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Tag Archives: four-stars

Finding Dory (2016): Sigourney Weaver, Savior of the Universe

Finding Dory (2016): Sigourney Weaver, Savior of the Universe

Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane, 2016)


It’s a big ocean. photo credit:

To me, and I know I am in the minority on this, Finding Nemo (2003) has always been one of Pixar’s minor successes; it’s nowhere near as awful as their worst output, like Cars 2 or Wall-E, but it’s nowhere near as good as their classics (Toy Story, Monsters Inc.). And since Pixar’s track record with post-TS2 sequels has been, to put it kindly, abysmal, I wouldn’t have even gone to see Finding Dory if my four-year-old hadn’t begged. And I wasn’t exactly predisposed to liking it today; the mall had a Pokémon Go event going on, so it took half an hour to find a parking spot, and of course at a Saturday matinee, the theater was full of loud toddlers. (I’m not going to say mine is a model, but his mother and I have taught him that quiet is necessary in a cinema, and he mostly gets it.) And yet, I walked out of that theater amazed. Finding Dory is a far, far superior film to its predecessor, and continues the jaw-dropping revitalization of Pixar that started with Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur last year.

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Inner Demons (2014): I’m Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

Inner Demons (2014): I’m Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

Inner Demons (Seth Grossman, 2014)


Group Scare-apy. photo credit: (anyone surprised they hated it?)

I will start off with the film’s two biggest flaws, for those of you who want an excuse to get out of this review early. First, yes, the mockumentary/found-footage horror movie is as played-out as calling pocket aces with deuce-seven offsuit because you have a 32% chance of cracking them. And, perhaps even more appalling, yes, this movie’s scares depend on a plot hole big enough that you can drive a semi through it. So those of you who can’t get past those things, I will let you leave class early.


…and now the rest of you are going to hear about the first movie that has actually scared me enough to sleep with a light on since Paranormal Activity 2 (and, for the record, the fifth movie to ever do so; the other three, and take all the time you like to wonder about me, but remember how old I was when the first one came out, were Beware! The Blob, Pet Sematary, and Candyman). Like I said, they rely on a massive plot hole, which I will get to in a second. But when you are confronted with “scrap this footage because of a plothole” vs. “scare the shit out of your audience”, a lot of directors since Alexandre Aja are going to do the latter. And I am here to tell you, when it comes to the scare factor, Inner Demons blows Haute Tension so far out of the water it might be an extra in Sharknado 3.

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Z for Zachariah (2015): Winter Is Coming

[originally written 29Aug2015]

Z for Zachariah (Craig Zobel, 2015)


Captain Kirk meets Harley Quinn and no one’s written fanfic about it yet? photo credit:

Two of my favorite directors in the history of cinema are Béla Tarr and Yasujiro Ozu, the masters of “slow film”. While I was watching Z for Zachariah, the new film from Craig Zobel (Compliance), I got the feeling throughout that Zobel is familiar with these two masters, and is working his way into slow-film-dom. I don’t think he’s quite there yet, but he’s on the right path.

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The Revenant (2015): And On the Third Day He Rose Again, In Accordance with the Scriptures

Leonardo DiCaprio stares determinedly out of the movie's poster.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

For a while there, it seemed like Leonardo DiCaprio had lapsed back in time to the days when studios kept actors at their beck and call; if it wasn’t a Martin Scorsese picture, DiCaprio was nowhere to be found. He also seems to have overcome whatever malaise affected him after Titanic was such a smash, and has gotten back to the Leo we saw in films such as The Basketball Diaries and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. Then, on the other hand, there’s Alejandro González Iñárritu. Iñárritu blasted out of the gate with Love’s a Bitch fifteen years ago, and a fine thing it was. Then something happened. I’m not sure what, exactly, but the closest I can come to it is that he became a director of concept; his films were, while still somewhat enjoyable (with one notable exception that will be mentioned in passing later), more about The Grand Scheme of Things than they were about character. So here we are with The Revenant, and for those who don’t like to read below the fold, I’ll tell you that this is Iñárritu’s best movie in fifteen years, and for much the same reasons that made Love’s a Bitch such a good watch. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Ring (2002): One Ring to Bind Them

The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

Naomi Watts screams at a well on the movie poster.

That well? Still scary.
photo credit:

Here’s something I never thought I would say: we have before us an American remake of a top-notch foreign film, and that remake is better than the original. All hail Gore Verbinski for finally showing his potential at creating commercially accessible fare (after all, the man created the Budweiser frogs!) on a big screen at feature length. Both his previous tries (Mouse Hunt and The Mexican) have been spectacular failures; The Ring is just as spectacularly a success.

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Solaris (1972): Into the Great Wide Open

Solaris (Andrei Tarkovski, 1972)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

A large circle filled with geometric forms adorns the movie poster.

