Nightmare Alley (2021)

The full-circle final scene of this moody morality tale doesn’t fully repair the separation between the first act and the rest, and there are other script stumbles too (see the Carlisle-carny tension that goes nowhere), but every piece compels in spite of the whole; the cinematography and design is showstopping, the cast’s got panache a-plenty, and the violence and deception is shut-eye(s) thrilling (“When a man believes his own lies… people get hurt… And when the lies end, there it is”).
7

Kajillionaire (2020)

 

A woman’s life is turned upside down when her criminal parents invite an outsider to join them on a major heist they’re planning. (IMDb)
The unique and tense settings and plot points of the film (the skimming, the leaky office home, the past-due rent, and the urgency inherent in them all) provide an easily and immediately compelling base for the poignant, equally quirky, and well-acted character/family drama that emerges (see the moving parenting classes, dark bathroom journey, gift returns). The new relationship is sweet (see Melanie to the rescue) but its romance is a bit discomforting due to the maturity/power imbalance.
8/10 (Great)

Jack Reacher (2012)

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A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims. (IMDb)
The cockiness of the titular character is often roll-your-eyes annoying (especially knowing this is a “Tom Cruise Production”) but it is occasionally charming in a cheesy sort of way (“Don’t need it”), and there’s a certain fun in knowing for certain your hero will get the job done–it’s just a matter of how, and to that point, the action and investigation scenes are all well done and make up a solid story with just the right amount of humour (mostly Duvall) and political intrigue added in.
7/10 (Good)

 

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

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Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin, where they get more than they bargained for, discovering the truth behind the cabin in the woods. (IMDb)
Solid scares in the cabin, but it was the other setting that really brought the horror. That scene with the dock events in the background of the party at headquarters will stick with me for a while; it was truly disturbing on its own movie level and more so when considering its clever and biting meta angle. Fittingly, with that shot of the bloody mess in the elevator lobby also still lingering in my brain, this was my last horror movie of the Halloween season, and maybe for a while after that.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

The Shape of Water (2017)

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At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity. (IMDb)
Any shallowness or slight weirdness of the central romance is swept away by the film’s superbly engaging storybook feel. Tasteful bits of narration (the ending poem is lovely) bookend a satisfyingly spun (and lovingly scored and shot) fairy tale of charming outsiders (Elisa’s the perfect “strong and silent” protagonist-see her “FU” to Strickland) and menacing monsters (the prejudice of the 50s setting adds an effective dramatic element). Whimsical humour and poignant recurring motifs top it off.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

 

Step Brothers (2008)

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Two aimless middle-aged losers still living at home are forced against their will to become roommates when their parents marry. (IMDb)
Way over-the-top? Yes. But the adult-child antics of Ferrell and Reilly are never anything less than laugh-out-loud hilarious (and the final act in which they suppress then re-capture their spunk for life brings it down to earth in moving fashion), whether they’re having meltdowns at the dinner table or naively starting international corporations. A great supporting cast of characters (sympathetic mom, short-fused dad, douche-y and successful brother) rounds out the story and the humour nicely.
8/10 (Great)

The Company You Keep (2012)

A former Weather Underground activist goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity. (IMDb)
A stacked cast does not disappoint here; LaBeouf is particularly electric as the savvy journalist uncovering for us a fascinating web of former radicals still on the lamb. The past-present element is compelling and produces a refreshingly old and textured cast of characters, while the cat-and-mouse game is exciting without resorting to cheap action. The underlying themes of truth and justice aren’t given quite enough oomph but the movie remains an engaging thriller that looks great to boot.
8/10 (Great)

Me, Myself & Irene (2000)

A nice-guy cop with dissociative identity disorder must protect a woman on the run from a corrupt ex-boyfriend and his associates. (IMDb)
The film starts off shaky; pointless narration overlays contrived risque humour that’s more discomforting than funny and you’re left waiting for the story to begin. Eventually it finds its groove as a decent road trip/crime comedy, with Carrey’s excellent turn as the two-person Charlie (one scene in which his two personalities are fighting is particularly brilliant), whose gangsta genius sons also provide lots of laughs. It’s the unique characters that spice up a mediocre plot in this film.
6.5/10 (Alright)

Burn After Reading (2008)

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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.
7/10 (Good)