That Thing You Do! (1996)

It has low stakes and little weight, yet that thing it does where it applies the typical biopic rise and fall narrative to a fictional one-hit wonder band, some of whom don’t even get names, never mind character depth (we love you, TB), is uniquely engaging in its paradigmatic plot. It’s easy watching and funny in a very fun way (mostly thanks to goofball Lenny), and even has a sudden and poetic dramatic moment that somehow fits (“Shame on me for kissing you with my eyes closed so tight”).
6

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Its central conceit (“From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present”) and thesis (“by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future”) resonate, but marring the former’s clever edits and easter eggs are some discomforting cross-racial transformations and one can’t help but wonder if the thrust of the latter would’ve been stronger with a chronological narrative. As it is, some stories sit better than others (Ewing’s white saviour arc underwhelms; Cavendish’s caper is a hoot).
5

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

The beautiful opening shot starts things off well, and the way the movie tenderly teases the inevitable coupling right up until the sweet final scene and line (“It’s nice to meet you”) is to be lauded too, but a lot of the stuff IB (in between) is WTF (what the fuck), like Acronym Jessica, Annoying Jonah, Allergic-thus-Unattractive-Walter, and that one painful scene that’s just a 5 minute long movie recap followed by a woman’s husband and brother making fun of her for having emotions?? Wut?
4

The Terminal (2004)

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.
4

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)