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The Basics:  A dull Midwestern teenager (Sissy Spacek) becomes enamored by an increasingly psychotic drifter (Martin Sheen).  The two speed through the plains with a bounty on their heads.

The Bottom Line:  I love True Romance, and there would be no True Romance without Badlands – even the music is deliberately similar.  Terrence Malick is so rightly beloved, and this movie is strikingly well written, timeless and charismatic.  There is an almost heightened feel when seeing violence through innocent eyes.  This is going to stay with me forever.

Rating:  9 (of 10).

american movie

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The Basics:  Documentary about a hard-pressed aspiring – and mostly misguided – filmmaker.

The Bottom Line:  This comes up on a lot of best documentary lists – I don’t feel like I’m going too far out on a limb in saying it’s not.  You won’t forget Wisconsinite Mark Borchardt, his colorful friends and preponderance of problems, but cinematic greatness is quite a stretch.  Spans of this flick were boring and mean-spirited; peripheral sadness is unfortunately the most interesting part of the story.  Well wishes, the end.

Rating:  6 (of 10).

code black

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The Basics:  A documentary profiling young doctors in the U.S.’s busiest emergency department.

The Bottom Line:  I am wayyyy too biased to watch this movie.  For those unclear on my actual profession, I am a software analyst for a large healthcare system.  What that essentially means is, as charting moves from entirely paper to entirely electronic, I ease that transition and help fine tune doctors’ workflows.

Gosh, even that sounds like jargon.  Try again.  I help to make computers in hospital settings function efficiently.

I’ve spent time in EDs, surgery areas, patient floors, pediatrics, ICU, recovery… it’s vital and humbling and I’ve heard the arguments made by this documentary countless times by many good people.  Of course I cringe when docs complain about computers on camera, but that’s reflexive at this point.

If you aren’t immersed in this world, I suggest seeing Code Black.  If it’s your lifestyle, still seek it out - it might connect you back to purpose, or at least refuel your motivation.

Rating:  8 (of 10).

reign over me

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The Basics:  College roommates are reunited in loss post-September 11.

The Bottom Line:  My beloved Valerie loaned me this, essentially because I’m her “feely friend” and she’s my “thinky friend”.  It’s nice being someone’s feely friend, I must say, and to meet in the middle.

Some of the choices made by this film are obviously strange (one character in particular seems displaced from an entirely different movie), but Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler – yep, of all people – provide strong performances worth seeing.  In escalating circumstances, their compassion is genuine.

More than tragic events, I feel like this is a movie about how important friendship truly is in adult life.  For its silly turns, it has touching moments, and that’s just enough.

Rating:  6 (of 10).

starred up

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The Basics:  A young offender transitions from juvenile detention to the adult prison housing his estranged father.

The Bottom Line:  Very violent, intensely gripping.  It’s as though the director knows the accents of his actors are difficult to understand, so he makes the choice to focus on action and body language, and it works.  Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn never break or flinch.  Starred Up is graphic and scary, and a real achievement.

Rating:  8 (of 10).

top five

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The Basics:  A successful comedian struggles to be taken seriously now that he’s sober.

The Bottom Line:  Yeah, this isn’t some heavy, substantial film, and sure, the romantic subplot is a bit fluffy, but Chris Rock is a funny and insightful guy so this is a funny and insightful movie.  Even aside from the impressive casting depth, it’s hard to think of too many other modern comics pulling this off.

Rating:  7 (of 10).

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