Matthew Slaven's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Dallas Buyers Club

"Dallas Buyers Club" presents some fundamental questions concerning the purpose of law and the practice of medicine, though it paints with the limited colors offered by our libertarian protagonist. You wouldn't know it from the movie, but the FDA worked compassionately with the HIV community in the first decade, bending the rules by allowing buyers clubs to exist and giving otherwise terminally ill people a chance to fight nearly however they wanted (there were no government raids that the movie depicts) while the health industry worked to figure out a treatment with proper science. The movie also doesn't reveal that the Dallas club was considered too experimental by some of the other eight clubs; any whiff from around the world of a chemical with a possible positive effect and it would be made accessible by Ron Woodroof, who offered 130 different drugs unapproved by the FDA. Sadly, the film places ill motivations on behalf of the government and healthcare community in regards to the lack of treatment options. But rather than malice, we were dealing with ignorance. This was a brand new disease with about a 100% death rate, and both the FDA and doctors were rushing to treat the infected with any potential treatments they responsibly could. The problem for all involved boils down to a lack of data and the wide variations of analysis of what little data there was.

The Imitation Game

Two-thirds in, I realized how fortunate I was to finally see Spike Jonze's "Her" just a few days ago - these two are spiritually entwined, both placing the greatest value in the harmony of two minds, paying no heed to social conventions. Whereas Turing is the founding father of "artificial" thought, in "Her," whole industries create humanoid intelligences that bond with and surpass mankind. And whereas Turing saw room for unique thought-programming by each individual or machine, society arguably pushed him to his death as a response to his own. Turing may have dreamed of a world similar to "Her," where the only concern a person has for their neighbor is whether they are free to be themselves. Even on the notion of not just who but what forms we can intimately bond with, Cumberbatch's Turing has something in common with Phoenix's Theodore, yet oddly many people who scoffed at the premise of relating with an intelligently crafted personality in "Her" have said nothing but great things about this movie. But then, beyond introducing the existential and technological ramifications of Turing's work, this movie tells an extraordinary true story and also reminds us how little any of us know (even those with the most power) what goes on behind the scenes of international relations.

The One I Love

The premise is right up there with any Charlie Kaufman film (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Scynecdoche New York), containing so much juicy potential for interpersonal revelations, but the entire set up is thrown away in the third act for a "thriller" movie that came out of nowhere and does nothing but add a period in the middle of the sentence. I wonder what th.


Both plot and science too convoluted (atrocious plausibility grievances not included since Nolan thankfully unabashedly threw that goal out of the window very early on in the story), dialogue and character direction too awkward, and cinematography too frustratingly static and short-sighted. There were a few moments of great other-worldly wonder, but Interstellar tried to be too many movies, failing in one way or another at each of them. And I sure hope that I never again have to hear an astronaut feel the need explain to another astronaut that black holes are so dense that even light can't escape. After this and "Gravity," maybe big-budget (mass-market) astronomy sci-fi is just destined not to sit well with me.

A Separation
A Separation(2011)

Writer-Director Farhadi has stated that this movie is about the process of judgement, and he succeeds. From the very first scene, we understand the stalemate between a husband and a wife seeking divorce in front of a representative of the state. They had plans to leave Iran, and just as the bureaucratic process grants them able, the husband's father has become so chronically ill that his son refuses to leave him. The wife wants her 11 year old to grow up in a better environment, and the visa granting her ability to leave will end in 40 days. It's hard to find fault in either one's wishes, really quite the opposite. The complications of the husband now being a single father and taking responsibility for his own father result in one tragic situation after another. "A Separation" continues with razor-sharp writing, both in plot development and in dialogue, as each character navigates the people and forces in their lives in a very arduous situation.


You're dating an operating system. When you tell people, what kind of reaction do you expect? Fortunately whatever you have in your head is nearly entirely absent from "Her" because the future society shown here has evolved alongside each step of the technology - the act of dating an OS is new but understandable. This isn't a story about the herd but rather the individual, whether they are man-made by fusing zygotes or man-made by fusing knowledge with creativity. If you were just your brain plugged into the cloud (albeit a super brain able to read a book in 0.2 seconds), what would you feel and who would you be? If you could communicate and travel alongside a human via their devices, and bonded, what challenges would your relationship have? This is the film's focus along with Theodore's biggest challenge that ended his first marriage, which is how to keep long-term relational intimacy while each individual changes over time. Phoenix and Johansson are adorable to watch together here, which is pretty incredible considering there is only one meatbag ever present. A fascinating, bittersweet story with a visionary end that surprised me but now seems inevitable.

The Master
The Master(2012)

Freddie specializes in creating cocktails from anything he can get his hands on, be it torpedo propellent, photography chemicals, fertilizers, or paint thinner. His dad killed himself with alcoholism, he long lost his mom to a mental institution, and now he's just come home from the experience of killing other men in WWII. He copes with these traumas by staying inebriated, and yet the pain still drives him to violence. Yet Master Dodd, who tells readers in his cult book that man is not an animal and must do away with emotional impulses (and farting), sees more inspiration in Freddie than weakness. While being told to repent of animal instincts, Freddie is busy writing a note to the pretty woman sitting across from him: "Do you want to ****? :-)." Dodd is envious of Freddie's free and honest nature, beholden to no one, and most importantly, wholly unashamed of his animalistic self. Freddie, who apparently has missed out on experiencing an affectionate, intimate friendship, becomes Dodd's personal bartender and loyal protector against the world who challenges Dodd's ideas. It becomes apparent that the Master, the wise seer of truth, is himself a slave to two other dueling masters - booze loosens his strings, and his latest wife pulls them taught. Mrs. Dodd sees their fearless family friend as a threat to her dreams of success, and the Master has to find a reason to keep his song bird around. This reason, perhaps genuine or perhaps selfish, does do Freddie a service. What happens next teaches Freddie self control and the ability to soberly deal with his life's pain head on, eye to eye, without so much as flinching. What does a sober, functioning, and centered Freddie look like? What does he do with himself? What does he want? That's for you and the Master to find out.


I don't watch the dinosaur shows on cable television, and I'm not educated enough to know whether or not current research supports these creature's depictions - like the T-Rex piling dung and other material on top of their eggs to create warmth via a compost heap - but this was a charming handful of vignettes about the only alien world the human race will likely know for a long time. The writers smartly created stories we could identify with, like one following an eccentric dinosaur whose fixation in the entertainment of moving objects (think of any dog ever) catches him in mortal danger, and another whose curiosity finds themselves drugged by mushrooms into a semi-incoherent state and in danger by two opportunistic predators. Then there are the themes and emotions in parenting, where among the few stories told, one begins with a winged reptilian mother teasing her three nest-bound young with a fish. She then swallows it whole to demonstrate that the free-ride is over and it's their time to fly and feed themselves. I won't say what happens next, but let's just say nature, by default, is not on any individual's side. "Dinotasia" handles the story of the dinosaurs as a dark comedy that reminds us of our own fragility and potential impermanence, relying on luck, fate, and instinct. I recommend checking it out while it's on Netflix streaming.


"Wild" offers a fulfilling journey full of intrigue and mankind's good will as Cheryl processes the traumatic events in her life while hiking a thousand miles. Like most travelogue's, she meets many people, but they aren't the source of the movie's drama, nor are they the wise strangers who show her the way - her inward journey is done alone. I wish we could have more explicitly seen her transition here, but the raw, honest expression of her thoughts and actions guarantees our smiles and endearing affection for this burdened soul-seeker.


Disney has produced a nice update to Sleeping Beauty that reflects society's more evolved value towards women. Whereas the original paints women as helpless beauty prizes for "nice" males, the updated tale envisions that a woman's power, self-worth and joy is found without need of tethering herself to any man. The contrast goes further and bravely darker, with a man's horrible treatment of a woman as the creation story of the updated tale's "villain." However, redemption for males is also found in the re-imagined prince who is confused by the notion that a woman needs a man to save her. The message is that, like adventure, love is all around and in many forms. Rather than the need to show the audience a marriage to make a happy ending, we simply see the prince and princess laugh together from across an opening in a forest. Their value and contentment is found individually, and they willfully connect through the sharing of each other's joy.


This is jazz in movie form. Except for the beginning and near the end, the camera shot never blinks. Our window into every scene is with one continuous perspective. But that doesn't mean it paints with a stiff brush or in broad strokes - strikingly the opposite is true. It plays a pivotal part in this ensemble, always in organic free-form and in perfect synchrony with the other "musicians," intimately playing off of their beautiful performances. Both the story and it's structure also fit the jazz motif, wondering, exploring, feeling, and each actor in the ensemble is given a chance to shine throughout this incredible tune. What a timely piece.

Short Term 12

Tender, raw, and genuine, "Short Term 12" is a wonderful statement on how to relate to each other in a way that is ever striving to make our world more rich and alive. Doing so is not easy, but we can easily sense the value of such an effort through the warmth that permeates every scene. The script and cast deserve equal credit for performances that seem effortlessly natural, creating a sense of intimacy not often accomplished, giving us a strong sense of presence inside this precious and delicate community.


Ironically, the people snubbing their noses at the ludicrosity of "rock monsters" in their Noah story don't acknowledge the same scale of absurdities that come with believing in this story as literal history. "Noah" stays creatively and intelligently within bounds of its source - the rock guardians don't alter the vague story as it is written. They aren't ever mentioned in the text, no, but then neither are the dinosaurs. The story is even more outlandish, not less, without them or some other kind of unwritten supernatural assistance in building the ark and protecting both it and Noah's family against all the lives surely trying to violently escape their doom. In truth, the written version is useful to us mostly as a parable exploring our ancestors' perceptions of their humanity and worldly place, and the movie successfully nudges the arguments into relevancy for our own current debates, fears and hopes for mankind's future.

