The Best Films of 2015

One of the best movie years in a long time has now come to a close. I didn’t see everything that was released (it would be quite a challenge), but I saw far more than I have in previous years. I’ve assembled a list of everything I’ve seen, going from the worst of the year to the best of the year. You may disagree, of course, because it’s all based on my opinion. If you agree, let me know, and if you disagree, please still let me know!

Anyway, without further ado, here is that list:

THE BEST AND WORST OF 2015

Happy New Year! I hope 2016 is an amazing year for all of you and your families!

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Concussion

Will Smith carries the movie, saving it from falling victim to a weak script.
★★★
Movie Review #1,044

concussion_ver2

Columbia Pictures
Drama, Sport
2 hours, 3 minutes
Rated PG-13 (thematic material including some disturbing images, and language)
Released December 25, 2015
Directed by Peter Landesman
Written by Peter Landesman
Based in part on the GQ article “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas
Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Luke Wilson, Bitsie Tulloch, Albert Brooks

“If I know how she lived, I know why she died.” – Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith in “Concussion”)

Bennet Omalu is an extremely likable character. A pathologist with seven different degrees, currently working on his eighth, he’s a walking foundation of Christian morals and humane characteristics. This isn’t your average pathologist. He stresses the why and not the how. To delineate that a little, cardiac arrest could be the how, but everything that could potentially have led to cardiac arrest is the why.

Will Smith captures this character phenomenally. His naturally compassionate performance melds with his dissolution into the accent and mannerisms of the character, an immigrant from Nigeria, to form brilliance. The title refers to Omalu’s main focus in the film: to supercede the NFL’s cover-ups and prove that concussions have, in fact, damaged the lives of football players. Some of what we see here feels disturbingly real, and as a matter of fact, it is. What’s even more real about Omalu’s study of concussions, and even scarier, is that it’s all mostly futile. Early on in the movie, we see Mike Webster initiate a Newton’s cradle. The act symbolically represents the unfortunate result of all of Omalu’s gatherings: no matter how much evidence he finds that the concussion epidemic is absolutely dehumanizing, football is far too powerful a sport to be sufficiently affected by these findings.

The connection we draw with the Omalu character, as well as Smith’s performance of him, is the best “Concussion” has going for it. It could have been a great movie, but it’s merely decent, thanks to its script. Peter Landesman, who also serves as the film’s director, must have done some serious reading on how to write a screenplay. It’s incredibly formulaic. It adheres strictly to the tried-and-true Syd Fieldian structure, and as a result, the story takes a while to get moving. In fact, it first appears to be a movie about autopsies on serial killers, rather than on football players. We see several interlude-ish scenes that depict the mental breakdowns of various football players, purportedly as a result of their concussions. These scenes change the mood of the film entirely, particularly when they follow equally unimportant scenes detailing the relationship between Omalu and his wife. “Concussion” makes very clear that it’s a Hollywood movie. It’s not a very well written one, for sure, but when we take Smith’s performance into consideration, it’s definitely above average.

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The Hateful Eight

Beautiful, violent, and hysterical, if a bit self-indulgent.
★★★
Movie Review #1,043

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The Weinstein Company
Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Western
70mm version: 3 hours, 7 minutes
Digital version: 2 hours, 47 minutes
Rated R (strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)
70mm version: Released December 25, 2015
Digital version: Released December 30, 2015
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern

John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is headed to Red Rock, Wyoming, where he is taking Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, delivering a brutally awesome performance), a fugitive with $10,000 on her head, to be hanged. They plan to make a stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery along the way, where they can stay warm for a while before heading out into the blizzard again. They pick up a hitchhiker, Major Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a former soldier in the Union Army who is headed for Minnie’s Haberdashery. Sometime later, they pick up another hitchhiker, Sheriff Chris “The Sheriff” Mannix (Walton Goggins), who is headed for Red Rock so that he can be sworn in as sheriff upon arrival. When they get to their pitstop at the Haberdashery, the four of them encounter another set of four: Bob “The Mexican” (Demián Bichir), a stable worker; Oswaldo “The Little Man” Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman for the town of Red Rock; John “The Cow Puncher” Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy heading to his mother’s for Christmas; and General Sandy “The Confederate” Smithers, a former soldier in the Confederate Army.

