The Terminal (2004)

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An Eastern European tourist unexpectedly finds himself stranded in JFK airport, and must take up temporary residence there. (IMDb)
Product placement and kinda cringe-y “foreign person in America” schtick aside, this could’ve been a good film if it cut a half hour of its runtime and just stuck with the “happy-go-lucky guy living in an airport” narrative. Alas, as it is we get on top of it not one but two baffling romances (one ending in a wedding after literally no relationship, one weirdly melodramatic: “Just stay away from me, Viktor”) and an out-of-nowhere climactic plot point that’s only introduced with 20 minutes left.
6/10 (Mediocre)

You’ve Got Mail (1998)

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Two business rivals who despise each other in real life unwittingly fall in love over the Internet. (IMDb)
The dated email motif fortunately stays in the background, so the first two acts end up being quite engaging, with the leads exuding charm and chemistry in a dramatic irony plot that’s fleshed out really nicely in the clever cinematography, thoughtful voiceovers, and online vs. offline character development. The third act adds emotion (“Do you ever feel you’ve become the worst version of yourself?”) but also discomfort with the halved irony and weird end to the big box vs. small shop sub-plot.
7/10 (Good)

 

Toy Story 4 (2019)

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When a new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy. (IMDb)
It’s not unnecessary, with its expanded universe, deeper themes, and bevy of fun new (or just newly developed–badass Han Solo-esque Bo is great) characters, but it does feel a little detached from its three predecessors with no strong central plot thread or thematic thrust and the usual gang sadly neglected (which makes the emotional climax a little underwhelming). Slightly unmet expectations aside, it’s still very fun (the action set pieces are great), very funny, and very well-animated.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Inferno (2016)

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When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot. (IMDb)
Pretty damn grim at some points, both to its detriment (Langdon’s hellish and nausea-inducing opening nightmare sequence was a poor choice to have at the beginning of the film) and to its benefit (the unflinching camera during the plot’s moments of violence helped highlight the high stakes–see the two falls to death). The rest of it is a mixed bag as well: the clue-hopping remains fun but cheesy, the third-act character twists feel arbitrary but keep you engaged until the suspenseful climax.
6.5/10 (Alright)

 

Angels & Demons (2009)

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Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon works with a nuclear physicist to solve a murder and prevent a terrorist act against the Vatican during one of the significant events within the church. (IMDb)
I thought this film was going to be terrible after it began with yet another enormous pile of pretentious exposition (this time about anti-matter and the Illuminati of all things) but it actually turns into a pretty decent crime thriller after the eye-rolling set-up finishes. Gruesome violence, a quick pace, and interesting underlying political intrigue in the Vatican make the stakes feel high and keep you interested in spite of relatively unengaging characters. Not sure about that twist though.
6.5/10 (Alright)

 

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

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The story of Frank Abagnale Jr., before his 19th birthday, successfully forged millions of dollars’ worth of checks while posing as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and legal prosecutor as a seasoned and dedicated FBI agent pursues him. (IMDb)
Yes, it’s a supremely fun (and perfectly directed) cat-and-mouse crime caper (Frank’s slick cons–see especially his original confrontation with Carl–are complimented by his less-than-perfect attempts–“The dog was dead”–and Hanks’ charmingly no-nonsense FBI agent–“Go fuck yourself”), but two excellent character dynamics wonderfully acted (see lonely Jr. trying to please the stubbornly proud Sr.; Carl with a soft spot for Frank–see after his arrest: “Don’t worry, Frank!” ) make it so much more.
9/10 (Amazing)

 

The Polar Express (2004)

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On Christmas Eve, a young boy embarks on a magical adventure to the North Pole on the Polar Express, while learning about friendship, bravery, and the spirit of Christmas. (IMDb)
The compelling atmosphere on the train–a mix of thrilling action (see the ice ride), mystery (see the hobo by the fire on top of the car), fun (see the hot chocolate song and dance), and magic (see Hanks’ mysterious conductor)–makes it by far the best part of the film, as the latter half at the North Pole shrinks all the surrealism into a basic “belief in Santa” message-though that little kid sure is precious. The animation, meanwhile, is inconsistent (the faces often look a little funny).
6.5/10 (Alright)

 

JWM SPOOKATHON 2017: The ‘Burbs (1989)

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An overstressed suburbanite and his fellow neighbors are convinced that the new family on the block are part of a murderous Satanic cult. (IMDb)
The hilarious excitability (see the garbage digging) of the three leads is infectious (rifle-toting, camo-wearing Rumsfield is a riot; obnoxious and manic Art is a quote machine: “Satan is good, Satan is our pal…”), helped along by the campy horror soundtrack, overly dramatic camera movement, and classic unfolding mystery of the creepy next door neighbours in the dilapidated old mansion (what are they burying in the backyard at night in the pouring rain?). Spooky, goofy fun.
7/10 (Good)
CREEPY QUOTE: “A thermostat on a home furnace; is that supposed to go to 5,000 degrees, you think?” – Art Wiengartner 
SPOOKY STILL: burbs-2

 

Toy Story 2 (1999)

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When Woody is stolen by a toy collector, Buzz and his friends vow to rescue him, but Woody finds the idea of immortality in a museum tempting. (IMDb)
The big city setting makes for one fun adventure after another (the toy store is a highlight), leading from a cleverly edited dual-narrative to a fantastic climax airport climax. The small-toy-in-big-world ingenuity, combined with the excellent banter (the voice-work is top notch once again) and even nods to classic films (“I am your father!”) makes every scene a delight. A touching mid-movie montage on the reality of toy-life and brilliant end-credits “bloopers” elevate this to yet another level.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Toy Story 3 (2010)

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The toys are mistakenly delivered to a day-care center instead of the attic right before Andy leaves for college, and it’s up to Woody to convince the other toys that they weren’t abandoned and to return home. (IMDb)

Seems to tread on some familiar ground with the Andy-obsessed Woody instigating another “get back home” adventure plot, but its central journey (this time a fantastically elaborate prison break) is more enjoyable and creative than ever and thoughtful new themes of toy aging and retirement are introduced. The daycare setting feels a little unrealistic (the toys rarely seem to think about human contact) but it does bring some great new characters (see flaky Ken) to the usual hilarious mix.

8/10 (Great)