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Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Stanford Prison Experiment


directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez

written by Tim Talbott

starring Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Billy Crudup

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)

"Decent indie movie about the importance of a rigorous institutional review board for academic research using human subjects."

Inside Out


directed by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen (Up, Monsters Inc.)

written by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley

starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)

"Cute. And deep for a kids' film. But it may be a bit too cutesy for my taste to be taken seriously, which is something that the film seems to want."

While We're Young


written & directed by Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, Mistress America)

starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)

"Baumbach has had a very prolific couple years, having released two movies in 2015 alone (the other being Mistress America). This film was funny and thoughtful with good actors delivering decent performances, but not Baumbach's bests."

Mistress America


directed by Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, While We're Young)

written by Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig

starring Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Matthew Shear

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)

"From an amazing writer-director team, this dry comedy is interesting and sorta real – in the the vain of an episode of Girls. But even the best directors have flops. So many scenes needed to be reshot and yet they made it through the end. All in all, eh."

The Walk

THE WALK (2015)

directed by Robert Zemeckis (Flight, Cast Away, Contact, Forrest Gump, The Back to the Future Trilogy)

written by Robert Zemeckis & Christopher Browne

starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Guillaume Baillargeon

ENJOYMENT: ***1/2 (out of 4)

"I thought this was just about The Walk – the famous high-wire crossing between the World Trade Center towers in the 1990s – but it's about more than that. It's a film about dedication like nothing else. A beautiful film by one of the most important filmmakers of all time."



directed by Sean Baker

written by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch

starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 4)

"This film was shot on a handheld camcorder with the tiniest of film budgets, and yet it is such a funny, raw and realistic account of trans women living on the streets of Hollywood. One of my favorites of the year"

The Danish Girl


directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Miserables)

written for the screen by Lucinda Coxon

starring Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard

ENJOYMENT: ***1/2 (out of 4)

"A beautiful film about love, loyalty and identity."


CAROL (2015)

directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven)

written for the screen by Phyllis Nagy

starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara

ENJOYMENT: ***1/2 (out of 4)

"A film about a lesbian romance between women of different generation in the middle of the 20th century. The film is so beautiful and artfully made, but probably not everyone's cup of tea.


CREED (2015)

directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)

written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington

starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 4)

"Expert filmmaking by a 30 year-old filmmaker & incredible acting. More than just a sports movie, as the best boxing films of all time often are.

Beasts of No Nation

written for the screen & directed by 
[filmography: "True Detective"]

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)
"Shocking and unbelievable story, well-told, with great acting "

Agu is a young child in an unnamed African country who is forced to become a soldier in a worsening civil war. The movie follows Agu and a group of young fighters as he is manipulated by older military leaders to kill all who stand in their way. This is the first feature-length film released exclusively on Netflix (and as such isn't eligible for any Oscars, under current rules), and is an enormous production with an impressive budget and great acting. All told, it's worth seeing in order to get a glimpse into what the life of a child soldier may look like and to learn about the ravages of war that is reality for far too many in the world.

Steve Jobs

directed by 
[filmography: 127 Hours (2010), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), 28 Days Later... (2002), The Beach (2000), Trainspotting (1996)]

adapted for the screen by  ["The Newsroom", Moneyball (2011), The Social Network (2010), "The West Wing", A Few Good Men (1992)] 

ENJOYMENT: ***½ (out of 4)
"Creative storytelling and great acting"

Steve Jobs – founder of Apple and one of the most famous CEOs of all time – was not a well-loved man. In this film, his story is told through a series of product launches he was involved with over two decades in order to give a behind-the-scenes look at Steve Jobs the Father, the Boss, the Friend and the Supposed Genius. Though I didn't originally think Michael Fassbender was a good choice to play Steve Jobs, he quickly embodied him and ended up giving one of the best performances of the year (and was probably much more convincing than Leonardo DiCaprio who was supposed to play him at one point). For its originality, the great acting and the coolness of the story itself, this film is worth seeing – especially if you're an Apple fan or software engineer – but it probably won't blow you away like The Social Network or other Danny Boyle films.


SPECTRE (2015)
directed by 
[filmography: Skyfall (2012), Revolutionary Road (2008), Jarhead (2005), Road to Perdition (2002), American Beauty (1999)]

written by John Logan [Skyfall (2012), Hugo (2011), The Aviator (2004), Gladiator (2000)]Neal Purvis & Robert Wade [Skyfall (2012), Quantum of Solace (2008), Casino Royale (2006),Die Another Day (2002), The World Is Not Enough (1999)]Jez Butterworth [Black Mass (2015), Edge of Tomorrow (2014)]

ENJOYMENT: **½ (out of 4)
"A good Bond but nothing totally amazing about it"

In Spectre, Bond is facing an MI6 on the verge of shutdown by a government who believes it to be obsolete and an enemy who is supposedly the ring leader of all the previous Daniel Craig-Bond villains. As the most expensive Bond film ever made (costing $245 million), it doesn't quite offer much that we haven't seen before except spectacularly expensive crashes involving a brand new Aston Martin and small turboprop airplane. This film also expects you to remember plot details from the previous films, which I'm not sure if the average audience member is capable of (does anyone pay attention to the plots in these movies?). All in all, it's a run-of-the-mill Daniel Craig Bond film that is nowhere near as good as Skyfall or Casino Royale but better than Quantum of Solace.


