy's fanatic tenacity for much of the movie, but the overarching message about how putting a happy face on all the time can take its toll is quite kathartic and accurate. There are some random, goofy tangents throughout the journey, but Bing Bong's sacrifice is so sad and moving.

*Mild spoiler: So does that mean children's comprehension of Sadness becomes Reason later on in life?

Beautiful Creatures
½

This teen gothic drama got no love at all in the theatres, and despite its no-name leads, muddled southern accents, and liberties taken from the books (which I haven't read), it's still achingly romantic with equal parts sass, lore, and sacrifice. Ethan, a southern gentleman and scholar, dreams of a life outside Gatlin, SC, but when he falls for the town's new social pariah, Lena, a "caster" who will almost certainly be claimed by the dark side on her eighteenth birthday, he is determined to save her soul through love.

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert's push-and-pull chemistry is remarkably sensual. Ehrenreich really shines as the squinty shucksidoodles Ethan, exhibiting folksy humor and revealing unexpected depth in the scene where Macon hexes him to plot out his disappointment of a future. Emmy Rossum is also a devilish vixen, especially in her claiming scene. Emma Thompson seems utterly out of place, seeming neither southern enough nor glamorous enough.

What If
What If(2014)

DanRad RomCom Star, say whaaat?!?!?! He and Zoe Kazan are a captivating pint-sized couple, and despite the film's lame and innocuous title, "What If" presents a true and romantic journey through the zone of male-female-platonic-though-chemistry-heavy-friendship. DanRad's marble-mouthed enunciation is perfect for quick-witted Wallace's linguistic acrobatics, and while Chantry is a bit too naïve about her steady but passionless relationship and a bit too Fool's Gold-eating and Fool's Gold-having about her new guy bestie, if any actress is going to make her sympathetic, it's Zoe Kazan.

Paternity Leave

Best feature of Evansville's MayDay Film Festival! A gay man in a committed relationship finds out he is pregnant. What's great about the movie is that this fantastical premise is not played for laughs. Greg, the "dude," is a medical miracle and experiences all the pleasures and pains of pregnancy, including hormonal rage, the desertion of his partner, working with a doula, and running into an ex. It's by turns touching and funny and true.

The Sparrows: Nesting

Hercules! Hercules! Kevin Sorbo makes an eleventh hour cameo as a stolid preacher and surprisingly elevates the movie a bit. It's an amateur independent film that dares to be positive about family, friendship, loss, and class conflict (which is rare), so I'll cut it some slack, but every line of dialogue in this script is the textbook definition of how not to reveal exposition. Three-quarters of the movie is conflict-less set-up of contrived sibling rivalry, hunky-dory dad-talk, and symbiotic female friendship - all compulsively overscored by sitcommy music. The true inciting incident of cute-kid-turned-orphan doesn't arrive until the third act, thrusting the story into corny melodrama.

Kingsman: The Secret Service
½

Colin Firth is so jaw-droppingly badass. Who knew?! His urbane ass-kicker is the epitome of suave righteousness: "Are we going to stand around here all day, or are we going to fight?" So good! The rest of the cast does a bang-up job too. Newcomer Taron Egerton, as apprentice spy Eggsy, is all baby-faced Brit swagger, and chrome-domed Mark Strong, as Merlin the "handler," rocks his usual severe sagacity. Sofia Boutella, as henchwoman Gazelle, has diamond-sharp blade-legs, and boy does she know how to use them, but I would have liked to see how original choice Amy Purdy, DWTS runner up and real-life double amputee, would have fared in the part. I'm not usually a fan of Samuel L. Jackson because he always seems to play himself, but Valentine, the squeamish shock god, seems to have been a fun role to sink his teeth into. I also dug debonair Jack Davenport in his short fight cameo.

The brilliant Parkour-inspired fight choreography is gracefully violent yet not overly gory (unlike Matthew Vaughn's freshman blood-fest "Kick-Ass"), and the cinematography captures it all in frame instead of the "gritty" close-ups where you can't see a damn thing (unlike in a lot of comic book/superhero movies). The costume and prop design is also impeccably cool with clever weapons and gadgetry.

I do have a couple of gripes though. I wasn't really sold on the Kingsman's training gauntlet. They claim to throw these candidates in without safety nets, but there are safety nets everywhere! *Spoilers* The candidate who drowns is merely a plant; nobody is actually asked to jump out of the plane without a parachute; the train doesn't actually run over a yellowbelly traitor; and of course the dogs don't die! Where are the stakes then?

Roxy's easy victory of having the "balls" to shoot her dog rings as a cheap ploy to welcome the first female Kingsman. All she does is blindly follow orders. I thought the final test would be about critical thinking and Eggsy would get credit for disobeying baseless orders and showing that he will protect the living being he reared - the same protection that the other Kingsmen show to their brethren. Loyalty was already proven several times with the bug and the train stunt; independently choosing to flout higher orders for the sake of fraternal ethics is a harder task. Eggsy has more balls than Roxy in daring to turn the gun on Arthur. And even though Roxy wins Lancelot's coveted spot, Eggsy is bespoken for before she is! I was hoping to see what the costume department would cook up for the Kingswoman suit. Pants certainly because the suits are bulletproof, right?...

I also wasn't amused by the naughty send-up to the rear-entry sexcapades in Bond films. A great deal of time is spent on Eggsy and Roxy forming a warm, if obvious, camaraderie, but after Eggsy works up a healthy appetite for destruction, he must then satisfy his carnal needs with a horny rando princess? It was cheaply cheeky (heh) in a way the movie wasn't before, though I guess Eggsy getting it on with his one girl friend in a tawdry one-night-stand would have been more demeaning.

Despite the somewhat gauche filling (heh) of the gender diversity quota, the movie as a whole is awesome, and Taron Egerton's spectrum of tough, irreverent, sweet, raw facial expressions is surely one to watch.

Zathura
Zathura(2005)

Kristen Stewart's best performance! Hahaha I mean it's not her most challenging role, but her adult self is too inhibited to do "mainstream" emotions of surprise, fear, annoyance, and this haughty big sister role actually requires her to stretch her gloomy face (which I still love), and she was young enough to not overthink it.

Young Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo (of "Crazy, Stupid [refuse that superfluous comma] Love") are ridiculously adorable as quarrelsome brothers in this "Jumanji" sequel. I didn't even realize it was an actual sequel adapted from the book by Chris Van Allsburg because I was never a fan of the first with Kirsten Dunst and Robin Williams. "Zathura" has so many funny lines that even adults will enjoy, like, "Get me a juice box, bitch!" "Grandma!" when the urn falls, and "The card!" when they try to convince Lisa of the game's magic.

And who knew that before Dax Shepherd became the butt-of-the-joke lucky enough to lock down hottie Kristen Bell, he was a rather swashbuckling astronaut himself?!

Fun Size
Fun Size(2012)

Average flick about a teen's Halloween night gone wrong, with the requisite high school antics and types: the hot girl who's inexplicably unpopular, the academic nerd who pines for her, her sassyfrassy, social-climbing best friend, the grieving-through-partying absent mother, and the mute little brother who goes missing but not before befriending a variety of party miscreants. It's all rather low stakes, but the emotional reveal about Ren's late father is better than the rest of the movie.

Father of the Bride: Part II

Double the pleasure! Double the fun! Annie and Nina are both preggers, and it's a heartwarming, if a bit saccharine, sequel.

Father of the Bride
½

Also one of the first movies I ever saw, and I have fond memories of that first shot of Annie Banks at the top of the stairs then gleefully sliding down the banister, the father-daughter basketball grudge-match underscored by "My Girl," the puppy-dog fiancé played by George Newbern, radiant matriarch Diane Keaton, and it goes without saying, Steve Martin's manic meltdown over eight hot dogs versus twelve hot dog buns!

I've always loved Kimberly Williams' crystal blue eyes and feisty exuberance, long before she did "The 10th Kingdom" and added a Paisley. Both Williams sisters for that matter (Ashley who played HIMYM's Victoria). This remake definitely feels more modern with many augmenting details like George's shoe company, the impish little brother-cum-valet, and Annie's career-driven life outside of love and family. Martin Short's and B.D. Wong's over-the-top wedding planners are over-the-top, but what are you gonna do?

Father of the Bride

Elizabeth Taylor is classy as the original Kay Banks, though the 1950s twenty-something-who-lives-at-home-before-she-gets-hitched can't afford to be as multi-faceted a woman as the '90s redux. The black and white classic is an endearing production to be sure, but the film is a bit stuffy with no transition music or familial humor.

The Transformers - The Movie

You got the touch! You got the pooowwaaah! A bit dated and silly, but there's a rip-roaring soundtrack and a rousing adventure story.

Limitless
Limitless(2011)
½

Yeah so, kinda fun. A man takes an experimental pill that enhances his natural abilities and makes him super efficient - at cleaning his apartment, at writing the next great American novel, at remembering pointless trivia to impress saucy co-eds, and at day trading with ferocious international businessmen. Naturally. The pacing is hip and bracing, and the introduction of the side effects with Anna Friel's made-under performance is piteous and daunting.

The end (or beginning, depending on how you look at it) is, of course, rather absurd with the vampirism thing and Eddie not having to face the "Flowers for Algernon" consequences of attempting to rise above his station. His meteoric climb to the top makes good use of Bradley Cooper's natural fast-talking cockiness, but even I'm a little over that trick.

Jurassic World

"Jurassic Park" (along with "Far and Away" and "Beethoven") was one of the first movies I ever saw at barely-English-speaking age seven or eight, so I didn't really understand it; therefore, I wasn't that psyched for this tech-age sequel. The realized park is fine. The kids are fine. The movie as a whole has a lot of suspenseful jump-out-at-you moments, and Chris Pratt is very cool as a raptor trainer. I was hoping for some deeper commentary on playing God in the reveal of Indominus Rex's secret ingredient - like that the DNA was HUMAN! - which would explain its shrewdness and thirst for sport killing.

There's just something about Bryce Dallas Howard that I don't like. She always has this prissy quality, and I suppose that's why she was cast as the prissy, high-strung dino executive. Claire is mostly a damsel in distress, and even when she shows that she's game, she's greeted with incredulity, and after her first badass moment of firing a shotgun, she's "rewarded" with male romantic attention that, for all we know, she had no intention of pursuing. Now, Owen's reactions aren't BDH's fault, but the combination of her natural prissiness and Claire's paper thin, faux-heroine characterization makes for weak execution. BDH also reportedly insisted on keeping her high heels on, and more power to her for that, but it's highly improbable for a person to full out sprint in heels, as evidenced by the camera rarely ever showing all of her feet in the running scenes. It always cut off just below her ankles, which leads me to believe that she had on stunt sneaks! This attempt at making a "strong female character" fails on many fronts.

Ex Machina
Ex Machina(2015)
½

It's been far too long since I've seen a movie with such economic exposition! Within the first five minutes, Caleb wins a contest, helicopters out to a remote paradise, meets genius-inventor-gone-rogue Nathan, and becomes the human component in an AI Turing Test, and we're off on a twisted android/creator/savior hate-triangle that challenges our notions of God, patriarchy, and humanity.

I loved Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander's simmering chemistry in "Anna Karenina," and they are even more quietly explosive here as an ordinary computer programmer who falls under the spell of the dangerously alluring robot, Ava. Ava uses her sexuality, but she is not the typical femme fatale with only the one trick. Nathan and Caleb debate her sexual anatomy versus her sexual agency, and her fierce fight for autonomy from her God/father makes for a white-knuckle creation allegory tinged with sexual politics. Vikander is grace personified, Gleeson does a good American accent, and excellent-in-everything Oscar Isaac plays the mad scientist with fast and loose insouciance.

I do wish, however, that the script better defined the criteria for humanity. Not being well-versed in bio-robotics, I still think of androids as robots, but the movie's thesis hinges upon the supposition that they're not - that a robot programmed to have that high a level of human consciousness is essentially human. As such, I didn't quite understand why Caleb calls Nathan a monster for so blithely dismantling his beta versions. Also, the big reveal is played out for the audience's benefit with unrealistic suspense that is incongruous to what Caleb already knows.

Funny Girl
Funny Girl(1968)

Epic freaking musical about a singing comedienne wedging her way into her big break. The beginning is a bit slow, and I tired of Fanny's repetitive self-deprecation about her lack of traditional beauty, but Barbra Streisand is sassy and ballsy, and my word, is Omar Sharif not the most dashing and earnest paramour? He says "I love you" so shyly yet tenderly! Nicky's love and admiration are so soaring, and that's what makes the main relationship conflict of Fanny outgrowing Nicky and the show-stopping number "My Man" all the more tragic in a mere mortals sort of way.

Breaking Upwards

I think I was in my own transitional, break-up period when I first saw this movie about a stagnant couple that orchestrates an incremental break-up - spending less and less time with each other to cushion the emotional blow - so I really identified with the dragged out "break up that lasts longer than the relationship" heartbreak.

Upon rewatch though, I found the movie lacking in establishing shots; there's no room to breathe between each quirky little on-day and off-day conflict. The emotions are still real, and the final break-up and goodbye scenes are still brutal and bittersweet, respectively. Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones have easy, soul-connected chemistry - smartly deriving this movie from a real-life experiment - but their fictional counterparts could have used more grounded reasons for getting together and breaking up. I wonder if they are still on-again-off-again now that Zoe has gotten more mainstream famous.

The Science of Sleep

Romantic and hysterical! Very clever dream world of sock animals and cellophane seas. Gael García Bernal is awkwardly naive, and Charlotte Gainsbourg is understatedly worldly. Their clashing romance blossoms into the bittersweet, but I would have appreciated a bit more resolution on Stephane's misanthropic defense mechanism at the end.

Aloha
Aloha(2015)

Bradley Cooper plays Bradley Cooper in a convoluted Cameron Crowe dramedy that attempts to tackle everything under the bright Hawaiian sun: personal and professional redemption, race and colonialism, long-lost love juxtaposed with budding chemistry, macho-male stand-offs and whose-your-daddy doubt, and of course, military inside jokes and weapons of mass destruction.

While there are plenty of problems with the movie, the media has focused on the whitewashing of the cast, which is a fair point when looking at the film's landscape as a whole. However, the criticism leveled against Crowe's choice to cast "white-looking" Emma Stone as an Asian woman is unfounded and racist in itself. That is because Air Force pilot Allison Ng isn't just Asian, just like how Barack Obama isn't just black. She is a quarter Hawaiian, a quarter Chinese, and half Swedish, and when Asian-Pacific is diluted down to 1/2, blond hair and blue eyes are within the realm of possibility. The criticisms are problematic because in terms of checking the ethnicity census box, when we identify mixed race people only by the non-white descriptor, it perpetuates the idea that white is the default - unnecessary to mention because it's so normal and not "unique" - and it also implies that the non-white side is what makes up the bulk of their personality or sociocultural identity, both of which are regressive assumptions.

Crowe issued an apt non-apology for hurt feelings and explained his intent of portraying a real-life, blond-haired, blue-eyed Hawaiian/Chinese/Swedish woman he knew who embraced her Otherness while looking ostensibly White. East Asians have a slang term for those who are too assimilated into white culture: Twinkies - yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Allison would be called (perhaps pejoratively) an egg - white on the outside, yellow on the inside - and she does mention her heritage so much in the movie that it hints at some self-consciousness about her white outer appearance clashing with her mixed DNA, and she overcompensates by announcing her Hawaiian pride to whomever will listen. That juxtaposition makes for a really compelling character. Not necessarily more compelling than a Hawaiian/Chinese character who looks Hawaiian/Chinese and could be portrayed by a deserving Hawaiian and/or Chinese actress, but that's probably why Olivia Munn, Janel Parish, or Sandrine Holt, talented part-Asian-Pacific AND "Asian-Pacific-looking" actresses, weren't cast.

Many people think color and ethnicity is all that matters for ethnic roles: "Why didn't Cameron Crowe cast any of these truly mixed heritage actresses?" Well, that seems to say that color and experience are interchangeable. Munn, Parish, and Holt are part-Asian-Pacific, and there's probably an actress out there who IS a quarter Hawaiian, a quarter Chinese, and half Swedish. Does that mean they are all more deserving of this mixed role? Do they understand the complex duality of in-group inclusion and out-group alienation more than Emma Stone does just by virtue of their skin color?

We, as spectators and media critics, can't possibly know this or make that judgment call. We generally accept the fact that actors are actors, stepping into characters who may or may not share varying degrees of similarity with themselves, so why can't we accept that convention for multi-ethnic roles? We don't mind so much when Australian actors adopt American accents or when Black British actors play African American historical figures; we only mind if the attempt is unconvincing. However, when it comes to ethnic characters beyond black and white, we still need the ethnic character to conform to that congruous visual identification of being "ethnic-looking"; otherwise, we find it hard to suspend disbelief, which is a myopic worldview especially for such a diverse backdrop as Hawaii.

While mainstream films can certainly incorporate more diversity, diversity for diversity's sake can become just as offensive as the lack thereof. Non-white actors walk a thin line when it comes to portraying non-white characters. They understand that "ethnic roles" are the only ones that their appearances fit, but they don't want a director to approach them to play such a character just because they have the ethnic look, even if the role is substantial. All any working actor wants is a meaty role, and in a truly diverse and equal world, Asians can play non-Asian roles and whites can play non-white roles (barring historical figures perhaps, or roles that redefine race out of spite, or reinterpretive roles that are merely star-making vehicles not in service of a strong story and authentic portrayals). After all, every person has ethnicity and every culture is ethnic; diversity doesn't just mean non-white.

Emma Stone may lack Allison Ng's exact genetic make-up, but I didn't find her outer appearance unbelievable, perhaps due to her unique eyes (which are huge and anime-like when open and long slivers when she smiles, and yes, I'm employing stereotypical expectations of Asian eyes being "unique" here). I didn't find her undeserving of the role because she played the plucky, goofy, sassy role as written and was fairly competent at it, charming even.

Now, the movie as a whole has a lot more narrative, character, political, racial, and scientific problems than Emma Stone playing a woman of mixed ethnicity. Allison isn't a bad role, but it's not a great role either. She is Crowe's epitome of the cute and clever supporting MPDG, and beyond the cool first shot of her donning her Aviators, we don't actually get to see Allison in her professional element; her flying competency is only ever complimented by men of high brass.

If we are to blame Crowe for anything, it shouldn't be for his casting decision because Stone's look actually works for the "egg" he intended. If anything, we are blaming him for not writing a fully Asian-Pacific female romantic interest to begin with, but then we'd be asking for blanket affirmative action and not what we ask of artists: to make the piece of art they set out to make. If this is the movie he intended, well, maybe we should just blame him for making an uneven movie. Woody's angsty hissy-fit over Brian coming to town is sudden and inexplicable considering Tracy had been suffering Woody's radio silence for a while now. Brian's plan to foil the launch doesn't make much sense, and the nature of his entire contracting job is cloudy (another example of Crowe not doing his research on the occupations about which he writes *see or don't see "Elizabethtown"). My favorite moment does get a kudos though: Grace sees Brian outside her hula dancing studio, and she slowly realizes why he's there. The dawning look on young Danielle Rose Russell's face and her cathartic crying as she's simultaneously dancing is touching and impressive.

She's Having a Baby
½

The title event doesn't even happen until forty minutes into the movie. Elizabeth McGovern is criminally one-note as a criminally underwritten shrew. Kristy and Jake's relationship arc is borderline nonexistent. How did they fall for each other in the first place, and are we to believe that a baby will infuse purpose in this surface love story? Kevin Bacon plays quarter-life-crisis with stunned anxiety, and the using newspaper to plan out where furniture goes is rather clever, but the movie is a bore and a half.

Tomorrowland
Tomorrowland(2015)

Watching Britt Robertson play a teenaged, NASA-nerd anarchist is a bit jarring after seeing her essentially dry-hump a bucking barrel (yeah that's what they're called) while Scott Eastwood gives her twinkling dry-hump-eyes in "The Longest Ride." She's a baby-faced twenty-five-year-old at that awkward stage in her career when she looks either too old or too young for the starring roles for which she's cast. I'm not sure that she anchored this film or the other as well as she needed to.

Luckily though, "Tomorrowland" boasts a wealth of sumptuous visuals: a shiny and vintage 1960s Disney World, a bright and gleaming futuristic metropolis, and fun smash-cuts of the real world into the O beautiful Tomorrowland commercial of spacious skies and amber waves of grain.

The movie gets a bit confusing and convoluted about why Frank got expelled from Tomorrowland Academy of Jump-Suited Youths, what Nix's save-the-world-by-destroying-it endgame actually is, and most importantly, how Casey inexplicably "knows how things work" - this magic touch without which the character would just dwindle into Regular Girl all over again.

All the kid actors are flippin' adorbz. Thomas Robinson (whom I loved in "The Switch") is all prodigious ingenuity and chubby-cheeked puppy love; Raffey Cassidy is all freckly, blue-eyed, pertly-coifed, robotic charisma as Athena, SNASA's android talent scout; and it's nice to see Pierce Gagnon again (who was great in "Looper" and "Wish I Was Here") even though he only has a minor part.

Insurgent
Insurgent(2015)
½

I read "Divergent" but didn't get around to reading the rest, and knowing this second installment is more a loose adaptation, I wasn't wholly dissatisfied! The test simulations to open the secret box are emotional and action-packed, and the contents revealing the genesis of the faction system are mind-blowing, if obviously dumb in the first place. Pixie-cut, gun-wielding badass Shailene Woodley is badass while also showing vulnerability and self-abnegation, Miles Teller's fast-talking "go with happiness" patter is awesomely douchey, and Naomi Watts, as Four's estranged mother, plays her cards close to her chest.

*Spoilers*
Did anybody else notice that the name of the messenger from the outside is Edith Prior? Are they all related?!

The Wedding Ringer
½

So much party and bullshit, and I mean that in the best way possible! A financially stable but friendship-challenged guy (who manages to put a ring on a hot blonde) enlists the ultimate, temporary friendship salesman. I'm not really familiar with Kevin Hart's stand-up, but he is rather excellent as Jimmy Callahan aka Bic Mitchum, the faux Best Man. He imbues all his toasts with off-the-cuff humor, crowd-pleasing meet-cutes, researched anecdotes, and unexpected poignancy. I want him as MY Best Man!

Jimmy and Doug bonding through dance is hysterical, and the whole soundtrack is bumpin'. The septet of random groomsman is weird yet lovable, and Jimmy's flirtation with Alison, the bride's flinty sister (played by winsome Olivia Thirlby) is subtle and sweet. I was afraid Gretchen, the hot blonde, would just be a one-dimensional nice girl, but revealing her as a gold-digger is just as bad character development. Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting didn't really have any room to play with hot and bland, but maybe she could have played the gold-digger with a bit more sympathetic intention.

Caddyshack
Caddyshack(1980)

Kinda silly. Just okay. I was more invested in the realistic plot with the worldly cad and his ambitious caddy, played by suave Chevy Chase and earnest Michael O'Keefe, respectively, and not so much Bill Murray's garbled gopher-hunting.

Due Date
Due Date(2010)

Zach Galifianakis' giant, slobbering puppy routine just makes you want to smack his nose with a 2x4, but then he throws out this really moving crying scene that seems charged by the depths of his soul. That's basically the dynamic between the humorless, responsible, soon-to-be-dad and the infuriating, good-hearted, actor-wannabe in "Due Date," and it works. RDJ plays a great, blasé straight man, and the budding father/overgrown-son relationship is filled with triumphs and laughs. But alas, Michelle Monaghan is, once again, a mere supportive woman.

The Age of Adaline

I just find Blake Lively to be the most stunning human specimen alive with the smoothest of whiskey voices to boot, so even though the first half of the movie is a lot of backstory and fake science, I was still enraptured by the gorgeous, perfume-ad shots of Lively - all resplendent in period and modern (yet distinctly nostalgic) dresses and coiffures. She is also quite adequate as Adaline, a private though subtly cheeky woman who shies away from close relationships due to her unfortunate condition of never aging.

I don't really buy Ellis and Adaline's relationship arc though. I couldn't ever really tell if Adaline was really falling in love with Ellis, or just taking a chance on opening her heart to this kind, yet overly persistent rich guy. It's a ridiculously ham-handed coincidence that Adaline had a fling with Ellis' father, William, in the 70s ("She did love you." "I know" - teehee!), and while that plotline resolution has some beautiful things to say about past, current, and future love, as well as some great, emotionally charged acting moments for Harrison Ford and his young doppelganger, Anthony Ingruber (doing a spot on vocal imitation by the way), neither the movie nor its pervasive narrator ever explains away the hokey fate angle, the age difference conundrum, or the (pardon my impropriety) I-schtupped-your-dad ickiness. Reigniting the past romance with twenty-eight-year-old Lively and seventy-three-year-old Ford may have been visually awkward, so I guess there really was only one Twilighty way for the movie to end.

Salt
Salt(2010)

Pretty thrilling chases, but just a standard espionage flick with no real substance. Orlov killing Mike to test Salt's allegiance seemed like it could go somewhere, but Salt flinches just enough for the audience to notice but apparently not enough for Orlov to, which is unsatisfying for the love angle and too easy for the test.

The Longest Ride

Well, isn't Scott Eastwood just a rugged, squinty, sensitive, handsome drink of water? He isn't that bad an actor either - very dynamic and athletic while bull-riding and quietly choked when essentially admitting his lack of other options, "It's my life..." It's a schmaltzy moment, but he grounds it.

Britt Robertson was precious in "Dan In Real Life" and arguably the best part of "Delivery Man," but her spirit is too wild and outgoing for "the boring one" in the sorority house, and this Regular Girl role requires her to tone down that spirit, making her performance...well, boring. Methinks brunette Melissa Benoist more fits the type of the straight-laced lead, and Robertson would have been better as the bubbly partygirl friend.

The rest of the script is classic Sparks: new, uncertain relationship is fortified by the flashback story of an older relationship that stands the test of time. Ira and Ruth's love story - complicated by infertility and lack of faith - is infinitely more interesting than Sophia and Luke's banal first date small talk about nail polish. Oona Chaplin has a great period face, and Jack Huston is bashfully devoted.

The art auction twist is a nice denouement, but overall, the movie is an overlong, forgettable Sparks joint.

Only Lovers Left Alive

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston's alabaster pale, rocker cool, ritualistically tender vampire love spans eras, and while this film is a bit of a narrative hot mess, Jim Jarmusch's languid pacing and attention to detail (the books, the instruments, those omnipresent sunglasses) create a wry and intellectual atmosphere that is absent in most vampire flicks...well, most "flicks" in general. The Marlowe having written Shakespeare's work gag is rather trite, and the most action and conflict-filled part of the movie comes too late and ends too early with the arrival and departure of Ava - the bratty, simpering baby vampire - played by a hilariously vexing Mia Wasikowska. She's so cute that you just want to stab her in the face.

Julie & Julia

0 stars. An absolute CHORE to sit through - concentrating like the Dickens to cull any likable elements, cringing at the movie's utter lack of dramatic conflict. There is seriously no overarching problem, just tiny domestic/personal ones that are resolved without much finesse. The biggest problem - Julia Child's hatred of Julie - is chocked up to "I love the Julia in ME" drivel. We don't even get to know why the cheery old woman, who supposedly loves life and every soul in it, abhors the plucky heroine's blog.

I was also unimpressed by Amy Adams. Perhaps I only like her when she doesn't play "Girl" or "Regular Person," like Giselle in "Enchanted" or Sister James in "Doubt."

One for the Money

0 stars. I'm not even sure what I watched. Comedic bounty hunter stories always require too much suspension of disbelief for me. Apparently, the Stephanie Plum series is a fun collection of books, and the movie stays pretty faithful. Despite having not read the books, I have to wonder whether brunette Katherine Heigl was the best choice for the sassy Jersey girl. I love her in 27 Dresses, but the darker hair color seems to sap her natural exuberance. Her Jersey accent is also godawful. Not even sterling-coiffed Debbie Reynolds could save this movie from vapidity.

Purple Violets

0 stars. I'm kinda surprised this movie has such good reviews. I feel nothing for it at all. The script is filled with banal cliches about "writers" and "good writing," and all the women are either one-dimensional damsels in distress or one-dimensional heinous bitches. Pacing of the second act is too abrupt. Patti breaks up with Brian cuz she needs space, then they get back together without so much as a fade-out.

Happy-Go-Lucky

0 stars. This was the first time I gave a movie zero stars on Flixster...and it's not because I'm a cranky old bastard who hates happy movies. The blind optimism in Poppy goes nowhere. Nothing truly terrible happens to her; she doesn't really do anything with her optimism as, say, Amelie does. I thought I would at least enjoy Sally Hawkins' performance, but she doesn't seem happy-go-lucky. She seems drunk, and drunk people are only funny when you are drunk too. Her incessant self-deprecating chuckle-eye roll-head bob grated on my nerves. My soul actually feels deader after seeing this movie.

The Tender Trap

So incredibly terrible, and Debbie Reynolds knew it. Julie, her naïve husband-chaser of a character, was and perhaps is a reality and a trope, but does she have to be so devoid of personality otherwise? What is love, and why does Charlie even fall in love with her? There's no charm to their dated courtship at all, and it's a waste of Debbie's singing and dancing talents.

The bouquet passing bit at the end is cute, and the movie makes interesting enough insights into Martian and Venusian conflicts with Charlie's reforming rover, Joe's disillusioned family man, and Sylvia's career dame with a ticking marriage clock (played by the serene Celeste Holm), but the injection of a petty, needy, indecisive stereotype just sets gender politics back fifty years...not to mention screenwriting.

Just Go with It

A fairly serviceable love-was-right-in-front-of-me story. Brooklyn Decker plays hot but nice to a tee (faint praise), and Jennifer Aniston is a reliable voice of reason, but the true standout is young Bailee Madison as Adam Sandler's pretend daughter. Her mile-a-minute-British-theatre-kid schtick is overbearing yet perfect. The movie really revs up with the hula dance and coconut passing competition - featuring wild cameos by Nicole Kidman and Dave Matthews - and even Aniston and Sandler generate some rollicking chemistry.

The Watch
The Watch(2012)

Eh. Ben Stiller and a gang of adult ragamuffins form a neighborhood watch only to be thwarted by divergent purposes and loyalties. The big alien twist is quite deus ex machina - oops spoilers - but Billy Crudup is slickly creepy as an Eyes Wide Shut sex emperor.

Role Models
Role Models(2008)
½

Too much fun! Two men-children become big brothers to a fantasy geek and a foul-mouthed delinquent, and heartwarming hilarity ensues. The inside look at the LARP community and the integration of the KISS motif culminates in some great deadpan humor, victorious redemption, and of course, ye olde goofy Englishisms.

Still Alice
Still Alice(2015)

Julianne Moore is pretty dang good as a fifty-year-old linguistics professor who learns that she has Early-Onset Alzheimer's. Moore's eyes are simultaneously blank and frightened, and her naturally strained smile really works for this tension-filled character. The narrative is rather choppy, but there are some truly great moments: the five-minute-long close-up of Alice ever-so-slightly struggling to complete the doctor's memory quiz, the scene of Alice panicking because she can't find the bathroom and ultimately wetting herself, the harrowing and suspenseful sequence of Alice trying to end her suffering by following the directions she recorded for herself when she was still lucid.

All the supporting characters are somewhat superfluous, save for youngest daughter Lydia, played to varying degrees of competency by Kristen Stewart. Her rocker hair is a cool style choice, but KStew can't stop playing with it, and the beachy waves don't work at all for the Chekov play. She tsks before most of her lines, indicating a lack of breath support, which is even more noticeable when she's trying to deliver classical theatre monologues. She shrugs and shakes her head and shivers like a Chihuahua. She only transcends her crutches when she delivers Harper's monologue from "Angels in America" in the last scene, and even that's not a great barometer of her acting skill because while she's very good at playing Lydia's objective of connecting with her mother, I doubt that her unfaltering gaze and rapid pace would actually work for the role within the role.

The Chateau Meroux

What a blast from the past to see 90s TV teens Marla Sokoloff and Barry Watson again, but I can't get over the fact that older Barry with receding hairline looks like Jimmy Fallon. The meet-cute is noxious; the Girl is wacky to the point of annoyance; and the antagonist is ridiculously evil. And aren't wine movies so played out by now?

Hector And The Search For Happiness

So flippin' awesome! A stuck-in-a-rut psychiatrist is losing patience with his patients and finds that the problem is himself, so he embarks on a world tour to find the secret to happiness...with some selfish self-actualization along the way. The happy moments are indeed uplifting as hell, but Hector's unexpected imprisonment in a third world prison is truly harrowing and suspenseful.

The little details are just marvelous: the Tintin parallels, Hector half-closing his eyes to match his botched passport photo, the papier-mache plane turbulence, Hector's perpetual lack of writing utensils figuring into his emancipation, and Clara's neuroticisms, "Is this conversation going as badly/well as I think it is?"

Simon Pegg is absolutely darling as the mild-mannered though emotionally courageous Hector, and Rosamund Pike plays his put-upon yet supportive girlfriend with her trademark icy gutsiness. Ming Zhao (and her waterfall of hair) is riveting as Ying Li, Hector's one-night-one-day-stand, and it's a pity that there doesn't seem to be more substantive projects in development on her IMDb page.

Frank
Frank(2014)

A fledgling songwriter befriends an EDM/sound effect band led by a disturbed yet brilliant man who is never seen without a papier-mache head on. There's that peculiar Irish humor and that awkward Irish sweetness, but the story moves like a juggernaut without motivation. Because the "music" is so weird yet clearly "genius" in the world of the movie, it's unclear whether Jon's adulation and plans for fame are genuine or sinister (perhaps with the intention of outing the group as a freakshow).

Frank's own weirdness or genius also clouds his trust in and encouragement of Jon. Does he truly want fame, or is he just yanking Jon's chain for yuks? If we are to take both these characters at face value, then it's just weak characterization. Jon must have lived under a cyber-rock to believe tens of thousands of views on YouTube is worth a damn, and Frank is much too offbeat an oddball to actually crave outside validation. Then to have his idiosyncracy boiled down to mental illness is just another lazy resolution.

See Jane Date

It's not that Hallmark movies are bad per se; they're just utterly inoffensive. Every character fits a dependable type, and no risks are taken. Jane's smug younger cousin is getting married, so Jane lies about a perfect boyfriend and must audition a parade of dubious candidates before she finds the inner strength to attend the wedding solo. It's nice to see Charisma Carpenter again and also David Lipper who played Viper on "Full House"!

Wanted
Wanted(2008)

This is, like, the only miss out of several hits in James McAvoy's 2000s career. I understand casting an actor of uncommon quality to portray the physical and emotional anxiety of pre-transformation Wesley, but the post-transformation characterization is somewhat pedestrian and wasted on McAvoy, and he kinda knew it, so he really phoned in that awful accent. Couldn't something have been done? The story is oddly slow with too much revenge masquerading as redemption, and Angie is just a one-note badass. Oh well.

What to Expect When You're Expecting
½

Really quite moving and entertaining with lots of disparate stories about parenthood from adoption, to miscarriage, to a difficult and unglamorous pregnancy. The ensemble cast is like a "Pitch Perfect" meets HIMYM guest stars reunion, and they're all en pointe: Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford bust each others' balls, Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone are dorky and supportive of each other, and JLo is impressively maternal. I also love the backdrops of several subcultures such as reality television fanatics, food truck rivals, and of course, the gangsta dad group.

A Novel Romance
½

Hallmark Channel previews make their movies look so irresistible! Likeable 90s or B-list actresses are smartly styled with cool jobs and just enough independence to appear quirky instead of weak when they fall into predictable romantic distress. The generally excellent Amy Acker plays Girl with trust issues due to a public and high profile break-up, who meets Guy with trust issues about revealing his public and high profile Nicholas Sparks-esque writer persona. The withholding of information blows up, as expected, and we get a big I TRUSTED YOU moment, but the execution of the climax and resolution is actually pretty well-paced and realistic, not all jumping to conclusions and big romantic gestures.

The House Bunny
½

Surprisingly sweet and funny. An exiled Playboy bunny finds refuge as a sorority housemother and teaches a ragtag group of girls how to be popular...with mixed results. I wasn't charmed by Anna Faris's dumb blonde routine at first, but she eventually infuses Shelley with strength and depth. Emma Stone is hilariously unhip as the president of the struggling sorority, and Colin Hanks plays an adorable straight man to Shelley's daffy antics at impressing a man of substance and not just a Playboy.

Ben's At Home
½

My favorite film of the first ever Alhambra Film Festival in Evansville, Indiana. An affable dudebro resolves to not leave his house after a tough break-up, and he very nearly succeeds in this monastic challenge: doing voiceover work from home, wooing OKCupid dates with nature docs, and meeting cute with the cool grocery deliverywoman while p0wning MMORPG youths. The story never gets too weird, embarrassing, or gross, and conflicts get resolved realistically. Dan Abramovici is a sunken-eyed bro with soul and wit, and he co-writes and stars in a truly lived-in, millennial anti-romance.

The Women
The Women(2008)

Even though I haven't seen the original, I don't think this remake is deserving of all its bad reviews. The women ARE types, but they represent all the different complexities of women, for better or worse: the woman who tries to be everything (Mary), the woman who IS everything until she isn't (Sylvie), the woman who knows everything and shares it (Tanya), the woman who knows everything and hides it (Edie and Catherine), the woman who observes everything and just laughs (Alex), and the woman who wants everything just because (Crystal).

That last motivation for the ostensible villain is admittedly weak, but the rest of the movie isn't so much rah-rah woman-power, but just woman-life without posturing, cattiness, or easy choices.

Movement And Location

A futuristic thriller that never truly explains itself. Impoverished citizens from the future are sent back in time to live better lives, but the repetitive allusions to the future do nothing to clarify how much time has actually passed, whose lives they co-opt, and why the future is the way it is.

The extraordinary performances are saving graces though: teenager Catherine Missal is bold yet guarded as Rachel, and writer and lead actress Bodine Boling is intensely fragile as Kim, then sweetly euphoric in her romance with the stalwart good cop played by Brendan Griffin.

Hank And Asha

Hank and Asha's video penpal friendship starts off enchanting as hell, but the sweet yet staid gimmick eventually commits storytelling suicide. The entire movie is told in back and forth video diaries, and at no point does the narrative structure break into real time or real exigence. By the middle-end, the previously low-stakes conflict blows up into go-to cultural misunderstanding and an unsatisfying, open-ended ending.

Mahira Kakkar is doe-eyed and beguiling as Asha, an Indian film student studying in Prague, and frankly, her letters are livelier and more interesting than Hank's. Andrew Pastides is fine as Hank, but both actor and character rub me the wrong way. Perhaps it's the glassy blue eyes and the self-deprecating mien that projects a Nice Guy sensitivity but actually belies the garden-variety narcissist underneath who prides himself on being such a Nice Guy. I just had to groan and laugh at that vociferous letter in which he bellows at Asha to reject her arranged marriage because he understands her more than her fiancée does (presumably). Really? What does he truly understand about her or her culture?

L'écume des jours (Mood Indigo)

So much pointless whimsy. Creative multimedia films like "Bunny and the Bull" and "The Science of Sleep" use fantastical papier mache set pieces to represent some kind of distance between the characters and their imagined lives, but this film's twee arts and crafts hardly pertain to the story. The conflict indicated in the IMDb synopsis doesn't even come until halfway through the movie.

Annie
Annie(2014)

Terriblay. Obviously a career vehicle for Quvenzhane Wallis who is lively and game but not as good of a singer or dancer as the other little girls in the ensemble. Cameron Diaz is laughably evil as Miss Hannigan, but she really throws herself into her musical numbers. I was hoping they'd do something worthwhile with the illiteracy reveal, like that Annie's letter never said that her parents were coming back; she just made up what she couldn't read and the other girls enabled her out of sympathy.

Home
Home(2015)
½

Adorable and a half! I thought Oh's broken English and out-of-context pop culture references would be annoying, but he is actually rather lovable in his goofiness and naivete. I watched this movie in Taiwan with Chinese subtitles and was surprised to see that Oh's semantic antics weren't literally translated, causing a loss in humor, I assume.

Tip is a cleverly conceived heroine - from her being on her own at sixteen, to her given name being Gratuity, to her mad-sad complexity. Rihanna does some emotive voicework, and she and Jim Parsons have great chemistry. The fact that the fugitive pair are able to elude capture in this high-tech world is a bit farfetched, but their budding friendship and Oh's gradual anthropological study of humans sends a sweet message about cultural understanding.

Rudderless
Rudderless(2014)

I don't want to give anything away, but this little indie gem tackles grief, guilt, parenthood, redemption - all with expertly revealed exposition, compassionate performances, and a soaring soundtrack.

Big Hero 6
Big Hero 6(2014)

Lovely and heartwarming. I was skeptical at first about the cute-bait of Baymax, the inflatable health care robot, but he turns out to be a matter-of-fact diagnostician with a subtly cute innocence and a great capacity for love and sacrifice. The futuristic blend of Tokyo and San Francisco makes for some beautiful animation design, but the third act baddie twist is confusing and unnecessary.

The Last 5 Years
½

Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan are charismatic in this split-timeline, two-hander musical, but the very conceit of her story going backwards and his forwards just doesn't quite work, like how it doesn't quite work on stage either. There's no one to really REACT to in any given scene (until the midpoint proposal of "The Next Ten Minutes"), and the movie seemed to know that going in, so of course, instead of the partner just sitting with his/her back to the audience, there are superfluous "reaction" shots with the partner "reacting" moonily or exasperatedly, and the script doesn't allow for more ad libbing of spoken dialogue, nor does the editing cover up the less than inspired takes.

There are lots of big emotions in each of the songs, which is a blessing and a curse. The constant His Story/Her Storying doesn't allow the audience to latch onto an emotional arc. Furthermore, Jaime ogling other women literally ten minutes after getting married, sleeping with a bevy of random hotties while the Cathy's away, and ultimately leaving her with a piddling Dear John letter, are somewhat heavy-handed and unrealistic plot points, despite this musical being based on Jason Robert Brown's own past relationship.

Kendrick is catatonically melancholic at the beginning and a triple-threat darling in Cathy's send-up of the grueling showbiz audition circuit, "Climbing Uphill," but ultimately, the movie lacks true pathos.

The Judge
The Judge(2014)
½

This small-town epic seems like an Oscar-bait movie, but I'm surprised it hardly caught any fish. Robert Duvall plays a venerated, hard-nosed judge who is suspected of a hit-and-run of an ex-criminal whom he put behind bars decades ago, and RDJ plays the estranged son who long ago lost respect for his father but now must put that aside to showboat-lawyer away this charge. Both turn in layered and affecting performances.

It's a long-ass movie, but the family's dramatic backstory is worth the wait. Vincent D'Onofrio plays the same put-upon older brother he played in "The Break-Up," but it works, and Jeremy Strong as the mildly retarded younger brother is an endearing supporting character that provides all the others a piece of sugar in their darkest moments.

Cinderella
Cinderella(2015)

I may not be into Kenneth Branagh as an actor, but his directorial efforts have been remarkably solid. This live-action "Cinderella" is magical in revealing the backstory of her blissful childhood to how she became a slave in her own house, much like how a frog doesn't know it's being boiled until it's too late.

Lily James's optimistic grace and breathless exhilaration are adorable, and Richard Madden as the prince is humorous, dashing, and poignant. Cate Blanchett is a decadent villain, of course, but her reasons for quashing Cinderella are left vague and unspoken. I wonder why the movie didn't end with Cinderella granting her stepfamily shelter in the castle. It's kind of an easy booya to say "I forgive you" when she knows she's leaving them in the dust.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Phillip Alford and Mary Badham are riveting child actors as Jem and Scout, the naïfs at the center of this somewhat convoluted morality tale. The movie suffers from some old-fashioned weirdnesses like the canned suspense of the shadow creeping towards the children when obviously, the figure casting the shadow (Boo) would be completely visible to them; the canned suspense of when Scout accidentally rolls into the Radleys' yard and Jem and Dill embark on a needlessly elongated rescue attempt with Jem running up to slam the Radleys' front door for no apparent reason; the canned suspense of Boo hiding behind Jem's bedroom door and no one figuring out that he was the one who rescued the kids. So what I'm saying is, there's a lot of hokey canned suspense.

The themes of coming-of-age, fatherhood, goodness, tact, humility, fighting against injustice in the face of futility, as espoused by the novel and film are still beautiful, and the entire court sequence with Brock Peters' plaintive testimony, Gregory Peck's masterful closing argument, and Reverend Sykes chastising Scout to stand as her father passes and the entire black congregation rising, are just indelible moments in our cinematic history.

