The 39 Steps (1935)

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A man in London tries to help a counterespionage agent. But when the agent is killed and the man stands accused, he must go on the run to both save himself and also stop a spy ring which is trying to steal top secret information. (IMDb)
It’s bookended by a slow beginning (Miss Smith is annoyingly cryptic) and an abrupt, too-easy ending (Hannay figures things out super quickly) but in between them is fun fugitive plot that constantly dishes out unexpected twists: Just when you think he’s getting away he gets caught; just when you think he’s done for he finds a new way out. Dashes of comedy (see the hilarious impromptu political speech scene; Hannay and Pamela’s handcuff experience) mix well with the film’s solid suspense.
7/10 (Good)

 

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Broken Flowers (2005)

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As the extremely withdrawn Don Johnston is dumped by his latest woman, he receives an anonymous letter from a former lover informing him that he has a son who may be looking for him. A freelance sleuth neighbor moves Don to embark on a cross-country search for his old flames in search of answers. (IMDb)
On one level, a thoughtful camera with an eye for capturing the beauty in every detail of the mundane mixed with the script’s scattered quirkiness makes accompanying Murray’s melancholy Don on his cyclical journey across America and back to visit various ex-lovers a uniquely cozy experience. On the other hand, the story’s refusal to dig deep, wrap up, or at least piece together even slightly any of the otherwise interesting parallels and “clues” from each visit make it frustrating in the end.
7/10 (Good)

 

Anomalisa (2015)

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A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary. (IMDb)
Breathtaking in its combination of down-to-earth detail (see the lovingly crafted stop-motion animation, authentic dialogue) and a calm, patient pace (see the long cab ride, trip up the elevator, walk to the ice machine), which, in a marvelously ironic way, celebrate with refreshing realism (see the sex scene) the inevitability of and the beauty that can be found in the mundane while following a lead who only wants to get away from it (the repeated voice symbolized the antagonist(s) perfectly).
9.5/10 (Breathtaking)

 

Cop Land (1997)

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The sheriff of a suburban New Jersey community populated by New York City police officers slowly discovers the town is a front for mob connections and corruption. (IMDb)
Well-acted, and that includes action-star Stallone in a softer, more subtle role than I’ve ever seen him in. A simple crime plot is still engaging, and allows the characters to shine (De Niro’s IA agent still feels mostly inconsequential, but Liotta’s complex and volatile Figgis is a perfect complement to the more straight-forward duo of Freddy and Ray), but ultimately feels undercooked, with the issues underlying the initial point of conflict left untouched and the conclusion a little too neat.
7/10 (Good)

 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

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Two con men try to settle their rivalry by betting on who can swindle a young American heiress out of $50,000 first. (IMDb)
Takes too long to set up its juicily comedic premise (a boring training montage headlines a needlessly in-depth relationship history) but it’s pure hilarity and delicious dramatic irony as soon as Freddy rolls in on that wheelchair, hamming it up. Lawrence’s first counter-move is probably the funniest (see the leg-whipping scene) but I would be remiss not to mention the delightful ending that subverts the scoundrels’ sexism with not one but two punches–the first being shame, the second mercy.
7/10 (Good)

 

The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

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Wallace Ritchie is mistaken for a spy and must stop a plot to assassinate international leaders at a banquet. (IMDb)
The humour is mostly just from that one note of dramatic irony, but Murray’s consistent charm as the oblivious wannabe actor Wallace (“Please don’t call me by my real name, it destroys the reality I’m trying to create”) and a wide variety of escalating situations in which he unknowingly and hilariously vanquishes his enemies (maybe it was just the goofy hat, but I was in tears during the entire banquet scene) keep it fresh and funny all the way til the end. A simple but effective comedy.
7/10 (Good)

 

The Founder (2016)

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The story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers’ innovative fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into the biggest restaurant business in the world with a combination of ambition, persistence and ruthlessness. (IMDb)
The familiar rising business biopic is given a bit of an interesting twist with the compelling Kroc vs. McDonalds dynamic that pits the former’s growing greed and business savvy against the conservative and sympathetic simplicity of the latter, but it still feels a little conventional and skimmed-over. All told though, it’s a solidly acted story that expertly fleshes out its main characters with well-crafted scenes (see Ray’s bookending monologues; the brothers telling their story at dinner).
7.5/10 (Really Good)