“The Hateful Eight” takes place during a blizzard, sometime after the end of the Civil War. Tarantino’s vision of this setting has come to fruition beautifully. I didn’t see the film projected in the 70mm format that Tarantino has championed, but even on digital 35mm, “The Hateful Eight” is absolutely, thoroughly gorgeous. We start on the sprawling, vast expanse of snow on the Western Frontier, and then move inward to the microcosm of Minnie’s Haberdashery. The cinematography, another necessary Oscar for three-time winner Robert Richardson, combines with costume and set designs to make this into a bona fide Western. In comparison, Tarantino’s previous film “Django Unchained” seems a joke. Better yet is the score by Ennio Morricone, best known for his music in Sergio Leone’s Westerns. His score is wonderfully cheesy, so powerful in that regard that we often feel like we’re watching one of Leone’s classic Westerns.

Minnie’s Haberdashery is craftily presented. This enclosed, unchanging space feels inexplicably like a stage. Fittingly enough, bodies pile up on the floor throughout the film’s second half like those in a Shakespearean tragedy. On paper, we’re used to that in a Tarantino film, but “The Hateful Eight” is most certainly his most violent film to date. You’ll consider yourself amazed that so much of the gratuity here is so cleverly played for laughs. Only in one scene–the chilling finale–does the onscreen carnage strike us as disturbing rather than humorous. What’s more, Tarantino has us choking on our laughter by mixing his stylistic violence with some of the most base humor imaginable. There’s a scene around the movie’s midsection where we watch several of the Hatefuls vomit blood after drinking poisoned coffee. The scene is so hilariously overdone, particularly with regard to the sternly macabre music that plays in the background, that it’s priceless.

None of this violence even arrives until over an hour into the movie. “The Hateful Eight” is divided into six “chapters.” It’s the latter three that evolve into a wonderfully chaotic clusterf—k of action and gratuity. Up until then, it’s suspense and building tension. Tarantino spends the first half of his newest movie–and much of the second–doing what he does best: talking. While I was taking notes on the movie, I couldn’t help myself from jotting down at least 9 or 10 different quotes that I absolutely loved. The dialogue here is as priceless as in any other Tarantino movie. But too much of anything can help rather than hurt. Tarantino is one of very few filmmakers who can let his characters ramble about unimportant matters and keep our undivided attention. His approach to writing dialogue in “The Hateful Eight” can be a little self-indulgent, though. Tarantino has edited the script since the notorious online leak of its first draft in January of 2014. Perhaps he should have edited it just a little more. There’s a good amount of dialogue during the film’s midsection that runs on so much as to disinterest the audience. Additionally, the finale arrives all to late thanks to more mindless chitchat. Yes, Tarantino has built some of the greatest scenes of his career on mindless chitchat. But perhaps he takes a little too much pride in that in “The Hateful Eight”.

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Spotlight

This right here is a very, very important film.
★★★★
Movie Review #1,042

spotlight

Open Road Films
Biography, Drama, History, Thriller
2 hours, 8 minutes
Rated R (some language including sexual references)
Released November 25, 2015
Directed by Tom McCarthy
Written by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Elena Wohl, Jamey Sheridan, and Billy Crudup

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” – Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci in “Spotlight”)

The Spotlight team consisted of only a handful of investigative journalists, all of whom belonged to the Boston Globe.  Their landmark stories were both insightful and controversial.  The investigation involved, however, generally amounted to a year, if not more.  In 2001, Spotlight took on their most challenging topic yet, concerning the molestations of children by Catholic Priests in Boston.  At first, the team finds that there were 13 such priests, a number that itself is extremely shocking.  Soon enough, there’s evidence suggesting that roughly 90 priests had molested children in Boston alone.  There’s two main factors plaguing Spotlight’s investigation.  One is the time restraint, brought on by a very short statute of limitations for the crime.  The other is the power the Catholic Church has in covering up all of these incidents.

“Spotlight” could have easily been crafted as a stage drama.  It’s just as effective, if not more, as a film.  The script alone, written by director Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, is proof enough that what “12 Angry Men” was for the courtroom, this is for investigative journalism.  The film is smart, intense, and carries an immensely engrossing atmosphere.  We’re transported to the scene of a Boston that isn’t glamorized one bit.  You can close the eyes and you’ll even hear the markedly imperfect aura of the city.

This is an exceptionally natural, realistic drama.  That’s due in part to the performances here.  Here we have one of the finest casts all year, and that’s even without considering the three actors who practically tower over the rest of the ensemble: Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and (most especially) Michael Keaton, whose last two films have proven to be a wildly unexpected double-hitter for him.  Thanks to the editing by Tom McArdle, “Spotlight” flies through its story at a sharp pace, heightening the excitement of the story.  Independent cinema has once again proven unmistakably that you don’t need guns or chase scenes to craft an absolutely thrilling and captivating drama.  In the case of “Spotlight”, there’s not a dull moment in the entire film.