Fifty Shades of Grey
½

It wasn't terrible. I had read the first couple pages of the book and found the writing to be insufferable, but I also fully expected the screenplay to iron out the kinks (heh) like with the "Twilight" movies, which had better material to work with in comparison. Anastasia is still a little unnecessarily inept and vapid at first and Dakota Johnson oversells her mousiness, but she proves herself a subtle comedienne in the hardware store and drunken voicemail scenes.

Jamie Dornan is sufficiently sexy and tortured and predatory, but the script is careful to make sure Ana's free will is at the forefront of every decision, though some may argue it's the illusion of freedom because she's so inexperienced and he's so persistent. Even so, that doesn't make her decisions any less her own, nor his lust any less an earnest desire for connection in the only depraved way he knows how. It's a problematic relationship dynamic, to be sure, and there's really only one Harlequin fantasy way to end it, but so far, the representation seems unmannered and unfettered (heh).

Whiplash
Whiplash(2014)
½

I have problems with the no-gray-area notions of excellence that the movie seems to espouse, but I can't deny the visceral power of Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons's master and slave tango. In fact, one of my problems is that Teller didn't get any Best Actor nods for his utterly grotesque, quietly smoldering intensity as a self-torturing artist while Simmons swept the Best Supporting category just for, I suspect, the flashier role. Simmons's acceptance speeches were all class acts, but I found the character to be a flat stereotype of the tyrannical maestro with obvious "pieces of sugar," begetting an average performance with only a handful of notes - well-conducted notes in terms of literal conducting form - but still only a handful nonetheless.

It's unclear whether Terence Fletcher is a revenge-driven bully or a no-nonsense educator who truly believes in his prodigies and elicits the best out of them. It's too easy to say he can be both. He never seems to doubt his extreme methods, covering up his former prodigy's suicide as a car accident and mourning more for the loss of beautiful music than regret at pushing a student to his death. Fletcher starts off as the kind of unsentimental idealist that makes for an interesting character, but the revenge plot is too inorganic and just plain evil, and the chrome-domed, tight-black-t-shirt uniform (while well-worn) makes him too freakily reminiscent of that douchey designer played by Miguel Ferrer on "Will & Grace" who also liked to make people jump through hoops for his own amusement. Did Fletcher suffer some kind of trauma in his past to become the way he is, or did he also endure and conquer a similar drill sergeant music teacher?

And while I'm not a drummer, I like to think of myself as a musician with good rhythm, but I didn't find the tempo exercises to be that clear. WAS Andrew rushing or dragging? I'm still unsure. Furthermore, was Andrew's last drum solo a fuck-you to Fletcher, or was he trying to gain his respect? Are we to admire Andrew's crazed tenacity or feel sorry for his Stockholm Syndrome? Once again, it's too easy to answer C) All of the above. If there were at least one last shot of Andrew's father outside the door looking lost and hopeless, maybe I'd buy the latter. Fletcher's gestures of approval seem to indicate a rapport building, but isn't the whole point of Fletcher's pedagogy to never say "good job"? Andrew ought to never measure up in Fletcher's eyes, but we don't get to see what happens after the movie ends, so it's too cooked of an ending.

I do have one other compliment for Melissa Benoist who plays Andrew's #WCW. Her girl-next-door affability lights up the screen.

Chef
Chef(2014)
½

A little-viewed gastronomical gem that was mercilessly mocked by "Esquire" magazine - a publication I ordinarily revere! Jon Favreau's not really my cup of French Onion Soup, but his "fat-strong" physicality really fits the character of media-maligned celebrity chef Carl Casper looking for his new culinary bliss. The little visual details (like the chef's knife tattooed on his inner forearm and his impressive speed-julienning skills) had me convinced that Favreau must be a real Epicurean.

The food looks glorious, of course - a bon vivant's dream. The exposition goes on for too long though; the restaurant owner is so illogically pig-headed about not giving Casper free rein over the menu, which needlessly drags out the inciting showdown of chef vs. food critic. However, the father-son-mentor-apprentice-food-truck-road-trip-bonding movie that eventually begins is quite adorable and inspirational. There are small conflicts, but they are solved in realistic ways in good time, and the supporting gang of sous-chefs played by John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale adds some spicy ethnic flair. RDJ makes a very RDJ-esque cameo, ScarJo rocks a Bettie Page look, and Sofia Vergara's maternal instinct is impressively subdued.

Birdman
Birdman(2014)
½

Perhaps the most technically and narratively ambitious movie of the year, with its seamless illusory editing, feverishly percussive score, and lyrically brutal showbiz fable. An aging former superhero mounts his comeback by quadruple-threating the short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by Raymond Carver.

There are just so many moments I love in the movie: the flash of jellyfish at the beginning foreshadowing Riggan's botched suicide years earlier; Riggan's restrained breakdown when he leverages his false childhood abuse story against Mike's for yuks; the tighty-whities lock-out sequence primed by the trailer (and parodied so brilliantly by NPH and Miles Teller at the Oscars) but made so much more tragicomic in full by Keaton's unblinking purposeful stride, the camera-ready viral media sensation culture, and the rousing staccato beats of the Times Square drumline.

I also really love the ex-wife character played so naturally by Amy Ryan. Sylvia and Riggan's comfortable exes dynamic and Sylvia's on-the-outside-of-showbiz-looking-in reasoning for why their marriage ended really resonated with me. Michael Keaton is the perfect oxymoron of likable asshole, and Zach Galifianakis is surprisingly unschticky as the producer/best friend. I was surprised that he was passed over for a Best Supporting Actor nod in favor of Edward Norton, who was frankly just okay in the difficult task of playing an actor playing out a scene that is supposed to be good. Emma Stone's bug-eyed, strung-out, angry tirade has gotten most of the attention, but I honestly think she is a Better Supporting Actress in her quieter moments: slinking through the hallways, the come-hither dares on the rooftop, the fragile candle-burning-at-both-ends intensity about which Mike rhapsodizes.

It's not a perfect movie; the magical realism is somewhat inconsistent, but I think it's deserving of its Oscar wins.

The Imitation Game

Tied with "Selma" for my highest rated movie of the season. A tautly paced, superbly acted, intellectually emotional (or emotionally intellectual) story of Alan Turing breaking the Nazi Enigma Code as well as the enigmatic codes of social, sexual, and ethical conventions.

For what seems to be such a nerdy story, the solving of the code is suspenseful and exhilarating, the gradual camaraderie among colleagues is uplifting, and the dawning realization of the monstrosity in their heroism - their "blood-soaked calculus" - is just gut-wrenching. The intercutting of the past and present timelines is a bit ham-fisted, and Joan's tell-off speech is slightly too harsh for someone who probably knows that Alan's rejection is a preservation ploy for both of them, though both issues are lovingly and tragically resolved.

Bumperbuggy Cabbagepatch prattles and stammers to great "irascible genius" effect, and Keira Knightley just keeps rising in my estimation as the timidly strong woman mathematician in a man's world. Their chemistry as tacitly platonic besties is awkward and endearing. And it's always great to see what twinkling, Oscar Wildean mischief Matthew Goode's perfectly British countenance gets into.

Into the Woods
½

Sondheim and Lapine's dark and twisted musical retelling of fairy tales gets a fairly faithful, albeit PG adaptation. I, of course, have no big problem with this because I always found the massive stage musical a bit of a massive letdown after Act I, especially with the Baker's Wife getting killed off after she has sex like some horror movie trope. The sex and death are toned down, which actually evens out the story better, but the demise of the Witch and the reveal of the Mysterious Man/Big Bad Wolf/Baker's Father are anticlimactic and nonexistent, respectively.

All the performers give such impressive turns that I feel like I have to comment on every one of them because it's really a well-cast ensemble. Emily Blunt is the definite stand-out, being probably the only one of the cast who consistently acted intentions while singing, making the Baker's Wife a funnier character than I previously thought with her charmingly flushed comic relief.

Anna Kendrick is, as usual, a musical dynamo with her high and bright Broadway-rafters voice, and Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen steal the show in "Agony" with their princely posturing. Tracey Ullman plays Jack's Mother with cantankerous mettle, and James Corden is quite plucky as the hapless Baker. Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, and Christine Baranski also make a nasty and daffy step-trio. Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel is actually given more to do here than she is given as the good-woman mother on "Forever."

I'm not a fan of the children's songs or characters, but Lilla Crawford has some pipes and decent comic timing, while Gavroche kid enunciates too oddly for my taste. Meryl Streep is a trifle slow with the "greens" tongue twisters, and while she does belt some meaty notes later, I'm not sure how much of her vibrato was added in post-production. I didn't think that voice came out of the same woman who did "Mamma Mia"...

Selma
Selma(2015)

Such a travesty that David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay were not nominated for Best Actor and Director Oscars. Oyelowo could and should have easily swept awards season (since McConaissance wasn't in the picture :-P) with his resonant basso and gut-rumbling delivery of MLK's marcato articulation. His dynamic gestures as well as his wide, knowing eyes carry the wins and losses of the Selma protest march and almost foreshadows the tragedy to come.

Ava DuVernay's perceptive direction interweaves several concurrent threads: from the earth-shattering bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, to Annie Lee Cooper's stalwart struggles to vote, to MLK and Coretta Scott's marital strife.

Robot & Frank
½

A former jewel thief in denial of his memory lapses is forced to live with a health care robot (not an inflatable one) who unwittingly becomes his accomplice in chasing the illicit burglary thrills that once landed the thief in the slammer but nevertheless gave meaning to his life.

Robot is rather cute in its naïve approach to the world, but I find it hard to believe that the programmers didn't give him more common sense. The cold social interactions between Robot and the older biblio model, Mr. Darcy, are quite hilarious, and Susan Sarandon makes a nerdy/sexy librarian. The estranged father/son relationship as played by Frank Langella and James Marsden is compelling, but the human vs. robot rights debate broached by Liv Tyler's daughter character doesn't really go anywhere.

Lust for Love
½

So pumped for this unofficial "Dollhouse" reunion, but alas, it's rather weak on plot - belaboring the awkward Beta Male doggedness that Fran Kranz does so well, while not really saying anything about lust, love, exes, or broken friendships. Enver Gjokaj - so multi-faceted in "Dollhouse" - is disappointingly lackluster and "actor-y" as the new Alpha Male boyfriend.

My #WC24/7/365, Dichen Lachman, has such an inscrutable face (perfect for Sierra and Cali's femme-fatale-turned-confidante), and I'm glad she gets to be lighter in this movie because her smile is truly like a delicate moonbeam.

St. Vincent
St. Vincent(2014)
½

I went in with no expectations because I'm one of the few people who isn't under Bill Murray's hipster-fabulous spell, but this movie is heartwarming as hell, and his gruff outbursts are rather distressing. A young outcast finds a protector and kindred spirit in Vincent, a grouchy old neighbor with far more going on underneath than meets the eye. I can't tell if Naomi Watts's Russian accent is all that authentic, but Chris O'Dowd is dependably hilarious as a freethinking - and thickly Irish - Catholic school teacher.

Black Swan
Black Swan(2010)
½

Much like Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," which shows how much damage wrestling wreaks on a human body, despite it being staged, "Black Swan" exposes the emotional and physical tolls of ballet, despite it being so pretty and ladylike. Natalie Portman's performance is painful to watch - in a good way. She's painfully withdrawn, painfully giddy, painfully lithe, and painfully sensual. The masturbation scene is sexy, but it's not meant to be just that. It's guarded at first, then freeing, then painfully embarrassing. Much of the pain, I suppose, comes from the audience knowing that fit is gonna hit the shan at any moment.

Upon first viewing, I thought the movie broke its own set of supernatural rules because all throughout, we're supposed to believe that what Nina sees, feels, and does are figments of her imagination - sprouting swan wings, shanking a bitch. Nina doesn't REALLY sprout wings. Her ankles don't REALLY collapse in on themselves. She doesn't REALLY kill Lily, and as a corollary, she doesn't REALLY stab herself. No other character in the movie can see these psychotic delusions, yet the one that they do see (the bloody gash from aforementioned shanking) just happens to be caused by the only delusion that the filmmakers don't even show the audience (Nina killing herself, apparently, when she thought she was killing Lily).

However, I bought the fantasy-becoming-reality climax more this time for no real reason other than perhaps wanting a believable resolution that mirrors the sacrificial suicide in the plot of "Swan Lake."

Penelope
Penelope(2006)
½

Adorable and 3/4. Funny and effective social satire about beauty, fame, and marriage. Christina Ricci is a lovely-locked if bobbleheaded vision, and James McAvoy is a shaggy-haired dream.

Gone Girl
Gone Girl(2014)

David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's suburban crime thriller is a suspenseful piece of work. Amy Dunne disappears not entirely without a trace, and her husband, Nick, becomes the prime suspect. The atmosphere gets more and more stifling as the days tick by, and the culture of media vultures is cleverly satirized with casserole-toting trophy wives clamoring for selfies with the handsome though seemingly brutish potential wife-killer. The costume/props departments don't skimp on "oh my god" moments either (like Desi's mid-coital demise and Amy's Carrie-like visage afterwards), and the bookend shots of the back of Amy's head present a creepy, cryptic visual riddle.

That's where my accolades stop though because by the end of the movie, I couldn't make heads or tails of it (or the book it's based on, which I haven't read but hear is remarkably similar). With the incredible (both extraordinary and unbelievable) power imbalance at the end, I didn't know what to take away besides confusion over the zeitgeist appeal of such a misogynistic story. We have a pretty basic portrayal of a sadistic femme fatale - the crazy woman who will ruin a man's life. As such, I find the message of the movie irresponsible at best and reprehensible at worst.

Fans of book and film would counter that the story is a feminist satire on marriage with a brilliant, psychopathic genius who comes out on top. To the "brilliant, psychopathic genius" part, I have to say from a narrative standpoint that Amy is not that brilliant, and it's the filmmakers' machinations that make her seem otherwise. If she WERE such a genius, she wouldn't have brought ALL the money she had in the world in a loosely clipped fanny pack to mini golfing where shady neighbors could see and covet. If the movie weren't pulling the strings, Amy's headshot would have been flashed all over the evening news, and trashy neighbor would have seen through the insultingly easy Clark-Kent-glasses-disguise, perhaps leading Amy to get the hell out before she stupidly answered the door when aforementioned covetous and violent neighbors came a-calling. But of course, all that needed to happen in order for Desi's romantic hostage plot to occur.

The movie also deliberately makes everyone else dumber. Nick should have notified Boney when he found that the scavenger hunt led to the yardbarn of goodies. He was already going to come forward with the affair, so he had nothing to lose on that front. Also, the products were clearly mint, and the clue cards and Punch and Judy puppets with the missing blackjack are too cooked to have been Nick's plan all along. And it's rather farfetched that Margo didn't realize Amy had been stashing stuff in her shed for years. After Amy's bloody homecoming, Nick should have bugged the house before she returned from the police station because even that little pre-shower exchange of her being suspicious of a bug is incriminating enough. He has proven to be pretty savvy with his television interview, and Tanner Bolt, the lawyer who's well-versed in subterfuge, could have at least thought of that too. The third-act must-happens just require too much suspension of disbelief.

From a philosophical standpoint, I disagree that the story is a feminist satire on marriage and relationships. Amy claims that men want the "Cool Girl" - a common societal problem, sure - so she put on the "Cool Girl" costume in order to reel Nick in. The problem is there really is no "Cool Girl" in the movie, at least in the romantic options. Amy is urbane and posh, not down-to-earth or low maintenance. Neither is bubbly and capricious other-woman Andie. The only arguable Cool Girl (sans demanding physical requirements) is sister Margo, whom Nick has (seemingly) no choice but to reject, proving Amy's satirical point moot.

Amy's misanthropic speech on how marriage is two people eventually killing each other with vitriol and manipulations is also too much too late. It's dark and hip to inject nihilistic philosophy into the movie, but it's also too easy and not entirely true. There is no real refutation that holds a mirror up to society to show us our faults, nor is their a nod or wink to the intended satire, which makes all this a base revenge fantasy. The most effective satires aren't revenge fantasies. Even in movies with devilish female characters, they eventually reveal their true solutions to societal problems by the end (like Evelyn does in "The Shape of Things"), or they eventually recognize the absurdity of events leading up to this Mexican stand-off (like in "Closer" or "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"). The solution in "Gone Girl" is to beat one's spouse into submission through murder and mayhem. If the movie is actually winking at us and saying, "No, that's just an extreme; we don't actually want you to do that," then Amy shouldn't "win" in the end. Both Nick and Amy should end up dazed and confused at the prospect of having to spend the rest of their miserable lives together just to save each other's hides. Hatred layered on top of hatred is a simplistic plot device. Hatred layered on top of love? Now THAT'S marriage.

In "If U Seek Amy: the Grim Grossness of David Fincher's 'Gone Girl,'" writer Wesley Morris claims that Amy's "greatest power is to cry wolf," and since I've enumerated the ways in which she's NOT a diabolical genius, I have to agree. Amy is a dangerous character to champion in this day and age of rape apologists and friendzoned men who think many more women cry wolf and put men in the friendzone than are "legitimately raped" or truly just friends. Amy displays a history of sexually deviant behavior that started long before Nick. Some may claim that she has always been put into a box, what with her mother's Amazing Amy book series, but "mommy issues" seem like an easy scapegoat for such an extreme pattern of sociopathic self-abuse and emotional manipulation - harming herself to pin rape on that one guy and continually putting Desi on the hook, expecting him to save her when she needs it but then disposing of him when the plan fails.

Amy's lies and machinations eventually lead to the undermining of the only two female characters who have any substance at all: Margo and Boney. All the other women are either annoying or flat: the thief is a duplicitous vagrant; the neighbor is meddling and dumb; the casserole woman is obsessed with fame; the bouncy co-ed is needy and totally not cool. Margo, the one person who has any kind of emotional intelligence, begs tearfully for Nick's reconsideration, but he won't/can't. He essentially breaks up with his own sister, leaving her heartbroken. Boney, who up to this point has been a one-note lady-cop, knows something is fishy with Amy's story, but she is cut off by an older male detective who probably knows enough from sensitivity training classes to say the right thing to a rape victim, "Don't blame yourself," but he's actually the one being hoodwinked! Amy's undetected deception may reaffirm rape apologist's preconceived notions of the friendzoning, heartless woman, "Oh women can be abusers too!" When media focuses on female perpetrators of domestic abuse, the public then latches onto it and thinks the ratio of female to male perpetrators is equal when it's not.

Another insidious affirmation is Amy's reclamation of cunt: "The only time you ever liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt might like." Like with the controversial piece in "The Vagina Monologues," Amy's hella empowered in that moment, but she's still fetishizing the word (making it simultaneously dirty and sexy), which might make some viewers (of any gender) think it's okay to call others (of any gender) that word because it's not so insulting anymore if a woman identifies herself as such.

In the end, the one woman we are left to admire is a brilliant psychopath (arguably), the witchy woman, the ice cold manipulative harpy, and that's a weak support for feminism. She's the femme fatale, and that's still a type - one that there are plenty enough of, from "Fatal Attraction" to "Basic Instinct" to "The Last Seduction." Woman has been painted as temptress of Man since the original Eve. The movie upholds the stereotype of the evil woman who will ruin a man's life. That's not to mean all female characters should subscribe to the tenets of the Eternal Feminine. That'd just be the virgin/whore dichotomy all over again. We can have a strong and complex female character with flaws, but Amy is larger than life. If she has flaws, they don't figure into the plot because she lives outside the morals of the "normal world." She wins, but does she really? Is this really a win for feminism?

Todd VanDerWerff in his article, "Gone Girl is the Most Feminist Mainstream Film in Years," claims that Amy is a "Frankenstein's Monster," cobbled out of all the oppressive societal expectations for women, and that the film is feminist because by the end, she relegates Nick to the very type of supportive wife character that women are called on to play in scads of male-centric stories. (Sidebar: Is this a female-centric movie after all? Only Ben Affleck appears on the poster, and he's the one most sympathetically portrayed throughout the film. Any character who is kind to an animal pretty much gets an automatic pass.) However, I'm afraid that assessment gives exactly the wrong impression of feminism that most feminists seem to argue for. Many males and females alike already think feminism is about hating men and overpowering them. If feminism is really equalism, then my aforementioned ending of them both being stuck and unhappy would be a fairer representation of what happens after the facades fall. The power imbalance clearly tips toward Amy, so if the film IS feminist, it's a very radical, unequal feminism.

This echoes the privilege issue of why many activists say Men's Rights can't exist or White Pride or Straight Pride can't exist. The systems in power can't "rise up" any higher than they are; they are the ones oppressing minorities, whether or not they know it. They are recognized as the default...even though minorities strive to rid that rhetoric of "default" or "normal." But then where does the cycle of victimhood stop? Is it fair to cheer for this woman beating a man because women currently have less power than men? Is that justice or revenge? If we cheer more for a woman's victory over a man, aren't we still underselling women by thinking it's so impressive and out of the ordinary to beat a man? The double standard still exists, like with any multitude of sins that one gender can commit but is frowned upon if another gender does (in the vacuum of a two-gender world, of course).

All in all, "Gone Girl" is taut and suspenseful with some sick twists and turns, but it's not particularly smart in its characterization or plotting, nor is it vanguard when viewed through critical lenses. It lacks the emotional vulnerability and true social satire of effective domestic dramas that came before, and it only shines when it's exercising (instead of exorcising - zing!) every incredulously negative behavior of the femme fatale trope.

Peter Pan Live!

Incredibly embarrassing effort from Christopher Walken who looked so much like he was reading from cue cards that the off-rhythm performance couldn't be chocked up to his usually characteristic insouciance. Allison Williams is beautiful and fit with a crystal clear singing voice to boot, but she didn't really bring much to the character of Peter Pan. She wasn't particularly funny, bold, boyish, or anything - just an adult woman speaking and singing the lines of a teenage boy. Broadway star Kelli O'Hara as Mrs. Darling and Taylor Louderman as Wendy were the highlights.

I know the point of Peter Pan is to never let go of that wonder and curiosity you had as a child, but the mothering theme is so awkward. Wendy's bending over backwards here for this boy who hardly knows she exists as a romantic interest. Are all men essentially looking to marry their mothers? Do all women grow up to be mothers? Is it kosher to send your daughter off to "mother" this perpetual boy you once crushed on?

The Theory of Everything

I love Eddie Redmayne, and he ostensibly stepped into the role of Stephen Hawking both mentally and physically (if a bit Austin Powersly). His dragging feet, spinal curve, and slurred speech were not just acting but embodiment. However, I can't say I'm fully wowed, and I wonder if it's Redmayne's performance (adept though somewhat...overstudied...?) or the oblique script molded around his performance.

For a movie about Stephen and Jane Hawking's young, transcendent love, there's very little development over why they fell for each other in the first place and how their ideological differences over science and religion informed their relationship. Redmayne and Felicity Jones just stare shyly and longingly at each other, but the chemistry generated is merely surface heat between two beautiful actors.

The most tension-filled parts of the movie are with Charlie Cox (whom I adored in "Stardust" but haven't seen since) as the lovelorn widower in the Hawkings's chaste menage. Jane and Jonathan getting together is a better love story than Jane and Stephen's, partly because Stephen's motives in divorcing Jane are unclear. The script makes it seem like he was callously leaving Jane for Elaine, but it had to have been an act of mercy, thanks, and apology, right? Even though it would have been too Hollywood, I would have liked a scene of Stephen and Jonathan, with the former basically telling the latter to give his wife a better life.

A Long Way Down
½

Really quite lovely. I didn't like Nick Hornby's book due to its multiple narrators schtick, but the cinematic treatment only switches once per character and at very opportune spots too so that each person's reasons for committing suicide is evenly plotted out. The scene stealer for me was Imogen Poots, an ingénue with an unfortunate name but a face that is jubilant one second and numbly crestfallen the next. I love that scene when Jess comes out of the hospital in her open-backed gown - all cheeky bravado (literally and figuratively), striking a rockstar pose, then all hot, snotty, mascara-streaked mess as she tries to explain away her accidental overdose.

Toni Collette is also brilliantly reserved and makes maternal instinct look like a matter of course. Pierce Brosnan - not usually lauded for his acting - plays the aging playboy with sleaze yet gravitas. Martin's monologue about feeling humiliated felt both emotionally and physically painful, as reflected in Brosnan's taut jaw and gritted teeth. Aaron Paul is Aaron Paul - intense, swaggery, serviceable.

Interstellar
Interstellar(2014)
½

No GG nomination for the McConaissance?!?! Bullshit! I was so sure he could be a back-to-back Oscar winner! That scene of him balls-out bawling while watching backlogs of Tom's video messages is just so...I don't even know! Our facial expressions are so heavily influenced by how we THINK we should look based on emotional representations in visual media. Is this how people look when they're experiencing emotions? Even if not, I just wanna look like Matthew McConaughey all the time!

"Interstellar" is the only Christopher Nolan movie I've liked since "Memento." This sprawling space and time saga is set in the nearly apocalyptic future where food is scarce, farming is an essential though still blue-collar career, NASA has become SNASA (Secret NASA), and the smoonlanding (secret moonlanding) is thought to have been faked. Cooper is an aeronautical pilot tapped for a dangerous mission of indefinite duration to find new life-sustaining planets. His young daughter never quite forgives him for leaving, and his quest is one of survival and return.

I especially love the scene of Coop driving away in a cloud of dust, underscored by the space shuttle countdown. Mackenzie Foy as young Murph is sweet and teary, and Jessica Chastain deftly takes her into adulthood as a tough yet tender space crusader. Surprise Matt Damon (the best kind of Matt Damon) is tender and menacing as the "destroyer of worlds" - a recurring motif that I enjoy in Nolan's work.

The movie has its nonsensical flaws, of course. Wes Bentley's character is killed off way to quickly and anticlimactically because emotional plot point. The one equation to save humanity is a mere deus ex machina McGuffin. It's not explained in any plausible, scientific manner; we just have to roll with it. And dat Anne Hathaway doe. So melt-your-face-off-brilliant in "Les Miserables," yet so full of nothing in this. Dr. Brand has gumption written into her, but Hathaway can't infuse enough life into a character with no compelling purpose or motivation beyond blah-blah-save-the-human-race-blah-blah-love-conquers-all.

Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever
½

Half-assed and a quarter. Aubrey Plaza really phoned this one in with her higher whiney vocal range instead of her lower "give no fucks" vocal range. She could have even Janet Snakeholed it up a bit in the dramatic fantasy segments, but nope.

Megan Charpentier is pretty natural for a kid actress, and Russell Peters as the inciting incident Santa is the highlight of this weird, embarrassing effort. The metatheatrical jokes are awkward and annoying, but they kinda won me over in the end, especially with the dig at Lifetime's typical programming.

I have to say though, I'm pretty much over the Grumpy Cat pheno-meme-on. Tardar Sauce isn't grumpy; that's just the way her face is shaped (http://vimeo.com/groups/184633/videos/54953791), and her owners can't pretend that the genesis of her name isn't obviously an off-color joke.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

All the Hunger Games movies so far have gotten 3 stars from me. They're good enough that I wish they were better, which is what I say about Kristen Stewart, yet ironically, I gave all the Twilight movies 3.5s - probably because they were better than they had any right to be, given the source material.

My criticisms of this film are pretty much the same as for "Catching Fire." Media and critical darling JLaw (now fresh off her nom for sassy yet so-what Rosalyn in "American Hustle") over-emotes a little bit (or is edited badly), but her deadpan snark is still winning and her singing voice is nice and Appalachian. Peeta is still criminally under-represented. Make-up and costuming could have done more to show signs of torture and starvation right from the get-go so that when Katniss first remarks on his changed visage, I would have thought, "Yes, he does look thinner," instead of, "Huh? He looks exactly the same." And once again, I'm not sure if Josh Hutcherson is just not meeting my expectations acting-wise, or if the filmmakers aren't giving him enough direction, but the last scene of trackerjacked and straitjacketed Peeta thrashing around on the bed in that white room is so one-note. He's just shrieking and flailing aimlessly. I expected Peeta to catch a glimpse of Katniss through the glass, freeze, smile or grimace maniacally, then resume shouting muted epithets at her. Give him something to shriek and flail AT.

Anyhoodles, out of all the YA franchises that have chosen to split the last installment into two, this one seems to have been the most ill-advised decision. The pacing is slow, each plot point is unnecessarily drawn out, the peaks are high but the valleys are too low, and there are hardly enough events left to make part two a whole movie on its own.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Strangely not enamored by this. I like Chris Pratt's Andy Dwyer on "Parks and Recreation," and his buff transformation is impressive and hath had no detriment yet upon his humor, but the movie was kinda meh. It tried to be different from other comic book movies, but it tried too hard - relying on tried-and-true soundtrack hits, milking the cuteness and emotional climaxes, and wedging in melodramatic backstory to give depth to the waggish protagonist. Perhaps it was overhyped. Incessant postings of "I am Groot" must have ruined me.

If I Stay
If I Stay(2014)
½

UGH ALL THE FEEEEELZ!!! Seeing this YA spectral romance in a crowded theatre of college undergrads hooting and hollering at their screen idols was certainly an awkward yet nostalgic celebration for the eve of my 30th birthday.

Mia is in a coma from a car accident that claimed the lives of her parents and brother, and she hovers in the in-between as her friends, extended family, and totally-dreamy-grunge-rocker-ex-boyfriend complicate her choice whether to move on or to stay. The backstory is evenly parceled out, introducing her kooky and loveable musical family and the tumultuous yet realistic relationship with aforementioned ex-lover Adam, played by the winsomely wounded Jamie Blackley.

Mia describes Adam as someone who is already the person he is meant to be, and that seems like such a YA cliché, but it's pretty well represented in this story. He knows his abandonment issues, he knows his passive-aggressive tactics, he knows his limits in a romantic relationship, and he knows Mia underneath her Debbie Harry get-up. Papering Mia's bedroom ceiling with the replica of the audition hall's ceiling is the sweetest thing evar, and apparently, it wasn't even in the book!

Chloe Grace Moretz is grounded and mature as Mia, but the high-stress moments (such as the Ghosting after the accident [not the pottery one] and sprinting through the hospital halls after Teddy dies) tested CGM's indignant/furious/afraid facial expressions - all of which were kinda similar. I almost expected her to yell "Fuck!" when she collapses in the hall (she being no stranger to blue language), but alas, MPAA rating and whatnot.

Lucy
Lucy(2014)

Not what I expected! This looked to be a typical summer blockbuster featuring a stock badass heroine played by fresh-off-of-Avengers Scarlett Johansson, but it's actually a remarkably cerebral and visually stylish, globetrotting race against human mortality. Like "Limitless," there's a drug that enhances the human brain's capacity to function past the mythical 10%. However, the unwitting drug-mule Lucy's quest isn't just one of revenge or power or pleasure; it's a self-sacrificial quest for mortal experience and immortal knowledge - which may be selfish in the Faustian sense - but still, Luc Besson's sci-fi parable is challenging and enigmatic.

ScarJo is rather good and comical in her robotic blankness, yet also achingly human in that one phone call monologue to her mom about being able to feel every single experience she's ever had. I also especially enjoyed the many references to my recently viewed "2001: A Space Odyssey": the drug-induced kaleidoscopic chromolume, Lucy visiting her hominin namesake, and of course, the monolith turned jump drive - now shrunken down to the littlest, blackest metaphor.

Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus(1993)

Not particularly memorable, scary, funny, or quotable. Floppy-haired Omri Katz is very likable as Max, the skeptic protagonist, and young Thora Birch as his sister is impish and adorable. The blossoming friendships between Max, Allison, Dani, and Binx are more compelling than the witchy Halloween lore.

2001: A Space Odyssey
½

It's like, whoa, you know? I'm glad I got to see this on the big screen because it was just like...whoa...you know?

During the first however many minutes of ominous tones, I kept thinking I was seeing images on the blank screen. They turned out to be just retinal shadows, but the suspense was so awesomely claustrophobic. So many spoofs and homages of Kubrick's ethereal blend of airless space, kaleidoscopic frenzy, and classical music did not diminish this movie-watching experience for me, and what an experience it was. The story, while ponderingly slow and ham-fisted, is an epic fantasia full of cacophony and silence, peace and fear, primitive pasts and equally primitive futures.

The SFX were ridiculously advanced; images of Earth and space look just like recent representations in "Gravity" or "Interstellar." The "gravity boots" were an ingenious way to sidestep the weightlessness effect. Keir Dullea is remarkably good and understated as Dr. Dave Bowman, in all his heavy breathing and bottled-up rage. HAL, of course, is a freakish delight.

I wasn't quite sold on the symbolism of the monolith, and I expected the piercing noise that it emitted to have some kind of debilitating, foreshadowing effect, but alas, it was only just a biggest, blackest, metaphor.

Hot Tub Time Machine

Well. I guess you can say this is the best movie about a hot tub time machine that I've ever seen. But I mean, the sequel's coming out soon, so who knows.

That Thing You Do!

Finger-snapping, head-bopping fun! Tom Everett Scott is effortlessly cool with his ugly-sexy mug, and Liv Tyler is luminous and effervescent. Steve Zahn looks suave and uncharacteristically the most grown up of the bunch. The O-nedders. Hyuk.

Sweet November
½

GAAAHHH!!! Really? Never has cancer-stricken-woman-lives-life-to-the-fullest been so...real. There's a special place in my heart for "A Walk to Remember," but it's admittedly saccharine and melodramatic. "Sweet November" may make you feel gooey, but the characters live in a pretty harsh and diverse world.

Jason Isaacs and Michael Rosenbaum play delightful supporting characters of the loving drag queen couple next door. Charlize Theron has the rare ability/beauty? to ground a quirky character, and Keanu Reeves is, well, stone-faced enough to portray emotionless at first, then dazed with grief later. The 12 Gifts of Christmas bit is so hokey, but you just have to roll with Keanu trying to be manic and cute.

And double props for the movie ending right where it needed to.

The World's End

Estranged friends begrudgingly reunite at behest of former leader-cum-has-been for epic bar crawl. Greasy, leather-clad Simon Pegg really sells the once-cool-badass-vibe-now-tinged-with-glory-days-delusion. The rest of the ragtag quintet are charming, especially handsome/nerdy Martin Freeman and blustery Nick Frost as straight men.

When the robot plot starts though, the movie devolves from a hilarious and bittersweet story about friends growing up and apart, to a merely average sci-fi spectacle.

Looper
Looper(2012)
½

Contract killers from the future are sent back in time to be terminated by their younger selves, but one man is able to escape certain death. Helluva twisty ride, and despite the time travel concept and JGL's ridiculous Bruce Willis make-up, it's much more sensical than Rian Johnson's debut "Brick." The first act still retains Johnson's penchant for quick cool patois, but it's used as straightforward exposition and not verbose McGuffins.

The second act relies on some icky "saved by the love of a good woman" tripe, but the introduction of Emily Blunt's character as a fiercely protective mother of the future's sociopathic despot is surprisingly raw and heartbreaking.

I wouldn't say the ending is predictable, but when it came, I thought, "Oooof cooourse. It's the most logical ending." So yeah, the movie is pretty satisfying as a whole, but the looping quality makes for a Terminator paradox. If "this" never happened, why would "that" need to happen in the future, you know what I mean?

Boyhood
Boyhood(2014)
½

Much credit should be given to this mammoth undertaking: actors committed to a story for twelve years, and the young Ellar Coltrane is indeed magnetic and soulful. However, the movie could have easily been called "Motherhood," or "Fatherhood," or "Girlhood" because any of those characters' stories are equally if not more compelling than Mason's.

Mason is a smart but misunderstood kid who becomes an emo-hipster loner artiste. It's all a bit predictable, and the plot points are somewhat emotionally manipulative. There are so many douchey stepfather figures, but we get some melodramatic Lifetimey moments, then nothing else. What happens to the stepsiblings? The girlfriend drama seems so calculated and random especially since by all accounts, Sheena and Mason seem to really have a mature soul connection. The pale attempt at "Before Sunrise"-esque introspection at the end with new college girl is bland and inarticulate in a millennial way.

Magic in the Moonlight
½

A magician con artist is tasked to expose a winsome psychic, and sparks fly! Colin Firth is dashingly aloof, and Emma Stone is blissfully light, but they lack chemistry together. Perhaps it's their age difference; perhaps it's their characters' lack of actual getting to know each other. The central question of the movie seems to be about faith. Does a greater power exist, and if so, is Sophie a real psychic? However, these deep questions are forgotten in favor of Woody Allen's canned "opposites attract" romcom plot.

The most powerful scene of the movie (and a vulnerable piece of acting from Oscar-winner Firth) is the moment when devout atheist Stanley puts his trust in prayer. He prays for his aunt's recovery, but then he stops abruptly, and I expected him (and Woody for that matter) to transcend type to realize the selfishness of his prayer and instead pray for his aunt's peaceful passing.

But no, we get a motivation-less epiphany about Sophie's fraudulent predictions, which is difficult to believe because so much suspense has already been built up around her inexplicable phenomena that the audience is just meant to roll with it, but the movie pulls the rug out from under us in an unmasking that is too deus ex machina.

Obvious Child
½

Tour de force performance from Jenny Slate. She may be the nasally Jewish princess on "Parks & Recreation" and the baby-cute Marcel the Shell, but girl's got range. Slate carries this movie as Donna, a stand-up comedienne who gets pregnant from a one-night stand and decides to have an abortion. Her stand-up is raunchy but candid, her vulnerability is quirky yet tragic, and her "flustration" is sweetly abashed. A cast of adorable supporting characters also lends this quarter-life crisis movie a dash of light optimism.

What's also great about this story is that it's truly unpredictable. Is she going to get the abortion? Is she going to fall in love with this new vanilla bean beau? Some viewers might think Max is unrealistic - too understanding and too patient - but Max and Donna clearly have great chemistry. He likes her; he's not just there to further her story. Everything that needs to happen happens, but none of it is too cooked.

Begin Again
Begin Again(2014)
½

Rather delightful. The theme of the power of music on love and friendship is more substantial in this film than in John Carney's "Once," which was more a series of amateur music videos. A pastiche of down-and-out musicians make a guerrilla album on the streets of NYC. Lovers break up over the temptations of music industry fame. Estranged father and daughter bond. Former lovers reach a cathartic goodbye that is neither too sad nor too happy.

I really enjoy the first date idea of walking while listening to each other's favorite songs, but Gretta's guilty pleasures of "Luck Be a Lady" and "As Time Goes By" are such cliché beloved classics. Also, Miriam's assessment of her teen daughter Violet's risqué clothing choices as her own is at least empowering and fair at first, but that gets stripped away later when Gretta plays big sister and subtly slut shames Violet. Hailee Steinfeld's smoker-voiced loner girl seemed complex, so I was hoping Violet would be a bit more self-possessed.

And of course, it has long pained me to admit that in the past five years, I've grown to prefer Keira Knightley over her doppelganger Natalie Portman, but maybe I just have to own the pleasure of enjoying Keira in her willowy hipster chic roles. She's quite normal-girl charming again. Her singing voice is a bit weak - not quite as old-school robust as in "Edge of Love" - but it's light and sweet enough for the indie folk genre.

A Million Ways to Die in the West
½

Seth MacFarlane is a versatile seriocomedic actor with a delicious basso voice, and Charlize Theron is a hip chick with surprisingly great deadpan timing. He can sing; she can dance. Is there anything they can't do? The anachronistic quips about life in the Old West are funny, and the commentary on Beta Male cowardice has a redeeming resolution, but on the whole, the plot is a bit forgettable. I was also hoping Amanda Seyfried would channel her Karen daffiness from "Mean Girls" to make Louise a more compelling ex-girlfriend character.

The Witches of Eastwick
½

Three headstrong single women in idyllic Eastwick wish for their dream beaux, and a devilish new stranger comes to town to seduce them in turn. Cher, Sarandon, and Pfeiffer are brassy, sensual, and sweet, respectively, and Jack Nicholson is the epitome of the diabolical wag.

Daryl van Horne spouts some base misogyny, which has the potential to be clever and satirical if only there were some wink at the audience. The trio of women gets their revenge through sorcery, but they still raise Daryl's lovechildren and treat him as merely an exasperating, absentee father rather than quashing his sacrilegious doctrine, defeating him for good, or at least spurning him for the Satan proxy he is.

Upon learning that this movie was adapted from a novel by John Updike, a writer I admire, I expected the hijinx to lead to something deeper. Is Daryl a Satan proxy or a God proxy? Daryl rants about how he gave the girls everything, and then when they forsake him, he will seek retribution. Isn't that the depiction of a vengeful and wrathful God? Is the satire on how often godliness and wickedness coincide? Well, apparently the original novel was intended as a feminist manifesto (even though the women are represented as actual witches), but there isn't much in the way of theological commentary, so I don't know what to make of book or film.

The Way We Were

This movie starts out with heated sociopolitical debate and a great feminist role model, but then brassy, independent Katie devolves into Overly Attached Girlfriend - fawning over Hubbell, the poor little rich boy with a streak of writing talent, who buys her a beer and patronizingly ties her freakin' shoe? (I hate all shoe-tying imagery in art! I hate it when looks-so-much-like-his-dead-mother Ginny does it to Harry Potter. I hate it when Ted does it to baby-talking Boats-Boats-Boats Becky on HIMYM. I surprisingly don't mind glass slipper symbology because it's quick, okay? You just slip it on. "It's the condom of our generation." Tying a shoe is a ham-handed, Oedipal commitment of a romantic gesture.)

Anyway, Katie essentially rapes him and ropes him into falling in love with her, but she's made to apologize so much for her tempestuousness and "wrong style" while Robert Redford's dead eyes glaze over in a masquerade of privileged, white, liberal ennui.

The flashback structure of the film's beginning is also wasted. I thought YEARS had gone by before they meet again and that the whole movie would be about their college relationship and "the way they were"... The movie gets so episodic after that inciting incident, documenting every bit of grueling conflict contributing to their doomed partnership.

A donnee or redemption moment nearly appears when Katie shouts, "You'll never find anyone as good for you as I am, to believe in you as much as I do or to love you as much!" but it's too late. They're still wrong for each other, but we're never given a convincing enough reason in the script or the performances for why they got together in the first place and why they stayed together for so long. And he never meets their daughter? Weird.

Highlight is Barbra Streisand's soaring mezzo-soprano in Marvin Hamlisch's titular song.

The Fault In Our Stars
½

Geesh. So I read the book, and it's fine. Its themes of love and death aren't particularly deep or new; in fact, they are a bit contradictory and a mishmash of different philosophies. Hazel is fine. Without the easy literary trait of strength-and-detachment-derived-from-cancer, she's a snarky blank slate for tween readers to project themselves on. Gus is goofy and charming, but he also thinks he's sooo cute. The constant "Hazel Gracing" gets a bit cloying.

The movie is essentially a good adaptation of the book. Shailene Woodley is strong, detached, snarky...yet a bit blank. Ansel Elgort is goofy, charming, cute...yet a bit cloying. What really bumps me though is that I don't buy their chemistry. Now this opinion may be colored by their sibling relationship in "Divergent" (Holy Incestuous Casting, Batman!), but while they smile and stare with loving eyes, I can't help but feel that they're in different movies, loving different people in different frames.

Some plot points are faithful to the source material...yet still strange. The kiss ovation at the Anne Frank House is strange. Hazel calling Peter van Houten "douchepants" is strange. None of the eulogies really move me, like they don't in the book. However, I am most disappointed because my one favorite scene does not get its due: when Gus gets stranded in a parking lot and pukes all over himself while Hazel tries to secure his feeding tube to no avail. That's the one scene in the book that really shows the abject horror and humiliation of cancer, but it's totally PGed in the movie.

22 Jump Street
½

Holy hell. Hilarious and three-quarters. This sequel pokes fun at sequels, meet-cutes, homoeroticism, codependent relationships - all at a bracing mile a minute so the formula doesn't seem so formulaic. I found myself referencing quips, events, and characters even weeks later. Jillian Bell is a caustic, deadpan bitch, and Dave Franco is a quivery little prison bitch, both in the best ways possible.

Kabluey
Kabluey(2007)

Includes all the ingredients of an indie movie: an aimless nogoodnik, an estranged family who tests his adult responsibilities, a strange part-time job that requires a quirky/cute costume, a redemption moment that establishes his self-worth and strengthens his bond with aforemetioned estranged family.

It's all very nice, and I like the quirky filmmaking aspects as well, like zooming in on weird physical phenomena, like the ghosty rotations a plastic spoon makes after you let go from stirring it.