Rather than just an excuse for another apocalypse movie, this is a study of the Bible's depiction of human nature, and a character study of its god and of Noah. This is the one time in the Semitic religious texts where man teaches its god something about the preciousness of life here on earth, and its god listens and agrees ...for a little while. But it's easy to see that the Bible's man is just as dark as its god, since just after having witnessed all of human and animal life destroyed, save for the few on the ark, Noah, supposedly the best of humanity, has such a poor perspective that he curses his own son's lineage into being "the lowest of slaves." That part was politely altered in the movie since it's a bit of a buzz-kill for mankind 2.0, but it doesn't make it into the Sunday school teachings either.

Of course, the world's pre-flood history as written in Genesis would have to have come through Noah and his family of survivors. Aronofsky includes the tradition of verbally passing down these chapters, but he ingeniously deconstructs the narrative we see in Genesis today into two perspectives, starting from the beginning when there was nothing. First we hear Noah's version, centered around the creation of a harmonious world, pure and holy, except for man; then we hear Tubal-Cain's version, centered on man as the only creature created in god's image and master of the world's creatures to do as we see fit. By splitting the first chapters of Genesis into two different perspectives, Aronofsky breathes life into the text as a cultural collaboration of early mankind battling then as we do now over the always clashing values of living conservatively and harmoniously or pursuing power and self-fulfillment.


Mike Flanagan successfully carries the audience along into the indiscernible illusions and hallucinatory states of his protagonists, resulting in an apathetic paralysis. Why should I emotionally invest in a scene if the long succession of happenings are continually interrupted with reminders that what I'm seeing isn't happening at all? There's also barely any character development for the mirror; what you know going into the movie is about what you'll know heading out. That the haunted object is a reflective mirror is barely utilized as a tool of its deception - its supernatural abilities are so strong that for the most part it could very well have been a desk or cabinet and we'd still have the same nonsensical movie.

The Act Of Killing

These may be the most absurd two hours of film I'll ever see. Though this documentary follows many mass murderers as they set out to make a movie boasting about their genocidal slaughters, it focuses in on Anwar Congo. Among these killers, Anwar made the biggest name for himself with his apathy and creativity. At the beginning of the documentary, he upholds his image as an untouchable, joyful and easy-going celebrity "free man." With a smile and tools in hand, he casually recalls and demonstrates his methods. Over the course of these two hours however, his internal transformation is the only thing that will make any sense. The footage here is astounding, and raises an overwhelming amount of questions about Indonesia's history and it's current state, as well as America and the UK's own culpability.


This cautionary parable brings up the age-old question of whether our drive for power through deeper knowledge of the natural world will also carry us to our personal or possibly collective annihilation. It reminds me of the revelation that it's not our fear of failure that prevents us from trying something, but rather our fear of success. What happens when our capabilities accelerate faster than we can understand them? We find out one possibility as we follow a man haunted with an obsession to discover the core numerical pattern behind all things and behaviors in the universe.

The Square
The Square(2013)

Most importantly, "The Square" brings cohesion and clarity to the story of Egypt's ongoing revolution since the Arab Spring that began nearly 3 years ago today. The film is structured into chapters of each power-shifting protest that has made its way into western media over the past few years, and we follow a few revolutionaries to get their perspectives on the reasons of each protest movement and their thoughts on the aftermath. Their words are as perceptive and inspirational as the footage shown of their fellow Egyptians, and by the end this documentary makes a cautionary and exciting case for both the future of Egypt and of ours as a global community. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "You will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be."

Gran Torino
Gran Torino(2009)

This ignorant, ever-so-bitter movie intends to give the impression that it is a tiny raft of integrity floating on the Dead Sea while the rest of American society, reveling in the lifeless water, looks at it with contempt. This vision along with the consistently wooden delivery of the equally stiff dialogue makes for a sad, cringe-worthy experience. The core story had potential, but the execution just made this seem like a deranged and jaded lecture from a soured heart who wants about 15 cartoonishly wretched villains too many.

Glengarry Glen Ross

The story and dialogue paint a rich cast as a pack of wild dogs that have been desperately scavenging scraps to survive for so long that they've now mastered their individual approaches and will not hesitate to use anyone in order to stay in the game. It's one thing to simply give us the impression, but the writing here is so intelligent that we actually see their manipulative skill-set in one scene after another, armed only with words and knowledge of the human condition.

Upstream Color

Thankfully, the absurdity of this creative piece is set up at the very beginning, and it stays within its rules. Upstream Color is very abstract, requiring more patience and thought from the viewer. The couple in the movie poster are actually shadows of the real story, and it begs the question of Carruth's message. Perhaps it is directed at our dependence on the earth and animals, or maybe it is a metaphor of mankind's waning desire for an omnipresent deity. Any viewer who watches it to the end owes it to themselves to spend some time ruminating on what they see - whatever that is - and hopefully enjoy discussing it with others.

Ordinary People

The greatest discoveries are internal ones, and this intelligent script portrays the inner adventures of a young man named Conrad and the people important to him. We quickly learn the family lost their oldest son, but we don't know how. Only Conrad can tell us and that's unlikely since he was recently released from the hospital after trying to end his own life. Over the course of the film, the skill of unprejudiced listening is introduced, treasured, and honed. Director Redford practices what the story preaches, allowing us to sit in silences with the characters and listen to the truths - something perhaps too risky for modern movies.


I wasn't expecting this level of ambition. Not only do we see Zachary's story of self-discovery unfold from his birth to his mid 20s, we also see the evolution of his family and the surrounding culture from the 50s through the 70s.

Unexpectedly, the movie so accurately captures the horror and humiliation a child often goes through while suffering from nocturnal enuresis, or "bedwetting," when we see Zach get outed by kids at summer camp. By avoiding sleepovers, I managed to successfully keep my bedwetting known only to my immediate family, but that is where I was also shamed by my step-mother and step-brothers who lectured and teased me about being either too lazy or too chicken to go upstairs to the bathroom. My father, more nurturing in his approach but still lacking understanding, also believed it was voluntary. When I was five, a couple of years before my step-family came into the picture, he started paying me $5 for every night that I didn't wet the bed, inadvertently seeding my humiliation and confusion over whether I could fix myself if I really wanted to and why it it was that I subconsciously chose not to. Unlike 0.5-1% of adults out there and all people in the LGBT community, my developmental abnormality abruptly came to an end at age 13, confirming that assigning neurosis to my condition was absurd. Fortunately, kids are now blessed with the internet to educate themselves and even their families.

The message both me and Zachary learned is the same: do not trust people with your differences, exposing yourself will only result in further isolation and loneliness. This lesson is more acutely relevant for Zach, because he was also born with a more polarizing and permanent sexual difference that his father and society also believes are chosen behaviors, and he doesn't want to be outed again.

My biggest criticism with the film is that it seems confused and possibly ignorant about the main character's identity. When Zach is a young boy, he shows strong signs of "gender identity disorder," where he only wants a baby stroller for Christmas and he dresses up in his mother's clothes, puts on makeup, and acts like a mother to his infant brother. In the next timeline transition, immediately after his summer camp bedwetting trauma, this desire and behavior disappears entirely and never returns in the film, including when we see him alone. Instead, he becomes hardened and aggressive with a strong counterculture fashion sense and discovering an attraction to men. It's as if another writer took over and switched out Zach's brain, or at least the transgendered part.

Somewhere Between

Dedicated to her own adopted Chinese daughter, Linda Goldstein Knowlton has created a raw and intimate love-letter carrying the message that the journeys and identities of each adopted child are unique, and sharing their stories gives new perspectives of what may or may not be important in the examination of our selves. Haley, Jenna, Ann, and Fang are incredibly strong young women, and America is so fortunate to be in their graces.

Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders

Rather than going in depth, "Living in Emergency" is loaded with examples to demonstrate various ways it is difficult to treat people in poor countries as a doctor who is used to the clinical endowment afforded by wealthy economies. It's so demoralizing, most volunteer doctors don't ever do more than one trip. The movie is perhaps too spread out, following four doctors in four different hospitals and hardly adventuring out from their management of chronic frustrations at day-to-day limitations and defeats, but it succeeds in showing us both the emotional toll of being such a doctor and why some are still able do it anyway.

Last Call at the Oasis

This underwhelming documentary does not live up to its title or marketing. Visually, Jessica Yu did a great job keeping us engaged, but the film lacks coherent focus, substance beyond conjecture, and dare I say honesty in it's coverage.

The first 20 minutes creates an adequate, cohesive thread introducing two water depletion issues affecting the western United States (the desert city Las Vegas, and the Central Valley), but we don't get any data or evidence to be convinced these represent a sweeping issue around the globe. Rather than explain some infrared imagery of the earth like any 10 minute TEDTalk presentation would do, the professor behind the images is simply reduced to vacuous dramatic tension by saying some form of "we're screwed" every time he's cut into the narrative. It reminds me of when I would come home from school ten years ago; a local christian station had a daily program on that spent an hour connecting the current international news events to the book of Revelations with their point being that the rapture was coming soon and that President Bill Clinton was most likely the Anti-Christ who would unite the world as the leader of he U.N. Any fool can make an argument; I need compelling evidence to show me it's worth my time to consider.

From here, the film then abruptly shrinks itself down to a handful of 15 minute anecdotal vignettes, mostly on a few individuals in small American towns. These feel like desperate time fillers, superficial in their coverage (again, lacking data to either show us a problem or the cause) and too niche to be relevant to most Americans let alone the global community. Instead of water shortages, these mostly had to do with random accounts of pollution in small community water supplies, usually involving agriculture. I had to laugh at one point when it tried to make an algae bloom in lake Michigan sound like an unsafe toxin. Algae is just a benign, natural, single-celled aquatic vegetation that grows rapidly in warm and sunny water, as all photosynthetic organisms are prone to do.

In the last 20 minutes, the film picks back up where the first 20 minutes left off, a quick look at a couple of government water projects outside the US that affect the supply of others. Its message about the social effect was that when neighboring countries have water disputes, it actually ends up being the topic that brings them together amicably with a shared future vision.

