Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

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A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged towards a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding. (IMDb)
Delightfully bizarre-within-the-mundane (our lead has seven sisters and sells novelty plungers in a big storage locker) and artfully and purposefully constructed (the loud and constant soundtrack, sudden sounds, tracking shots, zooms all envelope us in Barry’s anxiety; the colour flares are a cool touch too). It’s a well-acted character study of a man just trying to cope in this overwhelming world, and the solace and redemption he finds strike all the right chords after so much dissonance.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

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Katniss and a team of rebels from District 13 prepare for the final battle that will decide the future of Panem. (IMDb)
A perfect continuation of the devastating commentary on war from Part 1: uneasy scenes of sinister battle plans and shady propaganda politics intertwine with suspenseful ones of terrifying, exhausting, fruitless warfare (see Katniss’ response to her brief captor) to lead to a fitting anti-climax; there is no joy in victory, only lingering suspicion and pain and further violence simmering beneath the surface (slightly cheesy final scene aside). A satisfying conclusion to a dark dystopian tale.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

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Katniss Everdeen is in District 13 after she shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta and a nation moved by her courage. (IMDb)
Grim, ghastly, great. Could’ve capitalized on the momentum of the simple and effective good rebels vs. bad Capitol set-up of the first two flicks, but instead chose to sit in the darkness underground for a while and meditate on media manipulation and the horrors of war that exist even when you’re fighting evil: a remarkable pre-climax storytelling maneuver that sits better the more you stew on it. Well-shot, scored (Lawrence’s “The Hanging Tree” is truly haunting), and acted, as always.
8/10 (Great)

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

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IMF Agent Ethan Hunt comes into conflict with a dangerous and sadistic arms dealer who threatens his life and his fiancee in response. (IMDb)
The action is excellent, with countless expertly directed sequences throughout (see the opening cliffhanger, bridge assault, Vatican City heist featuring a cool look into mask-making). The character work is great too, even if Hunt’s emotional thread doesn’t break any new dramatic ground: PSH’s villain is truly menacing (see his chilling plane threat) and the secondary cast is likeable as always (the final silent greeting scene was a lovely touch). The red herring-mole twist confounded, though.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Moneyball (2011)

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Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players. (IMDb)
It’s got the surface stuff for dramatic greatness–an intriguing premise, a solid cast, entertaining dialogue (see Billy’s flurry of calls at the trade deadline), and slick editing that smoothly incorporates lots of flashbacks and archival footage–but the story holds it back in a couple ways: Billy’s personal life often feels like an unnecessary inclusion, and the intellectualism of the sports narrative seems to get replaced in the third act with a more typical underdog/pep-talk type feel.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Magnolia (1999)

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An epic mosaic of interrelated characters in search of love, forgiveness, and meaning in the San Fernando Valley. (IMDb)
The book-ending narration is unnecessary. The frogs are a bit out-there. But the bulk of this 3-hour epic truly is a masterpiece of dramatic storytelling, as multiple poignant narratives–superbly acted–are brilliantly woven together in both stark and subtle ways, in the script and on the screen (see the swirling montages of tracking shots and an ever-building soundtrack found throughout; the character voice-overs lengthened into other scenes; the unique and moving cross-character sing-along).
9.5/10 (Breathtaking)

Twister (1996)

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Bill and Jo Harding, advanced storm chasers on the brink of divorce, must join together to create an advanced weather alert system by putting themselves in the cross-hairs of extremely violent tornadoes. (IMDb)
The tornado chasing is exciting enough–the sudden get up and go (Hoffman’s wacky Dustin is fun), the dance with danger, the destruction (flying cows!)–but it gets a little tiresome by its fourth time around, and the rival chaser is a terrible cliche (see his all black convoy). Bill’s new fiancé vs. old life + ex-wife sub-plot, meanwhile, is so predictable that you find yourself rooting for the new girl to defy the script’s trajectory and overcome the ex-couple’s witty banter and shared passion.
6/10 (Mediocre)

The Big Lebowski (1998)

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“The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it. (IMDb)
A fun madcap crime plot with hilarious mishaps galore (see Walter’s car smash, the Germans’ failed extortion in the parking lot) is decorated by hilarious characters and memorable dialogue, most notably the three main buds (the bowling motif is nerdy excellence, BTW): The ultra-relaxed Dude (“That’s just like, your opinion, man”), the short-tempered Walter (“This is what happens, Larry!”), and the absent-minded Donny (“That’s your name, Dude!”). The dream sequence felt unnecessary though.
8/10 (Great)

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.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

A drama based on a Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets have some unforeseen and long-reaching effects. (IMDb)
If it wasn’t for Hoffman’s delightfully abrasive Gust there wouldn’t be much to really latch onto in this scattered political drama/comedy: The offbeat bureaucratic humour is good and works fine with the jumpy direction and quick run-time, but when more serious war themes are inserted into the mix the film starts to feel a little messy and rushed–with the abrupt switch from the provoking “Zen master” final thought to the cliche and sappy string-laced conclusion being the worst example of this.
6.5/10 (Alright)