I would have liked a bit more life or explanation in Lisa Kudrow's character. Yes, she's a depressive, but there isn't much for the character or actor to do, and the reasons for her affair are just a bit too indie-understated...indiestated? I also wonder why Salman leaves before reconciling with his brother, which seems to have been a source of tension throughout the whole movie.

The Baby-Sitters Club

Having religiously read the book series but not having seen the original television show, I thought this VHS goodie was the funnest thing EVAR: with the bass-slapping, clap-happy music; the cutesy, chaste romance; the delicious mean girl villain played by throwing-shade-like-it's-her-job Marla Sokoloff; and the all-star cast of 90s dream queens who were playing thirteen but were actually in their mid-teens but looked like they were in their late teens :~P

Upon watching half a hot mess episode of the television show (which just went off Netflix), with its age-accurate, plain-faced kid-vid actresses, I had to pop in my new DVD to revel in the shine and glory of its Hollywood treatment. The exposition and dialogue are indeed hokey at times, but the main summer camp plot and the subplots of Kristy's ne'er-do-well dad coming back and Stacey's flirtation with older Luca are really quite inspired and deftly intertwined, in a narrative sense. The adult actors are also very good without pulling focus.

My teen girl crushes of Rachael Leigh Cook, Larisa Oleynik, and Bre Blair are still sweet, effervescent, and glamorous, respectively. I also found bonehead Alan Gray, played by now-off-the-radar Aaron Michael Metchik, inexplicably attractive. Schuyler Fisk, whom I grew to love in "i'm reed fish," anchors the movie with her tough yet vulnerable tomboy-with-an-impressive-if-underdeveloped-streak-of-second-wave-feminism.

Maleficent
Maleficent(2014)

Angelina Jolie is magnificent when she's maleficent - with that blithe drawl, those snaky horns, and them diamond-sharp cheekbones. Her portrayal of young Maleficent as a moorland fairy is a bit uneven though. Her voice is all shouty and her posture is all action hero-y, with no real indicator of the ethereal or powerful being lurking within if only a dastardly man would ravage her and uncover it (a cliched narrative device in itself).

This origin retelling is fair enough with some surprisingly funny bits, like the antics of the bumbling and long-suffering fairy godmothers, and the far-from-maternal Maleficent's encounter with five-year-old Aurora who insists on being picked up. Vivienne Jolie-Pitt is rather darling in that scene, and Angelina is uncharacteristically comically deadpan. Elle Fanning's face still bothers me, but she's a good cryer.

Spoilery:

If this reimagined depiction of true love had come out before "Frozen," I think we all would have found it more compelling. The motherly love shown here is still rather beautiful and heartrending, but I could actually predict it. I expected a happier treatment of romantic love too, but that hardly gets any due with the pretty but ineffectual Prince Phillip and the arrogant and vengeful King Stefan who can't do the logical thing of ending this feud against his first love. Why didn't anybody just say, "Look: Aurora's awake. No harm, no foul"?

Fading Gigolo

I never thought all-nose-and-ears John Turturro to be "a beautiful man," but age has really agreed with him, as he is indeed smoldering and sexy in an earthy way in his directorial debut. Cross-generational friends, played by Woody Allen and Turturro, embark on a prostitution business venture, and Fioravante, the titular fading gigolo, stoically seduces the stereotypical bombshells (played lusciously by Sharon Stone but somewhat tritely by Sofia Vergara, who seems so naturally sexy that she probably can't "act" sexy).

In the diverse neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, racial and ethnic tensions arise, but a small oasis of intimacy is found between Fioravante and a young Hasidic widow who calls upon his services but not in a sexual way. Vanessa Paradis is lovely, reserved, and beguiling as Avigal, and her cathartic crying upon Fioravante's straightforward massage is uncomfortable yet freeing.

Beautiful moments abound in their budding meeting of the souls, but Turturro's script misses several beats, perhaps in favor of not spelling things out for the audience that could really have used some spelling out. How is Fioravante so good with the ladies, and how did Murray know he would be? What was his past like? Was he a bit of a Lothario before tragedy transformed him into this melancholy florist? Did pimp and gigolo already know Avigal's endgame? Does Avigal even like Dovi beyond neighbors since he's such a badgering "but I'm a nice guy" jackass?

"Fading Gigolo," with its meditative explorations of human intercourse, is like a Woody Allen movie not written or directed by Woody Allen - down to its jazzy, sublime soundtrack and unfortunately forgotten details.

Zelig
Zelig(1983)
½

This mockumentary about a human chameleon who is able to change race, appearance, and professional demeanor at will is rather clever with the "archive footage," the smoooth 'n smarmy radio-voiced "narrator," and the "cameo interviews" with actual famous literati, but the movie tips on the tightrope of Woody Allen's slapstick inanity and Woody Allen's in-depth human analysis without ever transcending to the latter.

I'm not one for blanket political correctness, but if you're gonna use blackface and slant-eyed make-up, you've gotta say something narratively relevant and not just treat it as a gag. There's so much social and cultural critique to be mined for both smart comedy and introspective pathos: people's prejudices toward different races, the knowledge of one's own race as the Other, the oftentimes unquestioned authority of those in respected professions, et cetera.

The fictional Dr. Eudora Fletcher states that to the untrained observer, Zelig's faux-psychiatrist sounds realistic, but he's really just deploying cliched lingo. It would follow that Zelig adopts different stereotypical speech patterns for different races or classes, but all of this "research" is presented in silent "archive footage," not some tour de force bit of spoof acting like Robert Downey Jr.'s in "Tropic Thunder." Nothing changes within Woody or Zelig to actually BECOME or even inhabit another personality, which is sadly unsurprising since Woody Allen seems incapable of playing anyone other than Woody Allen. (And anyway, mimicking Dr. Fletcher is technically a plothole because Zelig's chameleonic power doesn't work with or on women.)

Without grounding in what it actually means to "pass" as a different race, class, or other distinction, this lightweight premise and execution is almost as insulting as Woody's blind man bit in "Hollywood Ending."

Wet Hot American Summer

Does antisocial meanness, shrill dramatics, petulant assholery, and non sequitur screaming pass for comedy? Never mind the baseless and cyclical love story between nebbish Coop and sweet but heartless Katie, the movie is a series of daffy improv skits, not a cohesive story. The few clever one-liners are delivered so emphatically that they lose timing and believability. This dreck is neither wet nor hot nor American nor summery.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Pretty enjoyable for its awkward, disaffected teen patois and the goofy bravado of this incarnation of Spider-Man, but Andrew Garfield's swagger is getting a bit too smug for his spandex - nearly reaching "acting is attracting" territory. His chemistry with real-life girlfriend Emma Stone provides some realistic relationship tension, but Peter and Gwen's roller coaster of break-ups and make-ups wore on unnecessarily, cutting into the subplot with Dane DeHaan's creepy/charismatic turn as privileged but neglected Harry, which gets haphazardly shoved into the third act.

Perhaps more importantly, the relentless will-they-won't-they took up so much time that Gwen is relegated to girlfriend-of-the-hero status like in so many superhero movies, which Emma Stone and the first movie seemed to try hard not to do.

At a recent fan panel, Garfield made the seemingly innocuous, offhand comment about how Spider-Man sewing his own costume is girly or feminine, and Stone asked him to clarify what he meant by feminine, in a subtly charged incident that revealed his gender-biased rhetoric and antiquated notion of traditional gender roles.

Like Stone, Gwen is smart and capable and has a life of her own, but this installment is rather vague about her strengths. They come off as weaknesses instead because while she is plucky and fashionable and tries to help as Spider-Man's equal, she clearly isn't, physically, and she just gets in the way and spells her own demise. The intersection of life imitating art imitating life feels like a step backward from what felt like a strong female love interest.

The Goonies
The Goonies(1985)
½

So freakin' stupid. The exposition sets up all the boys' distinct personalities, only to squander the rest of the movie with unmotivated action and bland yet frantic adventure. None of the boys' traits really play into the solving of the puzzles except the stereotypical techie Asian's. Mikey's dweeby hamartia of asthma doesn't even provide an obstacle or suspense. Stuff happens to the boys, and nothing is too dangerous or scary to warrant any real emotional investment in their journey.

Also disappointing, much like with "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" and "You're killing me, Smalls," quotable gems like "Goonies never say die" and "Sloth loves Chunk" are completely lackluster in context. As for the former, I expected it to be a real club philosophy, a rallying battle cry born of a previous adventure during which they almost died but didn't, therefore cementing their stalwart courage in the face of certain death! "Goonies never say die" is only said once as a throwaway line without set-up or follow-up. As for the latter, could Sloth BE more disturbing as a child's nightmare come to life? He's the monster with soul, but the love is just played for laughs instead of true pathos.

The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups)

In the decade or so since I first saw "Les Quatre cents coups" on that fateful day in film class, it has become one of those litmus test films, during which, I stress myself out anticipating my friends' reactions to the movie almost as much as watching the movie itself. Sad to say, perceptions change when watching films with different people and at different times of life and sometimes, when the denouement is known.

As pure and as unadulterately awesome as that denouement is, with young Jean-Pierre Léaud's impressively improvised tales of Antoine's teenage woes and the endless run to the beach, the adagio and sometimes broken pacing of the rest of film seems to redeem itself only because of that ending. And perhaps also Jean Constantin's mesmerizing zither score.

28 Days Later

Early neo-zombie flick is chilling in its unapologetic depiction of our fierce will to survive and the inhuman violence in humanity...and vice versa. Cillian Murphy is a bit bland at first, but then he gets balls-to-the-wall psycho. Naomie Harris (whom I erroneously thought was a recent ingenue) is bold and tough as the pitiless then maternal Selena, and the little bits of humor and camaraderie in this ragtag family are heartwarming. "The Walking Dead" seems to have taken its entire premise from this movie.

Neighbors
Neighbors(2014)
½

Eh. Prank war between frat and suburbia is a bit tame.

My Kid Could Paint That

Amir Bar-Lev pilots a frank and bare bones documentary that lightly critiques society's willful or unintentional manipulation of gifted children, the ethics of art dealing and documentary journalism itself, and the snobbery and baldfaced groupthink of the art world.

Also of note is the credit given to the underrated skill and sensibility that goes into abstract art. Even people who don't "get" abstract art should still be able to discern cracks in the "Child Prodigy" authorship narrative with Bar-Lev's objective camera, especially in the side-by-side comparison views of Marla's off-screen and on-screen paintings.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The best part of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is the humorous chemistry between Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie. The provenance of the Winter Soldier isn't that complex or daunting, Scarlett Johansson as platonic, hottie-with-a-body is a bit bland, and Cobie Smulders is even blander with Maria Hill's sensible parade-rainers and one nonsensical attempt at a joke.

Divergent
Divergent(2014)

Better than expected! Despite the dystopian segregation into what are essentially Houses of Hogwarts that only futuristic leaders ever think is a good idea, the YA romance of "Divergent" seems to have learned from the mistakes of its predecessors (emo wallpaper girl--emo stalker boy--emo muscley boy love triangle of "Twilight" and emotionless tough girl--emo baker boy--emotionless muscley boy love triangle of "The Hunger Games") and crafted a first installment featuring a heroine with a tough AND emotional journey and just one leading boy who has a life outside of love. Four started out as Tris's superior in Dauntless faction, and while Tris proves her mettle, Four never makes her feel that she needs his approval.

I wasn't into Theo James's face at first from the promo posters, but his face is actually better in motion. He plays Four with gloom and glower but also tenderness and compassion. Shailene Woodley is a little blank at first, but she eventually faces down icy blue Kate Winslet with conviction and divergent badassery. Woodley has also got to be the best cryer in the business. Between the swimming pool scene in "The Descendants" and *spoilers* Tris clutching her dying mother in the inadequate refuge of an alleyway, gibbering to no avail at the shooters to stop shooting - ALL THE FEELS!

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Terrible and terrible with a side of vintage steamer trunks and dainty confectionary boxes. This movie is the equivalent of a high school pep rally skit put together by the Senior Class Historian - an artsy guy on the edge of the popular crowd who rounds up a quirky-looking ensemble of theatre nerds in order to buck the beautiful people status quo but ends up perpetuating their own clique instead. The cast is a Who's Who of Wes Anderson alums, cobbled together for inside joke after inside joke that pats themselves on the back for their deadpan and maniacal whimsy rather than their abilities to tell an affecting tale.

The frame story is needlessly convoluted with the old and young versions of people and the books within the books; the violence is gratuitous and serves no narrative purpose; the love story is whatever; the titular hotel inexplicably runs to 1970s polyester-palletted ruin; the murder lacks a compelling enough motive; and the mystery is just a series of cooked clues that an audience has no way of figuring out.

All in all, the movie is very much the Onion's preview of it: an episode of Wes Anderson's Favorite Things with bonus prizes of nepotism. YOU get an eccentric cameo! YOU get an eccentric cameo! YOU get an eccentric cameo!

Husbands and Wives

The mockumentary set-up is rather unnecessary, and some of the relationships make and break too quickly, but the script holds nothing back. These husbands and wives sure get ugly: from Sally's darkly comedic manic episodes during a blind date to Jack orchestrating an ill-timed reunion while making his new squeeze wait in the car.

What this movie is though is a tour de force showcase for the acting talents of Judy Davis and Juliette Lewis. I hesitate to call them "Woody's Women" - an endearing though patronizing moniker for his ingenues - because that implies ownership, and since this is purported to be a biographical film, Rain's criticisms of Gabe's patriarchal views of females in his book may hit close to Woody's own home.

Judy Davis is shrill and brittle, but sensuously so. I've never thought much of beady-eyed Juliette Lewis, but her wise-beyond-her-years creative writing co-ed steals every scene. Rain's gratitude is never insincere, and her flirtation is subtle. The long take of her placid face in the cab as Gabe insults her for being honest about his book is so great because she just takes it. She doesn't get upset; she knows she's worth it.

A Few Good Men

As seen in "The Newsroom" and "The Social Network," Aaron Sorkin obviously writes some great dialogue and speeches, and Kaffee and Jessup's courtroom confrontation is indeed full of vitriol and grand idealistic views on patriotism, security, and truth.

However, what bumps me about this movie and the rest of Sorkin's work is that it's too pat. A callow, legacy, navy lawyer has to defend two Marines accused of hazing a private so extremely that they kill him. Along the way, we tackle issues of whether honor means following a code of ethics or critically thinking for oneself. Will the good guys win? What does it mean to be a good guy?

These are important, heady questions drummed up by Sorkin, but I think he spent more time writing slick lawyer-speak instead of developing a key part of the story: who is Santiago and why should we care about him, the circumstances in which he was killed, and the fate of his killers? Why did he even join the Marines to begin with? Where was he trying to get transferred to? Why did he break the chain of command? Why would he offer secrets for personal favors? Why was he, in short, such a bad Marine? Even if he had health conditions, he should've at least been able to keep his barracks orderly and be punctual. His death seemed so clearly an accident that I wondered why all this hullabaloo. I kept thinking there had to be more to Santiago, not just his death.

Drinking Buddies
½

Dressed down, sunglassed up Olivia Wilde sans bra and make-up is crazysexycool as just one of the guys in a microbrewery of dudes. She has great chemistry with gruff 'n grumble Jake Johnson, and they play platonic, opposite sex besties with camaraderie and tension.

There are some great silent, intimate moments (Kate quietly and awkwardly getting into bed with Luke; Luke bringing Kate a beer and Kate giving him some fries at the end), but the movie is a little indie-slow with not so much as a "will they/won't they" arc but a "will they do the 'will they/won't they' arc...or won't they"...arc...? It's unclear whether Luke and Kate are into each other or not, so the climax that reveals "what could have been" comes out of nowhere.

Pocahontas
Pocahontas(1995)

For the past two years, I've had a hankering to rewatch "Pocahontas" to see if my childhood love for it still stands, and despite its glaring historical inaccuracies with Pocahontas's and John Smith's love plot, boy does it truly hold up in terms of animation, score, and message.

People are all praising millennial Disney princesses for not wanting to get married (Merida, Elsa, Anna), but they forget that 90s Disney heroines could be strong while still having love interests too. Mulan didn't want to get married at first; after fighting and winning the war, she sensibly invites Shang over for dinner. Pocahontas didn't want to get married at first; she falls in love with a perceived enemy but ultimately chooses to stay with her tribe.

The bold hues and watercolor effects are still captivating; "Just Around the River Bend" and "Colors of the Wind" are still sweeping and mature orchestral masterpieces; and the themes of interpersonal peace, ecological sustainability, and cultural understanding are still relevant and moving. So freakin' good!

A League of Their Own

So glad to finally see such an iconic piece of Evansville history! Bosse Field, America's third oldest ballpark, plays the home of the Racine Belles, and boy does she nail it!

Lyrical Nitrate
½

As a series of vignettes, it's fine. I liked the bittersweet reunion-with-lover-presumed-dead-and-new-lover-is-left-alone story. As a documentary, it's rather bland. There's no commentary or purpose.

A Cinderella Story

Kinda cute or whatever. I never liked Hilary Duff in her prime (mostly due to some inexplicable aversion to her face), but she actually seemed to be a pretty grounded teen actress. Nice to see "Cougar Town"'s moon-faced Dan Byrd as the sacrificial guy best friend.

Her
Her(2013)
½

"Her" is set in a not-so-distant future where technology is a matter of course. Mobile devices all but do your laundry, and everybody accesses them by talking into and listening through ubiquitous earpieces. Theodore's job is a letter-writer proxy of sorts who voice-composes touching sentiments, and a computer prints out the quaint relics in "handwritten" font. The movie, at first, cleverly satirizes the future's dependence on technology, but then, through Theodore's relationship with his intelligent Operating System, we see that our present-day relationships with human beings (with or without the help of tech) are not so different.

The movie sweetly navigates Theodore and Samantha's nascent attraction blossoming into giddy honeymoon. I especially love the little detail of the safety pin that props Theodore's device up over his shirt pocket so that Samantha may view the world through the camera. The existential quandaries that Samantha's machine-mind ponders are also not alien to human sensibilities. She steadily learns more how to feel and express, and she wonders if her feelings are real without a body and central nervous system. Despite having those, I often wonder myself whether my feelings and facial expressions are "real" or just socially conditioned through watching actors in movies emote, signifying THIS is how to look happy or THIS is how to look concerned.

*Spoilers*
The central problem of all human/OS relationships occurs when the A.I.'s capacity for love and thirst for knowledge grows beyond the humans'. The OSs choose to leave their "masters," as past sci-fi movies have shown us they are wont to do. This is where the movie could have used less subtlety. If the OS exodus is meant to be a metaphor for lovers growing apart, there should be more explanation or more possible conflict and danger arising from Samantha going offline. Some parallels can also be drawn to polyamorous relationships and their principles and practices. Without a deeper commentary on A.I. agency and/or polyamory, Samantha just seems like a flaky tramp.

Nevertheless, what's remarkably true about this movie is its universal treatment of love. The OS could be a stand-in for any human person, with their own curiosities and insecurities and wanderlusts. Whether we meet online or in person, love has basically similar trajectories (like Shakespeare's six basic story plots), and there will always be societal stigmas against dating outside one's norm.

The LEGO Movie

A lot of fun while watching (with Liam Neeson's gruff-then-lobotomized Bad Cop/Good Cop, but the cutesy inanity grows tiresome with such flimsy plot. *Spoilers* The reveal of the human parallels is clever, but the legend of the Special is kinda wasted on vague gooeyness that a kid wouldn't really say to his Type-A dad. Nothing much is done with Wild Style's character either and her erstwhile wish of being the Special, which would seem more plausible after aforementioned vague gooeyness.

Inside Llewyn Davis
½

"Inside Llewyn Davis" is a ramblin' rover of a Sisyphean task that harkens back to the Coen Brothers' nihilistic "A Serious Man." Glowery and enigmatic Oscar Isaac sings his way into the soul of folk as the eponymous Llewyn, who, try as he might, can't get a break in the music biz or a permanent bed to sleep in.

*Mild spoilers* At the end of the film, a shot of a young Bob Dylan making his ostensible musical debut signals the nascent momentum of the folk scene, but the audience gets the impression that even though Llewyn is plenty good at what he does, he's just not one of the Chosen Ones and will miss riding this wave to fame. He is very much like the orange tabby with whom he feels an inexplicable kinship. He lives the nine, aimless lives of a once-pampered house cat who now roams the streets, eschewing stability and creature comforts in pursuit of a freedom and wildness he craves but knows naught of.

Llewyn may piss a lot of people off: he learns of past transgressions but can't bring himself to rectify the situation, and his entire journey goes nowhere (as evidenced by the film's circular structure), but I dug the hapless kitty foil (hyuk) and the static character arc.

August: Osage County

The generically whimsical preview underscored by a generic indie rock song made the movie look like a generic "puts the FUN in dysFUNctional" romp, so I went into the film prepared for a pale comparison to its even darker and more disturbing Pulitzer and Tony-winning source material. Tracy Letts hacked down his massive three-act play to a paltry two hours, and in so doing, he wrecked the even pacing of all the crazy secrets and lies that come out, causing the revelations to seem melodramatic or random instead of emotionally affecting.

I can understand veering from source material in service of a better story (like with this season's critically maligned but fan-recommended "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), but "August"'s slim adaptation seemed motivated out of fear that movie audiences wouldn't want to sit in a theater for 3.5 hours, which seems moot because people who want to see Meryl Streep in a dysfunctional-family-drama-based-on-a-play tend to know what they're getting into.

I'm no fan of Meryl, and the role of drug-addled matriarch, Violet Weston, is an idiosyncratic challenge, to be sure...which means I didn't think much of her surface-crazy performance. The brightest spot in the film is Julia Roberts as the eldest daughter who comes home to show her mother who's boss. Julia is no stranger to sassy spitfire roles, but she plays Barbara with a matured cynicism and a tender, yet no-holds-barred viciousness. I would prefer Julia to win Best Supporting Actress over JLaw if Lupita Nyong'o weren't in the race, but honestly, Barbara's role is technically a lead along with Violet's (as the 2008 theatre season categorized them), and Julia holds her own with this year's crop of Best Actress nominees, especially her costar.

Hannah and Her Sisters
½

The pastiche structure of this film is complex though sometimes unsatisfyingly slow. This dysfunctional literati family struggles with passive-aggressive sororal jealousy and spousal musical chairs. The titular character is the least developed. Hannah's acting talent and togetherness is only talked about through pervasive monologues; her strengths and demons are never really shown.

Nice uncredited cameo from caterpillar-browed Sam Waterston from "The Newsroom"!

The Departed
The Departed(2006)

There are lots of things I didn't like about this movie, namely the entire cat-and-mouse plotline. How could neither Billy Costigan nor Collin Sullivan nor anyone else not figure out that those two are the double agents? It seemed pretty common knowledge that Collin grew up under the wing of Frank Costello and that bad shit keeps happening after Billy joins Costello's mob. Is Costello really that trustworthy and critical a thinker to believe correlation doesn't equal causation? The alliterative names are also confusing.

I'm not a fan of early-aughts Marty or Leo, but Leo isn't bad in this role. Matt Damon's face and voice are too boring to play a villain, Martin Sheen's character is pretty thankless and dies easily, and Marky Mark's character is just a dick for the sake of being a dick - hardly enough meat to develop an Oscar-worthy performance. The only female character is just there to form a slapdash love triangle, and the script doesn't even write her as a realistic psychologist.

100 Girls
100 Girls(2000)
½

Actually not terrible by the end. This early aughts horndog comedy starts with some terrible and trite stereotypes about college guys, college girls, and what they'd do for bad college sex - all layered with an incessantly monologuing leading doofus.

Matthew, the doofus character starts arcing half an hour in though, and his hopelessly romantic quest for finding The One becomes more complex and endearing as he starts earnestly exploring the tensions between the sexes instead of just subscribing to his dude-brah roommate's defense mechanism of misogyny or letting his misguided Women's Studies professor blame men for all manners of perceived patriarchal sins.

The movie still pats its male writer and character on the back for playing the hero against sexual assault and for being the first to speak of gender equality and understanding (in fair albeit elementary terms). Even though Matthew's climactic speech is very sweet (filled with both stereotypical yet comforting gender cues and genuine promises about commitment and respect), traditional gender roles are still in place: the dude makes a sweeping declaration of love, and the gaggle of girls swoons.

The supporting cast of ladies starts off without personality or each with only one, odd defining quirk, but the characters played by Larisa Oleynik, Katherine Heigl, Jaime Pressly, Marissa Ribisi, and a [Ben Wa] ballsy and sensual Emmanuelle Chriqui (whom I thought was a young contemporary of Nina Dobrev's but actually isn't), eventually round out the varying levels of estrogen.

The Purple Rose of Cairo
½

Classic and classy Woody Allen. Tom Baxter, an adventurous movie character steps off the screen to woo Cecilia, a starry-eyed, Depression-era waitress and cinephile, but the character's portrayer, Gil Shepherd, a smooth, somewhat megalomaniacal rising star, is called in to counter-woo Cecilia so that the show can go on.

Woody's escapist fantasia is blissful yet tragic, blurring the lines between reality and make-believe, the haves and the have-nots, and love and truth.

It was nice to see young, wispy Dianne Wiest and bug-eyed Glenne Headley as slinky prostitutes. After watching so much cantankerous old Jeff Daniels on "The Newsroom," bright-eyed bushy-tailed young Jeff Daniels is a remarkable palate cleanser, with a great singing voice to boot! Mia Farrow is, of course, charismatic and vibrant with her delicate voice and damselly beauty.

The last scene of her, dejected by the wretched realities of her life yet still utterly captivated by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in "Top Hat," is just the most indelible final image in Woody's canon.

Back in the Day

Not often does Evansville see the return of a native son-turned-Hollywood Top Dog, so Showplace East was brimming with eager viewers on the night of Michael Rosenbaum's movie screening + talkback, hoping to rub elbows and share their I knew-you-whens. Not having watched much "Smallville" but always having been a fan of his chrome dome, I enjoyed Rosenbaum's Dane Cook-y stand-up persona which, albeit fratty, livened up the typical Q&A format.

"Back in the Day" is a raunchy, nostalgic, coming-of-middle-age, high school reunion romp, and while that trope is trite, Rosenbaum brings some smart surprises to the lewd/scatological genre: the rude-nude-dude bouncing along in the pick-up truck and the slo-mo close-up of his giblets; the hiding in the shower dual vomiting scene, and my favorite, the homage to Hitchcock's "Psycho" shower scene with the illusory flash cuts and colored water going down the drain.

The men are all pretty much the same, the women are also pretty much the same, and the small-town loser stereotypes are a bit stale, but Sarah Colonna plays a great wallflower with secret bondage fetish, Morena Baccarin is sassy and accessibly beautiful in a "regular girl" role, and Rosenbaum's likable straight man who does the honorable thing in the end is all the more impressive after having seen his real life dude-brah persona.

The script does rely too much on flashbacks, but it was nice to see familiar Evansville and Newburgh scenery. The movie ends well with the half-patronizing but ultimately comforting thumbs up on Jim's ubiquitous insurance-shilling ads.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

I am utterly flabbergasted that Ben Stiller and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" have been snubbed by nearly every awards-doling entity right now...save for the Razzies! What?! What?!?! I daresay it's my favorite film of the year! It's got everything: a timely backdrop, idle fantasy, pop culture references, off-beat humor, impressive action sequences, generation gaps, sweet romance, indie music, the unconventional All-American family, a journey of self-actualization, uplifting redemption, and pure gold heart!

Very unlike James Thurber's pessimistic short story and Danny Kaye's 1947 adaptation, Ben Stiller's fantastic voyage is about a daydreaming, under appreciated worker bee at "LIFE" magazine who goes on a quest to find a missing photograph negative for the vaunted final cover. A trail of mysterious clues leads him on an exciting journey on which he discovers nature's majesty, long-lost soul-brothers of sorts, familial connection, a shot at romance, and a chance to prove himself as more than just another rat in the race.

The fantasy sequences are fun and thrilling, Adam Scott is appropriately douchey, Sean Penn is intimidating then playful, the settings are lush, the Scandinavian actors are captivating, Kristen Wiig is downright enchanting in her "Space Oddity" serenade, Steve Conrad's script is once again mellow but imaginative, and Ben Stiller is by turns stoic, exhilarated, and fairly badass as he longboards down to a volcano.


***MAJOR TOM SPOILERS*** (salute)
I really love the circular Ozian journey - finding out that inner strength or the object of the search was with him all along. I was afraid that the picture would remain a mystery - one of those annoyingly withholding open endings - but I'm so glad they showed it because it's beautiful and gratifying!

American Hustle

I really tried to go into "American Hustle" with an open mind without being colored by last year's empty and overrated "Silver Linings Playbook." I really did enjoy the pervasive narration, the groovin' soundtrack, and the overarching theme of doing what you need to do to stay alive, but what I have determined is that David O. Russell is a total hustler. He makes movies that LOOK very cool (Altman-esque zooms, truly awf-some 70s hairstyles, Amy Adam's sideboob out the yin yang) about very cool subjects (FBI conspiracy, doomed love, grifting with British accents), but they're so littered with jargon and overcooked twists that aren't actually suspenseful or satisfying. He's mostly style and little substance.

The quartet of O. Russell alumni are being ass-kissed by SAG and the Hollywood Foreign Press, but I honestly think Christian Bale's performance as flabby yet savvy conman Irving Rosenfeld is the only one that is truly transcendent and nuanced. Amy Adams runs a close second with her seductive and conflicted Sydney Prosser/Edith Greenlea, but like in "The Fighter," she's so good that I wish she were better. Also, much of her magnetism in this movie is due to her luscious hair and plunging necklines, which unfortunately makes her a mere fashion plate. I think Bradley Cooper's really great at playing normal dudes, but his bumbling, Omega cop is one-dimensional, save for his giddy impression of the sourpuss police sergeant.

I'm most shocked that so many accolades are going to over-whimsical and over-lovable JLaw in a small and pretty irrelevant role. Rosalyn, Irving's cuckquean (yeah, that's the archaic term for a wife who's cheated on), is sassy, flirty, demanding, and superficial, which plays more on JLaw's "SLP" quirkiness and is a waste of her "Winter's Bone" ferocity. Her brassy energy is more her native Kentuckian than Rosalyn's Bronxian, and she's really only impressive in the devoid-of-vanity dancing scene. Rosalyn only figures into the grifting plot in a tangential, unintentional way, so like with Bradley Cooper's "SLP" role, there really isn't much there there.

Frozen
Frozen(2013)

A wonderful redux of Disney animated musical! It's of course more like "Tangled" in its poppier songs and adorkable hipster heroine (as opposed to the sweeping orchestral scores of "The Little Mermaid" and "The Lion King" [which I miss] and the dignified, mature mademoiselles of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Pocahontas" [which I could take or leave]), but Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel infuse the sisters, Anna and Elsa, with their respective spunk and diva-tude, while adding in multiple dimensions of grief, fear, anxiety, and perseverance.

The empowerment message is also really balanced. The camp that prefers Disney heroines who don't need men will be satisfied in that the freezing spell isn't broken by true love's kiss but by absolute selflessness; the camp that thinks Disney tries too hard to placate media feminists will be satisfied that the male lead is not a typical cookie-cutter prince but a working man who makes his own decisions, driven not only by love but responsibility and respect.

I also like that the sorceress sister isn't vilified; her solitary confinement is born of misinformed need but ultimately good intentions. I also didn't expect to like the dopey snowman, Olaf, but he really is adorable, and I'm impressed at Josh Gad's vaudevillian pipes. Seeing Elsa magick her ice fortress in 3D wasn't as visually stunning as I had hoped, like with the Chinese lanterns in "Tangled."

Finally, lemme say something about that awful teaser film, "Get a Horse!" It's awful. It does what Disney often unintentionally does: set itself back half a century in terms of gender discrimination, beauty ideals, and narrative innovation. Peg-Leg Pete disturbingly objectifies a simpering, whimpering Minnie, Clarabelle Cow is made out to be the ugliest heifer on the farm, and the relentless cartoon violence is provincial and unimaginative compared to the clever animation. What does the title even mean?

Spring Breakers

This movie is off the flippin' chain. I don't think it's necessarily effective satire because the line between social commentary and glorification of debauchery gets too blurred, but I could hardly tear my eyes away from style auteur Harmony Korine's candy-crush guilt-free Bacchanal. The clever juxtapositions of innocence and immorality paint an extreme, not-far-off culture of excess. The girls engage in kinky-baby playground games, quickly devolving into a terrifying barrage of sex, drugs, profanity, and armed robbery. The non-stop depravation is wicked and titillating, and the gang's crime and violence spree underscored by plaintive pop ballads is at once brutal and eerily beautiful.

Sweethearts of PG-13 television Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens prove their bad-babe mettle as amoral provocateurs who sell every curse and finger-pistol. Corn-rowed gold-grilled James Franco is kerazy, as usual, and appallingly impressive when he submits to the girls' sexually deviant ploys. Disney Princess Selena Gomez, as the churchy good-girl, shows off her enviable Spring Break bod and ultimately reveals some decent dramatic chops in a silent, teary face-off with Alien.

The Switch
The Switch(2010)

Jason Bateman delivers a surprising performance of wistful need. Wally's big reveal moment isn't some gooey gesture, buoyed by a sappy indie song or romantic precipitation. It's a completely inopportune moment that he wedges into the works. As David Henry Hwang said at the NYC AWP Conference in 2008: "Monologue is to burst." And Bateman certainly bursts.

Of course, I am sorely disappointed with Aniston's reaction. She looks everywhere except at Bateman, and I, not having read Jeffrey Eugenides's short story, "Baster," don't know if Kassie's go-to angry reaction is in the original or just stuck in for the typical crisis-near-the-end-of-movie-that-will-be-resolved-in-two-minutes effect. I kept wanting to rewrite the whole scene. Give Kassie a real moment, perhaps saying she knew, somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew. I mean, how could she not? The kid moans when he eats.

The rom-com marketing and easygoing, devoid-of-personality female lead take away some of the charm and pathos of Wally's connection with the mini-him of sorts. Thomas Robinson is definitely the most adorable child-depressive ever. The scene in which Sebastian describes his picture-perfect paternal family and Wally reveals his own baggage is absolutely heartbreaking.

The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Clever re-telling of Dickensian morality tale. Attractive and endearing cast and sweet message of love and forgiveness.

Movie 43
Movie 43(2013)

Ridiculous and uncomfortable with some laugh-out-loud moments. My favorite is the Robin speed-dating sketch.

The Weather Man

I can't quite diagnose what makes this movie tick... It's got problems, but it kinda works, much like Hans Zimmer's annoying yet irresistible tick-tocking score and Nicolas Cage's obnoxious, yet irresistible doofy-faced appeal, which I guess is why he still gets work. Steve Conrad's non-linear script is expertly paced with emotionally-based plot points. He captures daily tragedies and triumphs with an insightful, darkly comedic eye. Michael Caine is the best I've ever seen him - staid and grave with much pomp and circumstance.

500 Days of Summer
½

Very sweet and romantic, but perhaps my viewing was soured because I was too caught up in comparing it to my play. Both have non-linear structures, but I have to wonder what role it plays in this movie. It's novelty without a real purpose. Both are break-up stories, but this movie has to succumb to the Hollywood happy ending. Both have (and this really freaked me out when I read it in a preview) scenes showing a situation and its imagined alternative, but the message is different because the characters don't change the trajectories; the "narrator" merely narrates. Perhaps I'm just bitter because "(500) Days of Summer" got the jump on Generation Y's "Annie Hall." Nevertheless, it's a charming romp with some hilariously quirky bits: the musical in the park, playing house in Ikea.

Zooey Deschanel has of course cultivated a very specific brand - one that is hipster, faux nerdy, and that most heinous of portmanteaux, "adorkable" - which I find disingenuous and played out. She's just the sophisticated naif form of MPDG, being overly self-deprecating but also being more put-together than any real "dork." Deschanel is obviously a beautiful woman, and not that beautiful women can't be dorky, but her distinctive look is so often central to her characters' ethos and likability. I long for the naturally strawberry blonde Zooey from "The New Guy" days who was a realer representation of awkward, but the New Girl is all eyes and bangs now to fetishize this hotter, mainstream desire to be awkward.

The Adventures of Huck Finn

I remember liking this much more as a kid. Now, I just find the beginning and middle incredibly slow - especially the Wilkes brothers' imbroglio. Perhaps my erstwhile liking of the whole is influenced by my absolute love for the heartbreaking scene in which Jim almost gets lynched after Huck gets shot. *Tears!*

City Island
City Island(2010)
½

Fiery, loud, and funny! Everyone in the Rizzo family harbors secrets: smoking, stripping, stealing. They're hinted at in cute, little montages, and then they explode in a huge, Greek climax that shouldn't work in a creative writing sense, but the humor and absurdity of it all is a juggernaut that compels the audience to just roll with it.

I only know Andy Garcia from "The Godfather III" and "Will & Grace," in both of which he played tough, smarmy guys, so I was really impressed with his insecure, sad-sack dad/wannabe actor. I'm always a little bit annoyed at Emily Mortimer - so dainty and puckered - but even more so in this film since she gets all the quirky, pretentious lines. *Spoilers* Furthermore, I watched this movie again on DVD with subtitles on, and they indicate that Molly changes her British accent to American preceding her confession. I couldn't tell the difference at all when I saw this in the theatre without subtitles, which makes me wonder how Mortimer gets cast for so many American roles!

LOL
LOL(2012)

For a movie cleverly-if-cutesily called "LOL" (main girl's name is Lola, shortened to the ubiquitous internet slang) with the mawkish tagline of "You can change your status but not your heart," there's very little laughing out loud or status changing going on with the characters in the movie, to say even less for the viewing audience. The teen drama is vague and insipid, born of silly secrets, obvious misunderstandings, and a triangle of near-identical hipster boys.

Miley Cyrus rocks the honey blonde hair, but she is still scrunchy-faced and faux-angry and probably can't speak a lick of French with her thick drawl. Ashley Greene, herself, seems to be aware that she's the only twenty-five-year-old-looking super senior fawning over the boys at this school. Even Demi Moore is wooden.

Dallas Buyers Club
½

Matthew McConaughey has never done it for me, so to speak, but he is seriously due for some accolades. After shedding however many pounds and however much vanity, McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof - a homophobic, promiscuous, good ol' rodeo boy turned HIV-positive, vigilante pharmacologist, defending the rights of the damned - with raw grit and wretched swagger. In a memorable scene, after Ron learns the severity of his diagnosis, McConaughey sits in the car, braying out an almost inhuman bleat, which may have been humorous if not for its gut-wrenching ugliness and its prolonged tapering into guttural rattling.

The movie is true and important, uplifting and anguishing, but the last third dragged along with no purpose save for tying up loose threads.

Safety Not Guaranteed
½

Since I saw this movie before I started watching "Parks & Recreation," I really dug Aubrey Plaza's ever-present sideways glower and so-hard-she-shits-nails deadpan. Now that I know awkward snark-a-chino is her drink of choice, I'm actually more enamored of her sweetly abashed romanticism. That coy Spy vs. Spy meet-cute is gold! "New Girl"'s Jake Johnson is also great in the scene where Jeff, after a humiliating rejection, man-cries while smoking, swigging, and speeding around a go-kart track.

Quarter-life ennui meets time travel. The former is charming and bittersweet (with Jeff's reformed playboy and subsequent revenge-relapse at the expense of and to the benefit of the nebbish Arnau), but the latter lacks both psychological and scientific explanation. *Spoilers* Kenneth IS revealed to be delusional if not paranoid, so I'm guessing his real reason for going back wasn't to bring back his assumed-dead sweetie but to keep himself from driving her away. Is he aware of this somewhat alarming coping mechanism? Is he still legit kerazy? It doesn't take much for Darius to trust him again. Then if they're going back to save Darius's mom, shouldn't they further consider the butterfly effect consequences trumpeted in nearly every time travel movie?

Upon rewatch though, I just like it for the undeniable goofy goodness of its characters and storyline. There's also a [too short] snippet of one of my favorite Guster songs in the beginning, AND I hadn't realized that Guster frontman Ryan Miller scored the music!

The Invention of Lying
½

In a world where everyone tells the truth (even when unprovoked - a nit at which this and many other reviewers have picked), Mark Bellison discovers that he can lie and uses that superpower for good...for the most part.

The love story arc of Anna figuring out what she wants in a mate is well-paced with a nice moment of her defending the chubby kid who got ice cream smashed in his face by the better-gened kids. Mark's weepy moment of describing a Kindergartener's conception of Heaven to his frightened, dying mother is lovely, but the rest of his Christian scripture is a bit slapstick, and I was disappointed that the movie didn't make more of a comment on spiritual solace, the truth and lies of religion, and Truth's partner: Consequences.

Ricky Gervais does his cheeky hosting bit in the proselytizing scenes, but he actually gets rather endearing and emotional throughout the movie. I do love seeing PSH in oafish comedic roles, and I'm digging Louis C.K.'s Above Average Schmo schtick more and more. Jennifer Garner is also requisitely frosty and vapid, then tender and sweet.

I especially dig Anna's deleted scene monologue of her appeal, which says so much about real-life Millennial women, female romantic leads in movies, and Anna's own character who just comes off as flatly bitchy at first: "In fact, there are very few things in life I care that much about. The only things I have to offer myself, or anyone else are my good looks and my affected sense of quirkiness which artistically inclined men interpret as intellect. I think my best trait is the fact that I've made very few mistakes. Socially, academically, financially, romantically. I take very few risks and therefore lead a relatively happy, light-hearted existence. Mostly though, I am a kind, sweet person with the potential of genuinely becoming a vital and interesting human being the day I take the energy I expend on hyper-self-reflexivity and apply it to actual action in the reality of my life."

Gravity
Gravity(2013)

Kinda ridiculously brilliant. If you're in the mood for edge-of-your-seat, heart-in-your-throat anxiety, this movie's for you!

That first person POV sequence of Dr. Stone spinning into black space at constant velocity for nearly a minute or so is physically sickening and incredibly engrossing. Lots of beautiful and terrible images from space; I didn't even mind the Christ and fetus imagery after Dr. Stone makes it into the hatch and takes a much-deserved minute of repose.

Sandra Bullock's nods/wins for this awards season will definitely be earned (I always knew she was a good actress; I just didn't think "The Blind Side" was her best, but 2009 was when the Academy took notice of her for some reason). Her gasps and groans of distress are minimalistic and don't sound like they were added in from a recording studio after shooting, but if they were, that's even all the more impressive. She swims through zero gravity so quickly and intentionally that I was inspired to go through the rest of my daily tasks with a renewed sense of purpose. My favorite scene is the one with her laughing and crying and howling with the civilian man's dogs on the radio. She is at once so joyful and so despairing.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

A favorite movie of mine since high school. I do love the idea of enjoying a place for its character and not necessarily for purchasing its wares. My Tiffany's is White Castle, though I still do purchase plenty of their delicious, miniature wares and frequent their Valentine's Day extravaganzas.

The dialogue is naughty yet oblique enough for its time; Cat is cute and sad; George Peppard is dreamy as all-get-out; and Henry Mancini's iconic score is playful and mischievous. I prefer Marilyn Monroe to Audrey Hepburn in general, but I can't deny that the latter brings a level of sophistication and class that the former wouldn't have if she had been cast as Holly Golightly, which Truman Capote wanted her to be.

Seeing this again for the first time in a long time though has opened my eyes to an unsettling revelation: Holly Golightly is probably the first [gasp] Manic Pixie Dreamgirl! I've grown weary of the can't-be-tamed caged bird trope that has become a cliche pop culture identity with Karen Gillan's Amy Pond on "Doctor Who" and various other "too fucked up to love me" girls. I used to identify strongly with the winsome and mercurial Holly Golightly and she's still a rather complex and memorable character, but perhaps my impatience for the literary/filmic type has retroactively soured her for me.

Rush
Rush(2013)

"Rush" is an adrenaline-pumping Formula 1 rivalry with a dashing-though-still-not-my-cuppa Chris Hemsworth as playboy dilettante James Hunt and my perennial, quad-lingual favorite, Daniel Brühl, as hip-to-be-square Niki Lauda. The push and pull of these nemeses make for thrilling chases, devastating injuries, and triumphant recoveries.

The sports movie cliche is still present, but Ron Howard generally provides the perfect balance of glossy and gritty, befitting the motto of Imagine Entertainment, "where dreams drop into make-believe as surely as a drop of water falls into a bigger thing of water in slow motion."

