• Raya and the Last Dragon

    Raya and the Last Dragon

    ★★★½

    This movie is the Disney formula applied on top of an East Asian version of Dungeons & Dragons. Awkwafina’s Sisu is the anachronistic hyperactive riffing comedy relief in the vein of Aladdin’s Genie and Mulan’s Mushu and she is pretty funny. Kelly Marie Tran and Gemma Chan also do strong voice work as Raya and her rival Namaari, respectively. The movie seems aimed a bit more at younger children than recent Disney and so is a bit exposition-heavy for clarity. It’s…

  • Tout Va Bien

    Tout Va Bien

    ★★★½

    Godard “sarcastically” casts Yves Montand and Jane Fonda as stars to draw an audience for this socio-political diatribe of a film about workers who usurp a sausage factory. It doesn’t work as conventional entertainment nor is it at all intended to, but as a formal work of art and artifice and a historical artifact, it’s pretty astounding. For this period of his filmmaking, it’s also as accessible as Godard gets. Characters speak directly into the camera giving various points of…

  • Kings of the Road

    Kings of the Road

    ★★★★

    Wim Wenders’ lackadaisical road trip movie really has to be seen on a big screen to truly relish Robby Muller’s incredible cinematography, full of crisp black and white imagery. Disheveled Bruno Winter (Rudiger Vogler) drives his truck from movie theater to movie theater along the East-West German border to repair equipment and takes on despondent Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler) as a travel companion after he drives his Volkswagen into a lake in an incompetent suicide attempt. Filled with breathtaking landscape…

  • Aimee & Jaguar

    Aimee & Jaguar

    ★★

    This true story of a Nazi housewife who falls in love with a Jewish woman working for the underground in 1943 Germany is told in such a stilted Tradition of Quality/Masterpiece Theater-style that it only achieves occasional liveliness through the performances of the actresses.

  • Afterschool

    Afterschool

    ★★★

    This film is definitely more admirable than lovable. Writer-director Antonio Campos has a lot of potential given his strong ability to conceptualize intriguing mise-en-scene, but in the end, this movie is too abstract and emotionally distant. Yes, this embodies the main character’s alienation and his numbness to the world, but we’re also shut out and can only work with the film on an intellectual level. There are only a few points when the characters move us, when Rob and Amy…

  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

    The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

    ★★

    Renaissance man Buckaroo Banzai is neurosurgeon, pop star, and superhero, leader of the Hong Kong Cavaliers. He has to deal with escaped alien criminals from another dimension in this offbeat, pulp tale. Lots of comic quirkiness almost overcome bland direction and characters. Getting Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavilli, and Dan Hedaya into the same movie is some kind of feat though.

  • Adaptation.

    Adaptation.

    ★★★★

    Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman writes about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's difficulties in adapting Susan Orlean's nonfiction THE ORCHID THIEF as a movie and does a great job until he becomes so self-referential that the story eats its own tail while being completely self-aware that it is doing so, explicitly bringing up ourobouros. Kaufman has his cake and eats it too, but it nevertheless works really well with its reflexive humor until the purposefully over-the-top bad ending, which spoofs Hollywood formula to make…

  • The Act of Killing

    The Act of Killing

    ★★★½

    Joshua Oppenheimer convinces Indonesian mass murderers of Communists and Chinese ethnics in 1965 to reenact what they did, which they proudly do. While some recognize that this is bad P.R., only one realizes the horror of his deeds. There are certainly many powerful moments here – children crying during the reenactments, brazen admissions of bribery, extortion, and rape, the horrifyingly human ability to rationalize the worst atrocities, and the physical visceral reaction of the one person who feels guilt –…

  • The Accidental Spy

    The Accidental Spy

    ★★

    Jackie Chan is an orphan who may have found his father in a Korean spy on his deathbed, then he gets caught up in a plot to nab some specially-engineered anthrax. This is more melancholic than usual for Chan material, especially due to the beautiful Vivian Hsu’s heroin-addicted damsel-in-distress. Jackie Chan still shows he’s in good shape at age 47. The highlight is Jackie being chased butt-naked through the streets of Istanbul. The climax, a variation of the movie Speed, feels tacked on and is disappointing.

  • Accattone

    Accattone

    ★★★

    Pasolini in Visconti neo-realist mode follows a pimp as he screws up his life and that of the women around him. The film is a bit slow and long-winded, but Pasolini’s talent for framing and composition was already apparent in this, his first feature. He is also able to bring out the humanity in his cast of non-professionals.

  • Giant

    Giant

    ★★

    GIANT is a strange beast, a movie movie where the melodramatic artifice has to be accepted or it doesn’t work. It looks sumptuous with all the glamour Hollywood can muster, and yet, while the on-location shooting looks amazing, the on-set shooting looks all too fake. While there is some squeezed-in theme ostensibly about the struggle of Mexican immigrants, the foregrounded indulgent wealth and the star power of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor mostly overwhelms that story and it often feels…

  • A Streetcar Named Desire

    A Streetcar Named Desire

    ★★★½

    My fourth viewing. Vivien Leigh’s performance is so arch and overwrought that she singlehandedly almost takes the movie under until the final quarter of the film in which Blanche’s mental state finally should match her initial delirium. The story is a melodrama, but Kazan’s direction takes it way too over-the-top. He mistakens commotion for drama. Where the film shines is in Brando’s raw performance and he’s electrifying every moment he’s on screen. Kim Hunter is also excellent playing Stella with a normalcy that helps ground the story. Another asset is Harry Stradling’s moody lighting with lots of cascading shadows.