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

Spider-Man (2002)

Maguire’s lead turn adds consistent melodramatic cheese right from his opening voiceover (“Who am I? You sure you want to know? The story of my life is not for the faint of heart”) to his last one (“This is my gift, my curse”) but it feels authentic to the awkward, angsty, coming-of-age teen experience and works well with the other campy comic-book elements (Dafoe and Simmons leap off the page with their performances). Fun action and quirky humour (“up, up, and away web!”) top things off.
6

The Aviator (2004)

All the right ingredients for a compelling biopic: Great turns (Leo’s a good lead but Kate, I mean Cate, is a standout support), a complex character to study, and an epic plot that flies high (the dual ambitions in film and aviation make for a riveting back-and-forth script) but also digs deep (“Howard, we’re not like everyone else. Too many acute angles”). Interesting editing adds some spice while a soaring climax and a great final line wrap things up nicely (“the way of the future…”).
7

JWM SPOOKATHON 2019: The Lighthouse (2019)

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The hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s. (IMDb)
Superhero movies are a treat to watch in the theatre to be sure, but this movie was a true feast (no need to call upon Triton, Eggers, I loved your cooking). Every shot is a marvel, matched by the exquisite sound design and fantastic dialogue as together they capture all the madness, mystery, dark humour, and weathered nature of the two memorable leads and the wild setting they occupy. The cyclical story starts to feel a little soggy 2/3s of the way in, but the searing climax makes up for it.
8.5/10 (Amazing)
CREEPY QUOTE:
Ephraim Winslow: What made your last keeper leave?
Thomas Wake: He believed that there was some enchantment in the light. Went mad, he did.

SPOOKY STILL:the20lighthouse

 

At Eternity’s Gate (2018)

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A look at the life of painter Vincent van Gogh during the time he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France. (IMDb)
The constant melodramatic mono/dialogue either comes off as pretentious (“Maybe God made me a painter for people who aren’t born yet”) or just aimless and tiring (see Vincent and the priest)–and same goes for the fidgety and cold aesthetic (trying to mirror the character I suppose but it was still hard to like). Neither are able to make up for the lack of a plot, and I think in the end they both just distract from what could’ve been (it occasionally was) an engaging and unique character study.
6/10 (Mediocre)

 

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

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An urbane fox cannot resist returning to his farm raiding ways and then must help his community survive the farmers’ retaliation. (IMDb)
Every scene is a delectably detailed diorama, brought to life by endlessly creative animation, perfect voice acting, and marvelous music (a fun soundtrack plus tear-jerking classical crescendos-see Rat’s redemption), while a tight script (the wolf encounter is a real cherry on top) showcases remarkable characterization (see the angsty Ash), thoughtful drama (see Mr. and Mrs. Fox’s standoff), and a fascinating anthropomorphic vs. wild animal thematic thread alongside its heaps of quirky humour.
9.5/10 (Breathtaking)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. (IMDb)
The visuals are so remarkably entrancing and vibrantly varied here (hotels, prisons, mansions, and mountaintops) that you find yourself as excited to see what the next scene looks like as much as what happens in it–and that’s not to say the writing is sub-par: Within a cute 4-tiered narrative, a wild and wacky plot of murder, money, and escape takes place with plenty of quirky characters (Fiennes is fantastic) and well-placed bits of goofiness and expletives that break up the dazzling dialogue.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

 

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

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With a plan to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his partner, oceanographer Steve Zissou rallies a crew that includes his estranged wife, a journalist, and a man who may or may not be his son. (IMDb)
Visually, a delight (clashing underwater animation aside), with its meticulously crafted sets, distinct costumes, and cheeky screenplay (lots of incidental eating) captured by beautifully-framed shots. This marvelous aesthetic is complimented nicely by a mellow soundtrack (Jorge is great) and excellent deadpan humour. The dry script delivery doesn’t work as well with the drama–it mostly fails to engage, despite great turns from Murray and Blanchett–but a moving climax helps to entrench it a bit.
7.5/10 (Really Good)