Olivia Wilde's English accent is sexy and demure to mine ears, and newcomer Alexandra Maria Lara is like a willowy and graceful version of Lindsay Sloane.

All Is Lost
All Is Lost(2013)
½

A pessimistic title and the prospect of watching a wizened former matinee idol adrift on an unforgiving sea for nearly two hours might not bode well for this film, but the narrative and performance (just one) are truly gripping.

A seasoned yachtsman's boat rams into a shipping container, and he spends much of the first act disengaging the port side from the container with a water anchor, repairing the hole while hanging off a makeshift scaffold, pumping out the water inside the cabin, creating potable water, using a sextant to map a course to the shipping channels - generally being a water bound MacGyvering badass. The actions are silent but riveting for his expertise and quick response. I've never actually seen Robert Redford in a film, but he is sturdy and spry in his first acting role in decades - showing off his avid stunt bravery, fair physique in old man sweaters and chinos, and gruff, lined face that needn't emote too much.

Nature continues to throw everything it has at the man, and he continues to fight a losing war - saying nary a word save for a dry mouthed, guttural "Fuuuuck!" which rang slightly awkward for Redford. This Man vs. Nature movie doesn't make me cringe like "Into the Wild" did because the man is clearly prepared for all manners of water emergencies; all is lost because Nature sometimes gets her way. The tension we feel is real, not just pity or annoyance for the ignorant and arrogant McCandless. The minimal backstory provides hints at some familial estrangement, so the man's lone sojourn wasn't motivated out of yuppie ennui but a deep-seated need to literally set adrift.

The moment he sends the message in a jar is so subtle and poignant: he cocks his arm back to throw the jar then stops short, weighs his last words in his hand with a tinge of hope, then just exasperatedly lets the jar drop in the water, sighing cynically at his fleeting ray of hope.

SPOILERS: The man setting his raft ablaze seemed like a last-ditch effort, but it wasn't clear. Did he decide to just drown himself if no one sees his beacon, and is drowning oneself even possible without an anchor? The anonymous arm pulling him out of the water into white light could be literal or metaphorical salvation. I enjoy how the movie just ended like that.

Nebraska
Nebraska(2013)
½

"Nebraska" starts out quirkily enough, with Bruce Dern's old man grunts of knowing confusion and June Squibb's true but hilariously unrelenting put-downs of her demented husband. The first shot of usually comic Will Forte is even remarkably grave with a half-whispered "thank you" to the the police officer who ushers him in to see his detained father. What follows though is a comic playing staid, straight good son who explicitly states the thesis of the movie within the first twenty minutes! Goose-chasing dad doesn't need the riches that the golden goose affords; he just wants the thrill of the chase and the respect of a chance.

This road movie is slow and made even more plodding by arty black and white. The family gathering is inorganic and too staged; they merely gather for the movie's sake, not because it's convenient or important to travel all the way down to Hawthorne, NE, when moments ago, they wouldn't deign to take Woody to Lincoln to collect his winnings. The humor is in making fun of midwestern ennui, both of which gets old and bland. The lottery vulture plot is repetitive and deliberately circular, with EVERYONE obtusely believing the hearsay and NO ONE just coming right out with the truth that Woody got hoodwinked by a magazine subscription service. The redemption moment is fine, but cliche.

Delivery Man
Delivery Man(2013)

I was so freakin' psyched by the trailer, you would not believe. Alas, the film is uneven - squeezing at tear ducts one minute and defying logic and plot the next.

David Wozniak's too many sperm donations were accidentally used too many times, and now he has too many children - a fair many of whom have now mobilized a campaign to uncover their birth father's identity. In an attempt to win his baby mama's trust, he sets off to be these kids' guardian angel, which leads to some really beautiful bonding moments (taking over his baristo/actor son's station so that he can go on an audition to win the role of a lifetime; interceding in his dispirited daughter's near-fatal heroin overdose; being an overall cheerleader for this gang of misfits).

What doesn't quite fit can be described by the Superman/Clark Kent Conundrum. Can the handful of kids whose lives he touched not put together the pieces of the puzzle and figure out he's their father? I was hoping that they DID figure it out, but they wouldn't call him out on it because they know that kind of blanket exposure isn't what he wants.

Also, where are these kids' parents? Especially the physically disabled, mentally retarded one who lives in a facility? The complex culture of adoption/surrogate birth wasn't really explored: what kind of upbringing did these kids have that may or may not have caused them to wonder about, then actively search for their birth parent?

Furthermore, Victor's mild hostage ploy seemed to have been thrown in for awkward guffaws. Why doesn't David try some fathering here and show Victor how his clingy behavior is alienating and socially detrimental?

Penultimately, David's own life plot with Emma is completely unimaginative. Emma's character lacks any emotional depth and only exists as a foil and romantic interest to David. She is given a job as a police officer, probably in an attempt to show that she's a strong woman, but other than that, she has no personality traits. Played by the once neapolitan but increasingly vanilla Cobie Smulders, Emma really is a nothing role.

Lastly, which relates to the penultimate, David's rousing speech about fatherhood at the end is good for his finally taking responsibility, but the rhetoric about a father deciding he's the father is a bit simplistic and misogynistic, especially in light of legitimate custody cases in which the father is clearly not qualified. The necessity for such an argument also paints Emma as narrow-minded; there seems to be only one reason keeping her from accepting David as the father (his unwitting siring of a bajillion scions), which once again, is an ignorant representation of a woman.

And just a parting nitpick: why are all these kids so into kids? The overwhelming love showered on this new baby sibling is a cloying and manipulative resolution to a potentially deep but ultimately wasted whale of a tale.

Win Win
Win Win(2011)
½

Quite a glorious little indie from the dependably insightful and naturalistic writer/director Tom McCarthy, who, like with "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor," creates another atypical leading man with mundane demons and satisfying redemptions.

Perennial loser-with-layers portrayer Paul Giamatti plays Mike, a hard-up estate lawyer who commits a bit of light fraud with a rich, demented client to pay his own crippling household debts. The old man's grandson, Kyle, shows up from the wrong side of the tracks in hopes of getting away from a druggie mother, and Mike takes him under his wing out of pity and guilt, then genuine caring, and the two strike up a bond over high school wrestling...that is until Kyle finds out about Mike's transgression.

Alex Shaffer plays the bleach blonde Kyle with reticence but manners, and Bobby Cannavale plays the gregarious overgrown Guido-type, Terry, with charming impishness. The wrestling plot is triumphant and fast-paced, and the growing affection in this unconventional family tugs at some heartstrings.

The legal subplot with Kyle's mom wanting guardianship of Leo for shady reasons is a bit convoluted and underdeveloped though; we're supposed to sympathize with Leo and Kyle who just want to be left alone in their own home, but apparently, Leo wasn't a great father and may have contributed to his daughter's drug problems. What then?

Austin Powers in Goldmember
½

The last-ditch-effort with celebrity cameos is cheap but still hilarious. I also like the role reversals of Scott Evil and Mini-Me. Beyonce plays the blaxpoitation heroine trope with sass and gusto.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
½

The recurring "It looks like a huge -" joke is still comedy gold. Heather Graham is one saucy coquette, Rob Lowe's Robert Wagner impression is silly and enjoyable (by virtue of me loving him so much more now on "Parks & Recreation"), and cameos by Woody Harrelson, Elvis Costello, and Willie Nelson are delightful surprises.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
½

Great for some yuks and pop culture references! And I know Elizabeth Hurley isn't really the It Girl anymore and she has come across as vapid and culturally unaware in soundbites, but I really think she is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen.

Sliding Doors

John Hannah is whimsical and perfect, and the character of Helen is ballsy and relatable; however, Gwyneth's faux British accent is a bit grating on the nerves.

Very sweet and affecting Butterfly Effect parallel universes with subtle overlaps and similarities in each. Much like "(500) Days of Summer," which got the jump on my "Annie Hall"-esque anti-romance play in 2008, Super Reviewer and writing partner Jim Hunter, and I are co-writing a play about small events changing lives SANS the element of destiny. The two universes won't end in the same pre-packaged Hollywood happy ending.

Almost Famous

I don't think I "get" this movie. I like rock and roll as much as the next Band Aid, but very little is actually spent on the music. Russell Hammond's last interview answer about what he loves about music is somewhat of an easy trick, "To begin with...everything." This is Cameron Crowe's problem in "Elizabethtown" too, only with shoes and failure. He doesn't and can't seem to articulate what it is he loves or knows about music. Now, I know writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but because that articulation of music seems so central to William's journalistic aspirations, the movie needs to be more than just a coming-of-age road trip with surface treatment of the sexdrugsrockandroll trifecta.

Kate Hudson's woodsy, backlit scene of her laughingly asking, "What kind of beer [was I sold for]?" with those smooth, limpid tears rolling down is indeed a notable performance. However, what really is the difference between Groupies and Band Aids in the end? How do they afford such an extravagant, nomadic lifestyle? What about Penny Lane does William really fall in love with that's so different from the innocent yet sophisticated beauty every other band member sees?

The best part of the movie is probably Lester Bangs's brash but sympathetic caveats about fame and coolness.

The Sound Of Music Live!
½

I like Carrie Underwood as a country pop star, so I was excited to watch, but I was also prepared for a hot awf-some mess. What I got was actually a rather professional and delightful time. The stigma of "strong effort" aside, the performances are not bad at all! Purists who hate-watch are bound to hate it, but they forget that much of the magic of theatre is its mutability.

Carrie Underwood belts live with so much power, brightness, and vibrato - which is obviously different from Julie Andrews's graceful soprano, but not BAD per se. Her face is sort of a charisma vacuum in the non-singing scenes, but she does get effectively teary in the emotionally-heightened scenes. I don't know much about Stephen Moyer, but I like his angular looks better than I like Christopher Plummer's whom I found both strict yet slack. Moyer's voice isn't the strongest, but it's at least pleasing to the ear. He's known more as an actor, and he acts well with his whole body through the extra songs that aren't in the movie. Stage and screen veterans, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle, are clearly the most consistent and are given more to do in this stage version.

I had never seen a stage production of "The Sound of Music" before, and the [dis]placement of songs cheesed me a little with the repetitive "My Favorite Things," the too-soon "Do-Re-Mi," and the puppet-less "The Lonely Goatherd." I'm also surprised that the film is so long, considering all the good dialogue cut out. Georg, Max, and Elsa and their respective stances on politics are more fleshed out, and Brigitta is a substantial supporting part for a child actor.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special: The Day Of The Doctor

I've identified myself as a New Whovian for over a year now, but after watching a respectable chunk of the new series and getting invested in multiple strains of fandom (collecting and gifting paraphernalia; sharing and creating trivia, memes, and Dalek puns; attending and actually dressing up for themed parties; arguing over my favorite incarnations and companions [the 9th {Spoilers: 10th} Chris Eccleston and sassy-savvy Martha]), I ought to be a full-blown Whovian by now. Unfortunately, I have to say that I am more a fan of Doctor Who's saturated status in our current pop culture climate than the show itself for its slight campiness, plot-hole-ridden narratives, and rule-bending representations of time travel.

That being said, I still enjoyed the 50th Anniversary Extravaganza in 3D in the movie theatre, with its cheeky "Silence Your Cell Phone" PSA, the nods to and cameos by past Doctors, the reappearance of Billie Piper as Bad Wolf (even though I don't much care for the lisping, whimpering Rose), and the geek-chic "Twinsies" chemistry of Matt Smith and David Tennant, tempered by the venerable John Hurt.

12 Years a Slave

Is it fair to expect driving conflict from a based on true life story that's obviously trying less for vanguard screenwriting and more for poignant historical biopic? The film, subject matter, and message are indeed harrowing and important, and Chiwetel Ejiofor boldly disappears into the role of Solomon Northup, a free man sold into slavery, but the action is formulaic and the scenes are episodic.

The film dips into arthouse a couple of times with the extended scene of Solomon balancing himself in the mud under the hanging tree and with the extended close-up of Solomon - for lack of a better descriptor - feeling emotions. Masterful physical acting on Ejiofor's part, but the emotions are slightly vague.

Paul Dano overcrazys it up, Michael Fassbender's character is complex in a conventional way, and as Super Reviewer Jim Hunter quipped during the third act, "You know you're in trouble when Brad Pitt is the moral center of your movie." I do not enjoy him as an actor at all. Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o blisters on screen, figuratively and literally. Her wide eyes are blank with repressed fury, and her accent work seems natural and inspired.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Good: The second installment clears up the fabricated romance confusion that I thought should have ended the previous installment. All new characters/actors are wonderful: Jena Malone is shrill, feisty, ridiculous, and manic as axe-wielding Johanna Mason. Sam Claflin is handsome, smarmy, flirty, and handsome as the stud with soul Finnick Odair. Our reigning, "so whimsically normal" Oscar-winner J.Law is still serviceable, but I think the editing may have caught too many of her over-emotive takes. And kudos to Liam Hemsworth for officially no longer being dull as a box of rocks!

The Bad: Peeta Mellark still seems to be a thankless role, and I can't quite figure out whether that's Josh Hutcherson's fault or if the writers aren't giving him anything to work with. They don't seem to understand Peeta's character nor how to present his qualities on film because he IS such an internal character. Many say Katniss is a strong female character because she takes on typically male characteristics of badassery; it follows that Peeta is thus "girly" or "soft," but that's not the case at all. He knows himself better than any other character, and he is for-the-most-part, comfortable in his own skin, confident with the skills he has, and unresentful and unashamed of others' help. He is my favorite character for these traits, which are not typical to any gender. The filmmakers try to physically toughen up his character, but what they should have done is shown his haunting paintings of the Games. Peeta is strong and brave but not in showboaty, obvious ways like Finnick or Gale. Peeta is pure, and that's what makes his later abduction and brainwashing all the more heartbreaking.

Now for the Hutch. His puppy dog eyes sell his love for Katniss to a certain extent, but in other scenes, he's kind of flat. This is terribly odd considering his natural exuberance and humor in [celebrity] real-life. Perhaps Josh Hutcherson IS Peeta or at least he sees himself as Peeta, so he doesn't really project more than himself.

On the whole, a fine adaptation. I just love Peeta and wish he would get his due.

The Hunger Games

I definitely went in with too high of expectations. The first act is nigh perfect in setting up dystopian Appalachia: the shaky handicam shots of miners going to work, raggedly clad children, and weary villagers preparing for the Reaping. Even dull-as-a-box-of-rocks-in-"The-Last-Song" Liam Hemsworth infuses Gale with levity as well as wistful longing for love and escape. I especially love the reaction shots of the mother after she says something kind to Katniss, but Katniss just deflects the kindness onto Prim - showing the strained relationship between mother and eldest daughter.

The film spends so much time with the exposition that the next two acts are rushed and ill-developed, specifically Peeta's history and motivations. The bread-in-the-rain flashback is shown quite a few times, but it's always the same. They could have elongated the memory to bolster its significance - shown the severity of Katniss' starvation, shown Peeta's intention of burning the bread so that he could gift it to Katniss, shown how that act of kindness saved her and her family's life.

Peeta's bravery, loyalty, and true love for Katniss (versus her complicated but necessary duplicity) don't come through at all. They could have shown Peeta actually fighting off Cato after the tracker jacker attack so that unfamiliar audiences wouldn't just think he's a milquetoast pretty boy. Instead of just the perfunctory filler about drunken Haymitch and a steely-eyed Katniss refusing to acknowledge her natural ally/enemy during their first official meeting, they could have shown Peeta trying to befriend Katniss, proving that everything he does in the Games - from playing to the Capitol crowd to teaming up with the Careers to his last defense of camouflage - is to ensure her survival. Also, as Katniss contemplates double suicide, Peeta in the book tries desperately to stop her by professing his love for her.

The costumes are glorious, and the settings are lush. All the actors are spot-on (although the actors who play Cato, Marvel, and Peeta all look too similar). Stanley Tucci is adorable and lively as the host. Amandla Stenberg's one perfect tear is perfect. J.Law covers all the bases from stalwart fierceness to pained vulnerability.

About Time
About Time(2013)

Oh so googly. From the opening strains of a favorite Ben Fold slow-jam to Mary sashaying down the aisle in a fetching red gown to Italian pop opera, this movie just charms and doesn't stop. The filial and romantic relationships are all so supportive and honest that they made me shit Double Deckers and vomit holy thistle (UK candy and plant to parallel my usual shitting and vomiting of chocolate and daisies). The meet-cute at one of those vogue blind restaurants is unique, and the rained out wedding scramble is so full of joy.

I liked Domhnall Gleeson as solemn Levin in Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina," and I like him now as genial and humorous Tim. I haven't liked Rachel McAdams since "Mean Girls," especially not after time travel/amnesia romance became her bread and butter, but her short, mousey fringe here lends her a normal, unassuming quality.

The narrative does fall apart around the middle though when the filmmakers realized they needed to inject some conflict; unfortunately, the conflict is of the high stakes but easily-fixed-by-time-travel variety. I'm really surprised at how little the characters and the movie seem to know about time travel, theoretically. Does Tim not figure out that if he goes back in time to help his playwright lessor Harry that he forfeits his chance of meeting Mary? If Kit Kat possesses new memories of being in love with Jay, why doesn't Tim have new memories of the baby boy? The audience is expected to just roll with his rejection of a living, breathing child because the world of this movie is Tim's, not anyone else's who may have developed strong attachments to this kid, so he's just free to play God, as it were. It's more than a little unsettling once you think about it. The sperm explanation doesn't make any sense at all; Tim still risks making changes every day he goes back to relive the pleasures of a day.

All in all, the romcom parts are sweet and quirky, but the time travel conceit just goes to prove a trite thesis: the best time is now.

Enough Said
Enough Said(2013)

This Nicole Holofcener joint isn't deserving of all its accolades, especially since the hackneyed, mistaken-identity rom-com trope pales in comparison to the rest of Holofcener's oeuvre, which at least tackles class, gender, race, and morality issues.

Catherine Kenner is given a thankless role that never transcends its lofty-poetic-genius literary cliche. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini are likable enough, but the plot forces their characters together in heavy-handed ways. Eva starts dating Albert who is the ex-husband of a new massage client, Marianne, but she keeps this revelation from both - essentially unable to resist good gossip. Marianne continually badmouths Albert's lack of adult graces; Albert continually proves Marianne's assessment; Eva continually picks at Albert for what are presented as minor nits, but for what I think are actual deal breakers for Eva.

The ruse (Greek in scope) is finally revealed in a blaze of embarrassment and hurt, but the film still hints at Eva and Albert getting back together in the end though. All in all, I'm not sure if the film has indeed said enough about anything: middle-age relationships, children of divorce, baggage of exes, the banality of strangers.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Silly premise aside, this film is a mess of torrid pacing and charisma vacuumed non-acting.

Lee Daniels' The Butler
½

I went into this movie primed by The Onion's hilarious review and expecting an "important" film - one that is too aware of its significant sociopolitical message, thus eschewing story, character development, or audience assessment for an oppressive air of self-aggrandizement - but I was surprisingly moved and invested in Cecil Gaines's journey for self-identification and racial equality.

"The Butler" juxtaposes Cecil and his son's conflicting trajectories in the fight for civil rights - the former's aim being to keep his head down and earn respect through hard work, and the latter's aim being to take back his God-given rights by means of civil disobedience, then vocal and physical force. The film treats both sides somberly and honestly, and both trajectories come to a middle ground when father and son reconcile their pasts, presents, and futures.

The cameo palette of dead presidents is distinguished and varied, but too many make for a "Forrest Gump"ian history lesson. Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey are humble yet dignified leads, building pathos for the Gaines's home-life but never overstepping into the maudlin. Overall, an important but not "important" film-going experience.

Liberal Arts
Liberal Arts(2012)

Come on, Josh Radnor. You stripped away everything unique and heartwarming about "HappyThankYouMorePlease," leaving a pretentious, self-indulgent, third-life-crisis fantasy.

A 35-year-old admissions counselor (named "Jesse" of all things - that's not to knock all people named Jesse; it's just one of those hyper-cool Gen-X names that over-nostalgic writers throw in because they wish they'd been named Jesse) visits his alma mater and encounters a murder of college stereotypes: the mildly menacing, retirement-shy professor whom Jesse is called upon to honor; the GILF literature professor with whom he finally gets; the karate-chopping, Peruvian Hat-wearing (yes, that's what those knit hats with braided tassels are called) idiot savant (whom I was hoping would turn out to be a ghost); the suicidal wallflower with whom Jesse shares numerous veiled [insert suicidal author here] references; and of course, the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, who is legitimately dreamy at first, owing to the portrayal by fresh-faced Elizabeth Olsen, but then grows uncharacteristically shrill and immature after Jesse spurns her advances.

All of these supporting characters serve to exalt Jesse, it seems. He may fuck up along the way, but his higher morals, or his heartfelt apology, or his heroic gesture saves the day and puts him on a pedestal. Jesse and Zibby's long distance letter-writing campaign is vague and bland due to the fact that they only write about classical music, and as Frank Zappa or Ted Mosby might say, "writing about music is like dancing about architecture," no matter how poetically waxed, which this really wasn't.

Honestly, the movie is just a bit too careful. Sam in "HTYMP" at least had an edge and owned his mistakes; Jesse is just too nice and not compelling.

Don Jon
Don Jon(2013)

Commendable directorial debut from our long-locked child star turned dapper Renaissance Man, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Don Jon is a womanizer, to be sure, but one with an impenetrable code of honor in regard to the eight things he really cares about (body, pad, ride, family, church, boys, girls, and porn), which come to think of it, are more things than I care to care about.

JG-L plays a slick Guido, and ScarJo plays a high-maintenance Joisey princess, and both generate sizzling chemistry. The supporting cast with their loud Italian squabbles adds some awkward comedic relief, though the silent sister ultimately imparting sage advice was a little predictable. The camera's energy is as fervent and manic as any blue movie, with the sharp cuts and varied angles. The booty-grinding house/club soundtrack is also a reliable punchline.

I like Julianne Moore's character of Esther, the real woman who teaches Jon about real love, but I can't really envision the two of them getting together. Maybe it's a chemistry thing; maybe it's an age thing. However, I'm not one of the everybodies who loves a happy ending (as this film poster claims) - rather preferring the characters to remain single while finding themselves - so the crunchy-groovy ending rang a little cliché and premature.

The Spectacular Now

Not particularly spectacular, nor particularly nuanced about "the now." My prom king and queen favorites, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, deliver charismatic and sweet performances, respectively, but the story is a bit underdeveloped. There are hardly any consequences at all to the alcoholism that fuels this doomed relationship.

I figured this would be a fairly typical "love of a good woman" story with the modest girl-next-door reforming the perpetually buzzed, ne'er-do-well charmer, and I enjoyed Aimee's game-for-anything light and Sutter's dawning admiration. It takes much strength to really accept someone for who they are, as Aimee does for Sutter.

The one moment when I found her unwavering patience unrealistic and unforgivable is after Sutter rages for her to get out of his car and away from his destructive personality; in her own drunken, tearful confusion, she steps back and gets side-swiped by another car. Fade to black.

We fade back in without much ado, only to find that Aimee isn't dead or horribly injured. In fact, she's remarkably cheery and happy to see Sutter. At this point, I was screaming Stockholm Syndrome! There's only so far patience can go before the movie starts lacking conflict. SOMEBODY ought to address the alcohol problem and the negative influence Sutter has had on her.

I'm also not fond of Neustadter and Weber's proclivity for the recycled gift-wrapped happy ending. "(500) Days of Summer" could have ended bittersweetly like "Annie Hall," but Tom meets Autumn and another seasonal cycle continues - for better or worse, the film doesn't even really care. Sutter finishes his lame college application essay about the importance of "the now" (even though Sutter working at a dad 'n son-esque men's wear store adds an oddly dated quality to this movie), goes to find Aimee at school, and she presumably takes him back even though he hasn't really had enough time to truly reform. The story's just terribly innocuous.

Idiocracy
Idiocracy(2006)

Clever concept of an average modern-day man waking up in the future to be the smartest person in a sea of moronic masses. If only most of the movie didn't merely detail the exploits of said morons cuz that got annoying and pointless fast.

Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine(2013)

The conscionable killer side of me was really raring for a bleak Woody Allen drama, and "Blue Jasmine" seemed to fit the bill with a luminous Cate Blanchett as the titular Jasmine, a former society maven whose marriage, finances, and family unravel ever-so-uncomfortably due to her hamartias of denial and hubris, as well as her odd habits of babbling to herself and others and dabbling in arts and phaux-philanthropy. Blanche(tt) is a frothy but formidable mix of Blanche Dubois and Blanche Devereaux, glistening with that fine-bone-structured charisma but also big ol' bullets of desperate perspiration.

Sally Hawkins is quite brilliant and subtly perky (unlike over-the-top perky in "Happy-Go-Lucky"). Bobby Cannavale is brutish yet sensitive. The script is cerebral yet natural. The comeuppances do indeed come, yet I'm still unsatisfied.

*SPOILERS*

I said "seemed" earlier because the ending is more of a non-ending. Nothing is truly resolved. I expected the movie to end with Jasmine dying by accident or committing suicide ala "Cassandra's Dream," thus rounding out a tragedy that is Greek in scope. OR I expected that Jasmine would get off scot free, marry Dwight, and live happily ever after without him finding out her sordid past ala "Crimes and Misdemeanors" or "Match Point," thus rendering the tragedy ironic.

Instead, we get a quivery close-up of Jasmine sitting alone on a bench - a sad tableau to be sure, but no definitive statement of her future. And Woody is never afraid to make a definitive statement, so I didn't appreciate the bland open-endedness this time. Nothing too terrible or wonderful is going to happen to her. She left the apartment door open, so I'm sure Ginger and Chili will go looking for her; it's not like they had the worst of falling outs. They'll probably take pity on Jasmine for another couple of months, then commit her to a sanitarium, which is already a classic American denouement for the former of the aforementioned Blanches.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
½

Clary Fray discovers that she comes from a long line of shadowhunters, and she must save her abducted mother by confronting the demons and "down-worlders" in her past (while wearing the hell out of some hotsy-totsy ensembles).

Clary is a decently badass chick who is just fragile and girly enough to still want love, and Lily Collins plays her with winsome gusto. I think I'm officially a fan of Collins' heavy eyebrows and distinctly Audrey Hepburn air. The legs of the love triangle, played by Jamie Campbell Bower and Robert Sheehan, are satisfyingly edgy and adorable, respectively. JCB is actually rather funny in a cold, sardonic way. All the rest of the supporting cast are great: Jonathan Rhys Meyers is sexy and evil; Lena Headey is daring and angelic; Jemima West is bold but understated; and pantsless Godfrey Gao is a charismatic new guard of the Asian Persuasion.

Having never read the books, I was pleasantly thrilled and surprised by all the twists and turns. I also give the books and movie kudos for GOING THERE, you know what I mean? The twistiest of turns is balanced and open.

Casablanca
Casablanca(1942)

Anyone who doesn't love "Casablanca" should...stay in Casablanca? I don't know if this is the original give-up-the-girl-for-the-sake-of-the-Resistance story, but it's certainly got the most class. My favorite scene is the one in which the Germans are carousing to their anthem, and Victor strides up to the band and tells them to play "La Marseillaise." The band leader looks over at Rick, and he nods, almost imperceptibly. Vive la France!

Upon recent viewing though, I noticed several instances of vague show coupled with obvious tell - spoken recaps of the previous scene just in case an audience missed the subtext.

The Sound of Music

SO RIDICULOUSLY HAPPY! The music and lyrics are beautiful and well-paced, save for a few woolly reprises. No one is too evil, except for the freakin' Nazis, and rightfully so cuz the enemy OUGHT to be bigger than us all! I rather love Charmian Carr as Liesl and "Sixteen Going On Seventeen," but my stomach just wells up with anger during that flirtatious little number, knowing that Rolfe is gonna become a little Nazi bitch. Watching as an adult now, I'm also pleasantly surprised at how subtly sexy that whole dance scene between Maria and Captain Von Trapp out on the terrace is.

Some Like It Hot

Love Marilyn Monroe - the sexy, the innocent, the Silver Screen star, the controversial pop icon. Her performances of "Runnin' Wild," "I Wanna Be Loved By You," and "I'm Through With Love" are cheeky, seductive, and wistful, respectively. She overacts badly a bit during the yacht seduction sequence, and the gangster chase drags (heh) on a bit only to end with a much too easy resolution, but still, they just don't make 'em like this anymore.

West Side Story

It's a little weird. It's a classic, for sure, but the ballet-dancing, overacting, near-gangbangers are just a bit absurd. Vivid and frenetic choreography and music (with a few oversyncopated atonal hot messes like "Something's Coming" and "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love"), but the Puerto Rican accents sometimes slip, and the "brownface" make-up is disturbingly noticeable, especially in Rita Moreno's case. She, George Chakiris, and even Jose De Vega as Chino are fantastic, but I'm disappointed that the leads, Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood, had to be dubbed by what seemed like professional but deliberately handicapped singers.

Shallow Hal
Shallow Hal(2001)
½

This is one of those movies that I always watch if I happen to flip to it half an hour in on TBS or FX. Yes, there are plenty of fat jokes, but Gwyneth is the most down-to-earth I've ever seen her, and Jack Black gets some great dawning moments as well, like with Cadence in the burn ward.

The Dark Crystal

A little creepy at first but adorable and triumphant at the end. Kira has wings! The lore of the evil Skeksis and the good Mystics being parts of a whole and the dangers of arrogance and corruption are powerful themes. I watched much of the hour-long making-of documentary too, and I've realized that I feel about Muppets the same way I feel about claymation and stop-motion animation: I understand and appreciate how much planning and work goes into them, but I get skeeved out by the looks of the finished products.

From Justin To Kelly

I just like it, okay? The ridiculously stereotypical yet clinically wholesome spring break scene. The matching trios of friends made up of people who would normally never hang out together. The inconsequential socioeconomic sideplot. The skirt made out of ties. Yes, the story is formulaic and the acting is either under or overdone, but the costume design and dance choreography are legit cool.

Kelly Clarkson is in great shape for the sweet (if bland) girl-next-door, and Justin is all big-haired faux-swagger as the reformed partyboy. It's all hokey as hell, but I just roll with it.

Much Ado About Nothing
½

My second favorite film of summer 2013 after "Before Midnight." It's obviously not the uproarious comedy or SFX-laden blockbuster of typical summer fare, but the master of sci-fi-with-heart Joss Whedon's adaptation of the Bard is stylish, thrilling, and romantic with the light energy of a great summer romp. The black and white is sleek, the set design of Joss Whedon's own house is beautiful and sensuous, and the jazzy soundtrack is just ear ecstasy.

Shakespeare's romcom plot 1.0 is a bit...tame? for modern day. A rather huge deal is made over Hero's virginity, so much that when she is suspected of infidelity on top of fornication, Claudio, her betrothed, could enact such vitriolic public reprobation, her family could pretend she died at such horrific slander, and an otherwise gentle noblewoman would defend her cousin's honor by decreeing the slanderer's murder. Despite the dated material, Whedon adds some valiant updated touches: changing Conrade to a woman to add movement and intrigue to the scene with Sean Maher's icy and conniving Don Jon, hinting at Beatrice and Benedick's clandestine no-strings trysts and subsequent rancor because she presumably wants more and he's a confirmed bachelor, having Benedick deliver his Act II Scene 3 monologue while working out.

Whedon alumni Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof take on [their first] leading roles [in the Whedonverse] as attracting opposites Beatrice and Benedick. The pair rattle off Venusian versus Martian barbs, pratfall like seasoned Vaudevillians, and gradually generate palpable and ardent chemistry in the climactic scene of Beatrice commanding Benedick to murder Claudio as proof of his devotion.

The supporting cast is all charming and fun, especially sweet-faced Fran Kranz as the lovestruck Claudio. Having only seen Acker in supporting broad comedy or restrained drama roles on "HIMYM" and "Dollhouse," Denisof as the hair-helmeted ponce, Sandy Rivers, on "HIMYM," and Kranz as the exuberantly nerdy Topher on "Dollhouse" and stoner trope in "Cabin In the Woods," I'm really quite impressed with the acting of these three.

The iambic rhythms of Elizabethan speech did seem a mouthful for most of the cast at first, but it eventually ironed itself out, or I got over it. I'm always leery of contemporary Shakespearean adaptations that rely too much on physical humor and meaningful looks to clue the audience into the arcane dialect, but there was only a minimum of that, and what minimum there was, was organically funny.

Elizabethtown

Things I Liked About "Elizabethtown" Upon Second Viewing
1. Orlando Bloom's performance. Despite having contracted Orlando Bloom Fever at the beginning of his mainstream career, with each "Pirates" and "LotR" installment, I got wearier and wearier of his pretty boy, dainty-featured backpfeifengesicht - German for "a face in desperate need of a fist." I felt a bit of that repulsion in the first few minutes of this viewing, but I eventually made peace with the delicate flower of his visage and was really impressed with his acting, especially during the road trip montage when he's alternately crying and laughing to himself.

2. The heartwarming midwest community. I saw this for the first time in northern Virginia, so perhaps I didn't understand the midwest mentality until I lived in Indiana. My daily life isn't quite like the family portrayed here, but even I was moved at the sequence of Drew first driving into Elizabethtown and seeing everyone waving and smiling at him with faces of seeming recognition, welcoming back the Prodigal Son.

3. The memorial ceremony turned into raucous fire and blazes, accompanied by Ruckus's indomitable cover of "Free Bird."

4. Claire's thought and effort of creating an emotional road trip for Drew to scatter his father's ashes.


Things I STILL HATE About "Elizabethtown" Upon Second Viewing
1. Kirsten Dunst. I didn't find her or her character, Claire, charming, cute, deep, or romantic (like NaPo's Sam in "Garden State" and even she's only likeable in small doses). "Elizabethtown" came during that dryspell after Kiki had outgrown her lost prodigy depth and bubbly cheerleader charm - which yielded such lifeless and/or annoying performances as in "The Cat's Meow," "Spiderman," "Eternal Sunshine," "Wimbledon," and this - and before she rebirthed herself as melancholic muse for the likes of Sofia Coppola and Lars von Trier. Her Kentuckian accent is terribly...not, and she plays Claire as much too self-deprecating (half-laughing through the big "I like you!" line), as if the actress didn't even buy the character's quirkiness. Claire herself is just a girl. She recites some manic pixie dreamgirl juxtapositions that seem delightfully incongruous, but then prove to be ACTUALLY incongruous and faux-inspired, e.g. "I'm impossible to forget, but I'm hard to remember." "Men see things in a box, and women see them in a round room." Is she? Do they?

2. The so-called fiasco involving Drew's shoe design. There's so much pretentious, aphoristic talk about fiascos and failures, but what exactly WAS the fiasco? What was wrong with the shoe? How could such a promising young podophile possibly think this vaguely Skechers Shape-Up prototype would work, and how did no one else notice its Achilles' Heel, if you will? The fact that none of this is ever revealed shows how little legitimate research on the shoe industry Cameron Crowe did. For one, it's lazy writing and directing. For two: see below.

3. The light treatment of suicide. This needn't have been a sadder movie, but it IS realistic at least, for all intensive porpoises. Without the grounding exploration of what failure means in the shoe industry, Drew's subsequent obsession with suicide is purely comical and absurd, not intellectual or existential. I'm never actually worried for or in suspense about his mortality. Also, the repercussions of the fiasco are only limned in monetary terms. Drew never expresses critical doubt about his mental, intellectual, social or self worth, which are more compelling problems than just the Benjamins. Even after Claire admits her burgeoning feelings for him, his immediate response is to blithely cite his date with destiny? Suicide's just a quirky appointment, not something that he is seriously debating cuz I'm sure after meeting his manic pixie dreamgirl, he'd be more apt to wine and dine the girl, not slice and dice his veins.

4. Hollie's tap dance. Okay, I normally love DANCE in movies, but I just wish this number was a little better. I know Hollie had just learned to tap dance on a whim in her grief, but the choreography was more soft shoe than tap. After her standup routine (which I didn't like although I do understand its purpose of diffusing grief), I just wasn't moved or impressed by the dance, and I wanted either more emotion or better execution.

5. The "last look" at the memorial. I was already irritated by the quirkiness of Drew "collecting last looks" and Claire clicking her mental camera, and Crowe managed to mess it up in the one place it could work. Amid the smoke, sprinklers, and Skynyrd, Drew looks up to the stage one last time, presumably at the sad but oddly jubilant tableau of his father's smoldering portrait and this utter shitshow, and thinks that this is a good last look, only to reveal Claire as the subject of his observation. It's not even that good of a last look, and it's clearly not the last time she'll be seeing him. I could buy it if it was a goodbye to his father and to the vagaries of the midwest.

6. The fact that everyone loves the soundtrack. I think it's overrated. Many of the songs sound like the same indie moaning. I prefer "Vanilla Sky"'s soundtrack.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
½

A bit Lord o' the Ringsy around the middle with all the traveling, but on the whole, a warm story about a lavender bus full o' drag queens and their journey of self-discovery and revival. Terence Stamp possesses amazing gravitas, Guy Pearce is louder than I've ever seen him but I can't really decide whether his performance is caricature or not, and Hugo Weaving's blue-lidded peepers are quite expressive.

Enchanted
Enchanted(2007)
½

Never has puking in my soup been so enjoyable. Chockful of clever satire and over-the-top musical numbers that poke fun at Disney movies while still providing sweet yet grounded romance. Amy Adams is 18 Charisma with her googly eyes and daffy, floating arms!

Brick
Brick(2006)

A mystery with nothing to really figure out, ala the all-tell-no-show style of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." The scenes are terribly episodic, and they don't show HOW our hard-boiled Encylopedia Brown solves any of the cryptic clues. The scenes merely jump from Brendan following flimsy lead after flimsy lead, then getting beat up, then calling someone to set up something for some reason, then confronting another someone who was implicated in an earlier scene without revealing his thought process. The script suffocates from too much plot and hardly any connective tissue, and it's all covered up with this overcooked, pseudo-hip noir patois. The characters don't SAY anything; they're just written to sound unique.

The big reveal in the end is also anticlimactic. The baby is Tug's and arguably only tangentially related to the drug plot. Emily's first phone call filled with intentionally confusing jargon about "the brick" and "Pin" and "Frisco" is all just a ham-handed inciting incident catalyzing this wild goose chase. The filming is chic and cool with the zooms during the fight scenes and the high class, vaguely "Eyes Wide Shut" high school environment, but the style doesn't atone for the lack of substance.

The Bling Ring

I'm usually a fan of Sofia Coppola's indie slow burn, but "The Bling Ring" is a surprisingly bland pop confection that isn't nearly as satisfying as a celebrity pantie raid should be. The points of view are unbalanced; it's unclear which member(s) of the group we're supposed to identify, if not empathize with. The bookend interviews of Emma Watson's Nicki are interesting at the beginning but confusing by the end. What IS her real/fake story? There's also a pretty big real life detail that this "based on a true story" ignores: none of the celebrities actually noticed that their property was missing; Marc started losing it due to anxiety and tattled on himself and the ring, which then led to all of them confessing to these unreported crimes instead of plea bargaining. These omitted details say more about our culture of excess, crime not paying, consequences of being a stupid criminal, than the movie does. It would have made a stronger critical or satirical thesis for this well-directed music video (burnliment!).

Now, let's talk about the acting from this cast of beautiful young adults, which generated much of the buzz in my estimation. Katie Chang, as the ringleader Rebecca, has a rare blend of nice non-threatening lobotomized demeanor and luminous, slow-motion beauty that perfectly masks the sociopathic deviant underneath.

Emma Watson is...uneven. She does SOME things great, like skank dancing, pole dancing, and wearing the hell out of those large sunglasses. Go Hermione. Her American accent is somewhat inconsistent. I rather liked the snippet from the trailer of her doing the first interview because she picked a specific dialect - that of a valley girl. Throughout the rest of the movie though, she adopts the default accentless accent, and it's not as compelling. A couple of her vapid deadpans DO hit the mark, but other times, her mean girl posturing suffers from the same restless eyebrows and pursed lips that plagued HP. Emma Watson is hella gorgeous, and she's a fantastic solo model, but her problem is that she pulls focus. She doesn't blend into the ensemble; she is always self-conscious, holding her face a certain way to make sure she looks perfect.

The scenestealer would have to be Claire Julien as the hard-partying Chloe. Her deep smoker's rasp and raccoon eyes are just nice nuances to her devil-may-care aura. Her silent mug shot sequence, which shows her simply turning from right to front to left, is amazing for her glazed and misty eyes, and the seemingly innocuous family breakfast preceding her arrest is suspenseful because of the nearing sirens, yapping dogs, and her gradual tensing as she eats her cereal.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Upon first viewing, I found the movie enjoyable but unsubstantial. It occurred to me that I didn't dig the story so much as I dug the cute video game sound effects, the quick non sequiturs, the flash cuts, Michael Cera's spastic bass-playing, Mary Elizabeth Winstead's deadpan delivery, Ellen Wong's adorable geeking-out, and Alison Pill's sourpuss moue interrupONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR!

There's plenty to like, but the love story rings typical. The erstwhile girlfriend gives her blessing, and the movie's eponymous hero gets the girl even though the last battle seems to hint that both Scott and Ramona need to do some real growing up on their own. If Scott HAS to wind up with anybody, the alternate ending with Knives is sweeter, more realistic, and more redemptive (since she actually fights for Scott in the end).

Upon second viewing, I enjoyed it better for the kooky performances of actors whom I didn't know well three years ago and have since then grown to love, for instance lean and cut Chris Evans, mean and awkward Aubrey Plaza, pixie pipsqueak Mae Whitman, and the aforementioned, versatile and frazzly-dazzly Alison Pill.

Conversations With Other Women
½

HBC and Aaron Eckhart meet at a wedding, and we get the impression that it's not the first time. Their characters' history is hinted at in split-screen flashbacks with doe-eyed Nora Zehetner as the former, whose resemblance to early-aughts HBC is really quite inspired, but her accent could use a little work.

We know these ex-lovers are gonna fuck tonight, but the cat-and-mouse foreplay is still subtly suspenseful, with underhanded barbs and guarded tellings of their separate pasts. The script IS basic with no notable or quotable aphorisms, but I like that. The characters aren't trying to impress each other. HBC and Eckhart are so easy together that it's clear to see how the act of having sex doesn't really matter and how cheating on their SOs essentially isn't meant to be a hurtful or sinful thing, but a matter of course for the soul-connected.

I didn't love or hate the split-screen technique. At first I found it difficult to watch because I couldn't tell where the angles and POVs were, but I got over it and enjoyed the few moments where the screens showed the future and the characters' different reactions. The end when the screens match up confuses me though. Do they end up together? Should they?

Prime
Prime(2005)
½

A lightly neurotic Shiksa divorcee of a certain age falls in love with a twenty-something who turns out to be the ridiculously good-looking son of her very Jewish psychoanalyst. Really quite sweet and Annie Hall-esque, down to the bittersweet closing montage of Rafi and David's time together. The sprinkling of Jewishisms is more earnest (than in Allen fare) and contemporary with the Jewish hip hop soundtrack, and the mistaken identity plot is funny but not too embarrassing or uncomfortable. The moment of revelation isn't "Greek in scope"; it's quiet and stunned.

Bryan Greenberg is just really, really, ridiculously good-looking, and Uma Thurman is charming in a way I haven't appreciated in the past. I love the scene with Morris having to hide in the closet, then being startled by the cat, then feeding the cat beer, then sneezing because he's allergic, and subsequently, giving himself away.

The To Do List

This story of a Type-A gal approaching her sexual education as a series of regimented tasks is commendable for breaking the double standard against sex and raunch in female-centric movies. "The To Do List" is unapologetically dirty and baldly clinical, but I found myself wanting more emotion - not because fem-centric movies need to balance raunch with Haagen-Daaz and "watching 'Love Actually' until periods sync up," but because Brandy's buttoned-up character lacks believable motivation for such sexual depravity and the plot lacks any believable redemption for sins committed, specifically with Johnny Simmons' sad, Zack-Morris-haired Cameron. I understand Brandy's exasperation at men being animals, but she eventually learns that sex IS a bigger emotional deal than she thought, yet her and Cameron's resolution is solely about orgasm. Which I guess is another laurel for this raunchy fem-centric movie: the woman is empowered by sexual maturity not love.

The movie is kinda funny, and Aubrey Plaza, while known for her awkward comedy, gets some nice slow-motion hottie entrances. I don't find the movie terribly memorable though - mainly just Rachel Bilson's hilarious bitchy older sister routine and all the great 90s references.

