Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

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The Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the moon, and race against the Decepticons to reach it and to learn its secrets. (IMDb)
A few new faces, a lot of the same old shit (cars, explosions, a model to take by the hand everywhere, a plot that’s cheesy and/or confusing and exposited by boring dialogue) with some new things to groan at (enough pop songs and product placement already) but some saving graces too (Sam’s restlessness, the Dylan twist, the hopeless feeling before the final battle–the latter of which finally paired the impressive CGI with some coherent and cool action sequences; see the glass building collapse).
6/10 (Mediocre)

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

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A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line. (IMDb)

Despite Gambon’s excellent bits of narration and Brolin’s classic-Coen-crazy central day-in-the-life plot thread, Hail, Caesar! still feels more like a series of skits than anything else-some of them bland (DeeAnna’s dilemma is forgettable), many hilarious (see Hobie on the set of Merrily We Dance; McDormand’s outrageous cameo) and entertaining (see Tatum’s song and dance number among the numerous 50s Hollywood tributes), but all of them feeling rather inconsequential by the film’s abrupt end.

6.6/10

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out to find them. (IMDb)

The beautiful forested island scenery dotted with hip 60s aesthetic (hello, portable turntable) paired with Anderson’s impeccable visual flair and love for detail is a match made in movie heaven. Sam and Suzy, meanwhile, lead an elope plot that is as captivating (the flood side-story adds a great sense of impending doom to the forbidden love; Desplat’s mournful score is wonderful) and tragic (the leads’ parent issues add great depth) as it is cute (see the book-reading; culminating beach shot).

8.7/10

Almost Famous (2000)

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A high-school boy is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies it on their concert tour. (IMDb)

In light of the quick and witty opening (Deschanel and McDormand have great mom-daughter chemistry) and satisfying end (“There’s still hope for you”) the middle feels a bit messy and tonally inconsistent (the airplane scene was hilarious but could have been a great serious moment), but probably appropriately so, given the film’s coming-of-age plot and wild rock ‘n roll tour setting. Themes of love, integrity, and fame pop in and out of the busy script–interesting, but not always fully impacting.

7.6/10

Fargo (1996)

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Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson. (IMDb)

The bleak snowy setting is perfect for this tightly spun tale of cold-blooded murder (see the red on white in the chilling wood-chipper scene). The three well-acted main players each add their own engaging element to the mix: The anxious Jerry a compelling character deterioration; the volatile Carl and his silent thug both odd-couple comedy and brutal violence; the down-to-earth cop Marge both slick smarts and small-town sweetness (“There’s more to life than a little money, you know”).

8.3/10

North Country (2005)

A fictionalized account of the first major successful sexual harassment case in the United States — Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, where a woman who endured a range of abuse while working as a miner filed and won the landmark 1984 lawsuit. (IMDb)

Theron melts into her character here, displaying with ease both Josie’s brokenness and courage. Her experiences of abuse and her lonely fight for her rights are tough to watch but are thoughtfully shown, as picturesque scenes of the equally isolated Minnesota countryside and its bleak mines punctuate her story along with clips of her eventual court case. The supporting cast here is impeccable and solidifies this moving film that comes to a satisfyingly redemptive and tear-jerking conclusion.

7.7/10

Burn After Reading (2008)

A disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it. (IMDb)

Pitt is a definite highlight here; his manic, dim, gum-chewing gym employee is a riot, the best of an already eclectic cast of characters. The espionage plot is outrageous and not entirely cohesive or coherent, but a comedic gem of a final scene with Simmons makes it clear that this was intentional. It still feels like a cop-out though, and what could have been a great film considering its proven directors and loaded cast is just a good one–funny and entertaining, but not altogether brilliant.

7.2/10