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  • Hugo

    Hugo

    ★★★★★

    A glorious all-ages delight about cinematic storytelling and the magicians behind those stories, Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" finds the director shelving his expected trademarks in exchange for warmth, heart, and a look at the things built to make life worth enjoying. Even without De Niro, DiCaprio, or the violence, the master weaves a meaningful and stirring filmic tapestry that stands with his best work.

    Adapting Brian Selznick's novel, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," Scorsese's film finds Asa Butterfield's orphaned Hugo eking…

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  • The Shack

    The Shack

    ★★½

    This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    A drama that finds its protagonist at a crossroads of faith, "The Shack" will repel an audience averse to heavy-handed storytelling and invite those willing to look beyond its surface-level proselytizing. With trite plot beats but compelling theology, the film finds a man questioning the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent God to God's face after a family tragedy. As allegory, the narrative works neatly; but the film has no intention of following that device's subtle path. The production and performances are apt, and the work can be soundly moving. The film simply fights its most searing strengths with its refusal to be graceful.

  • The Mountain Between Us

    The Mountain Between Us

    ★★★½

    Hany Abu-Assad's "The Mountain Between Us" skirts the line between adventure and melodrama as its characters fight for their lives after a plane crash leaves them stranded in the mountains. The story is more potent when its eye is on its survival beats, though the drama between protagonists thickens the proceedings. Abu-Assad captures lovely and dangerous vistas, and his leads, Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, are just as watchable as the mountain landscapes. It is engrossing, sometimes riveting work.

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  • Inception

    Inception

    ★★★★★

    "Inception," at its most basic, is two things. It is a heist film dressed in science fiction conventions; and it is a study of a man trying to free himself from a near-suffocating past. "Inception," at its more complex, is a cerebral pop-masterpiece. It is an enthralling combination of thought-provoking, layered story-telling and sumptuous aesthetics enhanced by near-flawless editing, sound design, effects, and musical score. Driven by a pitch-perfect cast and the confident directorial hand of Christopher Nolan, "Inception" is a brilliant and unrivaled piece of filmmaking.

  • Whiplash

    Whiplash

    ★★★★★

    "Whiplash," Damien Chazelle's 107-minute-long ode to mentors, musicians, and motivation, is a taut and mesmerizing piece of filmmaking. A quick-moving and engrossing drama that explores the roles of teacher and learner, parent and child, Chazelle builds a film that brims with energy and emotion, bursts with authentic character beats, and soars with a percussive and narrative brilliance.
    With its powerful performances, crackling direction, and riveting story, "Whiplash" is a truly great piece of work.

    Chazelle's story is built around Miles…