Megamind
Megamind(2010)
½

Adorable and refreshingly deep, in regard to the theorizing over the nature of good and evil. Is a villain still a villain without a hero? Can there be one without the other? Can one create goodness, or will absolute power corrupt absolutely?

The Way Way Back
½

Surprisingly underwhelming. Duncan, a teenage misfit is trapped on a beach vacation with his loving but emotionally delicate mother and her pseudo-Alpha Dog new boyfriend. The exposition goes on forever, oozing loner angst, female cattiness, and male tension, and I thought, "You know what this movie needs? A dog. This kid needs at least ONE friend who thinks he's at least a 5." Duncan is devoid of personality until he finds an island of misfits at a decrepit old water park, headed by motormouthed Sam Rockwell. The movie's pace accelerates from there, but it's a little too late and sporadic for my liking.

A weird gripe perhaps: this story seems like it would fit better in another time. Trent's buddy-dad disciplinarian seems to be of a bygone era when "men were supposed to be men." The adult fashions also scream 70s swingers to me. Only when I saw the iPhones and glittery, naughty-girl baby tees did I realize this movie takes place in the present, then thought it anachronistic.

The ending works hard to melt the cockles of this bitter cynic's heart, but it's still a bit of a mess. Duncan succeeds in passing Owen INSIDE the water slide - a mythologized feat in water park lore - but we're not even shown how he does it. They share a bromantic goodbye, and I wonder why Pam and Duncan don't just stay on. The ending with Pam climbing into the way, way, back[seat] to sit with her son is sweet but small.

Allison Janney is a-mile-a-minute crazy in a good way. Annasophia Robb has some pretty anime eyes, but her delivery of the unique rebel girl's snarkasm is a bit forced. The scene where Duncan implores Pam to confront Trent about his cheating is painful and chilling. Liam James finally steps up, Logan Lerman-style (in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and proves himself a gallant defender.

Not Another Teen Movie
½

Fantastic lampoon with all teen tropes represented. Profane and obvious, but oh-so-delicious. I think I've finally seen most of the movies this movie parodies, so the jokes are even better, especially for those 80s movies that I didn't love like "Pretty In Pink" and "The Breakfast Club."

I watched this most recently with the trivia track, and I'd like to point out an error. Joanna Garcia's Tourettes-afflicted cheerleader, Sandy Sue, is not merely a send-up of "Grease"'s virginal Sandy Olsen, but more likely a combo of her and "Pleasantville"'s All-American Slut, Jennifer-cum-Mary Sue Parker - whose sweater set, poodle skirt, and 50s curls are a spitting image of Garcia's. Heh heh, cum.

Weird Science

Kinda funny and silly. Two loser cook up their perfect woman, and she teaches them to man-up. Her loyalty to them is sweet and true. It's nice to see the typecast Anthony Michael Hall playing a confident-ish jackass. Bill Paxton as the meathead older brother is ridiculous. Young Robert Downey Jr. is douchey in a serviceable way.

The Breakfast Club

Ugh. So awful. I understand that the overarching message of this movie is that stereotypes are merely that: once you get close enough to someone, you see how traits of yourself manifest in them and traits of them manifest in you. Well, how clever of these teen anarchists to figure that out despite the punishing dictatorship of a dead-hearted adult.

To use a similar argument reserved for race movies that try too hard, "The Breakfast Club" reaffirms the very stereotypes it tries to break. After some angry dancing and herbal refreshment, the Princess prettifies the Basket Case to look like just another mean girl drone - the outer beauty makeover of which was the only way to get the Athlete's attention. The Brain ends up doing all the essay work required of the denizens of detention because he's the most capable, the least likely to gripe, and the most asexual by virtue of his intellect, of course. And most awful of all in my estimation, the bitter, Albee-esque vitriol between the Princess and the Criminal is all due to love/hate sexual tension? Add "Slumming It" on her bucket list and "Deflowering the Prim Prom Queen" on his because I see no other reason why Claire and Bender can stand to be near each other.

The last "group therapy" session doesn't even hint at any romantic intrigue, so why throw it in? The gravitas cultivated by the club finally revealing something true about themselves is good enough; they needn't have paired off on their Ark of Happy Hollywood Endings to get across the message of accepting people for their differences. Some revelations are low stakes while all conclusions ring artificial as hell. Polite yet volatile Andrew broaches the staggering pressure he faces from being Alpha Dog in a brilliant long monologue, but he still gets a girl in the end. Smart yet meek Brian tearfully divulges his thoughts of suicide, only to reveal that he had brought a flare gun to school, not the vague "a gun" which would lead his audience to a certain sympathetic conclusion. Perceptive but alienating Allison admits that she chose detention because she had nothing better to do, but I recall a parent/guardian dropping her off at school and what negligent parent would even deign to do that?

My favorite, prissy but sensitive Claire, speaks the most truth about high school cliques and how the quintet probably won't be friends on Monday. I don't find her conceited as Brian accuses her to be; I find her realistic, and Molly Ringwald's everygirl magnetism doesn't overplay or typify the Rich Bitch. She recognizes how similar they all are, which brings me to everyone's seeming favorite but my least: Bender, who immediately and irrevocably shuts down any comparison between her and himself.

I normally take no stock in how much I "like" a character. Even if somebody is a repulsive jerk, I can still appreciate the characterization as long as they're interesting and developed. I found myself HATING John Bender. He is a repulsive jerk for the sake of it. He bows to no authority, but he lacks accountability for himself. He is startlingly and unjustifiably cruel, crude, and crass to Claire and everyone else. His few moments of humanity - parroting his abusive dad and taking the fall for the group wandering outside the library - are brief and baseless, respectively, thus inconsequential. His own demons and criminal past are not further explored, and his reason for acting the hero isn't made apparent, so he is merely a flat antagonist, a paper badass who spouts quotable badassery.

The detention letter that bookends this overrated Hughes joint also sticks in my craw. The Brain states, "But we think you're crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are." I, as well as the group, interpret this as an earnest question; they don't take umbrage at the possible interpretation of the question as, "Who the hell do you think you are?" so IS the essay so crazy? Isn't the whole catharsis of the movie based on the Breakfast Club figuring out who they really are? Doesn't the punishment and existential question bring them closer together (albeit in a superficial way)? Once again, they can certainly defy authority, but they oughta show accountability too. I'm not suggesting that Principal Vernon thought up this assignment expressly to teach them this valuable lesson, nor do I fully sympathize with this disillusioned teacher turned cantankerous administrator, but I can't help thinking, "Kids these days just don't understand."

Pretty in Pink
½

I had moderately high expectations for "Pretty In Pink" because I enjoyed John Hughes's (superior) "Sixteen Candles," and I was already familiar with its parody in "Not Another Teen Movie." I was ultimately disappointed though mainly because Andie's prom dress is a Pepto Bismol atrocity. Just kidding.

The poor girl-rich guy love story rang even falser. Blane and Andie's attraction is just googly-eyed faux-chemistry. What is this "something" that he sees in her? (I'm sure we, the audience, see it cuz Molly Ringwald rocks, but there's no scene in the movie that shows her striking his fancy.) What does she see in him? Is he that different from his richie rich friends, or doesn't he still just get by on his high class looks and sophisticated charm? On the date, he is incredibly naive about his friends' anticipated reception, and he does say some unintentionally condescending things that would rub me the wrong way. The class conflict is also slightly incidental and doesn't come across as a problem until the date. We know that Andie is poor, but it's unclear that she pays to attend a rich private high school with students who bully her for her relative penury. I thought it was just for her independent, free-spirited ways.

I'm also more than a little perturbed that the parody of Andie and Duckie's friendzoniest of friendzones is almost without exaggeration! Everyone is so totally oblivious! Even after Andie comes home and says, "I'm in love," her dad doesn't automatically assume she's talking about Duckie, who earlier confessed his love for her to Jack. Jon Cryer as Duckie is just charming and devoted as all-get-out, albeit embarrassingly silly and slightly clingy. His tell-off speech is probably the best dramatic work I've seen of Cryer's, which is a shame.

That's not to say I necessarily wanted Andie to end up with the friendzoned best friend (because unconditional idolatry bordering on obsession isn't what she wants or needs either), but his prom date savior move and sacrificial all-but-slow-clapping endorsement of Blane's bland non-apology is just too much and too sad.

Fruitvale Station
½

The last day-in-the-life of Oscar Grant III, a young black man who was accosted for fighting on the BART and subsequently shot by a cop in what may or may not have been a racially-charged accident. The film is structured around texts, phone calls, and face-to-face interactions between Oscar and his family, friends, and foes that reveal his criminal past and his struggles now to be a decent husband and father. Whether the framing device is factually accurate with data gleaned from Oscar's actual phone records on that New Year's Eve day, the narrative is both realistic and moving, and it builds a claustrophobic tension leading up to the tragedy that we already know occurred.

Michael B. Jordan is, by turns, youthful and grave - quick with his street patois bravado and quietly stunned with his last waking breaths. Octavia Spencer gives another spectacular performance as the face of tough yet fierce motherly love. Her reaction in the penitentiary's visiting room after Oscar insults her is remarkably restrained; her hurt is evident but she knows that it's no weapon to throw back at her wayward son.

The film is pretty even and "important enough" until the end when the emotional manipulation hits the fan. The shooting is already shown as a prologue, so the foreshadowing of taking the BART that leads to Oscar's imminent demise and Wanda's teary speech blaming herself for suggesting mass transit over drunk drivers on NYE is excessive. After the shooting, the trigger-happy cop looks shocked and disgusted by the metaphorical blood on his hands, and the asshole cop who detained Oscar and his friends takes Oscar's hand comfortingly as the former bleeds out on the platform. I don't know if the cops' reactions were true, but it all felt a little too manufactured. The epilogue with the real life footage of Oscar's daughter, Tatiana Grant, could only be more cliche if it was underscored by "Amazing Grace." By the end, the movie doesn't seem to say much about race or class or police brutality or law. It relies too much on pathos appeals to make this "a human story," not just a race or class story, which I find somewhat of a cop-out. The balance could have tipped more to the political instead of just the emotional.

Labyrinth
Labyrinth(1986)

Terribly disappointing. I'm not a fan of muppets anyway, and the campy faux musical numbers go nowhere. Sarah is such a brat at the beginning; her dad and stepmother aren't THAT cruel or negligent. She seems to go after the stolen Toby only out of self-preservation, not out of any fraternal love or filial piety. Her reason for loving her brother isn't shown or found, and there's no reconciliation with her parents in the end. The intended theme of the movie seems to be about growing up or learning responsibility, but there are no specific challenges that test those waters. There are no compelling plot points, no rising action or climax - just a bunch of traveling with some surface friendships, some chases, and not enough riddles.

The provenance of the key to defeating the Goblin King ("You have no power over me") is also slightly vague. Sarah seems to recite from a play in the first scene, but it's unclear that the labyrinthine dreamscape she unlocks is from that same play/book (which I learned from the DVD case synopsis was her favorite book), and the secret weapon was in the book the entire time; she need only to remember it.

The vaguely bondage/domination desires of the Goblin King are creepy but almost not creepy enough. There's no real sense of romance, but there's no real sense of danger for this age-inappropriate flirtation either, so what's the point?

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

So freakin' stupid, and the movie knew it and tried to salvage itself by getting self-referential and ridiculous. The only really funny part was Kate starting her suicidally depressing Lincoln's Birthday story as a send-up to her most awful Christmas story in the prequel.

Gremlins
Gremlins(1984)
½

My foray into 80s Horror/Comedy education begins here. Gizmo is super cute, the explicit scenes of gremlin-cide are campy and hilarious, and I finally know the rules of Mogwai maintenance, as referenced in much pop culture nostalgia.

I didn't expect so much violence, nor did I expect the main characters to be adults. The movie could have felt more real this way, but it didn't, and I think that may be due to the flat villains. Mean Mrs. Deagle is so mean that it doesn't MEAN anything. She has no raison d'etre, and nor do the gremlins. They just cause trouble.

The Lost Boys

Campy fun with some chilling twists and turns. I saw Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric in "That Championship Season" on Broadway a couple years ago, and it's wild to see them in their first roles - all long-maned and frisky. Young Dianne Wiest is so fragilely beautiful, and young, gypsy-flavored Jami Gertz (of Seinfeld's "I don't have a square to spare" fame) looks like Shakira! Coreys Haim and Feldman are surfer-dude lame but nevertheless hilarious.

Friends With Kids

How easy is it to fall in love with Adam Scott? Too easy. His perfectly tousled man-coif. His boyish but faintly rat-looking nose-mouth combo. His extraordinary ability to tear up at the drop of a hat. His brand of deathly serious deadpan that is neither sarcastic nor snarky.

Herein lies the problem: Scott's Jason is such a lovable guy that it's completely unbelievable that he's the shallow womanizer the plot calls for him to be. He treats his platonic bestie, Julie, like a queen. He entertains her neurotic wee-AM phone calls. He never fails to address her as "Doll," his schmaltzy, old-fashioned moniker for her. Why? It's unclear HOW they became friends, WHY nothing ever happened (beyond the truly weak argument of lack of physical attraction), HOW they maintain their old married couple ease, and WHY he doesn't bend over backward like this for any other woman. Is it because he only has room for one most important woman in his life? Is it because he's in denial about his non-platonic feelings for her? Are they both so blind? Jason and Julie's partnership is too cute and too cooked. Their romantic union is fairly predictable.

This is not to say Jennifer Westfeldt isn't still a remarkable triple threat who creates great films for and about women. The existential questions that come with life, love, and responsibility are witty and devastating. Jason and Julie's hairbrained scheme to have a baby with each other is charming, and it's satisfying to see how together they have it (at first). The cast shines with chaotic humor and cuts with gross cruelty. I rather like Megan Fox, and she plays the perfect hot girl with subtle glamour. Jason's declaration of love and loyalty for the mother of his children is just the tenderest of juggernauts.

All in all, an enjoyable movie dampened by an unrealistic/confusing male lead and a cheap, hurried reconciliation that overemphasizes physical and sexual attraction.

Hemingway & Gellhorn

Before we get started, I just wanna say, "Damn Nicki Kidman. DAT ASS!" Sleek and perky with no VPL. I imagine that's hard to do in the sweltering heat of Key West.

Nicole Kidman plays intrepid war correspondent Martha Gellhorn with spirit and guts. As the young woman, she proves to be Hem's literary and sexual equal but eventually realizes that his is a pride so crippling that it would recognize no equal. As the older woman, she wears the age make-up naturally and stretches her gravelly voice into an emotional frame story.

Clive Owen cuts a mean silhouette, but he is disappointing as Hemingway overall. His natural mush-mouthed British cadence gets mangled with Papa's gruff Patrician accent. I also have yet to see an actor deliver Papa's aphorisms without making him sound like a caricature. Owen's performance is not a huge problem though since this isn't so much a movie about Ernest Hemingway as it is a movie about Martha Gellhorn, who most literari know little about beyond her being Hem's third wife.

This new focus into the woman behind the man who refused to get behind a woman (except in the boudoir) is commendable and generally well-plotted. The action gets a little confusing throughout, especially due to the baseless changing of hues from sepia-tone to technicolor. The sex scenes get a bit Lifetimey too.

Smashed
Smashed(2012)

I expected this movie to be funnier, especially with Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally in the ensemble. A young couple revels in love and booze, but the wife eventually attempts sobriety to the husband's carefully masked disappointment. Alcoholism isn't inherently funny, but a film about it should be to some extent; otherwise, the struggle becomes melodramatic and the same as every other textbook addiction film.

Nick Offerman's awkward flirtation is intended to provide some comic relief, but it just ends up being overlong, creepy, and inconsequential. The script is realistic and provides some riveting plot points (Kate teaching her 1st graders with drunken exuberance, then puking and perpetuating the kids' assumption that it was morning sickness; Kate waking up under a shady overpass, unsure and scared of what transpired the night before; Kate losing control of her bladder at the liquor store and then sneakily exiting with the wine she wasn't allowed to buy due to the curfew). However, my main critique of the script is that it needed less text and more subtext in the climactic fight scenes. The accusations are so on-the-nose: "You're the reason I can't be sober!" Everything is spelled out and predictable.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (along with Gemma Arterton and Hayley Atwell) has one of those faces that I can never recognize. She looks different every time I see her. She has some shining moments of vulnerability in this role, but her drunkenness is once again, a bit on the nose. My first acting teacher said acting drunk for a role is tough because drunk people don't necessarily act drunk; they try to act like they're NOT drunk. Aaron Paul, as husband Charlie, is quite magnificent with his ice-blue gaze. Charlie is slightly douchey and overall loving, but the way he loves isn't enough for Kate anymore. Aaron Paul does well in disguising his secret hope that Kate will rejoin his bad behavior as support.

Kissing Jessica Stein
½

I have a girl crush on Jennifer Westfeldt (which seems appropriate for this movie about a buttoned-up Jewess trying on lesbianism to find her [7] true love[s]). Too bad she's all in a committed long-term relationship with hunk-o-man Jon Hamm.

Westfeldt as Jessica is so adorably neurotic and girl-next-door-pretty. My perennial favorite, Scott Cohen, is mean and tough but also sweetly anguished. Jessica and Helen's romance blossoms awkwardly and hilariously at first, but the moment Jessica comes over to take care of Helen when she's sick is a nice turning point. The movie debates homosexual politics a bit, but it doesn't end with a clear message about whether one should be with her own sex or the other. It also doesn't cheapen Jessica's lesbian relationship as a dalliance.

I also love how the script sneaks in bunches of word-nerd humor and suffering artist philosophy. Judy's monologue about how Jessica quitting the school play because she thought her costar wasn't good enough - and only really hurting herself - is a metaphor for her dating life is eloquent and insightful. Josh's realization at his happiness for Jessica's painting and his own novel writing is a necessary reminder for all creative artists. Blech.

Nine
Nine(2009)

My first viewing was eccelente, but the second viewing felt a bit stagnant. I was really psyched by the trailer, but since I abhor both "8 1/2" and "Chicago" (also helmed by Rob Marshall) and since critics were saying it's a mess, I came into this movie prepared to dislike it. It's messy in places, but the match cut transitions from scene to stage work better here than in "Chicago." The music is lively, and the virtuoso cast deliver virtuoso performances.

Fergie may be a pop star, but make no mistake, she can belt. "Be Italian" is the best singing performance of the film - such drama and yearning. Marion Cotillard gives perhaps the best acting performance. "My Husband Makes Movies" is heartbreaking, and "Take It All" is kinky in a very tragic way. I rather like Kate Hudson's "Cinema Italiano" even though her character is merely a bouffanted yes-woman in the movie unlike in the stage show.

I'm surprised that Penelope Cruz was nominated for a GG though. She's quite sexy and tortured in her non-musical scenes, but her singing voice is a little thin, and she doesn't extend her limbs fully when she dances. Nevertheless, kudos for getting by on pure moxie cuz that's what you really need if you haven't got the pipes or the gams.

Daniel Day-Lewis is serviceable and charismatic, and Judy Dench is certainly a saucy dame. She speaks through a lot of "Folies Bergere," but it works. Nicole Kidman and Sophia Loren are underused, but they're still beautiful and iconic, respectively.

Overall, a brilliant spectacle with a surprisingly moody script that captures much of its source material's existential angst.

Rent
Rent(2005)

Life-affirming and sexy-fun :~P There was much criticism about reuniting the now thirty-something original Broadway cast to play twenty-somethings, but I rather prefer the older cast because now, their lack of jobs seems to come from a wiser, existential place, rather than a lazy, youths in revolt place. The deleted number "Good Bye Love" is melancholic, and the alternate ending with Angel's encore appearance is so much better than the gang crowding around Mark's lame single-shot "film."

2 Days in New York

Not as layered, romantic, or leisurely as "2 Days In Paris." The comedy depends too much on culture clash jokes that don't satirize or reveal anything true or false about the respective cultures, and Chris Rock is uncharacteristically bland as he takes the brunt of well-intentioned racist observations that just kinda fall flat.

Albert Delpy, Julie's real-life father, has a twinkling joie de vivre, and it's always nice to see German wunderkind, Daniel Brühl. The screwball Woody Allen-esque hijinx pick up after Marion's performance art piece of selling her soul to the highest bidder despite not believing in the soul, her subsequent entreaty to one Vincent Gallo, the buyer, to give it back, and her adorably neurotic distress over Gallo having eaten her soul. Julie Delpy is seriously balls-to-the-wall nuts, but she is also simply fantastic.

2 Days in Paris

A tour de force reminiscent of Woody Allen's bittersweet love stories. Julie Delpy's triple threat debut is witty, funny, and poignant in its portrayal of a doomed romance. The blend of languages is seamless and depicts little-known aspects of American to French culture clash. I love the family's boisterous fight in the courtyard over Anna accidentally fattening up Marion's cat, then Jack peering down, asking if anything is wrong, and Marion saying bemusedly, "No. Why?" Marion's altercation with the racist cabbie is also ballsy and hilarious, with Delpy miming Hitler's mustache and the sign for asshole while braying, "Welcome to France," to Jack's prudish embarrassment.

In response to Flixster friend, Ryan Hibbett's critique of the film, I don't think Delpy is saying she hates France. She examines France's despicable qualities through an American lens, and vice versa, seeing as how she's almost an expat herself. The film pokes fun lovingly at idiosyncracies of both cultures (Jeannot's porny art and penchant for keying luxury cars vs. Jack's misanthropic treatment of his own countrymen for selfish reasons).

Also, Marion may have had a lot of ex-boyfriends, but she is not an immoral slut-bag. For one, she tearfully declines the affair with Mathieu, and for two, Delpy would reclaim that epithet in the name of feminism, this specific brand of which has roots in Simone de Beauvoir's "Manifesto of the 343 Sluts" (a no-shame pro-choice tract signed by 343 famous French feminists including Delpy's own mother, which Marie Pillet even mentions in the film). The aforementioned taxi altercation is so layered in this respect. It marks the boorishness of the French male but also the shamed pacifism of the "polite, intellectual" American male, Jack, who sits and does nothing to defend himself or his girlfriend while she expresses her ardent distaste for racism (an admirable quality) in an inebriated, vulgar, verbal castration (a less admirable quality for some, but a rousing show of feminism for her.)

Similar to the physical fracas in the cafe later, her morals behoove her to hate an ex who fucked little girls; her insatiable appetite for verbal castrations obviously behoove her to lose her temper. This little woman has a mouth on her, and she's not afraid to use it. She can be mean and annoying, but she owns it. She's not afraid to portray herself as the crazy French bitch.

Inception
Inception(2010)

Paid more for IMAX. Not terribly impressed. I've been waiting for another "Memento"-esque movie from Nolan, but the more popular he gets, the more mainstream his movies become. Huge blockbuster effects over subtle representations of deceit, action, and love.

This movie about dreams doesn't really gel with me personally because I don't have dreams in which I can "do anything." I can't make decisions in my dreams, so I was hoping this movie would address how different people dream, dream theory, common dreams, and perhaps dream interpretation, not just cool zero gravity fight scenes and "repression."

There are also several plot holes/inconsistencies. I don't buy that Ariadne would be the only one to try to crack Cobb's subconsciousness. His team has worked with him for much longer, and they still don't realize what danger they're in? How could the team not have realized Arthur's dream would coincide with the van crashing off the bridge and as such, prepare for zero gravity? What is this call that Saito makes to absolve Cobb of his past? How is Cobb even implicated in Mal's death when her point of impact from the hotel room is below a different hotel room than the one that holds signs of struggle? Why is Mal's name so obviously evil? And IF the top DOESN'T topple over at the end, then whose dream and what level are we in? The emotional and psychological elements of the movie aren't as effortlessly beautiful as the easily malleable dream worlds, which as I mentioned before, isn't EVERYONE'S dream world.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is just about the hottest guy ever. Cillian Murphy is a close second.

Star Trek Into Darkness

In comparison to its prequel, I found "Into Darkness" a bit plodding and formulaic. I'm not sure of the villain's drive. What does he plan to do with the world after he gets his comrades back? Spock and Uhura get a typical Martian/Venusian fight, Alice Eve plays an intrepid blond hottie who really has no purpose, and the guy-love between Kirk and Spock is so overdone.

I admire the brain of "Star Trek" - a duel between logic and emotion - but the Kirk's and Spock's role reversal is a bit easy and expected.

And to ride on the coattails of a recent celebrity name game, "I wanna Benedict all over your Cumberbatch."

42
42(2013)

I've said before that I like my baseball movies shiny and happy. Well, "42" is shiny at times and happy at times, but never a satisfying combination of the two like the other numerically named baseball tribute, "61*." I understand that Robinson's role in baseball and African-American history isn't necessarily one of shine and happiness, but then that gives no excuse for the All-American veneer and Lifetimey writing throughout the first half.

Not until Robinson's breakdown in the tunnel does the film "get real," so to speak. Robinson faces more racism but gradually shows his strength, and the film finally gets around to Branch Rickey's reasons for bringing a black man into the sport's white hallowed halls. Robinson is unsatisfied with the propagandistic "we must triumph over racism" reason, as well as the missing-the-forest-for-the-tree "you're a fine young man" reason, but he is satisfied with Rickey's "I won't stand for unfair treatment of talent in the game I love" reason. It seems the most honest, and I can't say I'm quite satisfied with it, but the film seems satisfied with it, so that's fair.

Chadwick Boseman is charismatic and athletic with great gravitas. The editing of Harrison Ford is uneven. Sometimes, I couldn't tell it was Ford, but other times, I could, and it wasn't great. Newcomer Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson embodies grace under pressure, and she reminds me of Kerry Washington in "Ray" - a supportive wife character, full of goodness and light, but not lacking in personality.

Goya's Ghosts

What a hot mess of a movie. Stellan Skarsgård and Javier Bardem both kinda phone it in as celebrated painter Francisco Goya and a flip-flopping monk who rapes a girl wrongly imprisoned as a heretic. This was also during the late-aughts era of NaPo's awkward and repetitive acting choices, which included such disasters as "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," "The Other Boleyn Girl," "The Other Woman," and "Brothers."

One big problem I have with the movie (aside from the senseless plot and torrid pacing, which I can't even comment on further) is the lack of accent-work. I understand that big period pieces such as this cater to an American audience, and as such, historical figures from myriad countries speak English with an anesthetized, historical-sounding British accent. This movie doesn't even offer that! It's a weird olio of Skarsgård's Swedish, Bardem's Spanish, and Portman's American. ALSO, Goya still speaks perfectly after going deaf.

An Extremely Goofy Movie
½

TOO MUCH FUN!!! I love dem saucy ladies: Beret Girl voiced by vivacious redhead Vicki Lewis and Sylvia the Librarian voiced by repressed dame Bebe Neuwirth.

Midnight in Paris

You'd think I would love this movie, but alas, I'm just okay with it. It's nostalgic and charming, but it seems like canned nostalgia and canned charm. The representations of Gil's '20s literary heroes are somewhat caricatured, especially Hemingway's macho motormouth. But maybe that's the point...nostalgia never lives up to expectations in the light of day.

I wasn't terribly impressed with Marion Cotillard either. One of the only details I remember from "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" is the first, glorious shot of Freida Pinto, and I was expecting equal glory in the shot of Marion, but alas, the murky lighting against her dark hair and raccoon eye make-up deadens her glow. Her acting also seems a bit dead. The only time she lights up is in the Belle Epoque when she gasps at the sight of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Then again, maybe that's the point...we all think we'd be happiest in another era. Argh.

So you see, I technically haven't MISSED the point - nostalgia is a passive not active pleasure. I just wanted some more substance. Carla Bruni and Alison Pill are respectively willowy and sassy.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

A rather cute tale of fringe pirates with funny puns, a gruesome twist from Queen Victoria voiced by evil incarnate, Imelda Staunton, and some impressive, near-unrecognizable voicework by Hugh Grant. Nevertheless, the gaping ellipses of claymation mouths makes me a little queasy, so I just wasn't terribly into it.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
½

SO WONDERFUL! It's even sadder and more heartfelt watching this as an adult! The bikes flying is so triumphant, and the sibling loyalty is touching. Henry Thomas is hella amazing, in all his shrieky terror and drunken stupors. I'm surprised he didn't get nominated for an Oscar!

This Is the End

Gut-busting laughs all throughout with Freaks & Geeks alums behaving like bigger, badder versions of themselves. Jonah Hill is a moonfaced demon. James Franco and Danny McBride get into a hilarious, overlong verbal coming contest. And my boy Jay Baruchel plays a nice, God-fearing, B-List actor who must repent for his self-righteous ways.

The problem is that this movie lacks verisimilitude. Sci-fi/disaster/supernatural movies need to abide by their own set of rules so that the audience can suspend disbelief accordingly. In this movie though, crazy stuff happens for the sake of crazy stuff happening. It gets a bit much and formulaic. Emma Watson gets to wield an ax, but her prissy prim demeanor doesn't really sell all those f-bombs. BSB 4-EVA!

Before Midnight

My immediate 5-star reception has calmed down a bit, but I still think it's the strongest of the three. I wasn't in love with the first two installations - the first for its veneer of pretention, the second for its sequelly "must resolve conflicts" feel - but "Before Midnight" combines the talky whimsy of the first with the concrete problems of the second, while adding in the claustrophobic ache of an impending black hole.

The setting of Greece is sumptuous, and the supporting characters are charming, especially sun-kissed, curly-haired Ariane Labed. I love how she holds and hides her face with her hands. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are chemistry personified. It's a wonder that they haven't actually been cohabiting partners, raising twin girls in France for the past ten years. Their half-hour conversations are funny and sad and meandering and layered. The opening sequence in the car and the walk to the hotel feel mundane yet natural and magnetic.

SPOILERS:

The climactic fight is sickening to watch (in a good way); it's nearly ALL RISE with a small oasis of reconciliation that I found identifiably realistic. At first I felt indignant at how crazy and irrational Celine was being, but then I realized that I usually take Jesse's logical-moral-high-ground stance in domestic squabbles, which I take as right, but does come off as cold and sanctimonious. The root of Celine's "craziness" and "irrationality" is revealed in a blissfully unapologetic admission of maternal anxiety, and while that theme isn't new, Celine sticks to her guns so extremely that it seems new - or at least new to the couple who have probably had versions of this fight many times before.

The time traveler ending is silly but sooo Jesse - an affect that the wizened dad probably forsook in these two decades since Vienna. There's no guarantee that they'll work it out, but OH that last line: "It must have been a great night we're about to have." SOOO GOOD!

Man of Steel
Man of Steel(2013)
½

I like my superhero movies the way I like my baseball movies: glossy and shiny instead of deep and dark. Yes, I do feel vapid and mainstream when I can't keep up with the comic panel storyline or when the close-up, gritty fight scenes confuse and disorient my rods and cones. The movie nearly ended five times, and I was about ready to go.

This Superman installment is the tale of the Prodigal Son, with at least three other Christ allusions, which is three too many to be coincidental. Henry Cavill is huge and handsome, if a bit too strong and silent. I first fell in love with him as young and brave Albert in "The Count of Monte Cristo," opposite another erstwhile love Jim Caviezel, and I'm disappointed that he's not really my cuppa tea anymore.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are folksy and loyal adoptive parents. Amy Adams plucks up as much as she can for the intrepid Lois Lane, but I find most of her post-"Junebug" and post-"Enchanted" performances completely devoid of charisma. However, it's nice to see Russell Crowe back in his element - gallantly kicking some ass in redemption for his impotent and incompetent Inspector Javert.

Take This Waltz

I imagine that this movie would review itself with such choice descriptors as "painfully exquisite" and "delicately twee" with "deeply felt performances" - all of which combine to mean it's nauseatingly arthouse. Michelle Williams has paddled up the Creek to become the reigning queen of this genre, and good for her, really, but I honestly found her a bit self-conscious in her performance of Margot's kinky baby games. The film also spends SO much time with those quirks that we don't get to know the couple beyond that. What is Margot missing in this marriage? What does she want out of life? Why did they get together in the first place?

The flirtation between her and ripped rickshaw driver Daniel is restrainedly sexy, but the moment she...takes this waltz (if you will)...the movie shifts tone and becomes surface fantasy fulfillment, then pseudo-morality tale, then "I am woman hear me meow" fever dream. All three of these revelations come too late in the film for them to have any impact.

Oh Seth Rogen. You are no wispy-faced Charlotte Rampling in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories," nor are you child prodigy Jean-Pierre Leaud in Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows." Those artily cut scenes of long, emotionally wrought or emotionally stoic monologues (respectively) are iconic due to their pure, eyes-open candor. Seth Rogen knew he had to bring it for this dramatic role, and once again, good for him for trying, but he shouldn't have tried so hard. Uncover your face and let's see you feel something instead of acting like you're feeling something.

The upsides of this experience were that this movie made me want to
1. move to Montreal. The neighborhood looks so colorful and cool, and there are freakin' rickshaws and a within-walking-distance beach and mock-floggings for tourists!
2. watch twee kook Miranda July's tweely kooky "You, Me, and Everyone We Know" again. I didn't love it as a whole, but I found the beautiful parts REALLY beautiful, and I think I'd appreciate it more now in comparison.

Now You See Me
½

A rogue quartet of grifters and magicians execute an elaborate heist with the FBI and Interpol in hot pursuit. The illusions are visually stunning, the actors are charmingly smarmy, and the twists are plain old super fun.

Red
Red(2010)

It's all well and good to see Dame Helen Mirren pumping lead whilst wearing the hell out of a slinky white dress and Tiffany jewels, but other than that, there's not much else going for this movie in the way of conflict or resolution. Everyone is appropriately badass or crazy EXCEPT Mary Louise Parker in a thankless role that pegs her as a perpetual damsel in distress. She and Bruce Willis form a somewhat mismatched pair that shares no chemistry beyond loneliness.

Boys and Girls

Robert Iscove really has a niche. He directed my most pleasing of guilty pleasures, "From Justin to Kelly," as well as the 1999 "Kiss Me" klassic, "She's All That" (which really hasn't held up). In this little-known year 2000 sophomore effort, he combines his penchants for awkward meet-cutes, attracting opposites, and meticulously choreographed impromptu dance parties, and it all goes down smoother than a chicka-cherry cola.

The movie shares many familiar ingredients of its predecessor and other 90s teen classics: Freddie Prinze Jr. (this time as the Lainey Boggs-esque nebbish pantywaist, rocking the sk8terboi middle-part), Jason Biggs (as the frosted-tipped doofus), sweet-red Alyson Hannigan, and the requisite everybody-knows-what-they're-doing dance sequence, scored by none other than Fatboy Slim! Although "She's All That" is probably most remembered for that iconic scene, the one here calls for less suspension of disbelief. Jennifer knows the dance moves, and Ryan tries to keep up, more or less succeeding by the end. The club scene is more organically woven into the story than the perfect Prom breakdown.

The movie also starts out exactly like the more recent "No Strings Attached" (which probably borrowed from this) - Ryan and Jennifer meet several times over ten years - but unlike the puppets on strings that are the characters of NSA, R+J (heh) do more than navigate the aftermath of casual friend-sex; they navigate a real friendship complicated by the past, present, and future. The storyline isn't groundbreaking, but in comparison to all the movies "Boys and Girls" reminds me of, it has a stronger driving conflict.

Claire Forlani is way too old to play a college gal, but she is charismatic, charming, smoldering, delicately bony, breathy, and willowy and wounded as usual. She also rocks some great fashions - that weird hoodie sweater vest/cargo pants/Chucks combo AND that white backless top/wide-leg pants ensemble. Yowza.

Fantasia
Fantasia(1940)

The Disney cartoon sans narrative was quite vanguard in the 40s, but for an ostensible kids movie, the filmmakers didn't play to its audience. Stravinksy's "Rite of Spring" seems longer than the Jurassic Period, and the animation of the Big Bang is surprisingly violent. The prologue explaining the movie is also bone dry and humorless.

As a more mature foray into art and music fantasy, Disney further missed its mark with careless racist and sexist references (as it often does) in Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony" with the specifically colored horses and in "Dance of the Hours" with the offensive and alarming gender roles. In the 21st century, "Fantasia"'s dated quality really shows.

Fantasia 2000

My high school band had intimate relationships with several of the songs in this second incarnation of Disney's art and music fantasy. The slow yet strident "Pines of Rome" ended many an unconventional marching band show; the ubiquitous "Rhapsody in Blue" featured our prodigies in clarinet and piano; the bombastic and rhythm-mad "Firebird Suite" capped off my senior year concert; and "Pomp and Circumstance" (more widely known as "The Graduation Song") was played in its entirety by the junior band during commencement ceremonies.

"Fantasia 2000" is indeed a full movie-going experience with beautifully animated vignettes, classic but recognizable music, and entertaining if cheap celebrity appearances (instead of the plodding prologue of its predecessor). Watching it again recently though did provoke some criticism in me: the combination of sound and visual is sometimes too on-the-nose. The story is too clear; each audio beat is visually punctuated. There is very little room for abstract interpretation.

Serenity
Serenity(2005)

Having enjoyed the space cowboy bravado of the prematurely cancelled "Firefly" television series, I went into "Serenity" with low expectations, figuring that the movie capper would answer some questions but leave more unanswered. I wasn't wrong though it was still nice to get reacquainted.

The addition of quietly dangerous Chiwetel Ejiofor as an Alliance Operative provides a menacing new story arc. River's programmed badassery is brought to fruition but still mindfucky, and a couple characters receive heartbreaking yet honorable discharges. Jewel Staite as the plucky Kaylee and Adam Baldwin as the mercenary Jayne seem the weak links in this reunion - somewhat phoning in their once naive and sociopathic charm, respectively.

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3(2013)

Iron Man can't lose. He's like America (fuck yeah): arrogant with first world problems that are miraculously solved despite glaring plot holes (where were all those other suits before? how does he heal Pepper so quickly?) He has nothing to really fight for in this installation except Pepper who is as flat as GOOP's enviable abs. She gets a few badass moments, but there's still nothing remarkable about her character or their relationship that make the story anything more than a stale "saved by the love of a good woman" story.

The movie's saving grace comes in Tony Stark's soul-searching journey with the kid. Despite most of the movie being out of the suit, the man himself in all his panic attack glory makes the superhero a bit more human.

The Great Gatsby

The Mediocre Gatsby. I'm not a fan of the book anyway. The symbolism is heavy-handed and vaguely nonsensical: the green light, the blue car, the optometrist ad watching over the Valley of Ashes. We get it...but we don't. The awkward love plot is also full of "Really?" moments: Jay Gatsby moves to West Egg and hosts lavish parties that all of Manhattan's upper crust attend, yet Daisy, a veritable partygirl, never hears of him? Really? The self-made millionaire goes through several needless channels of matchmaking (Jordan and Nick) just to arrange a meeting with Daisy? Really? As friend, Molly Brost, notes, "For a book with adultery, murder, and lavish parties, the story is quite boring. I can't even remember who dies at the end."

Fitzgerald fans may be satisfied though. Style auteur Baz Luhrmann's glitzy rendition does stick incredibly true to the book in terms of story and theme: the love plot is awkward, and the symbolism is heavy-handed. Barring some odd, hopefully out-of-context comments about how Lurhrmann wishes the movie will spark several Gatsby-themed parties this summer, the movie is visually sumptuous (if a bit Moulin-Rouge-formulaic) but also effectively condemns our obsession with wealth and the American Dream. The parties are indeed lavish, the anachronistic soundtrack is intriguing, the frame story of Nick in a sanitarium is unnecessary but pays kind tribute to FSF's prose, which we rarely see in film adaptations of literary classics.

I don't like the faces or voices or acting styles of Leonardo DiCaprio nor Tobey Maguire, so Carey Mulligan's sleek bob, narrow shoulders, and high breathy voice claimed most of my attention. However, more could have been done to show Daisy's vapidity and shallowness but also her fear of monetary instability.

Roger Dodger
Roger Dodger(2002)

Gotta love high-functioning sociopaths like HIMYM's Barney Stinson and Campbell Scott's titular Roger in this dark, delicious gem. Roger's tried-and-true tricks aren't just cheesy pick-ups, but carefully honed skills that show off the Darwinningest male. Jesse Eisenberg, in his first film role, is sweet and endearing with a hint of rebellion, and the brief roles of 80s-90s dream queens, Elizabeth Berkley and Jennifer Beals, make for a bittersweet sex education. It was so bittersweet that I wished something would happen for Nick and Sophie at the end - not necessarily sex but just SOMETHING instead of Uncle Dad once again aiding and abetting a lame flirtation with high school queen bee whom the audience hasn't gotten the chance to know and fall in love with yet.

Love Story
Love Story(1970)

MAN! MAN! I didn't LOVE this movie, but I can certainly understand its cult status as the bitterest of the sweet, chocolate-shitting, daisy-vomiting doomed romances. I'm guessing it spawned other rich boy-poor girl-DEATH stories such as "A Walk to Remember," which is also schlocky but irresistible.

The screenplay boasts some nice zingers (the couple's catty meet-cute and the bad-dad-retort, "I won't give you the time of day!" "Father, you don't HAVE the time of day!"), formulaic but emotionally effective flashback structure ("She loved Mozart, Bach, Beatles, and me"), and clever match-cut storytelling (tense dinner with parents told over car ride home). Francis Lai's haunting score and the impromptu snowmance sequence are lovely wordless portraits.

One gripe I have is with Ali MacGraw. I find her portrayal of Jenny completely overdone. Many of her snarky lines would've been better deadpan or flippant. Instead, every sarcastic quip is bolded, underlined, and italicized. Jenny is a quirky character that I'm sure many young men of the 70s fell in love with, but she could have used a subtler actress. I read on IMDb that the director considered Ryan O'Neal a reactor, not an actor, and that is certainly true. All of MacGraw's overacting is tempered by O'Neal's natural movements, boyishly floppy hair, and teary baby blues that exemplify how every woman should be looked at by her man.

*SPOILERS*

My other gripe, of course, is with the famously contentious line, "Love means never having to say you're sorry," and its implication in the movie's unsatisfying dissolution. Firstly, semantics: does the line mean one should never do anything so hurtful that it warrants an apology? Or does the line mean one shouldn't have to apologize because your partner already knows you're sorry and will forgive you? I personally like the second interpretation, and it would have made a better ending. Oliver's father is clearly sorry for cutting Oliver off for marrying beneath him. He gives Oliver money no questions asked and calls around to find out it was for Jenny's treatment. He has taken steps toward reconciliation and should be forgiven. I expected Oliver to say the line, then hug his father - indicating that he understands and accepts his father's repentance.

The Croods
The Croods(2013)

You know a movie isn't great when the best part is Nicolas Cage. "The Croods" is...surprisingly crude - in terms of even minimal historical accuracy and in terms of strong female character development (which I'm not sure they were going for, but if you get Emma Stone, our Big Red It Girl of the moment to voice your heroine, you ought to deliver something for her to work with besides grunty ogling of neanderthal beefcake).

The Crood family's hunting and problem solving tactics are really too cartoony, yet still not funnier or cleverer than the X's and O's of football strategery. I guess I was expecting an element of realism. The movie doesn't really start until Eep meets Guy who miraculously has AAALLLL the answers to prehistoric civilization: fire, shoes, critical thinking skills, musical instruments, slithey pets that act as belts, need I repeat: fire?? shoes??? critical thinking skills???? Where the hell did he come from?!

She's All That

Rachael Leigh Cook is hot, mm'kay? In trying to uglify herself though, she contracts an unfortunate case of Vapid Face Syndrome.

To slake a hankering for classic 90s teen movie, I gave "She's All That" a re-gander and found that it hasn't held up like "10 Things I Hate About You" or "Clueless" or even the first two "American Pies." This "Pygmalion"-lite is deserving of its "Not Another Teen Movie" treatment with its easily recognizable stereotypes and suspension of disbelief. Ducky-esque Jesse is blustery and useless, and even the group dance to Fatboy Slim's "The Rockafeller Skank" (of which I never knew the title) seems lame and dated.

Rabbit Hole
Rabbit Hole(2010)
½

Most movies of plays are just filmed versions of the plays, but playwright David Lindsay-Abaire actually uses the medium of film to create atmosphere, momentum, and chemistry. The play is a lot of TELL - and rather good, imagistic TELL; it won a freakin' Pulitzer - but in this adaptation, we get to see all the SHOW: Becca and Jason's acquaintanceship evolving throughout the movie (instead of just in the penultimate scene in the original script), Becca punching out a random mom at the grocery store, Becca breaking down at seeing Jason going to Prom.

