Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Two Jedi escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to claim their old glory. (IMDb)
The core here is solid: one part engaging political power-games plot, one part planet-hopping adventure (loved the journey underwater: “There’s always a bigger fish”) with some moments of intrigue on the side (see the princess twist, Jedi council debate on the kid, the mysterious menace). Its often distasteful decoration (sorry Jar-Jar, you’re just a bit much; annoying Anakin isn’t helped by the script: “I’ll try spinning, that’s a good trick!”) weakens it but overall it’s still enjoyable.
6.5/10 (Alright)

 

Widows (2018)

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Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms. (IMDb)
Great cast, cool flourishes (see the car-convo tracking shot), but never gets into a good groove (maybe for a few minutes during its heist prep montage). There’s a grief-themed character study, a women-empowerment thread, a shady politics sub-plot, and a heist movie all thrown in there-all with potential, but focusing on just two of the four would’ve made for a more impactful film. As it is, it feels disjointed (the attempt at a plot-tying twist only raises more questions) and is hard to get into.
6.5/10 (Alright)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

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An anthology film comprised of six stories, each dealing with a different aspect of life in the Old West. (IMDb)
The discomforting and racist villainous portrayal of “Indians” should’ve been thrown away but the rest of the classic Western potpourri here provide lots of cozy charm (love those songs sprinkled throughout) and frigid chills amidst what is a uniquely curated collection of stories (some delightfully bizarre like the titular tale with its compelling narration and amazing climactic duet; others a bit more plodding and unremarkable) about death and judgment and the diehard American dream.
7/10 (Good)

The Commuter (2018)

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An Insurance Salesman/Ex-Cop is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home. (IMDb)
The bulk of this is a generic (*cough*Non-Stop*cough*), lazily-written (how do these villains know everything, and what’s their motivation?) thriller (more on-screen Farmiga would’ve helped-she was an enigmatic delight in her early scene), but the production value is notably above average (the opening credits sequence was a brilliant bit of editing showing the “same but different” angle of the daily commute; the cinematography is also quite slick throughout-see the swirling guitar fight).
6.5/10 (Alright)

 

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)

Non-Stop (2014)

An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account. (IMDb)
The generic airport atmosphere opening sequence here serves as the perfect lead-in to this thrilling and claustrophobic ride where there’s an anonymous hijacker on board and everyone feels like a suspect. The suspense is top-notch here, with plenty of twists and chilling plot turns that keep you guessing as to who the bad guy is. The ending unfortunately doesn’t live up to the hype–it’s messy and uninspired–but Non-Stop still remains a solid and well-acted action-thriller.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Batman Begins (2005)

After training with his mentor, Batman begins his war on crime to free the crime-ridden Gotham City from corruption that the Scarecrow and the League of Shadows have cast upon it. (IMDb)
There is the exciting action and fun one-liners common to most superhero movies here, but it is the gritty human feel of the movie that gives it a depth uncommon amongst its genre peers. Intriguing dialogue about justice and morality is weaved throughout an excellent story that does well at balancing a good guy vs. bad guy plot with the fascinating tale of Batman’s “beginning”. The acting and music are also top notch and complete a great film that makes you so excited for the next one.
8.5/10 (Amazing)