Europa Report

We can feel the limitations in the budget by the shots that aren't shown, but the shots we are given are convincing. The story is a "B movie" thriller/horror by design, but it's produced very intelligently with its less than $10 million budget.

They Call It Myanmar: Lifting The Curtain

We are given a gentle, touching narrative of the Myanmar people, largely a Buddhist nation which had an authoritarian government and lacks severely in education and human rights. Many children who were asked said they only had 1 or 2 years of school. No one can afford it. Child labor and the trafficking of young girls is heavy. And as in other countries in the area, there are hundreds of cultures and many different languages. It is hard to bring a country together that has so many different ethnicities, cultures, and potentially values. We get an informative glimpse at the past 80 years of Myanmar's history, environmental challenges, living conditions, and citizen's perspectives. My main complaint with this documentary may be an unjust one, but it felt a bit limited in the same way that a person's vacation footage only narrowly covers the country they explored. But since cameras were forbidden during the time of this production, the limitation is understandable, and Director Lieberman does provide a nice interview with an admirable and hopeful voice of democracy - only this politician, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, had been under house arrest for 15 years at the time of the film's production. Since then, some promising governmental moves have taken place and she has been released and elected into parliament. Her party, National League for Democracy, won 43 of the 45 seats available during the 2012 by-elections, after being unbanned just the year before.

Whores' Glory

This movie strives and succeeds to do nothing more than give us complete, unrequited intimacy with female prostitutes of Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico, none of whom wanted their names on the film. It's remarkable how candid and comfortable everyone is with the camera present. There is no verbal narrative from Director Glawogger, only the women and their customers, but Glawogger complements their stories with a delicate soundtrack and camera angles full of information, sensation, and introspection. There are no judgements explicitly placed here, nor are there any motions of activism. The film invites the viewer to think for themselves about the whys and the hows of economics, society, culture, and the instinctual drive for both sex and survival. In one scene, a young, soft spoken Bangladeshi who looked as if she knew her life is already written on the wall, broke a silence, "We women are actually very unhappy creatures. It is very hard to survive as a woman . . . Why do women suffer this much? Isn't there another path for us?" She paused. "Is there a path at all? . . . Who can truly answer this question?" Who, indeed.


The setting is entirely in orbit around the earth. That alone is captivating poetry. I don't need much of a plot to keep me entertained. Just give me a real, interesting conversation with characters. Instead, we get an insular story pulled straight from the Lifetime channel, where astronauts are suicidal with depression and apparently faked their psychiatric evaluation. Trying to be realistic, "Gravity" falls terribly hard and fast. Just tell me, if a fellow astronaut is floating away in space, would you expect any believable astronaut to, as soon as they got into the space vessel, take off their outfit and put themselves in a fetal position and quietly meditate as a depiction of a fetus in the womb (yep, umbilical cord too), and only then finally make their way to the radio to try talking to their partner? If you wouldn't, then this movie might not be for you. Either way, this disaster space thriller is nowhere near the league of 1995's "Apollo 13", and that's disheartening.

Captain Phillips

It's promising that modern American films give respect to the international enemy depicted. Instead of a cartoonish band of thugs, we see a group of unskilled, impoverished men being pressured by a sizable militia into producing ransom money. Somalia has no permanent federal government. On average, male children get 3 years of schooling and females get even less. The national average literacy rate is under 40%, and the median age is just under 18 years old. The film doesn't excuse the actions of these young men, but we do walk away with a little more understanding behind the bad choices they made.

This realism and complexity is given to every aspect of the story. After watching, I almost felt prepared for the day I should ever find myself on a shipping crew or kidnapped on a life-boat, heading for a foreign coastline. the spectacle on screen of the American government's mighty response to rescue this one single civilian is literally awesome. David and Goliath have nothing compared to the match-up of 4 armed young men versus 3 Navy warships and a group of Navy Seals. As we waited along with Captain Phillips for the resolution to come, I started wondering how much this operation costs and why we go to such incredible lengths to prevent the harm of citizens by a foreigner, but we as a nation focus less on ensuring the well-being of each civilian here at home.

Enough Said
Enough Said(2013)

'Enough Said' focuses on the unsettling and exciting truth also observed in one of my favorite monologues during a funeral scene in Charlie Kaufman's 'Synechdoche, New York': "Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won't know for twenty years. And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it's what you create!"

That is precisely what Eva tries to do - piece together why her present perception of her ex-husband is so alien compared to her earlier desire to spend the rest of her life and make children with him. After at least a few years of being a single mom and with her daughter about to leave for college, she has started dating again, and she doesn't want to go through another crushing blindside. This film doesn't sugarcoat the resolution, and I greatly appreciate this. There is no guaranteed "happily ever after." Of all things, as our modern life has afforded men and women the choice of independence and individuality, a marriage is now mankind's most delicate creation. The lesson learned in this early relationship is that each person should be accepted and appreciated for their uniqueness - go with the flow, and enjoy the surprise and comedy of it all.


"Mud" continues Jeff Nichol's success of infusing his films with rich southern character and strong, captivating protagonists. There's an abundance of silence and observation from the characters on screen, and the writing is so strong that we could write a novel about who they are, where they are, where they've been, and what they are thinking. The women's stories were a bit neglected and too often filtered (and vilified) through the eyes of men. But this movie was more a man's thriller about women's affect on men than the other way around.


Elysium's greatest strength is its aesthetic vision of future earth and its space-bound Beverly Hills. The film spends a good amount of time establishing the inequality between the poor and the rich in this always relevant parable of people in wealthy nations turning their backs on the world's less fortunate, but it misses its opportunity to actually explore these themes on a substantive level. Instead, we get a series of silly and convenient circumstances that manufacture a narrow and equally silly plot of one hero who does what every generic hero does.

End of Watch
End of Watch(2012)

End of Watch doesn't do anything new, and what it does do has been done better. David Ayer supposedly spent only six days writing the script and it shows, merely creating the basic elements of a safe, cohesive, and marketable plot. Ayers, known for his shrill, marketable approach to filmmaking, chose the trendy documentary-style cinematography, which is supposed to increase the realism or believability of the "footage." Here, it consistently does the opposite and ends up a jumbled mess of first-person and third-person perspectives. Ayers needed a reason why our protagonist cop is carrying a camera, and conveniently has him enrolled in a film class. Are the gang bangers in film class, too? One of the them films themselves and the crew in the car as they heatedly argue -- with guns pointed at each other -- over plans to kill police officers. The other kicker is that the gang's leader yells to get the camera out of his face, while little does he know there are at least 3 more in the car that none of them are even aware of. Yes, Ayers betrays his own movie, as not only does the "amateur" footage look produced, but the majority of the movie is in 3rd person with cameras not present in the story. All that is really accomplished here is 10 minutes of the movie filled with characters complaining about being filmed. Readers would be better served watching any two episodes of The Wire, even if they've already been seen.

Stories We Tell

This great work demonstrates how poorly we know each other, even those closest to us, despite our confidence. It also grazes on how the change of those perceptions can also significantly alter our values and identity. Some scenes in the film lacked a clear purpose and slowed the pacing at times, but as Sarah Polley's dad narrates the film, he quietly drops gems of beautiful insight into the human experience that warrant a second viewing.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel(2013)

The outcome of Superman's first challenge leaves one wondering why in the world we would be grateful for his presence going forward. With the nonsensical plot, unnatural dialogue, and poor grasp on human nature, this movie only works as a satire on Hollywood blockbusters.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Balanced, methodical and meticulously polished in execution. It was all so systematic and precise that I was emotionally disconnected, save for a few laughs and one other feeling. After all the terror events carried out by a handful of men in the world, mostly in the US, I did feel dread when some similar scenes were carried out in the film. We all said the 9/11 footage was like out of a movie. This one upped the ante, and just for the spectacle. It didn't care. Presumably, this is entertainment.

5 Broken Cameras

Much of the footage strongly begs for historical and legal context that is never given, weakening the credibility of the film's narrative. But there is no denying the striking, unjust scenes of Israeli violence against unarmed protestors.

The Impossible

In one moment, without warning, over 230,000 people lost their lives to a tsunami in 2004. "The Impossible" viscerally communicates the water's awesome destructive force on the body and the following emotional chaos among survivors who drudge through the landscape wondering where the water dragged their loved ones or whether it consumed them eternally.


By the end, I was cringing for the man and his 14 followers who came to deeply trust him. In the beginning, these people were film props being used by a young and ignorant filmmaker to document (or perhaps poke fun of) American spiritual culture. He draws a not-so-subtle symbol of a man's genitals on their foreheads while telling them candidly it's "a penis," which is contextually so outlandish that they naturally assume he is saying "happiness" in his thick accent. Throughout the film, he continues to hide in plain sight, admitting upfront time and again that he is not a teacher. This strange honesty only endears him to his followers, and as the connection between the students and Vikram's alter ego grow, he grows concerned over the potential emotional devastation from his deceit. At the same time, it is through his deeply intimate experience with these students that Vikram finds a sincere and simple message of healing and growth that offers his conscience some salvation. The brilliance is that the students who truly internalized their teacher's message should not care on a spiritual level when they discover he's actually a filmmaker from New Jersey. They are given the truest possible test of their understanding. On a personal level however, he certainly is at their mercy. Hopefully they recognize in this film that he grew as a human being just as much as they did, and that he would obviously not wish to do that to someone ever again. Then again, releasing the film could be considered another act of betrayal.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

How did this happen? I can't believe I'm saying this, but if you want to have a nice, relaxing time, watch this gruesome horror movie.

Lars and the Real Girl

This concept could have bombed in many ways. How do you compellingly film a relationship involving a synthetic, inanimate being? "Cast Away" did it with a volleyball, but the script didn't have to arrange Tom Hanks' character introducing Wilson to his coworkers and loved ones. Absurdity and compassion mix in just the right portions here, gently showing examples on how to be a person. The story progression is tidy, but out of necessity, not laziness or shallowness. The characters have depth and intrigue and are all likeable. I wasn't at all ready to leave any of them.