Nicole Kidman deserved her Oscar nod. Her posture is stooped, her eyes are bored but darty, and she gets so close to crying but never does (until the end). Miles Teller (who plays cute and dorky Willard in the new Footloose) is wonderful as the repentant teenager. In disagreement with Flixster reviewer, Jim Hunter, I was rather impressed with Aaron Eckhart's emotional outburst. He didn't seem so much angry as heartbroken and at the end of his rope.

However, upon second viewing, I find the movie much sadder than the play, which DLA explicitly said not to do in his script notes. The music is sad and mellow and the shots of Becca's day-to-day life overdramatize her dazed emptiness. Izzy, the fuck-up sister, is also under-utilized whereas she provides much necessary comic relief in the play.

Beauty and the Beast
½

Upon recent viewing a few years ago, I thought the supporting characters more annoying than I did when I was younger, but the film is nevertheless a classic.

Upon yet another recent viewing, I found the songs more awkward and expository, and even reading-is-sexy Belle comes off as damselly and over-accommodating, not to mention rash and passive aggressive. Perhaps my once-unbridled enthusiasm for the film has been dampened by buzzfeed's barenaked ass-whupping of the "classic's" glaring plot holes http://www.buzzfeed.com/donnad/questions-disney-forgot-to-answer-about-beauty-and-the-be

Oz the Great and Powerful
½

James Franco, you literally and figuratively big-headed sonuvabitch.

The 3D IMAX does indeed enhance the film's scrumptious hues and visual illusions. Oz the land is beautiful and alive, and this prequel provides a triumphant backstory of Oz the man's journey from hackey carnival trickster to great and powerful wizard (with the help of FOR SCIENCE trickery). I also enjoy the clever parallels of Kansas versus Oz characters that pay homage to the original film. Zach Braff is adorable as the thankless assistant cum animated monkey valet, and young Joey King is all glassy eyes and bated breath as the Girl in Wheelchair cum China Girl.

Fired Up
Fired Up(2009)

Pretty awful. I think the movie was trying to be sassy cheerleading (Bring It On) meets teen social critique (Not Another Teen Movie), but it doesn't quite get there with its easy dick jokes. The final cheerleading performance isn't even that impressive. They make such a big deal about not shilling for Staples that I expected Shawn to cheekily deliver the ad to the camera after recovering from his fall into the water. That would have been gold.

The Lake House

Hokey as hell but still enjoyable. I'm a sucker for time travel love stories...no matter how implausible or Keanu Reevesy. Paul McCartney and Nick Drake provide a moving soundtrack, and Tony and Pulitzer Award-winning David Auburn's script yields some nice romantic insights.

Anna Karenina
½

Setting this sprawling, aristocratic tale of social and literal suicide on a stage is at first gimmicky, later mindfucky, and on the whole, an interesting choice with uneven but admirable execution. I especially liked the backstage/wings/galleys used as the seedier parts of Moscow/St. Petersburg and the breaking of the opera house's fourth wall during the disastrous horse race.

Keira Knightley is fine; I have come to not hate her anymore. Alicia Vikander sparkles as the spoiled and naive Kitty. Domhnall Gleeson is romantic but severe as the smitten Levin. Blond pretty-boy Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) sticks out like a sore thumb as Vronsky, the object of Anna's affections. Movie-mate, Jim Hunter, suggested that in keeping with the magical realism of the set design concept, Jude Law should have played both Aleksei, the cuckolded husband, and the hapless "other man." That would have been bomb-diggedy.

In terms of story, I'm disappointed that this version of Anna Karenina is so visually vanguard but still entrenched in the tradition of representing Anna as merely an adulterer, then hot/crazy harpy, then cautionary tale.

The Adjustment Bureau

Star-crossed lovers are kept apart by an omniscient bureau because their perfect, fulfilling love will dampen all other desires, including their respective ambitions to attain professional success in politics and DANCE.

I don't particularly buy that thesis, nor that the universe wouldn't have better things to do than keep Matt Damon and Emily Blunt apart, but the light chase movie is kinda fun, cutesy, and dangerous but not so dangerous that a happy ending isn't ensured.

This is 40
This is 40(2012)

The thing about Judd Apatow movies is that they're always twenty minutes too long. The last fight scene at the party drags on, and nothing really gets resolved. A static dramatic arc isn't necessarily a problem, but it just seems like sound and fury signifying nothing. The other thing about Judd Apatow movies is that the woman - no matter how beautiful and charming, as Leslie Mann is - is always a bit of a bitch-on-wheels. She's all demanding and naggy and in denial of her bad arguing habits, and although Deb DOES trump all the men in her life by saying she's the only who has balls, none of the men do anything particularly vilifying. Pete makes some mistakes with money, but he is genuinely bend-over-backward sweet. Her two fathers DO cause abandonment and financial issues, but I don't think I should mention them because Deb herself wants to stop blaming her parents.

The vacation sequence is wonderful - Pete and Deb reliving their stoned, pre-parent days, and realizing that if they just remember this moment, they don't need to fight. The scene in the principal's office with a belligerent Melissa McCarthy accusing them of harrassing her kid (which they did do) and they both baldly deny any wrongdoing on their part is a great show of loyalty despite them being in the midst of a fight. I also rather dig Megan Fox. She has no shame or pretension. She has no problem playing up her maneater persona. (She was also rather funny and coy on "Wedding Band.")

Anchorman - The Legend Of Ron Burgundy

Full of guffaws, but since I've been made privy to all the Anchorman cultural references in the last decade, I wasn't as surprised by them.

Rise of the Guardians

Very thrilling tale about the origin of Jack Frost. The narrative is a bit long and meandering in parts, but all the characters are cute and silly. Like Thomas in "Pocahontas," Jack Frost is too sexy to be a cartoon character :~/

The Squid and the Whale

Calmly complex, inappropriately funny, delightfully pretentious, Jesse...ly Eisenberg...ian. This film captures small, disturbing moments with an objective lens, and the demons of each character allow me to accept without derision. Jeff Daniels plays the worst kind of literati snob, and I especially enjoy the pairs of foils - how each son sides with one or the other parent, then they switch by the end.

Django Unchained

Basic QT revenge-ploitation flick. Lots of incongruous shooting and blood. Anymore traveling and this'd be Lord of the Rings. Not much of a female lead. Django calls his beloved Broomhilda "little troublemaker," so when's she gonna start making some trouble? Kerry Washington floats on air, but I was hoping she'd get to do something besides writhe and scream.

Leo D. just doesn't do it for me anymore ever since he started playing with accents. They're just not good. Jamie Foxx is fine. Christoph Waltz is fine. Samuel L. Jackson is quite good as the most hated and hateful of all characters: the head house slave who unctuously enjoys his master's confidence.

Where the Heart Is
½

I was close to selling this DVD, but then decided to give it one last gander before goodbye. I'm glad I did cuz this is really quite a sweet movie about redemption and the kindness of strangers. It's Classic Natalie. She's a bit vegan and weird now, but in her salad days (ironic?), she could really bare her heart in her performances. I also dig James Frain (Villefort from "The Count of Monte Cristo) as the lovelorn Forney.

Les Misérables

So...Les Mis. I can't say I'm terribly fond of the story beyond Act I. Cosette is the boringest character ever. Why does a revolutionary like Marius fall for this vapid bougie girl? Eponine is a pretty thankless role in that Marius is a little sad that she died, but he isn't thankful for her sacrificing herself to save his life, nor does her death reaffirm his faith in his cause. He just marries Cosette, and everyone's happy.

Tom Hooper achieved a great feat with the live-singing. The performances are indeed rawer and more visceral than the glamorous belting of Broadway. My boy Hugh Jackman captures Valjean's repentence and compassion. He is a great singer, but I didn't think he was exceptional, probably because the character has so many songs that by the end, the performance felt repetitive.

Anne Hathaway will melt your face off in "I Dreamed a Dream." She even acts through the instrumentals. I take a bit of pride in knowing she could sing ever since I saw "Ella Enchanted." Her acting in the non-singing scenes is a little frantic and melodramatic, but that one song is award-worthy in itself.

I really dig Eddie Redmayne as Marius. He's got this ugly-sexy face and Kermitty singing voice that makes a somewhat one-dimensional character less of a pretty-boy ponce. "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" is blisteringly painful, if a bit deja vu-ey after so many "raw and visceral" interpretations. Aaron Tveit has a magnificent voice, and I have come to really just like the role of Enjolras.

Samantha Barks (of the 25th Anniversary Concert, so you pretty much already know she can belt) is beautiful and full of longing, but she only has a handful facial expressions - all good, just lacking in variety. I'm not a fan of Amanda Seyfried, but she does what she can with the boringest character. I found her soprano a bit tinny though. And well, Russell Crowe. He can carry a tune...but not very far. He sings too much in his mouth instead of in his throat and diaphragm.

Moulin Rouge!
½

THE GREATEST THING YOU'LL EVER LEARN IS JUST TO LOVE AND BE LOVED IN RETURN!

HappyThankYouMorePlease

Bravo Josh Radnor. BRA-VO. I love him as Ted on HIMYM (and I also happen to love the character of Ted, unlike haters who prefer Barney as their man of the half-hour), and now, I really dig Radnor as a writer.

"HappyThankYouMorePlease" didn't have a lot going for it. Its clunky-ass title aside, a quirky independent romantic dramedy about six 20-30 somethings in New York City? So played out. In spite of that title though, Radnor has written a pretty mellow script that doesn't smack of an agenda. The inciting incident of Sam taking in Rasheen, a lost African-American boy, isn't about white liberal guilt like in "The Blind Side." They just become friends. Sam fosters Rasheen more out of selfish reasons than altruistic ones: he enjoys being looked up to, he enjoys fucking up his own life.

The movie's also not THAT quirky, in comparison to "Garden State" or "Juno," both of which I do love. I think Radnor's going for realism here, and I think he succeeds. The few quirks that happen - Sam and Mississippi's three-night-stand or Annie's Alopecia Awareness Party - are tempered with subtle regret (in re the former) and forced gaiety (in re the latter).

The intertwining stories are also not THAT intertwining, in comparison to "Love Actually" or *gag* "Valentine's Day." There's no huge payoff - oh this person knows this person and oh that person is that person's long-lost half-second-cousin-twice-removed. It's just some people - some are friends, some are lovers, some are strangers, some are children of parents' best friends so they call each other "cousins" (but that's established early on in the movie) - and it's just some stories. The theme of gratitude isn't entirely evinced in ALL the stories, and I can see how that can be a criticism, but honestly, I'm glad it didn't smack me in the face.

I love the veiled Woody Allen observation that Mary Catherine makes, "Why one movie a year? Why not one every other year?" because I LITERALLY heard someone say those EXACT words the other day, which goes to prove, every movie I'm seeing right now is about me [at the time of original viewing]. I wonder if non-Woody Allen fans won't get the reference or if they do, find it pretentious. I think it still works though cuz A) Woody's name isn't mentioned, so those who get it will chuckle and those who don't will just let it go, and 2) That line and other pro-NYC/anti-LA litanies are delivered by Zoe Kazan, who has kinduva shrill voice and kiddish demeanor. A character can be whiney and pretentious; a movie catered to a general audience shouldn't be.

As for Josh Radnor's acting, it's plenty serviceable. People complain that he's just playing Ted. Well, so what? It goes with the role. Wait for him to uglify himself and play a murderous transvestite prostitute. Then people will respect him. Anyway, he does provide subtle changes. Sam is a little edgier than Ted - definitely more cynical and pushy (in regard to the boudoir...). Radnor brings just the right amount of sleaze. The other supporting actors/characters are quite delightful too, especially Tony "Buster Bluth" Hale as Sam #2. He really does become quite a stud.

Can I also say how much I love Kate Mara? I was hoping she'd get the role of Lisbeth Salander instead of her sister, but oh well. She has such an interesting mouth, a Joker-esque grin. Her rendition of Kander and Ebb's "Sing Happy" is wonderful as well. Her cabaret-style soprano is reminiscent of Katie Holmes'...but better. The happy montage underscoring her song and the cut-to-black is also a sweet, subtle close.

The only change I would make to the end is that instead of cut-to-black, I want Sam to go up to Mississippi and earnestly say, "You looked very pretty" (like Rasheen suggested earlier), then fade-to-black.

Snow White and the Huntsman
½

I thoroughly enjoyed this. Now, I'm a Kristen Stewart fan, so I may go into her movies looking for things to like, but there are certainly some beautiful design elements that transcend acting taste: Colleen Atwood's Joan of Arc meets Disney costumes, the sprawling gothic castle, the ominous Dark Forest, the bewitching Land of Fairies. I was visually enchanted for 2/3 of the movie.

Period really suits Stewart, I think, as evidenced by how well she photographs for magazine shoots that put her in 40s, 60s, and 1700s garb. I predicted that she would be sullen as Snow White, but our first glimpse of her is through the bars of her tower - her fatigued eyes entranced by the sunlight seldom seen throughout her imprisonment. Her first quiet prayer is almost hopeful, not angsty. The fear and vulnerability she shows when Finn, Ravenna's dastardly brother cum henchman, enters her cell isn't underscored by her usual defiance. I paraphrase from "Entertainment Weekly"'s review, Stewart plays pure without being a pain. For those who say she never moves her face, her foray into the Dark Forest probably showcases the most facial movement she's ever done.

The plot falls apart through the second half though. The love triangle is underplayed, perhaps to dissuade comparisons to "Twilight"; ergo, the romance itself is insubstantial and unsatisfying. Snow White's rousing battle cry is poorly written and nonsensical. KStew gains a bit of volume at the end, "Who will be my brother?!" but to borrow a turn-of-phrase from Super Reviewer, Jim Hunter (not in reference to KStew per se), she's always just good enough that I wish she were better. The final showdown between Snow White and Ravenna is somewhat inelegant and doesn't make use of any great suspense or fight choreography.

Defending Your Life
½

A sweet fantasy into a weigh-station where the departed make cases for whether they lived fearless lives, and after judgment, they move onto greener, more intelligent pastures or get reincarnated back to Earth. I'm not a fan of Meryl Streep, but she is angel bright as the fearless Julia.

There seems to be a hidden layer of stupidity in those who move on - like that their diet consists of dirt and worms, or the substitute lawyer who uses 43% of his brain but doesn't say a word in court to defend Daniel - but they're just sight gags that don't come to fruition.

Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away
½

Mesmerizing acrobatics that would undoubtedly be better in a live theatre. The star-crossed lovers frame story of Mia and the Aerialist is pretty bland, but their swings routine at the end is beautiful. Sexiest kiss since upside-down Spidey: The Aerialist performs a parallel Iron Cross (or something), and Mia hangs onto his neck as they soar up and share their first kiss. Aww.

Maid in Manhattan

Actually not bad. There's no goofy, embarrassing hijinx like in other romantic comedies. The mistaken identity plot is played straight. The socioeconomic commentary is adequate for what is primarily a love story, and I like how Marisa's son gets to build a bond with his mother's suitor too. There is also no given that Chris and Marisa live happily ever after. The magazine covers in the credits say, "One year and still going strong." Nice touch, movie.

Saving Face
Saving Face(2005)

Absolutely delightful. An American-Born-Chinese lesbian finds her world rocked when her widowed mother is disowned for getting pregnant out of wedlock. The story subverts stereotypes about race, gender, sexuality, and age, but it never seems to do too much. Enough time is spent on major and minor characters and plots. The end teeters on Joy Luck Club-level saccharine, but the performances are all nuanced and the bilingual script is seamless in mixing the elders' traditional Mandarin and the ABCs' mix of English and broken Mandarin.

There is the requisite nagging Tiger Mom we've come to expect from Asian culture clash films, but Joan Chen brings a quieter, more sensual layer as well, since Ma is also back on the market. Michelle Krusiec, as the surgeon daughter, is brilliantly still and funny in a serious way. There are even a few mannerisms of hers that I know I do/did in my one short film acting experience. She, along with Carey Mulligan and Emmanuelle Béart, are actresses whose faces I'd like to wear, "Silence-of-the-Lambs"-style.

The Last Kiss
½

All the women (besides Anna played by the timeless Blythe Danner) are caricatures. Lisa's just a bitch on wheels, and Jenna's knife-wielding outbursts are all too melodramatic and one-note (not a fault of Jacinda Barrett's per se). She is described as being "like a guy" (what, like those sporty-sexy lesbians who will marry your boyfriends?), but never does that actually come through in her actions. If pregnancy hormones are to blame, there should nevertheless be layers to the outbursts.

The male characters are all interesting: from sex-god Kenny to hapless schmuck Izzy. I especially dig Casey Affleck's Chris, stuck in an unhappy marriage and amateur fatherhood. The entire sequence of him having to keep Michael's secret about cheating on Jenna but not wanting to lie is painfully awkward, thus funny.

I'd be more okay with this movie if it just stuck with the thirty-somethings. Michael's affair with Kim provides an inciting incident, but nothing really happens besides kissing in the rain and a mix CD (come on!). Kim is written to be so twee and lame, and Rachel Bilson bats her doe-eyes through it to no great effect.

The Hangover
The Hangover(2009)
½

A bromance that doesn't overload on raunch ("Superbad") or sentimentality ("I Love You, Man"). Zach Galifianakis steals the show as the endearingly oblivious but inherently good Alan. "We're the three best friends that anybody could have. We're the three best friends that anyone could have." I also like that despite their wild night of debauchery, Doug's location doesn't compromise his faith to his fiancee. He's not off banging hookers or snorting blow. Snorting blow - am I using that right?

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
½

Kate Hudson's smugface is really not my cuppa tea, but she is stunning in that gold number (and in those giant Ann Taylor Loft banners at the mall). The movie isn't as annoying as I remember, but much of it is Hudson doing embarrassing, stereotypical stuff. There's some real heart when Andie meets Ben's kooky but loveable family. Then the big reveal is kinda argumentative for no reason. Andie's all hurt that she was just a bet, but she was using Ben too, so it's just a ham-handed unraveling for dramatic purposes.

Someone Like You
½

The soft science about men's natural proclivity to hit-it-then-quit-it isn't terribly scintillating nor monumental. There's not much to this movie, but that kinda makes it somewhat enjoyable. Just some day-to-day dialogue and a couple cute/sad/sweet moments (Jane's cheerleading, Eddie running into Becca at yoga, Eddie looking out for Jane on New Year's).

I can't remember the last time I saw a character in a contemporary movie who wasn't a mob boss or a femme fatale light up a cigarette. There is seriously so much smoking! And the mention of WTC really dates the movie.

Amélie
Amélie(2001)

Delightful and quirky before delightful and quirky became "in." Beautiful score by Yann Tiersen. I'm not terribly sold on Amelie's painful shyness though.

Australia
Australia(2008)
½

It's not awful, but it certainly lacks the tongue-in-cheek spark of other Baz Luhrmann films, thus rendering the emotion quite melodramatic. I wouldn't say the movie could've ended three times (in that it was too long and repetitive), but new plot points just kept building on and on. There's always more.

This must have been when Nicole Kidman was Botoxing it cuz her face is a bit plasticky, and she overmugs to compensate. Brandon Walters as the half-Aborigine boy, Nullah, is plucky and exuberant. Hugh Jackman is rough and gruff on the outside, marshmallows and puppy dogs on the inside.

Beautiful Girls
½

The first time I saw this movie, I LOVED IT. The second time, I thought it was just okay, maybe even a little below okay. Perhaps, due to the lack of subtitles on this particular disc I now own, I couldn't READ the movie while viewing it, so I noticed that a few performances didn't capture the gravitas of the screenplay.

I remember loving Paul's slam poetry ode to supermodels (how "they're bottled promise...hope dancing in stiletto heels" and how that's as good as love), but something in Michael Rapaport's faux-gangsta posture and gait seems stilted, as if he wasn't completely sold on his character's near sociopathic rant of genius. I also remember loving Willie's meditation on thirteen-year-old Marty (how she will blossom into awesomeness in ten years and that he'd wait for her), but the cinematography is too staid and the effect of the moving monologue whispers pedophilia before it whispers, say...imprinting (ala Twilight werewolves). I also also remember loving Mo's raving, nonsensical battle cry, "YOU FUCK WITH ME, YOU FUCK WITH YOU! YOU GO TO THE FOUNTAIN, YOU DRINK? YOU DON'T DRINK!" but the loud audio makes it difficult to hear actual words.

All in all, a damn shame cuz the coming-of-middle-age story is quite beautiful, and the young Natalie Portman as Marty is indeed precocious and magnetic.

Silver Linings Playbook
½

Surprisingly awful. I was so looking forward to this movie because I like Bradley Cooper and JLaw and *DANCE*, but I had to admit, the trailer ran cold for me. The joke about Hemingway's sad endings is so hackneyed and artless that I was afraid the rest of the script would be as banal. And it was.

I generally hate those "two fucked-up people save each other" kinds of movies anyway. Like "Lars and the Real Girl," this movie smacks of being written by somebody who knows nothing about mental illness. Throw in a crazy outburst here, throw in a cathartic crying scene there, a dash of creepy quiet here and a sprinkling of antisocial behavior there, and you've got a cocktail for a superficial, seemingly true and relevant movie.

The performances are all fine. Bradley Cooper cries cathartically and gets all creepy quiet, but the role is just a charisma vacuum. There's nothing going on behind the eyes, and one can argue that a more talented actor could have done the part justice, but perhaps nothing IS ALLOWED to go on behind the eyes. The dialogue and Pat's bi-polar disturbance just lacks verve and opportunity.

JLaw sells Tiffany's crazy outbursts and whorish, antisocial behavior, but Tiffany herself is a character solely defined by those actions. Why is she so into dance? What else does she do? What was her marriage to Tommy like? What causes her to fall for Pat and vice versa? Why does she forge Nikki's letter, and how does that garner Pat's favor? There is so little development of the central romance.

The dance climax isn't even that satisfying. First, the whole bet plot just feels pseudo-quirky. Why dance? Second, the dance is neither that bad or that good, in terms of choreo- and cinemato- graphy. There are so few shots of the footwork, and the judges' scores are so comically different (4.8s and suddenly a 5.4) that winning the bet with an average of 5 is just a manipulative gimme. There are other moments of manipulation as well: Tiffany always running past Pat and startling him; the camera's excessive zooms. There is also no consequence to Tiffany getting trashed right before their performance. And they say the titular phrase "silver linings" way too much.

Everything about the movie lacks a motor. It's just a pretty-looking cocktail that tastes less topical as you go on.

Wreck-it Ralph

So freakin' charming, you'll shit chocolate and vomit toffee. The colors and animation are deliciously vibrant. The underground world of arcade games is full of clever inside-jokes and cute cameos (the surge protector as Central Station; the illegality of bringing back fruit from Pac-Man; Sergeant Calhoun [voiced by hard-as-nails Jane Lynch] being programmed with the most tragic backstory of her fiance being mauled down by alien spawn at their wedding).

Wreck-It Ralph's journey to prove himself a hero is only the start to this sweet tale about friendship among outcasts. Sarah Silverman as the "pixlexic" Vanellope is adorable and annoying but likably so. Her piercing screams during the scene when Wreck-It Ralph tries to save her by wrecking her racer are so heartbreaking!

Ruby Sparks
Ruby Sparks(2012)
½

Calvin, a young one-hit-wonder novelist creates his perfect girlfriend on the page, and she comes to life, only to develop a mind of her own! Ruby Sparks is extremely lovable - both the movie and the girl. Zoe Kazan is quirky sexy as the titular dreamgirl and quirky talented for penning the fantastical screenplay.

Major spoilers *salute*

There are humorous moments - Paul Dano's physical comedy when Calvin discovers Ruby is real; there are dramatic moments - Ruby wanting more space in the relationship and Calvin fears losing her; there are darkly comedic moments - Calvin playing God and making Ruby Overly-Attached Girlfriend "I MISS YOU RIGHT NOW!!!"; and there are intense, disturbing moments - the climax of Calvin literally trapping Ruby in the room and making her dance like a puppet.

X-Men: First Class
½

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are respectively dashing and troubling as Marvel's MLK and Malcolm X. Backstories of Charles Xavier's friendship with Mystique and Magneto's stint in the concentration camps are moving and cathartic. How Charles ends up in the wheelchair is a change from canon, but it's still devastatingly Shakespearean (Mercutio's "I was hurt under your arm"). I also dig all the joke cameos: Hugh Jackman as gruff Wolverine, refusing to join forces, and Rebecca Romijn as part of Mystique's shape-shifting ploy to get Erik in bed with her. Jennifer Lawrence is a bit annoying as angsty, young Mystique. I hope Haughty American Girl doesn't become her thing although by the looks of "Silver Linings Playbook," it may...

Argo
Argo(2012)

Ben Affleck seems to make important films. Or Ben Affleck makes seemingly important films. I've given three stars to all his directorial efforts, and I'm just waiting for him to really wow me. While Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo here are good, they're not great, and what creases me every time is a story issue, not necessarily an acting or filming or design issue.

As for Argo, it isn't quite clear who the six escapees are and why the CIA tries so hard to get THEM out of Iran instead of the hundreds of others who are clearly undergoing a much harsher hostage experience than the six who are squatting in the Canadian ambassador's cushy house, sipping wine and complaining about being bored.

The last third of the film does indeed build suspense and tension and breath-bating. I like how brunette Clea DuVall is growing into her looks, and holy crap, I just realized I mistook Kerry Bishé for Romola Garai the whole time cuz I thought Romola Garai had a mole on her face, but it was actually fake for when in "Atonement," she played an older version of Saoirse Ronan who DOES have a mole on her face, LIKE Kerry Bishé! Oy. Anyway, good for Kerry! And good for Taylor Schilling (of "Atlas Shrugged") too! MAN. Three blondes (who sometimes go brunette) I dig in one movie!

Life of Pi
Life of Pi(2012)

Breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography and design. The story is triumphant - child Pi rattling off digits of pi to reclaim the legitimacy of his name (which is derived not from the mathematical constant but the name of a French pool that sounds like "pissing") - and heartbreaking - Richard Parker walking into the jungle without so much as a backwards glance and Pi's hysterical grieving.

Suraj Sharma acts passionately against a CGI tiger, and Bollywood legends, Irfan Khan and Tabu, kick any film up a notch. The flashback frame story is visually compelling, but Rafe Spall's superfluous writer character suffers from "serious acting face."

Major spoilers *salute*

Much of the brilliant fantasy is wasted on a spiritual metaphor. The "true story" doesn't even make as much temporal sense because the cook, the Buddhist, and the mother are dead by the first couple of days, whereas Pi is shown to have been stranded for over a year.

Lincoln
Lincoln(2012)

DDL is plain awesome as Lincoln, but did anyone ever have any doubt? His performance is capable and literally pitch perfect (in terms of his higher timbre), but it's expected - not in that DDL is always good so he needn't get another award, but in that it's how a good actor would create a role out of a legendary, oft-caricatured president. It's good casting - not MERELY good casting, but still, quite a bit of good casting. As such, I think the Best Actor Oscar should go to John Hawkes who had less source material to work with, as well as a better (near)death scene. I dug him in this movie too.

The movie is a bit of a snore in an important, historical drama way. There's only so much excitement one can generate out of a House session, and Lee Pace and Tommy Lee Jones certainly do their damnedest in those natty wigs and stockings. The script is old-fashioned and opaque at times. The comedic relief is stereotypically scored with a runaway fiddle. The comment on racial equality (not just legal equality) is either too subtle (in Elizabeth Keckley's case) or too obvious (in Lydia Smith's big reveal). And much like Justin Long in that other Lincoln movie, "The Conspirator," Joseph Gordon-Levitt's modern face and inflection just stick out like a sore thumb.

Flight
Flight(2012)

The first thirty minutes are gripping and appalling. Whip's drug use and drinking are casually underscored by Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright," and the plane turbulence scenes are intense and frightening. Denzel is indeed charismatic with a hint of violence.

The rest of the movie meanders a bit. Don Cheadle's clean-up lawyer doesn't do much but say he can "kill the tox report" - whatever that means and however that's done. I didn't care much for John Goodman as an overgrown high school burn-out. Whip and Nicole's battle with addiction is moving, but themes of faith and predestiny are underdeveloped.

The Sessions
The Sessions(2012)
½

THE OSCAR SEASON HAS BEGUN. John Hawkes gives an achingly wonderful, sideways performance as an iron-lung-ridden wunderadult who works with a sex surrogate to lose his virginity. The film is so light and matter-of-fact despite the sad premise, and the sex plot is so clinical, human, and free - not meant to titillate or offend.

Helen Hunt is perfectly capable and totally un-self-conscious in her full nudity scenes. William H. Macy is gallant and mildly repressed in a comic way. The supporting cast is beautiful and joyful.

AND OH THE CAT!!!!

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
½

Really not that bad. Kristen Stewart is indeed a tough vixen/vamp, and the angelic Mackenzie Foy, as hybrid-baby Renesmee, is sweet and beguiling. And would Twilight detractors stop freaking out about the werewolf imprinting thing? It's not pedophilia. Jacob's bond isn't sexual or romantic at all at Renesmee's young age. It's one of protector and brother that will mature into friend then lover. Geez.

CLEVER TWIST that rocked me hardcore with a too-cute black & white yearbook retrospective of all castmembers involved. Well done, movie.

Clue
Clue(1985)

This scream-out-loud farce contains more than your daily recommended serving of puns and a healthy dollop of licentiousness. Seeing present-day established actors in their first roles also brings a nice nostalgia factor.

Beetlejuice
Beetlejuice(1988)

Michael Keaton is a raucous and hilarious precursor to Johnny Depp's drunken gay pirate. However, the story of ghosts trying to exorcise the living is top-heavy, taking too long to start, and the zany parts, while visually stylistic, don't really push the narrative along - the dinner dance, Beetlejuice marrying Lydia.

The Monster Squad
½

Silly-fun kiddie adventure that I don't remember much of. The little girl reciting German at the end was impressive.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This late 80s-early 90s hipster (not contemporary hipster) coming-of-age story is a bit too faux-outsider and faux-edgy at the beginning (oh woeful beautiful misfits), but it builds to a maddening climax and a cathartic denouement. Logan Lerman, as the titular wallflower, is charmingly shy. He also does stoned and stone-faced-crazy quite well. Emma Watson, of the "acting is attracting" school, is too concerned with looking pretty to have even a handful of real facial expressions. She's always trying to be something, whether sexy, flirty, angry, concerned, excited, or touched. Her intentions (read: eyebrows) are so obvious.

Seven Psychopaths

I'm not a huge fan of movies about writing movies. It's too convenient to have characters talk about the tripe they want to write and then have it actually happen in the movie. This one smacks of pretentious-college-screenwriting-student-aspiring-to-write-a-violent-septuple-cross-neo-gangster-flick-ala-Quentin Tarantino. It's like my first screenplay about existential suicide; it's all clever and deep, but the in-joke is too in, so no one cares. Then again, I didn't like "Adaptation" the first time I saw it either, but I enjoyed it more and more with subsequent viewings.

That being said, the movie is still a fun ride. Sam Rockwell is adorably psychopathic, and Christopher Walken gives as tender a performance as I've ever seen from him.

The Master
The Master(2012)
½

Joaquin Phoenix is frenetic, virile, and violent. He's so violent as Freddie Quell that I wonder if it was exceptional fight choreography or just ACTUAL fighting. The sequences of "processing" are harrowing and uncomfortable - specifically the "blink and we start over" rapid-fire questioning and, for lack of a better descriptor, the "window to the wall" malleable matter experiment.

PTA's movies are vast and brilliant mindfucks, of course, but this one seems to star an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The connections to Scientology are opaque, and the resolution between Lancaster and Freddie runs out of steam.

The Words
The Words(2012)
½

OH. MAN. So fraught and overly wrought but deliciously fromagey nevertheless. A struggling writer deals with guilt after taking another author's work as his own. DRAMA! The real writer doesn't want money or credit, JUST HIS LIFE BACK! DRAMA! The perfect, devoid-of-personality wife was unknowingly complicit in her husband's literary deception. DRAMA! Shit goes down. Life sucks.

I'm a fan of Bradley Cooper, so I go into his movies with positive expectations. He acts just fine, quite well, if I may be so bold. There's even a moment when he almost goes Full Man Cry ala Dawson Leery, but it's just restrained enough that it isn't embarrassing for anyone.

The screenplay itself is surface and stereotypical about the life of writers, and the frame story with Dennis Quaid and Olivia Wilde, is dumb and unnecessary. They were trying to go deeper, but I didn't like Inception either.

Priceless
Priceless(2006)

C'est magnifique! Audrey is smoldering and tempestuous and charming and *head explodes.* Story seems basic at first - gold-digger mistakes a poor man for her mark - but the second act twist of Jacques becoming a kept man allows for some nice dramatic/comedic bonding over the ways of the grift. The motif of the "euro for 10 seconds" (like penny for your thoughts) is very sweet.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High

LOL funny but not terribly memorable. I find young Jennifer Jason Leigh's moonface utterly forgettable (unlike her adult jagged little pill face), but she does well when she tells Damone, "No. Take that back," after he accuses her of wanting sex more than he did. My favorite character would have to be Brad, played by the Honorable Judge Reinhold. He's a doofy but supportive older brother who gets some great dad-ish lines, "Learn it. Know it. Live it."

Heathers
Heathers(1988)

Chockful of abominable one-liners ("Why are you pulling my dick?") with twisted-sexy performances by Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. Nevertheless, the satire is unclear. It partly satirizes "the tragedy boner" as coined by Diablo Cody in "Jennifer's Body," but then JD's Project Mayhem loses steam when his feelings for Veronica get in the way. He doesn't seem to have a motor, unlike other conscionable murder stories like "True Romance" or "Natural Born Killers." Thus, at the end when Veronica wins out and befriends the fat girl, the movie dissolves into a mere morality tale.

Dirty Dancing

I can't believe it took me twenty years or so to see this gem. It's just such a nicely-packaged little story. It doesn't try to be anything other than a sweet bildungsroman that tackles class issues while treating the audience to beautifully choreographed dance routines.

St. Elmo's Fire
½

It's really quite enjoyable - the humor, the drama - but it just doesn't make much sense to me. All these friends have such disparate personalities that there's no way they would all hang out and remain friends after college - and that's not even speaking of Wendy's completely baseless infatuation for Billy. My friend pointed out that my own circle of friends have vastly different characters, but we coexist because we've had the benefit of hanging out a lot in real life. The St. Elmo's gang are never shown "just hanging out." They're always doing something, getting into trouble, plotting grand gestures - all these huge moments of which culminates in an overwrought, melodramatic climax that of course brings them all together. The explanation of the title also doesn't hold much water.

I'm Reed Fish

As the plucky strains of an acoustic guitar played over the DVD menu, I mused wearily, "This looks delightfully indie..." because of course, "indie" can go terribly wrong. I'm Reed Fish does not. It's a captivating story about a small-town boy-wonder's quarter-life crisis. Deeply-felt performances, a beautiful original soundtrack, and quirky characters who aren't SO quirky that you want to punch them in the face.

Schuyler Fisk is brilliant. I loved her as Kristy Thomas in The Baby-Sitters Club, and it's nice to see she's grown into a decent adult actress/singer. I just fell in love with her during her songs. The only qualm I have with this movie is the ending. Reed and the real Jill shouldn't have gotten together. We've spent the entire movie falling in love with fake Jill. Real Jill (played by a mousy Shiri Appleby) can't build up nearly enough charm in her brief cameo.

If only Jay Baruchel, his face half-shadowed by a dusky lamp, would look me in the eyes and say, "Why aren't we together?" I think I could be happy for the rest of my life.

Mulan
Mulan(1998)
½

The last Disney princess movie before the late oughts' The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Brave. This was as close as we got to a no-frills "princess" with no love interest (Shang actually only stays for dinner at the end :~P), and it all holds up better than Brave, in my opinion. Great sweeping orchestral score and beautiful watercolor animation.

Ella Enchanted

A funny, unconventional fairy tale that goes Passably Bollywood. Anne Hathaway does some really nice crying and singing.

Ghost
Ghost(1990)
½

I only thought this was okay when I saw it as a kid, but now that I'm older, more seasoned in film criticism, and less ironically embracing of supernatural melodrama, I can truly appreciate Ghost for the stylish, thrilling, Academy Award-winning tearjerker it is. If you don't wanna throw some pots after watching this, you're dead to me.

Far and Away
Far and Away(1992)

This might have been one of the first movies I had ever seen, so my eight-year-old, limited-English-speaking self enjoyed it at least. Upon rewatch, I was disappointed to find its total puke-in-my-potato-and-leek-soup schlock-value. The stereotypical, opposites attract characters - Tom Cruise's rough bruiser, Nicole Kidman's fiery aristocrat, Robert Prosky's burdened rich man - John Williams' by-the-book, authentically inauthentic score, and Tom's authentically inauthentic accent (which is at least consistent).

Celeste and Jesse Forever

Sad and true. Acts I and III are nice, but Act II glorifies embarrassment humor a bit too much with Celeste's downward spiral. I was also a dissatisfied that despite both Celeste's and Jesse's names in the movie title, both sides of the story aren't fully evinced. We go on Celeste's journey of self-discovery, but Jesse's 0 (still being "in love" with Celeste and too-scared-to-let-go booty calls) to 60 (having a baby and wanting to make it work with someone he just met) transformation is just too inexplicable.

A New Kind of Love
½

The beginning of the movie is quite glamorous and charming in a "they don't make 'em like this anymore" kind of way. I especially dig the self-referential commentary in the opening credits, Joanne Woodward's shag mop, and Paul Newman's pouty smoulder. However, the story would have been just fine as an opposite's attract romp. Instead, the mistaken identity/insultingly garish-looking prostitute bit just embarrasses the hell out of Woodward. The message is overtly patriarchal: once-bitten-twice-shy businesswoman secretly DOES want to get married, so she gets a makeover, tells some tall tales, baits a guy, and gets bodily thrown into bed in a clever-if-it-weren't-so-sexist sports metaphor.

Youth in Revolt

Milquetoast Michael Cera as a pencil-mustache-sportin' evil alter ego is entertaining enough, but the rest of the boy-ruins-his-life-for-a-girl story is pretty banal and quite tame surprisingly. Portia Doubleday as Sheeni isn't much of a siren either, but Rooney Mara looks satisfyingly hot and mean. The part with Adhir Kalyan from "Rules of Engagement" in his skivvies is funny.

The Bourne Legacy

Boring and confusing. But since my movie-mates enjoyed it, I suppose it was just me who was bored and confused. The office shooting should have been the inciting incident, but the movie takes up the entire first act with exposition regarding Jason Bourne. The final moped chase scene is freakin' fifteen minutes long. It even ends the same as the first, with the couple sailing off on some tropical azure-hued sea.

Two Weeks Notice

This was before I found Sandra Bullock attractive. Hugh Grant is serviceably dapper. Oddly enough, years after I saw it for the first time, I still remember the beginning and ending with Lucy ordering enough Chinese food to feed a small village to reveal it was only for one, then at the end, for two. Aww.

The Rules of Attraction

After watching this, I wanted to shave off my skin, blow my own brains out, then sit in a cold shower hugging my knees. James Van Der Beek is delightfully skeevy, and it was nice seeing gruff and comparatively aged Ian Somerhalder from "The Vampire Diaries" all young and cherub-cheeked. Hilarious against-type cameos from Fred Savage and Eric Stoltz.

Your Sister's Sister
½

A sweet and leisurely little indie. I've never thought much of Rosemarie DeWitt, but she's very understatedly sexy with her bangs and Helen Hunt-esque bone structure. Props to director/scribe, Lynn Shelton, and actor, Mark Duplass for deftly capturing and portraying awkward post-coital gratitude/silence, "We should get some water before bed...Thank you!...Good night!..."

Ted
Ted(2012)
½

Surprisingly wonderful. I went in expecting a raunchy, escapist comedy, but I got that, as well as an earnest romantic comedy meets bildungsroman with a tense and dangerous subplot that actually made me cry. The comedic fight scene set to The Heavy's "How Do You Like Me Now" in the trailer is actually rather raw and dramatic in context. There's no music (unlike in "Family's Guy"'s extended chicken fight scenes) to trivialize the anger and brutality.

The Aristocrats
½

Unspeakably foul. But oh-so-hilarious.

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
½

Almost painful to watch. Mira Sorvino's dumb blonde act doesn't ring true to me. How do they live such an extravagant LA lifestyle without jobs? The real reunion ending makes the inane movie a little better. Mira seems like she can actually dance, and Alan Cumming is surprisingly sexy.

The Dark Knight Rises

So freakin' long with an exposition that exposes little. Bane's origin story doesn't even surface until halfway through the movie so that there is no suspense or dramatic question to push the narrative along. There are also plot holes/jumps that defy temporal and spatial reasoning. How does Batman get from Bane's sewer hangout to a prison halfway across the world? How does Batman procure the Clean Slate program for Catwoman and what even is it? I am unimpressed with Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. She looks foxy, and her stunts are agile, but her femme fatale voice is overly breathy and cartoonish, "I'm adaptable." Anne has always tried too hard to be sexy (see [or don't see] "Havoc"). For much of the movie, I wished that Marion Cotillard could have been Catwoman.

Major Spoilers *salute*

Of course, Marion Cotillard couldn't be Catwoman. She makes a damn good Talia Al Ghul (except for that weird eye-fluttering death). It was a huge surprise for me, not having read the comics, but I wonder if fans saw the twist coming from a mile away since her alter ego, Miranda Tate, is so bland and pointless.

The ending is unnecessarily emotionally manipulative. Batman doesn't need to die! Shouldn't all harnesses attached to the Batmotorizedvehicle come equipped with emergency releases? Just drop the bomb in the ocean and fly away! GEEZ!

It's Kind of a Funny Story

I don't wanna be a dick and say teenagers don't have real problems, or even that the teenager in THIS movie has no real problems, BUT the teenager in this movie certainly has issues articulating his problems, so I am left with the impression that this movie just wanted to create a young romance in an unconventional location but neglected to set up the proper groundwork for mental illness or distraction.

Ira and Abby
Ira and Abby(2006)
½

Another win for Jennifer Westfeldt. In disagreement with friend and Flixster reviewer, Jim Hunter, I think the group therapy session is the most amazing scene in the movie. So many overlapping arguments and grievances aired. I especially love Ira's line that criticizes Abby's penchant for people-pleasing, "It's hard being married to someone who's married to everyone."

Magic Mike
Magic Mike(2012)

Seriously the best film I've seen in theaters in a long time. Friend and movie reviewer Molly Brost asserts that the movie is "better than it had any right to be or really needed to be." It's a semi-autobiographical account of Channing Tatum's past as a male stripper in a burlesque revue, and it would have been just fine as prenuptial eye candy, but with Soderbergh at the helm, the film is a gritty, well-paced expose at best, and a marginally cheesy cautionary tale at worst.

Channing Tatum is in his element on that stage. His fusion of B-boy, hip hop, pop and lock is excitingly choreographed and executed. He also continues to charm me with his meathead banter. Cody Horn as Brooke, the sensible older sister of Mike's protege, Adam, is hard as nails with her Marlon-Brando-stuffing-cotton-in-his-jaw underbite. The flirtation between Mike and Brooke is silly yet guarded. She doesn't play hard-to-get. She IS hard to get.

Olivia Munn, whom I don't usually like, even sinks her teeth into a meaty role as the friend with benefits/lesbian tendencies/feelings complex. That post-booty call scene with her on the couch, wiping away tears as if they were sweat, is all at once, pitiful and pure.

My one qualm with the movie is that it doesn't get into the misogyny and misandry of strip clubs - not that strip clubs are inherently objectifying; I can appreciate the art and those who do it artfully. However, this film is of the mindset that male strip clubs are for women's objectification of men whereas I think male strip clubs/revues objectify women just as much as female strip clubs do. The only reaction shown was rabid women, eager to stuff the dudes' banana hammocks with Benjamins whereas in my experience, the most pervasive reaction of an unsuspecting bride-to-be is horror at being bodily thrown over a beefcake's shoulders while he bumps and grinds or mimes cunnilingus. Skeevy Matthew McConaughey reminds the audience that they can't touch, but the strippers are allowed to touch as much as they want, uninvited or not. It promotes male dominance, not just a removed sense of voyeurism.

Intermission
Intermission(2003)
½

Lots of great stories and plots and reveals and quirks and weirdnesses, but I can't say I remember much of it all.

