If you want the gravy…

…You've got to get the biscuits!


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DOPE Review – ***½

They're supposedly 90s devotees, but the tagline references a song from 2005. (Source)

They’re supposedly 90s devotees, but the tagline references a song from 2005. (Source)

¹Dope is the kind of film that defies easy categorization and criticism. Its tone, its story, and its special mixture of strengths and weaknesses cannot be easily summarized. It’s the kind of film which many will consider better than it is–and for valid reasons. It’s the kind of film you want to like, and there are times when I liked it quite a bit. But it has serious fundamental issues, some easier to address than others, and in the end it barely sneaks into the **** level¹.

It’s the kind of film which gives you too much time to ponder its issues.

¹After further reflection, I realized the film’s issues were enough to push from a low **** to a high ***½.

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MAD MAX FURY ROAD Final Review – *****

“As the world fell, each of us, in our own way, was broken. It was hard to know who was more crazy–me, or everyone else.” (Source)

When I first came out of Fury Road, I wasn’t sure what to think, nor did I know how the critics would respond to it. The critics spoke–and were nearly unanimous in their praise. But I knew I had to see it again for myself, to see if I would be swept up in the chorus of praise, or if, in sorrow, I would have to admit the film I had so longed to see, the film so many deemed a masterpiece, was in fact unworthy of its laurels.

But you see those five stars at the top of the page. You know how this story ends.

I’ll say it now–Fury Road is the best film in at least 18 months, and the best summer blockbuster in five years. I delighted at George Miller’s “mastermind” billing in the trailers, but it was absolutely justified. He draws on aspects of the original trilogy, from small touches (the little music box, for one) to primary themes–the damning social critique of Mad Max, the relentless brutality of The Road Warrior, and the post-apocalyptic grotesquerie of Beyond Thunderdome. Here, working with a budget far greater than the budgets of the originals combined, he has crafted a film which draws from and, in my opinion, exceeds them.

He, and an incredibly talented team, have made a masterpiece.

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BIRDMAN, or THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE Review – ****

"You're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter! And you know what? You're right. You don't." ()

“You’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter! And you know what? You’re right. You don’t.” (Source)

To what degree can a few seconds impact an entire film? In his review of Thelma and Louise, Roger Ebert argues that the climactic shot ends a few seconds too soon, and as such robs the film as a whole of just enough power that it doesn’t get **** from him. And in the case of Birdman, there are a few moments, which add up to less than a minute of the film’s two hours, which haunt me enough that I cannot rank it higher (as of this writing, I put it at #8 for the year). (Addendum: after further meditation, I’ve decided that these elements are not quite as damaging as I first surmised, so I’m bumping my score up a point, and the film up to #6.)

But at the same time, so much of the film is so good–so well directed and so richly acted–that even considering those troubling moments, I cannot rank it less than ****. One could fairly dispute whether it says anything truly new about the nature of acting and about role-playing in general, but it whatever it says, it says it in a tremendously entertaining fashion.

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THE EQUALIZER Review – ***½

Asses are kicked, but names are rarely taken, on account of death. ()

Asses are kicked, but names are rarely taken, on account of death. (Source)

How do you discuss a film like The Equalizer? Before you get too excited by my rating, let me say: it’s not a great film. But as badass action films go, as September films go, as films from semi-forgotten TV shows go–it’s very good. Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua may not have topped Training Day, but they’ve made a film that excites, engages, and at times, even stuns.

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SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR Review – **

Sure, put Willis on the poster even though he's barely in the damn thing. #TeamPowersBoothe ()

Sure, put Willis on the poster even though he’s barely in the damn thing. #TeamPowersBoothe (Source)

I didn’t get to see the original Sin City in theaters, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it beginning to end–but I know of its painstaking stylization, its grotesque violence, its gruesomely tragic characters. I liked it. But when the sequel was announced, and delayed and delayed, finally being pushed back from last October to last Friday, one might reasonably have assumed the worst. It proceeded to flop horribly, opening in 8th place (the original opened at 1st), and received mixed-to-negative reviews. And there’s a reason for that: it’s not a very good film. There are many reasons why it’s not a very good film, but most fundamental is this: very few of the people involved seemed to believe in what they were doing. I’m not even sure if Miller and Rodriguez did.

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BOYHOOD Review – ***½

Richard Linklater's grand experiment. ()

Richard Linklater’s grand experiment. (Source)

Being a dissenter is never easy. One always runs the risk of being labelled a contrarian. And I certainly am not trying to outright refute the praises sung by so many of this film. But I am not going to add to them, at least not unreservedly. Boyhood is a good film. It’s a great experiment, and in the watching it moves quickly (at least until the last 15 minutes or so), it engages for the most part, and it has moments that, in me at least, induce prickles of nostalgia, or strike a chord in the part of me that is my parents’ son.

But as wide as it casts its net (12 years in the making!) it’s ultimately lacking in real insight or psychological depth, so while I enjoyed my time with these people, I can’t say I really understood them any better at the end of 164 minutes.

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BORGMAN Review – **½

Yes,

Yes, Jessica Kiang, remind me of other, better films than this.

I’m not going to say much about Borgman. By my rules, it’s a 2013 film, so I wouldn’t have to worry about factoring it into this year’s rankings or awards–and since I didn’t care for it, I wouldn’t have given it much, anyway. But it’s the kind of film I didn’t care for that I’m not going to categorically dismiss because…I can see why someone would like it. I’m willing to admit I might have just seen it on the wrong day (it was a rather stressful day, and certainly I’m only human), since this particular kind of nihilistic fable requires the right frame of mind to truly appreciate. But even then, it’s the kind of film which mostly just reminds you of better films.

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