Dead Man Walking (1995)

dead-man-walking

A nun, while comforting a convicted killer on death row, empathizes with both the killer and his victim’s families. (IMDb)
Raw and powerful performances from Penn and Sarandon here present an unlikely relationship between a determined nun and a death row convict that grows to develop heart-wrenching emotional intimacy (see Matthew’s confession and Helen’s outstretched arm in the intense climax). Flashbacks to the crime and scenes with the victims’ and prisoner’s families are added throughout to create a thoughtful and well-rounded (but still moving) study of death, violence, and justice that avoids easy answers.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

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)

Tammy (2014)

After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother. (IMDb)
McCarthy is the only highlight here; her trademark blend of self-deprecating slapstick and decidedly “unfeminine” and unaware mannerisms produces lots of laughs throughout. Elsewhere, Sarandon is awfully awkward and forms a terribly miscast three generations of women with Janney and McCarthy. The rest of the oddly stacked cast flounders amidst the film’s weak attempt at being a romantic dramedy, with its contrived storylines and insubstantial characters. Some good comedy here but not much else.
5.5/10 (Poor)

Stepmom (1998)

A terminally ill mother has to settle on the new woman in her former husband’s life who will be their stepmother. (IMDb)
The script here naturally picks up steam as it goes along, with its refreshingly realistic storyline that discards the typical rising conflict to happy ending type of thread for an up and down one that resolves conflicts only to bring new ones in after. Roberts and Sarandon are both excellent in their roles, and the kids are enjoyable as well in this heartfelt divorce/step-parent drama that manages to avoid getting sappy or melodramatic, thanks to its authentic storytelling.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)

Dispatched from his basement room on an errand for his widowed mother, slacker Jeff might discover his destiny (finally) when he spends the day with his unhappily married brother as he tracks his possibly adulterous wife. (IMDb)
The doc-style camera work here is a bit annoying but it doesn’t take away from the heartfelt performances and intriguing one-day storyline. Segel’s philosophical optimist, Helms’ neurotic husband, and Sarandon’s lonely single mother all feel wonderfully real, as do their own personal journeys that converge in a beautiful and moving ending. It’s an understated film that packs a powerful emotional punch, thanks to its endearingly simple script and focused character development.
8/10 (Great)

The Lovely Bones (2009)

A mixed-bag of a film: The plot leading up Suzy’s murder is full of wonderfully uncomfortable edge-of-your-seat suspense, and the emotion and drama that follow her death in dealing with the loss and looking for the killer is just as captivating, and is captured by excellent camerawork and great performances all around. The mystical afterlife scenes, however, feel fluffy and boring in comparison with the gritty suspense of the scenes on earth. Overall, a good movie that could have been great.
7/10 (Good)