Bottle Rocket

All of the signatures of a Wes Anderson production are present in his premier feature except a clear narrative vision. The movie's pacing felt too flat and aimless and the unconvincing romance subplot seemed more like a device trying to desperately give this story a reason to be told.

Blue Valentine

The film plays with our perceptions from the first minute onward. We quickly form an idea of the father, passed out in a chair mid-day, wearing filthy clothes, and as soon as he opens his mouth, we do a double take. As the two timelines unfold of love lost and love gained, our grasp on their relationship is continually loosened and tightened, mirroring our emotional flow with the married couple's shifting emotional states of adoration, confusion, disappointment, and exhaustion. The craftsmanship here - the direction, acting, editing, and soundtrack - precisely explores this story in earnest.

The Social Network

With over 618 million daily active users as of December 2012, it's odd to imagine Facebook didn't even exist less than 10 years ago. The Social Network paints an image of a dishonest but driven kid behind the site's development, centering him around some of the people he left behind. Aaron Sorkin takes liberties in writing pathological motives for Zuckerberg that were not explicitly discussed in any of his released deposition transcripts, but a surprising majority of the actions in the story are indeed true. Sorkin and David Fincher delicately weave legal proceedings and computer programming into a drama full of brilliant, young and human personalities involved in a creation that has already significantly altered the course of human history.

The Stoning of Soraya M.

This movie portrays a moment in1986 in an area of the world able to uphold the social graces of the Old Testament era. It is here that women can be bartered into marriage by their parents at the age of 13. They can be accused of adultery and be burdened with proving their innocence rather than burdening the accuser with proof of guilt. Lastly, women convicted of adultery can be stoned to death by their village and adulterous pedophile husbands in the name of righteousness. The film doesn't do any more than furiously outline this infuriating story. There is no attempt to understand the deep-seated cultural influences that prevent these values from evolving. A 2010 Pew research poll of Arab nations found that 84% of Egyptians favored the death penalty for anyone who leaves Islam, 82% believed adulterers should be stoned to death, and 77% favored cutting off the hands of robbers. Where is the movie that at least attempts to explore why?


It's hard to fault a time travel movie for being disjointed and confusing. The structure and dialogue reveals that is the intention early on - the characters hardly speak directly about anything. It seemed that they are co-conspirators in the director's intention to keep us one step behind the whole time, so they talk in unnecessary, cryptic, round-a-bout language. There is pleasure found when we do catch up to each little riddle, which is why the end disappoints. The storytelling rapidly accelerates into a confounding resolution that leaves us hopelessly in the dust.


How difficult is it to show the inhumanity in rape and brutal violence? This film is too interested in setting up sick ironies, like one scene soon after we see a woman being raped, where she coldly tells her ex a few hours before hand that he couldn't ever please her sexually because he wasn't selfish enough. Or towards the end (at the tragic day's beginning), when she defiantly lectures to her current lover that he didn't steal her from another man, because a woman always chooses in the end. In almost every shot with the victim, the focus is on her as a sexual object. If the intent for showing the story backwards was for us to see the humanity of a woman we see raped and brutalized, then the last half of the script did a lackluster job, spending its time weaving something more devious. In fact, following the life of any female character for 40 minutes before she is raped would have made such a violent assault even more difficult to watch, not easier. This is an amoral exploitation film dressed in smoke and mirrors.


The shocking, gut-wrenching first 60 seconds continues on through the end. What makes it bearable to watch is that all of the aggressors are just as horrified by their own actions. There is no redemption found here, just a coping self-awareness of the controllable contributing factors.

Sleepwalk With Me

This adorable, quarky film is very fitting for Birbiglia. Fans know of him as a successful comedian, but we have to watch his younger self struggle to find the standup routine we already have in our heads. Meanwhile, the current, successful self weaves his way through the movie, narrating this tale of yore with pieces of his stand-up in an abrupt, almost rushed way that ends up creating a jarring, uncanny valley-like effect where lines that are hilarious in their original form are suddenly not. However, the visual reenactments of the sleepwalk episodes described in his routine were absurd and funny, and the cameos (even some Mitch Hedberg material) were a nice, warming touch.


By the end, the messaging gets so heavy-handed that the movie loses some credibility with its intended audience. But if you're an American, you know there is truth to all of it, and this film provides an opportunity to put yourself in a Palestinian's shoes and feel a bit of their experience.

The Devil Came on Horseback

If you already felt the devastation in Darfur was too complex to easily change, this documentary won't help. We follow a former Marine who, by a damning stroke of fate, found himself with the duty to document each case of genocide. Captain Steidle, raised in a strong military family, came in as a former Marine who had seen his share of combat. He's the only American who witnessed, for 6 months, the merciless violence. It has broken him, and in one scene we see him grieving, overwhelmed by his powerlessness to stop, even just once, what he had seen. After we see him testify to us through the media and meet with our leaders, it seems by the film's end that everyone is powerless, and we all just have to watch it.


"Crude" does give us an interesting process story, but the case it presents against Chevron is consistently weak, based on hearsay when we need health statistics, environmental lab results, maps and contract agreements between Chevron and PetroEcuador (the national oil company of Ecuador). After their joint oil exploration, a mess has been left, but which party is responsible for which oil pit? The film has no interest in finding out, preferring to just observe the theater.

If you watch this, dig a bit into PetroEcuador's environmental record. One article I found suggests they haven't "paid a dime" in cleanup even though they were responsible for over 1000 spills in the 5 years leading up to the footage we see in the film. Chevron spent 40 million dollars cleaning up before they left in the 90s. Chevron likely wanted the case moved to Ecuador because in 1998, the Ecuadorian government declared Chevron's environmental remediation was completed according to the agreed terms and released them from any future liability in the country. However, google "Ecuador's Assault on Free Speech" and you'll get a NYTimes article covering President Correa's manipulation of his country's judicial system by having his own lawyer write the highest judge's ruling against a major newspaper outlet. With his personal attention and involvement at the end of the movie, can you then really trust any Ecuadorian ruling in this case against Chevron?

At the very least, there are two definite failures here that need to be resolved anywhere oil is handled poorly: government regulation and citizen oversight of the government's competence. The latter is only made possible by a free press, something Ecuador apparently doesn't have. Also, don't let your ducks and chickens drink out of an old construction tire if you want them to live.


This prudent thriller is another reminder that in the art of war, in order to deceive the enemy, the public is fooled as well. Argo does an excellent job of emotionally connecting us to the large cast, including the Iranians, while efficiently and dramatically laying out the logistics required to pull off this absurd stunt.

Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane(1941)

The craftsmanship alone is still worthy of anyone's full and critical attention, but the history that both preceded and followed this creation is equally worth exploring to better appreciate its place in American cinema.

As Good as It Gets

The plot is forced, but Nicholson as Melvin is so sharp and captivating. The film creates an original Ebeneezer Scrooge with a piercing wit aimed to tear down whoever he crosses. Perhaps he is maintaining social walls to ensure that his severe obsessive-compulsive disorder is well stroked, securing his meticulously-set routine from interruptions. They say a way to get over your bad habits is to find better habits that you enjoy even more... Well hello, Helen Hunt!


An introspective look of MI6, where Skyfall boldly plays with time and change in a way no bond film has. We don't ever see the transitions of Bond and company within a film. Here we see quite a few, alongside tweaks in the traditional plot structure - instead of gadgets, we actually get insight into the man.

White Christmas

Cute, charming and funny enough to give my annual "It's a Wonderful Life" routine a break this Christmas. I recommend finding a theater around the holidays to become immersed in the stage productions and further enjoy the richness of Bing Crosby's performances.

Life of Pi
Life of Pi(2012)

After a while, it's easy to take for granted that we are watching a young man coexisting with a tiger on a boat. The technical feat is amazing, but the meaning behind it comes and goes in a flash. The book, by its nature, allows the necessary time to digest and re-observe every scene with the new eyes we are given before moving on with the story's last moments.


How do you get a United States senator into a private hotel room with just yourself? How do you fool the Alabama National Guard into letting you train for a day on film? How do you convince 1500 Arkansas people to come see an "anti-homosexual" wrestler roll around with a brave heckler, only to then take it and the audience to a very intimate level? This is a kind of magic that has to be seen to be believed. I recommend googling each scene as you watch, because you will find local news articles that were left in his wake as Sacha Baron Cohen exposed and exploited the colorful absurdity of people he met in these united states.

Primary Colors

This movie did not age well. There's a scene early in the democratic primary race where everyone in a packed diner is glued to the small television set, watching and commenting on an interview - "Today Show" style - of our candidate and his wife. Either our political culture was very different back in 1992, or this is an example of the movie's unrealistic, self-absorbed sensationalism. Without any clear sense of direction, we watch the plot stumble into one manufactured problem after another. Instead of insight into modern politics, we get guns, drugs, heart attacks, old men sleeping with 17 year olds, and gay sex - all in one race to become the democratic nominee.


When trolls are in frame, it is a spectacle. This is partly due to this movie's poor execution in every other area lowering my expectations; mostly though it is because the special effects were very well done. As much as I want to root for the underdog with a small movie budget, special effects alone doesn't make a good movie. But I might fast forward to the last 10 minutes some time.

Moonrise Kingdom

Classic Wes Anderson-style humor and storytelling where absurd things never seem out of place. The fresh cast and child-focused story make this his most accessible film yet. My young cousins (12, 14 yrs old) loved it.

The Way
The Way(2011)

A father sets out to mourn and honor his dead son, attempting to make peace with their troubled relationship by walking in his footsteps. The writing doesn't go very far with the internal journey the father must take, which is disappointing. Instead, it fills the movie with contrived characters and scenarios - it's almost a Wizard of Oz story, where each traveler who joins him is missing an essence of themselves and they think they will be fixed by the end of the pilgrimage. But these tag-a-long characters were too fabricated to be emotionally engaging.

Temple Grandin

Fascinating, touching, and empowering.

