Arbitrage (Jarecki, 2012)

From Liberty Valance to Daniel Plainview, Hollywood has always loved a good bastard, and Richard Gere’s powerful, deceitful, and charming New York City tycoon Robert Miller, the towering figure at the center of Nicholas Jarecki’s stirring Arbitrage, more than fits the bill. Miller dominates every dialogue-heavy scene with his Gordon Gekko-like presence and Machiavellian pragmatism, playing the virtuous, Mark Twain-quoting family man one minute, only to slither off and fuck his European art-collector mistress (Laetitia Casta) the next. A delicate balance of ego and illusion, his formidable public persona is founded on his outward projection of success, wealth, and loyalty. Arbitrage chronicles in fine detail the extended moment when this white-collar lion loses control of this juggling act.

Full review at Slant Magazine

The Walking Dead: Season 2 (AMC, 2011-12)

The Walking Dead‘s six-episode premiere season felt like a snapshot of a greater program to come. From a narrative standpoint, the show successfully examined both the collective scope and individual cost of civilization’s rapid disintegration in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. While segments of season one felt incomplete and rushed, The Walking Dead always managed to pay homage to horror/western tropes while making them feel new again, even dangerous. Showrunner Frank Darabont, fired from his post in July of last year, instilled a sense of lived-in dread and solace by advocating a profoundly cinematic style of filmmaking (tracking shots, wide angles, etc.) and effects (such as lens flares) for precise dramatic pacing.

Full review at Slant Magazine 

End of Watch (Ayer, 2012)

End of Watch is pure frat-boy fantasy, the video game toSouthland‘s great American novel. Sure, Ann Biderman’s superb TNT television program has the luxury of time: Throughout multiple seasons, it’s explored life on the gritty streets of Los Angeles, overlapping stirring, socially relevant vignettes populated by engaging archetypes in order to zero in on the pain of random violence, erosive bureaucracy, and moral dilemmas, all of which resonate profoundly. Conversely, David Ayer’s fidgety pomo genre exercise, essentially a found-footage cop film, never sits still long enough to ponder anything deeper than surface chaos. Here, the immediacy of the kinetic digital image is king, logic and procedure be damned.

Full review at Slant Magazine

Post Mortem (Larraín, 2010)

Pablo Larraín uses the aesthetics of art cinema to unearth the buried traumas of Chile’s horrifying past. Unlike his more ethereal compatriot Patricio Guzmán, he deals in antiseptic period-piece detail, black humor, and ghostly characterizations, all to capture the commonplace, lived-in, and normal nature of a nation’s collective nightmare. Post Mortem, the second in Larraín’s trilogy examining the lasting effects of the 1973 coup d’état on Chilean life, is an especially nasty affair, utilizing off-screen sound and violence to express the omniscient qualities of terror. If the power of suggestion allows Post Mortem to imagine a grisly picture of bloodshed beyond the frame, the static compositions of corpses piled in rows and houses decimated by gunfire brings home the immediacy of the coup’s carnage without resorting to theatrics.

Full review at Slant Magazine 

The Master (Anderson, 2012)

A self-important movie about self-importance. Incomplete, beguiling, pressurized to the point where any one moment feels entirely combustible. Love this thing when it’s about the failures of communities of all kinds to prepare their members for the world beyond their ideological/philosophical borders. It’s near baffling, abstract melodrama the rest of the time. Every frame feels so extremely calibrated that there’s no room to breath, nothing but suffocation. Joaquin Phoenix is indeed astonishing, but the film around him, like Dodd and the rest of the characters, has no idea what to do with his Freddie. He’s just there, toiling in the ether. Now what?

Goodbye, First Love (2011, Hansen-Løve)

Deeply felt, with enough melancholy to please a platoon of forlorn teenage girls, yet I can’t shake the feeling of sentimental finality in the resolution. Something about the main character’s culmination, realization, and evolution feels forced. Still, what patience this film displays, so in tune with the way characters pursue emotions mid-moment, and the defining transitions that stay potent despite the passage of time.

Domino (Scott, 2005)

Relentless, eye-gouging mise-en-scene. Paints the entire world as a flickering lightbulb, consistently unpredictable and always threatening to extinguish. Climactic gunfight far more coherent and effective than I remember. Narrative is purposefully ludicrous, constructed to hide the economic concerns/motivations of fringe characters and subplots, the real heroes of this film. Still, a part of me hates DOMINO because Scott relishes his own stylistic show-boating over character and theme.