You know the phrase, “Just the facts?”  Well, here, the facts are plentiful, and they’re not always pleasant.  “Spotlight” quite unflinchingly sees the issue in its story from all sides and angles.  The many interview scenes shown here are a melange of 60 Minutes and a TV crime procedural.  The explicit level of detail we watch the victims relay is absolutely disturbing, and yet director Tom McCarthy keeps us wanting to know more.  I will be honest: I hadn’t heard of McCarthy before “Spotlight”, but my gosh, what a director he is.  At a certain point, I’d forgotten I was watching a movie.  Suddenly, everything felt real, and that’s damn good, because the film quite vividly reflects a harsh reality that we don’t often enough consider.  It’s a very important film.  I will admit, though, it was probably a mistake to watch it on a Sunday.

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Brooklyn

There’s a lot to admire here, and there could have easily been even more.
★★★
Movie Review #1,041

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Fox Searchlight Pictures
Drama, Romance
1 hour, 51 minutes
Rated PG-13 (a scene of sexuality and brief strong language)
Released November 25, 2015
Directed by John Crowley
Screenplay by Nick Hornby
From the novel by Colm Toibin
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Eileen O’Higgins, Julie Walters, Emily Bett Rickards, Samantha Munro, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson

“Brooklyn” is a film that offers a perspective on an Irish immigrants experiences in the titular borough of New York City during the 1950s. Ironically, the experience of watching it mirrors an American’s experience with food when visiting a country in Europe for the first time. As Americans, we’re used to five-pancake meals at IHOP (or four, depending on which platter you order). We go to France and we fall in love with the taste of a great crêpe. But we realize that’s the portion size: one great crêpe.

Just like that one great crêpe, “Brooklyn” offers a lot to admire. Saoirse Ronan embodies the mousy lead to a T. She genuinely exhibits the silent emotions of Ellis, a woman who feels lost yet at home, having left her family in Ireland for a promising retail job in America. At times, we can almost feel her conflicting feelings of anxiety and adoration. Moments that develop the onscreen relationship between her and Tony (Domhnall Gleeson), an Italian young man who takes interest in Irish women, feels bona fide. Nick Hornby’s script brings to life their relationship, as well as Ellis’s experiences in the unfamiliar Brooklyn, with a spectacularly light, whimsical tone. Of course, the film meets one’s expectations of any period piece, particularly with its beautiful costume designs and its riveting score.

But just like that one great crêpe, we went in expecting so much more. For those who aren’t familiar with the Bechdel test, it is a measure of a film on whether it has (a) two women who (b) talk to each other about (c) something other than a man. “Brooklyn” fails the test. At worst, there’s two obnoxiously caricatured women that live at the boarding house with Ellis, and even in scenes without them, there isn’t a single scene in the movie where women are discussing anything other than boys and how one lives to impress them. Oh wait there is that one scene where Ellis’s boss, noticing that Ellis doesn’t seem quite herself, asks her if she is on her period. But I suppose if talking about menstruation instead of men is enough to pass a Bechdel test, then one can pass a drug test by getting a blood transfusion after smoking several ounces of marijuana. Many have labeled “Brooklyn” a “feminist” movie. I’d really like not to think that the concept of feminism is so shallow. I’m not saying that movies need to be feminist in order to be enjoyable, or that every film should pass the test. But considering that “Brooklyn” focuses primarily on women, its depiction feels rather superficial.

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Beasts of No Nation

Beautiful, but boring.
★★½
Movie Review #1,040

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Bleecker Street Media & Netflix
Drama, War
2 hours, 17 minutes
Not Rated
Released October 16, 2015
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Screenplay by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala
Starring Abraham Attah, Ama K. Abebrese, Opeyemi Fagbohungbe, Idris Elba, Vivan Boateng, and Richard Pepple

“Beasts of No Nation” is an unflinching account of a young child’s loss of innocence, set in a third-world West African country oppressed by a military regime. Abu is only 14 years old–and appears even younger–when he is forced to join a group of military radicals that have torn his nation apart. Though the story is fictional, it heavily reflects the realities of several Third World countries. As a mere wake up call, “Beasts of No Nation” is quite effective. In terms of its narrative, however, the film is lacking. The film is guaranteed to leave you feeling very fortunate to live a life that far exceeds the ones you see onscreen. But you’re just as likely to leave the film bored out of your mind.