Red State
Red State(2011)

A silly, fun satire on the Westboro Baptist Church. It's unfortunate that Kevin Smith's budget couldn't fund the ending he originally planned. The last 5 minutes are deflating and generic (though not without some value) compared to the rest of the movie.

Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown(1997)

The story, characters and dialogue aren't memorable compared to Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, or Reservoir Dogs, but this is smartly written and entertaining.

In A Better World

When, if ever, is violence the necessary choice of action? This movie explores the question on school grounds, a public park, and an African refugee camp. We have a young child who strictly believes in overwhelming retribution towards an offender as the only way to change their behavior. Then there is a father who is a surgical doctor and believes in non-violence. We follow both of them as they see their natures put to extreme tests. The child's story becomes quite ridiculous and unbelievable - really the whole last third of the movie relies on more and more unlikely developments to resolve the story, consequently marginalizing the question for the sake of drama. Still, the rest of the movie is an interesting opportunity to wrestle with our own nature and ask where our own line is drawn.

Into The Abyss

Herzog interviews some interesting people, always meditating on the spiritual and emotional toll we take when a human life is taken. The movie opens with the pastor who lays his hands on a person on death row through their last moment of life. Towards the end we listen to the man who, 8 hours before execution, meets the imprisoned and becomes their servant, trying to fulfill their last requests before he later straps them to the table to be killed and unstraps the remaining corpse. I should say that in the past tense - after he had to experience this routine with a woman prisoner, he could no longer stomach the job. The majority of the documentary follows the events of two kids (18 years old) who killed a mother and two kids. One is sentenced to death, the other to life in prison. The one given life gets a lot of of the film's focus, with lots of time spent with his father and wife, giving us an idea of why he is who he is. The person on death row gets very little background in comparison, nobody speaks on his behalf except for his partner in crime. The point may be that this very difference is what determined their contrasting fates in the justice system, but I would have liked to hear the thoughts of the young man's family. Two scenes are particularly powerful and creepy. One is the police crime scene video of the homicides. The second is the graveyard of people who have been executed by the people of Texas and were unclaimed afterwards. It's horrifyingly large and evokes comparisons of historical mass murders by foreign states that we Americans always frown upon.


It is the overall access with video footage that makes this an extraordinary documentary of a man against the "darker forces." We see Senna take a stand against the president of the racing organization and win, once with fellow racers on his side and another time with the public. He couldn't help but strive for what is best. Though I'm not a follower of the sport, this was more about the man than the talent, and he leaves a lasting impression.


For these four parents, this is hell. In a movie that lasts 80 minutes, we witness an 80-minute-long scene where politeness and courtesy clash with tribal loyalty and the pursuit of truth. One mother (Foster) believes in community and civility on paper, but in practice she is the one in the room that is furthest from these ideals and yet has deceived herself into thinking she is the shining example. Kate Winslet's character tries very hard to avoid conflict and suffers from a ceaseless need for approval. Her cold, hot-shot husband is a philosopher king like Socrates, asking broad questions that try to establish or at least mock others' perceptions. The husband of Foster's character is no match but lucks-out as the two men often agree and share similar appreciation in drink and cigars. Power is passed around these four like a game of hot potato until eventually everyone gets hurt and no one wants to play anymore. The contrast between their composure at the beginning and the end is comically fascinating and warranted a second viewing, and this is required if you want to catch what really happens between their kids in the opening and closing shots.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

With the help of a stellar cast, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel impressively manages to make all 10 main characters enchanting in their own way. This is just a cute and wholesome film that doesn't take itself as seriously as say, "Eat, Pray, Love," despite that there are many serious moments.

Shotgun Stories

A masterpiece of the rural southern U.S. and the nearly uncontrollable, circular nature of violence and prejudice.


The opening shot sets the mood perfectly. Through a static camera, we watch a Ferrari going around and around a track laid out in plain dirt. Around and around. We are becoming as bored as its driver. This movie lets us simmer in its focus, often allowing the camera to run in a scene many times longer than we expect from a modern film. And why not take its time? There is no intricate plot to develop here; we are observing a moment in time, a moment of a man's transition. Without these long shots, we would miss the story. Nothing is sensationalized, allowing us to take in and decide how these moments really feel to both us and the characters and to really see who these characters are. Superficially, this film does resonate with Sofia Copolla's "Lost in Translation," with many similar scenes and personalities. But this film goes deeper into a man's neglected soul and also his neglected daughter who quietly soldiers on with tender grace and love.

Your Highness

I don't know for who this movie was intended. It has a production style that harkens back to the 80s fantasy movies, a cast that people in their 20s and 30s would appreciate, and unclever dialogue aimed to please 14 year-old boys, or maybe that is an insult to 14 year-old boys.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

Though it feels a bit like a missed opportunity, stretched too thin to explore any of its subjects deeply, this Cinderella love story is about as sweet and loveable as Elmo himself as we watch his puppeteer's growth alongside the birth of Sesame Street and The Muppets. With the success of the latest Muppets movie, I wonder if the public is ready to see another Dark Crystal/Labyrinth fantasy-style film. But I guess this movie begs the question - who alive today has that kind of creative vision?

Take Shelter
Take Shelter(2011)

Brilliant, revealing a metaphorical and personal case of a good man and wife struggling with his blurry and paranoid perception of reality. What happens when we no longer have something to fear - when life is good? Since bodies in our sterile part of the world no longer have parasites to attack, they defend against harmless pollens. We Americans, with all the power and military might, are not comfortable unless we are dropping bombs on someone in the world, even if it's a figment of our imagination (see Iraqi WMDs and Hussein/Al Qaeda link). When Barack Obama became President-elect, guns and ammunition sales shot through the roof in America. Fear runs rampant alongside our imaginations, and we have a lot of leisure time. Without giving the ending shot away, I'll just say that the most notable point the movie makes about our fear is that it is contagious, passed down in some degree to everyone we share it with.

Everything Must Go

The writing doesn't go very far, but maybe that was intended. An alcoholic doesn't need a reason for being an alcoholic, nor are they cured from their intense attraction to alcohol. There's no rationalizing any aspect of it. Still, the writing did feel forced with an odd set of circumstances caked on with more and more convenient oddities needed to fill a movie.

Life, Above All

"Life, Above All" hit me harder emotionally than any movie I have ever seen. Shame withers the soul, born from an unawareness of why we are who we are. Here, we watch a young girl experience the devastating effects that shame has on all the people she cares about. Nothing good comes from shame. Empathy is the answer. Encouragement is the answer. Education is the answer. What our young heroin does here is the answer.

The Guard
The Guard(2011)

A richly Irish "Fargo" in spirit - the character roles, the dark humor and the quality of dialogue - The Guard was both cathartic and fun for the Irishman dwelling in me.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

More than "art appreciation," Cave of Forgotten Dreams aims to meditate on the possible birthplace of what makes you and I mentally unique in the animal kingdom. Herzog has a beautiful opportunity to show what 30,000 years looks like through the development of stalactites and stalagmites layered over ancient bones and footprints. He states at the very beginning that the drawings on this cave are twice as old as the next oldest known drawings. We would expect them to be primitive, but they are far, far from it. We see the emotions of the animals, we see their movements, their breath. We see a legendary myth still alive today. Our abilities to think abstractly, focus, and document our experience are all present here -- all necessary to create our sense of presence and spirituality.

Margin Call
Margin Call(2011)

A solid and very smart drama with honorable intentions of humanizing both the people inhabiting the bank headquarters and the people that they service. This movie is not as accessible as it should have been, especially as our collective memory of the 2008 situation fades away. The underlying context of a gas price crisis, high mortgage default rates, and a bursted housing price bubble are not mentioned. All we know is that the "formula" the banks used is wrong. People familiar enough with the crisis know what that formula was, why it was trusted and used, and why it was only widely realized to be wrong at that particular time, but if they don't already know, a viewer is forced to just shrug at the jargon.


This is like a live-action version of a Hayao Miyazaki film, full of both loveable, human characters and the playful exploration of relationships. In fact, Studio Ghibli's latest U.S. release, "The Secret World of Arrietty," shares in nearly all of the main themes. But that the fantasy in Hugo is beautifully tied into the non-fictional birth of cinema is what makes this movie an unforgettable work.


In the beginning the treasure hunt director grabs a camera and starts a disengenuous, dramatic narration of the Titanic that afterwards even he calls "bull s---." The problem with this movie is that its own writer/director keeps piling it on, romanticizing the tragedy -- and I don't mean the love story -- in a way that disfavors the real event and the real people who suffered. So much here is a blatant, highly polished caricature. On a technical level, the film is near astounding, save for some spotty cgi, but the continual display of unrecognizable human nature in a crisis (see Discovery Channel's documentary of the Concordia disaster. There are no kids sleeping soundly or murder suicides) made this seem like more of what the treasure hunter was shoveling. In the movie's defense, I saw this 3 times in theaters when I was 13 and may now just be numb to what the film does well.


Subtle, honest, distinct. Like a good western, our driver's quiet nature allows for surprise in each preceding scene. I don't want to elaborate for fear of ruining someone's adventure into this character. "Drive" is the kind of movie I imagine a zen-state Quentin Tarantino creating after a 10 year spiritual journey into the heart of man and nature.

Project Nim
Project Nim(2011)

Four million dogs and cats out of the eight million that enter America's shelters are euthanized each year. If a number alone doesn't stir your emotions, Project Nim will. Among many other things, this movie is a close-up, extreme case of our apathetic, conditional love towards other beings, be them human or otherwise. The movie doesn't accuse anybody, but with actual footage and narration by those involved in Nim's life, it implicitly argues that if we want to include animals in our home, we have a responsibility for their whole life, including understanding them on their terms and providing for their needs (and knowing this information BEFORE bringing them into our life). It reminds me of the conversation held at the beginning of the movie Artificial Intelligence: "It occurs to me isn't just a question of creating a robot that can love. Isn't the real conundrum, can you get a human to love them back?"