If that is not a perfect seventies sci-fi movie poster, I don’t know what is.
photo credit:

There is endless debate among film snobs as to which of Andrei Tarkovski’s seven feature-length films is the best; for me, there’s no comparison. Solaris, Tarkovski’s compelling, gorgeous epic retelling of Stanislaw Lem’s thin (and somewhat mediocre, unlike most of Lem’s work) novel, is first among equals. [ed. note 2014: it has encountered some serious competition in the past few years from Stalker, and the two are now almost running neck and neck with me.] Clocking in at just under three hours, Solaris is the tale of Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), a psychologist sent to the spaceship orbiting the ocean planet Solaris to find out what happened to the crew. He soon finds that the planet is a sentient being itself, and that it sends visitors to the crew—beings that are for all intents and purposes human, but are constructs from the crew’s minds. The one it picks for Kelvin is his late wife Khari (Natalya Bondarchuk), and soon Kelvin finds himself in the same position as the rest of the crew: questioning everything he knows about humanity, existence, and what it all means.

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Caliban and Other Tales (2002): O Brave New World, That Has Such People In’t!

Robert Devereaux, Caliban and Other Tales (Leisure, 2002)

[originally published 13May2002]

Caliban, resentful, stares out from inside a bush on the first edition cover.

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.
photo credit:

Robert Devereaux is one of the modern masters of the horror novel. Here, he turns his twisted eye to shorter fiction (well, for half the book), and we have to ask ourselves the question we have to ask with all novelists working in another genre: is he as good in medium B as he is in medium A? That’s a choice each reader has to make on his own, of course, but as far as I’m concerned, he may actually be better in medium B. “Ridi Bobo” is such a stroke of pure genius that, ten years from now, it may have entered the same space in my head reserved for such once-in-a-lifetime magnum opi as Richard Christian Matheson’s “Red” or Dan Simmons’ “Summer of Monsters.” Yeah, it’s THAT good. [ed. note 2014: twelve years later, it has indeed.] Who in the name of all that’s holy would think to cross a hardboiled detective story with a bunch of clowns? Bob Devereaux, that’s who. (And for those who always say the same things in response to such a comment, the point isn’t that you could have done it; the point is that you never thought to do it. Now go away.)

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Birdman (1999): I Wanna Take It As Far As We Can Get

Mo Hayder, Birdman (Dell, 1999)

[originally posted 22Nov2002]

A bird, with a shadowy figure lurking, decorates the book cover.

Alcatraz this ain’t.
photo credit: Goodreads

Another of the sheaf of new British mystery novelists who’ve been getting picked up by American presses recently, Mo Hayder offers up her debut novel, Birdman. And what a debut.

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Ender’s Game (1985): Smoked Pork

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (Tor, 1985)

[originally posted 22Nov2002]

A generic picture of a spaceship adorns the cover.

Well, I’m not sure I would say it was major…
photo credit: Amazon

Orson Scott Card says in his preface to Ender’s Game that one of the main criticisms with the book people have is that gifted kids just don’t act and talk like Ender and his battle school mates. To which Card usually responds with something like “they’re just smart enough not to talk that way around adults.”

Been there, done that. He’s right.

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Everything’s Eventual (2002): Including the Dark Tower Series Not Being Over

Stephen King, Everything’s Eventual (Scribner, 2002)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

A drop of blood has dropped into a glass of water and is spreading on the cover of the book.

…including the decline of Stephen King’s career, but we’re still waiting on that one…
photo credit: Wikipedia

Rumors of Stephen King’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. 2002 is gearing up to be another highly productive year for King, and he starts us off with his first short story collection since 1993, Everything’s Eventual. It sure is nice to know that King doesn’t feel the need to turn everything into a novel, and while his short stories have gotten longer, they still pack the punch that the early tales did. However, they pack it in a more literary style. This is great stuff. It’s still recognizably King, but it’s New Yorker King rather than bargain-basement porn-mag King (check the prepub credits in Night Shift).

After reading the title story in this collection, I briefly fantasized about a world where the millions of people who reflexively buy King’s works who’ve never so much looked inside a literary magazine would bring away from this (and other such tales in this volume, notably “Luckey Quarter” and “Lunch at the Gotham Café”) an understanding of the complexities and ambiguities of the modern short story such that they could crack the binding on the new issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, say, and not feel out of place. (From there, it’s one step to getting them to like poetry, and than I can take over the world at leisure.) I came to my senses a few minutes later, but there’s still something to be said for it. Up till now, King’s stories have always been well-defined pieces of work, with strong beginnings and endings and enough happening in the middle to keep people reading. No one would ever accuse, say, “Survivor Type” or “Grey Matter” of being an ambiguous piece of writing. But King was already showing his literary hand as far back as Skeleton Crew (with the haunting story “Nona”), and he tipped it last year with the brilliant “Blind Willie.” Now comes Everything’s Eventual, and he’s laid it on the table; this is the new King, the one I’ve been waiting for during the last couple of transitional releases. These stories are ambiguous, they require thinking (and sometimes leaps in logic) from the reader, and they’re simply better-written than his early work. King the literary author has finally caught up with King the storyteller.

As seems almost obligatory these days, yes, there’s a Dark Tower story. However, it doesn’t feel as invasive as most recent Dark Tower references, because it’s actually set in Mid-World (rather than showing up as a reference, as in “Low Men with Yellow Coats” or Bag of Bones). It’s also very much in the style of early King, despite actually being in a series, and thus begging for loose ends. Oddly, “The Little Sisters of Eluria” stands on its own more than any Dark Tower material since the first book. Go figure.

King’s back, and better than he’s been since The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I knew he’d get there sooner or later. ****