The greatest asset to the film is it’s realistic nature. Idris Elba is chilling and appallingly real in his performance as a Ghadaffi-esque military dictator. He exhibits his power by emphasizing the scripted intricacies of his role. His introductory scene demonstrates this perfectly, and is shockingly exemplary. Every detail, down to the way he touches Abu’s forehead, or the way he blows cigarette smoke in his face, adds to the strong, malevolent stature of his character.

The technical side of “Beasts” is absolutely mesmerizing. Cary Joji Fukunaga’s cinematography is incredible and creative from the get-go. His visual mastery in “Beasts of No Nation” is an accomplishment that certainly outdoes his efforts as the film’s writer and director. That, combined with the unpretentiously three-dimensional sound mixing, brings us to the film’s setting. Even watching it on a laptop computer, you feel somewhat as if you’re there. Even the ending, which draws directly from “The 400 Blows” but feels superficial nonetheless, looks and sounds fantastic.

“Beasts of No Nation” starts off by introducing us to a society through the eyes of young, innocent Abu. We’re told of the impending war, but even so, the nation seems peaceful. Less than 20 minutes in, the script transforms ever so suddenly. Now it’s a full-blown depiction of the war affecting the country. It’s a bold move to make in a screenplay. I assume it’s meant to reflect the sudden shift that Abu himself notices from peace into oppression, but it doesn’t work out to well in execution. Imagine condensing the entirety of “Empire of the Sun” to a timeframe of less than 20 minutes. Now imagine following that directly with the opening scene from “Saving Private Ryan”, elongated to nearly two hours. That’s a pretty accurate assessment of not only how uneven the transition between seemingly two plot lines is, but also of how darn slow the movie becomes once it passes the 20-minute mark.

“Beasts of No Nation” is the first narrative film to be distributed directly through Netflix. It also got a very small, short-lived release by Bleecker Street. Which is a shame, considering how technically cinematic this movie is–but since it is on Netflix, who says you have to watch it as you would in a movie theater? While exceptionally made, “Beasts of No Nation” is an increasingly boring film, so much that by the last thirty minutes, it’s practically begging you to start noodling around on your phone.

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The Ridiculous 6

This is madness! It’s madness, I tell you!
NO STARS
Movie Review #1,039

ridiculous_six

Netflix
Comedy, Western
1 hour, 59 minutes
Not Rated
Released December 11, 2015
Directed by Frank Coraci
Written by Tim Herlihy and Adam Sandler
Starring Adam Sandler, Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Harvey Keitel, Nick Nolte, Jon Lovitz, Whitney Cummings, David Spade, Danny Trejo, Nick Swardson, Blake Shelton, Vanilla Ice, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Dan Patrick

History repeats itself. In 1914, Germany gave Austria-Hungary a “blank check.” Basically, whatever Austria-Hungary decided to do, the Germans had their back. What resulted, of course, was World War I. Now, 101 years later, Netflix has given Adam Sandler a blank check of his own. The result was “The Ridiculous 6”, which is equally horrible.

The least of the movie’s sins is its horrible pacing. One might argue that Netflix doesn’t need decent pacing, because the streaming service allows viewers free reign over pausing and resuming. Which I guess is a valid argument, except if you pause “The Ridiculous 6” so that you can go grocery shopping, it’s probably not because grocery shopping is a priority. More than likely, it’s because grocery shopping is the first thing that popped into your head when you started brainstorming things you could do to take your mind off the movie. And needless to say, it’s doubtful that you’d have any desire to return to the movie once you’ve finished unloading all your groceries into their respective cabinets.

“The Ridiculous 6” is about six men who were born from the same father but each from different mothers. They set out on a journey to steal money from those who don’t deserve the money, and then to meet their father. That’s just the premise of the movie. In execution, the movie’s goal is to assist us in deciding which is more painful to watch: a burro projectile shitting whenever he meets somebody new, or an obnoxious Taylor Lautner obsessing over his number-one pastime, which is fornicating with cantaloupes. I myself wonder if the movie is trying to make us laugh, roll our eyes, or unleash a brutal rage upon the screen. I can tell you which one of those it’s not.