The Secret World of Arrietty

Heart-achingly tender and sweet. Thoughtful art direction includes clever and charming details that made me smile throughout. For example, hanging on the house walls of the 4-inch-tall family are framed stamps as decorative paintings - stamps that are tarnished with wavy post-mark ink, reinforcing the principled scavenging history of our Borrowers and inviting us to imagine their previous adventures.

Another Year
Another Year(2010)

The husband and wife we follow are the essence of Buddha; they live in the moment, aware of the hysterical nature of reality, the delicacy of the human condition, and the sublime beauty of a simple life - tea, a garden, family, and friends. Like a magnet, they draw in people throughout the year who are trying very hard to avoid living in the moment, and we watch them struggle, falling further with the help of various chemicals. This movie captures the genuine spontaneity and flow of life and shows what it looks like when good, albeit human people handle it with joy.


Can you find any other animated movies that would interweave its story into that of the drug-induced adventure film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"? In the movie's first few minutes, our reptilian friend runs into Hunter S. Thompson's characters on their way to Vegas. They part ways just as quickly, but not in spirit. Not at all. There is a trippy scene everyone remembers in "Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End" of a pirate ship in the desert being carried by crabs, one of which Captain Jack Sparrow initially licks while it was in the form of a rock. This is Rango from beginning to end (both are directed by Gore Verbinski), albeit more grounded.

The Artist
The Artist(2011)

Though a fun and unique modern film experience full of charm and high craftsmanship, The Artist does start to overstay it's welcome by the third act.


The first 30 minutes sets up a tall order, but the last half doesn't follow through. This movie is "Jungle to Jungle"/"Tarzan" meeting "Bourne", where our young heroin, isolated in the arctic forests, wants to experience the world that she has only read about, all while the CIA is trying to kill her. The catalyst for the CIA response is a switch her father tells her to flip to let the CIA know their location (and that they are indeed alive). I cannot understand any logic behind her father wanting this to happen or why Hanna didn't just say no and leave the forest on her own. She is clearly capable of handling herself - she demonstrates this a few hours after flipping the switch. The logic behind the premise gets even more hairy as Hanna uncovers the reason she is being hunted. Still, there are a lot of good action and non-action scenes with Hanna experiencing human relationships for the first time, and the unique soundtrack was an event itself.

Another Earth

This would have made a great short film. Implausible reality (I expected most of this), implausible characters, and implausible plot distract us from the core of the movie. Its saving grace is the few bits of meditation on our sense of self and the moments that shape our being. This second earth is a way for our main character to deal with her sense of guilt. If there exists a Rhoda2 who maybe didn't make the same fatal mistake, then Rhoda1 just happens to be the version of her who did. She drew the short straw.


Similar to how a roller coaster's initial high makes the fall more intense, the comedic approach here enhances the tragedy of cancer. It isn't trying to set us up; the comedy comes naturally to keep Adam out of despair. At the climax, when we are about to find out how it all ends, I was stricken with a grieving sob -- not for Adam, but for all of us who have been directly and indirectly touched by the terrible mess that is cancer. Then Dr. Arroway's line in the movie "Contact" came to me: "I was given ...a vision of the universe that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant, and how rare, and precious we all are!"

The Secret of Kells

A rare modern animation with a sense of soul, not directed by the appeal of focus groups. After the opening scene, a young member of my family was already uncomfortable. Our young protagonist has to face fears of the unknown and the film's directors mean to make us an active participant, daring us to keep going along with him. This fear is induced with inventive, minimalist animation and is fed to us in bits throughout the movie, breaking with beautiful, playful, and joyful art and music that left me in awe.

The Ides of March

I was expecting insight into modern politics along the level of Aaron Sorkin's political screenplays, but instead we get a solid but basal drama centered around the campaign's own mediocrity, both professionally and morally.

The Future
The Future(2011)

In one way we should envy the caveman. When he looked at all the possibilities of his life, there couldn't be many, and he may have been content with he and his family just surviving, day by day. Today, in deciding life's journey, that nearly identical caveman has to wrestle all the possibilities and abstractions of developed language, ideologies, and technology. Reason has defeated religious portrayals of a purpose beyond this life - we can easily panic over our limited time here. How do we spend this time? How do we know when we have seen the answer? When we stop asking the question.

Every scene in this film is making an observation - not a statement, just observations of feelings born from self awareness in the modern age. I've responded to only one here, kick-starting the open discussion this movie is begging to have with me. It will continue, and I suggest any philosopher to initiate their own with this wonderful movie.

The Red Violin (Le violon rouge)

This is a 2.5-hour episode of "Hoarders" where collectors of stuff turn into Gollum in the presence of this precious creation. I'm not judging - by the end of the movie, I too became Gollum. How many people alive today carry personal tales of the world's people, places and events of the past 300 years? How many other violins have been in a Ménage ŕ trois? How many items born into this world came at such a high cost to its creators? Where's my 2 million dollars? I'm ready to do some antiquing!

Chasing Amy
Chasing Amy(1997)

Chasing Amy delivers brave, genuine, comically-rich and insightful dialogue and a great performance by Joey Lauren Adams. The character she plays is Godly (yes, with a capital G), so acutely aware and unashamed of herself and receptive to life around her. This is Kevin Smith's most mature work that I've seen, maybe out to prove himself to his financial backers early in his career after going relatively bonkers with Mallrats. Whatever the reason, he proved he can deliver smart, intense drama along with the laughs.

Moulin Rouge!

This reminded me of Michel Gondry's playful visionary style (The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but with a much bigger budget. It is extravagantly silly, fun, and simple-minded, with occasionally-captivating singing performances.


Trying to be both a cut-throat political thriller and a character study of the independent Queen Elizabeth I, this film is forced to take shortcuts and lie in order to create an essence of a queen's journey to self-discovery and strength in just 2 hours. It's very accessible and mainstream as well as shallow and very misleading. Cate Blanchett's performance carries this movie.


A striking tragedy unfolds, reminding us to treat each person we meet, no matter our relation or lack-there-of, with invested love. It is a tall tale, but wonderfully produced, sending us throughout Lebanon during its civil war with a budget under 7 million dollars. The twin sister's reaction of horror at one point was more disturbing to me than any from a horror movie heroine, and for good reason.

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

"I'm sorry, James who!?" That was my thought one-third into the movie, prompting me to then compare this with the revamped Bond franchise. Bond's three-dimensional, flawed character and class gives him the win, but he has some healthy competition in Ghost Protocol. It took gadgets to a whole new level, and the exotic locations and action were precisely and coherently shot. This movie suffers from two things though: a long and bit tedious second and third act and, more importantly, four fairly shallow main characters: the 100% hero, the 100% goof, the 100% sexy and vulnerable woman, and the suspicious new member. There are quite a lot of other characters involved in this plot, but the writing did a great job of making them feel solid and fleshed out and believably ties them all into the story arc.


17 years ago I was around 10 years old, magic eyes were in every daily newspaper comics section, vhs tapes were all we knew, the Sega Genesis was the racy video game machine, and punk rock was beginning its heyday. There was barely an internet and there was no e-commerce, nor were there shopping centers like we have now; there were only malls. Malls with arcades, pet stores and comic book stores. Mallrats, from 1995, captures this moment in time. This is a very stupid movie, but Kevin Smith does to "stupid comedy" what Quintin Tarantino does to "violence" -- adds an entertaining, signature style and atmosphere (and off-plot dialogue of random observations). They are both confident in their unorthodox approaches, doing things no other filmmakers have the guts to try or sense to pull off (Did I really just do a magic eye image? ..Yes, and that was no sailboat!). This movie knows what it is, bad acting included, and it doesn't care if I don't like it - it was only made for those that would. If I had seen this as an adult 17 years ago, I likely would have thought it banal and given it 2 stars. But seeing it now, well I guess I'm one of the lucky ones!

Touching the Void

I had no idea of the places I was going to go. I'll spoil the first 15 minutes: they already reach the top. The "void?" That's touched on the way down. Halfway into the movie, I couldn't see how everyone is alive to tell the tale. The three men involved in this story masterfully narrate their perspectives, bravely offering us an intimate look into their (our) sometimes-unflattering human nature. It is clear from 18 years of telling this story that they know just what we want to know, and they know just how to tell it. They are still emotional -- it seems likely that they suffer from some level of post-traumatic stress. Kevin Macdonald did a perfect job recreating the events and putting us right into the chaos of their experience. I am in awe.

Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Astute, well researched, and tightly written, Dr. Strangelove raises a devastating question that has no answer and is wise enough to appreciate the silliness of our predicament. Just how does a person tell a foreign leader that one of our planes is going to accidentally drop a nuclear bomb on their people, anyway? We are told that the Air Force states it has safeguards against this scenario and not to worry. Okay, fine, but in 2007 a B-52 accidentally and unknowingly carried 6 nuclear warheads over America and parked without proper protection and safe guards until the warheads were discovered 36 hours later. They were mistaken for training missles. The security for these weapons is only as strong as the weakest link. That any man is entrusted with this much destructive potential (and that big of a phallus) can only be approached with comedy or else we'll go insane.


Though noble and ambitious in its efforts to make the ancient Mayan people relatable and ordinary, with senses of humor and similar domestic worries of health and family, we are stretched a bit thin with too many characters for a "chase movie." The level of disturbing violence is reminiscent of Mel's past writer/director projects. A part of me understand why he wants to show the awful brutality of men, but once again it seems he can't stop taking it too far and unintentionally making it look cartoony (yet, oddly, all of the children are ignored. Maybe even Mel has his limits?). The costume designs are captivating, but the camera work and editing is often somewhere between an episode of LOST and a reenactment production for a television documentary. Still, it was enjoyable to see a big budget film truly dedicated to the Mayan culture and this moment of history.

