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review

James Wan, “The Conjuring” (2013).

The most welcome surprise in James Wan’s The Conjuring isn’t the fact that Wan, purveyor of torture-porn cinema, can be capable of a fairly quiet, almost elegant horror film. The Conjuring was, after all, preceded by Dead Silence (2007) and the surprise hit Insidious (2010) — three relatively calm films that couldn’t be farther from the depredations of Saw (2004) and its sequels. The shocker here is how much mileage Wan gets from restraint and the power of suggestion: from deep blacks to tight close-ups, teasing the viewer with what lies beyond the frame.

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review

Breaking Bad: ABQ (2009)

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain about the prevalence of coincidences on Breaking Bad. After all Lost, one of my favorite shows of all time, served them up one after another to an increasingly incredulous audience. But Season 2 ends with a big whopper, the kind that flirts with viewer outrage. Perhaps too much of a splashy ending?

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review

Breaking Bad: Phoenix (2009)

I’ve been happily working my way through Breaking Bad — I’m close to the end of the second season, and I’m not even halfway through, which is a good thing — and I just saw perhaps the best-written episode of the season so far. “Phoenix,” written by John Shiban (a familiar name to you X-Files fans, but Shiban’s been all over the place), is exceptionally, tightly written — less about the criminal aspects of Breaking Bad, and more a thematic exploration of fatherhood, of fathers and sons, of fathers and daughters. The episode is a good, solid reminder that at its core, the television series is about family.

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review

John Sayles, “Amigo” (2010).

Amigo

One thing about John Sayles: calling his films didactic or preachy seems like stating the obvious at this point, because that’s just kind of the way Sayles’ films are. From Matewan (1987) — a great film, but see it if only for the young Will Oldham — to Casa de Los Babys (2003), Sayles’ films may be complex and cross-sectional, but the big lessons at their cores are not. I realize I’m being willfully reductionist if I reduce a film’s moral to “We’re all connected” or “The world isn’t as black and white as you think,” but viewers of Lone Star (1996) or Eight Men Out (1988) — two very fine films — may agree with my assessment.

I think that’s just how Sayles rolls, and that’s fine with me; best get that out of the way. Amigo may be Sayles’ least commercial film in quite a while, probably as much as my favorite film of his, Men with Guns (1997), and I take that fact (along with the clearly shoestring budget) as proof of Amigo being a labor of love. (Do a Google search for “Sayles” and “uncompromising” and you’ll see what I mean.)

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review

Michael Bay, “Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon” (2011)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

No one blows shit up quite like Michael Bay. Roland Emmerich may flatten entire cities with tsunamis, and turn the earth’s crust into strips of taffy, but only Michael Bay has the gleeful abandon of a boy crashing his Matchboxes together.

For a movie about robots who transform into different objects, each moving part inseparable from the whole, Bay loves blasting things apart in an orgy of destruction, the separate components rendered in exquisite CGI detail: steel girders twisted, wood splintered, oil spilled, scaffolding, plaster, wheels, metal, glass, concrete, the building blocks of capital since the Industrial Revolution.