Happy Accidents

This was recently on Entertainment Weekly's 50 Best Movies You've Never Seen list, and it certainly is awesome despite its kooky concept of whether Ruby's new lover is a potentially dangerous paranoid-delusional or if he's actually a time traveler from 2470. What I really enjoyed is that I couldn't figure it out either. Sam's backstory and mission are convincingly explained away by some futuristic developments, but everything the shrink says about temporal lobe epilepsy seems valid as well. Vincent D'Onofrio is just sweet enough and just lazy-faced-crazy enough to lend a slight disturbance to this otherwise light romance.

The Amazing Spider-Man
½

Lots o' web-slingin' fun. I don't remember much of the Raimi trio, but this new incarnation already boasts leads that I prefer over Tobey and Kirsten. Andrew Garfield, of the Highest Hair in Hollywood, is brilliantly moody and tortured, and Emma Stone, of the School of Knee Socks Never Looked So Good, is smart with just a bit of sauce. Their flirtation scenes are so sweet and awkward but not nearly as awkward as Emma Stone can be in her raunchy teen comedies.

The lizard transformation confuses me a bit though. The behavioral changes are irrational. If the lizard serum amplifies baser instincts - such as the desire to make all humans same and perfect - Dr. Connors needed to have a bit of that desire TO amplify to begin with.

Hesher
Hesher(2011)

A stereotypical badass shows a grief-stricken family how to live again. Devin Brochu as young TJ is quite sad and broken-hearted over his mom's death, but he and the script itself don't seem to know how to handle Hesher's badassery. There's just too much "What are you doing?" and "What are you doing here?" which is like the opposite but equally annoying, "Let me explain."

There really is no rhyme or reason to Hesher's sociopathy. His actions aren't clearly to defend TJ nor to teach him a lesson. On a similar note, NaPo is kinda cute and dorky, but there's no real reason for it. Her character isn't particularly "different," nor do big-framed glasses make a dent on NaPo's She's All That face.

Rainn Wilson is surprisingly catatonic as the father though, and the penultimate scene of the three men "taking a walk with Grandma" is predictable but nevertheless moving.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
½

Keira Knightley is actually rather cute and delightful in this. I don't think I've ever seen her in a contemporary comedy looking and acting kinda kooky. She delivers some great monologues - the first being a happily teary phone call to her family and the second being a loving rumination on records.

I'm starting to get a little weary of Steve Carell's dramatic performances. They're a little too serious even when the situation calls for some lightness.

The sad thing is that after watching two movies about the end of the world back-to-back, I've realized that in the event of an apocalpyse, I'd probably do nothing.

Melancholia
Melancholia(2011)

The movie starts off with some beautiful, weird-ass images like "The Tree of Life," but I was actually enjoying it because there seemed to be a concrete narrative with some charming wedding humor - the stretch limo unable to make it around the bend of a country dirt road - and some really sociopathic behavior - Justine driving out to the golf course to take a piss and then later, revenge-raping a naive coworker. Kirsten Dunst is truly marvelous in all of Justine's moods, blissfully happy one moment, dead and secretly enjoying it the next.

The story unravels with the end-of-the-world plot in Part II. There's a bit of nihilist philosophy but not enough to actually BE philosophical or statement-making. The Narrative Nazi in me was hoping we'd get to learn why the two sisters have different accents and the origin of "Auntie Steelbreaker," Leo's nickname for Justine.

Despite my criticisms, the movie ends as well as a movie about a planet colliding with the Earth can end: straight to credits. Props for that.

The Darjeeling Limited

My favorite Wes Anderson film by virtue of the three brothers' love-hate, instinctive, irrational relationship.

Garden State
Garden State(2004)
½

It's a shame that Zach Braff took every quirky and romantic thing he knew and put it into this one movie, thus ensuring his inability to make anything else as sweet and affecting.

Moonrise Kingdom
½

This is everyone's favorite hipster movie of the moment, so naturally, I am not as enamored. The prepubescent love story is shallow at worst and stylistic at best - riding on the flimsy, optimistic notion that a sound relationship is built upon connecting with a romantic partner who is as fucked up as you are.

The two child leads are charming and winsome solely because they are children made to speak in the awkward, disaffected patois that Anderson's grown-ups use. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward certainly play their parts well, but after that one moment of overlapping perhaps improvised dialogue when Sam and Suzy meet in the field, he comments on her Sunday school shoes, she says they're not exactly Sunday school shoes, he gives her flowers, she says "thank you" in a normal, flattered, girl voice, I thought the film would start showing them as kids and not just some ideal of star-crossed lovers.

The stylized slo-mo bits are quite beautiful - Suzy kissing Sam's hand after they get married, Suzy blowing a kiss out the window - but there really isn't much else holding the two together. The movie shows some EFFECTS of Suzy's "emotional disturbance" but never the causes. As such, her mysterious rebel appeal is mostly visual - the everpresent blue eye shadow, the white knee socks, her chaste skivvies. This young girl is made desirable through oversexualization, not any redeeming character traits.

Major League
Major League(1989)

Silly fun with great characters: Vaughn with his nerdbomber frames bedazzled with a skull and crossbones, Willie Mays Hayes with his gyrating hips that Steve Urkel must have borrowed, Cerrano with his vaguely racist voodoo worshipping. This is the first time I rooted against the Yankees.

Bull Durham
Bull Durham(1988)

The grooming relationship between the classy, seasoned catcher, Crash, and the callow, rookie pitcher, Nuke, is funnier, more exciting, and more heartwarming than Annie's pseudo-intellectual, baseball is religion, poetry is foreplay, seduction wiles.

The Sandlot
The Sandlot(1993)

Nothing much happens for the first half of the movie. The boys' personalities aren't distinct enough like the Little Rascals, so I lost interest. Like my experience with Groucho Marx, the "You're killing me, Smalls!" line isn't how I expected from years of others' impressions.

Field of Dreams
½

It's delightful for what it is...but what it is is a movie about ghost baseball players that I wouldn't watch over and over again, unlike Die Hard. Once is enough :~P The beginning has a nice thrillery feel, and I enjoy how Ray's wife is happily supportive, but when it becomes a buddy road trip movie, the flimsy connections between Terence Mann and Doc Graham just don't cut the cheap ballpark mustard.

Magnolia
Magnolia(1999)
½

What a massive-ass movie. The zooms and tracking shots are jarring and dramatic, the script is sensitive but not mawkish, the soundtrack...actually makes me enjoy Aimee Mann. The bits of eccentric fantasy may be weird but they JUST WORK! Bravura performance by Melora Walters as Claudia, the drug addict with daddy issues. Her hands never stop moving. She spits out her words with nervous urgency as if there are too many others taking up room in her mouth.

Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages(2012)

Tom Cruise is a rock god. His musical performances are charismatic and thrilling, bordering on psychotic. Say what you will about his real life antics, but he is consistently a damn good actor whose performances show evidence of commitment and work. Malin Akerman has a small, nerdy-sexy part, but it's more interesting than the lead's.

The rest of the movie is pretty darn awful. The love story between Sherrie and Drew takes me down to Vapid City, and it's such a needlessly central part of the narrative. Diego Boneta has a rockin' voice, but Julianne Hough is capable of more than a high, nasal wail and a brief climb up a pole. She cut her film teeth ferociously with "Footloose," but "Rock of Ages" doesn't showcase her singing or dancing at all.

The '80s tunes are great, but the remixing and editing of the numbers is so episodic. Many people dislike musicals because characters just randomly burst into song. The first number, "Sister Christian," is self-aware and successfully pokes fun at that assessment, but the rest of the songs happen so quickly and without purpose. There IS an art to writing musical narrative, but the original book/screenplay seems to be a nostalgic revue rather than a cohesive story.

Beginners
Beginners(2011)
½

Very beautiful in its treatment of love, death, courage, existential angst. The repetitious history of the family, the city, the world, as well as the flashback humor, is like a subtler version of The Tree of Life.

Every character has cute little quirks: Hal talking to inanimate objects and replying for them; Georgia "killing" the young Oliver in various ways and "interacting" with the artwork; Oliver's funny/sad drawings; Arthur, the dog's nonverbal dialogue:

Arthur: She's unlike any girl I've met.
Oliver: Someone flashy walks into your life and you're just gonna fall for it.
Arthur: Are we married yet?
Oliver: No, it doesn't work like that. There are other steps. It's complicated.
Arthur: I hope this feeling lasts.
Oliver: Yeah, me too.

The ending is too easy and open though. Oliver and Anna still have issues far deeper than just "commitment anxiety." They come back into each others' lives, and the audience is supposed to be happy that they're trying again despite not knowing what the fuck they're going to do.

Reality Bites
½

Not having seen this when it first came out and not having really lived through the early '90s, I still find this movie remarkably dated. Perhaps it's the grunge costumes or "The Real World"-esque yuppie ennui. There is some moving dialogue though:

Troy: Besides, everyone dies all by himself.
Michael: If you really believe that, who are you looking for out here?

Beastly
Beastly(2011)

So awful. The championing of superficial qualities in the script is overbearing and cliche, even for high school students. Alex Pettyfer is just a pretty face, and Vanessa Hudgens is so hipsterly twee.

When Harry Met Sally
½

My favorite sequence is the voiceover of Harry's late-night call to Sally, the two explicating Casablanca, while scenes of their individual lonelinesses play out.

Adam
Adam(2009)
½

The love story is sweet, and what ultimately needs to happen in order for Adam to grow socially happens, but the representation of Asperger's Syndrome is pretty formulaic. All the symptoms are hit, and everything is explained a little too much. I wish we could have read the rest of Beth's raccoon book. The movie is almost there, but not quite.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
½

An acting master class, for sure. Tom Wilkinson has always been fine for me, but this character - with all his silent regret and suppressed jubilation - takes the cake. The narrative is a bit stodgy, and Dev Patel is the stereotypical Indian business owner who speaks in aphorisms that help the old white folks learn tried-and-true lessons in tolerance, friendship, and self-discovery.

Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows(2012)

A bit forgettable. Eva Green has the sauciest Cheshire Cat grin. Bella Heathcote, as Victoria, has the most piercing gaze and voice. Chloe Grace Moretz is becoming more sexualized in her mid teens, so, I dunno, good for her?

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
½

LACES OUT! EINHORN *IS* FINKLE! FINKLE *IS* EINHORN! AAAAAAAA.......AAAAAAAA.......AAAAAAAA!

Working Girl
Working Girl(1988)

I'm sure this Oscar-winning Mike Nichols film about a capable woman, forced to wile her way up the corporate ladder, was quite groundbreaking for its time, but the big bouffant hairdos, the office pool of secretaries, and the crass Joisey accents just date this movie too much. I could also see the big three-way twist coming from a mile away.

Furthermore, Carly Simon's melodramatic, gospel-inspired, Oscar-winning song, "Let the River Run," - with all its talk about "sons and daughters" and "New Jerusalem" - seems more fitting for a Merchant Ivory movie about a diaspora born of religious persecution or something rather than professional and romantic hijinx.

All That Jazz

Clever flashback structure with Angelique on the cluttered "backstage" of Joe's life, sexy and sexual choreography (as expected from Fosse), fantastic performance by Roy Scheider (all the iterations of "It's showtime, folks!"). Really tight story overall about existential angst in life and art with well-timed exposition-while-dancing scenes: Audrey and Joe candidly discussing their failed marriage while she's rehearsing and he's relegated to her barre; Joe, choreographing a routine with his daughter, Michelle, while she fishes for information about his love life. Ann Reinking, as the new woman, is oh-so-slinky in her dance numbers.

The conclusion is much too obvious - so many numbers devoted to regret and loss, all with the faux happy Broadway veneer. It's meant to be ironic, but it becomes self-indulgent at a point. Scheider also doesn't really get any singing or dancing opportunities. He nails the drama, but I wish there could have been at one least number in which he wasn't just dancing around somebody or harmonizing with the angel-voiced Ben Vereen.

Marvel's The Avengers

In agreement with Flixster reviewer, Lucas Yothment, "The first ninety minutes of this film was nothing but the superheroes trying to outwit each other back and forth. And after a while, it's more annoying than funny. And it ruined the chance at generating any believable tension between any of them. Also, all the technical talk about the cube and ship repairs was terribly overbearing."

I'm not a fan of Iron Man because of his pseudo-witty hyper-babble. Hulk just smashes things, and his ability to finally harness his rage isn't terribly developed. Thor and Hawkeye are underused. Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill is bland as wallpaper.

Black Widow is pretty rad and does some impressive legwork ;~) Lokey is delicious in his mortal clothes, but his petulant child bit at the end is incongruous for the evil genius. Captain America is hawt as usual.

The Five-Year Engagement

Jason Segel really loves dropping trou. The trailers were charming, but this movie lacks any believable conflict. Violet and Tom are so in love and perfect for each other that when Tom's jobless ennui starts creeping in, it's a wonder why they couldn't work it out or why he couldn't just get a freakin' job. The supporting characters weren't that interesting, and the gags were overlong (Sesame Street voices, Alex's wedding song, Segel's dropped trou).

Captain America: The First Avenger

El Capitan! I am really impressed with Chris Evans. I always thought him a smarmy, fratty douche - well cast for the lead numbnuts he plays - but since he has lost fat and gained muscle for Captain America, he looks more like the nice, upstanding boy next door. He infuses the diminutive Steve Rogers with politeness and heart and the spandexed superhero with just the right amount of jaunty idealism. Hayley Atwell...schwing!

AND OH THE EASTER EGG ENDING!!!

Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2(2010)

Second verse, same as the first: fast, incomprehensible, and pseudo-intellectual.

The Incredible Hulk

Just a lot of smashing. I used to really love Ed Norton, but I find his face so incongruously milquetoast for every role subsequent to The Narrator in Fight Club.

The Cabin in the Woods
½

The satire of the Scooby-Doo group of friends - so disparate that they would never be friends in real life - is rather clever. The unleashing of nightmare creatures is rather crazy-go-nuts. However, the frame story of the corporation's competition is unclear. Why do other countries fail so much at sacrificing? Why don't their victims follow the same personality tropes?

Meet Joe Black
½

This movie really makes no sense, but I still enjoy it a lot by the grace of the willowy and wounded Claire Forlani. Death has been around since the beginning of time (just ballparking it), so how is he still so ignorant about friendship, passion, sex, success, greed, revenge - the ways of the world, essentially, including colloquialisms about Death and taxes? One would think he'd have a human dalliance every decade at least. The character is written to be a wide-eyed simpleton, and they had to pick the actor with the worst face and voice for that: Brad Pitt. He's so dead-eyed and dumb-sounding.

21 Jump Street

So much cursing and dick humor! HILARIOUS! I'm really starting to dig Channing Tatum's meathead deadpan. The redefinition of high school hierarchy is relevant - the new cool kids are crunchy, groovy, hipster econerds - and the buddy-buddyness is sweet and over-the-top.

Titanic
Titanic(1997)

In the middle of watching this again for the first time in probably a decade, I thought, "Meh. The dialogue IS pretty overwrought." But by the end, it won me over as it did before with its pure and earnest portrayal of unburdened love, despite this harrowing tragedy. It's just lovely.

The 3D IMAX doesn't add much, but at least it's not obtrusive like most post-production 3D. There are some nice 3D hair tendrils, and the distance from which the guy fell to hit the propeller did indeed look higher.

American Reunion
½

The gang is back, and it's nice to see how they've grown. NPH cameo is always awesome.

Mirror Mirror
½

Kinda funny and cute but ultimately insubstantial. Lily Collins is a lily-white lovely girl, and she has a genuine sweetness that is quite apt for this Disney-esque incarnation. She also has a moral conscience and moments of kickassitude. Julia Roberts is more catty than evil, but the funhouse mirror spectre is a clever take on the queen's curse of aging. The dwarves seem typical at first, but their distinct personalities eventually come through.

I wish they had gone Full Bollywood for the song and dance finale though. There wasn't nearly enough turning of the light bulb. As college-film-studies-friend, Jim Eustice, declared, "You never go Full Retard, and you never go Half Bollywood."

The Other Woman

Very well-paced melodrama in that everything happens when it needs to for optimal emotional impact. This film reminds me of Like Dandelion Dust - predictable and manipulative but not without some really good scenes. At first, all the characters are types - the upstanding husband (Scott Cohen from The 10th Kingdom HOOOWWWWLLL!!!), the bitchy ex-wife (a surprisingly icy Lisa Kudrow), the precocious, bratty stepson, and the other woman cum new wife who carries the burden of not measuring up.

I can't quite put a finger on Emilia's character. She's supposed to be kinda young or punky or sarcastic, but I don't think NaPo quite hits those points. The best scene is compliments of Lisa Kudrow (the other half of Romy & Michele, coincidental in that Mira Sorvino is the one who gives the best scene in Dandelion) when Carolyn gives medical evidence to Emilia, absolving her of her baby's death. Her delivery is cold, almost begrudging, but ultimately kind.

The Vicious Kind

I haven't really seen Adam Scott in anything, but his turn in this dramatic role is indeed vicious but also vulnerable. Caleb's insulting outbursts cut with vitriol, and his blubbery apologies pour with nonsense that he can't quite understand himself.

I'm not really sure of the movie's premise - the only way Caleb knows how to protect is brother is by hurting him and that's why he sleeps with his brother's girlfriend...? The motifs of desperate need and succumbing to attraction because of the other person's attraction to you are all interesting, but the ending shows no real aftermath of that behavior.

The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling enunciates like a champ in this here political thriller. The second-act unravelings are a bit must-happeny though. Why is Stephen so late to pick Molly up from the Big A clinic? Why doesn't he just check his voicemail?

Batman & Robin

This is the only non-Nolan Batman movie I've ever seen, so my ironic love of its punny camp...may not be that ironic.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Gayest movie ever!!! Here are two men in love who are blissfully tender with each other, their relationship and their quirks and their PDA unfettered by sociopolitical agenda, cinematic style, or practiced macho-ness. This is a love story through and through.

Steve Russell's escape capers are quite daring and exciting - all the more so by virtue of their veracity! Jim Carrey's receding hairline and hungry-beast stare kinda make him seem predatory at first, but he gradually delivers a wonderfully warm performance. After his final escape and Phillip asks how he knows Steve won't hurt him again, I expected a tearfully schticky "You don't," but Carrey takes a moment, his gaze lowers, his face falls, silently admitting that he, himself, doesn't know, before quietly saying, "You don't." TEARS!!!

Me and You and Everyone We Know
½

Oh-so-weird/indie/pretentious......but oh-so-irresistibly cute/sad/beautiful in parts (and trust me, I tried hard to resist): Richard accidentally self-immolating his hand with lighter fluid instead of alcohol; six-year-old Robby innocently cybering about pooping back and forth into each others' buttholes; Christine and Richard's meet-cute wherein they pretend to live their entire relationship together in a few street blocks; the sustained eye contact between Christine and Richard after he rejects her; Christine and Richard holding her mirror for fifteen seconds after gluing it; Peter bringing a stuffed animal for Sylvie's neurotically early hope chest, which she had heretofore filled with household appliances.

The only story I wasn't into is the two neighborhood Lolitas trying to bait a potential pedophile. None of their motivations were set up properly. The filmmaker Miranda July seems like a total wackjob, but I guess I'll give her props for being so open with her wackjobiness, for instance, Christine, her performance artist alter ego (I'm assuming). The goofy Casio keyboard-esque score is a bit cloying at times but oddly atmospheric.

I am very much enamored by John Hawkes' pugilist nose and sunken eyes. He's like an older, sadder version of DJ Qualls.

The Vow
The Vow(2012)
½

I have a soft spot for amnesia love stories, and this one is pretty decent. Channing Tatum is surprisingly light and funny in his mumbly, meathead way, "Can I at least give you an awkward hug?" The journey to "win Paige back" is maddening, difficult, and sacrificial (on Leo's part), and *spoiler* there is a good side-resolution involving Paige's mom's decision to stay with her cheating dad. The movie also doesn't end all Nicholas Sparks-ly (which I originally thought was the source material) in that Paige never does recover her memory.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
½

Jonathan Safran Foer's books are nigh unadaptable, or so it seems from the two forays thus far. The movie versions of both Everything Is Illuminated and EL&IC neglect the rich histories of the protagonists' ancestors which are essential to understanding the human tapestry Foer weaves. It's really a shame because as most critics have trumpeted, EL&IC is a maudlin mess that capitalizes on tragedy whilst the book is certainly not so.

There are definitely more obvious tear-jerking scenes in the movie, but perhaps my positive bias towards the book enabled me to forgive the face-value and actually be moved to some extent. Thomas Horn is precocious and alienating in a great way. His big anime eyes express a vast chasm of loss, guilt, awkwardness, and misunderstanding. His monologues detailing all the things that scare him, the eccentric habits of the people he meets, and the meticulous calculations that will bring him closer to finding the lock that fits the mysterious key are frenetic and Rain Man-esque.

Hugo
Hugo(2011)

So much of the beginning is just a mean old man saying, "I will burn your notebook because I'm mean!" and just a hedgy kid saying, "I can't tell you who drew those pictures in my notebook because the script requires me to be hedgy!" My dead father drew the pictures, and I'm trying to rebuild his machine. How simple is that? Papa Georges' "I trusted you" line after Hugo and Isabelle discover his true identity is also completely throwaway. His and Hugo's relationship isn't one of trust, and one can only be trusted if he knows what he's to be trusted with...so why would Papa Georges imply Hugo broke some kind of trust?

The 3-D is fine; I'm not really a connoisseur of that. However, the "magic of movies" subplot - which I guess is actually the main plot - comes in too late, and there's no substantial connection between Hugo's father and Georges Mà (C)liès - just convenient coincidence. What are the odds that Hugo's dad will find Mà (C)liès' automaton and Hugo will meet Mà (C)liès' goddaughter, who just so happens to have the heart-shaped droid he's looking for?

The Woman in Black

There's no trace of Harry Potter in bearded, coat-tailed Arthur Kipps. D-Rad is really coming into his own as an actor - making his voice more gravelly and his gaze more disillusioned. The movie is only scary because of the stuff jumping out at viewer; the lore of the Woman in Black is pretty lame. Every time she's seen, a kid dies.

Yes Man
Yes Man(2008)
½

Really quite adorable. The fruition of Carl's Korean and guitar lessons is jubilant and moving.

Waking Life
Waking Life(2001)

A fuck for all senses.

Pirate Radio (The Boat That Rocked)

Aww what a nice-ass movie. Nice-arse, excuse me.

It's all at once, a romantic bildungsroman, a triumphant battle of wills, a comedic slice-of-bro-life, and a love letter to rock and roll, as evidenced by the rip-roaring soundtrack and the stationary instead of scrolling text during the song credits :~P All the characters are zany, sexy, eccentric, and just so bloody likable!

There are a few implausibilities though (some pointed out on IMDb) like some anachronistic songs and The Count's miraculous resurfacing from the wreckage. The suction would have dragged him down!

My Week with Marilyn

I love Marilyn Monroe, so I generally enjoy movies about Marilyn Monroe, especially those that bring out the little-girl-lost behind the calculative-movie-icon behind the little-girl-lost. The script treats Monroe magnanimously (a little too hamhandedly is my only criticism), showing how her deep ability to love and her sparkling intellect were quashed by those who expected her to be Marilyn Monroe all the time. It's also fair in showing how her own self-criticism and self-medicating were contributing factors to many of her problems.

I wish they could have shown more of the "good takes." So many of them were Marilyn fumbling lines and looking dumb, and they didn't quite capture how when "she gets it right, she really gets it right." For an audience unfamiliar with MM, people's compliments about her being brilliant seem empty.

I'm not quite sure how to rate Michelle Williams' performance. I'm glad she won the GG because her acceptance speech was lovely, but she didn't fully capture Monroe's essence. Can anyone, really? That's the enigma of Monroe. She could really turn it on, just like that. Williams does a very good performance of SOMEBODY, but I can't quite say that that somebody was Marilyn Monroe. I suppose out of all the actress who have tackled the part (that I've seen), Williams creates a serious role and not just a frothy impersonation, and she deserves props for that.

The editing and design could have helped with that "IT" quality though. Williams looks a little bit like MM, but her face is too round and her smile isn't as Joker-esque. There are a few slow-motion pans and B&W freeze-frames at the beginning of the movie that I wished would pervade throughout because only in those stylized shots did Williams look more like MM. As with Tyra Banks' adage of "creating your own hair wind," MM created her own slow-motion and B&W freeze-frames, but Williams doesn't really.

Oh Emma Watson. Why so much tension in your brow and mouth? You could probably be a great stage actress with all the faces you pull, but giiiirl, RELAX!!!

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Sooo incredibly slow. Not to mention boring and pointless. The thing about pseudo-cerebral spy movies is that they try not to give everything away until the very end, and in so doing, they give NOTHING away UNTIL THE VERY END! All the early scenes are episodic and go nowhere. They reveal very little and quickly cut to a later scene in which Smiley uses what he learned in that earlier scene, but there's no rhyme or reason in HOW he figured out what that earlier scene meant!

Gary Oldman's performance is fine. He's a talented actor, and that's fine. I'm disappointed though that he edged out Michael "Plays Golf With His Hands Behind His Back" Fassbender for a Best Actor nom. I admittedly haven't seen Shame yet, but this puts a damper on the phallus-shaped treats for my Oscar party. I guess I'll have to go with Pepperidge Farm Chessmen Cookies or something,

The Artist
The Artist(2011)

I'm just not impressed with the talent this Oscar season. Perhaps I went in with too high of expectations. Perhaps I'm just heartless. Perhaps The Artist is just too similar to Singin' In the Rain: the male lead who is a spitting image of Gene Kelly, the bitchy co-star, the plucky ingenue, the new wave of talkies ousting silents, the idea to make a musical. If they were attempting homage, then there should have been some mention of real silent films of the era or even a wink at the audience when they DO borrow from the classics.

The actors are amazing and have such expressive faces. The comment about Jean Dujardin looking just like Gene Kelly isn't necessarily a bad thing; he has the grace and charisma to pull off a great biopic methinks. Bà (C)rà (C)nice Bejo is gorgeous and feisty. She doesn't just blow a kiss. She smacks you in the face with a kiss! "The name's Miller! Peppy Miller!"

Now, my strong bias towards Singin' In the Rain isn't the main gripe I have with the film. The Artist doesn't FEEL like a "silent film," in terms of genre. It's a black and white film without sound or spoken dialogue. There aren't enough title cards to push the narrative along. George's meltdown occurs without proper set-up. The scene in which he finds all his auctioned-off memorabilia in Peppy's house is so ominously scored and so heavily littered with zooms and high/low angles, and I don't understand why. Is George and/or the audience supposed to think, "Peppy is a stalker!" or "Aww Peppy saved all his stuff" The harsh music and editing made me think the former, but neither reaction seems right. There's no reversal in him that hints at the latter; he just plows on with self-loathing. If all that cinematic sound and fury is to imply that the love of a good woman makes him feel worse about himself, title cards would have helped.

Afterwards during George's exchange with the policeman (played by Marshall's dad from HIMYM! Marvin Eriksen RIP), there are, once again, no title cards that clue us in to what the policeman could have said to cement George's desire to commit suicide. Why now? A contemporary audience is expected to fill in the blanks; we've grown good at such cerebral exercises with modern movies that don't give everything away, but if The Artist is meant to be an earnest silent film and not just a clever gimmick, it doesn't fully succeed. Similar to how purist Shakespearean actors act the text, not the subtext, silent films are about content, not context. They didn't have the technology to speak, so they had title cards. It was about need, not novelty. Now, I concede that I enjoy many subtextual interpretations of Shakespeare, but for a silent film ABOUT silent film, The Artist misses the point. As a "neo-silent film," if you will, The Artist actually uses sound very well (in the dream sequence), but it doesn't use text or content very well, which makes me wonder why/how it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay too.

So I guess my final review is that it's a good modern film. It's just not a very good silent film.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
½

Half a star better than the original due to Rooney Mara's inscrutable performance and perhaps, the design concept of Lisbeth Salander as not just a chained and spiked badass but a slight-framed, secretly romantic, resolutely driven partner-in-solving-the-crime. Instead of showing her troubled past in predictable and grainy flashbacks to her setting her father on fire, Fincher spends time creating Lisbeth's multifaceted present by showing her playing chess with her now catatonic ex-ward and her poring through volume after volume of ghosts in the Vanger archives.

Mara delivers her vengeful monologues with power but also a hint of anxiety. Mara's voice is naturally a bit high, and it paints Lisbeth as still a youngish girl with fears and doubts, despite her rough exterior. She debates a second before pursuing her mugger, and she actually cries when she is raped. The rape scene is indeed, longer, maybe not more graphic than the original but certainly more emotional. The length works in developing Lisbeth's wretchedness and indignation. She thrashes for a while, then stops, exhausted, her hair obscuring her trembling face (the trembling of which is the slightest bit noticeable because Mara actually acts with her HAIR!), then resumes thrashing even though she knows it's a lost cause. Compared to Noomi Rapace's guttural grunt of anger, Mara infuses Lisbeth with believable fragility.

Having not read the book, I'm still not sure why she beds Mikael or what her incognito plot is all about.

Robin Wright is probably the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.

The Iron Lady

I thought this would be a basic biopic, but it's actually a rather intimate look at an aging, dementia-riddled woman. I don't know if the schizophrenic hallucinations of Denis, Thatcher's late husband, or the Ayn Randian crazed-devotion-to-the-point-of-alienation are accurate, but they make for some good sound and fury.

I'm not really a fan of Meryl Streep or a scholar of Margaret "Lady Balls" Thatcher, but the former does play the latter to amazing effect, embodying the balance of bouncy and dainty, shrill and stalwart, that Thatcher must have exuded to be such a magnetic, albeit controversial leader. Streep is impressive in the aged scenes as well, with her stooped posture, befuddled squint, and hoarse muttering.

Music and Lyrics

Sweet and silly. I actually rather like the one bit of melodrama when Alex claims Sophie is as broken and neurotic as her evil ex's novelization of her, and she pleads, "What are you saying?! Please take that back!"

Your Highness

This is awful times awful. It's awful squared. McBride is his usual obnoxious self with a noxious faux British accent. Franco is stereotypically gallant. Deschanel is a dull damsel in distress.

However, NaPo's cold stares are deliciously patronizing, and Justin Theroux, as evil wizard, Leezar, has the best role essentially - playing evil but sometimes with a deadpan, Oedipal innocence. Glad to see Jennifer Aniston's new beau is more amusing than Brad Pitt.

Puccini for Beginners
½

Elizabeth Reaser is lovely, complicated, and adorably clueless. Aspects of this movie echo Annie Hall: random strangers doling out romantic advice, eccentric fantasy like the sentient answering machine. Insightful commentary on sexuality and gender.

Tiny Furniture

The reputation of this movie is more interesting than the movie itself. Lena Dunham surely deserves accolades for writing, directing, and starring in her first feature film. She cobbled together her real-life mother and sister to star as Aura's mother and sister - both of whom performed quite well. The lighting, costumes, digital film quality, and stark white set design look professional and ambient. Dunham herself is a fine actress, capturing the mental, physical, not to mention, utter sartorial lassitude of Aura, a recent graduate from an unnamed Ohio college that I totally guessed was Oberlin, and after some online research, found to be Dunham's actual alma mater. Knowing that Oberlin attracts free-thinking nonconformists of the hipster variety (not necessarily a disparaging statement), I'm not so surprised that a pseudo-intellectual, Mumblecore-esque, slice of life originated there (yes, a disparaging statement).

The rhythm of the dialogue is natural. All the characters sound different: Aura is disaffected and childish, Charlotte is worldly and blase, Jed is pretentious and quick. The narrative unravels halfway through though. Aura doesn't really seem to have "a very, very hard time" (as espoused on the movie poster) upon entering post-graduate ennui at first. People get angry without much exigence. It's not quite clear how her and Keith's affair starts and ends. Aura isn't presented as an attractive or experienced girl, so what attracts Keith to her? Is he "slumming it?" How does she acclimate so quickly to such a tawdry tryst? What's her damage, and how will she deal?

The Break-Up
The Break-Up(2006)

I like when a movie is titled The Break-Up and people actually BREAK UP! Oops. Spoiler alert. And how nice to see Peter Billingsley's doughy face again from A Christmas Story :~)

This isn't a sappy-happy romantic revenge comedy despite its marketing. The semantic misunderstandings between Martians and Venusians are presented realistically in all the arguments, especially the first one that seems to be about lemons, dishes, and ballet but isn't really about lemons, dishes, and ballet. Gary and Brooke actually scream at each other and go through a lot of shenanigans trying to get back together, only to realize the love is gone. No one side is over-demonized, and the long argument scenes filmed with a handheld camera are a refreshing change from the usual joke-laced fights that last for two on-screen minutes.

Kudos to effective exposition disguised as a cheesy, opening credit montage accompanied by Queen's "You're My Best Friend." I dig the photos with bad framing and 3/4 views because it must take a lot of work to be so perfectly candid.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.
½

Oh-so-wonderful :~D I was super-hyped for this movie because the trailer uses three of my favorite songs: "Starlight" by Muse, "Two Weeks" by Grizzly Bear, and "Modern Love" by Bloc Party - none of which made it on the actual soundtrack, but oh well.

The curious thing is that the movie is actually made better by the trailer, in retrospect. The trailer itself is pretty typical, teasing us with a few sappy scenes. I went in, expecting a pretty typical formula, but to my pleasant surprise, *minor spoilers* many of the trailer scenes didn't come when I expected, for instance Steve Carell's teary "I should have fought for you" line isn't the big win-her-back moment at the end, and Ryan Gosling's "She's a gamechanger" line isn't merely the just-met-a-woman-who's-impervious-to-my-charms-therefore-I-must-be-in-love realization, but a slow and dawning one that surfaces with much more care and introspection.

I don't know if anybody else felt surprised by the movie after seeing the trailer or if the trailer cutters even intended to throw me a curveball. The movie itself is full of scrumptious surprises anyway (that are less filling the second time around unfortunately), and it does a good job vilifying and redeeming all parties involved.

And I actually didn't find Julianne Moore as irritatingly flustered as I usually do. Her eye contact does not flinch in this performance.

Interiors
Interiors(1978)

The darkest and coldest Woody Allen film I've seen to date. It's high drama, courtesy of Ingmar Bergman. The sophistication is less polished than in Match Point, and rightfully so, since the cracks in this family's veneer are more due to internal turmoil (duh, the title) than external affairs and atmospheres. I love all the silence and noise: the angry scratches of pencil on paper, the sticky screech of unrolling duct tape on window cracks.

Although some commenters on IMDb are not fond of Diane Keaton's performance, I think she (and Geraldine Page) present an acting master class. Renata's first monologue just floors me. Keaton's eyes skitter just enough - to her therapist (I'm assuming), to her hands, to the window - to reveal the insecurity that she dare not show often as the eldest child. She uses her cigarettes well too. She holds it nervously in the aforementioned monologue, and in the scene in which the father (played by Juror #4!) reveals his plans to strike out on his own, she ashes her cigarette by rolling it lightly repeatedly - not letting it go out - bored but listening, almost as if she expected the news and doesn't altogether blame her father for it.

Since new Flixster doesn't allow comments on friends' reviews, I'd like to address a qualm Ryan Hibbett voiced in his review about how it's never explicitly shown or stated that Eve came to the beach house the night she kills herself. I do believe there is a shot of her, standing in the shadows as Joey speaks to her. Joey senses her mother there without seeing her, but Eve really IS in the house.

Man of the Year

Friend and fellow Flixster reviewer, Scott Wilson, asserts that Man of the Year "couldn't decide what kind of movie it was going to be," and I agree, in so much as it does shift tones a lot. It goes from irreverent comedy to political satire to whimsical romance to schizoparanoid thriller, but I find the shifts suspenseful and entertaining.

The usually crass and bombastic Robin Williams is so genteel and streamlined as the television news comedian turned presidential candidate. He's even a bit of a stud when Eleanor Green enters the picture. He and Laura Linney seem to have good chemistry, perhaps by virtue of Linney's not-necessarily-loving but definitely-tension-filled gaze. Her drug-induced breakdown is quite alarming, going from 0 to 60 and back with her different intonations of "I've got it. I've got it! I'VE GOT IT! ... I've got it."

Wristcutters: A Love Story

Nazdrovyeh! A triumphant love story to limbo and back again. The world to where suicides are relegated is almost Sartre-esque: mundane activities and conversations, day in, day out. "Hell is other people." However, people can still make friends here, and there are miraculous oases to be found. The bond between Zia and Eugene is rather sweet and bro-tastic.

There is no way Patrick Fugit can look not adorable. Raven-haired Shannyn Sossamon is probably the only woman in the world who can make chewing gum with her mouth open look so good. I also dig how the filmmakers cast Sossamon and Leslie Bibb as the present and past love interests because they look so much alike with their angular jaws and thin lips.

Once
Once(2007)

Twenty minutes into the movie, I thought, "Aww everything everyone said about this movie pre-Oscar season 2008 is truuuueee!" Quirky opening scene and meet-cute. Sweet and likable main characters. Moving music. After that though, the movie devolves into long and amateur YouTube videos, showcasing very good songs, albeit in very staid ways in terms of mise-en-scene.

Glen Hansard is like John Mayer's manic older brother, and I mean that in a good way. Marketa Irglova has a lovely face and singing voice, but methinks the language barrier tripped her up. The character is written to say "fuck" too much, and Irglova doesn't sell each swear. I remember the pair's Oscar win debacle when the orchestra started playing before Irglova could give her thanks. I was sad to hear they called it quits after the movie :~(

Moneyball
Moneyball(2011)

I prefer my baseball movies to be shiny and happy like *61 and not so dark and gloomy as this flick.

Jonah Hill is fantastic though. He plays nerdy and meek so plainly; there's no self-consciousness about his usual raunchy persona. The silence preceding the trade decision, then Peter's hushed, triumphant fist clench is just passionate enough for the low-key character. Every one of Hill's slow blinks and tentative scratches of his moon-face seem to hold much more meaning than any of Brad Pitt's twitchy smiles or squints.

We Bought a Zoo

Schmaltz-fried schmaltz wrapped in a schmaltzy crust. Many parts of the movie are certainly enjoyable though. Maggie Elizabeth Jones as the daughter is unannoyingly adorable. Scarlett Johansson is slightly spastic in a funny way and seems to know what she's talking about in terms of the zoo-lingo. The flimsy "why not" answer Benjamin gives to Kelly about why he bought the zoo is pleasantly revealed in the end.

I'm not a fan of Elle Fanning's face.

War Horse
War Horse(2011)

Soooo beeeautiful!!!! I didn't full-out sob, but my eyes were shrink-wrapped in tears the whole time. So many trials and tribulations! So much self-sacrifice! Those horses deserve Oscars! Tom Hiddleston, who played the gallant Captain Nicholls (and Loki in Thor and F. Scott Fitzgerald in A Midnight in Paris) is quel hottie. The stories of all the lives Joey touches are truly remarkable; I especially like the two German brothers who defect from the army and the Christmas Truce-esque freeing of Joey from the barbed wire.

Most of the movie is five stars, but the end doesn't feel right. *Spoiler* The Grandfather doesn't get anything in the end. Maybe he and Albert could have worked out a visiting plan...

Also, since the whole movie is so incredibly sentimental already, I was hoping they'd go balls-to-the-walls sentimental and have every living person who crossed paths with Joey show up to the auction to bid on him. TEARS!!!

A Christmas Story

I tuned in halfway during TBS's A Christmas Story marathon. Everything was five-star gold. Watching it three more times kinda wore on me.

It's a Wonderful Life

They just don't make 'em like this anymore. Jimmy Stewart: the epitome of weakness and strength, goofy likability and romantic sweeper of feets.

A Dangerous Method
½

I am not as much an expert of Cronenberg as Flixster friend and reviewer, Joseph Sylvers, but I do like his characterization of the film itself as "talky," "clinical," and "incisive" and the director's oeuvre as "connect[ing] the characters' philosophical approaches with their tangled webs of forbidden affairs, intellectual rivalry, master-slave, father-son, master-apprentice dynamics."

Keira Knightley is...good. She's quite good when she's crazy: the janky elbows, the choking stutter, and most of all, that tugging spasm of her lower jaw that actually makes extraordinary use of her underbite. Her physical transformation is indeed impressive, but her Russian accent and timbre seem inconsistent and less transformative. Furthermore, after Sabina is more or less cured, the character and perhaps the actress loses much of her actions. For the first part of the film, she is the most interesting character/actor in every frame. For the second part, she fades into normalcy or a mediocrely-feigned version of it.

Young Adult
Young Adult(2011)
½

Dark as fuck. The first ten minutes of silent prologue sets up Mavis' hot mess of a life so excruciatingly and perfectly. The silence is underscored by an incessant howling, an almost numbing wind - an artistic little detail that I thought would be at home in an existential drama but was glad to find apt in this film, whatever its genre.

Charlize Theron is in full-on snark-a-chino mode, and she twists the knife deeper with each narrowing of her eyes and twitch of her lip. Kudos to Diablo Cody for penning some great character-developing moments: Mavis baldly lying about the dog in her bag but saying she DOES have a dog in her car just so she wouldn't technically have to cover that first lie; Mavis texting gibberish on her phone in an effort to look preoccupied while waiting alone; Mavis, in gel-bra and nylons - looking as unattractive and pitiful as Charlize Theron can muster - asking the cripple to "hide me." (Come on! They could have at least given her a prosthetic muffin top!)

There is no inspiring moral of the story. There is no upbeat indie song as the credits roll. (Well, maybe there is and I don't remember; this IS a Reitman/Cody joint, but if there is, it's probably meant to be ironical.) The only redemption for Mavis is self-awareness, and that's pretty much all any fuck-up can hope for. People don't change. Not even after being brutally rejected by an ex-lover. Not even after making fools of themselves in front of everyone they know. Not even after having pity sex with someone who could possibly be their savior.

Matt helps Mavis see herself "at her best," and she almost believes that it's the real her. Matt's sister, Sandra's pep talk undoes all hope for a sweet, guitar duet ending and shows Mavis that deep down, she is still the selfish Queen (has)Bee(n), but what's even better/worse, is that it shows the audience someone even sadder than Mavis: the puppy-dog drone paralyzed in her admiration, who can only dream of such sociopathy. At least Mavis has the wherewithal to leave Mercury, Minnesota. She kills off some fictional characters and in doing so, kills off any ties she has to her baggage - good and bad. Bleak is the new black.

L.A. Confidential
½

What twists and turns! I kinda like how the third act is one big, dramatically-ironic goose chase, yet the filmmakers don't rush the characters' revelations. One problem I do have is that no one ever seems to close their shades. You'd think if you were schtupping a hooker or snorting some blow, you'd have the common sense to not position yourself right in front of an open window.

The Descendants

I predicted Shailene Woodley would become a shining star in the cinema firmament ever since I saw her in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, and lo and behold, she has. So far at least. Her devil-may-care wild child is devoid of hesitation. Each curse, each sneer, each blank stare is so full of anger and hatred. Her fragility really impresses as well. The underwater crying scene? Holy heck.

This is problematic though because Alex is perhaps the best-written character in the movie. Her father, the main character - George Clooney playing a subtler version of George Clooney - pales in comparison as the "straight man."

Payne's trademark is his blend of comedy and pathos, but I wish he rested on the pathos a little longer. The moment when Matt finds out his wife was cheating on him is truncated by his goofy, loping run. The "other man's" wife, Julie's forgiving yet damning last words are the most honest words anybody says to the comatose Elizabeth, and even that's played off as comedy with Alex rushing Julie out of the room.

Then the movie ends with a somewhat postcolonial moral that isn't terribly evinced through dialogue or narrative - just the title of the movie and the silent shots of sepia-toned portraits - the people who, for all intents and purposes, remain anonymous to the audience.

The Muppets
The Muppets(2011)

An enjoyable time. I was never a fan of the Muppets though, so the nostalgia is lost on me.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
½

Best of the Twilight saga so far. The sex scenes are satisfyingly hot. The birth scene is satisfyingly grotesque. The script also yields some surprisingly funny moments: Charlie's father-of-the-bride scowls, the silly wedding toasts, Jacob balking at Bella's baby name choices.

This installation is pure love - no action sideplots with Volturi, newborn vampire armies, or adrenaline stunts. Everything is just moving: Bella's and Edward's eye contact when she walks down the aisle, Edward's remorse for playing with Bella too roughly, Bella's and Rosalie's commitment to the unborn child, Edward's commitment to saving Bella's life and honoring Jacob's role in it, Jacob's imprinting premonition (of a very lovely, grown-up Renesmee by the way). Even Taylor Lautner's collapsed crying at Bella's death is pretty convincing.