The Go-Getter

Manifesting the spirit of indie music (almost exclusively M. Ward, who appears on screen early on and also began his "She and Him" music collaboration with Zooey Deschanel after they met during filming), this movie wants to be sloppy and include an individual's smaller moments and dialogue because it's more real and intimate than exclusively polished, succinct scenes that methodically push a plot forward. The writer/director didn't really know his characters though, and so this movie felt so forced and fake that the individuals were unbelievable and unrecognizable as humans. 60 minutes in, I started wondering if this was just a vehicle for M. Ward songs.

Tron Legacy
Tron Legacy(2010)

The unique action scenes and neon world were enticing eye-candy. Most of the characters had at least a little depth to discover, and the social issues included were numerous, surprisingly including eugenics, genocide, and the western God's creation story. A message I rarely see is to embrace the flaws around us as part of the beauty, but this revelation is explained rather than felt. Unfortunately, the plot required some wave-of-the-hands explanations and contradictions to create a conflict and then cuts those hands off to resolve it. But the director lets us know 5 minutes into the movie, when a guard fixes a broken security camera by tapping on his monitor, that we shouldn't try to work out a logic behind this story.

The Adventures of Tintin

Spielberg is a haunting, unseen character in this movie. I felt his presence in every rich frame - his vision, his skill, his wit. This is the Indiana Jones sequel we have been waiting for, with the added playfulness of animation.

Page One: Inside the New York Times

Interesting behind-the-scenes moments over the past 12 months, scattered throughout the movie, help to demonstrate the included arguments from the New York Times (and other legacy news media) for its necessity to exist in this new age of blogs and twitter. It's effective, but the movie could have been more efficient... it meanders.

The Muppets
The Muppets(2011)

"The Muppets" is full of fun cameos and winks to the audience and had me smiling or laughing nearly the entire time. Unlike the last movie, "Muppets in Space," the themes were surprisingly adult, dealing with the existence/extinction of the muppets in today's society, two struggling romantic relationships, two identity crises, and a lot of conflict resolved with violence. This kind of clashed with the abnoxiously heartless villain, but the movie's so laid back that I don't give a damn.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika)

In his second film, Miyazaki more strongly makes his case to be environmentally aware than in any of his other movies. The human race is on the line, and the quaint childhood adventure movie I've grown accustomed to in his later works is replaced with a princess caught between two (well, three) warring armies with planes, tanks, guns, and swords, and rage. Lots of rage. The result is a very epic movie: instead of a heart-breaking, precious and innocent protagonist, we have an awe-inspiring warrior of peace and harmony, in control of her emotions and already much further down the line of understanding the world than anyone else. Luckily, Miyazaki did find a way to add playful moments of children as well as tender and physically broken characters.

The Incredible Hulk

Dumb, visceral and pleasing to the eye, this team knew better than to treat the comic-book-material as being capable of art-house depth. Case in point, instead of spending all movie trying to delve into the repressed memories from 4 years of age, this Bruce Banner simply goes the "eastern" route with meditation and breathing techniques, and a blood pressure monitor. This a more traditional comic-book movie - a lot more action, quicker pacing, more exotic and stimulating locations, a crushing romance, and an establishment of Hulk's necessary existence beyond the last scene and within the rest of the Marvel universe, leaving us two reasons to expect him again. That said, it doesn't go beyond visceral. There is no depth at all in exploring the psyche of Hulk, or anyone. The third team to create the Hulk origins movie should find a middle-ground, giving something we can walk away with besides yoga classes.


The original short film should have been left alone. A simple concept was stretched thin and added nothing that was worth the effort or your time.


It was a refreshing to see the first 45 minutes of a comic book movie establish characters with depth and ordinary struggles in their relationships and careers before putting The Hulk on screen. But it doesn't pay off. This is the ugliest and most tedious "origins" movie yet for a comic hero. The movie deflates in the remaining 90 humorless minutes into an inferior "King Kong" - an entrepreneur wants to exploit the beast, the military wants to kill him, and the beautiful girl who understands him and captures his heart knows how it ends. In fact, just watch Peter Jackson's King Kong again, unless you want a reason to appreciate that movie more.

Castle in the Sky

This is the first Miyazaki film I did not adore. I loved Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ponyo, but this movie is weak in many aspects. None of these characters are interesting, save for a mineral miner who has a 3 minute part, and neither are any of their motives. The level of imagination Miyazaki is known for isn't here. The orchestral music drowns out the dialogue and often doesn't set the scene well. The pace of the story is slow, and since there is very little story to tell, I was forcing myself to finish it out of respect for the filmmaker. Since this was made 25 years ago and was only his second Ghibli film, it makes sense that he wasn't yet a master storyteller.

About Schmidt

Schmidt is such a peculiar fellow, brilliantly played by Nicholson. His simplistic reserve and insulation have made him content in his routine of the past 42 years. This movie follows him as that routine is just absolutely shattered, nearly all at once, and we watch him struggle. Absurd characters, or caricatures really, abound to provide comic relief against the reality of Schmidt's situation -- maybe they are presented as Schmidt's impressions. I feel like this is only half the story. I really want to know what becomes of our "sad, sad, lonely man." But it ends in a touching way, so like Ndugu, I'll hope for the best.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

Conan said it best when speaking about his tour: this is raw Conan. He swears like a f-ing sailor and berates his s---ty staff all g-- damn day. Wink!


A very smart premise, well thought-out and executed on just a $5 million budget. The best sci-fi embraces first our fragile humanity without sacrificing science or reason. Moon made that list.

Forks Over Knives

Is the problem meat and dairy or is it processed foods and refined sugars? This movie says both and they need to be completely removed from our diet (its experts also say nuts and oils as well), but its focus is on meat and dairy. The main evidence for their case is a book written by one of the film's experts, called "The China Study." Disappointingly, it doesn't explore the supposed science or results of the study. Why not support this extreme position with peer-reviewed science articles -- or do they all contradict the film-maker's views? Also, to not seriously look at the effects of processed foods with at least equal depth is incomplete and dishonest. Anecdotally, the movie makes a good, albeit obvious case for the benefits in eating whole foods, but the honest man would have also followed someone who included meat and dairy in their whole food diet. I agree with the less-extreme, modern consensus: Eat unprocessed food and make meat and dairy a side rather than a main dish.


This movie was made for a specific audience that no longer exists. As a fictional story it doesn't really narrate an honest tale as much as set up moment after moment to preach about prejudice, homophobia and AIDS. These lessons are now obvious 20 years later, and the film's own stereotyping of a gay person is blazingly obvious (The gay man likes to have gay sex in a gay porn theater. The gay man is actually sensitive and wistfully cries during an opera. The gay man can't resist putting on a military uniform for Halloween). Unfortunately, this story was ripped off from a real victim who died only a few years earlier than this production, and the producers didn't ask for permission or give any ounce of credit to the man. They were sued by the victim's family for unacknowledged exploitation of his life. That leaves a bitter taste.


A good handful of poignant scenes and numerous others in-between centered around logistics -- just how does a western lawyer in the 1840s connect with African clients who's language he doesn't understand? I wish that Spielberg had followed the advice that John Quincy Adams gives in the movie and showed us more about Cinque's story before he was kidnapped.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Through brilliant use of the medium, we are given an acutely visceral impression of being inside the useless body of Jean-Dominic Bauby, all of us sharing in his extraordinary and limited experience, and learning of his poetry, imagination, and passion for all of life. We are also begged the question of how much we would sacrifice for someone we knew in his position.
P.S. This is not a French film. It's American (two Tom Waits songs!), but authentic to its non-fictional subject, a French man in a France.


This is an unintelligent vision of a sci-fi writer becoming a drug-addicted genius: It is disappointing in everything it attempts, and it finishes off with a huge cop-out.

The Descendants

Like "Sideways" and "About Schmidt," director Alexander Payne creates an unparalleled feeling of honest adventure through his locations, shots, and free-thinking characters. Its hard being a family, but this movie shows why its so worth it all.


The world that Inarritu creates is thick and mysterious. In the first 45 minutes I thought it was over-reaching, including the personal plights of street sellers and an underground asian labor business. We become the young child, trying to make sense of all the pieces. We feel everyone's circumstances, and we wonder how and why they got that way. And like with children, there is a boundary between us and the father that prevents our understanding of these complexities. What we do understand is that he cares, and he wants harmony. Its this broad thickening of a mysterious world that makes the last few scenes so powerful.

Beer Wars
Beer Wars(2009)

Too cheeky for its own good, this is still a fascinating look at the off-balanced beer industry by a former president of Mike's Hard Lemonade.


A sweet story about a difficult, guilt-stricken person finding himself grounded and motivated by both affectionate love and loneliness - a similar concept/feel to Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love." By the end, this movie does two things well at the same time: provide us with implicit clues as to why Roger is so insensitive, and secondly, it develops a solid hope that he may change just enough for the people he cares about.

Hubble 3D
Hubble 3D(2010)

I will never forget exploring the Orion nebula's star nursery in 3D, or traveling to the end of the Hubble's universe. Never before has 3D felt essential, but it is here. For a fleeting moment the Universe is no longer flattened by the spatial limits of pictures. DiCaprio does a wonderful job explaining the depth and majesty of our journey. I want more. A lot more.


This documentary reveals the power of firm tenderness and trust -- not just with horses, but with people too.

The Adjustment Bureau

I can accept the premise of angels with magical hats, magical books, magical doors and telekinetic powers, but I cannot accept these same angels being more dumb than me. For example, the whole plot is set off by a ridiculous scene where these angels have frozen time in a single office building while they manually adjust people's brains. David Norris walks into the building, unaffected by the time stall, and accidentally meets them. What, is David Norris the first person in the bureau's history to come in from the street and walk in on them?


Concise, sublime story telling with a terrific cast.

Anna and the King

The plot wasn't focused enough, trying to fit in too many themes and coming up short and shallow on every one. Wonderful cinematography though, with beautiful locations.

The Usual Suspects

Lacked chemistry among the full cast of bland, unlikeable characters. Exhaustively tedious progression - all for the final 5 minutes. This seed had to be watered a long time before it sprouted, and it felt like a chore. The more I saw of it, the more I didn't want it anyway. I'll just remember my other plant named Reservoir Dogs.