The cast of “The Ridiculous 6” is absolutely horrendous. There’s nothing amazing about the film, except for the fact that Jon Lovitz is the least annoying cast member. Even Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, and Steve Buscemi are unforgivably bad. (And seriously, what the hell are they even doing here? Don’t they have better things to be doing with their time?) Taylor Lautner has fallen into obscurity lately, and now he has every reason to return to that stage in his career. I almost applauded during a scene when he is finally brought to the scaffold to be lynched. Then I realized this was just another scene to exploit his character’s embarrassing, puerile antics. Adam Sandler has now reached yet another career low. You’d think his onslaught of bad “comedies” over the past several years would desensitize us to his brand of poor taste, but unfortunately, that just ain’t the case. While the rest of the gang is obnoxious and over-the-top, Sandler is flatter than a crêpe in his delivery. You can’t even call this line-reading. He speaks lines that are meant to sound heroic as if he were a man might say, “Yes, I did, in fact, purchase the two-percent milk,” upon returning from the supermarket.

“The Ridiculous 6” became controversial while it was filming back in April, when four Native Americans walked off the set. These four did the right thing. The movie glorifies prejudice to varying degrees. Less than three minutes in, we’ve already seen a sign reading “Redskins Keep Out,” and we’ve already heard Adam Sandler, clad in Native American garb, say, “I just dress like this so that I don’t get scalped out on the prairie.” To use a classic Bushism, it just gets worser and worser from there. There’s even a cringe-inducing scene where the titular folks wind up on Apache territory and start suggesting tribal names like Wears No Bra, Smoking Fox, and Poca-Hot-Tits. It’s not just Apache women who are degraded this way, though. There’s not a single Caucasian woman in this film that doesn’t seem to have massive implants. It’s rather difficult to decide whether the movie is more racist or sexist, given its depictions of Native Americans, women, and Native American women.

Let me clear this up in case you might have misread: this movie is bad. If you’ve ever watched a reenactment of the Stanford prison experiment, then you probably have an idea of how difficult it is to keep watching “The Ridiculous 6” through to the very end. Even before the film reaches its five-minute mark, it encapsulates my entire experience in a single line: “Now I do want to carve my eyes out!”

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The Good Dinosaur

Pixar has done it yet again.
★★★½
Movie Review #1,038

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Walt Disney Pictures
Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Family
1 hour, 33 minutes
Rated PG (peril, action and thematic elements)
Released November 25, 2015
Directed by Peter Sohn
Original concept and development by Bob Peterson
Story by Peter Sohn & Erik Benson & Meg LeFauve & Kelsey Mann & Bob Peterson
Screenplay by Meg LeFauve
Starring the voices of Jeffrey Wright, Ryan temple, Jack McGraw, Marcus Scribner, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, A.J. Buckley, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott, Frances McDormand, and Maleah Nipay-Padilla

The age communism that permeates each and every Pixar movie gets me every time. Whether you’re eight, eighteen, twenty-eight, forty-eight, or eighty-eight, you’re guaranteed to love the film no less than whoever is sitting next to you. 2015 marks the first occasion in which Pixar has produced two movies in a single year. The first, “Inside Out”, was a hard act to follow. I might go as far as to say that it’s their best film yet. However, “The Good Dinosaur” doesn’t fall behind as much as we might worry. It’s still as fabulous as nearly any other Pixar film.

The story here concerns Arlo, the youngest of three siblings. He’s a dinosaur, perhaps a brontosaurus, born small and always much shorter than his two older siblings. His father wants to raise him to make his mark, so to speak. Actually, this isn’t just a figurative mark: the family holds a tradition that whenever one of them has done something that they are especially proud of, he or she stamps his or her foot in mud and prints it on one specific tree. For a while, Arlo remains the only member of the family who has not yet earned his mark.

Arlo’s physique is a manifestation of his inner physique: he’s seemingly afraid of everything. Even in his daily task of carrying corn into the field, he is afraid of a rooster that guards the rest of the harvest. His father feels bad for him, but at the same time, he wants to change him. He tries to rid Arlo’s fear by taking him into the wilderness during a thunderstorm, but accidentally falls into the river and dies. The impact of this event on Arlo is tantamount to the rest of the story.

“The Good Dinosaur” transitions then into both a western epic and a fable. Arlo eventually ends up lost from home, thanks to the antics of a baby boy named Spot. Arlo doesn’t like Spot at first. He’s afraid of him, and then, after ending up lost in the wilderness, he becomes infuriated with him. Spot, however, becomes his only companion during his journey, as Arlo realizes that they have a few common bonds: Both of them are out on their own, separated from their respective families. What’s more, neither one of them is fit to survive in this area they aren’t familiar with.