ROOM (2015)
directed by 
[filmography: Frank (2014)]

adapted for the screen by  [based on her book]]

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 4)
"Phenomenal film and acting – one of the top 10 of the year"

This film is about a girl who is locked in a room for seven years with her five-year old son conceived with the man who abducted her. Since this room is the only world her son knows, she is determined to make the best out of terrible circumstances and keep their lives as happy and normal as possible, all while developing a plan to escape. As terribly depressing as this film sounds, Room is a beautiful film that has elements of a fantasy and is as much a story about parenthood or love as it is about perseverance through pain. Expect this film to be in contention for some big awards, including a possible Oscar win for Best Actress (Brie Larson), hopefully a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the incredible 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay (if there is any justice), and a likely nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Bridge of Spies

directed by 
[filmography: Lincoln (2012), Minority Report (2002), Saving Private Ryan (1999), Schindler's List (1993), Jurassic Park (1993), Hook (1991), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), all four Indiana Jones films & Jaws (1975) ]

adapted for the screen by   [nothing big]Joel Coen [yes, those Coens]

ENJOYMENT: ***½ (out of 4)
"Beautiful epic and great acting – maybe a classic"

Bridge of Spies is a Cold War thriller about a brilliant lawyer played by Tom Hanks who is recruited by the US government to negotiate a prisoner swap with the Soviet Union. As you may expect from the impressive credentials of the filmmakers, the acting is excellent and the film is masterfully told, and there were many epic scenes that suggested this could eventually become a classic film about the Cold War. Despite this, however, the film didn't make much money domestically ($70 million) and has been relatively ignored by critics and for award nominations (except for Mark Rylance who was nominated for a Golden Globe). Still, it's worth a watch and, for me, is one of the most memorable films of the year.


directed by 
[filmography: Win Win (2011), The Visitor (2007), The Station Agent (2003)]

written by 
 ["The West Wing"] and  [Win Win (2011), The Visitor (2007), The Station Agent (2003)]

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 4)
"An incredible piece of investigative storytelling"

This is the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal at the turn of the last century. Filmed in Boston with phenomenal acting by its ensemble cast, Spotlight is a complex story that unfolds with ease for the viewer as long as you don't get hung up on all the new character names. This film is nowhere near as depressing as it sounds; in fact, it's a riveting thriller based on investigative journalism that is as much about the team of reporters as the crimes they uncover (in the vain of All the President's Men). Expect it to win big this year at the Oscars, including probable awards for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and maybe Best Director (Tom McCarthy) and Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo).


directed by 
[filmography: "True Detective" (2015), Boy A (2007)]

adapted for the screen by  [screenwriter of Wild (2014) & An Education (2009); author of About a Boy (2002) & High Fidelity (2000)

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 4)
"The best romance story in years; beautiful & philosophically enthralling"

Brooklyn is about an Irish immigrant, Eilis, who leaves her home and moves to America after WWII in the search for more opportunity. In Brooklyn, Eilis falls in love with a boy, finds a job and builds a good life for herself, but after events bring her back to Ireland she begins to question which country is home. Brooklyn is in an impeccably-told story by a novice director and veteran screenwriter, brilliantly acted by Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), and beautifully shot and edited. For a romantic film, it is incredibly original and philosophically rich and is one of my favorites of the year.

Love & Mercy

LOVE & MERCY (2015)
directed by 
[directorial debut; producer of Wild (2014), 12 Years a Slave (2013), The Tree of Life (2011), Into the Wild (2007)]

written by  [The Messenger (2009), I'm Not There. (2007)] [nothing big]

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)
"Creatively told biopic; entertaining with amazing music and solid performances"

People Places Things

written & directed by 
[filmography: The Winning Season (2009), Grace Is Gone (2007)]

ENJOYMENT: ***½ (out of 4)
"Insanely funny and unique perspective on day-to-day life"

Ex Machina

directed by 
[directorial debut]

written by  [screenwriter of Dredd (2012), Never Let Me Go (2010), Sunshine (2007), 28 Days Later... (2002); author of The Beach (2000)]

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)
"Beautiful film; groundbreaking in some ways but feels like something we've seen before"