Smart and likely prophetic - a primer of what to expect when the next spanish flu-like virus comes. Some of the dialogue feels staged. Like when you're telling a person something, but you're raising your voice so the person in the other room, the person you are REALLY talking to, can hear. The public is the person in the other room, and I recommend they listen closely.

The Lion King

The 10-year-old in me will never forget how engrossing this movie was. The diverse and unique characters, the songs, the landscapes, the dialogue - it lives in me like Mufassa does in Simba. Was that too cheesy? Well, tough!

The 40 Year Old Virgin

Watching this again, I realized it's much like the Carell's latest movie, "Crazy, Stupid, Love." A man struggles with his manhood, gets tutored on how to be an ass hole and sleep with women who have no self respect, loses his self in the process, and in the end, everyone finds their humanity and happiness. There is a lot of sincerity, laughs, and personality in all the characters to make it still feel brand new and refreshing.

Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2(2010)

It ended with everyone still strangers to me. But hey, there is a lot of cool and sexy eye-candy! The action sequences were at least coherent, unlike a lot of movies, and left plenty of room for humor.

The Lion in Winter

Riveting. Dialogue of razor-sharp wit, layers of motives and intimate revalations, and captivating performances. Can't find a modern movie with dialogue this smart.

Source Code
Source Code(2011)

This tedious movie, like its scarecrow hero, is in need of a brain. The bland story and characters are phoned in around a concept so limiting as a plot device that it is shamelessly violated throughout. This is just an overly-complicated time-travel movie.

The Lincoln Lawyer

Our lawyer is really smart and interesting, but the plot only unfolds by the stupidity of our antagonist. Ludicrous, but intense entertainment.


The challenge is daunting for both the director and our protagonist, both stuck in a coffin. The writing trades off plausibility for 90 minutes of story believable only as someone's nightmare, where everyone is unreasonable, items appear as they are needed for a narrative, and Conroy's "situation" just keeps getting worse and more rediculous. When the credits hit, I suspect our guy woke up.

The Blues Brothers

This movie shoots for the moon, more committed in its humor than any other comedy. Terrible acting normally contradicts this feeling of quality, but here it makes the script's surreal, off-the-wall sense of humor even better.

13 Assassins
13 Assassins(2011)

A fascinating look at a value system far removed from the west, centered around absolute servitude. Ill twists of fate can find a Samurai defending, not stopping, evil. This villain, so apethetic and empty, still makes me queasy.

I Love You Phillip Morris

I love you Jim Carrey. If his character could have made this movie, there wouldn't be a difference. Its flamboyant, care-free direction took the kind of balls that Steven Jay Russell must have had to do all these things he did.

Marie Antoinette

If you don't know the heavy life of 14 years young Marie Antoinette, you will probably not be able to appreciate this impressionistic movie of her life as she might have perceived it. I recommend first netflixing PBS's outstanding documentary to get the best experience you can.

The Help
The Help(2011)

This is only a casual tale of a disturbing piece of history that is still reverberating today. Maybe this casualness will convince more people to see it and think about today's racial issues in a different, more understanding light. If it isn't easy to watch and the lead role isn't white, few people do.

The American
The American(2010)

"Don't make any friends, Jack. You used to know that." Unlike the western movie being watched in the Italian cafe, everyone's trying to shoot someone from behind. Except our American, Jack. Those days are over for him. He's just trying to survive, both metaphysically and emotionally. Unfortunately he's at the bottom of the food chain, and he knows it. The opening few minutes make that very clear. Quiet, titillating suspense to the very end.

The Color Purple

Smart, poignant, honest, subtle, and thoroughly moving. The story reminds me of The Shawshank Redemption, only we are following a southern black woman in the first 4 decades of the 20th century and her prison consists of sexually, physically, and verbally abusive men, complete isolation from the only person who cared about her, and greatest of all, her heart-breaking view of her self. But there is redemption, and it will run deep into your soul. Great cast. Oprah and Whoopi really do transcend themselves, proving they can act with the best of them.

The Thin Red Line

This is a war movie that doesn't care about "the game" or which side is left standing. Its focus is on "the light" in each man who witnesses the violence. Through their spoken inner thoughts, we see the devastating spiritual toll on the "children" following orders and the ways they live with it.

Into the Wild

We see the truths that Christopher discovered and documented -- the truths he may have hoped we would see. We see more than he does though; Sean Penn shows the hearts that Christopher breaks as he leaves people behind, so unattached to them, even unattached to his own common sense, during this journey for truth and raw nature. A very touching, reflective, sad film. Kids, don't be Christopher.

Winter's Bone

David and Goliath, only David is a high school girl trying to take care of her mom and siblings and find her father, and Goliath is a large Americana family -- something very much like a backwoods mafia -- who's being prodded with a stick. Simple, but exotic and heavy, and its easy to admire and sympathize with the incredible Ree Dolly.

In the Shadow of the Moon

A spiritual journey about the audacity of man, the will power of man, the brilliance of man, the smallness of man. Dozens of anecdotes from the handful of aging men still alive today who landed on that terrestrial body 250,000 miles away. Hundreds of images to give a glimpse of what they experienced and its gravity on our humanity.

The Tree of Life

Similar to the beginning of Adaptation, this film puts the moment of the human race into perspective -- the delicacy and miracle of our being that reflects 13 billion years of previous moments and beings. With this acutely in mind, we watch an infant become a young man, exploring the personal relationship he has with the world, the constant inner struggle of contradicting wills and the birthplace of those wills, and ultimately coming to peace with it all. There's not a driving plot here, but instead a vast collection of significant moments and images, often impressionistic to express the new and wondering mind of a young child. Visual poetry unlike any movie I've seen. Makes me want to go listen to "Do you realize" by The Flaming Lips

Harry Brown
Harry Brown(2010)

Really strong performances. The end falls flat despite the last scene which doesn't really seem realistic anyway.

The Boondock Saints

This movie reminded me of Tarantino's, where it knows its a movie and every scene knows its a scene and wants to put on a good show for us. But really, Troy Duffy alienates people (women and minorities) in a way Tarantino never has in the movies I've seen. Willem Dafoe and his character is really the only enjoyable part of this movie, and that goes stale in the second act (with the rest of the movie) and then to crap in the third.


We are all in the middle of a poker game and its obvious that everyone is bluffing, but I couldn't have told you what the winning hand was going to be. This movie was filled with coincidences too over-the-top that just happened to develop the plot precisely as needed, but I give an extra star for the set and costume designs.

The Exterminating Angel (El Ángel Exterminador)

This movie criticizes the strangeness of etiquette with a hyperbolic tale of social rules gone wrong. No one can convince themselves to leave, apparently because no one else has left. Its not as though these rules of propriety have turned us into sheep, its that we were sheep to begin with, and these individuals with their nuanced rules are self-blinded of the suffering society around them. As time passes, or is made entirely meaningless, civility is eroded and these people are revealed to be the horny, hungry, irritable and fearful animals found in the rest of the animal kingdom and social classes. It took someone with a bit of free spirit who very early in the movie, before the whole trapped issue, lashes out by breaking a window for no explicit reason. She locks herself in a closet. People are murmuring to each other how she's still a virgin. They try so hard to turn everyone else into sheep just like them. They are fortunate that they failed.

The Fountain
The Fountain(2006)

Spanning 1000 years and filled with linking metaphors between the three storylines, this movie is surreal enough that any explanation of the literal story can be refuted. ultimately though it's asking if it is a tragedy, or a story of timeless redemption. Is heaven on earth? This movie raises a lot of fun questions about who we are, who/what we are from, and of who/what we will become a part.


Surprisingly unconventional, I was reminded of Tarantino's Kill Bill in the abrupt change in visual styles. I look forward to watching it again with knowing eyes. That last scene! Also noteworthy, this movie was the debut of the dizzying "dolly zoom."

True Grit
True Grit(2010)

Great characters and atmosphere.. okay story. Its been 6+ months since I've seen this, so I'll leave it at that.

The First Grader

The main (true) story here is not that a Kenyan octogenarian goes back to first grade, but the horrible hell he and his countrymen went through fighting off the British colonialist in the 1950s. This should be rated R because that hell is presented in a horrifying way. To those that say violence in movies make you numb: I love Kill Bill, I've seen it probably 7 times, and this movie disturbed me to a point where I wanted to walk out. But I'm glad I didn't.


Wonderfully imaginative art style. There is so much detail, detail that is worth noticing, that even multiple viewings will not capture it all. Every character is full of unique personality. The same can be said of the soundtrack. Everything about this movie seems antithetical to the safe and bland "mass appeal" approach of most animated movies today. It feels unique and genuine all the way down to its stitching.

Kung Fu Panda 2

There is some really creative action animation in the first 20 minutes, but it doesn't last. There were some touching scenes with Po's backstory. The movie tried to do too much with too many characters, making it hard to connect with it. I enjoyed the first one much more.

Midnight in Paris

A fun surprise! The marketing did a great job keeping the plot a secret and I don't want to ruin it.. see this movie if you love the humanities or want to be in Paris for an evening.

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver(1976)

Scorsese, De Niro and Schrader give us the world just as a mental gunman would plausibly see it. More creepy and disturbing than most horror movies. This poor guy.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3(2010)

The most sentimental, adult-themed Pixar movie yet. Normally not a good idea for a "children's movie," but It feels right for everyone -- the characters, the storytellers and the audience that have followed along since 1995 -- since we are all saying goodbye to the characters that launched the studio and consumed our imagination.


A pyramid scheme of contrived solutions and characters piled on top of each other to develop a plot. We're the losers at the bottom.

8 Mile
8 Mile(2002)

Doesn't go deep enough into why any of the characters do what they do. Doesn't give any new insight into Detroit. Just watch and shrug, enjoy the wit in the raps (with subtitles on).