Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together. (IMDb)
Exquisite in its script, performances, and craft: the feels are real and raw and wrenching, and there’s a lot of them (love, hate, heartbreak, awkwardness, tension, release); the leads, meanwhile, bring them all home, and the camera knows to just stay focused on them and not cut. In its monologues, songs, long takes, and dramatic emotion it almost has the feel of a theatrical play (with the troupe and their babbling commentary serving as the chorus), and it works perfectly with the material.
The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga. (IMDb)
The plotting and exposition are a little sloppy at times (the climax with Palpatine is a tad puzzling) and the bevy of twists and fake-outs are a bit much, but overall this is a fun and technically-excellent starry sci-fi war/adventure movie carried by a refreshingly diverse cast of characters (men, women, humans, non-humans, old, young, past, new) and sprinkled with great bits of deeper character work (see the cool Rey-Kylo dynamic, along with their individual arc-defining moments) and humour.
7.5/10 (Really Good)
Two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina. (IMDb)
Strangely slow-paced for a heist flick, and maybe a little meandering, but as it sinks in you realize that’s part of its unique, down-to-earth charm. The pace provides time to invest in the cast of quirky, blue-collar characters (steady Clyde and hard-luck, hard-working Jimmy have a great dynamic) and the heist is still lots of fun (the jail stand-off was a highlight). It may not have the flash and pop of a Rihanna hit, but it’s got the staying power and folksy warmth of a John Denver classic.
7.5/10 (Really Good)
Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white surrogate, who eventually becomes head of the local branch. (IMDb)
Jarringly constructed but–often as a result–always compelling: Great soundtrack and creative cinematography in tow, both director and protagonist “infiltrate hate,” at times with deathly seriousness and scathing condemnation and at others simply laughing in its face. True to its rollercoaster form, the devastating coda makes it clear that the undercover mission’s far from over (and possibly casts doubt on its effectiveness) but the gorgeous early dance scene provides a vision of a happy ending.
Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares for battle with the First Order. (IMDb)
It was the cons I was thinking about when I left the theatre–the jumble of rollercoaster plot threads and tones, the bloated run-time, the sometimes cheesy dialogue (“Every word in that sentence was wrong”)–but it’s the pros that have been popping up for me ever since: The fantastic female representation, the fascinating relationship between pro- and an-tagonist, and the bold (often fourth-wall) subversions of tradition and expectations (see Yoda’s lightning, Poe’s humbling, Rose’s save).
Three decades after the Empire’s defeat, a new threat arises in the militant First Order. Stormtrooper defector Finn and the scavenger Rey are caught up in the Resistance’s search for the missing Luke Skywalker. (IMDb)
Self-sufficient Rey (“I know how to run without you holding my hand!”), nervous and naive Finn (“Stay calm” “I am calm” “I’m talking to myself”), and moody Kylo Ren (“I’m being torn apart”) make up a fresh and engaging trio of central characters (Poe was excellent too, just needed more screen time) that carry the film in spite of the weak plot and sometimes wooden returning characters. Great action, good pace, and surprisingly funny (“How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to do that”).
7.5/10 (Really Good)
A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. (IMDb)
Lovely tunes and pleasant soft cinematography are just bonus additions to what is a superbly nuanced (and acted) character study: Llewyn is talented but pretentious, caring but bitter, witty but mean. He’s hard-luck but hard to like; half the time life hits him hard, half the time he seems to bring it on himself. Fleshed out by a perfect secondary cast of various characters, the film nonchalantly but intentionally presents a neutral take on the settling down vs. pursuing your dreams dichotomy.
Wallace, who is burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life. (IMDb)
A charming cast with good chemistry, a script chock full of random witty banter (Driver’s crude best friend is a highlight), and the dulcet tones of Patrick Watson aren’t enough to completely distract from the utterly predictable romance plot (a “just kidding” airport scene near the end got my hopes up but it was not to be), but they at least make it a pleasant journey, and credit is deserved for how long they postponed the inevitable, though it seemed to make the ending that much more meh.