The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin

2017

Directed by Armando Iannucci

The Death of Stalin is a comedy that depicts the power struggle that followed Joseph Stalin’s death. The film is a funny and pointed political satire.

Would see.

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Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation

1993

Directed by Fred Schepisi

Six Degrees of Separation is a comedy-drama adapted from the play of the same name. The theatrical origins show. The acting is stagey and the direction is flat—it would have been better just to tape a showing of the play; no use is made of the change in medium. Six Degrees of Separation is pretentious schlock. The overly broad comedy is unfunny, the unearned dramatic scenes land with a thud, and the film’s structure is complicated for complication’s sake. Six Degrees of Separation tries so hard to be clever, wry, and important that it ends up being none of those things; it is only insufferable.

Would not see.

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs

2018

Directed by Wes Anderson

Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion animated comedy about dogs banished to Trash Island by an evil mayor and a boy who flies to the island to find his dog. The animation is meticulous. The dogs’ communication is rendered in English. Most of the people speak in unsubtitled Japanese. Isle of Dogs fulfills the promise of the title; it is a love letter to dogs. The plot is slight, but the film is charming.

Would see.

High and Low

High and Low

1963

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

High and Low is a police procedural crime drama that is loosely based on Ed McBain’s 1959 novel, King’s RansomHigh and Low is a masterpiece. Expertly controlled pacing and cinematography paint vivid picture of class divisions. High and Low is an entertaining film and an incisive social commentary.

Must see.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth

2006

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark fantasy set in Francoist Spain. The fantasy elements are beautiful in themselves, and Guillermo del Toro elegantly interweaves them with the historical setting. Pan’s Labyrinth is a moving parable of childhood, courage, and belief.

Must see.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark

1981

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Raiders of the Lost Ark is an action adventure film about Indiana Jones, an archeologist. Raiders of the Lost Ark is, given its release in 1981, surprisingly racist and sexist; the film is a long endorsement of colonialism. The special effects have not aged well and the story is agitating filler. The plot of the movie exists to kill time between action set pieces—these are, in fact, mostly very good, but the intermittent fun they provide is not enough to carry the movie.

Would not see.

Black Panther

Black Panther

2018

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Black Panther is a superhero film. Much of Black Panther is thoughtful, exciting, surprising, and new; much is the familiar soul-deadening forced humor, forced tie-ins, and forced conflict that has come to define the Marvel (soon to be) monopoly. Black Panther is mostly allowed to exist outside the Marvel “cinematic universe,” but it is not allowed to exist outside the Marvel brand. The result is that Black Panther is a good but uneven movie. I wanted Black Panther to be more than a Marvel movie. It is not. Much of the writing about the film is better than the film itself.

Would not see.

Annihilation

Annihilation

2018

Directed by Alex Garland

Annihilation is a science fiction psychological horror film based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. The film is entertaining, but it fails to fulfill its early promise to be much more than that. There are a handful of striking images, but they fail to form a coherent whole.

Would not see.

Rear Window

Rear Window

1954

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Rear Window, based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story, “It Has to Be Murder,” is a mystery thriller. The film is clever and suspenseful. It is a satisfying mystery story.

Would see.

Django Unchained

Django Unchained

2012

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Django Unchained is a highly stylized revisionist Western set in the American South. All of Quentin Tarantino’s movies have flawless style, but some have more substance than others. Django Unchained is a film of style and substance—an immediately fun tribute to Spaghetti Westerns and an acid indictment of the fathomless cruelty of American slavery. It is a spiritual sequel to Tarantino’s 2009 movie, Inglourious Basterds—in which American Jews kill Hitler.

Must see.