Kristen Stewart has a few moments of nervous eye-darting and romantic-line-swallowing, but for the most part, she is quite still without being "dead-eyed" (except for when Bella is actually dead - Stewart's face is even impressively deader than usual). Her expression during the blood-drinking scene is slickly demonic.

AND THE ENDING! The flashcuts of the silver venom penetrating human blood, Bella's childhood memories, her inner self screaming while her corporeal body remains paralyzed, are artistic and thrilling. And those red eyes! So hard-core!

The tone and pacing of the movie just seem different - more genuinely romantic, less episodic - as if the director, scriptwriters, and actors have finally gotten on board and fully committed to the easily disparaged love triangle and subsequent misadventures. Splitting up the last book seems to have been a good, narrative-benefitting decision, rather than just a financial one, and I hope Part II picks up where this one left off better than HP7.2 did.

Puss in Boots

SO MANY KITTIES!!! Silly humor with some dramatic (if slow) backstory. I also dig Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Diablo Rojo" during the dance fight.

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
½

Utterly disappointing. Not enough nudity or racism. At all. So much exposition. Kumar and Vanessa's plotline is uninspired. A scarily skeevy NPH and a hilariously hostile David Burtka are the only highlights.

Footloose
Footloose(2011)
½

I haven't seen the original! That being said, this remake is quite dandy. Kenny Wormald is a very charismatic and virile dancer, and Julianne Hough - one of the best professionals on "Dancing With the Stars" - shows an impressive acting range, making Ariel more wild and troubled than in the original (so I've heard).

50/50
50/50(2011)

If the main character doesn't develop cancer ten minutes into the movie, the ensuing romantic dramedy wouldn't really be that much different than others of the genre.

Adam lacks a personality. JGL does some really good anguished screaming, but other than that, the character is just wallpaper, save for his affliction.

The most genuine part of the movie is when Adam bonds with the other radiation patients and learns that their senses of humor remain unravaged by the disease. JGL's stoned laughter at the body bag is an excellent quirk.

The cold, distant doctor bit is also overplayed without any critical comment. I'm also tired of Anna Kendrick playing characters who seem too young and inexperienced for their levels of profession but are still given entirely too much credit (see [or don't see] Up In the Air).

Drive
Drive(2011)

As Kingsley Shacklebolt says to Cornelius Fudge in OoP, "You may not like him, but you gotta admit, Dumbledore's got style."

Drive is a veritable smorgasbord of style - smorgasbord being both a complimentary and damning descriptor. I'm unfamiliar with Refn's previous work, but I've heard that he is indeed, a style auteur. The hot pink Mistral opening credits and Driver's ivory silk scorpion bomber jacket are just so obviously lame that they're cool. I also enjoy the pulsing beat of the soundtrack, the crooked low angles of Ryan Gosling driving, the silent chemistry of the romantic leads, the slo-mo kiss goodbye, haloed in ethereal mist.

However, right around there, the style starts to clash with the narrative, and as such, the latter gets all wonky (to further borrow from HP). It's easy to categorize Driver as a badass. He's a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver, but what I like so much about Gosling's performance in the first half of the film is his utterly unassuming, cuter-than-a-puppy demeanor. He seems unaware of his badassitude, and both the character and the film seem perfectly fine with that.

The second act reveals the animal that rages within, and it just doesn't ring true to me. What is Driver's motor, if you will? Is he purely motivated by love? That storyline isn't terribly developed since Irene doesn't have much of a personality other than being portrayed by the cherubic Carey Mulligan, whose face I want, Silence-of-the-Lambs-style.

Is Driver actually capable of kicking a man's head in so savagely? The bloody firefights are thrilling, but the tone of the movie is inconsistent.

One Day
One Day(2011)

I'm of two minds about this movie. The linear, year after year after year, realistic-to-the-point-of-boredom storytelling is so incredibly slow and without imagination that the huge climactic moment seems either manipulative or melodramatic. An audience who hasn't read the book is expected to feel way too much, way too quickly.

In the end though, I guess I did feel some feelings. As with Crazy, Stupid [grammatically incorrect comma] Love, the trailer scenes that turned me off initially are actually fresher with context. I really hated the nauseating, in medias res movie poster, but the build-up to it - Dex and Emma giddily racing down the hill into the cobblestone street - actually renders the embrace quite lovely.

The characters and their portrayals are decently likable. Jim Sturgess has a natural, rakish charm, and Anna Hathaway, once again, impresses me with a new gaze and timbre. Her accent IS indeed, either flat-out wrong (cuz I think Emma's actually Scottish, not English) or at least, consistently wonky. Nevertheless, her humor, gaze, and energy don't "seem" American, if one can quantify or qualify that. I'm pretty satisfied with her performance overall. Not to mention, her ability to pull off, not just so many hairstyles (many of which must have been wigs) but so many transformations in bodily poise.


MAJOR SPOILER (salute):

With the foreshadowing of Emma's death in 2006 at the beginning of the film, I wonder why Lone Scherfig directed the bus-hit like a huge, out-of-the-blue surprise. It almost seems throw-away and darkly comedic like when Brad Pitt gets hit in Meet Joe Black or when Barney gets hit in the season 3 finale of HIMYM. She could have incorporated some flash cuts - the oncoming bus, Emma's horror-stricken face, the hurtling bicycle, some concerned passersby - to create a full scene, instead of just, tra-la-la-la-la-WHAM, you know?

I realize that some may think "a full scene" is manipulative and melodramatic (which I derided the film for earlier), but I think Lone Scherfig, mastress of subtlety (for An Education, as far as I know), could have made it dramatic, but not melo-ly so.

Love and Other Drugs
½

Very, very surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Anne Hathaway has annoyed me ever since the deliberately edgy Havoc and Rachel Getting Married, but I daresay, like Keira Knightley, she's starting to reign in her naturally ebullient face and work with different gazes and voice timbres. Every time I expected her to flash her mega-watt grin or start babbling pseudo-awkwardly (which worked in her younger roles), she stops and rebuilds the walls guarding her Parkinson's-afflicted character.

The gravity surrounding her Parkinson's plot doesn't fully manifest itself until halfway through the movie, but it's done subtly so that Maggie's guttural scream after accidentally smashing her drink doesn't seem melodramatic. I've never heard that sound come out of Anne Hathaway before, and it was jarring but realistically so.

The smarmy, cutthroat world of pharmaceutical sales is also an interesting backdrop to this drug-addled romance.

30 Minutes or Less

A solid way to spend a Saturday afternoon. As fellow Flixster reviewer, Ryan Hibbett asserts, "[...] by the end of it everything was just fun but forgettable."

Jesse Eisenberg is charming as usual. His nebbish schtick is toned down, and he gets in some decent bravado badassery as well as some genuine comedic fear. He and Aziz Ansari make quite a good odd couple.

The Change-Up
½

I thought this would be a bro-movie, maybe even a bromance, but what we have here is an oddly wholesome, Freaky Friday switcheroo after which, the two bros each learn the value of their own lives. As such, the bits of raunchy bro-ness are just distracting.

I don't normally get annoyed by movie characters, but Mitch just doesn't try as hard with Dave's life as Dave does with Mitch's. As much of an irresponsible tool as the original Mitch is, I just don't think he would so brusquely dismiss Dave's wife and kids and act so idiotically in Dave's business meeting. Jason Bateman probably saw this as an opportunity to yuk up a role instead of just playing the straight man he usually does.

Olivia Wilde's got that boom-boom that I want.

The Help
The Help(2011)

Just okay. The movie avoids stepping on anyone's toes by balancing the film-about-race-with-a-white-protagonist trope with narration by a black maid, making it seem more like Aibileen's story and not Skeeter's. Nevertheless, the movie seems to ignore the backlash that came with the book - that the Civil Rights Movement came about by the plucky nerve of a progressive white girl.

Skeeter's character and motivation aren't fully developed. How is she the only Junior Leaguer who grows up to have a social conscience when it seems that everyone had the same loving upbringing from their black maids? Her mother seems to possess the courage gene, but so does Hilly's. Where does Skeeter's goodness come from? A liberal education? It's unclear. She never outrightly says her mission is to uncover racial injustice; she never outrightly says her mission is to exploit these maids for personal gain. She's just good and balanced. You can't hate her for her guilt, but you can't love her for her activism either. That's not to say she has no personality or spark, just that her character is merely a plot device to bridge the racial gap.

The maids are all fully realized characters though, with shades of metaphorical light and dark. The movie is chockful of delicious stereotypes as well: the perfectly-coifed Junior Leaguers, the reformed matriarch trapped in a society that her generation created, the white trash bimbo with the heart of gold. Minnie's Henry Higgins to Cecilia's Eliza Doolittle is quite charming.

The performances are all top-notch. Viola Davis' face just radiates fatigue. Octavia Spencer is oh-so-sassy yet oh-so-dignified. Emma Stone brings subtle comedic timing and a surprisingly moving crying scene, "You broke her heart!" And it must be the year of Jessica Chastain! She is certainly one to watch!

Overall, the movie is nice. It doesn't take many risks, but it's a decent way to spend two hours.

The Tree of Life

Jessica Chastain is just a glorious, Snow White, angel.

There's no question that the images are beautiful. The metaphor of the images is beautiful, if a bit over the top. Perhaps the grand Baraka-esque sequences juxtaposed with the pseudo-realistic narrative makes for TOO EPIC of a movie, if there can be such a thing. I was too overwhelmed by the former and too underwhelmed by the latter that I didn't have an emotional response.

The story of a middle-aged man reflecting on his childhood, torn between the rigid yet hypocritical masculinity of his father and the warm yet all too forgiving femininity of his mother, is an interesting premise, but the dialogue and situations are so black and white. The beautiful images are supposed to be the gray, I guess. Maybe I just don't like Brad Pitt in anything.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
½

So yeah...I knew the naked limbo scene and the flash-forward 19 years scene would suck, but they were no less sucky having been prepared for it. As for the former, I heard D-Rad wasn't going full-Equus, but couldn't they have draped him in some ethereal robes at least instead of the same-old Muggle clothes? As for the latter, the extreme age make-up was so obvious that it was distracting.

Good old Emma Watson is back again with her stern eyebrows and heaving bosom. I think she's really good in Part I, but perhaps it's all just editing.

Part II doesn't seem to feed off the momentum of Part I. Less happens, and there's little explanation or connection between the stuff that does happen - the whole goblin/dragon fiasco, the huge army that charges at Neville, and especially The Prince's Tale.

When I read DH, I thought that was the single best chapter of books 4-7, but the movie rushes through it in a series of quick flashbacks that negates the sweetness of Severus and Lily's childhood friendship, the horror of Severus' betrayal, and the gravity of his ultimate sacrifice.

Larry Crowne
Larry Crowne(2011)

Having taught community college before - albeit only for a year - I empathize with Mercedes' cynicism: dreading 8ams, hoping for cancelled classes or snow days, wondering if I'm reaching anybody, breaking chalk, teaching while hungover...haha just kidding. I loved all of Julia Roberts' surly moues. Her character also has an awesome name: Mercedes Tainot. Mercedes is one of my favorite names, and they really should have used it more, and not just her nickname Mercy, which is kinda charming as well, I guess.

The movie is an innocuous "feel-good" scooter ride. I guess I have to give credit to a movie that focuses on some little glamorized professions such as superstore chain employee and community college teacher. The academic and socioeconomic commentary is quite light; there's more emphasis on the human relationships, especially the cute Henry Higgins/Eliza Doolittle one between Larry "Lance Corona" Crowne and Talia, played by the effervescent Gugu Mbatha-Raw. It's nice, but there's not that much substance.

Starter for 10
½

What's not to love about a nebbish, made-under James McAvoy with daddy issues? As with Rachel Weisz, I prefer Rebecca Hall's American accent to her own British.

Friends With Benefits
½

Charmed me out of my gourd. I'm sure we all know what to expect from a rom-com: the girl is emotionally damaged, the guy is emotionally unavailable, they fight, and the guy has to be the one to win the girl over with some huge, romantic stunt.

In terms of genre, Friends With Benefits doesn't break any boundaries, yet somehow, Jamie and Dylan's story still seems fresh. They just seem like awesome people - successful, humorous, bold, hot. They actually talk about what they like about each other and what they don't in candid, non-melodramatic ways. Both their daddy issues aren't overplayed, that is, the issues don't affect all aspects of their lives or make them crumble in every other scene of the movie. They're actually played for humor, which I thought worked in Jamie's case (her exotic beauty certainly not coming from Patricia Clarkson) but not as well in Dylan's dad's alzheimer's plotline. Friend and movie reviewer, Molly Brost states, "[It] was almost more than the movie could handle." The filmmakers utilized the go-to symptoms of alzheimer's - forgetfulness, disorientation - for laughs and completely glossed over the part where his dad will eventually forget how to wipe his own ass.

I also think the climactic fight is effective and realistic. Jamie and Dylan argue around each other without saying what they really mean. The last time they had sex wasn't just "having sex," and they both know it. (The audience knows it as well because of the romantic music and closer angles!) Jamie thinks they should address it, but Dylan sticks to their no-emotions agreement. The obliqueness of their arguments works to not overdramaticize the tried-and-true "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" trope.

The big romantic stunt also isn't "perfect" in that Jamie isn't immediately won over. She still brings up the fact that they've got communication issues, which obviously, is a line thrown in to convince the audience that they will continue to work at their relationship after the credits roll. Nevertheless, it's enough for me.

I also dig how the movie is a love letter to both New York AND Los Angeles :~)

Horrible Bosses
½

Pretty hilarious. Jason Bateman plays his "Arrested Development" straight-man to great effect, "I don't have sleeve gloves." Charlie Day is endearingly naive. Jamie Foxx as Motherfucker Jones is appropriately gangsta at first, then doggedly abashed later with the whole Snow Falling On Cedars thing. God I love that Ethan Hawke movie.

Anyway, Jennifer Aniston could have been a little...sexier? I dunno, the role kinda called for her to play sexy/crazy for comedy, but I wanted to see her channel Angelina Jolie a bit (blasphemy I know).

The Yellow Handkerchief

I remember when this first came out, I was teaching a literature-based composition class, and I kept mistakenly referring to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" as The Yellow Handkerchief.

Wallpaper seems to be an apt descriptor for this film though. It's kinda nice to look at - KStew is very pretty with her balletic movements and rust-red hair pulled off her face - but it's ultimately just background - too many flashbacks detailing Brett and May's melodramatically tumultuous relationship and the disappointing reason for Brett's incarceration.

Eddie Redmayne is the only highlight as the mildly retarded or extremely subversive Gordy.

Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo(2011)
½

The movie took 45 minutes to actually get to the titular location...and yet, I didn't want the exposition to end! Upon seeing the movie poster, I wondered what 18-year-old Selena Gomez was doing in a buddy movie with two older actresses, but the relationship between them and each of their intricate pasts is actually revealed pretty evenly.

(*Spoiler Alert* Grace is a small-town bumpkin of sorts, whose best friend is an of-legal-age, stuck-in-a-rut waitress, who was high school rivals with Grace's stepsister, who's dealing with my-mom-died baggage. Are we up to speed now?)

There are some genuinely nice sisterhood of traveling pants moments - literally (ALL the dresses in Cordelia's luggage fitting ALL the girls?) and figuratively (Emma and Meg gushing about their respective beaux).

Selena Gomez does better than Miley Cyrus, carrying her first lead movie role, but methinks she needs to work on her "regular face" a little more. I have trouble working my own dead face, so I can't really judge her, but when she plays "regular girl," she gets extremely flat. Only when she's being awkward or snarky (like on "Wizards of Waverly Place") does her face shine. I guess it's lucky that her first lead movie role comes with a bitchy, British doppelganger. She is spot-on as Cordelia, the...well, bitchy, British doppelganger.

I've never been a fan of Leighton Meester, but I kind of get her appeal now. She's actually kinda funny and exuberant in a my-mom-died way.

Nerdy tidbit: All the place names look like they're written in the same font used in The 400 Blows. If you watch all the credits, you'll even see a quaint "FIN" at the end.

Rio
Rio(2011)
½

So much fun! A plucky, bird-out-of-air flick that is sure to please adults and children alike!

I don't know, I'm pretty much still a child, hence, why I went to the discount theater to see this movie on a Friday night. I am tall enough to reach the ticket counter though.

Anyway, Blu, an endearingly naive, home-schooled macaw, is brought to Rio to get the friction on with public school bad-girl, Jewel, in order to perpetuate their species.

I like the cute, quirky set-up of Linda and Blu's sheltered existence. I mean, a bespectacled girl whose best friend is a bird is bound to grow into a pretty nebbish adult. But she's got surprisingly decent cans for a cartoon.

I also like the wise-papa toucan played by George Lopez, the funky supporting birds played by Jamie Foxx and will.i - however-the-fuck-he-punctuates-his-name, and the daft but loveable bulldog played by Tracy Morgan. "It's a medical condition :~( " in re his slobbering.

I also also like the mirroring of Blu and Jewel's courtship in the humans, Linda and Tulio, when they dress up as blue macaws to sneak into the Carnivale parade.

I also also also like the happy ending with Linda and Tulio presumably adopting Fernando, the street urchin, and the three of them setting up a bird sanctuary.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I
½

**Most of this "review" is about my impressions of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, so if you want to skip to the end, feel free.**

When I saw this in the theater, there was only one other middle-aged couple there. They were sitting pretty close to me, so I could hear some of their pre-feature conversation. I caught the word "liberals." Now, out of context, I have no idea what they could have been talking about, but since I had read some negative reviews of this movie, criticizing Ayn Rand's conservative ideology (instead of the film's merits or lack thereof), I assumed the couple may have been commenting on how few liberals would come see this movie.

This was confusing to me because my take-away of Ayn Rand's ideal capitalism is neither conservative nor liberal. It's humane. Atlas Shrugged is one of my favorite books, and it's not because I don't like helping people or I'm greedy and corrupt or I have no soul (well, maybe); it's because Dagny Taggart is all about working hard, fucking hard, making money, and taking pride. I mean, life's obviously not that simple, but a fictional female character who does all that AND can walk on railroad tracks in heels is enough for me.

Rand's concept of "greed is good" isn't about taking what's not yours. You take what you make, so you better make all that you can. Looters who have no aptitude or ambition but dare to sit on their asses and wait for hand-outs can shove it, and those are the people Dagny won't help. She respects work. She respects ability. She doesn't respect unearned entitlement.

As I have learned from a rather extensive economics lesson from Flixster Super Reviewer, Jim Hunter, Rand's staunch capitalism does indeed gibe with conservative economic ideology in terms of deregulation, but she wouldn't sympathize with talking-head politicos who simply co-opt her ideas without considering work and achievement. Liberals hear conservative media mouthpieces and automatically associate Rand with "fuck you - got mine" rhetoric. It seems that neither side of our political spectrum gets her.


As for the movie, I liked it well enough because I'm in its target audience. As a low-budget, non-Hollywood production, it's quite adequate in terms of performances, cinematography, and costume design. Taylor Schilling plays Dagny with spirit and guts. Her beauty is cold, and her mouth is indeed sensual (as described in the book). She's blond not brunette, but it works. Her last guttural scream upon seeing the burning wreckage of Wyatt's oil fields shook me to the core. That whole sequence of her running up to the fire, underscored by Galt's monologue is an excellent set-up for Part II.

The burden of condensing this mammoth book is evident though. The screenplay is a bit episodic and doesn't spend enough time developing the attraction between Dagny and Hank Reardon - one of intellectual and carnal equals - and as such, Hank's adultery isn't quite as justifiable as in the book...not that adultery is justifiable, but if anyone can do it, it's Ayn Rand. Also, the choice to set this story in the near future is awkward. Who rides trains anymore?

Elvis & Anabelle

A moving, somewhat uneven, meeting-of-lost-souls movie. Elvis is an emo mortician, and Anabelle is the breath-of-life who turns his world upside-down! His stubborn...emo-ness and her bossy optimism kinda wore on me a bit, but Minghella and Lively are both invested in their roles.

But of course, there's the obligatory "let me explain" scene in the pouring rain, in which Elvis doesn't really explain, and Anabelle is forced to think the worst of him and the *spoiler alert* seemingly necrophiliac pictures.

Overall, a nice little story about miracles and redemption.

Away We Go
Away We Go(2009)
½

Very darling. Some sweet-as-fuck moments like the fruit tree story and the stroller chase. I also really dig the awkward juxtaposition of sad and erotic in Melanie Lynskey's dead-eyed pole dance after her character suffers her fifth miscarriage.

Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids(2011)
½

I was so not interested in seeing this movie, but I was very pleasantly surprised. I wouldn't say it's revolutionary in the chick-flick genre or the romantic comedy genre or even - what I would classify it as - the romantic seriocomedy genre, but it's a rather nice movie.

I'm not a huge fan of Kristen Wiig's schtick on SNL, but she gives a very good, mostly dramatic instead of comedic, performance, which I didn't expect. The character of Annie actually resonates with me. She's a thirty-something fuck-up, but her humanity comes in the fact that hitting bottom doesn't make her want to try, try again like most rom-com characters. She's so trapped by ennui and self-victimization, and I love that existential conundrum. The sequence of Annie baking and decorating that single, gorgeous cupcake, only to eat it herself, alone in her kitchen, is such an excellent character development moment.

The girl-on-girl rivalry between Helen and Annie is awkward but endearing, and the supporting characters are gut-busting hilarious, especially Melissa McCarthy, the no-nonsense social pariah with a heart of gold. Chris O'Dowd as Annie's love interest, Nathan, is freakin' charming as all-get-out.

Romance & Cigarettes
½

In agreement with Jim Hunter, unless you're Paul Thomas Anderson, having actors sing along with a recording of a song IS "remarkably lame." And especially since so much of Turturro's spoken dialogue has such intriguing rhythms (Kitty's "deep" poem), he should have gone the extra mile and hired a real composer. As is, the songs aren't as thematically relevant as the ones in, say Singin' In the Rain or Moulin Rouge, exemplars of this musical subgenre in which popular songs are put into a movie instead of originally written for it.

Kate Winslet though. Man, has she got that va-va-vavoom! Love her trashy accent, her trashy dancing, her trashy talk.

Days of Heaven
½

Why do Bill and Abby tell everyone they're brother and sister instead of lovers? Linda says it's because "people talk," but it's evident that people talk more when they see how inappropriately intimate Bill and Abby are.

The movie hinges on this implausible and unnecessary lie as well as other must-happens. Abby has to be free to marry The Farmer and ultimately gain his inheritance. The Farmer has to live longer than expected. Abby has to develop feelings for The Farmer but keep deliberately oblique about them to Bill. Bill and Abby have to be careless about their stolen kisses. The Farmer has to go into a jealous rage and start a freakin' fire. Bill has to kill The Farmer. The story is just too easy.

The Edge of Love
½

I'm no fan of Keira Rat-Face Knightley, but I have to say, she is photographed remarkably well in this movie. Her singing scenes are gorgeous with the shiny lipstick and stiff coiffure, the fuzzy Vaseline lens and the red, green, and blue filters. Her lip-syncing and singing expressions looked pretty convincing as well.

Then I found out she sang her own songs! Well, color me impressed. Those musical numbers are easily the best parts of the movie. The twisted love...parallelogram is too subtle, too full of wist. There isn't much development on how exactly Vera and Caitlin become besties, what exactly went on between Dylan and Vera, why William becomes so disturbed.

The Hangover Part II

Everything is exactly the same. The same opening wedding shots, the same phone call (that, if we plot out in linear fashion, is the same moment right before the gang figure out where the missing person is), the same morality-non-compromising location of the missing person, the same taken-to-the-grave pictures running during the credits.

There's also no connecting thread between the two movies. What happened to Jade - Stu's erstwhile love interest - and who's this nice, hot, devoid-of-personality Asian chick? Also, why is there such hullaballoo about inviting Alan? The last movie ended with a nice bond. So much time is spent on awkward exposition. There are also clues hinting at Teddy's potential malice - him gleefully throwing a molotov cocktail then shedding his clothes to avoid identification, his perfect-in-every-way veneer cracking - that don't come to fruition.

Delicatessen
Delicatessen(1992)

This film is kinda the nail in the coffin of my assertion that Jean-Pierre Jeunet had one great idea (Amelie), and everything else is just a convoluted mess.

Dominique Pinon and Marie-Laure Dougnac are quite sweet and charming as the handyman who came to dinner and the gal who loves him. Their cello and saw-playing are mesmerizing, but that was the only music I enjoyed in the movie. The sound of knives sharpening really grinds my gears, and the sex symphony doesn't have nearly as many rhythms and sounds as this one crazy sequence in "Scrubs." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzmHEU5866I

Also, as with Micmacs, there seems to be a hint of dystopian satire, but it gets lost in too many characters and too many quirks.

Gigantic
Gigantic(2009)

A movie that seems to want to make a political or humanistic statement but over-quirks itself instead. Brian is quirkily shy; Happy is quirkily fucked-up (she even says so herself, and that always pisses me off in movies). Obviously, they should have sex. I dig the actors, and they're quite darling and sympathetic in this movie, but what exactly is this movie about? Fatherhood? Adoption? Government bureaucracy? Unconventional upbringings?

There's much talk on IMDb about the "controversial" hobo attacker played by Zach Galifianakis (to great heebie jeebie extent, might I add), saying he's supposed to be a manifestation of Brian's fear of growing up, committing to a child perhaps, but as with the supernatural inconsistencies in Black Swan, other people seeing Brian's physical cuts and bruises = NO SENSE! Brian actually removing a bullet from his leg, implying that someone actually shot him = NO SENSE! If it's all in his head, he's crazy and shouldn't be adopting a child. If it's visible to other people because he's self-inflicting these wounds, he's crazy and shouldn't be adopting a child. Furthermore, the scary music that underscores all the attacks also tip this movie from the sweet indie drama genre into the thriller mind-fuck genre, yet there is no Shyamalan twist in the end at all.

Welcome to the Rileys
½

Surprisingly moving. The premise of a middle-aged man befriending a young prostitute because she reminds him of his dead daughter seems disingenuous at first, but the script is careful in avoiding sexual motivation on Doug's part and truly paints his motivations as paternal. James Gandolfini is rather forceful in the scene in which he yells at Mallory to get her act together and stop saying "fuck" so much.

Melissa Leo as Lois, the broken wife, provides some comic relief - oddly enough - in her get-out-of-the-house montage, and her reunion with Doug in New Orleans is sweet and cathartic.

Kristen Stewart is once again good but not great. Her screaming, fighting, crying is fine; her silent stare still penetrates; but her speech, especially the cursing is pretty self-conscious. She only half-says "cooter," "pussy," "fuck."

Sweet and Lowdown
½

Quite delightful. Samantha Morton seriously doesn't need a voice. She has a face!

I'm a little iffy about the mockumentary aspect of this movie. For much of it, I thought Emmet Ray was a real person. Then when I learned he wasn't, I wondered why Woody tried to make the biography seem so real. He doesn't eschew mixing fantasy and reality in his other films, so why create a Django Reinhardt-esque character who worships Django Reinhardt without differentiating between the real and fictional Django Reinhardts (think Tom Baxter and Gil Shepherd in The Purple Rose of Cairo)?

Django Reinhardt.

Adaptation
Adaptation(2002)

Another movie that ends with "Happy Together!" Nicolas Cage is neurotic, frenetic, pathetic, and oddly romantic. The metafictional motif of this story is just clever as all get out, and the textbook definitions of how-not-to write a screenplay are executed without melodrama or apology.

Burning Annie

If you're gonna reference Annie Hall throughout your movie, or even worse, claim that your main love interest is "the modern incarnation of Annie Hall" in your badly-written Netflix DVD sleeve synopsis, you better go balls-to-the-wall with that homage. I want a nightclub-singing, lobster-flinging, tennis racket-swinging ditz who wears ties and vests, dammit!!! I would rather think you copied Annie Hall than you co-opted a few of its philosophies because you think (erroneously) that they define you as a human being.

The filmmakers seemed to have good intentions. They're young and fresh-faced and pretty decent actors for the most part. The script isn't even that bad, if they had just taken out the ham-handed attempt at Woody Allen worship. There are some funny, neurotic quips that fit into a nice, college rom-dramedy, but - and this may be ageist of me - these characters are too young/immature/inexperienced to "get" Annie Hall.

I also couldn't get past the fact that the lead male looks just like Nick Jonas.

And the Virginia Tech windshield decal. Weird.

The Conspirator
½

Robin Wright Penn is so underrated as an actress. Her raspy Southern accent, her tired squint, her brave trepidation - simply commanding. James McAvoy isn't bad although his character IS the prototypical lawyer-gone-good. His American accent is rather spot-on, if a bit modern at times. And stop rubbing your face! A good actor doesn't need those tricks! I still maintain that ERW overacts, and that's why psychopaths are her bread and butter. Oh Justin Long. Can they not have made him an even sorer thumb in this grave period piece by giving him a hot pink bow tie?

The film is a steadily-paced whodunnit that reveals the motives and convictions of bit players rather than the actual whodidder. It's also a timely-as-hell treatise against the breaking of ethical codes in the name of wartime "justice."

Inglourious Basterds
½

I was actually quite impressed that through almost three-quarters of the film, I was considering rating it a 4.5 or 5. There's a less manic quality to this film in comparison to QT's other work; there's almost a certain grace, a certain class. Perhaps that is due to most of it being in French. Still, I really loved the long, tension-filled "gentlemen duel across a table" scenes, the irreverent humor, the puckish flirtation of Fredrick (played by Daniel Bruhl from Good Bye Lenin!), Diane Kruger's brassy and charming movie-star-turned-spy, Christoph Waltz's debonair villain, and of course Melanie Laurent's fire and ice turn as Shosanna.

I was hoping for a "happy" ending ala Butch and Fabienne's in Pulp Fiction - Shosanna and Marcel get away, or even just Shosanna reluctantly leaving after a tragic death for Marcel. It seems that with every fork in the road of killing off a character, QT chooses to kill - Bridget and Wilhelm; Shosanna and Fredrick. The latter's shoot-out is slightly anticlimactic. There's no choice that complicates Shosanna's character; I actually expected her to have sex with Fredrick, either out of pity or distraction.

The ending with the Basterds' dissolution of the deal seems to imply that there is no goodness in the world - which, normally I'd be a huge proponent of - but since there does seem to be so much of that class and grace, I was ready for a new sensibility in QT, not just the same old movie-about-basterds-cuz-basterds-rule-the-world...even if that sociopolitical standpoint is quite prevalent in our world.

**ADDENDUM: Upon second viewing, I have to revise my original negative reception of what I perceived to be senseless killings. Bridget has no choice but to shoot Wilhelm; she needs to show allegiance to the Allies, and she's too smart to leave a witness alive.

As for Shosanna's death, it does tie into what I believe is QT's ultimate thesis: that basterds rule the world. It's humanity that betrays us. After realizing Fredrick's still alive after her three bullets to the back, Shosanna kneels down next to him to...what? Comfort him? It's an incredibly stupid thing to do, and perhaps that's exactly why humanity is overrated. Humanity will get you killed.

Micmacs (Micmacs à tire-larigot)

A bit of a mess. Lots of intrigue and espionage (fitting for a movie entitled Non-Stop Shenanigans), but it's all a little too much fun and confusing for the political message embedded within. As such, the thesis on irresponsible tactics of war is as shallow as the one in The Girl In the Cafe. However, the colors and soundtrack are delightful as I've come to expect of Jeunet, of course.

The Runaways
The Runaways(2010)

The story never penetrates the surface. We never really get to know Joan and Cherie beyond the obvious sex, drugs, and rock and roll, to say less of the other three in the band. Kristen Stewart's good in her usual sullen way, and Dakota Fanning is okay at times, not great at times, and pretty awesome in the last "Cherry Bomb" performance.

Thor
Thor(2011)
½

Lots o' universe-hopping fun! Rather funny too! Especially Natalie Portman's damsel bashfulness and Kat Dennings' silly curtsy.

I wish they could have frumped Natalie up a bit for this astrophysicist role - not to say all astrophysicists are frumpy - just that the costume designers could have worked a little harder on her look for character development purposes. Or perhaps I'm just one of those bitter have-nots who'd like to see Natalie with a frazzled bun and Coke-bottle lenses.

Loki's dastardly plot is somewhat inorganic. Loki is, of course, the mischief-maker of myth, but he isn't presented as such at all in the first part of the movie. He seems more like the level-headed good son.

Hanna
Hanna(2011)

I'm not sure what this movie is trying to be. On the surface, it's a hard-core, kick-ass, wild-child-on-a-vendetta movie. Underneath, it's kinduva saccharine-sweet, coming-of-age, culture-clash movie.

The former is pretty rad. Hanna's escape sequence is more heart-pumping and badass than anything seen in Fast Five. However, the payoff of Hanna's secret past isn't really that interesting; she was created in a lab...yeah...we kinda figured that from the beginning, didn't we?

The latter is actually rather touching and funny, with Hanna befriending a ditzy British girl, but it's much too light to fit in with the tone already set. I would expect much direr consequences for Johanna's family.

Annoying must-happen: wouldn't Erik and Hanna have anticipated Marissa's double? With all their expert assassin training, wouldn't they be less cavalier about ensuring her death? Of course, Hanna's assumption that she killed Marissa is what allows the rest of the movie to happen.

Fast Five
Fast Five(2011)

Holy Suspension of Disbelief Batman! Wow. Vin Diesel faces off against The Rock. So hot.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

I dunno...maybe it's cuz for the last two years, I was conditioned to hate Russell Crowe, or maybe it's cuz the future of a relationship hinges upon my liking of the movie, and I subconsciously judged it on a higher caliber because Justin was lukewarm about The 400 Blows :~P...I just wasn't terribly into it.

Russell Crowe isn't bad necessarily; his character just isn't that compelling. Jack Aubrey is morally upright, albeit tempestuous at times, and his mood swings and rash decisions are somewhat predictable. He is overshadowed by the good doctor, brilliantly played by Paul Bettany, whom I like, even though the only other movie I remember him in is Wimbledon... The self-surgery scene is horrifically intense.

Nevertheless, props to the movie for eschewing the swashbuckling fun of the Pirates franchise and instead, portraying the gritty violence and danger of the high seas.

Top Gun
Top Gun(1986)
½

GOOOOOOSE!!!!!!!!

All right, so it seems that everyone's over this movie now - and its 25th anniversary coming on the heels of US's biggest "America! Fuck yeah!" moment of the last decade just adds fuel to misguided fire - but I missed the '80s, so let me enjoy it.

Very exciting flying. Some hilarious homoerotic under - over - tones? A good-hearted, sacrificial best friend. A darling and kooky Meg Ryan in a bit part, "Hey Goose, you big stud! Take me to bed, or lose me forever!" Incessant music video montages for three '80s hits. Oh so much tongue.

And I'll still say Tom Cruise is a pretty fine actor. He may be a nut-job, but he's got the face for it. He's got the quivering jaw, the bloodshot eyes, shrink-wrapped in tears, the gaze that looks right through you.

Dumb and Dumber

It's pretty dumb, as the title would suggest. However, I do like the altruistic ending wherein neither of the two main characters gets the girl.

Water for Elephants
½

This movie lacks passion. For a wild and romantic big top romp, there isn't much oomph, in neither the love story nor the circus acts. Witherspoon is stilted in her cold grace (perhaps intentional), and Pattinson is moony and dull except when with Rosie the elephant (perhaps also intentional). I wouldn't say the two actors lacked chemistry; they just lacked two-dimensional roles. As such, Christoph Waltz's August outshines the lovers, probably because he's a schizophrenic ringmaster who oscillates between lovable teddy and maniacal grizzly. Waltz is, of course, in another league acting-wise, but there's just so much inconsistency and "perhaps intentionality" that I can't say this movie achieved its goals.

Bunny and the Bull

Is this movie not the most delightful thing you've ever seen? Does it not just charm you out of your gourd? It's a little similar to Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep - the whimsical cardboard sets and the awkward shell of a leading man - but Bunny and the Bull always hints at an unresolved tragedy and delivers well on that promise. The quirky flashcuts and calliope music are reminiscent of Amelie, but despite all these similarities or homages, the story has a different heart and a different brain.

Edward Hogg is passionately forlorn; Simon Farnaby is likably skeevy; and Verónica Echegui is cutely beguiling. She's like Penelope Cruz for the indie masses. "Are you fucking my face?"

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing

One of those intertwining ensemble stories that almost makes it but not quite. The titular "one thing" isn't always clear. It could be several things: fortune, happiness, love, guilt, faith, trust, fate, coincidence, et cetera. All the individual stories are really quite beautiful though, with moments of deep elation and moments of inexplicable grief.

Get Low
Get Low(2010)

I was expecting something zanier. Nevertheless, most of the movie lends a secretive and oppressive atmosphere that gibes with Felix's hermit existence. However, the revelation of Felix's past is just too much melodramatic exposition.

In the Company of Men

I thought I would like this LaBute film since I usually dig his hold-a-mirror-up-to-society commentaries, but the evil machinations in this movie really have no exigence other than, as Chad states at the very end, "Because I could." This isn't some evil sociopathic genius who reveals societal hypocrises (like Evelyn does in The Shape of Things); hypocrises are nevertheless revealed but not through any action or intention on Chad's part. In the Company of Men is just two college dudes, thinking of how cool it'd be to write a totally depraved script and wait until one dude is sufficiently rich and famous enough as a playwright to produce this piece so that the other dude can star in it.

The puns on "company" and the hierarchy of power are intriguing, but the company itself is such an underdeveloped entity. What is it? What do they do? Why are they here? It seems like LaBute didn't even know. It's too easy to say the anonymous nature of the company could represent any company. The LaBute I know is much too specific of a writer to cut corners like that, unless of course, he was too inexperienced to think it needed development.

The Opposite of Sex

Everything about this film is philosophical, moving, real, and funny, except for the main attraction: Christina Ricci and her plaintive whine. The script breaks down stereotypes of love, lust, gender, sexual orientation. Love isn't always about caring for another; it could be a moral obligation. Lust isn't always about fucking; it could be as Lyle Lovett's sad-sack says, "Say it's concentration. Say it's supposed to focus your attention on the person you're sleeping with, like biological highlighter. Look for me first in any crowded room. And I'll do likewise."

Dede's narrator character seems to be the storyteller necessary to reveal all these other characters' stories. There's no rhyme or reason to her manipulations. Her redemption moment is nice, but the audience is never truly aware of her original impetus for seducing her half-brother's boyfriend.

Hall Pass
Hall Pass(2011)
½

Pretty funny, but not terribly memorable. Fischer seems to play a thankless role. It seems like the Farrelly Brothers didn't want to be accused of perpetuating misogynistic double standards, and that's why Christina Applegate's character is allowed to get away with adultery. However, despite possible good intentions, a "strong" female character shouldn't have to be vilified to be equal to a man. One gender shouldn't hold the monopoly on cheating.

Frequency
Frequency(2000)

Jim Caviezel is AMAZING in this performance (the tough cop, the New Yorker, the paranoid cynic, the crying, the almost crying). I personally love any story about "time travel," so the scientific implausibilities don't bother me so much. It's still a surprisingly effective thriller. Yes, very All-American sappy ending, but they do set up the loving nuclear family properly throughout the movie, so there was only one way for it to end, I suppose.

Saved!
Saved!(2004)

A teen comedy with the typical cliques and baddies but also, many deep commentaries on love, sex, faith, humanity, and diversity. Every character achieves redemption in his or her own way, but that's okay because it echoes what the movie believes true Christianity should be.

The "shit - fuck - Goddamn" scene is excellent.

Blue Valentine

Did this movie take 10 years to make or what? It's as if Gosling and Williams filmed the courtship scenes a decade ago and the marriage scenes recently. They look so young and thin, then old and tired. It's a testament to these actors that they are able to embody a decade's worth of time physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

The story of an intense love fizzling out after marriage seems realistic, but there are moments of high (melo)drama - like Dean showing up at the hospital and punching out Cindy's boss - that don't jive with the somewhat repetitive and dull (read: realistic) fight dialogue.

Winter's Bone

I agree with much of Ryan Hibbett's analysis. Characters change without motivation. There's too much traveling and no real destination. The film is very atmospheric, but the payoff is deliberately secretive so that the suspense building up to it doesn't hold my attention.

Jennifer Lawrence has got such a face! And a voice!

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

A delectable romp! Steve Martin overhams a bit, but it's nicely balanced out by Michael Caine's gentlemen thief. The lean and cross - what a move!

Memento
Memento(2000)

Memento has always been a favorite of mine. It's an emotion-wrecking, intellect-fucking suspense drama that transcends the gimmick of its parabolic structure. I hesitate to even call it a gimmick because the structure actually mimics the character's journey of not knowing what just came before.

The Fighter
The Fighter(2010)

Christian Bale has such crazy eyes! I've never seen the whites all the way around his irises before, and in this performance, he certainly looks like he's got some screws loose. Melissa Leo is brassy and tough and scary and *chills*!

Mark Wahlberg isn't given much to work with. Here's another movie - ala The Town - in which the supporting roles overshadow the straight main character. Micky is introverted and silent and strong, but that does not a dynamic hero make. I'm not terribly fond of Amy Adams' performance either. The Boston accent seems to have tripped her up. She is so focused on getting all those truncated r's that she lacks the spark that usually makes Adams so magnetic. I don't mean her princessy magnetism. Charlene ain't no princess, but even when she lunges at Micky's sisters, I didn't feel her heart in it. I felt no feelings.

The plot is also too straightforward. We know which fights Micky's gonna lose; we know which fights Micky's gonna win.

Déjà Vu
Déjà Vu(2006)

Film critic, David Thomson, describes Deja Vu as "inane yet compelling." I would have to agree. The time travelly stuff expects itself to be taken seriously (unlike the general levity of Back to the Future II); it involves too much disbelief-suspending technology (unlike the natural phenomenon in Frequency); it pervades throughout the movie (unlike the few climactic moments in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban); it doesn't involve Keanu Reeves (unlike The Lake House). Oh wait, that's a good thing. The movie is definitely fun to watch, especially during the stylish real time/past time highway chase.

Denzel Washington plays Denzel Washington - charismatic yet slightly rogue officer of the law. The bright lights are Paula Patton and Jim Caviezel aka Jesus Christ. Patton is beautiful, and she manages to be beautiful even when she's scared shitless, rashly daring, and rightfully paranoid. Caviezel, in a tiny villain role, freezes the screen with one, penetrating stare. The hint of arrogance in his voice cements the conviction of his wayward patriot.

The Third Man

They just don't make 'em like this anymore. All the delightfully subtle Dutch angles. The madcap zither score that at times, lulls you into a false sense of security. The Of Mice and Men-esque sacrificial kill. The ending! OH THE ENDING!!! Anna walks that road for an eternity, much like Antoine Doinel running towards the sea.

Some Kind of Wonderful

Can a guy as good-looking as Eric Stoltz, a guy badass enough to tempt Death by walking in front of a train, actually be the outcast of his school? Yeah yeah, life is hard for beautiful people too.

The movie's nice with some dark moments - Amanda's monologue about turning into what she hates, Keith's conviction at throwing away a possibly brighter future for one night of glory, the looming danger of Hardy's moneyed entitlement.

The King's Speech

Holy heck Colin Firth. A decade ago, I thought he was just a nice-looking Brit, serviceable and pleasant in ensemble films, but now, he is really coming-of-middle age. His portrayal of a character with a speech impediment doesn't come off as an over-rehearsed caricature. I didn't get the impression that he went through the script and marked all the places where he was going to stammer. The guttural vocalizations emanating from his voicebox are organic convulsions of his entire body. Much like the process of fellow GG winner, Natalie Portman, Firth's must have been just as physically painful and grueling.

Crazy-haired, mismatched-shoed HBC is utterly charming as Queen Elizabeth, with her slight wink and twitch of a smile. Geoffrey Rush is darling and eccentric as not just a speech therapist, but a therapist of the soul.

The story is nice and uplifting although I wonder why they don't just play music for Bertie any time he has to speak without a physical audience watching him. I also wonder why Bertie thinks his recitation of Hamlet is so awful. Can he not feel the difference even if he can't hear it?

And they worked in the title of the movie so well!

10 Things I Hate About You

Amazingly smart teen adaptation of The Bard. I like the liberties the film takes in making Bianca a much stronger character and putting more heart in the father/daughter/sister relationships. Hilarious supporting characters and rockin' soundtrack.

However, http://www.11points.com/Movies/11_Things_Julia_Stiles_Hates_About_Heath_Ledger_in_10_Things_I_Hate_About_You