Things Heard & Seen (2021)

In its dialogue, editing, and overall presentation it’s a bit clunky and contrived; the writing and acting isn’t great and while some of the camerawork is cool, the saturated colours make it look cheap overall. The unraveling story can’t help but compel, however, with its eclectic imagery and philosophizing, spooky past-future parallels (adding nuance to the ghost motif), and riveting central relationship and character arcs filled with lust, lies, and murder that bring it all to a haunting end.
5

Mank (2020)

1930s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane. (Letterboxd)
Don’t know what everyone’s babbling about half the time but it’s able to coast on its sharp editing and performances in the dia(not mono)logue scenes (see the excellent back and forth at the b-day party). Mank’s journey through the shifty politics of movie studios in the 30s is much more interesting than the process of his screen-written response to it later though (especially when the connections aren’t always clear), so the film would’ve done better to just make the flashbacks the whole movie.
6.5/10 (Alright)

First Reformed (2017)

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A priest of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past. (IMDb)
A devastating near-masterpiece. There were two questionable moments–that trip through nature, and the final exchange (both a happy and a sad ending could’ve been powerful, but this was just cliche)–but they’re outweighed by the loaded theological pondering, the hopeless expose of environmental destruction and religious evils (see the contrast of the celebration plans with everything else), and the resulting descent into despair and anger that envelops the viewer. Wonderfully acted and shot.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Mean Girls (2004)

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Cady Heron is a hit with The Plastics, the A-list girl clique at her new school, until she makes the mistake of falling for Aaron Samuels, the ex-boyfriend of alpha Plastic Regina George. (IMDb)
The plot is conventional and a little unsatisfying and unrealistic near the end (see Cady taking all the blame, then making everything okay with one speech) but a lively script populated by plenty of memorable one-liners (“Is butter a carb?”), quirky side characters (see weary Mr. Duvall, gangsta math geek Kevin), and funny unconventional asides (see the teens like animals bits) entertains, and the epilogue is touching (“All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you”).
7/10 (Good)

 

Love the Coopers (2015)

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The intertwined stories of four generations of Coopers unfold right before the annual family reunion on Christmas Eve. (IMDb)
A cliche multiple-narrative dysfunctional family script is made nearly unbearable by the omniscient narration (by the family dog, somehow, and for some reason) spoon-feeding you what the acting and visuals should just be showing you (though some things are still left unclear-like Ruby and Bucky’s relationship). Some interesting editing choices (see the quick flashbacks) and asides (see the great Santa montage) get points for trying to do something different, even if they come off as contrived.
5.5/10 (Poor)

 

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

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As a cowardly farmer begins to fall for the mysterious new woman in town, he must put his new-found courage to the test when her husband, a notorious gun-slinger, announces his arrival. (IMDb)

The hat full of shit and sex jokes fail to impress (the recurring chaste prostitute gag aside), but the abundance of casual f-bombs and the million ways to die-schtick together make for a fun parody of the typically brooding Western genre that looks great to boot. Unfortunately, the too-long story (a point for being unexpectedly so, I suppose) and its lead (MacFarlane is more like a comedian on set than an actual character) never really feel like anything more than empty vehicles for the humour.

6.5/10 (Alright)