Pixar’s newest movie exhibits beautiful animation to illustrate their journey on as massive a scope as computer animations could ever capture. That it’s animated, that it has dinosaurs, or that it’s not even 100 minutes long, doesn’t keep us from getting lost in the sensation of a sprawling western epic. At the same time, it possesses a strong message, that fear is natural and therefore cannot be suppressed, but we become stronger when we face it. Pixar has once again eliminated the stigma of kids’ animated movies. Its message is as valuable to adults as it is to kids.

We grow to sincerely care about these characters. Even if they’re of a species that we have never stood face-to-face with, they do resemble the human race. The third act is extremely poignant up until the last minute, but even so, it fails to deliver a proper conclusion. “The Good Dinosaur” clocks to roughly half the length of any non-animated western epic, and that’s fine. But surely another scene or two to end the movie couldn’t have hurt.

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Amy

A haunting and heavily personal account of Amy Winehouse.
★★★½
Movie Review #1,037

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A24
Documentary
2 hours, 8 minutes
Rated R (language and drug material)
Released July 3, 2015
Directed by Asif Kapadia

Asif Kabadia’s “Amy” puts us in the perspective of the titular character: the late Amy Winehouse. This isn’t your conventional rise-and-fall music documentary. It certainly starts out that way, but gradually, the film develops into something dynamic and haunting that instead shows the rise as the source of the fall. Amy’s rise to fame happened quickly. Her passion wasn’t for the music of today; rather, she wanted to emulate an older, better, jazzier sound. It’s a miracle that she grew to such recognition for such an unconventional sound; “Amy” reminds us that not all miracles are good miracles. After winning a Grammy for her first album, Amy faced overwhelming pressure from her newfound fans, and lack of inspiration to write a new album. She began to suffer depression, and the rest is history.

In no way does the film glamorize the life of Amy Winehouse. In fact, what makes “Amy” so heartbreaking, in the end, is that it depicts the titular character as both the artist that we idolize and the person no different from any of us. We’re treated to Amy’s talent from the very beginning. The film opens with her performance of “Moon River” with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. She’s only 16, and she’s already blown Audrey Hepburn’s version out of the water. Her voice is absolutely magnificent, and hearing it play on a surround sound system is an enveloping, atmospheric experience. At the same time, it’s an intensely personal approach to the subject matter. Yes, we see her as an artist, but we’re also motivated to understand her as a person through her sense of humor and her uncompromising, yet familiar and likable, personality. Nearly three-quarters of the film sees her life in its most private setting, a fact that grows markedly disturbing as home videos are gradually replaced by strings of paparazzi photos. You start more and more to dread the fact that simply by watching the film, you’re invading the artist’s privacy.

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Mr. Holmes

Well made and very intriguing, but also very dry.
★★★
Movie Review #1,036

mr_holmes_ver2
Miramax & Roadside Attractions
Drama, Mystery
1 hour, 44 minutes
Rated PG (thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking)
Released July 24, 2015
Directed by Bill Condon
From the novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin
Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher
Starring Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Takako Akashi, John Sessions, and Milo Parker

Jeffrey Hatcher’s script for “Mr. Holmes”, based on Mitch Cullin’s book A Slight Trick of the Mind, offers a highly innovative approach to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless character. This isn’t strictly a Sherlock Holmes mystery. It’s more a drama about an aging Holmes. At 93, he now lives on the English countryside with his housekeeper and her son Roger, who is extremely bright. The boy shares Mr. Holmes’s love of beekeeping. But he also is rather curious about a short story Holmes is writing. It’s called “The Adventure of the Dove Grey Glove” and is based on Holmes’s own experiences. However, Holmes, in his old age, cannot recall these events so easily as he’d hoped.

There’s been something of an onslaught of Sherlock Holmes adaptations recently. In film, we’ve seen Robert Downey Jr. play him twice. On TV, we’ve seen the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch since 2010, and by Jonny Lee Miller since 2012. Now Ian McKellen has stepped into the role. McKellen captures the wit and the wisdom of Holmes far better than any of the other three have. (Given his history in the film industry, is it even sensible to expect otherwise?) And in terms of everything else we’d expect of a period piece, the film is outstanding. Camera, sets, lighting, sound, score–it all makes for an absolutely gorgeous film.

“Mr. Holmes” gets all the notes right in setting up for perfection. It could have achieved just that if it played the music right, too. The simplest solution would have been to find a different director. Don’t get me wrong: Bill Condon can do great things with a film. Making it interesting is one of those things, and we certainly see so in “Mr. Holmes”. But at the same time, the film can be a chore to watch. I’m not saying that it’s boring, but it is very, very dry.

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