If you want the gravy…

…You've got to get the biscuits!

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PAWN SACRIFICE Review – ***½

Although the general rule that a film pushed from a prime release date to a terrible one will itself likely be terrible does not entirely apply to Pawn Sacrifice, the fact remains that it premiered at Toronto last year and seemed headed for an awards-season release. The reviews weren’t quite there, it was picked up by a lesser-known distributor (Bleecker Street, who might be making a play for awards attention later this year–but never mind), and now it bows in September, one of the slowest movie months.

And while it isn’t terrible, it falls rather short of the mark, with much of the blame falling on the hazily focused script and the uneven, often TV-level direction. And while Tobey Maguire does do a solid job as chess phenom Bobby Fischer, it’s the supporting cast who steal the film from him.

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EVEREST Review – ****

60 years ago, it would have been in Cinerama. (Source)

60 years ago, it would have been in Cinerama. (Source)

Everest is not a film that inspires extended commentary, at least for those who are not mountaineers, armchair or otherwise. That’s not because it’s a bad film, though–indeed, despite the somewhat muted (if ultimately positive) reviews, it’s a very good example of a true spectacle, a film designed for the IMAX 3D experience, which for its first week of release it is being shown exclusively in.

And if you can, you should see it thus. The 3D might not add much (though I confess it has almost never done so for me), but the vast screen and especially the enveloping sound make for a galvanizing experience, elevating quite a solid film into something like a cinematic event.

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2015: The Movies I Haven’t Reviewed Yet – Part I

2015 Part 1 Poster Spread

Managing my own expectations has always been one of the hardest parts of being a critic. Because, first and foremost, I’m a movie fan. I love movies, I read and write about them more than I read and write about anything else, and even though I went to college for theater and want to work in the professional theater, if I ever get the chance…you’re damn right I’ll make a movie. (Maybe not if it’s something like The Oogieloves, but showbiz is showbiz.)

Rarely have I been lucky enough to go a movie with no expectations, to go in with a blank slate and let the film work on me in perfect ignorance. Sometimes, my anticipation for a film is so great, I insist on seeing a second time before writing it up (Snowpiercer is a prime example), because on the first pass, I just can’t form a truly objective opinion. Other times, I’ve gone into a film with high expectations which were let down (The Immigrant), or low expectations that were exceeded (to cite a timely example, Black Mass).

And other times, my expectations were well-met. So, as I work through these 10 films, I’ll discuss how they met, or fell short of, or exceeded my expectations. And pat myself on the back or smack myself accordingly.

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BLACK MASS Review – ****

I'm back. (Source)

I’m back. (Source)

It’s clear from early on that Black Mass will not be distinguished by its script, but by its faces. From the first glimpse of Jesse Plemons’ squashed Mickey Rooney-by-way-of-James Cagney mug, to Johnny Depp’s eerie visage (the product of some brilliant makeup), by turns reptilian and sepulchral, it’s the faces of the people we see which stick with us, more than the clumsy narrative or uneven dialogue.

That Black Mass exceeded my expectations and ended up an overall rewarding experience may be in large part because I respect a film which knows the value of faces. As a crime drama, it’s adequate, but as a visual essay in amorality, it has nuances which make it worth your while.

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Movie Journal 8/31/2015

As noted previously, this will be the last Movie Journal for a while. Again, I’ll keep the ranking of this year’s films updated, but this will be the last post for at least a few weeks.

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About this time last year, as I recall, I took a break from the blog, citing burnout as the big reason. And while I’ve continued posting, I’ve especially fallen behind this year in the area of reviews. There’s no real excuse for that, other than maybe that most of the films I’ve seen so far this year don’t inspire lengthy analysis. 

There’s been a lot of solid films so far–my current top 5 has an average score of 88.2, just 1.2 lower than my top 5 for 2014 as a whole–but I’ve come out of a lot of films this year thinking they were good, but definitely not having 1,500+ words worth of commentary on them.

Now, however, a fresh set of complications has made keeping up with the blog more difficult than before. My computer is currently out of commission, forcing me to rely on public library computers, which limit me to about 2 hours a day online. And because I’m currently job hunting, much of that time must now be devoted to applications.

And, money being tighter than before, I’ve decided to cut back on my trips to theater, which for the nonce is less of an issue since September is so infamously slow a movie month. But taking all these issues into account, I think it best that I take a break from posting for a while to sort out my various issues and hopefully recharge the batteries in the process. 

So here’s how I think it’ll go down. I’ll finish the pending entry of the Movie Journal (which has been especially hard to keep up with, given my limitations) and not resume posting again for…at least two weeks. That should hopefully be sufficient time to get my life in a little bit more order. I may extend the hiatus further, but during that time I’ll work on some posts and hopefully hit the ground running when I return.

Things being in flux, I’m not going to commit to a posting schedule just now, but here’s what I’d like to put out for the first round of post-hiatus articles:

  • A two or three part article offering my reviews of those films from the year so far which I have not already reviewed (I wanted to write full-length reviews of several films, including Mr. Holmes and Straight Outta Compton, but I think rather than aiming so to do, I will write about them and make my reviews separate articles if they grow to a sufficient length);
  • A fully updated Most Anticipated Films list, taking us through to the end of the year and possibly featuring an appendix for films which will be coming in 2016;
  • New Trailer and Poster Salads;
  • A rundown of the films I saw during the hiatus.

During this time I expect I will still go to the movies, and I will keep my ranking of 2015 films fully updated.

It’s my hope that by the end of September I can resume regular posting. It will take some work to get to that point, but I’ve always held one thing true:

If you want the gravy, you’ve got to get the biscuits.